Monday, December 09, 2013

Surprisingly Sacred Snowy Sunday

This is far too long of a post, but I couldn't find the time to write all week, so am making a Mega Post to make up for it!

We are luckily in the midst of one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, with a foot of snow falling during the week and another 4 inches last night.  The crystalline pristine view outside my window is dazzling, sparkly, and never fails to elicit in me an inner sense of coziness.

The kids have enjoyed being outside, building forts when it is not too cold.  At very low temps of around 15 degrees, it became too frigid for even the most hearty of Kazakh souls, but break times from school were spent bundled up enjoying it when they could:

They boys making the first snowy footprints!  They look so little to me here, despite how much both Kenny and Joshie have grown this year.

Wasn't fall literally just a week or two ago?  Guess it's time to get the rakes stored away, and definitely time for Halloween to be replaced!

Love how we pulled up in front of the house one day this week, and from the back seat Joshie says, "I don't like it when we call it our's more than that, it's a home."

Messy I love our wood stove!  

As the Advent Season steps softly toward Christmas, we are having a peaceful approach to the holiday.  each year I grow more and more intentional about not getting sucked into the frenzy of it all, and you know what?  Each year it is becoming more enjoyable.  We do what we can, I have let myself off the hook for what we can't manage, and we welcome all the parts of the holiday season that are fulfilling.

We had a couple of surprises this weekend.  On Friday night, we attended the Christmas party for Sharing Ministries, which is a celebration for all the volunteers who help throughout the year at the food bank.  There were over 100 people there, with 50 more expected who were likely kept away by the inclement weather and dangerously slick roads.  As I looked around the room, smiling at the many people with whom we have become acquainted, it struck me that the majority of the volunteers are not at all wealthy, but are folks whose hearts have been touched by the plight of others, despite having a less than solid footing on "middle class" status themselves.  There are so many generous souls there, doing very non-glamorous work behind the scenes so that others are not going hungry.  Our community has doubled in the number of folks relying on the food bank support during the past 3 years, and most are the working poor, those who are underemployed because there simply are no jobs with livable full time wages around here.

The surprise came when we were honored as an entire family as "Volunteer of the Month" for June.  They were unable to do monthly meetings and awards, so they recognized the selected volunteers at the end of the year.  The Director paid high compliments to the kids, saying they have developed a reputation there for being extremely hard workers, who joyfully tackle whatever task is at hand.  It was a lovely little unexpected surprise, and though none of the kids really enjoys being front and center, they were all touched by it and when we sat back down at the table, the certificate was passed around and carefully read by each one. I had no idea that the program has more youth volunteers than adult volunteers, as the local alternative high school sends them volunteers, and the high school's severe special needs kids also are invited to participate.  The kids were the only youth to earn a "Volunteer of the Month" award for the entire year, so it really was kind of special for them.

John Wright was the deliverer of another surprise, as he contacted me to let me know that SOMEONE, I have no idea who (and sure wish I did!) generously donated $500 smackeroos for me to take a pie in the face for the Pie Challenge for Kyrgyz Orphans.  I was feeling guilty over not being able to actively participate this year, as there were just too many things on my plate at the time of the challenge.  Being the one to have started the whole thing several years ago, it felt just wrong for me not to be part of it, but sometimes things just don't work out.  I was very excited to receive this news, and grateful to whomever donated.  I have a little pie to get ready for this week sometime.

Another surprise was learning that Olesya needs glasses, and will be getting them in a week or so.  We suspected it, but didn't realize she was quite as bad as she really is.  She is excited about getting her new pair of sporty purple and silver frames.  We had been holding off on the exam, assuming she would need glasses, as we had hoped the new insurance changes might mean some coverage.  As we waited and realized it will be quite a bit longer before that is all ironed out, we realized we couldn't wait any longer to get her exam done.

Poor Olesya has gradually had a significant change in her speech, and her stuttering is quite pronounced lately.  I am not quite sure what to do about that, but this weekend was about the worst she has ever been, and she actually gave up trying to say what she wanted to say.  We have no clue what caused this sudden shift. She has always had a slight stutter, but at one point it almost appeared to have receded completely, only to return far worse than it ever was.  Today, both Dominick and I had some one on one time alone with her, which meant a lot to her as none of the kids ever gets us alone very often.  She must have told me ten times how much she enjoyed lunch with me, and going into work at 4:30am with Dominick.  We chatted a lot over lunch, and we talked about her speech issues.  She said she feels absolutely no pressure or stress which might have exacerbated it, so I laughed and told her, "Well, you are just trying to keep mom busy with more research, aren't you?" She thought that was funny, but when we were done laughing she said, "We are all so lucky to have you.  I think another mom might give up on us, because we have so much that doesn't work with all of us.  I don't think I could do it if I were you."  I told her, "You would be able to do it because you are all worth every effort...and you would love your kids just as much as I love you!"  Then she asked me, "Why do you think you love us so much when our own real mom didn't?  Sometimes I just don't understand that."

How do you ever adequately respond to a question like that?

We spent time in other activities that "make the season bright" this weekend, including dinner at a friend's house after a cold and abbreviated parade appearance by Matthew with Civil Air Patrol.  We also put together our family's Christmas present to one another, which was really a gift for others.  Every year we seek out an opportunity to do a little something for someone else as part of our own gift, rather than spend more on us.  Even when the kids were little, we invited them to think about getting one less gift, and making that their gift to God, in a way.  This year, we learned about a ministry right here in town that is being spearheaded by folks with the Quaker group meeting at our church.  They are supporting local migrant sheepherders who are often victims of employers taking advantage of their immigrant status and not providing for their basic needs. We decided we wanted to help meet some of those needs for two sheepherders, so we did what we could manage to do and put together two boxes with many items from the Dollar Store and Walmart.  The kids, especially the boys, really got into it while we were shopping, and searched high and low for just the right warm, woolen socks and warm long sleeved shirts.  The girls and Dominick helped me pack the boxes up:

Empty Box #1...but not empty for long!

We have a lot of bags to empty!

The girls really had fun sorting items.  Angela said it was the best part of Christmas.

A few canned goods, some medical supplies, tea, rice, beans and more.  It's not much, and all we could afford was the Dollar Store, but it might help a little...and maybe just the reminder that they are remembered and cared about is worth even more.

Out of sight, no way to advocate for themselves, and at the mercy of employers who exploit their situation,  these men who are usually here legally on work visas are subjected to awful conditions, and are treated as sub-human.  Why, oh why, does that happen repeatedly to those who are here willing to do the work we are unwilling to do?

We did (notice I say "we" when really it was Angela who did most of this!) more painting on our wooden candy canes, and they are almost ready to be put on display:

I like how they turned out!

The past couple of weeks have brought with them some sweet conversations, and love expressed in gentle, quiet ways which have grabbed my heart.  With kids this age, one would expect a detachment and a sense of disdain for their parents.  It is what is often seen, and I didn't think we would be much different, though I sure hoped and prayed it wouldn't be as bad as I have sometimes witnessed.  Instead, we have had ever more enjoyable moments, thoughtfulness, and quiet respect.  I truly have no idea why we have somehow dodged the Teenage Bullet thus far, and a part of me is still waiting for it to arise.  Don't get me wrong, they are not perfect, and they more than make up for it with Teenage Addle Brain, as we sometimes find ourselves in typical circular conversations, or disgusting rooms that are in dire need of mucking out.  But it all seems so minor by comparison.

For example, the girls and I got into a length conversation about Dominick in a rare moment of seriousness.  We were driving home from somewhere, just the three of us, and they both started talking about how they wanted to marry a man just like their Dad, and they weren't sure they would be able to find one like him in their peer group.  Spoken in admiring tones, they talked about wanting someone with a good sense of humor who was a happy, happy man, just like their Dad.  They both want someone who is willing to work hard for his family, who is honest and true, who isn't afraid to show love openly.  Angela talked about wanting a man like her father who was loyal and would never have an affair, ever.  Olesya joined in, commenting that she wanted a husband who could be a real partner and they could be a team, like Dominick and I are.  How I wish Dominick could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation!  Moms usually get all the credit, unfairly, and I know it would have humbled him to no end to hear his daughters speak so glowingly of him.

I have been the recipient of gentlemanly courtesy, as almost every time I get out of the car, Matt or Kenny comes around to quickly get my door for me, and offers me an arm as I walk across very slick icy patches.  Now mind you, I am not THAT old...hahaha...but I don't have very grippy shoes, and I am klutzier than the average momma.  I laughed this evening and said, "You know if I do slip, I'll fall on top of you, as there is no way you'd really be able to hold me up."  Kenny said, "Oh that's OK, Mom.  Remember, we are Team LaJoy, and if one of us goes down, we ALL go down together!" and then he burst out laughing.  It really was funny, and I really have felt cared for as no one ever asks them, they just thoughtfully wanted to protect me.  

Our kids aren't flashy, they aren't super successful in a number of typical ways, and they tend to be more on the sidelines rather than in the spotlight. They'll never be jocks, and they may struggle academically for a variety of reasons in some areas. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw a Facebook ECard tonight that described the boys perfectly...and a couple of other sweet little guys we know:

There's a whole lot underneath those exteriors, and I could care less if they are "all boy", "all girl" or are not typical for their ages.  They are awesome in SO many ways, even if they are not the ways recognized and celebrated culturally.

Tonight was particularly poignant.  We ended up all attending a concert at our local Methodist church, where we met up with several friends to enjoy a more intimate setting for holiday music.  The kids had been looking forward to this as they had really enjoyed the concert last year, when we attended for the first time.  I had mixed feelings about it, as last year I was emotionally in a terrible place at this time of year, and had a particularly bad day prior to the concert in the evening.  I can still recall sitting there in the pew in this beautiful old sanctuary, tears streaming down my face as the heartache wouldn't cease.  I was fully aware that there was a change coming at our own church, and that very day I realized there was no possible way I could remain there much longer.  It wasn't what I wanted to be feeling, but I could no longer deny it.  A particularly acrimonious meeting earlier that day had left me depleted, filled with sorrow, and knowing that there was little I could do but be true to what God was calling me do to.  There was seemingly no future ahead for us, no where else to go that would be a good fit for a more liberal Christian in a very conservative community.  A year ago, I felt emptied for lots of reasons, I felt abandoned, alone, and the tears wouldn't stop.

Fast forward a year, and we had made drastic decisions that to many would seem minor but for us were leaving a lot behind on two fronts.  We left our school program, which had initially provided the support we needed to gain confidence in what we were doing as well as provided severely needed funds, but eventually served to do nothing but be a weight around us.  We also did end up leaving our beloved church, only to find new life elsewhere with many who felt the same call being placed on their hearts for change. In both cases, I had put my heart and soul into both, never imagining the ultimate outcome would be that I would no longer be present a few months later.  That was never my plan on either front, and yet, with hindsight being 20/20 as it most always is, regardless of whether it was what I thought I wanted or not, it was the right choice for us.

I'll never be happy that it happened, but I am glad we had the courage to accept what was no longer right for us and be willing to surrender our own will in these situations.  Had we not done so, tonight would not have been as filled with peace as it was.  Sitting in the same pew, listening to hymns of redemption coming in the form of a child, of forgiveness, of was as if it all had come full circle.  I looked around me and saw faces of those I love...some who bear my last name and others who are heart connected family who made it through, too.  I heard their voices, raised up in praise, a mini choir within a choir as we sat cheek to cheek. I saw two kids nestled in a pew next to one dear heart, giggling and teasing with him.  I looked over my shoulder and saw smiles filled with love and acceptance of the weird Team LaJoy.  I looked beside me, and saw strength and wisdom, the face of one who encouraged me and cared for me through some very tough times the past few years...and perhaps I have offered that to her as well in some small measure.

The sacred is everywhere. The sacred can be in a conversation in our car as we look in our rear view mirrors and talk in hushed tones. It can be in our admitting that all is not always well.  The sacred can be encountered in the check out line just as easily as in a pew.  And in my experience, perhaps more powerfully, the sacred can be encountered in our most painful moments, as I was reminded of again just this morning.  Today the sacred was staring into the eyes of my beautiful, tenderhearted, shy daughter over fries at Burger King.  The sacred was accompanied by soaring sopranos in a dimply lit church.  The sacred was in the frozen food aisle of City Market as the Muzak was playing and unplanned and as if on cue, all seven of us made total fools of ourselves by turning to one another and singing...loudly and somewhat off key...the chorus to a Christmas carol, then roaring with laughter over the perfect timing we all had.

And maybe...just maybe...the sacred is this very moment at this keyboard as I share our lives and pour out my heart occasionally.  


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! It is always nice to here about your Loving family. What a great program for the shepherds.! I hope it makes their life a little sweeter. So far from home and family and so vulnerable.

r. said...

I was once on psych meds that caused tics and stuttering. If Olysia has been taking any new medications lately, you might want to look into this as a possible cause of the stuttering.