Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kyrgyz Ambassador!

Meet Mr. Kenneth LaJoy

New Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States of America

What a weekend! We arrived in Washington, DC at 11:00 PM on Thursday evening and we were off and running. We didn't stop until 3:00 PM today when we arrived back safely in Grand Junction. I think we got a grand total of about 12 hours sleep in three days. We had an amazing 3 days filled with meeting many extraordinary people, seeing God at work in the most powerful ways, and hopefully accomplishing our intended group goal of changing hearts.

In many ways, we participated in a story that is not ours to tell, we were bystanders at moments and minor players in a grander plan that included 5 waiting moms with very large hearts whose passion for their waiting children was boundless. Being present to witness these women willingly lay their hearts on the table as they pled their individual cases and reminded everyone they were there not only for their children but for 65+ others was an honor.

I will not share the details of the meetings here, but instead will try to give you a sense of what we experienced.

We were picked up at the airport by Tom and Rebecca with the Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS), where Kenny was greeted warmly with a sign just for him, like a regular VIP!

The sign reads "Kenny LaJoy (and his Mom)

We were very grateful to Tom and Rebecca for coming all the way out to Dulles Airport that late at night, and it was very nice to finally meet Tom in person and see Rebecca again. We were dropped off at our hotel which was the Embassy Suites and we felt quite spoiled.

Our day started with a visit first thing Friday morning to the Kazakhstan Embassy as we attempted to resolve Matthew's passport issues. We have struggled with this for several months, and in fact his paperwork has already been all the way to Astana and back. The Embassy staff are extremely overworked and have been unable to directly address our concerns. We have had our personal very poorly paid interpreter (Hey LV!!!) go out of her way to wake up at 3:00 AM on several occasions as we called Kazakhstan to try and gain an understanding of what was happening, and we figured it was worth a shot to try and see what we could do while I had this surprise trip to DC.

It was also an odd feeling to stand in front of the building where our children's journeys to us truly began, where hundreds of documents have been processed through the is sort of a touchstone for us and it was nice to stand there for a moment and look up at the Kazakh statue and see the country symbol displayed over the entrance. What a debt of gratitude we owe this country and this Embassy staff. In some ways, I think I had as strong a sense of pride standing there as I did in front of our own US White House the next day, which for some might sound odd but others of you might just understand.

We walked into the Embassy and a feeling washed over me of familiarity despite never having been there before. I quickly realized it was the joy of seeing Kazakh faces that made me feel so surprisingly comfortable. We were assisted by a very handsome (Is there even such a thing as an unattractive Kazakh or Kyrgyz man??? I sure have never seen one!) and helpful young man who went out of his way to take care of us. While we waited he invited us to see the formal part of the Embassy, and he gave us a brief tour of the rooms at the front of the Embassy where traditional Kazakh items were displayed. He then brought us back to the waiting area and surprised us by presenting us with a gift of a beautiful hardbound coffee table book. We waited while some of the passport documents were corrected, and we left with the necessary items in our hands and we hope this will lead to a quick issuance of Matthew's new passport.

We then caught a taxi to get to the location where the first meeting with the Kyrgyz delegation would take place. Kenny was well received, and he was able to present the delegation with a photo of his friend, Amir and ask that they help him get home to his family. Kenny had brought along a Kyrgyz story book and he asked the Kyrgyz delegates if they would be willing to sign it. This brought smiles to their faces as they graciously agreed to do so and went well beyond merely signing their name, but in fact each wrote a personal message to him in Russian which we will get translated. This will make this special book an even more treasured keepsake. As the meeting drew to a close, it was picture time for everyone. What a set of "keepers" for our family scrapbook!

We spent Friday evening fighting our way through traffic the likes of which even this SoCal girl has never seen! We were given a ride by another waiting mommy to the home of another where we sat around recapping the day, visited with one another, had a lovely meal and then we all went outside where we had a candle lighting ceremony and tied strips of cloth onto a newly created "prayer tree" in remembrance of not only the waiting 65 children, but in recognition of children in need of homes all over the world. I found myself remembering many children that have crossed our paths during the past 10 years...the 18 year old foster son in transition that we offered a home to for a school year, I could see the faces of each of the children we received in referral videos, replayed in my mind were those orphanage visits I have had over the years where small hands grabbed at my own. So many children in need, so little we can do in the long run. If you focus only on the sheer numbers of children it can seem incredibly depressing.

The next morning Kenny and I found ourselves in the unexpected situation of being invited to have breakfast with the delegation. There, over tea and pastries, what I had hoped would happen this weekend became a reality and we all became simply moms talking about the future of care for children in Kyrgyzstan, sharing stories about our kids and of our love for these parentless children who are so helpless and whose futures are so hopeless without the intervention of caring adults who are willing to act. These particular Kyrgyz women have dedicated their lives to helping the "least of these", and their dedication and sincere concern was palpable. I was touched to be there amongst this special group of women.

We then headed back to the hotel where we anxiously awaited the arrival of our friends, Amir's/Isaac's hopeful adoptive mom and her son, also adopted from Kazakhstan, and a long time internet adoption buddy of almost a decade whom I had never met but long communicated with along with her two Kazakh children. While I so enjoyed being with the mommies-in-waiting the night before, this was very different for me as this was a joining with two spiritually connected and like minded mommies who have already walked the same road as I, who have continually been there for me in ways that they could to offer encouragement when I have struggled to keep my hopes up, who have reminded me Who is in charge. After hugs all the way around and a too short gab fest we were off to hit the monuments of DC with 4 Kazakh and Kyrgyz 4th graders leading the way. I don't know what I enjoyed more, my mommy friends or their terrific kids!!

Sadly, I didn't get a decent pic at all of the moms. With kids handling the cameras I doubt any of us came with much in the way of usable images! We walked the mall, took plenty of photos, and then our group had to split up while some went home while the rest of us went to dinner. We parted feeling as if we had been hanging out together all our lives, and I was restored in spirit by the companionship of being with these Mentor Mommies of mine.

There were so much going on this weekend, and much behind the scenes that I will not be able to share, but what was the most meaningful for me was seeing and feeling God in every single step. This was one of the top 3 or 4 spiritual experiences of my life, it brought me to a new understanding of what we are walking through right now...that the roadblocks just might have nothing at all to do with whether or not God wants our adoption to move forward or not, but might have everything to do with allowing circumstances to occur in order for me to have a better understanding of how Mighty God really is. It is to strengthen my faith in ways that might never happen without such difficulties to walk through. I had a sense that this is my own personal crucible, and a necessary one at that. I also see that the adoption process is the tool, but it really has nothing at all to do with the adoption at all.

Were we all successful in our venture this weekend? Yes, I actually think we were. I think our message was heard, that 65 children were spoken for loud and clear and that there is a much better chance of forward momentum now.

And NOW maybe our summer will officially begin. After so little sleep over the past weekend Kenny and I plan on sleeping in late tomorrow and hanging out doing absolutely nothing. Our work is done.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Here I sit, a couple of hours before leaving for the airport to advocate for 65 Kyrgyz children, and I am struggling with my own frustration and anger at yet another delay we learned of yesterday in the submission of our own dossier. Yes, again folks...our FBI fingerprints have now expired and need to be redone. The process with Kaz is now so difficult and challenging that I am beginning to wonder if we will ever really complete our adoption.

I am so wishing I wasn't getting on the plane with this heavy heart. But as Dominick and I were talking about this morning, our own personal issues will just have to wait and I need to mentally push them aside for I have to focus on the needs of other children right now.

I have to ask the question though...

Who will advocate for OUR children???

Or am I in training right now when it doesn't concern ours so I can continue on in the fight for our own? Just wish someone was in our corner at moments, it feels pretty lonely here.

God, please work through us somehow. I don't know how You plan to do it, but I hope You do. I also realize that You may choose to use us in some other less obvious way on this trip, with someone not even involved at all in adoption. However You decide to do it, make it powerful for that is when it is totally the coolest!! God, please bring comfort to the waiting families, for I know the pain they feel and it is awful, it is a powerlessness that is unequaled. As we meet with officials, let them see what You know they need to see...simply a mom and son who love each other with all their hearts. Let them see that "family" is more important than any cultural losses or any bureaucratic red tape. Let our words be Your words, let all ego be completely removed from the situation so You come through with whatever message You want them to hear, make us funnels, make us conduits. Allow us to be a blessing to those we encounter...not just officials and diplomats but other waiting parents, taxi drivers, airplane seatmates.

You ask us to never forget the widows and orphans. We are heeding Your command. They are not forgotten and we will do all we can do so that the word "orphan" is no longer attached to at least 65 more children in this world.

And Lord, you know I need a sign in our own circumstance right now, I need something to let me know You are still in all of it and leading it, that my own dismay and fear can be put to rest and that I need only continue to do the work necessary. Are you putting up road blocks to stop us? Or to test us? Is there some reason for these delays that will become apparent? Or are you screaming at us and are we not listening? I am so utterly confused anymore, and this is so very, very hard. I need You right here, right now. Be with me, I will try to be still. Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Chicken Paws" and Fighting for a Cause

We had a wonderful and relaxing...if wet...weekend camping in Ouray. Yes, we got rained on...a lot. But we still had a blast and actually came away from it all feeling as if we had really had a mini-vacation.

Today I took the boys shopping at Wally World, when we stumbled upon something in the Meat Department that we thought would make a wonderful practical joke on Dominick. We came home, fried them up, and he had no idea he was about to be "had". Don't trust those innocent faces. Evil lurks within!!

Poor hungry man, simply wants to sit down to a fried chicken dinner.

The unsuspecting soul has no idea what is about to be sprung on him!

The Unveiling!

We Got You!!!

I don't know who got a bigger kick out of it, Dominick or Matthew!

Can you honestly say you have ever seen anything more disgusting in your life??

Daddy's a good sport!

Josh thought it was funny too!

Goofing with the claws!


Yes, Dominick...your sick humor has been inherited despite the lack of a genetic connection.

Does this prove once and for all that nurture wins over nature???

We need to put the humor aside for a bit though as we find we are still battling Joshie's demons with him. He was camping out on the floor of our bedroom last night when once again he popped up, "night terror" style and started yelling out "Mommy...Mommy...Help me!!!". Dominick and I got him settled down, he never really woke up out of that deep sleep state, and we decided that we need to pursue this further. We aren't yet quite sure what to do, as all appears to be just fine during the light of day but it is obvious that something is going on that has triggered this in him. We have always found that when we hit a new developmental level Josh process his adoption again...almost as if he continues to discover he is seeing it through new eyes all the time. The past several days he has brought up almost casually that his first mommy left him so I know something is going on inside his head, but we can't get at it any deeper than that casual statement during waking hours. There are moments when I wonder if he will ever feel 100% safe and secure. I know leaving for Chicago and now DC may be part of it, but I don't honestly think it is the "trigger" as we had some of this starting up long before our trip for Kenny's surgery. We're going to have to think more about what approach to take with this.

Kenny is all set for his appearance before the Kyrgyz officials in Washington, DC. We went and bought him his first suit at JCPenney's on Monday, complete with a red "power tie". Definitely one of those moments in life when I regretted not having my camera with me. The look on his face and the giggles that erupted as he tried it on...and then kept going back to check himself out in the mirror...were worth a million bucks. I tell you, that young man wears a suit well and he asked me "Mommy, is this what businessman wear? Then I want to be a businessman when I grow up!!". Somehow, I can already see that happening. He is excited about going, and I have not focused much on the reason for the trip, electing to discuss the details more later on as we get closer to Friday.

As for me, well, I am going back and forth between discomfort and anticipation. I am feeling guilty at leaving the boys and Dominick once again, and yet feel strongly that this is a real "God Thing" and for whatever reason we are supposed to do this. My amazing husband seems to take this all in stride. When I phoned him at work after learning how all of this was going to pan out I said "Ummm...guess what, I think Kenny and I are going to Washington, DC next week." and he just laughed and said "Nothing surprises me anymore!".

DISGUSTING SAPPY CONFESSIONAL MOMENT HERE: This trip also seems to be bringing up insecurities I thought I had moved well past. The fact is, folks, I am fat and I am not the most attractive woman on the planet. Trying clothes on for this event is enough to make me feel about this small. But over the past couple of days, I realized that is exactly what needs to occur. I had a wonderful email from a waiting mommy who reminded me that my job was to simply be there for God to go to work and speak through me...and maybe feeling this small is exactly about how big I need to be in order for something MUCH BIGGER to come out. As I was reminded, I just need to show up and then get out of the way. Well, if feeling this way is what it takes for the Spirit to come out rather than Cindy LaJoy, I am all for it.

Aside for the real reason for the trip, I am going to have the opportunity to hug a couple of people in person whom I have long wanted to meet. Kenny and I will be remaining behind in DC for an extra day in order to meet Amir/Isaac's prospective Mom who is one of the Waiting Sixty-Five, and we will also be meeting another adoptive mommy who is one of the most incredible people in the world and who has been part of my adoption world for 8 or 9 years now. Words can not begin to describe what a gift this meeting will be for me, for this woman has been a blessing and emotional support for years and years.

The support from others which has allowed Kenny and I to take part in this is unbelievable, and aside from the hotel and flights, other generous waiting family contributions have helped in more ways than they will ever know. We wanted to help, but we didn't have the resources to get there and back...and good intentions are pretty useless. We aren't adopting from Kyrgyzstan, so this can't be written off as "adoption expenses" for us. I can only hope that our presence there does indeed make a difference, and that no one will feel their assistance was in vain. Thank you to all who made this possible, if it weren't for you we would simply not be going despite our desire to help in any way we could.

You know folks, the fact is, this really, really matters to me. I know we have nothing to gain if these kids come home, but for some reason I can not view it that way and have never been able to see it from that perspective. I have assisted JCICS twice on projects associated with their advocacy efforts on behalf of these 65 waiting children. I have seen their faces on my screen as I collected photos, and I have seen the stark contrast between those faces and the faces of the children who made it home to their permanent, forever families. Words can not begin to describe the difference in the soul of a child who has never been loved and a child who has known great love. It comes across in photos, it permeates every pore of their being. Your waiting children are my children, my son's faces shown on this very blog post were once those same faces staring back at me years ago with shadows in their eyes, a depth of longing and despair that was so very apparent it could never be ignored.

Neither can your children's faces be ignored by me.

Years ago, standing on a street in Aktobe, Kazakhstan staring up at the entrance to the home of my first son I remember thinking to myself that we had made it, that the journey was almost through. Oh how I was so clueless about how that journey had barely begun! I am not speaking about our adoption journey. No, that is another story which has oft been shared here on the blog and you all know far more about my family than is even probably prudent. Rather in this case I am speaking of a journey my soul has taken which may yet prove to still have barely begun. I had no idea how I would be effected by the clinging little hands of unloved and forgotten children. I could never have imagined crying at the mere mention of a young boy who was left behind, leaving me feeling foolish and yet as if my own heart had opened a bit more. I could not fathom the horror of visiting the soul deadening orphanage for severely disabled children. These things left indelible imprints on the core of who I am, they changed me forever.

Instead of the effect one might imagine they would have of closing up the gates to your heart in an effort to protect it from such misery and heartache, for some reason it worked just the opposite magic on softened me, it created in me a new heart which for the first time thought about more than my own benefit or gain, it helped me to see God's love MUST come from all of us, that such awful spirit crushing places exist because God's presence is not ushered in by us...that we ALLOW such things to exist in places where we know we could help and yet refuse to "put ourselves through it" because we might feel anguish ourselves. We often "get our kids and get out", thinking to ourselves how wonderful we are for "saving" the one the famous story goes...and yet we refuse to let our mind wander to the hundreds of thousands of other starfish waiting to be loved and cared for. We do that because it is easier and because we tell ourselves we can't possibly make a difference anyway...but we made a difference for one.

For some reason, that is not enough. And it never should be.

There are moments when I wish I knew what I could do, that I was one of those incredible people who could rally people around a cause like Greg Mortenson in "Three Cups of Tea" and make an enormous impact. Alas, I am not...I am just me...a boring old, middle aged, overweight, rural Colorado mom who loves her husband and kids and feels incredibly blessed to have what I have in this world. Most of us are not meant to do those things on such a grand scale, and I know that...frustrating though it may be. But the one thing we ARE all capable of is not allowing ourselves to say "that's good enough...I made a difference for one". We can hold on to that desire to throw more than just one starfish back into the sea. We can force ourselves to really see what others turn away from, and that alone can often create the impetus for action. We can do more than "settle".

And so we will go to Washington, DC. We will meet with people who can make a difference. We will put aside our own worthless insecurities and ridiculous worries.

Because your starfish matters to me too.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And God Keeps Surprising Us

There has been a flurry of internet activity at our house the past 24 hours as God has been at work again. I am never, ever fully able to grasp how BIG God can be and sometimes I think the joke is on me as I tend to bottle God up in a small 8 ounce container when indeed an Olympic sized swimming pool is too small!

There is a delegation of Kyrgyz officials coming to Washington, DC...members of Parliament. A group of waiting families has been selected to meet with these officials to present their case for allowing international adoptions to resume and release their children to come home. I am honored that Kenny and I were asked to attend as well, and Kenny will be speaking for all the children who have no voice. Funny, isn't it, that the little boy with the speech issues will be the one to speak for Kyrgyz adopted children?

Our participation in this would NEVER have been possible without the help of others, both waiting families and post-adoptive Kyrgyz families. The Marquis family at whose child is already home but whose compassion knows no bounds, generously donated frequent flier miles and hotel points so that this could happen. Suzanne, a waiting mommy, donated additional miles and I am grateful and humbled to be able to advocate for these families. I only hope that our help and presence is of some value and that hearts are changed.

Kenny and I are both pretty scared. Kenny said "I want to help those babies come home, Mommy...but what if I say the wrong thing?". I reassured him there was nothing he could say that would be wrong, that he simply needed to share his story.

Just when I think life will settle down for a bit, along comes some other adventure!

Today was the last day of school for our boys, and it was a little sad for everyone I think. This has been a year filled with the amazing presence of teachers who were each a perfect fit for each of our sons...teachers with passion, skill, and huge hearts. The usual end of the year excitement was noticeably absent as everyone was quietly pondering things in the car on the way home. I admit I too will miss the wonderful people involved in our kids lives. I don't know why, but it seems I have often become friends with my children's teachers...and this year there was a depth to the relationships that will be sorely missed and I hope can continue outside the classroom. It's weird, I know, but why let a good relationship pass you by simply because it is unusual? I don't see myself as having all that much in common with teachers or their profession, and I am not sure why I have been blessed to find friendship in this setting, but I have...and those whom I have become closest with are phenomenal people and a real gift in my life, as well as my children's lives.

Each of the boys wrote a thank you letter to their teacher, which is something we did for the first time this year but I think we will continue with next year. Teachers seldom get thanked, aren't often told the ways in which they have made a difference a child's life. When I suggested the idea, I thought the boys would think it was a little lame, but they picked up the project with great gusto and it was quickly apparent that each one found it important to say what they felt for their teachers...and I hope it meant something to their teachers to receive the letters.

So Summer begins tomorrow!!! Sleeping in, staying up late, relaxing and reading and playing. We have plans to go camping this weekend and thought we would go up tomorrow but might find ourselves hanging out at home one extra day as I was bushed today and need another few hours to get things ready. I am so glad to have the boys home, we have some mini-adventures ahead of us as well as bigger ones! Nothing overly exciting...but we are having a family book challenge to see who can read the most, we are planning a road trip to Wichita to see our friends, and will surely have a houseful of friends hanging out as least I hope so! And now for Kenny and I, an unexpected and nerve wracking trip to Washington, DC.

Helping other waiting parents has one takes my mind off our own interminable waiting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Boy Who Never Should Have Been

Today was a day that was rich and rewarding for me on so many levels. It is a day that 4 or 5 years ago I never could have imagined occurring. No, at that time I was dwelling in the depths of despair as I worried if I was going to ever have a son who was truly emotionally healthy and normal...or if I was raising a child whom I would one day find myself living in fear of.

Joshua's Reactive Attachment Disorder was no joke. It was extreme, it was quietly terrifying to me, it was the one condition that caused me the greatest anxiety of having to face. And don't you know it, God always seems to challenge us to face up to those much feared mountains and climb them.

Those who know Joshie now see only the end result, or perhaps a work in progress that appears nearly complete. Only we know the underlying insecurities that still exist, there are few that hear the nighttime cries of "I don't want to go back!" as our dear mommy friend heard him yell out in the middle of the night while we were gone with Kenny. The picture of Joshie now is a wonderfully attached, warm and extremely loving little boy.

He is a boy I never thought would exist.

Today, that child who was so terribly angry, who rejected human contact at every turn, who at a year and a half old was well on his way to eventually becoming a murderous headliner on the front page of the local newspaper showed the world just what love can do.

Don't get me wrong, I am NOT saying that love is all it takes...that we "loved him out of it". I am not that naive and believe me, I know better. But it was love that sustained us, it was love that helped us continue on when we felt we would never make a difference, it was love from so many others that was pumped into Josh over the past 5 years from friends of all ages that made a difference.

I think though, if we look at it on another level it was really the love of God that did it all. If it were not for God working in and through so many, if it were not for our conviction that God had selected this incredibly damaged yet oh-so-vulnerable and helpless little boy to be our son then I doubt we could have had the fortitude to continue on. There were certainly therapists who suggested we consider relinquishing him thinking he was "too far gone" to ever make it. But those therapists only have so much power within their grasp, they failed to see the greatest Power of all and what could be accomplished through It.

Without God, I know there is no way I would have been able to make it. Josh's RAD was the single most heartbreaking, awful, deeply hurtful thing I had ever experienced up until then. I have had my share of heartache, but all else paled in comparison. Maybe it was because I truly didn't know if all our efforts really would result in a child who would ever be able to love and connect with others. I was more afraid of failure than I had ever been in my life, for not only was my child's life at stake, but so were the lives of all he came in contact with. Sound melodramatic? Uhhh...check out your maximum security prisons and see how many RAD men are ensconced there. I was seeing into the future and realized the capacity for violence that RAD brought with it.

This morning there stood before me a beautiful little boy, one who has valiantly fought and won a battle that most at the school are completely unaware ever took place. He is the most tender 6 year old boy I personally have ever met. The Joshie who last year I was uncertain should even start school did a 180 degree turn around and suddenly blossomed into this amazingly motivated student who, in the words of his teacher is very, very bright and now has the emotional strength and stability to be all God intended for him to be.

This child who most might have predicted would have flamed out gloriously in school today received a special award, the "Principal's Award" along with a perfect attendance award. The Principal's Award is an overall achievement award for diligence, good character, and scholarship. The pride on his face as he looked at his certificates was worth more than a million words I could ever write.

If you had asked me 5 years ago if I could see myself grinning from ear to ear KNOWING I would soon be receiving a humongous hug and kiss that was gleefully given to me by him, I probably would have broken down in tears and said "Oh, how I sure hope that will happen, but I'd be happy to settle for a child who didn't hurt others.". Those sincere gestures of affection are worth more than any certificate of achievement, but the award was sort of icing on the cake.

You made it, Josh. You really made it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Morals of Matthew

The last few weeks have been all about Kenny. When you have a child who is facing something as painful and emotionally draining as surgery, when that surgery has so much to do with how they perceive themselves as either ugly or attractive, it HAS to be all about them for a little while. Thankfully, the other LaJoy Boys are a unique couple of kiddos, and they are gracious with their acceptance and understanding of such things.

But this post is "all about Matthew" as some quietly extraordinary growth has been occurring right before our eyes this past couple of weeks which even his brothers have wanted to recognize and celebrate.

It began last week when Matthew got in the car after school and said he had something bothering him that he wanted to talk about. Right now they are working on teams in class building bridges. It is a cool project where they form building "companies" and have to buy "lumber" (toothpicks) and "welding material" (glue), etc. It is also bringing out the best and the worst in their groups as they struggle to learn teamwork and cooperation. There are many levels of learning in this project, and it is something they will take a lot away from. Well, it seems that one of their teammates was absent, and he was a "builder" (You can only do your assigned role...Matthew was the architect and drew up the plans but can't actually build it). The person missing is someone who struggles a bit in many areas of his life, but is a good kid. While he was absent, it seems the other kids on the team starting verbally ripping him apart, talking about what they thought was his "shoddy work", being a bit cruel about what he had done.

Now, you have to know Matthew and his own gifts...which are definitely in the areas of design and building...this project will no doubt be the highlight of his 4th grade year as it is right up his alley and the excitement he exuded when he first came home and shared what they were going to do was totally over-the-top. I would have expected Matt to be extremely concerned about how this bridge turned out, that he would want it to be perfect simply because this is an area in which he excels and has great passion. So I was interested to hear what was next, preparing myself to have an in depth conversation and make it a learning experience for him about patience with others, about all of us having different talents and gifts, about things not having to be perfect.

Instead, it was I who was taught something.

As he was explaining what had happened, Matthew went on to say how upset he was that the team was being so unkind about the other boy's work, that even though he too wanted the project to turn out really good, he got angry because he knew this child had done his very best work and although the others wanted to tear it apart both verbally and literally and start over, Matthew said that the bridge needed to stay the way it was, that their teammate had worked hard on it and learned a lot. Matthew stood up to a group of kids with very strong personalities...most of them far stronger than his...and held his ground. He told me he knew how terribly hurt this boy would be if they had torn it down, and he told me "Mommy, I was really mad at how mean they were being. He can't help it if this was the best he could do and it wasn't perfect. He is always having a hard time in a lot of ways and I didn't want them to make him feel even worse.". In the end, Matthew won the debate and the bridge remained intact...and perhaps the other team members learned a little about compassion. This little boy's father is battling a life threatening condition which has worsened considerably this year. What he needs is support and encouragement, and I was so very happy to hear Matthew offered just that, and in circumstances when it would have been easier to agree with the group or talk badly about him behind his back so that Matt could fit in the remaining group more easily. He took a stand, and from the tone of his voice as he relayed what had happened I could tell that for him, it was one of those moments when you take another step towards deciding what kind of person you really want to be.

Kenny was listening from the back seat as Matthew was talking and when he was done, he had a grin from ear to ear and said "Matthew, I am proud of you for being such a good friend! Mommy, can Matthew use the special plate tonight? I think he deserves it!". And with tears in my eyes, I wholeheartedly agreed. I also had another reason to give thanks, that I have sons who create a culture of support within our family which encourages and praises good character rather than only accomplishments.

Matthew has really embraced the whole concept of "pay it forward" although for some reason we have yet to see the movie and must remedy that soon. It is something that is concrete and makes a lot of sense to him, and it comes up often in conversation as we make plans to try and help someone or do something with a sense of thankfulness for all we have. It came up today in conversation again on the way to school (why is it that some of the BEST conversations occur in my minivan?? Glad I put almost 40,000 miles a year on it...we have plenty of time to HAVE those conversations!!! Hahahaha!). I am not sure how the subject got brought up, but we were discussing a mentor of his, the son of our friends who moved to Chicago who is going into his Senior year in high school next year and who showed an inordinate amount of gentleness and inclusiveness with Matthew beginning when he himself was only 12 years old. We talked about how Matthew's life was effected forever by his friend's involvement, how he had set a wonderful example of being kind to younger children, of being willing to work with them and never make fun of them. I told Matthew that it was now his turn, that not only his younger brothers but other children around him both in Scouts, in school and at church were beginning to look up to him as a leader...even if they are older than he is. I asked him if he had noticed that yet, that his fairness and kindness were appreciated by others and that he had a big responsibility as such to be a positive role model in the ways he could be. He told me that he knew it was time to "pay it forward" even though he felt young, but that he could see how his attitude towards others was copied sometimes, that as he got older at church he could see how Josh and his best buddy would learn from him and Kenny, and that they in turn would teach the two littlest who are still infants. He told me that unlike some older kids sometimes do, he didn't ever want to leave the younger ones out. He said "Just like "F" did with me, it is my job now and I can see how big a difference it makes. If I act disrespectful, the other kids will think it is OK then ALL of them will eventually be mean...but one person can make a difference mom, I saw it. "F" made a difference for me. It is an important job, because just like "pay it forward" you can decide to pay forward good stuff or bad stuff. I want to pay forward good stuff."

How lucky Dominick and I are to have such an insightful, caring and intelligent oldest child. How blessed we are that despite Kenny's actual older age, he graciously never tried to assert himself into that role and has accepted Matthew as his older brother in every other way. That too should be recognized as a hard thing to do.

Another mentor of all of our boys is a 15 year old young man who volunteers his time at TaeKwonDo and helps the instructor. This young man is exceptional in so many ways, he just earned his 2nd degree black belt and as a family we were privileged to be able to go and watch his testing. We don't know him personally very well, but he provides the boys with yet another wonderful example of a combination of masculine strength and gentleness with children which is marvelous for them to witness. He is extremely respectful and his time spent with the class and with our sons is a gift. Matthew and Josh took their rank test yesterday afternoon which was an important day for them. In another example of male mentoring our friend "Mr. Steve" came to watch them which meant a lot to the boys. Joshie is doing so well for being the youngest in his rank. He is already a yellow belt with a green stripe which is what he earned yesterday and although he looks a bit awkward out there at moments and lacks a little confidence, he is not far from really coming into his own and growing into that physical maturity which will help him gain that confidence.

Matthew is a green belt and earned his blue stripe yesterday. The best part of the whole class was watching him go two on one...he as the one and the 15 year old black belt as one of the 2. Matthew has only taken TaeKwonDo for a year and a half, and in that time his skills have grown by leaps and bounds as his body caught up with itself and became more coordinated. What fun it was to watch him attack with courage and confidence, to wonder where he might end up in 3 or 4 years of additional training.

Their TaeKwonDo instructor is a strict disciplinarian who injects humor into the class but demands respect and order. I think it totally throws him for a loop when our three boys run up and give him hugs after class :-) That's the LaJoy Boys, born killers they are not! Hahaha!

Kenny and Matthew also had a unique opportunity this weekend to see the "Moving Wall" which is a half scale version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall. It came to town last week, and once again "Mr. Steve" stepped in and asked if he could take them. A retired military man himself we thought it utterly appropriate that he be the one to take them to see it, to have the chance to share that with them. I had a long talk with the boys before hand about what the Wall represents, about how to handle themselves when visiting it, about the sacrifice of so many thousands of men for our country. Matthew is a huge history buff and knew all about Vietnam and the Wall in DC, so this visit made it all come to life for him. Kenny had all kinds of questions about the various wars we have been in...asked about if M*A*S*H on TV was in Vietnam, where we are fighting now and why, why we were fighting in Vietnam which was difficult to explain with his level of comprehension at the moment. I suggested the boys wear their Scout uniforms for the visit to the Wall which they thought was a great idea.

As I viewed photos of their visit afterwards, I couldn't help but say a little prayer that someday I wouldn't find myself left with nothing more of my sons than memories and a name on a wall. Reflecting on this past couple of weeks and Matthew's experiences, it is becoming easier and easier to imagine him as a young man who would put honor and duty before personal gain.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hope, Spring and Many Things

In Western Colorado, you don't really feel that spring has arrived until after Mother's Day. When we first moved here we were advised that it was the unofficial rule not to plant anything until after that date so that you would remove all fear of death from an unexpected freeze. This week, we jumped into spring at the LaJoy house, and in more ways than one. Spring brings a sense of renewal, of new life, and of hope. In reality, we are one week away from summer and the end of school, but for us it is the time of beginnings in many areas of our lives.

The boys helped as we planted flowers in our flower beds, working in the soil and enjoying getting dirty and capturing roly-polies and worms. And as life moves forward at its relentless pace, Matthew took on the responsibility of mowing the lawn all by himself for the first time. Dominick and I stood side by side, watching him with his "cool shades" on waving at us like a pro. We were quiet for a moment and I commented that I remember it seems only a short while ago that he was 2 years old and Dominick had him on his lap as he was mowing the lawn all the while joking about how someday it would be Matthew's job to do it when he was a big boy. As we looked on at our strong, responsible and capable son we realized that day had come...and how we wished we could turn back time in spite of the joy at seeing them all mature. The letting go is so hard, and it happens in these tiny spurts as they stretch and settle in to the new person they are becoming, having left a piece of their childish selves behind. He's only 9, we are still a family with young children, but those days are numbered and passing quickly and how I hate that we have to eventually leave this precious time behind.

Spring announced its arrival in a less conventional way this morning at our church as well, as we welcomed a new minister. A year long process has ended, and so much was learned throughout. Resilience as a congregation was revealed, bonds were tightened, and hearts were opened to accept a new shepherd of our flock. We have been incredibly blessed to find someone who is obviously listening to the Spirit in accepting this call to our congregation, who feels this is the place they are to be. For me, strangely, there is a sense of familiarity with this person that I can not explain, which I can't quite pinpoint. Is it that they remind me of someone else I have known in the past? Is this person just of similar thought and mind which makes it it feel so comfortable? Or is it that this is a person that God has planted in my life for a strong purpose and I am merely recognizing that fact, feeling the Spirit working overtime with me? Time will tell, I am sure. But I will admit that it is oddly comforting and unsettling at the same time. There are several incredible, loving key people who have been "planted" in front of me right now, people I will learn from, people who will chastise and encourage me, people who are saying over and over again what I can't seem to believe..."Yes Cindy, you may not see it but we do..." as I try to put the pieces of my life together and try and discern what in the world God is doing with someone like me.

I am in such a weird place in my faith journey right now...feeling on the brink of new discoveries and deeper understandings and yet at moments truly wanting to run from it all and put my head under a pillow in an effort to ignore God's requests of me. I STILL have no idea where I am being led, which drives me crazy as I am a typical Virgo style planner who needs to know everything well in advance to be secure...although I have improved enormously in that area and work at it daily to let go of the illusion of control.

So while my own personal faith life has been in a spring for a year or more now, my church family is entering a new phase and will hopefully blossom in new and unexpected ways. I am hoping for surprises, for an ever deepening spirituality, for a branching out and an embracing of new ways of being and seeing. The potential is there, and today I felt an inner excitement that another step was taken in that direction with our selection of a new minister.

I also found myself extremely humbled and I would even go so far as to say embarrassed by comments made to me by others involved in this whole process. I am having a hard time figuring out my place in this world, let alone in my congregation...what my role is, where God wants me, what all of this means for me. Through others today and yesterday I felt a bit like "Cindy" is being seen as someone I really am not, I don't really know how to explain it but sometimes people view you through rose colored glasses and you see yourself through the more realistic dirty coke-bottle lenses that are far more appropriate. I am just me, I am not in any way unique nor should my needs be seen as any more or any less important than the person in the pew next to me.

I love my church family so very, very much...each and every one of them holds a special place in my heart and I DO want to serve them in ways I can, but I know in my heart that my best efforts will always pale in comparison to others who are far better equipped and educated. But my heart is there, it will always be there. Now, what to do with all of this remains yet to be seen...and it is scary as I feel it can not be ignored. I also feel SO stupid sometimes, so terribly inadequate to ever effectively do anything of value that would allow others to see God in and through me. And for me, no matter how ridiculous that sounds to many of you who are not really into all this "Christianity" stuff, it is very, very important that all I am and all I do reflect that Love that surpasses all. I guess it is because it as at those moments that I feel whole. Again, I know this is not making sense to most of you, but this is my "working it out" place and I will be working on this for a very long time, I think.

So as the branches spread far and wide, too does our work in our church and our larger community. We worship, we praise, we leave the gathering place and go out and take all that we are and lay it out for all to see. It leaves us vulnerable to judgment but it also leaves us yearning for more. Spring is here, new life will appear, we let go of the old and grab on to the new.

Spring bring swith it hope in every area of my we wait and wait and wait...thankfully, there is finally peace as we move forward in at least one area and reside no longer in limbo but find ourselves looking forward with anticipation. We have much to rejoice in, much to celebrate, and much happiness that will soon come our way. The last of our "births" will take place in the coming months as our family grows for the final spring will last longer than just these few weeks as we rest in the knowledge that our Mighty God runs it all, and does so much better than we ever can. For every thing, there is a season...and a reason. We just aren't always privy to it.

Happy Spring Sunday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Licensed Therapists!

Sorry I haven't updated the blog in a few days, I think I have personally been on overload and I need a little down time which I am not sure I will get anytime soon. Kenny is doing fantastic...he is walking well although his hip is still very tender and he is guarding it a lot. His scar is healing well, and his mouth seems to be giving him very little pain unless it is irritated by something he eats or he bumps his face. All in all, physically and emotionally he is doing far better than we anticipated at this stage and when we shared with him what had happened and that he will need another surgery to finish the bone grafting he was not too upset about it.

Tons of little things going on in our lives, nothing noteworthy really. I can't begin to tell you how nice it is for all of us to be back home together, and for surgery not to be looming over our heads. I am also discovering I am in a new place emotionally with our adoption and seem to be able to just let it all go for the moment and not stress. I am looking forward to a special summer spent with the boys and plan on just savoring the moment and not worrying about the "when" or the "how". It will all come together in God's time (don't you just love those platitudes?) and I am not really in control anyway, so there is no need to sweat it all. I am happy to finally be in this least this week .

We are planning some camping trips and are all looking forward to that. We don't have a ton of things on the schedule yet for the summer...although I always regret saying such things. It can be hard to find that balance between time with nothing to do to just hang out and time to be busy so boredom doesn't set in. Thus far we have been really successful with that through the years, and I can say in all honesty that I have not one time heard the immortal words "There's nothing to do...I'm bored!" at our house. We try to hit the library once a week, go to a park, swim or play with water or the trampoline at our house, have other kids over regularly, build forts, take things apart to see how they work, do a craft now and then, and other less-than-thrilling-but-somehow-engaging activities that one way or the other seem to keep them happy and involved without spending inordinate amounts of money.

Kenny is working on a writing project about his trip to Shriners and we are going to illustrate it and make it into a little book to turn in to his teacher. He spent a good portion of today writing and we ended up with about 10 pages written in his composition book. He was very proud of himself and rightfully so...that 10 pages constitutes about 5 hours of work for him as he struggles to get his thoughts spelled out. We will work on corrections tomorrow, then the final copy. He is excited about it and I am thrilled to see him writing so much and working so hard.

Coincidentally, we have the Shriners circus in town on Wednesday next week, and we are all excited to go and we have some close friends who are also going to share the fun and contribute as they can to the cause. It sure makes the circus real for you when you see the end result of all that fundraising. And frankly, I don't care HOW much we drop at that will be nothing compared to the care Kenny has already received, let alone what we know is coming in the future.

I received an email from our new friends we met there with the little boy who had cleft surgery. Happily he is doing really well, is as cute as a button, and I am so glad we met them. Hopefully it is a relationship we can continue via email as his mom is a real sweetheart.

Not much else to report, thankfully. After all the mini-drama of last week, it is so nice to report that nothing is going on! I'll write more over the next few days, I have a few thoughts on a couple of things I want to put out there. I know that often my posts are as boring as can be, and that most of you are here only for adoption oriented material...but this is a place where often I find I am able to work out many things unrelated to adoption. I apologize for the times when the writing tends to be more inwardly working things out than outwardly talking to you all. But since you all are really voyeurs into my brain via this blog (and why do you find that brain the least bit fascinating??? Still haven't been able to understand that one!! hahahah!) it must be expected that I don't think about adoption ALL the time :-) With God's work behind the scenes, eventually we will have plenty more adoption talk coming and you'll get more than your fill, I am sure. In the meantime, quickly close the window if you peer in and find my ramblings not to your liking. Consider this inexpensive counseling for me, and all of you are my licensed therapists!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Best Mother's Day Gift of All

We had a simply wonderful evening spent with our friends, where I was served a perfectly grilled steak and was able to relax and unwind with great conversation, and a glow of warmth that surrounded us all. Little kids giggling and playing as the sun gently set over the horizon, and a sense of security and safety enveloped us as we all spoke of how lucky we are to have the friendships we have and to be blessed to watch our children grow up together, hand in hand without judgmental ism or competition...all are equally loved and appreciated for their special gifts. The only thing missing was the other half of our family who were making their way back to us.

Kenny was in much better shape yesterday. The swelling around his mouth has diminished considerably, and he was up and walking well...if gingerly...and that million megawatt Kenny smile was back. After leaving our friend's house I made the decision to allow Matthew and Joshua to stay up really late to surprise Dominick and Kenny and meet them at the plane. We had originally planned for them to just come home by themselves and we left our van at the airport, but none of us could stand it and so we came home, made some signs and as we heard the airplane overhead as it was beginning it's descent we rushed out to the car, giggling all the way. We live a mere 5 minutes from the airport and we see the runway lights from our backyard and saw their plane coming in for a landing. We jumped out of the car and rushed into the airport only to find our own wonderful surprise, our dear friends Jane and Steve stayed up WAY past their bedtimes to join us in welcoming Kenny and Dominick home! Balloon in tow (which had us laughing when Kenny saw it and called it a "bubble" we still need reminders once in awhile that he has only been home years...hahahaha!), they are a beloved and much appreciated part of "Team LaJoy's" extended family.

As you can see from the wild look in Joshie's eyes and the huge grin on Matthew's face, the boys were ecstatic that our "other boys" were coming home. I honestly don't know when I have EVER seen Matthew as wound up, it was hilarious as he was prancing around the terminal and you'd never ever have known he is usually our more sedate child. As we saw them coming in the terminal, last off the plane and moving slowly, Matthew hid to surprise them as Joshie peeked through the door.

And I think these next two photos are my greatest Mother's Day gift of all. It is not just the fact that Kenny and Dominick are back safe and sound where they belong, nor is it only that Kenny's surgery is over and he is doing well.

The one thought that kept going through my mind as I watched this all unfold through the viewfinder is how lucky I am that we have sons who truly love one another deeply, whose care and concern for each other is so precious to me and is one of the cornerstones of the foundation of our family. I don't really know how to explain it, but having kids who love us and we love is one thing...having children who share that love with one another is a blessing of a different kind and something that is often rare today. I have no idea if it is anything we have done to encourage it, if it is their backgrounds and life experiences, or what, but being a bystander in my own family sometimes is an awesome and oftentimes emotional thing. I never take it for granted, I can assure you of that.

While in Chicago, just an hour or two before I was to leave to get on the plane to head home, I was approached by Kally Schneider, Director of Public and Community Relations at Shriners in Chicago, and asked if I would be interested in speaking that afternoon to a group of fifty 5th graders who were visiting the facility. She knew I would be cutting it close, but I felt that it was the least we could do after all they are doing for us, so I quickly and happily agreed to do so. After she walked away, I asked Kenny if he wanted to do it with me, and he eagerly agreed to do so. Once again, my courageous Kenny put himself out there for the world, gamely going up on stage in his wheelchair with his swollen face. The point of the interaction was to talk about bullying and how special needs children are kids just like anyone else, and how hard it is to be teased and made fun of. I did most of the speaking as Kenny's mouth was still so swollen his words were even harder to understand than usual.

I received a very warm email from Kally afterwards, so I guess we went over reasonably well. Dominick and I were talking afterwards, about how often such things seem to happen to us. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be ever speaking in front of others in public, my knees would have knocked in terror. Today, although I still get the jitters it is becoming more and more comfortable, and when it is something I am passionate about it almost seems easy.

But what I love is that I feel God is using me, and I am often so surprised in the ways I am being called upon. What are the odds of being asked to speak at Shriners? We don't know anyone there! Or being asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on TV all the way in Kyrgyzstan? The twists and turns are always so interesting to me, almost as if I am watching my life from the outside looking in. For the past couple of years I have made it a habit in prayer to ask God to use me today in some way, to put me in positions where I can offer comfort or support to someone or to place me in circumstances where I can use whatever talents or gifts I have been given to help others. Most of the time I am not even sure what those talents or gifts are!! I don't have any idea if things happen because I am looking for those opportunities and am open to them, or if God is placing me at certain places at certain times. All I know is it is humbling and affirming to be used like this, and I hope it makes a difference somewhere along the line.

I made it back for my ministry class on Saturday, and loved every single moment of it. I had a sort of small epiphany on my drive up to Grand Junction where my classes are held. I was still holding onto some residual guilt about leaving Kenny (which a friend emailed and straightened me out about, thanks Wichita!), when I suddenly realized I really WAS doing what I was supposed to be doing. Dominick and I have made a strong commitment to my path to licensed lay ministry...not for any career plans or anything like that...but because we as a couple see how incredibly blessed we are and continue to be, and we can not ignore the call I feel. It is our way of thanking God for all that has been given us, which is beyond measure. Looking back on this past week when so many offered so much to us was a stark reminder...we have an obligation to fulfill, we need to pay it forward in the ways we can, however that may be. We have been blessed, we need to bless others as we can. We can never ever repay all that has been given us and continues to be given, but those who have provided for us in so many ways hopefully see we are not "takers", that we will also do all we can even if direct repayment can never be made. And even if we had NOT been given so much in so many ways, God has given us life and that alone is reason enough to want to reach out to others in care in the ways we can. Dominick does it indirectly by supporting our family so I am home and have more time to volunteer and take on projects. The kids understand when I do things like go with the teenagers for the weekend, as we explain it in just this way. I guess it is our entire family's way saying "Hey God...thanks so much!!".

So now life returns to normal, whatever that really is in the LaJoy house! hahaha! School is out in a week and a half and then we can begin our 3 months of fun and reconnecting after a busy winter and school year. How I love those summer days!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Momentary Moms and Other

As always, Mother's Day is a special day for me. It was the day I actually became a mom for the first time. We were sitting on the airplane having just left the orphanage when Dominick and I turned to the other 2 couples who were adopting with us and said "Hey, do you realize that in America it is Mother's Day today?". That very tiny sickly baby boy in my arms that morning has been one of the very greatest gifts I have ever received. Today, that son of mine who looks nothing like me but is SO TOTALLY my kid stated quite clearly while we were at Walmart "Mom, step away from the is Mother's Day and you aren't going to do ANY work at all today! That's my job." and then he proceeded to unload and pack everything up for me.

I have received many surprise gifts this Mother's Day...the best of course is that Kenny is doing well, is up and moving about and will be coming home with Dominick tonight. Our house is a bit too quiet without our loudest and most boisterous members!! This morning at church, I was sitting in the pews with the boys as the choir sang "Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary". Quietly and ever so softly I hear Matthew start singing along with them, then later Joshie joined in. I don't know exactly why that struck me so deeply...maybe it is because I actually do find a Sanctuary within my family. Matthew's little high pitched voice sounded so sweet and tender to me, and I realized my time with him as a young boy is almost over, and I guess that is a little heartbreaking despite the fact that I dearly love and admire the person he is turning out to be.

I am so glad my children are who they are, and that they have the nurturing and support of a church family. Today was Youth Sunday and our Senior Highers created our worship service during which they reflected upon their time with us as 3 of them face graduation this month. Regardless of their level of participation, this place and these people have meant something to them. Their lives are forever just a little bit different for their involvement in the life of our Congregation. Sometimes I feel like such a complete idiot, as I sat there crying as if it was one of my own who was soon to leave the nest. Or maybe it is because it all flies by so fast, and I realize that we are already halfway there...and already I am not ready for it to be over. How I love being a mommy, how glad I am that I didn't let the chance almost pass me by as was very possible.

And of course, there is some sorrow in the mix as once again our daughters are not home for another holiday, a special one I would have loved to share with them. But, as any good mother does, I hold on to hope that next year they'll finally be home. They know and I know I am their "real" mom :-) For now, that will have to be enough.

Although Dominick wasn't here to spur the kids on for Mother's Day, I still was spoiled rotten. Encouraging words from other mommies who I love dearly via email and Hallmark made a big difference for me...and a very special handmade gift given to me by one of my children's "Momentary Moms" will take a place of honor in our home. I had a bright, remarkable young man hug me firmly this morning and have the courage to whisper in my ear "I love you, Cindy. You are such a blessing in my life and I am so grateful for you." . I heard Kenny's little voice on the phone this morning as he blew kisses my way, and had Joshie's written letter to me in which he declared "yon are the best mom in the hol univers. my mom is the best mom of ol of the moms in the wold!!", and then there was Matthew's sweet serenade in the pew beside me. I am blessed beyond all measure, amazed at the goodness and love in my life.

So let the tears fall as they may, for love filling a life is certainly something worth crying for joy about. Of that I will not be ashamed.

Happy Mother's Day to all...those with and without children, and for those whose children still wait. Hang in there, that is what Mom's do.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Puffy Face

Post-surgery yesterday evening...not feeling good at all, swelling not too bad yet. He LOVES his monkey sent by our adoption buddy! And today, we were teasing that it was the perfect stuffed animal because his swollen lip makes them look a lot alike!! :-)

Today dawns a new day, and tears abounded upon Kenny awakening as the pain from his hip was intense and his face was much more swollen than yesterday. The meds helped some and he is up in a wheelchair right now but has yet to stand or bear weight on his legs and hips. Based upon his reaction just trying to scoot up in bed, his first few days at home without the med pump into his hip are going to be excruciating. He is such a trooper, and despite the swelling in his face that doesn't seem to be causing him a huge amount of pain.

This is swollen but only about half of what it looks like now,
his lip is enormous, poor kiddo!
I hate to be leaving him today, but right now Dominick is likely to be the better one to help him as he is stronger and can lift him more gently and easily than I can. We are making plans for him when he gets home, as he will not be able to sleep in his loft bed for quite awhile and we will have to place an air mattress on the floor and surround him with pillows to protect his hip. I also need to stock up on soft foods as I wanted to make sure of what was safe before we bought items.
I am missing Matthew and Joshie a lot and can't wait to see them! As wonderful as this place is, I am going to be quite happy to sleep in my own bed. Dominick and Kenny are coming home Sunday night and then finally we will all be together again, the way we should be :-) I know the boys will all be glad to see one another again too.
So we are done with the worst of it for this episode, knowing we have yet another to face sometime probably this year. One day at a time...slow healing on many facets.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Slowly Shutting Down

It is now 9:15, Kenny is asleep for the moment and I am suddenly feeling as I am going to collapse. The only time I ever recall being this tired was traveling home from Kaz and Kyrg each time...that nasty middle-of-the-night Almaty flight is enough to kill you. It's sort of what I am feeling like right now.

Since last Friday I have been going full bore on almost no sleep. Today was very stressful, and I am sleeping on a pull-out chair bed in Kenny's room which is nice to have versus sleeping upright in a chair but is hard as a rock and my arthritic hip killed me all night last night. I didn't even realize just how tired I was until about 20 minutes ago when I actually started getting the shakes and a little dizzy. I thought back over the past few days and realized just how exhausted I really am...and I am betting on little sleep tonight. My flight gets in at 10:45 PM tomorrow night in Montrose and then I have to get up early to get to my class in Grand Junction. I'll bet I am incoherent by then and will be unable to contribute a single thing of value to the class discussion!

I'll tell you, this "Mom Stuff" is hard, really, really hard. But tonight as I finished reading Kenny a book and he lay there looking so tiny in his bed, he took his head and laid it in my palm and said "Mommy I am so glad you are here for my hard times.". Me too, Kenny, me too. It makes being exhausted seem inconsequential.

I still didn't get to speak with Matt and Joshie as we are having phone connection problems. I spoke with our friends who are keeping them and all is well but Matthew is having pain from the Walkathon he was in at school yesterday...problems with his feet and hips caused by his Bad Momma who didn't get his new orthopedic shoes ordered early enough and had to suffice with what I hoped would be adequate decent shoes from Famous Footwear. Sounds like they were more inadequate than adequate and I know for Matthew to complain it must have been really bad as he is the least likely to complain...but I guess he walked 8 miles yesterday so Hurray for Matt! Joshie had a nightmare last night, crying out in his sleep "I don't want to go back!"...I told my friend I was surprised it took 2 nights for him to get to that stage...and I miss them both so much and feel awful that I wasn't there to comfort them each. I also wonder when we will ever move past this stage with Josh, it breaks a little piece of my heart off each time this happens.

In the midst of me feeling inadequate as a mommy, there is always something to nurture my spirit. Our buddies here called this afternoon and said not to buy dinner. They came over and spent the evening with us again with their kids, bringing good old comfort food, my favorite thing in the entire world, macaroni and cheese. They brought the whole 9 yards, birthday cake as it was one of their daughters' birthday, soda, mac and cheese, biscuits...but most importantly they brought love and encouragement at the end of a tough day.

Last night I got a little more of a lift as I received a couple of photos of 2 particular children whom I yearn for. So much change, so little I can do. It spurs me on, keeps me from wanting to throw in the towel. It also hurts just a little, a very bittersweet thing.

Now I will turn this thing off, creep quietly back into the room, and probably be awake all night as I flip and flop around, read a few chapters of a book or watch a video when my aching back has had a little too much. If I am lucky, poor Kenny will only wake up a few times during the night...

Night everyone!

Woozy Little Boy

Kenny is a little under the weather and will see you soon!
I have one woozy little boy on my hands. Dominick and I were joking that out of all 3 kids, Kenny has always been the goofiest and silliest (don't worry, the other two aren't too far behind him...or should I say "the other three" and include Dominick in that?), so seeing him pre-op under the influence of the medication to get him relaxed made it hard at first to tell if he was even affected by it or just being his normal goofy self. After awhile though it was obvious he was finally getting a little "loopy" as he almost couldn't talk and then talked really, really, rrreeeaaallllyyy slowly and clearly so we could understand the nonsense he was speaking. You know us, we are pretty irreverent in the first place, and so Dominick and I looked at each other and said " if he ever uses drugs when he is older we will know what he acts and sounds like if he is 'stoned'!".

This was far better than earlier in the morning, when he started crying from the very moment his eyes opened as the fear finally set in. He crawled onto Dominick's lap for a bit, then snuggled into mine and I gently talked to him as I tried not to cry myself. There is something that is so vulnerable about Kenny, he has a sensitive nature which touches everyone he is around and makes them feel protective of him...even as HE is busy protecting others. Perhaps it is the younger little boy that still resides inside of him due to his institutionalization and his desire to occasionally visit that little boy who was never nurtured...or maybe it is that he is simply one of the kindest and most thoughtful children I have ever been around, a real caretaker himself in so many ways.

I knew I couldn't add to his dismay, so I decided to just talk openly about his impending operation. I think part of his fear comes from not having things explained when he was in Kyrgyzstan and worrying that people will tell him "it will be all right" just so he won't raise a fuss. From day one we have been 100% honest with him about what to expect. If it is going to hurt, I feel it is important for him to know that. If it is not or will only hurt a little, I am honest about that as well. So for the last 2 years we have been leading up to this moment in our conversations and my preparation for everything from vaccinations to dental visits. He now knows that when I say it will only hurt a little, he can fully trust that. If I tell him it will cause some minor pain, then he has an idea of what that means on "our" personal scale, and that I am not trying to make it sound better than it will be. I was so glad we have taken that approach over the past two years as he sat on my lap this morning very close to losing it and I calmly explained to him what level of pain to expect, comparing it to his broken arm and how bad that hurt at the moment he broke it...but that even he had commented on how it only ached a little a couple of hours later. Using that as a baseline I was able to talk him through an appropriate expectation of what was coming, and he seemed to feel it was acceptable and was noticeably more relaxed.

They brought in his gown to change into, and this funky little pair of G-String style underwear we had to tie on him. Kenny is definitely a LaJoy and has the same quirky (that sounds nicer than "weird") sense of humor that we all have, and so I joked with him about not ever having had the chance to change his diaper when he was little and this being the only time I would ever get to do that!! We all laughed about that, and though the mood was still a bit somber, it wasn't a funereal march as we headed off for the pre-op room. Luckily for us, they had a TV overhead...and the only anesthetic Kenny has EVER needed was a TV, so he was duly distracted at that point and we only had to wait for him to be taken in to the OR, which went quite smoothly with no fuss...of course being "stoned" probably helped immensely with that! Hahahaha! His favorite blankie that Grandma Barb made was with him until that final moment, and was the first thing he asked for when he arrived back at his room. We were so glad he never thought he was too old for a security snuggly and that the blanket so lovingly made for him before he ever got home helped him through this rough spot...and no doubt future ones as well.

Now, for the bad news...sadly, they were only able to do the bone graft on one of his clefts. We were told this was a possibility before surgery, and we had hoped that all of it could be accomplished with one operation so he wouldn't have to go through this again, but due to the way they needed to pull and cut tissue to close the opening in his palate and the need to keep all that tissue healthy with a good blood supply so it was successful and no tissue died off, it was decided that they would graft only one side. He also is a skinny little thing weighing only 64 lbs at 10 1/2 years old, and taking additional bone would have been more painful...they would have gone ahead if it weren't for the blood supply concerns but taking both facts into account I think they made a wise choice. However, now we are looking at yet another surgery perhaps within the next year, to complete the 2nd phase of the bone grafting.

If we have to have another surgery, well, Shriners Chicago is unparalleled. I doubt I could ever adequately describe the level of care here...but I will try. This is not a "hospital" in the traditional sense of the word. This is a place of care and concern for the physical body as well as the emotional and spiritual parts of a child. In the past couple of days, there have been activities scheduled for the kids such as crafts, etc. There has been someone visiting with rehab animals and children were able to play with a dog and see it do tricks. There is a fantastic outdoor playground along with an indoor one with an eye towards adaptive items like swings for big kids that strap them in tight and ramps everywhere galore. EVERYONE...and I do mean everyone from janitorial staff to security guards to kitchen staff on up exudes a warmth and sense of care that I have simply never seen anywhere else in my life. You know how supposedly Nordstrom's has customer service that is second to none? Well, multiply that times two here and you will only have scratched the surface. We have had people walk outside with us to point out where to walk to a local store, seen orderlies giggling, teasing and playing with kids in the cafeteria, been the beneficiaries of the widest smiles on the faces of every single person who has cleaned Kenny's hospital room, and not a single time has anyone even come close to being less than gracious and inviting as we enter their "home" here.

I was trying to think of what this all reminds me of, and I finally figure it out...when we moved from prickly Southern California where you are always kind of watching your back and avert your eyes out of habit, and then found ourselves living in rural Colorado where we were amazed at the "Colorado roadside wave" where it was considered downright impolite to not at least lift a hand in welcome to strangers driving was a bit of culture shock. How sad it is that being here and having simple kindness and warmth shown during a difficult time should be so amazing to us, it speaks to the decline of our society that this stands out as extraordinary...but it certainly does.

There are men in Shriner's fez's walking around all the time, a strong reminder to us all of the dedication necessary to create and fund a place like this. Say what you may, laugh if you will at their funny little hats, to our family those hats now symbolize love, care and a miracle for us. We have a long road ahead of us with Kenny's cleft issues, many years ahead of visits to Shriners here in Chicago. With this first surgery, it will no longer be a place we visit filled with dread, but instead will provide us with a sense of security that despite the painful yet necessary procedures that must be endured, there will be those who will walk us through it all and provide a big smile and a large dose of concern and skilled care that we would find no other place.

As I write this, Dominick is with Kenny in his room. It is dark and quiet, and he is resting well. As he came out of post-op, all he wanted was Mom...he wanted to hold my hand, to know I was there. I simply can not imagine what this was like for him the first two times he had surgery in Mom and Dad, no arms of refuge when he was scared and feeling alone. When I think of that, today doesn't hurt my heart nearly as much as reflecting on his surgeries performed when he was younger. He is in very little pain right now, quite drugged up and feeling grooooovvvvyyy ;-) Over the next couple of days the pain pump delivering medication directly to his hip will be removed and I expect that will produce significant soreness. His mouth is pretty swollen and he will be on all liquids for quite awhile. But the physical boo boos will heal. I had no idea how much this experience would move him forward in other kinds of healing.
I hold that strong, firm boy-man hand in mine, and I so easily can see who he will become someday. Kenny, you are on your way. When I say that I am not referring to your lip or your speech. No, this is just another step in your growth as a person, in your seeing yourself differently, in your gaining even more confidence in who you are as we tackle your physical issues one at a time...and more importantly as you learn to lean on the fact that your parents and brothers love you dearly and you will never be alone again, Ever.

Thank you so much to all of you holding us in your hearts right now. Thanks for the travel snacks and entertainment items given before we left. Thanks for the packages that were sent here in anticipation of Kenny's surgery, to distract him and comfort him. A special thanks to the many, many people who love all our sons and are caring for Josh and Matt while we are here so that we may focus fully on Kenny knowing our other beloved sons are safe and with those who care so deeply about them. We have had many people over the last few years shake their heads in amazement saying "I don't know how you do it...I never could.". What we see and yet can't explain articulately is that "we" aren't doing it...God is through so many people and their support. Those of you who read the blog and encourage us daily, those who show their love for us and hopefully know how very much we love them back...our friends here who have transported us, fed us, given up their car for us, and visited us last night with a deck of cards and a smile ready to keep us company...our church family without whom our life would be dreadfully empty and without whom we simply wouldn't have as much joy in our lives...our immediate family who has offered long distance prayers.

We aren't doing a thing here...God is through all of you.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Facing Fears and Growing Souls

"Mommy, my head is not scared, but my soul is nervous." - Kenny LaJoy

Sometimes this kid just says things that grab my heart. He is so easy to love. That is where Kenny's emotions are right now. I think this picture taken just before we left for the airport says it all with his expressive face, there is a hint in his eyes of the trepidation in his heart.

Overall he is in great spirits and has somehow found a way to be positive in spite of his very real fears. There is no doubt that being here in Chicago and looking forward to seeing our dear friends also helped his mind the surgery was more of an least until today.

We are here at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, having checked in at 10:00 AM this morning. We were visited by several members of his care team and everything about the procedure for tomorrow was thoroughly explained. This was Dominick's first time here, and he was as amazed as I was the first time. I swear, down to the very last person on staff here these people are so gifted at working with children, and are so warm to every one. There is a kindness that permeates this entire institution which certainly contributes to the healing of children and their families. When compared to Kenny's cleft, there are children treated here on a daily basis whose conditions are far more serious, and like Kenny they simply couldn't find a better place to have their medical needs met.

I will be spending the nights with Kenny the next two nights, then heading home for Colorado on the last flight out on Friday while Dominick remains here another two days, then they both come home on Sunday. I still feel a little guilty about leaving early, but I have the last of my ministry classes for the semester on Saturday and Dominick gave me a lecture about "I love him too, there is no reason for you to miss your class, I will be there, you need to do this as it is important to you...blah blah blah." and he ultimately convinced me it was OK when he reminded me I have done all the other medical stuff with the kids including most ER visits over the years and vaccinations.

Today was spent largely just hanging out, exploring the hospital, and learning more about what is to come tomorrow. Kenny visited with a couple of the other patients, and right now he and Dominick are playing a Wii and I will have a hard time pulling either of them from it. There is a large multi-purpose room with an indoor basketball court and lots of game tables, and there is a smaller play room right across the hall from Kenny's room.

The surgery will be tomorrow morning, around 7:30 AM and Kenny is the first one of the day. This will be good as he will then not have any time to fret over anything, and it will be over before he knows it. They will be closing the fistula in his palate, and will be grafting bone from his hip to replace the missing bone in his upper jaw from the two clefts. They explained that they will likely make an incision all along the inside of the upper part of his palate and then gently maneuver the tissue to hopefully close the opening. Then they will make incisions on the outside of the upper jaw along the gum line and that is where they will place the bone grafts. We learned today that they are not certain if they will be able to graft both clefts, as it will be dependent upon the amount of bone needed...if too much is needed they will do one side this time, and the other later on with another surgery. It is still undetermined yet if he will indeed have to have another tooth pulled, as they will examine the root and make a decision at the time of surgery. He will have a tube remaining where the incision is at his hip which will allow a pain reliever to be delivered directly to the location where the bone graft is harvested. Evidently the hip will be painful for several weeks, but they will want him up and walking as soon as possible afterward.

Kenny's biggest fears right now are when I will have to be away from him before surgery...he would like me there until he is asleep, and when they will insert the IV as he is very scared about that. He is drawing comfort from his teddy bear and his blankie right now, and they are laying on his bed while he is off playing.

As always, it seems there is an opportunity for understanding and processing his life on a deeper level, and at lunch today a mom, grandma and 5 month old infant boy with a cleft lip and palate sat down next to us. Kenny stared thoughtfully at the baby for a long time, and then said "Hey Mom...I think baby's with lips like mine are actually cute! Maybe I was cute too!". We talked about the pictures we have of him when he was a baby and how cute I thought he was, and that most people don't even think of a child's cleft...or any other obvious physical issues...once they get used to seeing a child or grow to love them, it is just part of who they are. He asked me if I would have loved him with his cleft when he was little, and I said "Of course, that is part of what makes you Kenny LaJoy!". And another step in soul healing took place as Kenny is slowly accepting who he was and internalizing it. Maybe one day he will see the handsome, bright, wonderful young man that the rest of us see.

In an odd little twist, Dominick and Kenny were playing in the game room when they were approached by someone who works on staff here at the hospital and asked if Kenny would mind having his picture taken playing with a new piece of rehab equipment. They are evidently putting together some new literature or some sort of media item and have been taking photos all day around the hospital. As they were taking the pictures, the woman who had asked for permission to photograph Kenny mentioned to Dominick that he and Kenny both looked very familiar, but she couldn't place where. I don't know how they came up with it...and don't know what the odds are that this happened...but it turns out that she has read our blog! She has a Google alert for items relating to Shriners that appear on the internet, and so she stumbled upon us that way. She said she printed out my post where I wrote about Shriners and she shared it with several staff people so they could see what patients' experiences were like here at what they were saying.

I was so surprised to learn this, and pleased as punch to know that somehow something I have written about this phenomenal place may have served to encourage the unsung heroes who work with people. When you see the faces of the children served here, when you begin to learn their stories and see that each and every one of the families is treated with the greatest of respect, regardless of their station in life, it is a gift of untold proportions to all of us who are the beneficiaries of Shriner's dedication. I know for our family, the gift of this medical care literally means we don't have to take out a second mortgage on our house to get Kenny the care he needs.

So the evening is winding down now, there is a soft rain falling and we have gray skies. And now I must somehow get my head in a place where I can handle what comes tomorrow. I know when compared to other parents who are in life and death struggles with their children this seems minor...many would gladly trade places with us to have to only deal with a cleft versus other far more serious health issues. But for this mommy, this is my first time dealing with any sort of medical issues beyond the minor bumps and bruises...ok, and broken arm or Lego up the nose...and I am worried about it all. I know it is going to be extremely difficult to see Kenny in pain tomorrow. I give thanks that it is not as bad as it certainly could be, and yet my heart is already hurting at what lays ahead of us. And now I am off for what I know will be a sleepless night, and I think that like Kenny my soul is a little nervous as well.

I think Kenny has far more courage than I do.