Sunday, July 25, 2010

We're All Done Adopting...Yea, Right!!!

I thought we were finally through...have been bragging about having completed our family and doing the happy dance over it all. I should have known when I blogged earlier this week about life being calm and settled that I was going to jinx myself. I should have known to leave well enough alone, but OHHHHHH NOOOOOOO...not Cindy!! Hahaha!

Today we were going about happily minding our own business, on our way out of town for a picnic afternoon in the mountains. We were going to check out some possible camping spots and maybe ride the gondola in Telluride at night and see the lights for the first time. On the way out of town we had to pass Walmart and Dominick wanted to stop and pick up the reading glasses he had ordered. I drop him off at the front door, then drive around waiting for him to come out.

That was mistake number one.

Out near the entrance to the parking lot, in the shade of a small tree, sat a woman with a little metal corral set up. Inside it were 3 little white puppies. I drove around the lot 3 times waiting for Dominick. He took too long.

That was mistake number two.

I phoned him on his cell saying I was going to stop and check out these cute puppies and to let me know when he was done. He laughs and pretends he can't hear me. I tell him to call me when he had checked out. Then we all pull over, pile out of the van, and walk over to see the cutest puppies ever. As we got closer I realized these might be one of the breeds that is supposed to be good for highly allergic folk like myself. Being the curious sort, I ask if I can pick one up and hold it for a bit, just as an experiment, don't ya know.

That was mistake number three. Three strikes and you're out.

And we are now the ecstatic new parents to a brand new 9 month old of the first animals I have been able to hold in years and years and not immediately start sneezing and experiencing a full on asthma attack in 5 minutes. She is a Bichon Frise of some sort, which I had to look up to see how to spell! After much pleading and snuggling with Dominick, the kids won him over. Actually, it was seeing me there with the dog nestled in my arms and not struggling to breath that likely really won him over, but I digress. For all the tough guy exterior, let's just say that Dominick's daughters already have him figured out to be the teddy bear he really is. The pathetic wheedling of his sons didn't hurt any either.

So we never made it to the mountains, and instead all trooped into Walmart for supplies...while the puppy puked all down the front of Dominick's shirt. He handled it like an old pro, showing the same finesse he showed with Joshua and Matthew when they were babies. No big deal, wipe away and move on.

So without further delay,let me introduce to you our latest addition, Heeeeeeerrrrrreeee'sss Sunny LaJoy!

She is now laying semi-quietly in her crate on the floor of the boys' room, all of them spread out on the floor around her crate to keep her company, and the girls lay claim to her tomorrow night. I had to crack up when Olesya said to me in all seriousness, "Mama pick good kids AND good dog!". We can already tell she will be the perfect dog for us. The fact that I won't hit my asthma inhaler around her every 5 minutes was a big plus, of course, but she is a very gentle little soul, not at all rambunctious for a puppy, very quiet and calm and seems attuned to listening. Already Olesya is trying to teach her tricks. And Kenny just might get over his lifelong fear of dogs. Even with this little one at first he was scared to death to hold her. We made progress just today on that , as you can see from the photos.

We have wanted a pet for a very long time but couldn't find one we liked that I could be compatible with. Sorry, there is nothing appealing to me about reptiles, although the benefit of them not having fur was certainly there. Once the girls came home and we saw their love of animals and deep desire to be the caretaker for one, we knew we needed to do something. Olesya has professed all along that she wants a career working with animals, so we are giving her the opportunity to prove herself and learn how to train a dog. They are all so conscientious we are not at all concerned about getting stuck with taking care of her, even after the new wears off. While we might have to give a quick reminder here or there, we are 100% certain there will be no argument and they will do a bang up job being new mommies and daddies to their baby. Actually, it is the responsibility factor that was the only reason I could allow myself to see us bringing in a puppy right now. I am grateful to know before we do it that I will not be the only one feeding it and taking care of messes. If I wasn't totally confident in that, then we would never tackle this...but all 5 kids have certainly proven themselves to be trustworthy in that regard and I believe in them when they say they will handle 90% of her care.

And really now, who could walk past that little face and not be totally taken with it? We simply couldn't resist. Sitting here tonight, we have no regrets and in fact are saying we really made a great choice in this particular dog who appears to fit our family perfectly.

So now in photos you will have a new face staring back at you from amongst the crowd.

And next time, I will never blog about our life being settled. I have learned my lesson well :-)

A Kodachrome World

Institutionalization is institutionalization, pure and simple. Great attempts can be made by staff to brighten up walls, to bring the outside world in, but it doesn't really change the fact that life for a child in an orphanage is a very lonely, dreary existence, devoid of the most important things in the world that a child, God, family.

Olesya said something today that illustrated this perfectly. We were driving home from our church book sale and were talking about all the books that had been sold and how much our kids love books. We joked about how Angela had said "I no like books, I no like music, I only like sport!" when she first came home. Oh, how that filled my heart with fear and dread! How could I ever manage to help this child open up to the beauty that surrounded her and the world of possibility that had been denied her? Was it even possible at this late stage, or was she already programmed to view herself in only one way and remain closed to all else?

We laughed as we talked about how Angela now begs to take more than the 40 allotted books from the library each week, and how she has now surpassed Kenny in her love of the music from Mama Mia (Oh Lordy, what have we unleashed?? Couldn't it have been something other than ABBA music??? PLEASE?? Hahaha!). Just this week she was ticking off on her fingers all the things she loves now...Little House on the Prairie DVD's, lots of music, playing games, working at church. As Olesya and I were talking about the transformation in her sister she turned to me and said to me something I will never forget.

"Mama...Angela no like books in Kazakhstan because all books black and white. America everything color! So beautiful America everything beautiful and colors!"

I sat there pondering that one for a long time, thinking of all the things both literal and figurative that turn my life into a Kodachrome world. Lush illustrations in magazines or books, the most awe inspiring Colorado sunsets right out my front door every evening, the laughter, warmth and hugs from a loving family, music of any variety that uplifts and touches my soul on more occasions that I could ever begin to count. Then there is a relationship with God that helps me have a deeper appreciation for every single thing in my life, both good and bad.

All that and so much more is what adds color and texture to our lives. All of that had been denied our children. No wonder they initially couldn't understand or reach for the richness that our life might offer them!! They had never even had a taste of the sweet goodness of it all! Life was a series of bland classes with rote memorization, how could they be eager about education? Life was dreary gray skies, dreary buildings, dreary food. There were no choices, you did as you were told. 6 months home and both girls still struggle to make simple selections and we have to limit their choices to make it easier. Can you imagine a life with no options, no variety, no hope?

It was a black and white world.

A family brings it offers hope, it offers variety, it offers safety and room to explore! It takes us from black and white to Kodachrome in an instant. God guilds the edges in gold, adding the richness and definition to it all.

To the outsider, our life may appear mundane. Inside our life though, there exists a wealth beyond measure, a palate with a plethora of colors. That is because God is at the center of it, and that means love is at the center. Every time we veer off course, the colors dim slightly, and the further away we walk the darker it all becomes.

No child should have to live in darkness, lost to the world. It is not only children in institutions who live like that. Often it is our elderly, or those who live a life untouched by love. We all bring the Kodachrome colors with us when we reach out and offer love to one another, and we give those colors away with every hug, every smile, every "I believe in you!".

As I see the world expanding on a daily basis for our daughters, I can't help but think of the hues they once lived with, deadened and dull, and contrast it with the luminosity of their colorful new world.

God, don't take my Kodachrome away...

Obviously, We Have a Problem!

Sorry about the appearance of the blog, I don't have time to fix it today but will try and get to it the next day or two. I am not sure what happened but it appears I will need to find a new template...Ugh! Stay tuned and the new and improved version will appear as soon as I have a spare moment!

Friday, July 23, 2010


Well, I should have known after this morning's post that something would come along to spice up Team LaJoy. Now, I realize there are very few people who would get so darned excited about this like we did, so grant us some Geek Concessions, ok?

I have asked around to see if we could find some old National Geographics or Smithsonions to use with school. Having just a handful...and I mean maybe 8 or so, I found we are using them like crazy to learn about cultures, maps, the world in general, so I decided it would be handy to have a few more around. Just this week we used a map on bird migration, another on the world's water supply/rivers, a couple of articles from the 1980's on poaching in Africa...see what I mean? So I asked Dominick to put a request out on Craig's List to see if anyone had any to donate that were just sitting around their garage. Within less than a day we got a response from a guy in Grand Junction, who said he had some and would sell them to us for $20 but he was having a garage sale today and tomorrow so if we wanted them we had to come get them ASAP. Hmm....well, with nothing better to do I woke the kids up this morning with a "It's a No School Day!" and off we went.

Driving up there (it's over an hour away) I was thinking what total geeks we are...we are singing the music from Mama Mia at the top of our lungs (and not singing well, I might add), next listening to African acoustical music, then a Mennonite choir singing old hymns (So lovely sounding!), on our way to get old National Geographic mags. Could we possibly go higher on the Geek-O-Meter??????

Anyway, we get there and it didn't look all that promising. We walk in and I can't quite figure out what is going on. It is either a store going out of business that has not been a floral store for many years but still had stock, or it is a family of hoarders which is deeply sad to me, or...??? No idea, but the folks were really nice but as we were down in the basement of the building Matt mentioned seeing a King Tut mask and the guy in all seriousness said "Shh...if my wife hears that she'll never let me get rid of all this stuff!". Although you could barely walk anywhere, and I admit to being a little uncomfortable, it was also sort of like a treasure hunt...around every corner was a surprise...old pipes, 7 old style arcade video machines (the big ones), a beat up tractor, McDonald's toys, an old set of Childcraft Encyclopedias like my parents sacrificed to buy for us when we were kids (no, I did not give in to temptation!). We were led out to an old shed as well.

Imagine my surprise and delight that this gentleman intended to give us almost FIFTY YEARS worth of National Geographics for $20!!!!!!!!! SCORE!!!!!!

What a wonderful surprise it was! Now, we don't have every issue for every year, but the majority for every year is there dating back to 1947 and we have several years where there are two and maybe three entire annual sets. The drawback? Some of the mags in the shed had water damage and there was some mold on a few issues, but overall not that many. They had all been grouped and wrapped by year and that helped preserve a lot of them but we had a lot of decay left in our car after removing them.

I knew we were in trouble when Matthew couldn't wait and on the way home asked if we could unwrap a few so he could read them, and his nose was buried in them the entire drive home.

Arriving home the Team went into action, and I do seriously mean action. I thank God every day for our family, but there are moments when I step back and watch as an observer and realize we are far more blessed than at times I give us credit for being. It is hot here, and without a single complaint they spent over an hour sorting through them at the car (Matt's job), hauling them all inside after we discarded the bad ones and arranging them in order by year. I didn't say a single word to them other than "OK Guys, let's get to work!" and they were off and running. Interesting as I realize now that I didn't delegate tasks either, they all took it upon themselves to take responsibility for certain portions. I went in the house after helping at the car side of things and OIesya had put all the groceries away we had purchased on the way home including having washed the fruit. Kenny took on the challenge of organizing by year and Angela offered to help. Josh and Olesya then hauled everything from the car into the house.

It was like a well oiled machine, amazing to watch as an adult to see such young kids working without direction and attacking a task at hand. As I sat down on the couch myself to check out the pictures I took, Angela takes it upon herself to empty the dishwasher when she is in there getting a glass of water, and sweet Matthew spends yet another full hour cleaning up the car after that huge mess was left behind. He grabbed the shop vac from the garage, and the big trash can and went to work, coming in only for a glass of lemonade and the glass cleaner. I am still floored that he spent almost 2 hours out there voluntarily in the hot sun doing an icky job, and not a single person asked him to do it. And once again, I receive the gift of parenting children I not only love, but deeply admire in so many ways.

I also feel we are SO fortunate in having daughters who come to us as much older children, who show such great compassion for others. Twice today we say little old men walking, one of whom had parked his car in the middle of the lot and not in a spot but seemed oblivious. The words of the kids are all so heartwarming "Awww...I feel bad for him...I hope he is safe!" and "At least he is out walking around instead of sitting at home all day!". Then we saw the second older gentlemen who really walked with the most unusual gait, sort of dancing and Angela said "Oh look Mama...he so cute!! I like him!".

I also totally cracked up when Olesya asked "Mama...other mama's homeschool do this?" when asking about the magazines as we drove home filled to the gills. Kenny started laughing so hard and said "No, only our mom's crazy like this!".

Here are a few more pictures of what we have been up to this summer. Nothing costly, pillow fights and couches surrounded with books...and gender bias has no place in our home as you can see from the following pictures. In Team LaJoy, boys can read Fancy Nancy, and girls can rough house, build houses and beat up the boys in pillow fights too!

There are a couple of other pics of us at 4th of July in the parade as well thrown in that I received from a friend.

Not So Lazy Days...

Sorry I haven't blogged all week, seems like I sort of went into a dry spell! We haven't done anything earth shatteringly interesting to blog about as we have just been sticking close to home, doing school work, and not much else.

This summer is turning out to be a very different one from years past. Homeschooling has been largely responsible for a change in mindset, for ushering a sense that we can take it all slowly, live more in the moment and not feel we have to cram every single thing into 3 months before we all part ways again. How nice it has been! I haven't been this laid back in forever, although we are still busy or at least I am. It just feels very different and we are all thorougly enjoying it.

After our long trip overseas, it also seems none of us is in that big of a hurry to leave home. We usually have a couple of camping trips under our belts by now, but haven't done a thing! We might go camping in the next couple of weeks, or we might wait until fall to do more of that. We are anxious to take the girls on their first outdoor adventure with us, but everyone seems content right now just hanging around home and I am grateful for that...we needed it.

We are doing "school lite" but as always I am shocked how much we actually accomplish when not even working all that hard at it! I asked all the kids a few days ago how they were feeling about September now that everyone has a decent sized bite of homeschooling. Did they want to go back to public school? Are they feeling like they are missing out on anything? What can I do to improve their learning experience? The vote was unanimous that they are thoroughly enjoying all that we are doing at home and never want to go to school again :-) I know that over the years that response might change, but for now it looks like all systems are "Go" for the coming year. I am having to spend a significant amount of time working with our school's new software system to set up a learning plan for each of the kids but it definitely helps me grasp the bigger picture so it is time well spent.

We are working on a couple of entreprenuerial projects as we are going to have a couple of snack sales for our church youth and camp fund. The kids are excited about that as finally it moves from "playing store" to actually BEING a little store! We are starting a new youth club at our church based upon a curriculum from Keepers of the Faith which you can find here: It is cool as it is not nationally affiliated but is sort of like Scouts in that it is merit badge based. The nice thing is that you can start one with just your own family, hence a lot of homeschoolers do it just as one family. We thought it was a great idea for our very small youth group at church and we hope to create some fun opportunities for the kids to learn new skills as they interact with others in our congregation.

Soooo.....see?? I told you it was a dry spell!!! We'll see if we can jazz it up more this coming week for you all, hopefully with only good and happy things to share!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Live It

I spent 5 hours on our way home from La Foret thinking about how I would ever be able to put today into words. There really is no way to do it justice, but I'll try. What started out as a pretty mundane excursion to pick up the crew quickly took a hard right, and as often happens in our lives I am left shaking my head in wonder at the power the Spirit seems to have in our lives. It seems like every time I turn around, I am breathlessly rushing to catch up in understanding and depth, and never really quite making it. And tonight, as I sit here typing while everyone else is sprawled across our bedroom floor and the only sound is the gentle blowing of the swamp cooler, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted in a way I have not been since being in Kazakhstan. So much for a quick, effortless drive to Colorado Springs and back.

We left last night, going against our original plan. We were trying to save the cost of a night in a motel room but realized that meant getting up at 2:00 AM to arrive on time and driving over deer infested mountain passes in the dark. Uhhh...probably not the best plan we ever hatched and luckily we recognized our folly mid-afternoon and made the snap decision to go over early. Camp is 5 hours away, 10 hours round trip over 2 weekends in a row. It can be a bit of a hassle and logistical challenge, and I'll admit to grumbling a bit last night.

Shame on quickly those grumblings stopped today, and I begged God for forgiveness. We were about to be kicked in the booty and reminded what it was really all about.

We pull into camp, and before we can even park our car we are stopped in the middle of the driveway by one of the counselors who was checking kids out. I happen to know her a little, and rolled down the window to chat, and as she opened her conversation with "I have to tell you about your kids..." I was a bit hesitant as I wondered what had happened and if one of the kids had acted up or had trouble while there this week.

Imagine our surprise as tears spring to her eyes as she shares with us how very special our kids our and what a joy it was to have them there. She relayed an incident in particular that I will share in a moment, but went on to say that we had a marvelous family, and that our children had all of the counselors in tears almost every day. Of course, I immediately well up, and then it gets worse as she goes on to tell us about something that had happened which really touched all of them deeply.

They have a high ropes course at camp, it is really quite a challenge and SCARY! Matthew came home last year feeling like quite the Conqueror for making it through it, but admitted he had been terrified of it and was sort of surprised at himself for completing it. Thursday was High Ropes Day, and we received a message in the middle of the day from one of the other counselors saying that Kenny had been scared and wanted to talk to us, but we had no phone number to return the call and not hearing anything else out of them, we assumed all was OK.

We come to find out that Kenny was more than "scared", he totally lost it, was paralyzed with fear and stuck up high starting sobbing and crying out for Mommy. He remained up there for over 30 minutes, and eventually after praying and asking God to help he was able to get back down, not completing the course, knees no doubt trembling and heart pounding.

All the counselors felt his anguish and fear, and even the young adult counselors who are mere teens themselves admitted that they couldn't keep from crying as they watched Kenny's obvious distress. But the thing that touched them all so deeply as many of them shared with us today was that Matthew, Angela and Olesya stayed by his side the entire time, encouraging him, offering him support, loving him through it all. They were not ashamed or embarrassed of Kenny's momentary lack of courage, they were standing there lifting him up and sharing the burden with him, carrying him emotionally. My friend who stopped us in the driveway said "The word for the day was 'Loyalty', and this was the best example of it we all could have ever seen.

But what makes this a story that speaks of God's love through others giving us strength, is that later they all returned, and Mr. Kenny LaJoy summoned the courage to try again, and he came away victorious, celebrated by his siblings who all know what an incredible act it was for him to go back and try again.

They all made shirts....Matthew was wearing one with the word "Honor" emblazoned across the front. Olesya had "Generous" on the back of hers. Angela had "LOVE" in huge letters from shoulder to shoulder. Kenny had "Loyal" and "God" written on his. Each selected their own words. How very fitting their selections were...

As we sat there, still in the car blocking the drive, Kenny comes walking down the dirt road, then starts walking a little faster when he sees it is our car. He is still so little in stature, and yet somehow the character he exudes is far larger than his diminutive size. He leans in the window with his chin quivering and reaches for a big hug. A little hitch in his voice as he says "Hi Mom!" and then starts to cry a little. Next comes Olesya, grin as wide as can be, me still hanging out the window and she is crying a little as well, as I reach out to her.

Slowly approaching is Angela, and I can see she is not trying to hide it at all, she is already breaking down and I get out of the car so Dominick can park and others can get by. She literally falls into my arms and buries her head in my neck, sobbing so hard. We stand there, embracing, holding one another in a way we never have yet Mom and Daughter who have Always Been and Always Will Be. I don't say anything for a moment as the tears flow, I just hold her close, gently brush her hair. Finally I whisper into her ear with my own hiccuping sobs getting in the way "I love you SO MUCH and I have missed you this week!"..she starts crying a little harder and says "I love you too so so cool! I love you! Thank you!".

After a few minutes we all collect ourselves and head up the dirt drive to where everyone else is gathering while other families are saying good bye, packing pillows and sleeping bags in cars. Matthew comes out and in his quiet, unassuming way gives us a hug and a big grin, saying he loved camp this year as always. We have 4 kids all thrusting decorated rocks and drawings at us, presenting us with gifts of flashlights Olesya bought for us and Angela showed Joshie the TShirt she bought for him. Matthew bought Joshua a stuffed 3 of the 4 kids spent their entire camp money on everyone else. Kenny had to replace his own flashlight and bought a pillow case. Before we left, we took the kids back to the gift shop and insisted they buy a little something for themselves.

There were no less than 5 counselors who approached us to tell us how special camp was this year, and that it was largely due to Team LaJoy (or the minimized version of it). They spoke of seeing gentleness, love openly shared, courage, and warmth. One young lady has known Kenny since his first summer there, when I stayed with him and he had only been home a month. He was a total deer in the headlights, maturity of a 4 year old, and pretty obstinate at moments. She spoke of how transformed he is, and how cool it has been to see the changes in him each summer. Two of the other younger female counselors grilled me to see if the girls would be returning next year, saying that we have "incredible daughters" and they have never met anyone quite like them. They were begging us to make sure we put them back in the same camp next year so they could spend time with them again.

Our family was the last to leave as we were asked to take pictures together. Every one of the younger female counselors starting crying again, hugging the kids 3 or 4 times. I had the chance to thank them all individually for being there for our kids this week. Finally, we all managed to pile in the car, tear stained cheeks not yet dry.

I share this all not out of a desire to say "Hey...look at our great kids!", although a little misplaced parental pride would be hard to deny. The fact is, we did NOT create the spirits that reside within these children of ours. We have loved them and provided for them, but can not lay claim at all for any innate goodness they have...they came to us that way and we were just blessed enough to bring them into our lives.

I share this because of a couple of reasons. It is something I have had conversations about as recently as a couple of nights ago. So many people do not see children as "whole" or "complete" spiritual beings. Somehow, due to their limited time here on earth, because of their lack of life experiences, or simply because they are not truly "seen" at all but instead hauled around and talked "at" rather than "with", they are viewed as somehow deficient souls. We don't see the fullness of their being, we patronize them, we talk over them, we discount their power to minister to others, to help transform others, to have God speak through them to work in the lives of others. Every child around us is God's complete and fully loved creation. How often we disregard the maturing thoughts of a child, not seeing within his or her words the truths God is trying to reveal to us, or the direction in which God wants to lead our own thinking. We "pooh pooh" the little one beside us, speak to them in patronizing tones and brush them off, all the while taking the adult next to us so seriously. What are we missing when we deny God's full presence standing before us inhabiting a child's body? Putting my own children aside, there have been so many children throughout my life who have taught me lessons I might have missed and that I needed to learn!

I think I realized something else too, and that is as I struggle to discern my own ministry, I am missing what is right before me. I don't see being a Mom as a ministry, perhaps because it doesn't feel at all like giving and is far more a beloved gift in my life. But it was an eye opener today to see the trickle down effect, to see that lessons taught and Christ being lived out in our own lives is a ministry in itself. Giving our all to raising children who walk through this world offering love to others, being generous of spirit and honorable, well, that is a ministry in a way I just hadn't seen it before. Please don't interpret that as saying "our kids are perfect"...oh SO SO not! Hahaha! They fuss and pick at each other like any siblings do, they make enormous frustrating messes to clean up, they are rude sometimes and turn a deaf ear at chores once in awhile. But, in general and at this point in time, our kids do try to live out God in their lives, just as we adults do. Again, it goes to recognizing the innate value of a human, regardless of chronological age.

I realized I too had grown during this camp week, and in an unexpected way. We received the message about Kenny while our home phone service and internet was down for a couple of days, and the call came in on a cell phone whose number was blocked, leaving us with trying to decide if we should call the camp on the direct number, or wait to see if another call would be forthcoming. I surprised myself by being totally non-anxious about it all, and that as well as what I saw today with the loving, wonderful counselors and extremely special Camp Directors, showed me that I have entered a new phase in my faith. I knew the people directly responsible for Kenny, and I had complete confidence in their ability to handle the situation well, and to take him in whatever direction spiritually he needed to go to work this out.

While I missed the kids this week, it was not a gnawing ache or a huge void as one might expect after being with them virtually 24/7 due to homeschooling. It was appropriate, it was low key, and it was my own recognition on a deeper level that our children need far more than just us. Seeing the way the camp staff was with the kids today, their contributions to the development of our children is priceless. At the very deepest level, I think maybe I have come to a place where I am beginning to fully take in that God provides all we ever need, and that the full burden need not lay solely upon our shoulders as parents. How narrow a life that would be for our children!! And how little trust that shows from us that God has it all under control, and will add in the seasonings our children need to mature in faith, and lead a rich and fulfilling life. Our job is to parent them, to guide them, to nurture them. It is not to be the sole influence and assume that will be enough. We, as their parents, lead them to the Living Water, and God will stand there with a cup in hand...perhaps in the form of a camp counselor, a pastor, a friend or other teacher.

Sometimes it is urgent that we, as parents, get out of the way. It is not about us, and we do not own them. God does.

On the way home we found ourselves knee deep in theological discussion, conversation and debate that would give my ministry classes a run for their money! Whew! Kenny is struggling with the Bigness of God, and with worrying that if he develops a theology that differs from ours we might get angry with him. He said he thinks sometimes that all that God does is just too much for one God, and he wonders if there aren't more Gods than just one. He can't imagine God keeping track of all the details.

We reassured him that his faith path has to be entirely his, and we will be there to support and offer our perspective anytime he wants but would never get mad at him for thinking differently than we do. We reminded him that Dominick and I both have differences in our understandings but respect one another and don't expect each other to believe the same thing. I also told him I thought it was good he was open to wrestling with such things, and that meant he was engaged in an active faith life and that God would walk with him through it all. Many more questions arose during this conversation, and I was pretty sapped by the time it was over.

The wonderful thing was that for the first time, Angela piped in strongly, offering her thoughts and insights...La Foret used it's magic can opener and her spirit was pried open a little more. As the kids were singing their camp songs in the back seat, she joined in, something she has never really done before. I think camp normalized Jesus for her, she saw kids just like her who are open with their belief and comfortable with God, no shyness, no awkwardness...and singing camp songs that speak of God our creator is a huge step for her. Even if she did get the words wrong in one song about Jesus being a calm in the "store" rather than the storm. Her enthusiasm was all that was important, the words can come next year!!

Later, at home, we were not yet off the hook as Kenny plopped on the couch and started crying again. He had a wonderful time at camp, and he made a point of reiterating that, but he found that he was embarrassed and ashamed as other kids talked about their friends and their lives, and he felt very different. He said he didn't want to admit that a couple of his closest friends are several years younger than he is, and he said he wished he felt more like everyone else.

Honesty Time.

Darn it, there are moments I wish our kids didn't suffer over things that are not their faults! We talked about his immaturity, and the reasons for it. We pointed out to him that the girls too are behind their age-related peers as well in many areas. In fact, Angela already is talking about next year at camp and begging to stay with the little kids, because the bigger kids are "scary". This all was prompted when, after arriving home, he was in his room gathering up his toys to get rid of them because he wanted to grow up faster and not be babyish anymore. He feels different, he knows he is different, but part of it is something he didn't identify until we shared it with him.

After him saying his life was too babyish and boring, I asked him "What is it that the other kid do your age that makes them more grown up? What do you want to do that you think would make you more normal in their eyes?". He thought about it and said "Well, most of them play video games I guess. That's it really, they talk about their video games." Hmmm....I then proceeded to list all the interesting and cool things he does or has accomplished, despite his admitted immaturity at times. "So let's play soccer, take piano lessons and are getting better at that all the time. You are already a green belt at TaeKwonDo. You have traveled around the world, seen Chicago, a little of New York, California, and Las Vegas. You are homeschooling and taking very cool field trips and learning interesting things in new ways. You go camping, are active in your church, play tons with your siblings and friends, have taken acting classes and will be taking them again along with art classes. Oh yea, and you even play video games sometimes. Yea, I can TOTALLY see that your life is boring and doesn't live up to that of others your age.". He couldn't help but laugh after that one.

"Kenny, being different doesn't mean you are wrong. The difference between you and some kids your age is that you have actually developed a lot of interests, and it is not just video games. While I agree that maybe part of the reason you don't fit in may have a little do to with maturity, I think part of it is that you just have more interests and haven't found a group to fit in with who has your same interests. And when you are more grown up, it won't matter one whit if your friends are your same age or not!" I then proceeded to name off all my friends who are older or younger than I by several years and said "I guess I shouldn't have any friends because NONE of my friends is my same age!" He said "But it is different when you are older!" and I said "It is more important to have friends you have something in common with, then to worry about fitting in with kids you have nothing in common with. Age is not important, shared interests is."

We then talked more about why he is less mature, and that one of the many reasons we pulled him from school now was this very reason. I reminded him that I had told him before that about 5th grade the gap would widen between he and his peers, and 5th grade would be very difficult for him in terms of fitting in. He saw that first hand at camp, but thankfully not due to someone teasing him, he was just able to draw his own conclusions by seeing how little he had in common with everyone else. Most importantly though, we talked honestly about his need to be younger for awhile longer, and that at home he was safe to grow up at his own pace without fear of being teased. I reassured him that his background was different than everyone else's, and that he was not stupid or weird, but was in fact quite normal compared to his "real" peers who are older adopted post-institutionalized children...just like his sisters who still believe in mermaids and play with baby dolls at an age when most girls have put those things aside.

We talked about how being responsible had nothing to do with wanting to be a little boy for awhile longer, and about how much he had already grown up since coming home. "You'll grow up and be like everyone else eventually, don't worry. It is just going to take more time and we intend to give it to you...but you need to give it to yourself too, Kenny. Pretending you are interested in older stuff isn't going to work, and one day you will wake up and finally not want to play pretend super heroes and will realize you have grown too old for it. For now, just be who you are and do not be ashamed, for you have NOTHING to be ashamed of!".

And with that, my emotional overdrive was burned up, and I went for an evening walk to clear my head.

Now, at 1:45 in the morning I will try and get some rest, for tomorrow brings another round. For now, all is quiet on the Western Front. Kids are home, safe and sound, having made heart connections with so many others. Introspection, however, will continue long into the future. Team LaJoy will press on, loving and learning as we go, and profoundly grateful for the people God has used to tap us on the shoulder or offer a hug of encouragement just when we needed it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Amen and AMEN!!!!

We have been without internet the past couple of days, so lucky you all blog was quiet and my mouth was shut! least virtually :-)

I was catching up on over 100 emails when I stumbled upon an article that just had me almost cheering with "Atta Girl"'s!! I'd like to share it with you, it spoke so perfectly to my own experience and I am sure to lots of others out there who read regularly. In this article, the author, Rachel Campos-Duffy is commenting upon another article written recently.

The link over at ParentDish is here: "Parents Hate Parenting Because They are Doing it Wrong"

Here is the article with my comments inserted in bold:

Jennifer Senior's recent and much commented on New York Magazine article, "All Joy and No Fun", about why parents hate parenting, caught my attention -- especially since I wrote a book on how to be a happy parent.

According to Senior, the day-to-day grind of parenting sucks and there's plenty of stats to prove it. So why do modern day adults, who have a choice in the matter, put themselves through it? She concludes that it's fear that we might regret not having the parenting experience.

Could there be a worse reason to become a parent than this? "'s the fear that WE might regret not having the parenting experience." Yea, that's a great reason to walk into parenting, which is a pretty self-less endeavor much of the time...let's look at it for what WE might be missing rather than what we can offer a child and the world through that child. If someone parents because of that reason alone, it is no surprise at all that they miss out on the wonder and delight of parenting! Parenting is NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!!!

But in our world today, that is very often our motivation for much of what we do, isn't it?

And how does she explain the fact, that despite the dour results of the studies she cites, when asked, parents are decidedly more upbeat about the experience? The mind, she says, plays a "lovely magic trick of the memory," gilding hard times that later provides "intense gratification, nostalgia, delight."

I've been through natural childbirth and there is nothing gilded or lovely about that memory. Unlike natural child birth, parenting and nurturing can be a very pleasurable experience. That too many parents have turned it into a joyless, angst-ridden achievement and an exhaustive competition should not be an indictment on the pleasures of parenting.

YES! Could it be...maybe, just maybe...that it is the PARENTS and their expectations and not the kids at all?

Sadly, it's become fashionable to bash parenting and portray those who enjoy it and gain real-time satisfaction from it as intellectually inferior, uninteresting or unsophisticated. To say without irony that you love being a mom, that you think it's fun, is to open yourself up to criticism and suspicion. People quietly wonder whether you're a Stepford wife or worse, they take your maternal contentment as a judgment on them.

That's me, Stepford Wife of Montrose!! Hahaha! I DO think it is fun, the most amazing challenge anyone can take on, and if I am being truthful it is the "career" I was meant for. Does that mean I could not have handled something else? That at times I don't fantasize about what else I might be doing with my life? Of course! We ALL do that. But the truth is, raising a family uses my various intelligences in ways I never imagined. There have been times in the past where I realized others might not look to highly on me for being "just a mom" or when I was working some sort of measly part-time job that was unfulfilling but paid the bills. But somewhere along the line this past year, I learned to say with pride "I am a full-time mom and homemaker" and to appreciate the gift it is to have a husband who wants this for our family too and has worked so darned hard to make it happen.

Do I like the laundry and dishes and perpetually sock-picking up and taxi driving and mopping? Well, let's just say I don't dislike it any worse than copying, filing, typing or answering phones. Work becomes a drudge when we view it as meaningless and as something that is beneath us. Work is honorable whether it is in the home or outside of it.

Year after year academics roll out study after study telling us how mind numbing and hard (not to mention environmentally detrimental) it is to raise kids. The truth is, parenting is hard. These days, there's less support from extended family, plenty of pitfalls and long hours.

Yea...and that aforementioned filing, typing, phone answering, and accounting work is SO stimulating by comparison!!! Hahahaha! Don't make me fall off my seat laughing!

I am so sorry, but I get to study human development first hand, I have a PhD in self-taught psychology which is used in real world experiences every single day. I am an educator who has the privilege of working with a variety of students with challenging issues. I get to use my creativity while building lesson plans, teach life skills, and help others explore not only our incredible world at large but their own hearts. I get to run an annual budget that is tight, and learn how to squeak out extras as is possible. I oversee a cleaning staff of 5 :-) I manage a social calendar for 7.

And what job in the world would allow me the opportunity to do ALL those things in the course of a single day???

Mind numbing? I think not...but I can see how those who have disdain for the profession of motherhood might think so.

But so what?

What successful CEO, entrepreneur or entertainer hasn't toiled very long, hard hours doing what they love and have passion for? Who among them would tell you that every bit of it was joyous?

"I never promised you a rose garden!" Work is exactly The part of my job that is actually work is not something I expect to be waltzing around the kitchen singing Mary Poppins' songs to!

For me, the diapers, meals and clean up is the price I pay to do what I want and love to do – be around and enjoy my kids for this fleeting season of my life.

Oh...and how fleeting it really is...

In fact, with each added child to our tribe, I've become a happier and more relaxed parent.

Yup!! I have become a different parent with the addition of each one, and a much better parent over time as I let go of the idea of having the perfect kid (Poor Matthew was spotless and corrected at all times! Surprised he made it through!) and am far more able to let my kids be who they really are and not offer apology for their lack of perfection in others' eyes. I was SO screwed up in my thinking when I started this parenting thing!

Yet with six kids around, I feel no pressure to be their playmate and I certainly have no time for helicopter parenting. Do I occasionally play Barbies? Sure. But I have no problem saying, "No, go play with your sister. I'm reading a book."

And I wonder if this isn't the root of most parents' lack of pleasure in parenting. Our generation has somehow decided it is their job to hover and be their child's playmate. It is unnatural, and as I have said to others in conversation before, I am not 5 years old and I can not pretend I am. I can NOT be fascinated with playing with Matchbox cars by the hour, and that is not my job. I too have no problem saying "I'm sorry, I don't feel like playing right now...go entertain yourself or I have plenty of things you and I can do together that I would love to have you join me in folding the laundry or making dinner." It is not said in an angry way and is in fact an invitation for a child to join me in MY world as I often join them in theirs.

Sure, I play Sorry and "house" and "Store" sometimes, but it is not a role I have established in our family. Mom as playmate is not happening. I also think that sometimes sets us up incorrectly as being equals with our children, which we are not and our children should understand that. Do we have family game nights? Yes! Do I take my kids to the park and ride bikes with them? Sure...sometimes I just walk and they ride. Do I play computer games with them? Dad does more of that. Do I work on crafts with them? Of course. But I am not their age, I am not their sole source of entertainment, and I am NOT Julie on the Love Boat and their Activities Director.

Ditto for my guilt-free nights out with my husband. Moreover, with so many kids, I've had no choice but to limit the enrichment activities and I believe we are all happier for it. I'm a firm believer in giving kids the "gift of boredom." Bored kids climb trees, rediscover toys, read books and give Mom and Dad a break.

OH YEA!!!! It NEVER EVER EVER EVER hurts a kid to say "I am bored" and have to go find some way to entertain themselves. Kids who feel that it is everyone elses job to transform their lives into a virtual Disneyland each and every day miss out on so much! We take something from them, mainly the ability to create and find self-satisfaction, when we assume the role of Activities Director. Boredom breeds exploration, curiosity and eventual contentment. I know it sounds contrary, but it is true.

We set up play dates, I haul the kids to the pool, and we do some outside activities, but about 2 years ago I made a conscious decision not to be a slave to all of that. With 5 kids it is even more limited, and yet funny...none of them are complaining one iota. They go build blanket forts and make stores (and a mint to make money!), they "play with our bodies" as they pretend they are superheros, they build monster airplanes with legos, they build doll houses and cook. If I am totally honest, and I know some of you will laugh and say I am lying, I think I have only heard the words "I am bored" perhaps 5 or 6 times in 10 years at our house. We never got into the bad habits that lead to it, and this week even with Josh here alone he somehow manages to either join me in the kitchen. read, play with his "guys" or find some other way to occupy his time.

Studies indicate that today's parents actually spend more time interacting with their kids, so then why do parents report feeling more guilty? Probably because we've redefined "good parenting" and substantially altered the rhythms of family life to include enrichment and sporting activities that end up making us feel rushed and ironically, more disconnected as a family.

I am sorry, I kid needs time with YOU more than time at every activity under the sun watching them from the sidelines. How, exactly, does that define "good parenting"? Someone else is interacting with your kid, and YOU put YOURSELF in the role of taxi driver and cheerleader! Please don't misunderstand me, I think some of this is healthy...enrichment and outside activities help our kids explore and learn that their talents are. But to run every single day of the week all year long without down time has become the norm, and it saddens me to think of what the kids are missing out on. I am being 100% serious when I share that this past summer one mom was yelling at a coach out on the field and felt totally justified because soccer conflicted with baseball which conflicted with 4H which conflicted with another after school activity...all for one child.

And when does that child get to be a kid?

What's more bonding? A lazy afternoon at the house with a family meal or driving to hockey tournaments, watching our kids from the bleachers and topping it all off with a drive-through Happy Meal on the way home? Perhaps there would be more time to let those precious childhood moments unfold if we weren't cramming so much "quality time" into our days.

Quality Time means different things to different people. For our family it means reading together in bed all snuggled next to each other. It means a bike ride or sitting on the patio on a summer evening as we hear "Mama Lookie Lookie!" as they do tricks on the trampoline. It means sitting in a pew together at church and then having conversations afterward about little observations from the service. Quality Time means WORKING together as a family, and taking pride in being a team we can be count on. Quality time CAN sometimes mean cheering from a sideline and grabbing McDonald's, but it is not the day to day structure of our time together. Quality Time means putting family first, and that is not necessarily synonymous with extra-curricular activities.

Senior's article begins with a poignant personal story of coming home from work and looking forward to a happy reunion with her young son. Instead, her evening devolves into a tedious battle with her 2-year-old and a wooden toy that needs re-assembling. Like so many other things in life, Senior is facing the gulf between expectations and reality and nothing can be as unpredictable as a toddler at the end of a long day, or more disappointing for a mom who's been craving the peaceful company of her child.

Ahhhh...but was she REALLY craving the peaceful company of her child? That is the real question.

And I agree that expectations and reality often collide. Letting go of the idea that families are Leave-It-To-Beaver-like or that there won't be a fairy tale involved helps us to grab hold of the wonder that is parenting.

In this case, Senior has fallen prey to the guilt and the pressure to create a certain kind of family experience. It just doesn't work that way and it's not fair on the child either.

No, it isn't fair to either parent or child. What we have IS good enough folks, it doesn't have to compare with Joe Blow down the street or with some fantasy created on TV. Families argue, families are cranky, families are messy. But what would we do without them?

It's time for parents to take a page out of our parent's playbook and stop over-thinking this parenting thing. Free up the family calendar. Simplify. Have a family meal. Our parents weren't our playmates, social directors, coaches or chauffeurs. They also did not bring unrealistic notions of "fun" to parenting. Heck, the term "parenting" wasn't even part of the nomenclature back then.

How about letting our kids get to know who we are as human beings? How about getting to know who THEY are? Why is there this need for bringing the world into our families instead of making our families the harbor from the storm of life? Why do we expect it all to be "fun" all the time when nothing else in life is?

If today's parents hate parenting maybe it's because they're doing it wrong.

And maybe it is because we don't allow space for presence, we don't invite God in to join us, we go it alone, and we don't see the little moments of the Divine each and every day.
If there is one reason I keep this blog open for public consumption, it is not so I can highlight our family, but is so that all of you can see the little things in a new way and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse of the Spirit in your life in ALL you do.

You know, God doesn't often come in a bolt of lightening or an eclipse. God is present in our day to day mundane interactions if we only look hard enough. I wonder if missing this is what ultimately makes "parenting" seem like drudgery. Take "self" out of it all once in awhile, remove "stuff" and watch your kids eyes light up as they learn something new. Listen for God speaking in your own family. You'll hear it if you get out of your own way. Then maybe, just maybe, parenting will suddenly become the most fascinating and fulfilling thing you have ever done.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's God Up to at Camp?

It is hard not to feel God at La Foret, the camp facility where the kids are at this week. It is just outside Colorado Springs in the Black Forest and was once privately owned. There, set amongst the pines with a beautiful meadow laid out before them, kids discover things about themselves and are guided to see and understand God in new and profound ways.

It's a mere 6 days, and yet it is so life changing that Kenny and Matthew both anxiously await their time at camp each year. This year, the girls get to experience the peace that settles around them there. How grateful we are to our congregation, association and conference for the scholarships made available to us so that we could afford to send them all!! Without the help, we literally would be taking out a loan, for we have seen the power of this place and we want our kids to be surrounded by like minded kids and to be immersed for just a little while in a culture that combats the popular culture they encounter every other day of the year. At camp, more than any other place, they encounter all that really matters in this world.

There is a sense of urgency on my part, that Angela and Olesya learn to see God in a personal way. They come to us older, with limited knowledge of Christ and his teachings. I know I can trust the Spirit to engage them without any assistance from myself, but I worry that those teenage years are staring us right between the eyes and I so want them to feel a connection with that which is bigger than themselves. I also want their souls to no longer experience thirst. We have come a long way in that area, but there still is so far to go for full comfort to envelope them, for their thirst to be loved to be quenched. For as much as we'd all like to think that "family" is enough, particularly in the case of an abandoned child, it is not. There will always be something missing until the Spirit is recognized as part of their lives. I think perhaps they have a taste of it, that they are slowly tip toeing up to it and carefully reaching out to touch it as they sense it's warmth. I want them to grab hold for all it's worth and never let go, for it is only then when that empty spot in their heart will be warmed.

Here is a photo of one of the yurts the kids are staying in. Isn't it a hoot that there are 4 Central Asians staying in traditional housing there?? Read a Facebook message that a bear was spotted in the yurt compound...I wonder if Angela will find this to be God sent, as she has a strong sense of connection with bears.

And yea, I know any of you city dwellers out there reading this probably sucked in your breath in fear as you read that casual mention of bears and kids co-habitating in the same forest. Guess that's why we are in Colorado and you aren't :-) We half expect it and giggle about not getting gnawed on. It's part of what I love about living here...we are not exactly the Mountain Man type or the Farmer Family, but we have learned to love the surprise wildlife we encounter...and to treat it with respect.

These are pictures of the chapel there...aged and yet so sturdy. Evenings spent there singing songs they will remember for a lifetime, moments of silence which God uses to let them examine their true selves. I wonder what each will walk away having discovered, how their hearts will be moved, how their lives will be forever just a little bit different.

On our last library visit before the kids left, I was stunned almost speechless when Angela comes up behind me and hands me a book saying "Mama...this book ok?". Not thinking much about it I turn around and take it from her hands as she is staring at me intently. As I read the title I discover it is a book written for children of alcoholics, to help explain the actions of their parents and provide them with information on how to handle difficult situations. How in the world in this huge children's section of our library did she find this, especially when she can barely read English yet? I looked up at her, determined to provide her what at this moment she needed. "I think we need this, don't you?" I say looking her directly in the eyes, no sign of being disturbed or anything other than being matter of fact about it. She stares back, unflinching. "Yea...thanks Mama." and she gently takes it from my hand and deposits it in our laundry basket.

We have a long way to go to find true healing. I thank God daily that we have been given a quick transition so we can get to this place easier and more quickly than we might otherwise have done. I am also so glad that Olesya is, at least at this stage, appearing to be pretty much unaffected by the behaviors of her biological parents. Her issues have more to do with general institutionalization and security of place than anything else. She was too young to have the vivid memories that Angela has. There is so much pain and anger, so much unexplained inside. Alcohol has a role in her life which needs to be altered, and it will take time.

There are moments, like tonight, when I recognize that I can offer all of myself and be willing to do whatever it takes to give her a place to open up and share. But God has to do the rest, and it is really the most important piece. I can be a conduit, as can every single other person who crosses her path, but God has to use us in the ways she needs, because I flat out don't really know where to start or what to do. I can only remain open myself to the Spirit's leading. And I have to recognize that little by little, pebble by pebble, the ocean of aloneness will be transformed. Those pebbles are deposited by many more than just myself, and their unique shape provides new perspective and much needed diversity.

I can't fix it, and God will do what is necessary, in time. That time may be much longer than I would like for it to be, but it took 12 years to get to this stage, it will take years to remold it all.

Patience, I can almost hear the pines whispering to me, patience. We are cradling her, we are adding new understanding and revealing God to her. You don't have to do all the work, they're chiding me gently.

OK, La Foret, do your thing, for all of them. I'll wait here patiently, hopefully, knowing that it is just another pebble, but an important one, that has been added this week. And as those pines whisper their ageless words, let them murmur a reminder to all 4 of our precious children that their parents love them deeply and dearly, that they can rest in that knowledge forever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Frog and Toad Together

Surrounded by pillows and burrowed beneath blankets, we snuggle. "Frog and Toad Together" is our companion as the sound of the sprinklers' gentle ""sound filters in from the window nearby opened just a crack to allow the swamp cooler to render our room a cool oasis on this beautiful summer morn. Like school kids playing hookey, we giggle as we talk about what a luxury it is to still be in bed, hidden away from the world for just a little while.

And thus, our first morning alone begins.

There is such a stark clarity in discovering who your child is when alone versus when they are part of a larger group. It is not that his personality is that much different, but that my own awareness of his sweetness is heightened. His questions are more apparent and I wonder how much gets lost in the cacophony that is our daily life. And yet he is happy, he is secure...or as secure as he is likely to ever be...and his growing maturity shines as the hours pass.

The company of my children, whether one on one or in a group, has always been a delight. Not that at times I don't find myself tired of tuning in to the hum of 5 different minds all forging ahead in many different directions. But their spirits are so intriguing, their perspective and view of the world is uniquely their own, and I find I have a respect for each that far surpasses what I ever would have expected.

He is at the stage I remember with Matthew so clearly...questions popping out like popcorn dancing in the air, waiting for seasoning from Mom so it is better understood. "Mommy...what is the busiest bug?", "Mommy, what if there was a big explosion and a bunch of people died and we had no electricity...would we live like in the old days and would electricity be turned back on someday?", "Mommy, does God know what I am thinking even before I think it?".

We do a little school work, he surprises me with his enthusiasm. He loves learning, it is a joy to him not a burden. Will he retain that curiosity?

He is 7 years old....7 1/2 he would remind you. A little longer is all we have, before the little boy disappears and the broader body and deeper thinking appear, and we will forever drop the "little" from our descriptions.

We have a lunch date with a friend tomorrow, we will talk and laugh and share as we drive, and he will join me as my "date"...running around the car to open my door, putting his still little hand in mine. For this week, it is just he, Daddy and I, he is an only for a little while. But it is not just this week that he is special, for he is special every day of his life. They all are. It is just that his specialness will stand alone, it will be more focused.

Like Frog and Toad, we have our own understanding, our own way of seeing the world that makes perfect sense to us even if it makes no sense at all to anyone else. As we read the first story about Toad and his list, I fully understood why you saw no humor in the list being lost, and toad feeling like he couldn't move on without it. That is you, it made perfect sense to you, items need to be crossed off and completed before moving on. No worries, I'll be the Frog to your Toad, and will sit alongside the road with you, never questioning your logic, joining you in your wait for that feeling of completion.

I love you, Joshua LaJoy. Chief Tenderheart, Lover of All, Conqueror of Abandonment...Beloved Toad.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Watch Out...

So here I sit, a relatively quiet house, a much smaller pile of laundry facing me than usual, and feeling like the mother of 1 instead of the mother of 5. The "big kids" all went off to camp today, and will be gone for 6 days while Joshie gets the pleasure of being an "only" for a short period of time.

I had down time this week when Dominick took the kids to Denver while I stayed home and worked on homework, and an interesting thing happened upon their return...I realized something. I'm Back.

Me, the old Cindy, or at least the new version of the old Cindy (for I can never truly undo the work God performed in my heart this past half a year, nor would I WANT to) has reappeared. Don't know when or how it all started to feel normal again, but there is a sense of feeling more as if I am inhabiting my own body these days.

This has been the most amazing, spiritual, wonderful...and painful...period of my life. I have, perhaps, been more aware and attuned to my own personal transformation than I ever have been before. At times I have felt more elated and yet more isolated than at any other time I can recall in my life. To say it has been uncomfortable is an understatement. It also was necessary for the next phase of my life, whatever that might bring.

When I look back at our life just 12 months ago, the amount of change our family has undergone is dramatic. The changes I personally have undergone are not as obvious, but are equally dramatic.

It wasn't really the events themselves that were so difficult, it was the emotional aftermath that I struggled most with. Who am I now? I have changed my life entirely from a part-time working mom of 3 to a homeschooling mom of 5. I have lost circles of acquaintances and friends, I have lost freedom in my schedule, I have lost familiarity, I have lost independence and earning capacity no matter how slim it was, I guess I sort of lost "me".

I gained much more than was ever lost, but putting those puzzle pieces together in the correct order takes some work.

Thank goodness I am blessed with patient and loving friends, a truly gifted and Spirit led Pastor, a husband who understands what he doesn't understand...and even that statement alone may only be understood by him.

I have never gone through anything like this before. How good it feels to be emotionally energized and engaged again! How wonderful it is to feel like the ol' brain is clicking again, to be excited about the world of ideas, to feel like I am doing more now than just trying to make it through each day and not fail at everything I do. It's not really that I have more confidence in a single thing I am doing right now, but that I don't fear the failure anymore and that I am back to a place of seeing it all as a process, not the "end all and be all".

Then, there is God, our amazing, transformative, loving God who speaks to us in winsome ways, luring us ever closer, ever deeper into relationship. A month ago I was very close to walking away from my ministry classes, feeling overwhelmed and as if it was all pointless. I have tried so hard to follow the Spirit in every single thing I do and this time I was really in doubt. I am sure at times I am way off base, and that usually becomes pretty obvious and I re-reroute myself. I was beginning to think it was clearly time to do that re-routing. An in depth conversation with our minister helped me exhale a bit and bought me some time to do more reflecting, more praying, more seeking...and if I am being honest, more healing. It was the one person who could understand what I could not articulate with anyone else about this weird thing called "The Holy" that I am doing a gentle, slow waltz with.

Signing up for the lay ministry program was one of the single most ridiculous things I have ever done, particularly in light of what I knew was coming down the road for us with the adoption of Angela and Olesya. But being in tears over and over again as I tried to fight it didn't work either, so finally I gave in, not having a clue where I was being led or even why. It certainly was not something I had ever imagined or asked for. Committing one's self fully to study something so intense and deeply personal when free time is not exactly abundant makes it hard to stay "in the game". Factor in that you have no clue what the end result will look like, or why you are doing it other than "God told me so." feel like an idiot half the time and wonder what kind of practical joke you are involved in. It makes it easy to say "I quit" when you see no concrete game plan laid out for you. Ashamedly, I admit that is where I was at a few weeks ago...letting the comments of others create doubt in my mind, letting my current inability to connect strongly keep me from trusting what I had felt was definitely a call to ministry in some form, regardless of whether it made sense or not.

Having faith is one thing...acting on it sometimes really stinks.

As I prepared this week for my class yesterday, it was with lackluster interest. Church History is a bit dry to begin with, I suppose, and throw in my own issues right now and let's just say I was going through the motions, mainly just so I wouldn't be a "quitter". The joy and captivation I had felt with previous courses was gone, and I entered the class with homework done, but no additional mental work accompanying it.

Ahhhh....but our Great Mender knew just how to "hook" me, and yesterday I was led down a path of debate, questioning, intrigue and unexpected sheer delight as I became deeply involved in our class work and conversation. Doggone it, God knows how to get me every single time!!! I know this sounds totally stupid to 95% of you...OK...100% of you, I'll give you that. But I can not explain how a part of me has come alive through this process, how my courses have fulfilled me in profound ways, engaged my thinking self as I have never experienced before. Perhaps it is not going to college before and never having really had this sort of opportunity to participate in an exchange of ideas on this level. Maybe it is that I really belong where I am. Or maybe my life is so narrow in some ways right now that it takes on an added dimension for me.

Or maybe it was the balm my soul needed...a different balm than what might work for others, for sure, but for me it was a thirst quencher of sorts.

I am also gaining a glimmer of a notion of purpose for ministry. Or not. Wrestling with it tonight with Dominick in conversation, he sees possibilities and I am ever grateful for his insight and encouragement in something that must have taken him by surprise a couple of years ago just as much as it did me. Having him say "Yes, I feel you are are being called to do something we never expected and I'll be beside you every step of the way." is one of the loudest ways of saying indirectly "I love you.".

So instead of flickering out, I am hoping to finish off my last semester with great enthusiasm. By November I will have completed all my requirements, and then move on to Stage 2 of becoming an officially licensed lay minister (not ordained, that takes "real college" and a heck of a lot more smarts than I'll ever have!). I am beginning to realize that ministry takes on forms well beyond standing in a pulpit delivering a sermon, or visiting the sick in the hospital. There are beautiful and subtle layers to ministry, and my particular layer may yet to be determined but it is awaiting recognition and will make itself known clearly soon enough.

So while this week is spent with 4 of our children in the serene security of La Foret, surrounded by young seekers and skilled sages, I too am listening for God to speak in new ways. It's still a little fuzzy sounding, but gaining clarity and richness of tone with each passing day.

Now, in the quiet of an emptier home, I will head off to sleep, feeling for the first time in 6 months that everything really and truly is all right in my world and trusting more than ever in what I don't know...yet.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

20 Things I'd Tell My 17 Year Old Self

So I saw this on a link from Dee's blog, and since I am going to have to spend the next 3 days hunkered down in serious ministry studies I figured I needed a taste of something less serious before getting to it.

What would we all tell our 17 year old selves? In July of 1984 I was 17 years old, thin, newly engaged to Dominick, uncertain about what I wanted to be when I grew up, tinkering with the idea of going to junior college and then transferring to Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara if I proved good enough, working full-time at Sav-On Drug Store, and wishing I felt more like the 17 year old I was rather than like the 28 year old I felt like on the inside. I was never carefree, was always pretty serious about life in general, and no matter how hard I tried I could never be like everyone else.

Looking back with the wisdom of an almost 44 year old, here is what I would tell my 17 year old self:

1) You are not less feminine even if you prefer not to dress like everyone else, wear make up like everyone else, or act like everyone else. Femininity is an attitude, not an outward appearance. That boy you are planning to marry...really good choice. Give yourself an A+ for intuition on that one.

3) You've never traveled anywhere, never been on vacation, never been on a plane before. Don't worry, your life will lead you to places you have never even heard of...or that do not even exist as sovereign nations when you are 17.

4) Too bad you studied German instead of Russian...wish your intuition had kicked in on THAT one!

5) The God of your heart does exist. Keep up the dialogue, it will be your salvation in more ways than one.

6) There will never be one friend who meets all your needs, this will take you years to learn. Embrace anyone who walks into your life with whom you click in some area, and you will find yourself fulfilled.

7) You think you are strong now? Just'll learn what strength really is one day.

8) Take a writing class or two.

9) College doesn't make you smarter, a curious mind makes you smarter...and more importantly, smarter is not equivalent to wiser.

10) You're right, Southern California is not your soul's resting place.

11) Be willing to admit your shame and mistakes, be open to the wrongs you will keep you from doing it again and prevent you from placing yourself on an undeserved pedestal.

12) Don't ever say "never". Seriously.

13) Continue to be the 4-eyed (now with contacts) bookworm you always have been. Those who laughed at you will never understand the richness that comes from traveling back in time, reaching towards different lifestyles, and learning more than you ever thought possible about the human condition...all from the printed page.

14) Don't think less of yourself because you don't have the career that teachers and others assumed you would have in high school based upon grades and test scores. That comment of utter disappointment made by your high school English teacher when she saw you years later and you revealed you were married and "just a clerk" at a drug store ate you up for years. You do NOT have unrealized will LIVE out your potential in ways others may never understand is valuable. The cool thing is, they don't have do.

15) Those kids in high school that created that ridiculous hierarchy that made 95% of the student body feel like they were worthless...well...your mom is right and the day after graduation they cease to be important.

16) Thinking only of self-gratification is the surest way to misery and disappointment. Thinking of others and how you can reach out to them is the single best way to achieve happiness.

17) You have a deep, deep capacity to love. You think right now at 17 you don't really know how to love. You recognize your shallowness, and are disappointed by it, wondering if you will ever change. You will.

18) Courage to say what others can not, courage to feel what others run from, courage to challenge pain and heartache, courage derived from gut wrenchingly difficult circumstances are just around the corner in a couple of years. It will mold you and shape you in ways you can not fathom. It will make you unafraid to reveal your truth to others, to be the one to walk up to the hurting and put your arm around them when everyone else politely walks away for fear of having to "say something". You will learn that presence is everything, and often what is not said is more important than what IS said. I know you don't see that at 17 in yourself, but it is coming.
19) When you saw "Who are the Debolts and how did they get 19 kids?" a couple of years ago at 14 or 15 years old, you heard God speak to you even then. You knew it, didn't you? You may not have understood infertility was down the road, but you knew you would be mother to those who had none, and that "perfect" in your eyes and "perfect" in the eyes of others would be very, very different. Guess what? You'll end up with 5 of the most perfect children ever created...and it will come in part because of #18,

20) You will cry buckets of tears, you will have your heart squeezed so tightly by sorrow that you will think you can not go on. You can go on, you will go on, and you will also find you will laugh barrels of laughter and live out dreams that may not be someone else's idea of "Fantasyland" but will create for you an authentic, joy-filled life. Live it, love it.

And I'd hug that 17 year old Cindy for all it's worth, and never let her go.