Sunday, October 31, 2010

This Boring Old Life

Sorry I haven't blogged all week...I know how all of you sit back breathlessly anticipating our next episode (said very tongue in cheek).  I have had nothing of value to share, nothing of interest to say (not that I ever do...why DO you read this??) and my head has been too full of little projects awaiting me here and there. 

My life is very different these days.  I have every hour accounted for with homeschooling and keeping up with all the other things around the house.  We have narrowed things down to keep our sanity intact, and we have a pleasant daily routine that thankfully is uneventful.  But I am afraid it doesn't make for any insightful blogs.  I am in learning mode myself...ministry learning...specific subject learning...and it is all occupying great gobs of brain space.  However, it doesn't translate into much of interest to anyone else, it is largely internal stuff going on.

And if we are blessed, life will continue on like this for some time to come, and I do mean it would be a great blessing if there were no great drama in our lives for a very long time.  I find that my new life leaves me a very boring person to be with.  I feel "dull" in so many ways. In conversation with friends there is not much to talk about, as my "job" is homeschooling my kids and who wants to hear about that?  There are no office trysts to gossip about, no rumors about downsizing, no new software being developed, nothing...just learning about phonics and adverbs and such.  I have almost no friends in "real life" whose lives revolve around seeking out curriculum, dissecting test scores, and creating unit studies.  There are no "colleagues", except for a small few I have connected with online. I am growing used to it, but I am also seeing how hard it might be for others to find any interest in me at this stage in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I have never exactly been a fascinating person, but these days I am far more of a dullard than I have ever been!

We are facing new stages with the kids as they mature, and Dominick and I are now having to evaluate what direction we will take with them all.  While we haven't yet been asked about things such as cell phones, Facebook or dating yet, those questions will be coming down the pike all too soon and we want to be prepared with thoughtful decisions.  Striking the right balance will not be easy, and as we talk about things we are finding we are likely to be in the minority with many of our parenting decisions.   There have been 3 or 4 things that have come up this past week in conversation that have led us to talk more deeply about this next stage, and I quickly realized that the "tween" stage might be the most confusing to parent. 

Today's society seems hell bent on lowering our understanding of what a teenager is to now include children at 11 or 12 years old, and I am deeply conflicted over it all.  It's not about wanting to keep them children forever and under our wings, it is more about not encouraging (or expecting) a child of 11 or 12 to be engaged in behavior that used to be reserved for 16-17 year olds.  Every generation it seems childhood has shortened, and then we adults complain that our young children act like teenagers.  What do we expect?  We send them the signal that they are already largely "grown up" when they hit the decade mark, then we are disgusted with their attitude when they act exactly like what we tell them they are...teenagers.  We allow kids as young as 9 or 10 to withdraw with iPods and text messages, then wonder why they value their pre-teen culture more than their families.

And then sometimes I think I am a parenting freak of nature who is totally screwed up myself.  There are lines that we will have to draw that are not clear yet where they should be drawn.  I have always been a hodge podge of conservative and liberal beliefs, usually compartmentalized and more conservative at home and globally more liberal on larger issues.  In time I am sure we will discover where our line is, and in our case with our specific kids from their unique backgrounds, those lines may be drawn in different places for each child.  Only time will tell, I guess.  But as voices begin to change and worlds widen, we are definitely entering the Twilight Zone of parenting!

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of what has been going on around here the past couple of weeks.  I know they are not exciting, but I figured an illustration of our less-than-thrilling day to day existence is better than a thousand words...but then you probably got the thousand boring words in this post as well! Hahaha!

Kenny's Halloween costume...Hmmm...I am thinking seriously that clown school might be in order!  He did his own makeup on this.

We started a science project this week.  We gathered various soils from around our town...river bottom muck, corn field soil, adobe clay, etc. and included a couple of odd balls to use for comparison...pencil shavings and wood chips!  We planted pinto bean seeds and are recording data to compare soils and discover which will be the most productive.  I don't have a photo of it, but what a surprise to find that the pencil shavings is winning by a landslide!

We stopped in the middle of the day this week when we received our first real snow of the season.  Everyone joyfully piled outside squealing with delight to play in it for a few minutes.  It was fun to watch all the kids giggling and getting such a kick out of winter's early arrival.

We all have been amazed and proud of Joshua.  With an age gap of 4-5 years between he and all the other kids, he has proven to be a terrific student.  Of course, we are teaching most of the material at the level of a first or second grader, but as you can imagine, the ability of an 11 or 12 year old to fly through some of it or grasp concepts more quickly is obviously a big advantage.  I was concerned initially about Josh being left in the dust or not having the attention span of the others.  Surprise, surprise, it is often HE he sets the tone and models terrific study habits!  Other than taking longer to complete written work because of motor skill development that is behind the older ones, there has been very little difference between his speed of learning and everyone else's.  All of us have made a point of letting him know how proud we are of him, and we really and truly are!

Remember those thousands of National Geographic magazines we bought?  We are finally putting them to use!  We are each creating a Geography Terms notebook with a term and definition on each page and an illustration cut out from a magazine.  The project will be made more challenging for Matthew by requiring him to do research online or at the library and find real life examples.  For example, for the term "bridge" he would say "The Golden Gate Bridge" and then he will need to share the location and 1 or 2 sentences about the history of the item.  Sometimes it is more of a challenge for Mom to come up with creative ways to make things more challenging for Matthew!

This project might take us weeks longer than anticipated because every single one of the kids kept stopping to read something or share a cool photo with the group.  "Hey Mom...look at this!" was the refrain of the afternoon.  The cool thing about homeschooling is we CAN take that time to read, discover and learn as new things we encounter carry us off in different directions.  Our time is ours, and learning can be broader and interest based to a certain degree.  It is such fun to watch as the kids find something that fascinates them.  I am beginning to understand why someone would choose a career as an educator.

 We visited the corn maze today where we also selected our pumpkins.  Mom got wise and had them gut and carve them outside this mess inside...hurray!  They all had a great time and created some great jack-o-lanterns!

It is off to bed now, we have a long day tomorrow and everyone is excited about Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Walmart Greeter Ministry

Today was a challenging and busy day.  Prior to an afternoon of family bowling and concert going, I was the guest preacher this morning at our church to a surprisingly larger group than I had anticipated, as many were out of town today.  Mind you, larger in our little church is not what most would think of as larger.  It was stressful, as doing something new and unfamiliar always is.  I lack confidence, and it shows.  I lack skill, and it shows.  I lack depth, and it shows.  What I don't lack is a desire for others to know God...and maybe that shows.  I'll never really be good at this preaching thing, but at least I can say I have made the attempt, I have stood at the precipice and jumped even if it feels like it is without a parachute strapped to my back.

I still have yet to figure out what my gifts for ministry are, where I should be headed...if any specific direction. The only thing that keeps me going in light of all I lack is the firm belief that God uses every single one of us in ways we often don't realize ourselves.  If I can believe that about others, and I do, than certainly I must believe that it also applies to me.

This "God Thing" that has caught me is something I would have laughed out loud about 10 years ago, considering myself "done" with all that hypocrisy that seemed to typically come part and parcel with Christianity.  I had this ridiculously false understanding of what it meant to be Christian, and a completely immature perspective on how Christianity intersects with our day to day life.  I found not an ounce of peace when I attended church in my younger years, I had more questions that never seemed to be answered, and while I felt connected to God, that felt very much separate from "church".

Life kicked me around a lot, I began to see the human struggle we all have in a very different light, and somewhere along the line all that "Jesus Stuff" crept in and hunkered down for a stay.  The transformation was not sudden or immediately obvious.  It was a gradual reckoning with all I had believed, a complete reconstruction after demolition left only the skeletal framework.  The new House of Faith that was created from that point was so totally different, so tangible and touchable, and if you asked me how it happened I doubt I could explain it at all.

It sounds terribly corny to say, but I want others to have it if they want it.  I know there are other seekers out there like me who have spent years wondering what this Christian thing is all about, people who believe in God but think they don't believe in God "the right way" so how could they possibly belong to the "Club"...oh...yea...ahem...I mean "Church".  What breaks my heart, literally rents it in two, is that anyone would ever have been made to feel there is a "right way" to believe in God, and that they feel alone in their own faith journey that looks EXACTLY the way God wants it to look, regardless of what anyone says. 

It is NOT that I want to push people into converting to my way of thinking.  It is that I know the ache that comes from feeling so desperately in need of something you can't name, and what it is like to feel you can never live up to some sort of man-made standard to wear the label "Christian". 

It's not about a label, it's not about other Christians and their opinions.  It's about knowing God... feeling God...hearing God...and that is not about anything anyone else tells you it ought to be.  There is no right or wrong way to hear God, for we all encounter the Holy in different ways.   I happen to encounter God in interaction with others, some find God in nature, or music, or art, or the written word.  God reaches us where we can be most easily reached, and our relationship with the Spirit doesn't have to pass anyone else's litmus test to be deemed valid.

I don't know why it has become important to me to try and help others as they travel their path to get to know God better.  I don't understand it at all, but it matters to me a great deal.  Perhaps it was those years of prayer that caused me to question if I was "doing it right", or maybe it was feeling so certain of God's existence and yet also feeling so very isolated as I attempted to put it all together for myself.  That sort of pain is the kind we all rarely talk about with rare exceptions.

I'll never see myself as an honest-to-goodness minister.  I think I will be fortunate if I can move past seeing myself as anything more than the equivalent of a metaphorical Walmart Greeter, someone who does nothing more than direct God Shoppers to the correct department where their more difficult questions can be answered by the real experts in Photo or Pharmacy.

But you know what?  Without that gate keeper, how do people find their way?  Oh sure, eventually they would take their shopping cart and end up in the right area, but how much longer would it take?  Maybe my only true role might be to simply help shorten that search for the right department.  And the sooner the customer can find what they are looking for and speak to a true expert, the sooner they can be done with the search and rest with their new found treasure.  In this case, that treasure would not be a new digital camera or the latest hair restoration would be something of infinite value, they'd walk away with a little package of God held in their hands.  To be even remotely associated with that, no matter how far removed, would be a privilege of the highest order.

So I head off to bed tonight sleepily content as I recognize God never asked us to do something perfectly, but to simply be willing to do it.  Where I can't manage perfection, I can excel at willingness.  Guess that's where I'll be sitting for awhile.

Perfection is overrated anyway.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ordinary Loveliness

It was the first unbooked Saturday in a long time, and we didn't even have many projects lined up.  Laundry was caught up, the house reasonably clean, and only a shed needed clearing and the new one was waiting to load bikes in for the winter.  With Kenny on an overnighter at a friend's, it was weird how empty the house seemed.  With even one of the 5 kids gone, it changes things.  It has been odd lately to realize I have completely adjusted to our new life when I look around at 5 kids and think "That seems like too few..." as I quickly do the headcount.  No, that does not signal another adoption is in the offing but it does mean life with 5 now seems ordinary.

Ordinary...what a beautiful word.  It ranks up there with "content" and "pleasant".  Life lived in
contented pleasantness might seem ordinary to some, but for one who has lived a life that has had many emotional moments, both good an bad, there is a peace that comes with ordinary.  It also is a place most of us realize is not lived in forever, as life always seems to ramp up and throw something new at us.

Angela and I went to the store this afternoon to do a little shopping.  I say that like $275 worth of groceries is ever "a little shopping" :-)  18 bags,  6 new closeout $3 shirts for the boys, and another 15 pounds or so of fruit and we were on our way home.  Just a boring Saturday afternoon, but a year ago it would have seemed anything but ordinary.

We walked the aisles together, my daughter and I, as we talked about nothing in particular.  We joked about how many bottles of ketchup we needed and half seriously contemplated the #10 sized container with a pump.  Teasingly, I offered to take over the driving of the shopping cart when twice she ran into an end cap display.  An acquaintance whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years did a double take as I briefly said hello over my shoulder as Angela and I walked arm and arm through the produce section.  Yea...we got "another one".  At the register we played our usual family guessing game of seeing how close we could each come to naming the cost of our groceries.  Sadly, both of us selected amounts too low and laughed over how far off we were.

It was nothing exciting, just an ordinary afternoon with one of my daughters.  It was also a little miracle to be in this place, to have this sort of close relationship already with both Angela and Olesya.  It was lovely to simply be with each other, to do an ordinary task that most moms take for granted.  I saw several other mom-daughter combinations pass us in the store, most of the time each in various states of boredom as they went about their less than thrilling task of filling the cart to the brim, no doubt dreading the remainder of the work ahead as they contemplated loading and unloading the car.  As I passed these mother-daughter teams I wondered if Angela, Olesya and I would ever get to that point, where we would not have a great appreciation for being together doing the ordinary.

It is not ordinary for an orphan to walk through a grocery store.  It is not ordinary for an orpan to have access to enough food.  It is not ordinary for an orphan to walk around with a freshly showered body, wearing clothes selected especially for them, and to have a loving arm draped across their shoulder.

It also is not ordinary for this mom to have daughters to share the ordinary with.

And it is lovely.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thick Headed Faith

I received an email today from a long time adoption buddy which encapsulated what I am feeling right now.  She had been attending an education seminar and thought of us when she heard the following: 

"OBSERVATION....ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS....trumps test results!
So if what you are seeing is not consistent with the test results...something is not right...and you should rely more on your observations than the results."

The past few days it is as if God has been reminding me that my gut instincts have always been right on, and I need to trust what the Spirit has told me all along, and that is that Kenny is smart as a whip and needs only to be taught in a way that works for him.

My mind drifted back to our second visit with Joshua 6 years ago at the Baby House in Uralsk.  I left that visit knowing in the depths of my soul that he had a serious attachment problem.  I also innately understood somehow that this was still our child, and there was honestly not a single moment of doubt that we were to bring Joshie home.  Trepidation and enormous fear, yes, but doubt?  Nope...we felt strongly led to this particular child and trusted in that.

I recall more than 5 years ago sitting in this exact spot at my kitchen counter and seeing photos of Angela for the first time, and the odd and uncanny feeling that I was looking into the eyes of my daughter overcame me.  Olesya's photos that arrived a few weeks later did nothing to dissuade me of this almost awful sense that we had a much different family story in the offing than I would have ever expected.  Today with the same half grown lovely ladies snuggled next to me so often, I am so glad that The Voice never stopped hounding me.

So why, I ask, was I so weak and willing to give in to fear over Kenny's future due to a stupid test?  Why did I allow my confidence to waiver so?  From Day #1 I knew this little guy had incredible gifts, and despite appearances to the contrary due to lack of life experiences, I have always known him to be exceptionally bright.  His depth and ability to see analogy and ties has always surprised me, and his intellectual curiosity has led him to question more, think more, and relate more to the world around him than most kids.

I was in the shower today (Yea, I know, too much information but it IS the place I think the most!) when I was struck by an almost euphoric sense of my own stupidity at buying this garbage...that my kid has low intellectual potential.  Just this week Kenny was tying together seemingly unrelated data so neatly it almost had a pretty little bow attached!  I found myself saying several times to myself "No way is this kid's future limited!  So WHAT if he might not ever spell well or have issues with memory...lots of people do and succeed beyond any one's imagination."  It was as if God had to show me repeatedly in a metaphorical butt kicking to get me to wake up and smell the coffee...or perhaps in my case to wake up and sniff the Diet Coke.

I also saw so very clearly that the long term plan was always that eventually all these children of ours would be at home, that I might have flirted with the idea a time or two and quickly pushed it aside but God was preparing me for this very time in my life.  Homeschooling ROCKS!!!  Our kids are being stretched and kneaded into the coolest shapes by this process.  Yesterday at the library I had the nicest and most complimentary conversation with 2 of the librarians, one of whom met Matthew during his first week home 10 years ago. They said they loved seeing our family come in, that it was a kick for them to see all 5 kids spread out on an aisle with books all over the place.  We were all 3 watching from a distance as the kids checked out their books and one of them said "See!  See...look at them, they can't even make it out the door without breaking open another book!  It is so fun to watch that!", and sure enough there were all 5 leaning over each other's shoulders as they shared a couple of different books.

Just an hour ago I looked up and there in the van on the way to art class all 5 were reading, in fact one had run back into the house because they couldn't POSSIBLY go somewhere without a book in hand.  We had books on jumbo jets, the Hoover Dam, Archie Comics, Amelia Earhart and businesses for kids all eagerly being devoured with comments thrown out such as "Hey Mom...did you know they had to go down the canyon for the dam on little wooden seats?" and "I think I want to have a puppy training business!".  This was after Matthew and Angela having had quite an engaging morning with a friend who has volunteered to teach them real pottery, on a wheel and everything.  They have a 10 week course with this wonderful man who told me what a kick he got out of being with the kids and how much fun they were to teach.

It's all because they WANT to learn, and are begging for more!  Angela wants to learn all about the Red Cross, Matthew may want to begin looking at ground school to help in pursuit of his dream of flying, Kenny is taking acting next month, Joshie wants a frog to dissect, and Olesya is enamored of anything with animals.  We have a chess set being carried around everywhere these days, so much so that I was asked if we could maybe afford a travel set because they are tired of pieces flying around in the back seat of the car.  There is SO much learning going on around here that I actually thought to myself this morning "How in the world am I ever going to have enough time in the few remaining years we have left to help them explore everything they are interested in?  How am I going to be able to keep up????".

But it is powerful, in a way I can not explain, to be in the midst of this whirlwind of educational excitement.  I have kids begging to do math, even if it is 5:00 PM at night.  Matt can't walk by the piano these days without plunking out a tune, and we have the borrowed weaving loom back out in the living room after a summer hiatus and a desire to get moving on a rug for their room.  I am being asked if we can learn stained glass, Egyptian history and mummies, and all sorts of other things.  How can this NOT be fun??  But how can I ever keep up??

This is all I ever wanted to see out of any of our kids...and yet never dared hope for it to this extent.  It is the single #1 reason we elected to try the homeschooling route, because we saw Matthew losing the light in his eyes when it came to learning.  Sure, we have other very valid reasons as well, but that was the one that made us turn the corner...and again, The Voice guided even when I thought "Who...ME?  I can't do this!".  I am seeing I don't really have to, all I have to do is facilitate, and in many ways turn them loose for natural curiosity to take over.

For every penny that has to be pinched, for every hushed conversation about whether Dominick has work scheduled this week or next, it is worth it.  For every fear before the girls came home that perhaps we would be stretched too thin, I see now how we would give up every single thing we own for what we have now.  This is, without a doubt, the most rewarding, challenging, interesting "job" I have ever done or ever will do.  I am SO glad we "went with our gut" on every single thing.  Had we elected not to follow gut instinct it might have been less scary, but it certainly wouldn't have been as rich...and as Olesya reminded me tonight in the car, we are the richest people she knows!!  What a blessing that she understands what form that wealth takes, and that it isn't what most would perceive as wealth.

My gut says Kenny will be just fine...beyond "just fine" actually.  I see an awesome future for him, I was just momentarily dumb enough to let others try to dictate what that future might look like.  Man, I don't know when I am ever going to get this faith thing down.  It is shameful in some ways, how I continually find myself struggling to believe...not in God but in the peace and power that comes from relationship with our Creator.  It is during these moments when "ministry" seems ludicrous for me, for it is I who desperately need to be ministered to over and over again to fully rest in faith. 

But looking around my dinner table, it isn't too much of a reach to say I see it set before me, faith personified.  If I could just carry that faith with me every single moment rather than have it be so "hit and miss", I might discover what real faith looks like.  Until then, I continue to search.

Will I ever, ever get this right?

Probably not, I am just too thick headed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Through a Child's Eyes - The Purpose of Family

Wordle: LaJoy

I am always on the lookout for curriculum for the kids, and seem to be pickier than many.  Part of the problem is that an "out of the box" curriculum won't work for us at all with our language learning issues and our interesting blend of ages/life experiences (or lack thereof)/grade levels.  Not only that, but I guess I am just a little eccentric...I don't want our kids just "filling in the blanks", which frankly would be a lot easier but does little to develop deeper thinking.  Sure, for phonics, grammar and math we do workbooks along with a few other activities, but beyond that I have been trying to carefully select reading material and other items that are more open ended.

Whilst browsing the internet last week I stumbled upon a web site where I found some great study guides, actually an entire curriculum for K-12 if one so desired to go this route.  It is called and as I perused their site I was taken by A) Their unique approach to learning and B) The depth with which they require students to think about that which they are studying.  Their curriculum is super inexpensive and instantly downloadable via PDF files.

I decided to give one a try, and selected a less "Schooly" one whose topic was "Manners".  I thought this would be a little different and planned to use the questions as idea starters for writing practice.  Wow, did I hit the jackpot on this!  All 5 kids have raved about how they love this, and although we barely did one lesson on Friday, it was the first thing they asked to do this morning.  I am not using it verbatim, and am picking and choosing what material to use from it, but it works wonderfully for my own style, and it has stimulated some of the deepest, most thoughtful dialogue of our school year thus far...and we barely started it.

Today I threw out the question "What is the purpose of family?  What is the specific purpose of OUR family?".  Sound like anything you'd pose to newly adopted kids 7 months off the plane?  Ohhh...don't ever underestimate the ability of children to grab hold of concepts!  This was met with such excitement, and I thought I'd share some of their thoughts.  I can't scan right now so I will type excerpts of what was written by the kids to give you an idea of where we are in the development of the concept of "family" with the girls.


"I think our family purpose it's be together, be nice each ether (other).  Be kind each ether (other) because sum (some) family's don't do these stuf.  We work like a LaJoy family.  We bild shed together.  Sum family don't bild shed together, they think it's hard for kids."


"Are familys purpuse is are mom and dad adopted 5  kids and mom and dad loved all of us. Acshely (actually) mom and dad made this family.  Why did God make familys? Because God wanted to have some people on the world and some kids on the whole intir (entire) world.  Other familys don't think abot (about) the purpuse of their famly, some other familys don't even like echuther (each other).  Some other famlys think work is a bad word but we don't think work is a bad word.  we wach (watch) moves (movies) and play games and we help are family."


My family is nice.  We dont fight.  We are not rood (rude).  We play games.  Mom and Dad chose to adopited (adopted).  Ather (other) people parant different.  We are nice to each other."


Our family purpers is to be nice iech(each)  other, do it God work, care about other people, work as a team, love iech (each) other, do what perents (parents) to do.  We come to family because are (our) perents (parents) now (know) whot (what) a purpes (purpose) to be came good family.  Our family is very diffrent they most family.  We deffrent (different) because we do it whot (what) we post (supposed) to do.  We came a good family because we work very hard and trust our self and dosnt (doesn't) care about whot (what) people senk (think).  We deffrent (different) callers (colors) but we haf (have) a same hart (heart) and blood.


"The purpose of our family is to have people to lean on, kids can lean on their parents, parents can lean on each other.  People who don't have a supportive family often have things wrong.  For example, they might use drugs or alcohol.  Sometimes there will be a divorce and the kids will only be able to lean halfway and their family will probably become messed up by parents giving more toys than love."

During times when I feel low, when I fear for the future for one or more of the kids, I will go back and re-read this.  Way back when we were knee deep in tantrums and terror with Josh, I let go of my previous notions of success and prayed to God that we would merely be able to raise a child who wouldn't end up killing someone someday.  Seriously, that prayer passed my lips more times that I can count, and I know that is true for Dominick as well.

Of course there are times when my old notions creep back in, when I have to fight back the comparisons to other families with kids who are straight A students, who are perhaps clearly Ivy League bound at young ages.  I see the jocks and the ballerinas, the musical prodigies and the artists.  I see kids and families for whom it is all so easy, or at least appears to be on the outside...and it is hard sometimes to not feel a twinge as we worry about whether a particular child will ever really be able to safely be handed over the keys to a car, or how long (if ever) it will take our older adopted kids to catch up academically...and how far that puts them behind their same age peers.  We are looking at high school graduations at 20 years old or maybe even 21.

But it's not about bragging rights, is it?  It is about soul building, it is about healing and wholeness, it is about safety and security.  God doesn't look at GPA.  God isn't concerned with football stats or music recitals.  Kids leaning on parents and parents leaning on each other (and I'd add leaning on our Heavenly Parent), having the same heart and blood, being nice to each other, appreciating hard work...those are the yardsticks that make me smile.  That is what we are working so hard to attain here at LaJoy University.  I'll admit it isn't a classical curriculum, but as far as we are concerned it is the one that matters most...all else is secondary.  What good does calculus, chemistry or creative writing do if a child grows up and doesn't have a firm grasp on their purpose here on earth, and the purpose of their family?  What good does all that academic excellence count for if our children don't grow up to be God guided, spiritually connected, kind human beings?

We may never reach a pinnacle of success in the eyes of others, we may never celebrate an Ivy League admission letter.  I am learning not to care about that.  The teachers I have at LaJoy University are wiser than most and have taught me a lot...even if they are not yet even in their teens.  They have a lifetime of wisdom to share, and a heart full of love to offer.  That's enough.  We have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to celebrate.

And what is my idea of the purpose of family?  Well...I think you all have read the answer to that one for 4 years now :-)   Family is sacred, family is holy, family IS God.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall Adventure

We live in one of the single most beautiful places in the United States, and often we remind ourselves that what we lack in urban attractions we more than gain in mountain magnificence. This was the weekend I was to preach at the little mountain church in Silverton, and they were kind enough to offer to let our family stay overnight in their unoccupied parsonage next the church. So we packed up the crew (and yes, it was everything but the kitchen sink, or at least it felt like it) and off we went. Silverton is really not all that far from us, just a mere 60 miles, but it is over some windy mountain roads so it takes longer than you'd expect to get there. We stopped for a few photos along the way, which I am sharing here, and to check out a possible campground for next summer. Here is a sample of our fall color, with aspens all ablaze in golden fire amidst the evergreens.

The camping area we checked out is awesome, and the silt in the creek is colored from the minerals left over from old mining activity.  Hues of greens and rusty orange made a very interesting effect, and the kids just had to try and skip a few rocks.

The parsonage and church were directly across the street from the library/school/park so they all headed over  to burn off a little energy.

Silverton's population during late fall and winter is only about 450 people or so, and during the summer swells to about 2500 with tourists checking out the real Old West and the narrow gauge railroad that travels from Durango and back each day. We have never had the pleasure of taking that trip as it is fairly expensive, but I can only imagine how beautiful it must be, especially right now in the fall. Many of the original buildings are still standing from the mid to late 1800's.

The church in Silverton...and in fact the entire designated as a National Historic site. The sanctuary recently underwent a renovation of several hundred thousand dollars, of which the congregation raised over $80,000. Sounds fairly significant, right? Now consider that on a good summer day during their high season they have attendance of about 30 people and during the winter between 8 and 10. Now that $80,000 sounds a lot more impressive to have been raised, doesn't it?

Walking into the sanctuary is a uniquely sacred experience, it really feels that way. You feel a connection to the faith of the hundreds of miners who lived and often died right there in this little town. The renovation was tastefully done, and it still reflects an old town church feel but with an added warmth that lends itself to allowing one to pause and reflect.

I bet you can not guess what our music accompaniment was...a marimba and a guitar! And extremely talented musicians manned them. It was so unique, and made the morning quite special. The sermon was OK, I am not a gifted public speaker so I hope only that the message overall came through despite my lack of skill. I will say it was quite a privilege to preach from the pulpit of this remarkable little church, something I never imagined myself doing in a million years. We had a great time visiting with the warm members of the congregation afterwards and Kenny talked the ears off one of the men who politely listened and feigned interest :-)

Then it was on to home, where we are relaxing a bit this afternoon before readying ourselves for the week ahead.

Hope your weekend was as nice as ours was!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Picture Post

Here are a few photos from our past week filled with shed building and peach preserving!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tentative Transformation

I had no idea that last night would prove to be a quietly monumental moment for me.  Somewhere between running the kids to TaeKwonDo, sitting in a pew for choir practice, and fretting over there being no milk in the fridge for breakfast, God stepped in the middle of it all, and unexpectedly I was changed forever.

Last night, for the first time, I saw that I had indeed become a minister.

I don't know how this transformation happened, I truly don't.  In the light of a new day, I returned to feeling very much un-pastor-like. But somehow, last night I found myself sitting on the bed of someone who had recently entered a nursing home...hopefully temporarily...and became God's unlikely representative.  A sacred conversation was held, where fear of death was acknowledged, and fear of a very uncertain future was expressed.  I was privileged to be the one these thoughts were shared with, and upon leaving realized that something I had said...or perhaps not said...had brought comfort, but more importantly brought God into a place where people often feel abandoned and question the Creator's very existence.

I am at a place where I am questioning so much about my own journey, both in ministry and in parenting.  It is inevitable, I suppose, that any thinking person looks across the ocean of their life and sees several boats going off in different directions, and wonders which one is off course, which one is smack dab where they should be, and which one is the partying Love Boat which never made any sense at all but sure was good for a solid laugh.

There is no clear direction for where I should focus on where it concerns ministry, and yet last night confirmed for me that, indeed, God has something sitting up at least ONE sleeve somewhere that is not being revealed, sort of like a card shark in Vegas whose slight of hand tricks leave people guessing.

Then there is the Mommy-Teacher part, which today had me feeling more exhausted than usual.  I found myself doubting my every move, feeling as if there is just so much ground to cover we will never be able to make up and I am ruining my kids because we didn't get enough math covered this week, or we haven't read the "right" books, name it, I am fretting over it.  There are days when all of this feels so perfectly suited and others where I can totally understand everyone's incredulous and skeptical looks when I reveal we are homeschooling 5 kids, and yea, 2 of them spoke no English 7 months ago.

As usual though, the Spirit descends when we are at our weakest, and sometimes it comes in the form of a 7 year old little boy.  Tonight we were watching a movie about Africa when Josh looked over at me with a big grin on his face and said ""Mommy, I am so happy we are homeschooling.  We get to learn much more interesting things in really fun ways, and I am learning a lot!".  I know it was God speaking through Joshie, reassuring me that all is OK, panic can settle down, and I can trust I am on the right path even when doubts arise.

We head into a busy weekend, wishing we had a bit more down time but looking forward to going on our overnight adventure to the mountain town of Silverton.  We also have the annual "Pumpkin Chunkin'" to look forward too as well on Saturday, where out in a corn field people will use machines created especially for the event to see how far they can launch a pumpkin. Sounds silly?  It is downright serious and many travel almost a mile!!

I am behind on emails, way behind on laundry (even Dominick is seeing the need for a much larger capacity washer and dryer!  That'll have to wait...), and behind in studies.  But at least we have milk in the fridge for tomorrow, and clean underwear...what else could anyone ask for??

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I was smiling with delight at this video that Lael, your fellow blog commenter and my terrific friend, posted on Facebook.  You have to check this out!  I do NOT claim to be the Grammar Queen and as you all can tell from my many errors on this blog (some are due to a simple lack of proof reading, others are due to a simple mind!), I would be the last person to actually correct someone.  However, it has been hilarious to read some of the "new words" created by the girls in their writing when they are attempting to write English in our slurred way of saying it.  This video reminded me of that.

And by the way, my one big bugaboo is saying "ecscape" instead of "escape",   But then Angela keeps writing "fo" in lieu of "for", so what does that say about MY pronounciation???

Check it out:

Monday, October 11, 2010

So Much to Learn

It has been a busy weekend, and a reflective one in many ways as well.  I started off Friday night with dinner with a dear friend, one whose insight and wisdom always balance me, particularly when it comes to the kids.  We caught up after several weeks of not being able to connect, and my Mom's Night Out was really enjoyable and I hadn't realized how much it was needed. 

It is a little weird, this homeschooling thing and this new life of mine.  I am home all day, and part of me knows I am working at something very hard which takes an enormous amount of time and energy, but at the end of the day laundry is not caught up, groceries were not bought, house is not picked up, and I feel as if I accomplished absolutely nothing.  I look around and try to figure out where the hours went, and why I am not more productive.  I think it is because the tangible things are not done, and the intangible is what I have spent most of my day on.  Teaching leaves you feeling a bit invalidated, as you don't have a completed project to look at when day ends.  I don't have a nice neat stack of folded clothes or a full cupboard to show for my time.  It is taking some getting used to and some serious internal dialogue to impress upon myself that what I am doing every day of the week IS accomplishing something.  I wonder if every homeschooling mom feels like this or just the lame ones like me.

I also had an interesting thought while at dinner Friday night.  We were talking about the kids, how much each has changed, and I was commenting upon the dramatic changes in Matthew after one official year of homeschooling.  As I mentioned in a previous post about our small church talent show, he is showing far more comfort with being in front of people, talking with others and being more social.  This seems totally antithetical to the whole notion of how damaging homeschooling is to a child's social development.  But as I contemplated it further, I realized that I think part of the reason is that in school, kids are so afraid to try things for fear of judgment or failure.  They can't take the risk of appearing incapable in front of other kids, who will likely remind them of their inadequacies clear up until graduation day.  At home, Matthew has been free to just be himself, to pursue interests, and to share new things.  Adults will not ridicule a failed attempt, neither will his siblings.  It allows space in a safe environment to take risks, and to build confidence and self-assuredness in the process.  I think I am officially throwing out the whole socialization argument.

I have prayed a lot in the direction of Kenny and his challenges, and although not fully where I need to be I am coming to new insights and understandings. As I shared with my adopted sister-friend on Saturday night as we discussed this at length, I need to remember that in many ways, the job that is most important has already been successfully completed and will only continue to blossom.  The single most important thing to me with all our children is that they grow to be people of compassion and purpose, who know how to thoroughly give and receive love, who act kindly and want to be of service.  Of all our kids, Kenny has already graduated from the LaJoy Character School.  Everything else is gravy.  He will do marvelous things in this world because he will always be walking with God, of that I am absolutely certain.  I have decided to trust in that fully.  However, the road ahead with him will be our most arduous in academics, and will require the most of me in terms of patience, diligence and dedication.  I won't be able to be passive ever about educating him.  But I am oh-so-glad that he is home in an insulated and more nurturing environment.  You can bet I will be praying daily for wisdom over the coming years, for I will need that in bucket loads.  We will make it though, walking a different path and holding hands, both literally and figuratively. 

I have been helped in this area specifically by a longtime internet adoption friend who sent me a link today to an article that did amazing things for lifting me up and pointing me in the right direction.  So often one of you will thoughtfully send me links, excerpts or personal narratives which inform me and turn my heart a little in the direction it needs to go.  To all of you who have been my teachers over the years, I thank you.  I always marvel when others email or comment about my supposed "wisdom", as I truly realize if I have gained any wisdom at all through the years, it has been hard earned through experience...and it has been freely offered up to me a million times by all of you.  What you have taught me is worthy of that doctoral thesis I will never be writing!!

iveness, our kid is NOT going to end up a statistic.  Just as with Josh and RAD...he ended up with the right mommy if stubbornness is the key :-)  And I can laugh as I hear my mom's words when I was a child about "I hope you end up with a child as stubborn as you someday!" and realize that all that hard-headedness might just end up being a "plus" as a mom to our particular children.

I am also reflecting a lot on sermons I have to write, and am finding complete joy in the process, along with a good mixture of fear.  I really, really want to take a true sermon writing course someday...heck, I'd like to finally take a writing course at all someday...and I think I would gain more confidence.  Hmmm...actually taking Matthew's beginner course from the Institute for Excellence in Writing might be of help, I'll have to see if I can fit that in sometime. I never feel as if I have enough "meat" to my sermons, not having the ability that some have to gently weave history, Scripture references, etc. into a sermon as effortlessly as some do.  But I am sticking my neck out to do something terribly uncomfortable and learn from it, and I am using it to point out to the kids that we ALL gain from doing that in our lives.  I now am schedule to preach 3 weekends in a row starting next weekend, twice to very small congregations I am unfamiliar with.  Being the wallflower I tend to be, this is over the top anxiety making stuff, but good for me as well.

I apologize for having such "dry" posts with few photos these past few weeks.  This is due to 2 reasons, one being that there are only so many photos I can stand to take of kids crowded around a kitchen table doing school work (Blah!!!!), and the second reason is my camera has never been the same since Dominick dropped it in Kazakhstan and I think we now are going to be forced to replace it (Another Blah!!!).  It is being quite finicky, sometimes deciding it flat out will not take a photo even when I press the shutter release button, the flash refuses to pop up when needed, and my lens is making an uncomfortable grinding noise as it sort of auto focuses.  We are also having laptop issues, and mine will need to go in for repairs in the next week or two, thankfully under warranty.  I am missing the backspace key and had no idea, sadly, how poorly I type and how often I use it until it broke.  Also the wi-fi is not working properly, the battery is dead already less than a year since being purchased and we already threw out the power cord because it too was broken.  Yea, I seriously need the Humvee of laptops because this baby goes everywhere with me and is far more important to me to carry around than a purse or lipstick :-) Hahaha!  So, it seems to be Tech Break Down Week at the LaJoy's.

As I am typing this, it is fun to hear the kids outside with Dominick, who took the afternoon off to finally put together our new plastic shed.  It is a larger one with extensions, so we could have a place for bikes and stuff for the winter.  The kids are taking "Shed Building 101" and already worked on creating a gravel and wood foundation and are now learning how to read plans, use basic hand tools, etc.  I asked at lunch if they thought they would finish it today and Kenny grinned at me and said "Oh come on, Mom...we're LaJoy's...of COURSE we will finish it today!"  Hearing their voices just outside my window as they all work together brings a smile to my face...they surely will have it done today!  Matthew is up on a step ladder installing sky lights, Angela is right in there with them screwing together trusses, and Olesya is off to the side building something with hammer and nails that she saw from a craft book.  Kenny and Josh are in their Wally World cowboy boots thinking they are the cat's meow...this is a hoot!

So I will get back to writing what I need to get written instead of blogging, and will try and get photos up soon if my camera will cooperate a little.  We have a fun day planned tomorrow as we were invited to spend the day with our Resource Consultant from school and can some peaches at her house, which is a first for me too!  I had no idea how much I would learn while homeschooling, some of it practical, some of it more academic, and somehow all of it still spiritual.

Ooopsss...being called out to view the work, better get moving!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What's In a Number Anyway

The mysteries of our children are something many simply can not fathom.  We are handed over the responsibility of raising a child, and in the case of our older adoptees that responsibility comes mid-stream as our kids have childhoods that are half complete.  Those children come to us quite literally naked, often both emotionally and physically, and we are given nothing in terms of useful information to work with.  Years and years have passed, pain has been experienced, history exists to which we are not privy.  We have no biological information, scant clues to the past which has been lived prior to joining us, and the barest minimum of details to help us flesh out the unknown.

We take everything at face value at first, all the while searching for clues and digging ever deeper as we draw closer and closer to one another and learn more about each other.  We do not start with true blank slates, but in some odd way we actually do as we have no preconceived notions based upon inherited qualities or characteristics.  Many of us spend years and years trying to sort through issues, trying to untangle a web of pre-institutional harm and institutional neglect.  Our children are affected profoundly by the things we know...lack of early stimulation, malnutrition, inadequate human contact, and so much more.  They are also impacted by those things we will never have full knowledge of.  Late at night we find ourselves in the age old "which came first, the chicken or the egg..." inner dialogues as we try to wrap our mind around puzzling issues which seem to have no concrete explanations.

Today, Kenny was the enigma on paper, as I attended his IEP meeting with the special education team after a battery of tests was performed last week.  Though not present with us, I felt his hand gently laid across my shoulder as I stood in for him, gathering information, taking notes, and processing what I was hearing.  I came away with more of an understanding of the challenges we face in the future, and hurting and conflicted for our dear son.  Tonight a heaviness has settled in, and I am trying hard to battle it but for the next few days I think it will prove too difficult and I might just have to sit and rest in certain knowledge for awhile before deciding upon an approach I can live with.

Test scores are numbers that can change our entire perception...and our destination in life.  We can live and die by them, letting them dictate so much of our inner conversations with ourselves, or we can take them for what they are, numbers on a page which speak some truth but do not account for the unmeasurable...the unique spirit within each of us.  There will be information from this meeting that will not be shared with Kenny until adulthood, for it would forever change his sense of self.  By adulthood, if blessed, perhaps we will be able to laugh over the absurdity of what was implied by a number typed on a page.

But now Dominick and I must somehow move backward in time to a place of blissful ignorance, where we would not have results and data and would just see Kenny for who he is, an amazingly thoughtful, deep, intelligent little guy who has thus far defied all odds.  But within that desire to step back, we have to retain pieces and parts to work with, and determine what modifications are useful, what will success look like for Kenny, and how will we help him achieve it.

This will not be easy, and the world is colored a hazy gray at the moment.  I know it won't last, but it will take a lot of creativity, intentionality, and perseverance to bring on the return of the rainbow.

As God is my witness here tonight, I will see to it that Kenny becomes all God intended him to be, and will disregard any test results that tell me his future is bleak.  I will take away only that which can be productively used, and sweep the rest under the rug for now.  Oh, I'll still know it is there and won't likely ever forget, but he won't see it there until one day we air out the rug and then we can maybe even smirk a bit and say "We proved them all wrong!!".

Heart, guts and passion are what breeds success.  Diligence, support and effort create "winners".

God has Kenny in huge palms, cradled and secure.  I can let this go, I can trust my gut instinct which says something is not quite right here, and I can proceed on knowing that what man dictates, God laughs at.  Kenny has purpose and gifts to share.  It is up to us to draw out strengths and capitalize on them, and they ARE numerous.  No one will work harder than both Kenny and I, we are in this together.

I promise you, my son, you will get the best of me.  We'll turn our backs on conventional wisdom and keep on doing what we are doing, working towards your brilliantly bright future.  Keep on reading about Bill Gates and other successful entrepreneurs.  You'll be one of them someday, but you have to believe it...just as I believe in you.

Soul Talk

To you, my regular readers, I came back up here to tack this on after writing this post and finding it winding down an unexpected canyon...I couldn't get out once I started and just had to ride it out.  Don't bother with this post...this one is my own wandering mind, trying diligently to work out the unknown.  It is full of boring things that I need to get out but none of you needs to necessarily read.  I thought about not posting this and keeping it to myself in my non-existent journal, but realized you all know me anyway so what does it matter...I'm an odd duck and have already revealed pretty much the core of who I am in everything I have ever written anyway, so it is sort of pointless to hide anything as if you don't already know far more than is probably wise to share.  A bit too late for that.  But remembering who this is for, our family, it felt fair to put it here in our family journal. Sorry.  I'll have a more appropriate reader oriented post as soon as I can.

There are times when we find God inserted in almost every single thing we do, and those are the times when I feel so thankful that I am where I am today.  I have spent a great deal of my life feeling oddly out of place, not fitting in with any "crowd" and often as an observer.  There are times, especially this year with all the changes that we have experienced, when I think that sense of being disconnected is quite valid, and others when I know it was a yearning for what I have found now.

For the most part, my hard edges have been worn smooth by a God who has tumbled me and polished me.  I am not so beautiful as to be a stand alone gemstone, but I now find joy in being added to the chain alongside others whose previously roughened edges were also polished to a gleam.  We all show signs of the ravages of time, of events and forces that chipped away at us leaving cracks and discoloration, but somehow when God gets done with the coarse grind we are changed, we are in far better shape, and we realize the polishing will go on until death.

I recall a time, not all that many years ago, when I walked around 24/7 seeing the negative.  I was so angry and disdainful of others, all the while wallowing in dismay at all life had not provided...never realizing that I was receiving what energy I was putting out into the world.  The change was not something I myself could have brought about, I was too steeped in a lifestyle that was far more concerned with "me" and was unable to recognize that life could be different.

I don't really know what brought about the gradual changes, but I can point to certain individuals who helped me find my way, either by rejecting me or supporting me.  We often don't give credit where credit is due, and the broken relationships and heartaches lead us where we need to go just as firmly as those who willingly hold our hand and draw us in.  I can look back now, and with the wisdom that comes with the passage of time I give thanks for all that transpired in my life, the things that broke my heart are what created the opening for God to enter.  Being vulnerable, frightened, or deeply saddened is not a place where we would elect to "live", but it is often in this broken state that we are finally available to God, and don't reject the Spirit ourselves as we desperately reach out trying to cling to anything that might offer a respite from the pain and isolation we feel.

God has broken me on several occasions and brought me to new understanding.  God broke me last winter, and for many months following I literally had to lean on others until a new wholeness emerged, and it looks very different than I expected.  It has taken awhile for me to become acquainted with this modified version of Cindy, and in fact, I am still not fully "in the know", but am thankfully further down the road now than I was 3 or 4 months ago.

The wisdom of the people God has surrounded me with has astounded me, but further still is the willingness of  certain people to bob in and out and wait for my return to wholeness, always offering a life ring if I needed it, and realizing that this was one sea that had to be navigated by myself for the most part, even if it meant watching safely from shore while feeling helpless to do much more than offer shouts of encouragement.

I have been pastored by many, some without the title, and an extraordinary one with the title who provided me with a place to shed my tears of frustration and confusion, and who literally was at moments the sole light shining in the bleak dark night of my soul.  I have wrestled with so much on so many levels this year that it would have been impossible to sort it out, nor would it have been possible to do so in anything other than a spiritual context.  And God provided perfect peace, a place to rest, a person to help restore me.  What would I have done???  I have a fresh perspective on what it means to be a pastor.

I have a sense of standing at a new crossroads, but I am not sure where any of the roads lead.  It is unsettling, to say the least.  Dominick often sees me as over-analyzing things to death, and there are moments I am sure he is right and I would give anything to view the world from his more concrete perspective, for it would be so much easier.  However, that is not the way I am made, no matter how strong the desire to do so.

I wonder, will I have the courage necessary to jump off whatever new cliff God places before me?  Or will I simply "settle", living a safer existence.  I won't say happier, because it seems that for me, happiness is largely tied these days to challenge and risk, at least of the emotional sort.  And oddly, despite still feeling not fully into my new skin, I repeatedly ask God to reveal the new adventure, to teach the newest lesson, to keep me barreling ever faster forward toward a deeper, richer and more connected life.  And I know this will lead to wisdom I can not yet imagine, but that wisdom will come with a cost, and it will be hard earned.

I find it fascinating, too, that I am in the unusual and very privileged position to be raising 5 young people who all are walking this journey with me, yet as is natural and expected they are waaaaaayyyy far behind on the path.  Oh, how I rejoice in how they walk with eyes wide open!!  Each of them at their own pace, but definitely traveling the spiritual path and gathering the "supplies" in the form of experiences that they will need for their adult journeys that will surely have them visiting places unimagined, both literally and figuratively.  Those experiences have been at times torturous, agonizing and wretchedly, tragically beautiful in their power.  Emerging from it are spirits that are unparalleled in depth and capacity to love, spirits whose loyalty is surprising in its strength.

The further gift is to be forever committed to a man who understands and supports, despite being on a different and perhaps parallel path.  The yin and yang of our relationship is what keeps us tied so tightly to one another, both of us recognizing the value of being partnered with someone so different who can fill in our missing colors on our paint-by-number dreams, to quote Jackson Browne.  Those colors are the ones each of us does not possess but the other does and gladly leans over, paintbrush in hand, offering their gift of subtle  hue.  All that I am I could never be without him, and all that we are as a family is due to him.  I have spent numerous years cheering from the sidelines as he found his place in the world, and he now sits on the sidelines encouraging, supporting and wishing he could meet me in the middle of this desert...and indeed does find me at an oasis now and again...but then he moves on knowing I have to find my own way out to the lush, green valley that awaits me.  And he will be there, arms outreached, saying "Wish I could have been more help, but I knew you could do it...I may not always understand why you had to travel the desert, but I'll allow you to go where you need to go.".  Precious is his offering.

I greedily and eagerly reach for those whose lives intersect ours, whose offerings are also indeed precious.  Time spent with us, following from afar with care and prayer, strands braided together for strength.  People I'll never meet, cities are  the only name I will know them by as blog stats reveal hits and my silent little "hello" is sent out.  Near and dear ones, giving gifts of pure love in the form of guitars and teaching, emails and messages saying "I love you...what would my life be without you.".  How far I have strayed, thankfully, from that bitter woman I once was, whose trust in others was nil, whose lens was not rose colored but jet black.  That lens has been replaced with a double rainbow stretching far and wide, spread not just across the mountain view from my own backyard, but across the world, spanning the globe as the love continues to sustain me and strengthen with each passing day.  I have expanded.

Oh God, you HAVE saved me, and I am prostrate on the ground in gratitude.  How desperately I wish that for others, and how corny I know that sounds to so many.  I once was like that too, and I do not laugh at the thought.

Thank you for walking with me, for waiting for me, for being present in the eyes, hearts and minds of so many whose lives touch mine.  Teach me that I may be even fuller.  I can't explain this desire, it makes no sense to me.  Maybe someday I will better understand, or maybe it will remain a mystery.