Monday, November 29, 2010

Good News!

We are home after a long day of doctors and driving, and while it was fun to get away, I am always so happy to walk through our door and settle in to my own bed. 

This is a short post after the novel I wrote last night, sorry about that!  We had good news today at Shriner's Hospital.  After about 18 or 20 xrays and a very thorough exam, it was determined that there was no need for surgery at this time.  In fact, while the examining MD could see that something was wrong, she admitted that she wasn't very happy with her conclusions and wants to see Matthew again in 6 months.  Her thinking is that the corrective measures thus far have worsened the problem by over correcting rather than lessening it, and she ordered custom orthotics to see if that makes a difference.  She thinks that maybe his huge growth spurt this year of 4" is behind some of the leg pain he is experiencing, but reiterated she is not really happy with that explanation either.  So, while we don't have any bad news, there are not firm answers either and we will try the orthotics and see if that helps.

That medical exam is behind us, and we have Kenny being seen at Shriner's in Chicago in 2 weeks to determine the results of his recent surgery.  Having whacked himself right in the face about 3 weeks ago as he ran around in the dark in our back yard, we are hopeful that no damage was done to the bone graft site.  It's always something...

A grateful end to a weekend of true thanksgiving.  Good night!

Thanksgiving Post - Part 2 - The Loss

Last night I sat here in a strange bed in a strange city and a strange configuration of our family.  Matthew and Joshua slept in the room next to ours with our friends, and Dominick and I spent the first night we have ever had alone with our 3 newest children, the ones all adopted as older kids.  I realized this after Dominick had drifted off next to me, and I gazed down into the faces of my son and daughter, trying to burn the image of their peaceful sleeping faces into my memory.  For the very first time, I felt as if a fist had hit me in the gut, sucking the very life breathe out of me.  These precious kids who have stolen my heart, each and every one of them, have a past I was not a part of, and it changed each of them permanently. Sure, Matthew and Josh also had a brief past, and in the case of Josh it was terribly traumatic and the impact is something we still deal with today, but this was different.

I lost their infancy, I lost their childhood, I lost the intimacy that comes with mothering babies.  Five children and I had a grand total of about one year of cuddling an adored child of mine who actually wasn't rejecting me.  I never had the chance to stand over their crib and stare in awe and wonder at the tiny creature that lay swaddled beneath my gaze.  I never had the chance to feel their sweet baby breath on my cheek as I held them to my shoulder and rocked them to sleep.  I missed the opportunity to see their first toothless grins, to hear their first spoken word, to see their first wobbly step.

There they are, asleep before me know with big bodies sprawled across floor and bed, arms splayed above their heads, Kenny's hands tucked angelically up to his face as if in prayer.  I tuck the blanket under their chins, Olesya sighs and Angela moves not a muscle as I tenderly brush the wisp of hair from her face.  The sorrow wells up in me as, for just a moment, I allow myself to acknowledge the years lost, the grief rolls quickly through and it is something that I have spent years trying to deny.  Our older children bear scars internally and externally of the time we all missed together, of love that was in such short supply.  It aches in an unfamiliar way, as it has been pushed aside for so long as I worked hard at grabbing onto what we have left.

Blinking back tears, I smile, for what we do have is so much more than many will ever have.  What makes it even more special is that each of us, young and old, each knows that as well.  So often I hear "I am so glad I am in my family and not in another family!"  or in our cheekier moments "Of course we are crazy, we are LaJoy's!" said with a broad grin as we talk about some nutty idea that to us seems "doable" and to others would be unfathomable.

But within the mix, the joy is tinged with sorrow, for there is loss on all sides, and this weekend it was felt not only by myself as I lovingly tucked in my Big Bodied pre-teens.  Angela struggled mightily as well, trying to walk a painful path of understanding without the benefit of all the tools to figure it all out.

Being with Bekah and Emma Wright was a real blessing for her, but it brought to the surface the grief she has buried about leaving behind her heart sisters at the orphanage back in Kazakhstan.  What she surely thought she was coping with just fine became quite a painful moment of recognition today.  I had mentioned to Dominick on Friday that I felt Angela pushing me away in extremely subtle ways which I can't even describe very well.  She is a young lady of great sensitivity and an astute yet kind heart.  The distance I recognized creeping in was not imagined, but it was very low key and began with the arrival of the Wrights.  I had an inkling that Bekah and Emma were bringing up old feelings of loss, but wasn't quite sure.

Today she made an unusual remark when I was not around, about not having to do something because I was not present.  This was highly unusual for Angela, as she is an extremely respectful child, and she cares a lot about setting a good example for her siblings.  Dominick told me about this and I decided that we needed to immediately address what was going on, that we could not let another day pass with letting her slip deeper into rebuilding that wall we have worked so hard at tearing down.  So, we found a way to get her alone and sat her down. She immediately knew what this was going to be about, and even brought it up herself without prompting from us.  I love her honesty so much, and her keen awareness for her age shows a remarkable depth.

I started off playing hardball, letting her know in no uncertain terms that her behavior was unacceptable and we would not tolerate it.  She would not look at us, but agreed in her quiet, surprisingly deep voice.  After a few moments of this where I could see she was compliant but unmoved, I said just a few words..."Are you missing your friends more after being around Bekah and Emma?  Are you feeling sad the past few days?"...and the chin began to quiver and within moments the tears fell.  Yes, she was missing her friends, but she was afraid to tell us because she didn't want to hurt our feelings.  Still no eye contact and not much offered in the form of verbal explanation, but none was really necessary for I knew what was going on, and I understood her dilemma completely.

We spent the next 45 minutes talking to her about our understanding of the loss she had suffered.  I explained that we knew she loved us, and that it was OK to feel more than one emotion at a time, that we all carry around many emotions about certain people or events and it can be confusing to feel so many things all at once.  She sat there, the wall between us had a crack in it now and I could see into her heart again but only through a small crevice.  I needed to break it wide open...we had a lot of work to do here.

How hard it is to explain emotions to someone who has never been encouraged to share them!  How challenging it is to be on watch at all times for the perfect "teachable moment" knowing that the best ones only come along once in awhile, and if missed might not come back around for a very long time again...if they ever do at all.  Poor Angela, she has all this innate understanding of human interaction, and yet does not have the vocabulary in either English or Russian to express herself well about it, nor does she feel safe enough yet to do so! She doesn't want to appear weak, she doesn't understand why something feels so conflicting, and she doesn't know how to work through it herself without help that feels so uncomfortable to reach out for!  How hard this parenting thing is, to see your child in emotional pain and know you can't easily fix that, and that it might take years (if ever) to help them move to a place of true healing.

We spent the our time breaking down the emotions and reasons, one by one, I providing her examples and vocabulary, but more importantly giving her permission and space to feel whatever it is that she is feeling without fear of reprisal or harm to others.  I urged her to come to me anytime she felt confused or sad, and to not worry one bit about hurting my feelings.  I got a giggle out of her as I told her "Remember what Matthew said to you once?  That I always know anyway and you won't ever get away with anything?  Well, I always know something is up with your heart, I am an expert on Heart Work, but I can't help you work it out if you don't share it with me.  Moms are always the experts in that stuff, and you have a brilliant mom! Hahaha!", and with that, she was strong, loving, resourceful daughter returned to me with a bit of exaggeration and a lot of awareness on my own part of what her needs might be.  I regained eye contact, as through her tears she admitted she missed her friends so much sometimes.  We spoke of the sisterhood she had experienced with them, of the surrogate mothers some of them were, and how we can love what we have and still miss what we lost, and ALL those feelings are OK.

It was important to help her separate what is adoption related and what is just life.  I pointed out to her that her missing her friends wouldn't hurt me, as I assumed it had nothing to do with her love for me and nothing to do with adoption at all.  I shared how I cried copious tears myself as our friends moved from Montrose to Chicago, and that even now at times I wanted to cry because I missed the times we shared and the love that existed between us.  But I pointed out that had nothing to do at all with not loving the friends we have in Montrose who are so important in our lives.  We talked about how the feelings she was experiencing were normal and natural, and that it was about moving away from friends, not about regretting being adopted.  The relief that washed over her face as she understood that I really and truly understood what her conflict was told me I had hit the nail on the head squarely.

We cried together a little as I told her that I wanted her to learn how to be open with her feelings, that trapping her pain inside her heart was not a good way to deal with things.  I asked if she felt better talking about how she was so sad right now, and she nodded as more tears came.  I said that her honesty would never hurt me, that I was mature enough and smart enough to understand more than she thought I could, and I could handle whatever she had to share and help her carry it so it would feel lighter just like this now felt lighter for her.

I then told her as I wept a bit that the wall she had put up over the past few days hurt far worse than her sharing that she missed her friends.  I said "You and I have years and years of being close to one another to enjoy...we have years of hating clothes shopping and doing it together complaining all the time about it, we have years of exploring what your wonderful future might turn out to be and working to get you to that place.  We have years of laughing together at the silly things the boys do, and of peeling potatoes together, and of watching you create a warm and loving family like you now have for yourself.  Don't put that wall up and lose that, don't put that wall up and become someone your own children won't be able to be close to, for all of you will lose.  Don't return to  that girl I met the first couple of weeks in Kazakhstan who was too scared to share what she was feeling and almost lost her family because of it...look what we ALL would have missed if you had kept that wall up!!  I am here to help you keep that wall down, and I am safe...your secrets are safe with me and I can handle it all, and I promise you I will never hate you, only love you no matter what."

Her eyes locked on mine, and her heart broke fully open.  We sat there, side by side, holding one another, knowing we had a lot to lose and had to keep on fighting to keep it from happening.

Later, Dominick and I talked, and I told him I was wrung out, spent, totally exhausted.  These moments are so intense and require skills that, frankly, I am not trained for and go strictly by gut instinct in responding.  Am I taking the right path?  Is this the right way to engage?  What do I let go of and what do I need to address?  Where are the lines that at times can be obscured by so much that blurs them? Will I one day regret how I handled something?

Ahhh...who knows...I certainly don't, and I am sure I will live with the same sort of doubt that every mother lives with.  I am doing my very best, knowing I am imperfect and am screwing up along the way, hoping that love will cover the majority of mistakes.

And man, how I love them all.

Tomorrow is Matthew's appointment, he is not his usual self and it is obvious he is nervous.  By this time tomorrow we should have some answers, perhaps ones that are not pleasant to hear.  We are grateful to be here, knowing God has handled our lives in surprising ways, far better than we ever could ourselves.

And we are reminded that for every loss suffered, God drops something else in our hands...but those hands have to be open to receive it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Post - Part 1

This is what Thanksgiving is all about...
Our Blessings Tree, courtesy of Emma :-)

As you grow older, you begin to discover that the concept of "family" widens considerably, if you allow it to.  I realize that not everyone would agree, and for them family constitutes only those privileged enough to be connected by blood.  For those whose lives are touched by deeply meaningful relationships with others with whom we have absolutely no biological connection whatsoever, maybe it is easier to see the bigger picture of being part of God's family.

This Thanksgiving, as we welcomed the Wright family into our home, it strangely felt as if we were more like extended family getting together for the holiday rather than strangers meeting for the first time.  Two families connected by a love of others who are often forgotten by the world, two families whose lives couldn't be more different and yet are so similar in core values, two families for whom "family" means something entirely different than it does for so many others in the world around us.

We were all filled with anticipation as we anxiously awaited their arrival, and the kids had
made a sign reading "You found the Wright house" to post outside our door while a cake baked for Bekah's birthday.  It took all of about 20 minutes for us to feel comfortable with one another, and that warmth lasted throughout our time together.

Montrose is not exactly a mecca of amusing places to visit, and  with warnings of an impending storm approaching which never materialized we were cautious about going up to the mountains for sightseeing.  Thankfully, the Wright's made it clear that this visit was about being together, and not about being entertained.    We ended up sitting around laughing, visiting and learning more about one another's lives.  In Julie I found a woman whose understanding of the challenges we have faced, and whose outlook is so similar that I wished she lived nearer so we would have the opportunity to have our friendship blossom.  John is as warm and jovial as you all would expect from his blog, a guy who has 20 irons in the fire at all times and thrives on being creative in community building.  Emma and Bekah are the loveliest young ladies I have met in a very long time...mature, warm, and gifted in numerous ways.  To say the entire family was a pleasure to be with for 2 days is a huge understatement.  It was a relaxing time of true fellowship, spent gabbing until the wee hours of the morning, working on puzzles, playing chess, and watching movies together in comfortable companionship. Our deepest regret about the weekend is that it might be the only time our family's ever meet, for the distance is great between our house and theirs.

Game Time!

Family...Created by God
There are so many that should be included in the photo above, so many whose lives intersect ours in comfort and care, in laughter and joy, and in sorrow and tears.  The magnitude of gratitude for the God created extended family we cherish is boundless...oh yes, there were many missing from the photo...our adoption angels, our church family,  our Chicago family, our near and dear friends of all ages...and yes, even our blog readers.  Your gift of love throughout the years extended to us connects us in some strange and unexpected way, doesn't it?  You all who know so much about our family, who have followed for the past 4 years as we awaited Kenny's arrival and then teetered on the brink of despair last winter, you who have prayed for us and encouraged us through it all, are family of a different sort.  There are even a few of you who have followed us well beyond 4 years, reading online group posts and watching our family grow since the very beginning almost 10 years ago.  This place, the LaJoy Family Online Home, has had it's doors open to you and you have knocked and walked in often, sometimes daily.  While I may not know many of you individually, I am always stunned that so many are out there visiting us, thinking about us, and finding something of value to you as we share our mundane, hum drum, ordinary life.  As you have walked through the door of our virtual home, I hope that somewhere along the line you have felt me reaching out to you, that you have found whatever it was that brought you here to us in the first place, and that you know you are precious to us too...and I mean that sincerely.

We were joined for Thanksgiving by Mr. Steve and Miss Jane, our dear friends who also accompanied us to Salt Lake City where I am writing this blog post from.  We traveled here on Saturday in preparation for Matthew's first visit at Shriner's Hospital here as we seek care for his orthopedic issues due to rickets.  We were greeted by snow gently falling and the twinkling lights at the Tabernacle Square as we all walked around in delight in our continuing "sort of" annual tradition of coming to Salt Lake City over Thanksgiving weekend to get in the Christmas spirit by taking in the Tabernacle Square scene.  There is nothing quite like it, and I wish others lived close enough to create the tradition of bundling up against the cold and braving the crisp winter air to be with thousands of other folks who come to celebrate the coming of this special season.  With the outdoor nativity scene and the choirs performing in various locations around the Square, it helps to remind us of what the season is all about...and it is not about shopping malls and gift wrapped packages.

Sweet Silly Sunny at the end of a long Thanksgiving Day

Thus endeth our Thanksgiving weekend.  There is more to write, and it will come in post #2 which I hope to complete is the harder stuff.  Off to write it...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's it all About?

A question was asked and answered this weekend, at least for our family.  The question wasn't asked as bluntly as the title of this post, but it was really the question behind the overarching theme of the weekend. 

Dominick and I participated in a mini-Advent retreat this weekend with a small group from our congregation.  I wasn't quite sure what it's approach would be, and where it would lead my thinking, but I was looking forward to it and knew I would walk away with some food for thought as we enter into the Advent season.  I think that like so many others, I was looking for an answer to the question, "What's it all about?" and I came away with a much deeper reflective experience than I had anticipated, having hopefully internalized a message that I have been working hard at taking in for years, but not quite making it all the way.

The season that is upon us now, and comes on full force with Black Friday sales, is one that leaves many of us feeling hollow, knowing full well it ought to be about more than ransacking malls for the best deals on more junk to give to others to make up for the time we have not spent with them and the love we have not shared with them throughout the year.  Of course, this is not always the case, but sadly it fits more often than not.  We get caught up in the frenzy because, in some ways, it takes less effort to purchase a gift and deal with the debt later.  Taking the time to thoughtfully and creatively show someone that we value their presence in our lives becomes too much work, so we opt for the quick, easy fix...another electronic gadget, another soap on a rope, another plastic toy that will end up in the trash 3 months later.

Thanks to this retreat, Dominick and I came away with a much firmer sense of what we'd like the season to be all about for our family.  I loved that the phrase "be counter-cultural" was used throughout as it IS counter to our culture to buck the system and plant your feet firmly saying "We are not going to participate in the ways everyone else does...we want MORE than that."  I had never before thought of this time of year as the season of Advent, seeing it always as merely Christmas and the mess that leads up to it that leaves us drained and miserable, heaving a sigh of relief when it is all over.  Now, of course, it is not always like that, but last year was a real eye opener for us.

Christmas was very different for all of us last year, as most of you can recall.  It was a true Advent of sorts as we waited and hoped for something for our family that thankfully ended well.  Our children all received one gift on Christmas, and not anything at all extravagant.  We simply didn't have the money to afford more, nor did we have the ability to find much while in Kazakhstan.  Somehow though, that single gift was treasured, and it was very clear to me that we have taken the joy away from our kids by giving them too much on Christmas.  Each was ecstatic with the one thing they got, and we didn't hear any cries of displeasure over having only one gift.  Being given too much means that the joy gets diluted, and attention is spread too thinly to really have the ability to appreciate what was received.  We have never really had the financial ability to overload the kids, but we realized that even at a lower level we have still managed to create a sense that Christmas is about receiving and not about giving...even though our children have indicated in a million different ways throughout the year that THEY don't place a priority on "getting" is we who place a priority on it for is our fault if we continue on this path and ruin the goodness that currently exists.

So we are making some changes this year, and hopefully they will be permanent.  We are going to sit down as a family and make a Christmas list of a different sort.  Instead of scouring through catalogs putting together lists of things they want, as so may other kids do (but ours never really have yet), we are going to make a list but it will be quite different.  We are going to make a list of all the things we want to do for others, we are going to make Advent special by making it a season of giving, of ourselves.  We already have done some of that each year, but we are going to step it up a notch. 

We will still give gifts, but we will try and create a focus in different directions...on creating new traditions and enjoying old ones.  We will look for ways to gift those who are truly in need, not in "want" of something.  We will spend time volunteering to help others, purchasing gifts for foster kids, and enjoying music and time together as a family more than usual.  We will keep the season about giving, not about receiving, and we will try and find ways to show those we love that we appreciate them without making it all about money spent. 

Will we be successful?  I don't know, I hope so.  We have been pretty intentional about heading this direction for quite some time, so it won't be a huge change for us but will still be another step backward into counter-cultural action surrounding the holiday.

Our weekend was a good start, even if it wasn't officially the beginning of Advent, and the coming week will be as well.  We spent time this weekend with others, connecting and caring for them.  We spent this evening with an older friend of ours in our 3rd year of celebrating friendship by having dinner together and helping him decorate his home so he didn't have to do that all alone.  It is now something we look forward to as a family, and is a great step in the right direction of keeping the meaning of Advent in honoring the teachings of Jesus.  We raked a friend's yard that was packed with leaves, and had a blast doing it as we joked and visited, and hopefully showed that someone is loved. 

Thanksgiving will be a very special one for us as we are blessed with the presence of John and Julie Wright, along with Bekah and Emma.  I can't think of better guests to help us kick off our personal Advent season and to help us keep in mind what really matters.  More selfless people I am not sure I have ever encountered, and it will be a tremendously joyous time of celebrating long distance friendship.

Maybe by the end of the season, the answer to the question will be crystal clear, as long as we don't muddy the waters.  What's it all about?

Jesus!  He showed us the way to a truly meaningful way of living, and it has nothing at all to do with what Christmas has now become.

Here's to being counter-cultural.  Team LaJoy is in almost every other way, so why not take it all the way and include Christmas as well!!

Care to join us?  Leave a comment and share just one change you intend to make this Christmas to escape the rat race and regain meaning this holiday season.  Even one small change, if made every year, can add up.  Make up your mind not to overbuy for your kids, refuse to go to an office party where it is all about drinking and shmoozing and instead spend that evening with someone who is lonely or in need of a little attention.  Have your kids take just one item off their lists, go buy it and give it to a child for whom their might be no Christmas at all.  Instead of slamming through your Christmas cards this year, take a little extra time to write a few really thoughtful comments about how you value the recipient. 

Together let's create a more meaningful season!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thankful for Surprise Successes

Parenting a child or children who struggle in almost every area of their life makes every day one in which you continually look for ways to uplift them and lighten their burden just a bit.  In the next breath you find yourself counterbalancing that praise with constantly necessary and much needed correction.  It is exhausting for both parent and child, and it is the lucky family who has perceptive children when this occurs, for it helps keep the mood from becoming too laden with frustration.  We try, we fail, we correct, we go back and do it again knowing that very often we still will not experience success.  We look at one another and remind each other that the love exists and is deeply ingrained, even if at times it must be aggravating to be in that child's shoes...and if being honest, in the parent's shoes as well.

Every day right now our children and I have to consciously work at seeing the little things, and a lot of inner conversation goes on to keep our spirits up so that none of us feels like failures.  When working with older kids who are so far behind in so many areas, it is a daily mantra that reminds you that we can not be comparing ourselves to others, we are on our own timeline and it won't match anyone else's.  We fight in our own little realm to cast off discouragement, which frankly is not always easy, especially for Mom/Teacher.  But I believe in each of our children, I have faith in the possibility that resides within each one, and I see the genius that exists in some special area that others have not yet discovered.  After all, every kid is a mini-genius in something, aren't they?  God didn't leave anyone "giftless", the gifts may just be well hidden and need someone special to bring them out in a child.

When it comes to kids like Kenny, particularly, the sleepless nights are many and the daily onslaught is tough to beat.  The lack of awareness of the world around him scares me so much, and in the deepest part of night the academic delays swell to feel like a tsunami of sorrow at something we just might not ever be able to overcome.  As he does things like mindlessly put two sets of pants on over each other because he just didn't notice, twice puts on his younger brother's pants which are at least 5 inches too short and leaves the house with them on never having noticed, or walks through the spilled soup on the floor that he had just watched his sister spill...all because he just didn't "get it", I can't help but be overcome by the worst case scenarios that maybe this beloved son of mine will never be able to truly function normally in this world.  He is NOT stupid by any stretch of the imagination, he just seems almost incapable at times of being fully present and engaged, or of maturing beyond  the developmental level of a 7 or 8 year old kid.  As we quietly celebrated his birthday on Monday, he admitted he wishes he were two years old again and does not really want to be 12.  While every mom would love for her kids to remain younger longer than they do, when faced with the possibility that one child might not, in all seriousness, ever mature to fully functioning adulthood, that desire takes on an entirely different meaning.

God has a way of catching us off guard though, and providing us with hope when at times all feels hopeless.  We find ourselves captivated by the unexpected, and in that unexpected moment we are able to draw new strength and find our chests heavy with abiding love for our loved ones who don't fit the mold.  I know any parent, adoptive or otherwise, who parents a child who is "outside the box" for any reason understands what I am saying.

Last night was the much anticipated TaeKwonDo belt rank test for all 5 junior members of Team LaJoy.  To say the nerves were a little frayed would be an understatement.  Angela had been talking about it for 2 weeks, scared she would not advance as the residual effects of her old life kicked in full force, where sports were "do or die" and emphasis was far too heavy on athletic prowess while character took a back seat.  Matthew knew he would be facing the dreaded board again, trying desperately to break it this time as he had been unable to do a year ago prior to leaving for Kazakhstan.  I reassured him as I pointed out how much larger he was this year, how much stronger he was.  Josh was cool, calm and collected on the outside while a basket case on the inside, and Kenny and Olesya both did as they always do and took it in stride.

Our dear friend and mentor, Mr. Steve showed up to cheer them on, and the night was off to a good start...until the kids had to do their patterns and perform.  All 5, with the exception of Olesya, made mistakes out of nervousness, and Matthew in particular really struggled as he and his fellow blue belt had received less instruction than usual this session and almost weren't going to take the test due to this fact. His nervousness increased with each missed piece of the pattern and he giggled and grinned with each error.  I was pleased that he didn't get upset with himself, and was able to keep trying despite his less than stellar showing.  The girls overall did quite well and what was missed was not due to lack of skill but was obviously attributable to nerves.  Josh and Kenny knew their patterns inside and out before that evening, but each botched in certain places as well.

But on this night, this time, Kenny came out a winner, and the tears streamed unashamedly down my cheeks as I witnessed this minor miracle for a big hearted little boy.

It was a surprise to us that Kenny was eligible by age and rank to attempt to break a board.  This would be his first time, and he could decline to try if he wanted to.  In fact, that is what I expected, as Kenny is not one for brute force or shows of strength, he just isn't built that way.  He gamely decided to try, and I was proud of him just for the attempt, knowing this was not something he felt comfortable trying and also something he had not known would happen.

There he was, our skinny little guy whose waiste size is 2" smaller than even Joshua's is, and he strode up with the confidence of 10 men as he faced that board.  He was required to kick it, and neither Dominick nor myself expected him to be able to do it...not because he wasn't strong enough to do so but because he is not one to hit, kick or punch anyone or thing, and this  takes some real force behind your kick to break it.  He tried once....twice...and no sign that he would succeed was evident.  They were not particularly powerful kicks and were misplaced as well, not centered well on his target which was actually a metaphor for Kenny's life in many ways right now.

Attempt #3 was what it took to turn a struggling, immature boy and turn him into the Man of the Hour for just a little while...see the quick video here:

Sometimes God has a surprise in store, and it is those moments we live for that remind us that success might be just around the corner if we don't ever give up.  I quietly lost it, I was SO HAPPY for Kenny!!  This was a much needed boost, something he can look back on (and so can I!) when the going gets rough in other areas of his life.  Persistence pays, he CAN succeed!  Seeing the grin as he sat back down holding his broken board tightly to his chest, I could imagine the sheer unadulterated joy he must have been feeling at FINALLY doing something very well that was very scary and difficult.

Not to take anything away from Matthew. he too slayed the dragon of last year's failed attempt when he broke boards with his hand and with a kick.  He later told me he had dreaded it all afternoon and was worried about it while doing his pattern.  He couldn't understand why it had bothered him so much! Hahaha!  Here is Matthew's achievement:

Unfortunately we didn't get decent videos of the girls or Joshie, but will work on it for next time.  

The evening ended up with us attempting to pay off on a debt we owed.  We had promised each of the kids that the first time they broke a board we would all go out and celebrate, so it was off to Applebee's for their "kids eat free" night where we were virtually the only ones in the restaurant other than an older Mennonite couple who sat across from us.  The gentleman got up and came over to chat with us, asking us questions about our family and where we had been that night. His first question after learning the kids were all adopted was "Well how did you manage to do this?" and we answered with one word, which was honest "God.".  He was curious about where the kids were from, and at first assumed the girls were biological and the boys adopted, and was quite surprised to learn all were indeed adopted, and that yes we actually lived here in town.  He sat back down and then he and his wife proceeded to watch us the entire remainder of our meal, which made us a bit uncomfortable.  We are used to being stared at, or being asked if we are part of a student exchange program (seriously), but this was far more than the usual casual curiosity we experience every day.  We were our usual selves though...with me spilling an entire coke as I accidentally set it down on a crayon, and the kids sharing tastes of meals back and forth as we all cut up a little and giggled a lot.  I whispered to Dominick that they must think we were a bunch of lunatics, with the mess I made and the passing around of bites of fries and deserts.  Oh well, we are certainly not a poster family so this is the best we can do!

When he and his wife got up to leave, he ambled over to us for a little more conversation, and then wished us a good evening as he departed.   We commented that he seemed nice enough, even if we had felt a little like we were under a microscope for our entire meal.

Imagine our surprise when our waitress came over and shared with us that our meal had been paid in full by this gentleman!  It was so cute to hear the kids all let out a collective chorus of "Awww...wasn't that nice!", and we felt a little guilty for feeling so uncomfortable with it all.  I don't know what in the world prompted this sort of generosity, but it sure brought Thanksgiving a little early to our hearts.  As we left in the van we all talked about what we wished we could do someday to bless someone secretly the way we had just been blessed.  We imagined having lots of money to do something extra special, and hopefully one day we too can do something like this for someone else.

It was on to home and to bed, with broken chunks of board clutched tightly to chests and grins a mile wide.  Each of the kids ended up advancing in rank, even with mistakes made, but the greatest success for our entire family came with Kenny's special moment...for we all understand that not much comes easy for him and THIS was a night made especially for him.  

If anyone is still considering ordering from Usborne books, we will be taking orders through 11/27/10 and you can do so through this link: . Special thanks goes out to those who have placed orders.  These books are so wonderful that I envy those of you who are buying ones I am not trying to earn! Hahaha!  Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Can Breath...

Two long years.

A commitment I made two years ago is finally complete, and at times I never thought I'd make it.  Had I known how hard it would be, and what else my life would bring in the midst of it, I am certain I would have never made that initial phone call.  I would have missed out on so much!  Now though, with homework and classes behind me, I feel as if I can breath again.

My lay ministry classes are over, and I have but one step left to become "officially licensed" as a lay minister.  It is a big hurdle yet left to leap over, but I am not going to think about that for a couple of weeks.  For now, I am going to rest in the relief of having finished something that was astoundingly difficult considering all else that was going on at the same time.  4 days after arriving home from being gone 2 1/2 months in Kazakhstan and I have to be at a weekend retreat 5 hours away from home in a snow storm.  But I made it!  Classes missed while overseas and trying to focus on homework while my heart was churning over events unfolding that required all I could offer to them.  But I did it!  An entire year of changing gears on so many levels including suddenly being thrust in the role of full time teacher who had to create a curriculum for 5 children including a variety of special needs as well as implement it.  But doggone it, I DID it!!

I have never worked so hard at anything, I have never tried to stretch and grow to this extent, and I have never been placed in a situation where my thinking and writing was put to such a test.  I even managed to do reasonably well in all my classes, despite not having any real college experience or term paper writing in my past.  In fact, I have never written a real term paper in my life!

And still, 2 years later, I sit here having no clue what ministry will look like for me, or how it will all unfold.  I was quite anxious about this a few months ago but have since come to an understanding (and actually have a strong conviction about it) that God indeed has a plan that has yet to be revealed, and it is highly unlikely it will look like anyone else's idea of "ministry" in the classic sense.  Why would it??  Nothing else in my life has ever been anything even remotely close to "normal"!  It is very clear to me though, in the same way it was clear about each of our children, that something is at hand and I need not push a thing to find out what that is.  It is not as if I am not using what I learned every single day in my own life, and I also have the opportunity to use it while working with our youth club as well.  If there is to be more, and I feel there definitely will be, then God can yell at me when the Spirit is good and ready! Haha!

Our congregation recognized my unofficial "graduation" on Sunday, complete with a homemade cap with a tassle, a framed certificate, and the most beautiful stole created by my dear friend and blog commenter, Lael.  Lael herself has gone through this program a few years back and has blessed folks in congregations all around us with her gifts on many occasions.  As you can see from the following photos, Lael's artistic gifts are many, and I will treasure this stole forever with it's deeply meaningful symbolism and the love with which it was created shining through.

There are several people without whom I never would have made it through...Dominick presented me with not one but TWO bouquets of flowers Sunday.  I remember our first discussion about my entering the program, held right here in our kitchen as I tried to find the words to express what I was feeling but being unable to do so adequately.  I found I didn't need to as Dominick said "I see it, you need to do it, we will find a way to make it work."  If he hadn't reacted that way when I was so tentatively dipping my toe in the pool, that would have been the end of it.  He backed his words up with unwavering support for the past two years, including taking time off work a couple of times after we returned home when he knew I simply could not focus with all else that was going on, so he took the kids and gave me a quiet house to get homework done in.

My goal was his as well, and for us, any ministry I might find myself involved in is truly "our" ministry, for we agreed that we needed to serve God always in the ways we could, and this may be what it looks like for us as a family...Dominick serving in indirect ways at times so I may serve more directly. We are a team, and just as we have joked about the first couple of years here in Colorado, when I worked 8 hours a day then went to help him detail cars until well past midnight or all weekend long until my fingers literally bled, we do what we need to do.  Now though, we are blessed to be doing it with a larger team, and the kids also helped enormously by just being who they are...understanding, thoughtful, amazing people who gave me space when I needed it, applause when I came home with a good grade, and encouragement when I felt so overwhelmed. Lots of extra housework was picked up by these 5 of ours!

There were friends who kept me going, prayed for me, watched our kids so I could attend classes, and understood when at times I was emotionally unavailable this past year.  Jill and Jane, I love you both and thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me accomplish something when the timing felt so ridiculous.  You understood when I said "I feel I have no choice, I have to do this and I have to do it now."

Throughout my life, God has placed mentors in my path who were extraordinary people.  I may not have ever gone on to do great things, but I can recall 3 or 4 people on various jobs who took me under their wing, nurtured me, and cared about my progress.  None, however, had the impact that my own Pastor had on me this past year.  I flat out wouldn't have made it without Pastor Karen.  I am not speaking of just ministry classes.

 Returning home from Kazakhstan I was an emotional wreck, a total mess.  I didn't know what I needed, I couldn't process all that we had gone through, and my soul was battered in ways I had never expected.  The unfailing support, encouragement and love shown by Pastor Karen provided me with the finest example of what leading a flock and caring about lost sheep is all about.  The healing I have had to go through this past year was not something I anticipated, and wouldn't have known where to begin in terms of making it happen.  Thankfully, I was never alone...never.  God reached out via the internet to me halfway across the world to touch me through my long winter.  God spoke to me as my heart was aching, and later confusion settled in.  God held my hand every step of the way through every doubt and difficult moment.  God did it through the hands, heart and often the keyboard of Pastor Karen.  As I sit here gazing upon a pile of her graciously loaned books, I am beyond thankful for the hours upon hours she has invested in me and continues to invest, and I know I am not worthy.  She saved me in so many ways...and this photo of two God Geeks with Jesus' outstretched arms behind us, seemingly ready to embrace us both, couldn't be more perfect.

So now one unique phase of my life has ended.  Had this call to ministry occurred 15 years ago, I would be headed to college and then seminary, without a doubt.  That is not how my life has unfolded, and for that I am actually grateful.  I have lost nothing, I have lost no future opportunity by leading the life I have led thus far.  It may not be a graduate degree on paper, but the real life education I have received is worth far more than anything a seminary might have been able to expose me to.  I can always gain new knowledge myself, if I want it badly enough.  I could never recapture the experiences God wanted me to have to become who I am...the person who heard the call in the first place.  The things I have been through are not mentioned on any syllabus, but are more instructive for ministry than just about anything else I could think of.

Jesus used lowly fisherman, fresh off the boat and no doubt smelling suspiciously like their prey.  They had no sheepskin with wet ink, signed by a Chancellor, certifying them for ministry.  They simply heard the call and responded with all their hearts.  While I may not reek of salt water or haul up nets, my heart has surely been captured and is more than willing.  If even one single person throughout my life can somehow discover the light in that dark place because of something I have said or done, then this past 2 years will be worth it.  I needed that light, and my life is infinitely better for it, as is my entire family's.  Maybe someone whose path crosses mine will also need it, and I can point them in the right direction, or maybe even walk hand in hand with them right up to it so they can touch it.  They will never be the same again.

Neither will I.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It Ain't Always Perfect!!

Lest anyone be under the mistaken impression that my life is picture perfect, let me spend a moment dissuading you of that notion.

Today was one of those days filled with frustration.  Usually, I feel pretty good about our homeschooling, then there are days like today when it feels like I simply can't do it. Nothing is sinking in. To add to our Kenny issues the past couple of weeks, which thankfully seem to be subsiding, we have Zone Out Sisters!! Hahaha!  I can laugh now, a few hours later, but MAN was it a struggle today!!

I know they are learning language, I know that a word has to be said about 15 times to be cemented, but I swear there was a conspiracy today to make mom bald from pulling her hair out! Lately Dominick and I have noticed we are repeating ourselves over and over and over and over and over and over and over again (getting the idea of how crazy this is making me???). I know at times their brains just shut off, having had enough, but it is not just the girls or Kenny, and it just seems I am on overload with repeating myself and re-explaining things I just explained literally 12 seconds ago, or being asked questions that we already know the answer to, and I just realized this is an incredible run on sentence so I too must need to turn off my brain!


Ahhhh, so then I leave this evening feeling a level of frustration that has not been experienced in quite awhile, and have to attend a Board of Stewards meeting for our homeschool program, and end up not getting home until 11:30 PM after a meeting that went on and on and on and on and on and on while I hacked and hacked and hacked still fighting this cough.

I get home and the house is a wreck, for some reason every person in my home other than me has a penchant for leaving cupboard doors flung open, I step painfully on a dog chew stick and my bedroom is colder than Antarctica because my hubby loves to sleep in a meat locker, all the while snoring like the proverbial freight train and then complaining because my light is on and I am not sleeping because I CAN'T sleep with all that racket at 2500 decibles within 6 inches of my head.

There still is a ton of homework for me to do before class Saturday as I have not been able to fully focus on it as I should have, so I am stuck trying to read a 350 page book on Christian history without benefit of earplugs to block out the intense snoring, so what am I doing?  I am sitting here blogging.  Makes no sense, I know, but what can I say...nothing today has made much sense. 

I wouldn't trade any of it, I know that.  I also know that one day I will look back on these days and miss them terribly, wishing that for even just a few moments I could step back in time to the days we are living right now when our kids are young, our life is sweet and all will appear in a gauzy haze of orange sherbet like glow of delight. 

Tonight though,  it is more like an image I shared with someone yesterday...a pile of muddy gray Play Dough created from mushing together that neon green, Barbie pink, and Bob the Builder Blue.  Nothing attractive at all about it as Matthew spilled iced tea on our carpet yesterday and the Stupid Dog (Mom's official name for that creature...who IS awfully cute but is not the brightest bulb of a dog I've ever met) decided to leave a deposit on the same aforementioned carpet, not far from the tea stain.  Hmmm...maybe that is a a good thing, we can say it was the spilled tea.

So it is 12:45 AM, I am off to read a bit more and to look forward to a brighter day tomorrow when, perhaps, the Zone Out Girls will pull it together, Mr. I Am In Charge will decide he is an 11 year old child and listen to the adults in his life, Mr. Tea Tipper will find a more graceful way to drink, Josh the Mosh Pit expert will not leave his super hero costumes strewn from one end of the house to the other, and The Big Engine That Could next to me will find a position to sleep in that quiets the whistle, even if only for an hour, that will allow me to drift off into blissful slumber.

This has to be the stupidest post I have ever written.  That's OK, today was sort of an intellectually challenging day anyway!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shameless Plug

I am not a "party" person.  I don't do Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Candlelight or any other such things.  I understand why some women enjoy them, but in an effort to keep our spending largely in the "must have" category and not end up with 13 unaccounted for Tupperware lids falling out of my cupboards, I have kept attendance at such parties to a minimum.

Therefore, it makes me extremely hypocritical to approach anyone and shamelessly plug something I am trying to sell!  However, it IS Christmas time, and people DO need to buy nice gifts for kids, and I do have a really good reason for doing it...yea...right...

Actually, I have a severe case of "book envy".  Any homeschooler knows of Usborne books, as they are some of the very best around with wonderful illustrations, really great content, and you can build an entire curriculum around some of them.  Since beginning homeschooling last
year, I have coveted 3 large volumes.  The Internet Linked Encyclopedias of Science, Geography and World History.  We stopped at a booth where these were displayed a few months ago and Matthew drooled for almost an hour!  These are absolutely fantastic resources to have around when homeschooling, and they are reasonably priced considering their quality and content, but we don't have any extra funds to cover acquiring them.  Hence, the aforementioned shameless plug...I thought I'd try and see if I could earn a little towards the purchase to help make it more affordable.

The fact is, you really can't buy better books than these...the selection is huge, and our school library for the homeschool program is loaded with them because they are so popular.  I don't endorse anything here on the blog, I purposely don't have Amazon ads or anything else, and there are no hidden bonuses I get when I mentioned I read a book or use a curriculum or anything.  I am just sharing what I may have happened to stumble upon that I found valuable.  So, whether you are interested in purchasing something from my E-Show or not, you simply have to tuck this in the back of your mind for that time when you run across a book loving kid and need a great gift idea. 

In all seriousness, these are the single best books I have seen and are
Matthew LaJoy tested and approved!  Hahaha!  The history selection is phenomenal as is the science section.  The internet linked selections are so totally cool!  Throughout a particular book there will be suggested internet links to visit pertaining to a specific topic. Instead of listing links which need to be continuously updated, you are directed to visit the Usborne site where they keep the list updated and current with hundreds (could be thousands) of current links to the best educational web sites for the topics presented in their books.  You just read an article in the book, click, and find the most entertaining, appropriate, engaging web sites that would take hours of research to find!  They have a large number of internet books ranging from animals to science to history. 

In addition they have several really well illustrated versions of the classics for the younger set or earlier/emerging readers like we have in our family.  The other kids all really enjoy those books and I'd love to get a nice selection of them as a set.  They also have lower level readers for history and science subjects as well, and what I love about them is that they do not talk down to the kids, but instead present solid material at a lower vocabulary level.

There are Kid Kits with games and art activities packaged along with a book, Spanish language selections, toddler board name it, they have it and I guarantee you it will be a delightfully illustrated book.  Usborne books are not available in bookstores, and are only sold via catalog or shows/Eshows. 

If you think you might be interested, my Eshow lasts for 10 days, closing on November 20th.  You purchase through the web site and I'll get credit toward our hopeful purchase.  If you know me in real life and would like to check out a couple of books before deciding to purchase or would like to view a real catalog, let me know and I can share samples I have borrowed and show you a catalog.  You can click on the link below to be directed to the Usborne site where my show is being hosted:

While I do hope that this show allows us to get the books we'd love to have, I also hope that some of you out there discover a line of books that you might not know about and is what I consider to be the best of the best.  If you have any questions, drop me an email at and I'll do my best to get an answer for you.  I am not becoming a consultant or anything, so don't expect to have future sales pitches directed your way...I promise!  However, since I have invited you into our virtual home for the past 4 years, I might as well invite you to my virtual book party! HAHAHAHA!!!!  Thanks a bunch everyone!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Suspended Between Two Worlds

It can be heart tugging as your kids hit new stages.  Matthew is changing and growing SO much this year!  At 11 he has grown over 4 inches in the past 7 months or so, and the crack of his voice tells us other changes are coming as well.  He is turning out to be a bigger young man than I ever expected, shoulders are broadening and feet along with them.

It takes some mental readjusting when your child stands before you and suddenly you realize they are capable of so much.  He is our official lawn mower, being the only one yet proven responsible enough to ride it carefully, and this week he led the Team when Dad was at work as he hauled wood in the trailer behind it and the other kids all loaded and unloaded it.  He is now our Firestarter, and created a beautiful fire this afternoon while we all curled up on the couch reading as snow fell outside. 

He is still caught though between boy and man, playing with legos by the hours and giggling excitedly as we talk about decorating for Santa.  But the man is emerging more and more often, and this past week as I have been ill he has been very sweet, urging me to go back to bed and rest, cleaning up around the house more, and putting his arm around me as he asks "How are you feeling, Mommy?  Can I do anything for you?". 

All the kids, actually, have been super sweet.  I am not on my death bed by any means, not nearly as sick as we were 2 summers ago when pneumonia struck and we all lost the entire summer to what was likely swine flu.  But how nice it is to be the mom and be taken care of too! How wonderful to have each of the 5 rub my back when coughing too much, pour me drinks and tell me not to get up, and work independently on school work sometimes without needing to be nagged.  Yes, my life is hectic, yes it is full to the brim with activity and noise, but my cup definitely runneth over with love.  This week I was reminded in a million ways how blessed I am to live in this amazing, too-good-to-be-true family.  And I also know that to others, our lives would probably drive them crazy!! Hahaha!  But it works for all of us, despite how nuts it must seem to others.

Even in the hard times, we are lucky to have real communication.  The past couple of weeks with Kenny have been rougher.  Mr. I Am In Charge has reappeared for his semi-annual visit.  Thankfully, we are down to only a couple times a year!  Progress, definitely, but it is so challenging to work with him when he hits this phase...he talks over everyone, he gently pushes his way in, he thinks he is the one to dictate how everything goes.  Twice in the past 5 days we had to "sit on him" as he was taking over with adults who were working with him on various tasks.  The second time we were none to pleased to learn he had told someone volunteering with him that he thought this work was too easy and he was reading at grade level anyway.  Uh...WHAT???  While I would do the Happy Dance if that were true, we have a long way to reach that goal.  He just didn't feel like doing the work that day.  He also is using his memory issues as an excuse, saying that he can't remember it anyway.  The funny thing is, he does things with such humor and politeness that people sometimes don't pick up on it...and he gets called on it every single time with mom around! Hahaha! 

But, after chewing him out royally and taking away any fun privileges for the next 2 weeks, plus making him go to bed without dinner at 6:30 PM the night of the worst infraction (Yes, we are MEAN PARENTS>>>TOTALLY!), tonight he turned to me out of the blue.  He hugged me and with great sincerity apologized for the past 2 weeks...even saying he was especially sorry since he knew I was sick and not feeling well.  He stated exactly what he was sorry for, looked me straight in the eye, and told me he was going to try really hard to do a better job with his behavior.  We hugged for a very long time, this tiny little guy who still looks like...and often acts like...he is 8 years old instead of almost 12...and I told him that I knew there were times he likely was so mad inside his heart at the moment we disciplined him, and that at times I felt the exact same way when I was a kid.  I also told him I was proud of him for recognizing later on that his behavior had really been wrong, that we loved him and wanted the best for him, that we were not picking on him.  It is so nice having honest conversations with our kids, even when it is over the issues that are not easy to work with.

We continue to see in Olesya some of the same academic challenges as Kenny has, but to a lesser degree, thankfully.  She is doing fine with language (Fine is putting it mildly, both girls are blowing us away!), but with math...oh my dear, we will struggle mightily for her entire school career, I can tell.  She also tends to get distracted more easily, like Kenny, and I am glad we have the home environment where we can allow a little more latitude with getting up and down and taking breaks.  She has a caretaking spirit like no other though, just a born nurturer to all she is around.  We joke that she is my personal list maker, she loves making lists and carrying them around with us everywhere.  She takes great initiative in so many things.  Right now she made a chart of all the things she wants to teach Sunny, our dog, and made a little folder to put it in.  She is never happier than when she is taking care of someone or something around the house, and having her for a daughter is a double blessing in so many ways. 

Joshie makes it hard at times to remember he is only 7.  He is in the very weird situation of being the only child working on school work with the group of 4 that is actually at the right stage for his age!  But with a 5 year age difference between he and Angela, you'd think the work ethic or ability to focus would present a huge gap.  It doesn't, and in fact I have to remind myself that he is that much younger and needs breaks more often.  We are happy to have made it through most of the fall without having a bit step backward with attachment/insecurity issues.  Every fall prior we have seen big regressions, and he has had a couple of tiny incidents with nightmares, etc. this time but nothing as strong as in the past.

Angela is my perceptive one, the one whose understanding of the subliminal is well honed.  She seems to have settled in a bit with her fears of growing up too fast and appears to be in a very comfortable zone at the moment. Her comments about family, about relationships, etc. and her observations of others are always right on and surprise me to no end.  She admitted to me the other day that the first month or so in our family she thought we would love Matthew and Joshua more, since we had them as babies.  She said it took her awhile but she soon realized we really did love them all the same, but that it took time to get to know each other and now she knows that it doesn't matter.  Get this, she even thanked me awhile back for not having babies of our own so that all of them knew we were loved the same.  She shared with me that she thought it would be impossible for a mom not to love a baby she had biologically more than an adopted child...but she added that she thought if any mom could do that I could :-0 

As the children grow, so to does our understanding of what it means to parent them.  I have felt a little in awe of all the transformation going on at one time around us, and with 4 kids all a year and a half apart it is bound to be like this with every new step they will all happen at the same time with 4 kids!  But instead of seeing them as just children these days, we are beginning to see the potential adults that are hidden within.  Gone are the days, for the most part, of looking down and seeing wide eyed wonder, and now has been ushered in a time of looking straight across into eyes that are coming to new, more adult understandings, and into souls whose world is broadening and seeing more than just their own need.  It is a special time as their awareness grows, and though we are years away from adult type friendships with our children, what we see thus far is encouraging and gives me hope that we will continue to be a closely bonded family throughout our lives together.  I pray that fervently very often, in fact have prayed for that since long before our family was ever created...let us always have a family that is loving and close, let us figure out how to remain emotionally healthy in a world that often feels in decline.

Walking into Walmart the other day with Matthew's now much larger hand in mine and Olesya's head on my shoulder, I realized we have a good start towards seeing that prayer fulfilled.  But the work never, ever stops and the same diligence has to be paid at this stage and throughout the remainder of their childhood if we want to see that dream become a reality.  That doesn't mean becoming a helicopter parent and not allowing them to explore and expand their world, but it does mean we can't make any assumptions about our relationships with the kids, we can't think we have "made it" at some point and let up.  Just like a marriage, communication has to continue and opportunities for shared adventures have to be created.  Luckily, we have the right Team and the right attitude to ensure that happens!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Commitment and Rebirth

Today I wasn't able to attend church due to illness, and it was a very special day to have missed.  Our congregation celebrated it's 125th birthday!

As I have made my way through ministry classes, I have had many Big Questions that I needed to find answers for.  What IS church anyway?  What does it mean? What is it's value?  Is "small" church better or worse than "mega" church?  Do most of us consider ourselves part of our local church only, or do we see we are part of the larger church?

I have come to some conclusions, and I think others will remain sketchy for years to come as I experience church in a variety of ways over time. 

"Church" to me is not a building, it is a body made up of a wonderful, wacky array of individuals who all have THEIR own definitions of what church is...and those definitions often look nothing like my own!  Within our local church, our body has it's own versions of hands, hearts, feet and heads, and as I type this I have faces emerging that match each of those roles.  Within Christianity there are those same roles that are fulfilled by various denominations, who sadly often see themselves as the entire body instead of recognizing the value of all the other parts/denominations that fill needs and appeal to those who would not find themselves attracted to other particular parts of the Christian body. 

Church is where I meet God...sometimes.  Most often I do not necessarily meet God there though, as God tends to speak to me in the shower, in a quiet conversation with my feet propped up on our coffee table, in the whispered words coming from a child half asleep on the floor of our bedroom.  Sure, I encounter God there in the Sanctuary once in awhile, but most often I think of it as a place to talk about that God, to explore the meaning of that God, and to praise and give thanks to that God in a place where others understand what I am feeling without having to belabor the point. 

I wonder if sometimes people go to church expecting to have God standing at the door to greet them, and don't return because that expectation is not met.  They see God as being contained in a space, like those in ancient times who had to go visit God at the temple.  For some, I guess God is containerized, compartmentalized, and separated from "real life".  Sort of like your best shoes you keep stored in a shoe box on the top shelf of your closet, pulled out for those special occasions. 

When you can met God while washing dishes, pumping gas, or when standing in the local Salvation Army with a load of Halloween costume apparel draped across your arm, I think it makes God more real.  I don't want to have to go to a specific location to be with my God!  I need more regular visits than that would allow.

Our church has saved me in more ways than one.  Salvation takes on many different meanings when we are able to wipe away the "blood" and see the wound below.  My soul was deadened, yet hopeful, the first day I walked through the less than impressive doors of our church.  We had the intent of it being the beginning of our church search, and had no idea yet that we had come home.  I had pushed God aside for so long, unwilling to pursue what it was that was not working for me with faith and yet equally unable to escape the quiet God tug I had experienced since I was a very young child.  I was handed a Mother's Day carnation that first visit, a soft pink one.  It was all so unfamiliar, so awkward, and I felt very, very conspicuous standing there with 2 wee ones and my carnation, not knowing when to sit or stand, finding this new way of worship and preaching of God's word so different from the few years of churchgoing I had done in my early marriage years. 

I was saved by realizing God loves me and is not as obsessed with my sin as I had previously thought.  It was in this Sanctuary where I began to understand mercy and grace for the first time.  It was here where God became real, where the club left the hand that was beating me down over all my inadequacies and the gentle hand lifted me up and embraced me. 

I have learned more in the past 5 years at this church than I had in all the previous 39.  I am a new person in Christ...a phrase I would have laughed at 6 years ago, seeing it as false and oh-so-virtuous.  I am a new person, in large part, because I see others more clearly.  I understand their failings, I see their frailties and do not blame them as much as I used to (I am not THAT virtuous...I'd love to say "I blame them no more" but that would be false of me).  I have more compassion than I used to, I guess you could say in that over worn way that I have Jesus in my heart.  I do not feel as distanced from the human condition, I do not feel set aside, I see me in everyone where before, I could not.  My pedestal was very,  very high, I am afraid, and I have no idea why or how it got that way.  I am ashamed to admit it.

More importantly though, I see GOD in everyone else.  I see and feel connection rather than separation.  I see similarities rather than differences.  It was a complete turnaround of my personal worldview.  And it happened because of "church".

And maybe, that is what it has taken to help me see God in me.

So tonight I give thanks for my church, Hillcrest Congregational United Church of Christ.  I give thanks for all who passed through those doors long before I ever did, I give thanks to those who kept the doors open through good times and bad, I give thanks for those whose honesty sometimes hurts and whose hurts are sometimes healed.  My life...our family's radically different because this church survived 125 years and is still going strong.

Thanks for being a place where I truly met God and had the Spirit envelope me.  May we be as committed to keeping those doors open for another 125 years as those who came before us.  For I am certain there will be others who will one day walk through them who need this place just as desperately was we did.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Counsel from a 16 Year Old...Myself

While cleaning the shed a couple weekends ago, I stumbled across a surprise discovery.  There between the rat traps and Christmas decorations were a couple of boxes whose contents were not known to me.  The kids begged to open them, and lo and behold, I pulled out a familiar ancient orange spiral notebook.  It contained all my journal entries required for my Marriage and Family Class in high school.  I was 16 years old, and had been dating Dominick for about 6 months when most of the entries were made.  I had no idea that I had saved this, and after posting a few months back about advice I would give my 16 year old self, I was deeply curious to see what my true 16 year old self thought about the life I find myself living today.

Was I on the mark with my predictions?  Had my desires panned out?  How immature would my 16 year old self sound to my 44 year old self?

I dug in to find out.

There on the pages that are not even yellowed, I spoke to myself in writing that is familiar and a voice that is very similar.  In reading through the entries, I was a bit stunned to find the 16 year old and 44 year old merged quite nicely, and though there have of course been changes and some maturing, the voice I heard was not very different from who I am now.

In it I shared about my experiences with my "egg baby". We were required to carry around an egg for a week, and pretend it was our actual child.  I wisely noted the responsibility was heavy and I was not ready to take that step anytime soon.  This proved obvious when a prankster stole little Eggie and sent me a ransom note... one large bag of M&M's was required to hold my Eggie (and save my semester grade) in my arms again.  Ransom paid, and my first child was returned to me safely.

I even addressed my very real future life when answering a question posed by the teacher about my thoughts about being an adoptive parent.  Tell me this isn't the same 44 year old Cindy when you read :

"From the adoptive parent's point of view, I'd feel very privileged that I could be honored with this precious gift of a life."...16 years old and I think God had already somehow prepared me for the reality.

Other words of wisdom to myself included:

"(my parents) have always tried to make me realize that even though it's important to be successful in your career, earning money is not all there is to life...happiness can be attained in many other ways."

"I'd like my future family to make sacrifices to help one another.  This is a good sign of a caring family."

When asked to answer "How would your life have to be before you considered yourself successful?" I answered "I would consider myself successful only if I have done a few things.  I want to have a family and husband who are loving, good people...people I can be proud of.  This is the most important thing to me.  I want a husband who loves me.  Without that, your relationship is nothing.  Even more importantly, I want to return that love and give of myself to my family.  I'd also like to be able to help other people."

"One thing you should never do is push someone away for fear of being hurt.  If you don't open yourself up and risk possible pain, you will never gain anything.  Most importantly is that every person you run across can have a tremendous impact on your life.  Each one can fill a certain empty spot that was only meant to be filled by them."

My life has definitely had it's twists and turns.  Many things I never would have imagined have happened.  I would have never thought I would move from Camarillo, and certainly not to Colorado.  I couldn't have fathomed traveling to far off lands nor parenting five children.  Homeschooling?  Well that wasn't even heard of much back when I was writing my life plan.  Being involved in ministry of any sort?  Now you'd really have me laughing.

But surprisingly, the core stuff hasn't changed a bit, and as I read my words written 28 years ago I could see that even then my values were pretty much the same as they are today.  It leaves me to ponder, am I the 16 year old of yesteryear, or was she the 44 year old of tomorrow?

Having 11 and 12 year olds now has me much of what they express in the coming years will be THEIR core?  Have we done enough?  Will they view the world from a place of strength and compassion?  Have we damaged them in some way that is yet to be seen...will they carry scars we have inflicted?  Will they be as blessed as we have been to see their basic dreams come true?

There were a couple of other boxes tucked away next to the one we opened.  One is marked "Love Letters from Dominick" and the other is marked "Love Letters from Cindy".  We saved them all, the letters of our courtship.  A lifetime of experiences has passed since they were written and eventually sealed and stored.  We were kids, deeply and passionately in love with one another.  Without opening the boxes I can recall many of the sentiments expressed, the certainty with which we spoke of our future together, the commitment we shared even as teens.  That we made it this far is in itself a minor miracle.  That even a few of our dreams were realized is a little slice of what I consider to be heaven.

The Cindy at 16 really wasn't much different than the woman I look at today in the mirror.  Her life was filled with promise and hope, and a challenge to love those around her.  The Cindy of today has done just that, or at least attempted to.  Funny how when reading all those dreams of yesterday there is no mention at all of careers or professions, there is only life and love.  Glad I recognized even then what would make me the happiest.  A career was not ever going to do it for me.

As I gaze down at Joshie asleep on the floor next to me, joining us in the middle of my writing this post after having a bad dream, I know that the path I have taken is the right one.  After all, the 16 year old knew exactly what I needed.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Family Day Remembrances

It was 7 years ago tomorrow when we stood in a courtroom in Uralsk.  A large panel of authorities was assembled before us as we answered the usual questions for which they already had answers in the scads of papers spread out before them.  Do you know he was abandoned?  Are you aware we have no information about him?  Are you sure you still want him?

Yes, yes we do.

It was the next day when we left the orphanage with a bucking, screaming infant in our arms.  It was not a joyous leave taking, in fact I was in tears as we left as I knew the future was going to be rocky for a very long time to come, and your despair was soul deep...your wounds became mine that day.  You cried so hard and so loud that we actually feared the police would be called on us.  I have a photo of you at rest, finally.  Sweat dampened hair, soft blanket in your grip.  It was so different this time around, so unlike the first time when our first son fell asleep on my chest that first evening together.  As I stood there looking down at you, camera by my side after recording one of the few calm photos of you we would have for weeks, I prayed for wisdom, for courage, for the ability to remain committed.

Months and months passed.  It got worse, we pursued help from every direction we could think of, we persevered.  A year passed, a slight improvement, you could tolerate touch without hitting back or squirming to death, but still were not comfortable with affection.  You were still so very, very angry.  More time passed, your  soul began to calm, so did mine.

Seven years later, I watched you from across the table tonight.  So serious, working hard on a project, you looked up and flashed a grin and bent down to get back to work.  This afternoon in the kitchen you and I stood and hugged.  Nothing so out of the ordinary for most families, something I will never take for granted again in my life.  This morning you crawled into bed after hovering outside my door quietly.  Dog nestled between us we giggled and spoke softly of nothing important, my Early Morning Sunshine and I...alone for our special few moments as we start the day before others arise.

Joshua, you are the one who taught me what faith was really all about.  You are the one who led us to 3 more.  Without you, I would be shallower, emptier, weaker.  You are the angel of our family, the gentle one, the one no one can resist.  You are beloved by your siblings, you are cherished by your parents.  You are equal parts vulnerability and strength.  Your slight impishness causes all to smile.

I love you, sweetheart.  I am thankful for every single moment I have been blessed to spend with you.  Yes, even those early emotionally exhausting ones.  It all makes up our beautiful history together.  I wouldn't change a thing, and I know God was with all of us as we embarked on our journey of healing together.  You helped heal places in me that I hadn't even realized were bruised.

Happy Adoption Day, Joshie.  May you forever feel the presence of your mommy's loving arms around you, may your past never return to haunt you.  You will be an extraordinary man.  You are an extraordinary son.  Thanks for loving us. Thank you God for the perfect son.