Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 - The Year of Giving!

In my previous post I declared I had no resolutions, and at the moment I was correct.  However, upon reading the ongoing news stories about the movement started by one person who paid off the layaway accounts at a Walmart, I have been inspired.  For those who have not been tracking this story, there have been dozens of other folks who have now gone in to Walmarts and KMarts all across the US and paid off layaways for others.  I love how this has gained momentum organically, particularly during a time in our country's history when so many are in dire need.  I read a comment on one of the news stories in which someone wrote about many ways to do "little giving" and make a difference in the world, and the light bulb went on for me.

I hereby declare 2012 to be The Year of Giving for the LaJoy family!

I have no idea yet what shape or form this will take, but it will be our family motto for the year and we will encourage one another to look for ways in which we can do "little givings" all around us.  While we have always tried in the past to do things where we can, this is going to take on an intentionality that we have never had before, and will involve all of us looking for an opportunity or two every single day to give.  Maybe it will be as simple as giving up a parking space to someone else, paying for a Happy Meal for someone at McDonald's, or leaving a note for someone.  Maybe it will be bigger giving of our time at our local food bank, or reminding ourselves to always pick up a little something extra while shopping so we can share with others every single week. 

I think this could be profound for our family, as we need to be reminded as we walk through one of the tougher times we have had in our lives, that indeed we have plenty and always have something to give.  It may just transform this lean period for us into a profound year of recognizing our true wealth!!!  We need to realize all the ways we have of giving, all we have to offer, and that even if we have less at times we always have something we can share...even if it is a single can of corn.  I am excited even typing this!  In fact, I think we will keep a journal as a family and document our "little givings" each morning during our school Morning Meeting, as it will be a way of engaging the kids and having them get jazzed about adding something as often as possible.  Then, when we hit a rocky time ourselves, we can read our journal and reflect on ways we have more than enough to share.

Our family is continually showered with blessings, both big and small.  We have been recipients time and time again of "little givings" and of course BIG GIVINGS.  Sometimes we all feel overwhelmed when we look around us and think we can't make a difference because the need is so great.  And yet I don't know how many times we have all recalled the time we sat at Applebee's for a celebratory late night dinner as the boys broke their first board in TaeKwonDo...and a lovely couple across from us left having paid our bill.  I also remember the love shown us by complete strangers...all of you blog I was "showered" before the girls came home with gift cards all mailed here to our house.  Or how a long time Kazakhstan adoption buddy used her Disney pass to drive over an hour to give our family a super special treat of entrance into Disneyland...not once, but twice...and fed us at her house to boot!  Or even the simplest "little giving" of five boxes of Lemonheads when someone recently heard that those were my favorites :-)  It doesn't take much to make a difference, or to move someone from feeling anxious in their heart to cared for.

In the spirit of "little givings", I want to share what your "little givings" accomplished this year with your donations in the name of our family to John Wright's Pie in the Face Challenge.  Go to his blog and read the past several days entries, check out the photos and smiles.  There are literally thousands of children and families being impacted by your "little givings" and our giggles and pies in the face.  You need to see this, don't delay, go on over right now to start off your 2012 in a very special way.  John is there with his wife Julie, and his daughters Emma and Bekah right now and participating in bringing Christmas to Kyrgyzstan's orphans.  More importantly, John is always working to see to it that poverty doesn't cause families to be separated and even more children to be placed in the orphanage system.  You want to know poverty?  You think life is bad because you can't afford your daily Starbucks as easily?  What John and his family witness and try to prevent every single day in Kyrgyzstan is a level of poverty none of us can fathom.  Go on, take a look at your "little givings" and then make a commitment along with us to make 2012 your own personal Year of Giving.

I wonder what collectively all of us could do if we each did just a little every day?

Friday, December 30, 2011


2012 is almost here, and I wonder what it will hold for us?  No resolutions this year, just a desire to make it through relatively unscathed.  I have a gut feeling it is going to be a very hard year ahead of us, and I am hoping I will be pleasantly surprised.  All we can do is give it our best every day, remain faithful, and see where we are led.  While I will not make any resolutions, I will offer up my wishes for 2012:

1)  That Dominick is busy throughout the year with plenty of work.
2)  I wish that the kids all continue to blossom in both spirit and heart.
3)  That my Mom regain mobility and more independence than she currently has.
4)  I hope that our church family remains strong and gains momentum this year.
5)  That somehow we have a breakthrough with Kenny.
6)  That I would learn to completely stop comparing in any area of my life.
7)  I wish for all our friends a stable, loving and productuve year ahead.

Of course I'd love to lose weight, have more money, do something fabulous in 2012...all the traditional resolutions...but honestly I'd be thrilled to simply make it to 2013 intact!!

We had a little relief on the appliance front, as Dominick was able to repair our oven, and through some odd quirk our phones mysteriously started working again.  The fridge, however, is totally shot, and we decided to purchase a new one a couple of days ago.  It will be delivered next week, so we are starting the year with at least one thing in tip top shape! Haha!

I was so grateful for the Great Appliance Meltdown of 2011 though, because we were the recipients of lots of loving gestures from friends, one of whom was even willing to give us a used stove and fridge out of their own rental home, just to save us.  While we declined because we couldn't let them do that to themselves, we felt as if we had been given a great big hug...and made us feel so cared for.  We just realized we have many years ahead of us with kids home, and the fridge being opened and closed a gazzillion and a half times, so in order to avoid having this happen again in just a few years we had probably better go with new versus used.  We are usually "used" folks, looking for bargains where we can, but there are some things that it just makes sense to get new if you can possibly manage it.  Certain things in our home get tons of wear and tear, and the fridge is one of them.  We will now have a bigger fridge than we currently have, and that will help as well. 

Joshie turned 9 the day after Christmas, but we will be celebrating today with a trip to an indoor playground and New Years Eve with a cake and a gift.  Our sweet boy is so grown up sometimes, it is hard to remember he is only 9 years old!  We all have to stop ourselves sometimes and remind oursleves that he is the baby of the family.  Being around older siblings most of the time, he has taken on their traits and is very responsible, mature, and organized.  Funny how all of us count on him in ways that are surprising, because he is such a stable young man.  Joshie is hard to shop for because he rarely plays with toys much, preferring instead to spend hours in imaginary play as he acts out scenes with characters and pretends he is a super hero or character from Star Wars.  But he loves books, and loves sciency things, and loves his Abraham Lincoln! Hahaha!  We were in Barnes and Noble this week and he asked if he could use some of his Christmas money to buy some biographies, and he bought five of them. 

All the kids will be working with Dominick on weekends this winter, and they are talking about saving up money to start a business together.  I threw out the idea of a button maker, since it is campaign season, and then trying to sell them at various events.  I didn't realize how expensive a simple button maker is, as I researched it later!  They still might do it though.  It would be a great way for them to learn about entrepreneurship.  So 2012 might see them making their first million...hahaha!

May 2012 be a good year for all, for our country, for people all over the world.  May suffering diminish, may kindness explode!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Christmas Letter

I stood looking out the window, after having paced the floor for hours on end.  Outside I look down on a scene that had come to feel far less foreign than it had a mere 3 weeks earlier.  The desolate, empty streets lay below drab concrete apartments, and the wind whipped the snow into miniature tornadoes as I viewed it through the ice encrusted bedroom window.  My heart and mind were on overload as I tried to imagine a future ahead of us that I already knew would be a difficult uphill battle to win the heart of an 11 year old girl.  Her sister's heart was primed and ready to accept the love being offered by a new family, for she had not suffered so much at the  hands of her first mother...she brought with her no memories of drunken rages, of rejection, of murder.  Thankfully, she had been spared.

Two years ago, we were on the verge of a court date after an incredibly rocky visitation period with Angela and Olesya.  The adoption at one point was abandoned, as we knew it would clearly be impossible to bring home an unwilling pre-teen, despite the fact that for years prior she had waited and yearned for us to come.  It appeared to simply be too late, the window of opportunity had slammed shut, and her heart had hardened unexpectedly...and yet understandably.  We had been encouraged by so many to continue to push her, to force her to come with us regardless of her own strong reluctance to leave behind the familiar.  We felt the decision was made for us when she made it clear that she no longer had any desire to be adopted, and she laughed and smiled as she walked away from us during what we thought was going to be our last visit at the orphanage.  With broken hearts we climbed into the car on the coldest night I had ever experienced, both literally and figuratively, and it was the single most painful moment of my life as I looked back over my shoulder to discover that Olesya was staring out at us through the window, watching as her mommy and daddy drove away without her, for we could not take the willing one without the unwilling one.

Two days later we found ourselves in the Director's office, a very contrite and apologetic Angela sitting before us, her red rimmed eyes told the story that was verified by the Director, that she had spent the last 24 hours begging to call us, looking for forgiveness, recognizing that maybe she had it in her to give love a chance one last time.  It wasn't the phone call asking us to return that convinced me that we should move forward, it wasn't even the look on her face.  It was what I felt as I held her in my arms as we spoke of our great sorrow at a birth mom who had let her down, and of the truths that we shared about her recent behavior and our reluctance to do something that might prove to be damaging not only for our family, but for her as well.  There was a molding into me as I held her, momentary though it was, that hinted at a future that just might hold a special relationship.  There was a sense of her honesty as she allowed us to catch a glimpse of her heart.  Mostly, there was God whispering "It's won't be easy...but it's OK."

And initially, it sure wasn't easy.  There was a prickliness, a few incidences bordering on complete disrespect, there was boundary setting and Tough Love.   There have been profound emotional releases, reliving the past, and learning to trust again.  There was language learning,cultural exploration, introduction to what family is all about, and an undoing of harmful habits and behaviors.

I try to convey here on the blog what has happened throughout these past two years, how children adopted at older ages adapt and cope, how they heal and move forward, how they struggle against setbacks and deficits that many of us can never imagine trying to function with.  If infant adoption is scary, then older child adoption is terrifying.  It is why so few children over the age of four years old are adopted, because the older they are the harder it is for them to adapt, or so the mindset goes.  They can be more emotionally damaged, crippled by years of neglect, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, and much more.  They are at higher risk of reactive attachment disorder, making it impossible for a family to connect deeply with them.  And they can sometimes be dangerous, as we all understand from stories we have read.

But sometimes...and in our case three times with older children...a miracle can occur.  A heart can be made whole again, a brain can be taught to function better, a body can be healed.  Every once in awhile, and I believe it is more often than we hear about, a child and parent can truly become family regardless of how hard the road is to get there or how old they are when they begin that journey.

This Christmas, two years out from that journey that broke not just child but parent as well, we received the single best Christmas present we will likely ever receive. It didn't come wrapped in pretty paper or tied with a bright red bow.  Instead it sat unpretentiously propped up on a branch of our tree, waiting to be quietly handed to me to read.  I was unprepared for the emotional note I would find under the beautifully drawn cover...a tree decorated with ornaments bearing the names of each member of our family.  As I began to read, I was unable to hold back the tears.  There is no gift that could have measured up to this one, and it was a validation of how hard we all have worked to build this family of ours, as well as an acknowledgement of the fact of just how worth it the arduous journey is.  For those of you who have followed our family for years, who have prayed for us and our children, who know us personally and have offered up your heart and helping hands and wondered how we really are doing with Angela, let me share this:

The body of the letter says the following:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Merry Christmas!  I hope you have a very wonderful Holiday with us.  Sence (since) I came to this house I'm so happy everyday even when I get in trouble or having a bad time, I so glad it is this house and you are my parents.  I don't care if you are reach (rich) or poor I really care that you love me everyday and night, that is the most important thing in my family.  As I'm writing this letter to you I mean every single word about you.  Thank you for always incourage (encourage) me that I can be anything I want.  Thank you for teaching me at home I learened (learned) a lot from you and about you. Merry Christmas.

I love you bolth (both) so much,

The depth of relationship we now have with Angela is beyond anything I dared hope for during that long, frozen winter in Kazakhstan two years ago.  I would have been overjoyed to achieve half of what we have today.  All our children are a gift, each equally special and priceless.  Winning Joshua's heart was a herculean effort, a battle I spent years not certain we would actually win.  And yet, there is abiding love.  Matthew's love was simple, easy, very much like Olesya's from the very first moment.  For some the opening of the heart is not as difficult, and once in awhile a child appears to have been waiting for your arrival, as if to say "Hey, what took you so long?".  Kenny's love was offered the quickest and yet at first was shallow and offered casually...he would have loved anyone who walked by and paid him the slightest attention!  Today his love is appropriate and centered, it is mature and selective as abiding love ought to be.  Angela's love was hard earned, and required a toughness of spirit that demanded respect from her first, for it was easy to see immediately that respect and a show of inner strength would have to preface love, or she'd never feel safe enough to relax into it.

Those awkward, painful, frustrating first months are long behind us now.  Our days are filled with giggles and warmth, walking through the store with arms around one another, working side by side in the kitchen as we call out to the others to come help put away dishes, ocassionally being tested as is the case with any 13 year old and yet when "called" on the infraction there is an owning up to it that surprises every one of us  and humbles us with the willingness to take the heat without excuse.  There is incredible mutual respect, and a deep appreciation for what we now have as we sometimes quietly talk about that hard, long winter of distance and cold shoulders.  The apologies for that time have finally stopped, forgiveness has been internalized, and an awareness has blossomed that yes, we actually do love her, no matter what.  And we always will.  Each and every one of our children know that, and now believe it.

Team LaJoy is a unique entity.  It is a group of individuals brought together by the whisper of the Spirit that was heeded, it exists to provide support and encouragement to one another as we make our way through lives that can be terribly difficult sometimes, and it is here within this little clan of non-blood related individuals where we have found our true family, the one we were always each meant to have.  Every single one of us has shed tears of loneliness prior to finding one another, we have all felt a profound sense of loss as we once had no one to  to hold or be held by.  Our souls cried out to one another across time and continents.  Looking around the dinner table at this motley collection of people, hearing the laughter generated at ridiculously bad jokes or the passing of gas, sharing the little kindnesses offered one another or to others outside our family, it is so easy to see that these specific people simply belonged together, regardless of any prior lives.  At this time and place, and with the exact backgrounds we all come from, we fit...we belong together...we are Team LaJoy for a reason.  We are connected in ways we can't describe...even if others sometimes look at us and assume we are nothing more than a foreign exchange class!

What I'd most like for others to know from our past 11 years of life as a family formed through adoption is that children can heal, and you can handle more than you think.  Our stories shared so openly for the world to read are to share that truth with you...and to show that indeed it is not easy.  Pre-adoption fears should not be ignored but should also not stop you from moving forward.  You might find yourself facing the very challenges that were the most fear inducing, we did.  You also might find that those very challenges build you into someone new, and in the process help a child become whole again.

This Christmas was the best ever, for many, many reasons that had nothing to do with the hyped version of Christmas we all have thrust upon us.  I hope sincerely that yours was as well. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Obligation Free Christmas

I did something right this year, and I think we are getting this Christmas thing down!  I sit here on Christmas Eve, as everyone is in bed, and I don't feel totally wiped out or stressed.  We have worked hard to make Christmas more meaningful over the past few years.  Kazakhstan two years ago taught me even more, when I saw that the simplest Christmas we ever had was also the best Christmas we ever had.  We have pared it down, and I have worked hard to keep myself from feeling obligated to "do", "be", and "buy".  As I write this tonight in my finally quiet house, I realized it actually worked.  Year by year, Christmas is more about the things that matter, and less about the things that don't, and it is trickling down to the kids as well.

We've had a lovely couple of days leading up to the actual holiday tomorrow.  We spent a lot of time in the company of friends, less time fussing over last minute details, and everyone is very, very happy. The kids are all such a big help these days, clean ups are a snap, and I am getting help in numerous ways which also serves to allow me to enjoy the holidays as well.  Having friends over for dinner tonight, Kenny and Olesya set the table while Angela made enchiladas with only a tiny bit of assistance from me.  There was some housecleaning going on while I was behind closed doors wrapping a few final gifts, and Matthew spent the day working with Dominick at the restaurant as it was wildly busy as people come in for ski vacations and to visit family.  I know everyone probably thinks that having five kids in the house means more mess...and they would be correct...but it can also mean an incredible amount of help.  The truth is, these days I actually prefer to have the kids come grocery shopping with me than leave them home.  Crazy, you say?  They haul it, bag it, carry it, and help put it all away without complaint.  My trip is far shorter with them along.  And today I realized I was going to Christmas Eve service feeling less scrambled than I ever have, and it is in large part due to the ways in which the kids contribute to making life easier around here.

Comments from the kids this evening included "I LOVED church tonight, it was exciting!", Angela saying "I really like the song Miss Janet played when church was over, the one that sounds like was beautiful and is my favorite." "Dinner with our friends was special", "Skiing with my best friend today, it's the best treat ever!", and from Matthew..."Saying Merry Christmas to everyone at the restaurant today, it was kinda cool."  

Sledding with friends, visiting and being together, singing by candlelight, familiar ornaments staring back at us from the tree, a fire to enjoy, hard candy made to share, traditional enchiladas on Christmas Eve, Christmas lights, these are the things I want them to carry in their heart when one day they look back on their childhood Christmas'.  They are growing up, the excitement of Santa is waning, and replacing that is the comfort of belonging, the joy of giving, the understanding of what it is all about.  

As I await the sounds of gentle, steady breathing so that I may play Santa one last year and fill stockings, and deposit gifts under the tree, I know that their childhood is drawing to a close, and adolescence is upon us.  Oh, how our children adopted at older ages want to cling to it!!  Angela was absolutely intent on visiting Santa, telling me in the car how much she loves seeing him even if she doesn't want to ask for anything.  Olesya and she both left notes for Santa along with snacks tonight, and I am deeply grateful that they have had the past two Christmas' to revisit the childhood that they were cheated out of.  How I wish we could have given them back those years!  But we have done our best to let them be exactly who they are, and let them guide us as they show us what they need.  We are not rushing them to grow up, and one huge reason we are grateful to be homeschooling is that they can have this period of time to be the little children in teenaged bodies that they need to be.  Kenny too, as we see him gradually maturing daily we are reminded that he is showing us over and over again exactly who he needs to be right now, and thankfully, God has given us the wisdom to listen.  I think that our kids are in a better place emotionally for it, and we are so glad we are surrounded by supportive, nurturing friends who don't express doubt over our decisions and in fact seem to understand them.  They were forced to grow up too fast, and missed too much.  While they zip quickly through earlier stages, they still need to steep back and play with Barbies at 13, or play superheroes at 13.  

For example, I think I shared about Olesya wanting a beautiful dress for the first of her own.  What did she want?  Over and over she pointed out velvety red toddler dresses with white fur trim, fancy very little girl dresses that scream out "adorable" to all who would purchase them.  I knew it would be a tough order to fill, as she and Angela are both in Junior sizes now, and most of today's Juniors would never wear anything that didn't make them look like they were in college, and pursuing boys.  After scouring the malls in California when we were out there and finding not a single thing that was appropriate, I gave up.  Luckily, our dear Miss Jill kept it in mind and found the perfect dress that Olesya was ecstatic over.  While it wasn't red, and it wasn't velvet, it was beautiful, appropriate, and made her feel like a princess.  Doesn't every girl need to feel that way once in awhile?  

More importantly, no one would ever understand how symbolic this dress was for Olesya.  For almost 2 years we have been trying to get her to stand out from under Angela's shadow, to express her opinion, to be who she truly is and not feel obligated to put her own feelings or likes aside.  Wearing a dress is something Angela has no desire to do, although she has promised Dominick he will see her in one maybe for graduation from high school, or when she gets married :-)  Olesya is far more "girlie", and has tended to downplay that part of herself because Angela is not like that.  Seeing her in her dress tonight was a huge boost for all of us, as we see her slowly gaining confidence in herself, and with her siblings supporting that change she will eventually become "Olesya", not "Angela's sister".  I want that for her so badly, and am heartened to see the baby steps she is beginning to take.  I also loved that although Angela would rather die than wear a dress like this, she told Olesya that she looked very pretty and helped her do her hair.  In the car on the way home tonight, I commented on how pretty she looked and Josh chimed in unprompted "Olesya looks beautiful tonight!!"  We think so too, and one day she will recognize her own worth:

As you go about the rest of your holiday tomorrow, look around you and take a mental photograph.  For those of you who may be waiting for children still trapped by a system that makes no sense, we continue to pray for you.  For those of you who will share the day with friends and loved ones, recall those no longer with you, and take a moment to be thankful for their presence in your life.  As the kids all talked about in the car this evening, "presence" is far more important than "Presents", and they all agreed as they had this conversation among themselves, that they'd rather have someone spend time with them and care about them than to have lots of gifts to unwrap.  And I explained to Matthew as we talked about how Christmas felt different this year, how as you grow older "presence" takes on new meaning and becomes the real reason for the season.  He quietly rested his head on my shoulder as we talked, and I knew he was beginning to understand that on an entirely new level this year.  

Merry Christmas to you, my friends both known and unknown.  We wish you a holiday filled with love, hugs and laughter...we wish you a holiday filled with "presence".

Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Happy Birthday, Joshua!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pie In The Face!!

While it is late, consider this your Christmas gift.  :-)  Thank you so much for donating to John Wright's Pie in the Face Challenge.  There are so many children who will know that someone cares about them, and who will have a special Christmas thanks to your generosity.  There is no way for you to understand what your monetary gifts will do...they will bring hope...they will bring smiles...most importantly they will remind children that they are not forgotten and that they are loved.  The kind of poverty faced in Kyrgyzstan is beyond our understanding.  You nor I can fathom what it is like to wish that maybe you will have a job that will earn you enough money so that you can actually have rice to eat every day.  Nothing else, just rice.  Or that you might just be able to have coal for heat this winter instead of freezing near to death for months on end.  For the children who are institutionalized in Kyrgyzstan's orphanages, there is never enough food for tummies to feel full, never decent clothing, never enough medical care.  They ARE abandoned, alone and forgotten.

Except for the fact that they are not forgotten by any of us, not by you, and not by our family.  John and his family will soon be over in Kyrgyzstan for a quick trip to take part in all the Christmas celebrations that your help has brought about.  If you find that you desire to help in some other way, please contact John over at www.actofkindness, and offer even another small monetary donation for heat for a senior, for rice for a hungry tummy, or maybe to make a small dream come true for someone.  It doesn't take much, and I promise you having met John and been associated with him  for years now, he and his family are the "real deal".  What you give is always used for the stated purpose, you will receive photos so you will feel more a part of your giving, and John will communicate with you to let you know more if you so wish.  Direct giving is what it is, and the results are incredible.

Now, for the Main is the video!:

Thanks so much for all you do!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Blessed are we.

Oh yes, how blessed are we.

As I look out my window this morning and see,
Winter's coat draped over my front yard tree.

Out the back my eye lingers as I ask how it can be
That despite all the trials how blessed are we!!

So nobody ever said I was a poet...or a writer for that matter!  But I just had to share these photos of our yard with you taken earlier this week after a wonderful new snow had fallen.  We don't have a beautiful yard as many of our friends do, and we are not at all interested much in gardening.  However, there is something about winter blanketing everything...the silence that arrives with it...the crispness of the air...and I love every single moment and flake.   It can transform the most mundane landscape into a virtual magical canvas.  

Tonight I found Christmas, a mere few minutes after sharing with someone seated next to me that this was one of those years when it just wasn't going to seep into my soul.  30 minutes later, and the mystical magic of music and community had worked its wonders on my heart, and by the end of choir practice I walked out with a lift that only choir can offer.  While we certainly don't sound quite as professional as the quartet below, this is one of the pieces we were working diligently on tonight, and eventually found our groove.  Janet, if you are reading this, I think I prefer this version to the link you sent earlier:

What began in November as a little bit of a rough patch to get over has grown ever more comically into a pothole large enough to lose an 18-Wheeler in!  You've all shared in the saga of the medical bills, the car repairs, the unexpected fridge breakdown (which the jury is still out on about whether it is actually repaired or not...Dominick gave it one last desperate attempt), and even our house telephone has kicked the bucket.  This afternoon we were pre-heating the oven and I smelled gas.  Sure enough, the oven is now on the fritz and Dominick has ordered a part hoping he can repair it.  Oh yea, and the part won't come in until Monday.  

Somehow though, as frustrating as it can be, I think I needed today to nudge me back to a place where I saw things more clearly than I have in awhile.  I have been living a less-than faithful period here, worrying and fretting about the future, letting financial concerns eat at me in ways they haven't in a very long time.  We have a tough year ahead of us on several fronts, and doubt was creeping in ever sneakily, settling in for a long winter of torment...a torment that exists only if I allow it.  

Today was sort of the last straw, and had me throwing my hands up and laughing.  What else can you do?  Every single one of us has walked through times like we are encountering, and there is nothing you can do but recognize, as I posted to Facebook, that there really far worse things that we could be facing right now.  It actually COULD get a lot worse!  And standing side by side in the kitchen today with the girls and Kenny as we made candy...and ruined a double batch of fudge thanks to Matthew's haphazardly reading the was a strong reminder of what really matters.  The joy, the sharing of good times and bad, the laughter and messes we make together, the cleaning up together.

As I thought this evening about why I have been so tense about our finances lately, I had an "Ah Hah" moment when I recognized  something I hadn't thought about. Why is it feeling so scary?  What is it that is causing such great concern all of a sudden?  We've certainly had really rough times before and it didn't affect me to this degree.  Then it clicked...we were told by so many people before adopting the girls that we would find ourselves in dire straights, that we were making a huge mistake and were too foolish to recognize it.  Now, we are stumbling a little and it feels as if I ought to be ashamed, that others are being proven right, and our faithful step in adding to our family because we felt called to do so was indeed folly. I think much of what I am personally dealing with is sadly all about losing face, caring too much about the predictions of others, and failing to trust that our needs WILL be met.  

The difference too is that maybe our idea of "needs" is different than others.  Oh, we all need food and shelter, but I think that "Needs" as defined by Dominick and I lean more toward needing to feel as if we are being the change we wish to see in the world, needing to hold others and be held, needing to nurture and cherish others, needing to laugh, and needing to be part of a committed and caring family.  As I really thought about it, the truth is that if we were ever to lose our house (we are not in danger of that at this time, just taking it to the worst case), and we found we had to live in a small apartment with seven of us, we really wouldn't be all that upset.  A house is simply a container for the love between us all, and any container will do.  But if we lost the laughter we all share, then life would be terribly difficult.  

I think we ALL feel as if we are hanging on by a thread sometimes, our family isn't the only one.  Much of the pressure we feel lately is due entirely to choices we have carefully made.  They are choices that I still maintain were 100% the right ones for us, and we knew ahead of time they would demand lifestyle changes and sacrifices.  It's always been hard, and right now it is just harder.  The truth is, I am sure it will get even harder than it is now.  So what?  God is STILL providing us with what we all need...each other.  

We all went to support Matthew in his endeavors with Civil Air Patrol on Monday night when they had their family banquet.  We goofed around a little prior to going and took some pictures:

Taa Daa!!!  The King for the evening.

Matthew showing off his rank advancement ribbons and pins, he's worked hard and accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Just noticed the ornaments with photos of him as a little boy hanging over his shoulder.

Happy, handsome men of mine.  Was there ever a better set of smiles on any young men?

The LaJoy women...ALL of them!  The girls insisted that Sunny needed to join us so  we were equal in number to the boys.  How many years did I wish for a moment like this, our daughters home where they belonged, family photos in front of the tree.  Dreams do come true.

How wealthy we are!!!!  We have what many yearn for, and I have no idea why we were so richly blessed. It isn't easy, nothing good ever is.  Many will toil to move their way up the corporate ladder, many others will spend years burning the midnight oil as they work toward advanced degrees in their chosen fields.  Our "work" looks different, but it is hard work nonetheless.  It doesn't lead to promotions, titles and parchments hanging on the wall.  

It leads to these smiles, this warmth, this family created where once there was none.

As I contemplate the whys and hows of this life of ours, as I fret and stew once in awhile and let fear have its way with me temporarily, I will keep in mind what this season is all about.  In the words of the hymn we were singing this evening:

Original Text

Psallite unigenito
Christo, Dei Filio,
Psallite Redemptori,
Domino, puerulo
jacenti in praesepio.
Ein kleines Kindelein liegt in dem Krippelein.
Alle lieben Engelein dienen dem Kindelein
und singen ihm fein.
Psallite unigenito...

English Translation
Sing your psalms to Christ,
the begotten Son of God,
sing your psalms to the Redeemer,
to the Lord, the little Child
lying in a manger bed.
A small Child lies in the manger.
All the blessed angels fall before Him
and sing.

Sing our psalms to our Redeemer, who redeems our life in ways that go well beyond forgiveness of sin or heavenly homes.  It is the Christ that walks with me here and now that helps me make it through each challenging day, it is the knowledge that my life before walking with Christ was so much harder, so much emptier, so much less meaningful.  

I rest tonight knowing my true needs will always be met, that the Christ who comes assures me of that.  

And I shall fall before Him and sing!!

(Tomorrow is Pie Day!  The photos today look WAAAYYY cleaner than the photos tomorrow will look!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011


This afternoon I had a friend and fellow blog reader email me a link to an article on CNN's Belief Blog, wanting my take on it as she struggled with it.  Me thinks that for her 'twas a bit like the whole Tim Tebow and Tebowing focus at the moment for me, one which I am still on the fence about and will blog about soon, I am sure.  There was so much there in the article for me to think about, that I thought I'd work it out a bit here on the blog.  Maybe there are others for whom this will touch a chord as well.

Here is a link to the article, so you all can know what I am talking's a fairly quick read and would be interesting to hear your thoughts as well:

The author of the blog post, Tangela Ekhoff, was writing to share the contrast for her family this year versus prior years.  She is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA, and like many Americans they have been hard hit this past year and are struggling to keep afloat.  Her description of her disappointment in not being able to provide their children with the kind of Christmases they had grown accustomed to was one that resonates with many right now, I am sure.

As I read her post, I felt a bit conflicted...conflicted by my own feelings which I recognized as being judgmental, and I am not proud of it, and conflicted by our societal sense of what makes Christmas really "Christmas".  Now, would I feel the same if her byline didn't state her elder status?  Admittedly, probably not.  But read this quote which is her first paragraph of the post, and see how it hits you:

For my husband and me, the crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning. It’s enough to breach the dams in my eyes. Every year, my husband (the better shopper) picks one big-ticket gift for our boys, the one we call “the Showstopper!”

Xmas Tree

Click Here For Images &
Xmas Tree Pictures - Pictures

Wow.  The first sentence was enough to stop me in my tracks, and I could see why my friend emailed me about this.  She and I often go back and forth discussing faith matters, both of us on opposite side of the proverbial Faith Fence...and yet realizing through dialogue that often we are standing with feet firmly planted on the same side.  So much for the Pagan/Athiest/Tree Goddess Worshipper vs. Christian battle.

"The crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning."   How sad it was for me to read that, and to recognize that a mere few years ago on my own journey that might have been a little closer to my feelings than I now like to admit.  Today I would cringe in mortification at the thought of seeing Dominick and I as "successful parents" because we managed to "score" the right gifts for our kids for Christmas. 

Of course, all of us want to give gifts that the recipient delights in.  But how did we come to a place culturally where our children's response on Christmas morning equals "success" as parents?  What caused this distorted perspective?  No wonder parents continue along the path to ever greater "Showstopper" gifts each year, it is the way they measure their if the decibel level of the shriek upon tearing open the package is a grade on some sort of Parental Report Card.

The author goes on to point out that in their house this year, there will be no "Showstopper" gift, no special, over-the-top, Best of All, dream fulfilling gift for their children.  She shares that this year, they are in such difficult circumstances that instead of being the ones fulfilling the wish of a needy child whose name they find on an "Angel Tree", it will be a role reversal as it will be her own children's names hanging from that Angel Tree hopeful of being selected by an unknown, kindly stranger. 

She goes on to speak of the season of Advent, and that this year "My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially."  I am sure many have prayed similar prayers during these years of economic downturn.  Homes lost, dreams dying, stress rising, and no relief in sight.  As the reports just came out this week from recent census data, we are now at a point where fully 50% of all Americans are now categorized as "poor" or "low income".

I do understand...I truly do.  For a large number of us, we are watching as our middle class incomes are slipping away from us.  We are grasping hard at the ledge, trying not to fall backwards and land hard, finding ourselves firmly planted in "low income" and wondering how that happened so quickly.  We are beginning to realize that we just may not recover swiftly, or at all, and our children may be the first in many generations to find themselves living at income levels lower than what their parents were raised with. 

I have always been honest here within the blog about the financial challenges we face.  Many would ask why I would share such information openly, but I recognized a long time ago that people wanting to adopt are often afraid of lowering their standard of living to make it happen, and I want them to see that while there is truth in that happening for many of us, the rewards are far and away worth every financial step backward.  We all know the cost of adopting is exorbitant, and it is what keeps many children from finding their forever families.  If by being honest about the kinds of setbacks we face and sharing about the sacrifices which ultimately end up NOT feeling like sacrifices helps others move to "yes", then it is worth it for us to publicly speak about that which most will not.  Just as I hope that sharing about our experiences adopting older children has helped others be more receptive to the idea of sharing their heart with a child who may not be able to fit neatly in their arms.

This past year has been a tough one for us, we are a family of 7 with a stay at home mom trying to make it on a "Car Wash" guy's salary.  Our small town is experiencing a prolonged downturn, and things like auto details are a luxury, therefore business is very slow.  Understatement there...veeeerrrryyy slow.  We had some incredible quiet help with Christmas this year for the kids, without which we would have slimmer pickin's than usual, but thanks to a couple of dear friends' thoughtful gestures and a grandma's generosity, the kids will not really feel it too much.

And no, unfortunately, we won't be helping a child on an Angel Tree ourselves this year.

But I have to ask...what kind of parents would we be if that were the essence of Christmas?  And while we are definitely having a hard time, as I look around at all we have there is no way I would ever call us "poor", even though the fact might be that looking at our income this year we just might qualify for assistance in some areas.  We are like hundreds of thousands of others out there throughout America, we have our cars and our home, our electronics and our "stuff", but suddenly our income has shifted and we are not able to maintain the standard of living we have become used to.  Some things will have to be placed firmly in the "Wants" column rather than the "Needs" column, and there they may sit for years to come.

But is that really what qualifies one as "poor" these days?  That we can't always have what we want anymore?  That our kids may not shriek with delight on Christmas morning?

And the most disturbing thing to me about what the author Advent about awaiting the arrival of Jesus, and praying for a return to our prior financial status?  Isn't that contrary to what Jesus teaches us?  Doesn't he speak of casting off all treasures and following him?  Am I really to think that I will somehow draw closer to God if my previous economic standing is restored?

Or will I ignore my donut "hole" and instead look at the entirety of the donut itself?  Will we recognize the fact that having less creates more opportunity for our family to be enriched with relationships with others as we spend time with them and each other.  Or that having a leaner year...or two...or three...or even perhaps a permanent decendence to the lowest rung of lower middle class...will build within us an even greater sense of gratitude for the necessities of life being met.  Will we all draw closer to God as we learn once again, and maybe finally internalize, that we can not count on the world to meet our needs, but that God and God alone is capable of doing that?  Will my donut include the recognition that no matter how hard life gets, we always have something we can share with others even if it is only time, love and care?

And is all of the above indicative of being "poor"?  Or is it actually a sign of the greatest kind of wealth? 

I know I can't speak to those who have lost homes, cars, and jobs.  Yet.  I hope I never can, for I hope we do not find ourselves in those kind of dire straits.  I won't pretend to understand the meaning of poverty in the ways many others can, although both as a child and as an adult I have experienced "lean times" over and over again, and in many people's eyes those "lean times" would indeed be classified as "poor".  And I can't help but recall how many celebrities and folks who have finally "made it" look back on their childhoods and say "We were poor, dirt poor, but back then we kids never knew it."

I have had "poor" Christmases, however that poverty had nothing at all to do with the number and cost of the presents under the tree.  It had to do with family turmoil, lack of connection to community, a sense of longing for Spirit that at the time I couldn't identify.  THAT was poor, even though some of the "poorest" years were ones in which our income was the highest it had ever been, and the shiniest paper covered an enormous number of gifts stacked out into the room.

True poverty is a poverty of spirit, and has nothing at all to do with how many bills are in my wallet.

So for this Christmas, I wish Mrs. Ekhoff a different sort of wealth, one which allows her to see that a restoration of her former financial status may not be all it is cracked up to be.  I wish for her a wealth that allows her to look around her, let go of the idea of gifts that need to be "Showstoppers", and instead elevate the gifts that really matter.  Of course I wish for all of us that the hard times would soon be over, but I also hope that the lessons learned during these times will remain with us all, for they are valuable lessons indeed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Assortment of Ramblings

I have an odd assortment of things to write about this evening, nothing profound or important, no photos, so feel free to pass on over to the next blog...or grab a Diet Coke and hang out a bit.

First of all, we are trying to find a time to have our Pie In the Face Splat Fest and record it.  Why is it so delayed?  Well, Dominick is getting up for work at 3:00 AM and pretty wiped out every evening, falling asleep super early.  We have had several evenings with the usual Christmas stuff going on, and then the flu swept through half the family...and the jury is still out on whether the other three will get it.  Stay tuned though, we will try seriously to do it in the next few days...we owe you all and are SO grateful for your donations and help for the kids in Kyrgyzstan.

Oh yea, maybe there IS a picture to share...check this out:

Yup, that's us, featured in a news article in Bishkek this week.  We were contacted by our agency last week asking for a family photo and permission for it to be used in an article regarding international adoption.  Advocacy efforts still continue for the Kyrgyz children waiting to be brought home by their adoptive parents...waiting for 3 years now.  Of course we would do virtually anything to help get these kids home, and gladly offered up a familiar picture to you all.  While the article did get some details wrong...including Kenny's birth name...most of it was close enough.  Translations of post-placement reports are more about getting the essence of it right :-)  They did not interview us and instead used info from our last post-placement report for the article.  I found myself wishing that the authorities over there could just meet Kenny for 10 minutes, let him speak from the heart, and then let them try and argue that adoption is not the best option for these children languishing in orphanages by the thousands.  Funny how God continues to use Kenny in ways never imagined. How I wish these kids were spending Christmas in the arms of parents who are so committed and have waited so patiently!!

Speaking of Kenny, we continue to have huge challenges with academics with him right now, and interestingly his speech teacher today recognized for the first time some of the odd, atypical things we experience on a daily basis. We have only been working with her a few weeks, but even she saw his total blackout with reading certain words and his addition of consonants that don't exist...and his repeating it 4 or 5 times no matter how slowly he sounds it out.  She looked at me as if to say "Now that IS odd!" and I looked at her (she was in on our IEP meeting too) and said "I told you one believes me, but we go through this all day long, and much more!"  I could tell that she was beginning to "get it" and seeing that what we are dealing with is totally atypical.  We have decided to give ME a break on this until the holidays are over with, and then I will be back at the research trying to find what is best for him.  I did speak with a specialist over Thanksgiving break, to no avail.  She does know what she is doing but suggested $4000 worth of Speech and Language Pathology testing in addition to an audiology test for auditory processing disorder because she thinks he has APD as well as other issues.  There is no way we can afford all of that, so we don't really know what to do now. She said what we are experiencing is typical for families like ours with kids from the former Soviet Union, and that most parents find success getting an attorney and suing.  Well, if we had money for THAT, we'd just do the testing ourselves!!!  So, back to the drawing board in January, it was beginning to really get me down and I need a mental break from it.

We were trying to see if we could send Matthew to Civil Air Patrol Camp in Kansas the day after Christmas, but we just can't swing it.  The camp was CHEAP at $115 for an entire week, and enormous experiences attached to it like earning an NRA marksmanship award, flying in a C-147...157...I dunno but one of them big old planes :-) .  But we learned he needed tons of extra uniform stuff and there is no way we can do it right now, or really ever.  Why can't they make these things more affordable? The uniform items would have been another $300+!!  So, we learned there is another Camp scheduled for mid-June, and it will be even longer at 10 days...and get the Air Force Academy.  Could it get any better?  I got an email about it just today and told him honestly that we can't afford all the gear and the cost of the camp, and the trip over there, so we are going to have to work together to find a way to get him there.  We all brainstormed and he is going to try and get extra work somehow, which at 12 years old is not easy.  He is going to make up a flier and see if he can get snow shoveling work, or jobs putting away Christmas decorations, or weeding in the spring.  He wants to go so badly he can taste it, and I wish I could just tell him not to worry and that we can cover it, but the truth is we can't.  I loved that all the kids tried to come up with ideas and almost cried when Kenny said "Matthew, for your Christmas gift I will give you 2 weeks of free help on any job to help you earn the money.  Anything I earn I'll give to you so you can go!"  

That's my Team LaJoy!!

Somehow, we will make it happen, even if we all have to have a bake sale in front of Walmart!

What else...well, our fridge is on the fritz, of course, because this is one of those times when simply everything is going to go wrong.  Dominick has tried to fix it three times and it is leaking water all over the interior and blowing up sodas and freezing yogurt, salad and cottage cheese.  We looked at fridges this weekend, and just about died at the cost even for smaller ones which really makes no sense for us at all...we need a bigger one if we are going to spend the money and replace it.  Ours is 17 years old, and through the years Dominick has managed to replace the ice maker twice, and repair this particular problem 4 other times, but for some reason this time it is just not working.  After looking at Home Depot this weekend and gagging over the cost, he came home and tried one last time to see if he could fix it.  We are holding our breath but betting we will be buying a new one.  Dreading that purchase there anything less glamorous than a fridge?  Maybe a water heater or tires for a car.  With ours being 17 years old, we didn't realize that purchasing a new fridge these days was the equivalent of buying a used car!!  For those prices, I want to have a steering wheel attached, and an Alpine speaker system! Hahaha!! Shhhhhh...don't tell the dishwasher, it is the same age and is due to hit the recycling plant as well but it doesn't know it yet.

On a brighter note, today Matthew used "hyperbole" in a sentence and explained to us all that the earth was tilted 21 degrees, something he remembered that Mr. Steve taught him and so he shared that with the rest of us while we were studying the moon and earth's rotation around the sun.  Olesya struck me today as changing, I looked at her and you know how you are just brought up short by your kids sometimes?  When you actually see the transformation that is taking place?  She is growing up, she is turning more into a woman than a girl, and I think the next year will be a big one for her as she matures and discovers herself. 

Kenny had a great day this week when our beloved Miss Lael treated him to lunch out at the Dragon Wall Buffet here in town and then took him to pick out a brand new book at the local bookstore.  Poor woman didn't know what she was getting herself into, taking Kenny to a buffet AND a bookstore!  Needless to say, it was hours later before they returned :-)  He was full of tales of the adventure, animatedly sharing about his long conversation with her (Oh, you dear, patient friend!!), telling us how he tried Sushi for the first time and showing off his new book.  You'd have thought he had been to Disneyland.

And I am trying to wrap my mind about how I feel about all this "Tebowing" going on. You'd think this new fad would be one I would grab on to and use as an example for the kids...after all, Tim Tebow is with our own Denver Broncos, is a homeschooling graduate, and is taking Christianity to a totally new level.  For some reason, instead of being overjoyed at this public example of what is probably a decent young man, I am disturbed by this, and can't really explain why.  Christianity on display just to prove a point has never been something I was drawn to.  I don't condemn others for it, and I don't think he is a fraud or anything, it just isn't my style.  And then I think how contradictory that is of me, because here on a very public platform I too don't exactly hide my faith, and in fact probably display it in ways that are distasteful to others.  Anyone care to shed some light on why they think this may be not setting well with me?  You might help me figure it out!!  I don't seem to have the brain space at the moment to analyze it and will be lazy and ask you to do it for me :-)

We're looking forward to seeing friends who just flew in from Vermont today, they are grandparents to Josh's best friend and we claim them as ours too :-)  We'll be doing a little shopping this weekend with our youth group for a small family in need of a little help this year, as so many are. Another way to keep Christmas more about the important stuff. 

The kids all want to go see Santa, so we have to make time for that.  Yes folks, strange as it seems, we still believe in Santa here.  One thing with adopting older kids is they want desperately to have those same experiences as their new peers have, and will cling to it far longer than most would expect.  The girls have had one Christmas with Santa, and we want them to have one more if they want it...which they do...and so even though I suspect most of our older ones surely know we are Santa (even the girls themselves), we all will allow this for them.  Every child deserves the magic that Christmas really is, even if only for a couple of years of their childhood.  However, we somehow need to get Santa to understand ahead of time and not ruin it...that is easier said than done.  I am so glad that those close to us understand this need for our kids, and don't think we are weird for having 12 and 13 year olds who want to sit on Santa's knee and ask for a gift. I am grateful for Matthew's care for his siblings and not pushing it either.  This will be our last Santa year, but we will get that photo, we will have our stockings, and we will dream of  hearing reindeer on the roof top one last year.  

But if you ask our kids what Christmas is all about, they will first tell you it is the celebration of Jesus coming into the world, and about love.  As long as they get that, we think Santa can co-exist with Jesus quite nicely.

I told you this was going to be deep thoughts...I've had enough of those for a few days and need a "donut" and "hole" free week I think.  Behind the scenes, that's not really happening, but here on the blog I am stepping away from the concept for now! Hahaha!  Here's wishing everyone a wonderful week before Christmas.  Don't shop, just stop...OK?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thank You, God, For the Stomach Flu

Silly title?  Not really.  It's funny how when we are working on trying to internalize something, God tends to use something to reinforce the concept until we really, really get it.   As I look back on my last post about focusing on the donut instead of the hole, and not allowing myself to get caught up in all the things our children aren't or never may be, the stomach flu was a perfect tool for God to use.

(As a quick aside, NEVER Google "stomach flu" for images to use on your blog...the things people post will totally gross you out!!)

As I type this, and am beginning to think that maybe I'll make it to see another day (Hahaha!), the kids are out in the dining room working on their school work.  Dominick is off to work today and is going to try and return later, so there is no adult who told them to do it, there is no supervision for them...they are simply doing what they know needs to be done.  That's after having cleaned up the remainder of the groceries that I couldn't manage to get put away after returning home sick from Walmart last night.

Before that?  I was greeted at 9:30 AM with a knock on my bedroom door.  Quietly, in traipse the troops with a tray containing a drink, a single slice of toast, and six saltine crackers accompanied by a note written by Matt saying "Get well soon Mom, from all of us XXXOOO".  They sat at the foot of the bed, sharing about their TaeKwonDo class and Civil Air Patrol from last night, and a few minutes later they all left with Kenny saying "Mama, if you need anything just call us, we're going to go get busy on school.  Just sleep all day if you want to!"

Donut vs Hole

Kind, thoughtful children vs Academic and Athletic Super Stars

Hmmm....not much of a competition on that one, I'll take my crew any day of the week.

My mom and I were chatting on the phone a couple nights ago, and she was sharing how sweet the kids were with her when we were out in California.  Mom has mobility issues (that's a bit of an understatement) but is otherwise very healthy.  She said that even when I wasn't around, the kids all helped her with chairs, opened car doors for her and then waited patiently for her to get in first before racing in themselves, and were generally quite solicitous of her.

Donut vs Hole

How easy it can be to get caught up in the things that our culture says are symbols of excellence, and how easy it can be to overlook the things that really matter!!

So, while I don't really think God sent a lightning bolt down with a nasty stomach bug for me to experience (and most likely the entire family, as Olesya has already had it), I ma recognizing that everything can be used to help us "get it", yes, even the stomach flu.  And as I sit propped up in bed and hear the voices of our children in the next room doing what they do best...working toward adulthood with grace and confidence...I am thanking God for the stomach flu and the chance to be reminded once again of what really counts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Focusing on the Donut, Not the Hole

When we were in California, we attended a church service where the kids sermon was simple and effective.  The children's ministry leader taught a lesson about living with a heart that is focused towards thinking about abundance rather than lack.  Normally, I tend to think that is a place I live in more often than not, but the illustration was so perfect and I have found the image they used coming back to me over and over again lately.  She held up a donut and shared a little saying:  "As you go through life, make this your goal:  Keep your eye on the donut and not the hole!"

Sometimes that can be easier said than done.  One reason I have such a deep appreciation for being part of a vibrant faith community is that it helps me keep focused on the donut.  Prior to joining our congregation, I was very "hole" oriented.  I saw what was missing, I obsessed over it at times, and I was never content.  It can be quite easy to see only the holes in our lives, the lack of all the things we think we need, or the relationships we wish we had.  Our culture tells us over and over again that what we have will simply never be enough...we will never be beautiful enough, our holidays will never be cheerful enough, our love lives will never be romantic enough, and our "stuff" will never be expensive enough.  We are bombarded with messages countless times a day that remind us of the "hole".

I am really ashamed to admit that I have fallen prey to that lately, and I need to re-focus and find my donut.

As I have often said, I am not Pollyanna.  I am not perpetually and unrealistically positive, but I do think I am usually balanced and lean towards "donut" gratitude rather than "hole" thanklessness.  As I find myself slipping into old ways of thinking, God has used others this past week to nudge me out of sitting smack dab in the middle of the "hole".

I had a joking conversation today after church, and it was about the kids.  Our church tends to attract people with amazing gifts...talented, creative, well educated folks who have talented, creative, well educated kids.  I am not exaggerating, as three of the 7 kids in our tiny youth group I led a couple years back were 4.0 students with one a Valedictorian...and yet another on track with 4.0.  Yes, you read that right...3 out of 7 were 4.0 students.  Amazing within graduating classes of 200+ students.  As I look at Josh's best buddy who goes to our church, he is incredibly gifted...highly verbal and imaginative, writing his own plays that are acted out in class, a gifted reader and a younger sister who at 3 is obviously incredibly bright and going to be reading before she even starts school.  Can you tell I am a bit proud of our dear little friends??? :-)  There is another little guy who attends church who is the most natural athlete you'll ever see at his young age, his grandma who is someone I greatly admire shares his exploits on the soccer field and I can picture him in my mind, for I have seen his talent and this is no mere typical bragging...this kid totally rocks when doing anything athletically oriented.

Then, there are the LaJoy kids.  We were sharing about how hard they try with music, but that it just isn't natural for them.  Then we were talking about other things that kids participate in, and somehow I just felt so "hole", they are not athletic, no they are not super scholars, no they are not highly artistic.  They will likely never stand out in the traditional ways our society celebrates.  Oh, you all know that here at home we surely do celebrate our successes...I guess it's just that if I am in a frame of mind to compare, it can be very, very discouraging.  When parenting kids like ours, I often downplay how damn hard it can be, how you have to continually work at finding ways to lift them up, to encourage them, to remind them they are not in competition with anyone else and that someday they too will find their niche.  However, sometimes inwardly I give in to the wrong things, when I think of how we are years and years behind others, and in some areas we may never catch up.  We will not have the kid named in the paper for being on the honor roll, or for scoring the winning touchdown, or for getting the lead part in the local community theater, or for achieving the highest SAT score in town.

What reminded me of the donut?  What pushed me aside from the "hole"?  My friend looked at me and smiled gently, saying "You know what your kids are good at?  Giving from the heart...and really...what is more important?"

How ashamed I am of myself.  How could I let myself for even a single moment not see the enormous donut right in front of me?  In the day to day moments, we are blessed with the presence of children whose generous hearts and spirits make each day a complete pleasure to experience.  Kenny, who came in from clearing ice off the patio this afternoon without being asked saying "Mommy, don't worry about slipping out there, I got most of the patio cleaned for you so you will be safe.".  Angela telling me "Go take a nap this afternoon, I will clean up the dishes.". Matthew building with dominoes with a little guy at church quietly this morning, as they talked about "boy" things and he encouraged him in the way only an older boy can do for a younger one.  Olesya, who has the stomach flu offering to clean the van out as Josh chimes in "No, it's my turn, I haven't done it in awhile and that's not fair."

Thinking about the hole instead of the donut can cause us to miss what is really, truly important.  When the kids are 35 years old, will I be concerned with test scores or performance on the football field?  Or will I be viewing success as taking good care of their families and living lives that are productive and Spirit filled?  Keeping my eye off the hole is my biggest task, for it is easy and seductive to be drawn back to look at it.  It will be a measuring stick that will never, ever really work for our family...and some days it is easier than others to ignore it.

You read Facebook posts of parents whose kids are accomplishing wonderful things, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You cringe in the front pew as your child pauses waaayyy too long while playing the guitar, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You correct several of your children's school work and you are confronted with mistake after mistake, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  You wash your child's sheets after they have had an accident in bed when they are far past the age that should happen, and it takes work to focus on the donut.  It has NOTHING to do with jealousy, and everything to do with wishing the path were just a little easier for your own child.

But being in community with others who care and encourage keeps my head on straight, it helps me drive right through that hole with barely a glance and turn around to look at the enormous donut before me.  Being reminded continually of what Jesus would have valued, of what God sees as success, is something I cling to at the worst, most challenging moments.  When my kid is on the volleyball court and once again shrinks away from the ball, or when my child looks at me and asks "Why can't I do math?" with tears in her eyes, or when my son is told that his physical condition is such that dreams may never come true, I HAVE to see the donut, for I have to help them see it too.  It would be too easy to be sucked into the hole and never come out.

It is only in a place where there are Donut People that children can try their hardest, fail in the world's eyes, and yet be loved for exactly who they are and have others work hard at finding ways to help them see themselves as successful..."You went up there with such confidence and played, I could never do that!"..."You sang with such gusto, we loved hearing you!"..."You were so helpful afterwards, we really appreciated your assistance!"..."It's hard to believe you have been here only a year and a half, it feels like you have been part of our church family forever and we are SO proud of all you have accomplished!"

The Donut People in my life help keep me from falling into the hole.  They set an example for me that is priceless.  This week I am going to work hard at seeing only the donut, the hole will always be there if I really find it necessary to revisit.

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Time for Music...Sort Of...

What do you do when your children are invited to play their instruments for the Women's Union Christmas Luncheon...and your children are a bit, well, do I put this nicely....rhythm impaired and tone deaf?  Well, first you explain that they are beginners, and perhaps not as musically inclined as some might naturally be.  Then. after explaining that, and being told "We don't care at all, we just want to support them and encourage them, and are not looking for 'professional' musical talent.", you go ahead and accept, hoping all the while that they really meant what they said.

The kids spent the past 3 months or so working diligently to learn some Christmas carols on their instruments.  Kenny and Josh have each only been playing for 6 months, having decided to switch instruments, so Kenny is now on the violin and Josh is playing piano.  The girls have been at the guitar a year, and Matthew on the piano 2 1/2 years.  What makes it a little more challenging is that by comparison, the previous group of young people who were raised in the church were quite musically talented, able to play and sing quite well with many being in choirs in school or participating in local theater groups.

The LaJoy children, well...not so much. 

So the big day arrived yesterday, and everyone was running around the house all aflutter as they looked for music, ironed shirts, did some last minute practicing, and spent 30 minutes in front of the computer screen listening to Jose Feliciano's original version of "Feliz Navidad" a gazillion times so we could get Kenny to pronounce it correctly as he yelled..oh, I mean sang it.  Somehow he was hearing it as "Feliz NaviDOT, A Sparrow And A Fleecy Dot" .  That poor kid, if people only knew just how hard the simplest things are for him, like getting words right.  I was so thankful for the patience the other kids all showed as we worked together to try and help Kenny get the words right.  He literally can't hear what it is, his brain changes it all, and for the life of him he can not hear rhythmic patterns easily nor tell if he is sharp or flat on the violin, to the point that I can play a completely different note, and he can not tell if it is sharp or flat.  But that makes music even more important for him as a form of therapy to try and get him to hear sounds differently.

We get to church, and find that the Women's Union had thoughtfully laid places for us at the table, with little gifts for the kids.  We all eat together, then head to the Sanctuary for the musical presentation.  I can equate it only with being forced to sit through someone's hundreds of photos of their recent vacation.  I know many of the women live a distance from their own grandchildren, and some must have been thinking "Now this is what I don't miss at all, being forced to politely smile as my grandkid painfully makes their way through some ghastly song on an instrument."  At one point, fingernails on a blackboard would have sounded better.  Let no one ever say that I am not completely honest in assessing our kids' gifts, talents, and lack thereof.

But you know what?  You'd never have known it.

Perhaps they understood the time invested by the kids for this event.  Maybe they accepted it as the gift it was meant to be.  One woman sitting behind me, who used to be their Sunday School teacher, gasped not in horror but in delight at the end of each song, and applauded vigorously each and every time.  Most made gallant attempts not to chuckle or laugh outright...something that at moments I had a hard time not doing. 

When the end arrived and the kids broke down in hilarious giggles as they sang their beloved "Feliz Navidad" and couldn't even finish the song (Thank goodness for that!  Did I say no one can carry a tune in a bucket??), the entire group laughed along with them.  As the kids sang their very off key version of  "We Wish You A Merry Christmas", there were wide smiles and I hope the understanding that we all DID really wish them a blessed Christmas season, that the sentiment was there even if the talent was lacking a wee bit.

How kind the women all were, congratulating and hugging the kids, singing along with them as they headed back to the Hall where the gift exchange was going to be held.  So much encouragement, so much love was shared.  No one hung their head in shame as they might otherwise have done under different circumstances, each of the kids felt validated in their heartfelt attempts.  As bad as the kids were, and I am not kidding you or exaggerating, they were not good, I heard over and over "That was the best luncheon program we have ever had!", proving the old adage that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.   

What did I take pride in, if not their musical talent?  Oh, so much!  The kindness and respect the kids each showed the women, the way Matthew was so attentive to his music teacher and helped her get seated without me saying a word to him.  It was easy to see the young men and women they are becoming as they each wore their KMart Christmas finery...hahaha!  Looking at the girls, in particular, they just looked so mature.  I loved seeing how they all pitched in to help clean up at the end of the event, and the excitement the kids expressed as they couldn't wait to give each woman in attendance a gift they had made...fused glass Christmas pins that were boxed and bagged by the kids and depicted Rudolph, Christmas Trees, and Packages...they deeply enjoyed the "giving" of their gift. 

We may not be raising musicians of note, but we are hopefully raising beautiful young people whose character is strong and whose love is offered abundantly.  They each have talents of their own, but part of their talent might just be in being willing to tackle the hard things and continue to work diligently at them even if it doesn't come naturally.  No one will know the hours of work that it took for the kids to be even this bad at music! Hahahaha!  And someday, who knows?  Actually, when one considers the challenges they each have...Kenny with his auditory processing issues, the girls having only a single American Christmas under their belt and only hearing most of these carols one year, Josh being at the piano a mere 6 months, and Matthew not having a natural affinity for music but loving it anyway...they each did just fine and exhibited great confidence.  That's more important than talent, as that confidence will branch out into areas in which they DO have talent and will serve them well one day.

Most importantly, they know they are loved...and a few women know that love is returned.  Isn't that a little of what Christmas is all about?

Our wonderfully supportive Women's Union, who helps make summer camp possible for all our church kids!

The Gift Exchange...Kenny had a picnic basket for a short time until it was exchanged for a nutcracker.

We all cracked up when Joshie got books about "Old Age", but they too were exchanged for flashlights.

I know others have cuter kids, but I happen to think they are the most beautiful God ever created!!!
What blessed parents we are, and serendipitously I think the banner behind them says it all.