Saturday, March 31, 2012

Waiting on Me

I know that many of you might not prefer my more "churchy" posts...or my more "adoptiony" posts...or my more "homeschooly" posts...or maybe even ANY of my posts! Hahaha!  But sometimes this is the place where I work things out, or where I write what is on my heart even if it is of no interest to anyone but me.  If you get something from it, terrific!  If not, then I am sorry, come visit another day when your preferred topic is on the table :-)

There are a lot of things in our lives right now which are in limbo, or are obviously headed for change.  Our church family is facing what many congregations are right now with the economy and trying to figure out which direction God is leading us in to meet the challenges.  You know how dearly we love our faith community, so this is very important to us right now.

The economy is effecting us at home as well, and we are working hard and praying hard on that front as we await word about whether we will have to look in other directions for part of our livelihood.

Our children are continually failing to "stay put" at any given stage and we are rushing headlong into the teen years while still trying to make up for lost early years...a combination that often leaves my head spinning and trying to figure out just where any particular child is at any given time.  This is a much harder task than it might at first seem when you have almost 14 year olds still begging not to give up the Playdough to the church rummage sale, or who one minute are deeply involved in a conversation about geopolitical turmoil and the next are making blanket forts and pretending to be a super hero.  And of course, there is the fact that we have 4 kids a year and 4 months apart in age, all entering adolescence at the same time.  I am not complaining, honestly, for we have it so very easy and I LOVE who they are becoming, but it is a lot of burgeoning awareness about a lot of things in the world, leading to incredible conversations that make me think harder to communicate than most folks do.  English level is amazing around here for 2 years home, but it still is a challenge and will be for a couple more years.

There has been something helpful though over the course of the past several stressful weeks.  Carrie DeLille, who is Kenny's friend Amir's waiting Mom (Amir is STILL in Kyrgyzstan waiting to come home where he belongs!), gave me a wonderful devotional book when we visited last summer, titled "Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence".  Now, those of you who know me in real life might not see me as the "devotional" type...I take my faith very seriously, as you all know, but I am a bit atypical in many regards.  However, I have so loved this and it is as if every single day God somehow knows exactly what I need, so Jesus sort of talks to me through this each morning.  You know, over corn flakes or maybe late at night in my bed for a quick "hit" before I nod off to sleep.

The devotional for March 26th was so apropos for where I am  right now, and it reminded me of how we have come to live our life together in our family, what we are trying to model for the kids, and really it is the only thing that gets me through...but I am not talented enough to word it this way.  When I think back, particularly over the past 15 years or so since moving to Colorado, gradually this way of viewing the world has become richer and richer over time and it actually has brought me peace when I walk this way and don't start heading into thinking I actually "run the show".  Let me share it with you here:

Waiting on Me means directing your attention to Me in hopeful anticipation of what I will do.  It entails trusting Me with every fiber of your being, instead of trying to figure things out yourself.  Waiting on Me is the way I designed you to live: all day, every day.  I created you to stay conscious of Me as you go about your daily duties.

I have promised many blessings to those who wait on Me: renewed strength, living above one's circumstances, resurgence of hope, awareness of My continual Presence.  Waiting on Me enables you to glorify Me be living in deep dependence on Me, ready to do My will.  It also helps you to enjoy Me; in My Presence is fullness of Joy.

The very first line is my life, corny though it may sound to you.  I try very, very hard to wait for God to clue me in. Normally, I am an impatient person.  I think fast, I talk fast, I decide fast.  I have a very strong sense of direction in life, and I size situations up at an unnaturally quick pace.  I seldom live in limbo unless forced, not because I jump without forethought, but because usually I assess well enough to trust any moves I make, and once I have a sense of direction, I see no reason to hesitate.

There are situations though, when you have no choice but to wait because the way forward is simply not clear.  There are times when you have no business rushing into anything, unless you want to make a huge mess of it, and you need to sit quietly and wait to hear what God has to say about whatever is ahead of you. I don't know how any of this works for others, but there are times when I am absolutely, completely blown away by how obvious it is that God wants me to walk in a certain direction.  I have been stunned time and time again, when doubts arise, to have God find ways to reassure me that are so loud and clear that you'd swear a bull horn was next to my ear!!

Most often, I find this kind of awesome experience happens when I have been willing to do things I flat out didn't want to do or never saw myself doing, but God did...and I trusted in that alone.  Sometimes I have gone kicking and screaming like a spoiled toddler into something...homeschooling, leadership roles, or even writing a specific post or taking a stand...and it is in those very activities that feel completely God-led and filled with Cindy-dread that I most often encounter the Holy.  And WOW, is it ever totally worth it.

So I guess we will remain waiting on God, waiting for direction, waiting before jumping.  I won't say I am not fearful sometimes, for surely I am.  But at least I am learning not be terrified every moment of the day, I am getting better and better at "...directing your attention to Me in hopeful anticipation of what I will do."

Because what God will do will far surpass anything I might be able to envision.  As this season of Lent winds down, we await New Life.  God says "Wait on Me, Wait on Me, Wait on Me..." and you'll witness something transformative.

Wait on Me...

Ok, God.  I'm waiting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This Flowing Toward Me

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a fairly voracious reader.  Luckily, I read fairly quickly as well, for with my life I need to squeeze reading in during bathroom breaks and late night stints.  For me though, reading is like breathing.  My mom used to tease me that if I was in the bathroom with no book, I'd read the Lysol can!  She was correct on that.

I don't limit myself to any genre, but I do find that my tastes have changed and I read very little fiction these days, finding biographies and real life narratives to be far more interesting.  With our book club at church I have read some wonderful selections, things I would likely never have picked up but really enjoyed.  The book we discussed last night though, was one that I would have absolutely grabbed off the self on my own had I seen it first.

This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers was an insightful and deeply moving work in which author Sister Marilyn Lacey shared her encounters with God as discovered in her interactions with refugees.  Her compassionate and Spirit filled descriptions of life as seen through the eyes of those newly arrived  on American soil helped the reader imagine, if only briefly, the terror, confusion, and anguish of their circumstances.

While I found much that was rich in this book, there was one line that really stood out for me.  After sharing a tale of a young Sudanese refugee hospitalized for an appendectomy fearfully asking about the organ donor permission form, she takes his literal question of "Why would I want to give my heart to a stranger?" and turns it into something beautifully metaphoric, and it had me asking myself "Why WOULD I want to give my heart to a stranger?"

Although there was much in the book that I had little to no experience with, maybe the fact that I have actually had to ask myself this question repeatedly over the past several years  was why this statement resonated so deeply with me, and called out to me to consider it on an even deeper level.

There is an experience unique to adoptive parents, I think, in that we literally do give our hearts to strangers.  Our family is absolutely NOT unique in this. We all intentionally put ourselves in a position of incredible vulnerability as we approach a child and make a lifelong commitment to them long before we really even know them.  It is a reciprocal act, as the child does the exact same thing, and both parties hope desperately to be accepted, to be bound together by the invisible bonds of love that sometimes take years to braid together into a strong cord.

I remember sitting in front of the computer screen the night we received word that Kenny was no longer Toktogul Mursaev, but just a few hours earlier had become forever Kenneth Toktogul LaJoy.  We now had a new son, 8 1/2 years old, and in an unusual twist in international adoption, we had yet to even meet him.  Yes, you read that right, we legally adopted a child, court was completed, he had our name, and other than a couple of photos we had never been in his presence.

It was past midnight, and Dominick was fast asleep, and there was this moment where I thought to myself "This is sheer madness!!  I would never recommend this to anyone else in a million years!  What in the world have we done?" and yet despite the truth of that statement, despite what should have been an overriding sense of fear and moving into self-protection mode, there was nothing but complete joy.  We were parents again!!  We had a new son!!

I can honestly say that God drove that bus, God guided our every move, and God flowed in and around us throughout the entire process.  I can't begin to tell you the strange yet wonderful mix of emotions that draped over me as I met Kenny for the first time, knowing I was meeting the son who already bore our name, and that there literally was no turning back.  He was tiny, he was darling, he was an overstimulated wreck!  God continues to flow through Kenny and into our family, as God flows through each of us and into the heart of our family.

Each of us was at one time a stranger to one another, each of us has had to ask the question in real life "Why would I want to give my heart to a stranger?"  For some in the LaJoy family, it was not very obvious that they should give up their heart, for others it was a simple act of acceptance and they never looked back.

Sister Marilyn Lacey's answer to the question was "Because God shows an unnerving proclivity to show up in the stranger's guise."  How true this is!!

So, now that I have managed to practice this a couple of times in my life, the question now is, how do I put it into practice in life aside from adoption?  How do I take what I have learned, and search for God in the eyes of the who might at first be a heck of a lot scarier than an infant?  How do I challenge myself to take ever bolder risks, how do I encourage myself to keep seeking God in those places and faces that seem so unfamiliar and admittedly make me uncomfortable?

You know what the coolest part is?  It is that I have already had a taste of it, I already know the intensity of experiencing God in the eyes of a stranger...even one who at first rejects you.  After reading this book, I think I have a better understanding of why so many parents return to adopt a second or third time, or even more.  It is because, whether they identify it that way or not, they are experiencing the fullness of what God has to offer all of us when we give our heart to the stranger.  It is not about doing good works nor about taking care of someone who needs you.  It is that God is present in an act that is all powerful, we catch a glimpse of something hard to describe.  While others may say "Oh, you are such a saint to 'save' those kids!" what they don't know, and might not ever be able to understand, is that you yourself have somehow, miraculously, been saved.

I want God to flow toward me.  I want to continue to feel that deepen.  I want the courage to do more, to feel more, to LIVE more.  I think my prayer for a long time to come will be "God, help me give my heart to the strangers I encounter, God help me feel you flowing toward me."  If I can succeed at this, if I can surrender myself to that one single thing, then I can't even begin to imagine what amazing things might happen in and around my life.  I yearn for it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Softly Whispered

It is after midnight, and though my head gently rested against my pillow at 10:30 tonight, there was much unexpected work to be done.  It is Campout night in Mom and Dad's bedroom, and we were surrounded by not so little bodies tucked into sleeping bags, Sunny not wanting to be left out and joining us as well.  Before "lights out", the subject of Trayvon Martin came up, and I explained to the kids what had happened to this African American young man.  They saw photos of several folks in hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon's family, including a picture of the Miami Heat basketball team.  They were appalled at the facts they heard of the case, and we decided tomorrow we would quietly honor Trayvon by wearing hoodies to church ourselves.  I love that the kids were motivated to want to act in some way, with Angela even suggesting we do as some folks in some cities are doing and stage a public show of support for justice for Trayvon somewhere in our own town.

The conversation wound down...or so I thought...good nights were said, lights turned off, and as so often happens, that was when the real conversation began.  There in that small bedroom, with children, parents and a dog packed in like sardines, the darkness and physical closeness encouraged an openness that comes only rarely in many families.  Matthew quickly fell solidly asleep along with Dominick, but four others were not quite ready for their brains to turn off, and clearly the discussion of Trayvon triggered something for each of them.

Big Questions were thrown out...why is there so much hatred in our world,  why are some people valued more than others, why do good people often ignore bad things.  Bigger Questions started coming...does God cry over situations like Trayvon's, from our newest family members who are just beginning to understand the story of Jesus...where is Jesus buried, and do the people of Jerusalem consider their ground sacred.

Somehow, I am not sure really how, the Biggest Questions started coming...from Kenny "Is love a decision?  Is hate a decision?".  That was at least ten minutes worth of conversation.  That drifted to Joshua "Was it a hard decision to love me when I acted like I hated you?", and we begin to see he is processing what effect his Reactive Attachment Disorder had on those around him.  Angela asked "Do you think adoptive parents get jealous or upset if their children want to find their biological parents?" and we talked honestly about the emotions surrounding birth parent searches on all sides of the adoption triangle, and she even corrects me when I use politically incorrect language in saying "real parents", telling me "No Mom, remember, they are biological parents.  The people who love you, and raise you and stick with you are the real parents."  I am seeing more clearly that there is a sense of security now, and we can begin to at least think about biological mom without immediately pushing those thoughts aside.

Then, from right beside me, for the first time Olesya speaks up about her family, having never really done so on her own before.  I hear a very quiet "I don't remember anything, what do you know, Mommy?"  I slowly start to share the facts as I know them, and the stories I was told.  I share what I know, and admit that with international adoption much of what we think to be true may not actually be all there is to the story.  We talk about alcoholism, about good and evil and whether to apply those terms to an alcoholic or mentally ill person.  I am asked if I think they could ever possibly find their parents one day, and I respond that I am not sure how easy it would be, but that it is possible.  Olesya remains quiet, then says softly "Maybe she really did love us, but just couldn't get better...she could have had an abortion...and she did come back to try and get us once.  Maybe she isn't all bad."  And I know this is the first time she has considered this.

From below the foot of the bed Angela shares "When she came to the orphanage after getting out of jail, I told them I wouldn't see her, and that I never wanted to see her again."  I ask "Do you feel badly now that you did that, or are you OK with that?" There is a moment or two of silence, then she said "Sometimes I just don't know what to feel."  then "What would you have done, Mom?"

Talk about a hard conversation to have.

I carefully say "You know Angela, I think you did the right thing to protect yourself and your sister.  I think you showed a lot of wisdom at that moment.  Your Mom had already shown herself to be a very violent person, and you were finally in a safe place."  Then Olesya asked "But what if she had stopped drinking, should we have gone with her then?  Doesn't Jesus teach us to forgive people, and that people aren't perfect?"  Angela sits up, and I know my answer to this is very, very important, and that doubts are rising to the surface that have long been tamped down.  Dominick is snoring softly beside me as Joshua asks "And should I forgive my mom when what she did was really, really wrong?"

The weight of expectancy fills the shadowy room, lit only by the closet light behind the closed door.  Man, they sure don't cover this in those parenting manuals.

"You know, there is a difference between being an adult when we make decisions, and being a child.", I begin, "And Angela, you girls were children when all of this happened, you still are.  You can not control your future yourself, you need adults to take care of you until you are grown up, and you need to have those adults be people you trust 100%.  Jesus does teach us to forgive people, but Jesus doesn't ever want us in danger. You can forgive someone, Olesya, and still recognize the fact that they are not safe.  If Angela had said it was OK to go with your Mom, and they had come to get you, then you two would have been powerless if she started drinking again.  You may have been in a lot of danger.  It's not about your Mom being perfect or not, and its not about whether you girls forgive her or not.  It's about looking at a situation and making the best decision you can with the information you have to keep yourself safe, and that is what Angela did."

I then went on, "You girls may or may not have forgiven your mom.  But you knew A) She was an alcoholic, B) She was a very violent alcoholic, and C) In the orphanage you were finally safe.  Knowing all of that, even if you forgave her, those facts did not change, and I do think Angela made the right decision."

So typical of Olesya, she said "I know it sounds stupid, but I sometimes wonder if it hurt her feelings a lot."  I replied "You know, that is one thing I love so much about you, Olesya, your tender heart about others.  I am sure it DID hurt your Mom's feelings!  But you know what?  It is always OK to hurt someone else's feelings if it keeps you safe.  You can NOT let someone else's hurt feelings draw you into something that is not good for you.  It is OK to care that you hurt someone, but not if it keeps you from making the right decision to keep yourself safe."

Angela is still sitting up, hanging on to every word.  I then add "And Joshie, yes, it is OK to forgive your Mom even if what she did was really, really wrong.  We have no idea why she made the decision she made to leave you the way she did, and we will likely never know.  But would you want me to forgive you if you made a really, really big mistake?"  Quickly he said "Yea, I would, and you have said you'd love us even if we were in jail!" I add "But forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting.  Forgiving is letting go of anger, it is recognizing that every human is capable of doing really bad things...even us. When we forgive, it helps us heal and let go of the power that person who hurt us has over us."  He said "Sometimes, Mommy, I think I have forgiven her, and sometimes not.  Sometimes I get mad because I can feel I put a wall up around myself, and I think that is her fault."  Another first, an explanation of what he feels like at moments living as an outwardly healed child of RAD.

Angela has finally laid back down.  Kenny pipes up with "Wow, Mom, you have made me think about deciding to love and deciding to hate in a lot of different ways.  Our birth moms maybe made decisions not to love, maybe they didn't hate us, but they decided not to love us anymore.  Then you and Daddy come and decide to love.  But then WE have to decide whether to love you or not, and then we have to decide whether to love or hate our first moms and dads.  This stuff is really, really hard."

You can say that again, Kenny.

Then Angela speaks, "You know what I like most about you, Mom? I can talk to you about anything in the whole world, even sex stuff, and I know some moms would be uncomfortable, or maybe get jealous about us talking about our biological families.  You always make us feel OK to talk about things.  But what I like best is you help us to see both sides of everything. Remember on that TV show where the adopted girl wanted to find her biological parents and her adopted parents got all mad and hurt? Then she had no one to talk to, and she got all messed up.  I don't think you or Dad would ever be that way, I think we could talk about it with you and you'd help us understand everything and not get jealous or mad at us."  Then, said vehemently "And you guys are our real mom and dad, even if we have only lived with you for two years.  No one has ever loved us like you guys do.  You show us all the time, and you give up so much for our family.  Before I came home, I didn't really understand what parents were supposed to do or be like.  Now I have seen a lot of families, and I know ours is very, very special."

Then, perhaps most importantly she added, "I am glad you think I made the right decision.  I sometimes felt bad too about it, because I didn't even let her see me even once.  But I was scared, and I was afraid if I saw her I would feel sorry for her, or she would talk me into going and getting Olesya and going home with her, like I wouldn't be strong enough.  Then she might still be drinking and we would be stuck.  Maybe even she could kill us.  I always wondered if I was wrong to say no and not see her.  I think tonight I feel it was OK."

Olesya then interjected "Remember, Angela, Mom said that its OK to keep yourself safe! Don't feel bad, I am glad you told her no."

The conversation began to finally come to a lull, as one by one my precious children drifted off to sleep. I tossed and turned, unable to shut my mind off.  The softly whispered doubts and fears of children far too young to have to deal with things like worrying about life altering decisions, holding on to legitimate anger, and struggling with the teachings of Jesus as played out in their own lives.  Yet it is these exact struggles that have created the deep souls Dominick and I have been blessed to live with.  Would I change things if I had that sort of power?  I don't know, I really don't, for all five are so extraordinary in our eyes, that the decision to go back and rewrite their personal histories would most certainly result in very different children walking through life beside us.

I wonder, after conversations such as these, if my answers are adequate, if they are able to help heal and restore, or if I am unwittingly causing more harm.  I'll probably never really know.  I'll continue to softly whisper words of forgiveness, of encouragement, of assurance.  Maybe, one day, those words will be believed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


I have had a lot of things circling me the past couple of weeks, which has kept me from having a cohesive blog post appear in my mind.  I usually won't force myself to sit down and write, things come to me and I sorta say "That'll blog" and I know it is something I want to either work out in writing and clarify in my mind, or that I want to make certain I don't forget to share permanently for the kids.  I sometimes think we are so fortunate to have so much of our day to day life recorded here, as inane is it surely must be to others.  But as the kids grow older and I can clearly see our time together winding down as we hit these early teen years, I am even more committed to making sure I never stop.  One day we will all be sitting around the table laughing as we recall these captured memories that otherwise would have been lost to the haziness that naturally comes with time.

Because nothing in particular is standing out for me at the moment, but a little of this and that, I am writing about a few random things below in no particular order.

1)  Peyton Manning...not $60 Million but $96 Million. Not much more to say there, as it simply boggles the mind.

2)  Had a lunch date with Joshie today, as the older kids had another day of state testing to complete, so he and I did what we rarely do as a family and went to a "real" restaurant for a meal.  Josh is not a child I would classify as a "Chatty Cathy"...that award would go to Kenny LaJoy #1 and Angela LaJoy #2 in our family, but today Josh yacked about all kinds of things.  We talked about what he might want to be when he grows up, and how much he loves statistics of all kinds.  Every Friday it is his turn to have the front seat of the car (we have a five weekday, we never have an argument about who gets the front seat so it really works!), and he loves to plug in the GPS even if we are just driving to Walmart and back.  He is fascinated with the calculation of miles and altitude changes by feet that appear there.  He loves calculations of all sorts, and spends a lot of time thinking of birth and death dates that overlap with famous people, or looking up mileage on maps.  I jokingly told him we were going to have to outsource Statistics in high school for him, and he might be one of the very few kids on earth who would actually look forward to taking that class!  He grinned widely at that.  He is at that stage where his front teeth still look big and bulky in that grin of his :-)  We sat across from one another and talked about our fortune cookies and he asked Big Questions like "Mommy, what if we think we know the smallest parts of atoms and stuff, but it is really only another universe and there are tons of things even smaller?" or "Do you think everyone here thinks I am Chinese?  It's a pretty good joke that I am Kazakh!"  How much I love being alone with each of the kids!

3)  CSAP testing (our annual version of their state academic tests) has gone well for all the kids.  in the past, much to the chagrin of most of their teachers if they had known, I always made it a point to clearly tell the boys (the girls weren't home yet) that they should always do their best at anything they attempt, but that this test was not a measurement of anything that was really of value to us.  You can't measure character, you can't measure creativity, you can't measure work ethic, and really, you can't measure intellect.  This is just a very narrow way of trying to figure out what basic material a kid understands...or, probably more truthfully it is a way of seeing who tests well and who does not. With the kids we have, we have to keep this as low pressure as possible because they will be years before they "measure up" to their grade related peers, and even longer before they catch up to age related peers.  Thankfully, they all take it in stride, were more interested in the "cool lunches" that were provided...Domino's and Taco Bell (You can see my kids don't eat out much! HAHA!) and all felt good walking out of the test.  I shared on Facebook that Kenny and Angela summed it up best when I asked if they were nervous the first day.  Kenny said "I don't care what I score, as long as I try hard.  I already know I am smart but sometimes it hides!"  I LOVED that and it was such a change from where he was a couple years ago in thinking about himself.  Angela said she wasn't nervous and "...they can't test for everything we are smart in. We might not look smart on some things, but they don't really know us!"  You know, if our kids take only that knowledge about themselves into adulthood, I will feel we were pretty successful.

4)  I have a huge and important writing project ahead of me the next couple of weeks (No, don't even ask, it is not a one would read it if it were!), and it was neat to see the kids glom onto that for some reason.  I was asked all kinds of questions about my "writing process" I going to approach it the way they have been learning, how many rough drafts will I have, how long will it take to write it, will I do brainstorming, etc.  They want to see how this writing stuff they have practiced works in a real life application.  So I promised I would share with them every step of the way, so they could see I really wasn't making them do "busy work", that the writing process is indeed what most of us use when we have a project like this. They want to see how many mistakes I make, and are intrigued to see how many changes I make to the initial rough draft.  Their interest was awesome, for it tells me they are all beginning to connect the work they do at the kitchen table every morning with the fact that one day there will be a reason for it all...something that many of us took years to discover and it made the day to day drudgery of schoolwork feel meaningless.

5)  I am at a stage right now where I am experiencing tremendous growth that is coming through doing very uncomfortable things.  I was reflecting on just how much more able I am to see the layers of things than I was even just a few years back.  Growing older has its advantages, for sure, and I hope that one day I can truly be called "Wise", for that will mean I have taken in much of what God has put before me and worked with it...really "seen" it...and processed it.  I have a long way to go, but it is now nice to see that what I urge the kids to do all the time, to "do the hard things", is paying off in unexpected ways despite the discomfort...and that I can model for them working through the difficulties of assuming new roles, of trying new things and feeling awkward at it, of persisting even if you aren't very good at something so you can experience at least a modicum of success.  I am not big on "self-esteem" as it is often "developed" in today's world.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is critical that a child have a healthy, balanced, realistic sense of self-esteem.  But our culture today has somehow come to a place where we don't really understand how a child develops that healthy self-esteem.  It isn't by telling little Johnny how wonderful he is, or by never pointing out his mistakes.  Self-esteem doesn't come from the outside, like a cabbage in a pressure cooker where the lid is slammed tight and glowing words are thrown in the pot with it to be "cooked" in and absorbed.  Self-esteem comes from trying, from failing, from trying again.  It comes from getting to know who you really are through hard work, through experiences, through successes...even little ones.  Of course, that is how it works with a child in a reasonably supportive, nurturing environment.  Take kids like ours who come from very different backgrounds, who have had UNreasonable lack of support or nurture, and it is a whole different ball game. Throw in learning disabilities, adjustment issues, and understandable doubts about self-worth that naturally spring forth from the mere fact of being adopted...of being unwanted by birth parents for whatever reasons...and you start behind the "Self-Esteem 8 Ball", so to speak.

Funny though, the solution really seems to be the same regardless of a child's beginnings.  Kids are far wiser than we give them credit for, they clearly know when they are being "played". They know if accolades are deserved, if compliments were earned, or if both were handed out without merit.  I have watched all our kids, but particularly our children adopted at older ages, and their self-esteem began to blossom only when they began to see true success. We could have complimented them until we were blue in the face, but kids know authenticity when they hear it.  One exception has been when we pointed out gifts and talents we were noticing that they had never seen before in themselves, then you could see they really internalized what they were hearing and it made a difference.

6)  Trusting God's leading can be darned hard.  It is scary, it leaves you sitting in a life that is often filled with uncertain expectancy.  Listening for God can be even harder, interpreting the ways in which God speaks to you is somewhat of a practiced art, one I wish I was far better at sometimes. The cool thing is that God does speak, is always present, and often finally resorts to the equivalent of a Vegas sized neon light with a big ol' arrow to help you finally hear what God is saying.

7)  That leads me to a conversation I had in the car with the kids this week, as we talked about some challenges in our lives at the moment.  What an extraordinary gift it was to hear Matthew sagely say to me "Mom, we can only do what we can do.  We all work hard, try to do what we know is right, try to help others, and just make a living. The rest is really up to God.  Don't worry, just do the hard work and leave the rest up to God to handle."  To hear 12 year old Matt say this, my child least willing to express his faith,was so reassuring to me as a parent.  It means that one of the Big Lessons we have wanted to teach our kids has actually taken root, and will help him along his own life journey as he encounters his own challenges.

8)  Lael came across a used bread machine and presented it to Olesya along with an older recipe book (which means REAL authentic bread recipes). I am eternally grateful for now I won't have dried, hardened, glue like dough all over my counter all week long.  The first loaf was made and shared with Lael, and I imagine tomorrow we will have at least 2 fresh new loaves to try.  You know, if you aren't very domestically oriented yourself, it is a gift of grand proportions to have a lovely daughter who is!

9)  Lovely conversation this afternoon with Angela contributing the most.  We were talking about the writing project, and how Daddy just can't pull that together easily on his own...that it isn't his gift.  We then proceeded to run down a list of the special gifts and talents everyone in our family has to "bring to the table", and how with 7 of us there are few that overlap!  Angela said "Mom, our family has someone who is good in just about everything! No wonder we make such a good family!  That's why we can all get so much done, because we all do what we are good at and no one fights over it or makes anyone feel bad about not being good at something.  You and Dad are so opposite sometimes, but you don't get mad, you just say you'll do this or Dad'll do that.  I want that when I grow up too, 'cuz then the family does so much more together!" I hadn't really thought of it that way before she pointed it out, but as the kids grow older and are more capable, we have all fallen naturally into our non-appointed, organically assumed roles:

Josh:  Spider Killer, Eventual Fish Gutter, Record Keeper and Mileage Calculator (Maybe one day a tax preparer??)
Olesya:  Head Girl Scout, Pet Caretaker, Chief Organizer
Kenny:  Senior Salesman, Head Orator, Resident Theologian, Mental Mathematician
Matthew:  Logic and Strategic Commander, Car Packing Supervisor (He packs even better than Dominick does), Mr. Responsible
Angela:  Group Psychologist and Human Analyst, Gentle Project Director, Self-Motivation Role Model, Chief Hoarder (Hahaha!)

Dominick and I fill in the gaps :-)

It feels weird to end at #9, but that's where this night ends, or shall I say early morning.  If you're wondering why no photos lately, well, we haven't done anything "photo worthy", and my battery charger broke for the camera's proprietary battery pack.  I keep forgetting to order a new one, and will try and remember to do so tomorrow as I want to get out with the camera a little now that the weather is warming up.

Night all!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

$60 Million

Sometimes, when reading the headlines, one has to sit back, cross their arms and say "Really?"

Last I read, Payton Manning is being offered up to $60 play a game.  Yes, he plays it well.  Yes, he is much sought after.  Yes, he may donate time and money.

But what does it say about our culture when a grown man is offered $60 million to play a game, that MANY athletes, actors and rock stars are paid exorbitant amounts of money for performing or playing?

One man is being offered this, and will no doubt accept that offer or one close to it.  Multiply that by the many "superstars" in all the various fields who are paid vast sums of money, and you have a sum of money that is unbelievable.

Just for kicks, I looked up the annual total salary paid out in the NFL.  Note that I am not adding in any other sport or field, like music or Hollywood, just the sport of football.  Can you even guess what the estimated annual payroll is for one year for grown men to go play a little catch and beat each other up?


Don't blink, you read it right.  $3.2 Billion Dollars.

I was stunned, I knew it would be high, but over THREE BILLION DOLLARS????

And think about this, that doesn't include any money earned from endorsements, that is strictly salary from the teams.

When are we Americans going to wise up? When will we stop contributing to this? We complain about overpaid CEO's, and how they receive millions in bonuses even when their companies are failing.  We also complain, just as I am doing tonight, about the highly overpaid sports "heroes", and yet WE are the cause of this, WE pay their salaries.

If we didn't buy terribly high priced tickets, if we didn't buy $150 Nikes with some basketball player's name on the sole or jerseys with  our favorite stars names emblazoned across the back, the teams wouldn't have the revenue to support such outrageous paychecks.

I know there is the argument of paying what the market will bear, or paying for performance, or the generation of income from superstars whose presence lures more fans to pay ever increasing ticket prices.  I get it, I really do.  I just don't like it, and I don't see how anyone else can either.

Let's say we cut those salaries in half...not take them completely away, but make it a mere $1.6 billion per year. What could be done with $1.6 billion dollars?

A lot of mortgage payments could be made.  A lot of schools could have new technology and afford to hire the best and brightest teachers.  Job training could be offered,  health care could be provided, and mouths could be fed.

Oh, I know I am oversimplifying it, and I know that any money saved by keeping salaries at a more reasonable level would not mean that money would be transferred to such things.

But still, it makes you wonder, where exactly are our priorities as a nation?  Why do we all continue to "feed the machine"? Why does a police officer earn...say...$175,000 over a 5 year period while Payton Manning can collect, potentially, $60,000,000 for throwing a ball around?

Now I am not knocking Payton Manning personally, and like anyone who is offered such a deal he'd be a fool not to take it.  But wouldn't it be amazing if sometime an athlete rejected such ridiculous offers and demanded something more reasonable...say...a million a year instead of twelve million?  Wouldn't that just restore your faith in humanity?

Crazy, I know.

Guess I'll go back and see if I have any coins under the cushion of our couch :-)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mommy to Loveland

I plugged in the GPS Thursday afternoon, and searched for the location I needed as I prepared to head over the the Front Range for the homeschooling conference I was going to work at.  There, on the screen, was the saved "favorites" Matt had programmed for me ahead of time..."Mommy to Loveland". Something about that had me grinning from ear to ear.  Maybe it was the "Mommy" still being used occasionally out of my ever-more-strapping 12 year old young man, or maybe it was the entire concept of Mommy going to a place named Loveland, when really as I pulled out of the driveway I was actually leaving my best version of "Loveland".

I had a terrific time at the conference, speaking with many wonderful parents and gaining insight and perspective on my "job".  Working with Carrie, my cohort in crime, was even more fun than last year and we were delighted to discover that Brenda, another vendor Mom we had met the previous year was right behind us and able to visit a little.  Oddly, as the weekend wore on, it felt almost like old home week as I also ran into Teresa, a long time adoption buddy and then for the first time met Lori...a Kaz adoptive mom I have known via the internet for about 10 years but have never had the pleasure of meeting face to face.  She and I spoke on the phone years ago prior to her bringing her son home who happened to have cleft lip and palate, something I did not at that time anticipate ever dealing with in our own family.  I loved how my world seemed so small this weekend, so filled with connections from different directions.  It reminded me that really, relationship is where it is at.

While it was nice to have my little get away, I missed my family.  There are moments during my hectic days when I yearn for just ten minutes without hearing "Momma!", but maybe that ten minutes is enough.  Speaking on the phone to each of the kids, hearing about their days, chatting with Dominick as he so tiredly tried to keep up conversation, I knew that no matter what else is going on in my life, and whatever I may have missed out on by walking down one path rather than selecting another, I made the right choice for me.

Coming home, it was even clearer.  Met before my car even hit the driveway by a bouncing Kenny and Joshua waving as I pulled up the street, and being attacked by the girls the minute I walked in as they excitedly asked about my weekend and shared all about what I had missed, there could be no doubt about what is and shall always remain the most important thing in my life.  My family is everything to me, as it is to Dominick.  I never, ever, ever take it for granted, I realize the blessing it is to live among the people I live with, and I know there are so many who wish they could come home to a family every day whose warmth and care envelopes them.  How the seven of us were drawn to one another and knit together as family is the work of  God, who took loneliness on both sides of the planet and matched hearts like perfectly fitting puzzle pieces.

I know the life I lead would be completely unfulfilling to some, and rather overwhelming to others.  That is why there are so many options in this world for the many different personality types!  Although I have had a string of other jobs, and there are activities I have been involved in with school, church or other groups, nothing can take the place of this.  Nothing feels as certainly right.  I think the thing that hits me the most, is that finally I have let go of "should have" completely, as I see what I am doing as the ultimate "should have" that I would have deeply regretted not doing had I made other choices for my life.  It's a nice place to be, resting in contentment.

I am Mommy of Loveland...the best job in the world for Cindy LaJoy.  

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Off To Work

Tomorrow I leave to work over the weekend at a homeschool show in Loveland, Colorado for Nancy Larson Science.  I am really looking forward to the chance to have some extended adult time, and to visit with a new friend I met last year who worked with me...a sweet homeschooling Mom who I instantly liked.  We should have a lot of fun together!

While I am gone, Dominick and the kids are on their own.  I was thinking today how very, very fortunate...and is that we have children who are so self-motivated.  Every week they have a check off sheet for all their assignments and subjects.  Some are workbook pages or things they do on their own, some are for subjects that I teach.  We have a very loosely organized schedule around here for school, although it is more structured than some are, and less than others.  As in everything, I think our family is very middle of the road, moderate, etc.  I teach the subjects I teach to them as a group, like history, writing, literature, science, current events and some other language arts work.  Then they work on the other subjects like spelling, phonics, math and grammar (Dominick corrects and works with them on that in the evenings) on their own at their own pace and in whatever order they like.  As long as it is all completed by the end of the week, we are good to go.  The amazing thing is that every single week, every single kid has every single thing done...and then some.

And I don't say a word or ever remind them.  Ever.

I know that sounds impossible, I know you won't believe me or will think I have to nag.  You would be wrong. And you know what?  I realized today I totally take that self-motivation for granted.  In my own effort to self-educate, I read homeschooling forums in various places online, and I have often gained some great perspective and good ideas there.  One repeated theme is "How do I get my kid to do their work?" or "My kid complains and drags their feet all the time, what can I do?"  Here I have five of the greatest little workers ever, and I never really give it a thought that every day is not a battle.  What a lucky, lucky mom I am! No wonder I enjoy every day!

I have had occasional questions in person and via email about what our homeschool looks like/operates like/feels like.  I thought, since homeschooling is my weekend work this week, that I would answer a few of those regular questions here, so here goes!:

1)  How many subjects do you teach?  Do you teach them all each day?  It seems like a lot as I think of them to jot down here, but it really isn't.  During the course of the week we have music, art class, PE, history, current events discussion, grammar, writing, literature, spelling, phonics,science, timeline work, and then whatever other oddball thing that gets thrown in.  Matt doesn't have a phonics, but he does have German and Civil Air Patrol curriculum to work on.  We do not do every subject every day, instead doing them in longer time blocks than they would in regular school or than many families do.  I tried to do a page a day in workbooks, etc. but it just didn't work for us as I know it does for others.  It was too shallow, too quick, too raced.  We found our natural rhythm by doing math almost every day, and then other subjects a couple times a week in 1.2-2.5 hour blocks.  Then we can really get into the subject and accomplish a lot, and staying on topic longer allows us time to discuss things at length, especially history where we often drift into comparisons or contrasts with current events.

2)  What is your schedule?  Are you strict?  Anyone who knows the LaJoy's knows that "flexible" is our middle name.  However, we DO keep a general schedule, trying to get to work no later than 9:00 a.m. and most often we start at 8:30 a.m.  We have a mid-morning break sometimes, sometimes not, I leave it up to them.  We break for an hour for lunch, then we have a mid-afternoon break of a half an hour or so.  We honestly work until about 4:30 or so most afternoons, and many times we are still at it until 5:30.  I will often tell them they can be done at 3:30 or so, and they will be in the middle of something and ask if they can keep at it.  We are not strict about it, and if we are up late one night, I will let them sleep in a little the next morning...not until 10:00 or anything, but I have been known to have a 9;00 a.m. wake up call on occasion if I feel they are run down or if we were out late the night before.  I don't freak out over anything, and because we are diligent when we are working, it allows freedom often at other times.  One thing I AM strict about is interruptions...I don't answer the phone during the day unless I am expecting an important call, as that can really eat into our time quickly on a regular basis.  I also realized early on that if I didn't respect our school time, others wouldn't either.  This is our job every day, and we work hard at it!

3)  How do you teach everything with 5 kids?  I could never do that!  Yea, I wondered about that too in the beginning!! HAHAHA!  We are fortunate to have "groupings" because of the ages and experiences of our kids, so I teach everyone but Matt a few subjects together, then Kenny and Angela group together and Olesya and Josh group together with Matt on his own.  Everyone always has a free reading book with them, and if they have to wait for me they must be reading while they wait, or working on something else.  Their workbooks they do alone without direct instruction are corrected by me after school hours, and if I see problems we work on it one on one.  Dominick handles math, and the kids have instructional DVD's that help teach lessons and work through every problem if necessary, as teaching every one of them at a different grade level would pretty much be impossible by myself.  Dominick does instruction and correcting in the evenings and on weekends, and he is a VERY good math teacher, far better than I would be.

Honestly though, the way I can actually teach all five so many different subjects is that they listen to me, they don't mess around, they take it seriously, and they are respectful of me and helpful with their siblings.  If they are stuck on something and a sibling is nearby who already knows the material, they assist each other if they can.  They give each other their spelling tests if I am unable to do so.

Another not to be overlooked point is that we have had amazing help offered when we need it.  Our church family has stepped forward in ways that are unheard of and offered classes, tutoring here and there, covering for me when I need to be gone for one reason or another, sharing expertise, etc.  Although, of course, the bulk of all the teaching is in my lap 95% of the time, this sort of support keeps me sane, gave me courage, and gives me respite.  Not having family around to step in, this help means the world to us.

4)  How do you know what to teach? Where do you find your materials?  Well, I spend far more time on the internet than I wish I had to in order to discover materials that work well for us.  Our needs are a bit different, as you can imagine, and with Kenny I need to think even more carefully about what we use.  I also spent a lot of time in a sort of discernment process early on, assessing on paper what was important to us that the kids learn, where we thought our own education was lacking years ago, what we valued, what we felt was not as necessary. etc.  I also thought long and hard about a basic approach, and realize after discussion that we thought that "drill and kill" was pointless, and we were far more concerned with our kids developing solid critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze, and we also wanted them to know HOW to learn so they could gain confidence and recognize they could pursue learning themselves on any subject they were interested in.  Then, after creating some solid framework in my own head, I started to research curriculum and through trial and error have found things that work quite well for us, most of which are not necessarily mainstream.  We do not use public school textbooks, but we might for a subject here or there. We use real books when possible.  We use a literature curriculum from a Jewish publisher, an independently created history curriculum, a homeschool mom developed language arts program, and a blended homeschool/public school science curriculum.  I comb the internet for current events stories to share and we use maps to locate where on the globe those events occurred.  I use YouTube all the time for illustrations, as well as Google Images.

I do NOT follow any sort of state or federally created scope and sequence, I have a general game plan laid out through the end of high school, and we are following it.  We use grade leveled workbooks, etc. so we aren't exactly missing anything, but because of our kids all being above or below grade level, we just work through things systematically and I let go of outside expectations.  We will graduate them when we have covered all the material they need to cover to function well in whatever path they plan to walk down.  I teach things as they arise organically as well, if an interest hits us, we make time to follow it even if it takes us off course a's always, always worth it.

5)  Do you or the kids miss public school?  Sure we do, sometimes!  We met some terrific people there, we felt we had good teachers for the kids, and we sometimes miss the group activities available in that setting.  But overall, with our unique family make up, this works 100% better, and we don't miss anything enough to ever want to go back, especially the kids.  They love learning independently, they actually prefer not only being around kids their ages but instead enjoy being around a mix of adults and kids of all ages, such as at homeschool activities we occasionally attend, and they all think they learn in a more interesting way.  Matt in particular likes that he has time to devote to science, free reading, and Civil Air Patrol, and he realized he would not be advancing in rank as quickly if he were in public school because he wouldn't have the time to pursue it as much.  The girls, coming from a much smaller orphanage school environment were very glad they weren't plunked in public school as it was too intimidating, too large...homeschooling is actually closer to their prior educational experiences.  Kenny...well...he will never learn well in a traditional setting and we accept that as very true now.  Joshua says he never ever wants to go back because homeschool is just more interesting.  You know, with any decision you make in life, you can't have it all and you give up something to gain something.  For me, I am now in an unplanned "career" and it still sometimes is an adjustment to have so little interaction with adults all day long, or to not bring home a paycheck, or to not have something outside the confines of the family.  It is not bad, and I am not fact I was more unhappy in years prior as I knew what I was missing out on being away from the kids so much with work and then scrambling to get it all done in the evenings.  But it can be difficult in different ways, and I have to work hard at finding opportunities to get out a little more and socialize.

6)  What do you like to teach the most?  The least? not like math...can teach it if I have to....but do not enjoy it at all, and of course, that is one subject that almost all the kids actually like!  You'll think I am crazy, but I truly like teaching every other subject!!! It's fun, it's great to watch their progress, every subject is interesting if you want it to be, I guess, and I am a person who always loved learning.

7)  Are you worried about homeschooling high school?  No, not at all.  I used to be at first, but now that I have more experience and know more resources, I am not at all intimidated by it and know we will do well with it.  I think we can guide the kids better towards careers and higher education that makes sense for them as individuals.  I know there will be a few things we might need to outsource, a math class or two and maybe a science class or two, but other than that I can teach the rest with good teachers materials at my disposal.  History and literature are a snap, I'll brush up a little more on essay writing but not worried about that at all either.  Will it be a lot of work on my part?  Yup.  Oh well, won't be the first time nor the last time.

8)  Would you ever put the kids back in public school if they wanted to go?  Sure!  Probably not Kenny, for obvious reasons that he would not learn in that environment, but if the others had a burning desire to go to school, we'd let isn't prison or anything :-)  However, I have a funny feeling that even already, they might be ruined for that.  They like how they learn, not just what they learn, and that makes a difference.  Would I want them in public school?  Well, quite honestly, no...I think we feel homeschooling is healthier for them on many fronts...but we still wouldn't say no if they wanted to go back.  Remember, we don't exactly have the "norm" here in our home, that makes a big difference.  We are a team and we work together for the good of everyone, and we take their concerns into account as we make decisions.

9)  Be honest, what bugs you the most about homeschooling?  There are a few things that are bothersome to me.  One is the superiority that many homeschoolers project as well as the race to prove whose kid is the biggest genius, as if there are no "average" kids who homeschool.  Another is the exclusive nature of some groups, that disturbs me to no end.  I also dislike being lumped together in someone's mind with other homeschoolers who are reclusive, world rejecting, and very, very different from me...but somehow simply because we have chosen a different educational path there are assumptions made about our beliefs, be they religious or otherwise.   There are as many different homeschoolers out there as there are  public schoolers.  I hate feeling defensive about our decision, and am sometimes put in the position to defend our choice.  Maybe this one gets on my nerves more than it otherwise might, because Dominick and I have already spent an entire decade having to explain and defend our decision to adopt/adopt internationally/adopt special needs/adopt even more.  Maybe I am flat out sick of simply being a family walking around in Walmart, and being called into question for 10 years over things no one would dare ask a family that looked like they matched and weren't out with kids during the middle of the school day.

10)  Do you think everyone else should homeschool?  No way, absolutely not.  Do I think many could and should? Yes, I think there are a lot of kids who could benefit from one on one education.  Most would, really, when we think about it, and many kids DO fall through the cracks.  BUT BUT BUT...not every family is suited for this, not every kid is suited for this, not every parent is suited for this.  Many, many kids do quite well in public education, I did, Dominick did.  I will say I would have loved to have homeschooled, and my mom has said that if it were common she might have considered it back then.  Surprisingly, after the initial shock of hearing we were making such a big decision just as we were also preparing to travel for the girls, she was very pleased and is quite supportive of it.  I think we need much stronger public schools so all kids get a good education.  I think we need more alternatives, more ways to personalize curriculum, more recognition that what works for one kid does not always work for another...our kids are not cookie cutters.  But we will succeed or fail as a nation as our schools succeed or fail.  It is in NO ONE'S interest to see public education disappear, despite the staunch opinions of those on the way far right of the homeschooling spectrum.

Well, it is time for sleep as I have a big weekend ahead.  Off to Loveland tomorrow!!

Monday, March 05, 2012


Walking along our local river bike path late yesterday afternoon, children scootering back and forth and Sunny sniffing her way along the trail, I unexpectedly stumbled into a moment that I have tried for 24 hours to figure out how to put into words.  I won't do it justice, not matter how much effort I put into it, nor will it be important to anyone else reading this...but it absolutely must be captured somehow to be read some years down the road.  It was one of those "I knew it when..." experiences.  Let me give some background...

Challenging one's self to tackle new roles or tasks can throw you for a loop, even as an adult.  I have been in the midst of a minor crisis the past month or so, as something new in my life that I prayerfully agreed to do has me feeling inept and struggling to gain a foothold.  I am completely uncomfortable, and I feel surprisingly awkward, reminding me of my middle school days.  I felt out of place and had the most difficult of my academic years as I flailed about miserably the first semester in the gifted program where there were kids who were waaaayyyyy smarter than I was and clearly, I had barely made the cut.

I left the program two years later so grateful I had hung in there, and so glad that my mom had urged me to not give in to my insecurity and initial failures.  This time in my life feels like that first semester all over again, and I hope that if I do as I did in 7th grade and just hang in there, I will eventually be able to look back and see a year or two of tremendous growth in myself.  For now though, it sure isn't easy.

It was with this hanging around my neck yesterday that I went for a walk with the kids while Dominick was finishing his workday.  I was wrestling with many distracting thoughts as we worked our way along the riverside path.  All the kids were on scooters except Kenny, who not being the most coordinated of the kids prefers sometimes to just walk the dog and run her around to get exercise.  After about 20 minutes I see him ahead waiting for me, and as I catch up to him we begin to walk in step with one another, side by side, as the sound of the rushing water creates lovely background music.  Everyone else is long gone, laughing and chasing one another up and down the sloping cemented pathway.  Kenny quietly asks "Hey Mom, what're you thinking about?", and I share in a generic way that I am having a hard time trying new things, that I need to gain some perspective about it and stop seeing only the negative.  

We walk a little further, and Kenny begins asking more questions, slowly drawing me out and I realize gradually that he is showing an incredible amount of sensitivity and understanding.  We begin to talk more intimately about the power of our own minds to cloud what is real, and how hard it can be to be truly honest with ourselves about our own failings and weaknesses.  He helps me gently tear apart assumptions, he shares about his own experiences with failure or not striving to do his best even when he was fully aware of the cost.  We continue walking and talking, uninterrupted, as my son ministered to my soul in a way no 13 year old I have ever known could ever do.  

Without sharing the details of certain situations with him, which would have been inappropriate, I talk openly about searching for God in all that I am doing right now, knowing that walking without the knowledge of that presence leads me to places that never work well.  Kenny then asks such astute questions such as "So Mom, what activities are you involved in that God is not really a part of?  Maybe those are the ones to give up so you have more space in your heart for the things God really wants you to do."  Together we talk about my schedule and where God was in each thing.  He laughs as he says "Well Mom, because you always ask God to help you figure out what you should do, it is sorta hard to find things God isn't in!", but sure enough, we did find a couple of things I can cut out.  Kenny also tells me how much he respects that I always put family first, and that he knows how much I personally gave up to be home with all of them homeschooling.  He even leads the conversation into the direction of strategies to help me have more time to pursue something adult and just for me, because, as he puts it "You need your batteries charged too, and even though you get some grown up time without us, most of the time it is about things for us need something that has nothing to do with us and is all for you."

Then, because he still is that 13 year old boy, he runs on ahead dragging Sunny into the mud as he chases his siblings in the late afternoon light.

I needed God to appear, and there God was in a small boned, big hearted young man whose own life has taught him a great deal about failure and success, about commitment and sacrifice, about self-acceptance and determination.  

But it was really about more than my needs being met in such a surprising way, it was God speaking to me about Kenny's future and how God is smack dab in the middle of it.  This was a Kenny I had never seen before, one who displayed a depth of understanding about how to engage someone in ways that lead to helpful self-examination that afterward left me completely flabbergasted and feeling wholly incompetent to parent such a child.  I can't accurately capture the feelings here, it would be impossible, for how does one describe having sudden certainty about a child's connection with the Spirit, and perhaps a clarity about his purpose in this world?

The kids have teased him for awhile now about Kenny one day being a pastor, that was something I have never really seen for him, nor would I ever push any of our kids in any specific direction for their lives are their own to discover, not ours to direct.  However, yesterday afternoon I was witness to something extraordinary, and it was as if I was also being whispered to by God "I have very unusual plans for this child, continue to fight for him...I need him in ways others might never expect."  I know to others that might sound completely corny, but to a couple of readers who know Kenny personally,  it might just not be surprising at all.  Really, it is no different than seeing clearly for Matthew that he absolutely must fly planes one day, for that is who he is in his soul.  That may not mean that it is for a career, no more than it might mean that Kenny will go into ministry and pastor a church one day, but if one listens for that whisper, certain things become crystal clear.  Kenny has something in this world he absolutely must do, because God is calling him to it.  We may not know what that is, but I now know beyond all doubt that God is guiding something for Kenny, and Kenny is listening.  I need to listen even more intently myself.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


The blog may have been quiet over the past couple weeks, but my brain was not.  There were several reasons for my brief sabbatical, but mostly I guess I was uninspired to write anything.  I was ruminating on a few topics, and had a school project I was working on for the kids for their end of the year field trip, which we submitted to our district in hopes of gaining approval for a Colorado State History trip to Denver to see several sites.  If we don't get the approval to use the remainder of our allotted funds for the year we will not be going, so we are hoping there are no glitches.  While it was less complicated than last year's trip, it still takes a significant amount of time as there is a lot of documentation required.  From what I have learned, most folks don't go through the hassle of submitting everything required to use their funds for such trips, but I guess after 5 international adoptions, this seems like a cake walk! Haha!  All that paperwork paid off, as there will be almost nothing that ever comes our way again that will intimidate me.  Yes, I hear the nods of agreement from all of you who have done the same thing :-)

There seemed to be a theme to my musings this past week, and that was how much happier we all are when we have a passion in our life.  Helping our children discover their passion and helping them pursue it with gusto is, in my opinion, one of the most important jobs any parent can have.  Sure, we all want to teach them manners and morals, and in our case there are the ABC's and the 123's, but somehow all of that seems to pale when contrasted with two key things...Faith and Passion.  Without either, life is opaque, you can still make out a path, but it isn't well lit and certainly not inviting to walk down.

You all already know about the faith piece in our family, I share a lot here on the blog about what we believe, and how we integrate faith as a part of our daily life.  The fact that we attend church every Sunday helps, but it is probably not the most important part of our efforts to raise our children in the Christian tradition.  I would like to think that the thing that has the greater impact is quite simply inviting God to be present daily in our home.  I will not say that I think it is the fine example Dominick and I set for them, for we fail miserably all too often, and I think there are others in their lives who live far more faithfully than we do who are a much better example of what we actually wish we were.  However, at least the kids see us striving each and every day to be Spirit connected, and that has to count for something.

Passion is the tough one, particularly with kids adopted at older ages.  Why, you ask?  For many reasons, but mainly because they come to you much older and without the earlier developmental exploration having been done that is the framework for anyone figuring out who they are and what they really enjoy.  This may seem silly, but I wonder how many other parents of older adoptees have found it difficult to buy birthday and Christmas gifts the first few years home.  Each of our "olders" has taken a long time to begin to settle into anything that truly interests them.  They flit from one thing to another, just as toddlers will do, trying something for a short while, abandoning it for something else, maybe circling round again to the original activity or deciding it really wasn't their cup of tea after all.  Without claiming to be any sort of expert here, I think this process is not only inevitable, but quite necessary.  I think until you have parented a child that is older and comes from a severely experientially deprived background, you don't really sit back and take stock of just how many enrichment activities and day to day opportunities exist in child's life when they grow up in a family, all of which helps he or she define who they are.  This is sometimes hard to explain to others when they ask what your kids are "into", and you don't have a decent answer for them.

We feel fortunate that one of our children has such a strong sense of himself and knows exactly what interests him.  Matthew needs little nudging in any direction, and has the same passions he had when he was 3 years old, only they have blossomed further out to include the fringes of what he first loved.  At 12 years old, his Lego creative life is still going strong, and provides him with the creative tools to build upon another passion...aircraft.  Taking that another step, Civil Air Patrol is a dream come true for him as he studies fervently the physics of flight, leadership skills, and aeronautics in his pursuit of one day obtaining his pilot's license.  Add in his love of history, and his pleasure in reading any history book he can get his hands on, and Matthew has made it very easy to steer and guide him toward his passions.  We also realize this is fairly unique, that a child would have such a strong sense of where his passion lies at such a young age.

With Kenny, we are only now beginning to see a passion surface, and odd though it may seem, theology has grabbed hold of him and is shaking him hard!  While it might be a surprise to some, maybe  to those of you who have read the blog since it started back before Kenny came home it is not.  He is a very unique young man, and I discovered very early on that when discussing his own behavior, I made more headway when I related it to faith than I did when faith was absent from the conversation.  This passion, however, is a harder one to work with and encourage in someone so young.  After all, there isn't any sort of "Theology Club" for 13 year old boys!  AWANA with Scripture memorization or a standard youth group type environment would never fulfill Kenny's needs in this area, as even after he came home from church camp this past summer he couldn't understand why he couldn't manage to engage kids in conversations that were of a deeper theological substance.  Thankfully, God plopped Kenny right smack dab in the middle of a congregation who would accept his differences, and yet still see something hidden behind all of that and support him in numerous ways.  There are few places where a child like Kenny would not only be allowed to attend the adult study, but would be encouraged to participate.  There aren't many pastors who would help gently interpret his responses, or work hard at subtly reframing others' comments in such a way that Kenny is able to understand and be more fully involved.  There are few places where someone (Thank YOU, Lael!) would offer to take an entire weekend and travel with Kenny to Denver in April so he could meet his theological idol, Marcus Borg, and  attend a conference where he is lecturing.  While it might make our parenting job much easier if he were a typical kid and had a passion for GI Joe, baseball, or Scouts, parenting a child like Kenny is absolutely fascinating, and his unusual passion is a gift in many, many ways.

The girls are still feeling their way along, with Olesya doing lots of flitting from one thing to the next and Angela finding so many things interesting but unable to settle on anything firmly.  Whether it sticks or not, I don't know, but Olesya has developed a love of baking, and is checking out all kinds of books from the library on decorative cakes and goodies, and is making her Amish Sweet Bread recipe anytime I'll allow the mess in the kitchen.  Lael delivered a bread recipe book today, one that she herself had used for years, and Olesya spent every free moment this afternoon marking recipes she wants to try, and she spent much of this evening watching cake decorating on Netflix.  Don't laugh too hard, but I have promised to take a cake decorating class with her this summer.  If anything, my supreme failure at it will give her confidence, and it will give us a little something to do together, just the two of us.

Angela, on the other hand, is really finding it hard to find a passion, although she may not realize it but she has stumbled upon one which we all laugh over today.  Way back when she first came home, Angela stated clearly on several occasions that she did NOT like books, and would only read if she had to.  Today she was excitedly sharing with me about a book in the Trailblazer series which she just discovered and is gobbling up.  She happily told me she was going to try and read them all.  I have a feeling it will take Angela longer than the others to really find herself, because she is not a crafty person, and she no longer expresses much interest in pursuing sports, which were her initial passion out of lack of other options.  For Angela, it almost feels as if the entire world has opened up to her and she is savoring simply being in that world before traipsing down any particular path.  I think, though, that another unrecognized passion for Angela is a simple  This girl loves her family SO much, and her idea of a GREAT evening is all of us being together doing anything...reading, playing, telling stories, watching a doesn't matter.  Often she will say "I wish we didn't have to go anywhere or do anything tonight, I just want us to have a family night!" Eventually, she will settle on something, as she has many gifts and is still a "baby" in terms of how long she has been in a family and had the opportunity to be exposed to a large variety of things.

Little Joshie has passions, but they too are unusual...numbers of all kinds, dissections and a recently discovered one...shooting.  He received a BB gun for his birthday from his best friend's mom, and last week we hit the backyard for the first time with gun in one hand, and Diet Coke cans in another. The girls and Kenny all came along and listened as I instructed Josh in how to use the gun safely.  I heard my Dad's lessons clearly come back as I handled the BB Gun and impressed upon Josh that this was still a weapon.  My Dad would take me target shooting sometimes, and I owned my own .22 rifle when I was a teenager.  Luckily, we live out in the country and have several acres of vacant land behind us, so we have the perfect set up for having fun with a BB Gun.  We loaded it, set up our can targets, and then plinked away.  Josh kindly gave everyone plenty of turns, and no one could hit the broad side of a...well...a Coke can! Hahaha!  We started out about 10' back, no luck...Olesya couldn't hit it, Angela couldn't hit it, Kenny couldn't hit it.  Josh picks up the gun and the first 10 shots hits it 7 times.  I move him back to about 20 feet, he hits it again about 6 or 7 times.  He is a total natural!  Our friend had seen that last summer when we were in Colorado Springs with the kids and they were shooting at a coin operated gallery where Josh hit the targets easily over and over again.  Me? Let's just say that Josh is a chip off the old block :-)  Every once in awhile I say a little prayer of thanks to my Dad for the hours he spent teaching me things that were not traditionally girlie activities.  All the kids were laughing saying "We better not get mom mad!  She is a great shot!".  Thanks to Josh's shooting prowess, we are investigating junior shooting clubs, where he can perhaps further develop a new passion.

As parents, we all have so many things we wish to cram into our allotted 18 years.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of schedules and chores that we neglect the things that make a life feel whole.  "Doing" just for the sake of doing is pointless. Being able to say "Yea, my kid in in Scouts and on the football team and in the choir and the debate team and the business club and..." is cool, I guess.  But are any of those things truly what they are passionate about?  Or are they "busy makers", attempts to keep them occupied, or if older to have them look good for scholarship applications?  It's taken me awhile to really get it that it is not at all about how much you do, but what you do that matters.  I'll often suggest activities or opportunities that come up, and every year I ask about sports as seasons come upon us.  The kids know now that they are safe to say "No, I have no interest in that." if they really feel luke warm about it.  They are also free to say "Sure, I'd like to at least try it!" even if they are uncertain if they will ultimately like it in the long run.  We try to be mindful about providing opportunities for exploration, yet let them know firmly they never have to say "yes" just to please us because we suggested something.  They have options, lots of them, and our job is to help them sort through them until they find the ones that make them grin!

And my passion?  What is it?  Awww....that's not fair, you already know :-)

Proud Moment Sneaks Up On Us

Tonight was TaeKwonDo rank advancement test night, and the excitement was in the air all day about the big evening ahead!  Uniforms were washed and ironed, dinner couldn't be eaten beforehand, and everyone was chattering away about who would be breaking boards and if they would succeed.

The excitement is growing with each test period, as Matthew and Joshua are now red belts working toward black belts.  While that will take another year or two for both, they need to complete much harder patterns and attain much greater technical skills before achieving that difficult goal.  Tonight, however, the joy was muted a bit as Josh was not being allowed to test for his first black stripe, while Matthew was invited to do so.  It was explained to Joshua that he was the youngest red belt out there by 4 years or more than the rest of the students,  and that although he was certainly making good, solid progress he was not yet quite ready for the black stripe advancement test.  We had spoken with his teacher awhile back, and  we all knew that because of Josh's very young age it would be likely that he would slow down in advancement as he moved higher up.  After all, it doesn't quite seem right to have a black belt when you are not even able yet to break a board due to age limitations!  At nine years old, Joshie still has 2 years before he can even attempt it.

Everyone suited up tonight and headed out, and all the kids felt a little bad for Joshua, because they realized this was not really a matter of him not being ready, it was more about something he couldn't control...his age.  Josh, however, said nothing and there was no sign at all that he was upset about the situation.  Unlike other kids who don't suit up or even show up on the night of testing if they know they are ineligible, he said he was going to participate anyway because it wouldn't be right to pout about it, and he wasn't mad anyway and totally understood.

We get to the gym, and the place is packed with anxious students and parents, all ready to show off their hard earned skills.  Angela and Olesya were first in the green belt group.  They giggled and smiled their way through their exercises and patterns.  Olesya is known as the one who can never stop grinning and always gets teased about it by their teacher :-)  Kenny was up next with the blue belts, and after having been ineligible last time to test this time he was outstanding and clearly had made great progress!  Even I was surprised at how much he had improved.  Then it was time for Matthew and Josh with the red belts.  They did their patterns, they sparred, they exhibited their techniques with various moves.  All the while, Josh was not just keeping up with the older students, he was solidly in the middle of the pack, definitely even better than some in several areas.  He was so serious out there, but ran over to us twice to have us retie his new pants which are waaaayyy too large in the waist and kept looking like they were going to drop to the ground!

The time came to announce the advancement awards, and suddenly his teacher approaches Josh, bends down and has an earnest conversation with him.  I see Josh listening quietly, hands respectfully behind his back and head hung low as he was taking in what was being said to him.  His teacher puts his hands on Josh's shoulders, gives them a little squeeze, and I assumed he was giving him a pep talk to reassure him that he shouldn't feel badly about not advancing tonight.  I look to see if Josh is upset, but his face revealed nothing so it appears he is fine with the decision.  He did his best, he can't change the situation, and he has nothing to be ashamed of so he holds his head high and stands there willing to be with his classmates despite his personal disappointment.  Joshie has never been the kind of kid who needs to be the center of attention, and sometimes his quieter demeanor means he gets overlooked when in a crowd.  He is self-assured for a young boy, and he simply goes about his work, whatever that might be, and needs little in the way of compliments or accolades.

Tonight, however, Josh's quite confidence was finally not overlooked.  As the red belts were called up to receive their black stripes, we were all surprised to discover that Josh was called up as well!  They didn't even have a certificate prepared for him, but there he was, at least a head shorter than every other red belt standing there receiving his black stripe.

Class ended and I went up to speak to his teacher.  I wanted to explain that he had not needed to give Josh the stripe because of fear of hurting Josh's feelings, and to let him know we had already been working on preparing Joshua for the slow down in rank advancement.  Their teacher has gone out of his way to be extremely kind to our family, and we wanted him to know he was 100% supported in any decisions he made about the timing of advancements.  As we spoke, his teacher shared with us that he had made an incorrect assumption about Josh's abilities prior to the testing, and that upon watching Josh tonight the other teacher pulled him aside and said "Now why are we not giving Josh his advancement?  He is as good as anyone else out there, regardless of his age or size.  I don't know why he isn't getting his stripe tonight."  They both agreed that they had been wrong, and that they couldn't hold Josh to a higher standard simply because he was younger, so he fully earned his stripe tonight.

While that, of course, made us is not what made me proud of my dear son tonight.   His teacher revealed to me what his conversation with Josh had been about, and he said he asked him "Do you want a black stripe tonight even if I don't have your certificate?  How do you feel about that?" and Josh replied "No sir, I don't want it.  You don't have to feel bad not giving it to me.  I have to earn it and you said I am not ready, so I am OK with that.  Don't worry, I'm not sad.".

What kid, at 9 years old, would turn down something they have worked for months for if it was offered to them, because they wanted to feel it was legitimately earned?  What kid, at 9 years old, would so graciously accept that which might not even look fair from the outside, and still participate giving his very best and not whine or cry about the unfairness?

While the other kids all performed well, breaking boards and showing their TaeKwonDo prowess, and we celebrate with them their accomplishments, the night really belonged to Joshua.  There are times when we all get frustrated with our kids, when they drive us up a wall, when we wonder if they will EVER grow up.  Then there are moments like tonight, when you stand back and watch your child, and realize that in some ways, they have already grown up.  There was much more on display tonight than TaeKwonDo techniques, Joshua's character was on display in a very subtle, quiet moment. Our pride had nothing to do with skill, and everything to do with the fact that our youngest son was the epitome of grace this evening.  I admire him deeply for so many reasons, what we saw tonight was just one of them.