Monday, October 29, 2012

A Really Great Day

Our parenting experience has been very different than many folks have had.  We have had different mountains to climb, we have different backgrounds to work with, different skill sets and disabilities to integrate, and different emotional make ups.  None of this is bad, it is just not the norm.  We have also made decisions in parenting style that go against the norm that we get questioned about, or looked at quizzically about.  I am sure that we are judged harshly by some because we refuse to be penned in by what "everyone else does", because we have kids who are not like everyone else's.   That too is not really bad, it just is what it is, and over the years we all have grown relatively immune most of the time to the stares of others.  Those who love our family offer us a safe place to be the very different family we are without judgment, and they understand the necessity of parenting our kids differently.

But every once in awhile, we get the normal experiences that everyone else has, and when we do, it is kind of nice to feel you "fit", even if just for a moment. This weekend was one of those.  It was the annual end of the season volleyball tournament, which turned into an unexpected 12 hour sporting endurance test! Haha!

Our homeschool group's volleyball program is nothing less than phenomenal.  The coaching is outstanding, the teams from junior varsity all the way up to varsity exhibit skill definitely not found anywhere in our local middle or high schools, as that has been mentioned to me often from parents of public and homeschooled kids alike.  Our teams most often end up in the finals of the tournaments they compete in, and have a reputation for excellence that was unknown to me prior to signing the kids up last year.  I have since learned why.

This year was just different in many ways.  It was great to have all four of the older kids playing, and such fun to watch them all as they grew in skill level from season beginning to end!  What was a bonus to me was that somehow, somewhere along the line, I became a little more accepted myself as a mom among a group of moms who have, in some cases, already been homeschooling for 10 years or more. Last year, I was definitely the odd man out and was seldom even spoken to at practices or games.  I have no idea what triggered the switch, because I didn't do anything different myself, but from the very first day I had moms chatting with me who hadn't said a word to me all season last year.  I hadn't realized it at the time, but I had really felt like a bit of an outcast for no discernible reason, and I just accepted it as part of our homeschooling journey.  However, I will say that this year was so much more pleasant, and it was nice to be at practice so long and have women to chat with, women who though they probably will not become close friends at least opened the circle and allowed me entrance.  It is amazing what intentional inclusiveness can do for one's spirit.  I was able to get into casual discussions about curriculum, high school planning, and homeschool lifestyle differences with parents who understand that sliver of my life.  One mom, in particular, who outwardly has absolutely nothing in common with my life, went out of her way to offer companionship, and I really, really appreciated it.

Aside from the excitement of the tournament, it was just one of the loveliest family affairs we have attended.  It was made even lovelier by our adopted family here coming to watch the kids, as Mr. Steve and Miss Jane managed to hang tough for several hours of playing and cheering for the kids. Having no extended family nearby, we are always so grateful for the many friends who have stepped into the role of encourager for the kids over and over again.  It means a lot.  There were many other things we enjoyed about the day, such as seeing our kids pair off with new friends to spend hours playing cards or just hanging out.  I am always moved by seeing older kids who are in their teens who do not have the usual disgusted attitude at being seen in public with their parents, and instead show no concern at all about hugging their mom or dad, sitting near them as they watch a game, have fun cheering together for their siblings, or play lovingly with younger siblings with no disdain.  One big difference in general that I have noticed with homeschoolers is that there is no age bias.  It is so common that it is almost expected that older teens will play with younger kids, pushing them on swings or playing tag or cards. Kids aren't left out because they are too young, or too small, and that is nice to witness.  It was also great to be among a group of people who don't think we are odd balls for homeschooling, and who also don't give it a single thought that we have five kids.  In fact, in that group, our family isn't large at all as there are several who have 8 or 10 kids!  We seem like the smaller side of "larger" families there.

Angela's team started the tournament with a loss first thing in the morning, and we figured our day would be short as Kenny, Matt, and Olesya's team had lost their first game the night before.  As the three played their second game and lost, we figured we were right on schedule to leave early in the afternoon, but boy were we wrong!  More on that in a moment, but first here are a couple of pics of the three kids.

Matt at the ready. He looks so big these days!

Kenny didn't get to play much during the tournament, but he did get to serve a couple of times.  He  had a lot more playing time this season, so that helped him keep his great attitude.  He is so supportive of his team!  With having two other siblings on the team who each played more than he did, Kenny showed his usual grace and had nothing to offer but compliments.  What a gift this young man's special heart is in our family.

Trying hard!  Gotta get it over the net!

Give Olesya another year of practice, and she just might be quite the player!  She never played before this year,just as Matthew hadn't, and she improved so much over the course of the season.  She did quite well this year, but it is easy to see that over time she has the chance to be very good. It will be such fun to see how much she changes next year, as she will be starting with more experience and confidence.

Matthew also had never played and he improved an awful lot as well.  His stiffer back kept him from digging the ball when it was down low, but he really has great ball control and his sense of strategy has him working hard to place the ball exactly where he wants it on the other side of the net.  He too will be interesting to watch with another year under his belt!

The biggest challenge for the kids was for Olesya and Matthew to actually call the ball instead of standing there looking at each other after it dropped between them!!  Haha!  Each would often play side by side (with 3 on the team, the whole front or back row was often LaJoy Row!) and let the ball drop smack dab between 'em,then they'd look at each other as if to say "Well why didn't YOU get it???"  Here though, Olesya is doing a good job of watching the ball and bumping it as Matt stands back to give her room to work.

As fun as it was to watch the three kids, I think all would agree that it was Angela's team who owned the day for exciting volleyball.  Oh my goodness, we haven't enjoyed something as much in years!  Those kids lost first thing in the morning, then kept everyone on the edge of their seats through four more matches, coming from behind over and over again, working their way through the Loser's bracket to make it all the way to the finals...which ended at 7:00 PM.  Talk about a looooong day, we were all wiped out when it was all over.

You know what though?  Wow, was it worth it.  We had the unique privilege of seeing one of our kids shine in a way that seldom ever happens.  Angela ROCKED it, getting better and better throughout the day until by the second to last match she was doing things that the entire crowd was surprised at.  Man, this kid is such a natural athlete, it isn't even funny.  She was at the net defending against spikes from boys who were well over 6 feet tall, she was digging the ball from the ground as she pitched herself the floor to get it then bouncing back up as quick as possible to get ready for the next ball, she was consistently slamming overhand serves, she was just amazing to watch.  She had a good season, but it was as if it all came together for her on the day of the tournament, and one of her coaches told me excitedly, "Today she is doing every single thing we have worked with her on all season.  We knew she could do it, but she just needed to see she could...and MAN is she doing it!"

What I loved most was seeing her repeatedly set her teammates up for shots throughout the day, and how she had no need at all to act like a show off.  She just played her game calmly, graciously and quite skillfully.  At the end of the tournament I thanked her coach who told me that Angela was a real joy to work with because she had such a great attitude, and had tremendous potential that she showed that night.  She made me promise that Angela would play next year, as if that was ever even in doubt.  Another longtime parent sought me out because she wanted to tell me "I have been here year after year, and I have never seen anyone play like your daughter did today.  If they gave out tournament MVP awards, she'd win hands down.  I watched her all evening and I didn't even have anyone on the team!"

I realized as I took at  look at the pictures after putting them on the camera that I got almost no decent ones of her because I wasn't allowed to use flash, and she was just moving all over the court!  Here are a few:

Regardless of Angela's excellent play, the greater success was reflected quietly in something no one else would ever be aware of, and it is more important to her ultimate success in life than her ability to bump a ball over a net.  Sitting there watching her excel, it was hard not to compare it to a frigid winter day 2 1/2 years ago when we stood on the sidelines of a basketball game in a run down gym in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan watching her play...and being totally, utterly, heartbreakingly ignored by her. It was after that game that we told our translator that this was simply not going to work, and as we stood there in the bitter cold hallway as the tears formed in my eyes, I just wished desperately that somehow I could break through her hardened heart, for I knew what she was giving up in her fear of the unknown.

Fast forward to another gym halfway around the world, one that was cozy and where she was surrounded by family and friends who deeply care about her, and this child who had so dismissed us, the one who was terror filled at even the thought of trusting that anyone would truly love her and could provide the safety she so desired...that same child looked up at me every single time I cheered for her and flashed me a bright smile. It didn't matter where I was, her eyes sought me out, and what passed between us was pure and complete trust, respect and great love.  This child, who for years and years went unnoticed and unloved, this child who had to work so hard at learning to trust another mom and dad had "arrived".  She is cherished, she is precious in the lives of her family, she has the certainty of their presence for the good times, and the bad times.

It was hard at moments not to burst with pride...and that pride had not a single thing to do with what was taking place on the court, but had everything to do with what had already taken place in her heart.  Truly, the effort that took was a hundred times harder than all the hours of volleyball training.  Angela may have helped her team win several matches yesterday, but her efforts as part of Team LaJoy have helped us all to be winners at something that is priceless.

The final point was scored, and the tournament ended with Angela's team losing in the final to the other higher level team from their homeschool group.  It was so sweet to see members of the other team encouraging those on Angela's team as they missed a ball, or made a mistake.  It was competitive, but in a supportive way, and something not often seen in youth sports today.  At the end of the game, the other team cheered our team, and told them how proud they were of their hard work during the tournament.

We had one final surprise left in the evening.  Angela received her medal for her team coming in second place for the tournament. Then came the All Conference awards for individual players.  Our entire family was so happy for Matthew when his name was called to receive an award for All Conference player.  The look on Matt's face was one of utter shock and shy delight as he went up to receive his award.

His coach spoke with us after the ceremony and explained that the award was given for outstanding play but that sportsmanship and teamwork was weighed more heavily in this league than in traditional leagues, as they care more about character and qualities that reflect God to the world than they do about actual ability.  She said that each game, coaches from the teams they play watch and nominate one player from the opposing team, and at the end of the season the coach goes over that list and then makes their selection.  A player has to have two or more opposing coaches vote for them, along with their own coach.  She impressed upon Matthew that this was a huge honor and only a few kids get it each year.  She then turned to me and explained that she wanted me to talk to Olesya as well, because it turns out Olesya and Matthew were tied for the award!  She said she agonized over the decision, because she said "All of your kids are such a blessing to be around, they are so encouraging to others and have such a wonderful attitude.  I just couldn't decide between Olesya and Matthew but I could only award one of them.  I finally had to call my husband who helped me talk it through to make a decision. It was like having to choose between my own kids, it was awful!"   She said her final deciding factor was that during the last couple of games Matthew had shown quite a bit of improvement and was really listening to her coaching.  She then told Matthew, "You tell Olesya that the award is part hers, too!"

The evening ended as we all walked out to our cars in the dark, laughing, talking about various plays, and sharing about how great the day had been.  We had a special surprise awaiting us on our front porch, cupcakes made by our Pastor for a bowling evening we ended up missing due to Angela's team's success.  It was greeted with delightful cries of "Oh we have something extra special to help us celebrate our day!"

And for just a little while, we were like everyone else.  It didn't matter that Joshie spent the entire day wearing big old ear protectors to block out the disturbing sounds in the gym, or that blankie is getting carried around everywhere. It didn't matter that Kenny's awkward gangliness and poor sense of timing makes it tough for him to compete in traditional sports. It didn't matter that we look like a foreign exchange group, or that we struggle with language or learning to read and write, it didn't matter that Olesya still has a hard time telling time on an analog clock, or that Matthew isn't ever going to be able to do running sports, or that Angela still has things to work out in her heart about her birth parents.  For just a little while, we sat around and ate delicious Halloween cupcakes made with great love and shared with us, as we relived the day that just ended.  We were like every other family whose kids had a super day, with some success and some defeat. We were "normal", or at least as normal as the LaJoy's will probably ever be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

For I Know the Plans I Have for You

I sit here at the end of a very full weekend, and there is a lot that is circling both my heart and mind.  One thing I can't seem to let go of tonight, so that is what I will write about.

You see, I am losing one of the most important ministers I may ever have.  We received the news awhile ago, and it was hard to hear then, but tonight I am really grieving the loss which will come at the end of the year.

The past seven years of my life have been a roller coaster.  We joined our church a few months after one of the hardest periods of my life.  Unbeknownst to many, life at home with Joshua was still very challenging as he and I fought together to free his heart to be open to love.  I was still being rejected mightily, and he was so, so scared to let go.  In addition, I had suffered a couple of other even more enormous losses at the same time, all of which combined to create a perfect storm of heartbreak and lack of confidence in myself.

I think we had barely been at church a few months before a friend talked me into trying choir, and it was there that my true healing began.  I was able to actually feel God's presence in a way that no sermon or Scripture passage could ever help me feel.  No one at church had a clue just how much I was hurting, or what a terrible, terrible year I was coming off of.  I had yet to find a trusted circle of friends in town, and my soul was desperately in need of being gently held.

Gradually, as the words of each hymn we sang washed over me, the pain slowly eased.  I began to deeply understand God's care for me, and that I was not alone in this world unless I made the choice to be.  I was ministered to every single Wednesday evening and Sunday morning by the wonderful selections our Choir Director, Janet, placed before us. In many ways, Wednesday evening choir practice became my most intimate worship time, and it still is.  Note by note, measure by measure, line by line...God whispered in my ear of love, forgiveness, and an abundance that I had never really experienced before.  Scripture seeped in and took hold via melodies and harmonies, which never would have happened by merely reading those same passages.

Janet recently announced her retirement, and the loss will be profound.  We are sadly counting down the Sundays that remain with heavy hearts.  It will be nearly impossible to find anyone whose sensitivity, musical creativity, and quiet heart for God equals Janet's.  Having never been in a choir before, but having been in elementary, middle, high school and honor bands, it was quickly clear to me that her talent as a musician is so far above what a small little church like ours usually experiences, and we have all been incredibly blessed by her many gifts.

Today, once again, she ministered to me with the intentional selection of what is probably one of my very favorite songs we have ever sung.  (Jane, don't laugh over that one...I know...they are ALL my favorites!) She then shared with the choir that she knew I wasn't going to be present when she had originally planned to have us sing it, so she moved it to this Sunday.  Janet remembered how much this particular piece had meant to me as we waited for Angela and Olesya all those long years.  As she shared this with the choir, I couldn't help but let a few tears fall, for Janet has literally walked me musically through seven of the most challenging, rewarding, emotional years I will likely ever have.  Through healing, Kenny's adoption, waiting for long yearned for beloved daughters, the heartbreaking circumstances when we arrived for the girls and the months long period of helping them establish trust and revealing their own hearts to us, the ongoing processes of discovering and accepting the unfair limitations our children have due to circumstances that are no fault of theirs or ours, through other life changing decisions such as deciding to risk it and leap from public education to homeschooling which was an incredibly hard decision to make at a time when everything was all out of whack for us...through it all, choir has been there, music has spoken to me.

Life changes, it never stands still. No matter how desperately we wish the good things in our wouldn't change and how we wish we could just stop the hands of time, we simply can not.  Today, however, Janet's selection of my favorite song reminded me that if we truly trust  in God's leading, we will find all our needs are met, and we will live lives of hope and joy:  "For I know the plans I have for you, plans of welfare, not of evil. For I know the plans I have for you, plans of hope and a future."

Oh, how Dominick and I have relied on that very thing!!!  How I trust it completely!  And how I know there are so many who find that a foolish way to live.  God's plans may not look anything like what we think they ought to, in fact my entire life looks NOTHING like what I thought it might.

And how very, very blessed I am that it doesn't.

Change is inevitable.  Most of us realize it, and yet are so inflexible as we pursue a life that is directed by ourselves rather than God, that we miss out on those "plans of hope and a future."  Why?  If we really and truly believe the Gospel of Good News, if we really and truly believe God's promise of a new life, why is it so hard to take leaps?  Why is it so hard to believe things right before us, simply because we did not control or contrive it?  Because change is so very hard, and so very scary.  Fear of the unknown can be crippling...I know, I have felt it a time or two...or three...or four...or more.

For the past seven years, Janet has taught me through music the truth of the lyrics sung today, "If you seek Me, you shall find Me, if you search with all your heart...I will bring you out of bondage, I will bring you home to Me."  It is what I have set out to do as faithfully as I can. I have tried to seek God in all I say and do, I have answered "Yes" when my sense of self-preservation has cried out a panicked "No! No! No!" I held Josh in my arms the second day of our visitation and just knew he had attachment disorder and my soul cried out "No! No!  I don't want to go through this!" I sat in Matt's classroom for the last time just knowing God was asking me to homeschool and showing me right before my eyes where we were headed if we didn't, and my soul cried out "No! No!  I can NOT  do this!  Not with two children who will not speak English and one with severe learning disabilities!  No! No!" I sat with the phone in my shaking hand knowing I had no choice but to call and enroll in ministry courses despite having no clue why I was feeling called to do so (and still don't) as my soul cried out "No! No!  I can't do this, not me!"...and so many other times I have wanted to cry out "No! No!  Not me!  Pick someone else, PLEASE God!"

And yet when we seek God, we shall find God, and we will be brought "home". That is where I always want to be, my true home is with God.  I lived too long in the wilderness, in the bondage that only loneliness can bring.  "For I know, the plans I have for you..."  the plans GOD has for us, which oh-so-often don't match our own.  However, I'll take God's plans over mine any day.

So I will do as my Minister has shown me to do, I will trust that the plans for her life are wonderful plans of hope and a future that is filled with all the beauty she has blessed others with. I will trust that the plans of hope and a future extend to our music ministry, that God will send someone new to speak to the deepest places in our hearts.  For God's plans are for our welfare, and while it will surely never be the same, age and experience have taught me that where there is loss, if one keeps their heart softened, God can work with it to bring something different, yet equally beautiful.

For I know the plans I have for you...and they are good...and God is with us, always.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cheering Squad Tomorrow!

This weekend is an important one for most of the kids.  Volleyball season ends, and the Big Tournament is tomorrow!  Watching practice this week, I can see how all the kids have really learned a lot.  Last night at a scrimmage that I missed, Dominick shared that Kenny, Matthew and Olesya all served very well and even maxed out at the league limit of 5 serves each!  For Matt and Olesya, this was a new sport and they both learned the basics and are catching on.  Will they ever be top players?  Oh, I doubt it, but you never know.  Another year of practice and they'll hang in there with the other kids, I suspect.

Kenny, however, has started to shine a little the past couple of weeks.  He IS getting a little better, even if he still lags quite a bit behind the other kids in terms of coordination.  He is quite logical and assesses his skill level well.  Today, when we were in the car alone for a bit, he told me he is worried about playing next year because it really gets more competitive and he is accurate when he says he will never be very good at the sport.  I love that kid's ability to just accept the truth, and to allow space to talk openly and honestly about things.  I have never believed in lying to the kids just to make them feel better, and Kenny would look at me like I had lost all my marbles anyway if I tried to argue with him about it, so instead I simply agreed that next year would be tough.  However, I asked him why he was playing.  

He thought a minute, then replied, "Well Mom, I like being with the other kids, and I accomplished my goal of not being afraid of the ball anymore.  Also, I think volleyball is fun!  I wasn't sure I'd like it, but I really do." 

I turned to him and said, "Kenny, let's face it, the older you get, it is likely you'll get less playing time.  But, that is not a bad thing if you still want to play and keep a good attitude about it.  After all, you know you'll get to play the whole time in practices, you'll still get to be around other kids and make new friends, you enjoy cheering for a team and encouraging them.  I think that if you remind yourself of your personal goals with volleyball, and don't allow jealousy to creep in when you don't play as much but realize that you are getting out of volleyball what you wanted to get out of it, then you will have a blast all the way through!  Attitude is everything, and if you can accept it for what it will be, then I see no reason why you can't play all the way through high school and enjoy yourself.  Just keep your expectations reasonable and look for all the things you do enjoy about it. And who knows?  As you keep playing and growing, you might find that your skill level increases just like it did this year!"

He thought about it for a minute or two, then he said, "That's what I like about you, Mom. You always help me see the bright side!  I don't really care about winning, or being a jock, so I guess I can still have fun since that isn't my goal anyway!  Thanks for showing me that!"  Then he even added, "And you know what?  I think I want to do track this season.  It doesn't have a ball, and all I have to do is run, so everyone isn't so far ahead of me on that."

I told him I was proud of him for wanting to try track again, and for his super perspective on everything.  He is such a bright light sometimes.

This entire week has been a little rough.  Teenage brain meltdown is happening times four.  If I don't laugh over the circular conversations we have day in and day out, I'd cry.  Actually,sometimes it really IS funny...other times it is just plain old hard.   It's not at all anything bad, it is just typical early teen disconnect.  Anyone with teens knows what I am talking about, it's just multiplied here by the number of kids all the same age, and the bonus added of special ed needs.  Regardless of all of that though, I am incredibly lucky to have such respectful kids to be with all day long.  I also am grateful for their honesty.  When I "call them" on something, they look me in the eye and tell me the truth, especially Angela and Matthew, both of whom have done so this week over minor things that they could have sneaked out of.  Instead they "owned" their mistake, showed remorse over it, and promised not to do it again.  It's silly stuff like goofing around too long and not getting work done, or not getting a small chore done that I had asked about.  

Matthew and I had a long talk about his schoolwork today, and I promised him I would do whatever I could to find help for him.  Thanks to a blog comment yesterday, I did more research on something called "Dysgraphia", which I had looked at once before but didn't dig deep enough into.   What I had seen was signs of dysgraphia in lower elementary students, when most of it is about pencil grip, poor penmanship, awkward physical writing, etc.  When I Googled dysgraphia in adults, I found what I think is very applicable to Matthew, and so does he.  Signs that we see in Matthew are:

In Young Students

    • Illegible handwriting
    • Mixture of cursive and print writing
    • Concentrating so hard on writing that comprehension of what's written is missed
    • Omitting or not finishing words in sentences

In Teenagers and Adults

  • Trouble organizing thoughts on paper
  • Trouble keeping track of thoughts already written down
  • Difficulty with syntax structure, grammar, and punctuation
  • Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech
  • Odd or very unusual spelling

This describes Matt to a "T".  Actually, he was a little excited to learn that maybe we can get some help for him, now that we might know for sure what is going on. So, I guess my evenings will be devoted to online research for the next several evenings.  I also have a couple of things I want to integrate for Kenny, now that volleyball season is over.  I recently learned of something called the Integrated Metronome.  It was suggested by someone, and I need to check that out as well.  

This coming week will be busy, but I am betting it will feel much less so with volleyball over with, and a little more down time.  I'll be gearing up for my two weeks in California with my mom, and trying to get everything done here before leaving for that long, so it won't necessarily be slower for me! Haha!  But once in California I will be able to relax a bit while helping mom out after surgery.  

It is almost 2:00 AM, and I need to stop my research and get to sleep.  After all, we have a lot of cheering to do tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keep on Trying

Josh is deep in slumber beside me tonight, as he once again needed reassurance that all is OK in his world.  Sometimes I wonder what he will be like when he is older, how much of his attachment issues will follow him into adulthood, and how much will gently fade away over time.  Having had a very long conversation today with a mom who has had Reactive Attachment Disorder as part of her adoption experience for years and years, including relinquishment of one child due to fear of physical violence, I can't help but be filled with enormous gratitude that we made it through, that Joshie is relatively whole.  His tender heart, his warm little soul, his eye contact...all are things I will never take for granted

And he still looks so little when asleep, all curled up.

As our weather turns colder, there is more churning beneath the surface.  Matthew and I had a tearful conversation today as we talked about his school work.  He is a very bright young man, and he is growing more and more frustrated over his inability to write and edit his own work.  I had him write a couple short paragraphs earlier in the week, and they were atrocious.  He simply can not figure out the grammar piece, where commas are placed, or where to end a sentence.  He has a wonderful vocabulary, and a definite ear for description. Once edited by someone else, his work is quite good.  However, even after putting it away for a day or two and returning to it, he can not read it as "fresh" and edit it.  I had him read what he wrote out loud, and his brain added in the correct wording where it needed to be corrected, but it was not what he wrote nor what he read.  I have talked to the school repeatedly about it, and am getting no response about testing or having someone dig into it further.  They seem to feel it isn't a big deal.  Clearly, it is to Matthew, and I am at a total loss as to where to turn.

Matthew also works at his own pace, which is Steady Eddie, but not Speed Demon.  His math is growing more challenging as he does Algebra 1 for high school credit, he has a lot on his academic plate with his other subjects, and he is feeling stressed over it, which also led to more tears.  We talked for over an hour as I shared how tough the transition was for me when I was in middle school, how I felt I'd never get everything done, and how I thought everyone was so much smarter than me. They weren't, and I did eventually settle in to a new routine, but not until I had spent several nights in tears with my own mom.  We talked about strategies for accomplishing things, about how work was definitely going to be getting more challenging for him, and we talked honestly about his struggles with writing.  He seemed relieved just to know that someone understood.

What was most important through it all though, was that we even had the chance to have the conversation.  We hugged for a long while, we talked about how important it is to share our feelings when we feel that things are overwhelming, and that I would always be there for him to talk to.  Recently, we spent quite awhile talking about a relationship at Civil Air Patrol that is uncomfortable for him, and I offered him a couple of different perspectives on how he might handle it.  At 13, he is learning how to handle more adult responsibilities and relationships, and sometimes that is just not easy.  Matt is not one to expose his emotions, but somehow he has always felt safe doing so with me and usually I can get to the bottom of things with him.  Watching our children grow into themselves is just as painful a process for us as it is for them.

I was heartened, however, when I returned home from choir practice tonight to have him tell me that he had worked an extra two hours on his schoolwork. This was his way of telling me that he "heard" me, and was going to step it up a notch.  I gave him a big old bear hug and told him I was proud of him, and he whispered to me "Thanks for talking to me, Mom.  It made it all seem easier. I love you."

Yesterday we all went and voted, and for me it was quite a moving experience.  I will be in California with my mom on Election Day, so I had to go vote early.  In we traipsed, all five kids in tow, and I was a bit thunderstruck when they were talking and figured out that Angela will be able to vote in the next presidential election!!  Wow, that one really hit me hard.  I am not ready at all to have adult, voting aged children yet.  However, I pushed aside my personal dismay and said "Well, that is all the more reason for you to be here today with me, to see how it is done!".  We must have looked odd as I had all the kids read the electronic ballot with me, and showed them how to select the various candidates.  When it was time to cast the ballot Olesya said "All of this for over a year, and that is all there is?"  Yup, that's it.

As we left the polling place, I couldn't help but think how every American takes it all for granted...that we can cast a ballot without fearing for our lives, how we can peacefully change leaders and change how our government functions.  It is a great gift, a priceless one, regardless of what party you belong to or what candidate you hope will ultimately win.  The fact that we can vote at all is quite marvelous.

Last night I worked with Kenny on his reading program while Dominick observed.  He is going to be working with Kenny on it while I am gone, and had never used it himself yet so he needs to be brought up to speed.  Last night was not one of Kenny's better sessions.  We introduced a new lesson, and it took us about an hour and a half.  To watch him struggle to sound out simple 5 letter words is not only frustrating for both of us, but also is disheartening for me on many levels.  Later, as we were getting ready for bed, Dominick told me, "I don't know how you do this day after day."  

Sometimes, I'll admit, it is really, really hard for me.  While I no longer am panicked over how to manage teaching five children, there are days like yesterday and today where keeping my own spirits up is the hardest part.  To have kids who have such a willingness to work hard, who want to succeed, and who are willing to put in the effort to do so is awesome.  For example, Olesya has decided on her own to take pages and pages of notes of the series we are watching right now for social studies, another Ken Burns production called "The West".  I never told her she had to do it, she just wanted to. Or to have Matthew hear that the other kids were going to write a mystery story, and on his own he decided to participate and write a mystery on his own time.  Or to see Kenny go over and over writing and phonics without almost 14 years old.

There are just areas that are feeling impossible to improve, no matter how hard I try, no matter what approach I use, no matter how much help I reach out for.  There are days when it all feels like complete failure, and I wish I could "pass the buck" and lay the blame elsewhere.

Those are the tonight...when I have to seriously take stock of myself, our family, and our goals.  What are we trying to accomplish here?  What is really important?  Is this about ego and pride?  Is about beating my head against the wall and wanting to give up?

Is it about me at all?

Doing something day after day that provides you little to no feedback, putting your heart and soul into it, and caring deeply about your success because you know their success rides on it is stressful in its own way.  However, I need to remind myself that academics were not the only reason we decided to homeschool.  Seeing Joshua teach Olesya something new on the computer, watching Kenny and Matthew giggle over a project together, hearing Angela's passionate discussion about slavery...those reasons are just as valid for homeschooling as academics are.  Having Matt's tears on my shoulder today were also a very good reason to homeschool.

Simply being present counts for something, especially for some of our kids who had years and years of missing out on that very thing.  Having a deep, loving, open relationship with my beloved 13 year old son when many 13 year olds won't even look their mom in the eye or say terrible things about them...that counts, too.

So here I sit, at the very end of the day, soft snoring beside me as Josh feels safe and secure.  I have children who are trying very, very hard. They have a Dad and Mom who are trying very, very hard.  There is love.  There is always hope.  There is always, always laughter.

It'll always be hard.

As Angela so often says, "We're LaJoy's, we can do anything."  Guess I'll get up tomorrow, and give it all over to God so I can start fresh, and at our morning meeting I'll look around at happy, smiling faces and say "Good morning!  I love you!  Let's see what we are going to do today..."

And we'll keep on trying.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Lazy Saturday Morning Post

Today is a lazy Saturday morning...something we don't have many of.  The kids all stayed up late last night...Matthew creating with Legos, and the kids getting a dose of TV after we all lounged around talking about nothing important at all, really.  The entire family spent the earlier part of the evening in Ridgway so that everyone could experience the fun we had at the drum circle. It was the last night of classes locally,so we didn't want Matthew, Dominick and Olesya to miss out.

It was worth it just to politely observe the other folks who attended, and to say that we stuck out like a sore thumb (or several of them!) is a bit of an understatement.  This was very much a hippie sort of throwback crowd, more than one head covered in dreadlocks was present, as it had a definite Rastafarian feel to it.  Let's just say it had none of the lower middle class cowboy flavor that is usually the norm for our area.  It was part of what made the experience so much fun! To many of our blog readers who live in more metropolitan areas, it may be hard to picture the lack of diversity we have in rural Colorado, but we have to work hard to seek out experiences that  provide us with opportunities to be around a wide variety of people.  We have to work hard to expose the kids to diverse lifestyles and cultures.  That is one reason we try to get away from Montrose as often as we possibly can.  We love living here, don't get me wrong, but there is a Big Ol' World out is just really far away from here!  We have met far too many young people here whose worldviews are very, very limited, and we want the kids to have a better understanding of the larger world outside of Montrose.

As we are settling solidly into fall, we are quite glad we jumped on some projects early in the season, as suddenly we have some unexpected twists and turns to our schedule.  If we hadn't gotten the work done around the house that we needed to get done, it might have had to wait until spring!  I will be heading out to California for two weeks to be with my mom as she has cataract surgery, and Dominick has decided to relocate his auto detailing shop, so we have a lot to do to get ready for my departure and Dominick's big move.

And like clockwork, Joshie is going through his usual Fall Anxiety, though it is a little lower level than in years past.  This time of year triggers something inside him, most likely related to his adoption and abandonment, and he becomes more insecure and a little clingy.  Blankie, who had almost disappeared, now is with him constantly, and he will likely be sleeping on our bedroom floor for the next couple of weeks...and probably the entire time I am gone.  It actually caught me a little off guard this year, as the past few months have brought about great changes in Joshua.  You know how you look at your child one day and realize he or she has just taken a leap in maturity?  That is what is happening with him.  He has always, always been this adorable mix of little old man and vulnerable child.  It is hard to explain unless you have spent time with him, but he is very mature for his age and yet is not a rough and tumble boy in the usual sense.  Of course, all three boys are a bit different that way and are not, but Josh has this gentle tender side and his siblings are all very protective of him even though they rarely think of him being younger.  He is too easily able to keep up with them for them to treat him as "the baby", and yet there is this unwritten understanding that Josh is somehow a little different, a little more vulnerable.  They have all witnessed his unexplained fears, and perhaps because they all come from the same background they are sensitive to how he experienced his loss of birth parents differently than they all did.  Josh also has earned the respect of every one of his brothers and sisters with his serious diligence in school, and it is sweet to a mom's heart to watch them as they give him a little more time to write answers to questions, or encourage him when something is more of a challenge for him.

But he is growing up, there can be no doubt.  He will be ten at the end of December, and he is shining as he grows and wordlessly takes on more responsibility.  Most often it is he who keeps the boys' laundry moving, reminds Kenny often of his morning rituals that are often forgotten, or as he did this morning takes it upon himself to tackle some cleaning project without being asked. I slept in and woke to discover Josh had cleaned the kitchen and run the dishwasher even though no adult was around to ask him to help, all because "It's no big deal, Mom, it was dirty and I was here, so I cleaned it.  It's what you and Dad do, isn't it?", and off he went to watch Spiderman.

What I love most about our kids is their wonderful, giving hearts.  Recently, they helped Miss Lael and her art group set up  display boards for their annual art show.  Last year they helped set up, and each earned $5 for their labor. This year they helped, but as they left there was a hushed conversation that no one had planned anything for payment.  I quietly explained it to the kids, and was touched when each smiled and collectively said "We don't care, we'd be here anyway to help! This was fun!", and the really did enjoy working with the largely older crowd, being taken seriously by adults, hauling things in from their trailer and using drills and ladders.  We happily left and when we got in the car I thanked the kids for their immediate and gracious reactions. Angela added, "We aren't helping to get paid, this is our new fall tradition!" and Matthew said "Mom, it doesn't matter, I think they would have a really hard time without some help and it would take a lot longer for them without us."  What a truly special surprise it was a week later to find a very special and unexpected thank you card in the mail along with a check for $75 for the kids!  They were so excited and grateful.  They all split it and were able to buy a little something special.  Angela got a new water bottle, Matthew a Lego book (big surprise), Olesya, Josh and Kenny have yet to spend it as they are savoring it and having a hard time deciding what to get.

We are trying to instill in the kids a strong belief in volunteerism as one key to a happy life.  I know that the older I became, the clearer it was that thinking of others rather than focusing just on myself helped me be much happier.  The kids actually already do several things, such as participating in our church's highway clean up every spring and fall for the past 6 or 7 years, picking up trash and recycling each week the past two years after our weekly "Main in Motion" event in town, working at church on other maintenance issues, helping with the rummage sale, and assisting friends when they need help.  I am wanting to formalize this a bit more for them as they grow older, and we will be looking for ways to volunteer more in our community this year once we get past the holidays.  It is also a wonderful way for the kids to get to know others in our little city, and to participate in meaningful ways where they can see their efforts are truly needed.  As I was checking out volunteer opportunities I stumbled upon this web site:  It is the Presidential Service Awards program, which was designed to promote a spirit of volunteerism.  We can have each of the kids earn awards for volunteer service, the awards look like this:

All the kids thought this was pretty cool, and it is my hope that if we make it a focus and set a goal, but the time we achieve that long term goal the idea of service will be ingrained in them permanently, and have a lasting impact on them their entire lives.

Well, I guess it is time to put a halt to one of my last lazy Saturday mornings for awhile and get moving.  It sure feels good to do nothing for even one morning!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning Never Stops, and I LOVE It!

The blog has been veeeeery quiet the past week or so.  We've just been super busy, life moving at the speed of light!  Let's see if I can catch up here, because I hate going so long between posts.  I am always afraid that if I let too much time go by, I will get out of the habit of blogging, and since I am NOT a good scrapbooking sort of Mommy that would mean our life would go unrecorded, and that would place me in the Bad Mom Hall of Fame or some such thing.

We got George, our new van, it is awesome in a million ways and will be perfect for our needs.  What was sweeter was the time we spent with George's previous owners when we went to pick it up.  Over dinner, we talked for about 2 hours about life, our families, and adoption.  I love how God puts things together perfectly.  We haven't taken George out much yet, but might this weekend. We really wanted it for all the longer trips we have to take, not to be our daily driver.  The kids are looking forward to our first road trip in it, and will really appreciate feeling a little less like sardines!  Hahaha!  We have decided we will take photos of George at all the state road signs and share them with his old family, so they will know we are getting him out and about :-)

Let's see, what else?  There was so much crammed into last week!  My brain is totally fried, as I am in the midst of a lot of learning myself.   I love learning new things, I love following those "rabbit trails"  when things grab my attention, and I love love love reading and researching things online.  It is not about being "online", it is that I have access to the world's largest collection of information...the largest library really, so how could anyone not like that?   I could be a total library junkie when I was a kid.  In fact, and this is the God's honest truth, when I was in elementary school my mom got a call from the school because they were concerned that I spent my entire lunch hour reading rather than playing. I was so lucky to have a mom who said, essentially, "And the problem with that would be...what?"

The learning is in several different directions.  I spent all of Wednesday in the class I mentioned prior on the blog, which was about iPad learning from .!!!  There were about 40 or so folks there, as far as I could tell there were no homeschoolers, only district staff.  A retired teacher friend went with me, and we were blown away as we saw how some are using iPads in the classroom.  Some of the presentation, of course, was not applicable in a homeschool setting, but some of it would be even easier to use in the small group setting we have.  We learned about using the iPad with QR Codes for learning, about how to author iBooks if you were so inclined (I am not!  But if I had time...), about projection options for the iPad which I really did need to learn more about.  We also learned about ways to evaluate educational apps, discovered some really cool special ed apps that are not really anything I would need but were amazing to see (and if you have a child on the autism spectrum there are TONS of great apps!), using, and a lot more.  One thing I did realize, is that I had already taught myself a lot just by exploring and reading various web sites.  I was pleased to discover that, as that means I was further along in my own education that I had thought. There were few in the room who were familiar with a lot of things the presenter was talking about, and I was familiar if not well versed on most of it.  One thing I really, really want to spend some time learning is Keynote, which is Apple's version of Power Point.  I want to be able to teach the kids this application, but I need to challenge myself with a little project of my own first so I can learn the ins and outs of it.

On overload, I walked away having gleaned a lot of interesting things...and on to my next learning challenge which is a 5 week course I am taking along with our Pastor and another member of our congregation on church growth.  We are doing this virtually through webinars, reading (on my iPad with a Kindle app), and forum posts.  This is my way of learning, baby!!  It is going to be superb, and I am going to really enjoy the assignments and discussions that will surround the texts we are reading.  you know, there is nothing like digging in deep into subjects you are really interested in.  So often, our "official" learning is forced so we can get "credits" and very often it is not all that engaging.  But when you are seeking to learn about something you are passionate about, all you want to do is dig in ever deeper.  I see this more and more with the kids.  Just today, Joshua was asking me all kinds of questions about how gas was used in WWI and how the body reacted to it.  When I told him I didn't know a lot about it he furrowed his brow and said "That's OK Mom, you can' know everything.  That's why we have Google!", and off he went to look it up.  Olesya has two cake orders to fill, and she has been scouring the web looking for ideas for fall cakes.  She is passionate about it, and therefore she will seek out the information she needs.  We all are like that, aren't we?  The best motivator to learn is passion, then you can wrap all kinds of extended learning around it.

I am also studiously working on outlining our hoped for spring field trip, which will take us along the Lewis and Clark, and Oregon Trails.  This is all new to me, I have never really been in this area of the US before, and I have no idea what all is available for us to explore.  I am also trying to find additional things to do and see aside from the westward expansion theme. How grateful I am to our school program that allows us to have such a wonderful opportunity to have more experiential learning!  While every child benefits from it, our 3 adopted at older ages really, really need it to cement things.  Kenny will always find it easier to recall information learned outside of textbooks.

Learning also is happening in almost every single speech session I attend with Kenny.  Man, his therapist has him totally nailed!  I wanted to share another amazing resource she has let us borrow which has been eye opening.  This is a link to Super Duper Publications, where you can find this:

This has been unbelievable.  There are actually two books with 3 different levels (book 2 has level 2 and 3), and it is incredibly easy for a parent to use in working with their child on increasing their processing speed...or discovering exactly where the breakdown is occurring for them.  At first Kenny whipped through some samples of Book 1, then his speech therapist took him to pages in Book 2 which he also did well with.  I sat there a little stunned because that is not what I see at home with him.  As I flipped through Book 1 while she was working with him, I realized that each page works on a little different skill, and I instinctively felt there were a couple he might struggle with despite what he had just done.  So I asked if I could just try one or two pages.  Bingo!!  My gut was right, there are very distinct areas of processing that are extremely difficult for him.  She sat there in total shock, asking me how I knew.  I don't know how I knew, I just did.  We tried other pages in both books that worked on similar tasks, and sure enough, there are specific areas where his brain flat out can't do it...I mean seriously can't do it at all.  There are pictures and you ask him to point to specific ones with very carefully selected building block sort of questions, such as "Point to the red bear with large buttons." and he has a choice of 4, 6, or even more on the same page (You can see samples on the web site linked here).  Because this works on various different sorts of auditory and processing work, one task might be super easy while another subtly different one is a big challenge.  So we have both books at home and are going to work with them a bit, and I might try them with Olesya as well as she really struggles with very specific, key areas of processing but I can not narrow it down.

As if all this "Mom School" hasn't been enough, tonight we did something I have wanted to do for years and years...we traveled to Ridgway to participate in a small African Drumming Circle!!!  I can't tell you how excited I personally was about this, as it has appealed to me for years.  Living where we live, it is not something available to us usually.  At first, only Angela was enthusiastic about going, but later in the day Kenny and Josh both decided it sounded like fun although they weren't at all sure what to expect.

Oh My Gosh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It was the COOLEST thing I have done in years!!  Our teacher, Fara Tolno, is from Guinea, West Africa, and has a Masters Degree in dance from UC Boulder.  You can find a link to his web site here: .  This man radiated pure joy, and his love of music and movement was impossible not to catch.

We had a very small class, about 13 or 14 of us, and our kids being the only children there learning.  Everyone had a drum, and we played for about an hour and then taught some African dance.

It was powerful for me in terms of watching the kids in this group setting.  I have often joked about how none of the kids has any real musical talent, about how they can't carry a tune, etc.  I mean, what are the odds that 5 different kids from 4 different sets of birth parents would all be so unable to work with music??  Is there a common denominator?  Dominick and I love music, we sing, have the radio on all the time, sing in choir, sing doing the name it, we have music around while doing it.  The kids all have an appreciation for music, with Josh dearly loving the soothing feel of classical, Matthew being our 70's Rock and Roll kid, and the girls thoroughly enjoying any sort of dance/pop music.  Kenny even loves music!  But...but...but...they can not figure it out.

Watching this evening as Angela and Kenny both struggled mightily to catch a beat, and Josh tried but then couldn't tolerate the sound of the room...something I stupidly hadn't anticipated (He ultimately had to leave the classroom after 10 minutes with his hands covering his ears.) heart broke a little. It might sound stupid for me to feel so sad over this, but both Kenny and Angela tried so darned hard to follow even the simplest rhythm patterns of just a handful of notes, and neither could get it.  They were the only ones in the room who were so completely unable to hear or even feel a rhythm, it was almost startling how hard it was for them.  It explained so much to me!!!  Words are rhythmic, poetry is rhythmic, life in its own way is rhythmic.  The instructor was so kind, he knelt down in front of Angela and sang it to her, he patiently beat out the rhythm on a much louder drum so Kenny could hear it over the noise of the others, and I even got up several times, got behind each of them and got their hands in mine to tap it out for them so they might get the feel of what the pattern or rhythm was.

Nothing worked.  Nothing.

I am totally curious to know if other kids adopted from institutional settings find this to be such a challenge in higher numbers than the standard population.  I mean, I know this could be heredity, and for some of our kids I am sure that accounts for it.  But ALL of them?  Tomorrow Dominick is going to head back to Ridgway with all of them to see how Olesya and Matthew do with it, and to give the others another go at it.  This is obviously something we are going to work with a lot, now that I see what a huge deficit it is for all the kids.  We have the chance to take classes throughout the week while he is still here, so we will take advantage of it.

As for me, I could do this forever and wish there was something like this close by on a regular basis...I'd be there constantly.  Although my palms are actually bruised as I type this, I found this to be so spiritually connecting for me, that it exceeded all my expectations.  Even when I was a don't laugh over this one because when I say "kid" I mean 13 or 14, not mom bought me a set of bongo drums, and I beat those suckers constantly!  I loved them, and thought her to be quite intuitive on that gift.  I never had the desire to play drums in band when in high school, but this is different somehow.

To round out Cindy's Excellent Educational Week, on Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in a small little church almost 2 hours away from here, in Collbran, CO.  I really, really find it hard to preach.  I am not a natural or comfortable public speaker, and it is actually almost painful for me to do it.  I gave up on it for a year or so, thinking I wouldn't put myself through it again, but when I was called and asked if I would do it I decided to say yes.  I never feel intellectual or deep enough, I never feel as if I am offering anything someone will carry with them that is of any value at all.  I will never be good at it, and am at best only marginal.  But I did it, and it wasn't awful :-)  Notice I am not saying it was great, but maybe not being awful is the best I can do without much practice.  I wish I was one of those deep, insightful, inspirational types, but I am not, and if I try to be it comes across as truly inauthentic. So I elect to be just me and God can do with it what God wants.

What is important to me though, is that the kids see both Dominick and I trying and failing right alongside trying and succeeding.  They need to know that you don't have to be perfect at something to do it or give it a try, they need to know that many things in life will be challenging.  They also need to see their parents unafraid to publicly make a fool of themselves!!  Preaching is something they all know is painfully hard for me, and tonight after they tried so hard to drum and it just wasn't happening for them they saw me try to do African dance and look like a big ol' oaf!  I mean, seriously, it is not my thing and is terribly hard for me.  Angela, on the other hand, was quite good at it!  Kenny was a drummer so he didn't get stuck dancing, which he was happy about.  And you know what?  When we left, all four of us were raving about how wonderful the evening was, how we had SO much fun and want to go back again before he leaves.  It wasn't about being perfect, or looking good.  All of us are good at some things while others are harder for us.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't do them!!  Angela and Kenny both loved the evening, and raved about it to Dominick, Matthew and Olesya when we got home (Olesya would ROCK the African dancing!), and talked them into going tomorrow with them.

I want to show the kids that taking risks is worth it.  I want them to learn that perfection is not the goal, participation is.  I want them to be less inhibited than I was/am.  Whether its drumming, dancing, cake decorating, Civil Air Patrol, or hard at it, play hard at it, and enjoy it to the fullest!  The laughter on the 45 minute drive home was so worth it all, hearing Angela say over and over again "I just can't stop thinking it, Mom, that was SO much fun!" was worth it, and seeing Kenny's ear to ear grin as he was pounding on that drum on every off beat was worth it.  Poor Joshua, we have GOT to find some sort of solution for this auditory/sensory discomfort he is experiencing to such a degree right now. Oh yea, guess I better finish writing this and go learn something about it!!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Trusting, Risking, Believing...and George!

There have been many times in the past when I have questioned the wisdom of keeping the blog public.  We leave ourselves open for all to see, to judge, to comment upon.  We share things here that other families would never share publicly, not out of a pursuit of fame or some sort of pointless internet notoriety, but because we know that many won't...and some MUST.  If no one shares the truth about adoption, about the pain that can accompany it, the healing that can occur, and the challenges we face, then parents move into a huge life decision completely ill prepared. It is easy to view adoption as a fairy tale, as some sort of Cinderella Story which usually ends with the gavel pounding and a judge's proclamation of "They're yours!".

But the story does not end there, in fact, most often the true story is just beginning to reveal itself.  In our case, that story has been one of wonder and loss, of beginnings and awakenings, and of hard truths that must be accepted.  While many might not see it that way, we do view it as a partnership with God to do what we are called to do even when others consider us to be lacking in common sense and wisdom.  Maybe even the public openness of our blog shows a lack of that wisdom, but every single time I think that, every time I question myself, God shows up and reminds me that really, this blog isn't ours at is God's to do with it whatever is needed.  I know to many of you who read often this will sound a little too "churchy", but when you have taken risks and an occasional pounding publicly, it is important to keep perspective.  Also, I am fully aware that I have a choice about all of this.  I guess what I am saying is that I choose to be in relationship with God, and that I have been asked by God repeatedly to allow ourselves to be laid bare before you all, regardless of the ridicule or negative comment that comes our way from time to time.  This past week, I shared that I had removed a couple of comments because of their rude and unkind approach...but I want to make it clear that it was not because someone disagreed with me.  It was one of those moments when I asked God again, "Is it time?  Why am I doing this publicly and not privately blogging?"

The answer came as an incredible blessing that I simply have to share with you all, for it is too profound, too wonderful not to.

I wrote yesterday about our "new" beautiful van, the one we had been waiting for God to lead us to.  Little did I know what else God had in store with all of this, and once again I am surprised at how firmly God expresses what is desired for our lives, and how crystal clear the answers are when they come.  Please let me share the comment I received on the prior post from the current owners of our new van, for I feel it is an example of God working powerfully in not only our lives, but the lives of others.  We are all woven together, whether we want to admit it or not, whether we are able to see it or not. God's ability to bind us to one another is simply breathtaking.  Here, let me share:

Cindy, I feel so blessed after reading and being lead to your blog. To you and your beautiful family my last name may look familar.... Yep, I'm Thom's wife and the "previous" owner of this van that we jokingly nicknamed George. My husband found George not so long ago and fell in love upon first sight. He collects and works on cars in his spare time and I trust his judgement in anything he would make his family travel in. George was so well taken care of, was clean on the inside and out and ran like a charm. God provided this van to us in a time of need as our Ford Excursion broke only days before our family vacation. 

Unfortunately due to the lack of space (Thom currently owns about 9 cars, most of which don't run yet) and to the fact that our Excursion is working again, we could not keep George. I was ready to let him go, as I am with most of Thom's cars :) but Thom wasn't so thrilled. We had already discussed that if it didn't sale on Ebay we would keep George for a while longer, especially because we are approaching a new chapter in our lives where his interior space could be useful. The last couple of days of the ebay auction Thom was disappointed, and somewhat happy, that no one was seeing the same beauty in George that he saw. With mixed emotions we went to bed without waiting for the auction to end, which isn't like Thom at all. He woke me up early the next morning to tell me George had been sold. We were glad, but a little sad as well as we knew George would be leaving us soon.

Then, an email came with a link to your blog. Gods plan suddenly became so clear. When Thom called me this morning to encourage me to read you blog, I could tell that his departure with George would be so much easier after hearing your story. We recently started the adoption process through the state of Texas and feel so blessed to have found your family and your blog. I look forward to meeting you and/or your husband as I'll be with Thom this weekend to deliver George. I also look forward to reading your blogs regarding adoption. I know God had such a greater purpose when your family won the bid.

Have a blessed day! 

Blessings...abundance...and a name for our new van :-)  George it will be!  And the additional gift in all of this is that every time I put my key in George's ignition, I will be reminded of how God is still speaking, in so many different ways.  A theme lately has been "risk", it is risky to be public, it is risky to make changes in your life, it is risky to trust and love others.

I think I'll opt for risk, after all, I don't really know how to do otherwise.

Can't wait to meet you, "George"!  Your new family anxiously awaits, and your "Love Wins" sticker is waiting to be put in the back window...which for the LaJoy's is sort of your adoption certificate :-)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

It Was Time...

Last night, we had a mini-adventure.  Now, mind you, our mini-adventures are perhaps less exciting than other people's because we are pretty easy to satisfy :-)  We all participated in it, and had a lot of fun.  But first, let me back up a bit...

The past couple of months have seen us having a "liquidation sale", of sorts. Last fall when driving to California, we realized that when loaded with 7 LaJoy's, one little dog, and all their assorted baggage, our minivan was no longer as safe as it should be and we were in danger of bottoming out.  Interestingly, as we assessed the situation, we also came to the not-so-surprising conclusion that we might have two daughters who were close to "full size", we had three sons who were far from it, thus leaving us in a dilemma...our vehicle situation was only going to get progressively worse.  Due to the kids being in lower grades for their ages than others, we also will  be in need of a large family vehicle for a few more years than other families are with kids their current ages, as Kenny, Angela and Olesya will all be in high school until they are 20/21.

We talked it over, we test "sat" a few different vehicles to see just what might work best for us, and discovered that the best thing for us would be a full size van.  We almost went with a lower mileage minivan because we were offered a screamin' deal from a wonderful friend, but it would not have solved our long term problem.  A Suburban/Yukon was also considered, but that back seat is even smaller.  So, after having sat in a $70,000 full size custom van conversion just for grins (Laughing as we couldn't imagine how in the world anyone could afford one), we did decide that would be a better fit for us for the long haul.

So, we have spent the past several months praying, thinking, and trying to figure out how we could solve our problem.  We had already decided to sell the Big Blue, the 15 passenger beater van we got for $900 before the girls came home.  We had hoped that would be our solution long ago, but it just wasn't mechanically sound enough ( a $900 van would be a real winner!) and we also had bought it more with local trips in mind and to use with Scouts, back when we were still involved in it.  Life changes, and needs change, so we sold Big Blue without a backwards glance.  That didn't exactly net us much, though we did get what we paid for it.

Then we made the harder decision to let go of Big Bertha, our lovely orange psychedelic RV.  That was a hard one, we loved her, and had barely had the chance to really take her out and enjoy her.  But need trumps want every time, and we need a better regular vehicle more than we want something to camp in.  So, off she went, into the sunset, sadly providing a full time home for a young man who was desperately in need of a place to live.  While we were all feeling a little tug of regret, we were thankful we were in the position to sell anything that might bring us closer to filling our need.

We thought about selling one of our two minivans, but the truth is they each have too high of mileage to bring any real value versus what value they have to us as around town low gas sucking vehicles.  Mine, which we will pay off this month (Hurray!) and is the one we call our "New Van" just turned over 150,000 and Dominick's is well over 225,000 but the odometer is broken so we have no idea just how far over 225,000 it is.  So, as you can see, not much cash value there and they each are our daily drivers.

The hard part was now before can we find anything in our price range?  Considering our price range was very, very low that left us with little to select from if we wanted something that wasn't a total beater.  Also, making it harder is living in Colorado, where larger vans are not widely used.  We knew we would have to be shopping outside the area, and probably taking a risk in buying something long distance. We also knew we would have to be very patient, scouring the internet and biding our time until just the right vehicle appeared.  We figured that God knows our needs, and our ability to pay, and would just have to help us out with this one.

We had a list of desired features of our perfect LaJoy-Mobile:  Captains chairs in the second row to make getting in and out easier, as low mileage as we could afford, of course as low a price as possible,   decent appearance on the interior and exterior, not in need of repairs or tires because we couldn't afford to put money into anything, rear air condition, did NOT need video system/TV's, wished for a tow package but that was negotiable, wanted a 3/4 or 1 ton for future hopeful towing of at least a rental trailer for camping if we can't ever get one of our own again, roof rack would be nice, and that was about it.  We compiled the list as a family, trying to come up with a profile that would make us all happy.  We also wanted to give the kids experience in learning how to decide exactly what you want in a car, and how to shop for it.

Having our Dream List in hand, off we went, not to the car lot but to Ebay, Craig's List, and every other online auto selling web site.  We spent months searching, keeping an eye out even before we had our Liquidation Sale, trying to get a feel for the market and what we were looking for.  It was depressing, frankly, as living on a super tight budget means car shopping can be stressful.  All you can find are vehicles with issues, high mileage that won't outlast your need, junkers that are not worth the inflated prices being asked.

But if you are patient, there is always a perfect little diamond out there waiting for you.  You must not be impulsive though, you must be willing to tamp down that "immediate gratification" fairy that lives inside all of us, the fairy that can get you in all kinds of financial woe if you don't learn how to give it a good smack down when necessary.

A week ago, I spied a pretty little van on Ebay.  I showed it to Dominick, who then took the listing to our mechanic to get his opinion.  He came home and said "Jeremy said this wouldn't be a half bad deal, if we can get it cheap enough at the end of the auction."  We hemmed and hawed about it, we sat down with the kids and had them look at the many photos of it online, and we verbally walked through the pros and cons.  We asked them their opinion, and if they thought it was a good deal.  All agreed wholeheartedly that it fit our criteria perfectly...better than perfectly...and then we all discussed what our maximum bid price should be.  Matt was quite good in that area, suggesting exactly what Dominick and I said, and Angela threw out "And if we can't get it for that price, we walk away and don't bid more. There will be another good deal out there if it isn't this one."  We talked strategy for auction bidding online, and yesterday evening we all gathered round to ask one final time, "Is this the one to go for?" and when we voted with 100% unanimous decision, we then allowed the kids to all stay up until the auction was 1:30 they could be part of the excitement.  Dominick went to sleep and asked to be woke up when the time neared.

Fifteen minutes before the auction ended, we sat bleary eyed in front of the computer screen, with me in the "Drivers's Seat" because I type the fastest.  We waited until 8 minutes...7 minutes...6 minutes...5 minutes...BID!!!  And off I want, typing furiously to input a trial bid.  Shoot!!  Someone had outbid us!  I  turned to Dominick and said "OK, chips are down, what's our max?" and everyone thew out numbers and I typed it in as the timer clicked away.  1 minute and 56 seconds, I hit "send", then we waited breathlessly as the countdown continued, hoping and praying that we would get it.

We WON!!!!!

So here is our new true gift from God, because we never should have found something so nice for what we had to spend.  We'll be borrowing a little, which was in the plan, but it won't be much.

It is a 1996 Dodge van conversion with...get this...39,000 original miles on it!!! It was garaged for much of its life, as you can tell by the photos, and is in beautiful condition.  It is in Texas, so we have to get Dominick down there to pick it up somehow, but we feel so excited and blessed:

We are so thankful!!  I know most people might not be as excited over something as silly as a car purchase, but this has been a prayerful period of 10 months or so, and we feel blessed to find something so perfect in every way, and that we could actually afford.  All our criteria were met, and then some.  Isn't she pretty??  This will be our last big family car purchase, the one that will last until we are ready to downsize.

I think it was worth the wait :-)  And now we don't have to look like the Clown Car with everyone tumbling out and people staring as if to say "You can't be serious! There are more coming out of there?"