Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This is What You Have Done

Thank you!!  Thank you!!  I have no idea who may have sent a donation to the Wrights yesterday, but it is making a big difference!  You know, we can send money for food and clothes, and that is always needed, but money for school CHANGES lives forever and keeps kids out of orphanages, out of the hands of those who would take advantage of them, and offers a real future.  Kids who age out of the system need help to make it, real, concrete help.  Kids who are not yet aged out but live in poor families who can't afford school need help so their fate does not end up leading to institutionalization or life on the street.  If we educate them, we give them opportunity and a future.

Check out John's blog to see what has already happened thanks to your generosity! And if you feel a little nudge and can send even $10, that can help get a child into school combined with others who donate $10.:

Now, I'm off to educate our kids!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Magnify Your Blessings!

It's Back to School week for so many around America.  Shopping carts are filled to the brim with crisp new notebooks, pencils in Ticonderoga yellow, and glue sticks galore.  There are clothes to buy and shoes to be fitted along with the requisite lunchboxes and snack packs.  Another year, as children grow in knowledge and parents take yet another baby step in the letting go process that eventually leads to the very last First Day of School before their babies are off on their own.

Halfway across the world, there are parents desperately hoping for a brighter future for their own children, but the cost of pencils and notebooks outpaces their ability to provide.  They know that particularly in their country, an education is the sole way out of the desperate poverty they live in.  There is the choice between eating or coal for the winter versus tuition in a place where a free education does not exist.  These are literally life and death choices, with high consequences.

Emma and Bekah Wright have hit the ground in Kyrgyzstan, and the needs are huge.  There is food needed for seniors, there are concerns about filling needs for heating for the fast approaching winter.  There are repair projects to the buildings in hospitals and orphanages for which there is literally no one else to take on.

It seems like there is always a cause that is good that we wish we could help with, always a hand in need.  It can be difficult when trying to afford the necessities of our own life to give much thought to the unseen needs of those who live so far away.  And yet funds donated that help give a hand up rather than a hand out are some of the most wisely spent dollars ever.  They have lasting impact, rather than just create a short term solution.

Take a look over at the list of needs at John Wright's blog.  Is there a little something there you could pitch in to help with?  Could you buy one less pair of jeans here, so a child there could have the basic supplies to get an education with?  Or maybe you are feeling called to do a little more, there are sponsorships available, and other needs to be met.  Could you do without a Starbucks just once a week, and dedicate that cash to the hand up?

Blessings shared are blessings magnified.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Happy 47th to Me!

Today is my 47th birthday.  It is a lovely summer day out, and I am stuck sitting here on my couch in sweats as I nurse a case of strep throat.  Thankfully, the fever has passed, though yesterday I was feeling double lousy and had a high fever throughout the day.  Funny how a 4-5 degree difference internally can make you so glassy eyed and completely out of it.  I hope my raw throat heals fast, as I am already a little sick of barely being able to swallow even soup.

47 seems old.  Really old.  I recall my mom being in her late 40's and early 50's, and thinking that was just so old, and now I am here.  Some days I feel it, others not so much.  But my 40's have been wonderful years, filled with joy, laughter and the use of the wisdom the first 30 took to gather.

As I look back on my 47 years, it would appear I haven't accomplished all that much.  I don't have a career of any sort, and in fact am currently unemployed.  I don't have a diploma from a university.  My bank account most often is in the tens at the end of the month, so I can't even fathom the 6 digit incomes of others.  My car is a mom style minivan, not some sleek roadster, and is really in need of tires...again.   I have little identity outside of my family.  I am not well known in town, I hold no positions of authority or prestige.

However, I am in a place I could never have imagined when I was younger.  I have been tremendously blessed with a rock solid marriage, amazingly kind and warm children, terrific friends, and a decent home with a car that runs :-)  Oh, there were times when just the "car that runs" would have been tops on my list.  As I said, wisdom increases with age.  I had no idea back in my early 20's what it really took to be happy, no idea at all.

The best gift I have received with age is this...contentment.  It is where I am at today at 47 years old, as I recognize the deep value to what I am doing and who I have become.  I never aspired to climb the Corporate ladder or become "somebody", though others at times assumed I should.  When I think back to my younger years, I realize that the thing I desired to be successful at most in life was being a wife and mom.  Wow, how 1950's of me.  Even as I was working my first job in our early years of marriage, I was planning on what my life would look like once kids came along, never imagining that would take 13 years to happen. I don't fulfill what many would think of as being a 1950's sort of mom, wearing the apron and baking fresh goodies all the time, but maybe I am the 2000's sort of mom, the one who blogs and photographs, who nurtures and hugs a lot, and who does not wear high heels and a strand of pearls when I serve dinner! Hahaha!

I wanted nothing more than what I currently have...a loving family.  That may sound like something small, but as I look at the world around me, I realize what a tall order that really was. To have achieved that thus far was beating the odds.

As old as I may be, I received the best "Hip and Cool Mom" gift from the boys, a total surprise.  You'd never be able to guess...

An Air Soft pellet gun! HAHAHA!!!  Isn't that rockin' cool?  Matthew and Josh have one, and they bought Olesya and I each one for our birthdays so we could go out and play with them.  Matthew looks like a SWAT team member with his vest and face mask, while Josh looks like a little SWAT mascot.  For the uninitiated, they shoot little plastic BB like pellets with some force, but not a huge amount.  If you are fully clothed and get hit from 20' away, you'll feel something, but not much.  This is not the same as a paintball gun, which can leave huge bruises.  We are wayyyy to wimpy for that!  We are mainly using them to hit Diet Coke cans and rotten vegetables from the garden.  Lame, I know.  They have been quite surprised to see how good a shot I am, as I share the skills my Dad taught me years ago.  Josh is a total eagle eye though, the best of all of us.  We have him on the waiting list for the shooting club here in town, and I have no doubt he will be quite good.  He's sort of a natural at it.

I recently did something just for me, when I started singing with the local Sweet Adelines group, called the DelRose Choir.  I am not officially a member yet, as I have to try out after learning some of their songs, and I am so hoping I am asked to join!!  I know...I know...Sweet Adelines Barbershop Music?  Isn't that old fashioned?  When I was a kid I heard a Sweet Adelines group sing in my old hometown at various events, and I loved them so much!  Four part a capella music and the blend of melody and harmony has always been a favorite of mine, geeky or not.  Maybe as I age I am more willing to embrace my inner geek, I don't know.  The ladies there are all so nice, and though most are older there are a couple of young girls singing with us as well, otherwise I just might be the youngest of the group.  I have been warmly welcomed, and if I "make it" I can see some friendships forming there as they are a bit irreverent, just like me.  Already in just one month, our 2 hour practices have become the highlight of my week and something I very much look forward to.  I haven't had so much fun in years, and I am so glad that I took my shaking knees in there the first night.  Never having had any training and not having sung in high school, I didn't have a clue if I could do it or not, but I quickly realized that I actually had been trained quite thoroughly with my stint in choir, as our talented Director worked diligently with us to learn the basics.

This year was a long and emotionally difficult one in all sorts of areas for me, but I sense that I have already turned the corner and that has just begun to change.  I think much of what we have been through the past 3-4 months with school has caused some growth in me.  I have come to realize that I need to fully embrace living outside the norm, and quit fretting about it...even if others do the fretting for us occasionally.   While we did have a little hiccup in confidence after receiving a couple of phone calls from the school this week, it was so clear that the weight had been lifted off our shoulders that we knew we had made the right decision.  All of us were so much happier and more relaxed as we did our school work this week.  We were using materials that fit us better and created the atmosphere we were missing from prior years.  I need to trust myself more, and not care whether we look "normal" or not.  We aren't normal, period.  Actually, I think I am quite glad about that.  The problem comes when you try to shove abnormal into a normal never quite fits right.  So maybe I am coming to accept there is no box for us, and that is a good thing.

My hope for my next year of life is that contentment grows, that faith grows, and that love grows.  A happy surprise here or there would be lovely as well.  Oh yea, and maybe new tires for the van...hahaha!  After all, practicality still must remain.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Sanctuary Sort of Weekend

Everyone knows we LaJoy's are...well...a little different.  That is putting it mildly.  After the rocky couple of months we have had, and the particularly stressful last couple of weeks, one might think that our idea of a relaxing weekend would be something like sitting around a pool with a drink that has a tiny umbrella sticking out of it.  Or maybe a "Spa Day" with a mani-pedi and a massage.

When you don't drink, that makes the little umbrellas sticking out of your Diet Cokes look a little silly.  And when you bite your fingernails (Confession Time), a manicure seems a little pointless.

So, instead, we had the incredible blessing of an old friend offer us a Sanctuary of sorts, and we took her up on the offer.  Now, many of you might not consider this a restful opportunity, nor even a desirable one.  But remember, we are Team LaJoy - Freaks Extraodinaire.  So, after weeks of this:

We decided that the most perfect get-away would be to our lovely nearby mountain town of Silverton, Colorado home of First Congregational Church where we have visited and I have preached.  And there we attended this:

After being generously offered the use of the Parsonage as our personal Bed and Breakfast, we decided it would be the perfect way to unwind and just be together as a family to attend the one and only 32nd Annual Great Western Rocky Mountain Brass Band Festival.

Ahhhh...I can hear your laughter now, and don't think I don't see those upraised eyebrows and eye rolling.  You have absolutely no idea what this actually is.  

Coming from far and wide for years and years, the top brass instrument musicians in the United States arrive to do what they do best, play.  We are not talking Joe Blow who happens to play his horn once or twice a year, we are talking about the premier brass musicians, many of whom are professors of music, or former military band members.  Their conductor since the 1980's, Mr. Paul Maybery, has a list of credentials a mile long, including arranging and orchestrating for several PBS specials, including several Ken Burns documentaries. 

Not knowing what to expect, we traveled up the mountains to where Silverton sits at 9500 ft in altitude, and quickly saw that the town's usual population of 450 or so year round had swelled to at least quadruple that amount for the big event.  That was the first sign that this was no ordinary concert.  We dropped our bags, made a quick dinner of sandwiches, and walked the block and a half to the high school gym (where this K12 school has an enrollment of about 63 students total).  Folding chairs were set up for the free concert, once of 4 they have throughout the weekend.  So here we are in the epitome of "Small Town America", a little table set up in back where the silver haired beauties are offering their wares of TShirts and bags, and we are settling in for the hour wait before the concert begins.

Here were a few of the sights, as the musicians wandered around warming up in authentic period costumes:

Now, I know what you are thinking.  "How quaint."or perhaps "Wow, that is totally hokey!"

We would be the ones having the last laugh, if that is the case.

After visiting with a few old friends who had traveled up to attend as well, the concert finally began.   They played the first few measures, and my jaw dropped to the ground.  I have never, ever in my life heard such musical excellence.  All you heard were rich, clear tones as each section was so perfectly in tune they sounded as if they were one instrument.  As a former marching band member myself of a pretty highly rated middle school and high school band in Southern California, I have listened to my share of some solid brass bands and music.  Nothing I have heard in all my years compared to the sound of this 40ish member band performing in a tiny high school gym.  This was phenomenal, and reading the newspaper article where bios of the musicians were listed explained it all.

The kids were stunned, and Angela in particular fell head over heels in love with the music.  She looked over at me 4 or 5 times throughout the concert saying, "This is the best ever, Mom...they are SO GOOD!".  She recognized a couple of the tunes, and one Russian arrangement she leaned over to say, "That sounds very, very Russian." She saw the name Tchaikovsky mentioned as one of the composers and commented beforehand that she knew that would be a good musical piece, so a little of our effort to expose to a wide variety of music is sticking a little.  Everyone had a fantastic time, especially at the end when the traditional patriotic songs were played.  The girls and Matthew all wanted TShirts, so they bought one and then during a brief break there was an audience participation moment and Joshie lucked out and won a Tshirt for being one of the 3 youngest in the audience.  Actually, there were very few people under 50 in attendance, and maybe 6 or so other kids in addition to ours.  

We had a really funny moment after the concert was over and an older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder.  He said in all seriousness, "I am sorry, but I just have to ask.  We've watched you all evening and been trying to figure it out.  Are you the mom to all these kids, or their music teacher?"  I laughed and said, "Actually...I'm both!" and then went on to explain.  He said, "I am so glad I asked, it would have had me wondering the rest of the weekend!".

We learned so much as the Conductor took time to explain a little of the history before each piece was played.  We all left walking in the street in the dark, giggling and laughing as we talked about what a huge surprise that had been for all of us, and every single one of us said we wanted to return next year.  Angela had been missing our church's Jazz Sunday, which due to the retirement of our choir director we would no longer be having, and she suggested that we make this be a new tradition to take its place.

All we were exhausted after the long drive and the extra long musical evening, but there was still a lot of soft conversation as we got tucked in for the night in the old 1800's parsonage.  Crooked walls, crooked floors all matched the crooked family sleeping there that night :-)  

We awoke early to get ready for the church service held right next door, and to get the place spic and span before the Coffee Hour was held there after church.  We loaded the van and went for a walk downtown in the early morning sunlight as we waited for worship time.  We talked about what it would be like to live in a place like this year round, about how hard your life would be but how very interesting and different it would be from most Americans, and we speculated about what the townspeople did during their very long and super cold winters.

The church service was a special treat as there were several musicians from the concert who came to perform for the worship hour, and we heard old time hymns played on a spectacular harp, and the other instruments breathed new life into old standards we all know and love. Sitting there in that old, old church, everything felt just right.  Joshie had the perfect seat with the best light for photos, so I caught a couple of him and of Kenny drawing in his newly decorated note pad while they waited for the church service to begin.  I was bummed to discover that several great photos I had of the girls were ruined as one of the kids had the camera for a while and messed with the settings, and that block of photos had the ones with the girls!

As we drove home and I sat with eyes closed in the passenger seat, I was thinking to myself that everything is going to be OK.  It's never going to be perfect, but perfect is over-rated.  We're no different than anyone else, just trying to get by and do the best we can. Sometimes we'll fail, other times we won't, but we will have tried with all our might.

We are blessed, ten times over.  Sometimes it does feel like it is all just getting harder...harder to make ends meet, harder to know what is best, harder to get everything done that needs to get done.  We plod through each day, finding little moments that we tuck away to pull out on the rougher ones.  We play, sing, laugh, and work together.  "Together" is the key word, we are together, we are whole, we are dreaming and doing.  It may not be the kinds of things others dream about, but it works for us.  We are continually on the trail to remind ourselves that what we have been blessed with is indeed "enough".  

I notified the school via email of our plans to withdraw and asked when we could schedule a face to face meeting to wrap things up.  The two staff members who work with us were such an encouragement as I was told by one that were the best family they have worked with in 13 years, and we ought to leave with great confidence that we can truly succeed.  The other said she completely respected our wishes, but hated to type the words "exit" in regard to "this fantastic family".  As much as I had been dreading sending that email and the responses we might receive, I felt so uplifted by the warmth that radiated through their responses.  They are both such strong advocates for "their" kids and they have done a lot for us as we faced uphill battles higher up the "food chain".  Just as when we left the brick and mortar school four years ago, it is with mixed emotions because we have encountered some people who care deeply about what they do.  Our family has had an unusually high number of folks we have interacted with through the years who care about us and who have gone out of their way to help.  I have no idea why, but the emails reminded me once again that God is woven throughout all we do and every encounter we have.  We have a lot of "paying it forward" to be aware of, that's for sure.

After our Sanctuary Weekend, we started back at school today with a renewed optimism.  We will still have glitches, but I think we have repaired the biggest glitch of all, for which I take full responsibility.  We forgot for a brief time that God is in control, and we are always more on course when we keep listening and discerning. Recognizing that circumstances change, plans change, and goals change is important, but even more important is the courage to act on what God is helping you to see, and not to allow yourself to feel "stuck".  Today was SO much better, we were all feeling we had turned the corner and were safely back "in the zone" for learning in the ways that best suit us.  It was as if a dark cloud had lifted from over our kitchen table, and the lively conversation we had this morning during current events was a joy.  We discussed what were the most concerning weapons of war right now, and contrasted it with trench warfare and other forms of fighting from the past.  The de-humanization of the enemy as long range missiles, drones, nuclear weapons and cyber attacks were/are developed was a stark contrast to the dreaded worksheets with multiple choice answers to be filled out alone while off in a corner.  Life has returned to our learning, and we need that more than anything as we struggle day to day with all the challenges we have on our plate.  I felt a wave of relief this morning, and I am 100% certain we made the right choice, regardless of what we are giving up or how much harder that will make other parts of our lives.  That certainty had been gradually slipping away, eroded by what I knew was just not working but wouldn't allow myself to see our way out of it.  I am forever indebted to Dominick...the one whose courage was really tested as he immediately figured out what we needed to do despite my financial worries over it.  

Maybe I just need a big ol' Brass Band to come knocking at my door to get me to see things clearly!  And as I look at the beautiful light filled photo Josh took with my camera this morning, I feel more at peace than I have in a very long time.  Somehow, we'll make it, day by day.   

Light and Love, that's what is's all about.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Be True to Your School

I have been trying very, very hard to conform.  I have spent the past 6 months looking at curriculum that would fit what I knew our charter program would look at and consider appropriate for high school credit, which pretty much means a standard public school textbook.  I have tried and tried to make us fit the mold, only to discover what I should have known all along...

God broke the mold when making Team LaJoy.

Why did it take me so long to figure that out?  Why was I willing to so easily cave in to conformity?

I have spent an agonizing couple of weeks (Heck, more like a couple of months) trying to shape our school into what someone else would validate.  I have second guessed myself, and ultimately realized we had drifted way off course.

After another meeting on Monday, I came home with shoulders hunched, and a laundry list filled with "You can't do this anymore" or "That book isn't allowed." or "They can't get credit for that."  I haven't felt that defeated in a very long time.

I came home, and later in the evening we called a family meeting.  We asked the kids what they thought of school now, and down to the last one, they are all demoralized and, simply put, hating it.

Matthew said, "Mom, I thought we left public school because of this type of learning, and it feels like now we are doing public school at home.  I don't have time to read because I am filling out a bunch of worksheets with meaningless questions."

Angela said, "I can't remember anything we have studied the past 3 weeks.  It isn't sticking in my brain.  I don't know why, I used to remember lots of things when you taught differently.  I wonder how kids remember things at school with textbooks?"

Kenny said, "I miss all of us working and learning together.  We had great conversations and we talked about important things.  I like discussing things as a family and I learn more that way."

Olesya said, "I don't mind textbooks, but they are boring."

Joshua said, "I miss our old school.  It's going to be a very long year."

After listening to them all voice their dismay, Dominick spoke up and said, "I don't care about the money.  When I come home at the end of the day, the kids are all off in a corner, buried in paperwork.  There is no happy chatter, they don't tell me anything interesting that they have learned during the day like they used to.  You've tried everything, and I think that doing it the way the school wants means they are not going to learn much.  I don't care if I have to take a third job, the funding isn't worth it.  Pull 'em out."

And so, that is exactly what we are doing.

We are hitting the "Reset" button.

I did a lot of soul searching to get to this place.  We all get stuck doing things we don't want to do or don't care for, was it wrong to "give in" to the kids?  Shouldn't they be forced to do a textbook/workbook combo whether they like it or not?  The thing is, they never fought it.  Even though they realized they were going to get very little out of it, the completed worksheet after worksheet, and answered mindless question after mindless question without a single complaint, 9 or 10 hours a day.

Was I just wanting to take the easy way out myself?  Was I looking to have a lack of accountability so I could do things "my way" with no interference?  Could be, I am a "my way or the highway" kind of gal sometimes, I guess I'd be the first to admit that character flaw.  But this was definitely not the easy way out, this was proving harder and harder with each passing day.

Maybe I am just not good at teaching, particularly at a higher level.  Maybe I hit my own personal wall, and doubt assailed me as I thought about my capabilities.  Everyone who has looked at me askance as I answered their questions about our intent to homeschool through high school popped up in my mind.  I don't have anyone fooled, I am not a genius or, let's face it, not even college educated.  Have I tapped out what I can do?  Are folks right that I am harming the kids by attempting what seems to them to be the impossible...homeschooling high school without a college diploma myself?  This one I failed to have a comeback for.

Maybe I just have the wrong curriculum to work with,  perhaps a different set of materials would make a difference. Well, we tried three different science programs and struck out with all three.

The past six or eight weeks have been a process of gradually increasing doubt overtaking any confidence I might have built up in years prior.  Seeing the kids wade through hour after hour of what I would normally have called "busy work" and struggle to retain anything broke my heart little by little.  We've all worked so hard, we have sorted out so many issues, we have had some success, and here we are completely, utterly stuck.  Countless hours laying wide awake in bed, trying to ascertain exactly where I was going wrong led me to not a single helpful conclusion.

That was, until I listened to our kids, and listened to my own heart.

Then, I did something that really opened my eyes.  I went back to our homeschool's "founding document" and re-read it.  Four years in, and our belief in our initial goals have only strengthened.  There in the document I put together right after returning home from Kazakhstan with the girls,  I was reminded of what was important to us:

When our children reach maturity and graduated from high school, it is our goal that they would:

1)  Lead a God centered life.
2)  Exhibit good moral character in all circumstances.
3)  Have an understanding of themselves as part of a community, and not be solely centered on "self"
4)  Have a well developed intellectual curiosity and be self-directed, motivated learners.
5)  Have a base of strong, practical life skills to build upon.

*  We will always place family above anything else.
*  We will recognize that learning happens in both traditional and non-traditional settings.
*  We will remember that education is not a competition
*  We will respect each of our children for the unique and wonderful individuals that they are.
*  We will work to help our children discover their God given talents.

As I read back over this list and I compared it to where we are right now and what we are doing to please the school, I realized that we had clearly drifted waaaayyyy off course.  We were ready to give up volunteering to have time for more worksheets, which goes against #3 in a big way.  Being told how to think, what box to check, and catching myself actually saying, "Unless you go on to do XYZ you will likely never use this information again.  Just try and remember it long enough to take and pass the test".

I am embarrassed to admit I even said that.  And I complained about "teaching to the test" about public school, and here I was doing exactly the same thing at home.  Matthew had been right, I had  invited public school systems and styles right into our home and sat them down at our kitchen table.

How can a child grow into a "Self-directed, motivated learner" when they are being told every moment what they are to think, say and do, and how to parrot back answers so that the textbook manufacturer will be able to say, "See? It works."  Never mind the fact that such a shallow learning approach means kids may be able to accurately guess "true" or "false", but can they explain it in depth?  Can they infer anything else from it?  Can they shoot off from the main topic or compare and contrast it to something unrelated, yet similar?  When you tell a kid, "Give me back the answer I want to hear" they will do exactly that, without a lot of thought.  When you ask a kid, "Explain what this means, tell me where else you see this happening, what else might this change?, you are far closer to the path of real learning.

As I read item after item, and then re-read it, I shook my head in anger at myself.  How could I have led us down this path?  How did I let us get so very far off course?  Miserable kids, miserable teacher...when 6 months ago we were having a blast and learning SO much that kids were tumbling over one another in their excitement to answer questions, or share insights.  

How do you get so far off course?

By allowing things to be "off" by just one degree at a time.

Little by little, as our school changed to go charter and please the state officials, I changed too.  In anticipation of what I knew was coming with a combination of charter as well as entering the high school years, I didn't pay attention to my internal compass.  

I kept trying to fit us into what a new mold would look like, knowing the funding offered was, in large part, what was allowing us the great gift of having me home to educate the kids.  In doing so, I did something I rarely do, I became a slave to the almighty dollar.

It is hard not to, when your husband works from before sunup to after sundown at physically exhausting work. I am keenly aware of the effort Dominick puts in every single day to keep clothes on our backs and Walmart carts full of groceries.  I haven't brought in any income in four long years, and he has born the pressure of that.  How could I possible not do everything within my power to see to it that our school supplies and curriculum were covered?  It is easily $2500 or more each year for five kids.  I am sure some homeschool for less, but they are more likely to have kids scattered in age and lots of hand me down curriculum, where we have four that are grouped together relatively tightly and are all studying the same things at the same time, meaning multiple copies of the same texts.  The field trips the school funding covered were awesome, and frosting on the cake.  While we will miss that, it isn't an end all and be all for us.  But we can't do without the basic staple items.

And yet, how can we continue this way?  What is the point if our kids aren't learning?

Once again, we don't fit.  It was abundantly clear that high school...if we wanted any real learning to occur...would have to look and feel different.  As I began to accept that reality, I recalled a close friend who 3 years ago or so told me with a grin on her face, "You know you have totally ruined them.  They are having so much fun learning, and are doing so well, they will never be able to go back to a regular classroom and be satisfied."  At the time, neither of us realized how close to the truth she was.  And honestly, it isn't a bad thing. 

The materials I was being forced to use which were "traditional" were, to put it bluntly, boring as hell...awful, superficial.   As I pounded and pounded trying to get those square pegs in those round, textbooky holes, I internally asked myself, "How does anyone learn with this stuff?  Why can't they use real books? When do we get to the "good" questions that really make you think?" and then, "We'll spend so much time filling in worksheets, I'll never be able to throw in a real project of any sort."

As I listened to the kids and the defeat in their voices, as I listened to Dominick and his firm resolve, and as I listened to God whispering over and over, "This isn't going to work...this isn't going to work...but trust me and I'll take care of it, if only you'll trust me...I've never failed you when you've stepped out in faith.", I knew it was time to cut the public school cord altogether.

And I am really, really frightened.  I have no idea how we can afford the additional costs, I have no idea if I will do well without accountability, and I have no idea if I can turn this around and get back on course.  But I'm going to give it my best shot.

I spent the last 5 nights up until 2:00 am or later, researching things like independent testing services, homeschool tracking software (with 5 kids, a notebook just won't cut it), homeschool law in Colorado, and creative and interesting curriculum.  When I had asked the kids what they preferred for school, they all named a unique, critical thinking sort of curriculum we have used before, Connect the Thoughts.  Every one of the kids asked if we could go back to using some of that.  They all pointed at our study last year of Westward Expansion and how much they learned from the variety of approaches we took, none of them with a textbook.  Matthew even said later to me as we sat side by side working yesterday, "Mom, you know when you think about it, textbooks are pretty old school.  With films, the internet, and regular library books, you learn way more than what's in a textbook."  Then he asked me the question of the decade, "Why do schools think that a textbook is the best way to learn?  After all, our founding fathers were often self-educated with plain old books and experiences. Why is a textbook seen as the only way to learn? That just seems so dumb to me."

You know what?  It does to me as well.  That's not to say we don't use textbooks, but there is a difference in our approach.  We control the textbook, we don't let it control us. In fact, I suppose it is sort of like the college professor who will assign certain chapters from a textbook or certain questions to be answered from it, but you never use the entire book and it is expected that other resources are also going to be used.  And who says high school can't be as creative and interesting as the lower grades are?  Maybe it is standard education that has veered off course and has limited creative learning to a point that is deeply sad as they chase test results.

Or maybe Team LaJoy is just too weird.

I don't know, but as I got out of the shower this morning, despite having hours of data entry ahead of me creating our new school tracking system, I felt excited about teaching for the first time in months and months.  I already had an idea for a comparison poster I want the kids to research and create reflecting the differences between the Maya, Inca, Aztec, Olmec and Toltec civilizations.  Their textbook gave them 2 pages of information on all of them combined.  We need more.  My mind was moving ahead to trying to find study guides to go with the History Channel's America:  The Story of Us, which we are going to watch.  I thought about all the links I have saved in my emails to show the kids, interesting current event topics which we have pushed aside in our desire to keep up with repetitive, monotonous worksheets...links to clips or articles about everything from what mosquitoes do inside you to racial mapping of the US to a short clip where someone used a huge pile of jelly beans to illustrate just how few hours in a single lifetime a person has to pursue hobbies, dreams etc. because our days get filled with work, cleaning, and sleeping.  It was like a faucet was turned on, and suddenly I no longer felt trapped in how to teach!!

It moved into other areas, as the kids sparked up a bit after telling them we were seriously considering leaving the school program and striking out on our own.  As I looked around me this
evening and saw creativity and "intellectual curiosity" everywhere I turned, I couldn't help but be reassured we were making the right decision.  Matthew was curled up on the floor reading an adult non-fiction novel about "zoonoses"...viruses that are transmitted to humans from animals.  Olesya was making friendship bracelets from her birthday.  Kenny was building a boat out of Legos which was a replica of some pirate ship he had read about.  Joshua was acting out a scene from his imagination...all by himself as he usually does.  Angela was drawing a stunning cover on one of Kenny's notepads he has started carrying to help him remember things he forgets.

Other than financially, how can this be wrong?  We have kids who love, love, love learning, and who are begging us to provide them with something "meatier" than fill in the blank/ true or false questions.  They want to discuss and debate topics, they want to read challenging ideas, and they want to be who they are and met where they are at academically, which was really the whole point of homeschooling.  Out of necessity, they learn differently...not out of stupidity.  They are bright, articulate, and hard working.  They just need things explained more patiently, and in different ways.  They need visuals, they need to talk through, about and around something until they totally see it from all sides so they can create "hooks" for more learning.  They may need to show proof of learning in different ways, or be taught differently, but they are far from ignorant. 

And we need to be free to teach them in the ways best suited to their needs.  Really, I guess what I am saying despite it sounding corny is, we need to be true to our school,and that is exactly what we are going to do.

Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Giving Up...or Not

It's after midnight as I begin to write this post, and I just finished watching a "Bollywood" movie with Angela, as she introduced me to her passion.  Movies and all things from India have captivated her for a long while, and she asked me  to watch this specific subtitled film with her tonight about a boy with learning disabilities whose parents didn't understand him.

We lay there on the floor, atop the boys' mattresses that they drug downstairs for the evening, and as we watched the story unfold, we talked quietly together.

"Mom, is that what Matthew has?"

"No, he has Dysgraphia not Dyslexia, they are different but sort of similar.", and I then went on to explain the differences as I understand them.

We continued to watch, as parents grew angry and disappointed, eventually sending him off to boarding school hoping they would be able to "straighten him out".

"They make me mad!  They don't really care about him, and all they are doing is making it worse.  He'll just give up.", Angela declared.

"Sometimes it is really, really hard for a parent to figure out what is wrong with their child.  It's not as easy as you might think.  We stay awake late at night trying to think it through, we look for possible causes, but we are not trained professionals...and you won't be either.  Kids are complex, and learning disabilities can be super hard to diagnose.",  I responded.

"Yea, well good parents don't just send their kids away like they are broken and not worth loving.  That little boy has a gift for art, they don't appreciate it or even see it!"

"When you are a parent, you'll understand, but I hope you don't have to face dealing with such things.", I said.

"Mom, I already know I won't be like that.  You and Dad have already shown us how to be good parents.  You don't give up on us, and you've had some really, really hard things to figure out with all of us, but especially Kenny and Matthew...and Josh too!  What would happen to any of the boys if you had been like the mom in this movie?  All three of them have had confusing things wrong with them, and you didn't send them away.  You just kept looking until you got help or could find what was wrong."

"Well, I hope you'd hang in there too with your kids."

In the dark, she reached for my hand.

"You're the mom that never gives up, no matter what.  I'm so glad all of us have you and Dad.  You don't get mad at us, you don't tell us we are lazy because things are harder or our brains aren't the same.  You just keep trying.  We are all so lucky to have you guys, but seeing this I think I am even more glad for Kenny and Matthew.  They are both so smart, but others wouldn't think so because of their problems.  You wait and see, Mom.  When they grow up, they are going to be the best men and have good jobs.  Seeing this movie is important because it reminds me that a lot of parents are not like you and Dad, and we need to be thankful."

Through tears I replied, "Your Dad and I are thankful to be your parents.  We have five very special kids who have amazing talents and gifts to offer the world.  It's just going to take time to sort it all out."

As we all breathe deeply after our Not Very Good Week, this may have been a message I really needed to hear, and God sent it in my daughter's words.  "The Mom Who Never Gives Up" was throwing her hands up in despair this past week, feeling as if I had topped out my capacity for patience and ability to be split into too many parts to be effective.  Together, as a team, we are working toward solutions.  I am not in it alone, I have our dear Miss Mary coming on board again in a couple more weeks, which will relieve a little pressure a couple of mornings a week with literature, and the rest we will just figure out.

I have to stop once in a while and see it for what it is...we are doing our best with an inordinate amount stacked against us.  Often I blow it off when a seasoned pro from school shakes their head and says, "I don't know how you are doing it.", but as I thought it over the past couple of days I realized I need to really hear that, as it reinforces for me that we are outside the norm...way outside the norm...and my expectations have to be that this will never be what it is for other families...easier, four hours a day and done.

We're succeeding, and the kids are happy.  Kenny no longer walks around with shoulders hunched, literally hitting himself on the head and crying out, "Why am I so stupid!!"...and he can read.  Matthew is no longer in tears as he listens to what he wrote and tries so hard to convince me, "Mom, that is NOT what I wrote!  I DID edit my work, three different times!  I really don't know what is wrong!".  Olesya is gaining confidence in herself in all kinds of areas, and no longer looks at math as the "end all and be all" indicator of her intelligence. And Josh can dissect and work on higher level math until his heart is content, while his heart is protected and feels more secure because he is not afraid mom will disappear forever after dropping him off at school.

This past week was an easy one to not see the forest for the trees.

As we approach the week ahead, we will start anew, we will tweak a few things, we will inject a little laughter as we get up at 6:00 to start by 7:00, and we will just take it once step at time, figuring it out as we go along...just as we have up until now.  And I will remind myself of the bigger picture, as we struggle through ionic bonds, radioactive isotopes, and deoxyribonucleic acid.  As we struggle through it 6 or 8 times, I will remind myself that the mere thought that we could be attempting this is a miracle in itself and a testament to three kids' determination.  With a child who has been speaking English a mere three years, another who three years ago couldn't read at a first grade level and has a wide assortment of other serious issues, and another whose writing skills mean every essay answer...heck, every sentence a mess to be waded through, we are attempting to climb a metaphorical Mount Everest.

You know what?  I have every confidence we will reach the summit!

And when I lose that confidence, when things again prove difficult this coming week, I will recall this night, when my daughter held my hand in the dark and told me she knew how to be a mom because she learned from The Mom Who Never Gives Up, No Matter What.

And then, I won't give up.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

This is Going to be HARD

It is Wednesday evening, and everyone is in bed at 10:13 PM as I sit here amid little boxes of index cards with vocabulary words on them, a timeline for Inca and Maya civilizations, a three hole punch that had a workout today, and a humongous box of fishy crackers smack dab in the middle of the table.

Full time school has been in session for 3 days, and the kids and I are all so worn out. Homeschooling up until now has not exactly been a piece of cake, but this year is going to be a real test of stick-to-it-iveness and commitment.  This is going to be plain old hard.

We have been up and at it by 7:30 each morning, take an hour lunch, and by 6:30 we are barely finishing...and we still do not have all our subjects being worked on yet because something is just not working right.

Or maybe it is just that we are hitting a wall.

No, I have not lost enthusiasm, and the kids have never, NOT ONCE complained.  It is just requiring more one on one time with each child than ever, and at a higher level.  Truthfully, part of it is also because I am unwilling to do "shallow" learning, which we could do but is a total waste of time.  If we wanted to rush through everything to check the box that we took the class and managed to pass, then we would go back to the traditional classroom.  I want us to stop and think about what we just read, I want us to do depth and analyze and share.

Every one of the kids is working so hard, and in fact has all summer by not taking a real big break other than the 6 weeks or so we ended up being off around our Westward Expansion Field Trip.  Everyone but Matt is already 40 lessons into this years math!  But this is going to be flat out arduous, and I have no idea tonight how we are going to do it.

We are learning that being hindered by the inability to quickly read and comprehend things will be a tremendous hindrance at this level.  The kids all have the intellect and maturity to understand more complex topics, and when we talk things through, the 100 watt bulbs are clicking on all around the table.  But to get there we have to read together...every sentence in every chapter, then we have to stop after 2-3 sentences and discuss what the author is trying to say, what all the new words mean, and often I have to find ways to restate or illustrate the point.  Thankfully, Kenny is a master of coming up with comparisons and offering them.  For example, we were talking about osmosis in science and I was trying to explain about liquid passing through a membrane, and he quickly said, "It's like on the movie Under the Dome, where the guy put his hand on the dome where on the other side they were spraying water, and he pulled his hand away and it was wet.  That's osmosis, isn't it?" and everyone said, "Oh yea!  I remember that!".

I spent 2 1/2 hours correcting papers this afternoon while still trying to answer questions and work individually with writing issues.  I tried to explain yet again how to read a timeline to Olesya as we needed to read one for history.  I am more brain fried than I think I have ever been since the girls came home, and I know it is only going to get harder.

We had a family meeting this evening, and we talked about possible tweaks to our work and where we might save some time.  Team LaJoy blows me away, as they are so incredibly committed to getting a good education, and they work so hard.  They all suggested that we plan on starting school at 7:30 AM every morning, not just on volleyball days that are soon to come.  Angela said, "Well, we can always work on the weekends too, and we can get things done then." and not a single kid had an argument against that and in fact was in support of doing classes on the weekend if we need to.  As she said this, she was doing the dishes at the sink so I could finish up a couple of worksheets with the other kids.

I asked if they thought we should give up volunteering at the food bank for a while, and there was a resounding "No" to that one, and it surprised me to learn how much they valued that time, which can be pretty hard work in the warehouse with heavy lifting, high heat during the summer months and cold temps during the winter.  I had thought they might elect quickly to stop, but they were having none of it.

It is not that I have scheduled too much work to fit in, though Matt is pressed for time due to his desire to add in AutoCAD this year.  It is just slow going.  Super slow.  We talked openly and honestly about our differences, and why it takes us twice as long...literally...than other homeschooled kids their age who are done with all their work, high school or otherwise, in 4 hours or so.  We are a special needs homeschool, period, and it is not an easy task much of the time.

However, the rewards are so awesome...just the best.  Today, Angela and I squeezed in time to sit on the couch for about 40 minutes and we started reading Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", which is about as lush and rich a read as anyone will ever find.  We spent 15 minutes working our way through the introduction, which is a splendid piece of writing but is not straightforward and is filled with personification and metaphor so skillfully crafted that any writer would drool over it.

Angela drooled.  We savored.  We must have said ten times, "Wow...she is SO good!"  And my daughter fell in love and can't wait to wade in the deep end, tackling a very challenging book with 3 years of English behind her.  This is a story that will impact her profoundly, already we can both see that.  It may take us 6 months of slowly working our way through it, stopping as we discuss all the nuances and subtleties, but by the time we reach the end, we will have made the journey together and traveled a great distance.  How can I not be willing when she looked up at me with the biggest grin and said, "And mom...Maya wrote THIRTY FOUR books, we could read them ALL!"

Strong, courageous girls need strong, courageous heroes to read about.

Olesya has typed every one of her science end of chapter responses, carefully making sure they are neat and transferring the info from her written notes because she said, "It's school, mom, it ought to be as perfect as I can make it."

Kenny sat at the table longer than anyone yesterday, never giving up, showing ever more responsibility as he works so hard on what would take the others half the time.

There is so much effort being put out, and always has been.  How we'll manage is anybody's guess.  One step in front of the other. Somehow, it'll figure itself out I suppose.

But tonight it just feels very, very hard.  It's worth it, of course, but it would be nice to sail along for a little while.  I think my mast feels broken.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

"The Love in a Family"

This morning, I am in tears as I type this.  Man, living in my family means we go deep...really deep.  We think together, we learn together, we grow together.  By that I mean we grow individually but at the same time, we grow together as a unit.

I am blessed.  I am blessed to see pain and healing, failure and success, delays and growth.  It is not an easy road to walk, and many would outright reject it because it hurts, there are scars...many of them.  I guess I am different, for I live for moments like this...that Great Awkwardness between pain and joy, where the deep cuts are revealed and yet the long road shows where it all leads. leads home. 

This morning, Josh had free time for school and he just handed me this.  Pardon his ten year old grammar and spelling mistakes.  This is unedited, and straight from his heart.  I had no idea what he was going to write, but for his free 20 minutes he begged to write something, and I replied, "Sure!", totally expected yet another Super Hero story to come my way.

Instead, he shared his heart with me and revealed what being abandoned felt like to him, as well as what being adopted did for his soul.  How startling that he KNOWS he was left alone for a short period of time, maybe an hour or so, but his story reflects that it was DAYS...SIX DAYS before someone found him.  When we are alone, time takes on new meaning.   And notice how he describes "...and the baby was still in pain." even after having been found and taken to a safe place.  That's because abandonment IS pain.  However, Joshie was held and touched so little, that even after he had been home over a year he actually told us that it "hurt" to be cuddled, and he still pushed our hands away.

Thankfully, not anymore, he craves closeness, almost as if he will take a lifetime to make up for that single 11 month period.  My little RADish (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is now a sunflower, blossoming with his face reaching toward the sunlight.

Yea, he was barely a month old when his birth mother left him behind a building, for whatever reason.  Abandonment is never forgotten, and it remains soul deep.  Adoption is about loss, no matter how much you think you have provided your child, you can never, ever remove that sense of having been "thrown away", that core sense of loneliness.  They can recover, they can heal...but you can not undo what happened to them.

You also don't hide it.  You share it, you enter it with them, you try to normalize it.  Never, ever hide it or pretend it "happened then, this is now" and blow it off.  I am reminded by this that our job is always to help our kids work with their reality, not pretend it was all pretty.  If we don't help then work it out now, while we have the chance to help them accept their personal narrative and grow throw it and with it.  If we don't, it will come out later.  

We, as parents, don't need to be afraid of the dark places.  We really don't, and we don't want our children to silently live in those places all alone.  We ARE the monster killers, we are the ones with the "Monster Spray" that helps them slay those scary thoughts.

Oh Joshua, my dearest tender one, how I have loved walking this journey with you, though I wish you had never had to take it.  But, since you did, I am blessed to be the one God selected to hold your hand.  You are the strongest, most courageous little boy ever, and you are growing into a remarkable, thoughtful, loving man.  

Mom #1 sure doesn't know what she is missing out on.  

The Love in a Family

It was 2002 in the cold streets of Kasakston where a baby lied  on the ground crying as if it was hurt or in pain.

 The baby was by himself lonely, and hungry for days on end. Only after six days did the people walking down the streets who heard the baby's cry took in to their consideration he needed a home so they called a baby house. When the baby was fed and clothed it was happy, but not for long. Even being in a place with people all  around him, he was still lonely and the baby was still in pain. Why?  The caretakers never gave love or nurture to the small child. Months past it was now 2003 and the young eleven-month old baby was being adopted!  He was being brought to his new loving parents home that soon to be his as well. When he got there he saw that he had a brother who was as loving and kind as his our parents. But it took years for the toddler to love his family and he always pushed away his mother and father always scared of what would happen if he loved them and then they left him just like his first family. The good thing was that his family just kept sticking through it even when he rejected them. Years had past and he finally accepted that they were going to stick like glue forever, and to this day he still loves to death. His name is Joshua Arron LaJoy! 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Resting in...

What a wonderful, insightful, sweet couple of weeks it has been.

I haven't made time for blog entries, mainly because we have been busy, but I promised myself I must blog tonight.  Last post was over a week ago, with Matthew home and the rest of the crew off at church camp.  Though we didn't really do anything special while Matt was home alone, we had several late nights of conversation, and many hours spent side by side working quietly together as I completed learning plans for the coming school year and Matt worked on a little math, a little literature, and installed his autoCAD course.  By the end of the week, we were all ready for a bit more noise around here, and even the fact that the laundry had remained caught up wasn't all that enticing any longer.

We traveled over to the Denver area with friends in tow, as we were going to have a treat and take the kids to Water World after we picked them up from camp.  Dominick remained behind to work while we hit the road.  When we arrived at La Foret on Saturday morning, we had to go in three different directions to collect all four kids.  Matthew was greeted with a couple of bear hugs and tears by his counselor from last year, who was incredibly thoughtful in her comments about all the kids.  It is always a gift to any parent to hear that their children have been appreciated by others.  This time it was Angela in tears as we left to round up Kenny and Joshua.

As we all piled in the Big Van (AKA:  Jorge), all four kids started talking at once, and I had a hard time tracking all that was being said.  Observations and comments I noted were:

1)  For once, Kenny didn't cry when he left.  He loved every moment of it, but he didn't feel as meloncholy upon leaving this year.
2)  Angela was deeply effected and cried.  She told me that she hadn't even tried to connect much with anyone this year, and she was glad there were others there who didn't tug at her much, as this year it was about her faith life.  She said she was so intrigued by what many kids shared about their perspectives on God and other spiritual matters, that she really hadn't wanted the distraction.  Her time at camp definitely brought her new understanding, and she said,"I know I always say this every year, but this was the best year ever!  How can it keep getting better?"
3)  Olesya was quieter about her camp experience, though she spoke a lot about a boy who was not very kind and "messed up".  He was fine with her, but she was concerned about why he felt the need to act out so much.
4)  Joshua had an experience with the labyrinth that was profound, and faith changing. He will carry it with him always, and we had a long conversation about it after we arrived back home.  It was the most he has ever spoken about God and his beliefs.  He is a very concrete, tangible thinker but he "gets" God.  We spoke about his abandonment and our relationship being a way God reached out to him.  Josh said he now felt a little safer and a little more secure after his camp experience this year, that he could feel God with him and that helped a lot.

There was so much more, and I am kicking myself for not getting to a computer and typing it, because I lost the essence of it all...and I don't like that.

The major theme, though, was clear.  Angela, Kenny and Olesya all talked at length about how sad it was that so many of the kids in their camp had very difficult relationships with their parents, and that a number of kids actually said they were very unhappy in their families for a wide variety of reasons.  There was talk about feeling unloved, pushed aside, and being invisible to their family members.  Kenny said, "It was so sad, Mom, and I wished they all could live in our family for even a little while.  I never realized how true it is when you tell us that not every family is like ours.  I just thought it was because we are sort of silly and have fun, but a lot of kids have awful relationships with their moms and dads."  Angela was most bothered by it and talked about it several times over the course of the weekend.  She wanted to know why it was so hard for families to be open with one another and show love.  She asked if things would get better as the kids grew older, or if their families would always be separate.  Olesya chimed in that there was a lot of sadness in some of the kids, and that she thought they were too young to be so sad.

Another theme was one that surprised all three of the older kids, and that was how many kids said that camp was the only place they felt they could truly be their selves, and that they almost always felt they had to pretend to be someone different at school and at home.  None of the three could understand that very well, as they are not often in situations where they can't be authentically who they are.  That bothered them to think there were so many kids who had to walk around pretending to be something they weren't.

I tried my best to keep up with the conversation the entire way back to Denver, but it was hard staying tuned in to each one of them as they went on and on about their adventures for the week. We arrived at the water park, where we all spent several hours with our friends enjoying the cool attractions, and even the moms and grandmas got in on the act.

The richest part of the weekend for me was the simplest.  At the end of the day, we returned to the  Super 8, where eleven of us then crowded into our hotel room where we had laid out a smorgasbord of cold cuts, tortillas, lettuce, crackers and whatever else we had left.  As the harsh late afternoon sun gave way to the golden glow of early summer evening, we sat there munching and laughing, as we told "Our Most Embarrassing Moment" stories among those we love.  Though we were shy a couple of other dear young ones, there in that tiny hotel room with ugly bed coverings and no space to walk, there was total acceptance of who we all are.  A grandma, two moms, and eight kids...and among them African American/Caucasian/Asian/Hispanic...and not a single person in the room noting anything unusual about it.  We laughed, and even the adults got in on the stories as we shared our own very human moments in the presence of our kids.

It may not be anyone else's idea of heaven, but it sure was mine.  Giggles, grins and graham crackers.  Older kids nurturing younger ones, adult friends treasuring time together.  God was present...I always sense God in these seemingly very ordinary day to day events, and I am so grateful not to miss that.

The weekend was a surprisingly emotional one for me, personally.  I don't think I can explain it well, but as we rushed home to get back to church in time for all these same kids to put on a play for our evening worship service...a play about the power of community and sharing resources...I was filled with a connection to the Spirit I haven't felt in oh-so-long.  God has blessed us greatly, this little family of ours.  Looking in my rear view mirror during the long drive, listening to some of my favorite music that speaks to of family, of commitment, and the healing power of abiding love, it was hard not to sob openly as I saw my children, so content and changed by their camp experience.  I realized I am at a very solid place in my life right now, with a husband who is a one-of-a-kind guy, friends whose love is deep and complete, and children who are gradually healing from the hurts of their past. My soul was filled to the brim, and that has carried through this week.

I have returned to a special place in my heart, returning to a familiar warmth and glow that comes from living in immense gratitude for all I have never deserved.  The past year or so was filled with a lot of sorrow and struggle, and I think my heart broke a little as we watched our church life change, our children continue to battle learning challenges, and I accepted roles that were not well suited for me but accepted them because jobs needed to get done. I have learned a lot about myself the past couple of months, and about where my personal "sweet spot" is.  I don't quite have it all figured out yet, but I am growing closer to being a wiser Cindy.

I have learned that I am quite comfortable with "not knowing" and uncertainty, something I never would have been able to say about myself 10 years ago.  I have discovered that in doing things I am not good at, I am actually learning a lot because knowing what we do not want to do/can't do well is just as important as discovering exactly what we ARE good at and DO want to do. We often discount our experiences that are "failure-ish" instead of regarding them as helpful information.  I have also seen more clearly that my life, as it stands now, is awesome in its own unflashy way.  I have grown ever more grateful for the sacrifices my husband makes for us all, if that is even possible because I have always been so astounded by what he is willing to do, but it is like a vein deep below the surface of the earth these days, a vein not of gold, but flowing with love.

Someone recently told me I live in a house of Old Souls, and I heartily agree.  It is a surprise to run into a single young person in a group who would be labelled "Old Soul", and yet here I sit, surrounded by them.  When I dreamed of a family and the children we might one day have, it is interesting to note that I never asked God for attractive kids or gifted kids.  Instead, I asked that my life never grow weary or dull, and that though I thought I could somehow handle kids with learning challenges, I knew would have a desperately hard time connecting with kids who were not capable of going to deep places.

As I recall the kinds of conversations I have had the past 3 weeks or so as camp now recedes, clearly God heard my plea and filled my life with the most interesting people who could fill that desire of my heart, and who would eventually carry our last name.  As a bonus, God has continued to have folks cross our path who are nurturing, accepting, gracious, and whose gifts have changed our all our lives in dramatic ways.  Our kids would not be who they are without our "village".  Neither would Dominick or I.

It's time to get off this thing and head off to bed.  We have young house guests tonight who need to be returned early in the day.  I pray for these siblings with us this day.  We don't know them well, but they have suffered tremendous, ongoing losses and yet still are very gentle, kind kids.  The world can be a harsh, cold place.  It is up to us to create safe and soft landing spots...even temporary ones...for all we meet.  So, so many have done that for our family time and time again.  And now if I don't stop writing, my emotions will once again overtake me, and make it hard to go to sleep.

Resting well in gratitude this night...