Friday, November 29, 2013

Brotherly Love Looks Like This

I am finding myself swallowing the lump in my throat this evening, for tears come surprisingly unbidden as I edited more photographs from yesterday's quick photo session.  I glossed over them last night, in an attempt to get to the "important" ones...the more official group portraits I was hoping to get.

Oh, how could I have not seen this last night?  How did I overlook these gems?

We are a unique, oddball crew, we LaJoy's.  We are mismatched, stared at everywhere we go for our differences.  We can most often be found laughing, and many have no idea how to take our twisted sense of humor.  What to an outsider's ear sounds a bit harsh is hilarious to us, mainly because we have been intentional about viewing our misfortune from a place of acceptance, and we have worked hard to disengage from the old wounds, to stop picking scabs, and now can point at the scars and laugh about them.  Where once we were hollow, we are now filled...and what once cut to the bone now, thankfully, is a place we can point to with pride in healing.  Others don't get that, but we do.

Every time we have added a child to our family, we have had to justify it to others.  Every. single. time., even the first time.  When we discovered that our third child would not be the younger girl we had thought we might find, but instead was a much older special needs boy who would put us all out of kilter because Matt would now be "out of birth order" and Kenny would usurp his place as the eldest, everyone thought we were nuts.  Everyone, that is, but our wonderful social worker who knew us very well, and said only, "I trust your judgment completely, you think it will work, and I believe you...I think you can do anything!"...and thus we made the decision to go with what God was telling us, and mess with the whole idea of  "the perfect order in which to adopt". It wouldn't be the last time :-)

From the very first moments with Kenny, any lingering doubts were quickly cast aside.

The first 5 minutes after meeting...a strong indicator of what was to come...

As we adjusted to Kenny's presence, his orphanage behaviors, his sweetness, his Chatty Cathy ways, Matthew stood back and with his usual aplomb just let it be what it needed to be.  For a very young child of only 7, Matt's quiet confidence was present even then, and he allowed Kenny the space to grow into his new family without challenge...and from the beginning Kenny just automatically deferred to Matt.  Though 7 and 8 years old, the word "Grace" fit on both sides.  There were no battle lines drawn, there was no jockeying for position or status.  It was God led all the way, with Josh being the beloved little brother for both.

Time passed, and the relationship blossomed.  There was rarely a harsh word, there was unspoken compassion for all the disabilities that eventually revealed themselves to be part of Kenny's life challenge, and  snuck up on Matt as well.  There was laughter, Legos, and life lived with the ever present security of a brother who always had your back...on the playground as you were teased for being different, or at home when you needed help remembering to brush your teeth or find your jacket.

This wasn't supposed to work.  It had all the signs of a total train wreck.

Somehow, all the "experts" ended up being wrong.  Had we listened to them and declined to adopt a special needs child out of birth order, so much would have been missed!

These boys were meant to be brothers.  They couldn't be less alike, and yet, there is a common thread binding them to one another that perhaps none of us really understand.  

They adore their little brother, and each would do anything for him.  They protect him, and help him feel safe when he feels uncertain, scared, or is haunted by the past that effects them differently than it ever did Joshua.

They have their dad's sense of humor, and they can be as goofy as can be with each other, playfully teasing one another yet never going too far.  One is concrete as can be, the other abstract.  One is introverted, the other Mr. Personality who doesn't know a stranger.  Theology grabs hold of one, while aviation is the passion of the other.  Total opposites...and yet...and yet...

They make a GREAT team!

They are not rivals, they are brothers.  They were meant to be together, these two so different.

They patiently awaited their new sisters, wearing pink in solidarity!

They've shared holidays...

They've shared homework...

And they've even shared underwear!

The support they offer one another is might seem one offers an assist more often than the other, but when around them a lot, it is easy to see how it goes back and forth between them.

Matthew and Kenny LaJoy,  born into circumstances that would affect them each profoundly, each a beloved child of God and of their new family.  Brothers not by birth, brothers who had no say in the matter, who were forced together by some force greater than any of us.

It shouldn't have worked, but it did.

Fast forward 7 years.  Kenny is 15, Matthew is 14...the younger brother who still somehow managed to maintain his place as the eldest, not by aggression, but by quiet compassion.  A different child would have rebelled, and a different child coming in would have challenged.  Instead of mortal enemies, they decided to be friends.

I looked at the screen and saw their faces, so, so dear to my heart. When I sat down to edit these, I couldn't help it, photo after photo from the past come rushing to the forefront of my mind.  I think that even I had not fully realized what had gradually developed right before me all these years.  I can hear their giggles, deep and resonant now that puberty has arrived.  I see their joy, their comfort with one another.  I see how their strengths and weaknesses compliment one another, as sometimes one takes the lead, and other times the other steps forward...all in unspoken unity.  They are far more men than boys now.

They are gentle, and good natured...(they also treat their mom like a queen!  Undeservedly, I might add...)

They are companions on the journey, debating and exploring...a true Mutt and Jeff!

They are total hams...

And the only one who thinks they are funnier than anything in the world, is the one standing right next to them!

They rough house and strategize, they dream and imagine.

They are brothers, blood or not.  This is what true brotherly love looks like, and as the years pass, it only grows stronger and runs deeper. Two young men, a few years away from full manhood, but both already strong, capable, and freely affectionate in only the ways the most confident in their worth can be.

They almost never had one another, their paths crossed only due to the quiet little whisper in the ear of a yearning mom one night as it said, "Trust in Me, all will be well...I have a plan you can't picture yet." 

This is what brotherly love looks like.  It is beautiful, it is precious, it is priceless.

Challenging Thankfulness

Our pastor posted a link on Facebook to a very interesting article yesterday, one which gave me pause and which my mind kept returning to all day.

The article can be found here, if you'd like to read it in its entirety:  A Twist on the Thankfulness Trend.  In essence it is about the popularity of "Thankfulness Posts" on social media, where people will spend 30 days posting each day about all the wonderful things in their life, big and small, that they are thankful for.  It's sort of a nice little thing, though often repetitious, but I would never be one to knock being intentional about gratitude.

However, this article comes at it from an very different angle.  In it, author Emily A. Dause asks us to do the following:

I want, however, to challenge you think about your reasons to be thankful a little differently. Instead of thinking about the typical “good” parts of life for which you are thankful, consider parts of your life that you can be thankful for even though 1) others may see your reasons as negative or 2) you may see them as trials yourself.

For some reason, particularly this year, the idea of being thankful for the very things we sometimes view as less-than-gratitude-inducing felt so appropriate, so I thought that on this Thanksgiving , I would give it a try.

1)  I am thankful for financial strain - Sure, it gets old to constantly hold your breath until the mortgage is paid at the end of the month.  It is frustrating to put off medical care, or to have to constantly juggle various "needs" and triage them.  But were it nor for the lean times, I might not have as much appreciation for my Mom jeans from Walmart, the hand-me-down-offered-in-love couch, the case of apples someone shared with us.  If it were all easier, I would miss living in daily gratitude for every single little thing.

2)  I am thankful for learning disabilities - This one probably sounds really strange, but as we have worked to help our kids who have struggled with a wide variety of learning disabilities, I have been able to witness a rare kind of courage and self-motivation.  Watching as our children have overcome so much has been incredibly humbling, and they inspire me every single day.

3)  I am thankful for an uncertain future - It takes me a lot of work to be thankful for this one, and we live in a virtual cycle of uncertainty with seasonal businesses and contract renewals in question every couple of years.  If we were to have the illusion of more certainty, we wouldn't be forced to work hard on leaning on God.  We also would live differently if we accepted the falsehood that we had guarantees. Everything is a little more vivid, a little more sweet, when you have no idea what life might be like just a little further down the road.

4)  I am thankful for infertility - Oh, how I am thankful for it!

5)  I am thankful for piles and piles of laundry, shoes left laying around, hairbands found on the floor, ghastly boy bedrooms, peeing playing taxi driver, and size 12 stinky work boots left for me to stub my toe on. - The daily things that drive every wife and mom crazy are the very things whose absence would leave a size 12 hole in our hearts.  We complain, we beg, we plead, and we seldom take the time to stop and think what it would be like if that annoyance were not there.

6)  I am thankful for paths not taken - There have been times in my life when I have asked myself, "What if...".  We can't have it all, and I am thankful for the things I didn't do.  I may have missed some experiences, but I gained others.

7)   I am thankful for my time living in a spiritual desert - Though it was a lonely, disconnected, disheartening many years, it allowed me the time to look at my faith with a critical eye, to discern what I held dear and to come to an understanding of just how much I needed to walk with the Spirit in order to feel whole.

We are who we are because of the good AND bad things in our lives.  We mature, we gain compassion, we learn from everything that happens to us.  We just don't often think to give thanks for the sum total of it all.

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's Been A While

It's been quite a long time since I have blogged, and I am not even quite sure why.  I don't think I have ever had this long of a period between blogs before, but something was keeping me from writing, so I just went with it.

Life has been good, calm, and happy in its seeming dullness.  I have a great appreciation for the rhythm of the ordinary, because so often the flow of life leads us down rushing tributaries that overwhelm us.  Peace and still waters are a blessing on so many levels.

We took our trip to California, did a little sightseeing, and spent a lot of time with my mom and Dominick's family.  Having decided to take an alternate route to see a different version of "Desert Wasteland", (those of you who have traveled this way know what I mean!), we stayed in Oakland a couple of days and drove into San Francisco to see whatever free sites we could see.  Budget travel looks different than real "vacation" travel, and we stayed in a clean enough hotel which had gates around the parking lot and a security guard roaming at all hours...haha!  It was super cheap though, and allowed us to see 'Frisco, but we dared not venture out after dark anywhere near the hotel.

We looked at whatever we could do for free, and managed to fill two days with fun activities!

We didn't ride a cable car, but we saw plenty of them!

Of course, the main attraction was the Golden Gate Bridge, and the weather cooperated to give us a beautiful sunny day to visit it!  It was a little too sunny for Olesya, who could barely open her eyes! 

We walked halfway across, and then drove across it as well. The general consensus was that it definitely needed a paint job, but that it offered a uniquely lovely view of the city. 

Of course, no trip is complete with seeing Lombard Street!

Here was the view from the top of Lombard.

Joe Cool takes off his shades for a nice photo on Lombard.

A visit to the Embarcadero was fun and free as we wandered the streets and visited Pier 39.

Street art is cool!

The LaJoy Men in the Big City...looking a little Hick-like!

Team LaJoy's Motto!

We didn't need to pay to go on it, we could just take photos beside it.'ll laugh, but one of our favorite things about San Francisco was the Boudin Sourdough Bakery on the Embarcadero.  We could watch from the street as hundreds of loaves were made, some quite creatively as turtles, alligators, or other animals.  They literally piped out the smell from the bakery out onto the street in a terrific marketing ploy.  It was fascinating to watch, but even yummier to try a loaf!

There's always one clowning around in the photos...nice bug eyes, Joshua!

We had perfect timing for our trip, because as we researched free activities we learned of the opportunity to board a real, working ship that was used in the Pirates of the Caribbean films!  We had just finished reading about pirateering and swashbucklers before leaving for California, so it was kind of cool to connect that learning with a trip onboard.

Waiting to board the ship.

The volume of rigging and how complicated it was surprised us all.  Costumed in period clothing, the shipmates explained things and answered questions.  

This is the blueprint for the actual ship we were on.

This man has Captained the ship for over 15 years.

The only female sailors onboard...haha!!

We ended the evening with a beautiful sunset walk and view of Alcatraz.  For Kenny in particular, seeing things first hand really cements it for him.  We had talked about Alcatraz, but he just couldn't quite get what it was.  Seeing the currents even from where we were, it was easy to see why those who attempted escape never made it.

We took a drive to what we think was Muir Beach Overlook which offered the most stunning view of the landscape that I have ever seen.  

The State of California left these shelters in place which served to house soldiers who were watching the coastline during WWII.  There were three or four of them, with information about how they were set up, and what life was like for the soldiers (Think "Cold" during the winter!).

Our last night in Oakland we were able to connect with an old adoption buddy and spend a sweet evening with her and her daughter.  We had a home cooked meal, and spent time catching up under the stars with a fire pit blazing before us.  Our lives have intersected with so many during the course of the past 10 years and our adoption journeys have brought some of the neatest people into our lives.  I wish I had more opportunity to offer meals and vacation stays to more friends, but we are definitely off the beaten path where we live :-)

We were then off to travel down the coast, and we spent the night in Pismo Beach, which had grown considerably since I had last seen it, 20+ years ago.  We drove the old Highway 1 with its rich scenery and heart stopping early evening vistas.  Along the way we took a break in Monterey, where Dominick and I recalled the places and sites from our honeymoon 28 years ago.  It looks nothing like it used to, but there was something quite special about driving through with the kids in tow, thinking back to the time when we were so, so young...I was just 4 years older than Angela is now when I was there for our honeymoon.  It was a lifetime ago, and we never could have dreamed of the roads we would travel, the experiences we would have, or the incredible people we would have in our lives.  We laughed as we talked about the mopeds we rented, and compared it to the big van, Jorge.  Olesya loved the seals we saw, basking in the chilly winter sun as they were "beached" and quiet.  The boys crawled over rocks, and we all thought it was a place we might want to visit longer one day.

We had a little surprise in store for everyone, our one treat for the trip that we had been saving for.  Kenny's birthday often falls during our trips to visit grandmas in November, as that is when Dominick's work is the slowest.  Because of that, we wanted to do a little something extra special for his birthday, and so we planned an outing to remember...


We rented ATV's for a couple of hours, and we were stunned how much cheaper it was to rent them in California than it is here, in ATV Country.  Not sure why the big difference, but it is something we could never even consider due to cost around here, but there it was actually not half bad if you only did the two hour rental. The kids were finally all big enough and careful enough to feel they would be safe, and they proved us correct as they listened attentively to instructions, then proceeded to all cautiously ride the dunes.

For us, it was a once in a lifetime experience...the sand, the ocean spray, it was awesome!

Practicing before hitting the dunes.

Twins Olesya and Matt.

Da Man!!! Kenny LaJoy, the Birthday Boy!

Olesya's first comment when the helmet came off?  "Mom, I totally know what I want to save my money ATV!"  Upon learning how expensive they are, she quickly realized that might be a very hard goal to reach.

Angela had a hard time at first, but eventually got the hang of it.

Josh proved to be our most natural rider, immediately finding a comfort zone with the machine and doing quite well with it, even on rougher terrain.

Tired out, but super happy with the surprise.

Yes, I rode one too...even though I am behind the camera and not in front of it.  What a special day it was!

We headed south to Camarillo, where we stayed for a week visiting and doing odd jobs for our moms.  We replaced screens, emptied sheds, and the boys spent a day totally rebuilding my mom's front porch steps, which were in dire need of replacement due to termite damage.  They did a great job, but I didn't get any pictures.  Dominick had plenty of help, which made the task easier.

One day it was warm enough to hit the beach and actually play in the water a little.  I was feeling under the weather from a 24 hour stomach flu that went through all of us while we were gone so I stayed in the van and watched from afar.

Oh, they have grown so much...yet they straddle adulthood and childhood, frolicking and giggling like little kids one minute, and the next moment seriously talking about big things that matter.  

There are times when I wonder what I am doing with my life, when I let insecurity slip in and eat away at my self-esteem.  I suppose we all have those reflective moments, when we ask ourselves if what we are doing is "important", if it matters.  Being home every day, reading history or creating slides for biology, teaching the basics for the hundredth time and hoping some of it sinks in, swimming and swimming upstream constantly while the current of past lives presses against me, I have to do a lot of internal talking to remind myself that it is never going to look like it does for others, the successes will be different, the kudos will never be present the way they are for others.  Awards won't be won for academics, accolades for traditional achievements won't be handed down.

Watching their joy as they stood hand in hand, supporting one another against the onslaught of another wave,  I didn't have to doubt, I didn't have to question.

I have witnessed miracle after miracle, I have been present for courageous moments of healing, I see a willingness to work hard each and every day without complaint and with great humility.  Mostly though, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, I see love...

I watch as they grow in relationship with one another, and with us...relationships that are enduring and fulfilling.  I see siblings caring for one another with great kindness, I see nurturing for the oldest and youngest among us.  As we celebrated Kenny's birthday with his favorite cheesecake, the quiet reward of a "not so important" life.  

As we gathered together as a family to offer care and serve our moms in the little ways we could, as we traveled across the miles to see, touch and smell a new place and experience it to the extent we could, there was contentment and a sense of togetherness that fills us up each and every day.

Happy birthday, Kenny. This past year has been your biggest year of change, maturity, and growth.  The man is gradually emerging, and what a fine man he will be!  We know you have a long way to go, but steady steps will get us there.  Your family loves you deeply,and will always be walking alongside you, nudging, encouraging, and cheering you on.  You have overcome more than most will ever know, and yet there still remains so much more.  Your amazing attitude, your willingness to get the job done, and your heart of gold will take you wherever you need to go.

I love you, my dear, dear son.  Fifteen years old, we may not have had all the years with you, but the ones we have had are a treasure to us all.