Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Joshua!

Sometime in late January 12 years ago, an infant was abandoned behind a building in Uralsk, Kazakhstan.  Left in the bitter cold, his cries alerted a passerby, and he was found and brought to safety.  A police officer or social worker named him and assigned this anonymous child a birth date of December 26th.  He was passed from maternity hospital to orphanage, where he was still relatively anonymous and just "another baby" to be wiped and diapered.

In November 2003, Joshua Aaron LaJoy was anonymous no more.  He became The Beloved Child of Dominick and Cindy LaJoy, and the dearly treasured brother of Matthew, and eventually Kenny, Angela and Olesya.  More than any of our children, Joshie has suffered and endured the incredible emotional loss of abandonment and knowing that no one wanted him.  He has heard thoughtless strangers ask if he was "one of those kids thrown away in a trash can".  He has fought and won a battle to allow others to hold him and love him, and now seeks comfort and nestles within the arms of his parents easily, willingly, joyfully.

You were so beautiful, very beautiful to me.

On this, the day we celebrate his birth, and though we know someone didn't want him, I can't IMAGINE my life without Joshua...his inquisitive nature, his heart, his beautiful smile.

Today he stands before us a strong, healthy 12 year old young man on the brink of teenage exploration.  He has always been our wise little old man, a 50 year old in an elementary aged boy's body.  He is a contrast in so many ways.  How many then 11 year olds would want to read (and truly enjoy) the Notebook with their sisters?  How many could accurately label themselves and consistently articulate a political mindset as a 9 or 10 year old as well as my little Libertarian leaning young son does?  How many 12 year old boys would beg for anything Frozen and gleefully thank you for giving them an Olaf stuffed animal for Christmas?  How many then 11 year olds would so responsibly set their own alarm to awaken at 4:00 AM, shower, and be ready waiting for their dad to take them to work for four hours each Saturday morning for four months straight...and never once over sleep or need an adult to nudge them into getting moving?

I have loved every single stage with you, Josh!

This year was the year for him...the year his body began the process of changing from boy to man.  3 pant sizes and one barrel chest later, no longer do I feel I am holding my little boy, but instead feel that the roles have been reversed and that I am being held by my young man.  The deepened voice singing Jingle Bells all year long (Ugh!! Haha!), the shoe size larger than Kenny's, and the need for daily use of Strydex all signal the end of my parenting younger children, as Josh steps firmly into the next phase.

It took me about three years to be able to have Josh accept my touch, so damaged was he by the Original Loss of being abandoned by his birth mom.  But when he did finally give in and accept the love offered, he fully embraced it and we made up for lost time...and continue to do so.  There are no words to express what it feels like, even this past Sunday in church to have his head rest upon my shoulder as he lovingly reaches out in ways to physically connect to me.  We both almost missed that, and we will forever treasure our ability to love one another fully and without reservation, because it signals a healing that quite literally might not have happened had we both not hung in there with one another.  Joshua, I will never tire of your hugs, or your reaching out to hold my hand.  I know we have already begun the years long transition that will see our roles reverse from me taking care of you, to you taking care of me.  That we can both rest in the knowledge that each will always be there for one another is a victory unlike any other in my life, and in yours.

My sweet boy, how I love you!  Daily, you amaze me, as you easily keep up with your siblings in school and often challenge them to think differently.  Hearing you play superheroes out on the trampoline, I wonder how much longer you will have one foot planted in childhood when the rest of you is racing so quickly toward adulthood.  How I will one day miss hearing your sound effects!! Haha!

You wanted to marry Mommy!

Already, I know I will have to craft a different sort of path for you for high school, as this sixth grade year has you gaining high school credit in classes like US Government (And boy, do you know your government!) and you begin Algebra 1.  Secretly, I look forward to that last year or two of school with you, where my "caboose" and I can study anything we want and sit side by side reading and thinking together, just as Matthew and I get the privilege of doing right now.  Your volunteering at the library has you bringing home stacks and stacks of books to read or flip through, as you love visual encyclopedias of any sort.  Your future is wide open to you, filled with possibilities, and lately you have seriously discussed the possibility of being a fireman or EMT, career choices that would make so much sense for you as you are not easily rattled and have an inordinate amount of common sense and the ability to we say "gore" that others can not...and besides, everyone knows all fireman are adorably handsome, that would fit you to a "T"!! :-)

My tender hearted son, how I love you with all my heart!  You have changed my life and who I am in so many ways, and I am so grateful that God brought us together.  You are my youngest child, my "baby", and you will always be that to me even when you are 6 feet tall and towering over me!  I eagerly look forward to watching you continue to blossom into full manhood, and to accompany you as you move toward your future.  You bring me great joy, Josh, and I love nothing more than to spending time with you...and I always will look forward to the little things you email me :-)

The coming year will have you settling into this new stage of life, and you will begin to understand things about yourself and about the world around you.  You will have many new insights as awareness grows, and I have no doubt you will continue to shower everyone around you with your gentle and giving spirit.  Happy birthday, my sweet little dear Joshie.  I love you more than all the stars in the galaxy, and all the grains of sand on the beach :-) Beat you to it!  Biggest, longest hugs to you, my amazing Super Hero!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas is a Feeling

The older I become, the more I rebel against the holiday season.  Don't get me wrong, it is not at all in a "bah humbug" sort of rebellion, but instead is a rejection of the accepted cultural norms that are shoved down our throats from oh, let's say, about mid-August, until December 25th.

How can one not suffer a case of Holiday Burnout when we are told for over four months what that holiday experience ought to look like, how much we ought to spend, what we ought to create in the kitchen, and who must be present?  There is an unrealistic expectation established for us that would challenge even a Normal Rockwell representation of what the Christmas Season should be like.

Moving beyond the Santa Stage with the kids has only heightened this awareness, and in some way, I think our entire family has silently agreed to gradually shift our thinking about what our Christmas should like.  I am speaking more at home about Advent, about the religious meaning for the season, and about toning down the expectations and frenzied activity so that we can enter into the parts of the season that mean the most, and reject anything that doesn't have real meaning around it all.

It has led to one of the most relaxed and warm hearted Christmases we have yet to experience, and will forever guide our future holidays.

We are not one of the fortunate financially fit families who has a large happy extended family nearby and the understanding that Christmas Eve and Day will be spent surrounded by relatives with a laden table and a package packed living room with a tree that is barely visible peeking out from behind those beautifully wrapped, carefully selected gifts.

We have never gone "home for the holidays" because work intervenes, and "home" is really where the seven of us are, anyway.  God has been good to us in offering us the bonds of friendships that are really more our "framily", a blessed combination of friends and family that replace what we don't have in our lives...a network of adopted surrogate aunties, uncles and grandparents from church who fill in the gap, and create a sense of extended family that helps us feel whole.

Christmas is not about what others think it ought to be, it is about what brings meaning into your lives, it is about being reminded that over 2000 years ago, for  those of the Christian tradition, God became flesh among us in the form of a child and we were taught a little more about the meaning of love.  It is about recognizing the humanity that exists within every one of us, it is about intentionally reaching out to acknowledge that connectedness between one human being and another.  What does that have to do with racking up a credit card bill that will break the bank, or with the perfection with which we must present our families to the world on Instagram or Facebook?

Our family is not perfect, but it is connected to a degree that fills me with great joy.  Our family will not have matching Christmas PJ's accompanied by professional portraiture, it will not have presents piled high, it will not have the "ooooh and aaaaah" worthy gasping over a lovely table setting.

Our family will have one moderately priced gift each from mom and dad, and a couple of smaller shared family items, which will probably take a grand total of 10 minutes for all to open for 7 people.  Our family will have stockings in which the only items they are filled with are small candies, for we don't have the financial ability to fill them to the brim with "real" gifts as well.  Our family will not have relatives visiting, or a grand turkey or ham displayed with all the trimmings.  In fact, our entire family will be heading off to work Christmas morning, spending the day at the airport serving travelers.  All of the above might not lend one to thinking we will have a very happy holiday, and oh how wrong they would be!!

What we have received instead this Christmas has been the sort of things the holiday really ought to be about...we have been given the gift of presence, as a couple of friends will spend Mexican Fiesta Christmas Eve dinner with us for the second year in a row prior to heading to church...and a tradition is being built.  We will spend tonight at a candle light service at church, which every single one of us loves.  We have been given the gift of music in multiple ways, as we sang and enjoyed the singing of others multiple times during Advent.  We have done something as small as walking down Main Street in the dark sipping hot chocolate, and somehow, that became a little about Christmas, too.  We have been offered the gift of long standing tradition and love from our adopted Grandpa, who once again allowed us to help him usher in the holiday season as we decorated his tree for the 5th or 6th year in a row.  Because of the intentional efforts to tone it all down, I have personally received the gift of less stress, which has been so lovely.  We have baked together, wrapped together, hung lights together in an extravaganza that Kenny and Matthew improve upon each year with great enthusiasm and planning.

But perhaps the single most important moment came last night, after having pulled our traditional 12 Days of Christmas Secret Santa prank.  For the past 12 days, we have driven across town to anonymously drop off a little gag gift by playing "Ding Dong Ditch" and running away.  For 12 days, we have thought about a couple who is going through a very challenging time in their lives with an unsuccessful back surgery which requires yet another surgery after the new year.  We have giggled about surprising them, prayed for them, and hoped we could brighten their very stressful and difficult Christmas this year.  Last night was the Big Reveal, as we visited for the 12th and final night of our prank, and offered them a small plate of goodies and some hugs.

How can I possibly share with you all the ways in which that very moment made it Christmas for our entire family?  How can I begin to express that I wish each and every person could, for a moment, enter into that experience with us?  Christmas is NOT NOT NOT about pretty paper and expensive gifts!!! Christmas is about the tears streaming down someone's face as they felt loved in a way that touched them so deeply, it is about the hanging on for dear life as someone wants desperately for you to know just how much what you did mattered to them.  Christmas is looking into someone's eyes and saying, "I love you, and I am so grateful you are in my life." and knowing that, even if only briefly, you have made a difference to someone.

As we all piled back in the van after our brief visit, everyone was silent for a few minutes, moved beyond words by the depth of emotion we had just experienced.  Then Matthew spoke up and said, "Did you see them crying like that?  I think that was Christmas for me.  I didn't know it would matter so much to them.  This was the best time we have ever done this and I am really glad we did it."  and the conversation began about how Christmas should never be about the "ought to do's" but instead should be more about the "want to do's", and connecting heart to heart...

So many good things have happened the past couple of months, nourishing us after a long and somewhat difficult year, and filling us as we head into yet another difficult one that is ahead as we face surgery and healing, financial challenges and uncertainty galore.  We have had the absolute joy of knowing that Emir, Kenny's long prayed for friend from his orphanage, along with another friend named Tilek, are finally, FINALLY legally adopted and will be coming to their new home in January!  Something feels "finished" for me with that, and is allowing me peace as we know that all 3 of Kenny's closest friends from his childhood now have families and are safe from harm.

The girls are developing a new long distance friendship with a young woman named Kamala who is teaching them Russian via Skype from Kyrgyzstan The giggles heard every Tuesday and Thursday night, along with the enthusiasm with which they are hitting the Russian book reflect how successful and meaningful this venture will be, and Dominick and I have the added bonus of knowing we will be helping Kamala financially to move into her own future.

After a lengthy interview process Matthew has been awarded a key leadership position assisting at the annual Civil Air Patrol Encampment at Colorado Springs, which will give him such incentive to work toward healing after his upcoming back surgery in February.  What a blessing that this came along just when he most needed the encouragement and something to look forward to!

There has also been great joy in watching Joshua blossom into a man.  There are no two ways around it, he is no longer a child and is in every way a responsible, caring, thoughtful, strong young man who may still play imaginary super heroes and love stuffed animals, but has one foot planted firmly in adulthood these days.  He is just a couple of days away from turning 12, but already I have that sense of security and safety when I am with him, just as I began to feel around Matthew when he was this age.  The man that is emerging is going to be stable and strong, and he still loves to be held and cuddle with his mom...what more could I wish for?

Kenny is beginning his life anew, and exploring many things about himself this year.  The joy there is that he is so fearless in self-examination, and he allows me to be part of the process with him.  Believe me, there is no deeper boy than Kenny LaJoy, and it is a complete privilege to be privy to the thoughts that he shares with me.  Full of heart, and such an acceptance of all that he struggles with, our journey with him is far from over, but is rich and full in ways that one might never imagine if they only looked at test results on paper.

Dominick has found the joy in quietly doing what he has done for years and yet is paid little notice of ...nurturing along men in his employ who very often would never have a chance anywhere else to repair themselves and turn into good, solid workers.  The past year he has seen 2 or 3 of his former employees move toward better and more stable employment after a stint with him in which he encouraged them to have a better work ethic, and patiently explained the expectations of all employers.  So many of his employees the past few years have been men re-entering the work force after time in prison, or very young men who have no skills, and have built families without making commitments.  Day by day, as he works alongside them washing cars or making sandwiches, he shares with them what his own life is like, and without judgment talks about the need to be there for your family, to "own your mistakes" and make amends, to work harder than you ever might think in order to get ahead.  The gift of acceptance, patience and nurturing he offers these men is a ministry all of its own, and one that is always going unacknowledged.  He has had the joy of seeing success with some of them this year, and that is a gift itself.

As for me, I have very little need for materials things, but a great need for relationships, and that need was met in astounding ways this year.  The feeling of Christmas might have lasted all year for me, as I have had the greatest blessing of all in having old relationships deepen in profound ways as friendships that were lived into more on the surface level took plunges that were very meaningful and are a light in my life.  The sustaining love and care that my friends here have brought me has made all the difference in my life, and I hope I have well enough articulated that to each and every one of them.

But my greatest Christmas gift this year will be a bit late, as I will travel in mid-January to Massachusetts to meet a new friend in person for the first time.  Through the adoption world, I have often met people in person after years of developing an online friendship that centers around our shared experiences with our kids, and every single time I have been delighted and never been disappointed.  This is different, however, as this friendship has developed via the connection intentionally made for me by another dear friend of mine and was literally brought to me on a silver platter as she said, "See?  I have something here for you...I think you'll like it!!", and as the dome was lifted, there was someone who seemed to have been almost custom made just for me. That my dear Miss Mary recognized that God was speaking to her about this will forever be something I am incredibly grateful for.  This friendship has quickly taken up space in my heart and life in a way that is all about me being me...not about shared challenges and kids and homeschooling and adoption journeys.  It is a friendship of a depth and richness I have never experienced before, and at a time of great general struggle in my life, God has met me in the form of my new friend.  It has been years and years (indeed, perhaps never!) since I have developed a friendship of any sort that is not about being a mom, but allowed me to be fully Cindy.  I am so glad that I have "intensely practiced" long distance connecting for so many years, as that has made it incredibly easy to be very real quickly with Candi, and we have been able to enjoy a level of depth many can't easily enter into at a distance because of it.  Dominick and the kids have encouraged me to explore this, and have given me time and space to do so, which is truly their gift to me this year.  I will spend 7 days being "Cindy" in January, not Mom, not Wife, not Homeschooler, not Adoptive Mommy Friend...just me.  I already feel incredibly spoiled, and it is with great anticipation and delight that I look forward to my Christmas gift of friendship coming in mid-January.

Christmas really is a feeling, something we often tend to overlook as we make Christmas into something it never should wish for you all is that today and tomorrow, as you go about your various holiday activities, you have somehow been able to find a way to tap that feeling that is Christ in the world.  Maybe it is in church this evening as a candle is being lit from one person to another, symbolizing the connectedness of Spirit.  Maybe it is in the laughter and enthusiastic squeals of your children as they open that gift they always wanted.  Maybe it is in the glance at your spouse as they look over your children's heads and give you that knowing look and grin.  Maybe you find that Christmas feeling around the table as you all hold hands and give thanks.  Maybe you won't have any of these things this year, but a stranger will touch your heart somehow.

Or will find that feeling inside yourself, as you contemplate all the blessings in your life, no matter how big or small.  Maybe you can hear God speak to you this day, telling you, "All is well, my Beloved, All is well."

May your lives be filled with all that is meaningful this holiday.  May you be satisfied with all you have.  May you yearn for nothing that really matters.  Amen.

With love, from All of Us to All of You, Team LaJoy wishes you the loveliest of holidays!

Everyone volunteering at the Food Bank!

Ice skating yesterday...on Christmas Eve Eve! Haha!

All My Menfolk...


Our Twins wishing you Merry Christmas!