Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pain Endured or Opportunity Lost?

A couple of days ago, I was lounging on the couch talking with Angela, while the other kids were off doing their thing.  It was dark and quiet, and we were softly speaking about Things That Matter.  Angela brought up my trip this next week to Massachusetts to go visit my new long distance Sister-Friend, and the subject of  sisterhood and real siblings came up as we talked about how close she and Olesya are.  I casually said I realized she would always feel something different for Olesya than she did with the boys.

With a hint of indignance  she looked at me and vehemently said, "No Mom, you are wrong.  Maybe at first I felt closer to Olesya, but not for a long, long time.  I love my brothers just as much as I do my sister, and I feel like I was born into this family and they are just as much my real brothers as Olesya is my real sister.  I have the kindest brothers in the whole world, and they are my real brothers and will be forever.  Blood doesn't make a difference, and you know that.  Just like you are my real mom and dad is my real dad.  You are more my parents than my birth parents ever were, and I don't feel closer to them because they gave birth to me.  I feel closer to you because you love me, and that is what matters most."

Yea, I was schooled.  And I couldn't be prouder or more touched.  Guess that judge 5 years ago was a little off base, too, when she doubted ethnic Kazakh kids could get along in the same family as ethnic Russian kids.

Love changes everything.  It really does.

How often do we make assumptions about how strong a connection might or might not be because someone doesn't look like us, have the same background as us, or has a different lifestyle than us?  I have a friend who is reaching out with great vigor into the dating world, and she has elected to push herself to be more open than usual, and is making a great effort not to automatically kick people out of the "Possibility Pool" based upon preconceived notions because of what they do for a living or what hobbies they enjoy.  She has met some incredibly interesting men because of this openness, some of whom she has had very strong connections to despite her initial thoughts based upon data that might have previously caused her to pass them over as "not a fit".

Unless we are willing to take chances and reach out to others who are different from us, we never grow.  Unless we take risks and reach out to others who might hurt us, we never really find true connection and fulfillment.  We can't guard ourselves forever, we can't keep bars across our hearts tightly welded and then say we have never experienced real love, blaming it on The Universe when really it is our own unwillingness to open up to possibility that causes our isolation.  We have to be willing to be hurt, we have to be willing to reach out and from time to time get burned a little.

Every single time we have adopted, our kids took a risk, just as we did.  Each of us yearned for love and acceptance, and we tentatively reached out, hoping we weren't making a mistake, but willing to make a big one on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, real love awaited us.  Sure, it might not have worked, and great pain would have ensued...but what would have been missed if the risk hadn't been taken?

For some, it is easier to remain with the comfortable and familiar and be able to point and say, "See?  At least I didn't do something like that and have my heart broken." and then they can count how many times they have been "saved" from pain and loss other more adventurous souls experience. But what those "Secure Suzies" are not counting is the amount of joy and love that has been missed because "safe" is better than "risk".  How many connections are not discovered because it is too hard to look at someone and bluntly say, "You know, I really like you!  Why don't we get to know one another better?" or because we are too scared to tentatively reach out and grab a hand or offer a hug.

For some, they hear an internal scream that says, "Don't do that!  You know what might happen!  You could get HURT!".  Others hear a gentle quiet urging, "Go ahead, give it a shot, what's the worst that can happen?  If you get hurt, you'll get over it, but if you miss this opportunity, you might regret it forever...go for it!"  I guess it is all in perspective, and what would bring the greatest regret...pain endured, or opportunity lost.

I know what category I fall into...opportunity lost is far more painful to me than pain endured.  In fact, my experience has shown that sometimes, pain endured often leads to love found, so even then that pain can be categorized differently.

At 6:00 am Tuesday morning I am embarking on a little adventure of my own as I leave my family
behind, and with their blessing, travel across the US to meet someone I have grown to love virtually, and will be meeting for the first time.  This may sound odd to some, but to those who know me, it is actually something I have lived out over and over again...meeting people I have grown to love or care about  prior to ever being in their presence is familiar and comfortable for me, and I have done it over and over again, my life always enriched by the discovery of someone new.

This time, there is a certainty that is seldom present, for I have found the most wonderful friend in the world, and I am anxious to spend time with her.  I was going to add "and get to know her in person" but frankly, that seems silly because I already know her completely, and the meeting is a mere formality.  We have each invested an enormous amount of time in building this connection, because the hint of what might be possible contained within our very first email exchange was that silent Spirit voice urging us to "Go ahead...give it a shot..." Because we are both people who are fearless in our willingness to put our hearts out there, and are open to emotional risk, we have been rewarded abundantly.  Each of us has been profoundly hurt in the past, and yet it didn't stop us from trying again, over and over, because This Matters, and our previous pain taught us a different lesson than it might have taught others.  We learned that pain can be moved through, that it makes you stronger, and that the love and friendship found when the risk is taken and is successful is worth the pain when the risk is taken and from time to time the attempt fails.

It's worth it. I have been taught that by my very own children, and Angela is the best example possible.  The symbiotic nature of the learning that happens between parent and child is such a gift, if the elder is open to learning from the younger.  How much wiser I am, how much more experience I have gained from being in relationship with my children.  They have been the very best teachers for me, because I intentionally watch and listen to them.  I don't discount their innate wisdom because of their age, for they have so much to offer me, and so often model a different way of being in the world that has moved me forward in so many ways.

Pain endured or opportunity lost...I'll endure the pain once in awhile, for I simply can not bear the lost opportunity.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Winter of Hygge

Today I stumbled upon a term that was new to me, it is a Danish word for which there is no real English translation. The word is "hygge", which loosely translates to "coziness" or a connected sense of community which brings about that sense of warmth we often associate with quiet conversations around a warm fire.  I love this new word, and I quickly recognized it as what I am feeling as we enter 2015...hygge is where I am at this very moment.  Knowing we have a lot of stress ahead of us with work and medical issues, I am allowing myself to claim "hygge" for the moment, which may be all I am allowed but I will live in that coziness for as long as I can.

As we awaited the New Year, and as Dominick has begun working full time at the restaurant for the winter, the kids and I entertained ourselves by going on a short hike with friends to view something few get to see in "real life"...after church last weekend we saw some petroglyphs!  What started out as a gloomy, overcast day turned into a crisp, bright, sunny afternoon just for our hike!  The warmth of the sun radiating off the red rock cliffs helped keep us from freezing, and we had a wonderful time as our guide told us all about this protected area.  She grew up nearby, and had scrambled through this rocky area many a time as a child, and so had many personal stories to share about what we were seeing, which made the excursion even more interesting.

Matthew was unable to join us, as he was working with Dominick that day.  The kids have all given up some extra shifts so that Matthew can work while he can and earn money for the year before having his work season cut short by back surgery.  I love how thoughtful the kids were in coming up with this plan and offering it to Matt as their little gift to him.  He was quite grateful, and so until the first week of February he'll be working every weekend.

Here are some photos from our day:

Everyone enjoyed the guide's stories, and we all learned a lot!

Smiling Male and Female Duos

As you can see, these were really stunning.  I am so glad they are being protected and that you need permission and a guide to view them.

It was one of those days where one kid just seems to naturally be in Photogenic Mode.  My friend kept nudging me saying, "Look!  Take a picture!" as Josh just looked so masculine and much older looking these days.

Kenny asked a lot of questions and really pondered it all...

And there he is again...

Coming down the trail, it was warm for a bit, but soon temperatures dipped and jackets were firmly back on.

A few days later, we hosted a houseful of friends from church for a New Year's Eve party, during which we also celebrated Joshie's birthday, which falls the day after Christmas.  Hard to believe that this little guy:

Turned into the big strapping 12 year old we have today!

Do you ever look at photos of your children, current or older pictures, and just feel your heart burst with love for them?  Do you ever think what your life would have been like without them and quickly turn from that thought because the pain is too great to fathom?  Looking at old photos tonight, I was so struck by young pictures of each of the kids...some we are very fortunate to have of Angela, Olesya and Kenny of their earlier years in the orphanage.  We have 4 or 5 baby or toddler photos of Kenny, but sadly, we have none of the girls before about age 6 or 7.  I can not tell you how much I wish we had even one photo of our sweet daughters when they were babies.  It is a special kind of loss to not have a picture of them as young little ones, as we do of the all the boys.  Did they change much as they matured?  Did they look as much alike when they were very young?  Did they smile as broadly before life really hit them hard and they found themselves homeless and so ill?  Questions we will never have answers for, I am afraid.

Josh received a special gift this year, as we spent a lot more than we normally do on a birthday gift.  Because it is so close to Christmas, we often simply can not afford much, and it always feels as if Joshua's birthday is not celebrated with as much enthusiasm.  Because he is enjoying the Gun Club so much, we decided we wanted to get him his first real gun.  Dominick and I went shopping and found a beautiful little .22 rifle for him, something Josh never expected.  He was quite surprised!:

Ready to open up the gift!

But first...

He carefully read Mom's card.  It is interesting to me how just this year, all of the kids have commented on how the cards I write are as meaningful to them as any gift itself.  I find that so touching, and realized I need to spend more time writing notes to the kids.  It seems to be something very special to them.  Josh actually carefully read every single card he received from anyone, not allowing himself to be rushed by others.  It told me a lot about his heart to watch him do that.

Later, after everyone had left, Joshie told me, "Mom, thank you for trusting me so much.  I really like my new rifle and I promise you I will always be careful and will use what I am learning at Gun Club so I am safe.  I can't believe you and Dad gave this to me!  You are the best parents ever.  I know you had to give up something to afford this for me, thank you so much.  I am so lucky to have you and Dad."  And my heart melted a little.

12 years old, and still willing to snuggle with Mom.  I am whispering to him here and had no idea someone had grabbed the camera.  Seeing such tenderness from the outside and knowing how hard Josh and I worked to have this with each other, I feel so blessed that we are able to enjoy this sort of closeness with one another.  I will never forget how we almost didn't have this, how difficult it was for him to accept nurturing touch of any sort.  A lot of healing has taken place in this little guy, and I am so very proud of how far we have come. 

And yet, even now attachment struggles and insecurity I prepare to leave next Tuesday for a week, Joshie is already showing signs of an internal struggle with my absence, as it manifests itself in the usual way with him wandering around the house every 10 minutes looking for the dog to make sure Sunny is not lost, and needing his blankie again.  We keep working toward him feeling 100% secure, and we will get there, but such moments remind me we are still are not quite there yet and have ongoing work to do.

How I love him!!

A strong, capable, responsible young man before longer a boy, not really straddling childhood and adulthood as he leans far more toward one than the other these days.  Yet he has the tenderest heart and is so open and warm, sharing his emotions in cards and letters so beautifully.  We received the sweetest Christmas note from him, and I was blown away by the ways in which he expressed his love for Dominick and I so eagerly and easily.  I am the luckiest mom in the world to have children who each are so affectionate and kind with their parents, particularly at the ages our kids are.  

Despite the busyness of the holidays, now behind us, and ski season, still before us, we definitely are experiencing "hygge"...a special coziness that is wrapping around us all.  Spending time with friends, which has happened frequently the past month or so, and simply being together as a family brings the warmth of winter to us.  It might be 20 degrees outside, but inside our home we experience light and love the likes of which are not found often.  We'll be returning to school tomorrow, everyone eager to get back to a routine after 2 weeks of uninterrupted blissful unscheduled days.  We have lots of exciting learning ahead of us, and we can enter into the next semester renewed in many ways.

2015 may prove to be very difficult for us, but we will hopefully carry that feeling of "hygge" forward with us, allowing us to be very present and attentive to God's leading.  We pray that the year stretching out before us is gentle with us, and is filled with all the goodness and wealth of a sort that money can not buy...