Friday, May 06, 2016

A Random Assortment

"Dad and mom this is true in our family. Sometimes it is difficult for all us to see how far we came because still SO MUCH work has to be done. The difference is that we NEVER give up." - Posted to Facebook by Angela LaJoy this week.

Dissecting the report from the University of Washington with Kenny's firm diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was hard on the heart.  SO much potential in that young man, and yet so much damage done.  We sat around the table one morning this past week and I reviewed the report with the kids, and later with Dominick.  It is imperative that we all understand how hard it can be for Kenny, that we not blame him for what his brain simply can not do, that we are supportive and encouraging in all the ways we can be.  Tears came to her eyes as Angela saw parallels to her own occasional challenges, as she and Olesya are recognizing along with us that exposure to alcohol in utero is most certainly causing them difficulties as well.  There were the emotional wounds for them from lives lived with violent, impaired birth parents, and now they are facing and accepting the fact that there was more damage than just to their souls

You know what though?  This week I saw resilience in action.  Though serious information was being imparted, the kind which can alter a person's view of themselves forever, there was laughter as we joked about the ways in which we have encountered all of Kenny's "blips". I was thanked the next day in the car by Angela for my willingness to be honest and help her better understand herself, even though it was hard.  We can't work on challenges we don't admit are there, and every single one of our kids has a remarkable spirit which allows them to keep at it, even when it is heartbreakingly hard.

I also saw such kindness the past couple of weeks, such warmth for one another.  One moment that deeply moved me was a couple days after we had this conversation, and we had some scheduling conflicts with Kenny's orthodontist and Olesya with the optometrist.  I was trying to figure out how to be in two places at once, knowing I couldn't just drop Kenny off as there would be discussion about his treatment plan and when he might go back in braces again.  Matthew spoke up and said, "Mom, why don't I go with him, and then I can tell you what the orthodontist says."  Relieved, I dropped them both off, and then shook my head as I realized this was probably the first of many times in the future that Matt or one of the other kids would willingly step in to be Kenny's back up brain, and in doing so also take a bit of the pressure off of me.  Sometimes I can't split myself into enough parts to cover all of what Kenny needs, and still be there for everyone else.  Matt has no idea how much that helped me, nor how thoughtful that really was.

We also celebrated Angela's 18th birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't get any photos posted.  It was low key, but heralded her arrival on Facebook, as we have determined not to allow the kids on social media until they are more mature.  She has happily been posting things, asking me what is safe to do, sharing some sweet sentiments that speak to who she is inside.

18 years old...blossoming in so many ways.
How I love this insightful daughter of mine!

With her gift card to Sephora, Angie went on a birthday shopping trip, with Josh and I along for the fun.  As she sat down for a mini-makeover, she handed me her large white, "blingy" purse and asked if I could hold on to it for her.  Josh reached over and grabbed it from me, throwing it over his shoulder casually and saying, "I'll hold it for her, you already have your purse." Now, mind you, this wasn't a joke, this was done with an ease and lack of self-consciousness that most adult men would struggle with (though Dominick wouldn't!).  Thus adorned, he said he was going to go look for shirts in the Men's Department, and off he went.  Angela and I looked at each other and remarked upon how Josh carries himself with such confidence and self-assurance, and that he truly wouldn't care one whit if someone made a remark about him walking around with a purse.  He is just the kind of kid who knows who he is, and is immune to the pressures of being macho or fitting in.  He is also developing such a masculine aura about him and yet is totally blind to that fact.  13 has been a wonderful age for Josh.

Josh has also had some success at Gun Club this year, and at season's end he walked away with 3 patches, a pin, and a trophy for second place at a competition.  

Another adventure the past week or so was visiting via Skype with a multi-aged after school club in Kazakhstan!  We awoke at 6 am to be ready and smiling at 7 to meet our new friends, and the conversation was interesting and giggle filled as both sides of the world had young people not quite knowing what to say to one another, and yet fascinated with the faces on the screens before them.

Olesya is still very much enjoying volunteering at the animal shelter, and is also enjoying being glasses free as she tried contacts and fell in love with them.  She dislikes having her picture taken so I have fewer to post online of her as I respect that (I hate it myself!), but I think I can talk her into one decent one soon without glasses.  Her supervisor at the shelter made a point of coming out to my car while I waited to pick her up a week ago and she told me that Olesya was a wonderful young lady, a hard worker, and already one of their best volunteers.  She was asked to come in on her day off and help with the spay/neutering clinic, so she is excited about that and this is really helping her self-esteem.  I love watching her gradually move into a different way of seeing herself, a more positive and loving way.

Angela's stint at the nursing home is still filling her soul, and it is clear she has a calling in this area.  She missed two weeks because of a failed tuberculosis test due to she and Olesya both having had TB when they were young, so chest Xrays were finally cleared and she was back this week.  She bounced into the car, proud to show me her new badge:

Matt has been quite happily working in the garage on his new workbench and "Tech Arena", spending hours absorbed in all kinds of projects. He also was a guest speaker at a local community forum attended by 70 or so local citizens and he shared about the Civil Air Patrol program.  I received a photo from an old friend I haven't seen in a few years, who was quite impressed with Matt's poise and presence.  She wanted to make sure I knew that, and sent me the picture.

Kenny has been asked to be a camp counselor at the kids' church camp this year for the youngest ones there.  His prior counselor, a wonderfully kind and warm woman who has been doing this for probably 20 years, reached out to me and asked if I thought Kenny would enjoy it, and be capable of it with support.  She has read the blog from time to time and wanted to come alongside Kenny and support his dreams of ministry.  We chatted for a bit and she fully understands Kenny will need support to succeed in this, and she has other counselors who will partner with him.  I love how she viewed the counseling role as also a way to minister to others, and this will certainly do just that for Kenny.  When I told him that Miss Teddy had called and asked specifically for him, his face lit up like I don't think I have ever seen it before.  He was hesitant to respond until I explained that she understood he would need help but thought he could contribute meaningfully to camp, and she would put in place people to help him.  He immediately asked if I thought he would be a burden, as that word comes up a lot right now.  He said he didn't want to go if it would make things harder, and I assured him that she really did want him and was hopeful he would say yes.  The next thing he so thoughtfully asked was if I would mind driving him over the extra weekend required for training and then a day earlier for camp.  He knows I am feeling like I am operating a taxi service to Denver this next few months, we have so many trips over I must make, and I have to admit I thought it was quite kind of him to even consider that for me.  So, I guess we have a camp counselor in our midst...hurray!

Monday, May 02, 2016

Letting My Soul Be Changed

You know what's kind of funny?  When you understand a "truth" to be true for others, but not necessarily for yourself.   I can see how others have put forward every possible ounce of effort, I can lift up their successes, I can see their failures as mere stepping stones rather than road blocks. I can look at any other human being on earth, and see their humanity, appreciate their gifts, and view them as worthy of all the goodness that life has to offer.


Not so much.

I am quick to understand that God sees all as precious, and yet often add a silent "except for..." when it comes to myself.  It isn't something I do consciously, it just sort of happens.

I think many women do, not just me.

I have deemed myself never quite good enough, never quite smart enough, never "worthy" enough, and I don't really know why.  Every day, I feel as if I "coulda, shoulda, woulda" done more, that I haven't quite done enough to help the kids through all the challenges they have, that I want to be more for Dominick as he works so hard, that I haven't reached out to my friends enough. Seldom do I sit back at the end of the day and think to myself, "Yes!  Today I really rocked it!"  I don't know if part of is it cultural expectations gone awry, my own internal sense of self, or something else I have yet to put my finger on.  All I know is that since I was very young, I have been my own worst critic.

Our family, in particular, has been blessed time and time again, and not just in little ways, but in enormous ways, with very real commitment and care.  It always leaves me feeling as if I can never do enough to repay the generosity and kindness of others, though I desperately wish I could.  We have been cared for better than any family I know, in a million different ways, and at the end of the day, I often ask, "Why?  Why us?", for there is no reason I can discern for God to have wrapped us up in so much love and goodness.

Next Sunday afternoon, I am embarking on a very special trip, an early gift for my 50th birthday...a
land excursion and cruise to Alaska, a place I have always wanted to see.  My best friend, Candi, is treating me to this amazing adventure, something Dominick nor I could ever imagine being able to do at this stage of our lives, and honestly, maybe never.

I should be excited, dancing in the streets, hardly able to contain myself, yet most of what I have felt is that I am unworthy of such a gift, guilt because of leaving the family for so long, and concern that I could never offer such a thing in return, despite the fact that I know this is freely and lovingly offered.

My God loves me a heck of a lot more than I love myself, and through this experience, which is perhaps one of the first blessings that is really and truly all about me, I have discovered how my lack of self-worth has caused me to miss something special in the lead up to this trip...I have ruined the joy of anticipation with my sense of being undeserving.  It is particularly ironic, largely because this is the very thing I have worked so darned hard on with Olesya, to try and build her self-esteem, to help her see herself as worthy in every possible way.  I am a big one for modeling behavior, and I have failed on this one, Big Time.

As we sat around the table tonight creating a menu and going over schedules for the time I will be gone, it was obvious that everyone was excited for me, and that they were happy I was getting a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Dominick smiled and said he totally has it covered.  I swear, that man is a better mom than I am, sitting there with his schedule all coordinated, meals laid out with each kid cooking one day a week, grocery list already started.  Wayyy more organized than I am! They all want me to relax and enjoy myself, and, sadly, it seems I am not quite sure what that looks like anymore, or how to "have fun" for more than 10 minutes without jumping up to move on to the next task.  What I do know is that they are all quite capable, and they really aren't "babies" anymore, not by a long shot.  I was reminded tonight by them that I have no reason to feel guilt about leaving them, as they are all excited to enter into their own "adventure" without Mom around for a bit.

This morning our sermon once again spoke to me.  Initially, it had me thinking in a couple of totally different directions, but as I sat down to write this blog post tonight, it was something that hit me a bit about this as well.  The message was based on Psalm 67, which starts with:  "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us..."  

Duh.  God doesn't view any of us as unworthy, not even me, and is instead gracious and good to us, God wants to smile upon us, to bring light and hope to us, and to refresh our weary souls.  I have so very much to internalize, not just know in my head, but to take in deep and let my soul be changed by it.

So I have decided that this is where it ends, that I am going to stop viewing this marvelous gift ahead of me as something to feel unworthy of.  Well, that might take a lot of work, but I am going to at least try to enter into the coming week with enthusiasm and excitement, to put aside a lot of the heaviness that has been a hard load to carry the past year or two and see this as a a way of God wrapping me up in a hug.  I will grab my camera, pack my bag, and set aside all labor to go play.  No teaching, no laundry, no cooking, no guiding, no planning, no grading, no robbing Peter to pay Paul, no feeling like I am never quite doing enough.  It'll all be waiting here for me when I return, and a fresh perspective will surely bring a lighter-hearted Cindy back home, ready to dig in and deal with the myriad challenges that are coming our way this year, that are too many to mention.

May we all feel worthy, as we truly are.
May we all feel loved, as we freely are.
May we all feel blessed, as we surely are.