Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sweet Early Summer

2016 is a year of "markers" for our family, as yesterday Dominick and I celebrated our 30th anniversary, Angela celebrated turning 18 in April and Kenny will turn 18 in November.  I'll be turning 50 in August.  That is a lot of celebrating in one year!  I wish we could have turned this year into an extravaganza of events, but we simply can't afford to do that, so our celebrations have been necessarily low key.  This past year has been one of enormous financial challenge, and we are at the stage where our house is almost 20 years old, and every major appliance is electing to die an unceremonious death as well.  They have served faithfully, but as one after another after another heaves its last breath, all we hear is "Ca-Ching, Ca-Ching"!!

Last night though, as I looked around the table, I realized that low key suits us.  We are not a flashy family, and Dominick and I laughed over our big anniversary meal of nachos as we talked with the kids about other "big" anniversary years...our 10th as we were separated and working on moving from California to Colorado, our 25th as the girls came home and we couldn't manage any sort of celebration really.  There was a lot of laughter and joking, and sweet handmade cards with surprise gift cards in them so we can have a night out sometime when things settle down in our life.  The store has been super busy, a real blessing, and I am traveling every week or week and a half to Denver or Colorado Springs for the kids for camp or other events.  We decided we will wait until fall and then maybe have a little overnight getaway when we would really look forward to it, rather than trying to "cram it in" around everything else.

And you know what?  It's all good.  We are enjoying the life we have, not needing anything more because what we have here is all we need.  We moved to live where we would not feel a need to have to "go on vacation" to get away from it all, we have a very happy family life and live with the kindest, most helpful teens, and Dominick is SO happy with his work life now, it is a joy for me to see.

We are having a wonderful time hosting Christi, my friend Candi's daughter, and are very excited that her son Billy also decided he wanted to come for a visit, so we will be adding another "adopted" son next week, as I pick him up when I pick Matt up at the airport in Denver.  These two are such wonderful additions to our lives, and we are so happy to have the chance to really get to know them better this summer.

Matt is having a once in a lifetime adventure himself right now, as he is in Bangor, Maine with Civil Air Patrol at Flight Camp.  There, for ten days, he is immersing himself in official ground school and will hopefully be passing enough to do his solo flight as he pursues obtaining his pilot's license.  If all goes well there, he will return and work on flying enough hours to get his license.  He flew by himself, a first for him and another rite of passage for our young man.  We are all enjoying reading the camp's blog and receiving photos of his time there.

Clearly, he is taking this all very seriously, as he should.  Matt has a strong desire to remain with Civil Air Patrol as an adult and work with the younger kids.  He'd like to be the one flying and taking them up for their first flights, and helping train them.  

Here are a couple of pictures of Christi with the kids, I stole them from their Facebook pages! Hahaha!

We haven't done anything exciting while Christi is here, nor will we with Billy.  It always leaves me wondering if I am a good enough "hostess" when we have company.  Our idea of big thrills was to go cherry picking locally, where the kids all happily picked 9 lbs of cherries, which as of this writing 2 days later are all gone.  We've gone for a drive to get out of our hot home (swamp cooler is broken and being replaced) up to the mountains to Silverton and wandered around.  We are going to Sam's Club today and are joking about how many trips to Walmart Christi will make with us (four thus far, shooting for eight).  But we are laughing together, reading together, playing games together, having long talks together, basically, just being us in our little world.  

We can't wait to have Matt and Billy join us!  It's been a sweet, sweet summer so far, and stopping school to enjoy a few weeks of true down time for the first time in years has been wonderful for me, as well as the kids.  There is still much ahead with church camp to look forward to for them, and a week at Lake City in August.  In the meantime, Sam's Club we are off!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Waxing and Waning...Real Life

The waxing moon, so close to full illumination, shined down upon us as the entire family spent the latter part of the evening enjoying one another's company on the cool darkened patio.  Kenny and Josh, re-enacting some super hero scene on the trampoline, Dominick's face aglow as he researched store items on the iPad, and the girls, Matt and I sit snuggled up side by side on the picnic table, the occasional swipe at a mosquito the only interruption to our inconsequential conversation.  We lean on one another, one head on one shoulder, then a shift the other direction, as we tell silly jokes, reminisce about younger years, and just soak up the simple pleasure of being safe in "our" place with the people we love the most, where acceptance is always present, where quirks are known, and encouragement is but a word away.

Earlier we had gathered at a friend's house, shared a Father's Day supper and continued with an ongoing study of what the Bible really is and means.  Somehow, we began talking about what was considered sacred, and what "sacred" really meant.  The Bible, Koran, or Torah can be sacred, cathedrals can be sacred, landscapes of inescapable beauty can be sacred, too.  We can find the sacred in relationship with one another, when our heart skips a beat and we open another door so that the one before us can see more of who we really are...oh, that is sacred beyond all doubt.

For me, my family is sacred, and our home is a sacred place.  It is a place where healing has occurred, both for our family and others.  It is where you can be all of who you are, feel all of what you feel, and say all of what needs to be said...and still be held closely.  Our home is a place where respect is expected, where the Spirit isn't just invited in but hovers around us, nudging  and enlightening us.  Don't get me wrong, I am not one who is tied to material things at all, and I could easily leave this structure and create another sacred home elsewhere...but this home matters right now, and it is where "my people" live or are invited in to be loved and cared for.

We all live in a home where nothing is perfect, and yet somehow, that alone makes it the ideal place to be.  There are some days that gently wrap around you, pulling you in and creating a nest for you to rest in.  That is what the past few days have been for me, as I look around at this family that God called to be as one, and I reflect on how far we have all come together, how wonderful it is to be in the midst of this, and how much distance yet still left to travel.  What lovely and loving companions I have for the journey still before me!  Gratitude oozes from every pore this night, peace envelopes me, and all problems seem a little less overwhelming, despite their  acknowledged presence.

Last weekend we celebrated Matt's 17th birthday (Can you believe it??) with a little family escape to Denver to visit our first Maker Faire.  We have had very little time together without work hovering over us, so this was a much needed opportunity to reconnect more deeply, as well as to explore the Maker world, described as "an event created by Make magazine to celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset".  We weren't quite sure what to expect, but we knew it would probably be interesting and it would have displays of great interest to Matt.  As it turned out, we all loved it, and hope to go to another sometime!

As we waited outside, I forced them all to pose for a picture together, as it has been awhile since I had one with them all!

Once inside the event, held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, we entered a world which somehow expertly combined both high tech and low tech to create one fascinating day for us all.  We watched someone create handmade lace, which is somewhat of a dying art:

The incomplete piece below has already taken the artisan over 60 hours to get this far!

We watched demonstrations by scientists.

Explored CNC technology...

Tried our hand at lock picking...for real!

Ok, a couple were stymied and never quite got the hang of it :-)

We also saw the inner workings of the various parts to a pinball machine and learned how they all worked together to create the much beloved games.

One of the most interesting things we did was to visit with a poet, who took a single word offered by each of us, and crafted a poem on the spot.  

Here, we are, waiting for our poem to be was fascinating!

The words offered were:

Dominick:  Maddening
Cindy:  Drone
Angela:  Gypsy
Olesya:  Seriously
Kenny:  Joy
Josh:  Orange
Matt:  Nebula

Hmmm...what was he going to do with this strange little collection of words.  Wow, in mere minutes he returned something pretty amazing!

Let your joy be maddening, 
let it drive you utterly crazy, 
abandon anything that does not feed you,
that does not nourish you as you make your way,
wanderingly, the eternal gypsy, 
with everywhere your home.
And people will call you crazy,
they will call you their one true love,
and they will call you jackass,
but none of that matters, 
none of this is to be taken seriously.
Our little finite minds making sand castles, 
to stand for eternity
and the oranges and reds and blues exploding 
in a nebula, dazzle and delight,
and yet they could be tragedy and disaster for others.
But beauty is only for the beholder,
as is tragedy,
you should take it all personally,
and let the drone of the multitudes, 
blend into the background,
as the ample theme music to your life,
and your own daring acts of living.

For someone who didn't know us, we all found this to be quite eloquent in terms of how it described our family and the way we try to live our lives...ignoring the finite minds of others, letting the droning of others blend into the background as theme music to our own daring acts of living.  We've been called crazy, that's for sure!  Someone's one true love?  Eh, ok, not so much :-)  The kids all loved this and each took a photo with their devices to save.

Matthew was in seventh heaven as he wandered from booth to booth, speaking with vendors about laser cutters, 3D printers, electronic components, and much more.  There were several booths there from colleges and trade/tech schools, but he was uninterested in them despite several of them offering courses of study I know were along the lines of his interest.  I am wise enough to recognize he has a path laid out before him that feels authentic and true to him for his future, even if ill defined at the moment, it has some form and substance to it and we are trusting what he obviously feels called to do, as well as how he feels called to do it.  College has been discussed numerous times, with pros and cons thoroughly explored.  I am learning daily that truly gifted kids are marching to the beat of a different drummer, and my role is to simply suggest various rhythms.

We don't often talk about Matt's giftedness, though it has grown more evident the past couple of years as he blossoms more and more into his own true self.  His quiet and helpful nature is reflected in how he explains things clearly to his siblings, never talking down to them, always excited to share some new factoid and then go to the white board to create diagrams to help us all better understand.  He is proving to have quite a gift at teaching complicated topics in easy to understand language.  The fact that he is also considered twice exceptional, with a learning disability in writing, makes it all the more interesting.  He is one of the most passionate learners I have ever encountered (in our house, that takes some doing as they all really are), and he is quietly self-educating in a wide variety of topics of interest to him.  Economics and economic theory, physics, computer coding, ethics, the art of great design, and more are all areas where I am simply providing access and asking him to share with me what he finds interesting, facilitating far more than teaching, and being a sounding board for his ideas.  His last library visit included a tome on the history of Rome, Einstein for Dummies, Python Playground (Python is a coding language), Digital Handmade (a beautiful book on how 3D printing and other additive or subtractive equipment are being used in the creation of art), and Why Beauty is Truth:  A History of Symmetry.  No, I can no longer keep up with him.  No, I don't view that as a problem in educating him...again, I am a facilitator, not the educator and Know It All.  No, I am not worried about him or his future.  I've trusted his (and my) gut and God this far, no reason to stop now.  This next year, in addition to a full course load for his senior year, he wants to add in College Algebra and some sort of course yet to be nailed down on RFID technology and other radio wave "stuff" (Please don't ask me anything more! Hahaha!).

Soooooo, needless to say, this event was very satisfying for him, a great way to celebrate his birthday.  The bonus was that all of us discovered new and interesting things at the Faire, we all left praising the event and talking about each of our favorite exhibits.  Everyone was quite taken with a presentation in the planetarium, where you felt as if you were racing through the galaxy.  Josh and Olesya were both also quite fascinated by the Raptor Exhibit, where various birds of prey were on display.

The next day included a meandering through IKEA and dreaming of home decorating ideas with the girls...dreams that will never be able to afforded, though those kitchens are really awesome!  We also did an Escape Room together, which everyone chipped in to pay for.  For those who have never heard of it before, an Escape Room is an interactive experience, sort of like walking into a video game puzzle room.  They are becoming all the rage and you are locked into a room with a particular setting and story line, with clues hidden that you need to figure it out in order to escape your room.  We did manage to escape within the allotted one hour time frame, but it was not easy!

After returning home, we jumped back into our summer routine, which for the first time in a long time isn't including much school.  Mom needed a true break in order to re-invigorate myself for the coming year, which will be filled with a wide variety of topics to learn, and a lot of thought required on my part.  The girls are very much enjoying their volunteering, with Olesya working at the shelter and Angela volunteering at the nursing home.

She's official!

When I pulled up to get Angela Tuesday afternoon, she was sitting outside visiting with an older resident and they were clearly in deep conversation.  Though she saw me, she continued to offer her gift of presence to this gentleman, knowing I would "get it" that she was exactly where she needed to be in the moment.  Oh, what a sweet and gentle way she has with the elderly!  I sat there in the car, watching her from afar, loving her so very much as I thought of how much softer that heart of hers has grown...and how much larger.  So much intentional work on her part around smoothing the rough edges caused by her past, I couldn't be more touched by all she has successfully worked on in herself, and how much that matters to her.  This young woman has the most beautiful soul, and a sense of self-awareness rarely found in someone so young.

Kenny also had a fantastic growing experience at camp counselor training a couple of weeks ago, spending the weekend learning the ropes, and finding a peer group who sees how much he has to offer with a little outside help.  It was a very important event for him, as he walked away telling me he finally felt like he was among a group of people with whom he really belonged for the very first time.  Yes, he forgot his sleeping bag.  Yes, he forgot his pillow.  Yes, he forgot a towel.  Yes, he forgot his way back from the chapel and had to return and go the other way :-)  But he sees how he can contribute in a meaningful way, he sees how he can be part of something separate from his family as long as the support and understanding of his disabilities is there...and it clearly was, much to our unending gratitude.  Our road with Kenny is not a straight highway, but a winding canyon road, with switchbacks galore.  I have no idea where it is leading him for his future, but I am determined to be by his side 100% helping him figure it out, and I know God can use him in ways I can't even fathom...and probably already IS using him.

In the midst of the early summer sweetness has been some major financial chaos, with a couple of surprises with the business expenses that are huge, Matt's new braces that were a must due to damage occurring, a broken oven, a broken swamp cooler, and a broken BBQ as of this afternoon.  Yea, all in 2 weeks time.  Buying a home that was new when purchased almost 20 years ago means every appliance goes around the same time...::Sigh::  But in the face of what has every right to panic us, we are at peace.  It's all ok, looking around us we are managing to make it somehow, and I trust that will continue even if it isn't easy.  The Spirit is present to light the way, carrying us through the dark and sometimes...on days like today...actually providing emotional space to figuratively sun bathe and let it all go for a bit.  Like the moon which waxes and wanes, so too does life.  But whether you can see all that is before you clearly, or not, you know the solidity is there, and it will only take patience and little bit of time before all is clear and illuminated just for you.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

No More!!!

Over 100 people trapped in a nightmare, screams of terror, gun shots rat-a-tat-tatting as the blood spills...and spills...and spills.  Last words via texts that will never be deleted, answers that will never quite suffice.  Pundits kick tidbits of news around like a soccer ball, speculation and repetition doing its grand work of creating more "awareness" but what really happens is the "Specticalization" of death, in reality not all that different than the crowds of old that surrounded the guillotines and gallows and watched in half horror, half fascination.


Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

A young woman bravely shares the story of the worst night of her life, after having been exscoriated publicly for having the audacity to imbibe too much at a party and pass out, while her attacker is given a sentence of a mere 6 months for sexual assault because, after all, he was a "good young man" and "had a future".  The ruling sent a message to all young men that women are essentially "fair game" if they are incapacitated, and that the world understands that males can't really be expected to control their sexual urges because young men are basically nothing more than animals in heat.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Children at schools across our nation, shot in the hallways as binders clatter to the ground and bodies crumble, teachers scrambling to lock down classrooms or bravely stepping in front of a barrage of bullets to lay down their lives for their young charges.  Disturbed young men  behind the gun sights, many victims themselves of years of abuse, neglect, or lack of access to effective mental health care, living inside heads that project images of violence and mayhem quietly urging them toward their 15 minutes of vengeance and fame.  Most yearn to finally be seen in a world they wandered where no one saw them at all, their invisible selves often having walked the very same hallways where they one day bring their anger, and inflict their rage on institutions that were asked to do too much with too little.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Black men falling, failing, flailing about..."I can't breath!" they cry, "I am innocent!" they cry, "I am hurting!" they cry, as unbelieved as they always have been, cast aside as unworthy and unnecessary by society, locked up longer and more frequently than white counterparts for similar crimes, their protestations of inequality dismissed over and over again, their charges of brutality ignored until The Era of the Phone Cam proves their case for them.  Their families forever altered by their lengthy absence, their young black sons follow in foot steps that lead right up to the cages waiting for them as they shake their heads and feel as trapped by their lives as their fathers before them, and their fathers before them.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Men and women in uniform called upon to save us all, be it on the streets of Baghdad or the alleys of the Bronx. Bravely they perform their tasks as their minds become contorted by all they wish they had not seen.  The majority are fine folk, who take the heat and wear the shame of those less honorable in uniform who let power overtake them and act cruelly and unfairly.  Daily, their jobs become harder as they want only to return home safely each night to their families, and the injustice created by the few causes the anger to rise, the outcry growing to a cacaphony that points the finger at all for the actions of a few.  Gunned down in those same streets and alleyways, both here and overseas, we elevate them to hero status posthumously, or allow them to return home shattered to a sickening lack of services.  One by one, they pull triggers with barrels pressed firmly against their own heads, or find other ways to end the suffering they experience for the sake of protecting us.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

Debate after debate reveals the lack of character and missing moral compass of our candidates, and the rhetoric grows more divisive with each primary vote that passes.  We have the candidates we deserve, for our silence is an assent, and now our disbelief speaks too softly.  In the name of a campaign, we allow the flames to be fanned and we hand over the bellows with our Facebook memes and our own lack of civility with one another, giving silent permission to those wishing to lead us to up the ante with their own hateful language.  We ignore truth, we ignore facts, we ignore decency, then we blame "them" rather than look inward to find our own inner Trump...or Clinton...or Sanders...or Cruz...or...or...or.  With each passing year the names change, and we all complain, yet we accept statements that would have once been reprehensible and are now the norm.

Why?  Because human lives that are not enough like us are not valued.  Because hatred has been skillfully fomented.  Because good people are scared to speak up, to stand up, to say, "No More!"...and they look from side to side thinking someone else will say something or act.

We create the world we live in, we suffer because of the world we have chosen to create.  

Let's create something kinder, something safer, something fairer.  We can, you know, but to do so we have to reject the fomentation, we have to really "see" others and find our commonalities while respecting our differences, we need to find our backbone and cry out, "No More!" loudly and proudly, and then, rather than looking from side to side, we need to be the one to step forward.

Grab my hand, it's a little less scary if we do it together.

No More!!

Alaska...You Restored Me

Was it really only two weeks ago that I was blissfully cruising through Alaska's Inside Passage, having spent the prior week exploring Denali, Kenai and more?  ::Sigh::  It was a dream come true, long held and never imagined, and yet there I was.  Colorado on steroids is what I called it, Alaska is the single most beautiful landscape I have ever been privileged to experience.

The trip was a blessing on every level, and I returned home with many an insight, 1500+ photos, and an incredibly grateful heart for this wonderful, unexpected gift.  Turning 50 years old this coming August, this excursion was an early once-in-a-lifetime birthday surprise from my best friend, and honestly, the time together was more than enough, let alone the adventures we shared.  However, what made he trip extraordinary were the many ways in which God showed up...from having our lunch secretly paid for the very first day we arrived by a lovely couple we met on the street, to being among the few who get to clearly see Denali's full splendor, to having repeated opportunities to visit with a wonderful older couple we met onboard and share rich, deep conversations with them.  The weather was stunning for this time of year, we wandered around in shirt sleeves for the vast majority of the trip, often enjoying 70+ degree weather as we viewed snowcapped peaks and meandered through Skagway, Juneau, and Haines.  Without further ado, here are a handful of images from our trip.

Being away from home and hearth for 18 days allowed for enough time, really for the first time in my adult life, for me to "detach" from it all.  About 7 or 8 days in, I finally felt like I was able to tuck the financial stresses and emotional work of others away for just a little while.  I was free to think only about myself, a luxury that would seem easy enough to grab but has seldom been part of my life in recent years.  Concerns about the future for our kids, work worries for Dominick, homeschooling, being attentive at all times, and trying to discern best paths in multiple directions were, for a couple of weeks, not part of my daily agenda...neither was laundry, meal planning, curriculum research, medical and dental appointments, nor robbing Peter to pay Paul when Paul is pretty much broke!  I was able to unwind for the first time in forever, and everything was handled for me, so I didn't have to think about a single thing, nor did I have to make decisions for anyone other than myself.

Heavenly.  Tranquil.  Laughter filled.  Soul restoring.  It was all of this, and much more.

I came away from this time of reflection and relaxation with a better sense of myself, and a desire to make some changes in my life to help me keep my head above water when at times it feels like the Titanic is close to sinking.  I really spent some time in prayer and did a little inner work, as the setting was so conducive to it, and I am at a time in my life when I really needed to sit back and examine a few things.

Resolving to do things like limit Facebook time, read more fiction, find ways to include more music in my lfe, and remind myself that I need to "play" more were helpful and are already shifting me to a more relaxed place.  Letting myself admit that my life is hard sometimes, is important as well.  Sometimes, because I love living in this family so much and there is a beauty to it that surpasses just about anything I could have imagined, I blow right past how hard it can be for me, because I am still so very grateful and happy for what envelopes me.  It denies my heart the chance to feel the pain,  to also grieve the losses, and to deal with the frustrations inherent in spending my days with kids who work so hard to overcome enormous challenges...difficulties that didn't have to be part of their lives if someone had stepped in earlier, avoided alcohol, or simply cared enough to feed, clothe, and hug them.  Sometimes, I manage to do a little of that work for myself here on the blog, but that is not always enough for the heart heaviness I sometimes feel.  The financial pressures are very real for us as well, more so than they ever have been but we work around and through them with a great sense of abundance most of the time. The mystery of how it all manages to get covered still eludes me, as at the end of each month I look back and whisper a quiet "Whew!  Thanks, God!".

I am blessed to live in a family that recognizes my role as important, and also encourages, nurtures and supports not only the youngest among us, but myself and Dominick as well.   The kids "see" me, something I think doesn't always happen for a lot of moms with kids this age.  Everyone was excited for me and pulled together to keep things going smoothly at home, with some outside help from dear friends as well now and again.  I was sent off with the blessing of the most beautiful letter and a significant amount of spending money from Kenny, the contents of which I will not reveal but which was the single most humbling, precious expression of love I have ever received.  Literally sobbing as I read it, which I had been instructed not to do until I was far from home, I was more moved than I have been perhaps in my entire life.  The ways in which all our kids are so willing to express in word and deed their care for those they love blows me away.  At times, what I do day in and day out feels lacking, as the world doesn't exactly lift up stay-at-home moms, and the homeschooling piece is often met with ridicule or eye rolling, as categories are applied to us that really don't fit at all.  There are moments though, like when I held Kenny's letter in my hand, when I understand in my deepest places that no outside job would ever matter as much as what I do at our kitchen table each and every day.

Spending every night of the trip playing games, listening to music, laughing at comedians, and watching magnificent sunsets helped me step out of my "real life" for just a little while.  I think we all need that from time to time.  The true blessing of the trip, though, was having time to talk and talk and talk with someone whose life has mirrored my own in some ways, whose love of God is palpable, and whose heart is open, honest and fully accessible.  Many people had teen years and early twenties during which they really kicked up their heels.  Neither Candi nor I have had much opportunity to "play" in our lives, and once you get to a certain age, that part of yourself can be fairly well buried beneath layers and layers of responsibility and just plain old life.  The older you grow, the harder it seems to tap into that younger part of yourself.  Some of us never had the opportunity to allow the lighter hearted sides of ourselves to develop in our youth, as family pressures and pre-mature adulthood were thrust upon us due to circumstances sometimes beyond our control.  The safety of being with someone who accepts all of who you are, and likes you anyway :-) helps those long dormant desires to laugh and play to be gently tugged at and encouraged to emerge.

By the end of the cruise, the person who looked back at me in the mirror had a completely different, more relaxed, more "whole" look to her.  We boogied and played trivia, we held sled dog puppies and giggled at the silliest things.  We let go of cares about children, spouses, and the future and for
once...just once in my life...I was able to live fully in the present and just appreciate what was before me.  Standing on deck as vast, open vistas were on display, watching as pods of Orca whales happily danced their way through the waves, quickly shushing everyone on our raft as we spotted a moose and drifted close enough to catch photos as it lazily nibbled on the grasses near the shoreline, I felt held by God in a way I am not sure I have ever quite felt it before.  The Spirit was everywhere on this trip, almost tripping over itself as if to say, "See?  Here...lookie lookie!!!  Life is SOOO GOOD!!!  And I love YOU!!!"

Returning home was renewing in itself, as I was excitedly greeted at the airport and reminded that I matter to those who love me, that they need me and I need them.  Roses in hand, Dominick offered me the best early 50th birthday gift ever in simply handling it all and letting me go guilt free, encouraging me to have a wonderful time, and being warmly attentive in listening to the tales of my Big Adventure.  We laughed together as we realized that though this was something we had talked about doing ourselves through the years, he would have been miserable as we were so often on various boats and he really dislikes water and is quite uncomfortable on boats.  Whale watching with heavily leaning smaller boats would have freaked him out!  We determined that rafting, speed boating, and even the cruise ship itself would have had him sitting out much of the adventure.  Handing out the small souvenirs I managed to pick up for everyone, I couldn't help but smile as their reactions far outweighed the value of the small tokens.

The first two weeks back hammered home my need for breathing breaks, as we had more happen financially, medically, and life-wise than most have in a year.  It was actually unbelievable how much happened so fast, and we couldn't help but laugh out loud about it when we weren't busy stressing.  But this too shall pass, I am committed to a few little things that might make a big difference, and we will work through it all somehow.

Ahhh...Alaska, how I miss you! Hahaha!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Confirming and Non-Conforming

There is so very much to share, for while the blog has been quiet, life surely has not.  I meant it when I said I would do more blogging, but I was gone for 2 1/2 weeks in Alaska (more on that in a coming blog), and then spent a week trying to catch up before heading off to Colorado Springs for the weekend with Kenny, as he attends camp counselor training.  I will write as I can over the next couple of weeks, as I hate missing important things being recorded here.

May 8th was an important day in the life of our sons and daughters, for it was the day of their Confirmation.  The term "confirmation" can be confusing to those not familiar with it, so let me explain.  In our faith tradition, the United Church of Christ, which is a progressive mainline Protestant Christian congregation, we baptize children when they are young, with the Congregation making the commitment to walk alongside the parents and help raise the child in the faith.  Then, usually around age 12 or 13, kids will go through some form of Confirmation Classes, and then a final service is held celebrating the personal confirmation of their and their entry into the adult life of the church.

Belonging to a small congregation means that we have few children, and only one other young person of confirmation age, Zack, Josh's best buddy.  We elected to delay Confirmation for our kids because there are so few youth and they are all virtually the same age, with the exception of Josh and Zack, so it made sense to wait until they were all old enough to do it together.  We also wanted the girls to be well grounded in English as well as to have the opportunity to hear the various important narratives shared within the Bible a few times before even considering moving them through the Confirmation process.

The kids received two special gifts for Confirmation.  We purchased them each a bracelet with the coordinates for La Foret on it, as a reminder that they can always find their way back to God, no matter how far away God may seem.  Then, my friend Candi spent many evenings cross stitching individual bookmarks for each one of them with their favorite Scripture passage referenced.  They were so beautiful and a real gift of love:

Now, you may have some experience with witnessing a Confirmation Worship Service before in your life, but trust me, this one was unlike any other, and it was far more moving than I think any of us within the congregation had anticipated.  What was initially a "happy day" quickly moved into something far more meaningful, far more powerful, and far more Spirit-filled than just about anything I have ever been present for in my entire life.

You see, this congregation of people made a promise years and years ago, three different times with the baptisms of our five children...and they delivered like no congregation I have ever known.  This small but faithful group has walked alongside our family, nurturing our kids every step of the way, never asking for anything in return and yet holding us gently and oh-so-closely.  As Matt pointed out much later, Confirmation was one of the most meaningful days in each of their lives because this is how it looks when it is done right.  This was how it can be when one little family is enfolded into the care of committed folks who say what they mean and mean what they say.  And these are the kinds of youth they can help who are engaged and feel vitally a part of their church family, kids who always have and always will give back in the ways they can, kids who take their faith seriously because others have shown them what faith really and truly looks and feels like.

The adults made God real to them, in fact, they were God in the flesh right before them.  With few exceptions, every single adult present has spent a fair amount of one on one time with our kids, sharing their knowledge, friendship, and spiritual presence.  These kids have been prayed for over and over again, been financially supported in numerous ways, and their parents (Dominick and I) have had shoulders to cry on as we did, and still do, the very hard work of helping our kids heal and gradually move into the adult world as prepared as we can possibly help them to be.  We desperately needed all that this congregation offered in order to make it, and we still do as we are far from done and have many a mountain yet to climb. Honestly, without our church and the ways in which my own spirit has been held so tenderly, I could never, ever have been a decent mother, and I would have given up long ago.

The service was extraordinary.  Each youth was invited to speak a few words about their faith, and then an adult was invited to issue a charge to them as the youth considers their maturing relationship with God.  It didn't take long before the tears were flowing, as Josh shared his thoughts  first, and then our beloved Mr. Miller, a retired Presbyterian minister himself, stood and spoke so eloquently about having observed Josh since he was a toddler, and watching how difficult it was for Josh to learn to accept love.  This surrogate grandpa for our kids, the one whose Christmas tree we have decorated for years, whose concerts we have attended for years, and whose thoughtful influence we have been blessed with for years, urged Josh to take the love that he now so eagerly accepts and offer it out into the world, to be a light to others as some were to him.

 Excerpt from Josh's statement:  "I have been shown many different beliefs about God and Christianity and I have observed and understood these other beliefs and have formulated my own. This confirmation class is only a part of my faith journey and my journey doesn't end. God, or the Creator, was once known to me as a being with powers beyond our understanding, but now I understand that God is among us and is in us which means we all contain God."

The blessing of staying put in a small community is that there is a shared history, a walking through the dark, a lifting up when we fall, and an awareness of the value of relationship.  George knows Josh, George has watched him ever so slowly heal and become whole-hearted, as God intended him to be, as have many others who were present and put a lot of themselves into our family.

I looked around the congregation, wiping my eyes, and as if in unison, we had all started crying, for there before us, laid out so beautifully by George, was the power of the Spirit's ability to connect us all, to help us all lighten heavy burdens.  We have all been witness to some mighty work done in this family through the hard work and care of others who listened to God, who elected to intertwine their lives with us, adopting all of us as we adopted them, too.

As Matt said, this is how it looks like when it is done right.

The service went on, with person after person sharing their heart, and I was just as moved by Zack, who feels like one of my very own and whom I have been able to be present for so much of his life as well.

Kenny was next, with Kim being the one who spoke for him:

Excerpt from Kenny's statement:  "I have learned through the support of this church that Jesus is like the gold standard for how we should behave and be in this world. He accepted the poor and forgotten. He saw the value of every person, and he showed it in his ministry. The gospel also teaches us to be brave and to always fight the good fight, to stand for love, and I hope I can live up to that and I know this community will keep pushing me to do so."

Can't leave Zack out, so his picture is here as well though I have no excerpt to share!

It was also Zack's sister's Baptism Day as well!  Shea has been part of our life since she was born, our boys all cradled her in their arms.  Here is our Shea-Shea, whose baptism was offered by her (and our!) Grandma Joan, who we love dearly as well:

Next was Olesya's turn, such growth in her as she has really pushed herself to speak in front of shy, quiet daughter is turning into someone I admire deeply for being so willing to work at the things that scare her, or are difficult for her.  This was a big one, and she was confident and comfortable, even if a little quiet :-)  As Jane came up to speak for Olesya, I think she was already crying before she ever reached the pulpit.

Here are some of Olesya's thoughts:  "Love Wins isn't just a slogan, it is a way of life. Like many Christians, I believe in God. For me, God isn't the dude with the white beard that shakes his head when I do something wrong, but instead for me God is that little voice inside my head that encourages me to do better, and tells me what the wrong and what the right things are in this world. He is always there for me, even when I think I don't need Him. He brings out the best in me through other people, points me in different directions and shows me different paths it take on my lifelong journey.

This church is a community, my extended family. In this community and sanctuary ( in this sentence, sanctuary = meaning a safe place, not a place for worship) is where I can express what I believe in, without any judgment or disapproval. The people who have guided me is how my faith grew from nothing to something and because of this my faith keeps growing  stronger and bigger everyday." 

Matt was up next, and his mentor and dapper dressing Mr. Steve issued his charge:

A portion of Matt's statement:

"I believe that Jesus was God’s gift to man-kind.
I believe that I am here for a reason that maybe only God knows.
I believe that God is good.
I believe that humans try to be good.
I believe that God is singular.
I believe that I have a lot to learn.
I promise that I will be spiritually awake,
God resides everywhere, I just have to look.
In the end, the love wins. 
Today, I let love win over me.
Praise be to God. "

Finally, it was Angela's turn.  Oh my goodness, as if it weren't hard enough already, this is where we all totally lost it.  There was a lot more going on beneath the surface than others knew, and also there was so much that everyone can recall as they watched this courageous young woman stand before them.  Angela is at a very, very difficult time in her life right now, as she is wrestling with a sense of "survivor's guilt" as she is connecting with several of her old orphanage mates and a couple of kids who were adopted to America, and their futures are not bright...even the adopted ones.  This past year has been a real eye opener for our whole family, as we have seen many adoptive families with children home years long struggle and lose the battle against the very painful beginnings their children had.  No judgment there, trust me.  Our entire family, as well as our church family, is well aware that somehow we beat the odds.

Actually, I know how we beat them, it isn't really "somehow", it is through the extraordinary dedication of so many who wrapped around us and are helping us through...never giving up.  It is God at work through so many that has helped us not end up a statistic.  Angela and I have had several deep, tearful conversations (tears from both of us) as she unburdens herself of the heavy emotions weighing her heart down.  "Mom, they don't even know what they don't hard it is going to be for them out in the world, and I am so worried about them all!" she says as she thinks of her friends left behind.  We speak often about how good God has been to us, how we have a responsibility to be a light as others have been to us, how each and every one of us in our family has been "saved" by God's presence in our lives made manifest by is always on our hearts and minds, never really far from grasp.  Maybe it is because it is too obvious in our family, this Spirit that runs through us all, and the hell we all lived in without one another.

Angela began to speak, and got a couple of phrases in, and simply couldn't go on.  There she stood, tall at the pulpit, trying desperately to pull it together to finish.  The congregation was with her in every way, gently assuring her with their patience, joining her in her joy and pain with tears of their own streaming.  After giving her time to try and make it back on track on her own, Pastor Karen stood up and came beside Angela, and then I rose to stand beside her as well, putting my arm around her as Karen offered to read Angela's statement for her.  She read a few lines, and then Angela bravely insisted she would finish, and she did.  As I sat back down, Pete, our sweet Miss Mary's husband approached the pulpit to speak to Angela on Mary's behalf, as she was unable to attend.  Pete and Mary have been a part of our lives since the day Matt came home.  I'll never forget Pete and Mary, and Pete's brother and sister-in-law visiting with us on Dan and Jeannie's patio as we proudly showed off our then-first-born (whose place was usurped twice over).  Jeannie worked for us for years at the airport and made every adoption possible with her stable management, and our connection with the Loncar family has been long and lovely...we employed Pete and Mary's daughter for a season, Dan and Jeannie's daughter for a couple of seasons, and a niece as well.

From Angela's sharing: "My faith calls me to “pay it forward”, treat people with kindness, and call myself to be better than yesterday, which my community supports and brings me back to my faith.  For me the value of this church is the people in it. Like I mentioned previously, my community calls me back to my faith. Without the community I would not be who I am today.  I see God through encounters with people and through this beautiful world we live in. Bad or good encounters with people change me when God is present.  My faith is trusting God that he will know better as long my heart is open and my ears are ready to listen."

You can't miss the love in the embrace Pete gave Angela, as he his tears mingled with hers, and he held her close.  It is the emotion of those who deeply care about one another, of those who understand and have walked with one another.  And again, I can't help but be reminded of Matt's words, heard like a refrain as I consider this day:  This is how it looks when it is done right.

Yes, love looks like this.  It looks like commitment, it looks like giving yourself to others, it looks like years long sacrifice, it looks like "showing up"...for terrible beginning music programs, for Civil Air Patrol meetings, for bake sales, for phonics lessons, for volleyball tournaments, for 10 hour round trip drives to church camp, and so much more.  This congregation is non-conforming with its Confirmands, it offers a non-conforming kind of all-encompassing love.  It includes those no longer with us who have been lost to death, to long distance moves, and to worshiping in other places.  Yes, we remember you all, you who have kept us afloat in prayer for so long, and continue to do so.

Thank you, God, for the depth of love you have shown us through so many of your people, Christian and non-Christian alike, for we are reminded that all are your people, your beloved ones.  Thank you, God, for the opportunity to reflect that love back in their lives, and the lives of others as well, in the ways we can.  Thank you, God, for the blessing of parenting these resilient, extraordinary souls, the ones who touch me, and teach me, and model for me every day what it is to be a person of faith.

Here is the graduating Confirmation Class of 2016 at Community Spirit United Church of Christ!

To My Beloved Children, May you always choose to walk in the light of God, and to carry that light so it shines brightly on others.  May you never, ever feel alone again.  May you continue to mature and blossom into the wonderful human beings I see emerging who are sensitive to the needs of others, and willing to step forward to fill those needs.  The love of God far surpasses the love your Dad and I have for you...and you know how much THAT is, so you can imagine God's love is beyond your imagination!  You have belonged to God long before your Confirmation Day, and you will belong to God long after we are gone from your lives.  Continue to seek the Spirit, listen always, say "yes" as often as you can :-)
You are cherished.