Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Radical Softness

This week I shared an image on Facebook that really struck me, for I feel as if it is something our family has worked toward living into in a counter cultural way. It expressed the idea of "Radical Softness", see below:

We have often discussed how, in America in particular, we tend to feel a need to live with walls around us.  The homophobic nature of our culture means any form of touch of another of the same sex lends itself to ridicule and derision.  The word "intimacy" scares the heck out of us, and yet at the same time our hearts absolutely yearn for intimate connections with others.  We deny our hearts for fear of what others will think, for fear of appearing too needy, for fear of being vulnerable.

The shocking part is that survey after survey reveals that loneliness is the #1 mental health issue of our era.  Still, like the unwisest of fools, we continue to repeat the same behavior hoping for a different outcome.

In our family, we decided a long time ago that we were not going to fear closeness, but encourage it.  We understand that the very best of relationships, platonic or romantic, all stem from a willingness to trust and be vulnerable with those we care about.  We hold long, hug often, and speak openly of the things that our hearts are troubled by.

You know what?  We can't make it without living in "Radical Softness".  Team LaJoy is what it is because we don't hide from our real selves, and don't hide our real selves from others.  I can not begin to imagine where we would be as a family if we hadn't always tried to practice Radical Softness with one another, and with those nearest and dearest to us.

When we sense teasing is cutting a little too close to the bone, we stop and apologize.  When one of the kids gets in trouble, it has always been our hard and fast rule that ANYONE who laughs at that child will be punished more harshly for we don't revel in someone else's mistakes.  When you make a mistake, you apologize sincerely, and that includes mom and dad, too.

We help one another, and we never let someone "go it alone" if we can help it, not even our friends in times of need.  Radical Softness means we love fully, without reservation, and if others want to criticize our love for others, then shame on or straight, white or black or purple, old or young, gifted or special needs, all are embraced warmly, with great vigor, and their humanity is seen.

In a world where we humans are told that we should never let others see our weaknesses, we distance ourselves from the life saving connections that help us thrive.  In a world where we are told we can't possibly be close with someone who is twice our age, such as our teens with the seniors in their lives who really matter, we all end up emotionally poorer.  In a world where toughness is valued, where "grit" means riding out the storm alone, and where you don't DARE hug someone for fear of how it might be interpreted, we all suffer from "touch deficit" as we ache to be hugged, ache to be touched in platonic ways, ache for someone to ease our emptiness.  

We live in a world where seniors go WEEKS without a single hand resting upon theirs, where our toddlers are put to bed without kisses or being held and read to.  We live in a world where men can't hold one another in a hug without slapping each other on the back in some "manly" effort to show they are straight, because dear Lord, don't let me even connect the word "intimate" with someone of the same gender.

But what does "intimate" really mean, and why are we so darned afraid of it?  According to, here are some meanings for the word "intimate":

Characterized by or suggesting an atmosphere conducive to privacy or intimacy; warmly cozy.

Characterized by or involving warm friendship or a personally close or familiar association or feeling.

Associated in close personal relations.

How I love the bolded above, "warmly cozy"...ahhhhhh...doesn't that sound like something we all wish for?

This photo of the girls long before we were able to bring them home oozes intimacy, it is what drew me to them because immediately I saw in them the relationship I saw in our boys...a closeness that is mirrored in the way our sons were with one another. 

Why?  Why are we so scared to express our affection for others?  Why do we prefer isolation and loneliness to togetherness and closeness?

I much prefer to be counter cultural this way.  I love NOTHING more than seeing our full grown teenage sons hug other men and older woman at church!  I love knowing I can turn to my own family to fill up my "love tank" when it feels like it is approaching empty.  I love that there is laughter without bitterness, kindness without agenda, and a unique kind of Radical Softness that means ANYONE is included in our circle who wishes to be, and they will be well loved.

We may be judged as "too open", we may be talked about behind our backs because of who we love and that we even USE the word "love" so willingly.  We may be criticized because we have raised our kids who once had no family, some for more than half their childhoods, to treasure the gift of heart connections that was so hard earned and allow them to remain home as long as their hearts need that connection.

In Radical Softness, I say, "let them be".  We will go on loving, being Team LaJoy, caring for others, holding and hugging and laughing as much as we can. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Holes and Shadows

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on wholeness, and on what it takes to live a life of true joy.  This morning Angela shared a thoughtful comic today from "The Oatmeal" which explained how our understanding of "happy" might be a bit skewed, and varies from person to person.  In my mind, happiness is momentary, while joy is deep and long lasting.  But what are the obstacles to joy, or happiness if you prefer?

Holes and shadows.

We humans tend to walk around hiding our holes from one another, fearing that if anyone really, really knew us, they would turn around and run the other way.  We all have them, you know, those holes that are almost impossible to fill up, the holes that are indicators of having lived at all.  No one gets out of this world unscathed, and yet we invest so much energy trying to act as if somehow we are different from everyone else and are "hole-less".  Ego is a killer in so many ways, and it is ego that urges us to secret away our Soul Holes, thereby denying others the possibility of getting to know our truest selves.  And you know what?  Those very holes that we ALL have are the thing that ties us together, that reminds us that we are not the only ones who have suffered, that others have experienced similar sorrows, disappointments, and losses.

Holes and shadows.

Have you ever thought that those very holes that cause us to feel "less than", that force us more into ourselves and leave us less connected, are the very thing that allows new life to sprout in us?  Think about a branch, much like the one pictured above that caught my attention a week ago.  That hollow place becomes a home for birds, insects, and small animals.  Oh sure, decay can settle in, but in picturing that, isn't that the best image of "dying to one's self" so that something bigger than ourselves can settle in?

Holes and shadows.

Pain from the past shadows us, haunts us, trails along behind us just close enough to remind us that we are unworthy.  Shadows hover and envelope us sometimes when we allow them space to do their dirty work, keeping us isolated as they whisper in our ear and speak of our limitations, our failures, our disillusionment.  We feed our shadow selves with our inner dialogue, rather than cast those shadows aside...for we feel unworthy of the light.  That shadow sometimes feels protective, keeping us safe from the knowing of others, but what the shadows do is hide our own light from others who need it.

Holes and shadows.

Once in awhile, we are blessed and someone casts their light on our shadows.  They whisper new and wondrous things in our ear to counteract the Shadow Voice...things like, "You are wonderful!", "You are so kind!", "You have amazing gifts!".  Slowly, we emerge from the darkness.  Someone sees us, and we are invited into community where the best of ourselves is affirmed, and our lesser selves are quietly worked with in love.  Slowly, we see how Light alters everything.

Holes and shadows...holes and shadows...holes and shadows.

Our family has spent nearly 20 years working to acknowledge those holes and shadows, allowing them space to exist as part of each of our stories.  However, we also point toward the Light, we value what we have learned from holes and shadows as we continually reach for more...more connectedness, more healing, more recognition that we are each part hole and shadow, as well as part solid ground and light.  We lift up ALL of what makes us who we are, and in granting all parts of ourselves space to "be", we become more.

And maybe our understanding of the totality of it all will help others come out from their shadows and show us their holes...and we can be one with them, too.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hello, Adulthood...But Not Goodbye, Childhood

During these waning days of summer, new adults are slowly blossoming and, for one, childhood is very gradually beginning its tentative wave good bye.

We have yet another full fledged adult in the house, Olesya turned 18 this past weekend!  For those who may have lost track, Angela is 19, Kenny, Matt, and Olesya are 18, and Josh is 14.

This year has been one of enormous change for Olesya, as she moves further toward viewing herself as capable and confident, while accepting she has some disabilities that may make life a wee bit harder for her.  The painful, moving conversation we had back in the spring (see post here if interested) about her growing realization that she does indeed have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has helped in surprising ways, as knowledge IS power.  Now she better understands herself and her "glitches", and no longer does that possibility have to bring about fear for the future, but can be worked with to create a new vision for a different kind of "tomorrow" that is hope filled.  She is laughing more, far happier, and interestingly is more willing to try new things where the effort of "hiding" her disability may have kept her from attempting something new for fear of being "found out".  Owning who she really is...not just the parts of her that have FASD but ALL the wonderful goodness that is Olesya...has been life giving, and I am so grateful we have always elected to handle these pieces of hard news with honesty.  There are no elephants hiding in the rooms of our home, no need to be anything other than all that we are, and no one will ever make fun of you, but will support and encourage you in every possible way.

For her birthday, we bought her shoes.  Yea, boring, yet necessary shoes!  When we visited CA for my mom's 80th birthday in June, we visited an SAS shoe store as we have always had a near impossible time fitting Olesya for any kind of shoe.  She has a double wide foot, with triangle shaped toes and one foot is over a whole size larger than the other.  On a whim I thought we should check out SAS Shoes and we found shoes that she glowed over, saying that they fit better than any shoe she had ever worn!  Though we intended on only getting one pair, as they are pricey (but my own history with this brand revealed they were incredibly well made) we ended up with TWO pairs of shoes that had her literally dancing for days.

We also attended a fine arts outdoor show in Ridgway, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and then drove the long way home over Owl Creek Pass and past Silver Jack Reservoir as we tested out our new family member, a long desired and desperately needed 15 passenger van we have nicknamed "The Beast"!  She performed well over miles of dirt roads  At church the next day, Jane and Steve, our dear friends, attended and brought a cake to share to celebrate her special day with everyone.  All in all, it was a lovely 18th for her.

And how loved she is!!  Have you ever had one of those moments where you sat back and stared at your child, feeling so overflowing with love for who they are that you almost can't stand it?  This girl is perhaps the single most kind young lady I have ever come across, she is thoughtful, helpful, tender, funny, and has overcome so much.  I am humbled at the thought that God selected us to be the parents of ANY of our kids, and Olesya is no exception.  A gift beyond measure, my prayer for her is that as time moves on, she sees herself for all that she is.  Having come to us with almost no self-esteem, perceiving herself as absolutely "stupid", giving in to everyone and anyone solely to be accepted, Olesya is remarkably resilient, learning and growing in ways she never thought possible. That we got to spend her 18th birthday with her and the past 7 years is a total gift, that we have watched her begin to truly flourish is beyond words.  I love you, sweetie!!

 Speaking with her on her birthday, I asked her if she felt 18, if life felt different knowing she was now a legal adult.  She quietly responded that most days she felt about 15 or so, some days 17, but never really 18.  And she was so grateful that she has been allowed the time to be "Daddy's little girl" and to be a kid a little longer.  Folks often have no idea how much children adopted at older ages yearn to hang on to a childhood they feel was finally allowed them, and how hard it can sometimes be to move into the future having not been quite filled up.

Imagine really having a family for only 7 years by the time you are 18 or 19, as in Angela's case, and everyone already pushing you out the door, and asking when you are leaving home!  My goodness, the first three years were spent learning how to adequately function in a new language!  It was spent learning everything preschoolers were taught, for make no mistake of it, orphanage life in the former Soviet Union is far closer in relationship to a prison than a day care.  As I have witnessed many families with older adoptees fall apart over the past couple of years, I will fight to the death for my kids to have what they need, regardless of what others think about it.  I fully expect that some of our kids will easily live at home until they are in their mid-twenties, soaking up all they didn't get when younger, and helping them move on when they finally feel ready and have had their fill of family life.  There will come a time when they will be anxious to reach out into the wider world, but for now they need something very different and it is our job to provide that security while they continue to mature and grow fully into the amazing people I know them to be.

Then, there is Josh who is working his way toward leaving childhood behind, walking confidently toward adulthood.  Today was a day that could have a mom feeling a little weepy, as this is what I saw him preparing to get rid of:

Pooh, abandoned along with other stuffies being prepared to donate.  Childhood staring me in the face, as his deep voice replies, "Yea, I think I am getting rid of these now."  and yet I laugh inwardly as I know without question that if I tried to take his blankies from him, I would be threatened with death!  Haha, baby steps into adulthood, right?

Then, behind him, tucked into the corner of his bed where he has lived for 18 years, Matthew still has his beloved Froggie, the very first item I ever bought any of my children prior to becoming a mom.  Froggie will never leave, Froggie is a symbol of longed for family, of children dreamed of yet not found.  For Matt, Froggie isn't something he "needs", but it is the sole nod to his childhood, and the recognition that everyone should remain young at heart.

Kids AND adults need to recognize the power of a well enjoyed childhood, we need to value play more, we need to stop telling kids to "grow up" when, in fact, they are often acting appropriately their age and should not be expected to live as if they are 40 year olds weighed down with bills and choices that can't be easily changed.  I am not advocating for endless adolescence, what I am saying is that childhood really, really matters, and I know better than some just how important it can be.  When you parent kids whose childhoods began at 11 or 12 years old, it is very clear that a lot of damage can be done when developmental stages aren't fully experienced, and that does NOT lead to successful, happy adults.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Soul Sick

Sometimes you don't fully realize where you have been until you have moved on, and can glance backward.  Taking a hasty look over my shoulder recently, I did a double take, and shook my head with a mixture of alarming dismay, and great gratitude.

We all have those growing times, regardless of age, and most often the periods of leaps in maturation emerge from weeks, months, or even years of wrestling with unexpected challenges.  As the caterpillar morphs into a new being after cocooning, so to do we humans morph into new beings after these personal cocoonings.

Though many might look at my life and assume I was suffering from depression due to single event, the attainment of a certain age, or even the solid settling into peri-menopause, that wasn't what was going on.  In fact, I wasn't actually depressed at all.  Life simply stopped being as brilliantly hued as it once was, and instead took on a dull appearance, suddenly formless where once there had been shape and texture and clear outlines. What I determined through self-diagnosis was something completely different...

I was Soul Sick.

There had been too many years of caring for others and not myself, too many years of living on the edge of financial crisis, too many years of heartache and struggle as we tried to parent aching hearts into wholeness.  There were too many years of relative isolation as I homeschooled, too many years of being judged and quietly criticized by well meaning folks who had NO CLUE how to parent kids from our childrens' backgrounds but had plenty of advice to offer.  There were too many soul emptying years of "church work", and not enough Spirit filling times of heart connection.

And too many years of not being truly seen other than for the role you fill.

I know I am not the first person to stop and look at their life and realize there is something not quite right.  I live in the midst of what is truly a family beyond description, with love offered up in generous heaps, and wisdom shared at just the right moment.  Yet something was missing, and that something was the soul connected me.   I was drifting into old and unhealthy ways of thinking from my twenties, and that needed to stop.  It wasn't anyone's fault, it just happened.  Life pulls us adrift, the rudder gets stuck, the wind doesn't catch the sails any longer. I needed a course correction, I needed time and space to breath, I needed to regroup and recenter myself so that I could find the joy that was becoming more and more elusive.

That is exactly what I did this past three months, my Summer of Me...I stopped. I approached summer very differently this year, insisting that I was not going to play taxi driver multiple times a day, and I was not going to teach for the first summer in all 8 years of homeschooling.  I was not going to feel the need to have to "do" and instead decided to spend some time simply "being".  I was relatively quiet on social media, electing to pull myself away from much of the negativity shared there.  I was also going to try and accomplish this with a minimum of self-inflicted guilt.  Yea, that was the hard part :-)

Wow, I had no idea how very much I needed this!

Being intentional about meeting your own needs is hard when you are a mom, and even harder when you are the mom to multiple special needs kids. Somewhere along the line the last 3 or 4 years, as I was working so hard at helping the kids find their voice and their meaning, I lost myself.  As everyone else was "becoming", I was stagnating.

My best friend, through hours and hours of deep conversation and insightful observation began the process of helping me see that I mattered, too.  My husband has allowed me space and time to get away from the 24/7 role of "mom" and "teacher", something I hadn't realized was as important as it turned out to be.  I am Cindy who happens to be a mom and a home educator, not the opposite.  My kids, my five singular blessings, have all encouraged and supported me, and literally celebrated my claiming of my own little niche in our lives.

I created a mental list, a prescription if you will, of what might help heal my Sick Soul.  I needed music back in my life, something that had always ministered to my heart at its most weary, and our new church has a small choir I have joined and oodles of congregational singing throughout worship.  I needed to lose myself in an activity I enjoy, and so I took an iPhone photography course over my Summer of Me and reminded myself that even if I am NOT good at it, that matters little, I can spend hours in great enjoyment anyway.

I also needed to admit that I will forever be the mom of at least one special needs adult who will likely live with us for the remainder of my life, and I needed to create healthier patterns as a caretaker so that I can envision a "whole Cindy" alongside a "whole Kenny".  Dominick and I have instituted a practice that will have me out of my "workplace" (home) at least quarterly for a few days, so that my own brain can refresh itself before coming home to regularly be a second brain for Kenny, as well as the girls from time to time.  Having an 18 year old whose brain can't help him get to bed on time (last night) or can't even quite set an alarm correctly despite repeated efforts isn't easy.  He often can't select appropriate clothing for the weather, he can't cook more than microwave meals, and he can't manage his money despite desperately he did this week when he decided to spend all of his money replacing a computer, only to recall after my prompting that he had $400 due in the next 3 months or so to various places.  All those things he can't do for himself are my job to help him with, and will be forever.  That doesn't feel like a burden, but it can be mentally exhausting day after day in ways that I don't always recognize myself.

I have been leading a book study via Skype with my friend's church in Massachusetts on The Book of Joy, based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Another great Rx for my Soul Sickness.  The timing of God putting certain influences in our lives at just the right time is amazing.  This book and our discussions around it have served to remind me that what I seek is not "fun", nor being "happy", but is something richer and fuller than is Joy with a capital "J".

You know what?  This intentional three month sabbatical of mine has literally transformed my heart back into the Cindy I once was!!  A couple of weeks ago I realized that even I heard a lilt back in my voice.  I was FEELING again, not walking around numb,  but instead a genuine warmth had returned, and a love for others had crept back in that had fallen dormant for quite awhile.  What a powerful reflection this was for me that I can't love others unless I am actively taking care of myself, even if only in small ways.  Laughter bubbles up more, and more importantly, God feels infinitely closer.

This is Joy.

Surprisingly, like a Colorado storm that you hear rustling leaves off in the distance before it surrounds you, blanketing you in cool air with the wind whipping against your cheeks, the desire to write again has enveloped me.  What once came so easily, almost bursting to be let out, had gradually faded over the past couple of years.  Blog posts felt like work as my Soul Sick self struggled to find its voice, which was drifting further out of reach.   Suddenly, the excitement of words on the screen has returned!  I am uncertain what that might mean, as I highly doubt I will be writing sermons in the future, and am not sure what life might offer up that is "bloggable", but I know I need to find an outlet for writing again and will be actively pursuing that now.

The Summer of Me is coming to a gradual end, a couple more weeks and we will start hitting the books again, harder than most do.  I am bringing a renewed and invigorated Cindy to the kitchen table, and I am eagerly anticipating the wonderful discussions ahead as we all learn and grow together.  My Soul Sickness has been kicked to the curb, a months long process which ends in myself declaring myself at least temporarily in remission.  I have no doubt that if I am not diligent I may suffer a relapse, but it will be more easily recognized if that happens, and I already have an Rx that will help.

I am me again, and it is well with my soul.