Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Angela's Gifts

I hear her, quietly chatting on the phone, and I grin.

Her friend?  Henrietta, a woman from the nursing home who she hasn't been able to visit due to volleyball season and her busy schedule.  Angela is giggling and asking questions, promising that the season is now over and she will be able to visit soon.  She misses her weekly visits to those at our local nursing home, and she is determined to get back as soon as possible.

Such a gift I see in her, this lovely daughter of mine.  For her, working with the elderly as a possible future career isn't "settling", it is a calling.  She started volunteering upon my suggestion, and took to it with great surprise!  I suggested it after recalling an incident that occurred years earlier, when she and Olesya had been home a mere few months and had limited English skills.  We were volunteering at our church's book sale, and an older woman was perusing the selections and mentioned that her much older mom was out in the truck and she couldn't take too long.  Angela doesn't remember this at all, but it sure stuck out for me, as I saw her go to the truck with a glass of water all of her own accord, and then proceeded to visit with this woman for at least 10 minutes in her own broken English.  Time and time again I saw Angie being drawn to the elderly, making it a point at church to visit at coffee hour with the widows who gather together for company.  Like a moth to a flame, she finds her way there.

Of course, she and I have talked briefly about how her grandmother was the only constant in her young life, and when she first gained some language skills she shared how her grandma would make sure she and Olesya were safe, and sometimes and would do without food herself so they wouldn't go hungry.  Tragically, her sweet protector's life was taken by the girls' own mother, in front of them.  It created a lifelong hole in the heart of Angela, and a yearning for replacing that relationship that is gradually being filled by other adopted "grandmas" here and there.

Her gift is in her ability to see those who go unseen, to treat them as equals and not see them as merely the crippled, older bodies that sit before her.  She is undisturbed by their frailties, by their temporary confusion, and she is endlessly fascinated by the stories they share of their former lives and their accomplishments, and yet she gives an indication to them that who they are now matters as well.

I have visited with her a few times, reading to Henrietta from love letters her deceased husband wrote where handwriting was too difficult for Angela to discern, and I have "made the rounds" with her as she introduced to me to the people she had been assigned to visit.  For a nineteen year old, she continues to astonish me with how comfortable she is in a setting that makes most people feel great awkwardness and a desire to leave as quickly as possible, having done their duty and wishing to put this visit out of their minds.

Yes, Angie has a calling, and it is as obvious as can be.   She now visits at the nursing home, and is visiting someone new today at a different assisted care center whose adult daughter reached out asking for a non-family "friend" to occasionally visit her mom.  This woman taught Angela and Olesya a Home Ec class a few years back, and so she is familiar with us and the connection is nice to make!  Angie also has a paid care job once  a week or so with a family friend whose kindness in training Angela around adult diapering and more has been so appreciated.  This friend also "gets" Angie's transportation needs, her careful taking of notes because she might forget something, but also sees how capable and competent Angela is as well.  It is these people that God brings alongside our family that has helped our children over and over again to grow and become so much more than Dominick or I could ever help them become.  We need "more" for our kids, whose needs are less obvious  but often include, largely, understanding that their lives have been different, that they have invisible disabilities that they are learning to work with as young adults, and they will be able to do a lot in this world with this kind of caring circling them, nurturing them, believing in them! 

I am beginning to plan training for Ang, and we are looking at possible careers beyond being a CNA, which will never pay enough to support her but is a good starting place.  She will spend part of next year and after graduation taking online courses in geriatric psychology, practical care skills, studying for a CNA, learning about regulations for nursing home operators, and all kinds of other topics related to elder care.  We are going to visit combination day care and senior day cares, learn about issues for families and caretakers and a whole lot more.  Perhaps she will be an activities director, or she has even talked about owning her own small home-like nursing home!  It will take a few years for her to find her niche, but this is definitely where she belongs and is a growing area.  Now to find how she can make a living at it doing more than CNA work, but the exploration and learning process will be so much fun for both of us as I help guide her and learn a little along the way, too!  Right now she is reading Atul Guwande's bestseller, Being Mortal, and within the first five pages turned to me and said, "Oh man, I am going to learn so much!  This is a very interesting book, and he is a good writer!"

Witnessing the blossoming of Angela is a gift beyond measure.  She is strong, confident, compassionate, courageous...oh, I could just go on and on about this young woman I am blessed to parent!  We missed so much with her and Olesya, and when I think about that it brings tears to my eyes.  That Angie allowed herself and her sister to be mothered deeply is a miracle in itself, that she was able to open up and trust just one more time after their biological mom was so unsafe is in itself the single most courageous act I have ever witnessed.  It didn't come easily, she was scared to death, but somehow we made it. 

I am reminded that sometimes, it is those who have been the most harmed by life who have the strength and ability to bring both softness and firmness to their interactions.  Those souls who have walked through the worst people can throw at them can be the most resilient. 

And I have a daughter whose unique blend of tenacity and tenderness is going to be a force to be reckoned with.  She will change the world for someone,  maybe several someones, and it will be through small, repeated kind acts which may never add up in her head to much, but will actually matter far more than she will realize.

I love you, Angela, and I can't WAIT to see where life takes you!  And you know what?  Thanks for letting me come along on the journey alongside you :-)  You didn't have to allow the intimacy we have, and I will forever be grateful you opened up your arms and your heart to me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Gut or God?

This past week, for our school "Morning Meeting" we watched a video from The School of Life YouTube Channel.  We have a Morning Meeting at the beginning of every day to pull us all together, including Matt who joins us then goes off to do his own academics.  During our Meeting, we discuss current events and news stories, what our schedule is for the next couple of days, and I will bring up anything that we need to work on to keep The LaJoy Machine running pointing out how dishes are somehow being expected to magically make it into the dishwasher again by the Dishwasher Fairy so I'll urge them to move less than four inches to deposit their dining ware into the dishwasher.  Basically, it is a moment of nagging, and then I am done for the day :-)

Much of our Morning Meeting time is largely focused on developing Emotional Intelligence, or "EQ".  We have worked on this diligently for years, and it has been very necessary.  Our three who were adopted at older ages, Kenny, Angela and Olesya, understandably came to us with few skills, and so we have worked diligently to help them gain what they missed all those years without the one on one modeling and guidance from a caring adult. I use everything I can think of for us to reflect on, find examples from our real life, and speak to how to better handle things.  We also use TED Talks, these videos from The School of Life, and articles from my Facebook news feed that I find pertinent. 

The video we watched this week was "How to Make a Decision", and I didn't understand in the moment how profound that was going to be for me, personally.  Not because I don't know how to effectively make a decision, but because of the insight of one of our kids.

It was explained that there are five distinct perspectives we can use to help us give "fresh eyes" on our decision dilemma, and it went on to explain them (Fascinating how our enemies and death were two of them!)  and we had a lot of discussion about the surprising ways in which we saw truth revealed in the five minute video.  Matt sat there quietly, as the wheels in his brain turned, and we could all see he had something to say but was working it through before speaking.

Finally, he said, "Something is missing, I get this guy is secular, but our faith is a big key to our decision making."  He went on to explain his point, and that he understood the creator of the content was probably including any sort of faith component under "gut instinct", but for Matt, decision making could include gut instinct as separate from being spiritually guided. 

I can't tell you all how profoundly moved I was...and we all that.  Matt is the one who has, in the past, least spoken about God's role in his life,  but who has in the past couple of years claimed his Christian faith more intentionally and deeply.  His analytical, scientifically oriented brain seemed to lend itself toward the concrete rather than the abstract, and in truth, I think the process of leaving our old church and methodically searching for a new one, then claiming it, brought forth a stronger sense of connection for him.  Obviously, what we had before was not a good fit for him.

We continued the conversation discussing the ways in which we, as a family, have made decisions totally counter to our own desires because something felt God led.  We have never regretted such decisions, and Dominick and I have always worked with the kids to talk through such things so they could begin to understand how you "see" God's guiding you  in your life.  We quickly recounted all the ways in which we have used spiritual reflection (and God's 2x4's!) to help us make the best decisions...moving to Colorado in the first place seemed counterproductive as we left behind terrific jobs to do so, but God had other plans.  Each and every time we adopted we had people attempt to dissuade us...particular with Kenny, Angela and Olesya, and thankfully, God had other plans.  The purchase of the liquor store  was not something I was personally comfortable with but God showed me how clearly this was the plan and I needed to say yes.  Changing faith communities after almost fifteen years was not something I would have chosen for us, but God hounded us and had other plans.  Homeschooling, oh that was SO not my idea!  But God had other plans.

Every time we have evaluated a decision, we have tried to be intentional about making space for God to be present in it with us.  In our case, it often seems God guides us to the possibility we would be least likely to select, but not fighting that and being willing to say "Yes" even when we would prefer not to has always proven to be the best for us, hands down.  There has never been a single time when we have gone with "God" instead of gut, that we have not been joyfully surprised.  I can't even recall how many times my gut screamed out, "NO!!!  I don't wanna!!!" and yet my soul said otherwise.  Sometimes, I actually hate that, because it also usually means a new kind of courage is going to be required of me, a new level of trust, a new trial to walk through...and yet I grow :-)

Sitting there at the table surrounded by our five young adults, all nodding their head in agreement at Matt's pointing out the need for God to be the largest part of our decision making, emotional twin...looked me square in the eye and said, "Mom, next time you doubt your parenting, remember this moment."  She knew how much this mattered, how Matt was the more unlikely one, how this affirmed that our years of sharing the ways in which God moves in the world and in our own lives.  More importantly, she knew how important it was that in our darkest moments, each of us feels there is something to hold on it, and sometimes the only "something" you may have is God.  Only someone who has walked through the darkest of moments herself could understand the significance of this for Matt, and for all of us.

We are at the stage when we, as parents, are realizing the fruits of our parenting labor.  We are seeing things being put into practice, skills being utilized, and a gradual maturing into the people we had hoped our kids would become.  They aren't "launched" yet, and might not be for years to come, but they are making steps toward it.  And who knows, saying "Yes" to God may mean our entire family life looks different from the cultural norm as this process continues. 

That's OK, I like being counter-cultural anyway ;-)