Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Learning to Belong to Ourselves

This has been the summer of the unexpected detours, both literally and emotionally.  I have been home a week after six weeks of unexpected travel, and I simply couldn't pull it together enough to write.  I think as I am maturing, and blogging culture has moved along at such a fast pace, I have come to value living in the moment more, and feel less inclined to have to share immediately, even though I recognize the value for me in writing things down.  Unlike others, I don't blog for an audience, or advertisers, I blog for myself and release it to the world as I know many have families like ours who are struggling and might find some comfort in knowing they are not alone.  But I do nothing to build an audience or brand myself, and I feel no need to share what I made for dinner, or to blast carefully planned product placement photos.  I usually grab my phone when my eye catches something, but rarely pose anyone other than what I would do for our own family album.  I just don't have the desire to "Keep up with the Blogging Jones' " and I prefer to share what is real, hard, lovely, and wonderful so our kids may one day read this diary of our family life and gain new understandings of how we all came to be who we are.

So here I am, finally with a quiet late evening uninterrupted, feeling a little more like I have resettled back into my life after this strange summer that had more twists and turns than Red Mountain Pass.  It was a time of growing self-awareness for many in our family, myself included, and a period of great growth.  Interestingly, a theme that has arisen is this:

"I need to belong to me."

Now, that may sounds strange, but it is clear to several of us that this is where our work needs to be done for a long while, and we will be settling in with this particular idea and working with it until we each really and truly belong to ourselves.

What do I mean by this?  Well, Angie has been moving through a very difficult season as she has come to a new understanding about her learning disabilities and arrived at a place of acceptance.  She is also working through some very strong feelings around her birth mom, feelings that have been slowly inching their way toward the surface for years and are ready to bubble over now.  This is hard, hard emotional work, and until she moves all the way through it, she will never fully belong to herself, but instead will have part of herself closed off as she avoids the realities of her past.  She knows this, and we are gradually working through things as she feels comfortable.  This combined with the natural fear that comes from entering her senior year along with Kenny, and being
completely uncertain about her future capacity to be meaningfully employed and able to eventually be self-supporting is a huge weight to bear.  Belonging to herself fully will help, as she will not be running from all of who she is, and we can more easily work with it rather than fight it.

Kenny, too, is dealing with deep concerns for it is obvious that with his challenges a traditional employment situation will never be feasible.  However, as with Angie, he has so many wonderful gifts, and in some ways, Kenny is a couple of years further along the path of fully belonging to himself, and is in many ways leading the way.  These are stark truths to accept, that "normal" is likely always going to be out of reach, but the bigger concern isn't "why can't I be normal" but is instead, "So what replaces that?"

Each of them have been in tears fairly regularly as we sit quietly discussing a scary and unpredictable future.  Of course we point to the positives with great regularity, and we explain that almost everyone has an unpredictable future though they may be lucky enough to be able to be blissfully unaware of that unpredictability as they march through their senior year.  No one has guarantees.

For now, Olesya is escaping the darkest parts of the emotional turmoil, perhaps because as a junior, graduation isn't for another year for her, or maybe because she more fully belongs to herself already and has a firm grasp on who she is.  I can't really tell, and she can't either, and so we may be seeing something quite different next year, or eerily familiar, one never knows.  What I do see is that she has undergone a slow transformation and seems more confident these days, happy to declare herself way outside the box and unconcerned about what others think or what the future may hold.  She has a new self-possession that may be from owning herself anew, or it is possible a lower developmental age than her chronological age means she isn't at all contemplating such things as of yet.

Josh too, is in the process of learning how to belong to himself as he wrestles with group acceptance and the desire to belong, and balances being perfectly who he is with the idea of who he wants to be.  Didn't we all do that at 15 or 16?  Try on personas to see which best suited us?  Spread our wings more as we realized we had a life outside our parents, yet could still remain deeply connected to them as we worked our way slowly into the world at large?  Yes, Josh is on the cusp of some real meaty understandings about himself, important pieces of the puzzle of who he is are falling into place.

Matt?  Oh my, that young man has always, always belonged fully to himself in a rare and distinctive way.  He has marched to his own tune since first being placed in our arms, and in many ways has modeled for all of us how to be self-contained and yet connected. 

Our theme arose out of something I think our pastor offered recently, but Kenny swears it was me (and I don't really think it was) but I know we have discussed it often.  "When we truly belong somewhere, we don't have to change who we are to be accepted.  When we merely fit in, we have to change ourselves to be accepted."

Belonging is powerful.  Belonging to ourselves, our truest most authentic selves, and not running from our pasts, our failings, our lack in some areas, is the hardest thing to do, but when we accept ALL of who we are, something extraordinary happens; we can belong to others in far more connected ways, and we can live more fully into who God intended for us each to be.  You see, this isn't about NOT being a child of God, as some might take what I am saying the wrong way.  That is a given.  It is about accepting our whole selves as the child of God that God actually sees...the whole, entire child with flaws and strengths...and not hiding behind bravado or self-deception.

This idea may have come from Brene Brown's most recent book which I read a couple of months ago, and marked up like I was going to teach a class on it.

You know how sometimes just the right book or film comes along at a critical time in your life?  When you are really open and ready to take something in fully?  Brene's book was a sucker punch when I read it, my own life spelled out in the first chapter in ways I had never seen, nor understood, before.

I have spent 52 years belonging to just about everyone but myself.  My life has been such that even at a very young age, I belonged to others before I ever had the chance to make a choice.  Then, I belonged to my husband, then my children...all by choice, but often at the cost of putting myself aside as I had been trained to do when I was very young to make others happy or to "save" them.  As with our kids and their pasts, it skews how you move through the world.  As we gently move into the next phase of our lives together this coming couple of years, and homeschooling winds down, I realize that I have no clue at all who I really am...because I have never fully belonged to myself.  Oh, I have so much work to do!

And what an interesting and timely understanding, that may help me guide each of our kids to avoid that and become fully self-possessed! 

Watching Josh as he worked on the final phase of his documentary project, I was able to see that he is taking steps in this direction.  He is gaining a sense of self, and tickling around the edges of who and how he wants to be in the world.  There was this one moment, when a rainy candle light vigil had ended, and he was kneeling before the makeshift alter...the image shared above in the blog...where I saw that part of who he is becoming is a man of great faith, of trust in others, and who has the capacity to see and feel the sacred in those moments when others might pass right on by.  There was a time when I thought the trust in others would never come.

We have a formidable task before us, we LaJoy's.  We have to pull our collective brain trust together, and see what kind of ideas we can come up with for the future of several of our kids who truly can't figure that out on their own.  Who knows, maybe we won't have the best answers either.  But we do have tenacity, we have a spiritual grounding which sees us through the hardest of times, we have one another, and through the tears and the frustration, through hard realities, we know there is always a light if we just look for it, for there is never only darkness.  As we all spend time this year learning how to belong to ourselves, we will only grow stronger, for when we really know ourselves, we feel safer to be vulnerable with one another.  This family already does that well, and it will only be that much better when this inner work is complete.  God sticks themes in our lives for a purpose, if we only tune in and pay attention.  This must be our theme for the coming months...and because it is from God, there will always be a light shining to guide us, and to prove to us that we are not alone.

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