Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Wisdom of Tenderness


“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.” 
                                        ― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

This past weekend, on a long flight to the east coast, I pulled out my iPad and began to read something I purchased almost a year ago.  It was a book comprised of two lectures offered at Harvard University by the recently departed Jean Vanier who founded the L'Arche communities,  now numbering 149 throughout the world.  L'Arche provides homes and support networks for those with intellectual disabilities, creating community for many who are ostracized by society.  What is unique about L'Arche, among many things, is that there is also a focus on how those who are not challenged are changed by living alongside those who are, and how they grow and change while serving others.

I haven't been moved by anything quite as much in a very long time, and found myself highlighting passage after passage of the most beautiful, profound prose filled with wisdom and truths.  There in the digital pages of From Brokenness to Community I saw, perhaps for the first time, an understanding of God as I know God to be, and an explanation of how community heals, and how community reveals. 

It was, unbeknownst to me prior to reading, a parallel in parts to the life I lead here in my own home. 

It speaks to the dream that the kids and I have of the possibility that Buckaroos can be about far more than merely providing pizza and employment, that with care and intentional relationship it might just be about community.

It is already being lived into, in some small way, through Blue Collar Homeschool's Facebook group, where we try our best to be a place where being real is encouraged, and where our weaknesses are not used against one another.

Finishing the short read before landing, I understood that God had led me to these words at this time for a purpose.  It was one of those encounters with thoughts and ideas that leave you knowing without question that you are being gently molded and shaped, that you are being prepared for what will come though there may be only a vague sense of what that might be...or no clue at all.

"To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude:  "You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself." 
                                           - Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community

I spent time with two different congregations after having read this, preaching at services for one, while their pastor, my dear friend Candi, was present at her other church where she is a part-time pastor.  I then joined them later after the service, as they were saying farewell to their retiring and beloved full-time minister after 9 years of walking through life together.

Witnessing the outpouring of affection for their departing pastor, as well as for one another, was like seeing the above quote come to life before me.  There were tears, hugs, and much tenderness which reflected the kind of strong yet compassionate example they have had modeled for them for many years.  Both congregations have been guided to see, through the attitude of their ministerial leaders, that they are indeed beautiful communities, they are important in their own ways in their corners of the world.  They have been helped to see they can be trusted and can trust themselves to make wise decisions and act in faithful ways.  Both congregations have moved from brokenness to healthy communities.  Both congregations have made enormous efforts to grow, and to do the work they are each called to do. 

How can I also not see the parallels in my own personal life, living in this family?  As our kids rapidly mature, my job as their mom who loves them with all that I am, is NOT to do things for them, it is NOT to make it all easy simply due to disability or their very difficult past lives.  Pity helps no one grow.  No, my job is to help them learn to trust themselves, to provide them with opportunities to challenge themselves to do extraordinarily difficult things so their confidence develops.  It is to remind them of their own beauty, and to show them their value to the world, even when they doubt they have much to offer due to young age or weakness.  My job, if I do it well, is to help them accept their shortcomings but not dwell on them, but instead to clearly see their strengths and view them as hope giving.

But my most important job is to be tender.  Oh sure, I can be tough, a taskmaster, and someone who holds firm boundaries.  But I have learned through the years that I never, ever have gained anyone's heart by being strong alone.  While our kids certainly have needed the security that can come from knowing their parents are solid and capable, that we are no pushovers, the real transformation has come in the moments of deep tenderness and vulnerability...not theirs...mine. 

Broken hearts don't mend easily, and they can't be forced into wholeness.  It is only through tenderness that we can see healing occur, and that tenderness leaves us open to be hurt.  But the brokenness in us all can indeed be put back together.  I know, I have seen it first hand.  When we believe in grace, when we are strong through faith and can be our truest selves with one another, when we don't "do for" but instead "walk with", extraordinary things can happen.

As Josh's shirt says in the photo above, "Live Generously"...and I would add and urge us all to "Live Tenderly" as well.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother's Day Paradox

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, and as an adoptive mom who has been online since long before Google and Facebook, I am deeply immersed in social media in ways that are natural, comfortable, and familiar to me.  Everything that has mattered to me in my world has come to me through online home, most of my vehicles, my best friend, and you might even say my husband despite the fact that our relationship pre-dates the internet as we know it, for he and I met talking on the CB radio when I was 13 years old, so maybe that can be considered the precursor to the internet.  At least it was relationship development first without face to face contact. 

Because of the past 20 years lived online in the adoption world, it is inevitable that I will see multiple memes about birth moms as my adoptive mom friends share how grateful they are for the children they have been blessed to parent.  Quotes like the one above abound, which speak to the love a birth mom felt for their child, or about the sacrifice they experience in lovingly making an adoption plan and placing their child with others to raise.  While I have absolutely no doubt that for many, many birth moms, these sentiments ring quite true, what do you do when that may not be the case for your own child? 

Isn't it presumptive to assume that every birth mom deeply loved their child?  Isn't it projecting to assume that in every case, the birth mom felt all we do for the child we have parented all these years?

I contend that history sometimes tell a different story, that not all children or young adults have a "Fairy-God-Birth-Mother", and we run the risk of being dishonest or causing emotional harm when we contend that birth mothers always loved their children, planned for them to have a better life, and will ache with yearning once their children are no longer with them.

That sounds pretty, but it just isn't always the case.  It can be a dangerous and  utterly false narrative that can create great internal conflict for the other members of the adoption triad.

There are uncaring birth moms, there are birth moms who don't think often about the child they no longer parent, there are birth moms who are addicts and alcoholics who can never pull themselves away from the lure of chemical dependency.  There are birth mothers who are emotionally unstable or are mired in mental health issues with few treatment options in foreign lands.  Then, there are some who are narcissistic, selfish, and calloused.  And sometimes, in rare instances, they are murderers...

Just like there are adoptive moms with the same traits. 

Adopting a child doesn't make you a saint, despite popular opinion. 

Some families know their birth moms, they can present honest information, and sometimes that information is as loving as we always wish it could be.  There are birth moms who did make a plan with great intent, they care deeply and work hard at open adoption efforts, they are good and decent women who did, indeed, make the ultimate sacrifice in placing their child for adoption.

But what about the rest of us, for whom little is known and few facts exist?  What about when there is information, and it does not allow for creating a fairy tale of a sacrificial birth mom?  How about families, like ours, who have had to spend years and years dealing with the emotional wreckage that birth parents caused...the trauma, neglect, anger, and soul deep pain?  What do those sweet Mother's Day memes that acknowledge the birth mom and state falsehoods mean when they really do not apply in our own situation?

You know what we do?

We keep parenting, we keep loving, we share with honesty and we cry alongside our children.  We don't talk about thoughtfully crafted adoption plans, instead we speak to abandonment, we explain addiction and its hold, and we say we wish we had a better narrative...a sweeter offer.

And then, you know what else we do?

We grieve in private, we beg God for grace, and then we offer gratitude for the birth mom, who at the very least, chose to give birth.

Oh, how grateful we are!  Yes, even for the anger often vented at us for years, even for the thousands upon thousands of dollars spent in an effort to repair broken hearts and sometimes broken bodies.  We are grateful for the opportunity to watch a child heal and discard the hard, protective shell to reveal their softer, more vulnerable and open selves.  We are grateful for the shy smiles that eventually come, for the first time they relax in our arms when being held, and for the years we will have together despite all the years we lost.

In our case, between all five of our children, we lost 32 years of parenting time with our beloved ones.  That shocked me when I added it up recently.  Consider that, then tell me there is a rush for any of us to move too quickly through this time in our lives with young adults. Few understand at all that it takes two or three years just to feel like you are REALLY family, and for some of us, that same amount of time to develop English enough where deeper communication can be shared.

So this Mother's Day, though we acknowledge the reality that is true for our particular circumstances, that we can not necessarily claim the great love of birth moms in each and every case, or that the facts are simply unknown and we can not assign blame nor love, we can always, always be grateful for life, for what we share now as a family, and for all seven of us surviving years without one another.  Trust me, Dominick and I were together a looooong time without these awesome people...17 years including marriage and dating.  We were as lonely and yearning as they were for the love we knew was missing.

So, thanks birth moms.  No matter how conflicting the truth might be, gratitude is always what I feel when thinking of you, even with hard stories we know a bit about, even with the lack of your own persective or answers to "why".  I am grateful for the nine months you carried someone I love so much.  I am thankful you gave birth.  And, because I am old enough, scarred enough y life myself, and imperfect enough, I may acknowledge the truth, but I have also tried to keep from demonizing you...always.  Life is hard, circumstances are sometimes out of our control, and in your cases, I know I can never, ever fully comprehend the sort of poverty that surrounded you, the lack of supports, and the condemnation you may have experienced in a more conservative society if you were pregnant out of wedlock.

Thinking of you this day...

Friday, May 10, 2019

Long Days, Big Dreams

As graduation looms, activity is humming at Buckaroos!  While we likely will not be able to open as early as we had hoped due to delays with contractors and Kenny's multiple surgeries (another expected this summer sometime), time is marching on and work is progressing.

Today was a 13 hour day for them, as they completed the drywall work.  They have hung all the drywall themselves, installed insulation, but we will be calling in help for the tape and texturing. 

These two have been very generous with their time, bringing their talents to the job site.  Today Matt helped with running CAT5 computer cables for the eventual installation of our Point of Sale System, and Josh helped with the drywalling all day.  While they are each learning new things, neither one has any reason other than kindness to put in the hours they are putting in on this project.  Matt also helped me out this week by writing a program to sync my two laptops so they both have the same information on them.  He spent several hours creating it, then setting it up on both the laptops...even driving one down to our liquor store where the internet is far faster than at home so the information could upload more quickly.

Team LaJoy is more a team than ever, even with everyone pursuing different things.  The sharing of skills, the care for one another, the willingness to help without expecting anything in return is something I never could have dreamed of or imagined when they were all young.  If I didn't live in the middle of it, I wouldn't believe it.  As I have been tackling some of the back end work for Buckaroos, such as working with potential vendors, establishing credit accounts, etc. Olesya has stepped in to help with keeping the house clean and doing more cooking, saying, "I can't do what you are working on, but I can help in other ways so you can have more time to deal with stuff for us..." as she mopped the kitchen floor, cleaned the stove, and much more, freeing me to immerse myself in the minutia that necessarily takes hours upon hours of attention.  Angela, who doesn't normally really enjoy physical work has really surprised even herself with all she has done with the construction phase, and she has enjoyed it!  This girl is a Drywall Queen, who has also filled trenches, cut concrete blocks, and helped with framing, spending hours and hours in physically demanding work.

The pride is evident on all their faces as they see Buckaroos beginning to take shape with walls up, plumbing lines in, heating and air installed, and more to come this week.  They will eventually be painting the interior and exterior, installing flooring, and more.  Along with that, there is still SO much to learn about business in general.  We are next going to work on ServSafe Manager training, learning accounting principles, continue growing our marketing skills, and probably a thousand other things.

Due to lung issues and asthma, I have had to steer clear of the store while this sort of work is going on.  Dominick and I are also trying very hard to make space for me in the midst of all of this, to ensure I can bring my very best self to all we are doing, which can be hard when I am finding very little time for any pursuits of my own.  But I have started my own little project that I hope to complete in a couple months:

This is my first larger project, and of course I can only see how lopsided the circle is, how far off my pattern I somehow went, but even with that I am still pleased with how it looks thus far, and am anxious to somehow find time to work on it more.  However, I am out of state twice in the next two weeks, and have an enormous list of tasks to tackle for the kids, so this may end up taking me two years, not two months to complete! Hahaha!  At least it is started, right?

In the middle of the hustle and bustle, we celebrated Angie's 21st birthday, and it was sort of the birthday that kept on giving...a week's worth!  We had planned to go to the hot springs in Ouray a week after her birthday, but weather was bad so it got pushed back another week.  But we did go out for dinner at Chilis, a rare treat for our family, as part of her gift and then had a cake to celebrate.  At 21 years old, she has come a long way from the almost 12 year old we brought home from Kazakhstan.  She has softened...and yet strengthened, which is hard to explain, but true.  Slowly, she is getting to know her real self in a fuller way.  This year is bringing much growth, and it is exciting to watch as she embraces adulthood.

Happy Birthday Sweetie!

A really bad selfie with Kenny cut off! Haha!

So much is happening in our lives right now, it is hard not to feel like we are on a speedway!  Lots of cramming things in to get done before summer, to try and hit self-imposed deadlines, to prepare for futures.  Everything looks and feels different, and there is no firm structure...there can't be.  While that is unsettling in some ways, it is also exciting and interesting.  Thankfully, the one thing that IS solid and firm is this...the relationships we have with one another, our faith, and the knowledge that despite limitations, we are all going to work extraordinarily hard to make sure we all make it.  

Even Matt is working against his Dysgraphia as he codes, telling me that the program he wrote took longer because he kept having to correct his own spelling mistakes or misplaced numbers as he often does when writing or doing math.  Like he said, it just takes longer and you figure it out, fix it, and move on.  And that could be said for our entire family...we figure out the work around strategies, fix it, and move on.  Though this week has definitely been one of the harder ones I have had in awhile with the kids' brains malfunctioning, and frustration settled in multiple times, remembering what Matt said helps...figure it out, fix it, move on.

That is happening with just about every single step of the business work right now, as mistakes are made on a regular basis.  Instructions are misheard or misunderstood, so we figure it out, fix it, and move on.  Memory challenges are showing up in all three kids here and there, but there is nothing we can "fix" about that, so we just try to accommodate, be creative and keep moving forward.  So far, I think we are all is taking longer but good things are happening alongside the occasional frustration.

The next few weeks will be even busier, and we will see Buckaroos really start taking shape...lots of excitement to come!

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


This past weekend found me unexpectedly reminiscing, as I traveled with all five kids to Colorado Springs to attend camp counselor training for this summer at La Foret, their beloved church camp which has been part of their lives their entire childhood.  Kenny had a great idea, and that was to have me take their senior pictures there, where we could take advantage of the beautiful location and the sites of the campground which have such deep meaning for them both.  While I was a little uncomfortable saying yes, because I am at best an amateur who enjoys the camera and only occasionally gets a good shot, I was persuaded to do so because they wanted them taken out came the Big Canon DSLR, and after arriving in the afternoon we took off, leaving the others behind at the hotel.

Oh, we had SO much fun!  We went to their favorite places on the grounds, and played around with different angles and settings.  Each location brought back memories, as this place and the people they have met there have been instrumental in helping develop a faith that is real and tangible for them.  Then, we drove past a particular cabin, one that we always comment on as we drive past each year.  The kids said we needed to get out and take a photo there, and oh, how glad I am that we did!

Prickly Pear holds great meaning for Kenny and I.

Twelve years ago, Kenny had been home a mere four weeks from Kyrgyzstan, and he was incredibly developmentally delayed.  We decided, in all our infinite wisdom, that he should have his first church camp experience with mom along as chaperone!  It was crazy, it was bold, it was everything you SHOULDN'T do with an adopted kid home that short amount of time.  But we tend to think outside the box and do things differently, trusting our gut, and this felt right.  The camp staff gave Kenny and I a cabin all to ourselves, should we need it to have down time.  I blogged about that week here.

As I just re-read my post, I realize how much I left out about how difficult it was, but also how looking back it was a place where, thanks to our own cabin and the support of staff, Kenny and I truly bonded as mom and son as I disciplined him, encouraged him, and had some time alone with him in the evenings in the cabin.  He also challenged me, whoa boy was that kid self-possessed and "in charge"! 

Laughing as we remember our week together 12 years ago...

Looking back, we both remember that time fondly.  Who would have thought it would have been the first of 12  (so far!) summers spent at La Foret? Who would have imagined he would return as a counselor for several years? Who would have thought that little imp who desperately demanded attention would eventually mellow out, become far more passive, and turn into the wise scholarly type he is today?

And who could have possibly known how faith would have carried he and I, in particular, through so much.  Through surgery after surgery, through academic challenges well outside the norm, through painful self-realizations, and through ultimately a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which would explain so much, and yet with a deeper understanding affirm much of what we had hoped wouldn't be part of his future.  Faith helped with acceptance, faith continues to help with hope, faith will always help with the all-too-painful reality that is sometimes so "in your face".

This thoughtful, brilliant (Yes, he actually is!), tender-hearted, amazing young man graduates high school next month, and is all we ever dreamed he could be and more.  No, he may never hold a traditional job, he may never have a "career" in the typical sense, nor will he ever live fully alone unsupported.

That doesn't matter, honestly, not at all.  And I am not sure my younger self could have ever said that so confidently and believed it.

It is an entirely different experience, parenting a child like Kenny, seeing things that concern you, watching the gap in development grow larger, then finding answers you wish were not the truth.  But somewhere along the line, you begin to not just accept, but to more easily see beyond to the "more" that is there.  Once you have answers, the questions cease to matter anymore, and you can begin to hang on to a new reality which will look unlike the dream every parent has for their child.  But you are blessed to then see the whole person before you and grow in appreciation for things that are not about traditional accomplishments or achievements.  Honestly, it brings a wholeness to your relationship that can sometimes get hidden beneath worldly celebrations of what success is supposed to look like.

I have grown so much, right alongside this young man.  I have become a far, far more patient woman.  I have learned how to teach.  I have learned how to problem solve far better than I used to.  I have been forced into situations where I had to have more backbone and advocate like I never imagined I could.  I have cried buckets of tears, laughed until my tummy ached, and yearned to make it all OK even when I knew I was powerless.

In many ways, it all began at Prickly Pear, and our week together there with no real outside lifeline.  I became more firmly his mom, I asserted myself with this 45 lb fireball, and I know that we had that initial tug-of-war there where he tested his limits without others around to see if I really, really, REALLY could handle him and meant what I said.  It was here where our relationship was established in appropriate fashion, and the balance of power was established in a healthy way.

I later learned that there were bets we wouldn't manage to make it the full week without pulling up stakes and leaving ;-)  Kenny and I still laugh over that one, obviously the LaJoy tenacity was both Kenny AND I!

As we walked along the labyrinth, through the chapel, and quietly talked, we three felt the connection that comes from a Spirit place, one that required great commitment, openness, and vulnerability.  Angie has walked her own incredibly powerful journey which has its own unique touchstones.  They just were not present that afternoon in that place, but the three of us have an understanding of how God brought us together, how the Spirit moved in and around us, and how Jesus modeled for us how to be in relationship with one another. 

What will our next Prickly Pear experience be?  Will it be Buckaroos that becomes a second home and where new growth and relationship are brought into being?  Or is it an entirely unknown place that will become part of our family DNA?

Whatever comes our way, there can be no doubt that Kenny LaJoy will continue to blossom, just like he did at Prickly Pear all those years ago.