Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Joy of Growth

How does one measure growth in a human being?

Oh, it can be so easy to see when there is the perfect combination of opportunity and willing participant.

Our kids have all had such an incredible summer, and it is only half over, but they are maturing in ways that are delightful to witness!  Young men and women are slowly emerging from the teens left behind, and if it is even possible I appreciate who they are more than ever before.

Matt, who is counseling at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp has been in contact little due to his responsibilities and schedule, but when he has we have had wonderful conversations of deepening faith, thoughtful care for me, and sharing how he sees how important his role as counselor is.  He has participated in two different Vacation Bible School leadership opportunities in New Mexico and Colorado Springs, as well as been on site at Rainbow Trail with a cabin full of kiddos who, surprisingly, are clearly charming him and bringing great depth themselves.   He has matured into a far more sensitive and tender man than I ever imagined developing in one with such an analytical tech oriented brain. We will see him today briefly as I pick him up to get him to Grand Junction tomorrow for a flight out as he heads off for his Civil Air Patrol International Exchange trip to The Netherlands, a dream come true for him. 

Josh has been at camp the past two weeks, one as a counselor himself with the littlest ones, and one as a camper.  We pick him up today and he will regale us with tales of his adventures, and as usually happens after camp, I anticipate seeing a person emerge from the final circle whose soul has been touched.  Our commitment to church camp each and every year for our kids no.matter.what has been integral to them becoming who they are, and we are blessed with a fine staff at La Foret who bring a level of depth that makes a huge difference.  Josh has also been maturing in another way this summer, as we see him truly settling into the older teen years. It is hard to describe but some of the angst of the early teens has dissipated, and a new contentment has appeared.  He "feels" more like a man to those around him and he has a stronger sense of self.  He has continued to generously offer his time and energy as needed at Buckaroos to assist his siblings with the physical tasks they have tackled, and has learned some construction in the process.  This sweet, strong, one-of-a-kind young man is so confident (and yet not at all cocky) that he cares not one whit if people see his gentle side, which is so endearing, and has come to a place of feeling safe being all parts of himself.  Josh is not at all just the typical teen overly masculine tough guy.  Interestingly, as adulthood is drawing nearer, he has no solid career aspirations yet, though some firm ideas of qualities in a job he might like or dislike and he knows he wants to be self-employed.  The thing he is most firm about?  "I just want a way to make a good living so I can be a great husband and dad and support my family well.  I want to be self-employed so I can have the freedom like dad did to be there for us."  At 16, to give voice to that heartfelt desire and to let it lead his career choices is far different than many his age, and goes to show that he understands that for him, family will be at the heart of his contentment and will be what grounds him throughout his life.  For a child who struggled so mightily with Reactive Attachment Disorder and who multiple therapists said might never make it, those desires for the rootedness a connected family can offer is a validation in a way nothing else can be that we were successful as parents in helping heal his heart.

Then there is our Buckaroos Crew...Angie, Kenny, Olesya and Billy have stepped up in ways I am not sure we could have envisioned when we began this project, and wow, has it been transformational for each of them!  

There has been so much going on, and so  little time to write as we immerse ourselves in the business development process that I realized I hadn't shared since graduation here!  Never fear, a lot is happening behind the scenes, and though progress has been slower than hoped due, in large part, to waiting for contractors willing to tackle a small job during their busy season, our entrepreneurs are busy handling many tasks all by themselves, and proving to the world what they can do!

Billy and Kenny spending 4 hours laying out our countertop, which was more complicated than one might think due to limited space and angles.  Thank goodness for those advanced math skills which allowed them to
come up with the perfect design.

Let's see if we can catch you all up!  Things are at the stage at our location where it LOOKS like little has happened because it is a bit of a mess, but a LOT is close to coming together.  You know that stage in a big project where you question if it is ever going to gel?  Yeah...that is what it looks like right now but we know we are just a few steps away from a completed project.  Having the kids take the reigns and squeezing as much learning out of this as we can has slowed the progression, but we feel it is worth it, and we will still be opening in under a year from initial "idea on paper", which in our estimation is outstanding consider all that is at play with this.  Additionally, the kids will really be able to stand back and see exactly what THEY have accomplished, with help, and have a strong sense of ownership of this next stage of their lives.  

Now seriously, hasn't this been the ultimate homeschooling project?

The day the oven arrived was a triumphant moment for Kenny, who did all the research, compared specs with the help of Dominick, and ultimately cautiously pulled the trigger on the one we should purchase.  His gifts have been honed in areas of research through all of this, and you will never guess how much he saved us...finding a pizza oven liquidator on Ebay who had a MONSTER double stacked conveyor used oven available at a savings, literally of $40k...yes, you read that correctly, a savings.  The frugal LaJoys strike again! Haha!  If we have passed on any skills, that one we might be most proud of :-)

Kenny anxiously awaited the arrival of his baby, and getting it in the door was no easy feat!  It involved two different types of tow trucks to deliver, drop and lift it in the door.  This crated beauty was awesome!  We had a little help from our friend Steve, who ended up waiting around all day to offer just a few minutes of help.  And, in yet another Divine Coincidence in which we have seen God show up in all kinds of unusual ways around Buckaroos, our tow truck driver was actually a former Dominos Pizza employee who had literally helped in the set up of an oven just like ours at their location a few years ago and had all kinds of helpful hints and encouragement to offer.  What are the odds?!?!?!  I love how God continues to be revealed to us on a daily basis.

Here she comes!!

Oh boy, this is really real now!


Josh, anxiously skeptical as he watches the oven being unloaded.  This thing was enormous and weighed a ton!  It was literally slid off the back of a flat bed tow truck, then later lifted up and in the door with the boom of another truck and chains wrapped around it.  
Ingenuity compliments of Dominick :-) 

Waiting for stage two of the oven delivery.

Along with the physical pieces of pulling all of this together, there have been great opportunities for the development of other skills.  They have presented their business plan to potential investors in a two hour long session, answering questions and sharing their vision:

Billy and Olesya have shown true growth in this area, and I was enormously proud of them as they confidently answered questions, proved they knew their product and plan, and grew a little presentation "muscle".  This comes a little easier to Angie and Kenny, but all along the way, we are seeing where the interdependence factor and reliance on the complimentary strengths and weaknesses is going to make all the difference in the world.

Angie has been working on some unique table tops for our little sitting area, using a wood burner for what is honestly really the first time "for real" on this larger project.  I can't wait to show them to everyone once they are stained and sealed, they turned out beautifully!  We are already planning another side gig for her with custom wood burning! Hahaha!  Only half joking, you know us!

Billy and Kenny also went on their own to an insurance agent after having visited the first one for comparison with me. They got a quote on commercial general liability insurance as well as worker's comp, asked very detailed questions after being given a course in commercial insurance by myself, and purchased a policy.  I even received an email from the agent who was quite impressed and said they had been far more knowledgeable than she had expected for their age and grilled her about the policy coverages!  Another win!  Not too many 20 year olds who have done that before all on their own!

Perhaps our most important presentation was this past week, when we had the honor of presenting our plans to Community Options, the local agency in Montrose who provides services to those in our community who have various disabilities and are in need of job coaching, life skills training, etc.  Thanks to a connection with Mosaic and Rejoicing Spirits, a group in the neighboring town where we attend church and for whom our church provides a special worship service each month, we were introduced at Community Options and to folks with our local Vocational Rehab.  Kenny has volunteered at many worship services and led the service a couple of times, and never knew that effort might lead to such an important connection that opened a door for us!

We walked into a room unprepared to be at a conference table with seven other people (we thought we were meeting with two others).  Kenny led the way, but each of the kids confidently spoke up, sharing what Buckaroos is hoping to do, expressing a desire for partnership, and asking questions to become better educated themselves.  This was an area in which Kenny totally shined, but the work put into developing more professional skills with everyone made a big difference.  At first, you could tell that we were being given a polite hearing but an uncertain reception initially as there was no real sense of what we might be about.  Within about five minutes, you could literally feel the shift in the room as it became very clear we were well prepared, had a vision and a heart for the mission ahead of us, and it was incredibly motivating to all of us to hear the enthusiasm of others in the room, two of whom we had no idea prior that we knew reasonably well, and that we were going to be taken seriously.  Wow!  This was a REAL business meeting and the kids left feeling pumped up, and that what we are hoping to provide in terms of a unique opportunity for employment for others just like them was going to be well received, and was very needed.  We are hopeful this will be a wonderful collaboration, and it certainly served to fuel the coming weeks long hours ahead.

Sitting there listening, witnessing the fruits of not just almost a year of preparation, but years and years of hard, hard work, I was honestly so moved.  No one in the room was fully aware of how very much work has gone into sitting there, how hard the road has been to have someone literally say, "Are you sure you all have disabilities? " because they presented so well.  The tears, the years of repeating instructions, of working our way through reading and writing, of practicing public speaking and correcting English and grammar hourly (Literally still!), the painful moments around the table that many of you have read about as we shared, the agonizing moments of realization of limitations, the sheer number of hours spent treating education as a 9-5 job...the heartache of waiting years for the girls to come home, and the battle to win sit there as they saw worth in themselves and handled themselves with grace and maturity as they shared their enthusiasm, and to KNOW they are willing to do whatever it takes to make this a success, that they know what hard work and long hours are and have no crazy illusions...

There are no words.

As I write this, we moved on to the next phase, and I am sitting in a REALLY crappy hotel room in Denver as we decided to combine picking Josh up at camp in Colorado Springs with an equipment buying trip, which also made it more real.

It is hard to believe that less than a year ago we came to this very place with a vague idea to "get our feet wet", and now we are returning with a business name, cool logo, a real plan, a physical space that is close to being completed, a menu, and much more!  A lot has happened in that brief few months, and very different crew returned...including the tall one! Haha!  A couple of days were spent crafting a starter list of smallwares needed, as the menu were reworked and revised.  Billy and Kenny have spent an inordinate amount of time costing out every single item we will sell, and they see quickly how important this sort of background financial work is to ensure success...a step viewed as unnecessary by many budding entrepreneurs who think a great recipe or idea is enough and forge ahead without doing the critical financial analysis pieces.  These two make quite a team and LOVE that sort of detail work! 

While the girls and I began gathering many items, Kenny and Billy were taking larger equipment lists and comparing prices versus an online supplier, and scored a heck of a deal on one particular piece we decided to purchase there, negotiating a $900 discount on a floor model!!  They did so without our knowledge and came back to us to share the good news and get final group approval, feeling pretty darned proud of themselves :-)

"Look mom a PURPLE pizza cutter!  We HAVE to have it, it is a sign from God!"
HAHAHAHA! Ok, that might be stretching it a bit but it was cute :-)

And finally, after 3 1/2 hours of grueling shopping (and in many ways it WAS grueling!), we were ready to check out.

Kenny whipped out that debit card like a pro, and four enormous boxes and one pizza warming cabinet later, we were done!

The skills that have come into play even with just this shopping trip can't be overlooked.  We practiced interaction with several other adults, financing, planning, working through processes in our heads and creating lists, budgeting, evaluating and comparing prices with 2 different sources to get the best deals, and so much more.  Daily I see how real life experiences supported by introductions with more traditional learning make an unbeatable combination for us.  And though this doesn't look like "school", it really is far better and real life learning at the next level...this is their trade school, as someone recently told me...this is their junior college! 

Finally, there is this guy:

After shopping for restaurant supplies, we took Billy for his first ever foray into IKEA, where he found the BILLY bookcase and laughed! Oh, how this young man has completely stolen my heart.  Yes, it is still possible to fall in love with yet another kid, and yes I have just as I love his sister dearly.  He has conquered many challenges himself in his young life, is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, and feels more like our own kid than just about any other we have ever met (Yes too sweetie!)  Watching him literally blossom this summer, in a few short weeks, has been a gift to me, and discovering the fantastic brain inside that head has delighted me countless times.  

He is a unique thinker, very different in approach, quick and super bright.  He is also one of the kindest, most compassionate people I have met in a very long time.  Majoring in Economics at USC, I don't know if he had any idea what an entrepreneur orientation he had!  Man, is he made for this!  He THINKS like a marketer and business owner to the core!  You really can't teach that, you know?  My deepest hope is that he walks away from this summer having gained some practical skills, and having learned a lot about himself.

Billy is a long distance runner, and has spent the past week urging Angie on as she tries running for the first time.  Half a mile at a time, cheering her on, going super slow so she can keep up, Billy showed what a great encourager he can be!  He has been super patient with Kenny and yet they are both really equals, but many wouldn't be as gracious over those "Kenny Brain Malfunctions" as Billy has been.  He is generous with every single thing he has, his time, his snacks, his money.  I had no idea when I offered him the internship opportunity in late spring that he would bring such light and humor into our lives, and that I would feel I had adopted another son who I would be very proud to call my own, but he happens to have to great moms already :-)  Guess I will have to settle for auntie!

We have a lot more ahead of us, but soon it will start to feel like we are in the home stretch for opening.  Several weeks of hard work ahead as we hope to open in mid-September.  We have another surgery in the mix for Kenny in August, but then it is full steam ahead toward the finish line!  Hopefully, things will settle down and I will be able to write more frequently to share how we are moving forward.  Sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day, but the growth of other humans takes a lot of time, effort and focus! Haha!