Monday, October 21, 2019

Three Tiny Tables

The Grand Opening has come and gone, and through the utter exhaustion we are all feeling there is a collective understanding that something very, very special is happening...something we can neither name nor create on our own.  It was two days of intense interaction, and a heck of a lot of slices and scoops being sold.  It was smiles and tears, laughter and motion.  And we discovered something we had not anticipated at all to the degree that immediately became obvious...

Buckaroos is a very sacred space.

God is very present there.

We are being carried along by something that only the Spirit could bring about, and we are barely beginning to understand that.

I can honestly say I have never worked harder, and never been more tired other than when we traveled each time to bring our children home.  This was a new kind of "adoption", one of an entire community, and it caught me completely off guard.  I never would have anticipated the experiences I personally had this weekend, nor the joy that I witnessed from so many corners.

First of all, our employees...all of them...differently abled and traditionally abled...what an AWESOME crew!  The sort of meshing that occurred here is unprecedented in all my prior working years filled with hiring.  The perfect people found their way to us, and we were able to sense exactly who they were through a field of applicants.  This is a team in every possible way, and within just a couple of days we were all remarking with great awe in our voices how it feels as if we have all known each other forever, how our various strengths and weaknesses complement each other so well, how everyone works together to accomplish a goal, and how there is an incredible work ethic present in each and every person on staff.  This would have been impossible to put together on our own, and I have no doubt that having so many pray for our beginning helped heighten our awareness and bring us precisely who we needed.  Most importantly, each and every person was instantly seen for who they are, not how they struggle.  They were not a diagnosis, and there was so much teamwork evident without an ounce of coaching.  If one weren't really tuned in, they would sometimes wonder who was someone who struggled and who was someone who didn't as much.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

The viral nature of our story on social media and traditional media was astonishing, and we had thousands upon thousands of views and shares, comments and clicks.  We were featured in online news magazines, local tv news, our local paper and a huge write up in the paper an hour away in Grand Junction, the radio station, and more. Here are a few links for those interested:

I am truly very uncomfortable with being interviewed, either live or in print, and it shows, but I hope our passion came through and that I didn't come off as too dorky.  I also realized I struggle to let go of the narrative and trust others to share appropriately, for I am protective of our little crew and don't want this viewed as anything other than it opportunity for growth, a collaborative effort, and though the truth is we hire those with special needs, that is the end of it.  They are then productive, capable employees learning new skills, trying as hard as everyone else does to be a good employee and serve customers well.  This isn't a Pity Hire situation, and I want that respected.  This is simply a recognition that not everyone can succeed in the same style and setting of work place as is usually found, and some folks need more direction and some adaptation in order to be successful.  We ALL see how once someone is allowed to fail without fear, they will indeed try over and over and eventually master a task.  We just allow more space for that to happen, but we have the same expectations other employers up on time, work hard, do your best, be respectful, etc.

All along, we had been aware of how employment might really make a difference for some people, but what we missed, and what stood out for me the most over the hectic weekend was the incredible power of having families with kids who have disabilities come in to be served, and how deeply some would be impacted.  A grandma and mom of two young boys with autism came in, and I didn't know this prior to meeting them, but grandma asked if I was the owner and I said I was, and she teared up and couldn't speak.  She tried twice and simply couldn't.  I leaned over and just hugged her, holding her tightly, until she could find the words to explain.  She and the mom said this place helped them see that their beloved boys might have a future after all.  I was tickled when I heard that the older son was clearly aware of his challenges and unabashedly pointed to one of us over the counter and said, "I have a disability just like YOU! And some day I am going to work at Buckaroos!!"  Talk about grabbing your heart!

Over and over, my soul was stirred with humble gratitude to know that what we are doing might change the perspective of many in our community.  A homeschooling mom of four, one with high functioning autism, also teared up and it was terribly important to her that I hear her out as she shared that our family and this business are literally giving her hope for her son, and that some days that hope is so hard to hold on to.  Man, don't I know that myself.  Another long hug, and a knowing nod.  A young hearing impaired girl lit up with an enormous grin as I offered to have her and her friends come for a special day of learning how to make pizza.  In the midst of a very busy period, I was profoundly touched to approach one of our three tiny tables and ask if they were pleased, and a much older woman with an unspecified disability who was non-verbal and possibly blind was there with her caretaker.  She was communicating the best she could, when I spoke with her, and she pulled me in, then gently kissed me on the cheek.  Hard not to sob over that one as she then patted my hand, her joy at being "seen" and spoken to normally so evident.  An older local adoptive mom of three who had remembered reading about our family years ago came in and sat at one of those three tiny tables later in the evening, when it was slow, and we shared our adoptive mommy hearts and challenges.

Those three tiny tables became our living room, something I just hadn't ever anticipated.  Friends joined us with loads of laughter, special friend Raynola and her family and dear friend Laurie showed up and had the girls squealing at the top of their lungs.  Raynola taught the girls art for 3 or 4 years for free via Skype and hadn't seen them in person in years, but committed to coming this far because showing up matters more than most of us want to realize, because love is action and sometimes we are lazy.  Lots of people were not "lazy in love" and we were overwhelmed to have Candi and Billy show up from so far away, to have over FIFTY people from our church which is an hour away come to our soft opening and ten more or so return for the Grand Opening.  An adoptive mommy friend of mine from online who I have known since before Matt came home showed up with her extended family, coming six hours to attend and offer support.  Our first customers were our kids' adopted grandparents who have loved on them with TONS of action over the year, and I even saved their first $20 bill from them to hang and frame, because who better to have received their first true sale from?

As we were loving others, we were being faithfully, truly loved on, too.

Our space is so limited, with just those three wood burned tables and some benches outside, but I had forgotten that close proximity breeds relationship.  Strangers laughing and visiting with other strangers as they sat around our tight little corner.  Many old friends from Montrose showed up and hung around to catch up, to offer their encouragement, to share a scoop or a slice.  And the warmth was hanging over all of us, glowing with the knowledge that we are all connected in ways that we can't always name, that strangers are simply new friends in the making, and that the human heart desperately needs those connections, whether hindered by the ability to easily express emotion, by speech issues, or lack of motor skills, we all need community to feel whole.

And new friends we made indeed!  Here are a few of the incredibly positive reviews we have received on our Facebook page:

"We just returned from dinner. First off, the staff was so friendly and greeted us upon entering. I loved the homey, bright decor. We custom built our pizza and it came to our table looking and smelling delicious! The sausage and bacon were so good as was the sauce! The slices were thick enough that two slices each was enough for each of us. We saved room for dessert and were not disappointed. Farr’s ice cream is wonderful! Great choice! We will definitely be back!"

"Not only is the food great but the staff is incredibly friendly this place is a shining beacon for for all abilities we will be back often!!!!"

"Great food, great teamwork, fun atmosphere! Everything about this place is amazing. The team did an awesome job with the soft opening, very friendly staff!

We will definitely make Buckaroos a regular stop for our family!"

"Amazing! Staff was very friendly and helpful. the pizza was ohhh so good and the ice cream is amazing! Warm, welcoming environment with lots of smiles and laughs."

This place is where awesome people are making a difference in the world. The pizza has an amazing s"auce and there are a wide variety of toppings available. This is a happy family restaurant. 👍"

"What a wonderful idea!!! Great pizza BEST ICE CREAM! Farrs from Utah!! Yummo!! And the staff all wonderful!!!! I can totally see them expanding quickly all over Colorado and other states!! What a great concept and flawless execution! Congrats to all those who put their heart and soul into this! You have a customer for LIFE!!"

"This place ROCKS!!! I was so impressed with how smooth everything seemed to be running considering it was their “soft opening!” I love everything about it. I loved the teamwork that I saw when my family and I were there. I love what this business stands for and I LOVED the pizza. It was amazing and the crust was soooo good. I’m so excited for Buckaroos and I pray blessing upon blessing for this whole establishment. We will definitely be back!!!"

Sitting here after the extremely busy weekend, resting my feet and legs after multiple 16 hour days, I am taking a moment to reflect back over the course of the past year.  What a hard, painful, difficult year it has been for me personally.  SO much happened alongside the planning for Buckaroos, and at times I wanted to cry it was so overwhelming.  I ended up sobbing in church this weekend after one of our dear friends got up and spoke from the heart about how our family has touched his life, and the life of our church.  I totally lost it.  His words meant so much to me, probably because it HAS been so hard, and yet somehow we have made it, and still love one another, and God is using us to provide a sacred space in the form of a little pizzeria to offer meaning and purpose.  All any of the seven of us want is to be "that place" for others, and we accomplished it.  Matt and Josh have helped so much, and filled in with emergency runs to Sam's Club an hour away, a reassuring shoulder to lean on, and much needed valuable labor.

From concept to business plan to marketing plan to VERY arduous physical work, we arrived at the finish line, only to see new horizons to race toward.  I kid you not, we had finished our first day when Kenny told me he had an idea to expand to a cleaning business to partner those with disabilities with others to clean houses and offices, and Olesya already has our game plan in mind to "move across state lines".  Hahaha!  So who is it that taught these kids to dream such big dreams???

God did.

There are many more who need employment and will struggle to find a safe place to learn. We already have 4 or 5 applications from people who want to work, who we simply don't have enough work for...yet.  Maybe God will continue to do something extraordinary here, using the Family God Built to do so, along with all those who love and encourage this crazy clan of ours.  Maybe there is more in the future, but for now we are all praying for continued increasing numbers of visitors so that we can make it.  We know we can't do it alone, and never have done anything alone.

As we gather round those three tiny tables, as we offer hugs and smiles and hope, I am reminded over and over again that this is NOT about us, this is not about the LaJoys, it is bigger, it is more important by far than we seven.  Singing in choir this Sunday, so bleary eyed and physically worn out, I was so moved by the lyrics of the chosen song, Love Grows Here.  The sermon and music aligned so beautifully with what we have tried to accomplish, and hopefully will continue to offer others. May we never, ever forget...

Love Grows Here
By Nancy Price

Take a look around you
Tell me what you see
People here to worship the Lord
Just like you and me
Some have come in gladness
Some have come with fear
But all have come because they know that love grows here
Yes, love grows here
And all of us can share
the wonder and joy that it can bring
For God is near
Teaching us to care
And showing our hearts
How to sing
Some of us are lonely
Some have many friends
Some lives just beginning
Some are near the end
Yet we come together
Knowing he is near
Once again…

Love from our Pizza Guy...

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Beautiful Mystery

Our blog is titled, "The Family God Built", and as Kenny said this past week, Buckaroos is turning into "The Business God Built!"

The past couple of weeks have been extraordinary in so many ways.  It has also been exhausting, and we are all looking forward to the creation phase being done, and the running of Buckaroos "for real" to begin.  Since I last shared here, we have had two Soft Openings to practice and let all our employees become familiar with our business, we have held two employee training sessions, handled a gazillion small details, and generally all of us have been working 12-14 hour days. 

Our First Pizza to be Ordered!
All has not gone smoothly, as we are battling oven issues and are so grateful that we purchased a double conveyor oven as one is working and the other is not, and hasn't despite 6 or 7 visits from the commercial equipment repairman.  It is basically rebuilt now, and a repairman from Colorado Springs arrives tomorrow at a hefty price ($1200...ouch!) to work on it.  Poor Dominick has done everything possible to get it running, and yet his frustration is at a minimum.  It is such a neat experience to be married to someone since their youth and see their maturity over time.  The younger Dominick would not have handled this with as much aplomb as the more seasoned Dominick is.

I have been too tired to write, but also, if I am being honest, I have been unable to find the words to share what all has happened.  Deep emotion has swirled constantly, and nailing that down to talk about is proving difficult.  We have all vacillated from one moment to the next between confidence and fear, concern and excitement.  Thankfully, as we have joked, I am glad we aren't all in the valley at the same time!  Usually it is one of us, and it seems to rotate between us all.  This week it has been my turn, but a beautiful mystery unfolded today which served as affirmation for us all.

Today, our Pastor handed Angie a note, saying someone wanted us to receive it but wanted to remain anonymous.  Ang tucked it in her purse, and later when we were all in the car on our way home, she remembered it and pulled it out to open.  Inside the envelope was no note, just a cashier's check for...$5,000.00. 


We have no idea who to thank for this incredible generosity, which couldn't have come at a better time for me personally.  It was Thursday when I admitted I was growing a little scared about the debt, as we looked at more charges for oven repairs.  I had also made the call to allow a few of our special needs employees to come on in for the second Soft Opening, despite the fact that we really have no cash reserve to easily pay them.  A quick check in with everyone and we decided that it was important enough to go ahead and say "yes" to those who were so eager to return for another night of work.  It felt like the right thing to do, and we knew it would really matter to our employees. As Angie keeps reminding us, we need to make certain our mission is always first, and we all believe if we do that then somehow there will be enough to cover everything.  How our kids ended up with such an "abundance" mindset, I am not sure, but it permeates everything they all do, and it is a regular encouragement to me as well to keep my eye on the things that matter most. 

So here we were, a new major chunk needed to be spent tomorrow for the oven, and God shows up completely out of the blue through a gift from someone who will remain a beautiful mystery to us. 

I can't help but ask myself why this sort of goodness happens to us so frequently.  We are no more deserving than anyone else, and yet over and over again we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone's generosity.  We try our very best to give back in ways we can, and yet we could live three lifetimes or more and never be able to repay the kindness so many people have shown us in big ways, sometimes anonymously.  Trust me, our entire family never, ever takes it for granted.  Kenny said he hopes we never lose that sense of awe when good things happen that we felt today when the contents of the envelope was revealed.  We try to repay it in as many ways as we can find, but it is never the same as has been offered us because we simply don't have the means.  All we really have to offer up to others, and God, is our hearts and our time.  How I wish we could repay all we have been given!!  Down to the last LaJoy, we all feel a strong sense of responsibility to work our hardest so that any gift such as this isn't wasted.

But I will tell you it is very hard not to feel unworthy. 

Our Soft Openings have already taught us a lot, and here is what I have been thinking about over the past couple of weeks:

1)  The idea that we are somehow offering opportunity to "poor disabled people" couldn't be further from the truth.  What is so apparent is how much WE are being offered by our employees who Angie said today, "...feel like we have known them forever, even though we have only really worked together two or three times."  We have some very special relationships already forming, we have a wonderfully delightful staff which is comprised of two-thirds folks with special needs.  What we have been especially fortunate in is finding employees who all have a heart for this mission of Buckaroos, who have a unique kindness to them, and who are already proving themselves to be a wonderful supportive team where EVERYONE is equal, and some just need partnering. 

2)  Montrose is the best place in the world to live.  I know others might disagree, but our city is a little slice of heaven, and we have been encouraged by the social media comments and in-person conversations we have had.  A story shared about us by The Montrose Mirror on its Facebook page was viewed by over 15,000 people, and had 147 comments and 197 shares!  Many have reached out, whether we know them or not, with words of support and celebration that this sort of business will be in town, and pledges to support us with purchases.  How I hope that comes to fruition! 

3)  The dignity that comes from participating in meaningful work and having a work community of friends who know and accept you is something you must witness for yourself to understand.  The difference in confidence level and self-esteem was evident even from one Friday night to the next, enough that it was hard for me not to shed tears over what I was seeing...the eagerness to please, the nervous pride as family members came in to see their relative actually WORKING, the father who sobbed as he saw his son working to take pizzas out of the oven and cut them to place in boxes, the hugs as they walk in the door wearing their Buckaroos shirt with such obvious pleasure.  And NAME TAGS!!!  With their own name on it!!!  I never would have dreamed THAT would be such a huge deal, but it is.

4)  How fast one stops seeing "disability" and what remains is only "my friend" or "my co-worker" after you spend just a little bit of time interacting with someone.  Funny that I equate this with adoption, but in our case, our kids don't look or sound like us, and within days post adoption we literally forgot the world would be unable to easily view us as a family because of our differences.  I look at my Asian sons and I see our sons, Matt, Kenny and Josh.  Now, of COURSE I know we don't "match" but I don't see that from the outside, and we have all long since ceased seeing the differences, or hearing the differences such as with Olesya and Angela's strong Russian accents that have remained.  That is just how our daughters sound, we are used to it, and in our world it is normal.  So too, are our employees just who they are, no reservations, as we already have accepted whatever makes us different from one another and set that aside to see the human being that should be seen first, before any disability is seen. 

5)  People with cognitive or developmental delay are FAR more courageous than the world ever wants to give them credit for.  For some reason, we tend to apply that thinking to those who "overcome" physical disabilities, and we are dismissive as a society of those with differently functioning brains.  We seldom see them as being brave, we infantalize them, we talk over them rather than with them, we don't know what to do with them.  People with invisible disabilities face a world in which they will never fit, and they know it.  They are bullied regularly, are scared of the impatience they experience from others on a daily basis, and they tackle life with great hope when things are far more challenging for them than they ever are for the average person. 

In two heartbreaking conversations, I have already had to reassure two of our employees who approached me privately and haltingly said they were scared because they had been bullied or treated very rudely in the past.  I told them that no one was going to bully them or be unkind to them, and if they were, they would no longer be welcome in our store and we would protect them.  I was honest, saying that we might not be able to stop someone from saying something initially, but they would always have us to protect them the best we could. 

6)  Once you remove the fear of disappointing someone or making a mistake and being reprimanded for it, once you create a safe place for failure to be more about trial and error than an overblown crisis, it is fascinating to see what someone is willing to try...and fail at...and try again!  We can't become proficient at something that will take us tons of repetition if we aren't allowed the chance to fail multiple times and keep trying.  Friday night Angela dropped 3 pizzas at once from our countertop warmer, and later another employee dropped one learning how to take pizza out of the oven.  Ang and I talked about how glad we were that SHE was the one who dropped three and made a huge mess, because she knows it is safe to make a mistake and was able to model that understanding before our employee did the same thing, probably making it less uncomfortable.  We have had scoops of ice cream flung as those with coordination issues try diligently to master making a cone.  We will have many, many more learning experience that others might name as "mistakes", but to us, it is all part of the lengthy process of mastering something when it is difficult to us.  Our motto is not to catch people doing something wrong, but to catch them doing something right and build on that.  So many of our employees have experienced very little success or positive recognition in their lives from anyplace outside of their families.  Maybe we can change that a little :-)

There have been many little things that  have witnessed that touched me deeply, and as time goes in and I can breathe a bit I hope to share them here, for this is truly a new adventure and I can't wait to see what God has in store for us!  But I can't complete the blog post without sharing the single thing that has perhaps squeezed my heart more than anything else:

If there has been a "star" at all the past two Soft Opening evenings, it has been Josh.  At 16 years old, he has a compassion and patience that revealed itself in surprising new ways.  Within 10 minutes the first night, he had two or three special needs young adults at the prep table with him standing beside, guiding them, encouraging them, teaching them with a gentleness of spirit that was so very special to witness.  Never needing the spotlight, he has done SO much to assist his siblings, and presented a command of the kitchen instantly that had us all seeing him as more man than teenager.  He exuded a confidence that I think even he hadn't expected, as he is a natural at this and will be a leader in the business despite his age.  How I love all our kids, but these two nights Josh was a true shining light.  Whether it was jumping in to clean at the end of the night with no guidance, stepping back to let others try new skills and nurturing them toward competence, I couldn't have loved him more than seeing how kind he was.

We are currently living within a beautiful mystery, one that reveals itself slowly day by day.  What will our employees be able to do with the right support?  How can we grow the business effectively so we can ensure everyone keeps their job?  What does God want to happen here with Buckaroos??  Who offered such an astoundingly generous gift to us?

Are we going to make it?

We are giving it our all, each and every one of us.  If we don't make it, it surely won't be from a lack of effort.  It also won't be from a lack of care from others, as we are being carried in prayer by so many.  We were deeply touched that over 50 people from our church traveled a little over two hours round trip to come to our soft openings.  Talk about encouragement!!!  Talk about making us all feel very loved and cared for!!  Talk about seeing God in the faces of each and every one of them!!!  We can never say thank you enough, and it goes to show you how important showing up is.

The beautiful mystery remains, and grows with each passing day.  So much yet to discover, so much left to offer others of ourselves, so many new things to learn.  May we be paying careful attention to what presents itself, and may we never miss seeing God in our midst.