Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Soul Wealth

Recently for the kids' personal finance course we read a book by Linda Tirado, "Hand to Mouth".  Tirado became a viral sensation in 2013 when an article she wrote appeared on Huffington Post,  "This is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense" and we read her subsequent book to try and learn more about good and bad decision making.  Sadly, Tirado did little to dispel what she
feels are "myths" as she shared her own personal story of poor decision making, but many might call it "excuse making" for feeling justified in just about everything she did, from flipping off her bosses to failing to show up for work because she just couldn't face it to demeaning just about everyone she encountered.  

Oh, the conversations that arose around the table as we read!  This was really more of a "What Not To Do" manual, but woven throughout were some hard truths as well that did help explain the cycle of poverty in a very concrete way. After reading the book, the kids each had to write an essay on what their takeaway was.  Last night I was reading Angie's essay, and was struck by what she shared, which reflected a wisdom well beyond her age.  Here is what Angela wrote:

"The whole world is poor.  Linda Tirado fails to realize that every single person is poor in something. Some are poor in spirit, some are poor in good parents, some are poor in knowing themselves, others poor in opportunities, relationships, or even in cognitive reasoning.  Each one of us holds a sign that says, "Please Help, I am Hungry."  That sign might be saying I am hungry to be known, I am hungry for education, or I am hungry for opportunities.  As we avoid looking at the cardboard signs that the homeless or the poor hold, Tirado is glancing away from the signs of poverty we experience.  We don't criticize poverty of spirit, mind or experience, but we certainly do when it comes to financial indigence.  What's the difference?  With financial poverty it is hard to hide your way of life.  With other sorts of poverty we can put on masks that will fool the world or to some extent even ourselves.  It's impossible to conceal penury.  There are no therapists or medications for being poor."

Angie was right, we are all poor in some way or another, and as she pointed out, some ways are just more socially acceptable or more easily hidden from the world.  Good writing always ought to make us think, and though Tirado's writing was actually somewhat of an expletive filled personal memoir than an explanation of poverty itself, Angela's writing really made me stop and consider something. I began to ask myself, "What am I hungry for?  What might those around me be hungry for?" and then I was inevitably led to the challenging question, "What am I doing about it?"

The imagery Angie brought to mind was powerful, and I imagined sitting in a room full of people, perhaps many I know, and many I don't know.  Each was holding a cardboard sign, words boldly scrawled in black Sharpie marker revealing the deepest yearnings of each individual.  What have I missed in the lives of those around me, largely because I was focused on that which the world holds in high esteem but which matters little in the long run?  Have I missed moments when comfort could have been offered, when a listening ear would have made all the difference, when a helping hand could have lightened the load?

I am convinced of the goodness of mankind.  I simply can not walk through the world imagining that everyone wishes to cause harm to others, or is solely 
self-interested.  We are all capable of being so wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to see the needs of others, but few of us truly desire to live like that.  We
get absorbed in the minutiae of our day to day grind, struggling as we can to keep our heads above water, and that leaves little energy to look from side to side to see if there is someone who might need a life vest thrown to them.   

Matthew returned from his trip to Washington, DC, where he met with Senators and Representatives and lobbied for funding for Civil Air Patrol, spoke with staff members, witnessed Supreme Court arguments, visited with CIA staff, and much more.  The experience left a profound imprint on him, and on the long drive home from Denver he shared some of what he learned.

"I realized one really important thing, Mom.  Most of these powerful men and women in Washington really do want to make a positive difference in the lives of Americans.  I can't believe that every single politician who is elected and goes to DC wants to ruin our country.  They don't set out to make bad decisions, who would do that?  Liberals and conservatives all want what is best for our country, they just have different ideas about how to achieve it.  We are just at a point where we would rather assign evil intent to those who have differing opinions, than to simply say they have a different plan."

Now, Matt is not naive, and he understands corruption exists in all walks of life.  He knows politicians do what they need to do to be re-elected, but underneath it all, I believe he is right.  We have come to a time and place when we would prefer to believe the worst in people, rather than the best...and we are poorer in spirit because of it.  When we feel the need to bash others and call them evil simply because we disagree with their approach to a problem, who has the real problem??


We are poor in so many ways, our cardboard signs legible and written in bold.

But we don't have to be, we have a choice in that.  When we fail to reach out toward others, we impoverish ourselves.  We become wealthier every time we extend our hand, when we lift others up, or when we offer comfort and encouragement.  We have so many choices about who we are, what we see, and how we walk through the world. 

Embracing what is good, forcing our eyes to do more than flit across the surface of sorrows we see and instead rest there a moment so we truly see another in their pain can alter outcomes.  Being present with one another, throwing away labels, and reading those cardboard signs with intent to actually do alleviate another's poverty is how we make little changes that lead us to a soul wealth that can't easily be replicated in impact by financial wealth.  

I am committing myself to reading the tattered, stained signs written in desperation, to not letting myself off the hook because the world tells me that what is written on those signs is of little import in my own life.  It does matter, because I, too, carry one of those very same signs, emblazoned with my own soul's poverty, and I need to hang on to the hope that someone will commit themselves to reading mine, too.

We all need one another, we just haven't yet quite figured that out.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wishin', and Hopin'? Heck No...Doin'!!!

Whew! It has been a month since I last posted, and I have wanted to sit down and really write with some sense of direction, but it just isn't happening time-wise.  Maybe soon, as a lot has been going on.  However, our Blue Collar Homeschool group on Facebook sort of exploded, and has taken an enormous amount of time and energy, along with every day life.  It is wonderful, and a wee bit overwhelming as it develops and grows. 

So, I figured I'd get a few photos posted, share a few random thoughts, and try later this week to find an hour or so to write with real depth.  Until then, it has been a super busy month, so here are some pics from our lives!

We've been Shrinerin'...

And churchin'...

And Lentenin'

And prayin'

And pretty dressin'...

And dancin'...

And art buyin'...

and paintin'...

and "happy accidentin' "

And gigglin'...

And researchin'...

and Blue Collar Homeschoolin'...

and lobbyin' (with Senator Cory Gardner)...

And servin'...

And more lobbyin'...(with Representative Mike Coffman)

And honorin' (at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier)...

And Supreme Courtin'...

And Certifyin'...

and Accountin'...

And saxin'...

And lookin' stylin'...

And model buildin'...

and pot luckin'...

And strugglin'.

I'm always honest here, there is no need to has been a hard month in some ways.  We have had brains malfunctioning a considerable amount of time, reality hits hard once in awhile as acceptance and denial do a neat little tango in our home.  All of us try hard, all of us fail regularly, and yet in the midst of it all we DO still have joy, we DO still smile often, we DO still have successes to point toward.  Each and every one of us has learned new things this past month, and looking back at the photos it is no wonder I am personally exhausted!  So much activity, so much grace offered on a daily basis, so much care when so much goes wrong.

It is real life, seldom perfect, often doubt filled, but always, always worth it.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Gap Fillers

You know what I have discovered?  Faith is a really, really difficult thing to hold on to. I am not just talking about faith in God, but faith in ourselves, faith in others, faith in the world.

The past month has been a painful one for me, and it was all self-created.  Oh, don't get me wrong, the realities that caused the pain are still very much alive and true...but the pain caused by doubt and as-yet-unfounded fears exacerbated things to a completely unnecessary degree.  I am wise enough to see that and understand it, but may spend the remainder of my life trying to conquer it.

You see, January roles around, and that is when I begin thinking about our next school year and what subjects we will cover, what curricula to search for, etc.   Next year will be Kenny and Angela's senior years, Oleysa's junior year, and Joshua's sophomore year.  Guess what?  That "future" we used to talk about is nigh upon us, and it is scaring the bejeebers out of me.  The reality is that Kenny will likely never be able to hold a traditional job,  if any job at all, despite his very obvious intelligence.  Angela will absolutely be able to, but will she and Olesya be able to work at jobs that will pay enough for independence and self-sufficiency? 

These two are the kindest people I have ever met.

Angela has a direction, and Kenny has many interests, but how in the world do I help them parlay that into meaningful work?  Will Angela be able to earn enough in a career that is notoriously low paying?  Can she handle the academics of what it will take to step to the next level of pay?  Kenny will never drive, and any sort of life he has will be facilitated by me.  What, exactly, do the next few years look like for him post-graduation?  How do we craft a fulfilling path for him? Can I manage to keep life fulfilling for him, and also find space for me, too?  Then Olesya is on the tail of that, with gifts...and challenges...galore.  How can I help her live into who she can be and avoid directions that don't require things she can not offer? 

Being a homeschooling mom is an enormous job under any circumstances, being one under THESE circumstances requires a level of giftedness I just don't have.  I am not a trained career counselor, special education guidance director, or specialist of any sort.  I am a mom who is passionately advocating for her kids, who believes in them and just KNOWS there is something out there for each of them...but is doubting I can help them get there.

Trust me, the weight is overwhelming some nights.  Awake in bed, my mind swirls with questions about how to financially provide for Kenny after we are gone, how to gently guide and steer, how to explore options.  There are few experts in the US on their disability, and most people they encounter don't see it.  It is why Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is called "the invisible disability". This may change in time as the US catches up with Canada in research, diagnosing, and understanding.  In fact, a NY Times article this week explains a lot about our how prevalent and undiagnosed this is.   They look and act in many ways as competent as everyone else, and in some ways they are. 

But in so many ways, life is different for them.

Some of our kids struggle with possibilities and limitations that are very real.  Kenny and Angie will not be like Matt, nor like I assume Josh will be.  Neither will Olesya.  They can't come to me with a list prepared of things to look into, directions to take, courses to study.  They simply can't think that way, and they need me to do it for them.  They CAN accomplish far more than might otherwise happen if they have that sort of support, and by gosh, they are going to get it even if I literally have to go to school with them and re-explain every lecture in ways they can understand!  They are all three so bright, so positive and hard working.  They have talents and dreams and ambition, it just needs to be helped to be lived into.

It terrifies me to think I will fail them, that I won't do my job well enough to help them step into the world confidently, independently (as much as they can be), and joyfully.  I can fail at things that are about me, but THIS?  No...I can not fail them, I just can't.

Aaaaannnddd...there is where I actually HAVE failed, and where that lack of faith comes in.  Just when you have convinced yourself you are all alone in something, that you are incapable and incompetent, God shows up in the form of all sorts of other people.

This past week the girls had an extraordinarily beautiful experience with a woman from church who pulled them in close and offered her expertise as a seamstress and overall classy woman.  She has grown daughters who had prom style dresses she wanted to share with the girls, and so they spent an evening in her care.  She offered them so much that I can't...affirmation from someone other than their mom of their beauty, how to dress well, and she helped them see how alterations can completely change a look.  Also, I am not exactly known for my style and grace, and never will be.  More importantly, our girls never had the chance to play "dress up" and Christy couldn't have really known that, but God used her to provide an opportunity to do exactly that.  I couldn't offer them this organically very easily.   I can not create a situation for the girls to have such an experience and have it not feel false.  This was natural, it was lovely, and it came along at just the right time as Angie is anticipating attending her first dance.  Christy had no idea that when I drove away, leaving the girls in her care for an hour while I attended choir practice, that I was in tears, knowing God had just wrapped up Olesya and Angela in loving arms.  Were they my arms?  Nope, but that doesn't matter at all...there is always, always room for more love.  Love expands us all, it doesn't contract.

I let faith slip away.  I forgot in the way we humans tend to forget that we don't always have to "make" things happen, that God has this subtle way of sneaking in and meeting our every need, even the needs we aren't considering in any given moment.

This past weekend I shared photos on Facebook of another way in which God is meeting needs in our family in ways I can't.  Sometimes I just shake my head at my own ignorance and arrogance.  How could I ever think that somehow I even COULD fix it all, do it all, be it all?  Kenny has needed a rite of passage into manhood desperately, and his disability will deny him that in some of the more traditional ways.  He has needed a community all his own, a place where his own passions and interests can be explored and expanded upon.  At 19 years old, and without the regular markers of adulthood, his installation into the Shriner's (Part of the Masonic Lodge that raises money and supports children's hospitals all over the US) was precisely what was needed. It was at a well attended banquet, in a room filled with elders, that Kenny was welcomed to the brotherhood as an equal.  Dominick and I couldn't have been prouder, and from the grins on their faces, his siblings who he so proudly introduced also couldn't have been happier for him.  They, of all people, knew what this meant to Kenny.

There he stood, beaming broadly, so proud to finally have earned the right to don his fez after over a year of hard work moving up in the Masons.  Two years ago when he entered one of America's earliest Lodges at Lexington and Concord during their Open House, I saw a spark that needed to be fanned.  It tapped his deepest interests of history and theology, along with his gifts of public speaking and service.  How happy we all were to see him installed!!  Again, I couldn't have created this for him, I couldn't "make" it happen authentically.  There are needs I just can't meet.

But others can.

At church the next morning after the installation, this idea that others will always be walking alongside us was reiterated when Kenny wore his fez to church, sitting so proudly with it as others offered hearty congratulations and admired it.  They could have snickered at this fez-topped young man, could have ignored it, could have rolled their eyes.  I mean, I get it, being a Shriner and perhaps literally a Shriner clown at some point isn't exactly many people's idea of "cool".  Instead they lovingly came around him and celebrated with him, recognizing how important this moment was, and acknowledging it as an adult accomplishment. 

Oh how this kid needed this!  A couple of years ago, Dominick and I were both deeply concerned about the state of his mind and heart.  We were worried he would never really find his place in the world, never feel he had a purpose.  His growing understanding of his disability was heartbreaking to witness and walk through with him.  He ached with grief and loss, quietly expressed.  He gave up, in some ways.

And, yet again, God sneaked up and brought a true sense of wholeness and possibility, using others to value what Kenny has to offer which is something that coming from mom alone just isn't heard in the same way.

Am I reassured now?  Will I sleep better at night and let go of the worry?  Oh, probably not! Hahaha!  Let's face it, faith is hard in all its forms.  Trust in others, trust in right timing, trust in opportunities presented, all of it requires more than on some days I can believe in. 

But there are those moments when I have this flash of what God's Kingdom is really like. There are flickers of comprehension that are often doused (usually unwittingly by me),  but others come along with a new match and light that wick again, as they hold my hand and remind me I am not alone.  They may not even be able to offer any real assistance other than that hand holding, but on some days, that is truly enough.

I will eventually get it through my thick head that my gaps in ability allow others space to enter in to shine and offer their gifts.  Silly me, how could I think it as even possible for me to meet anyone's every need? 

And maybe, just maybe, once in awhile God uses me to fill in someone else's gaps, too.  How I hope that is true.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Great Need


Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

- Hafiz

For school we are all reading the poetry of Hafiz in his great work, The Gift, as a
spiritual practice as well as a way of more deeply exploring metaphor and symbolism.  Last year we spent the entire year working through the Tao Te Ching, and it was an extraordinarily powerful experience for us all.  Several of us felt we gained a new insight into the Spirit and God's very presence in our lives.  I know many Christians eschew the practice of reading other sacred writings, but we enjoy doing so and we see how God can be found throughout the world's great spiritual texts, and I find my relationship with God deepens as I view the spirit through the lens of others.

The poetry of Hafiz is, dare I say, one of the sweetest invitations to be fully present to God that I have ever read.  In page upon page we find the very nature of a God we can't ever truly pin done revealed to us.  I was struck though, quite deeply, by this particular poem we read today which I shared above.

Our former Pastor offered a theological nugget that will stick with me always, and that is that sin is, at its core, a failure in love.  The imagery of this poem above speaks to this boldly, as we can imagine a group of people struggling through life, facing the challenges and heartbreaks of a life lived engaged in the world, and yet being able to continue on because they are tightly gripping the hands of those who pull them forward when they simply can't take another step.

Oh, how we have been blessed to have hands reaching out to us throughout our lives!  

A couple of Sundays ago, I made a bit of a fool of myself as I rose to thank our new church congregation for embracing our family so fully.  It was the year anniversary of our first time attending, and it was my heart's desire to share with them what their welcome and openness had meant to us.  Within moments, tears started to fall, and I wished that perhaps I had kept sitting in silence.  We arrived at the church doors last January not knowing if we would ever find what we were seeking, but understanding keenly that what we had was no longer a fit for us.  Sometimes, that just happens in life; there is no blow up, there is no anger, there is just a yearning for something different because you have changed.  Sometimes we are meant to be in a certain place for a season, rather than a lifetime...whether we like it or not.  We didn't like it, but we knew it to be true for us.

So there I stood, hardly able to speak, choking out words that may or may not have made any sense at all.  All I could hope was that the sentiments were understood, that our appreciation for all they had offered us, both individually and collectively, would be something they could grab hold of even if haltingly offered.

Walking back to my pew, a new friend stood up and with tears in her eyes grabbed me and held me close...and didn't let go.  Whether due to my need or hers, it matters not.  There was a recognition in that vulnerable moment of mine that we all need one another, and we need to hang on tightly.

Our family has learned this in the trenches, as emotional missiles have flown overhead, sometimes exploding right in our foxhole.  We grab hold of one another, we duck for cover, using our own bodies to protect each other from the sting of shrapnel and emotional fallout that our previous lives created. We hold hands desperately, tightly, sweaty palms gripping sweaty palms until the terror passes, quiet descends, and we look one another straight in the eye and say, "We made it through another one!"  The grip grows ever tighter with each subsequent unexpected fusillade.  Though fewer and farther between, the war still rages from time to time against the barrage of emotions that arise from lives previously lived outside this family, from neglect, from being as alone in the world as one can ever be.  

We are stronger for it, without question, but we need more hands to hold.  We are not done growing...oh, I doubt we ever will be, for we are Team LaJoy and growth and exploration are our middle name!  Sometimes though, we become weary from exhaustion.  Our laughter and great joy is genuine, but it comes at quite a cost as well.

Being vulnerable on a daily basis is hard, hard work, and doing it alone is impossible. As Hafiz, in his great wisdom, says above, "The terrain is far too dangerous for that."  We need to hold on to one another's hands with a mighty force, and never let go.

We all need one another.  As each LaJoy reaches outside our family in numerous ways, each of us unique in our approach and interaction with the world around us, we do know one thing for sure...we must not let go, we must reach for others who need help for their own climb, for the ascent alone can feel treacherous and
impossible.  We have grabbed hold of outstretched hands straining to help us many times, but we must also look behind us and gaze downhill to see the next person who needs an outstretched hand, grab hold of it, and pull them toward us.

There is a Great Need, indeed, and that need is active, participatory love.  We can't stand on the sidelines and cheer passively.  We can't just talk about it, we need to "do love".  The terrain is far too dangerous for ANY of us to let go of one another.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Great Documentary Adventure Becomes Much More

Sitting at my friend’s kitchen table on a frigid Tuesday morning, I am trying to find the words to put the past couple of days into perspective.  A week ago, Joshua and I left a relatively balmy 54 degrees in Western Colorado to head east on what we are dubbing his Great Documentary Adventure.  Having just turned 15, Josh is straddling that vast gulf between boyhood and manhood, as he looks and sounds more adult with each passing day.  You would have to look quite hard to find a more mature, responsible, kind young man and I had been keeping my eyes open for the opportunity to challenge him, and perhaps have some special one on one time with him as I have managed to have with each of the others, albeit often it has been for medical issues.

He is taking a film making class this year as his elective, and we were recently talking about the fact that he needed a “real” subject to sink his teeth into, not just a phony one made up for an assignment. We were brainstorming on a long car drive together, just throwing out ideas but not really hitting on anything that felt “meaty” enough When I casually said, “You know what would be a real story to tell?  Candi’s church and the tornado, and how it has impacted her congregation.”  Josh’s head whipped around to stare at me, and he said, “Oh man, that would be an awesome story!  There is so much there to tell!  But, it is too far away...” and his voice drifted off.

I looked at him, and in usual LaJoy style simply said, “So what?  We have free miles and a place to stay...what do you think?  Why NOT think big?  I’m game if you are!”  The twinkle in his eye told me something and upon arriving home I immediately approached Dominick with the idea, who was all for it.  I explained to him that Josh really wasn’t close to being ready, that the “finished product” would certainly be the “rookiest” one could imagine, but that I felt Josh’s giftedness was screaming out to be tested on something extraordinarily difficult all on his own for the first time, and to know we felt he could do it.  Yes, he has only had 3 months of a course.  No, he really has no clue at all what he is taking on (Hahaha...better not to know, right?).  But the truth is, sometimes you just have to leap and my gut has been telling me for awhile that Josh needed something all his own, something to point to later to say, “See?  I did a really hard thing, and I succeeded, I can do many more hard things because I know I did it once.”

So, calls were made, Candi (who is the pastor of this church) discussed it with her congregation who were all for it, and flights were immediately booked!  What I didn’t realize when this idea first popped for us, was that we were not traveling for a school project.  Instead, we were taking a pilgrimage...a far larger step toward adulthood and an encounter with God in ways I couldn’t have ever anticipated.
Ready to head to the airport

This project is not as much about filmmaking as it is about gaining other skills.  In order to pull this all together, Josh took a literal online “Crash Course in Documentary Filmmaking” over 7 days, in addition to his other coursework.  He then had to do the following:  Carefully shop for needed equipment and find the very lowest cost items that still met the minimum needs for the project, plan shots, create interview lists and a long list of possible questions for those interviews.  He had to bring in skills practiced in his creative writing course this year and consider story arc, major dramatic questions, narration, what to include and what moves the story along, as well as creating a main theme.  There are interpersonal skills to practice including interviewing, dealing with adults of all ages, working on EQ skills we have taught throughout his school career with being aware of where another’s heart is and meeting them where they are at as he interviews.  From a business perspective there are costs to consider, meeting his “customer’s” needs (his customer is the church, we are pretending they contracted with him to tell their story), staying on schedule, and much more.  The technical aspects of filmmaking are being tackled for the very first time as he considers lenses to use, mic placement, shot angle, how to keep his viewer engaged and understanding his story, etc.  Then there will be the post-production work of editing hours and hours of footage, adding in accompanying music, etc.  Of course, he knew none of that at the moment :-). Yes, we are a little nuts!

But you know what?  I believe in him.  I know he can do Big Things, and now, he knows we trust in that because we invested time and resources into this.

After having to leave a day early as we scrambled to beat a storm moving toward the East Coast, we spent the first couple of days in conversation with Candi doing deeper planning, as more of the story of this tiny congregation of about 25 was this 250 year old church was actually dealing with building issues for the fourth time with this tornado, how it had only been 3 years since they underwent a half million dollar renovation due to black mold and had met in the local school library for three long years, only to be hit by this freak tornado that struck in February of last year.  The fact that so many members are in their 80’s and have been associated with the church for most of their lives also is an important piece of this story, as is the fact that many New England congregations are saddled with buildings designed for congregations far larger than currently worship there, and many are closing their doors because they simply can’t make it any longer.  Josh’s self-selected theme is “Is the church the building, or its people?”, and it is a good one to be explored.

Having planned as much as possible with precisely 3 months of classes under his belt (We really are nuts, aren’t we?) off we went!  Day one was Sunday worship in the local elementary school library, back where they were three years ago.  Josh set up and filmed from a couple of angles, singing hymns as he carried his tripod around.  It was clear he was a bit uncertain as he worked, learning how best to set up equipment, how to be unobtrusive and yet still get the footage he knew he would need.  His usual quiet confidence was not quite as evident, and he had his first “real” interview with an adult he had never really spoken to right after the service.  He had interviewed Candi’s son and daughter the day before, testing the waters, learning how to set up, etc. but this was “for real” and he was a little nervous.  He also interviewed two younger children in the congregation that morning as well.

And things became really “real” when this first adult struggled to keep tears at bay as she shared about her beloved church.  It would have been an uncomfortable situation for any teen boy to work with, but Josh was fine and knew that also meant from the very beginning he would have footage that might touch others.

From there, we moved on to the church itself, barricaded behind chain link gates.  We had to dig our way through a couple of feet of snow just to get into the building, all three of us traipsing around in the -15 degree weather. The beautiful sunlit afternoon was perfect for shooting, and we knew we might not get another sunny day to film in and waiting for a warmer day wasn’t a good option, so we pressed on.  We scoped out the building and then Josh broke out his equipment with numb hands, gloveless, and began to film.  It was there that I began to see a hint of gift, as he worked and was able to “see” shots that would work well.  He has taken two photography courses already, one taught by myself and one outside course, and so he has a good understanding of using light, exposure, and composition.  I could see that knowledge being put to work as he carefully considered where to shoot from, and how to tell the story of this grand old building and pay it the respect it deserved.  Of course, we offered a few thoughts, but this really is fully Josh’s project, and after I made a couple of suggestions, I backed off, and have pretty much done so the entire time here.  I want him to have a finished product he can look at and feel total ownership over, and yet I realize a project of this magnitude is well beyond the ability of a 15 year old to totally grasp without a bit of support and guidance.  However, I am trying to guide, not “tell”, and to suggest, not direct.

Standing in the middle of the empty sanctuary, it was hard not to feel the grief and sorrow this congregation is feeling as I looked overhead at the afternoon sky visible through tell tale blue tarps covering gaping holds in the ceiling.  Trusses have pulled away from bowing walls, the bell tower has pulled away from the building and the old bell has been removed and crated for possible later use.  The enormous antique pipe organ has been removed and is not likely to be re-used, a relic from days gone by.  Puddles were frozen on the carpet, the ice taking on the hues reflected from the stained glass windows.  The scent of “building death” was in the air, of mustiness and neglect, so different from a mere year ago when our entire family worshiped in this place on Christmas Eve, and where Kenny had offered his very first sermon...the last regular Sunday morning sermon ever preached from that pulpit.

We left the building behind and headed off to interview #2, where Josh began to show a little more confidence as we sat in another room and overheard him question his interviewee.  This is not a natural skill for him, and we were able to offer a couple of tips afterward to make it a little easier, but I was pleased to hear him try to “go off script” and attempt to be more natural.  It isn’t an easy thing to learn, and these fumbling first steps have to be worked through as it does with learning any new skill.  Our “adventure” continued as we attempted to leave their home, only to get stuck in a snow back in ever dropping temperatures and have to wait for AAA to come tow us out!  We had to reschedule two more interviews and ended up calling it a night as we were cold, damp, and worn out.

Ahhh...but little did I know the magic that awaited us on Day 2, and perhaps more of the reason for us to be here than I might have ever known had I not listened to that little whispering of the Spirit nudging me to make this happen.

I had no idea that Josh was about to meet his 86 year old self in the face of his first interviewee of the day.  Bill is a beautiful human being, inside and out, and I had not connected the dots of his own personal story that might speak to Josh.  You see, Bill was a "state kid" who grew up in foster care, never to be adopted and aging out of the system to face the world on his own.  He presents a strong, chivalrous "old school" style of manhood combined with a gentle kindness and openness with his emotions that is also unusual and appealing.  He greeted us with a hearty smile and eager anticipation to share with Josh, and we left to head to attend the book group I lead each week via Skype.

As I was involved in heart sharing with the small group of women from Candi's church, Josh was engaged in deep heart sharing of his own with Bill.  Though he didn't immediately share much about his time with Bill, later in the day, likely after much processing, he started talking and it was obvious this had been a sacred experience for them both.  Josh started by explaining that at first, this had simply been a great story to tell and a "cool project", but that after his time with Bill it became much more, in fact  Candi and I both heard the shift in his voice and saw it in his body language.  He said that Bill had been so open, and really poured his heart out about what the church means to him, and about his life in general.  He said it brought the story to life in some ways, and that at one point during their time together, they both were in tears and that it moved from being an interview, to a deep and powerful conversation between two people.  He learned about Bill's childhood and the challenges of his life, no doubt with Bill having no clue how the sharing might tie into Josh's own life story.  Bill explained how he was brought back to the church after a years long absence when he encountered God in a new way and had made a promise that then involved him ever more deeply in the life of this church.  Josh was clearly moved by his time with Bill, and he said they just hugged and hugged afterward, and that it really mattered.  It also helped him to understand how this project is far more than a mere high school assignment, but that even at his tender young age of 15, he too can bring light and love, and the gift of listening to others...and that it really, really matters.

From that moment on there was a new investment from Josh in this, almost as if he sensed he is part of something bigger than himself here.  This is SO much more than I would have dared dream for him!  He is understanding, intuitively, the healing power of sharing our stories.  He is seeing first hand what it truly means to "be the church" despite extraordinarily difficult and depressing circumstances as he hears time and time again the commitment each person expresses to their congregation, their passion for their community and the desire to remain vitally involved and engaged in whatever was they can, regardless of age or lack of a building.  He is finding male role models who are faith filled, gentle and expressive souls, yet also masculine and strong...much like he himself is.  He is learning on an even deeper level something he already knew, and that is that age doesn't limit us from relationship or vigorous reaching out for life...our own attitudes do.

I was looking for a "great adventure" for Josh, I wanted something special for our youngest who is so special in every way himself.  I hoped for something that might help him reach toward his more adult self and help him gain confidence in who he is, not just what he can do.  I wanted the chance for him to be the center of attention, not just "one of the kids", because often the very real needs each of our others has required more of me.  I wanted his "special need" of giftedness to be put to the test and met in an unusual way, as truly those who are gifted are often not viewed as needing anything different, but trust me, they do.  Parenting and educating two of them along with twice exceptional and truly learning disabled means the gifted part has often had to be pushed aside to take care of the more critical needs, leaving the giftedness unintentionally by the wayside sometimes.

What I didn't dare think to ask for was something that would explain Josh to himself, to help him understand the power of his own story, and to help him move forward with confidence toward the extraordinary man I am certain he will become.  I didn't approach this as much from a faith perspective as I did from an academic and emotional development place, but as always, the Spirit shines through, reaching out for us when we least expect it, offering us exactly what we need when we need it.  And that has happened on both sides here, as I have watched the healing power of story telling, of being heard, of knowing someone else cares and is interested, even if it is only a 15 year old young man working on an unprofessional high school film project.  I have watched God gently at work all over the place his week, and again I shake my head in wonder and amazement as I gain a little more understanding of the ways of the Spirit.

The end product here really isn't a film, the end product here is healed hearts.  That alone has made the trip a worthwhile venture.  Anything else is just icing on the cake.