An impromptu art lesson for my Bulgarians. They were never taught how to make art. It is clear that they desire to make art. We ALL desire to make art because we are made in the image and likeness of God. The essence of our very being is that of creator. Making art is a useful means of communication when spoken language fails. It is therapeutic.
They are learning not only how to use art materials, but also how to observe. As teenagers, they had not really learned to pay attention to how the human form, nor plants, nor anything else was made. Arms too small, bent weirdly, coming from the midsection of the body instead of from the shoulder. Trees that look like lollipops instead of like trees. In some small way I am helping them to communicate when spoken language fails.
They are showing improvement in their artworks. They practice daily. It is as though a light has been turned on in an inner room in their minds. “Aha!” And there is a rush to use their newly learned skills. It is beginning to pour out like a stream in spate.
We are finding that letting them unfold naturally was a wise decision. Forcing them too quickly would not have produced any fruit. Rushing to have them diagnosed with this or that disability before they had a chance to become themselves would have been tragic. We have had such a bumpy transition, and we still have days that are excruciatingly difficult. We tend to avoid suffering at all costs.
But in avoiding the suffering, we often miss the holiness and wholeness of life.
He remembers His promise of mercy, the promise He made to Abraham and his children forever.
And unlovable, and so very broken. God sends His word to speak to your aching heart:
Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD! – Wisdom 11:22-12:2 (NAB)
His name is Love and Mercy and Goodness. He calls us all to Himself, chastises justly but with gentleness. He tenderly enfolds us in His embrace and admonishes us to do better, to try harder, to never give up. When we fall down in the mess we have made, we must get back up, dust ourselves off, clean up that mess, and try again. And again. Every single day for as many days as we are granted.
Each one of us was loved into existence by Love Himself. We are precious and worthy. We are cherished beyond reason, and above measure. In all our ugliness and failings as well as in our triumphs and joys.
George, Nick, and Olivia looking for Bulgaria on the map
It has been almost one year. It has been a voyage of discovery for everyone. We have learned some about each other and a whole lot more about ourselves.
For many months, we just worked on how to belong to each other. For one of them, this will take all of her remaining childhood and likely much of her adulthood. We have experienced firsthand that there are no private sins. We have experienced firsthand that the wounded wound everyone around them. We have learned that where love is lacking, love will be poured out like a libation to the one who lacks. We have learned that in emptying ourselves, we need others to help fill us up – all of us. And we have learned that often, we don’t even have to ask. It is a grace that people readily respond to.
Since Michaelmas, we have been working on more academic pursuits. Our Bulgarians had never even seen a map. Olivia is completely illiterate and functionally not conversant in her native language. It was put down to a mild intellectual disability and a disability called dyslalia. We can find no evidence of either. After some questioning – and information volunteered by our kids – we have pieced together that they were utterly neglected at school. They weren’t offered anything like even a basic education. They were allowed to do as they pleased during school, including to go outside and lay or to sleep. Students aren’t promoted to the next grade based on achievement, merely on the number of years they have been ‘registered’.
Both of them are making progress – for Nick it is steady, for Olivia it is very slow and sporadic. Her focus has improved tremendously. When she first arrived, her limit was about five minutes of learning once or twice a day. Now, she will focus through a lesson whether or not she is able to understand. She seems to respond well to the increased structure of our normal homeschool routine. We hope that her regression in other areas (all social) signals a healing in progress. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us in so many ways. Some have chosen items from our wish list, some have shared from their own treasure, some have donated funds toward our needs.
Our next project is to finish converting the carriage house to a large dedicated schoolroom. We made some wonderful progress last fall before Brian injured his back. We feel that having a dedicated space will benefit everyone, but especially Olivia because it will relieve the upheaval and confusion that comes with having to rearrange the dining room for meals, weekends, and hospitality. It is our hope that, like dressing for the job, having a dedicated space will place her – and everyone – in the proper focused state of mind, relaxed and ready to learn.
We estimate that completing demolition, replacing the fragile windows, insulating, wiring, heating and finishing the space will cost from $5000-$10000. Unfortunately, we will have to hire contractors to do the work. Brian’s 80 hour work week just doesn’t leave any time for such projects now. If you feel led to make a gift, you can do it via PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you prefer to send a gift by mail, please email us (email@example.com) and we will respond with our mailing address. Alternately, we invite you to shop with us. All proceeds support our family and ministries.
How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days – John Burroughs
How wonderful it would be if we could all grow old as beautifully as the leaves do. They seem to foretell the glory of eternity.
We have all known an elderly person that seems to radiate joy and peace, as though they were robed in rich silks and wearing a crown. Would that we all strive to become like them as the seasons of our own lives change.
This is the Joseph Tree. Several years ago, we came to this place. It was up for sale by lottery and the USDA was hosting an open house. As we walked back from the upper field and woodland, we stopped and prayed that if it was God’s will, He would make it ours. We returned several days later with our children and buried a statue of St. Joseph among the roots. We were not the fortunate winners, so we carried on looking at other farms. That search took us all over the state and as far away as Kentucky.
But our hearts were always here.
After a few more years of feeling like we had been wandering in the desert, we discovered that this farm might be available again. We prayed for peace about making an inquiry. It was a long, long process but eventually – and on my 40th birthday – we signed the closing paperwork. His timing was perfect.
One day, there will be a beautiful statue of St. Joseph here – above ground – evidence of his faithful prayers on our behalf, and of our gratitude for his tender care. As difficult as these five years have been, we are filled with gratitude every morning at the enormous gift of this place; and humbled by the responsibility of stewarding for the rest of our lives.