Tug of War

I can feel the tug of war within. The game is rough. The taut rope sears the palms of my heart where scar tissue is covered by callouses after I’ve spent years of hard labor guarding that tender flesh beneath. One moment it appears as if stoicism will win – dragging the surrender flag to the brink of self-protective hard-heartedness. I. Will. Not. Risk. Love. No one will know the difference.

Then, out of nowhere tenderness and compassion join the opposition, pulling hard enough to move that flag back to center.

Fear fights back. Whew! That was close.

God, I’ve done this before. I’ve jumped off the high dive naked – completely abandoning myself to the deep end of the ocean-sized pool of unconditional love. I nearly drowned in the aftermath. I would have drowned, had You not rescued me.

So why are You leading me to the high-dive ladder again? I want to stay in the kiddie pool, where the water is safe and shallow, where I won’t get hurt, where I don’t have to risk the unknown.


That was yesterday’s prayer. Yesterday. The day my Honey and I dropped our “summer boys” off with another #Project 143 host family for two weeks while he travels for business and I begin my Texas book tour.

A month ago, when we said, “Yes” to these same friends after they nearly begged us to host two teenage boys from Ukranian orphanages for ten weeks, I promised myself I would not fall in love.

Yes, I will provide beds and bikes and trips to the beach. Yes, I will feed them and clothe them and help them learn English. Yes, I will laugh with them, pray with them, and save them from the disappointment of being told, “I’m sorry, you cannot go to the United States for the summer after all, because your original host family had to decline unexpectedly.”

I could do those things. But I could not risk love. Not again. Not after Chapter 7 (#Same Dress, Different Day http://www.amazon.com/Same-Dress-Different-Day-Redemption/dp/1942923066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435263647&sr=1-1&keywords=juliet+van+heerden).


 My inner tug of war began in the Dollar Store. I hadn’t even met them yet.

Why am I emotional about buying poster board and markers to make a welcome sign? What does it matter whether they like mint gum or fruit gum? What can I put in their backpacks that will make them feel curious and comfortable? Will they like us? Will we like them? The signGod, what were we thinking? I have so much else to do this summer.”

Then I saw them at the airport. The group snuck up on us. André had positioned himself to take a photograph as I waited, welcome sign in hand, behind the barrier. Then I heard laughter behind me. I turned to see other host families excitedly greeting “their” kids. Somehow they’d come in from another entrance and we never saw them until everyone else was matched up.

I caught Yura’s eye first. Smiling I moved toward him, wondering if his expression reflected fear, resignation or both. After our introduction, through the Ukranian chaperone I asked, “May I hug you?”


Jesus, he’s so thin. But his hug is firm. He responded. He smiled. His eyes came alive behind that dark fringe of hair. Where’s the other one?

I don’t see Pasha,” I explained to the chaperone.

She led me to a tall, blonde boy with a muscular build. “This is Pasha,” she said. He was standing with another couple.

I don’t think this is our Pasha,” I countered. He doesn’t look like the photograph we have.”

Oh. I’m sorry! You must have the other Pasha.

He stood alone, not far from Yura, scanning the room.

Are you Pasha?”

Pasha nodded. My Honey sidled up to him with a smile and a side-hug. I shook his hand then hugged him, too. Skinny thing.

Welcome to America. Do you speak any English?”

No English.”

Through the translator we learned that neither boy knew the other. We discovered they were from different parts of Ukraine and had not received our welcome letter, so didn’t know they would be bunking together in our home. We introduced them to each other and awkwardly posed for our first “family” photo.First photoThis could be more difficult than I thought, Lord. I assumed they would speak or understand at least a little English. Please help us to make them feel comfortable. Poor babies.

So began the adventure of adding two fifteen-year-old Ukrainian orphan boys to our tiny, quiet, well-ordered household.

Within days we had our routine down to a somewhat-science: breakfast, morning devotions, everybody helps clean up the kitchen, boys go outside to ride bikes or play ball until the sun melts them into big-eyed puddles begging to go to the pool. Then they’d eat and eat and eat some more before we went shopping for all kinds of necessities. Evenings brought laughter as we made popcorn, played games and introduced them to our friends.

Beach funOkay, Lord, this isn’t so bad. Thank You for Google Translate. Communication hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. But that other part…that emotional tug-of-war part…now that’s hard. That’s not fair.

They weren’t supposed to make me feel things I don’t want to feel. They weren’t supposed to look at me with eyes begging for approval, or sneak into the kitchen for a good morning hug when I’m having my quiet time with You. They weren’t supposed to wheedle and cajole me out of $2.98 for a toy in the checkout line and make me want to buy every piece of fruit in Publix so they would just stop asking for “One more banan.”

I didn’t want to long to know what’s really going on in their heads or wonder what happened to their mothers, or what will happen to them when they go “home.” I’m not prepared to feel what I felt as they sandwiched me in the pew at church last Sabbath, unaware of America’s unspoken I-need-personal-space rule.

After only three days together I wasn’t prepared for Pasha’s tears, or Yura’s self-protective silence after I told them they’d be staying with another family while we went out of town on a trip that had been scheduled before we knew they were coming.

And I wasn’t prepared for yesterday.

  • Yesterday, when Pasha said, “Go! Please! And pointed to the bedroom door when I brought a suitcase for him to pack in and started to help get their things together.
  • Yesterday, when both boys put on their best clothes, gelled their new haircuts, packed their backpacks and stoically got into the minivan – smelling like teenage concoctions of deodorant, aftershave, and mint chewing gum.
  • Yesterday, when Yura slept and Pasha wept in the back seat as we drove south to Tampa.
  • Yesterday, when, after lunch at a Applebee’s in a city three hours from ours, Pasha questioned in English as we walked toward our van “We go home?” knowing full well that he would not be going home with us…

Yesterday, when I lost at tug of war.Family b&W~~~~~~~~~~

Are you interested in:

  • Project 143’s summer and winter hosting programs? http://www.projectonefortythree.org/
  • Turning your copy of my Memoir, Same Dress, Different Day into $$$$ that directly fund our nonprofit ministry to support families affected by addiction? Click the e-donate button on the left side of our website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make a tax-deductible donation of your choice. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com so I can send you a receipt. I will sign and mail your copy directly.) THANK YOU!
  • Helping Honey & me pay for Yura & Pasha’s plane tickets ($3,500) that we so hastily (yet prayerfully) put on our Visa in faith that God was impressing us both to bring these boys into our home this summer: Click the e-donate button on the left side of our non-profit website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make your tax-deductible donation. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com to let me know who you are so I can send you a receipt. HUGE THANK YOU!

Know When To Walk Away

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…”

Barn & RoadI was eight years old when Kenny Rodgers made those lyrics popular. I heard that song so many times in subsequent growing-up-in-Texas years, I think it’s part of my DNA. Some things are hard to forget.

Unfortunately, as an adult my codependent tendencies overrode my “DNA” when I was married to a chemically dependent spouse. I did not know soon enough when to walk away or when to run. I couldn’t hear the wisdom in other people’s counsel. I was too busy rescuing and enabling someone else. I didn’t care for myself, or even recognize my needs.

A person stuck in codependency will “feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion in the relationship,” Psychologist Seth Meyers says, “and they’ll spend a great deal of time and energy either trying to change their partner or … trying to conform to their partner’s wishes.” http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship

For the past nine days, I’ve been having a running dialogue with an emotionally abused woman. She has spent seven years stifling herself in order to fit someone else’s mold; tiptoeing through life so as not to set him off, taking neglect, emotional abandonment and verbal abuse because she “made a vow” and doesn’t want to become another statistic. I get that. I’ve done that.

But there comes a time when enough is enough. A light bulb goes on one day and suddenly, we’re done. And when a woman is done she is D-O-N-E. Sometimes it takes years, decades even. Sometimes we wake up in time to exit the relationship and still have time for the abundant life Jesus speaks about in John 10:10.

This D-O-N-E thing doesn’t just happen with women. I bumped into a male friend at the gym last week and asked, “How’s it going?”

Oh, things are okay.” Then, with lowered voice, “I’m going through a divorce.”

I didn’t even know you got married! What happened?”

Pain pills and alcohol. I’ve never been around a person with addiction like that before. I just couldn’t take it. I told her she had to go.”

I’m quite certain they were married for less than a year.

She doesn’t want help. She doesn’t think she has a problem,” he replied after I asked if she was part of a recovery community. “I just woke up and said, ‘I can’t live like this.’” He was done.

Waking up from our codependent slumber requires honesty. In my recovery group yesterday, someone said, “Being honest with ourselves is not a place we arrive – it’s a process we work for.” Wow! Honesty is not an event. It’s a process.

Where are you on the honesty continuum? Are you pretending everything is okay when your gut tells you something is terribly wrong – as the emotionally abused woman I mentioned earlier did on her wedding day? She didn’t listen to the gnawing in her brain as she walked down the aisle – devoid of the joy a bride normally exudes on a day like that.

Are you trying to “make it work” as she’s done for the past seven years, but find yourself exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually because YOU seem to be doing all the work?

Are you so numb inside that you’ve forgotten how it feels to be free of the burden of trying to be someone else’s Savior?

It may be time to look yourself in the eye and ask some tough questions. Have you begun the process of being honest with the person looking back at you in the mirror? Taking that honesty step today is better than looking at yourself years down the road and wondering where the best years of your life went. Sadly, I read the pain of that reality between the lines of a brief book review I received today. My heart aches for that reader. She wrote:

“I downloaded this book to my Kindle in the afternoon and did not put it down until 3 am when the last word was read! My own 20 years of marriage with an abusive man was the reason I had to read this book so that I could try and wrap my mind around why some of us go through relationships that crush us but yet we keep going and keep trying to fix it. Thank you Juliet for putting all the ugly down on paper and sharing how you finally, after many years, bounced back.” Sharon S.

Reading her words made me weep – tears of joy that a stranger bought my book, Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction and Redemption, and could not put it down! Tears of sorrow for those 20 years of heartache she experienced. As I think of her story, and mine, and a dozen others I know of, I can’t help but start singing a Kenny Rodgers song…

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…”

Dear God, Please reveal, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, the reality of what each reader sees in his/her mirror. Show them the path to freedom from codependency’s destructive grasp. Pull them out of the gutter and plant their feet firmly on the bedrock of TRUTH. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


If you love or know someone who loves a chemically dependent or otherwise addicted person, and you’d like to order your own copy of my eye-opening memoir, here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Same-Dress-Different-Day-Redemption/dp/1942923066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434945480&sr=1-1&keywords=juliet+van+heerden

The Path to Vulnerability

Hi, I’m Juliet. I’m a grateful believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and I’ve been hiding. I know it’s silly. After all this work, this writing, this wringing of my heart onto paper. But now that the paper is bound together and wrapped in a cover that I love, and even fought for…I hide. What is that?Same Dress Cover June 2015

I check the mail each day, heart pounding, hoping to see if the paperback proof has arrived. Dreading the truth that once I hold it in my hands, it is real. And a real book must have readers. And readers have opinions and thoughts and feedback and criticisms. And what if I’m not strong enough to stand beneath the weight of those things?

Weeks, no months now, have passed with me barely writing anything new, hardly communicating with the platform of readers I’ve been tenderly, carefully growing for the past two years. Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I went back to teaching full time in January. And yes, I’ve been editing and re-editing my manuscript and waffling about the cover design. But mostly, I’ve been hiding.

Brené Brown is one of my heroes. If you haven’t seen her Ted Talks on “Listening to Shame” and “The Power of Vulnerability,” please do yourself the favor and set aside 40 minutes to view them both. Even though I’ve seen them, AND read her book, Daring Greatly, I need a refresher course on vulnerability, because, for weeks I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” I need a Texas-style, Brené Brown kick-in-the-pants reminder, because somewhere along the way toward publishing this memoir, I’ve slipped in a puddle of shame, and fallen into the sinkhole called fear. I’ve been tempted to, as Brené would say, “stand outside the arena.”

You see, as she says in her Ted Talk on shame, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.” I need to find my way back to you, the people I’m writing for. And I know vulnerability is the way. I just don’t know what I’m afraid of. Perhaps I’m afraid of my book not being perfect.Farm RoadMs. Brown says, It’s “seductive” to stand outside the arena, and think we’re going to wait until we are “bulletproof and perfect” before we do anything.

I’ve fallen for the seduction. I’ve been writing and re-writing. Editing and re-editing. Waffling between the “cutting edge” designs of my hired graphic artists and the book cover image I had in my head – the one that inspired the title of my memoir. But then I re-read this quote from Brené Brown’s shame talk: “And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in… and…to dare greatly.”

You really don’t want “perfect,” do you? You want real. Right?

My book is not perfect. I am not perfect. I am afraid to be this real, this raw, this transparent. I don’t want anyone to read my memoir -even though I’ve written as honestly and frankly as I could about the equally deadly addictions of codependency and cocaine. I feel like I’m opening my soul for the world to pick apart like a bunch of hungry vultures. (Forgive the analogy. I’m sure it’s more than a little harsh. But, that’s how I feel.) But, the “world” isn’t the audience I wrote for. I wrote for the people who will “get” me because they have suffered the singular pain of loving a person with a life-destroying addiction. Or, they love someone who loves someone caught in the claws of addiction, and they long to better understand what their loved one is going through.

I want those people to read my memoir. Why? Because I want you to know that if I can do this, you can, too. You can be real with God and believe that He hears your cries when you are alone in your bed after the worst of betrayals. You can survive heartbreak and heartache and the deep physical ache of brokenness in all its forms. And you too can tell your story in such a way that God will use it to bring hope and healing to someone else’s brokenness. I want you to be inspired with hope by my story – a story of God’s faithfulness to me despite my imperfections, my poor choices, my stubbornness and my own unfaithfulness.

So, I am choosing to dare greatly. I choose to enter the arena. I will continue, by God’s grace and mercy, to write and speak and share my story. I will make my book available to real flesh and blood readers. I will brace myself for any criticism and trust God to thicken my skin as I share my soul with you. I will continue to blog here. I will not hide any longer.

Thank you for letting me share.


“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket. Empathy is the antidote to shame.” Brené Brown