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?”

Yes.”

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!

8 thoughts on “Tug of War

  1. We too have hosted since 2004. We are really fortunate to have so many ‘children’ that we’ve hosted through AFS. We still have contact with all of them. Some countries that we have hosted from are Italy, Norway, Brazil, Switzerland, America, Germany, Denmark. We just love it. On 11 July we will be hosting a girl from Italy for 2 months. We cannot wait for her to come. We will never know what this really mean to these kids. Keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Anne-Marie. Sounds like you are an expert in the field of hosting. I feel like such a rookie, but am simply trusting God to lead us.

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  2. Thanks for sharing and thanks to both of you for befriending me and permitting me to walk alongside you, in some capacity, through your experience. You aren’t the only one whose discipleship is being challenged.

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  3. Juliet , i read your story with a mixture of laughter and tears ….it is amazing how quick children can creep into our hearts. They had a wonderful time with you and Andre and that is what matters.
    I really enjoyed reading this blog. I hope your book signing is a HUGE success.
    Katjie

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