Ten weeks ago, you were strangers. To each other. To us. When Honey and I met you at the airport, the anxiety in our eyes mirrored yours. None of us knew what to expect.
I can picture the moment.
“May I hug you?” I ask, trying to find your eyes beneath overgrown bangs as the interpreter translates my words into a language I’ve never heard.
You nod. The circle my arms form around your thin frames feels too small for fifteen-year-old boys. You don’t hug back. Nor do you pull away.
I glance at My Honey. The lump in my throat makes my eyes water as I see tears balancing on the edge of his gaze.
“I can’t take this,” he mouths behind your heads. “My heart is breaking. They look so lost.”
That was ten weeks ago.
Last night you paused the movie we were watching to inform us there is “war in Ukraine.” When you pointed out the location of your orphanage in relation to the area where the fighting is taking place, I realized how close to “home” that war is to you. I know your older brothers are in the armed forces. I know that in a matter of months, you could be, too.
God, how can kids “age out” of Ukranian orphanages at sixteen? They are babies, not men. Not ready to be on their own. Certainly not ready to fight Russians.
“You can hear the gunfire from your school?” I spoke into the Google Translate app on my iphone.
Then you broke my heart.
“Me stay in America?” one of you asked, trying out your new English skills.
“We come for Christmas?” queried the other.
Your questions hung in the air for a moment as your eyes found mine. Those eyes. Too proud to plead, yet silently imploring me to make a difference in your destiny.
I’m sorry I hesitated. Fumbled with my iphone. Fought the tears. Failed to respond with affirmation. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that question. Honey and I need to talk. We need to pray. We need to know that this is God’s plan for our family. For our ministry. We need to know that you love us, too. That you want to be a part of our lives as much as you want to come to America.
You didn’t wait long. A half-second at most. You read the doubt. The fear. The self-protective I-don’t-want-to-get-hurt-again veil that sheltered my soul. You unpaused the movie. You retreated. I lost the moment.
This morning as you sleep, I think of all the things I long to say. The things I know are true. The things I feel inside when your smiles are wide and free and full of joy.The things I trust when I hear you pray in a language I cannot understand, to The God who understands all things.
In two days you will both be gone. On a plane back to Ukraine. To a life I don’t know about. Will you each become just another orphan in a building full of boys who need a home? Or one more casualty in a pointless war? Or another kid on the streets, living hand to mouth, bottle to bottle, or trick to trick when an unfair system ages you out?
I cannot bear to think of it. I do not want to know.
You are not just some random orphaned boys. Your spirits are kind. Your minds are bright. Your prayers are heard. Your hearts are loved. Your home is here.
But I can see you- Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong After the days of summer have gone
Lyrics by Don Henley 1984 (slightly modified by me, Summer 2015)
“In this family we talk about things that bother us. We resolve conflicts from the day before we go to bed.”
I speak into my phone as the Google Translate App turns my words into Russian and spits them back at me in an Eastern European accent.
“Does anyone in this family need to apologize to anyone?”
“Yes. I’m sorry for bed. And for kitchen,” says the boy whose bottom bunk looks like two warthogs wrestled there before breakfast; the same boy who ignored his kitchen duties, choosing instead to watch TV.
“Thank you. I forgive you. Will you please make better choices tomorrow?”
My eyes scan the faces around our dinner table as my thick-accented Google twin barks from inside my iPhone. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”
“André, I’m sorry bike,” offers the boy who stormed out of the house, disappearing on his bike for twenty minutes after Honey declined the boy’s umpteenth request for a device on which to access VK (Facebook’s European equivalent).
“I forgive you. I apologize for speaking abruptly to you,” says my Honey to the boy whose head is now resting on the dining room table.
“It’s okay,” the fifteen-year-old speaks softly without looking up.
I wait. Silence.
Where’s my apology? I’m sure I deserve one for the attitude I dealt with when I insisted the rap music disappear from the radio. And for the refusal to acknowledge my presence when I knocked on the closed bedroom door. And for the cold shoulder I keep getting from the teen with his head down.
“What, Lord, can I say to clear the air between us? My heart beats heavy with the weight of the unnamed wall separating that boy and me. Please help me.”
I cry out to God as I silently stare at my bedroom ceiling, wondering why the boy avoided my usual bedtime hug for the second night in a row. I never “parented” teens before two Ukranian orphans showed up in our lives just seven weeks ago. As a friend said, “You had no onramp. You just hit the highway at 70 miles per hour.”
I recall the baby steps Bike Boy has taken toward trust as he’s allowed his guarded heart to open in my direction. A recent RipStik (think skateboard minus two wheels) accident forced us into the Emergency Room, both of us white with nausea as he clung to me while the doctor sutured his elbow.
The following day, during a car ride through the Tennessee mountains, he lay his head on my shoulder in a rare gesture of affection.
Even Monday, when we waited in Urgent Care to have his stitches removed, and I asked, “Do you want me to sit beside you?” he responded with an affirmative nod and allowed me to perch next to him on the paper covered exam bed. I put my arm around him as he winced while the physician’s assistant “softened up the scab” so she could “find the stitches.”
I think about his aloof behavior today, the way he wore his sunglasses, even indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. How he flopped onto the sofa before evening worship with body language that needed no Google App to convey the message he was sending.
“I’m stumped, Lord. I don’t know why he’s behaving this way and I cannot make him talk. Is it guilt that drives this boy-turned-armored-car? Shame? Fear? You know I tried to be as kind as possible when I had to confront him about that poor choice he made. I told him about grace and forgiveness. I demonstrated unconditional love toward him, even as You taught me that Your work in me is still unfinished.”
I remember my own relapse into codependent denial as the product of Bike Boy’s deception accidentally dropped onto the living room floor for a millisecond before he scooped it into the pile of stuff he carried from our vacation-laden minivan.
That can’t be what I think it is. Well-worn denial pathways in my brain instantly re-opened as I searched for a reason to explain away the evidence of deceit. Our eyes met for a moment as he fluidly gathered the contraband and disappeared into his bedroom.
My broken brain automatically dismissed the facts my eyes had witnessed – just like it had over the course of my twelve previously married years to a chemically dependent spouse. I defaulted into denial and continued to unpack as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I allowed the child to believe he had gotten away with his sin.
“God, I thought You had healed me of those wounds,” I prayed from my pillow the following morning when He woke me early to “discuss” the incident. “Why would I ignore an elephant in the room? Again! After all we’ve been through together? Haven’t I achieved enough healing in my recovery to confront that deception in the moment? What damage have I done in pretending I didn’t see what we both know I saw? I don’t understand!”
That brief interaction threw me emotionally backward into a life I thought I was healed from. A life of covering for a chemically dependent narcissist who could convince me that my own senses were wrong and he was telling the truth about everything from where he’d been all weekend to what happened to his paycheck. A life I spent three years writing about in my recently published book Same Dress, Different Day. A life I no longer want to control me.
“Help me, God. I cannot allow this child to be a victim of my past. I must speak the truth to him in love. I will confront him about what I saw.”
With a tremble in my voice, I speak into my phone. “I need to talk with you about something important. And I need for you to be perfectly honestly with me. Okay?”
I watch his eyes as my Russian counterpart repeats my plea. They meet mine for a second. “Okay,” he responds in English.
“Please tell me about…”
This time, as Google Translate replays my words, I can almost see the veil fall over his face. It hides his eyes. Guards his expression. Builds a fortress between us.
I persevere. “Don’t be afraid. We all make poor choices sometimes. But we all must also face the consequences of those choices. Let’s just talk about it so we can make it right and put it behind us.”
It took the help of another, more human translator to get to the bottom of the issue. But we did it. And I stood on the sidelines witnessing genuine remorse and relief as the wrong was made right again.
Somehow, though, I continue to be walled out. The food I offer is refused. The affection denied. The interaction limited. It’s hard not to take it personally. It hurts.
I’m reminded of my Heavenly Father. Of how I respond to His unconditional love with similar disdain. Of how guilt destroys our intimacy and how my own brokenness prevents me from allowing full access to His heart. This one experience with a broken child reveals to me a glimpse of My Father’s love. Despite my sin, He loves. Despite my rejection, he loves. Despite my fear, he loves. Despite my relapse into self-protective behaviors, HE LOVES.
“God, help me to love like You today. Help me to trust that You work ALL things together for the good of those who Love you and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust that You will break the ice with this child and restore our relationship before he gets on that airplane back to Ukraine. Amen.”
If you are interested in orphan hosting, please consider Project 143.
If you have hosted, fostered, or adopted a child you may be interested in the following links on Reactive Attachment Disorder:
“It’s all about choices.” My sister loves to repeat that sentence, applying it to anything from why people are overweight to why marriages crumble. She’s right. Life unfolds through the power of choice. Sometimes victims of someone else’s addictions struggle with believing that they have the power to choose something different.
In Same Dress, Different Day I write about how love is a decision (thanks Gary Smalley, for the original thought) and how I chose to love my first husband, “Jon,” despite my feelings toward him after he was admitted to a drug rehab.
“Life is different when lived from a place of one’s own choosing, rather than as a victim of circumstance. Once I chose to begin practicing a lifestyle of love and forgiveness within my marriage, regardless of reciprocation, the Lord began to give me feelings to go along with my decision. Just a short while before, I had felt anger, fear, and utter disgust with Jon. Toward the end of his stay at the drug rehabilitation center, I began experiencing feelings of compassion, forgiveness, love and hope for my broken spouse” Same Dress, Different Day, p. 59.
On the following page, I write: “I learned unconditional love does not mean passively allowing another person to use you. I learned forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Slowly, I began to learn how to find joy in life, apart from any choices Jon made. My joy did not have to depend upon another’s decisions.”
Merrriam-Webster.com defines codependency as “a psychological condition in which someone is in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship that involves living with and providing care for another person (such as a drug addict or an alcoholic).” Because of Leon, [my Christian counselor] I began taking my first steps away from unhealthy codependent patterns in my relationships, toward the freedom of living with healthy boundaries.”
Boundaries are vital to healthy relationships. They prevent others from oozing into our personal space and occupying areas of our lives meant solely for God or our spouse. They also safeguard us against the oozing of others. Here’s what Dr. Henry Cloud, author of several books on boundaries says about them:
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.”
― Henry Cloud, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life
That’s a heavy statement. We so often tend to blame other people for our unhappiness, yet we have the power to choose to implement changes that could impact our happiness. What prevents us from doing that? I’d say FEAR.
Fear of Change is one fear that underscores many of our decisions.
The Celebrate Recovery Devotional, Day 26 offers this wisdom about life-controlling fear:
“Fear of change can keep us from confronting problems in our lives and get us stuck in our recoveries. Deep down inside, we know that change is inevitable. However, because we already have to adjust to so many changes that we have no control over…we delude ourselves into believing that things will be all right if they just stay the same….
…Most of us fear change, and we can sometimes allow that fear to get us stuck in our recovery journey. When we begin to fear change, we need to go right back to Recovery Principle Five: “Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove any character defects.” It helps to understand that there are three main reasons we resist change.
We may be paralyzed by the fear of failure. But falling down doesn’t make us a failure; staying down does. This is where our faith and trust in Jesus Christ come into play.
Philippians 4:19 assures us: And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
We may fear intimacy because of the fear of rejection or of being hurt again. This is why it is so important to move slowly in a new relationship, taking time to seek God’s will, to develop realistic expectations and to establish proper boundaries. We hold tightly to Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
We may resist change (growth) because of the fear of the unknown. We may think, “My life is a mess, my relationships are a mess, but at least I know what to expect – a mess!” The unknown can be scary if we are trying to face it alone. That is why we need to rely on Christ and our accountability team. God tells us in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
If we find ourselves “stuck” in our recovery, it may be that we are resisting a change that God wants us to make. It is only through change that growth can occur. It is only through change that our recovery can happen. It is only through change that we can become free from our hurts, hang-ups and habits.”
Life is all about choices. What fears are holding you captive? What will you choose to do with those fears today?