To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Do you guys know what you are getting yourselves into?” The question comes in various forms from a variety of concerned friends and family members.

We don’t. But we’re doing our best to find out.

I like lists. Pros and Cons. Cut and Dried. I begin making one in my head.

What’s the worst thing that could happen by bringing a couple of orphaned Eastern European teenagers into our family?” Honey and I hold the conversation while holding hands in the car on the way to our favorite Thai restaurant for date night.

I don’t know. They could axe murder us in the night?” he ventures, half laughing.

Seriously. We know them. That’s not their character.”

Well, maybe they don’t love us as much as we love them. Maybe we are just a free ticket to America and once they are here, they’ll rebel and leave as soon as they can.”

Maybe. That’s certainly their right when they turn eighteen,” I reply. “Do you really believe that?”

I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of the worst thing that could happen,” Honey replies as he pulls into the empty parking lot that houses the darkened Thai dive that has the best green curry in the county.

Well, I think the worst thing that could happen would be that they get hooked on drugs or alcohol or something like that and I’d get to relive the nightmare I’ve already lived with a substance abuser in the family,” I venture.

Or maybe that they cause problems between us and divide and conquer us, and our marriage goes down the tubes,” Honey says as we slide into our usual booth and wave to the waitress who has memorized our order down to the extra rice for Honey and the extra spice for me.

Maybe. But we’re too smart to let that happen, right? I prayed too hard to find you in this world. I’m not about to let anything mess with us.”

Honey smiles and takes my hand to pray over our meal.

You’re happy when the boys are here,” he says. It’s the kind of happy you get when we visit your sister’s kids. It’s a different kind of happy than when it’s just you and me. I’m not jealous. I can just see that there is something missing from our lives. Something that makes my wife’s eyes light up.”

I miss them,” I reply. “I really miss them.”

“Yeah. They bring a lot of energy into our home. They get us off of our little workaholic treadmills and force us to have fun. I miss them, too.”IMG_3796

I’m thrilled they expressed that they want to be adopted by us. I was afraid of what they would say in their exit interviews,” I confess as our green curry arrives. “I’ve been holding my breath ever since they left. Waiting to know if they really want to come back and be part of our family.”

We just have to trust that God is leading, and go through the doors He opens,” Honey says. We love them. They love us. God placed the four of us together for a reason. We can’t know everything. We won’t know everything. We just have to trust Him. We will do everything we can do to bring the boys home. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, we still have to trust Him.”

We don’t discuss it anymore. But I can’t stop thinking about it. I try not to let fear have a foothold in the days that follow as various people express their doubts and questions and scary “what-ifs.”

God, I know we can’t control people. No one knows how a story will end. Nobody can guarantee that babies won’t be born with defects, that toddlers won’t drown, that teenagers won’t drive drunk and ruin somebody’s forever. We don’t know whether our daughters will become victims or our sons, felons. We all want to live in this safe, tidy, neat little world where our kids turn our great and our spouses love us til death do us part. But You and I both know that it doesn’t work that way.

We love. And love is messy. Love hurts. Love sometimes leaves us bleeding on the sidelines after we get kicked in the proverbial teeth by somebody who is supposed to be on our team. Does that mean we never sign up for the league? Does it mean we sit on the bleachers while everybody else plays the game of life? Does it mean we simply coach and counsel and cheer the rest of the world on, but never take the risk of suiting up and entering the arena ourselves?

To love is to be vulnerableWhat should we do, God? Should we sit this one out or dance?

Two days later, I check my messages on VK (Ukraine’s version of Facebook), hoping for a response to the words we texted the boys after learning what they said to the social worker: “When we said we loved you, we meant it. We just received the results of your exit interview and are so excited to learn that you want to be adopted into our family! We are thrilled to know that you have also chosen us. Thank you for giving us a chance to be your family. We thank God for you.”

In my inbox, I see a reply from the Boy who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. His words are few, but they are enough. Дякою вам.Я вас дуже дуже Люблю.” (Thank you. I love you very, very much.)

In that moment, I hear God’s whispered response to my earlier question, “Should we sit it out or dance?”

“I hope you dance.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

Interested in Orphan Hosting? Click here.

Want to help us bring the boys home? Click right here.

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’,
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’,
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance..
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone)”

(Thanks to Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers for writing the lyrics to “I Hope You Dance,” made popular in 2000 by Leann Womack and Sons of the Desert.)

Catch Ronan Keating’s Version on You Tube, Right Here.

Freestyling

Dear Reader,

The theme of my book, Same Dress, Different Day, is “God redeems the dreams we thought were lost.” This post is evidence of one way he is doing that in my life. In HIS way. In His time. If you haven’t yet read my memoir, you may not fully be able to appreciate the depth of what takes place in the story that follows. If you have read my memoir, I know you will be freestyling with me at the end of this story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I had a meeting with Joelle today,” Honey announced as he changed into a long-sleeved shirt with the CREATION Health logo stitched in white lettering. He was on his way to the YMCA to lead a class on healthy lifestyle choices.

“Oh, how’d it go?”

“Well, we didn’t talk about community building, as planned. I took the boys along. IMG_4444Joelle and I spent the whole time watching them Jet-Ski with her husband, Ken. She was super curious about them. She wanted to know the whole story of how we ended up with two teenage Ukrainian orphans for the summer,” he responded, grabbing his CREATION Health bag and pressing a kiss onto my forehead as he pressed the garage door opener.”

A few minutes later, Honey texts.

Please call me at your earliest convenience.

“What did you forget?” I joke when he answers his phone.

“Nothing. I just heard from Joelle. She and Ken want to meet us at the Y after my class tonight.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She just said they want the four of us to speak together. Can you bring the boys to work out while we visit?”

“I guess so.”

Lord, why do they want to meet with us?

I receive the answer to my silent prayer moments after we sit down with Ken and Joelle. I hold my breath as polite small talk paves the way for much bigger talk than I am prepared for.

“What would it take to adopt the boys?” Joelle’s question knocks the wind out of my summer hosting sails.

Honey explains as much as he knows of the procedure as my brain scrambles to process the emotions her question just uncapped. I listen as Joelle and Ken share their heartfelt interest in the future of the two teenagers who intensely play table tennis just outside the glass doors of the YMCA’s conference room.

We’re supposed to advocate for them, right, God? Isn’t that the whole purpose of the hosting program? Why do I feel possessive of them? Why are my emotions on edge as I listen to this conversation? Shouldn’t I be happy that someone is interested in them?

I struggle to stay present in the conversation as my heart rate increases and the obnoxious lump in my throat grows to the size of a clementine.

Our meeting ends with an invitation to bring the boys to Ken and Joelle’s on Thursday for a cookout so their extended family can get to know them.

Why do I feel like crying?

I quiz God on the way home as the Boy beside me changes the radio station to something I’ve never heard and the Boy in the backseat proclaims, “Yes! I like this song.”

Driving“How do you even know this song?” I shout into the rear view mirror at the smiling teen who is full on freestyling despite the constraints of his seatbelt.

I know the song that plays in my head. The one I’ve been trying to block for weeks: the one that started out slow, with the simple rhythm of learning to love two strangers. The one that daily increases with intensity as the time for their departure nears and Honey and I avoid the “A-word” that nobody else seems afraid to say. The song that began all those years ago in chapter 7 of my book (Same Dress, Different Day) when I gave my heart to a brown-eyed baby girl and set my sights on adoption.

I know that song – the song whose chorus rings in my ears whenever I allow myself to dream those I-wanna-be-somebody’s-mamma dreams. It’s a song I’ve spent years playing with the volume completely down because I know the searing pain of disappointment. But sometimes something happens that blasts the volume on my silent CD and, like the Boy in the backseat, I feel the music deep in my soul and it moves me in strange and unusual ways.

The day we went to Ken and Joelle’s for dinner was a day I was unable to control my Mamma Song’s volume. I wanted to shout, “Stop looking at them like that! They’re not puppies for sale in some shop window. They’re boys. Kind boys whose eyes are filled with stories they have not yet shared with me, boys whose hearts have been hurt by their hand-me-down lives, but who still hold their heads high with dignity. Boys who live each moment with joy, spilling it all over Honey and me. Hey! Those are my boys!”

Yeah, it was hard to smile and nod and eat macaroni salad without breaking my plastic fork. My emotions were drunk driver erratic as I watched Joelle and Ken’s family watching the boys. I had to step inside the powder room to pray. More than once.

God! What is up with me? I should be THRILLED that these people see the boys’ potential. Thrilled they want to give them a better future than the one they face when they go back to Ukraine. Why am I not feeling this?

Fast-forward five days. Ken and Joelle have invited the four of us for dinner again. This time it’s at Your Pie, our favorite pizza place. I am not hungry.

“God spoke to me as I walked and prayed this morning,” Joelle begins. “He does that sometimes. Ken knows.” She made eye contact with her husband.

Are those tears I see in his eyes, Lord? Oh, God. I don’t know if I can take this.

Joelle continues speaking. I follow one Boy with my eyes as he rides his skateboard between tables on the restaurant’s outside patio. The other Boy plays Keep Away with Ken and Joelle’s daughter and granddaughter.

“Yeah. God said I heard Him correctly the other day when I felt we were supposed to be involved in these kids’ lives. I just got the details wrong. Today He clarified things.” Joelle made eye contact, first with André, then me, before continuing, “God was very clear that you two are supposed to be the ones to adopt them. Ken and I are just supposed find ways to help you do that and provide support as you parent them. We want to financially help you get started with the adoption process. And we’d also like to commit to helping with the boys’ education.”

I put my head down on the table at my favorite pizza place and wept. Then I looked at My Honey. His eyes were moist as he nodded “Yes” to my unspoken question. That’s when I started freestyling as the volume on my Mama Song shot through the roof!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Honey and I humbly invite you to be part of this story.

Because the adoption process is lengthy and expensive for adopting two children from different orphanages in two different regions of Ukraine, we are starting a Go Fund Me account to give other people the opportunity to join Ken and Joelle in the adventure of supporting André and me as we seek to make our dream of adopting Yura and Pasha a reality. Please feel free to share our journey with others who may also be moved to help us become a family of four._DSC4874

Click HERE To Participate in Our Adoption Journey.

He Knows Them By Heart

I fell off the wagon today. I worked for nine hours at school. It’s Sunday.classroom

Yes, work is often my drug of choice. Some numb with food. Some with drugs, or media. I numb with work. As a teacher, it’s easy to do. The job is never quite finished. I could have stayed longer this evening, but I noticed darkness creeping onto the campus, sending shadows down the long, silent hallway as I hung my sixteen second graders’ writing samples in preparation for Open House on Tuesday.

I didn’t want to come home. It’s too quiet here. I can hear the clock ticking in the other room. I can see the boys’ shoes lined up underneath the sideboard near the front door. Even though they are naughty for leaving them there, I smile. They must have unloaded those when I wasn’t looking and replaced that space in their suitcases with Nerf guns or remote control cars.

Squatting to reach under the antique cabinet, I gather four pairs of well-worn, outdated shoes. Shoes my Summer Boys brought with them from their Ukrainian orphanages to America. Shoes that were too small the day they arrived. Shoes they were supposed to take back so other kids could still get some use from them. We had packed those shoes. I didn’t want them to get in trouble for not returning the things they arrived with. It’s too late now.

Taking the shoes into the tiny bedroom that used to be my office, I line them up against the closet door. I’ve barely been in here since they left last weekend. The room is a disaster. And it smells like teenage boys. But, that’s not what keeps me away.clothing on floorWhat keeps me away is the raw emotion I experience when I think of the two boys who shared this space for two months. What keeps me away is the longing to come in here and say, “Goodnight,” when I know their bunks are empty. What keeps me away is the ache I experience when I sit here, in my office chair, (the one they swiveled around and around, loftily demanding payment from Honey or me if we dared cross unbidden into “their” territory), trying to imagine what they are doing tonight. Only it’s not tonight. It’s tomorrow in Ukraine. It’s Monday – a school day.

God, I just want to talk to them. I want to hear their voices, even if I won’t understand their language. I want to look into their eyes and see if they are really okay, regardless of what their mouths say. I know them by heart. If I can just see them, I will know if they are afraid or alone or upset or content with their circumstances.

But, I can’t speak with them. I can’t see them. I can’t really know anything except that they landed safely and that they are back in their orphanages and back in their schools and back in their normal routines. And that they are (according to the chaperone), “okay.”

Are they really okay, Lord? Or are they “okay” like I was “fine” last week? “Okay…” with a nameless gnawing ache that does not go away, no matter what I’m doing. “Okay…” with the drumbeat of everyone’s busy life moving quickly all around me as I feel like blackstrap molasses in winter, s-l-o-w and dark and heavy with the bitter aftertaste that comes once the sweetness is gone. “Okay…” as I numb the ache with work and avoidance and grumpiness with my Honey who doesn’t understand where all this unusual emotion is erupting from. Are they okay, like me?

I don’t want to relapse into workaholism. But it helped to just be in a sterile space today: organizing and arranging and sorting and grading and planning and hanging student work on the walls. It helped to be away from home where the bananas are turning spotty and brown before my very eyes. This would never happen if the boys were here. Away from home where I know I need to wash their sheets and clean their room. unmade bedBut if I wash everything I might forget the scent of their space in our home. That almost-good smell of Axe body spray and antiperspirant barely masking the unmistakable musty sock stench emanating from underneath the bed. If I clean and tidy every evidence of them away, will they disappear from my memory, too?

I have a friend whose children are in foster care. I also have a friend who fosters children… who come and go and come again into her home. And I have a friend who mourns her choice to abort her unborn baby all those years ago. They each understand this ache, this longing to hold the child who holds your heart; this wondering that cannot be answered, either because of their own choices, or those of a system that controls the destinies of children who cannot control their own lives.

Rarely does a child not mourn the loss of their mother when extraordinary circumstances separate families. Frightened young kids don’t beg to be shuffled from temporary home to temporary home until the powers that be can finally decide what permanent living arrangements are in the child’s best interest. And nobody asks to be removed from their mother’s womb prematurely. Yet these tragedies happen multiple times every minute of every single day on planet Earth.

Refugees, homeless, orphans, aborted babies by the billions – What an ache God must have in His heart as He looks at the planet He created. How He must long to bring His children home. Our Father knows each little one by heart. He knows our scent, our secrets, the very number of hairs on our heads. He says He knew our names before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5). He knows our pasts and our futures. He knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11).

He knows these kiddos, too. The ones we long to hold in our arms. The ones we beg to come home. The ones strung out on drugs. The prodigal ones who seem to be running farther and farther from us and from Him. And He knows the names of the ones we wish we could turn back time and resurrect. He knows them all. He loves them all. And He never ever forgets any of them.

When we connect with Him, we connect with them. When we commit them to Him, we can trust that they are in better hands than our own. When we pray over them, we can KNOW that we are heard and that heavenly beings are immediately dispatched to minister to their tender hearts.

Lord God, I’m sorry I worked too much today. I’m sorry I avoided the pain of my reality. I’m sorry I tried to numb the ache with busyness, just like I used to do when my whole life was chaos. Forgive me for turning to my drug of choice instead of turning to You. Help me to deal with my newly empty nest in healthy ways. Help me to trust Your plans for our future. Love on those boys for me today, okay? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want to pray a powerful prayer over your loved one(s), just plug his/her name into this Psalm wherever it says “me” or “I.”

1You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

7Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

13For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

15My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

17How precious to me are your thoughts,a God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18 (NIV)

Goodbye Fear, Goodbye Boys

Departure“I’m fine.” (I whispered into the phone when My Honey called from Tennessee an hour ago.)

“Fine.” (To my Sis earlier this evening.)

“Just fine.” (To the friend who checked on me after school.)

I thought I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

You unravel me, with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

The song begins when I click the link on a friend’s Facebook post. So do the tears.

I’m home. Alone. Honey is away for a few days, doing maintenance on our Tennessee property. My summer boys are gone. After ten weeks of unending energy, eating, motion, noise and chaos – silence. Until that song.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

The lyrics remind me of TRUTH while LIES seek to distort my thinking. I don’t want to be a slave to fear. But I feel it breathing down my neck.

Fear caught me unaware during church last weekend, as I stood to bow my head for prayer. Staring down at my painted toes peeking from Sabbath sandals, I noticed that my wedges were wedged between two pairs of size ten shoes; shoes that cradled the feet of boys too big to cradle. How I longed to pull them close and hold them like the mother they no longer have.

God, what if I never see them again? What if they forget all about us when they get on that plane tomorrow? What if they grow up too fast over there and the ocean that separates us becomes more than water?

I recognized the Liar, the Evil Puppeteer behind my fear. Bowing my head, I placed those boys in God’s protective care. Releasing them to Him, I chose to trust Him with their future.

Now I’m struggling to trust Him with mine.

From my Mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into your family
Your blood flows through my veins             

I know I told them that God has a plan for their lives. A calling. An anointed purpose. Honey and I gifted them with Bibles, modern translations for young people, written in their Ukrainian language. We encouraged them to get to know God for themselves. To trust Him with everything.

Can I now practice what I preached, Lord? Do I have the faith to trust You with them? To trust my that my future with You is sure – with or without those two Ukrainian orphans?

I remember our final moments:

They say goodbye to me at home. I’m not going to Atlanta for their departure. Honey will take them and continue on to Tennessee. I will go school and teach second grade on Monday morning.

The four of us kneel in the living room to pray – just as we have morning and evening all summer long. I pray. Honey prays. The boys remain silent. They lug their luggage out to the van. I retreat to Honey’s office, fighting back the tears I don’t want them to see me cry. (I wept once, a few weeks ago, frightening them both. I’m an ugly crier.) They find me. They hug me. They tell me not to cry. Then they buckle themselves into the bucket backseats and Honey backs out of the driveway. I wave them to the corner. I sit on my sofa and wail.

I pick up the phone to call Honey. No answer. He’s speaking with someone. He texts. “Text me.”

“I forgot to say, ‘I love you.’ To the boys.” I text back.

“You didn’t.”

“I know you are in a hurry. I’m sorry. Please stop and let me.”

“You didn’t forget. You said it.”

“No. I didn’t. I will meet you. Please.”

“I’ll meet you at the post office,” Honey concedes.

Grabbing my keys, I rush to my car. I speak into my Google Translate app at the stoplight, then race to the post office.

Our van is the only vehicle in the parking lot. Honey stands outside, speaking with someone on his phone. The back doors are open. The boys are watching a movie.Goodbye boys

“Push pause,” I say as they glance up. “I forgot something important.”

Yura pauses the movie. Pasha searches my face. They see the evidence of tears. They hold my gaze. I push play and Google turns the cry of my heart into words they can understand.

“I forgot to say I love you. I think you know that I do. But I wanted you to hear the words. I never want you to forget.”

Then I wrap them each in a hug and whisper, “I love you, Yura. I love you, Pasha.”Goodbye Pasha

I do not expect a response. Those words… from a wounded teenage boy, are diamond-rare. Dinosaur-extinct. Blood-from-a-turnip would be an easier extraction. I know this. I don’t care. I want them to hear how I feel. I want them to carry that in their hearts all the way to Ukraine. All the way to heaven.

You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

As I pull away from the boy most like me, the one who guards his emotions closely, and reserves his affection for special occasions, I hear the words. They are soft, yet strong. “I love you.” His eyes confirm that truth.

The other one simply says, “You’re crazy, Juliet.” But his smile lets me know my offering is reciprocated. He feels the same.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I drive home blind, torrents of tears clouding my contact lenses. Yet I can see more clearly than ever before. I got a glimpse of God in those moments: His unabashed desire for our good. His unashamed emotion as He pours Himself into our lives. His crazy love that does not demand reciprocation, but just IS. His willingness to chase us down and stop us in our tracks just to let us know how much He truly loves us! His joy when we accept Him and trust Him enough to love Him back.

I’m remembering that love tonight as I sit quietly in my empty nest.

I’m fine, Lord. Yes. I really am fine.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” 1 John 4:18

No Longer Slaves,Written by Brian Johnson, Jonathan David Helser, Joel Case