Happy Codependent Mother’s Day

“Oh Julie, you have rug burns on your heart.” Eight months after boarding a homebound plane in Ukraine with my Honey and our newly adopted teenagers, I’m crying on the phone to my friend, searching for ways to describe the festering ache in my soul. I wince as her words trigger the memory of oozing rug burns sticking to my pantyhose. I was an athlete thirty years ago, but my knees still carry the scars.

Our high school gymnasium doubled as a multi-purpose building for many student activities, including church services, so the “Lady Tartans” played basketball and volleyball on carpet. Yes, CARPET! Visiting teams eyed our court in disbelief during pre-game warm-ups. I’m certain the Tartans wielded slightly more than a home game advantage. We were used to our unusual turf’s effect on bouncing balls and the teenage knees of scrappy girls who played to win.

Rug burns rake off a person’s protective skin, creating wounds that seep blood or pinkish semi-clear liquid. Time eventually creates a thin crust over each burn’s surface. When my team played two home games in a row, there was no time for our rug burns to heal before we again sacrificed knobby teen knees for rebounds or game points. I learned the hard way what happens when rug burns get layered—yellow white pus forms under the scab and oozes out when pressure is applied to the wound. Double rug burns are painfully slow to heal.

“Yes. Yes, I do have rug burns on my heart,” I reply. My friend understands rug burns. She was a Lady Tartan, too. She’s also lived a life story similar to mine.

After we stop talking, I turn off the bedside lamp and lay awake long into the night. I’m alone. My family is home. I’m traveling—sharing my testimony of redemption and restoration, sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction.small plane

Do you even believe your own message? I’m stunned by the thought, as it strikes deep in my core.

Of course I do. But, I’m hurting and I don’t know how to fix this, God. How did we get here? What could I have done differently? What do we do now? Why don’t they let me love them anymore?

I toss questions toward heaven with the fervency of a baseball-pitching machine, not expecting Anyone to really answer.

I’m still sore from the sting of the H-word my son spewed just days before I left for this trip. “He doesn’t mean it,” the well-meaning people say. “Don’t take it personally.” Not helpful.

He felt hatred towards me. That’s why he said it. Of course he meant it. He also means it when he says he doesn’t want me to hug him or touch him. When he forbids me to say, “I love you” or to demonstrate any connection or affection at all. He means it. And it’s mean. And it burns my heart raw.

Maybe I could blow it off, recognize that it’s coming from a place of deep pain and trauma-triggered fear. Maybe it wouldn’t fester so bad if that were the only wound. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s my other boy-turned-man-overnight. Trying his wings, testing his limits, telling Honey and me all kinds of things we never wanted to hear. Building a wall a mile high and six feet thick to keep us distanced from his heart.

Here you are, talking on TV about recovery from codependency like you’ve got all the answers, when just yesterday you relapsed into fear-based control and tried to be somebody’s Holy Spirit. Again. Multitude of Counselors

The enemy taunts me with half-truths. Tries to silence me with guilt and shame. I cringe. It’s true. I project my pain from the past onto my kids when their rejection triggers old wounds that still ooze pus and blood. Wounds that stick to my emotional Spanx and rip the skin right off my soul, leaving me tender and vulnerable.

I am not healed yet!

There. I’ve said it. I’m not a perfect pastor’s wife, mother, daughter, friend or person. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, especially when pointed out by those who know me best. When I am afraid, I try to control circumstances or people. When angry, I punish with silence. When I am rejected, I tend to withhold affection for fear of further rejection. Sometimes I isolate. Or use guilt to manipulate. When I don’t know what else to do, I work, work, work. I am a mess. I need Jesus. Every moment. Of every day. I cannot do this on my own.

In preparation for taping this televised program, I reviewed the first Step of the Twelve Steps of Codependents Anonymous: “I am powerless over other people.” Once more, I am humbly reminded that I cannot make “minding other people’s business” my way of life, (even if those other people are my own family). I cannot put off my own good by determining to control, advise or guide others. I must surrender my compulsive drive to “fix the unfixable.” I am not anyone’s Jesus. By God’s grace, I will choose (once again) to ask myself two questions before jumping into control or rescue mode:

  1. Did this person ask me for this help?
  2. What does this have to do with God’s will for me?

Father in heaven, I choose to release my sons and the time frame for their emotional healing and spiritual growth to Your care. I choose to focus on my own spiritual progress and maintain healthy boundaries in all my relationships. I will not sacrifice my personal needs to meet the needs of another person, nor will I resort to unhealthy giving or serving from a place of fear or manipulation. I will allow You, God to be God in my life and in the lives of my sons. Thank You for your grace and your mercy, which is beautifully new every morning. Thank you for Your ability to heal the layered rug burns on all of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

codependency lovingonpurpose

What about you, dear Friend? Are you expending valuable emotional, financial and physical energy rescuing, enabling or persecuting someone whose life is out of control because of a chemical or other addictive dependency? Are you allowing fear to drive your actions as you try to save a drowning loved one? Have you lost your sense of self by allowing your boundaries to be pushed back or knocked down completely? Do you need to take CODA’s Step 1 and admit that you are powerless over another person and that your life has become unmanageable? If so, it’s not too late to come out of denial. Take that Step. Admit it to yourself. Tell Jesus. Confide in a friend. Begin your journey to wholeness today. You are worth it! You are so totally worth it.

Keeping It Real

Shame slams me like a hurricane, instantly eroding every ounce of pretense as my sixteen-year-old son’s quiet words silence my verbal hailstorm. “Somebody hears this.” He nods toward our open door. I nod at my neighbor across the street (whom I haven’t even met yet), frozen on her ladder with Christmas-light-laden arms mid-air as she stares. I am mortified.

Closing the door I continue arguing with the other taller-than-me-now teen folded into a too-small beanbag. “I doesn’t want to go.” Arms crossed, chin set, resistance evident in every visible body part, he waits for my reaction. Resisting the compulsive urge to correct his newly acquired English, I shovel guilt, thick and cold as the December snow his friends sludge through on their way to school back in Ukraine.

“If you don’t come, nobody comes. Then we waste all the money we spent on tickets. Is that what you want?”dinomomHi, I’m Juliet. I struggle with codependency that manifests in perfectionism and control. I have relapsed. Badly.

My addiction to control is so out of control that my whole household blew up (not literally, but nearly). The above incident happened a month ago on the morning I had planned to take my sons to Universal Studios as a reward for great behavior in school and on the four-day road trip we took to promote my book at a recording studio in Illinois. (It’s a looooong drive from Florida to Illinois. Just sayin’. They totally earned Universal.) Sadly, since that morning I’ve had multiple trips backward into my ugly codependent default as I’ve tried to find my feet as a new mom of teens.

Week after week for years I’ve repeated Step 1 and it’s companion scripture in my Celebrate Recovery group:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18

Week after week for years I’ve felt fairly good about my progress. Yes, I messed up sometimes. Yes, God (and people) forgave me, and yes, I grew from each backwards step into codependency’s predictable patterns of control. But lately…I’ve seen ugly glimpses of who I was a decade ago. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has witnessed my dark side. I don’t think my family is scarred for life, but trust will definitely take time to rebuild.

I am still broken in hidden places. The pressure cooker in my soul exploded last Sabbath as I sobbed on my bedroom floor after yet another confrontation. Embarrassed by Friday’s outbursts that prompted a late-night intervention by our teen savvy friends; frustrated by the fact that they got our sons to talk rather than tantrum and even a little jealous of the honest communication that commenced between them, I poured my heart out to Jesus. He showed me it wasn’t any of those things that was breaking my spirit. He showed me that I was projecting the emotional pain I experienced in my first marriage onto my kids. I was allowing their words and actions to cut too deep. I let them trigger my deepest wound – rejection. I need a thicker skin. For crying out loud – they are KIDS!

I want everything to be Christmas card perfect, but it’s not. img_3060In the three months we’ve been home from Ukraine, it’s­ been more like Christmas-baking-messy. Sticky-messy like when you spill flour on the counter top and try to use a damp dishcloth to wipe it up. Messy like when your bowl is too shallow for the electric mixer and you spackle your backsplash with cookie dough. Or messy like what happens when you and your Honey, six-years-married and childless, adopt unrelated foreign teenage boys and try to find your feet as a new family.

My Sis texted me some advice the other day. It’s pretty good stuff. I’m not sure where she got it, but she’s not new to parenting and I believe she’s right. Here’s what Sis said in regard to the unwanted behavior we’ve experienced in our household lately, mine included:

“Behavior has to be compartmentalized. Behavior never determines whether or not you are loved. Behavior does not necessarily define the heart. It is a reaction, a trigger that demonstrates that a child (or a person) does not have coping skills. Behavior does not determine whether or not we are part of this family. God does not love us based on our behavior. He demonstrates unconditional love, and it’s not performance-based. Everyone has a choice. We can choose to love, despite behavior. We can choose to stay, despite behavior. We can only control ourselves, not others. We can say to our kids, ‘I choose you, despite your behavior today. I’m not leaving, despite your behavior.’”

We pressed the reset button as a family. Today is a new day. Today I choose love. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose hope. I choose to stop being discouraged by the unrealistic expectations of myself, and others. I choose to be humble and apologetic. I choose to stop acting like a maniac and scaring my Honey, my kids, and my new neighbors.

I choose to say, “I love you;” even if I never hear the words reciprocated. I choose to be a mom; even when it hurts that they don’t call me mom. I choose to be real and to let myself be loved in the ways that they choose, not the ways I expect. Because, like the Velveteen Rabbit in that timeless children’s story, I become more real when somebody loves me. I just can’t dictate when they love me or how they love me.

Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. When you’re real, you can trust that God’s love is enough to sustain you when fickle human hearts let you down. When you’re real, you can give grace to those who are learning how to walk in His footsteps and grace to yourself when you misstep. When you’re real you can blog again, even though you don’t have much to say except, “Keep coming back.” Come back to where you were before you took that wrong turn. Come back to the heart of the One who understands your heart. Come back to the basics. Step 1. “I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors,” but God is powerful. I don’t have to go back. I’m not who I was. Today, I am a new creation. I am free to love freely.office“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Motherhood and Memorial Day

“I’m leaving on Monday.” She half-whispered the words as my second graders, her son included, worked in pairs on their science habitat projects last Thursday morning. “I may not even get to visit until December. The Navy has called me to four years away from my family.”

After lunch, our class held a celebration of academic achievement. Parents, family members and classmates clapped as kids came forward to share a poem and receive their awards. I spoke words of affirmation and encouragement to each child as we celebrated their accomplishments. After the last child received her certificate, I remembered the “Achievement Award” I’d prepared for the Naval Officer mom.

Tears immediately formed in her eyes (and mine) as I began to acknowledge her sacrifice. “Four years is a long time in the life of a child. In the life of a parent…” By the time I finished, the room was on its feet. As she received the ovation with grace, several students put their addition skills to use, exclaiming, “We’ll be sixth graders by the time she gets back!”

It’s true. Her son will enter the summer before seventh grade when his mother returns from her assignment. In the interim, she will learn to love him from afar.

How do mothers do that? How do we love them from afar?

Mother and sons walking

For nine months I’ve been pregnant. Pregnant with anticipation. Pregnant with desire, dread and hope all mixed up together inside my mommy heart. Part of me has felt frozen as I wait for the day I will bring them home; part of me scrambling, controlling, work, work, working as I push enough international adoption paperwork to fell a forest or run a small country. I’ve relapsed. Several times. Into workaholism, food addiction, and codependent controlling of minutia when I cannot control the big stuff.

Through it all, God carries me: teaches me once more that He is the only One with the universal remote. Each day, in big and small ways He reveals His love to me as I desperately try to reveal my love to them. No —they’re not twins. Not even brothers (not yet, anyway). They aren’t babies, either. I fear they are barely boys anymore, after so much passing time since I first felt they were mine.

I didn’t expect to become an expectant mother. I was only saying, “yes” to a friend’s gentle pressure to open my heart and home for the summer to a pair of foreign orphans. Little did I know they would weasel their way into my walled-up spaces, crumbling every self-protective facade. How could I have anticipated the ache that would crawl into every soul crevice at the airport as I waved goodbye to the backs of their heads until they were mere specks floating in a sea of kids with similar stories. Afterward, I drove home and drove the paperwork for weeks and months…until now.

It’s done. Everything I can humanly do is done. So we wait. And try our best to love them from afar.

What about you? Are your circumstances such that you can only love your child from a distance? Is it a physical distance, or an emotional one? Does an ocean of regret, or addiction, or misunderstanding separate you from the one you love as only a mother can?

Whether your heart is heavy this Memorial Day because of a military family sacrifice, or because some less honorable, but no less deadly force like chemical dependency has robbed you of your offspring, there is hope to be found in the heart of the One who knows all about war, and sacrifice and loving His kids from afar.

Revelation 12:7-9 tells us there was once a war in heaven. It says the Devil, who was “cast out” is the deceiver of the whole world. The aftermath of that war continues still — on planet Earth, where each of us is called to join the armed forces of God. The battle is real. The sacrifices are painful. The consequences are eternal. No one is exempt from or immune to the effects of sin on planet Earth.

God sent His own Son into the thick of this battle. Jesus. Emmanuel. “God with us.” Like the Navy mother of my student, Jesus left the comforts of His home to enter life in a whole new realm while His Father loved Him from afar. He felt that love. He loved back. How did they do that?

It’s a model we can all follow, regardless of our circumstance. Although they could no longer physically touch and see eye-to-eye, they communicated regularly. Although life on Earth was extremely difficult—from poverty and loss to betrayal, abuse and death-threats, Jesus refused to give in to the enemy’s lies, threats or temptations to bail. And He never gave up on the purpose of His mission. He believed in the heart of His Father. He trusted God’s wisdom, plan and provision. Both Father and Son believed in the power of Love to save the world.

May I invite you to believe with me that the same power that ultimately raised Jesus from the dead is available to you and me in our current circumstance? We love our loved ones. God loves them more. In fact, John 17:23 says He loves them as much as He loves Jesus! When we follow the example of Christ, committing our circumstances to prayer, believing in the heart of our Father and His divine plan for our children, we can rest in His love. We don’t have to strive. We don’t need to control anything or anyone. We can simply pray God’s promises, trust His heart and let Love win!

Scripture Prayers for the Hearts of Our Children

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded, declares the LORD. They will return from the land of the enemy. Your children will return to their own land.” Jeremiah 31:16-17

“I will sprinkle clean water on _____________ and he/she will be clean; I will cleanse him/her from all his/her impurities and from all his/her idols. I will give him/her a ‘new heart’ and put a new spirit in him/her. I will remove from him/her, his/her heart of stone and give him/her a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:25,26

“I will praise the LORD, who counsels_________________; even at night his/her heart instructs him/her. He/she has set the LORD always before him/her. Because He is at his/her right hand.” Psalm 16:7,8

“Create in ____________a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within him/her.” Psalm 51:10.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the ___________[family]. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:13-14

P.S. For  military families with school-age children, I discovered a sweet literary resource for coping with a parent on deployment. It’s a picture book called Love, Lizzie: Letters To A Military Mom.

For those who are interested, here’s the link for details on our adoption fundraising campaign.

*Header image by Laura Wolanski. Thank you.

Unnamed River

“When was your last period?”

The back of her lab coat is a canvas. I paint the word picture I think she wants to hear.

“Last month-ish,” I respond.

When was my last period? I can’t remember. I don’t know. I’m sure it was sometime around the holidays.

I sit still, trying not to crinkle the white paper strip that keeps the exam table sterile. Trying not to think too hard about the fact that I really shouldn’t count that pathetic spotting as a “period.” I haven’t purchased feminine products in months —maybe a year.

This routine physical will provide one more piece of paper to add to a bulging green folder with “Adoption Paperwork” inked on the tab. One more piece of the puzzle that is our dossier (pronounced dos-ee-ey) “a collection or file of documents on the same subject, especially a complete file containing detailed information about a person or topic.” Yeah, I looked that up on Dictionary.com. Never heard the term before “The Boys” entered our world.

Those boys, dropped on Honey and me like two teenage time bombs. Boys on the cusp of manhood yet trapped in the emotional stages of their earliest trauma. Boys who didn’t ask to have addiction rip their families apart at tender ages or for institutions to rear them and release them into the world as adults when they are really only children with man-sized feet. Boys who begged us with their eyes to let them join our family as we hugged them goodbye after a fun-filled summer. The ones who tried our last nerve and turned our orderly grown-up world, topsy-turvy. The very ones who taught us to love two strangers who didn’t even speak our language or know our Jesus. Those boys.

Just as I emerged from last winter’s fog of denial about the true age of my uterus and began to grieve the death of my dream to birth a baby, we got that phone call about summer orphan hosting. Prayers I hadn’t yet prayed were answered as Honey and I navigated life as surrogate summer parents. I didn’t expect to choose love. I thought we were doing a favor for a friend. I thought hello and goodbye would just be words we would say at the beginning and end of a two month time period. I never knew they would birth emotions that would steal my breath and fill my heart so full of joy and pain and hope and fear and all the things a mother must feel when she realizes a young life depends upon her to make an eternal difference in his world.

So now my mama dream is nearly reality. In a few weeks Honey and I will board a Ukraine plane and go to court in a foreign country. Overnight we will become a family of four without ever needing diapers, bottles or car seats. We will bypass the “terrible twos,” and the preschool blues. No first day of kindergarten, tooth fairy nights or middle school fights. We will enter parenthood at the age many of our peers celebrate grandkids. No onramp. Our kids will enter our world with their palms out for the car keys and their eyes on some cute girl across the aisle. Our lives will never be the same. Ever. And that’s okay.

I should be thrilled. And I am.

(You know there’s a “but” coming, right?) Yeah…It’s a “but” I’ve been thinking about lately. A “but” I’ve been trying to put into words for the past three weeks as I’ve tried and failed to finish this post. For a writer who loves to find the perfect words, I’m at a loss. Some unnamed rivers run deeper than mere words can convey.

Something happened today to help me name my river. I held a young mama as she burst at the seams and burst into tears. Her body cradles a baby boy about to be born and her heart grieves the baby girl she buried just one month and one day ago. Her amber eyes bore both joy and pain as she spoke her children’s names. I felt her anguish filling my car as we drove to the place she calls home. Life and death are the cocktail mix she’s been forced to sip for the past few weeks.

Words again eluded me as she whispered the details of her story. I listened. Fumbled for something, anything to say to take the edge off her pain. I prayed. I walked her to her door and hugged her goodbye. Then I wept on my way home.

How, God, do we live in this world where the joys and sorrows are simultaneous? Where the absolute agony of one person’s loss sits sandwiched between two Facebook memes and we scroll right past in search of a post we can “like” or “share? How do we hold our heads up when our hearts are bowed down with unnamed grief? And how do we celebrate the lives we have when our souls ache for the lives we’ve lost? Or the lives our wombs cannot form and cannot hold?

I pondered my prayer, remembering my friend whose father’s death day came on her own February birthday, and the one who quietly mourned her second miscarriage last week. And the lady I prayed with yesterday, whose face, half-eaten with cancer, is so marred I can barely recognize her smile beneath the remains of her nose and oozing eye socket.

No funerals are held for the death of dreams. No sympathy cards or flowers sent. No stones to mark the site where we lay that grief to rest. We quietly breathe in and exhale the pain of those dark days when hope is our only light.

Our river may be the sister whose addiction keeps her from being “auntie” to our babies, the father who cannot stay sober long enough to truly celebrate his daughter’s wedding, or the brother doing time for hanging out with the wrong crowd. We think of the new mother who discovers her husband’s pornography addiction and the momma who labors hard only to have her babies placed up for adoption because she chooses a “better life” for them. We love deeply and walk in compassion for those who hurt alongside us in this world, though they may never know that inner ache we carry.

There is Someone, though, who knows my unnamed river. And yours. One who walks through the searing fire with us. One who is never a spectator to our pain, but a participant in our suffering.

I love The Living Bible’s version of Isaiah 63:9:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and he personally saved them. In his love and pity he redeemed them and lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Place your name where the pronouns are. Personalize these words and say them aloud. Make it present tense. Make it real. “In all _______________________’s affliction, God is afflicted, and He personally saves me. In His love and pity, he redeems ________________________________ and will carry _________________________through all the years.”

This is how our Jesus loves us. He feels everything we feel. He is walking through this with us, carrying us when the river gets too deep. I can tell Him how my heart grieves the death of my dream even as I accept His gift of two beautiful sons who will redeem those dreams I thought were lost. His healing love will flow through me to my boys and to my husband and I will move forward in faith toward the life God has planned for me.

Will you do the same with your river of pain?

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader. Please comment below, or email me at info@julietvanheerden.com. Something tells me this post will resonate with some of you. Let’s connect. Pray. Celebrate hope together.

Here’s a link to the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs: I Am Not Alone

Kari Jobe ~ sharing this song Live.

Making Soup, Making Family

Today I turned down a hug from a boy whose “hug tank” has run on empty for years.snorkel masked kid I wanted him to do some menial household task. He tried to manipulate his way out of work by offering his scrawny, outstretched arms in exchange for disregarding chores. I rejected the offer. Turned my back. Repeated my command. He rejected the work. Ignored the demand. Sat on the sofa like a lump of lead. Lose/lose.

Five days from now he will board a plane to Ukraine with an unknown return date. I will offer him my outstretched arms in exchange for the ache I will carry all the way home to Florida from the Atlanta International Airport if he refuses affection from me like he did from My Honey when they said goodbye last August.

I wasn’t there. It would have crushed me to see my sweet “Boys of Summer” morph into two dudes too cool for tenderness as they crossed that invisible line that keeps tears in check and converts sons back into orphans, family into strangers.

Last night as the other boy taught me how to make Ukrainian style borscht, I pondered the ingredients that make a family.vegetables Does it make us family when I begin munching a freshly peeled carrot and a kid grabs it from my hand to take a bite then returns it without batting an eye? Or when I leave the borscht lesson to pull a load of still-warm laundry from the dryer and find four people’s socks and underwear clinging unashamedly to one another? Maybe we became family when Honey fumbled into the boys’ shared bedroom for the umpteenth time to stop a wrestling match after midnight, or when he and I looked one another in the eye and said, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

I don’t know when it happened or how it happened, but it happened. Like the sewing of a garment or the making of a stew, one thread, one stitch, one ingredient at a time, we are making a family.making borscht

It’s a recipe I haven’t used before, although some ingredients are familiar. Love, that’s the main one. It binds everything else together. No, we can’t have too much of that. When love is present, we’re no longer strangers. Love softens fear, smooths pride, soothes the burn of anger.

The next ingredient is trust. This one is hard to find, elusive, delicate. When added to the mix, trust strengthens each relationship. Without it, we have nothing but facades. I have experience with this ingredient. Or rather, I have experience with trying to make “family soup” without trust. Soup without trust is extremely unsatisfying. One will always remain hungry, not matter how much one eats. Been there. Done that. Nearly starved to death. Can’t leave out the trust.

Next comes faith: Faith in the Father who loves the fatherless. Faith in the One who put us in the stewpot together. Faith in the Son who died for the sins of our past so we can have an eternal future. Faith in Spirit who comforts us when we hurt, guides us when we falter, heals us when we break. Faith in angels who protect us when we cannot protect one another. Families without faith flounder. Gotta have faith.

Maybe what really makes us family is when we kneel together nightly, holding hands in a circle of prayer, prayer that brings down language barriers and unites our hearts in thanks to the God who brought us together. Perhaps prayer is the seasoning that gives flavor to a family, the spice that keeps our connection alive when we are out of sight and out of sync. Even if our boys open their eyes and make faces at each other. Even if they balk and tease and pretend to object. Even then. Because when I hear my name in their prayers, even if it’s the only word I understand, I am fed.

When I call their names in prayer – though they are on a plane or in an orphanage on a different continent, I know our Father will hold them close. He will hug them for me, even if they don’t do their chores. His love is unconditional. Unreserved. Unafraid. I can tap into that love for my boys, anytime. Anywhere. So can you. For your loved ones. No matter how far they’ve gone, how much they’ve messed up. No matter how many drugs they’ve done, babies they’ve aborted, lies they’ve told, or stuff they’ve pawned.

It’s hard to release our loved ones to Him. Tough to trust that He loves them more than we ever could. Painful to think that the threads that weave us into family can quickly come unraveled and make a tangled knot that only Jesus can repair; but He is the only one who can. So if you are in despair tonight, or going to bed with fear as a bedfellow, or are fighting shame because your kid’s addiction kept them from coming home for the holidays, make soup. Start with love. Add some trust that God is fully capable of working a miracle in the life of your loved one. Exercise your faith in His power to redeem the dreams for your family that you thought were lost. Pray. Without ceasing. And wait. God has promises for those of us who wait: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV).

Happy New Year from my heart to yours! Enjoy your soup in 2016. I know I’m looking forward to mine.borscht

Painkiller Addiction – The Problem I Never Knew I Had

I‘d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Mel Harbin, to our community. Mel reached out to me via email a few weeks ago and shared her story. I invited her to share it with you. Sometimes it’s easy to point fingers at the “hardcore” addictions and to downplay the ones that affect soccer moms, educators and clergy. If we have a God-shaped void in our lives, it can easily get filled by things that will drag us down. Thank you, Mel, for your vulnerability.

~~~~~

My name is Mel, and I’m a drug addict. But I don’t fit the picture you’ve probably formed in your mind. I’m one of the silent majority – a perfectly presentable addict with a job, a family, and a house in the leafy suburbs. I work in an office, I get coffee with my friends, I exchange polite small talk with other moms at the school gates – but I’m an addict nonetheless.

I’m a painkiller addict, you see.woman and drugs Society prefers to think of addiction as something which only affects a stereotyped few – addicts, we imagine, are insane, wild-eyed, filthy creatures who live beneath bridges. It couldn’t happen to nice, middle-class people like us, could it? In fact, the majority of drug addicts within this nation are ‘people like us’. Prescription drug abuse is an enormous problem – death by prescription drug overdose kills more people per year than heroin and cocaine combined, yet still society is unwilling to change its very fixed ideas about substance abusers. It’s this which led to my downfall. I simply didn’t think that a mom of two like me could be an addict – I didn’t fit the pattern!

Slippery Slope

My descent into addiction began very simply. I had strained my back during my first pregnancy, and my second pregnancy messed it up for good. This was my own fault. Rather than relaxing while pregnant, I took pride in powering on with my work right up until I went into labor. This is not an uncommon trait within painkiller addicts – often we start taking them in the first place because we’re simply too driven. Rather than slow down when ill, we pop a pill. After my son was born, I was prescribed Vicodin to ease my excruciating back pain. I was given strict dosage instructions, to which I didn’t give a whole amount of thought, if I’m honest. I just kind of assumed that I would stick roughly to the dosage, and all would be well.

Addiction Sets In

Vicodin was great. Not only did it numb my back pain, it seemed to fill something of an existential void. I’d pop a Vicodin and my pain would disappear, taking with it a previously unregistered issue which had been gnawing at the back of my mind. In retrospect I can see that this ‘void’ was a spiritual one – my soul’s yearning for God. At the time I just dismissed it as stress. Without really noticing it, I began to rely on Vicodin for both pain and ‘stress relief’. I was just as driven as ever, determined to overachieve in everything, despite having a lot on my plate. I was trying to be the perfect wife to my husband, trying to care for my two young sons, and trying to advance my career at the same time. Vicodin – for a while – facilitated my unhealthy perfectionism. It masked the stress, masked the pain, masked everything. It wasn’t long before I began to gradually up my dosage  – telling myself that my back was bad today and I needed the extra help, or that I could use a boost to get myself through this or that meeting.

The End And The Beginning

DSC_9489Warning bells should have rung when I began to feel sick after missing Vicodin doses, or when I took to visiting different doctors to supplement my prescription, or when I spent my mornings driving for miles to collect prescriptions at different pharmacies. But it took my youngest son – by then aged three – to reveal the extent of my problem. My husband found him in the process of trying to get the ‘candy’ out of a pot of hidden Vicodin – unsuccessfully (praise be to God).

My husband was already concerned about me. Due entirely to the effects of the Vicodin I was taking, I was suffering from wild mood swings, and behaving increasingly irrationally. I was falling to pieces, and both my family and my career were suffering. Upon seeing our son shaking the Vicodin bottle, things began to add up for my husband. He searched the house, and found that I’d stashed Vicodin in several hiding places. When I got home from work, he confronted me. It was an ugly scene. While he was reasonable and calm, my Vicodin-addicted brain would rather that I broke up with my husband than that I broke up with Vicodin.

So I went into meltdown. I screamed, I cried, I threatened to leave him. “You’re an addict,” my husband responded. “You need help.” I denied it hysterically. But, as the now familiar withdrawal symptoms began to make themselves felt, his words began to sink in.

An Ongoing Process

I am now ‘clean’ of Vicodin, and have been for some years. With the love and support of my husband and sons I’ve been able to ride out the rough times and get my life back on track. To this day I don’t know how much I was taking – I just know that that I’d pop a pill whenever I began to feel even slightly off color. This is not a healthy way to deal with one’s problems.

Finding God was a major help. Learning to rely on the unswerving, unconditional love of God rather than constantly having to prove myself through perfectionism was a huge relief, and caused me to make major changes to my life. I now ‘let go and let God’ when I feel pressured, rather than reaching for a chemical solution. I am happier, and our family is rock solid. I do have some concerns about the future of my boys – they say that addiction runs in the family – but I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep them safe from the scourge that nearly destroyed me.  I will certainly try to ensure that they never experience that same spiritual ‘void’ which proved so influential in my own descent into Vicodin hell.

~~~

The journey to relative wellness has been a long one for Mel Harbin. She’s in long term recovery from a painkiller addiction and taking each day as it comes. She now writes for a living and is concentrating on helping others who have ended up on the same path as she has.

Yes. Yes I Am.

From my corner seat I scanned the elegant dining room, backlit with mid-morning Florida sunshine. Round tables draped in white cloths filled the small space as fifty or more well-heeled professional women quietly networked before the meeting officially began. “Would you like to me to introduce you to some of the ladies?” a member of the Clay Women’s Empowerment Council asked after introducing herself. “You’re awfully quiet over here in the corner.” FullSizeRenderYes. Thank you. I like to get my head on straight before speaking at an event like this,” I answered, leaving my notes on the table and trailing her around the room until we found ourselves in the lunch buffet line.

Those mashed potatoes look divine. Hmmm. That’s a new way to cut carrots. I’ll have to try that at home. Lord, let me turn away from these delicate desserts.IMG_4882 I’m so nervous I could eat the whole tray.

I was playing hooky from my second grade classroom on a Thursday morning. An invitation to share my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, at the Women’s Empowerment Council had been too irresistible to pass up. As I returned to my corner table and the room began to fill, I battled anxiety and the butterflies that always cartwheel through my insides before I share my heart with an audience.

This isn’t my usual “churchy” crowd. These are professional women. VyStar women. St. Vincent’s Healthcare reps. Chamber of Commerce people. What if some aren’t even believers? Perhaps my message has too much Jesus and not enough empowerment. Maybe I need to tone it down. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe I’m not yet ready for this…

My negative inner monologue was paused by a question from a friendly woman across the table. I smiled. Introduced myself. Asked someone to pass the bread. And the butter. And the salt.

Then came the innocent question that would normally bring every cartwheeling butterfly to an instant halt and turn those divine mashed potatoes into lead that would weigh heavy in my gut for hours. Maybe days.

Do you have children?”

Do I have children? For two decades (at least), I’ve avoided that question like the plague. Only you can’t really avoid the plague. It just descends upon you, infects you and debilitates you. You can’t hide under starchy white tablecloths. You can’t conveniently disappear into the ladies room. And you can’t avoid the gaze of the person across the table who is simply interested in getting to know you a little better. I know. I’ve tried.

For a moment, the butterflies paused. The warm mashed potatoes froze. And my tear ducts threatened to malfunction. Then I found my voice.

Yes. Yes, I do. Two boys. Two fifteen-year-old boys.”

Boys of SummerDid I just say, “Yes?”

Yes to the one question whose answer has always been “No,” followed by an awkward silence or some half-hearted attempt at humor as I struggle to rearrange my emotional baggage so nothing from the inside is revealed on the outside.

In all honesty, my tongue was reaching for the “No,” but my heart blurted the “Yes.” My words surprised me, but I took it in stride. Within seconds the ladies around my table had heard my tale of the parenthood rollercoaster Honey and I rode this summer as we hosted two orphaned Ukrainian teens who stole our hearts, emptied our bank accounts, and inspired us to pursue international adoption. Before I knew it, I was doing what I’ve observed other mothers do for years – gushing about my kids to complete strangers.

By the time I was introduced as a keynote speaker, the butterflies had disappeared and I was ready to share my message of hope with the women who sat before me. My thoughts were anchored around a quote from Heather Kopp’s memoir, Sober Mercies that says, “People bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” As I searched the faces of my audience, I saw myself in their reflections – a woman with her game face on, but a woman hungry for honesty and authenticity. A woman in need of hope.

I don’t know what those women’s dreams are. But they connected with my story. I read that truth in their eyes as I spoke. They grasped the hope my testimony offers – hope that there is a God in heaven who longs to redeem the dreams we thought were lost. My final words brought them gently to their feet:

We can release every person who has ever wounded us to God – moving forward in confidence and with compassion for those trapped in the bondage of addiction. We can choose forgiveness each today, despite the choices of our loved ones. We can find joy in our journey and hope for our future. We can believe in a God who redeems the dreams we thought were lost.”

They applauded. They asked me to sign some books. Some of them quietly thanked me for my message and shared their own struggles of living with a loved one’s addiction.

On the way home afterward, I prayed.

Thank you, God, for taking the mess of my life and transforming it into a message of hope for other women who feel trapped in the cycle of a loved one’s addiction. Thank You for stamping redemption on today, not only with the empowering opportunity to tell my story, but through the opportunity to speak of something that is NOT as though it IS! Thank You for teaching me to walk by faith and not by sight. I choose to trust that You will bring my boys home. That You will provide the funds. That You will hold their hearts and keep our connection strong until the final stamp is on those adoption papers and we walk out of that Ukrainian courtroom as a family. Thank You, God, that I am a mom.

~~~~

As it is written in the Scriptures: “I am making you a father of many nations.” This is true before God. Abraham believed in God—the God who gives life to the dead and decides that things will happen that have not yet happened.

There was no hope that Abraham would have children. But Abraham believed God and continued hoping. And that is why he became the father of many nations. As God told him, “Your descendants will also be too many to count.”   Romans 4:17-18 International Children’s Bible

~~~~

P.S. Do you have an upcoming event that needs a guest speaker with an inspirational message? Contact me at info@julietvanheerden.com. Let’s make a date!

If you’d like to help bring our boys home, click here: By faith, I am a mom!_DSC4874

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)

Pay It Forward & Save!

“Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others” Sam Vonumu, Uplift A Child International.

The quote stops me in my tracks. I read it again. And again. I take out my phone and snap a photo of it. I think about it as My Honey and I are herded toward lunch with hundreds of other Christians from around the world who are attending the same conference.

The convention center cafeteria is freezing cold. We stand in line next to a couple from Australia and My Honey, as usual, begins a conversation. A Haitian gentleman serves rice onto his plastic plate in front of us and I overhear a quiet exchange in what sounds like Korean from the next line over.

“God, You have people who love You on every continent, in every country. What are we all doing to show the world Your love?” I question as I wait my turn for the salad dressing. “Does the world see Jesus in the people who call themselves Christians? Does the world see Jesus in me?”

We find two empty chairs in the dining hall and settle in next to a rainbow of skin tones. The folks to our left are from Brazil. The couple across from us are Kenyans. We smile and introduce ourselves. English on the Brazilian side is limited. Our Portuguese is nonexistent. We spend the meal conversing about Africa as my Dutch-skinned South African husband jokes that he is “African American.” Mr. and Mrs. Kenya laugh and inform us that our President is from their same tribe.

Several minutes into the conversation, we learn that the Kenyan pastor we are speaking with serves 2,000 Christians in several churches and many of his people do not worship in a building, but under the trees as they await funds to build a church. His wife is a high school teacher. They have saved for years to be able to travel to America and represent their country in this convention. This is their first (possibly only) trip to the United States. They are overwhelmed, but they “love it!”

Give them some money.

I recognize the Holy Spirit’s prompt.

Lord, that would be awkward. They are not asking for anything. It might embarrass them. They are both professionals.” I argue.

I don’t hear God again as I finish my meal.

Then Honey asks them how much their plane tickets cost. They have a discussion about “Shillings” and “Rands” and “Dollars.” The man says, “I have some American money, but I don’t know how much it is worth.” He digs in his pocket and produces several coins. My husband touches each one and explains its value.coins in hand

The wife asks, “What can you buy with one penny?”

“Maybe a piece of bubble gum,” I reply smiling.

I take a photo of the man’s hand as he holds out his coins. God prompts again.

Ask them if they need anything.

I say nothing.

We all smile and shake hands as we end our conversation. They stand to leave. We wave as they melt into the crowd heading for the convention hall.

“I wish we could give them something,” Honey says as the couple disappears.

“I think God told me to give them money,” I reply. “But, I felt it would be uncomfortable.”

“What?! How much do you have? Give it to me. I’ll go find them.”

I frantically dig through my purse and produce some cash. My husband grabs it and chases through the crowd

“Why don’t I just listen to You in the first place, Lord? I’m sorry. You were right.”

Honey comes back smiling. “Mission accomplished! They were thrilled. It wasn’t awkward at all.”

I am humbled. Again. By the goodness of God. By the fact that He communicates with us. By the opportunity to be His hands to bless another.

Later, I receive an email from one of the postal workers mentioned in Chapter 12 of my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day. It was a thank you for the copy of my book I’d given as a token of appreciation for kindness shown years before. Way back then, without knowing the details of my situation, this insightful postal worker in my town had offered compassion and had prayed for me, a customer. How wonderful to be the recipient of God’s mercy through another human being who listened to Him!

Part of my response to that email reads, “May God continue to bless you on your own journey and as you impact people in your circle of influence. You never know what a difference you are making. Perhaps only in heaven you will find out the rest of the stories.”

Last night, one of the front desk managers in our hotel asked for prayer for a coworker’s daughter. After a few brief encounters, Honey and I were trusted enough to be confided in and invited to pray for someone we’d never met. What a privilege!men praying

These three incidents were sloshing around in my brain today as I sat down to write a blog post for someone suffering the effects of addiction. How does what I’ve written apply to codependence and addiction? How does it fit into the theme of my blog, that God redeems the dreams we thought were lost?

Here’s the connection. It goes back to Sam Vonumu’s quote at the beginning: “Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others.”

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we miss opportunities for God to bless us through others. We can easily become mired in shame and fear and uncertainty when a loved one is acting out his/her addiction. We often miss the opportunity to give to others by allowing them to help us.

Here’s what I mean: The Kenyan couple gave us the opportunity to bless them because they did not respond to My Honey’s offer with pride or embarrassment. They happily took the cash and said, “Thank you.” No awkwardness at all.

The postal workers in my town gave me the opportunity to feel God’s presence and watch care over every detail of my life when they allowed God to use them to help and encourage me. I was humble enough at one point to confide in them because I needed help. I gave them my trust and they were able to bless me.

The hotel front desk manager became vulnerable enough to reach out to two Christian guests and ask for prayer. We would not have known the need if he did not ask. He GAVE us the opportunity to ask God for a miracle.

Sometimes we just need to give people the opportunity to help us. By doing so, we not only help ourselves, we also help them. If you love an addicted person, don’t live your life alone. Find a safe place to heal and grow. Find a place to talk and pray about your circumstance. Find a place to give others the opportunity to bless you. One day you may be the one who pays it forward.