Nesting

An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective on New Motherhood

Hey first-time momma. I see that sparkle in your eyes—the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation, trepidation and celebration as you post and post and POST pictures of every tiny step leading to your little one’s arrival. You and daddy can’t hide your new-parent pride as you share the details of your journey toward the day you will meet your joy-boy face-to-face.

Cute new clothes neatly folded in his dresser. A closet filled with shoes and shirts and matching pants five sizes too big just because you know he will grow before your very eyes and you don’t want him to lack for one. single. thing. Matching bedding and wall art and family photos all perfectly placed to make him feel right at home in his bright new world.

Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and everybody who loves your family hold their collective breath as they wait and pray for arrival day. Each time you enter his room to straighten a not-really-crooked picture or fluff an already-fluffy pillow you feel like a kindergartener at Christmas, sneaking downstairs to peek at presents under the tree over and over until the magical morning finally dawns.

I see you standing in the nursery doorway, that wistful smile on your face as you dream of the day he will sleep in his very own bed and you will tuck him in and kiss his forehead and say goodnight prayers. Your joy cannot be contained, even when people tell you parenting is not for the fainthearted or the faithless, but for the bold and the fearless. Even when they tell you not to wear your beating heart on your sleeve, but to protect it with the shield of common sense and a tiny dose of pessimism so you won’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go as planned because, “There are birth defects and complications, you know and you must be prepared for these things.” That’s what the naysayers say, but you don’t hear them. You can’t hear them because your love-filled heart is beating too loudly to hear anything else.

You have felt the hand of God Himself move within your being as circumstances beyond your control or imagination came together to create this miraculous addition to your family. Your own faith increases day by day as you watch your Creator answer the deep desires of your heart. You will never take lightly your responsibility and calling to be a mother. You know too much of the inside story to ever believe, even for a millisecond, this wasn’t your path to follow.

You will do your utmost to model Jesus and to love and serve your family well. Sometimes you will fail. In the aftermath of those failures, you will kick yourself harder than you would ever kick anyone else in similar circumstances. Some days you will feel the very world on your shoulders as you carefully weigh out decisions you must make in order to keep peace and safety within your family. You will ache on the inside and smile on the outside as you watch your child learn to crawl and toddle and then walk away from you into a world filled with dangerous people and places you would never wish them to know. Your heart will sing a new song the first time you hear the word “Mom” and know it’s meant for you.  And you will turn your head away as tears burn your eyes when the sweet mouth that used to say, “I love you” forms the h-word as a bedroom door shuts right. in. your. face.

You will bow your head. You will touch that closed door and you will pray. You will wonder whether or not to knock or to walk away. And whatever you decide to do will be the wrong decision because that’s what happens a decade or so down the road when his nursery has morphed into a mini man-cave and you are no longer welcome with your hugs and care and goodnight prayers.

I know you can’t believe it now, as you wait and wait and wait for all that you’ve waited for. And I don’t want you to believe it. I pray something different for you. Something more like your dreams and less like your fears. My wish for you, sweet momma, is only roses on Mother’s Day and no thorns on any other day. You might look at me and silently say, “How do you know how I feel? What do you know about being a mom? You never carried a life for nine whole months, sticking out round in front of you for all the world to see. You can’t really know, can you?”

And I suppose I will never know the answers to your questions except to see myself reflected in your eyes as I witness your waiting and anticipating and creating the most perfect little nest you can afford to create. As I listen to your conversations and your self-revelations through each stage of your process as a first-time parent-to-be, I feel like I’m talking to the me I once knew before my nest became full of flying feathers and flapping wings, too quickly returning to empty and quiet and almost tidy.

Maybe my “babies” were already fifteen when they first arrived, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d waited a lifetime for their wide-eyed laughter and softhearted banter that made our house feel more like home. My heart grew as full as your nine-month belly as I rocked one and hugged the other before tucking them in each night. After their breathing grew heavy and steady, I’d whisper a prayer from their doorway, always dreading the day they’d fly away and be grown and gone out of sight.

All the plans and the clothes and the room decorations became Goodwill donations and memories and printed photos on my fridge reminding me how quickly things on earth can change. Yes, I see you first-time-momma. I know you. Once I even was you, cuz you know what? It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, how it happens, or how old your babies are when they land in your nest—when God puts that huge mama love in your heart, there is nothing and nobody who can change it or take it away.

You have a big adventure ahead—lots of twists and turns in life’s highway. Hold on. Chin up. Knees bent. Heart steady. You got this. And just remember, dear girl—all that stuff you feel deep, deep inside about your little one…your heavenly Father feels about YOU. When the going gets tough, let Him love you. Let Him hold you. Let Him keep all His promises until you are fully grown in Him. He will fight the forces that fight against your family and He will save your children. That’s God’s promise. He’s got a place prepared for you like nothing you can imagine. He will bring you and your children and your children’s children all the way home. Forever. Amen.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 NIV

A Bouquet of Empathy for Those Who Grieve on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all you non-bio mamas out there. I see you. I feel you. I am you.

2015 Five years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned yet another negative pregnancy test and celebrated the completion of my first book.

2016 Four years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the distance between Florida and Ukraine and celebrated the fact that very soon I would be a MOM!

2017 Three years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the quick passing of time as my “Boys of Summer” grew up before my eyes, and I celebrated the cards and chocolate and flowers they gave me on my first Mother’s Day as somebody’s mother.

2018 Two years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the loss of my joy and innocence as an adoptive mom and celebrated the truth that my sons were safe and healthy and had a better life they might have had if My Honey and I had not become their adoptive parents.

2019 One year ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the fact that my sons still call me by my first name and I celebrated the miracle that they would soon graduate from American high school. I was incredibly proud of them both.

2020 Today on Mother’s Day I mourn the missed opportunities to keep my mouth shut and love without expectations and celebrate the fact that I will soon be a grandma—in spirit, if not by name.

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“Today would have been my mother’s birthday.” My Honey said the words softly.

“How old would she be?”

“Eighty-nine.”

No wonder he’s been quiet all day. Loss affects everyone differently, but it affects everyone. Even those who love those who have lost a loved one. Read that again. Yes, even us—the ones who are here, waiting…praying for their grief to go away. Sometimes it never does.

I’ve watched this thing called grief eat holes in the souls of people I love. Death is a caustic thing. Especially the death of a mother. Especially the death of the dreams of mothers.

When we live with or love someone who is trying to figure out how to grieve their loss, we risk getting shredded by the shrapnel of their anguish. It’s easy to make it all about us when our loved one’s pain and anger erupts from their personal volcano. Disappointment and sorrow flow like lava, sometimes swallowing entire households until no one can move or breathe anymore. I’ve survived this lava-flow more than once in my lifetime.

Unresolved grief destroyed my first marriage. I thought cocaine was the culprit, but that was just the numbing agent. Unresolved grief fueled his need to numb. I blamed the drug. I should have blamed the pain.

Unresolved grief came across the ocean on a plane from Ukraine nearly four years ago. Some baggage cannot be easily left behind. I didn’t see it when we picked up our luggage from carousel number three in Jacksonville International Airport. I missed it as our friends and neighbors and church family waved flags and balloons and hugged the four of us until we couldn’t breathe. It eluded me as I cooked and shopped and tried to teach two foreign teenagers how to read and write well in English.

Somehow, my joy of finally becoming a “mother” blinded me to the fact that my gain was their loss. While I longed for them to embrace me and call me mom, their hearts were holding on to the women who birthed them and gave them their DNA. I didn’t understand. I felt the resistance, the rejection, the full-blown hatred at times. But it wasn’t about me. Those were just the numbing agents. I blamed my precious boys. I should have blamed the pain.

On My sweet Honey’s deceased mother’s birthday, he withdrew. Then he snapped at me and withdrew again. Then he apologized. My head was spinning. My heart was hurt. Later he reminded me he was remembering his mother on her birthday, six years past her passing.

My Honey is a grown man. A Christian. A pastor, even. But he snapped like a Texas turtle when I got in his way on a day when grief reared her ugly raw head. I blamed My Honey for snapping. I should have blamed the pain.

If a mature adult can snap at someone they deeply love on a day when their heart is aching, imagine what an adopted teenager can do when all they have known and longed for is destroyed and replaced. They never asked for the circumstances that set them up for adoption. They didn’t dream their birth moms would disappear from their lives forever. Or be replaced by a woman whose love feels foreign or threatening to their fading memories of the person they miss more than anything in the world.

If I’ve learned any lesson in these five years between fertility testing and watching my teeny tiny window of nesting motherhood disappear in the rearview of reality, it’s this: Don’t expect anything for yourself from anyone who is grieving. I will say it again. For anyone out there who is trying to be a mom to someone who did not come from your own womb: Crucify your expectations of what it will be like to be an adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother or any other kind of mother. You. Have. No. Idea. I know I certainly didn’t.

I knew what I wanted. I knew what I needed. I knew what I was going to do and how I was going to make this happy little life for all of us. And I KNEW how much I loved my boys. But they didn’t. And they couldn’t. And nearly five years later, they still can’t. And you know what? It’s okay.

Because I know I did my very best with what I had.

Could I have been more trauma-informed? Yes. Could I have been less afraid of bad things happening and less protective of the darling boys I loved so much? Yes. Could I have had thicker skin and a better sense of humor when things got tense and words got cruel? Yes. But, could I have loved them or wanted life’s very best for them one ounce more than I did or do? No. They might not know that yet, but I do. God does. And one day, maybe they will, too. I hope so. I pray so. I believe so.

Whatever your mama-story, dear reader ~ I am praying for you today. I understand some of those feelings that make Mother’s Day difficult for moms like us. Maybe you can give your son or daughter the gift of helping them remember or honor their birth mom in some way today. And maybe you can set yourself and your family free from the trappings of expectation. Whether or not you receive anything with Hallmark written on the back, you ARE an amazing mom. You ARE doing your best. You ARE doing unto Christ whatever your do for His precious kids. And He will remember you when He comes again to take us all home to a place where there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more death.

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Regardless of the symptoms of their children’s grief and pain, or the choices their children make, with God’s power and presence in them, “Mothers are patient, mothers are kind. They do not envy, They do not boast, they are not proud. They do not dishonor others, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Mothers do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. A mother’s love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (Adapted from the NIV)

Photo Credit: Sarah Alfield – Thank you for capturing this sweet memory of My Honey and his mother.

My Only Weapons

     Eight months is a long time. Ask any expectant mother. At 32 weeks, she’s nearly ready to give up. According to #lifehack author Paisley Hansen, your heart burns, your brain fogs— even breathing becomes difficult. Having never been pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Except that I know.

I know how it feels to want something with all your mamma heart. I know how it feels to anticipate that “something” and to wait expectantly as God grows desire into reality. I know how it feels to fall fervently in love with a small person (or two), and become willing to sacrifice the normalcy of the life you once had with your Honey for the crazy some call “life” when your family of two suddenly becomes a family of four.

   

 I also know how it feels to have your heart burn and your brain fog and your breathing become labored when all you have labored for feels lost and dead and ruined, and your dream gives birth to a truth you never anticipated and weren’t prepared for. (How does anyone prepare for parenthood?)

     

THAT, my friend, is the reality sandwiched between my last blog post and today. The eight months between then and now, like most pregnancies, have been full of dramatic change, painful revelation, and probing questions, sprinkled with an unhealthy dose of fear, doubt, and negative self-talk (What were we thinking? If only I had listened longer, loved harder, prayed more, complained less…)

   

 Some may say I’m over-the-top, overdramatic, oversensitive, or undereducated about teenagers and the difference between their normal drama and the real and lasting effects of childhood trauma. I’m learning. The struggle is real. It’s tough to untangle. As my teens might say, “It’s whatever.” It’s whatever you never read about, whatever the experts never told you, whatever you never knew you (or they) were capable of. It’s whatever.

     

For eight months I’ve struggled to reconcile my head and my heart. What the counselors and the books and the folks who’ve walked the rocky road of international adoption said made perfect sense – to my head. The breakdown came when my heart became enlarged and began to show up on my sleeve. The breakdown came when expectations came into play. No expectations = no disappointment, right? Didn’t I learn this long ago? I’ve been actively part of the recovery community for ten years. (So many recovery principles adapt themselves to living with and loving victims of trauma and/or abuse.)

   

 Substance abuse counselor Carole Bennett says this, “You need to be bold enough and strong enough to let the alcoholic/addict’s recovery unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations, and in doing so you will be ahead of the curve. Your expectations should not be part of the alcoholic/addicts life as they have nothing to do with you and whether you are doing the “right thing” or not.”

     

What if the above quote read, “Parents of fostered or adopted children, you need to be bold enough and strong enough to let your child’s recovery/restoration/healing unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations… Your expectations should not be part of your child’s life, as they have nothing to do with you and whether you, as a parent, are doing the “right thing” or not.”

   

 I want so badly to do the “right thing.” Maybe you do, too. Life with substance abusers or adopted teenagers, or victims of trauma or any combination thereof can leave one wondering what the right thing truly is. I can promise you this—the right thing isn’t always what you read in books or “connected parenting” blog posts. The right thing isn’t necessarily what other parents or teachers, coaches or counselors, or even well meaning pastors tell you. Please hear me out. I believe in research and connectedness and godly counsel. And I don’t know what my Honey and I would have done without all the human shoulders we’ve cried on this past year and a half. But the truth of the matter is we received enough confusing and conflicting advice to fill the Great Blue Hole . We tried so many things. We miserably failed at so many things.

 

“We are fighting!” I wept into my phone one evening in August. “Fighting for our marriage. Fighting for our family. Fighting for peace in our home. Fighting for the souls of our kids.”

“Love and prayer are your only weapons,” my friend quietly declared. “That’s it. That’s what you’ve got.” He punctuated his statement with scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV). A verse I know by heart, but perhaps not by experience.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of these is love.”

Love? Prayer? Haven’t I been doing these things all along?  I asked the Lord later. Haven’t I loved and prayed and prayed and loved until I am absolutely exhausted with it all? 

 “You have done your human best,” my heart heard Him say. “Now allow Me to do My best. Stop trying to control everything. You can’t love enough or pray enough to fix what’s broken inside any person, not even yourself. But I can love that person through you. And the Holy Spirit within you can intercede on behalf of someone who is unable to even utter their own prayer. You can humbly choose to love on purpose and allow Me to do what only I can do.”

Three months later, I wrote in my journal: Thank you, God, for the counselor’s straight talk to me. I will do what he said. I will release my boys to You. I will trust You with them 100% and stop trying to control ANYTHING with them. Then I will be free to be the mom I want to be. The mom I’ve always dreamed of being. I know I cannot make them love or care about me. I know I cannot protect them from their own choices. I’ve been so disappointed. So hurt. So sad. It’s hard to move forward. Hard to find joy. Hard to love well. Please restore joy and peace and love and intimacy back into our home. Only You can do this. Only You, Jesus.

I‘ve never been a patient person. I want it ALL. I want it RIGHT NOW! This is not the way of Jesus. He patiently unravels our knotted souls, softens our hurt-hardened hearts and restores our damaged frontal lobes. The real question is, “Do we trust Him?” Do we trust Him with our deepest selves?  Do we trust Him with our most precious loved ones? Will we trample FEAR and REJECTION and swallow our PRIDE and allow Him to finish the good work He began in each of us?

I tried it. Not easy. No, not for a person whose default is fear-based control. But I tried it. And slowly, slowly some walls began to come down from around certain hearts in our home. Three nights ago someone called me into the kitchen after the lights were low. I held my breath as my son looked me in the eye and said, “Remember that rule about ‘don’t touch me?'”

“Yes. I’m very sorry I touched you on the shoulder when I said, ‘goodnight.'”

“You can forget about that rule.”

Yep. That’s what love and prayer does. That’s what God does. It only took eight months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Is God Through It All

Dear Friends:

I know I’ve been quiet lately. I tried to write. Wanted to write. Promised myself I would write. But a month passed, and I didn’t (at least not for public eyes). As I expressed in my March 6 post, “Unnamed River,” I’m grieving a loss. A strange mixture of emotions runs through my veins, constricting my throat if my thoughts linger too long in one place. So, I’ve kept myself busy, busy, busy with everything…everything but writing.

As I celebrate my first Mother’s Day as the mother of teenagers who aren’t yet mine, and lay to rest my dream of being a biological mommy, I’ve been extra sensitive to grieving hearts all around me. The image you see above, I shot with my iphone through the windshield of my van as I witnessed the raw grief of a young mother kneeling in the fresh soil of her baby girl’s grave.

The story you will read below, I heard from the lips of a dear friend who feels betrayed by her mother’s death and wondered aloud, “Who is left to daily call my name in prayer? Our great prayer matriarch has passed.”

Whatever YOUR heart holds this Mother’s Day, whether it be joy or sorrow, promise or pain, there is ONE who holds you through it all. May you, like Bridget, discover the gift of Jesus and the hope of heaven.

Hopeful Mothers’ Day.

Juliet

“For the LORD will comfort __________________(place your name right here),

He will comfort all her waste places;

He will make her wilderness like Eden,

And her desert like the garden of the LORD;

Joy and gladness will be found in it,

Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

Isaiah 51:3 NKJV

~~~

 He is God Through It All

 Anxiously I drive home to see Mom —to spend time with her, laughing, talking, or just sitting in silence. As I reflect on everything I want to share with her, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and news of her great grandson (who has grown so much since she last saw him), my excitement grows. I contemplate this reunion, anticipating the memories to be made.

We arrive in town. “Where to?” my husband asks, just as he always does when we go home. To Mom’s house, of course! That’s my first thought. Reality makes me say, “to your father’s house.” We visit with the in-laws then drive to my sister’s home, where we’ll spend the weekend. The evening is fun, full of laughter, chatter, and joy as we watch our busy grandson just being himself.

Saturday wakes me to a quiet house for uninterrupted devotional time in the stillness of the morning. I talk with God about the strength, comfort and peace I need this weekend. I want to go to church, so afterwards I can see Mom. My heart dances as I once again remember our together times. When I’m in my hometown, I look forward Saturday afternoon family time at Mom’s house with my siblings and their families.

Finally, the time arrives when I can see her. Anticipation overwhelms me. But wait…this time is different. She is not at home, or at a sibling’s house, or in the hospital, as she has been so often lately. She is at church, but not seated on a pew. She’s… she’s in a box.

Is this a…casket? Why is she in a casket? No happy expression on her face. No joyous greeting on her lips. Instead, there she lays —lifeless. Then reality hits me. There will be no more laughter. No long, long talks. No more happy moments together. My mom is…dead.

I am breathless. Suffocating. Please someone take this bag off my head so I can breathe. Take this dagger out of my heart so the pain will stop. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, I wonder if I’ll survive. There is no way I can ever make it through this. I still grieve the loss of my father. Just eleven months ago I said goodbye to him. Surely I cannot be asked to grieve for my mother so soon. Lord, this can’t be real. You can’t possibly ask this of me….not now, not today.

This is reality. There is no way around it. No way to avoid it, or forget it. I am asked to face what seems impossible. My heart aches. My mind is confused. I am all at once sad and numb and angry and indifferent. How will I survive this? How?

The days to follow are filled with sadness and pain. Mornings are hard to face and evenings —lifeless and tear-filled. I feel as if someone has removed my oxygen supply and left me to breathe without it. Continuing with life seems impossible. In my mind I know I need to. I have to. But my heart isn’t sure if I want to. I don’t know how. Consumed by pain, I lose track of time, of life. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. Sadness moves into pain, pain into anger; anger into hopelessness, hopelessness into…

No good can come from Mom’s death, I think.

Then I remember her LIFE:

  • the FAITH she had in GOD
  • the STRENGTH she drew from HIM
  • the PROMISES she held on to
  • the BELIEF that HE would see her through
  • the COMFORT she found in her RELATIONSHIP with HIM.

All these are things she taught me. Why can’t I find comfort in them?

I recall seeing mom at the dawn of each day and again in the evening hours —spending time in prayer and Bible study, surrendering to God, choosing to be in a relationship Him. I realize if I am to survive, I MUST do the same.

My mom gave me two important gifts. In life, she gave me the gift of Jesus Christ. She introduced me to Him, taught me from His Word and modeled leaning and depending on Him. In death, she gave me the peace of mind of knowing she is resting in Jesus. She knew Him as her Friend. This brings me comfort and hope that I, too can rest in Him and be reunited with her when Christ returns to take His people home.

~Weeks Later~

Am I over my mother’s death? Not in the least. I haven’t fully grieved. I still cry every night. I still long to talk with her, to see her. My heart still aches to the point of physical pain. Sometimes I forget the things she taught me because I allow the pain of loss to overwhelm me. There are other times when I realize something is added to my pain: the COMFORT of GOD’S PRESENCE. Sometimes I even allow Him to hug me. This closeness with God helps me survive the grieving process.

I look forward to spending eternity in heaven, with God and with my mom. I strive to walk in Mom’s footsteps by living a life of total surrender, love, and obedience. I meditate daily on His Word. I seek Him in prayer just like Mom taught me. I am not past the loss yet, but as I grieve, I daily choose to trust and serve the Lord.

If you are grieving a loss, I encourage you to make the choice to also trust and serve the Lord in the midst of your sorrow, disappointment, hurt and pain. In making that decision, you will find the comfort of a loving Savior, and the joy of serving Him. God promised in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

In the words of Colton Dixon, “You Have Been My God Through All Of It.”

Growing through pain,

Bridget

bridget1

Bridget is a mother, grandmother and beloved educator. She serves faithfully as Head Elder of her church. She writes from Orange Park, Florida.

 

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.

Coming Home

“What if he doesn’t want to come home?”

My Honey’s text, in response to our teen’s latest social media profile picture, inflicts heart palpitations as I sink into my car after school.

These are the words I’m too afraid to verbalize. The words I keep shoving to the back of my overanxious mind. The very words that threaten to melt what’s left of my mascara as I put my car in drive and back out of my parking space in the school lot. It’s after four. Most teachers have already gone. I sit at the edge of the county road, my blinker flashing, waiting for the wave of emotion to pass before I begin the forty-minute drive that connects my two worlds.County RoadSchool is my predictable world, where nothing and everything changes. Year in. Year out. The sweet little faces change. Routines remain. Sixty minutes of math. A planning period. Two hours of literacy activities. Lunch. Recess. Then Science, more writing, and a dismissal bell that sends us scrambling for the door. For eighteen years, I’ve lived and breathed variations of this familiar regimen.

On the other side of those forty minutes lies home. Home, where My Honey writes sermons and newsletters and spends countless hours tending to the lost and wounded sheep of our small church flock. Home, where my still-packed suitcase and a box of unsold books from my weekend recovery seminar take up space on our living room floor. Home, where Honey finally dumped the leftover borscht that waited in the fridge for too many days to mention because I’m in denial about the fact that our soup-maker is back in a Ukrainian orphanage with no return date in sight.

I’ve struggled since our boys left seventeen days ago. Struggled to accept the fact that they are truly gone. Struggled to return to my normal routines. Struggled to trust that God will expedite the adoption paperwork so they can be home by springtime.

Honk! The driver of the car behind me forces me into the present. I pull onto the road and reach for the radio. I like it loud. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” David Crowder repeats the phrase several times as my RAV4 hums down the highway.

I know it’s true, God. You can heal every sorrow. You’ve already healed so many of mine. I’ve seen You in action. I even preached about it last weekend to that audience in Houston. Why does my heart so easily forget what my head knows to be true?”

I turn down Crowder so I can better hear God.

What was it that You said to me this morning? From Psalm 91?

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (verses 1-2).

How do I DWELL in Your secret place? I can’t seem to stay there. I come and go. I trust then I doubt. I allow fear to swallow me whole when circumstances seem overwhelming. I’ve been in this place before. I remember the hollowness of cynicism, the disquietude of dread.”

As I drive I recall my former life. The life I lived before I met My Honey. The life I lived as the wife of a chemically dependent Christian. I remember anxious hours of waiting for him to come home from binging. I spent days wondering if he ever would come home; worrying about whether he even wanted to come home.

It was during those hollow years that I learned to trust God; that I began seeking recovery for myself and my own addictions — addictions to enabling and rescuing and controlling. I remember the milestones I made with Jesus as He taught me to depend upon Him and to release my former spouse to the consequences of his own choices.

Why, God, are those old fear-based issues rearing their ugly heads in my present circumstance?”

God and I talk straight. He knows me. I just don’t know myself right now. I’m acting in out-of-character ways. At least, out of character for the new creation I have become since learning to walk in recovery. I want to know why.

Without thinking, I turn left onto the familiar road that will lead me home. Honey is waiting. We are going out for “Date Night.” I hope to have my heart settled before I reach him. It’s not fair that I brought baggage into our marriage. I didn’t want it to, but a little luggage still came along for the ride. Sometimes it pops right out into the open and surprises both of us (not in a good way). I don’t want that to happen tonight. I need to figure this out with God before I unleash my mixed-up emotions on my undeserving spouse.

“What am I afraid of?”

I wait. I pray. I remember.

I remember the sweet taste of motherhood after the endless ache of an empty womb. I remember preparing my home and heart for a baby girl — the hope, the joy, the weight of her tiny body in my arms. I remember the silence after she never came back. The empty crib. The unread bedtime stories. The blanket of darkness that enveloped my soul.

Is that what this is, God? Am I afraid they will not return?”

The same thing happened after they left last August. I fought the darkness with paperwork. Mountains of adoption paperwork that meant there was hope for our future as a family of four. We started a fundraising campaign. People donated. Doors opened. God gave us the green light. We asked the boys. They said, “Yes!” (Actually, they said “Of course! Are you crazy? We love you too much!”)

This winter visit was different. They are more grown up. More mature. How did they become wise to the ways of this world in just four short months? One has a girlfriend — the source of my angst. The reason for Honey’s text. The focus of my fear.Selfie CoupleMaybe he will love her more than he loves us. Maybe he will not want to come home. Maybe his hormones will override his good sense and our love and preparation and sacrifice will be in vain.” I verbalize my fears to The Father.

Maybe you just need to release him to Me. Maybe you need to trust Me in this situation. Maybe you need to stop trying to control this.” He shoots straight. It hurts.

When things feel out of my control, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, I tend to try to control something. Or someone. But, how do you control a teenager who is 5,620 miles away? How do you stop him from posting kissing selfies on social media? How do you convince him that dating anyone right now is not wise, because someone is going to get hurt when he comes to America for good? You can’t. You just have to release him to God. You have to trust that God is in control of this and that He will do everything He knows to do to work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him. For MY good. For My Honey. For our boys.

I choose to trust You with these boys.” I say the words aloud as I see the sign that names my street. “I am powerless over others.” I repeat part of Step 1 from my Co-Dependents Anonymous Handbook.

I remember the rest of the mantra as I turn into my driveway: “In this moment, I do not have to control anyone, including me. And If I feel uncomfortable with what another person is doing or not doing, I can remind myself that I am powerless over this person and I am powerless over my compulsion to act in inappropriate ways.”

Father, I release my desire to control the futures of these boys to You. You were their Father long before I desired to be their mother. You have held them through hell and grown them into good and kind young men. You have laid them heavy upon Honey’s heart. And mine. You are making provision to bring them home. I will dwell in Your secret place. I will say, “You are my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

I put my car in park, turn off the ignition and step out. Grabbing my lunch bag and purse, I shut the door in Fear’s face and walk down our sidewalk. I will not look back. I turn my key in the lock and open my heart to hope.

Honey, I’m home.”Toby Mac Worry and Faith

Feeding on His Faithfulness

Holidays can be hard. We ache for the loved ones no longer around our tables. We long for the days when things didn’t seem so hard (even if those days never really existed). We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to the Facebook Joneses —you know, the family who appears to have it all together, coordinating outfits, relaxed family portraits photoshopped to perfection, and a steady glimpse into their extraordinary everyday lives. We smile and shop and bake and cook and fight back tears in quiet moments. I know. I’ve been there.Happy ThanksgivingThis morning I sit alone in my quiet kitchen, penning a phrase in my journal from my new favorite Chris Tomlin song: You’re a Good, Good Father. It’s who you are… and I’m loved by you. It’s who I am… Honey is out helping feed the hungry in our community and I’m home with a head cold hangover. I didn’t cook this year. My refrigerator holds leftover spaghetti, a bag of celery and eight pounds of butter for the almond roca I will make for holiday gifts. Certainly nothing to inspire a Thanksgiving dinner. I wait for a word from the Lord.

He meets me here most mornings, when I choose to be still and listen for Him. Today He’s right on time. I’m thinking about food. Pecan pie. Mashed potatoes. Dressing with lots of sage and mushroom gravy (none of which I will eat today). I’m also thinking about two orphaned boys who will soon be mine, and the Good, Good Father who made that possible. I flip a few pages back back in my journal, landing on an entry from October 27, 2014.

            One of the questions from our Step Study asks about the “emptiness I feel.” I only feel “empty” in the area of childlessness. My life is otherwise full and I am fulfilled. It’s that one ache that I’ve had since my school days —the ache to be a mommy. Sometimes it’s dull. Sometimes a throbbing pain in my soul, but always present. I made it worse in times past, by forcing Your hand, Lord. Now I’m resigned to trust You. But it feels too late.

            I feel like giving up that painful dream. But I cannot seem to let it go. I find myself avoiding the young mothers. God, keep my heart soft. Please do not allow me to become bitter or hardened. Lift my burden as you promise in Psalm 146:7-8.

I read that Psalm over a year ago in The Living Bible, where verse eight reads, “…he lifts the burdens from those bent down beneath their loads.” A year ago, when I was bent down beneath the load of an empty womb.

“Read it again,” God whispers to my heart as Thanksgiving Day sunlight spills onto my open Bible. So I read. This time in the New International Version.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.

“Keep reading,” He encourages. So I read verse nine:

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow…

“The fatherless, Lord?” Is that what You wanted me to see today?”

I look the verse up in another version. It says, “God takes the side of orphans…” (The Message)

“Orphans, Lord? Are You speaking to me about my boys? Are You reminding me that You already had a plan when I was reading this passage in 2014? Did I just not look far enough ahead to discover the hope in verse nine? Was my head bowed down so low, that I missed Your vision to “sustain the fatherless” through us?”

I sit in silence for several minutes, thinking of those orphaned boys. They are teenagers. Almost men, really, but they need Honey and me. They want us. Just yesterday I received a note via social media from the one who was recently in a fight at school. His black eye haunted me for days after he posted it as his profile picture. I wanted to know why. Kept asking. His response came back in gobbledygook that my Google Translate App butchered even further.

Так я бився.У моєму серці добро.Я ніяк не можу дождатися зустричи,я молюся кожен день.Я вас люблю.Коли ви мене можете забрати в Aмерику на завжди?

When my Ukrainian friend texted her translation to me, my eyes filled with tears. The boy said, “I was fighting for the good in my heart. I can’t wait to see you again. I pray every day. I love you. When can you take me to America to live forever?”

I weep with a mother’s heart as I long to embrace those motherless boys. They are mine, but not mine. They are grown, but not grown. They are orphans awaiting a family. We are a family waiting for orphans. Waiting for the paperwork to process. Waiting for the funds to grow. Waiting for the day when they will come home to stay.

God brings me to Psalm 37. Verse three reminds me again to “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” He promises that if I will simply “delight myself in Him, He will give me the desires of my heart” (my paraphrase). I have seen this over and over in my life. I know it is true. I know He is faithful. I believe my boys will be home soon. Next Thanksgiving, my table will not be empty. My heart will be full. My God, He is faithful! He’s a good, good Father…

Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones. May you feed on His faithfulness today. He has not forgotten the desires of your heart.

*If you’d like to be part of the story God is writing in our family, you can participate right here: Boys of Summer.

 

 

 

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

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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