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.

Goodbye Fear, Goodbye Boys

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

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

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

I thought I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m struggling to trust Him with mine.

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

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

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

I remember our final moments:

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t.”

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

“You didn’t forget. You said it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In This Family We…

“In this family we talk about things that bother us. We resolve conflicts from the day before we go to bed.”

I speak into my phone as the Google Translate App turns my words into Russian and spits them back at me in an Eastern European accent.

“Does anyone in this family need to apologize to anyone?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for bed. And for kitchen,” says the boy whose bottom bunk looks like two warthogs wrestled there before breakfast; the same boy who ignored his kitchen duties, choosing instead to watch TV.

“Thank you. I forgive you. Will you please make better choices tomorrow?”

My eyes scan the faces around our dinner table as my thick-accented Google twin barks from inside my iPhone. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“André, I’m sorry bike,” offers the boy who stormed out of the house, disappearing on his bike for twenty minutes after Honey declined the boy’s umpteenth request for a device on which to access VK (Facebook’s European equivalent).

“I forgive you. I apologize for speaking abruptly to you,” says my Honey to the boy whose head is now resting on the dining room table.

“It’s okay,” the fifteen-year-old speaks softly without looking up.

I wait. Silence.

Where’s my apology? I’m sure I deserve one for the attitude I dealt with when I insisted the rap music disappear from the radio. And for the refusal to acknowledge my presence when I knocked on the closed bedroom door. And for the cold shoulder I keep getting from the teen with his head down.

“What, Lord, can I say to clear the air between us? My heart beats heavy with the weight of the unnamed wall separating that boy and me. Please help me.”

I cry out to God as I silently stare at my bedroom ceiling, wondering why the boy avoided my usual bedtime hug for the second night in a row. I never “parented” teens before two Ukranian orphans showed up in our lives just seven weeks ago. As a friend said, “You had no onramp. You just hit the highway at 70 miles per hour.”

I recall the baby steps Bike Boy has taken toward trust as he’s allowed his guarded heart to open in my direction. A recent RipStik (think skateboard minus two wheels) accident forced us into the Emergency Room, both of us white with nausea as he clung to me while the doctor sutured his elbow.

The following day, during a car ride through the Tennessee mountains, he lay his head on my shoulder in a rare gesture of affection.

Even Monday, when we waited in Urgent Care to have his stitches removed, and I asked, “Do you want me to sit beside you?” he responded with an affirmative nod and allowed me to perch next to him on the paper covered exam bed. I put my arm around him as he winced while the physician’s assistant “softened up the scab” so she could “find the stitches.”Stitches B&W

I think about his aloof behavior today, the way he wore his sunglasses, even indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. How he flopped onto the sofa before evening worship with body language that needed no Google App to convey the message he was sending.

I’m stumped, Lord. I don’t know why he’s behaving this way and I cannot make him talk. Is it guilt that drives this boy-turned-armored-car? Shame? Fear? You know I tried to be as kind as possible when I had to confront him about that poor choice he made. I told him about grace and forgiveness. I demonstrated unconditional love toward him, even as You taught me that Your work in me is still unfinished.”

I remember my own relapse into codependent denial as the product of Bike Boy’s deception accidentally dropped onto the living room floor for a millisecond before he scooped it into the pile of stuff he carried from our vacation-laden minivan.

That can’t be what I think it is. Well-worn denial pathways in my brain instantly re-opened as I searched for a reason to explain away the evidence of deceit. Our eyes met for a moment as he fluidly gathered the contraband and disappeared into his bedroom.

My broken brain automatically dismissed the facts my eyes had witnessed – just like it had over the course of my twelve previously married years to a chemically dependent spouse. I defaulted into denial and continued to unpack as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I allowed the child to believe he had gotten away with his sin.

“God, I thought You had healed me of those wounds,” I prayed from my pillow the following morning when He woke me early to “discuss” the incident. “Why would I ignore an elephant in the room? Again! After all we’ve been through together? Haven’t I achieved enough healing in my recovery to confront that deception in the moment? What damage have I done in pretending I didn’t see what we both know I saw? I don’t understand!”

That brief interaction threw me emotionally backward into a life I thought I was healed from. A life of covering for a chemically dependent narcissist who could convince me that my own senses were wrong and he was telling the truth about everything from where he’d been all weekend to what happened to his paycheck. A life I spent three years writing about in my recently published book Same Dress, Different Day. A life I no longer want to control me.

“Help me, God. I cannot allow this child to be a victim of my past. I must speak the truth to him in love. I will confront him about what I saw.”

With a tremble in my voice, I speak into my phone. “I need to talk with you about something important. And I need for you to be perfectly honestly with me. Okay?”

I watch his eyes as my Russian counterpart repeats my plea. They meet mine for a second. “Okay,” he responds in English.

“Please tell me about…”

This time, as Google Translate replays my words, I can almost see the veil fall over his face. It hides his eyes. Guards his expression. Builds a fortress between us.

I persevere. “Don’t be afraid. We all make poor choices sometimes. But we all must also face the consequences of those choices. Let’s just talk about it so we can make it right and put it behind us.”

Silence.

It took the help of another, more human translator to get to the bottom of the issue. But we did it. And I stood on the sidelines witnessing genuine remorse and relief as the wrong was made right again.

Somehow, though, I continue to be walled out. The food I offer is refused. The affection denied. The interaction limited. It’s hard not to take it personally. It hurts.

I’m reminded of my Heavenly Father. Of how I respond to His unconditional love with similar disdain. Of how guilt destroys our intimacy and how my own brokenness prevents me from allowing full access to His heart. This one experience with a broken child reveals to me a glimpse of My Father’s love. Despite my sin, He loves. Despite my rejection, he loves. Despite my fear, he loves. Despite my relapse into self-protective behaviors, HE LOVES.

“God, help me to love like You today. Help me to trust that You work ALL things together for the good of those who Love you and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust that You will break the ice with this child and restore our relationship before he gets on that airplane back to Ukraine. Amen.”

If you are interested in orphan hosting, please consider Project 143.

If you have hosted, fostered, or adopted a child you may be interested in the following links on Reactive Attachment Disorder:

http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-truth-about-adoption-one-year-later

http://www.reactiveattachment-disorder.com/2009/07/parenting-children-with-reactive.html?m=1

http://www.theadoptioncounselor.com/pdf/Attachment%20pamphlet.pdf