Love & Self-Protection & Goodbye

Today a boy turned down a hug (and a kiss, “Ughhhh!”) from this wanna-be momma whose nest has been empty forever. He wants to be cool in front of his friends. Keep his facade. Feel no emotion. Tries hard to avoid the inevitable final goodbye.

Yesterday, Honey hugged our boys goodbye in the van as we left for Atlanta. He couldn’t come. He had to work. I captured the moment with my phone.

A small herd of Ukranian orphans marches toward the security gate after two hours of agonizing waiting with host families whose hearts are heavy with the unexpected feeling that one of our own is walking away and there is nothing we can do about it. The boy brushes past me, heading for the front of the pack. “Goodbye,” he whispers casually in passing, as if we’d just met. As if our hearts are in no way entangled.

Walking away

“I’m not letting you off that easy.” I toss the words to the back of his head as he blends into a group of teenage boys wearing pristine Christmas-Nikes and warm winter coats; coats that will wrap down-filled arms around them on freezing Ukraine mornings when no moms or dads are there to hug them off to school. He does not respond.

I wait at the back of the group, my other boy at my elbow where he’s hovered for most of the day. He’s quiet. More so than usual. This morning at our hotel he sneaked up behind me, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist as I scraped stuff off the nightstand into my overnight bag. He wanted my phone, to message his girlfriend on VK. Perhaps he also wanted to hug me when no one else was looking.

We had our moment, my boys and I. I know it was God’s gift to me this morning as I sat propped against pillows in a king-size bed with my Bible and journal open. The boy who now wants nothing to do with me came in first. Flopping face down in front of my crisscrossed legs, he unashamedly demanded, “Scratch my back.” I could not refuse. Soon the other one entered the room wearing a “What are you doing?” expression. He flopped down, also. Not too close. No bare skin. Face turned away. I reached for his arm. Tugged him closer. Scratched his bony back through a thin, grey shirt.

“Keep them in Your palm, Lord God,” I prayed as morning sunlight filtered through the drapes, warming the backs of their heads. I placed my hands there, in the sun’s warmth, ruffling the coarse waves of the dark-haired one and smoothing the fine, straight strands of the other. “You promise, right here in your Word. Isaiah 43 verses 1 and 2, that they are YOURS. That You have redeemed them. That You call them by name. That you will be with them through the ‘waters’ and through the ‘fire.’ God, I do not know exactly what ‘water’ and ‘fire’ is ahead for these guys. I am afraid of the unknown. I know nothing of the life they live when they are not living life with Honey and me. They grew up too much between our summer hosting and December. Experienced too much. Hurt too much. I don’t want them to go back to that unknown. I want them to stay right here. It’s hard to let them go.”

I know about letting go. I’ve done it before. I’ve loved and lost a child I thought was mine. Watched her grow up from afar. Wished I could hold her and love her and be in her world. I know this path of choosing to release them to Jesus. I believe He honors His promises to praying mothers, and surrogate mothers, godmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers and grandmothers. When we pray God’s Word back to Him, claiming those promises for our kiddos, those words are not empty or useless. Our prayers for our loved ones are never unheard or unattended to. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me void (useless, without result), Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

I held that promise in my heart as I held my boys for the last time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

Thank you, God, for this moment,” I prayed as love flowed from my fingertips. “Help them to be able to receive and believe Your love for them. Help Honey and me to be able to show what that looks like when they come home for good. I’m holding You to Your promise in Isaiah 43:5 and 6. That You WILL bring them home for good.”

“Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—“ (NKJV)

“Let’s pray,” I said, bringing an end to our moment as time became our enemy. They offered their hands. To me. To one another. We formed our usual circle of prayer. They prayed in Ukrainian. I prayed in English. God understood every word.

~~~~~~~~~

 At the airport, the chaperone is speaking. “You have two minutes to say your final goodbyes before we go,” she announces in both languages. Families embrace their hosted kiddos; some for the final time, some “until next time.” Tears are shed. Promises made.

I rush to the front of the group to touch the arm of the boy who walked away without a hug. I turn him toward me as love wells up, spilling onto my cheeks. That same sweet boy who demanded affection only hours earlier becomes rigid with resistance as I reach for him. It is awkward. Embarrassing. Painful.

Returning to the back of the line, I find the other one with his game face on. “Goodbye,” he says, eyes pleading for me not to make a scene. We halfway hug. “I love you,” I state, (even though he already knows). He nods, then melts into a sea of boys with backpacks.Airport SecurityI stand with the other families who wave and smile through their tears. Two young girls jump up and down from the other side of the barrier. They are waving, smiling ­­- encouraging their “mom” not to cry. I do not wave. My boys do not turn around. I stay here until the backs of their familiar heads disappear through the checkpoint. Another host mom stands next to me. She places her arms around me and gives me the hug I long for. Our tears flow. We are not ashamed. We understand the Father’s lavish love. Through Him we will show our orphaned kids how to give and receive unconditional love. There’s no shame in that.

 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV)

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Are you or someone you know interested in forever changing a child’s life through summer or winter hosting? Check this out: Host Ukraine

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

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.

 

 

 

Open Letter to My Boys of Summer

Dear Boys,

Ten weeks ago, you were strangers. To each other. To us. When Honey and I met you at the airport, the anxiety in our eyes mirrored yours. None of us knew what to expect.

I can picture the moment.

May I hug you?” I ask, trying to find your eyes beneath overgrown bangs as the interpreter translates my words into a language I’ve never heard.

You nod. The circle my arms form around your thin frames feels too small for fifteen-year-old boys. You don’t hug back. Nor do you pull away.

I glance at My Honey. The lump in my throat makes my eyes water as I see tears balancing on the edge of his gaze.

I can’t take this,” he mouths behind your heads. “My heart is breaking. They look so lost.”First photo

That was ten weeks ago.

Last night you paused the movie we were watching to inform us there is “war in Ukraine.” When you pointed out the location of your orphanage in relation to the area where the fighting is taking place, I realized how close to “home” that war is to you. I know your older brothers are in the armed forces. I know that in a matter of months, you could be, too.

God, how can kids “age out” of Ukranian orphanages at sixteen? They are babies, not men. Not ready to be on their own. Certainly not ready to fight Russians.

You can hear the gunfire from your school?” I spoke into the Google Translate app on my iphone.

Yes.”

Then you broke my heart.

“Me stay in America?” one of you asked, trying out your new English skills.

“We come for Christmas?” queried the other.

Your questions hung in the air for a moment as your eyes found mine. Those eyes. Too proud to plead, yet silently imploring me to make a difference in your destiny.

I’m sorry I hesitated. Fumbled with my iphone. Fought the tears. Failed to respond with affirmation. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that question. Honey and I need to talk. We need to pray. We need to know that this is God’s plan for our family. For our ministry. We need to know that you love us, too. That you want to be a part of our lives as much as you want to come to America.

You didn’t wait long. A half-second at most. You read the doubt. The fear. The self-protective I-don’t-want-to-get-hurt-again veil that sheltered my soul. You unpaused the movie. You retreated. I lost the moment.

This morning as you sleep, I think of all the things I long to say. The things I know are true. The things I feel inside when your smiles are wide and free and full of joy. IMG_4516The things I trust when I hear you pray in a language I cannot understand, to The God who understands all things.

In two days you will both be gone. On a plane back to Ukraine. To a life I don’t know about. Will you each become just another orphan in a building full of boys who need a home? Or one more casualty in a pointless war? Or another kid on the streets, living hand to mouth, bottle to bottle, or trick to trick when an unfair system ages you out?

I cannot bear to think of it. I do not want to know.

You are not just some random orphaned boys. Your spirits are kind. Your minds are bright. Your prayers are heard. Your hearts are loved. Your home is here._DSC4874

But I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the days of summer have gone

Lyrics by Don Henley 1984 (slightly modified by me, Summer 2015)

For more information about hosting orphans for the summer or winter holidays, check out Project One Forty Three.