Ain’t No Grave

Today I leaned on the shovel that spooned Ukrainian soil over the mound covering what remains of the woman who birthed the boy I call my son. Maybe you need to know that another mama knows how it feels to love a child who did not come from your body and who is unable to love you fully until their buried grief has been resurrected and faced and painted with the hope of heaven.

Looking at him now—standing at the edge of manhood, at the edge of her grave, I feel ashamed. Only today, as I witness four siblings reunite after eight years of separation, do I understand even a sliver of my son’s heartache.

Thoughts collide with long-held emotion as I stand in summer evening sunlight on the edge of a rural cemetery near the village he remembers from childhood. How could I have asked him to allow me to love him as a mother loves her son when all the while he was grieving the loss of this mother who lies under the earth?

I observe love between him and his little sister. She was only six when they said goodbye. They cling to one another as the gravekeeper sets their carefully chosen cast iron fence in concrete-filled holes, shoveling excess earth onto the top of the mound that marks their mother’s resting place.

My Honey stood still when we arrived here, silently watching three brothers and a sister almost frantically rip weeds from the unidentified, unkempt heap on the graveyard’s edge. I read empathy in his eyes and see jaw muscles clench and release as he holds emotions in check. Honey understands what I cannot fathom. He still recalls standing at the edge of his beloved father’s grave when he was only four. A parent’s death is common grief ground he shares with our motherless sons.

I don’t know if I can even find words to describe my thoughts and feelings as I watch four children, separated by death, time, an orphanage and an ocean work together to honor their mother by creating a beautiful memorial in this place. I long to wrap my arms around each of them and just hold them as a mother does. But I only just met the younger two today. They don’t know me. I can’t speak their language. Maybe they see me as the reason their beloved brother lives so far away. I argue with myself and try to catch the eye of the eldest. He stands apart, arms crossed, eyes down. I know him a little. We have a connection, but I don’t have the courage to cross the invisible barrier that keeps his sorrow from spilling onto his cheeks. Instead, I place my hand on My Honey’s shoulder. He stands strong, in his “God’s Plan” t-shirt and his hope of resurrection morning.

Our son is just on the other side of My Honey, arms around his sister, head bowed, face soft. I cannot make eye contact. I am torn between wanting to move toward him and respecting the space he always seems to need from me.

What is my role here? Who am I and why does my heart feel as if it will burst open and bleed out onto this fertile ground? What IS your plan, God? Because I cannot fathom the suffering these children have experienced— and why? For what purpose is all this pain?

Please heal my son’s heart. Relieve him of the guilt he has carried for these six years since his mother’s death. Guilt that gnaws at him because of his childish words, spoken in anger and never made right. Please help him to forgive himself for allowing time to make it too late to say, “I didn’t meant it. Please forgive me.” Give him the hope of heaven and the courage to walk with You until the day this grave bursts open and his mom comes forth in all her beauty. May each of her children choose You, God. May they place their hope in You. What else do we have, if we don’t have this?

For a moment, little sister stands alone.  I move next to her, sensing her openness for a mama hug. She feels small in my arms. We exhale together and share the common language of tears. She receives the unspoken love and compassion seeping through my skin as my arms cradle her for a long little while.

My Honey finds his voice and asks if we can hold a short graveside service. The young people agree. We listen to these words of hope from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV):

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

We create a circle that spans the grave, spans the language barrier, spans the ocean that will soon separate us once more. Holding hands, we bow our heads. My Honey prays for hearts to heal, for hope to live, and for love to remain for always. I look up from the prayer and smile at my boy-turned-man who will have two mamas in heaven. And I understand his heart as never before.

When we love a child from hard places, it’s easy to ignore or forget the pain that fuels their rage and rejection. It’s easy to make it all about us and to resort to all kinds of human techniques that simply cannot work on trauma-triggered brains. What I know is this: Healing happens in tiny increments over time in safe, loving environments. The best thing we can do as parents is to be safe, loving people. If we have unhealed wounding and our own trauma triggers, they WILL become fuel for a fire that can destroy our families. We must work our own recovery program with Jesus and day by day be the strong, loving people only He can make us be. Only then can we offer a life ring to kids who are drowning in their own pain.

*Image Credit: Julia Starikova

Emmanuel? You Still Here?

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23 KJV

Are You still here? Are you STILL with us? With me? The questions seep from my soul as I sit silently on Christmas Eve in my striped fuzzy socks staring at the paper maché crèche on my Nannie’s sideboard. Lauren Daigle sings one of my favorite hymns of the season, her voice too big for the speaker in my iphone. Written more than 1200 years ago in Latin, sung for the first time in a monastery and performed by everyone from Andrea Bocceli to Trisha Yearwood, this song’s history is as deep and rich as Lauren’s voice.

The hymn begins as a prayer, a heart cry from a people in distress, a people enslaved, a people desperate for a Savior. I place myself in the center of the story:

As the children of Israel bear the burden of slavery in a land not their own, they cry out to God from the depths of their hearts. They know they do not belong in Egypt or even in Goshen. They know they are set apart, special…chosen – with a purposed history and an eternal future. But year after year, when things do not appear to go as planned, when life with their captors becomes more and more difficult, yet more and more familiar, some of them begin to wonder if anyone hears the stifled soul cries that only God can hear.

As Israelite mothers, like their mothers and grandmothers before them rock tiny brown babies with tired arms and worn-out expectations, they sing lullabies that do what lullabies do: bring comfort, peace and rest into little hearts until little bodies and perhaps even all those within the sound of the singer’s voice relax and rest in the arms of hope. Listen for a moment as Israel’s mothers sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

And listen as somewhere in the back of the house a father’s strong voice echoes expectancy as he sings of the promise his forefathers died believing in:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

This song of hope is carried on sound waves across galaxies and into the very throne room of the one and only I AM – Emmanuel. He is moved to move and the time has come to redeem these children of Israel. God begins to sing His own redemption song. It carries on the wind across miles and miles of desert wilderness until His voice is heard by a runaway murderer who responds by laying down his shoes and his pride and his self-conscious fears and picking up his staff and his faith in the ONE who is faithful to forgive his past sins and use his transformed life to stand bold in the face of Pharaoh and march a multitude of Israel’s grown kids across a dried-up river bed and into the Promised Land.

Remember the story from Exodus, Chapter 3?

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… (Exodus 3:3-8 ESV)

As they settled down in makeshift tents those first few nights away from the familiar flesh pots of Egypt, and the Pillar of Cloud that had descended to surround and protect them from their enemies turned into a Pillar of Fire, I wonder if the Israelites truly recognized how close they were to their Creator-God and just how much He longed to dwell with them. I wonder if they looked out at the glow of that unquenchable FIRE which housed a BEING who had no beginning and will have no end and felt a fire burn within them ~ an irresistible desire to know the One who longs to be known? I wonder if they felt the rumblings of God on the move as He set the stage for Emmanuel to one day dwell among men in a garment of flesh and not fire?

In the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 1, we can read how many Generations it was from Father Abraham to Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ. Some of the names I recognize: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Boaz and Ruth, Obed, Jesse, David and Solomon – and some are not quite so familiar: Jeconiah, Zadok, and Abiud. Whether we know much about them or not, each person in that lineage was instrumental in bringing the Son of God one generation closer to becoming the Son of Man. In verse 16, we come to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Joseph, like Moses, was a man— a workingman with a carpentry business and a good reputation. A man who perhaps had experienced the pain of heartache and loss that left him a single dad with sons whose damaged characters were less than kind. A man whose love was pledged and whose heart belonged to a sweet young girl named Mary. A man of integrity whom the King James Version of the book of Matthew calls “righteous” in verse 19: Here is how the story goes:

Matthew 1:18-19 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant [through the power] of the Holy Spirit.

19 And her [promised] husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.

If Joseph’s thought patterns were anything like mine, when he first heard the news of Mary’s pregnancy, he may have gone from excited anticipation of a fresh start with a new wife to “Oh no! How can this be happening to me? After all I’ve suffered, after all I’ve already lost… at this stage in my life? Didn’t I do my due diligence? Wasn’t I careful and cautious and wise in my choosing of this girl to give my promise and my heart and my future life to? Am I a mockery in this town, being gossiped about behind my back?”

Did Joseph search his soul and cry out to God in the night, saying, “How could You let this happen to me? Haven’t I been faithful? After all I’ve done to serve You and to serve this community, is this how You reward me? Now what will I do?

The Bible doesn’t tell us any of that about Joseph. It tells us that he wasn’t thinking of himself at all – He was thinking of Mary. He didn’t want to disgrace her or expose her sins on social media. He didn’t stay up all night, lighting up Facebook to see how many “likes” he could get for his justified position. He didn’t go down to the local bar to numb or gain some third-party sympathy. He didn’t adopt the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” mentality and thumb through his little black book, looking for a call girl to party with. No! None of those things. Instead, he quietly made a decision to protect Mary’s reputation and to guard her heart. Then he went to sleep, trusting his heavenly Father to sort out the situation. Perhaps his bedtime prayer was something similar to the second verse of this song as he sought wisdom from on high:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Little did Joseph know of how close he was to heaven in his suffering that night and that nothing was as it appeared until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

Have you been caught off guard by circumstances beyond your control? Surprised by the words or actions of someone you loved and trusted? Wounded by the world and unable to piece together the full story or make any sense of your situation?

I have. And I’ve gone to sleep so many nights, begging God to unravel the tangled threads of my story or to fix the other person or to shed some light on the seemingly dark path ahead. André and I have prayed that prayer through many long nights over the past couple of years:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high…

Like Joseph – none of us may realize just how close we are to heaven, or just how close heaven is to us when we humble ourselves and lay down our fears to walk in faith. Let’s look at the rest of his story:

20 But as he was thinking this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary [as] your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from [a]failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].

22 All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet,

23 Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us.

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from his sleep did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him: he took [her to his side as] his wife.

Was Joseph and Mary’s future a cakewalk? Hardly. But, they chose to believe the voice of the Lord, spoken through the angel, and to move forward in faith, not fear. They did get married. And they did become the parents of the Son of God, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among men. Imagine being co-parents with God the Father!

Sometimes the sin in this world causes families to fall apart. Children end up being parented by multiple people – birth parents, stepparents, foster parents, adoptive parents. Sometimes we feel less-than-adequate as we love on kids who suffer the effects of broken families, broken homes, broken souls. Sometimes the people with whom we co-parent have very different views or values or styles of relating – and we can easily get caught in the trap of feeling either inferior or superior to the other adult voices in our kids’ lives.

Imagine with me for a moment how Joseph and Mary must have felt as they birthed and held and fed and burped the baby whose Father is God? Imagine the emotion of a mother who knows her child is gifted in ways far beyond a special program in school. Imagine teaching a teen to sharpen a saw and remembering Almighty God saw you in your small Nazareth world and chose you to be the adoptive father to His precious son.

And we think our job as parents is difficult? What kind of pressure were Joseph and Mary tempted to place on themselves as they parented the Savior of the world? Oh, how great the joy, yet how deep the sorrow of Mary’s heart as she watched her son live out the fulfillment of His destiny all the way to the cross of Calvary.

Out of suffering comes the miraculous. Out of the wilderness comes the ability to listen. Out of the fire on a mountainside comes a voice that says, “Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.”

That holy fire on the mountain became a seed in the womb of a teenage girl. Can you imagine that process? Can you imagine the suffering that went into the re-creation of the I AM as this eternal being whose voice spoke the earth into existence shrunk into the size of something that fits inside a fallopian tube? The Creator became the created. Emmanuel is a miracle! The miracle of Jesus started in heaven, not in Bethlehem.

“His name is Emmanuel –  the God who is with us – who is made out of the same stuff we are and who is made out of the same stuff God is and who will not let either of us go.” Judi Harbin

Emmanuel came to Israel, not once, but twice – The first time, they were slaves in Egypt: unable to walk in freedom to live and to worship and to govern themselves according to the principles of heaven. They were surrounded by ungodly influences and they were losing their children to the ways of the Egyptians generation by generation.

The second time Emmanuel came to Israel, they were slaves to formalism and legalism and a religion that kept them in perpetual bondage. They had forgotten that God Is LOVE and that love longs for relationship. They had completely missed the essence of the One for whom they performed all of those rituals. In the end, they actually missed Jesus.

Friends – Emmanuel wants to come again to Israel. Not the Israel who was enslaved in Egypt. And not the Israel who became like an ingrown toenail, only living to follow laws and missing the heart of the Law Giver. But to today’s Israel – the Israelite hearts of you and me, hearts in bondage to sin in one way or another.

Emmanuel longs to come to those Israelite mamas among us who live in fear and cling to control. To those whose kids are scattered and whose hearts are shattered and who are hanging on to faith by a thread. He wants to bring his peace to those who love too much from broken hearts until nothing is left to give; to those whose gifts are stolen by grief and frozen by fear and who have lost their will to live. And to those who stopped praying because they feel like a playlist with only one song and worry about wearing out the Father. These are the ones….we are the ones for whom Emmanuel wants to come today.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

To all who suffer, let us be reminded of what Emmanuel, the Christ has done for us. We are not alone in our suffering. If we will allow Him, He will bring us to the heart of His Father. He will bind our wounds by binding us to His heart. Only He can heal us, turn the hearts of our loved ones and fill us with heaven’s peace today. In the stillness I can almost hear him whisper, “Yes, I’m still here.”

And I sing along with Ms. Daigle, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” 

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

(Words translated in 1861 by John Mason Neale per Wikipedia)

Kissing The Scars

She turned 16 today. I thought I would be okay. And I was. Until she texted thirteen photos of her beautiful celebrating self. I run water in the tub so nobody will hear me wail.

It never dulls. That mama-ache for what never was. “She’s just lovely, Sis. I am sorry for all your pain.” I read my sister’s text through the tears. She knows my heart. She’s already heard me cry this week. A mother weeping for a wayward son. I love hard.

I bet you do, too. It’s in our DNA. We can’t forget our children. No matter how many birthdays come and go, the heart remembers. No matter how much we numb with busyness, or Starbucks or shopping or worse ~ we remember. They are engraved on our hearts. Scars that never heal.

Jesus tasted that ache. He understands.

 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; …”

Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV

IMG_9592

None of my kids came from my womb. One of them was never even mine,  and the other two were already flapping their teenage wings to fly when they landed in our family. Motherhood is the most beautiful, haunting, aching experience I’ve never had. I’m a paper mom with a birth-mother soul.

My kids have stories I know nothing about. I wasn’t there when they learned to walk. Never heard them cry at night. Couldn’t comfort them when the pain was too much and the food too little. I don’t know when the nightmares started or how they got their scars.

It’s those scars that get me every time. Tonight when I enlarged baby girl’s birthday photos on my phone, I noticed a scar just under her right kneecap. I wonder what happened? I wish I had been there to kiss it all better.

That’s when my dam broke and the wailing just could not be drowned by the water flowing into our tub.

I’m jealous. Jealous of the mamma who got to love her and comfort her and watch her grow up for all these years. Jealous of the girlfriend I watched kiss my son’s scarred arm the other day just like I’ve longed to do forever, yet I’m always kept at arm’s length. Jealous of the ones to whom they say, “I love you” after a brief introduction and a few texts on a smartphone when I’ve prayed and waited for years to hear those words that never seem to come. Jealous of the mothers who get to actually be called mom instead of “hey” or “you” or “Juliet.” Yeah. I’m jealous.

I talked to God about it earlier today. I don’t want it to get out of hand. He told me He understands.

“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy…” 2 Corinthians 11:2

He wants the absolute best for His children. He longs to be called, “Father” and told that we love Him. He aches to kiss and heal our scars and be trusted with our deepest fears. Instead, we keep Him at arm’s length and numb our pain with food and porn and prescription drugs. He longs for the intimacy that brings healing and the relationship that will restore our joy and make every other relationship fall into place, but we chase after other lovers and push Him to the back burner or use Him to get what we want without ever taking time to thank Him for what we have.

This motherhood thing… It’s taught me a lot about God. I never knew how deep the Father’s love for us. Tonight I’m letting Him kiss my scars.

 

Motherhood and Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and sons walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scripture Prayers for the Hearts of Our Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Header image by Laura Wolanski. Thank you.

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.

Rain From the Sky

“To everything…there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

I scanned those wise words, printed on the front of a card from my sister, on the way from my mailbox to our front door last Tuesday evening. Inside her card I discovered a one hundred dollar bill (who mails cash anymore, Sis?) and a note in her familiar happy handwriting. “God loves your boys,” she wrote. “I know He will work it out. He can make money rain from the sky if He sees fit.”

Perching on the arm of my sofa, I read the printed text inside the card, a Roy Lessin quote: “He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.”

Sis and I held an ongoing conversation about the two teens from Ukraine who captured the hearts of My Honey and me over the summer. Somehow those kids also managed to sneak into the hearts of our extended family and even our Facebook friends, who continue to donate to our adoption Go-Fund-Me campaign.

“It’s too long between August and April!” I’d whine into the phone as I lamented the fact that the boys had been gone for weeks with little communication. “We miss them. I know they miss us. Spring is too far away. Why does all this adoption paperwork take so long to process?”

“I don’t know, Sis. God will work it out,” she reassured me the day I confided that I really wanted them home for the holidays like we’d promised before they left…before any of us were positive about adoption.

“Winter hosting is simply not in the budget,” Honey had announced after tallying up the summer hosting leftovers and anticipating the looming adoption fees. “It’s not financially prudent.”

“Prudent schmoodent!” I cried to Jesus as I took it to Him rather than arguing with the man I love. “I know they need to be here one more time before they come home for good!”

In fact, I felt that so strongly, I’d already paid the hosting deposit in order to meet the holiday airline reservation deadline. I didn’t know where the additional funds would come from, but that deposit stared at me from my Paypal account whenever I opened my laptop.

After reading Sister’s card, I walked back outside to unload groceries from my car. My heart beat hard with the truth I KNEW. The boys NEED to be here for their winter break from school. Looking up into the dark sky, I spoke aloud to the ONE who could make that happen.To everything...

“You are God. You own the “cattle on a thousand hills.” You can make money “rain from the sky.” You know what those boys need. You know what we need. It was You who brought them into our lives. You who perfectly paired the personalities of two complete strangers to fit within our family.

It was You who grew our love from nothing over the course of a few summer weeks. And You who laid this burden on my heart to bring them home in December. Thank You for all You are doing to provide for their adoption. Please provide the funds for their winter hosting. I need to see them eye-to-eye and face-to-face. I need to hold them heart-to-heart before it’s all said and done. I believe You gave me this urgency. I’m trusting You to provide the funds.”

With that prayer, I released the burden of figuring things out to Jesus. My history with codependency has cut deep grooves in my brain’s pathways. It’s difficult to stop trying to control things when you have years of embedded patterns of controlling behavior under your belt. Living with a chemically or otherwise addicted person will do that to you. Even years after my circumstances have changed, I find myself reaching for the familiar comfort of trying to control SOMETHING when circumstances or people within my sphere appear to be out of control in some form or fashion.

The following afternoon, Wednesday, I heard my phone vibrate inside my lunch bag just as I plopped into my swivel chair at school. My second graders had already gone to the buses, leaving broken pencils and crayons in their wake. After tidying the classroom (I can’t think when I see a broken crayon on the floor) and mentally planning for the next day (Should I present that new math concept (addition with regrouping), or just do some review work?), I was ready to check my email and go home. I usually don’t answer my phone while still at school, but when I noticed the number I took the call.

After a few pleasantries, the caller said, “I really felt impressed last night to write you a check for your boys. When I spoke with my husband, we both agreed to help with the winter hosting and the adoption. How much do you lack?”

Now, this was not a person I speak with regularly. In fact, it had probably been a year since we’d had a conversation other than a text message here or there. She’s not on Facebook and I had no idea she even knew what we were doing with the boys.

Long after hanging up I sat in my classroom with hands raised to Jesus and tears washing away my waterproof mascara. When I finally saw myself in a mirror later, I realized why the across-the-hall teacher who stuck her head in to say goodbye had looked at me so strangely and inquired whether everything was okay. I didn’t care how crazy I looked, MY BOYS WERE COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

Later that evening (9:20 p.m. October 28, 2015 to be exact), I received a text message from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, even though we live in the same city. It had two words and three exclamation marks. “Merry Christmas!!!”

“Please tell me why you are saying that?” My thumbs flew across the screen of my phone.

“Lol! I just thought you could use a smile,” came her reply.

WHAT?!?

I don’t know what you believe and you are welcome, dear reader, to draw whatever conclusions you choose. I think I’m gonna have to go with what I said to my sister, “I just got a text from Jesus. It said, “Merry Christmas!”

I share this experience with you because I want you to know that God hears our prayers. He is the Mountain Mover. He is our Provider, our Sustainer, our Father and our Friend. He knows what we need and He knows how to give good gifts to His children.

I don’t know why things aren’t always as obvious as a text from heaven. I don’t know why we often pray and it appears as if nothing happens. I don’t know why our faith is tested when it feels like we are already at the end of our rope. But I DO know this – sometimes we are extravagantly and obviously lavished with the love of the Father. And sometimes He has a glorious sense of humor.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 1:3 Berean Study Bible)

~~~~~~~~~~

  • If you read my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, you will realize just how this adoption story is God’s beautiful redemption of a painful loss I experienced several years ago when married to a chemically dependent spouse.
  • If you are new to this blog and interested in our entire journey with the boys, please go back to: The beginning
  • If you’d like to financially participate in our adoption journey, you are welcome to do so right here: Bring Our Boys Home
  • If you’d like to host an orphan, check this out: Host Ukraine
  • If you have your own tale of how God redeemed the dreams you thought we lost, please email me at info@julietvanheerden.com so we can share your story with this readership.

Be blessed, dear ones! God is on our side. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)Boys & Me