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.

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)

~~~~~~~~

Want to partner with us to bring our boys home forever?  Donate here

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

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