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

The Imperfect Mother A Mother’s Day Reflection

You scream, “Oh sorry, I forgot …You are PERFECT!!

You NEVER do anything wrong!!!”

The foot stomps. The door slams. Then…

“Why don’t you give me a 20 minute speech about it?!!”

 

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

I know I am far from perfect.

Loathing my mistakes, my failures.

Fearing the worst—that somehow I am not good enough,

that I am never enough, that I have scarred you…

left you with a mother wound.

 

Perfection

Is an enemy to the soul,

UNATTAINABLE.

I just don’t want you to be broken…

So I strive to fix everything,

EVERYONE.

I strive to find all the things,

organize all the schedules,

balance all the meals.

And know where the wallet is,

the keys, the insurance card,

the soccer cleats, the hairbrush

the school form, the shirt you wanted

to wear but is buried under all the

other clothes on your closet floor.

 

I am not perfect.

I just don’t want you to be broken…

So I try to fix your broken brain (we lost count of the TBI’s),

your broken hand, your broken immune system (you became allergic to the world),

your broken heart (you learned not everyone has your same heart—

friends aren’t always true and life is not fair).

IMG_2379

I try to be a mom, a friend, a sounding board, a cheerleader, a coach,

a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, a teacher, a guide, a chef, a Merry Maid,

chauffeur, a punching bag, a good listener… I strive to be whole, to be all,

even on my worst days…even on my broken days.

 

I set schedules, make lists, prepare the meals and dose out the vitamins,

the hugs, the structure, the goodnight prayers…

I tell you that your vitamins will help you feel better,

that brushing your teeth will prevent cavities, that getting more sleep will help your anxiety….

I tell you to eat yourbroccoli, your carrots, your peas… because I want you to be healthy.

“Not too much sugar!!”

“Milk is bad for your skin!”

“You don’t do well with gluten!”

“I AM JUST TRYING TO HELP YOU!!!!”

“Why won’t you let me help you? Love you?”

 

I strive to fix it.

I never want you to be broken.

I remind you, nag you, give you speeches about wet towels on the floor,

toothpaste splattered sinks, not walking the dog, getting off your phone… your phone…

“Oh my word—JUST GET OFF YOUR PHONE!!”

 

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

I get tired.

I get weak.

I get sick.

I get frustrated.

I get impatient.

I get resentful.

I yell.

I DON’T GET OFF MY PHONE!

I am broken.

I am imperfect.

 

I don’t want you to be like me—BROKEN.

So I strive to make you hear me!

I try to tell you how to be different,

to take care of yourself,

to love yourself,

to always BE yourself,

to please—get some sleep!

 

But you don’t hear me!

You watch me. You observe me.

What do you see?

Am I teaching you how to be broken?

Broken just like me?

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

                             —Ami Novak

Dear Precious Readers,

I will soon write again. I feel the words seeping back into my soul. It’s been a hard season. In the meantime, may I introduce you to the author of this transparent piece of poetry?

Ami is my sister. She is also a:
Wellness Warrior -at Make A Healthy Change      Trauma Healing Advocate
Healthy Foodie
Non-Toxic Living Champion
Wife of almost 18 years
Mother of 2 teenagers
Chihuahua Dog mom
Website: https://pws.shaklee.com/ami-novak
Facebook: @shakleewithAmiNovak

Instagram: @Make_A_Healthy_Change

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(Ami is also an amazing iphoneographer                    & gets photo credits for the images in this post.)

Tug of War

I can feel the tug of war within. The game is rough. The taut rope sears the palms of my heart where scar tissue is covered by callouses after I’ve spent years of hard labor guarding that tender flesh beneath. One moment it appears as if stoicism will win – dragging the surrender flag to the brink of self-protective hard-heartedness. I. Will. Not. Risk. Love. No one will know the difference.

Then, out of nowhere tenderness and compassion join the opposition, pulling hard enough to move that flag back to center.

Fear fights back. Whew! That was close.

God, I’ve done this before. I’ve jumped off the high dive naked – completely abandoning myself to the deep end of the ocean-sized pool of unconditional love. I nearly drowned in the aftermath. I would have drowned, had You not rescued me.

So why are You leading me to the high-dive ladder again? I want to stay in the kiddie pool, where the water is safe and shallow, where I won’t get hurt, where I don’t have to risk the unknown.

~~~~~~~~~~

That was yesterday’s prayer. Yesterday. The day my Honey and I dropped our “summer boys” off with another #Project 143 host family for two weeks while he travels for business and I begin my Texas book tour.

A month ago, when we said, “Yes” to these same friends after they nearly begged us to host two teenage boys from Ukranian orphanages for ten weeks, I promised myself I would not fall in love.

Yes, I will provide beds and bikes and trips to the beach. Yes, I will feed them and clothe them and help them learn English. Yes, I will laugh with them, pray with them, and save them from the disappointment of being told, “I’m sorry, you cannot go to the United States for the summer after all, because your original host family had to decline unexpectedly.”

I could do those things. But I could not risk love. Not again. Not after Chapter 7 (#Same Dress, Different Day http://www.amazon.com/Same-Dress-Different-Day-Redemption/dp/1942923066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435263647&sr=1-1&keywords=juliet+van+heerden).

~~~~~~~~~~

 My inner tug of war began in the Dollar Store. I hadn’t even met them yet.

Why am I emotional about buying poster board and markers to make a welcome sign? What does it matter whether they like mint gum or fruit gum? What can I put in their backpacks that will make them feel curious and comfortable? Will they like us? Will we like them? The signGod, what were we thinking? I have so much else to do this summer.”

Then I saw them at the airport. The group snuck up on us. André had positioned himself to take a photograph as I waited, welcome sign in hand, behind the barrier. Then I heard laughter behind me. I turned to see other host families excitedly greeting “their” kids. Somehow they’d come in from another entrance and we never saw them until everyone else was matched up.

I caught Yura’s eye first. Smiling I moved toward him, wondering if his expression reflected fear, resignation or both. After our introduction, through the Ukranian chaperone I asked, “May I hug you?”

Yes.”

Jesus, he’s so thin. But his hug is firm. He responded. He smiled. His eyes came alive behind that dark fringe of hair. Where’s the other one?

I don’t see Pasha,” I explained to the chaperone.

She led me to a tall, blonde boy with a muscular build. “This is Pasha,” she said. He was standing with another couple.

I don’t think this is our Pasha,” I countered. He doesn’t look like the photograph we have.”

Oh. I’m sorry! You must have the other Pasha.

He stood alone, not far from Yura, scanning the room.

Are you Pasha?”

Pasha nodded. My Honey sidled up to him with a smile and a side-hug. I shook his hand then hugged him, too. Skinny thing.

Welcome to America. Do you speak any English?”

No English.”

Through the translator we learned that neither boy knew the other. We discovered they were from different parts of Ukraine and had not received our welcome letter, so didn’t know they would be bunking together in our home. We introduced them to each other and awkwardly posed for our first “family” photo.First photoThis could be more difficult than I thought, Lord. I assumed they would speak or understand at least a little English. Please help us to make them feel comfortable. Poor babies.

So began the adventure of adding two fifteen-year-old Ukrainian orphan boys to our tiny, quiet, well-ordered household.

Within days we had our routine down to a somewhat-science: breakfast, morning devotions, everybody helps clean up the kitchen, boys go outside to ride bikes or play ball until the sun melts them into big-eyed puddles begging to go to the pool. Then they’d eat and eat and eat some more before we went shopping for all kinds of necessities. Evenings brought laughter as we made popcorn, played games and introduced them to our friends.

Beach funOkay, Lord, this isn’t so bad. Thank You for Google Translate. Communication hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. But that other part…that emotional tug-of-war part…now that’s hard. That’s not fair.

They weren’t supposed to make me feel things I don’t want to feel. They weren’t supposed to look at me with eyes begging for approval, or sneak into the kitchen for a good morning hug when I’m having my quiet time with You. They weren’t supposed to wheedle and cajole me out of $2.98 for a toy in the checkout line and make me want to buy every piece of fruit in Publix so they would just stop asking for “One more banan.”

I didn’t want to long to know what’s really going on in their heads or wonder what happened to their mothers, or what will happen to them when they go “home.” I’m not prepared to feel what I felt as they sandwiched me in the pew at church last Sabbath, unaware of America’s unspoken I-need-personal-space rule.

After only three days together I wasn’t prepared for Pasha’s tears, or Yura’s self-protective silence after I told them they’d be staying with another family while we went out of town on a trip that had been scheduled before we knew they were coming.

And I wasn’t prepared for yesterday.

  • Yesterday, when Pasha said, “Go! Please! And pointed to the bedroom door when I brought a suitcase for him to pack in and started to help get their things together.
  • Yesterday, when both boys put on their best clothes, gelled their new haircuts, packed their backpacks and stoically got into the minivan – smelling like teenage concoctions of deodorant, aftershave, and mint chewing gum.
  • Yesterday, when Yura slept and Pasha wept in the back seat as we drove south to Tampa.
  • Yesterday, when, after lunch at a Applebee’s in a city three hours from ours, Pasha questioned in English as we walked toward our van “We go home?” knowing full well that he would not be going home with us…

Yesterday, when I lost at tug of war.Family b&W~~~~~~~~~~

Are you interested in:

  • Project 143’s summer and winter hosting programs? http://www.projectonefortythree.org/
  • Turning your copy of my Memoir, Same Dress, Different Day into $$$$ that directly fund our nonprofit ministry to support families affected by addiction? Click the e-donate button on the left side of our website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make a tax-deductible donation of your choice. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com so I can send you a receipt. I will sign and mail your copy directly.) THANK YOU!
  • Helping Honey & me pay for Yura & Pasha’s plane tickets ($3,500) that we so hastily (yet prayerfully) put on our Visa in faith that God was impressing us both to bring these boys into our home this summer: Click the e-donate button on the left side of our non-profit website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make your tax-deductible donation. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com to let me know who you are so I can send you a receipt. HUGE THANK YOU!