Mary Had a Little Lamb

The simple notes of a childhood song slice through the silence. Angry silence, silence holding our family hostage eight days and counting. No one on the outside knows the strain that punishing silence has placed on our fragile family bond. A stranger peering through our picture window might even envy the image they see. Framed by chevron-printed curtains on the other side of the glass sits a family of four—smiling mother, fully present father, teenage sons cradling musical instruments in man-sized hands.violin

I’m the mother. (“Only on paper” of course, as my child was painfully quick to point out only hours ago.) I sit on my sage-colored sofa, legs tucked, tears threatening to spoil the fragile pages of my open Bible.

Only You, God can author such a midnight miracle. Only You, sweet Jesus. Only You… My prayer of praise is a silent sigh of relief as I search the faces of my husband and five-months-yesterday-home-from-Ukraine sons.

Let’s back up a few minutes…

“Would anyone like to come to worship?” My Honey’s nightly question hangs in the air for a moment then plummets into the cavernous silence that has only been broken by expletives and anger from our sweet Boys of Summer. My Honey smiles at me with weary eyes and for the first time in months, picks up his guitar. He strums a few chords, tightens a couple of strings, strums again and begins to play.

“I’ve been redeemed,” he softly sings.

“I’ve been redeemed,” I echo.

“By the blood of the Lamb.” Honey’s voice is sweet.

“By the blood of the Lamb.” My voice cracks.

“I’ve been redeemed.” He sings it again.

“I’ve been redeemed.” I try to match his bravery.

“By the blood of the Lamb.” Louder now.

“By the blood of the Lamb.” I repeat the phrase, letting go of the last note just as Honey begins the chorus.

We sing in unison. “I’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb, filled with the Holy Ghost I am. All my sins are washed away. I’ve been redeemed!”

One by one our sons appear. The first is lanky and shirtless, with grease-stained fingers clutching a shiny new flute. He sinks deep into our other sofa—stone-faced, hazel eyes hard. I do not flinch when he stares at me although yesterday’s hateful words still smart in my heart. Our second son stands cautious on one foot, his other knee pressing the sofa’s arm, his own muscular arms holding a delicate bow and violin, his eyes avoiding mine.

That’s okay, God. At least he’s here. He’s right here. How long has it been since we were all in the same room together?

“Do you want to hear my flute?” Hard-eyes asks Honey.

“Of course! Did you learn a new song at your lesson last night?”

“Yes. It’s easy.” With that, our big, big boy begins to play his instrument with confidence.

“Wow!” Did you learn all of that in just four lessons? Honey’s surprise is genuine, his praise lavish.

“Will you play it with me on your guitar?” the flutist asks in his newfound “I’m a man now” voice.

“Write down the notes for me and I will try.” My husband hands him a scrap of paper. We wait as notes are transcribed into letters that make more sense to a guitarist who doesn’t really read music.

Suddenly the violin interrupts the silence. I hold my breath as I watch a miracle unfold before us. Our Violinist, with just five lessons under his belt begins his repertoire, stopping only when notes are not pure and warm. He starts again. And again until it sounds just right. Then comes his question. The first words offered freely from the Violinist to My Honey in eight angry days.

“Can you play my song?”

Shocked but not showing it, Honey replies, “Sure. I will try. Bring me your music so I can look.”

The Violinist takes a step toward Honey. A step toward reconciliation. A step toward peace again in our home. Thank you, Jesus. We need peace. I am so battle weary.

Within minutes, The Violinist, The Flutist, and The Guitarist discover their ability to play the same song — a song every fledgling musician knows by heart. EDCD EEE DDD EEE, EDCD EEE DDEDC. “Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow…”

So here I sit, in awe. A week of chaos calmed by a melody. Unity. Cooperation. Teamwork. Timing. Those nebulous concepts whose value we struggle to convey to our newfound family members – coming together right here in a simple song about Mary and her little lamb. Counting and nodding in unison, my husband and sons strum, flute and fiddle together as the atmosphere in our home shifts from darkness to light, from chaos to compromise, agitation to agreement, stony silence to serenity.

After music comes conversation, reconciliation, the restoration of a broken relationship. Sometime in the wee morning hours Honey and I finally crash. Our household rests at last.

It’s been a long day. A long week. A long five months. A life season perhaps only those who have bravely adopted teenagers from institutions in Eastern Europe could possibly imagine. It’s been never ending ups and downs and highs and lows, victories and defeats that leave our heads spinning and our hearts bleeding as we end our days clutching hands under the covers, sometimes too tired to even pray.

Tonight will be different from last night. Tonight our bedtime prayers will be praise as we pour out thankful hearts to God for His power, His mercy, His ability to work through our prayer team to intercede for our family and help us battle the generational strongholds and spirits seeking to destroy our beautiful boys from the inside out.

Tonight we have reprieve. Tonight our home is in order, our hearts are at peace, our sons are back in the fold, and the spirits of intimidation and fear dispelled in the name of Jesus. Tonight no weapon formed against our family will prosper (Isaiah 54:17). Tonight, because of Mary and her little Lamb, whose red blood was shed for me and my family, the silence is broken and we can sing in our sleep, “I’ve been redeemed, by the blood of the Lamb…”

Resources for parents battling in the spiritual realm for their kids and families:pray-gods-word

More Scriptures to Pray:

“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

“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 contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save.” Isaiah 49:25 Father, go to______ right now and save him/her from whatever he/she is doing to destroy him/herself.

Daily Prayer with 44 Scriptures

Books to Order:Praying Parent Book.jpg

Power of a Praying Parent

Prayers That Avail Much

If you believe God may be calling you to make your home a mission field,  now is the time to begin planning for summer hosting with Host Ukraine .

p.s. This song keeps me moving forward when everything in me wants to crawl back into bed and hide from the challenge ahead. Singing these words helps me to believe them: It Is Well with my soul.

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.

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)

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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

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

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

Freestyling

Dear Reader,

The theme of my book, Same Dress, Different Day, is “God redeems the dreams we thought were lost.” This post is evidence of one way he is doing that in my life. In HIS way. In His time. If you haven’t yet read my memoir, you may not fully be able to appreciate the depth of what takes place in the story that follows. If you have read my memoir, I know you will be freestyling with me at the end of this story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I had a meeting with Joelle today,” Honey announced as he changed into a long-sleeved shirt with the CREATION Health logo stitched in white lettering. He was on his way to the YMCA to lead a class on healthy lifestyle choices.

“Oh, how’d it go?”

“Well, we didn’t talk about community building, as planned. I took the boys along. IMG_4444Joelle and I spent the whole time watching them Jet-Ski with her husband, Ken. She was super curious about them. She wanted to know the whole story of how we ended up with two teenage Ukrainian orphans for the summer,” he responded, grabbing his CREATION Health bag and pressing a kiss onto my forehead as he pressed the garage door opener.”

A few minutes later, Honey texts.

Please call me at your earliest convenience.

“What did you forget?” I joke when he answers his phone.

“Nothing. I just heard from Joelle. She and Ken want to meet us at the Y after my class tonight.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She just said they want the four of us to speak together. Can you bring the boys to work out while we visit?”

“I guess so.”

Lord, why do they want to meet with us?

I receive the answer to my silent prayer moments after we sit down with Ken and Joelle. I hold my breath as polite small talk paves the way for much bigger talk than I am prepared for.

“What would it take to adopt the boys?” Joelle’s question knocks the wind out of my summer hosting sails.

Honey explains as much as he knows of the procedure as my brain scrambles to process the emotions her question just uncapped. I listen as Joelle and Ken share their heartfelt interest in the future of the two teenagers who intensely play table tennis just outside the glass doors of the YMCA’s conference room.

We’re supposed to advocate for them, right, God? Isn’t that the whole purpose of the hosting program? Why do I feel possessive of them? Why are my emotions on edge as I listen to this conversation? Shouldn’t I be happy that someone is interested in them?

I struggle to stay present in the conversation as my heart rate increases and the obnoxious lump in my throat grows to the size of a clementine.

Our meeting ends with an invitation to bring the boys to Ken and Joelle’s on Thursday for a cookout so their extended family can get to know them.

Why do I feel like crying?

I quiz God on the way home as the Boy beside me changes the radio station to something I’ve never heard and the Boy in the backseat proclaims, “Yes! I like this song.”

Driving“How do you even know this song?” I shout into the rear view mirror at the smiling teen who is full on freestyling despite the constraints of his seatbelt.

I know the song that plays in my head. The one I’ve been trying to block for weeks: the one that started out slow, with the simple rhythm of learning to love two strangers. The one that daily increases with intensity as the time for their departure nears and Honey and I avoid the “A-word” that nobody else seems afraid to say. The song that began all those years ago in chapter 7 of my book (Same Dress, Different Day) when I gave my heart to a brown-eyed baby girl and set my sights on adoption.

I know that song – the song whose chorus rings in my ears whenever I allow myself to dream those I-wanna-be-somebody’s-mamma dreams. It’s a song I’ve spent years playing with the volume completely down because I know the searing pain of disappointment. But sometimes something happens that blasts the volume on my silent CD and, like the Boy in the backseat, I feel the music deep in my soul and it moves me in strange and unusual ways.

The day we went to Ken and Joelle’s for dinner was a day I was unable to control my Mamma Song’s volume. I wanted to shout, “Stop looking at them like that! They’re not puppies for sale in some shop window. They’re boys. Kind boys whose eyes are filled with stories they have not yet shared with me, boys whose hearts have been hurt by their hand-me-down lives, but who still hold their heads high with dignity. Boys who live each moment with joy, spilling it all over Honey and me. Hey! Those are my boys!”

Yeah, it was hard to smile and nod and eat macaroni salad without breaking my plastic fork. My emotions were drunk driver erratic as I watched Joelle and Ken’s family watching the boys. I had to step inside the powder room to pray. More than once.

God! What is up with me? I should be THRILLED that these people see the boys’ potential. Thrilled they want to give them a better future than the one they face when they go back to Ukraine. Why am I not feeling this?

Fast-forward five days. Ken and Joelle have invited the four of us for dinner again. This time it’s at Your Pie, our favorite pizza place. I am not hungry.

“God spoke to me as I walked and prayed this morning,” Joelle begins. “He does that sometimes. Ken knows.” She made eye contact with her husband.

Are those tears I see in his eyes, Lord? Oh, God. I don’t know if I can take this.

Joelle continues speaking. I follow one Boy with my eyes as he rides his skateboard between tables on the restaurant’s outside patio. The other Boy plays Keep Away with Ken and Joelle’s daughter and granddaughter.

“Yeah. God said I heard Him correctly the other day when I felt we were supposed to be involved in these kids’ lives. I just got the details wrong. Today He clarified things.” Joelle made eye contact, first with André, then me, before continuing, “God was very clear that you two are supposed to be the ones to adopt them. Ken and I are just supposed find ways to help you do that and provide support as you parent them. We want to financially help you get started with the adoption process. And we’d also like to commit to helping with the boys’ education.”

I put my head down on the table at my favorite pizza place and wept. Then I looked at My Honey. His eyes were moist as he nodded “Yes” to my unspoken question. That’s when I started freestyling as the volume on my Mama Song shot through the roof!

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Honey and I humbly invite you to be part of this story.

Because the adoption process is lengthy and expensive for adopting two children from different orphanages in two different regions of Ukraine, we are starting a Go Fund Me account to give other people the opportunity to join Ken and Joelle in the adventure of supporting André and me as we seek to make our dream of adopting Yura and Pasha a reality. Please feel free to share our journey with others who may also be moved to help us become a family of four._DSC4874

Click HERE To Participate in Our Adoption Journey.

Goodbye Fear, Goodbye Boys

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

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

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

I thought I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m struggling to trust Him with mine.

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

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

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

I remember our final moments:

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t.”

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

“You didn’t forget. You said it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.