Keeping It Real

Shame slams me like a hurricane, instantly eroding every ounce of pretense as my sixteen-year-old son’s quiet words silence my verbal hailstorm. “Somebody hears this.” He nods toward our open door. I nod at my neighbor across the street (whom I haven’t even met yet), frozen on her ladder with Christmas-light-laden arms mid-air as she stares. I am mortified.

Closing the door I continue arguing with the other taller-than-me-now teen folded into a too-small beanbag. “I doesn’t want to go.” Arms crossed, chin set, resistance evident in every visible body part, he waits for my reaction. Resisting the compulsive urge to correct his newly acquired English, I shovel guilt, thick and cold as the December snow his friends sludge through on their way to school back in Ukraine.

“If you don’t come, nobody comes. Then we waste all the money we spent on tickets. Is that what you want?”dinomomHi, I’m Juliet. I struggle with codependency that manifests in perfectionism and control. I have relapsed. Badly.

My addiction to control is so out of control that my whole household blew up (not literally, but nearly). The above incident happened a month ago on the morning I had planned to take my sons to Universal Studios as a reward for great behavior in school and on the four-day road trip we took to promote my book at a recording studio in Illinois. (It’s a looooong drive from Florida to Illinois. Just sayin’. They totally earned Universal.) Sadly, since that morning I’ve had multiple trips backward into my ugly codependent default as I’ve tried to find my feet as a new mom of teens.

Week after week for years I’ve repeated Step 1 and it’s companion scripture in my Celebrate Recovery group:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18

Week after week for years I’ve felt fairly good about my progress. Yes, I messed up sometimes. Yes, God (and people) forgave me, and yes, I grew from each backwards step into codependency’s predictable patterns of control. But lately…I’ve seen ugly glimpses of who I was a decade ago. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has witnessed my dark side. I don’t think my family is scarred for life, but trust will definitely take time to rebuild.

I am still broken in hidden places. The pressure cooker in my soul exploded last Sabbath as I sobbed on my bedroom floor after yet another confrontation. Embarrassed by Friday’s outbursts that prompted a late-night intervention by our teen savvy friends; frustrated by the fact that they got our sons to talk rather than tantrum and even a little jealous of the honest communication that commenced between them, I poured my heart out to Jesus. He showed me it wasn’t any of those things that was breaking my spirit. He showed me that I was projecting the emotional pain I experienced in my first marriage onto my kids. I was allowing their words and actions to cut too deep. I let them trigger my deepest wound – rejection. I need a thicker skin. For crying out loud – they are KIDS!

I want everything to be Christmas card perfect, but it’s not. img_3060In the three months we’ve been home from Ukraine, it’s­ been more like Christmas-baking-messy. Sticky-messy like when you spill flour on the counter top and try to use a damp dishcloth to wipe it up. Messy like when your bowl is too shallow for the electric mixer and you spackle your backsplash with cookie dough. Or messy like what happens when you and your Honey, six-years-married and childless, adopt unrelated foreign teenage boys and try to find your feet as a new family.

My Sis texted me some advice the other day. It’s pretty good stuff. I’m not sure where she got it, but she’s not new to parenting and I believe she’s right. Here’s what Sis said in regard to the unwanted behavior we’ve experienced in our household lately, mine included:

“Behavior has to be compartmentalized. Behavior never determines whether or not you are loved. Behavior does not necessarily define the heart. It is a reaction, a trigger that demonstrates that a child (or a person) does not have coping skills. Behavior does not determine whether or not we are part of this family. God does not love us based on our behavior. He demonstrates unconditional love, and it’s not performance-based. Everyone has a choice. We can choose to love, despite behavior. We can choose to stay, despite behavior. We can only control ourselves, not others. We can say to our kids, ‘I choose you, despite your behavior today. I’m not leaving, despite your behavior.’”

We pressed the reset button as a family. Today is a new day. Today I choose love. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose hope. I choose to stop being discouraged by the unrealistic expectations of myself, and others. I choose to be humble and apologetic. I choose to stop acting like a maniac and scaring my Honey, my kids, and my new neighbors.

I choose to say, “I love you;” even if I never hear the words reciprocated. I choose to be a mom; even when it hurts that they don’t call me mom. I choose to be real and to let myself be loved in the ways that they choose, not the ways I expect. Because, like the Velveteen Rabbit in that timeless children’s story, I become more real when somebody loves me. I just can’t dictate when they love me or how they love me.

Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. When you’re real, you can trust that God’s love is enough to sustain you when fickle human hearts let you down. When you’re real, you can give grace to those who are learning how to walk in His footsteps and grace to yourself when you misstep. When you’re real you can blog again, even though you don’t have much to say except, “Keep coming back.” Come back to where you were before you took that wrong turn. Come back to the heart of the One who understands your heart. Come back to the basics. Step 1. “I am powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors,” but God is powerful. I don’t have to go back. I’m not who I was. Today, I am a new creation. I am free to love freely.office“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

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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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

The Path to Vulnerability

Hi, I’m Juliet. I’m a grateful believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and I’ve been hiding. I know it’s silly. After all this work, this writing, this wringing of my heart onto paper. But now that the paper is bound together and wrapped in a cover that I love, and even fought for…I hide. What is that?Same Dress Cover June 2015

I check the mail each day, heart pounding, hoping to see if the paperback proof has arrived. Dreading the truth that once I hold it in my hands, it is real. And a real book must have readers. And readers have opinions and thoughts and feedback and criticisms. And what if I’m not strong enough to stand beneath the weight of those things?

Weeks, no months now, have passed with me barely writing anything new, hardly communicating with the platform of readers I’ve been tenderly, carefully growing for the past two years. Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I went back to teaching full time in January. And yes, I’ve been editing and re-editing my manuscript and waffling about the cover design. But mostly, I’ve been hiding.

Brené Brown is one of my heroes. If you haven’t seen her Ted Talks on “Listening to Shame” and “The Power of Vulnerability,” please do yourself the favor and set aside 40 minutes to view them both. Even though I’ve seen them, AND read her book, Daring Greatly, I need a refresher course on vulnerability, because, for weeks I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” I need a Texas-style, Brené Brown kick-in-the-pants reminder, because somewhere along the way toward publishing this memoir, I’ve slipped in a puddle of shame, and fallen into the sinkhole called fear. I’ve been tempted to, as Brené would say, “stand outside the arena.”

You see, as she says in her Ted Talk on shame, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.” I need to find my way back to you, the people I’m writing for. And I know vulnerability is the way. I just don’t know what I’m afraid of. Perhaps I’m afraid of my book not being perfect.Farm RoadMs. Brown says, It’s “seductive” to stand outside the arena, and think we’re going to wait until we are “bulletproof and perfect” before we do anything.

I’ve fallen for the seduction. I’ve been writing and re-writing. Editing and re-editing. Waffling between the “cutting edge” designs of my hired graphic artists and the book cover image I had in my head – the one that inspired the title of my memoir. But then I re-read this quote from Brené Brown’s shame talk: “And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in… and…to dare greatly.”

You really don’t want “perfect,” do you? You want real. Right?

My book is not perfect. I am not perfect. I am afraid to be this real, this raw, this transparent. I don’t want anyone to read my memoir -even though I’ve written as honestly and frankly as I could about the equally deadly addictions of codependency and cocaine. I feel like I’m opening my soul for the world to pick apart like a bunch of hungry vultures. (Forgive the analogy. I’m sure it’s more than a little harsh. But, that’s how I feel.) But, the “world” isn’t the audience I wrote for. I wrote for the people who will “get” me because they have suffered the singular pain of loving a person with a life-destroying addiction. Or, they love someone who loves someone caught in the claws of addiction, and they long to better understand what their loved one is going through.

I want those people to read my memoir. Why? Because I want you to know that if I can do this, you can, too. You can be real with God and believe that He hears your cries when you are alone in your bed after the worst of betrayals. You can survive heartbreak and heartache and the deep physical ache of brokenness in all its forms. And you too can tell your story in such a way that God will use it to bring hope and healing to someone else’s brokenness. I want you to be inspired with hope by my story – a story of God’s faithfulness to me despite my imperfections, my poor choices, my stubbornness and my own unfaithfulness.

So, I am choosing to dare greatly. I choose to enter the arena. I will continue, by God’s grace and mercy, to write and speak and share my story. I will make my book available to real flesh and blood readers. I will brace myself for any criticism and trust God to thicken my skin as I share my soul with you. I will continue to blog here. I will not hide any longer.

Thank you for letting me share.

Juliet

“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket. Empathy is the antidote to shame.” Brené Brown

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en