Nesting

An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective on New Motherhood

Hey first-time momma. I see that sparkle in your eyes—the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation, trepidation and celebration as you post and post and POST pictures of every tiny step leading to your little one’s arrival. You and daddy can’t hide your new-parent pride as you share the details of your journey toward the day you will meet your joy-boy face-to-face.

Cute new clothes neatly folded in his dresser. A closet filled with shoes and shirts and matching pants five sizes too big just because you know he will grow before your very eyes and you don’t want him to lack for one. single. thing. Matching bedding and wall art and family photos all perfectly placed to make him feel right at home in his bright new world.

Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and everybody who loves your family hold their collective breath as they wait and pray for arrival day. Each time you enter his room to straighten a not-really-crooked picture or fluff an already-fluffy pillow you feel like a kindergartener at Christmas, sneaking downstairs to peek at presents under the tree over and over until the magical morning finally dawns.

I see you standing in the nursery doorway, that wistful smile on your face as you dream of the day he will sleep in his very own bed and you will tuck him in and kiss his forehead and say goodnight prayers. Your joy cannot be contained, even when people tell you parenting is not for the fainthearted or the faithless, but for the bold and the fearless. Even when they tell you not to wear your beating heart on your sleeve, but to protect it with the shield of common sense and a tiny dose of pessimism so you won’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go as planned because, “There are birth defects and complications, you know and you must be prepared for these things.” That’s what the naysayers say, but you don’t hear them. You can’t hear them because your love-filled heart is beating too loudly to hear anything else.

You have felt the hand of God Himself move within your being as circumstances beyond your control or imagination came together to create this miraculous addition to your family. Your own faith increases day by day as you watch your Creator answer the deep desires of your heart. You will never take lightly your responsibility and calling to be a mother. You know too much of the inside story to ever believe, even for a millisecond, this wasn’t your path to follow.

You will do your utmost to model Jesus and to love and serve your family well. Sometimes you will fail. In the aftermath of those failures, you will kick yourself harder than you would ever kick anyone else in similar circumstances. Some days you will feel the very world on your shoulders as you carefully weigh out decisions you must make in order to keep peace and safety within your family. You will ache on the inside and smile on the outside as you watch your child learn to crawl and toddle and then walk away from you into a world filled with dangerous people and places you would never wish them to know. Your heart will sing a new song the first time you hear the word “Mom” and know it’s meant for you.  And you will turn your head away as tears burn your eyes when the sweet mouth that used to say, “I love you” forms the h-word as a bedroom door shuts right. in. your. face.

You will bow your head. You will touch that closed door and you will pray. You will wonder whether or not to knock or to walk away. And whatever you decide to do will be the wrong decision because that’s what happens a decade or so down the road when his nursery has morphed into a mini man-cave and you are no longer welcome with your hugs and care and goodnight prayers.

I know you can’t believe it now, as you wait and wait and wait for all that you’ve waited for. And I don’t want you to believe it. I pray something different for you. Something more like your dreams and less like your fears. My wish for you, sweet momma, is only roses on Mother’s Day and no thorns on any other day. You might look at me and silently say, “How do you know how I feel? What do you know about being a mom? You never carried a life for nine whole months, sticking out round in front of you for all the world to see. You can’t really know, can you?”

And I suppose I will never know the answers to your questions except to see myself reflected in your eyes as I witness your waiting and anticipating and creating the most perfect little nest you can afford to create. As I listen to your conversations and your self-revelations through each stage of your process as a first-time parent-to-be, I feel like I’m talking to the me I once knew before my nest became full of flying feathers and flapping wings, too quickly returning to empty and quiet and almost tidy.

Maybe my “babies” were already fifteen when they first arrived, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d waited a lifetime for their wide-eyed laughter and softhearted banter that made our house feel more like home. My heart grew as full as your nine-month belly as I rocked one and hugged the other before tucking them in each night. After their breathing grew heavy and steady, I’d whisper a prayer from their doorway, always dreading the day they’d fly away and be grown and gone out of sight.

All the plans and the clothes and the room decorations became Goodwill donations and memories and printed photos on my fridge reminding me how quickly things on earth can change. Yes, I see you first-time-momma. I know you. Once I even was you, cuz you know what? It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, how it happens, or how old your babies are when they land in your nest—when God puts that huge mama love in your heart, there is nothing and nobody who can change it or take it away.

You have a big adventure ahead—lots of twists and turns in life’s highway. Hold on. Chin up. Knees bent. Heart steady. You got this. And just remember, dear girl—all that stuff you feel deep, deep inside about your little one…your heavenly Father feels about YOU. When the going gets tough, let Him love you. Let Him hold you. Let Him keep all His promises until you are fully grown in Him. He will fight the forces that fight against your family and He will save your children. That’s God’s promise. He’s got a place prepared for you like nothing you can imagine. He will bring you and your children and your children’s children all the way home. Forever. Amen.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 NIV

A Bouquet of Empathy for Those Who Grieve on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all you non-bio mamas out there. I see you. I feel you. I am you.

2015 Five years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned yet another negative pregnancy test and celebrated the completion of my first book.

2016 Four years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the distance between Florida and Ukraine and celebrated the fact that very soon I would be a MOM!

2017 Three years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the quick passing of time as my “Boys of Summer” grew up before my eyes, and I celebrated the cards and chocolate and flowers they gave me on my first Mother’s Day as somebody’s mother.

2018 Two years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the loss of my joy and innocence as an adoptive mom and celebrated the truth that my sons were safe and healthy and had a better life they might have had if My Honey and I had not become their adoptive parents.

2019 One year ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the fact that my sons still call me by my first name and I celebrated the miracle that they would soon graduate from American high school. I was incredibly proud of them both.

2020 Today on Mother’s Day I mourn the missed opportunities to keep my mouth shut and love without expectations and celebrate the fact that I will soon be a grandma—in spirit, if not by name.

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

“Today would have been my mother’s birthday.” My Honey said the words softly.

“How old would she be?”

“Eighty-nine.”

No wonder he’s been quiet all day. Loss affects everyone differently, but it affects everyone. Even those who love those who have lost a loved one. Read that again. Yes, even us—the ones who are here, waiting…praying for their grief to go away. Sometimes it never does.

I’ve watched this thing called grief eat holes in the souls of people I love. Death is a caustic thing. Especially the death of a mother. Especially the death of the dreams of mothers.

When we live with or love someone who is trying to figure out how to grieve their loss, we risk getting shredded by the shrapnel of their anguish. It’s easy to make it all about us when our loved one’s pain and anger erupts from their personal volcano. Disappointment and sorrow flow like lava, sometimes swallowing entire households until no one can move or breathe anymore. I’ve survived this lava-flow more than once in my lifetime.

Unresolved grief destroyed my first marriage. I thought cocaine was the culprit, but that was just the numbing agent. Unresolved grief fueled his need to numb. I blamed the drug. I should have blamed the pain.

Unresolved grief came across the ocean on a plane from Ukraine nearly four years ago. Some baggage cannot be easily left behind. I didn’t see it when we picked up our luggage from carousel number three in Jacksonville International Airport. I missed it as our friends and neighbors and church family waved flags and balloons and hugged the four of us until we couldn’t breathe. It eluded me as I cooked and shopped and tried to teach two foreign teenagers how to read and write well in English.

Somehow, my joy of finally becoming a “mother” blinded me to the fact that my gain was their loss. While I longed for them to embrace me and call me mom, their hearts were holding on to the women who birthed them and gave them their DNA. I didn’t understand. I felt the resistance, the rejection, the full-blown hatred at times. But it wasn’t about me. Those were just the numbing agents. I blamed my precious boys. I should have blamed the pain.

On My sweet Honey’s deceased mother’s birthday, he withdrew. Then he snapped at me and withdrew again. Then he apologized. My head was spinning. My heart was hurt. Later he reminded me he was remembering his mother on her birthday, six years past her passing.

My Honey is a grown man. A Christian. A pastor, even. But he snapped like a Texas turtle when I got in his way on a day when grief reared her ugly raw head. I blamed My Honey for snapping. I should have blamed the pain.

If a mature adult can snap at someone they deeply love on a day when their heart is aching, imagine what an adopted teenager can do when all they have known and longed for is destroyed and replaced. They never asked for the circumstances that set them up for adoption. They didn’t dream their birth moms would disappear from their lives forever. Or be replaced by a woman whose love feels foreign or threatening to their fading memories of the person they miss more than anything in the world.

If I’ve learned any lesson in these five years between fertility testing and watching my teeny tiny window of nesting motherhood disappear in the rearview of reality, it’s this: Don’t expect anything for yourself from anyone who is grieving. I will say it again. For anyone out there who is trying to be a mom to someone who did not come from your own womb: Crucify your expectations of what it will be like to be an adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother or any other kind of mother. You. Have. No. Idea. I know I certainly didn’t.

I knew what I wanted. I knew what I needed. I knew what I was going to do and how I was going to make this happy little life for all of us. And I KNEW how much I loved my boys. But they didn’t. And they couldn’t. And nearly five years later, they still can’t. And you know what? It’s okay.

Because I know I did my very best with what I had.

Could I have been more trauma-informed? Yes. Could I have been less afraid of bad things happening and less protective of the darling boys I loved so much? Yes. Could I have had thicker skin and a better sense of humor when things got tense and words got cruel? Yes. But, could I have loved them or wanted life’s very best for them one ounce more than I did or do? No. They might not know that yet, but I do. God does. And one day, maybe they will, too. I hope so. I pray so. I believe so.

Whatever your mama-story, dear reader ~ I am praying for you today. I understand some of those feelings that make Mother’s Day difficult for moms like us. Maybe you can give your son or daughter the gift of helping them remember or honor their birth mom in some way today. And maybe you can set yourself and your family free from the trappings of expectation. Whether or not you receive anything with Hallmark written on the back, you ARE an amazing mom. You ARE doing your best. You ARE doing unto Christ whatever your do for His precious kids. And He will remember you when He comes again to take us all home to a place where there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more death.

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

Regardless of the symptoms of their children’s grief and pain, or the choices their children make, with God’s power and presence in them, “Mothers are patient, mothers are kind. They do not envy, They do not boast, they are not proud. They do not dishonor others, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Mothers do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. A mother’s love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (Adapted from the NIV)

Photo Credit: Sarah Alfield – Thank you for capturing this sweet memory of My Honey and his mother.

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

image1     

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

Kissing The Scars

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

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

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

Jesus tasted that ache. He understands.

 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

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

Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV

IMG_9592

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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).

Coming Home

“What if he doesn’t want to come home?”

My Honey’s text, in response to our teen’s latest social media profile picture, inflicts heart palpitations as I sink into my car after school.

These are the words I’m too afraid to verbalize. The words I keep shoving to the back of my overanxious mind. The very words that threaten to melt what’s left of my mascara as I put my car in drive and back out of my parking space in the school lot. It’s after four. Most teachers have already gone. I sit at the edge of the county road, my blinker flashing, waiting for the wave of emotion to pass before I begin the forty-minute drive that connects my two worlds.County RoadSchool is my predictable world, where nothing and everything changes. Year in. Year out. The sweet little faces change. Routines remain. Sixty minutes of math. A planning period. Two hours of literacy activities. Lunch. Recess. Then Science, more writing, and a dismissal bell that sends us scrambling for the door. For eighteen years, I’ve lived and breathed variations of this familiar regimen.

On the other side of those forty minutes lies home. Home, where My Honey writes sermons and newsletters and spends countless hours tending to the lost and wounded sheep of our small church flock. Home, where my still-packed suitcase and a box of unsold books from my weekend recovery seminar take up space on our living room floor. Home, where Honey finally dumped the leftover borscht that waited in the fridge for too many days to mention because I’m in denial about the fact that our soup-maker is back in a Ukrainian orphanage with no return date in sight.

I’ve struggled since our boys left seventeen days ago. Struggled to accept the fact that they are truly gone. Struggled to return to my normal routines. Struggled to trust that God will expedite the adoption paperwork so they can be home by springtime.

Honk! The driver of the car behind me forces me into the present. I pull onto the road and reach for the radio. I like it loud. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” David Crowder repeats the phrase several times as my RAV4 hums down the highway.

I know it’s true, God. You can heal every sorrow. You’ve already healed so many of mine. I’ve seen You in action. I even preached about it last weekend to that audience in Houston. Why does my heart so easily forget what my head knows to be true?”

I turn down Crowder so I can better hear God.

What was it that You said to me this morning? From Psalm 91?

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (verses 1-2).

How do I DWELL in Your secret place? I can’t seem to stay there. I come and go. I trust then I doubt. I allow fear to swallow me whole when circumstances seem overwhelming. I’ve been in this place before. I remember the hollowness of cynicism, the disquietude of dread.”

As I drive I recall my former life. The life I lived before I met My Honey. The life I lived as the wife of a chemically dependent Christian. I remember anxious hours of waiting for him to come home from binging. I spent days wondering if he ever would come home; worrying about whether he even wanted to come home.

It was during those hollow years that I learned to trust God; that I began seeking recovery for myself and my own addictions — addictions to enabling and rescuing and controlling. I remember the milestones I made with Jesus as He taught me to depend upon Him and to release my former spouse to the consequences of his own choices.

Why, God, are those old fear-based issues rearing their ugly heads in my present circumstance?”

God and I talk straight. He knows me. I just don’t know myself right now. I’m acting in out-of-character ways. At least, out of character for the new creation I have become since learning to walk in recovery. I want to know why.

Without thinking, I turn left onto the familiar road that will lead me home. Honey is waiting. We are going out for “Date Night.” I hope to have my heart settled before I reach him. It’s not fair that I brought baggage into our marriage. I didn’t want it to, but a little luggage still came along for the ride. Sometimes it pops right out into the open and surprises both of us (not in a good way). I don’t want that to happen tonight. I need to figure this out with God before I unleash my mixed-up emotions on my undeserving spouse.

“What am I afraid of?”

I wait. I pray. I remember.

I remember the sweet taste of motherhood after the endless ache of an empty womb. I remember preparing my home and heart for a baby girl — the hope, the joy, the weight of her tiny body in my arms. I remember the silence after she never came back. The empty crib. The unread bedtime stories. The blanket of darkness that enveloped my soul.

Is that what this is, God? Am I afraid they will not return?”

The same thing happened after they left last August. I fought the darkness with paperwork. Mountains of adoption paperwork that meant there was hope for our future as a family of four. We started a fundraising campaign. People donated. Doors opened. God gave us the green light. We asked the boys. They said, “Yes!” (Actually, they said “Of course! Are you crazy? We love you too much!”)

This winter visit was different. They are more grown up. More mature. How did they become wise to the ways of this world in just four short months? One has a girlfriend — the source of my angst. The reason for Honey’s text. The focus of my fear.Selfie CoupleMaybe he will love her more than he loves us. Maybe he will not want to come home. Maybe his hormones will override his good sense and our love and preparation and sacrifice will be in vain.” I verbalize my fears to The Father.

Maybe you just need to release him to Me. Maybe you need to trust Me in this situation. Maybe you need to stop trying to control this.” He shoots straight. It hurts.

When things feel out of my control, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, I tend to try to control something. Or someone. But, how do you control a teenager who is 5,620 miles away? How do you stop him from posting kissing selfies on social media? How do you convince him that dating anyone right now is not wise, because someone is going to get hurt when he comes to America for good? You can’t. You just have to release him to God. You have to trust that God is in control of this and that He will do everything He knows to do to work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him. For MY good. For My Honey. For our boys.

I choose to trust You with these boys.” I say the words aloud as I see the sign that names my street. “I am powerless over others.” I repeat part of Step 1 from my Co-Dependents Anonymous Handbook.

I remember the rest of the mantra as I turn into my driveway: “In this moment, I do not have to control anyone, including me. And If I feel uncomfortable with what another person is doing or not doing, I can remind myself that I am powerless over this person and I am powerless over my compulsion to act in inappropriate ways.”

Father, I release my desire to control the futures of these boys to You. You were their Father long before I desired to be their mother. You have held them through hell and grown them into good and kind young men. You have laid them heavy upon Honey’s heart. And mine. You are making provision to bring them home. I will dwell in Your secret place. I will say, “You are my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

I put my car in park, turn off the ignition and step out. Grabbing my lunch bag and purse, I shut the door in Fear’s face and walk down our sidewalk. I will not look back. I turn my key in the lock and open my heart to hope.

Honey, I’m home.”Toby Mac Worry and Faith

Love & Self-Protection & Goodbye

Today a boy turned down a hug (and a kiss, “Ughhhh!”) from this wanna-be momma whose nest has been empty forever. He wants to be cool in front of his friends. Keep his facade. Feel no emotion. Tries hard to avoid the inevitable final goodbye.

Yesterday, Honey hugged our boys goodbye in the van as we left for Atlanta. He couldn’t come. He had to work. I captured the moment with my phone.

A small herd of Ukranian orphans marches toward the security gate after two hours of agonizing waiting with host families whose hearts are heavy with the unexpected feeling that one of our own is walking away and there is nothing we can do about it. The boy brushes past me, heading for the front of the pack. “Goodbye,” he whispers casually in passing, as if we’d just met. As if our hearts are in no way entangled.

Walking away

“I’m not letting you off that easy.” I toss the words to the back of his head as he blends into a group of teenage boys wearing pristine Christmas-Nikes and warm winter coats; coats that will wrap down-filled arms around them on freezing Ukraine mornings when no moms or dads are there to hug them off to school. He does not respond.

I wait at the back of the group, my other boy at my elbow where he’s hovered for most of the day. He’s quiet. More so than usual. This morning at our hotel he sneaked up behind me, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist as I scraped stuff off the nightstand into my overnight bag. He wanted my phone, to message his girlfriend on VK. Perhaps he also wanted to hug me when no one else was looking.

We had our moment, my boys and I. I know it was God’s gift to me this morning as I sat propped against pillows in a king-size bed with my Bible and journal open. The boy who now wants nothing to do with me came in first. Flopping face down in front of my crisscrossed legs, he unashamedly demanded, “Scratch my back.” I could not refuse. Soon the other one entered the room wearing a “What are you doing?” expression. He flopped down, also. Not too close. No bare skin. Face turned away. I reached for his arm. Tugged him closer. Scratched his bony back through a thin, grey shirt.

“Keep them in Your palm, Lord God,” I prayed as morning sunlight filtered through the drapes, warming the backs of their heads. I placed my hands there, in the sun’s warmth, ruffling the coarse waves of the dark-haired one and smoothing the fine, straight strands of the other. “You promise, right here in your Word. Isaiah 43 verses 1 and 2, that they are YOURS. That You have redeemed them. That You call them by name. That you will be with them through the ‘waters’ and through the ‘fire.’ God, I do not know exactly what ‘water’ and ‘fire’ is ahead for these guys. I am afraid of the unknown. I know nothing of the life they live when they are not living life with Honey and me. They grew up too much between our summer hosting and December. Experienced too much. Hurt too much. I don’t want them to go back to that unknown. I want them to stay right here. It’s hard to let them go.”

I know about letting go. I’ve done it before. I’ve loved and lost a child I thought was mine. Watched her grow up from afar. Wished I could hold her and love her and be in her world. I know this path of choosing to release them to Jesus. I believe He honors His promises to praying mothers, and surrogate mothers, godmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers and grandmothers. When we pray God’s Word back to Him, claiming those promises for our kiddos, those words are not empty or useless. Our prayers for our loved ones are never unheard or unattended to. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me void (useless, without result), Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

I held that promise in my heart as I held my boys for the last time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

Thank you, God, for this moment,” I prayed as love flowed from my fingertips. “Help them to be able to receive and believe Your love for them. Help Honey and me to be able to show what that looks like when they come home for good. I’m holding You to Your promise in Isaiah 43:5 and 6. That You WILL bring them home for good.”

“Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—“ (NKJV)

“Let’s pray,” I said, bringing an end to our moment as time became our enemy. They offered their hands. To me. To one another. We formed our usual circle of prayer. They prayed in Ukrainian. I prayed in English. God understood every word.

~~~~~~~~~

 At the airport, the chaperone is speaking. “You have two minutes to say your final goodbyes before we go,” she announces in both languages. Families embrace their hosted kiddos; some for the final time, some “until next time.” Tears are shed. Promises made.

I rush to the front of the group to touch the arm of the boy who walked away without a hug. I turn him toward me as love wells up, spilling onto my cheeks. That same sweet boy who demanded affection only hours earlier becomes rigid with resistance as I reach for him. It is awkward. Embarrassing. Painful.

Returning to the back of the line, I find the other one with his game face on. “Goodbye,” he says, eyes pleading for me not to make a scene. We halfway hug. “I love you,” I state, (even though he already knows). He nods, then melts into a sea of boys with backpacks.Airport SecurityI stand with the other families who wave and smile through their tears. Two young girls jump up and down from the other side of the barrier. They are waving, smiling ­­- encouraging their “mom” not to cry. I do not wave. My boys do not turn around. I stay here until the backs of their familiar heads disappear through the checkpoint. Another host mom stands next to me. She places her arms around me and gives me the hug I long for. Our tears flow. We are not ashamed. We understand the Father’s lavish love. Through Him we will show our orphaned kids how to give and receive unconditional love. There’s no shame in that.

 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV)

~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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