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.

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

Painkiller Addiction – The Problem I Never Knew I Had

I‘d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Mel Harbin, to our community. Mel reached out to me via email a few weeks ago and shared her story. I invited her to share it with you. Sometimes it’s easy to point fingers at the “hardcore” addictions and to downplay the ones that affect soccer moms, educators and clergy. If we have a God-shaped void in our lives, it can easily get filled by things that will drag us down. Thank you, Mel, for your vulnerability.

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My name is Mel, and I’m a drug addict. But I don’t fit the picture you’ve probably formed in your mind. I’m one of the silent majority – a perfectly presentable addict with a job, a family, and a house in the leafy suburbs. I work in an office, I get coffee with my friends, I exchange polite small talk with other moms at the school gates – but I’m an addict nonetheless.

I’m a painkiller addict, you see.woman and drugs Society prefers to think of addiction as something which only affects a stereotyped few – addicts, we imagine, are insane, wild-eyed, filthy creatures who live beneath bridges. It couldn’t happen to nice, middle-class people like us, could it? In fact, the majority of drug addicts within this nation are ‘people like us’. Prescription drug abuse is an enormous problem – death by prescription drug overdose kills more people per year than heroin and cocaine combined, yet still society is unwilling to change its very fixed ideas about substance abusers. It’s this which led to my downfall. I simply didn’t think that a mom of two like me could be an addict – I didn’t fit the pattern!

Slippery Slope

My descent into addiction began very simply. I had strained my back during my first pregnancy, and my second pregnancy messed it up for good. This was my own fault. Rather than relaxing while pregnant, I took pride in powering on with my work right up until I went into labor. This is not an uncommon trait within painkiller addicts – often we start taking them in the first place because we’re simply too driven. Rather than slow down when ill, we pop a pill. After my son was born, I was prescribed Vicodin to ease my excruciating back pain. I was given strict dosage instructions, to which I didn’t give a whole amount of thought, if I’m honest. I just kind of assumed that I would stick roughly to the dosage, and all would be well.

Addiction Sets In

Vicodin was great. Not only did it numb my back pain, it seemed to fill something of an existential void. I’d pop a Vicodin and my pain would disappear, taking with it a previously unregistered issue which had been gnawing at the back of my mind. In retrospect I can see that this ‘void’ was a spiritual one – my soul’s yearning for God. At the time I just dismissed it as stress. Without really noticing it, I began to rely on Vicodin for both pain and ‘stress relief’. I was just as driven as ever, determined to overachieve in everything, despite having a lot on my plate. I was trying to be the perfect wife to my husband, trying to care for my two young sons, and trying to advance my career at the same time. Vicodin – for a while – facilitated my unhealthy perfectionism. It masked the stress, masked the pain, masked everything. It wasn’t long before I began to gradually up my dosage  – telling myself that my back was bad today and I needed the extra help, or that I could use a boost to get myself through this or that meeting.

The End And The Beginning

DSC_9489Warning bells should have rung when I began to feel sick after missing Vicodin doses, or when I took to visiting different doctors to supplement my prescription, or when I spent my mornings driving for miles to collect prescriptions at different pharmacies. But it took my youngest son – by then aged three – to reveal the extent of my problem. My husband found him in the process of trying to get the ‘candy’ out of a pot of hidden Vicodin – unsuccessfully (praise be to God).

My husband was already concerned about me. Due entirely to the effects of the Vicodin I was taking, I was suffering from wild mood swings, and behaving increasingly irrationally. I was falling to pieces, and both my family and my career were suffering. Upon seeing our son shaking the Vicodin bottle, things began to add up for my husband. He searched the house, and found that I’d stashed Vicodin in several hiding places. When I got home from work, he confronted me. It was an ugly scene. While he was reasonable and calm, my Vicodin-addicted brain would rather that I broke up with my husband than that I broke up with Vicodin.

So I went into meltdown. I screamed, I cried, I threatened to leave him. “You’re an addict,” my husband responded. “You need help.” I denied it hysterically. But, as the now familiar withdrawal symptoms began to make themselves felt, his words began to sink in.

An Ongoing Process

I am now ‘clean’ of Vicodin, and have been for some years. With the love and support of my husband and sons I’ve been able to ride out the rough times and get my life back on track. To this day I don’t know how much I was taking – I just know that that I’d pop a pill whenever I began to feel even slightly off color. This is not a healthy way to deal with one’s problems.

Finding God was a major help. Learning to rely on the unswerving, unconditional love of God rather than constantly having to prove myself through perfectionism was a huge relief, and caused me to make major changes to my life. I now ‘let go and let God’ when I feel pressured, rather than reaching for a chemical solution. I am happier, and our family is rock solid. I do have some concerns about the future of my boys – they say that addiction runs in the family – but I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep them safe from the scourge that nearly destroyed me.  I will certainly try to ensure that they never experience that same spiritual ‘void’ which proved so influential in my own descent into Vicodin hell.

~~~

The journey to relative wellness has been a long one for Mel Harbin. She’s in long term recovery from a painkiller addiction and taking each day as it comes. She now writes for a living and is concentrating on helping others who have ended up on the same path as she has.

Yes. Yes I Am.

From my corner seat I scanned the elegant dining room, backlit with mid-morning Florida sunshine. Round tables draped in white cloths filled the small space as fifty or more well-heeled professional women quietly networked before the meeting officially began. “Would you like to me to introduce you to some of the ladies?” a member of the Clay Women’s Empowerment Council asked after introducing herself. “You’re awfully quiet over here in the corner.” FullSizeRenderYes. Thank you. I like to get my head on straight before speaking at an event like this,” I answered, leaving my notes on the table and trailing her around the room until we found ourselves in the lunch buffet line.

Those mashed potatoes look divine. Hmmm. That’s a new way to cut carrots. I’ll have to try that at home. Lord, let me turn away from these delicate desserts.IMG_4882 I’m so nervous I could eat the whole tray.

I was playing hooky from my second grade classroom on a Thursday morning. An invitation to share my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, at the Women’s Empowerment Council had been too irresistible to pass up. As I returned to my corner table and the room began to fill, I battled anxiety and the butterflies that always cartwheel through my insides before I share my heart with an audience.

This isn’t my usual “churchy” crowd. These are professional women. VyStar women. St. Vincent’s Healthcare reps. Chamber of Commerce people. What if some aren’t even believers? Perhaps my message has too much Jesus and not enough empowerment. Maybe I need to tone it down. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe I’m not yet ready for this…

My negative inner monologue was paused by a question from a friendly woman across the table. I smiled. Introduced myself. Asked someone to pass the bread. And the butter. And the salt.

Then came the innocent question that would normally bring every cartwheeling butterfly to an instant halt and turn those divine mashed potatoes into lead that would weigh heavy in my gut for hours. Maybe days.

Do you have children?”

Do I have children? For two decades (at least), I’ve avoided that question like the plague. Only you can’t really avoid the plague. It just descends upon you, infects you and debilitates you. You can’t hide under starchy white tablecloths. You can’t conveniently disappear into the ladies room. And you can’t avoid the gaze of the person across the table who is simply interested in getting to know you a little better. I know. I’ve tried.

For a moment, the butterflies paused. The warm mashed potatoes froze. And my tear ducts threatened to malfunction. Then I found my voice.

Yes. Yes, I do. Two boys. Two fifteen-year-old boys.”

Boys of SummerDid I just say, “Yes?”

Yes to the one question whose answer has always been “No,” followed by an awkward silence or some half-hearted attempt at humor as I struggle to rearrange my emotional baggage so nothing from the inside is revealed on the outside.

In all honesty, my tongue was reaching for the “No,” but my heart blurted the “Yes.” My words surprised me, but I took it in stride. Within seconds the ladies around my table had heard my tale of the parenthood rollercoaster Honey and I rode this summer as we hosted two orphaned Ukrainian teens who stole our hearts, emptied our bank accounts, and inspired us to pursue international adoption. Before I knew it, I was doing what I’ve observed other mothers do for years – gushing about my kids to complete strangers.

By the time I was introduced as a keynote speaker, the butterflies had disappeared and I was ready to share my message of hope with the women who sat before me. My thoughts were anchored around a quote from Heather Kopp’s memoir, Sober Mercies that says, “People bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” As I searched the faces of my audience, I saw myself in their reflections – a woman with her game face on, but a woman hungry for honesty and authenticity. A woman in need of hope.

I don’t know what those women’s dreams are. But they connected with my story. I read that truth in their eyes as I spoke. They grasped the hope my testimony offers – hope that there is a God in heaven who longs to redeem the dreams we thought were lost. My final words brought them gently to their feet:

We can release every person who has ever wounded us to God – moving forward in confidence and with compassion for those trapped in the bondage of addiction. We can choose forgiveness each today, despite the choices of our loved ones. We can find joy in our journey and hope for our future. We can believe in a God who redeems the dreams we thought were lost.”

They applauded. They asked me to sign some books. Some of them quietly thanked me for my message and shared their own struggles of living with a loved one’s addiction.

On the way home afterward, I prayed.

Thank you, God, for taking the mess of my life and transforming it into a message of hope for other women who feel trapped in the cycle of a loved one’s addiction. Thank You for stamping redemption on today, not only with the empowering opportunity to tell my story, but through the opportunity to speak of something that is NOT as though it IS! Thank You for teaching me to walk by faith and not by sight. I choose to trust that You will bring my boys home. That You will provide the funds. That You will hold their hearts and keep our connection strong until the final stamp is on those adoption papers and we walk out of that Ukrainian courtroom as a family. Thank You, God, that I am a mom.

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As it is written in the Scriptures: “I am making you a father of many nations.” This is true before God. Abraham believed in God—the God who gives life to the dead and decides that things will happen that have not yet happened.

There was no hope that Abraham would have children. But Abraham believed God and continued hoping. And that is why he became the father of many nations. As God told him, “Your descendants will also be too many to count.”   Romans 4:17-18 International Children’s Bible

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P.S. Do you have an upcoming event that needs a guest speaker with an inspirational message? Contact me at info@julietvanheerden.com. Let’s make a date!

If you’d like to help bring our boys home, click here: By faith, I am a mom!_DSC4874

Too Far Gone?

Wow! Where has a month gone? I’m surprised four weeks have passed since I’ve posted here. I’ve not been swallowed by a sink hole or anything. Promise. (Unless you count preparing a manuscript for publishing a sink hole.) I’m so excited to see the end in sight! Hopefully we will have books in hand by the end of June. Woo hoo! Until then, I’ll be inviting my husband, Pastor André Van Heerden to sit in the Author’s Chair. He’s recently written some encouraging open letters to our church members, and I’ve chosen this one to share with you today, my friend. Thank you for not giving up on me. I hope to get back into the blogging saddle in the near future. In the meantime, please be blessed by my husband’s words. Juliet

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© JVH 2015

I’ll make a full commitment to God when I’ve stopped drinking,” I’ve heard someone say, or, “When I stop cussing, I’ll come back to church again.” Why do people use their sins and addictions as an excuse not to give their lives fully to God? “God can’t be listening to me when I pray. I’m too far gone. I need to give this up first.” Oh, how those statements hurt God’s heart. Those thoughts don’t come from God, they come from the enemy of mankind, Lucifer himself. God reaches into the lives of sinners and gets His hands dirty in the process saving sinners while they are in the midst of the sin. God always makes a way of escape.

Are you trapped in an addiction? Are you facing feelings of despair? Are you believing the lie that you must first give up your sin and addiction before God will listen or reach down to help you? Stop right where you are and open your bible to Romans 5:6, 8, 10:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

According to the above passage, for whom has God already provided salvation? The answer is: (1) Those without strength, (2) the ungodly, (3) sinners and (4) the enemies of God. Does the passage say that God only provided salvation for the strong, the godly, the righteous and the friends of God? No. Read the passage again. In the midst of our sin and addiction, we can reach out by faith and claim God’s salvation. The bible tells us in Matthew 17:20, If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” If you ask a person addicted to alcohol, sex, drugs or gambling what would be easier to do—move a physical mountain or overcome their addiction, they’d probably say, ‘move the physical mountain,’ right?

In the midst of addiction, while acting out, reach out to God through the prayer of faith, saying, “Sustainer of the weak, Inviter of the ungodly, Savior to sinners and Forgiver of Your enemies,” rescue me from the choke hold that is squeezing the life out of me. God will move the mountain that is crushing you. He will position a ladder right where you are lying so that you can climb to where you can reach him. The story of Jacob’s ladder can offer hope to the chief of sinners in the lowest depths of their misery. Through faith as small as a mustard seed—hardly visible to the naked eye—every person can have the mountain of sin and addiction removed.

Jacob stole his brother’s right to carry on the lineage of their family by lies and deception (see Genesis 28). While his brother Esau was out hunting for game that would make up the meal at which his father would bestow his firstborn blessing on him, Jacob brought a meal to his father pretending to be Esau. His blind old father was deceived into believing he was blessing Esau when he was actually blessing Jacob. When Esau got back and found out that the firstborn blessing had already been given to Jacob, he threatened to kill him. Jacob was counseled by his mother to flee to a distant land to escape his brother’s wrath.

Alone and afraid, Jacob journeyed through the wilderness, threatened by starvation and the attacks of wild animals. Exhausted, he collapsed on the ground and fell asleep. Right there, God gave him a dream of a ladder reaching from where he lay to the foot of his throne. Ascending and descending on the ladder of light, were angels, bridging the gap so that he could have access to all God had to offer him. While fleeing from the consequences of his lies and deception, God pursued Jacob and gave him the reassurance that He was with him. He wasn’t alone and his sin hadn’t cut him off from God.

Are you desperate for relief from sin and addiction? Are you exhausted from fleeing from the entanglements sin has brought into your life? Have you collapsed to where you can’t go any further? Look up. There’s a ladder reaching from where you have fallen to the very foot of God’s throne. By faith, you can climb up the ladder, supported by heavenly angels, and come boldly before the throne of God. As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We don’t come boldly once we have given up all our sin and addictions. We come boldly in the midst of our sins and addictions that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

_DSC3370André Van Heerden pastors a small church with a big heart. He also teaches CREATION Health classes at his YMCA and ministers to the entire county through a local network of volunteers who live to serve the suffering men, women and children in North Florida. He and Juliet will celebrate five happily married years on May 23, 2015.

A Tale of Knights, Castles & Demons

This week I’m excited to introduce you to a fellow blogger and dear friend, Sarah K. Sarah writes about leading with authenticity and transparency. Her latest blog post was so powerfully written that I asked her if we could share it with you. If you have experienced addiction up close and personal, as a knight, or a lady, then you will appreciate her allegory. Thank God for the “sonlight” that appears to lead every knight and lady to victory!

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Life in the trenches of leadership often translates into fighting one’s addictions in silence, and battling one’s temptations alone. This essay is written in honor of those I know who are proving to be battle-tested knights of the most courageous fiber, and the ladies and heirs who wait for them.

Once upon a time, a time like right now, there are castles in your neighborhood, filled with families from your church. Each castle has a knight, and a lady, and they look normal and happy when you meet them walking with their children among the villagers.

But there is a deep, dark, tenacious secret lurking behind the thick stone walls of these castles. Each knight has a very private set of personal demons who shadow him closely. They stay hidden until he calls them out for companionship, unless he ignores them for few days or weeks, and then they call to him, beckoning with siren voices to remind him of their joys. If they have their way, they spend every nightfall with him by the fire sitting in silence, torture fused with gratification. Each knight loathes and loves their company all at the same time.

The knights often suspect that the others have a pet demon or three of their own. But when they gather together, they choose to speak of other things, more comfortable things. They fancy themselves brave and courageous warriors, but their skills are merely practice runs, untested in battle, unproven on the field.

These knights work diligently to keep their demons shuttered away when their ladies are present. The ladies don’t like demons, they say. The ladies would be uncomfortable with these creatures, they say. I don’t want to make my lady feel bad, so I will make my demons my private business. To protect my lady. To avoid her unhappiness and strife.

None of these knights realize that when they aren’t home, when they are asleep or distracted, their demons prey upon their ladies and their heirs. In castles all across the land, “pet” demons cackle behind their faces at the joke they have so successfully perpetrated upon the knights who believe themselves to be conscientious owners.

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Like many other leaders in this village, one knight in particular invites his demons often and curls up with them by the castle fireplace. He doesn’t realize at first that they have sunk their claws deep into his spine, immobilizing his reactions and numbing his instincts.

His pet-demons soothe and gratify him while they duplicate and multiply, until they gradually spread throughout all the corners of his castle home. After a time (and he can hardly determine when it happened), they transition from being his pets to dominating him as his masters.

He is paralyzed and mostly preoccupied as they gleefully suck the heart and life from himself, his lady, his heirs, until all of them are hollow shells of humanity, walking the castle hallways like ghosts with pale cheeks and empty souls.

All because he prefers comfort. All because he favors the moment’s gratification over the fear of embracing the victorious warrior hero he could become.

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Some knights, in contrast to their peers, choose to weigh their options. They consult in hushed tones, while some recoil in horror at their honesty. Others whisper of terrifying tales from long ago, breathlessly sharing legends of men who summoned their pet-demon-masters out into the light and fought them face to face on the battlefield. Tales of fierce and furious warriors who entered hand to hand combat with these creatures of lustful darkness, and who had won against all odds.

These legends, muttered by those who scarcely believe it themselves, bring glimmers of hope to a small group of knights. A seed of rebellion is planted, of revolution against the demon pets who have become their slave owners.

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One of these knights lies awake at night, drowning in self-doubt. He longs for freedom, but deep inside believes he is worthless. Years of torment and broken promises leave him convinced that he deserves the pain, destruction, and self-loathing his demons heap upon him. He is certain that if he summons them for battle, he will buckle and fall the first time he is struck.

This trembling knight skillfully hides his fears but inside he doubts that his soul is worth saving. He dreams of battling valiantly for his lady and his heirs, to heroically protect his castle and honor his fellow knights, but he is not entirely unconvinced that his lady should leave him. He questions whether his heirs are not better off without him?

His withered soul whimpers in remorse when, despite knowing their true nature, he still sometimes seeks the false comfort of his demons, because every fiber of his being believes that he deserve no better.  His lady has stood by his side; she repeats over and over that he is worthy, that he does have what it takes to be a real knight, to be that man.

Yet his wounds are so dark and so deep from betrayals inflicted by those who swore at his birth to protect him, and his lady’s faith in him is not enough.

He tries to reject his demons.
He stops feeding them.
He refuses to snuggle with them at night.
He chains them in a dungeon deep in the castle’s bowels, and prays his heirs will never find the passageway. He loathes these pets who comforted him during his years of abuse as a lost and lonely child. But he cannot bring himself to kill them.

And so his broken-hearted lady waits, unwilling to abandon her knight just yet, but daily feeling more alone, increasingly afraid for herself and her heirs. She lives in terror of that hidden room, fearful of the day the dungeon passage might be unlocked and what those demons might do, who they might devour if they escape.

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In another castle, a third knight passes a long mirror in the castle hallway and catches a glimpse of his growing hollowness, trailed by his demon shadows. In a stroke of discernment he attributes it to the demons themselves, so carefully hidden. Insight tumbles upon insight and his eyes are opened to the growing numbness of his lady, the restlessness of his heirs, and the coldness creeping in around his flickering hearth fire.

He gathers his courage and one morning he kisses his lady on the cheek, chucks his heirs under their chins and tiptoes into the morning dew. Hands trembling, and feeling entirely alone, this terrified knight buckles into his shining unblemished armor, which has never met a test beyond the village training grounds. He crosses the castle drawbridge onto the battlefield, and calls quaveringly for his own demons to join him in the blinding daylight.

He must start fighting them alone, before anyone else can step in to guard his back, because they are his own demons and only he can call them out onto the field. They will not heed any other man’s voice. He must take ownership of his own fight.

As his voice carries over the morning breeze, summoning his demons to their doom, as his sword clashes the first blows, other warriors from nearby castles and foot soldiers from the village notice the commotion.

Some scoff at his feeble starting efforts. Others mock him for not embracing the demons as the lifelong companions they have accepted. Nearly all recoil in horror from how hideous these demons appear in the clear light of day.

As he tentatively strikes the second and third blows, an elderly sage, one who had lived long enough to remember days when those whispered tales of legend were real life, totters forward to cover the knight’s back. Until the knight has called the demons out and struck these first blows, no one else is free to help him.

This third knight fights bravely, and before the battle is done he is bruised and battered and bloodied beyond recognition. But once he begins the battle, more and more men appear to fight by his side. Many of them summon their own demons and the blood and the muck grows slick on the field as these clumsy and untried warriors begin to prove themselves in combat.

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The second knight stands in his castle window and watches the fray. He longs to be one of those knights on the field. He longs to believe that his demons can be vanquished, and to know what it would feel like to stand in the sunlight without shame. But he fears his chainmail and armor is made of glass, and would shatter at the first blow, leaving him vulnerable and exposed.

His lady longs for other knights to call to him, to beckon him onto the field, to encircle her beloved but broken knight. She longs for stronger warriors to lift him up, to tell him he is worth the pain of the battle.

She dreams of the day someone will say, Even though you must fight your own fight, if you will only summon your demons to the battlefield and strike the first blow — we will stand beside you.

But he is wary. He hears as casual observers callously shame those on the field for bringing their demons into daylight. They taunt the battle-weary knights, shouting that they should retreat back into their castles and take their demons with them.

We prefer our knightly leaders to have shining unblemished armor, unbattered from the fight, unbloodied by the foe, they shout. Give us a new lord for the castle, one whose armor is untarnished and who keeps his demons quietly by the fire like the rest of us.

The discouraged knight internalizes their cruel words, and believes his fate is sealed. If these people met his demons, they would agree that he is worthless. Better to leave them chained in the basement and let the next generation fight them. He turns from the window, his spirit too defeated to watch whether the knights on the field are slaughtered or victorious.

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The day wears on, and the knights’ confidence grows greater as they close their ears to the rabble from the crowd, shutting out the noise from those who cluster cowardly at the edges of the battlefield. It is only when they stay in the sunlight and face the demons head on, that they remain victorious.

Over time, the demons grow smaller and smaller. But if these knights pause to seek the shade, or daydream of the comforts of the evening fire, or reject the assistance of their fellow warriors and split off to fight alone, or look over their shoulders instead of straight forward — the demons rebound even larger and more powerful than before.

Some onlookers turn their backs when a knight stumbles under the onslaught. They proclaim that no knight can be a true warrior if he falls to his knees. Or if his feet slip out from under him in the bloody mud.

They do not count the times he rises, only the times that he falls.

Or they taunt that if he cannot slay the demon in a single blow, then his fight is worthless and the battle is wasted.

But each knight in turn realizes he must close his ears to their taunts and depend only on three things – the sonlight shining truth over his head, the glimpse of his lady waiting with his heirs on the balcony, and the strength of the comrades by his sides.

These are the reasons he fights.
They are the reason he will win.
They are the catalyst for the legacy of victory he will leave.

As long as he has sunlight, as long as his lady is waiting, as long as he rises to continue the battle — he is a warrior.

He is the stuff of legends.

He is a hero.

(Portions of the story contributed by the lady of a fellow knight who is currently watching the fray and longing to step onto the battlefield.)

Sarah Asaftei image.jpgAbout Sarah K

Director | Producer | Strategist | I create Hollywood-quality Brand Campaigns for organizations that value their social impact as much as their bottom line. @skamedia http://sarahkasaftei.net/a-tale-of-knights-castles-demons/

Header image courtesy of G. Pennock Photography

Keep Walking

I’m excited to introduce my guest blogger to you. He’s passionate about God and people, and spends much of his time ministering to the discouraged, helping the hopeless find hope again, and being “salt and light” in his local community. He also pastors a small church in North Florida where I sit in the front pew each week, cheering him on as he share’s God’s Word in interesting and innovative ways. His name? André Van Heerden. I’m proud to call him my husband and friend. Here’s what he has to share with us:

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Isn’t it a tremendous blessing to go to a spiritual retreat, sit back and listen to the Word of God being preached, spend time praying with like-minded people, go for walks in nature, and so forth? Sometimes we can be tempted to think that the feelings and emotions we experience during those ‘mountain-top’ encounters are what we should be experiencing at all times. Then when we don’t experience those ‘spiritual highs’ we think God is far from us.Stained Glass

Where is God when we are alone in the dark valley and far away from those thrilling mountain top encounters? God is right beside us, as close, or closer, than He was during those spiritual highs. Yes, we can feel God’s Presence with us when we are in a spiritual environment where the conditions are all centered around God, but what happens when conditions aren’t centered around God—when we are at work, or in traffic, or trying to fix a water leak at home, or trying to resolve an interpersonal conflict?

Paul counsels us 2 Corinthians 5:7 to “walk by faith, not by sight.” We love to see, feel and touch miraculous signs and wonders all around us. When we are in the dark and cannot see, feel or touch the tangible evidences that God is moving, we tend to think that God is not with us—that He has pulled back from us for some reason. More often than not, we believe that God has pulled back from us due to our sinfulness and because we have fallen back into habitual sin or an addiction.

The enemy of our souls comes alongside us and tells us God is not with us. He tells us we are too sinful to have God be close to us and accept us as we are. He tells us we have to stop sinning before God will come close to us. During these times in the dark valley, we must walk by faith—faith in God’s promises, faith in who God is and faith that God is with us. Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:29, “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dear friends, we cannot survive spiritually by using a physical or emotional measure! We survive spiritually by using a spiritual measure! If God said it, I believe it, and that’s enough for me. The simple, well-known words of Psalm 23 are powerful to carry us through those dark valleys—“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” We need to repeat these words to ourselves, over and over—“you are with me.”

Having the promises of God on the tip of our tongues will prevent the spiritual slump we experience in the dark valleys. When we don’t see, touch or feel the spiritual thrill we experience on the mountain-top, we are still to ‘walk by faith.’ We stay confident that ‘God is with us,’ that He loves us and that He understands that we are but dust.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:8-14.

You see, as Psalm 119:105 says, the Word of God is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It’s a lot easier to walk over rocky ground at midday than at midnight. But, when there is no light, we keep on walking because we have light. So whether we are in the dark valley, on a dark rocky path, or in the dark woods, we keep on walking. The enemy of our souls wants to shut out the light. He wants us to stumble, doubt and be confused. God gives us sure footing, confidence and clarity. He makes a sure pathway open before us on which we can keep walking.

 Prayer – Father in heaven, You are All-wise, All-Powerful and Ever-present. There is nothing that I can think of that You can’t solve. Please remind me that YOU ARE WITH ME, irrespective of my sin and my weakness. Please give me the confidence and the boldness to keep walking in spite of the obstacles that lie in my pathway. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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You can read Pastor André’s blog at http://andrevanheerden.org/ where he shares how God guided him into ministry in our local community. Some of the stories are amazing and encouraging. If you are interested in impacting your local community for Christ, but feel so small, perhaps his stories will encourage you.

 

 

Spring Cleaning & Voodoo

I didn’t know she was evil. I thought she was cute with her meticulously hand-beaded dress and braids. I bought her for next-to-nothing from a girl in a South African market and brought her home in my suitcase.

She escaped the purging of my home two years ago. That was when my husband and I prayerfully scoured the house for anything remotely connected with the dark side. Between us – in our world travels, we’d managed to collect a pair of ancient fertility dolls, replicas of masks that represented spirits of the dead, sun gods in various forms, and even some images of Peruvian white llamas and other animals that were used in sacrificial rituals. Who knew, right? I mean, we’re Christians. A pastoral couple. Why didn’t we know better? How did we end up with so many not-so-innocent travel souvenirs?

I’ve learned that the saying, “What we don’t know won’t hurt us” isn’t exactly true. What we don’t know can cause havoc in our well-ordered lives. I believe it’s a Christian’s job to be diligent about what is brought onto our property and into our homes. I learned this the hard way years ago, when evil spirits gained access to my space because of the “open doorways” of drug paraphernalia and other items brought under my roof unbeknownst to me. I re-learned it when the Holy Spirit revealed the reasons behind the constant harassment in my new home after my pastor-husband and I merged our belongings together under one roof.

It was only after we prayerfully scoured our home and burned the offending objects that we were able to breathe easier and make order out of the chaos in our busy lives. How I missed that little cloth doll remains a mystery. She remained “under the radar” – until yesterday, when I came home to discover her sitting innocently on my kitchen table. “She’s a voodoo doll,” announced my visiting friend. “I Googled her because I didn’t like the way she was staring at me.”

“What are you talking about?” I said, picking up the little black doll.

“Since I’ve arrived, that little doll has given me the creeps. So, I Googled her and discovered that she is a Zulu Voodoo doll.”

I was surprised, but not shocked. The doll had been sitting on a shelf in my guest room, a place I don’t often look. She hadn’t really bothered me, but she bothered my guest. Her presence was disconcerting. Evil.

“I’m so sorry. I thought we’d disposed of everything evil in our home. I will get rid of her! With that, I took her outside and did what the Bible instructs us to do… I burned her with fire.Burning Doll

The graven images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.

Neither shall you bring an abomination (an idol) into your house, lest you become an accursed thing like it; but you shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.” (Deuteronomy 7:25-26 Amplified Bible)

Then I bound and rebuked in the name of Jesus, any evil spirits that were attached to her or sent on assignment through her to us. I reclaimed our territory for God and repented of my unknown sin.Zulu Voodoo Doll

Some may think that a bit extreme. But, I’ve learned that these things cannot be taken lightly. The “roaring lion” does not rest. Thankfully, neither does our powerful Father in heaven. His Name and His Word does not fail. He redeems our innocent mistakes and frees us from the bondage of ignorance.

When we live with people who are reading, listening to, watching, and using things that go completely against the culture of heaven, we become vulnerable to the spirits that attach themselves to those things. Spirits of chaos, rebellion, fear, suicide, and depression feel at home in the dark places where idols are worshiped. If you’ve ever lived with or loved a person caught in the traps of addiction, you cannot argue that their “drug of choice” quickly becomes an idol in that person’s life; an idol that must be sacrificed to on a regular basis.

Here’s what I know: The enemy of our souls is always looking for access to us. Sometimes we unknowingly open doorways that allow evil into our space. Sometimes other people in our lives make us vulnerable to attack because of their activities. Either way, we do not need to be ignorant of his devices. The name of Jesus is a powerful weapon in a Christian’s arsenal. So is a trash bag and a burn barrel. We don’t have to live with darkness in our camp. We can Spring clean in a deeper way than ever before. Let’s ask God to reveal the doorways from the dark side that are open in our lives. Let’s take back that ground and live in freedom!


Step 12 – Something to Crow About

Step 12

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”

Rooster Key West He strutted down the sidewalk as if he belonged there. He did. (I was the Key West tourist with the camera.) Paying no mind to taxis, bicycles or pedestrians, he walked his flashy walk – colorful tail feathers lifted high, red wattle swinging from side to side. Life was so good he stopped mid-stride to crow about it.

 When the “good stuff” happens, don’t we want to tell someone, anyone – even strangers on the street?Crowing in Key West

 A proud papa announces to his colleague, “My son scored the winning three-pointer in his JV game last night!” A grandma in the checkout line turns her phone to share a photo of a swaddled newborn with the cashier. Three fingers and a smile instantly pop up when a preschooler is asked his age on his birthday.

When life is good, life is worth sharing.

 But what about the not-so-good stuff? Do we pipe up in an office staff meeting the morning after we bail our kid out of jail? Or discuss our grandson’s disturbing Facebook post? Do we tell anyone that today would have been our spouse’s ninetieth day “clean and sober” – if she’d managed to stay clean and sober? Are we willing to be vulnerable…even when life isn’t picture-perfect?

 We are learning to be, because we’ve discovered the power of being authentic and transparent. We’ve recognized the truth behind Dr. Larry Crabb’s premise that “healing takes place in community,” but those who haven’t been introduced to the 12 Steps may not realize that truth. They may be trying to hide the stench of their suffering.

 Step 12 is about waking up and smelling… not the coffee, not the roses, but the pain of the people around us. It’s about letting God make us so alive in Him that we are finally able to step outside ourselves, and share what He has done and continues to do in our lives as we walk forward and work the Steps with Him. It’s about living what we have learned. It’s about being authentic; about caring when others are hurting and sharing the hope of the 12 Step journey with them.

 Step 12 is the Step where our eyes are finally opened to the abundant life Jesus invites us to live. This Step is when we realize that we’ve got something really, really good and we don’t want to, no, we cannot keep it to ourselves! As we apply the truths of each of the 12 Steps to our daily lives, and our paths cross with others who are traveling the rough roads we’ve already taken, we have something to offer them when they ask, “Which way do I go from here?” Even when their mouths remain silent, we can look into their eyes and recognize the hurt that was once so familiar in our own mirrors. We can smell their pain and offer them healing.

The difference between who we are now and who we were before we began our 12 Step journey is that the pain of others does not revile or overwhelm us. Their story does not send us spiraling back into our own addiction. We no longer long for the numbing effects of whatever we ran to before we learned to run to Jesus. We have compassion for those suffering the effects of their own, or a loved one’s addiction. We recognize the hollowness in their countenances. We know their heartaches. And we are not afraid to share our own experience, strength and hope. In fact, we LIVE to share what God has done for us, believing wholeheartedly that what He’s done for us, He will do for others.

 This IS Step 12:

– Waking up to the fact that these principles draw us close to the heart of God, the HIGHEST Power, and that He will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6)!

– Carrying this good news to everyone who will listen.

– “Walking the walk,” not just “talking the talk.”

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How am I putting all this “preaching” into practice? Well… I’m excited to tell you that I’ve submitted my manuscript for Same Dress, Different Day: A Spiritual Memoir of Addiction and Redemption to the publisher! It’s scary and exhilarating all at the same time. I feel vulnerable and nervous to share my story publicly. But I also feel that what God has done in my life is so incredible, that I’d be doing Him a disservice if I do not share it. I am choosing to carry this message to others, via my book, my blog and my upcoming speaking engagements. I am excited to see what God will do in the hearts and lives of others through this ministry.

I know that you have something to crow about, too! What are you doing to share your story with others? How are you putting Step 12 into practice? Please do write in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.