Emmanuel? You Still Here?

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23 KJV

Are You still here? Are you STILL with us? With me? The questions seep from my soul as I sit silently on Christmas Eve in my striped fuzzy socks staring at the paper maché crèche on my Nannie’s sideboard. Lauren Daigle sings one of my favorite hymns of the season, her voice too big for the speaker in my iphone. Written more than 1200 years ago in Latin, sung for the first time in a monastery and performed by everyone from Andrea Bocceli to Trisha Yearwood, this song’s history is as deep and rich as Lauren’s voice.

The hymn begins as a prayer, a heart cry from a people in distress, a people enslaved, a people desperate for a Savior. I place myself in the center of the story:

As the children of Israel bear the burden of slavery in a land not their own, they cry out to God from the depths of their hearts. They know they do not belong in Egypt or even in Goshen. They know they are set apart, special…chosen – with a purposed history and an eternal future. But year after year, when things do not appear to go as planned, when life with their captors becomes more and more difficult, yet more and more familiar, some of them begin to wonder if anyone hears the stifled soul cries that only God can hear.

As Israelite mothers, like their mothers and grandmothers before them rock tiny brown babies with tired arms and worn-out expectations, they sing lullabies that do what lullabies do: bring comfort, peace and rest into little hearts until little bodies and perhaps even all those within the sound of the singer’s voice relax and rest in the arms of hope. Listen for a moment as Israel’s mothers sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

And listen as somewhere in the back of the house a father’s strong voice echoes expectancy as he sings of the promise his forefathers died believing in:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

This song of hope is carried on sound waves across galaxies and into the very throne room of the one and only I AM – Emmanuel. He is moved to move and the time has come to redeem these children of Israel. God begins to sing His own redemption song. It carries on the wind across miles and miles of desert wilderness until His voice is heard by a runaway murderer who responds by laying down his shoes and his pride and his self-conscious fears and picking up his staff and his faith in the ONE who is faithful to forgive his past sins and use his transformed life to stand bold in the face of Pharaoh and march a multitude of Israel’s grown kids across a dried-up river bed and into the Promised Land.

Remember the story from Exodus, Chapter 3?

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… (Exodus 3:3-8 ESV)

As they settled down in makeshift tents those first few nights away from the familiar flesh pots of Egypt, and the Pillar of Cloud that had descended to surround and protect them from their enemies turned into a Pillar of Fire, I wonder if the Israelites truly recognized how close they were to their Creator-God and just how much He longed to dwell with them. I wonder if they looked out at the glow of that unquenchable FIRE which housed a BEING who had no beginning and will have no end and felt a fire burn within them ~ an irresistible desire to know the One who longs to be known? I wonder if they felt the rumblings of God on the move as He set the stage for Emmanuel to one day dwell among men in a garment of flesh and not fire?

In the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 1, we can read how many Generations it was from Father Abraham to Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ. Some of the names I recognize: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Boaz and Ruth, Obed, Jesse, David and Solomon – and some are not quite so familiar: Jeconiah, Zadok, and Abiud. Whether we know much about them or not, each person in that lineage was instrumental in bringing the Son of God one generation closer to becoming the Son of Man. In verse 16, we come to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Joseph, like Moses, was a man— a workingman with a carpentry business and a good reputation. A man who perhaps had experienced the pain of heartache and loss that left him a single dad with sons whose damaged characters were less than kind. A man whose love was pledged and whose heart belonged to a sweet young girl named Mary. A man of integrity whom the King James Version of the book of Matthew calls “righteous” in verse 19: Here is how the story goes:

Matthew 1:18-19 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant [through the power] of the Holy Spirit.

19 And her [promised] husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.

If Joseph’s thought patterns were anything like mine, when he first heard the news of Mary’s pregnancy, he may have gone from excited anticipation of a fresh start with a new wife to “Oh no! How can this be happening to me? After all I’ve suffered, after all I’ve already lost… at this stage in my life? Didn’t I do my due diligence? Wasn’t I careful and cautious and wise in my choosing of this girl to give my promise and my heart and my future life to? Am I a mockery in this town, being gossiped about behind my back?”

Did Joseph search his soul and cry out to God in the night, saying, “How could You let this happen to me? Haven’t I been faithful? After all I’ve done to serve You and to serve this community, is this how You reward me? Now what will I do?

The Bible doesn’t tell us any of that about Joseph. It tells us that he wasn’t thinking of himself at all – He was thinking of Mary. He didn’t want to disgrace her or expose her sins on social media. He didn’t stay up all night, lighting up Facebook to see how many “likes” he could get for his justified position. He didn’t go down to the local bar to numb or gain some third-party sympathy. He didn’t adopt the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” mentality and thumb through his little black book, looking for a call girl to party with. No! None of those things. Instead, he quietly made a decision to protect Mary’s reputation and to guard her heart. Then he went to sleep, trusting his heavenly Father to sort out the situation. Perhaps his bedtime prayer was something similar to the second verse of this song as he sought wisdom from on high:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Little did Joseph know of how close he was to heaven in his suffering that night and that nothing was as it appeared until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

Have you been caught off guard by circumstances beyond your control? Surprised by the words or actions of someone you loved and trusted? Wounded by the world and unable to piece together the full story or make any sense of your situation?

I have. And I’ve gone to sleep so many nights, begging God to unravel the tangled threads of my story or to fix the other person or to shed some light on the seemingly dark path ahead. André and I have prayed that prayer through many long nights over the past couple of years:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high…

Like Joseph – none of us may realize just how close we are to heaven, or just how close heaven is to us when we humble ourselves and lay down our fears to walk in faith. Let’s look at the rest of his story:

20 But as he was thinking this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary [as] your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from [a]failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].

22 All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet,

23 Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us.

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from his sleep did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him: he took [her to his side as] his wife.

Was Joseph and Mary’s future a cakewalk? Hardly. But, they chose to believe the voice of the Lord, spoken through the angel, and to move forward in faith, not fear. They did get married. And they did become the parents of the Son of God, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among men. Imagine being co-parents with God the Father!

Sometimes the sin in this world causes families to fall apart. Children end up being parented by multiple people – birth parents, stepparents, foster parents, adoptive parents. Sometimes we feel less-than-adequate as we love on kids who suffer the effects of broken families, broken homes, broken souls. Sometimes the people with whom we co-parent have very different views or values or styles of relating – and we can easily get caught in the trap of feeling either inferior or superior to the other adult voices in our kids’ lives.

Imagine with me for a moment how Joseph and Mary must have felt as they birthed and held and fed and burped the baby whose Father is God? Imagine the emotion of a mother who knows her child is gifted in ways far beyond a special program in school. Imagine teaching a teen to sharpen a saw and remembering Almighty God saw you in your small Nazareth world and chose you to be the adoptive father to His precious son.

And we think our job as parents is difficult? What kind of pressure were Joseph and Mary tempted to place on themselves as they parented the Savior of the world? Oh, how great the joy, yet how deep the sorrow of Mary’s heart as she watched her son live out the fulfillment of His destiny all the way to the cross of Calvary.

Out of suffering comes the miraculous. Out of the wilderness comes the ability to listen. Out of the fire on a mountainside comes a voice that says, “Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.”

That holy fire on the mountain became a seed in the womb of a teenage girl. Can you imagine that process? Can you imagine the suffering that went into the re-creation of the I AM as this eternal being whose voice spoke the earth into existence shrunk into the size of something that fits inside a fallopian tube? The Creator became the created. Emmanuel is a miracle! The miracle of Jesus started in heaven, not in Bethlehem.

“His name is Emmanuel –  the God who is with us – who is made out of the same stuff we are and who is made out of the same stuff God is and who will not let either of us go.” Judi Harbin

Emmanuel came to Israel, not once, but twice – The first time, they were slaves in Egypt: unable to walk in freedom to live and to worship and to govern themselves according to the principles of heaven. They were surrounded by ungodly influences and they were losing their children to the ways of the Egyptians generation by generation.

The second time Emmanuel came to Israel, they were slaves to formalism and legalism and a religion that kept them in perpetual bondage. They had forgotten that God Is LOVE and that love longs for relationship. They had completely missed the essence of the One for whom they performed all of those rituals. In the end, they actually missed Jesus.

Friends – Emmanuel wants to come again to Israel. Not the Israel who was enslaved in Egypt. And not the Israel who became like an ingrown toenail, only living to follow laws and missing the heart of the Law Giver. But to today’s Israel – the Israelite hearts of you and me, hearts in bondage to sin in one way or another.

Emmanuel longs to come to those Israelite mamas among us who live in fear and cling to control. To those whose kids are scattered and whose hearts are shattered and who are hanging on to faith by a thread. He wants to bring his peace to those who love too much from broken hearts until nothing is left to give; to those whose gifts are stolen by grief and frozen by fear and who have lost their will to live. And to those who stopped praying because they feel like a playlist with only one song and worry about wearing out the Father. These are the ones….we are the ones for whom Emmanuel wants to come today.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

To all who suffer, let us be reminded of what Emmanuel, the Christ has done for us. We are not alone in our suffering. If we will allow Him, He will bring us to the heart of His Father. He will bind our wounds by binding us to His heart. Only He can heal us, turn the hearts of our loved ones and fill us with heaven’s peace today. In the stillness I can almost hear him whisper, “Yes, I’m still here.”

And I sing along with Ms. Daigle, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” 

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

(Words translated in 1861 by John Mason Neale per Wikipedia)

Happy Codependent Mother’s Day

“Oh Julie, you have rug burns on your heart.” Eight months after boarding a homebound plane in Ukraine with my Honey and our newly adopted teenagers, I’m crying on the phone to my friend, searching for ways to describe the festering ache in my soul. I wince as her words trigger the memory of oozing rug burns sticking to my pantyhose. I was an athlete thirty years ago, but my knees still carry the scars.

Our high school gymnasium doubled as a multi-purpose building for many student activities, including church services, so the “Lady Tartans” played basketball and volleyball on carpet. Yes, CARPET! Visiting teams eyed our court in disbelief during pre-game warm-ups. I’m certain the Tartans wielded slightly more than a home game advantage. We were used to our unusual turf’s effect on bouncing balls and the teenage knees of scrappy girls who played to win.

Rug burns rake off a person’s protective skin, creating wounds that seep blood or pinkish semi-clear liquid. Time eventually creates a thin crust over each burn’s surface. When my team played two home games in a row, there was no time for our rug burns to heal before we again sacrificed knobby teen knees for rebounds or game points. I learned the hard way what happens when rug burns get layered—yellow white pus forms under the scab and oozes out when pressure is applied to the wound. Double rug burns are painfully slow to heal.

“Yes. Yes, I do have rug burns on my heart,” I reply. My friend understands rug burns. She was a Lady Tartan, too. She’s also lived a life story similar to mine.

After we stop talking, I turn off the bedside lamp and lay awake long into the night. I’m alone. My family is home. I’m traveling—sharing my testimony of redemption and restoration, sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction.small plane

Do you even believe your own message? I’m stunned by the thought, as it strikes deep in my core.

Of course I do. But, I’m hurting and I don’t know how to fix this, God. How did we get here? What could I have done differently? What do we do now? Why don’t they let me love them anymore?

I toss questions toward heaven with the fervency of a baseball-pitching machine, not expecting Anyone to really answer.

I’m still sore from the sting of the H-word my son spewed just days before I left for this trip. “He doesn’t mean it,” the well-meaning people say. “Don’t take it personally.” Not helpful.

He felt hatred towards me. That’s why he said it. Of course he meant it. He also means it when he says he doesn’t want me to hug him or touch him. When he forbids me to say, “I love you” or to demonstrate any connection or affection at all. He means it. And it’s mean. And it burns my heart raw.

Maybe I could blow it off, recognize that it’s coming from a place of deep pain and trauma-triggered fear. Maybe it wouldn’t fester so bad if that were the only wound. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s my other boy-turned-man-overnight. Trying his wings, testing his limits, telling Honey and me all kinds of things we never wanted to hear. Building a wall a mile high and six feet thick to keep us distanced from his heart.

Here you are, talking on TV about recovery from codependency like you’ve got all the answers, when just yesterday you relapsed into fear-based control and tried to be somebody’s Holy Spirit. Again. Multitude of Counselors

The enemy taunts me with half-truths. Tries to silence me with guilt and shame. I cringe. It’s true. I project my pain from the past onto my kids when their rejection triggers old wounds that still ooze pus and blood. Wounds that stick to my emotional Spanx and rip the skin right off my soul, leaving me tender and vulnerable.

I am not healed yet!

There. I’ve said it. I’m not a perfect pastor’s wife, mother, daughter, friend or person. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, especially when pointed out by those who know me best. When I am afraid, I try to control circumstances or people. When angry, I punish with silence. When I am rejected, I tend to withhold affection for fear of further rejection. Sometimes I isolate. Or use guilt to manipulate. When I don’t know what else to do, I work, work, work. I am a mess. I need Jesus. Every moment. Of every day. I cannot do this on my own.

In preparation for taping this televised program, I reviewed the first Step of the Twelve Steps of Codependents Anonymous: “I am powerless over other people.” Once more, I am humbly reminded that I cannot make “minding other people’s business” my way of life, (even if those other people are my own family). I cannot put off my own good by determining to control, advise or guide others. I must surrender my compulsive drive to “fix the unfixable.” I am not anyone’s Jesus. By God’s grace, I will choose (once again) to ask myself two questions before jumping into control or rescue mode:

  1. Did this person ask me for this help?
  2. What does this have to do with God’s will for me?

Father in heaven, I choose to release my sons and the time frame for their emotional healing and spiritual growth to Your care. I choose to focus on my own spiritual progress and maintain healthy boundaries in all my relationships. I will not sacrifice my personal needs to meet the needs of another person, nor will I resort to unhealthy giving or serving from a place of fear or manipulation. I will allow You, God to be God in my life and in the lives of my sons. Thank You for your grace and your mercy, which is beautifully new every morning. Thank you for Your ability to heal the layered rug burns on all of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

codependency lovingonpurpose

What about you, dear Friend? Are you expending valuable emotional, financial and physical energy rescuing, enabling or persecuting someone whose life is out of control because of a chemical or other addictive dependency? Are you allowing fear to drive your actions as you try to save a drowning loved one? Have you lost your sense of self by allowing your boundaries to be pushed back or knocked down completely? Do you need to take CODA’s Step 1 and admit that you are powerless over another person and that your life has become unmanageable? If so, it’s not too late to come out of denial. Take that Step. Admit it to yourself. Tell Jesus. Confide in a friend. Begin your journey to wholeness today. You are worth it! You are so totally worth it.

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

Love & Self-Protection & Goodbye

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

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

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

Walking away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding on His Faithfulness

Holidays can be hard. We ache for the loved ones no longer around our tables. We long for the days when things didn’t seem so hard (even if those days never really existed). We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to the Facebook Joneses —you know, the family who appears to have it all together, coordinating outfits, relaxed family portraits photoshopped to perfection, and a steady glimpse into their extraordinary everyday lives. We smile and shop and bake and cook and fight back tears in quiet moments. I know. I’ve been there.Happy ThanksgivingThis morning I sit alone in my quiet kitchen, penning a phrase in my journal from my new favorite Chris Tomlin song: You’re a Good, Good Father. It’s who you are… and I’m loved by you. It’s who I am… Honey is out helping feed the hungry in our community and I’m home with a head cold hangover. I didn’t cook this year. My refrigerator holds leftover spaghetti, a bag of celery and eight pounds of butter for the almond roca I will make for holiday gifts. Certainly nothing to inspire a Thanksgiving dinner. I wait for a word from the Lord.

He meets me here most mornings, when I choose to be still and listen for Him. Today He’s right on time. I’m thinking about food. Pecan pie. Mashed potatoes. Dressing with lots of sage and mushroom gravy (none of which I will eat today). I’m also thinking about two orphaned boys who will soon be mine, and the Good, Good Father who made that possible. I flip a few pages back back in my journal, landing on an entry from October 27, 2014.

            One of the questions from our Step Study asks about the “emptiness I feel.” I only feel “empty” in the area of childlessness. My life is otherwise full and I am fulfilled. It’s that one ache that I’ve had since my school days —the ache to be a mommy. Sometimes it’s dull. Sometimes a throbbing pain in my soul, but always present. I made it worse in times past, by forcing Your hand, Lord. Now I’m resigned to trust You. But it feels too late.

            I feel like giving up that painful dream. But I cannot seem to let it go. I find myself avoiding the young mothers. God, keep my heart soft. Please do not allow me to become bitter or hardened. Lift my burden as you promise in Psalm 146:7-8.

I read that Psalm over a year ago in The Living Bible, where verse eight reads, “…he lifts the burdens from those bent down beneath their loads.” A year ago, when I was bent down beneath the load of an empty womb.

“Read it again,” God whispers to my heart as Thanksgiving Day sunlight spills onto my open Bible. So I read. This time in the New International Version.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.

“Keep reading,” He encourages. So I read verse nine:

The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow…

“The fatherless, Lord?” Is that what You wanted me to see today?”

I look the verse up in another version. It says, “God takes the side of orphans…” (The Message)

“Orphans, Lord? Are You speaking to me about my boys? Are You reminding me that You already had a plan when I was reading this passage in 2014? Did I just not look far enough ahead to discover the hope in verse nine? Was my head bowed down so low, that I missed Your vision to “sustain the fatherless” through us?”

I sit in silence for several minutes, thinking of those orphaned boys. They are teenagers. Almost men, really, but they need Honey and me. They want us. Just yesterday I received a note via social media from the one who was recently in a fight at school. His black eye haunted me for days after he posted it as his profile picture. I wanted to know why. Kept asking. His response came back in gobbledygook that my Google Translate App butchered even further.

Так я бився.У моєму серці добро.Я ніяк не можу дождатися зустричи,я молюся кожен день.Я вас люблю.Коли ви мене можете забрати в Aмерику на завжди?

When my Ukrainian friend texted her translation to me, my eyes filled with tears. The boy said, “I was fighting for the good in my heart. I can’t wait to see you again. I pray every day. I love you. When can you take me to America to live forever?”

I weep with a mother’s heart as I long to embrace those motherless boys. They are mine, but not mine. They are grown, but not grown. They are orphans awaiting a family. We are a family waiting for orphans. Waiting for the paperwork to process. Waiting for the funds to grow. Waiting for the day when they will come home to stay.

God brings me to Psalm 37. Verse three reminds me again to “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” He promises that if I will simply “delight myself in Him, He will give me the desires of my heart” (my paraphrase). I have seen this over and over in my life. I know it is true. I know He is faithful. I believe my boys will be home soon. Next Thanksgiving, my table will not be empty. My heart will be full. My God, He is faithful! He’s a good, good Father…

Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones. May you feed on His faithfulness today. He has not forgotten the desires of your heart.

*If you’d like to be part of the story God is writing in our family, you can participate right here: Boys of Summer.

 

 

 

Rain From the Sky

“To everything…there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

I scanned those wise words, printed on the front of a card from my sister, on the way from my mailbox to our front door last Tuesday evening. Inside her card I discovered a one hundred dollar bill (who mails cash anymore, Sis?) and a note in her familiar happy handwriting. “God loves your boys,” she wrote. “I know He will work it out. He can make money rain from the sky if He sees fit.”

Perching on the arm of my sofa, I read the printed text inside the card, a Roy Lessin quote: “He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.”

Sis and I held an ongoing conversation about the two teens from Ukraine who captured the hearts of My Honey and me over the summer. Somehow those kids also managed to sneak into the hearts of our extended family and even our Facebook friends, who continue to donate to our adoption Go-Fund-Me campaign.

“It’s too long between August and April!” I’d whine into the phone as I lamented the fact that the boys had been gone for weeks with little communication. “We miss them. I know they miss us. Spring is too far away. Why does all this adoption paperwork take so long to process?”

“I don’t know, Sis. God will work it out,” she reassured me the day I confided that I really wanted them home for the holidays like we’d promised before they left…before any of us were positive about adoption.

“Winter hosting is simply not in the budget,” Honey had announced after tallying up the summer hosting leftovers and anticipating the looming adoption fees. “It’s not financially prudent.”

“Prudent schmoodent!” I cried to Jesus as I took it to Him rather than arguing with the man I love. “I know they need to be here one more time before they come home for good!”

In fact, I felt that so strongly, I’d already paid the hosting deposit in order to meet the holiday airline reservation deadline. I didn’t know where the additional funds would come from, but that deposit stared at me from my Paypal account whenever I opened my laptop.

After reading Sister’s card, I walked back outside to unload groceries from my car. My heart beat hard with the truth I KNEW. The boys NEED to be here for their winter break from school. Looking up into the dark sky, I spoke aloud to the ONE who could make that happen.To everything...

“You are God. You own the “cattle on a thousand hills.” You can make money “rain from the sky.” You know what those boys need. You know what we need. It was You who brought them into our lives. You who perfectly paired the personalities of two complete strangers to fit within our family.

It was You who grew our love from nothing over the course of a few summer weeks. And You who laid this burden on my heart to bring them home in December. Thank You for all You are doing to provide for their adoption. Please provide the funds for their winter hosting. I need to see them eye-to-eye and face-to-face. I need to hold them heart-to-heart before it’s all said and done. I believe You gave me this urgency. I’m trusting You to provide the funds.”

With that prayer, I released the burden of figuring things out to Jesus. My history with codependency has cut deep grooves in my brain’s pathways. It’s difficult to stop trying to control things when you have years of embedded patterns of controlling behavior under your belt. Living with a chemically or otherwise addicted person will do that to you. Even years after my circumstances have changed, I find myself reaching for the familiar comfort of trying to control SOMETHING when circumstances or people within my sphere appear to be out of control in some form or fashion.

The following afternoon, Wednesday, I heard my phone vibrate inside my lunch bag just as I plopped into my swivel chair at school. My second graders had already gone to the buses, leaving broken pencils and crayons in their wake. After tidying the classroom (I can’t think when I see a broken crayon on the floor) and mentally planning for the next day (Should I present that new math concept (addition with regrouping), or just do some review work?), I was ready to check my email and go home. I usually don’t answer my phone while still at school, but when I noticed the number I took the call.

After a few pleasantries, the caller said, “I really felt impressed last night to write you a check for your boys. When I spoke with my husband, we both agreed to help with the winter hosting and the adoption. How much do you lack?”

Now, this was not a person I speak with regularly. In fact, it had probably been a year since we’d had a conversation other than a text message here or there. She’s not on Facebook and I had no idea she even knew what we were doing with the boys.

Long after hanging up I sat in my classroom with hands raised to Jesus and tears washing away my waterproof mascara. When I finally saw myself in a mirror later, I realized why the across-the-hall teacher who stuck her head in to say goodbye had looked at me so strangely and inquired whether everything was okay. I didn’t care how crazy I looked, MY BOYS WERE COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

Later that evening (9:20 p.m. October 28, 2015 to be exact), I received a text message from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, even though we live in the same city. It had two words and three exclamation marks. “Merry Christmas!!!”

“Please tell me why you are saying that?” My thumbs flew across the screen of my phone.

“Lol! I just thought you could use a smile,” came her reply.

WHAT?!?

I don’t know what you believe and you are welcome, dear reader, to draw whatever conclusions you choose. I think I’m gonna have to go with what I said to my sister, “I just got a text from Jesus. It said, “Merry Christmas!”

I share this experience with you because I want you to know that God hears our prayers. He is the Mountain Mover. He is our Provider, our Sustainer, our Father and our Friend. He knows what we need and He knows how to give good gifts to His children.

I don’t know why things aren’t always as obvious as a text from heaven. I don’t know why we often pray and it appears as if nothing happens. I don’t know why our faith is tested when it feels like we are already at the end of our rope. But I DO know this – sometimes we are extravagantly and obviously lavished with the love of the Father. And sometimes He has a glorious sense of humor.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 1:3 Berean Study Bible)

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  • If you read my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, you will realize just how this adoption story is God’s beautiful redemption of a painful loss I experienced several years ago when married to a chemically dependent spouse.
  • If you are new to this blog and interested in our entire journey with the boys, please go back to: The beginning
  • If you’d like to financially participate in our adoption journey, you are welcome to do so right here: Bring Our Boys Home
  • If you’d like to host an orphan, check this out: Host Ukraine
  • If you have your own tale of how God redeemed the dreams you thought we lost, please email me at info@julietvanheerden.com so we can share your story with this readership.

Be blessed, dear ones! God is on our side. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)Boys & Me

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

To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Do you guys know what you are getting yourselves into?” The question comes in various forms from a variety of concerned friends and family members.

We don’t. But we’re doing our best to find out.

I like lists. Pros and Cons. Cut and Dried. I begin making one in my head.

What’s the worst thing that could happen by bringing a couple of orphaned Eastern European teenagers into our family?” Honey and I hold the conversation while holding hands in the car on the way to our favorite Thai restaurant for date night.

I don’t know. They could axe murder us in the night?” he ventures, half laughing.

Seriously. We know them. That’s not their character.”

Well, maybe they don’t love us as much as we love them. Maybe we are just a free ticket to America and once they are here, they’ll rebel and leave as soon as they can.”

Maybe. That’s certainly their right when they turn eighteen,” I reply. “Do you really believe that?”

I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of the worst thing that could happen,” Honey replies as he pulls into the empty parking lot that houses the darkened Thai dive that has the best green curry in the county.

Well, I think the worst thing that could happen would be that they get hooked on drugs or alcohol or something like that and I’d get to relive the nightmare I’ve already lived with a substance abuser in the family,” I venture.

Or maybe that they cause problems between us and divide and conquer us, and our marriage goes down the tubes,” Honey says as we slide into our usual booth and wave to the waitress who has memorized our order down to the extra rice for Honey and the extra spice for me.

Maybe. But we’re too smart to let that happen, right? I prayed too hard to find you in this world. I’m not about to let anything mess with us.”

Honey smiles and takes my hand to pray over our meal.

You’re happy when the boys are here,” he says. It’s the kind of happy you get when we visit your sister’s kids. It’s a different kind of happy than when it’s just you and me. I’m not jealous. I can just see that there is something missing from our lives. Something that makes my wife’s eyes light up.”

I miss them,” I reply. “I really miss them.”

“Yeah. They bring a lot of energy into our home. They get us off of our little workaholic treadmills and force us to have fun. I miss them, too.”IMG_3796

I’m thrilled they expressed that they want to be adopted by us. I was afraid of what they would say in their exit interviews,” I confess as our green curry arrives. “I’ve been holding my breath ever since they left. Waiting to know if they really want to come back and be part of our family.”

We just have to trust that God is leading, and go through the doors He opens,” Honey says. We love them. They love us. God placed the four of us together for a reason. We can’t know everything. We won’t know everything. We just have to trust Him. We will do everything we can do to bring the boys home. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, we still have to trust Him.”

We don’t discuss it anymore. But I can’t stop thinking about it. I try not to let fear have a foothold in the days that follow as various people express their doubts and questions and scary “what-ifs.”

God, I know we can’t control people. No one knows how a story will end. Nobody can guarantee that babies won’t be born with defects, that toddlers won’t drown, that teenagers won’t drive drunk and ruin somebody’s forever. We don’t know whether our daughters will become victims or our sons, felons. We all want to live in this safe, tidy, neat little world where our kids turn our great and our spouses love us til death do us part. But You and I both know that it doesn’t work that way.

We love. And love is messy. Love hurts. Love sometimes leaves us bleeding on the sidelines after we get kicked in the proverbial teeth by somebody who is supposed to be on our team. Does that mean we never sign up for the league? Does it mean we sit on the bleachers while everybody else plays the game of life? Does it mean we simply coach and counsel and cheer the rest of the world on, but never take the risk of suiting up and entering the arena ourselves?

To love is to be vulnerableWhat should we do, God? Should we sit this one out or dance?

Two days later, I check my messages on VK (Ukraine’s version of Facebook), hoping for a response to the words we texted the boys after learning what they said to the social worker: “When we said we loved you, we meant it. We just received the results of your exit interview and are so excited to learn that you want to be adopted into our family! We are thrilled to know that you have also chosen us. Thank you for giving us a chance to be your family. We thank God for you.”

In my inbox, I see a reply from the Boy who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. His words are few, but they are enough. Дякою вам.Я вас дуже дуже Люблю.” (Thank you. I love you very, very much.)

In that moment, I hear God’s whispered response to my earlier question, “Should we sit it out or dance?”

“I hope you dance.”

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I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

Interested in Orphan Hosting? Click here.

Want to help us bring the boys home? Click right here.

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’,
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’,
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance..
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone)”

(Thanks to Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers for writing the lyrics to “I Hope You Dance,” made popular in 2000 by Leann Womack and Sons of the Desert.)

Catch Ronan Keating’s Version on You Tube, Right Here.