Tug of War

I can feel the tug of war within. The game is rough. The taut rope sears the palms of my heart where scar tissue is covered by callouses after I’ve spent years of hard labor guarding that tender flesh beneath. One moment it appears as if stoicism will win – dragging the surrender flag to the brink of self-protective hard-heartedness. I. Will. Not. Risk. Love. No one will know the difference.

Then, out of nowhere tenderness and compassion join the opposition, pulling hard enough to move that flag back to center.

Fear fights back. Whew! That was close.

God, I’ve done this before. I’ve jumped off the high dive naked – completely abandoning myself to the deep end of the ocean-sized pool of unconditional love. I nearly drowned in the aftermath. I would have drowned, had You not rescued me.

So why are You leading me to the high-dive ladder again? I want to stay in the kiddie pool, where the water is safe and shallow, where I won’t get hurt, where I don’t have to risk the unknown.

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That was yesterday’s prayer. Yesterday. The day my Honey and I dropped our “summer boys” off with another #Project 143 host family for two weeks while he travels for business and I begin my Texas book tour.

A month ago, when we said, “Yes” to these same friends after they nearly begged us to host two teenage boys from Ukranian orphanages for ten weeks, I promised myself I would not fall in love.

Yes, I will provide beds and bikes and trips to the beach. Yes, I will feed them and clothe them and help them learn English. Yes, I will laugh with them, pray with them, and save them from the disappointment of being told, “I’m sorry, you cannot go to the United States for the summer after all, because your original host family had to decline unexpectedly.”

I could do those things. But I could not risk love. Not again. Not after Chapter 7 (#Same Dress, Different Day http://www.amazon.com/Same-Dress-Different-Day-Redemption/dp/1942923066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435263647&sr=1-1&keywords=juliet+van+heerden).

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 My inner tug of war began in the Dollar Store. I hadn’t even met them yet.

Why am I emotional about buying poster board and markers to make a welcome sign? What does it matter whether they like mint gum or fruit gum? What can I put in their backpacks that will make them feel curious and comfortable? Will they like us? Will we like them? The signGod, what were we thinking? I have so much else to do this summer.”

Then I saw them at the airport. The group snuck up on us. André had positioned himself to take a photograph as I waited, welcome sign in hand, behind the barrier. Then I heard laughter behind me. I turned to see other host families excitedly greeting “their” kids. Somehow they’d come in from another entrance and we never saw them until everyone else was matched up.

I caught Yura’s eye first. Smiling I moved toward him, wondering if his expression reflected fear, resignation or both. After our introduction, through the Ukranian chaperone I asked, “May I hug you?”

Yes.”

Jesus, he’s so thin. But his hug is firm. He responded. He smiled. His eyes came alive behind that dark fringe of hair. Where’s the other one?

I don’t see Pasha,” I explained to the chaperone.

She led me to a tall, blonde boy with a muscular build. “This is Pasha,” she said. He was standing with another couple.

I don’t think this is our Pasha,” I countered. He doesn’t look like the photograph we have.”

Oh. I’m sorry! You must have the other Pasha.

He stood alone, not far from Yura, scanning the room.

Are you Pasha?”

Pasha nodded. My Honey sidled up to him with a smile and a side-hug. I shook his hand then hugged him, too. Skinny thing.

Welcome to America. Do you speak any English?”

No English.”

Through the translator we learned that neither boy knew the other. We discovered they were from different parts of Ukraine and had not received our welcome letter, so didn’t know they would be bunking together in our home. We introduced them to each other and awkwardly posed for our first “family” photo.First photoThis could be more difficult than I thought, Lord. I assumed they would speak or understand at least a little English. Please help us to make them feel comfortable. Poor babies.

So began the adventure of adding two fifteen-year-old Ukrainian orphan boys to our tiny, quiet, well-ordered household.

Within days we had our routine down to a somewhat-science: breakfast, morning devotions, everybody helps clean up the kitchen, boys go outside to ride bikes or play ball until the sun melts them into big-eyed puddles begging to go to the pool. Then they’d eat and eat and eat some more before we went shopping for all kinds of necessities. Evenings brought laughter as we made popcorn, played games and introduced them to our friends.

Beach funOkay, Lord, this isn’t so bad. Thank You for Google Translate. Communication hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. But that other part…that emotional tug-of-war part…now that’s hard. That’s not fair.

They weren’t supposed to make me feel things I don’t want to feel. They weren’t supposed to look at me with eyes begging for approval, or sneak into the kitchen for a good morning hug when I’m having my quiet time with You. They weren’t supposed to wheedle and cajole me out of $2.98 for a toy in the checkout line and make me want to buy every piece of fruit in Publix so they would just stop asking for “One more banan.”

I didn’t want to long to know what’s really going on in their heads or wonder what happened to their mothers, or what will happen to them when they go “home.” I’m not prepared to feel what I felt as they sandwiched me in the pew at church last Sabbath, unaware of America’s unspoken I-need-personal-space rule.

After only three days together I wasn’t prepared for Pasha’s tears, or Yura’s self-protective silence after I told them they’d be staying with another family while we went out of town on a trip that had been scheduled before we knew they were coming.

And I wasn’t prepared for yesterday.

  • Yesterday, when Pasha said, “Go! Please! And pointed to the bedroom door when I brought a suitcase for him to pack in and started to help get their things together.
  • Yesterday, when both boys put on their best clothes, gelled their new haircuts, packed their backpacks and stoically got into the minivan – smelling like teenage concoctions of deodorant, aftershave, and mint chewing gum.
  • Yesterday, when Yura slept and Pasha wept in the back seat as we drove south to Tampa.
  • Yesterday, when, after lunch at a Applebee’s in a city three hours from ours, Pasha questioned in English as we walked toward our van “We go home?” knowing full well that he would not be going home with us…

Yesterday, when I lost at tug of war.Family b&W~~~~~~~~~~

Are you interested in:

  • Project 143’s summer and winter hosting programs? http://www.projectonefortythree.org/
  • Turning your copy of my Memoir, Same Dress, Different Day into $$$$ that directly fund our nonprofit ministry to support families affected by addiction? Click the e-donate button on the left side of our website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make a tax-deductible donation of your choice. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com so I can send you a receipt. I will sign and mail your copy directly.) THANK YOU!
  • Helping Honey & me pay for Yura & Pasha’s plane tickets ($3,500) that we so hastily (yet prayerfully) put on our Visa in faith that God was impressing us both to bring these boys into our home this summer: Click the e-donate button on the left side of our non-profit website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make your tax-deductible donation. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com to let me know who you are so I can send you a receipt. HUGE THANK YOU!

She Dared Greatly

I‘ll simply call her, “She.” because you may know her. “She” may live in your community, too. “She” could wear high heels or flip flops, but you’ll recognize her, not for her shoes, but for her heart. Next time you see her, whoever “She” may be, give her a “Woo hoo!” for being vulnerable…for living Wholeheartedly. Let her know you’re in her cheering section!

She wore her rhinestone-pocketed jeans tucked into cowgirl boots. Her naturally curly hair was blonde and straight, her smile bright with expectation. I have not been quite so proud of a grown-up for a long time. Part of me wanted to run onto that stage and wrap my arms around her. Instead, I shouted, “Woo Hoo!” Texas-style, as she stepped up to the podium. Within seconds, I was silently glued to the pew, not wanting to miss one word of her precious gift to Jesus.

You see, she had promised Him that she would tell her story, after He, in a quiet moment, had asked her for it. At first, she shied from the real story, wanting to hide behind the fluff of other, brighter stories that would roll more gently off the tongue. But He persisted. She, wanting to please Him after all He has done for her, for us, relented in humble obedience.

I could feel a shift in the atmosphere as the women shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Most of us had been there, right there, in those shameful places she bravely described with tears in her voice. But most would never dare stand in rhinestones and boots baring our souls before hundreds of strangers. I applauded God as they applauded her. She resonated deep within souls who had come with unspoken expectations, but were completely unprepared for the splendor of sheer vulnerability in blue jeans. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, she connected to the hearts of her hearers. More importantly, she connected her hearers to the heart of God.

photoFor my birthday, I received  Brené Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. In the introduction, she states, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it, there is suffering.” When we, or someone we love messes up badly, or is stuck in addiction, it’s so easy to hide behind a wall of shame, pretending that everything is okay when it’s not. But, according to Dr. Brené Brown, when we do that, we are not living “Wholeheartedly.” In fact, we may not really be living at all. We may be merely existing.

Dr. Brown says on page 9 in her book, that wholeheartedness is “a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness,” and that (p.11-12), “The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men who I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything – from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments – to their ability to be vulnerable.”

When I read that, my immediate thought was, Then all Christians must be “Wholehearted” people, because we believe that we are worth the very life of the Son of God. But in my spirit, I knew for certain that not all of us who proclaim Christ as Lord are living our lives from a Wholehearted stance. Way too many of us are hanging our heads on the way to the altar, if we can even crawl out of bed and make ourselves go to church. Sometimes we give up trying because the masks become too heavy to hold in place. It’s easier to just stay away. Our shame and fear have kept us stuck in a place that is far from the abundant life Our Savior has called us to live.

But, not my rhinestone cowgirl. No way. She’s living abundant life. She’s living Wholeheartedly, pouring out the oil in her alabaster box as she throws herself at the merciful feet of Jesus, just wanting to give the most precious contents of her life back to Him. I loved her for that. I loved Him for giving her the courage to be just that vulnerable.

Brené Brown’s research has shown that the Wholehearted “have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.” She says, “those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging.” (p.11)

We are, each and every one of us, worthy of love, belonging and joy! “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) You are loved. You are worthy of the greatest gift heaven has ever bestowed. Will you walk that out today? Go ahead. Pull on those boots! They were made for walkin’ – Walkin’ out your wholehearted, vulnerable life. Make your Jesus proud. “She” sure did!

http://katiecouric.com/2012/09/13/daring-greatly/ (Click HERE if you want to see Brené Brown discuss vulnerability with Katie Couric.)