My Only Weapons

     Eight months is a long time. Ask any expectant mother. At 32 weeks, she’s nearly ready to give up. According to #lifehack author Paisley Hansen, your heart burns, your brain fogs— even breathing becomes difficult. Having never been pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Except that I know.

I know how it feels to want something with all your mamma heart. I know how it feels to anticipate that “something” and to wait expectantly as God grows desire into reality. I know how it feels to fall fervently in love with a small person (or two), and become willing to sacrifice the normalcy of the life you once had with your Honey for the crazy some call “life” when your family of two suddenly becomes a family of four.

   

 I also know how it feels to have your heart burn and your brain fog and your breathing become labored when all you have labored for feels lost and dead and ruined, and your dream gives birth to a truth you never anticipated and weren’t prepared for. (How does anyone prepare for parenthood?)

     

THAT, my friend, is the reality sandwiched between my last blog post and today. The eight months between then and now, like most pregnancies, have been full of dramatic change, painful revelation, and probing questions, sprinkled with an unhealthy dose of fear, doubt, and negative self-talk (What were we thinking? If only I had listened longer, loved harder, prayed more, complained less…)

   

 Some may say I’m over-the-top, overdramatic, oversensitive, or undereducated about teenagers and the difference between their normal drama and the real and lasting effects of childhood trauma. I’m learning. The struggle is real. It’s tough to untangle. As my teens might say, “It’s whatever.” It’s whatever you never read about, whatever the experts never told you, whatever you never knew you (or they) were capable of. It’s whatever.

     

For eight months I’ve struggled to reconcile my head and my heart. What the counselors and the books and the folks who’ve walked the rocky road of international adoption said made perfect sense – to my head. The breakdown came when my heart became enlarged and began to show up on my sleeve. The breakdown came when expectations came into play. No expectations = no disappointment, right? Didn’t I learn this long ago? I’ve been actively part of the recovery community for ten years. (So many recovery principles adapt themselves to living with and loving victims of trauma and/or abuse.)

   

 Substance abuse counselor Carole Bennett says this, “You need to be bold enough and strong enough to let the alcoholic/addict’s recovery unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations, and in doing so you will be ahead of the curve. Your expectations should not be part of the alcoholic/addicts life as they have nothing to do with you and whether you are doing the “right thing” or not.”

     

What if the above quote read, “Parents of fostered or adopted children, you need to be bold enough and strong enough to let your child’s recovery/restoration/healing unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations… Your expectations should not be part of your child’s life, as they have nothing to do with you and whether you, as a parent, are doing the “right thing” or not.”

   

 I want so badly to do the “right thing.” Maybe you do, too. Life with substance abusers or adopted teenagers, or victims of trauma or any combination thereof can leave one wondering what the right thing truly is. I can promise you this—the right thing isn’t always what you read in books or “connected parenting” blog posts. The right thing isn’t necessarily what other parents or teachers, coaches or counselors, or even well meaning pastors tell you. Please hear me out. I believe in research and connectedness and godly counsel. And I don’t know what my Honey and I would have done without all the human shoulders we’ve cried on this past year and a half. But the truth of the matter is we received enough confusing and conflicting advice to fill the Great Blue Hole . We tried so many things. We miserably failed at so many things.

 

“We are fighting!” I wept into my phone one evening in August. “Fighting for our marriage. Fighting for our family. Fighting for peace in our home. Fighting for the souls of our kids.”

“Love and prayer are your only weapons,” my friend quietly declared. “That’s it. That’s what you’ve got.” He punctuated his statement with scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV). A verse I know by heart, but perhaps not by experience.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of these is love.”

Love? Prayer? Haven’t I been doing these things all along?  I asked the Lord later. Haven’t I loved and prayed and prayed and loved until I am absolutely exhausted with it all? 

 “You have done your human best,” my heart heard Him say. “Now allow Me to do My best. Stop trying to control everything. You can’t love enough or pray enough to fix what’s broken inside any person, not even yourself. But I can love that person through you. And the Holy Spirit within you can intercede on behalf of someone who is unable to even utter their own prayer. You can humbly choose to love on purpose and allow Me to do what only I can do.”

Three months later, I wrote in my journal: Thank you, God, for the counselor’s straight talk to me. I will do what he said. I will release my boys to You. I will trust You with them 100% and stop trying to control ANYTHING with them. Then I will be free to be the mom I want to be. The mom I’ve always dreamed of being. I know I cannot make them love or care about me. I know I cannot protect them from their own choices. I’ve been so disappointed. So hurt. So sad. It’s hard to move forward. Hard to find joy. Hard to love well. Please restore joy and peace and love and intimacy back into our home. Only You can do this. Only You, Jesus.

I‘ve never been a patient person. I want it ALL. I want it RIGHT NOW! This is not the way of Jesus. He patiently unravels our knotted souls, softens our hurt-hardened hearts and restores our damaged frontal lobes. The real question is, “Do we trust Him?” Do we trust Him with our deepest selves?  Do we trust Him with our most precious loved ones? Will we trample FEAR and REJECTION and swallow our PRIDE and allow Him to finish the good work He began in each of us?

I tried it. Not easy. No, not for a person whose default is fear-based control. But I tried it. And slowly, slowly some walls began to come down from around certain hearts in our home. Three nights ago someone called me into the kitchen after the lights were low. I held my breath as my son looked me in the eye and said, “Remember that rule about ‘don’t touch me?'”

“Yes. I’m very sorry I touched you on the shoulder when I said, ‘goodnight.'”

“You can forget about that rule.”

Yep. That’s what love and prayer does. That’s what God does. It only took eight months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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)

~~~~~~~~~~

  • 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.

~~~~

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

~~~~

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

Open Letter to My Boys of Summer

Dear Boys,

Ten weeks ago, you were strangers. To each other. To us. When Honey and I met you at the airport, the anxiety in our eyes mirrored yours. None of us knew what to expect.

I can picture the moment.

May I hug you?” I ask, trying to find your eyes beneath overgrown bangs as the interpreter translates my words into a language I’ve never heard.

You nod. The circle my arms form around your thin frames feels too small for fifteen-year-old boys. You don’t hug back. Nor do you pull away.

I glance at My Honey. The lump in my throat makes my eyes water as I see tears balancing on the edge of his gaze.

I can’t take this,” he mouths behind your heads. “My heart is breaking. They look so lost.”First photo

That was ten weeks ago.

Last night you paused the movie we were watching to inform us there is “war in Ukraine.” When you pointed out the location of your orphanage in relation to the area where the fighting is taking place, I realized how close to “home” that war is to you. I know your older brothers are in the armed forces. I know that in a matter of months, you could be, too.

God, how can kids “age out” of Ukranian orphanages at sixteen? They are babies, not men. Not ready to be on their own. Certainly not ready to fight Russians.

You can hear the gunfire from your school?” I spoke into the Google Translate app on my iphone.

Yes.”

Then you broke my heart.

“Me stay in America?” one of you asked, trying out your new English skills.

“We come for Christmas?” queried the other.

Your questions hung in the air for a moment as your eyes found mine. Those eyes. Too proud to plead, yet silently imploring me to make a difference in your destiny.

I’m sorry I hesitated. Fumbled with my iphone. Fought the tears. Failed to respond with affirmation. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that question. Honey and I need to talk. We need to pray. We need to know that this is God’s plan for our family. For our ministry. We need to know that you love us, too. That you want to be a part of our lives as much as you want to come to America.

You didn’t wait long. A half-second at most. You read the doubt. The fear. The self-protective I-don’t-want-to-get-hurt-again veil that sheltered my soul. You unpaused the movie. You retreated. I lost the moment.

This morning as you sleep, I think of all the things I long to say. The things I know are true. The things I feel inside when your smiles are wide and free and full of joy. IMG_4516The things I trust when I hear you pray in a language I cannot understand, to The God who understands all things.

In two days you will both be gone. On a plane back to Ukraine. To a life I don’t know about. Will you each become just another orphan in a building full of boys who need a home? Or one more casualty in a pointless war? Or another kid on the streets, living hand to mouth, bottle to bottle, or trick to trick when an unfair system ages you out?

I cannot bear to think of it. I do not want to know.

You are not just some random orphaned boys. Your spirits are kind. Your minds are bright. Your prayers are heard. Your hearts are loved. Your home is here._DSC4874

But I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the days of summer have gone

Lyrics by Don Henley 1984 (slightly modified by me, Summer 2015)

For more information about hosting orphans for the summer or winter holidays, check out Project One Forty Three.

The Doorway of Decision

“It’s all about choices.” My sister loves to repeat that sentence, applying it to anything from why people are overweight to why marriages crumble. She’s right. Life unfolds through the power of choice. Sometimes victims of someone else’s addictions struggle with believing that they have the power to choose something different.Doorways

In Same Dress, Different Day I write about how love is a decision (thanks Gary Smalley, for the original thought) and how I chose to love my first husband, “Jon,” despite my feelings toward him after he was admitted to a drug rehab.

“Life is different when lived from a place of one’s own choosing, rather than as a victim of circumstance. Once I chose to begin practicing a lifestyle of love and forgiveness within my marriage, regardless of reciprocation, the Lord began to give me feelings to go along with my decision. Just a short while before, I had felt anger, fear, and utter disgust with Jon. Toward the end of his stay at the drug rehabilitation center, I began experiencing feelings of compassion, forgiveness, love and hope for my broken spouse” Same Dress, Different Day, p. 59.

On the following page, I write: “I learned unconditional love does not mean passively allowing another person to use you. I learned forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Slowly, I began to learn how to find joy in life, apart from any choices Jon made. My joy did not have to depend upon another’s decisions.”

Merrriam-Webster.com defines codependency as “a psychological condition in which someone is in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship that involves living with and providing care for another person (such as a drug addict or an alcoholic).” Because of Leon, [my Christian counselor] I began taking my first steps away from unhealthy codependent patterns in my relationships, toward the freedom of living with healthy boundaries.”

Boundaries are vital to healthy relationships. They prevent others from oozing into our personal space and occupying areas of our lives meant solely for God or our spouse. They also safeguard us against the oozing of others. Here’s what Dr. Henry Cloud, author of several books on boundaries says about them:

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.
Henry Cloud, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life

That’s a heavy statement. We so often tend to blame other people for our unhappiness, yet we have the power to choose to implement changes that could impact our happiness. What prevents us from doing that? I’d say FEAR.

Fear of Change is one fear that underscores many of our decisions.

The Celebrate Recovery Devotional, Day 26 offers this wisdom about life-controlling fear:

“Fear of change can keep us from confronting problems in our lives and get us stuck in our recoveries. Deep down inside, we know that change is inevitable. However, because we already have to adjust to so many changes that we have no control over…we delude ourselves into believing that things will be all right if they just stay the same….

…Most of us fear change, and we can sometimes allow that fear to get us stuck in our recovery journey. When we begin to fear change, we need to go right back to Recovery Principle Five: “Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove any character defects.” It helps to understand that there are three main reasons we resist change.

  1. We may be paralyzed by the fear of failure. But falling down doesn’t make us a failure; staying down does. This is where our faith and trust in Jesus Christ come into play.

Philippians 4:19 assures us: And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

  1. We may fear intimacy because of the fear of rejection or of being hurt again. This is why it is so important to move slowly in a new relationship, taking time to seek God’s will, to develop realistic expectations and to establish proper boundaries. We hold tightly to Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
  1. We may resist change (growth) because of the fear of the unknown. We may think, “My life is a mess, my relationships are a mess, but at least I know what to expect – a mess!” The unknown can be scary if we are trying to face it alone. That is why we need to rely on Christ and our accountability team. God tells us in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

If we find ourselves “stuck” in our recovery, it may be that we are resisting a change that God wants us to make. It is only through change that growth can occur. It is only through change that our recovery can happen. It is only through change that we can become free from our hurts, hang-ups and habits.”

Life is all about choices. What fears are holding you captive? What will you choose to do with those fears today?

Choosing Trust

I’d like to welcome my friend Bridget back to the author’s chair. It’s been a while. As you will see in her piece, she’s been slogging through some valleys since her last post. God is walking alongside her in her pain. Her writing comes from a raw place. Her trust is shaky. She is vulnerable as she shares her heart with us here.

I don’t mind vulnerable. This blog is not for perfect people to tell others how to get it right. This little community is for struggling people to share their “experience, strength and hope,” as Alcoholics Anonymous so perfectly puts it. If you connect with Bridget’s pain, please give her some feedback in the comments section. Perhaps you can be the one to share hope with her as she chooses trust over doubt and faith over fear.

Choosing Trust

 “Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation]

under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you,

 Casting the whole of your care

[all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all]

on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.”

1 Peter 5:6-7 (AMP)

Church Pane edit

No more, Lord.

Tired, no – exhausted and emotionally drained, I throw myself onto my bed. Tears stream down my face as I beg for the day to end.

I awake the next morning, my eyes heavy, my body exhausted, my mind scrambling­­—trying to distinguish dream from reality. I start searching around, only to discover that my fear is reality. My friend, my buddy, is really gone. My losses are all true. This one is just the most recent, a fresh wound.

As tears well up in my eyes, my heart begins to ache. I can’t breathe. My eyes search the room in the hope of finding him. Instead, my gaze is captured by a picture on the wall—a picture of Jesus carrying a black sheep on His shoulders. I cry out to the Lord, “No more Lord, no more! Am I the black sheep of your family, Lord?

Blinded by pain, I can’t see God. The heartbreak of the past few months is suffocating me. I feel my physical strength declining, and I’m not sure how I can endure the emotional and mental anguish any longer. I feel lost. Abandoned.

The famous phrase, “The Lord will not give us more than we can bear” rings loud in my ears. For many years I’ve believed this saying to be true, but as I write this today, I’m not so sure I believe the truth. It’s obvious to me, because of the pain He has allowed to pass through in my life, that God sees me as stronger than I see myself. My heart is so heavy from the weight of my burdens. My struggles crush me. I can feel God’s Spirit slipping away…

Where is God? Does He see me? Does He know my pain?

Matthew 11:28 (MSG) comes to mind; “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”

Rest? That sounds wonderful. I’d love to have rest. I would love to have peace of mind. I want this rest, but it seems out of reach. I desire it. I long for it. I seek after it, but every time I get close I am faced with another trial. Rest disappears—like a figment of my imagination. Once again, hope is lost and oceans of pain come flooding back in. Despair becomes my reality.

In the mist of the chaos of my mind, I hear a still small voice saying, “Come to me. Just come. I’m here.” It dawns on me that I desire rest, but I do not desire surrender. Then truth hits me. “Rest” is given when surrender is received. God will give me rest when I come to Him and surrender myself, my burdens, and my pain.

I have to Trust God’s promises—even when there’s no evidence or proof of truth in them. It’s not God who walked away, it was me who turned from Him. It was not God’s Spirit slipping away, it was me turning away from His Spirit. I now know that God does give us more than we can handle so that we will give Him the handle to steer our lives! He allows for burdens to be placed on our shoulders temporarily, hoping that we will turn around and give them to Him to carry. It is through our unwillingness to surrender, to “come” and release our struggles to Him, that we continue to carry our burdens and suffer underneath the weight of them. By not surrendering, we prevent ourselves from experiencing the rest He promised us.

So… Am I ready to turn my burdens over to God in full surrender? Truthfully, I am not sure. I am crippled by fear and pain, but what I do know is that He’s waiting for me (and you) to cast my (our) cares upon Him, for God cares for me. He cares for you, too. Will you let Him?

Bridget b&w

 

Bridget writes from Orange Park, Florida where she serves her community as an educator, her church as an elder, and her family as wife, mother, and “grammy.”

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:

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

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.

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

_DSC3364

 

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.

 

 

Taking Step 4 – Fear or Faith?

Yellow orange light crept across the sky just as I finished typing. From my seat in our loft, I saw the sun rising red through the round window overlooking our scrubby three acres. I had been up all night, pouring my heart into letters that made words and paragraphs and pages of explanations and apologies and pleas for mercy. In a desperate attempt to appeal to the head director of the adoption placement agency, I had written our entire story, including the part about how we loved this child as if she were our own flesh and blood, promising that we would never do anything to intentionally cause her pain.

Our meeting with the director was scheduled for nine o’clock that morning. Please Lord God, I prayed as the printer spit out page after page, Please let him have compassion on us.

That’s how Chapter Eight begins – with me in a position of begging: begging God for mercy after I had compromised the truth by turning a blind eye to dishonesty. Begging the director for a second chance. Begging my spouse to stay present through the pain, rather than turning to the numbing comfort of his addiction. The begging did no good. I was broken.

Recently I read the story of King David, after he was approached by the prophet Nathan and forced to face his sin concerning beautiful Bathsheba (See 2 Samuel 12). It’s a heart-wrenching tale of a man who allowed his own desires to supercede his good sense, his calling, and his conscience. He got rebuked by the prophet and suffered some painful consequences, one being the death of his firstborn with Bathsheba. In verses 16-18, we find King David in the posture of pleading. He refused to eat for seven days, choosing instead to lie on the ground and allow himself to weep.

I understand his anguish. His guilt. His shame. King David’s moral failure resulted in devastating loss. So did mine.

The first time I walked through the dreaded Fourth Step in a recovery group, I was struck by the words “searching” and “fearless.” If you are unfamiliar with Step 4, it says, “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”Step 4 Meme

I was terrified. I was also determined that there would be no skeletons in my closet and that I would ask the Holy Spirit to reveal anything I needed to add to my list. Although I had long ago repented of the sin of being dishonest on our adoption paperwork by neglecting to admit my knowledge of my spouse’s chemical dependency history, I had not allowed God to search the recesses of my heart for the motive behind my dishonesty.

During the process of making my fearless and searching moral inventory, I asked God to reveal the motives of my heart that had led to past moral failures. When He did, I was surprised to learn that FEAR was at the root of my failure to report the truth on our paperwork. That dishonesty was a fruit that could be traced down to a root of fear in my life and a distrust of God’s ability to handle a situation without me manipulating it.

When the Holy Spirit revealed that truth to me, I realized that FEAR also operated in other areas of my life, manifesting itself in unhealthy ways. Working Step 4 allowed me to take a deeper look at what seemed like a one-time incident. It allowed me to see patterns of thinking and behaving that could be traced back to FEAR. It allowed me to come face to face with myself and face to face with my faith.

Can FEAR and FAITH operate simultaneously in our lives?

We are each invited to do a thorough self-examination. Lamentations 3:40 (NKJV) says, “Let us search out and examine our ways.” But, it doesn’t stop there. After we examine our ways, God invites us to turn our backs on the past and turn back to Him. Here’s verse 41: “And turn back to the Lord; Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

David is a good example of someone who does this well. After being confronted by the prophet, here’s what happens next: “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2 Samuel 12:13). Isn’t God gracious? After all that David had done to lust, commit adultery, impregnate another man’s wife, and have him murdered! Still, The Lord “put away his sin!”

After David pled with God for days, begging in vain to be that sinfully-conceived child’s father, he accepted his harsh reality. The baby would not live. Did not live. When he realized this truth, the Bible says, “David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20).

That’s a hard pill to swallow. But he took it like a man who trusted the heart of his heavenly Father. I cannot say that I completely understand this passage, nor can I fathom the reasons that an innocent child could not live. Even so, I choose to trust the heart of The Father.

I choose to trust Him now, and I chose the same, all those years ago when I was not allowed to raise the child I loved more than anything. Did I always choose worship as the avenue for healing? No. But sometimes I did. And when I did, those were the moments that gave me the courage to take one more step out of the valley of the shadow of death – the death of my dreams, the death of my marriage, the death of my life as I knew it.

Whatever your circumstance, whatever giants you face today, will you choose to fight your FEAR with FAITH? As you make your own “fearless and searching moral inventory,” will you simply ask God to show you the root of your sin and trust Him to love you anyway and restore you to wholeness? Will you choose to trust your Father’s heart with your Step 4?

P.S. If this post ministers to you, please FOLLOW & SHARE. I’d love to grow our readership! Thank you!