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

Goodbye Fear, Goodbye Boys

Departure“I’m fine.” (I whispered into the phone when My Honey called from Tennessee an hour ago.)

“Fine.” (To my Sis earlier this evening.)

“Just fine.” (To the friend who checked on me after school.)

I thought I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

You unravel me, with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

The song begins when I click the link on a friend’s Facebook post. So do the tears.

I’m home. Alone. Honey is away for a few days, doing maintenance on our Tennessee property. My summer boys are gone. After ten weeks of unending energy, eating, motion, noise and chaos – silence. Until that song.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

The lyrics remind me of TRUTH while LIES seek to distort my thinking. I don’t want to be a slave to fear. But I feel it breathing down my neck.

Fear caught me unaware during church last weekend, as I stood to bow my head for prayer. Staring down at my painted toes peeking from Sabbath sandals, I noticed that my wedges were wedged between two pairs of size ten shoes; shoes that cradled the feet of boys too big to cradle. How I longed to pull them close and hold them like the mother they no longer have.

God, what if I never see them again? What if they forget all about us when they get on that plane tomorrow? What if they grow up too fast over there and the ocean that separates us becomes more than water?

I recognized the Liar, the Evil Puppeteer behind my fear. Bowing my head, I placed those boys in God’s protective care. Releasing them to Him, I chose to trust Him with their future.

Now I’m struggling to trust Him with mine.

From my Mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into your family
Your blood flows through my veins             

I know I told them that God has a plan for their lives. A calling. An anointed purpose. Honey and I gifted them with Bibles, modern translations for young people, written in their Ukrainian language. We encouraged them to get to know God for themselves. To trust Him with everything.

Can I now practice what I preached, Lord? Do I have the faith to trust You with them? To trust my that my future with You is sure – with or without those two Ukrainian orphans?

I remember our final moments:

They say goodbye to me at home. I’m not going to Atlanta for their departure. Honey will take them and continue on to Tennessee. I will go school and teach second grade on Monday morning.

The four of us kneel in the living room to pray – just as we have morning and evening all summer long. I pray. Honey prays. The boys remain silent. They lug their luggage out to the van. I retreat to Honey’s office, fighting back the tears I don’t want them to see me cry. (I wept once, a few weeks ago, frightening them both. I’m an ugly crier.) They find me. They hug me. They tell me not to cry. Then they buckle themselves into the bucket backseats and Honey backs out of the driveway. I wave them to the corner. I sit on my sofa and wail.

I pick up the phone to call Honey. No answer. He’s speaking with someone. He texts. “Text me.”

“I forgot to say, ‘I love you.’ To the boys.” I text back.

“You didn’t.”

“I know you are in a hurry. I’m sorry. Please stop and let me.”

“You didn’t forget. You said it.”

“No. I didn’t. I will meet you. Please.”

“I’ll meet you at the post office,” Honey concedes.

Grabbing my keys, I rush to my car. I speak into my Google Translate app at the stoplight, then race to the post office.

Our van is the only vehicle in the parking lot. Honey stands outside, speaking with someone on his phone. The back doors are open. The boys are watching a movie.Goodbye boys

“Push pause,” I say as they glance up. “I forgot something important.”

Yura pauses the movie. Pasha searches my face. They see the evidence of tears. They hold my gaze. I push play and Google turns the cry of my heart into words they can understand.

“I forgot to say I love you. I think you know that I do. But I wanted you to hear the words. I never want you to forget.”

Then I wrap them each in a hug and whisper, “I love you, Yura. I love you, Pasha.”Goodbye Pasha

I do not expect a response. Those words… from a wounded teenage boy, are diamond-rare. Dinosaur-extinct. Blood-from-a-turnip would be an easier extraction. I know this. I don’t care. I want them to hear how I feel. I want them to carry that in their hearts all the way to Ukraine. All the way to heaven.

You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

As I pull away from the boy most like me, the one who guards his emotions closely, and reserves his affection for special occasions, I hear the words. They are soft, yet strong. “I love you.” His eyes confirm that truth.

The other one simply says, “You’re crazy, Juliet.” But his smile lets me know my offering is reciprocated. He feels the same.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I drive home blind, torrents of tears clouding my contact lenses. Yet I can see more clearly than ever before. I got a glimpse of God in those moments: His unabashed desire for our good. His unashamed emotion as He pours Himself into our lives. His crazy love that does not demand reciprocation, but just IS. His willingness to chase us down and stop us in our tracks just to let us know how much He truly loves us! His joy when we accept Him and trust Him enough to love Him back.

I’m remembering that love tonight as I sit quietly in my empty nest.

I’m fine, Lord. Yes. I really am fine.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” 1 John 4:18

No Longer Slaves,Written by Brian Johnson, Jonathan David Helser, Joel Case

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?

The Path to Vulnerability

Hi, I’m Juliet. I’m a grateful believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and I’ve been hiding. I know it’s silly. After all this work, this writing, this wringing of my heart onto paper. But now that the paper is bound together and wrapped in a cover that I love, and even fought for…I hide. What is that?Same Dress Cover June 2015

I check the mail each day, heart pounding, hoping to see if the paperback proof has arrived. Dreading the truth that once I hold it in my hands, it is real. And a real book must have readers. And readers have opinions and thoughts and feedback and criticisms. And what if I’m not strong enough to stand beneath the weight of those things?

Weeks, no months now, have passed with me barely writing anything new, hardly communicating with the platform of readers I’ve been tenderly, carefully growing for the past two years. Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I went back to teaching full time in January. And yes, I’ve been editing and re-editing my manuscript and waffling about the cover design. But mostly, I’ve been hiding.

Brené Brown is one of my heroes. If you haven’t seen her Ted Talks on “Listening to Shame” and “The Power of Vulnerability,” please do yourself the favor and set aside 40 minutes to view them both. Even though I’ve seen them, AND read her book, Daring Greatly, I need a refresher course on vulnerability, because, for weeks I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” I need a Texas-style, Brené Brown kick-in-the-pants reminder, because somewhere along the way toward publishing this memoir, I’ve slipped in a puddle of shame, and fallen into the sinkhole called fear. I’ve been tempted to, as Brené would say, “stand outside the arena.”

You see, as she says in her Ted Talk on shame, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.” I need to find my way back to you, the people I’m writing for. And I know vulnerability is the way. I just don’t know what I’m afraid of. Perhaps I’m afraid of my book not being perfect.Farm RoadMs. Brown says, It’s “seductive” to stand outside the arena, and think we’re going to wait until we are “bulletproof and perfect” before we do anything.

I’ve fallen for the seduction. I’ve been writing and re-writing. Editing and re-editing. Waffling between the “cutting edge” designs of my hired graphic artists and the book cover image I had in my head – the one that inspired the title of my memoir. But then I re-read this quote from Brené Brown’s shame talk: “And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in… and…to dare greatly.”

You really don’t want “perfect,” do you? You want real. Right?

My book is not perfect. I am not perfect. I am afraid to be this real, this raw, this transparent. I don’t want anyone to read my memoir -even though I’ve written as honestly and frankly as I could about the equally deadly addictions of codependency and cocaine. I feel like I’m opening my soul for the world to pick apart like a bunch of hungry vultures. (Forgive the analogy. I’m sure it’s more than a little harsh. But, that’s how I feel.) But, the “world” isn’t the audience I wrote for. I wrote for the people who will “get” me because they have suffered the singular pain of loving a person with a life-destroying addiction. Or, they love someone who loves someone caught in the claws of addiction, and they long to better understand what their loved one is going through.

I want those people to read my memoir. Why? Because I want you to know that if I can do this, you can, too. You can be real with God and believe that He hears your cries when you are alone in your bed after the worst of betrayals. You can survive heartbreak and heartache and the deep physical ache of brokenness in all its forms. And you too can tell your story in such a way that God will use it to bring hope and healing to someone else’s brokenness. I want you to be inspired with hope by my story – a story of God’s faithfulness to me despite my imperfections, my poor choices, my stubbornness and my own unfaithfulness.

So, I am choosing to dare greatly. I choose to enter the arena. I will continue, by God’s grace and mercy, to write and speak and share my story. I will make my book available to real flesh and blood readers. I will brace myself for any criticism and trust God to thicken my skin as I share my soul with you. I will continue to blog here. I will not hide any longer.

Thank you for letting me share.

Juliet

“Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket. Empathy is the antidote to shame.” Brené Brown

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en

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!

I’m Not Codependent!…Am I?

I’m one of those strange souls who enjoys taking quizzes and tests. Nothing thrilled me more as a student, than the week of standardized assessments – no homework, extra recess time! My teachers often allowed me to read a book when I “finished early.” As an avid reader, I would race through the test questions so I could get back to Anne of Green Gables.

Decades later, I still like to fill in the blanks and pencil in the bubbles with a sharp no. 2 pencil. Always a sucker for instant gratification, computerized tests with immediate results thrill me even more!

While sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, a friend leaned over and whispered, “What are you on the Meyers-Briggs?” When I told her, she laughed and replied, “Only personalities like us actually remember!” Perhaps she’s right. Those four letters are seared on my brain like a tattoo. (If you’re unfamiliar, you can read about the assessment here: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/)

What about you? Do you like to discover yourself in personality quizzes? If, like me, you have loved someone who is addicted to something, perhaps a little codependency quiz may be a helpful reality check. I think I paid $70.00 for my first reality check – with a therapist. I was so desperate to speak with someone that I didn’t care that it took the electric bill money. I needed to know where I stood on the emotional Richter scale. The minor tremors could no longer be controlled. I was headed for a major seismic meltdown. I needed help.

When I look into eyes that reflect the familiar pain that used to haunt me in the mirror, I cannot walk away. This weekend I sat across from a pair of hopeless eyes and wept the tears she could not yet cry. I know, my friend. I get it. You are too numb to weep, too tired to leave, too angry to stay. You need respite. A place to grieve, to think, to pray…

That conversation reminded me of how it feels to be stuck – unsure whether I’m making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill; unsure whether what I’m seeing and feeling is justified by the on-again-off-again “love” of my significant other. For anyone out there who feels this way or knows someone who does, these, and similar behaviors collectively have a name. Codependency. There are support groups (Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or Codependents Anonymous (http://coda.org/) who can help us to see ourselves when the mirror is foggy. Codependency for Dummies

Self Check:

Do I…

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel?
  • Compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger?
  • Put other people’s needs and desires before my own (to the detriment of my own physical, spiritual, emotional or mental health?)
  • Worry about how others may respond to my feelings, opinions and behavior?
  • Value others opinions and feelings more than my own?
  • Judge everything I think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough?”
  • Spend my energy on someone else’s problem or life?
  • Feel loyal to someone who is hurting me?
  • Fear being left or rejected?
  • Adapt to others’ tastes of point of view?
  • Rescue, enable, or support a “bad habit” in someone I love?

 Am I…

  • Afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others?
  • Afraid of my own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage?
  • Afraid to express differing opinions or feelings?
  • A perfectionist?
  • Extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long?
  • Controlling?
  • Lacking boundaries and have difficulty saying, “no?”
  • Continually justifying and explaining myself?
  • Unable to get over losses or break-ups?
  • Staying in a relationship I’m not happy with because “something is better than nothing?”

The above lists were gleaned from Celebrate Recovery resources and Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer, MFT. (If you’d like a more “official” online quiz to feed your inner test-taker, you can find one here: http://www.codependencynomore.com/

Although these are only partial lists, and behaviors almost everyone exhibits at times, I invite you to prayerfully consider whether they are red flags in your life. If so, don’t wait! Find a trusted person to speak with about your situation. Read further about codependency. Find a counselor. Ask God to deliver you from the bondage of your own lowered expectations for your life and personal relationships.

I claim this promise from God for you today, “…I redeemed you from the house of bondage…” (Micah 6:4). Be redeemed! Be free! Be whole!