“Christ is my life.” A young preacher repeats the phrase multiple times. At the end of his sermon, he raises both hands, vowing once more, “Christ is my life.” I watched that sermon more than a year ago. I’ve not forgotten it.
Today I sit at my cluttered desk, a softly snoring pug at my feet. My Bible is open to Colossians 3:4, which begins, “When Christ who is our life appears…” I remember David Platt’s sermon. “Are You my life?” Jesus doesn’t answer right away. He lets my whispered question rest on my own ears.
2021 has been a year of highs and lows, victories and disappointments, sickness and death. I suppose that’s no different from any other year. But it feels different—the highs fewer than the lows. The victories swallowed by disappointment, the deaths closer than we expected. Too many mornings I’ve opened Facebook to learn of one more friend, church member, or acquaintance who closed their eyes for the last time on earth. Too many phone calls or grim text messages over the past twelve months ended with My Honey and me holding one another close and praying for those left behind. It’s been brutal.
Am I your life when death snuffs out people you love?
The Spirit softly interrupts my thoughts. Grief can easily become a way of life, can’t it? Especially for those who have no hope of seeing a loved one again.
Am I your life when physical pain or mental anguish threatens to steal your joy?
I’ll admit, it’s hard to focus on Christ when I’m hurting. What about you? Has pain become your closest companion?
Am I your life when money is tight and bills are knocking?
The faith it takes to believe God for the tangible is something I’m working on with Him. I want to be a modern George Muller. But I lack the trust to sit at the table and wait for bread. I too often try to make things happen rather than pray for things to happen and allow Christ to be the Bread of my life.
What about you, dear friend? Is Christ YOUR life? Or has the enemy come in like a roaring lion to devour your faith, steal your joy and refocus your attention from what is most important? As we face a new year, I want to encourage you to join me in making Christ my life. We can do this. One day at a time with Jesus, no matter what. He is coming soon and His reward is with Him. I’m excited about that, aren’t you?
Hey first-time momma. I see that sparkle in your eyes—the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation, trepidation and celebration as you post and post and POST pictures of every tiny step leading to your little one’s arrival. You and daddy can’t hide your new-parent pride as you share the details of your journey toward the day you will meet your joy-boy face-to-face.
Cute new clothes neatly folded in his dresser. A closet filled with shoes and shirts and matching pants five sizes too big just because you know he will grow before your very eyes and you don’t want him to lack for one. single. thing. Matching bedding and wall art and family photos all perfectly placed to make him feel right at home in his bright new world.
Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and everybody who loves your family hold their collective breath as they wait and pray for arrival day. Each time you enter his room to straighten a not-really-crooked picture or fluff an already-fluffy pillow you feel like a kindergartener at Christmas, sneaking downstairs to peek at presents under the tree over and over until the magical morning finally dawns.
I see you standing in the nursery doorway, that wistful smile on your face as you dream of the day he will sleep in his very own bed and you will tuck him in and kiss his forehead and say goodnight prayers. Your joy cannot be contained, even when people tell you parenting is not for the fainthearted or the faithless, but for the bold and the fearless. Even when they tell you not to wear your beating heart on your sleeve, but to protect it with the shield of common sense and a tiny dose of pessimism so you won’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go as planned because, “There are birth defects and complications, you know and you must be prepared for these things.” That’s what the naysayers say, but you don’t hear them. You can’t hear them because your love-filled heart is beating too loudly to hear anything else.
You have felt the hand of God Himself move within your being as circumstances beyond your control or imagination came together to create this miraculous addition to your family. Your own faith increases day by day as you watch your Creator answer the deep desires of your heart. You will never take lightly your responsibility and calling to be a mother. You know too much of the inside story to ever believe, even for a millisecond, this wasn’t your path to follow.
You will do your utmost to model Jesus and to love and serve your family well. Sometimes you will fail. In the aftermath of those failures, you will kick yourself harder than you would ever kick anyone else in similar circumstances. Some days you will feel the very world on your shoulders as you carefully weigh out decisions you must make in order to keep peace and safety within your family. You will ache on the inside and smile on the outside as you watch your child learn to crawl and toddle and then walk away from you into a world filled with dangerous people and places you would never wish them to know. Your heart will sing a new song the first time you hear the word “Mom” and know it’s meant for you. And you will turn your head away as tears burn your eyes when the sweet mouth that used to say, “I love you” forms the h-word as a bedroom door shuts right. in. your. face.
You will bow your head. You will touch that closed door and you will pray. You will wonder whether or not to knock or to walk away. And whatever you decide to do will be the wrong decision because that’s what happens a decade or so down the road when his nursery has morphed into a mini man-cave and you are no longer welcome with your hugs and care and goodnight prayers.
I know you can’t believe it now, as you wait and wait and wait for all that you’ve waited for. And I don’t want you to believe it. I pray something different for you. Something more like your dreams and less like your fears. My wish for you, sweet momma, is only roses on Mother’s Day and no thorns on any other day. You might look at me and silently say, “How do you know how I feel? What do you know about being a mom? You never carried a life for nine whole months, sticking out round in front of you for all the world to see. You can’t really know, can you?”
And I suppose I will never know the answers to your questions except to see myself reflected in your eyes as I witness your waiting and anticipating and creating the most perfect little nest you can afford to create. As I listen to your conversations and your self-revelations through each stage of your process as a first-time parent-to-be, I feel like I’m talking to the me I once knew before my nest became full of flying feathers and flapping wings, too quickly returning to empty and quiet and almost tidy.
Maybe my “babies” were already fifteen when they first arrived, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d waited a lifetime for their wide-eyed laughter and softhearted banter that made our house feel more like home. My heart grew as full as your nine-month belly as I rocked one and hugged the other before tucking them in each night. After their breathing grew heavy and steady, I’d whisper a prayer from their doorway, always dreading the day they’d fly away and be grown and gone out of sight.
All the plans and the clothes and the room decorations became Goodwill donations and memories and printed photos on my fridge reminding me how quickly things on earth can change. Yes, I see you first-time-momma. I know you. Once I even was you, cuz you know what? It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, how it happens, or how old your babies are when they land in your nest—when God puts that huge mama love in your heart, there is nothing and nobody who can change it or take it away.
You have a big adventure ahead—lots of twists and turns in life’s highway. Hold on. Chin up. Knees bent. Heart steady. You got this. And just remember, dear girl—all that stuff you feel deep, deep inside about your little one…your heavenly Father feels about YOU. When the going gets tough, let Him love you. Let Him hold you. Let Him keep all His promises until you are fully grown in Him. He will fight the forces that fight against your family and He will save your children. That’s God’s promise. He’s got a place prepared for you like nothing you can imagine. He will bring you and your children and your children’s children all the way home. Forever. Amen.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 NIV
I know I’ve been quiet lately. I tried to write. Wanted to write. Promised myself I would write. But a month passed, and I didn’t (at least not for public eyes). As I expressed in my March 6 post, “Unnamed River,” I’m grieving a loss. A strange mixture of emotions runs through my veins, constricting my throat if my thoughts linger too long in one place. So, I’ve kept myself busy, busy, busy with everything…everything but writing.
As I celebrate my first Mother’s Day as the mother of teenagers who aren’t yet mine, and lay to rest my dream of being a biological mommy, I’ve been extra sensitive to grieving hearts all around me. The image you see above, I shot with my iphone through the windshield of my van as I witnessed the raw grief of a young mother kneeling in the fresh soil of her baby girl’s grave.
The story you will read below, I heard from the lips of a dear friend who feels betrayed by her mother’s death and wondered aloud, “Who is left to daily call my name in prayer? Our great prayer matriarch has passed.”
Whatever YOUR heart holds this Mother’s Day, whether it be joy or sorrow, promise or pain, there is ONE who holds you through it all. May you, like Bridget, discover the gift of Jesus and the hope of heaven.
Hopeful Mothers’ Day.
“For the LORD will comfort __________________(place your name right here),
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”
Isaiah 51:3 NKJV
He is God Through It All
Anxiously I drive home to see Mom —to spend time with her, laughing, talking, or just sitting in silence. As I reflect on everything I want to share with her, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and news of her great grandson (who has grown so much since she last saw him), my excitement grows. I contemplate this reunion, anticipating the memories to be made.
We arrive in town. “Where to?” my husband asks, just as he always does when we go home. To Mom’s house, of course! That’s my first thought. Reality makes me say, “to your father’s house.” We visit with the in-laws then drive to my sister’s home, where we’ll spend the weekend. The evening is fun, full of laughter, chatter, and joy as we watch our busy grandson just being himself.
Saturday wakes me to a quiet house for uninterrupted devotional time in the stillness of the morning. I talk with God about the strength, comfort and peace I need this weekend. I want to go to church, so afterwards I can see Mom. My heart dances as I once again remember our together times. When I’m in my hometown, I look forward Saturday afternoon family time at Mom’s house with my siblings and their families.
Finally, the time arrives when I can see her. Anticipation overwhelms me. But wait…this time is different. She is not at home, or at a sibling’s house, or in the hospital, as she has been so often lately. She is at church, but not seated on a pew. She’s… she’s in a box.
Is this a…casket? Why is she in a casket? No happy expression on her face. No joyous greeting on her lips. Instead, there she lays —lifeless. Then reality hits me. There will be no more laughter. No long, long talks. No more happy moments together. My mom is…dead.
I am breathless. Suffocating. Please someone take this bag off my head so I can breathe. Take this dagger out of my heart so the pain will stop. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, I wonder if I’ll survive. There is no way I can ever make it through this. I still grieve the loss of my father. Just eleven months ago I said goodbye to him. Surely I cannot be asked to grieve for my mother so soon. Lord, this can’t be real. You can’t possibly ask this of me….not now, not today.
This is reality. There is no way around it. No way to avoid it, or forget it. I am asked to face what seems impossible. My heart aches. My mind is confused. I am all at once sad and numb and angry and indifferent. How will I survive this? How?
The days to follow are filled with sadness and pain. Mornings are hard to face and evenings —lifeless and tear-filled. I feel as if someone has removed my oxygen supply and left me to breathe without it. Continuing with life seems impossible. In my mind I know I need to. I have to. But my heart isn’t sure if I want to. I don’t know how. Consumed by pain, I lose track of time, of life. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. Sadness moves into pain, pain into anger; anger into hopelessness, hopelessness into…
No good can come from Mom’s death, I think.
Then I remember her LIFE:
the FAITH she had in GOD
the STRENGTH she drew from HIM
the PROMISES she held on to
the BELIEF that HE would see her through
the COMFORT she found in her RELATIONSHIP with HIM.
All these are things she taught me. Why can’t I find comfort in them?
I recall seeing mom at the dawn of each day and again in the evening hours —spending time in prayer and Bible study, surrendering to God, choosing to be in a relationship Him. I realize if I am to survive, I MUST do the same.
My mom gave me two important gifts. In life, she gave me the gift of Jesus Christ. She introduced me to Him, taught me from His Word and modeled leaning and depending on Him. In death, she gave me the peace of mind of knowing she is resting in Jesus. She knew Him as her Friend. This brings me comfort and hope that I, too can rest in Him and be reunited with her when Christ returns to take His people home.
Am I over my mother’s death? Not in the least. I haven’t fully grieved. I still cry every night. I still long to talk with her, to see her. My heart still aches to the point of physical pain. Sometimes I forget the things she taught me because I allow the pain of loss to overwhelm me. There are other times when I realize something is added to my pain: the COMFORT of GOD’S PRESENCE. Sometimes I even allow Him to hug me. This closeness with God helps me survive the grieving process.
I look forward to spending eternity in heaven, with God and with my mom. I strive to walk in Mom’s footsteps by living a life of total surrender, love, and obedience. I meditate daily on His Word. I seek Him in prayer just like Mom taught me. I am not past the loss yet, but as I grieve, I daily choose to trust and serve the Lord.
If you are grieving a loss, I encourage you to make the choice to also trust and serve the Lord in the midst of your sorrow, disappointment, hurt and pain. In making that decision, you will find the comfort of a loving Savior, and the joy of serving Him. God promised in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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.School 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.“Maybe 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.
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.
“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.I 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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Are you or someone you know interested in forever changing a child’s life through summer or winter hosting? Check this out: Host Ukraine
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.” “Yes. 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. 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.”
Did 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 email@example.com. Let’s make a date!
Wow! Where has a month gone? I’m surprised four weeks have passed since I’ve posted here. I’ve not been swallowed by a sink hole or anything. Promise. (Unless you count preparing a manuscript for publishing a sink hole.) I’m so excited to see the end in sight! Hopefully we will have books in hand by the end of June. Woo hoo! Until then, I’ll be inviting my husband, Pastor André Van Heerden to sit in the Author’s Chair. He’s recently written some encouraging open letters to our church members, and I’ve chosen this one to share with you today, my friend. Thank you for not giving up on me. I hope to get back into the blogging saddle in the near future. In the meantime, please be blessed by my husband’s words. Juliet
“I’ll make a full commitment to God when I’ve stopped drinking,” I’ve heard someone say, or, “When I stop cussing, I’ll come back to church again.” Why do people use their sins and addictions as an excuse not to give their lives fully to God? “God can’t be listening to me when I pray. I’m too far gone. I need to give this up first.” Oh, how those statements hurt God’s heart. Those thoughts don’t come from God, they come from the enemy of mankind, Lucifer himself. God reaches into the lives of sinners and gets His hands dirty in the process saving sinners while they are in the midst of the sin. God always makes a way of escape.
Are you trapped in an addiction? Are you facing feelings of despair? Are you believing the lie that you must first give up your sin and addiction before God will listen or reach down to help you? Stop right where you are and open your bible to Romans 5:6, 8, 10:
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
According to the above passage, for whom has God already provided salvation? The answer is: (1) Those without strength, (2) the ungodly, (3) sinners and (4) the enemies of God. Does the passage say that God only provided salvation for the strong, the godly, the righteous and the friends of God? No. Read the passage again. In the midst of our sin and addiction, we can reach out by faith and claim God’s salvation. The bible tells us in Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” If you ask a person addicted to alcohol, sex, drugs or gambling what would be easier to do—move a physical mountain or overcome their addiction, they’d probably say, ‘move the physical mountain,’ right?
In the midst of addiction, while acting out, reach out to God through the prayer of faith, saying, “Sustainer of the weak, Inviter of the ungodly, Savior to sinners and Forgiver of Your enemies,” rescue me from the choke hold that is squeezing the life out of me. God will move the mountain that is crushing you. He will position a ladder right where you are lying so that you can climb to where you can reach him. The story of Jacob’s ladder can offer hope to the chief of sinners in the lowest depths of their misery. Through faith as small as a mustard seed—hardly visible to the naked eye—every person can have the mountain of sin and addiction removed.
Jacob stole his brother’s right to carry on the lineage of their family by lies and deception (see Genesis 28). While his brother Esau was out hunting for game that would make up the meal at which his father would bestow his firstborn blessing on him, Jacob brought a meal to his father pretending to be Esau. His blind old father was deceived into believing he was blessing Esau when he was actually blessing Jacob. When Esau got back and found out that the firstborn blessing had already been given to Jacob, he threatened to kill him. Jacob was counseled by his mother to flee to a distant land to escape his brother’s wrath.
Alone and afraid, Jacob journeyed through the wilderness, threatened by starvation and the attacks of wild animals. Exhausted, he collapsed on the ground and fell asleep. Right there, God gave him a dream of a ladder reaching from where he lay to the foot of his throne. Ascending and descending on the ladder of light, were angels, bridging the gap so that he could have access to all God had to offer him. While fleeing from the consequences of his lies and deception, God pursued Jacob and gave him the reassurance that He was with him. He wasn’t alone and his sin hadn’t cut him off from God.
Are you desperate for relief from sin and addiction? Are you exhausted from fleeing from the entanglements sin has brought into your life? Have you collapsed to where you can’t go any further? Look up. There’s a ladder reaching from where you have fallen to the very foot of God’s throne. By faith, you can climb up the ladder, supported by heavenly angels, and come boldly before the throne of God. As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We don’t come boldly once we have given up all our sin and addictions. We come boldly in the midst of our sins and addictions that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
André Van Heerden pastors a small church with a big heart. He also teaches CREATION Health classes at his YMCA and ministers to the entire county through a local network of volunteers who live to serve the suffering men, women and children in North Florida. He and Juliet will celebrate five happily married years on May 23, 2015.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” That’s Step 2. It’s a faith step. It means that I realize there’s Someone bigger than me who can sort out my mess and restore my life.
For some of us, raised in Christian homes, that Power is the God of our childhoods – the One who has been with us all along, wooing our hearts in gentle, often-unnoticed ways. For others, with not-so-good childhood images of God, He is not the judging, condemning, angry God of our fathers, but an altogether more personal, intimate, gracious Friend – Someone who understands our story and longs to be the biggest part of it. When we discovery Him and His power to restore – we become a new creation. We are transformed!
That’s the story I want to share with you today – a story of transformation. It’s not my story, but that of a high school classmate. Back in the day, we called him “Pete.” Pete was loud, funny, and one of those “cool” guys who made life on our tiny campus interesting.
I didn’t know him well. Didn’t stay in touch after graduation. Didn’t see him for twenty years. But when I returned for our class reunion in 2008, it only took one glimpse of his face for me to know the lifestyle he’d been living since school. Being newly single, after watching my spouse destroy our marriage with substance abuse, I recognized all the signs. They are burned into my brain. It hurt to talk with Pete; hurt to witness the life path he had chosen.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard from him again. “Juliet, this is Petros Colla. I’d love to share my story with you.”
After listening to what God has done in his life, I invited Petros to write a guest post for this blog. I want to share his story to give my readers hope for their loved ones, (or for themselves). It’s devastating to pray and plead for years, only to watch addiction cycle through a loved one’s life over and over and over again. When there’s a story of someone jumping off the crazy train, I want to share it! Here’s the story of Petros, my high school classmate and friend:
In May of this year my life changed! Five weeks prior to May 8, 2014, I was on my deck having a phone conversation with my sister, Nena, explaining to her that she should write me off. I was done! My street lifestyle and drug addiction had consumed me.
“I can’t shake it,” I told her. “I’m not gonna change. Even God can’t help me because my heart is too hardened. I can’t feel anything anymore and I don’t care if I live or die. I love you Nena.”
Then God moved.
On May 8, 2014 I gave someone a ride to sell drugs. I had been involved in the drug culture for years, going from drug dealer to drug addict junkie. The person I was with was arrested and charged with three felony drug charges.
So was I. I faced three to twenty-five years in Federal or State prison. As I waited to see the magistrate, right there in Eastern Regional County Jail, I cried out to God. At that instant I turned my will and my life over to Him. The testimony that follows shows me that God keeps His Jeremiah 33:3 promise ~ to ME!
I already had two different court cases pending. One was a traffic violation, driving on a suspended license for the fourth time. The consequence for that was a minimum of one year in jail. The second, a criminal case, was for drug possession that could land me many years behind bars.
Upon my release from jail, I went to church and heard the ministry regarding the power of prayer by Jerry and Janet Page. I applied that teaching to my life and asked my friend Joe to be my prayer partner. We began to pray together daily – that I stay a free man, amongst other prayer requests and praises.
Because of my criminal record I was looking at being charged on the Federal level. You see, I have many other state drug convictions on my record. If my case went Federal, because of my background I was looking at up fifteen years in Federal prison.
I am a FREE man today ONLY BECAUSE OF THE POWER OF DAILY PRAYER! Two of my court cases have been resolved and my next court date is in November. I am looking at a light sentence with no incarceration! PRAISE GOD! No one and nothing in this universe can tell me any different – I am free because of my God’s mercy! I turn my will and life over to Him DAILY.
I’ve tried different ways to stop getting high over the past twenty-eight years. I’ve been to three rehabs and to counseling. The only way I have over six months clean time (drug free) is because of the power of intercessory prayer. This is the longest period of freedom in my life. I give my Heavenly Father all the praise and glory! He truly walks with me and talks with me and calls me His own!
I want to encourage everyone – if you are seeking answers in your life, get a daily prayer partner. God spells it out in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you…”
Petros’ story is a story of hope for all of us. It’s the story of someone who took God at His word and believed that He was the only Power great enough to restore him to sanity. I’m so grateful to be able to share this with you as we look at Step 2 in our series on the Twelve Steps. If you are praying for someone and are struggling with your faith, keep believing. Petros’ family prayed him through twenty-eight years of addiction. It was only when he realized his powerlessness and daily sought the power of One greater than himself, that God was able to restore his sanity.
Petros is now sharing his story of hope through the spoken word in poetry form. Below is his most recent poem. After watching him (via social media) share this prayer/poem with an audience this weekend, my faith is strengthened. God truly redeems the lives we thought were lost.
A Once Broken Man
Once a broken man, You heard me tell Nena,
“I am so gone, God can’t even help me.”
I love you Nena, but from this street life and drug addiction,
I can’t break free!
Five weeks later, May 8, 2014 –
with my hardened heart,
You brought me to my knees.
Lost and alone, forgotten how to pray,
I cried out in jail, “God help me please!”
To me, you have kept your promise in Jeremiah 33:3.
And your grace kept me alive to see,
My God is MERCY.
Greatest lie I ever believed,
of Your love I was no longer worthy.
Through daily surrender and reading,
You sent this junkie free.
Because of the power of intercessory prayer,
today I am not in federal prison.
Because of the power of intercessory prayer,
of my shame and guilt, I am forgiven.
For so many years I was filled with anger,
which I passed on to others.
Your forgiveness replaced angry with love,
now I called and my sisters and brothers.
My God is FORGIVENESS.
I came to you just as I was, a broken man.
My daily guide is Your Son’s nail scarred hands.
When I spoke, I used to take Your precious name in vain.
Now I use it to call on You to help me stay sane.
Today I no longer sling doubt.
I tell of my Savior’s mercy, forgiveness, and hope.
My God is HOPE.
During my drug feel days, I still heard your voice.
Your love saved me after continually making the wrong choice.
I praise Your name daily for the unconditional love You show me.
Once imaginable thoughts are now answers to prayer.
That’s my ministry.
You take the time to show me better than You can tell me.
That’s why with you I stand.
My God is LOVE.
Lost in a drug-filled haze is where the devil had my soul.
The greater miracle is how my God makes me whole.
The best part of my day is when You and I talk.
Today I have no fear because it is with You and I walk.
Joe and I prayed together daily, asking that You remember us in that final call.
Your mercy, forgiveness, hope, love, and strength is what he and I share with all.
My God is ALMIGHTY.
Heavenly Father, my body is weary
no longer on this earth do I wish to roam.
It is my prayer that you use me to finish your work.
I want to come home.
I praise your name for two parents who prayed for me –
without ceasing, for 28 years.
I praise your name Almighty God,
because You want wiped away my guilt-filled tears.
You have kept me alive
long enough to reveal to me, the beauty of Your plan.
I give you all the glory
for the miracle that I stand before you,
a once broken man.
My God is the ALPHA and the OMEGA.
My prayer partner Joe (far left), Pastor David (center) and me (Petros – far right) at Maryland Men Of Faith conference this year. Petros Colla writes from Hagerstown, Maryland. Raised by Christian parents, he chose a street life for twenty-eight years. It is only because of God’s grace that he lives to turn his will and life over to Him daily. Through the power of prayer, Petros has been drug-free for six months.
“If you are in a hole, rule number one is to stop digging. The last thing you need is more of this kind of hope.”Dr. Henry Cloud
So, I was reading on the plane. The book? Dr. Cloud’s Necessary Endings. Yes, endings are a necessary part of life. If it weren’t for endings, many beginnings would never happen. Sometimes it is time to say goodbye.
Dr. Cloud says that when we realize that the time to say goodbye has come, we become faced with a “pruning moment.” We have become hopeless that anything is going to change; we realize that what we have been doing is not working, and never will. He says, “It does not take courage to stop doing what you know is not going to work” (p. 82). The courage comes when we decide to do something differently.
Would you agree with Dr. Cloud that, “It is vital to get hopeless” (p. 86)? Sometimes hope can be false. It can lead us to continue digging that hole, which actually leads us further into the pit, rather than drawing our focus up – toward the light.
I’ve been there: In relationships, in the workplace, even in my current book project. Like a pit bull, I’ve hung on and on and on. Refusing to let go of the person, the position, and now the chapter that is driving my word count up and possibly distracting my potential reader from the main point of the book.
When I finally released my addicted former spouse, who had already chosen someone else to share his life with, God filled my void with a whole new life. When I achingly let go of a teaching position that I loved, but was driving me over the edge, God gave me another purpose and calling. If I will let go of this chapter, and be willing to chop, chop, chop my manuscript down to an acceptable word count, my book may actually be publishable. Only then will my goal, of reaching broken people with the hope that God truly redeems the things we thought were lost, be satisfied.
Shall we ask ourselves some tough questions?
Do I want my life to continue as-is? Or do I really want things to be different?
Am I holding on to a healthy hope? Or do I need to become hopeless about this situation?
Do I want my relationship, my job, my word count…? Or am I willing to open my clenched fist and release those things to the One who knows what’s ahead?
The Lord God has beautiful plans and purpose for each of our lives. There is a rainbow at the end of our storm. Are we willing to trust Him to give us the hope and future He longs to give us, or are we going to hold on to our own hopes and plans? Just like the trainer would say to the pit bull, our Father says to us, “Release!” Will you trust Him with me today?
For I know the plans I have for you. declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. — Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).