In This Family We…

“In this family we talk about things that bother us. We resolve conflicts from the day before we go to bed.”

I speak into my phone as the Google Translate App turns my words into Russian and spits them back at me in an Eastern European accent.

“Does anyone in this family need to apologize to anyone?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for bed. And for kitchen,” says the boy whose bottom bunk looks like two warthogs wrestled there before breakfast; the same boy who ignored his kitchen duties, choosing instead to watch TV.

“Thank you. I forgive you. Will you please make better choices tomorrow?”

My eyes scan the faces around our dinner table as my thick-accented Google twin barks from inside my iPhone. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“André, I’m sorry bike,” offers the boy who stormed out of the house, disappearing on his bike for twenty minutes after Honey declined the boy’s umpteenth request for a device on which to access VK (Facebook’s European equivalent).

“I forgive you. I apologize for speaking abruptly to you,” says my Honey to the boy whose head is now resting on the dining room table.

“It’s okay,” the fifteen-year-old speaks softly without looking up.

I wait. Silence.

Where’s my apology? I’m sure I deserve one for the attitude I dealt with when I insisted the rap music disappear from the radio. And for the refusal to acknowledge my presence when I knocked on the closed bedroom door. And for the cold shoulder I keep getting from the teen with his head down.

“What, Lord, can I say to clear the air between us? My heart beats heavy with the weight of the unnamed wall separating that boy and me. Please help me.”

I cry out to God as I silently stare at my bedroom ceiling, wondering why the boy avoided my usual bedtime hug for the second night in a row. I never “parented” teens before two Ukranian orphans showed up in our lives just seven weeks ago. As a friend said, “You had no onramp. You just hit the highway at 70 miles per hour.”

I recall the baby steps Bike Boy has taken toward trust as he’s allowed his guarded heart to open in my direction. A recent RipStik (think skateboard minus two wheels) accident forced us into the Emergency Room, both of us white with nausea as he clung to me while the doctor sutured his elbow.

The following day, during a car ride through the Tennessee mountains, he lay his head on my shoulder in a rare gesture of affection.

Even Monday, when we waited in Urgent Care to have his stitches removed, and I asked, “Do you want me to sit beside you?” he responded with an affirmative nod and allowed me to perch next to him on the paper covered exam bed. I put my arm around him as he winced while the physician’s assistant “softened up the scab” so she could “find the stitches.”Stitches B&W

I think about his aloof behavior today, the way he wore his sunglasses, even indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. How he flopped onto the sofa before evening worship with body language that needed no Google App to convey the message he was sending.

I’m stumped, Lord. I don’t know why he’s behaving this way and I cannot make him talk. Is it guilt that drives this boy-turned-armored-car? Shame? Fear? You know I tried to be as kind as possible when I had to confront him about that poor choice he made. I told him about grace and forgiveness. I demonstrated unconditional love toward him, even as You taught me that Your work in me is still unfinished.”

I remember my own relapse into codependent denial as the product of Bike Boy’s deception accidentally dropped onto the living room floor for a millisecond before he scooped it into the pile of stuff he carried from our vacation-laden minivan.

That can’t be what I think it is. Well-worn denial pathways in my brain instantly re-opened as I searched for a reason to explain away the evidence of deceit. Our eyes met for a moment as he fluidly gathered the contraband and disappeared into his bedroom.

My broken brain automatically dismissed the facts my eyes had witnessed – just like it had over the course of my twelve previously married years to a chemically dependent spouse. I defaulted into denial and continued to unpack as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I allowed the child to believe he had gotten away with his sin.

“God, I thought You had healed me of those wounds,” I prayed from my pillow the following morning when He woke me early to “discuss” the incident. “Why would I ignore an elephant in the room? Again! After all we’ve been through together? Haven’t I achieved enough healing in my recovery to confront that deception in the moment? What damage have I done in pretending I didn’t see what we both know I saw? I don’t understand!”

That brief interaction threw me emotionally backward into a life I thought I was healed from. A life of covering for a chemically dependent narcissist who could convince me that my own senses were wrong and he was telling the truth about everything from where he’d been all weekend to what happened to his paycheck. A life I spent three years writing about in my recently published book Same Dress, Different Day. A life I no longer want to control me.

“Help me, God. I cannot allow this child to be a victim of my past. I must speak the truth to him in love. I will confront him about what I saw.”

With a tremble in my voice, I speak into my phone. “I need to talk with you about something important. And I need for you to be perfectly honestly with me. Okay?”

I watch his eyes as my Russian counterpart repeats my plea. They meet mine for a second. “Okay,” he responds in English.

“Please tell me about…”

This time, as Google Translate replays my words, I can almost see the veil fall over his face. It hides his eyes. Guards his expression. Builds a fortress between us.

I persevere. “Don’t be afraid. We all make poor choices sometimes. But we all must also face the consequences of those choices. Let’s just talk about it so we can make it right and put it behind us.”

Silence.

It took the help of another, more human translator to get to the bottom of the issue. But we did it. And I stood on the sidelines witnessing genuine remorse and relief as the wrong was made right again.

Somehow, though, I continue to be walled out. The food I offer is refused. The affection denied. The interaction limited. It’s hard not to take it personally. It hurts.

I’m reminded of my Heavenly Father. Of how I respond to His unconditional love with similar disdain. Of how guilt destroys our intimacy and how my own brokenness prevents me from allowing full access to His heart. This one experience with a broken child reveals to me a glimpse of My Father’s love. Despite my sin, He loves. Despite my rejection, he loves. Despite my fear, he loves. Despite my relapse into self-protective behaviors, HE LOVES.

“God, help me to love like You today. Help me to trust that You work ALL things together for the good of those who Love you and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust that You will break the ice with this child and restore our relationship before he gets on that airplane back to Ukraine. Amen.”

If you are interested in orphan hosting, please consider Project 143.

If you have hosted, fostered, or adopted a child you may be interested in the following links on Reactive Attachment Disorder:

http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-truth-about-adoption-one-year-later

http://www.reactiveattachment-disorder.com/2009/07/parenting-children-with-reactive.html?m=1

http://www.theadoptioncounselor.com/pdf/Attachment%20pamphlet.pdf

Check Yes or No

Before technology took over our lives, before kids could text during class with flying thumbs and barely a glance beneath the desk… we passed notes. Yes “notes” – folded pieces of paper with the contents of our hearts printed for the whole class to see if Teacher caught us passing them across the aisle.

If we had a crush, we might draw lopsided squares next to the words “yes” and “no” following a question written with trembling pencil: “Do you love me?” Then directions for responding: “Check yes or no.”

Remember the heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation as the recipient carefully unfolded the paper and read those words? The date of the Emancipation Proclamation escapes us to this day because we missed an entire American History lesson as we anxiously anticipated the reader’s response. That one tiny check mark had the power to make or break social status and self-esteem, and determine whether we would cry on our best friend’s shoulder, or jump up and down with glee as we giggled together next to our lockers in the hallway.  Remember?

I felt that same thumping in my chest, weakness in my knees, and inner angst on Monday as Honey and I drove to Tampa to retrieve the two fifteen year old Ukranian orphan boys we are summer-hosting with Project 143. After being apart for nearly three weeks, I didn’t know what to expect upon our return. Will they want to come home with us? Did they miss us? Will they hug us?

We tapped into modern technology – FaceTiming them on our iphones most days while we were traveling for Honey’s work and my Texas book tour, but with the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate. After several seconds of awkward staring, smiling and waving, we said “goodbye” and put the phone down, wondering what they were really thinking and feeling. Wondering why we missed them so much after sharing only nine days together.

“I bet Pasha ignores us or hides behind the other host parents when we get there,” I said to My Honey over Wendy’s baked potatoes halfway between Jacksonville and Tampa.

“Why would he?”

“Because he’s had a blast with the other kids and we abandoned him and he probably just wants to stay there and not come home to our small, quiet life,” I responded. “Besides, he doesn’t transition well.”

“Hmmm. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

When we arrived in our host friends’ driveway, Yura met us at the car with a shy but genuine smile. He hugged us both then immediately mounted his new Ripstik, proudly showing off his balancing skills.Yura bike

Whew! One down, one to go.

I cautiously entered the house where my still-sane-after-parenting-six-kids-for-three-weeks friend, Sarah lives. No sign of Sarah but I heard kid-noise in the game room where I discovered four kiddos hovered around two computer screens, Minecraft on one and a digital soccer game on the other. Pasha’s back was to the door as he focused on the soccer screen. I sneaked up behind him, quickly covering his eyes with my hands in a guess-who gesture.

“Ms. Sarah?” he questioned, leaving my hands in place.

I said nothing. Inwardly pleading with my heart to stop pounding. Father, why do I expect rejection?

“Juliet! It’s You!” pasha bike

Pasha leaped from the swivel chair and attacked me – one hundred and six pounds of teenage boy wrapping me in a hug that squeezed fear to death! That moment confirmed Sarah’s hunch that even though the boys had only been with us a few days, our home was their home, because that’s the first place they landed in America. And our family was their family, because we were the ones who initially bonded with them here. Pasha didn’t let go. He hugged and hugged and hugged me until I became a rag doll flopping into the swivel chair. Then he raced outside to find Honey.

A few days later I sit in church, wedged between them like a paperback between bookends, watching My Honey in the pulpit – preaching the communion sermon.

Jesus, I want them to know You. I want them to want to know You. What does this service mean to two orphaned teens who didn’t grow up in the Christian faith and barely comprehend a few English phrases? How can I use Google Translate to translate Your sacrificial eternal love for them?

As Yura takes the tiny cup from the deacon holding a silver tray, I see the scars. Perfectly straight, white with age, horizontal lines just above the wrist. scars quoteCutting? Why have I not noticed these before?  My stomach knots as I reach for my own symbol of the blood shed for my sins.

Grabbing my phone, I text with flying thumb, barely glancing at the screen half-hidden beneath my flowing skirt. God, I can’t be silent. I must ask, in the stillness of this moment. Will he trust me enough to let me share his pain?

I press “Go” and pass the phone as Google magically turns my English into strange letters and symbols understood only by Yura.

Расскажите мне о шрамы на руке? Tell me about the scars on your arm?

The same sixth-grade heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation creeps through my body as the recipient carefully-so-as-not-to-spill-the-blood takes the phone and reads my words.

Do you love me Yura? Do you love me enough to let me know the hurt behind those marks on your arms? Will you look at me with honest eyes and see that I long to know the life you’ve lived and the tears you’ve cried and the pain your young heart has born in your strong, silent way? Check yes or no.

Instantly his eyes meet mine as he drops the phone and instinctively covers the visible marks of his pain.

нет! No!

Oh Lord! I’ve gone too far, said too much, crossed the line! It’s too soon. The trust hasn’t had time to bloom. But, we only have six weeks left. Every moment is an opportunity.

 I pick up the phone, feeling the eyes of a pew full of worshippers on the back of my neck as I, the pastor’s wife, text during the holy communion service.

 I will use humor. That usually works.

Развелев поцарапать вас ? Did a lion scratch you?

 He smiles, almost giggles and whispers in English, “No!”

Whew! Now what?

I text.

Лев почесал меня , тоже. Только мои шрамы на внутренней части. A lion scratched me, too. Only my scars are on the inside.

I wait. Yura smiles again and turns the phone off. He says nothing, but his body moves closer in a gesture of understanding. I can feel his leg, warm against mine as Honey reads from Matthew 26 (NKJV): “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”but-for-scars