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.

Rain From the Sky

“To everything…there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

I scanned those wise words, printed on the front of a card from my sister, on the way from my mailbox to our front door last Tuesday evening. Inside her card I discovered a one hundred dollar bill (who mails cash anymore, Sis?) and a note in her familiar happy handwriting. “God loves your boys,” she wrote. “I know He will work it out. He can make money rain from the sky if He sees fit.”

Perching on the arm of my sofa, I read the printed text inside the card, a Roy Lessin quote: “He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.”

Sis and I held an ongoing conversation about the two teens from Ukraine who captured the hearts of My Honey and me over the summer. Somehow those kids also managed to sneak into the hearts of our extended family and even our Facebook friends, who continue to donate to our adoption Go-Fund-Me campaign.

“It’s too long between August and April!” I’d whine into the phone as I lamented the fact that the boys had been gone for weeks with little communication. “We miss them. I know they miss us. Spring is too far away. Why does all this adoption paperwork take so long to process?”

“I don’t know, Sis. God will work it out,” she reassured me the day I confided that I really wanted them home for the holidays like we’d promised before they left…before any of us were positive about adoption.

“Winter hosting is simply not in the budget,” Honey had announced after tallying up the summer hosting leftovers and anticipating the looming adoption fees. “It’s not financially prudent.”

“Prudent schmoodent!” I cried to Jesus as I took it to Him rather than arguing with the man I love. “I know they need to be here one more time before they come home for good!”

In fact, I felt that so strongly, I’d already paid the hosting deposit in order to meet the holiday airline reservation deadline. I didn’t know where the additional funds would come from, but that deposit stared at me from my Paypal account whenever I opened my laptop.

After reading Sister’s card, I walked back outside to unload groceries from my car. My heart beat hard with the truth I KNEW. The boys NEED to be here for their winter break from school. Looking up into the dark sky, I spoke aloud to the ONE who could make that happen.To everything...

“You are God. You own the “cattle on a thousand hills.” You can make money “rain from the sky.” You know what those boys need. You know what we need. It was You who brought them into our lives. You who perfectly paired the personalities of two complete strangers to fit within our family.

It was You who grew our love from nothing over the course of a few summer weeks. And You who laid this burden on my heart to bring them home in December. Thank You for all You are doing to provide for their adoption. Please provide the funds for their winter hosting. I need to see them eye-to-eye and face-to-face. I need to hold them heart-to-heart before it’s all said and done. I believe You gave me this urgency. I’m trusting You to provide the funds.”

With that prayer, I released the burden of figuring things out to Jesus. My history with codependency has cut deep grooves in my brain’s pathways. It’s difficult to stop trying to control things when you have years of embedded patterns of controlling behavior under your belt. Living with a chemically or otherwise addicted person will do that to you. Even years after my circumstances have changed, I find myself reaching for the familiar comfort of trying to control SOMETHING when circumstances or people within my sphere appear to be out of control in some form or fashion.

The following afternoon, Wednesday, I heard my phone vibrate inside my lunch bag just as I plopped into my swivel chair at school. My second graders had already gone to the buses, leaving broken pencils and crayons in their wake. After tidying the classroom (I can’t think when I see a broken crayon on the floor) and mentally planning for the next day (Should I present that new math concept (addition with regrouping), or just do some review work?), I was ready to check my email and go home. I usually don’t answer my phone while still at school, but when I noticed the number I took the call.

After a few pleasantries, the caller said, “I really felt impressed last night to write you a check for your boys. When I spoke with my husband, we both agreed to help with the winter hosting and the adoption. How much do you lack?”

Now, this was not a person I speak with regularly. In fact, it had probably been a year since we’d had a conversation other than a text message here or there. She’s not on Facebook and I had no idea she even knew what we were doing with the boys.

Long after hanging up I sat in my classroom with hands raised to Jesus and tears washing away my waterproof mascara. When I finally saw myself in a mirror later, I realized why the across-the-hall teacher who stuck her head in to say goodbye had looked at me so strangely and inquired whether everything was okay. I didn’t care how crazy I looked, MY BOYS WERE COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

Later that evening (9:20 p.m. October 28, 2015 to be exact), I received a text message from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, even though we live in the same city. It had two words and three exclamation marks. “Merry Christmas!!!”

“Please tell me why you are saying that?” My thumbs flew across the screen of my phone.

“Lol! I just thought you could use a smile,” came her reply.

WHAT?!?

I don’t know what you believe and you are welcome, dear reader, to draw whatever conclusions you choose. I think I’m gonna have to go with what I said to my sister, “I just got a text from Jesus. It said, “Merry Christmas!”

I share this experience with you because I want you to know that God hears our prayers. He is the Mountain Mover. He is our Provider, our Sustainer, our Father and our Friend. He knows what we need and He knows how to give good gifts to His children.

I don’t know why things aren’t always as obvious as a text from heaven. I don’t know why we often pray and it appears as if nothing happens. I don’t know why our faith is tested when it feels like we are already at the end of our rope. But I DO know this – sometimes we are extravagantly and obviously lavished with the love of the Father. And sometimes He has a glorious sense of humor.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 1:3 Berean Study Bible)

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  • If you read my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, you will realize just how this adoption story is God’s beautiful redemption of a painful loss I experienced several years ago when married to a chemically dependent spouse.
  • If you are new to this blog and interested in our entire journey with the boys, please go back to: The beginning
  • If you’d like to financially participate in our adoption journey, you are welcome to do so right here: Bring Our Boys Home
  • If you’d like to host an orphan, check this out: Host Ukraine
  • If you have your own tale of how God redeemed the dreams you thought we lost, please email me at info@julietvanheerden.com so we can share your story with this readership.

Be blessed, dear ones! God is on our side. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)Boys & Me

Freestyling

Dear Reader,

The theme of my book, Same Dress, Different Day, is “God redeems the dreams we thought were lost.” This post is evidence of one way he is doing that in my life. In HIS way. In His time. If you haven’t yet read my memoir, you may not fully be able to appreciate the depth of what takes place in the story that follows. If you have read my memoir, I know you will be freestyling with me at the end of this story.

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“I had a meeting with Joelle today,” Honey announced as he changed into a long-sleeved shirt with the CREATION Health logo stitched in white lettering. He was on his way to the YMCA to lead a class on healthy lifestyle choices.

“Oh, how’d it go?”

“Well, we didn’t talk about community building, as planned. I took the boys along. IMG_4444Joelle and I spent the whole time watching them Jet-Ski with her husband, Ken. She was super curious about them. She wanted to know the whole story of how we ended up with two teenage Ukrainian orphans for the summer,” he responded, grabbing his CREATION Health bag and pressing a kiss onto my forehead as he pressed the garage door opener.”

A few minutes later, Honey texts.

Please call me at your earliest convenience.

“What did you forget?” I joke when he answers his phone.

“Nothing. I just heard from Joelle. She and Ken want to meet us at the Y after my class tonight.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She just said they want the four of us to speak together. Can you bring the boys to work out while we visit?”

“I guess so.”

Lord, why do they want to meet with us?

I receive the answer to my silent prayer moments after we sit down with Ken and Joelle. I hold my breath as polite small talk paves the way for much bigger talk than I am prepared for.

“What would it take to adopt the boys?” Joelle’s question knocks the wind out of my summer hosting sails.

Honey explains as much as he knows of the procedure as my brain scrambles to process the emotions her question just uncapped. I listen as Joelle and Ken share their heartfelt interest in the future of the two teenagers who intensely play table tennis just outside the glass doors of the YMCA’s conference room.

We’re supposed to advocate for them, right, God? Isn’t that the whole purpose of the hosting program? Why do I feel possessive of them? Why are my emotions on edge as I listen to this conversation? Shouldn’t I be happy that someone is interested in them?

I struggle to stay present in the conversation as my heart rate increases and the obnoxious lump in my throat grows to the size of a clementine.

Our meeting ends with an invitation to bring the boys to Ken and Joelle’s on Thursday for a cookout so their extended family can get to know them.

Why do I feel like crying?

I quiz God on the way home as the Boy beside me changes the radio station to something I’ve never heard and the Boy in the backseat proclaims, “Yes! I like this song.”

Driving“How do you even know this song?” I shout into the rear view mirror at the smiling teen who is full on freestyling despite the constraints of his seatbelt.

I know the song that plays in my head. The one I’ve been trying to block for weeks: the one that started out slow, with the simple rhythm of learning to love two strangers. The one that daily increases with intensity as the time for their departure nears and Honey and I avoid the “A-word” that nobody else seems afraid to say. The song that began all those years ago in chapter 7 of my book (Same Dress, Different Day) when I gave my heart to a brown-eyed baby girl and set my sights on adoption.

I know that song – the song whose chorus rings in my ears whenever I allow myself to dream those I-wanna-be-somebody’s-mamma dreams. It’s a song I’ve spent years playing with the volume completely down because I know the searing pain of disappointment. But sometimes something happens that blasts the volume on my silent CD and, like the Boy in the backseat, I feel the music deep in my soul and it moves me in strange and unusual ways.

The day we went to Ken and Joelle’s for dinner was a day I was unable to control my Mamma Song’s volume. I wanted to shout, “Stop looking at them like that! They’re not puppies for sale in some shop window. They’re boys. Kind boys whose eyes are filled with stories they have not yet shared with me, boys whose hearts have been hurt by their hand-me-down lives, but who still hold their heads high with dignity. Boys who live each moment with joy, spilling it all over Honey and me. Hey! Those are my boys!”

Yeah, it was hard to smile and nod and eat macaroni salad without breaking my plastic fork. My emotions were drunk driver erratic as I watched Joelle and Ken’s family watching the boys. I had to step inside the powder room to pray. More than once.

God! What is up with me? I should be THRILLED that these people see the boys’ potential. Thrilled they want to give them a better future than the one they face when they go back to Ukraine. Why am I not feeling this?

Fast-forward five days. Ken and Joelle have invited the four of us for dinner again. This time it’s at Your Pie, our favorite pizza place. I am not hungry.

“God spoke to me as I walked and prayed this morning,” Joelle begins. “He does that sometimes. Ken knows.” She made eye contact with her husband.

Are those tears I see in his eyes, Lord? Oh, God. I don’t know if I can take this.

Joelle continues speaking. I follow one Boy with my eyes as he rides his skateboard between tables on the restaurant’s outside patio. The other Boy plays Keep Away with Ken and Joelle’s daughter and granddaughter.

“Yeah. God said I heard Him correctly the other day when I felt we were supposed to be involved in these kids’ lives. I just got the details wrong. Today He clarified things.” Joelle made eye contact, first with André, then me, before continuing, “God was very clear that you two are supposed to be the ones to adopt them. Ken and I are just supposed find ways to help you do that and provide support as you parent them. We want to financially help you get started with the adoption process. And we’d also like to commit to helping with the boys’ education.”

I put my head down on the table at my favorite pizza place and wept. Then I looked at My Honey. His eyes were moist as he nodded “Yes” to my unspoken question. That’s when I started freestyling as the volume on my Mama Song shot through the roof!

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Honey and I humbly invite you to be part of this story.

Because the adoption process is lengthy and expensive for adopting two children from different orphanages in two different regions of Ukraine, we are starting a Go Fund Me account to give other people the opportunity to join Ken and Joelle in the adventure of supporting André and me as we seek to make our dream of adopting Yura and Pasha a reality. Please feel free to share our journey with others who may also be moved to help us become a family of four._DSC4874

Click HERE To Participate in Our Adoption Journey.

Juggling and Grace

Step 11

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”

Amid the hubbub of Mallory Dock, with its eclectic mix of tourists, part-time locals, and street entertainers, I wedge myself between a fence and a row of camera-wielding sunset-watchers to celebrate the daily ritual of watching Earth’s nearest star disappear on the western horizon. As yellow-orange light spreads across the water and a silhouetted sailboat poses against the fiery ball that keeps our planet alive, I hear “Amazing Grace” behind me._DSC3976

Turning my camera from the beauty before me, I focus on the source of the song: barefoot and ponytailed, he hunches over a guitar, singing of the One who holds each star in place. With simple chords and timeless lyrics, a reveling crowd is stilled by one unassuming street musician, reminding us of the Beauty Maker, who paints the skies each evening with an invitation to join Him for eternity. I sing along, losing myself in the beauty of the moment. After the sun and the song disappear, I close my eyes, savoring the scene.

That was a month ago. Now I’m juggling.

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I’m an all-eggs-in-one-basket girl. I’m challenged by juggling… eggs, apples, bowling pins… you name it – I can’t keep it in the air! When Honey and I were recently in Key West for vacation I was amazed by those guys who entertain tourists by juggling flaming torches, swallowing swords, and commanding cats through fiery hoops. We “ooohed” and “aahhhed,” clapped and tipped our way down Mallory Dock until the sun began kissing the water with orange, pink and yellow light. I didn’t think any more about the jugglers until last week, when I started my new teaching job.

Two and a half years have passed since I’ve been queen of my own classroom. It was quite a learning curve to come home from vacation on a Sunday and walk into a classroom on Monday, knowing that I was the teacher, and nobody had mapped out my day or week in a neat little stack with a Post-it that said, “Substitute.”

I was on my own. Sink…or swim! (I’ve been “swimming.” That’s why you haven’t seen me here, writing about Step 11.) Swimming, like juggling, is exhausting.

My personal juggling act consists of trying to keep a classroom full of multi-age students functioning and on-task, learning a new school’s system of doing things, effectively teaching an unfamiliar grade level, grading papers, making lesson plans, meeting a deadline for my book, keeping up with my blogging (I’m three or four weeks late!), posting regularly on my Facebook page (another fail!) and being a good spouse, daughter, sister, auntie, godmom, friend, pastor’s wife, and neighbor. Oh, and keeping groceries in the house and gas in the car that takes me back and forth to work and church. Sound familiar? I’m sure you each have your own flaming torches to juggle every single day! How do we stay sane on our Western World hamster wheels?

Did you notice that something, or rather Someone is omitted from the above list? Yes, I failed to mention spending quality time with the ONE who keeps me sane and on the right track; the ONE who holds me together when I want to cry on the way home from school because my nerves are shot and my to-do list is still too long; He who gives me the words to write, the thoughts to think, the heart to love and the patience to work with His little ones. It is only He who sustains me, you…the whole wide world in His big, holy hands. And THAT’s what Step 11 is all about – Getting to know Him by spending time with Him.

Step 11 reminds me to do three things:

  • Seek to improve my conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation,
  • Pray for the knowledge of His will,
  • And pray for the power to carry out His will in my life.

By incorporating these three things into my daily juggling act, everything else becomes easier to manage. When I consciously invite God into my little world, taking the time to talk with Him and to listen to the counsel in His Word, I am a more organized, disciplined, compassionate teacher, a wiser, more dedicated writer, and a better friend, neighbor and lover.

When I pray for His will to be done and His Spirit to dwell in me, I can say, “yes” to the things that are most important on God’s to-do list and let go of the things He’s not asking me to do right now. I don’t have to juggle the world. Jesus died for the world. I don’t have to be miss perfect-teacher-pastor’s wife-friend. Jesus in me can perfectly love those He places in my path. I can rest in Him, believing that I can do all these things through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:19). If I just juggle Jesus – keeping my eye on Him, making Him the focus of my life, the rest will fall into place and I will not fall flat on my face.

I don’t need to be amazing. I just need His amazing grace._DSC4057

Father in heaven – remind me to be still and focus on You amid the chaos of daily life. Let me be more like that barefoot guitarist, just sitting still among the throng and worshiping the One who made it all. Help me to seek more and speak less, to pray more and strive less. Amen & Amen

Dear Reader – How to YOU do it? How do YOU juggle life? When and where to you find time to pray and meditate? Please share in the comment section so we can learn from one another. I’d love to hear from you!