Happy Wife, Happy Life

I stepped up onto the limo’s floor for a better view of everyone gathered to wish us farewell. Waving and blowing tearful kisses, I expressed my gratitude for their presence and love.

“Happy life!” Someone called as I ducked inside. André joined me, the heavy door closing behind him, leaving us cocooned in dark and quiet.

“Happy life.” I whispered the words as a prayer for each loved one on the other side of those tinted windows .We rolled out of the church parking lot in our ostentatious ride, feeling utterly overwhelmed with emotion.

“How’s my wife?” André asked, taking my hand…

The above words were spoken exactly six years ago today. They introduced the first serious conversation between my husband and me after we became “man and wife.” You can read the rest of the story in my memoir Same Dress, Different Day. What I want to focus on for the purpose of this piece is the question my husband asked me: “How’s my wife?”

To a woman whose primary love language is words of affirmation, these kinds of conversations have literally fed my soul for the past six years. For my husband to take the time to touch me and ask how I am on a daily basis over the course of our marriage has healed many wounds from a painful past, where I often felt invisible and ignored. Chemical dependency will do that to a relationship. So will any other addiction that damages the frontal lobe or turns a perfectly normal human being into a narcissist.

The need to be seen and truly heard is at the heart of every attention-seeking behavior known to mankind. We often blame those behaviors on the teenagers, and yes, teens are definitely good at seeking attention. But what about the rest of us? Do we ever laugh a little too loud at a joke we’ve heard before. Do we go ahead and buy that flashy ________ (whatever it is), even though we know our money could be better spent? What about those of us who fill Facebook with the facade of our perfect lives and measure our worth by how many “likes” we get on a post? Do we talk more than anyone else in our small group, dominating the discussion time? Or do we brag about our kids’ accomplishments to the point of nauseating those in our workplace? And how often do we just not LISTEN to other people because we’re too busy talk talk talking?

I‘ve been guilty of most of the above. Why? Because I just wanted to not be invisible. My love tank was empty. That emptiness got me into a lot of trouble over the course of my life. It started as a dad-shaped void when my family split when I was four. It deepened as rejection after rejection from boys and men widened the chasm that was my self-worth. I longed to be cherished. But before I could be cherished, I had to be noticed. And sometimes the way I got noticed lead to more rejection rather than adoration.

What about you? I’d dare say we all long to know that someone truly knows us. But, not only that: we long for someone to hear us, and to see our hearts and love us anyway. 

Yes, yes… All of us who grew up in church have heard over and over that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” We believe it in theory. We know God’s Word to be true. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).  “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1). Somehow, though, we go through life feeling unloved and unheard.

Know what I think? I think people rarely listen to one another anymore. I think we all buzz around looking for something to “post” or “tweet” or spout and we forget to look one another in the eyes and listen with our hearts. I think we need to be God with skin on to one another. Then maybe we will begin to believe that Jesus loves me, this I know and He hears me when I pray and He longs for me to be with Him throughout eternity, face to face and heart to heart.

Conversation is a two-way street. It involves speaking and actively listening. It means putting down our devices and turning off the media and going eye-to-eye with the person we care about. It means being willing to be vulnerable enough to spill our guts and share our secrets. And it means asking the right questions when our loved one is sharing their heart with us.

In my 12-Step recovery group, each week we take time to share our stories with one another. For some, this may be the only time someone takes the time to be still, look them in the face, and listen with their whole heart. The profound effect this active listening has on individuals is beautiful to observe. As the weeks, months and years go by, change happens. Rather than a tidal wave of information and emotion spewing from a person at an alarming rate, calm and thoughtful words are confidently woven together as someone shares their experience, strength and hope with the group. There is mutual respect and affirmation as each individual shares without interruption or the burden of another person’s opinion.

In closing, I just want to honor my husband and our six years of marriage with a prayer of gratitude to the God who does hear my prayers and has truly given me the desires of my heart. I have spend the past six years feeling “loved, honored, and cherished.” And to whomever it was who shouted, “Happy life!” on our wedding day ~ Thank you. It truly is!

Loving heavenly Father, I know You hear us when we pray. I know You care for every desire of our hearts. And I know You love us just as much as You love Your son, Jesus. Your Word promises all of these things.

But, God… Some of us are broken. We come from painful backgrounds. We don’t feel heard. We don’t feel loved. We don’t feel cherished. Please help us to believe that no matter how we FEEL, we ARE.

Thank You for giving me a husband who is willing to engage in meaningful conversation and active listening. Thank You for redeeming my broken heart.

Please help me to model Your unconditional love to others by actively listening to them when they speak. Forgive me for being impatient with attention-seeking behaviors. Help me to survive the next nine days with my little students and to model Your love for them.

Bless my readers, Lord. Especially help those who are single, or who feel alone in their marriages. Help them to find safe, healing places where they can share their stories and receive the honor of being heard and understood by human ears and hearts so they can KNOW that every word they speak and every thought they think finds its way to Your ears and heart.

Amen

*Huge thanks to SKA Media Productions for all header and wedding images.

Tug of War

I can feel the tug of war within. The game is rough. The taut rope sears the palms of my heart where scar tissue is covered by callouses after I’ve spent years of hard labor guarding that tender flesh beneath. One moment it appears as if stoicism will win – dragging the surrender flag to the brink of self-protective hard-heartedness. I. Will. Not. Risk. Love. No one will know the difference.

Then, out of nowhere tenderness and compassion join the opposition, pulling hard enough to move that flag back to center.

Fear fights back. Whew! That was close.

God, I’ve done this before. I’ve jumped off the high dive naked – completely abandoning myself to the deep end of the ocean-sized pool of unconditional love. I nearly drowned in the aftermath. I would have drowned, had You not rescued me.

So why are You leading me to the high-dive ladder again? I want to stay in the kiddie pool, where the water is safe and shallow, where I won’t get hurt, where I don’t have to risk the unknown.

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That was yesterday’s prayer. Yesterday. The day my Honey and I dropped our “summer boys” off with another #Project 143 host family for two weeks while he travels for business and I begin my Texas book tour.

A month ago, when we said, “Yes” to these same friends after they nearly begged us to host two teenage boys from Ukranian orphanages for ten weeks, I promised myself I would not fall in love.

Yes, I will provide beds and bikes and trips to the beach. Yes, I will feed them and clothe them and help them learn English. Yes, I will laugh with them, pray with them, and save them from the disappointment of being told, “I’m sorry, you cannot go to the United States for the summer after all, because your original host family had to decline unexpectedly.”

I could do those things. But I could not risk love. Not again. Not after Chapter 7 (#Same Dress, Different Day http://www.amazon.com/Same-Dress-Different-Day-Redemption/dp/1942923066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435263647&sr=1-1&keywords=juliet+van+heerden).

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 My inner tug of war began in the Dollar Store. I hadn’t even met them yet.

Why am I emotional about buying poster board and markers to make a welcome sign? What does it matter whether they like mint gum or fruit gum? What can I put in their backpacks that will make them feel curious and comfortable? Will they like us? Will we like them? The signGod, what were we thinking? I have so much else to do this summer.”

Then I saw them at the airport. The group snuck up on us. André had positioned himself to take a photograph as I waited, welcome sign in hand, behind the barrier. Then I heard laughter behind me. I turned to see other host families excitedly greeting “their” kids. Somehow they’d come in from another entrance and we never saw them until everyone else was matched up.

I caught Yura’s eye first. Smiling I moved toward him, wondering if his expression reflected fear, resignation or both. After our introduction, through the Ukranian chaperone I asked, “May I hug you?”

Yes.”

Jesus, he’s so thin. But his hug is firm. He responded. He smiled. His eyes came alive behind that dark fringe of hair. Where’s the other one?

I don’t see Pasha,” I explained to the chaperone.

She led me to a tall, blonde boy with a muscular build. “This is Pasha,” she said. He was standing with another couple.

I don’t think this is our Pasha,” I countered. He doesn’t look like the photograph we have.”

Oh. I’m sorry! You must have the other Pasha.

He stood alone, not far from Yura, scanning the room.

Are you Pasha?”

Pasha nodded. My Honey sidled up to him with a smile and a side-hug. I shook his hand then hugged him, too. Skinny thing.

Welcome to America. Do you speak any English?”

No English.”

Through the translator we learned that neither boy knew the other. We discovered they were from different parts of Ukraine and had not received our welcome letter, so didn’t know they would be bunking together in our home. We introduced them to each other and awkwardly posed for our first “family” photo.First photoThis could be more difficult than I thought, Lord. I assumed they would speak or understand at least a little English. Please help us to make them feel comfortable. Poor babies.

So began the adventure of adding two fifteen-year-old Ukrainian orphan boys to our tiny, quiet, well-ordered household.

Within days we had our routine down to a somewhat-science: breakfast, morning devotions, everybody helps clean up the kitchen, boys go outside to ride bikes or play ball until the sun melts them into big-eyed puddles begging to go to the pool. Then they’d eat and eat and eat some more before we went shopping for all kinds of necessities. Evenings brought laughter as we made popcorn, played games and introduced them to our friends.

Beach funOkay, Lord, this isn’t so bad. Thank You for Google Translate. Communication hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. But that other part…that emotional tug-of-war part…now that’s hard. That’s not fair.

They weren’t supposed to make me feel things I don’t want to feel. They weren’t supposed to look at me with eyes begging for approval, or sneak into the kitchen for a good morning hug when I’m having my quiet time with You. They weren’t supposed to wheedle and cajole me out of $2.98 for a toy in the checkout line and make me want to buy every piece of fruit in Publix so they would just stop asking for “One more banan.”

I didn’t want to long to know what’s really going on in their heads or wonder what happened to their mothers, or what will happen to them when they go “home.” I’m not prepared to feel what I felt as they sandwiched me in the pew at church last Sabbath, unaware of America’s unspoken I-need-personal-space rule.

After only three days together I wasn’t prepared for Pasha’s tears, or Yura’s self-protective silence after I told them they’d be staying with another family while we went out of town on a trip that had been scheduled before we knew they were coming.

And I wasn’t prepared for yesterday.

  • Yesterday, when Pasha said, “Go! Please! And pointed to the bedroom door when I brought a suitcase for him to pack in and started to help get their things together.
  • Yesterday, when both boys put on their best clothes, gelled their new haircuts, packed their backpacks and stoically got into the minivan – smelling like teenage concoctions of deodorant, aftershave, and mint chewing gum.
  • Yesterday, when Yura slept and Pasha wept in the back seat as we drove south to Tampa.
  • Yesterday, when, after lunch at a Applebee’s in a city three hours from ours, Pasha questioned in English as we walked toward our van “We go home?” knowing full well that he would not be going home with us…

Yesterday, when I lost at tug of war.Family b&W~~~~~~~~~~

Are you interested in:

  • Project 143’s summer and winter hosting programs? http://www.projectonefortythree.org/
  • Turning your copy of my Memoir, Same Dress, Different Day into $$$$ that directly fund our nonprofit ministry to support families affected by addiction? Click the e-donate button on the left side of our website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make a tax-deductible donation of your choice. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com so I can send you a receipt. I will sign and mail your copy directly.) THANK YOU!
  • Helping Honey & me pay for Yura & Pasha’s plane tickets ($3,500) that we so hastily (yet prayerfully) put on our Visa in faith that God was impressing us both to bring these boys into our home this summer: Click the e-donate button on the left side of our non-profit website: Relevant Life Solutions http://www.relevantlifesolutions.org (Make your tax-deductible donation. Then email info@julietvanheerden.com to let me know who you are so I can send you a receipt. HUGE THANK YOU!