Love & Self-Protection & Goodbye

Today a boy turned down a hug (and a kiss, “Ughhhh!”) from this wanna-be momma whose nest has been empty forever. He wants to be cool in front of his friends. Keep his facade. Feel no emotion. Tries hard to avoid the inevitable final goodbye.

Yesterday, Honey hugged our boys goodbye in the van as we left for Atlanta. He couldn’t come. He had to work. I captured the moment with my phone.

A small herd of Ukranian orphans marches toward the security gate after two hours of agonizing waiting with host families whose hearts are heavy with the unexpected feeling that one of our own is walking away and there is nothing we can do about it. The boy brushes past me, heading for the front of the pack. “Goodbye,” he whispers casually in passing, as if we’d just met. As if our hearts are in no way entangled.

Walking away

“I’m not letting you off that easy.” I toss the words to the back of his head as he blends into a group of teenage boys wearing pristine Christmas-Nikes and warm winter coats; coats that will wrap down-filled arms around them on freezing Ukraine mornings when no moms or dads are there to hug them off to school. He does not respond.

I wait at the back of the group, my other boy at my elbow where he’s hovered for most of the day. He’s quiet. More so than usual. This morning at our hotel he sneaked up behind me, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist as I scraped stuff off the nightstand into my overnight bag. He wanted my phone, to message his girlfriend on VK. Perhaps he also wanted to hug me when no one else was looking.

We had our moment, my boys and I. I know it was God’s gift to me this morning as I sat propped against pillows in a king-size bed with my Bible and journal open. The boy who now wants nothing to do with me came in first. Flopping face down in front of my crisscrossed legs, he unashamedly demanded, “Scratch my back.” I could not refuse. Soon the other one entered the room wearing a “What are you doing?” expression. He flopped down, also. Not too close. No bare skin. Face turned away. I reached for his arm. Tugged him closer. Scratched his bony back through a thin, grey shirt.

“Keep them in Your palm, Lord God,” I prayed as morning sunlight filtered through the drapes, warming the backs of their heads. I placed my hands there, in the sun’s warmth, ruffling the coarse waves of the dark-haired one and smoothing the fine, straight strands of the other. “You promise, right here in your Word. Isaiah 43 verses 1 and 2, that they are YOURS. That You have redeemed them. That You call them by name. That you will be with them through the ‘waters’ and through the ‘fire.’ God, I do not know exactly what ‘water’ and ‘fire’ is ahead for these guys. I am afraid of the unknown. I know nothing of the life they live when they are not living life with Honey and me. They grew up too much between our summer hosting and December. Experienced too much. Hurt too much. I don’t want them to go back to that unknown. I want them to stay right here. It’s hard to let them go.”

I know about letting go. I’ve done it before. I’ve loved and lost a child I thought was mine. Watched her grow up from afar. Wished I could hold her and love her and be in her world. I know this path of choosing to release them to Jesus. I believe He honors His promises to praying mothers, and surrogate mothers, godmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers and grandmothers. When we pray God’s Word back to Him, claiming those promises for our kiddos, those words are not empty or useless. Our prayers for our loved ones are never unheard or unattended to. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me void (useless, without result), Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

I held that promise in my heart as I held my boys for the last time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

Thank you, God, for this moment,” I prayed as love flowed from my fingertips. “Help them to be able to receive and believe Your love for them. Help Honey and me to be able to show what that looks like when they come home for good. I’m holding You to Your promise in Isaiah 43:5 and 6. That You WILL bring them home for good.”

“Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—“ (NKJV)

“Let’s pray,” I said, bringing an end to our moment as time became our enemy. They offered their hands. To me. To one another. We formed our usual circle of prayer. They prayed in Ukrainian. I prayed in English. God understood every word.

~~~~~~~~~

 At the airport, the chaperone is speaking. “You have two minutes to say your final goodbyes before we go,” she announces in both languages. Families embrace their hosted kiddos; some for the final time, some “until next time.” Tears are shed. Promises made.

I rush to the front of the group to touch the arm of the boy who walked away without a hug. I turn him toward me as love wells up, spilling onto my cheeks. That same sweet boy who demanded affection only hours earlier becomes rigid with resistance as I reach for him. It is awkward. Embarrassing. Painful.

Returning to the back of the line, I find the other one with his game face on. “Goodbye,” he says, eyes pleading for me not to make a scene. We halfway hug. “I love you,” I state, (even though he already knows). He nods, then melts into a sea of boys with backpacks.Airport SecurityI stand with the other families who wave and smile through their tears. Two young girls jump up and down from the other side of the barrier. They are waving, smiling ­­- encouraging their “mom” not to cry. I do not wave. My boys do not turn around. I stay here until the backs of their familiar heads disappear through the checkpoint. Another host mom stands next to me. She places her arms around me and gives me the hug I long for. Our tears flow. We are not ashamed. We understand the Father’s lavish love. Through Him we will show our orphaned kids how to give and receive unconditional love. There’s no shame in that.

 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV)

~~~~~~~~

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Are you or someone you know interested in forever changing a child’s life through summer or winter hosting? Check this out: Host Ukraine

Pay It Forward & Save!

“Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others” Sam Vonumu, Uplift A Child International.

The quote stops me in my tracks. I read it again. And again. I take out my phone and snap a photo of it. I think about it as My Honey and I are herded toward lunch with hundreds of other Christians from around the world who are attending the same conference.

The convention center cafeteria is freezing cold. We stand in line next to a couple from Australia and My Honey, as usual, begins a conversation. A Haitian gentleman serves rice onto his plastic plate in front of us and I overhear a quiet exchange in what sounds like Korean from the next line over.

“God, You have people who love You on every continent, in every country. What are we all doing to show the world Your love?” I question as I wait my turn for the salad dressing. “Does the world see Jesus in the people who call themselves Christians? Does the world see Jesus in me?”

We find two empty chairs in the dining hall and settle in next to a rainbow of skin tones. The folks to our left are from Brazil. The couple across from us are Kenyans. We smile and introduce ourselves. English on the Brazilian side is limited. Our Portuguese is nonexistent. We spend the meal conversing about Africa as my Dutch-skinned South African husband jokes that he is “African American.” Mr. and Mrs. Kenya laugh and inform us that our President is from their same tribe.

Several minutes into the conversation, we learn that the Kenyan pastor we are speaking with serves 2,000 Christians in several churches and many of his people do not worship in a building, but under the trees as they await funds to build a church. His wife is a high school teacher. They have saved for years to be able to travel to America and represent their country in this convention. This is their first (possibly only) trip to the United States. They are overwhelmed, but they “love it!”

Give them some money.

I recognize the Holy Spirit’s prompt.

Lord, that would be awkward. They are not asking for anything. It might embarrass them. They are both professionals.” I argue.

I don’t hear God again as I finish my meal.

Then Honey asks them how much their plane tickets cost. They have a discussion about “Shillings” and “Rands” and “Dollars.” The man says, “I have some American money, but I don’t know how much it is worth.” He digs in his pocket and produces several coins. My husband touches each one and explains its value.coins in hand

The wife asks, “What can you buy with one penny?”

“Maybe a piece of bubble gum,” I reply smiling.

I take a photo of the man’s hand as he holds out his coins. God prompts again.

Ask them if they need anything.

I say nothing.

We all smile and shake hands as we end our conversation. They stand to leave. We wave as they melt into the crowd heading for the convention hall.

“I wish we could give them something,” Honey says as the couple disappears.

“I think God told me to give them money,” I reply. “But, I felt it would be uncomfortable.”

“What?! How much do you have? Give it to me. I’ll go find them.”

I frantically dig through my purse and produce some cash. My husband grabs it and chases through the crowd

“Why don’t I just listen to You in the first place, Lord? I’m sorry. You were right.”

Honey comes back smiling. “Mission accomplished! They were thrilled. It wasn’t awkward at all.”

I am humbled. Again. By the goodness of God. By the fact that He communicates with us. By the opportunity to be His hands to bless another.

Later, I receive an email from one of the postal workers mentioned in Chapter 12 of my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day. It was a thank you for the copy of my book I’d given as a token of appreciation for kindness shown years before. Way back then, without knowing the details of my situation, this insightful postal worker in my town had offered compassion and had prayed for me, a customer. How wonderful to be the recipient of God’s mercy through another human being who listened to Him!

Part of my response to that email reads, “May God continue to bless you on your own journey and as you impact people in your circle of influence. You never know what a difference you are making. Perhaps only in heaven you will find out the rest of the stories.”

Last night, one of the front desk managers in our hotel asked for prayer for a coworker’s daughter. After a few brief encounters, Honey and I were trusted enough to be confided in and invited to pray for someone we’d never met. What a privilege!men praying

These three incidents were sloshing around in my brain today as I sat down to write a blog post for someone suffering the effects of addiction. How does what I’ve written apply to codependence and addiction? How does it fit into the theme of my blog, that God redeems the dreams we thought were lost?

Here’s the connection. It goes back to Sam Vonumu’s quote at the beginning: “Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others.”

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we miss opportunities for God to bless us through others. We can easily become mired in shame and fear and uncertainty when a loved one is acting out his/her addiction. We often miss the opportunity to give to others by allowing them to help us.

Here’s what I mean: The Kenyan couple gave us the opportunity to bless them because they did not respond to My Honey’s offer with pride or embarrassment. They happily took the cash and said, “Thank you.” No awkwardness at all.

The postal workers in my town gave me the opportunity to feel God’s presence and watch care over every detail of my life when they allowed God to use them to help and encourage me. I was humble enough at one point to confide in them because I needed help. I gave them my trust and they were able to bless me.

The hotel front desk manager became vulnerable enough to reach out to two Christian guests and ask for prayer. We would not have known the need if he did not ask. He GAVE us the opportunity to ask God for a miracle.

Sometimes we just need to give people the opportunity to help us. By doing so, we not only help ourselves, we also help them. If you love an addicted person, don’t live your life alone. Find a safe place to heal and grow. Find a place to talk and pray about your circumstance. Find a place to give others the opportunity to bless you. One day you may be the one who pays it forward.

The Path to Vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for letting me share.

Juliet

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

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

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

Beginning With Amends

Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,

except when to do so would injure them or others”

Happy New Year, dear reader! New Years Day is perfect for starting fresh, perfect for beginning to make our Step 9 amends.

Step 9 Meme

“Step 9 completes what I started in step 8. I make amends to those that I have harmed. I pay back debts I owe. I apologize. I write letters. I find time to do and say things that would help heal the damage that I have done. I try to bring goodness where previously I had brought discord and destruction. It takes insight, courage and dedication to make such amends, but now I have the help of my God to know what to do and how to do it. I learn to earnestly seek the right way to go about this process from my God. I start to live the kind of life that my God has meant for me to live all along.” 12Step.org (http://12step.org/the-12-steps/step-9.html)

As we think of the list we made in Step 8 and begin to ask God how to go about making amends with those we’ve harmed in our struggle to control our own out of control lives, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. We may have a mountain of amends looming before us. The enemy of our souls will attempt to heap fear, guilt, or shame on us as we prepare to contact those we’ve harmed. We do not need to accept his lies.

Although the New Year is a good place to begin with human beings, we never have to wait a whole year to start fresh with God. The Bible has great news for those of us struggling with addiction in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. It is found in Lamentations 3:22-24: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (NKJV)

With each new morning, God’s “mercy,” “loving-kindness,” and “tender compassions” (see the Amplified Bible) are fresh for each of us. We never have to wallow in yesteryear with God. He does not hold shame over our heads, waiting to douse us in a fresh dose whenever we mess up. God accepts our humble acknowledgement and confession of sin. He moves us forward each day with fresh mercy.

I wish I could say the same for the humans we deal with. Unfortunately, they are a mixed bag. Sometimes we will find mercy and compassion as we navigate Step 9. Sometimes we will run headlong into someone else’s unhealthy rage, retaliation, or indifference.

Claudette Wassil-Grimm says, “We need to be open to any response we get from the people we’ve injured, and be ready to accept their responses without becoming angry. We are not there to manipulate them into forgiving us. In order to have this come off smoothly, we should make every effort to purge our bad feelings toward the person or incident before we meet to speak. This will help us resist the temptation to point out to them what we felt they did to provoke us. We are only there to talk about our own behavior.The Twelve Step Journal, p. 224-225

When I took Step 9 again a few months ago, I experienced a not-so-great response from someone I reached out to. She wasn’t unkind, but her words stung like a slap in the face. It had been more than seven years since my actions had hurt her. She seemed shocked that I would reach so far back to make amends. Then she basically told me that she had forgiven me because that’s what God commands. She said she would say it to me if that’s what I needed to hear from her to make myself feel better. Ouch. Yeah, that’s what can happen when you reach out to make amends.

But you know what? It’s okay. I had deeply wronged her and I needed to let her know that I knew I had and that I am sorry. However she responded was her choice. I’m not sure I would be very gracious, either – to someone who had done to her what I had done. Sometimes we just have to move forward, doing our part and releasing all of the persons we’ve hurt, to our God, who IS merciful, gracious and understanding of why we acted how we acted in our wounded and/or addicted state.Colorful Couple

As we welcome 2015 today, let’s move into it with open hearts, open minds, and courage to make our amends. If you have any amends stories of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments section, or even email me with them at info@julietvanheerden.com. I would love to hear from you and share your stories with others.

Happy New Year!

Hello, I’ve Just Got To Let You Know…

“I long to see the sunlight in your hair
And tell you time and time again
How much I care
Sometimes I feel my heart will overflow
Hello!
I’ve just got to let you know
’cause I wonder where you are
And I wonder what you do…”

Hello Gritty

 I mailed a card to her today. Haven’t heard from her in a while. Five months to be exact.

Just want to say, hello.” I pen the words carefully. Prayerfully.

I never want to be “too much.” But something within me desperately wants to keep this silken thread of communication alive. When half a year passes, my heart knows she’s grown half a head taller, a whole lot smarter, and is now, perhaps, too old for a “godmommy.”

 Father, she doesn’t even know me. Why do I keep reaching out to her? Why does stepping into a middle school classroom set my heart astir with the wonder and magic of the emotional chaos that is life as a “tween?” Why is hers the face I search for among those chattering girls in the hallway, when I know that none of them is hers. Will never be hers. Not here. Not now. Not in my world.

 Disappointment is hard. When we are responsible for the choices that bring the disappointment, it’s even more difficult, because there is no one to blame but the person in the mirror. When my heart aches with the pain of certain searing losses, I want to blame someone…anyone. I want to point a finger, say a bad word, work up some anger to mask the hurt, and maybe eat some chocolate (or something) to calm my nerves; none of that works to resolve the tangled knot in the center of my being. Those are simply smokescreens. I’ve been known to hide behind them very well in the past.

 That was before Step Three.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God”

 I’m familiar with God. I understand Him to be the only “Higher Power.” He’s been my Father, my Friend, my Rock and my Refuge for my entire life. Although I was birthed by Christian parents and raised in a Christian home, I admit (reluctantly) that there are areas, corners of my heart, that I have failed to turn over to God’s care. Step Three, for me, is about those areas. About trusting Him with her. About trusting Him with the leftovers of my heart after the enemy beats me up with lines like, “This is your own fault, you know. You lied. You lost her – your fault.”

 It’s a long, story – one that became Chapter Seven of my manuscript. I’ll not go into the details here, but I will say that I regularly take Step Three concerning this chapter of my life. For my own sanity’s sake, I must make that decision to turn my will and my life over to the One who understands the backstory. The guilt and the heartache would be too much to bear on my own.

 Doesn’t the enemy of our souls love to pour the alcohol of guilt, shame and blame into our open wounds?

 I fight him with the sword of God’s Word, which promises me this: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1, KJV)

 I choose to make the daily decision to place my life in the hands of the One who says, “Woman, where are your accusers?” (John 8:10)

 My accusers are mostly in my own head, if I allow them to be. It’s not my God who sends me back to the pit of shame every time I hear her name. It’s the Liar, the Accuser of the Brethren, the Guilt-Deliverer who gets more business in my neighborhood than Dominoes Pizza. I will survive his attacks when I make a decision to release my stubborn will into the hands of my Redeemer.

 What about you? Is the enemy knocking on your door with a steaming box of regrets? Does the scent of shame fill your home whenever you allow yourself to remember the choices you made that caused you to hurt the people you loved the most? Do you accept his lies, and even tip him for his services, or will you send him packing with the words, “This is not what I ordered today?”

 If your loss, like mine, involves a child, may I invite you to take another step?A step which Father to the fatherlessinvolves choosing to trust God with that little one (who may now be half-grown). Will you choose to believe that God loves that person, the very one you carry on your heart, even more than you ever could? Whether your baby was aborted, adopted, or fostered by another family, God tenderly holds your child in the palm of His heart. Will you choose to surrender that little life over the care of its loving Creator, who understands the circumstances that led to your heartache, and offers redemption for your loss?

 Eternity is a long time, my friend. Heaven holds the hope of the resurrection of our relationships. Jesus died that we might live, that our babies and children might live, that our hope will live – Forever!

(Note: Above Lyrics from Lionel Richie’s 1984 Single, “Hello”)

 

 

 

Broken And Restored

It’s a privilege to introduce you to my friend Bridget Edwards, who writes this week’s guest post. Bridget is a private person, so I consider it an honor that she allows us into her afternoon reverie. Many of us may have asked ourselves a similar question, “What would I do differently in hindsight?” Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t pigeonhole us in our pasts. He offers us new identities as he takes the giant eraser of His love to our life histories. Thank you, Bridget, for this honest reflection. ~Juliet~

While sitting here on my patio enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the thought ran through my mind, “If I had life to live all over again what I would do differently?” The question was followed by a flood of memories, emotions, resentments and regrets. But I quickly push the thoughts out of my head. “You cannot live life over again, that’s foolish.” Unfortunately, I have to live with my bad decisions; I have to suffer the consequences of my behavior; I have to endure the shame of my sinful choices.

Image courtesy of Winter_can_wait

Image courtesy of Winter_can_wait

You see, the devil offered me an alternative life style to that which God offered. And NOT consciously choosing it, I took it – pushing aside all the sermons I had heard, all the bible studies attended, blocking out the many family worships and ignoring all the prayers prayed on my behalf. I sought to numb the pains of life with the pleasures of sin, not realizing at the time that this behavior would only cause more pain.

You see I wasn’t sure of what I was running from or what I was running to for that matter. It was years later that I even realized I was running. But then it was too late. Sin was so deeply embedded in my life that all felt hopelessly lost. Stains of sin started to alter my appearance, my judgment, my compassion and my will.

Every time I looked at myself, all I could see was a life of sin. The results of my sinful behavior appeared in my marriage, in my children, in my work and in my play, preventing me from having a relationship with God. After looking over my life and realizing that there was no escape from the clutches of Satan, I cried out to the Lord, “I am unworthy Lord, please save me.” It was my cry of desperation, but I was not desperate enough to totally surrender to God’s leading.

You see, I struggle with surrender, I struggle with giving up total control, and I struggle with trusting another person, being, and thing. Nevertheless, my awesome God knows this about me, and in His infinite wisdom He uses kid gloves to deal with me. Nudging me ever so gently, offering me forgiveness and reminding me of His promises.

I cling to the promise found in 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I breathe the promise of Hebrews 13:5, “For He Himself has said, I will never leave nor forsake you” and Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;” I pray daily “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalms 51:10-12).

I wasted many years of my life doing foolish sinful things, but because of God’s goodness, those experiences are now testimonies of how God will leave the ninety-nine to go look for, retrieve and restore the one lost sheep. I am that lost sheep, safe at home in the fold with the Father. God redeems broken lives and restores identities that we thought were lost.

Bridget Edwards is a wife, mother, friend and born leader. Upon completing her Bachelor’s Degree she was called by God to work with children instead of pursuing her passion for law. B on beachObedient to God’s call, Bridget has changed the lives of young people in and outside of the classroom. When not working with children or assisting in church she enjoys camping, bike riding and avoiding cooking. Bridget is striving to have a Christ-like character. Her motto is “In God I Trust, live and breathe”.

Ghirardelli & Geography

I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend, and this week’s guest blogger, Sheri Wall. I’ve been dishing chapters of my manuscript off to a few friends and family members for initial editing and feedback. I’m so glad her review of Chapter 15 brought this insightful truth to light! (Thank you, Sheri, for this version of how God redeems the forgiveness we thought we lost.) Enjoy! Juliet

My email inbox is usually fairly predictable: 40% savings here; BOGO now; Here’s your school newsletter; Invitation to write for my blog as a guest. Wait. What? Better inspect that one more closely. Blogging isn’t completely foreign to me. I currently compile short entries for a successful photographer. But, you only have to dig so deep to pen phrases about hairstyles and various fru-fru subjects. No one’s soul is on the line. Even though I’m honored and horrified, I told my dear friend Juliet I’d give it a go. She told me not to worry, “The Holy Spirit will tell you what to say.” She was right.

As you dear readers know, Juliet is in the process of writing part of her life story. I’ve been privileged to proofread some chapters for her. It’s a powerful memoir that will touch many lives. I already know women that are asking tough questions and grasping at straws that Juliet, as a daughter of the King, has already answered and grabbed. I cannot wait to share her pages. One of the reasons my eyes have seen her raw words is that I lived alongside Juliet during a portion of the production, if you will. Endless nights, painful phone calls, tears, knowing glances and even vomiting – I had a front row seat for a good part of the show. And yet as I reaChoc-PBd the most recent chapter, my jaw, which while reading is usually busy with a spoon covered in peanut butter and rolled in Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (it’s a bad snacking habit, don’t judge me), ever so slowly dropped. I honestly had completely forgotten that these particular events had even happened in her life. I mean, once I scanned the pages, it came back to me – a little. Some of the details were new to me, but the core of the story I should have retained.

Ugh! My head fell forward and the sadly still familiar voice began; “You are a horrible person! You should have remembered this happened to her. How can you call yourself a friend?”   Satan loves to berate me with guilt over my shortcomings toward the people I love. If I hadn’t already been eating chocolate, I would have sprung from my chair to grab some regret-soothing confections. But then Satan slipped up and said, “Who doesn’t recall such a significant, painful, even ugly time in a person’s life?” And my Lord answered, “Me”.

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Hebrews 8:12 (KJV)

Boom. Seems simple enough; pretty cut-and-dry. And yet here’s another verse:

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us.”    Psalm 103:12 (GNB)East-West - Version 2

I’m ashamed to admit that during my high school World Geography class, I did not grasp the whole traveling east/west thing. It wasn’t until years later during a church sermon that a wonderful Texas pastor explained that there is never a finite distance between the east and the west. If you start to travel east, and keep traveling east around the world, 10 miles, 100, miles, 1000 miles – it doesn’t matter, you will never actually travel west. The same holds true if you start westward. So, our sins are infinitely being removed from us. Sins are going to keep happening and the forgetting never stops.

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25 (NIV)

The above tasty morsel was a gift from God and Google. While checking the verbiage of other Bible versions, I came across this article by Sam O’Neal, Does God Really Forget Our Sins?, showcasing the above verse that I had, umm, forgotten about. I love how the Lord says “for my own sake” in verse 25. He doesn’t “forgive and forget” just to help us feel better, he does it for Himself. Even with the ability to number stars, sort sand grains, and count hair follicles, the Lord decided he didn’t need to commit our sins to memory even though he obviously has the mental capacity to do so. Sweet!

You know what? After writing this, I’m not slouching in my seat anymore, and I don’t feel the need to reload my spoon. I am filled with gratitude and humbled that this exchange in my own mind was used to remind me, and now remind each of you, that our Maker loves us unconditionally and we should never forget the simplicity of His plan for salvation.

Sheri Wall has lived all but 6 months of her life in the great state of Texas. When she’s not Sherispinning or running to allow for more cooking and eating, she’s engaging in some type of largely masculine hobby that either her husband of 30 years, 23-year-old son, or 15 year-old-son enjoy. Sheri is also a part-time nanny, writer, and bargain hunter and is thankful for the blessings of a simple but full life.

Shame, Our Souls, and the Gospel

(Shared with permission – I hope you all enjoy! Juliet)

By renee@devotionaldiva.com (Renee Fisher) on May 20, 2014 06:00 am
shame

[Guest Post by Kimberly Davidson Campbell – I have never met a woman who had it all together on the inside. Maybe you do a good job or holding everything together on the outside, but there’s always traces of shame that tries to steal our joy. I appreciate Kim’s words of encouragement today. Like fresh water in a desert oasis of my heart. Receive them today with love!]

As I sit in the passenger seat of my husband’s now trip-cluttered (otherwise immaculate) Camry, I am intrigued and overwhelmed by all the areas of shame that plague me. 

These areas of shame don’t just plague me — but in some way — they plague most of the women we know.

According to author and blogger Shauna Niequist in Bread & Wine, most women are battling shame in two areas: how their bodies look and how their homes look. I would like to add one as well: how their children look (or act).

Here are some of those examples in my own life:

  • I’m ashamed that my husband is unable to give me a piggy-back ride or carry me over the threshold.  This isn’t because he isn’t strong.  He is.  I love his arms and how strong they are. It is because I weigh almost 40 lbs more than him.
  • I am ashamed because of my flabby body.  It is now covered with stretchmarks from two kids and losing large amounts of weight several times. I wouldn’t trade my boys for anything – but I don’t like stretchmarks.
  • I am ashamed because my closet is a mess and my husband’s is all in order and tidy.
  • I am ashamed because I struggle to keep our home as clean as the mister would like it.  So I come unglued when he suggests that he could help do some of the dishes or vacuum. Shame affects pride.
  •  In high school, I was ashamed as a part of the cheerleading squad and traveling singing group because the order size for my uniform or dress was always bigger than everyone else’s.
  • I struggle when I am in public with my toddler and he is pitching a temper tantrum because he doesn’t want to do something.  My parenting skills are not what they should be if he is misbehaving.
  •  I (wrongfully) pride myself in that my boys have never had to have their nursery number put up on the screen during church for me to come and get them. I would die in horror if that ever happened.

You may or may not be able to resonate with any of these examples, but I’m sure you have examples of your own.

Maybe it’s why you can’t look at pictures taken long ago. Or why you keep private stashes of House Beautiful or Shape for midnight reading. Maybe your shame in your body comes from a tattoo from another time in your life you would gladly remove if you could. Or maybe it’s the scars from an abortion or eating disorder.

Shame is not only an indicator of the outward home or clothing size or perfect children. Shame reaches our souls and steals our joy!

Shame also reveals many other truths about our hearts:

  1. It reveals pride. I’ve mentioned this before, but pride is so ugly in a believer’s heart. Everything we have ever received is from God and is not of our own doing. So, when we strive to keep appearances up for the sake of making ourselves look better – it is not a helpful tool in sharing the truth of God’s Word.  (Ephesians 2.8-10; Isaiah 2.17)
  2. Comparison is a nasty habit. Whenever we compare our lives with those of others it reveals an ungrateful heart to the Lord. It is wrecking friendships as well. Oh, be grateful in your heart for all that God has done for you and in you! He works all things together for our good and His glory! (Romans 8.18-39; Colossians 3.15-17)
  3. Both of these areas of our hearts reveal a lack of love for others. One of the two commandments we are given in the Word is love your neighbor as yourself. Friendships are one of most important things in my life.  I love the sweet friends that God has blessed me with over the years and in every place I’ve lived. But, when I let sin hinder those relationships, it brings bitterness that takes forgiveness to overcome – by the truth of the Gospel.  (1 Corinthians 13)

The Gospel – the life and work of Jesus Christ – as it does for every area of our lives, has a direct impact on our life and soul of shame.

  1. Jesus doesn’t love you because you are skinny or wear a certain size. I remember Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada boasting in the fact that she was now in a size 4. But, her life wasn’t any happier than it was when she was slightly bigger. Jesus work in our lives often to heal us from an addiction to the scale or the tag on the skirt.
  2. The gospel isn’t yours only if you have a farmhouse table in your dining room or your baseboards never have a speck of dust on them. The gospel is ours not because of anything we have done – but because Jesus has done everything.
  3. Christ is ours no matter how our children behave – or misbehave! Claim that truth!
  4. Christ frees us! Romans 8.1 is a verse that every believer needs to claim for their lives as a mantra. We are free. There is no condemnation!

The next time you find it hard to believe that you are more than your house, your outward appearance, or any other area you find yourself ashamed of – rest in the doneness of the Gospel of Jesus! And boast in that!

kimberlycampbellKimberly Davidson Campbell is a wife, mother, freelance writer and photographer who resides in the Atlanta area with her family. She graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in Education. Her passions include life-on-life discipleship, speaking, teaching, writing, cooking, being healthy, and photography – and mostly spending time with her husband and two very active sons! She blogs regularly at http://kd316.com.

[photo credit: Jims_photos via photopin cc]

The post Shame, Our Souls, and the Gospel appeared first on Devotional Diva®.

Peace For Hurting Mothers

Vulnerability

Tulips In Rain by winter_can_wait

“He was always such a good boy.” She spoke quietly, sunlight from the window illuminating every furrow in her forehead. She wasn’t particularly pretty. But perhaps she had been before grief had taken over her features. Moving toward the light, she scanned the spring-green countryside before continuing.

“I loved him as mothers love sons. Fiercely. Madly. He was always my favorite, but I tried not to let it show. I couldn’t help it. He just had that way of pulling my heartstrings.” Turning from the window, she settled herself on low cushions and closed her eyes for a moment. “He was different. Special. I really wasn’t sure where life would take him. But I just knew he would go far.”

Then the tears came. Just one or two, from beneath dark lashes. She fought them bravely, struggling for the composure that had held her together through the years as fingers pointed and tongues wagged in not-so-soft whispers that cut like shards of glass.

“I was thrilled to hear of his adventures with those eleven friends of his. News traveled quickly when something miraculous happened. True, a couple of them were a little rough, especially those sons of Thunder! But from what I understood, they had each other’s backs. And the power of God was surely with them. Why, he even healed the sick and cast out demons. He shared the stories with me himself during his last visit home. I just don’t understand what happened.”

She shook her head as if trying to jar the memories loose. “If they were unkind to him, he never told me. He didn’t give a hint of betrayal. They always seemed like such a close-knit group. I mean, for three years they were together, night and day. I cannot fathom what went wrong. How could such a terrible thing happen? That’s not how his ministry was supposed to end. That was not how he was supposed to die. Oh, Judas! My Judas!” Her tears could no longer be contained as violent pent-up sobs shook her small frame.

Can you feel her ache? Identify with her heart? Do you know that mother? You know…the one whose son is in juvenile detention? Or rehab? Maybe she’s the one whose daughter overdosed a couple of years ago. Or whose sweet grandbaby grew up to be a perpetrator. Or the one who isn’t a mother at all because she had one too many abortions, wrecking her chances of conception. What is she doing for Mother’s Day?

Perhaps you have been the mother, or the wife, or the sister who is being whispered about. Or maybe it’s your husband who ran that stoplight while driving under the influence. Or your teenager, who didn’t see that guy on the motorcycle because she was texting her boyfriend. Is that your daughter-in-law, whose black eye reminds you of the days when your son’s father did the same to you?

Mother’s Day makes some mothers want to curl up in a tight ball of shame and hide behind their wall of pain while their friends are opening pink Hallmark envelopes and going out for brunch. Chances are, you know one of those shame-filled ones. She may be in your pew, your prayer group, or your circle of friends. She may be in your mirror.

Dr. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” In her book Daring Greatly, she cites some of the responses people gave when asked for an example of shame. Here are a few, as found on p. 70:

  • “Shame is having someone ask me, “When are you due?” when I’m not pregnant.
  • Shame is hiding the fact that I’m in recovery.
  • Shame is bankruptcy.
  • Shame is my DUI.
  • Shame is infertility.
  • Shame is telling my fiancé that my dad lives in France when in fact he’s in prison.
  • Shame is Internet porn.
  • Shame is hearing my parents fight through the walls and wondering if I’m the only one who feels this afraid.”

 If I could speak for the mother of Judas, I could probably add, “Shame is having your son hang out with Jesus Christ for three years and blowing it all by betraying Him and then hanging himself from a tree.”Judas' Tree

Maybe it seems strange to talk about this on Mother’s Day weekend when everything is meant to be roses and kisses. But holidays are some of the most difficult times for people, especially those in recovery. And if we are truthful, that should probably include most of us. Maybe this isn’t your particular holiday to mourn, but I can almost guarantee there is one.

Thursday would have been my husband’s mother’s birthday. She passed away just last spring. He did what I’m encouraging each of us to do when these things come up. He reached out. He called his sisters. He called his dad. They remembered Mom and comforted one another with words. They brought one more measure of healing to the wound that is losing a loved one.

Was it Judas’ mother’s fault that he went rogue and is best remembered for betraying the Son of God? Should she have had to walk in shame for the rest of her life because of her son’s adult choices? I don’t know if she did. But it would certainly be tempting, wouldn’t it? Shame makes us want to hide. Shame says, “You are a bad mother.” Shame says, “It’s your fault your kid turned out that way,” or “You don’t deserve to have kids anyway, after the kind of life you’ve led.” Shame is a liar.

After 12 years of researching shame, Brené Brown suggests four elements of what she calls, “shame resilience,” which, she says, “always ultimately lead us to empathy and healing:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers.
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness.
  3. Reaching Out.
  4. Speaking Shame.”

 If this Mother’s Day isn’t looking too bright, for whatever reason, may I encourage you to practice courage and reach out to someone? Own your story. Don’t let it fester. Don’t bury it. Talk about it. Share it. And talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone else if you really loved them and were trying to comfort them. Let’s be kind to ourselves, and kind to one another.

Not every mother’s Mothers’ Day is joy-filled. But every mother deserves to know that “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Peace is one of those good and perfect gifts. Whatever your story, may His perfect peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds (Philippians 4:4) today.

*Thank you, Winter_can_wait, for sharing your beautiful images with us. More from Ami can be found at http://twenty20.com/winter_can_wait

Is That Elephant Yours?

I used to write the checks that paid the bills. (That was back in the day before automatic drafts.) I controlled the income and the outgo. I did the shopping. I did the saving. I gave my addicted spouse a weekly allowance, which eventually turned into daily “lunch money” because he blew (or snorted) the weekly dollars with one trip to the dealer.

I worked very hard to keep us out of debt and in the black. Sometimes we still received the dreaded NSF (non-sufficient funds) on our bank statement, with overdraft fees attached. Those three letters (NSF) made me crazy! I would clamp down even tighter on a husband who could figure out a way to buy drugs no matter how hard I controlled the cash. I was like Wile E. Coyote, scrimping and scheming to keep my husband from killing himself. Rationalizing insanely like this: If he only gets a few dollars, then he can’t overdose or disappear for days. We can handle a high; we just can’t handle a binge.

The addicted “Road Runner,” on the other hand, figured out myriad ways to outsmart me, from pawning his own stuff to beating in his truck with a sledge hammer and collecting the insurance money. Can’t you just hear him saying, “Beep beep!” on his way to the dealer…again? And can you picture me, ultra control-freak freaking out…again?

Remember that childhood cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself here) where Wile E. Coyote is chasing after Road Runner and ends up going off a cliff? That was me. Eventually, I ended up just going off the deep end because trying to outsmart and out-chase and out-control an out-of-control person is exhausting… and damaging; especially to the ones who are trying to fix everything.

In her best-selling book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie says, “Most of us have been so busy responding to other people’s problems that we haven’t had time to identify, much less take care of, our own problems.”

Following are some quotes that came from spouses of alcoholics when their husbands were in treatment and when they got honest about who they really were and how they really felt:

  • “The bondage of codependency made me so crazy that all those around me suffered greatly.”
  • “I caught myself answering for my spouse in Family Program. I started to realize that I was a big part of the problem.”
  • “I wanted to be a victim. I continued to act like I did not have choices and that it was always everyone else’s fault in the family for how I felt and reacted.”
  • “I realized that although I was saying I wanted my spouse to get better, I was really afraid of getting better and looking at my own stuff. I kept adding pressure as a way of sabotaging.”
  • “I still wanted to control things while my spouse was in treatment, because, after all, I had always taken care of everything.” Codependent No More Workbook, p. 83

 I recently read this quote on Ann Voskamp’s blog:

“Unless you walk with Jesus every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.”

 My thoughts keep returning to those words like a tongue returns to that empty place where a tooth used to be. It’s so true.” Every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.” And that pride and fear drive us to control.

Why did I try to control every penny when I was married to a cocaine user? Because I was prideful. I wanted to make sure that everything about our lives continued to appear normal, even though normal was often far from our reality.

And what was I so afraid of anyway? Why was fear a driving force in my life? Well, I was afraid that he would kill himself or someone else. I was afraid he would go to jail, and at the same time afraid he wouldn’t go to jail. Afraid of what the good people in church would think if they knew what was really going on in our lives. Afraid that we would lose our home, our vehicles, our jobs. Afraid that I might lose my mind. Just afraid. Of lots of things.

I was so prideful and fearful and controlling that I was blinded to the “elephant in the room.” Oh, I kind of knew there was a large mammal with a long trunk that had taken up residency in our lives, but I thought it belonged to the real addict, surely not to me!

Upon closer inspection, one that required a good Christian counselor and some Al-anon principles, I realized that the elephant had my name on it. It was my pet. No one ever spoke of it. We all ignored it. But there it was, one day, bigger than life. Its name was Control. It stood firmly on four legs: pride, fear, shame, and secrecy.

Only when those legs began to buckle under the powerful daily application of God’s Word, did that beast begin to fall to its knees.

Is that your elephant?

Is that your elephant?

I dove into scriptures like Isaiah 41:10, which says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (NIV) Proverbs 16:5, in the King James version reminded me that pride is an “abomination” to the Lord. The Living Bible puts it this way,“Pride disgusts the Lord. Take my word for it—proud men [and women] shall be punished.”

This week, I came across a great little magnifying glass that might be used to check for elephants. You may want to prayerfully read it and begin turning some of those burdens you’ve been carrying over to the One who can truly handle them. It’s written by Cherilynn Veland:

Five Major Ways Addictions Can Affect Your Life, Even If You Are Not The Addict

If you are in a relationship with a problem drinker or problem substance abuser, or if you have a family member who is an addict, there are five major ways that this disease may affect you.

1. You can become more controlling.
It is normal for this disease to make a person feel anxious or overwhelmed. Because of this, the family member usually becomes more controlling of their environment. For example, if you are a boss at a company, and your spouse has a drinking problem, you might over-manage your employees. You could channel that control need into making  more and more rules and restrictions for your employees. If you are a parent, you may do this with your kids, managing their relationships or being overly restrictive.

2. You can become anxious and more easily overwhelmed.
You will worry more in general about everyone you care about. If you are a mom or a dad, you may be overly-focused on your child. You want to make them happy at all costs, and you become overly worried if something goes wrong for them at school. Work is more difficult. Everything gets harder.

3. You might think you can help when you can’t.
People who are in relationships with substance abusers will often try harder and harder to “make” the addict/alcoholic happy. They will work hard to do whatever it takes to “make them OK” so the drinker or user won’t need to drink. Sadly, this will not help. Addiction has nothing to do with someone’s environment. Even if a substance abuser likes to blame their difficult work or the messy house, these are just excuses.

4. You can become fixated on the other person’s behavior.
Wondering and worrying about things like, “Will ____ drink tonight?” or “What if they drive?” or “How will it be at home if ____happens?” These worries can become a fixation in your mind, leading to self-neglect. This cycle repeats over and over.

5. You can get blinded by denial.
If your loved one is a substance abuser, it is normal to go into denial. Remember the woman who killed her children and several other people after driving with 10 drinks in her system? Her family says they knew nothing about it. Denial is a powerful partner to the disease of substance abuse. Even loving parents will turn a blind eye. I see it all the time.

The takeaway: Even if you are just the friend of an addict, or you grew up with an addict who is in recovery, alcoholism and drug addiction have tentacles with deep impact. Anyone in any kind of a relationship with someone who is addicted has to be touched by this disease. Contact a counselor or a 12-step program such as Al-Anon if you are in this situation. Learn about codependency. Help is out there. (http://drnicolaswarner.com/five-major-ways-addictions-can-affect-life-even-if-not-addict/)

My students used to tell elephant jokes: Q: “What time is it when an elephant sits in a chair?” A: “Time to get a new chair.” Q: “What is the same size as an elephant, but weighs nothing?” A: “An elephant’s shadow.” Q: “How do you eat an elephant?” A: One bite at a time.” I guess that’s what I want to leave with you – the way to conquer the elephants in our lives is to first acknowledge that they actually might be ours. Then we make them disappear one bite at a time. And those bites are found in the first part of Ann’s quote, “Unless you walk with Jesus every day…”

Jesus, help me to walk with You, humbly, fearlessly, day by day, until every single bite of that elephant is swallowed up by Your grace and mercy. Amen.

P.S. Here’s the link to Ann Voskamp’s blog where I got the quote: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/04/15-keys-to-parenting-what-no-one-tells-you/