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.

To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Do you guys know what you are getting yourselves into?” The question comes in various forms from a variety of concerned friends and family members.

We don’t. But we’re doing our best to find out.

I like lists. Pros and Cons. Cut and Dried. I begin making one in my head.

What’s the worst thing that could happen by bringing a couple of orphaned Eastern European teenagers into our family?” Honey and I hold the conversation while holding hands in the car on the way to our favorite Thai restaurant for date night.

I don’t know. They could axe murder us in the night?” he ventures, half laughing.

Seriously. We know them. That’s not their character.”

Well, maybe they don’t love us as much as we love them. Maybe we are just a free ticket to America and once they are here, they’ll rebel and leave as soon as they can.”

Maybe. That’s certainly their right when they turn eighteen,” I reply. “Do you really believe that?”

I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of the worst thing that could happen,” Honey replies as he pulls into the empty parking lot that houses the darkened Thai dive that has the best green curry in the county.

Well, I think the worst thing that could happen would be that they get hooked on drugs or alcohol or something like that and I’d get to relive the nightmare I’ve already lived with a substance abuser in the family,” I venture.

Or maybe that they cause problems between us and divide and conquer us, and our marriage goes down the tubes,” Honey says as we slide into our usual booth and wave to the waitress who has memorized our order down to the extra rice for Honey and the extra spice for me.

Maybe. But we’re too smart to let that happen, right? I prayed too hard to find you in this world. I’m not about to let anything mess with us.”

Honey smiles and takes my hand to pray over our meal.

You’re happy when the boys are here,” he says. It’s the kind of happy you get when we visit your sister’s kids. It’s a different kind of happy than when it’s just you and me. I’m not jealous. I can just see that there is something missing from our lives. Something that makes my wife’s eyes light up.”

I miss them,” I reply. “I really miss them.”

“Yeah. They bring a lot of energy into our home. They get us off of our little workaholic treadmills and force us to have fun. I miss them, too.”IMG_3796

I’m thrilled they expressed that they want to be adopted by us. I was afraid of what they would say in their exit interviews,” I confess as our green curry arrives. “I’ve been holding my breath ever since they left. Waiting to know if they really want to come back and be part of our family.”

We just have to trust that God is leading, and go through the doors He opens,” Honey says. We love them. They love us. God placed the four of us together for a reason. We can’t know everything. We won’t know everything. We just have to trust Him. We will do everything we can do to bring the boys home. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, we still have to trust Him.”

We don’t discuss it anymore. But I can’t stop thinking about it. I try not to let fear have a foothold in the days that follow as various people express their doubts and questions and scary “what-ifs.”

God, I know we can’t control people. No one knows how a story will end. Nobody can guarantee that babies won’t be born with defects, that toddlers won’t drown, that teenagers won’t drive drunk and ruin somebody’s forever. We don’t know whether our daughters will become victims or our sons, felons. We all want to live in this safe, tidy, neat little world where our kids turn our great and our spouses love us til death do us part. But You and I both know that it doesn’t work that way.

We love. And love is messy. Love hurts. Love sometimes leaves us bleeding on the sidelines after we get kicked in the proverbial teeth by somebody who is supposed to be on our team. Does that mean we never sign up for the league? Does it mean we sit on the bleachers while everybody else plays the game of life? Does it mean we simply coach and counsel and cheer the rest of the world on, but never take the risk of suiting up and entering the arena ourselves?

To love is to be vulnerableWhat should we do, God? Should we sit this one out or dance?

Two days later, I check my messages on VK (Ukraine’s version of Facebook), hoping for a response to the words we texted the boys after learning what they said to the social worker: “When we said we loved you, we meant it. We just received the results of your exit interview and are so excited to learn that you want to be adopted into our family! We are thrilled to know that you have also chosen us. Thank you for giving us a chance to be your family. We thank God for you.”

In my inbox, I see a reply from the Boy who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. His words are few, but they are enough. Дякою вам.Я вас дуже дуже Люблю.” (Thank you. I love you very, very much.)

In that moment, I hear God’s whispered response to my earlier question, “Should we sit it out or dance?”

“I hope you dance.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

Interested in Orphan Hosting? Click here.

Want to help us bring the boys home? Click right here.

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’,
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’,
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance..
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone)”

(Thanks to Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers for writing the lyrics to “I Hope You Dance,” made popular in 2000 by Leann Womack and Sons of the Desert.)

Catch Ronan Keating’s Version on You Tube, Right Here.

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.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~

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).

~~~~~~~~~~

 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!

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

Sowing and Reaping

“Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living.” Brené Brown

Whenever I share something I’ve written with you, the unknown reader, I feel vulnerable. Naked. Like when I’m trying to exchange my wet swimsuit for dry shorts underneath my beach towel and the wind whips the towel out of my hands and… there I am, EXPOSED! (That only happened once, but it was really, really embarrassing!) Some of my recent guest bloggers have expressed similar sentiments. Some whom I’ve asked to share their stories have declined, understandably refusing to be “that vulnerable.” I get it! But I want to thank those who have had the courage and taken the time to write and share. I would dare to say we have all been blessed.

This week, a couple of exciting things happened, so I wanted to take this blog for myself, even though my last-chapter-deadline is breathing down my neck. First, I found an editor who was willing to take a red pen to the first 16 chapters! She’s a no-nonsense-detail-oriented person who likes to do it the “old fashioned” way, in her hammock with a hard copy in hand. So, I had the joy of taking my flash drive down to Staples and having all 299 pages printed and bound with a little black spiral. To feel the weight of that typed manuscript in my hands was sheer bliss!Manuscript

As I praised my Savior and thought of the agony that went into that writing, I remembered the verse, “The LORD has done great things for us, Wherof we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3 NKJV) And then, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” (verse 5)

Yes, Lord! I certainly sowed this work in tears, but I thank You for the joy I feel today as I hold it in my hands! Thank You for being with me on this journey. Amen.

I thought of sowing and reaping as I shared with my Honey what else had happened at Staples. After living under a cloud of shame for years about what my former spouse was doing (drugs) or not doing (loving me well), I rejoice at every opportunity to discover that I am now married to someone who makes me feel proud of who he is and what he’s doing, even when no one is watching. And they say kindness doesn’t pay…

“Thank you for being such a nice person!” I said as I burst through the door with my spiral-bound manuscript in hand. “You saved me thirty bucks!” I proceeded to tell my Honey that when I went to pay for my manuscripts (I’d decided to get two, one for me and one for the editor), my wallet fell open to expose our joyful engagement picture. I’d already swiped my Visa card to pay for the eyebrow-raising total when the clerk glanced at the photo and said, “Is that your husband?”

“Yes.”

“He gets a lot of work done here. He’s always so nice and courteous when he comes in. I’m sure he has a rewards account with us.”

With that, she asked a couple more questions, deleted my transaction, and re-rang my total. It came to about half of the original!

“Have a nice day!” she said as I nearly skipped out the door. I had just reaped what my godly husband had sown. It was a little redemption of things I had thought were forever lost back in the days when reaping what a husband had sown didn’t bring nearly as much joy.

God sees us. People see us. What are we writing about ourselves in this world? Whether we have a hard copy or not, we are being read! What does your manuscript look like?

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galations 6:7-9 NKJV)

P.S. Please pray for me and this ministry. Please follow my blog. Share my blog. Comment on my blog. All of those things will help me to be noticed by a publisher. Thank you!Business Card

She Dared Greatly

I‘ll simply call her, “She.” because you may know her. “She” may live in your community, too. “She” could wear high heels or flip flops, but you’ll recognize her, not for her shoes, but for her heart. Next time you see her, whoever “She” may be, give her a “Woo hoo!” for being vulnerable…for living Wholeheartedly. Let her know you’re in her cheering section!

She wore her rhinestone-pocketed jeans tucked into cowgirl boots. Her naturally curly hair was blonde and straight, her smile bright with expectation. I have not been quite so proud of a grown-up for a long time. Part of me wanted to run onto that stage and wrap my arms around her. Instead, I shouted, “Woo Hoo!” Texas-style, as she stepped up to the podium. Within seconds, I was silently glued to the pew, not wanting to miss one word of her precious gift to Jesus.

You see, she had promised Him that she would tell her story, after He, in a quiet moment, had asked her for it. At first, she shied from the real story, wanting to hide behind the fluff of other, brighter stories that would roll more gently off the tongue. But He persisted. She, wanting to please Him after all He has done for her, for us, relented in humble obedience.

I could feel a shift in the atmosphere as the women shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Most of us had been there, right there, in those shameful places she bravely described with tears in her voice. But most would never dare stand in rhinestones and boots baring our souls before hundreds of strangers. I applauded God as they applauded her. She resonated deep within souls who had come with unspoken expectations, but were completely unprepared for the splendor of sheer vulnerability in blue jeans. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, she connected to the hearts of her hearers. More importantly, she connected her hearers to the heart of God.

photoFor my birthday, I received  Brené Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. In the introduction, she states, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it, there is suffering.” When we, or someone we love messes up badly, or is stuck in addiction, it’s so easy to hide behind a wall of shame, pretending that everything is okay when it’s not. But, according to Dr. Brené Brown, when we do that, we are not living “Wholeheartedly.” In fact, we may not really be living at all. We may be merely existing.

Dr. Brown says on page 9 in her book, that wholeheartedness is “a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness,” and that (p.11-12), “The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men who I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything – from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments – to their ability to be vulnerable.”

When I read that, my immediate thought was, Then all Christians must be “Wholehearted” people, because we believe that we are worth the very life of the Son of God. But in my spirit, I knew for certain that not all of us who proclaim Christ as Lord are living our lives from a Wholehearted stance. Way too many of us are hanging our heads on the way to the altar, if we can even crawl out of bed and make ourselves go to church. Sometimes we give up trying because the masks become too heavy to hold in place. It’s easier to just stay away. Our shame and fear have kept us stuck in a place that is far from the abundant life Our Savior has called us to live.

But, not my rhinestone cowgirl. No way. She’s living abundant life. She’s living Wholeheartedly, pouring out the oil in her alabaster box as she throws herself at the merciful feet of Jesus, just wanting to give the most precious contents of her life back to Him. I loved her for that. I loved Him for giving her the courage to be just that vulnerable.

Brené Brown’s research has shown that the Wholehearted “have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.” She says, “those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging.” (p.11)

We are, each and every one of us, worthy of love, belonging and joy! “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) You are loved. You are worthy of the greatest gift heaven has ever bestowed. Will you walk that out today? Go ahead. Pull on those boots! They were made for walkin’ – Walkin’ out your wholehearted, vulnerable life. Make your Jesus proud. “She” sure did!

http://katiecouric.com/2012/09/13/daring-greatly/ (Click HERE if you want to see Brené Brown discuss vulnerability with Katie Couric.)

 

 

Shame and Vulnerability Unmasked

“Shame on you.” “Shame on him.” “Shame on me.” My mouth has formed those words many times in 43 years. My mama said them when I tried to sneak back into the house after a broken curfew. My Grandma ‘Dessa said them when “so-and-so’s husband stepped out on her and ran off with that little tramp.” My great-grandmother said them when she felt bad after burning her hand and swearing out loud in front of us kids. I grew up with shame.

In elementary school, I was ashamed that we lived in a mobile home on someone else’s property. In high school I was ashamed when my coach kind of joked that my fashionable “high tops” weren’t really basketball shoes at all. (They were all my single mama could afford.) In college, I was ashamed that my car had no paint and roared through campus in a not-so-cool way because the muffler had fallen off. When I got married at 24, I felt shame when I accepted a diamond ring that had been worn by my husband’s ex -wife. When I got divorced 13 years later, I carried the shame of a wasted womb to the courthouse.

If I had believed the enemy’s lies, they would go something like this: “You are unworthy to hang out with the kids who have their own swimming pools and whose parents drive Audis. You shouldn’t even play sports because you’re can’t afford the proper gear. Everyone is going to laugh at you and your stupid Balloon sneakers. And forget about trying to date any of the “cool” guys at college, they are WAY out of your league. And that ring, well, obviously you aren’t worth the trouble it would take to get a new diamond. Or at least one that your husband didn’t buy for someone else! And that wasted womb, well… that was your own choice. You made your bed. Now lie in it.”

Image Credit: www.polyvore.com/teal_blue_sneakers_vintage_1980s/thing?id=60963037

Image Credit: http://www.polyvore.com/teal_blue_sneakers_ vintage_1980s/thing?id=60963037

Okay, I did believe those lies. Maybe not consciously. But I made agreements with the enemy about who I was based on what kind of home I lived in, what clothing I could afford, and what car I drove. I suffered on the inside for making poor choices and pretending that I was okay with them. Shame and pride and fear created a nasty concoction within, yet I smiled on the outside. I never verbalized any of that. Just worked hard. Got good grades. Did my best to be a good crack-wife. Pretended to be okay. Slogged through the swamp of shame.

Dr. Brené Brown speaks eloquently (if you can forgive a few swear words) on shame in her Ted Talks piece, “Listening to Shame”. http://www.ted.com/talk /brene_brown_listening_to_shame In her talk, she says, “Shame is the swampland of the soul.” I get that. I’ve lived that.

Before Dr. Brown gets to the actual shame part of her talk on shame, though, she speaks a lot about vulnerability. (I also recommend her Vulnerability talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability ). It resonated with me when she said she had a, “Vulnerability Hangover.” I kind of felt that way after my previous post. I just wanted to hide. To lay low. I felt kind of naked. And the negative self-talk came, “So, was it worth it to put yourself out there like that?” I even began to second-guess some pieces that I was planning to put into my book. But then, one dear reader had the courage to make the following comment on my blog post, “Unashamed.” She said, “Beautifully written. Someday so many people will be able to tell you how much your honesty and transparency has helped them. Keep releasing the fear of what people think – What I thought while reading this is how awesome that you are sharing it and how it will resonate with so many more people than you can imagine!”

I actually wept. Just sat here dropping tears onto my lemony-patterned table cloth. Thank you, God. That someone sees. Is touched by what You and I are doing here. Thank You, for those words of encouragement.

Brené Brown goes on to say, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” And that it is the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” So, this is what I want to say today: If you feel stuck in a place of shame, take a step of courage and be vulnerable. Find a safe place to be real. Dr. Brown says that, “Vulnerability is the pathway back to each other.” Find a 12 Step group like Celebrate Recovery, where you can tell your story. Attend Al-anon. Risk a friendship. Just be real and give another person the opportunity to say two of the most powerful words in the universe, “Me, too.”

Isaiah 50:7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

Shortcake

P.S. The photo may appear unrelated to this post, but it sure looks yummy, right? Seriously, I made Strawberry Shortcake for my Honey and me after we found some fantastic strawberries at Costco on our date night last Monday. And I’m not ashamed to say that I ate every bite of the one in the above photograph, in sweet memory of my Grandma ‘Dessa. Loved her so much – wish I could share with her some of the things I’m learning about shame. I’m afraid that she lived and died in its ugly swampland.