Standing on the Sidelines

This is a story of amazing grace.

In this story I am standing on the sidelines, like a background mom or a funny best friend, and taking in the scenes between the hero and main characters. Although I’m right in the middle of all the action, and feel the effects of the storyline progressing, it isn’t my story being told.

It’s a story of a hero pursuing a princess. A beautiful, perfect, spunky princess with hurt and emotions far beyond her age. The hero reminds her she’s beautiful and shows her safety. The hero listens as she wines and even lets her stomp a bit. He wipes her tears while weeping alongside her.

The princess loves the hero but can’t know for sure if he’s safe.

Here come the supporting characters. Surrounding her and speaking with love of the hero. She hears of how he keeps showing up to save them. They sing his praises.

Her head and her heart meet up and decide he truly must be good and safe.

The hero shows up over and over and over for this princess. Gently pushing her to be brave and wrapping her in his arms when she isn’t. He catches her when she falls. He laughs when she’s silly and cries when she hurts his heart.

Jesus loves her. He pursues her. He rejoices when she jumps in the pool. He weeps when night terrors rage through her body. He is angered by the injustice in her story. He is her perfect Hero and she is his beautiful princess.

This story is far from over. But as each chapter is written there are endless signs of truth and love. How amazing is the grace that Jesus has given me that I am able to be here, in the middle of her story, standing on the sidelines.

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“I am Safe. I am Strong. Jesus Loves me.”

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“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

 

Trauma doesn’t begin when children are taken from their home and placed in foster care. Often times, children have endured a lifetime of trauma and traumatic situations before they are removed. Even a baby removed at birth can have a history of trauma. Children in the foster care system have been hurt by those they trust and they carry that hurt with them in their day-to-day life. The hurt shows itself through behavior such as: anger, self-harm, depression, rage, anxiety, and a whole host of other emotional manifestations.

 

Lately we have been working through a lifetime of toddler anxiety. All toddlers go through an anxious stage, where they are clingy, maybe afraid of the dark or monsters or bugs. But trauma behaviors are so much more. More than being afraid. More than needing to be held by mommy. I pray fervently that you never have to see your two year old have a full-blown panic attack, because it is one of the deepest hurts I have had to endure. It is helpless. And as irrational as two year olds are under normal situations, anxiety riddled toddlers have zero control over any irrational thoughts or behaviors.

 

Toddler anxiety in our home looks like extreme fear, sleepless nights, and a lot of tears (both from toddler and mommy). Having a routine, melatonin, deep hugs, and recently our little mantra have been helpful, not a cure, but helpful. And this morning we saw a mini-breakthrough. As the puppy started to get riled up, as she would normally start to cry and jump into my arms, she looked right at him and told him:

“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

My sweet girl is starting to speak words of truth over herself as I have spoken and prayed over her for months. She may not fully believe it, and it may be a lifetime of needing reminders, but these are the truths we are sowing in her little heart. I pray she always knows safety, uses her strength, and feels the love of Jesus.

 

Change the Conversation.

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I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.

There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.

This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.

 

The conversation has to change.

 

“Just pray more.”

“He must have not felt loved.”

“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”

“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”

“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”

“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”

 

Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.

To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…

“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”

Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.

 

Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness:

https://twloha.com/learn/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/

Christmas Treasured in my Heart.

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

I believe this is one of the most beautiful parts of the Christmas story. Mary, a teenage virgin mother, just gave birth to the Messiah. Around her are animals and visitors worshiping her little baby, it smells weird, it’s loud, and maybe she was a little overwhelmed (she just gave birth in a barn for goodness sakes). But I imagine Mary sitting back and taking it all in, treasuring and pondering in her heart, and my spirit is filled.

This was my first Christmas as a mother. And as I watched my sweet children decorate cookies, open presents, and wonder at Christmas lights I started to understand a sliver of the emotions Mary must have felt. Amongst the hustle and busyness and flu that hit all five of us there was a peace and pondering in my heart. I had so much joy watching others love on my babies. We loved sharing the magic and excitement and singing happy birthday to Jesus.

Baby got to experience his first Christmas with more snuggles and tissue paper than he could ever want. Sister opened a baby doll that cries until you give it a bottle and has yet to set her down. And brother carried enough excitement in his face for the whole family. It was a Christmas of navigating big feelings and needing many breaks. Our babies each needed a little extra love and Chris and I were exhausted by day’s end. It was wonderful.

We may not have next Christmas together…but I’m taking a page from Mary’s book and treasuring every moment in my heart.

On rising up…

Before becoming foster parents, you are required by the state to take a 27-hour course in which a majority of the material is geared around how to parent a child who has experienced trauma. You watch videos of various scenarios, role play different techniques, and discuss possible daily outcomes. There is required course reading and a list of suggested books on trauma behaviors and how to parent them. You are reminded that no matter the circumstance surrounding the removal, the removal from the home is trauma enough for a child.

And then, at the end of the course, they hand you a child who has experienced trauma and ask you to parent them.

It does not matter how hard you work to be prepared. It does not matter how many blogs you read, mentors you sit under, or audio books you listen to in your car. Nothing can fully prepare you for the days ahead.

When you see me and say, “I could never do it”, I want to say “me either”.  I simply am not enough for trauma behaviors. I could not handle typical two-year-old mixed with hurt and fear and confusion. I could never do the days that visits are canceled and I have to find a way to explain that to a confused toddler. I could never sit through three months and counting of screaming through getting dressed, bath time, and diaper changing because of something terrible that adults did. I could never rock a perfect baby to sleep every night knowing that someday he will probably never be in my arms again.

But we do it anyway.

Because these sweet children are going to be in foster care whether or not we do anything about it.

Because there are over half a million children in foster care in the United States.

Because God has given us gifts and talents and called us to love on the least of these in his name.

So, I will learn about trauma. When new behaviors start to surface, we will cry together, call someone wiser than myself, and work it out. We will lay on the floor doing deep breathing exercises until panic attacks subside. I will sit with my babies through the disappointment and though the breakthroughs. I will put aside my fear and insecurities for the sake of healing.

It is time to start asking practical questions and getting involve. Never hesitate to ask where to start…I have never met an orphan care advocate who didn’t want to share her story. As Christians we must rise up to be a part of the healing process.

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