The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
Of all the challenges I find painful to bear, the position of offering parental care and concern while my children pour forth their rage against their assailant is the worst. I must somehow validate and console the child before me even as their words spill vitriol upon my other child. It is unnatural and a sure sign that sin infests this earthly world. However, I can say with assurance that my Redeemer gives me strength to face this otherwise unbearable task. Just as I promise my children that He will never leave nor forsake them, so I know that He will never leave nor forsake me. Praise God!
Emotional vulnerability is an absolute must for healing and resolution. If we cannot be honest about our feelings, then we cannot begin to see them through a lens of rational thought and we confine ourselves to a prison of “emotional victimization.” Essentially, we hinder any real growth or awareness about ourselves and fall prey to repeating or avoiding strong feelings.
When we choose to avoid bad feelings, our hearts harden and we slowly lose the capacity to feel anything. The coping mechanism meant to shield us from pain twists our hearts until we simply can’t respond to any emotion with one glaring exception: anger. When Asher was removed from our home, and with him the whirling dervish that lived in his wake, it became achingly apparently that this was Georgia’s go-to coping technique. But we are not designed to feel nothing. And so, our sweet daughter would push herself to anger just so she could feel something – anything. She buried herself in activity to keep the dull roar in her mind and heart from bursting forth in a torrent. But as soon as the activity was finished, she resorted to anger to control her fears. She bit, slapped, punched, kicked, yelled, and berated her siblings when any of them bumped into her bubble. She had no grace for their edges and demanded an unrealistically wide birth for her own. It was ugly.
But when we choose to endlessly repeat our strong feelings we fall into another equally devastating trap. In this scenario, we project the emotions from our original experience onto others even when they barely rub up against us. We are convinced that we will never be free from the pain of our original trauma and live out this self-fulfilling prophecy by labelling any difficult interaction as proof that our victimization is never ending. Ironically, this too is a coping mechanism. It is much safer to remain bound to the person we know and understand than move forward into the unknown. Olivia’s habit of constantly believing the worst of people stems from this prison. She was certain that any misunderstood look or action was meant to harm her regardless of how ill-fitting that assumption is in the face of the person’s known character.
The antidote to both these unhealthy options is surprisingly similar: emotional vulnerability. Both of my children needed the permission and encouragement that sharing their thoughts and feelings openly wasn’t going to get them in trouble. After years of training our children that what they did wasn’t nearly as important as what they thought, they were paralyzed with fear over acknowledging that what they thought was ugly. And even though they were willing to share some of their darker thoughts with their therapist, they were still afraid to share openly with me and Joseph.
Joseph and I recognized that this was a ploy of the enemy to begin separating us from our children’s hearts. Let me make this point clear: we believe strongly in the importance and use of professional therapy. And we want our children to have a safe space to speak of all their pain – even those things that they hold against us. But we also believe that Jesus is our Great Physician. And He created families and designed them to house lasting relationships. If my children don’t feel safe with their feelings in our home, then at the least we will sever a precious bond but at the most we lose the ability to form truly fulfilling connections. So, my children must learn that their father and I are safe people for their darkest places.
Teaching them that we can handle their emotions also removes a significant weapon from the enemy’s arsenal in his assault against them. When we believe we must carry a secret because the truth would create so much shame that it would destroy us (or someone else), then our ability to experience unconditional love from others, and ultimately God, dwindles to nothing. How can someone love you, really love you (which requires being seen), if they know nothing about your greatest fear/ pain/ trauma/ insecurity? However, when we feel seen and then experience connection, we undermine Satan’s lie that says we are unworthy of genuine love.
So, through the grace of Christ, and trying to mimic what we believe the bible tells us about God’s outrageous love for us, Joseph and I chose to pursue Georgia and Olivia with an unorthodox plan of forcing emotional vulnerability in order to foster the start of reconnection in our home. The timing was slightly different for each girl but the scenario was the same. We waited until they were obviously walking in their chosen coping mechanism and then I swept them out the door and drove into the middle of nowhere. Our small town is surrounded by miles of farms. I darted in and out of backroads until I finally settled on a tracker route that ultimately brought me to a huge pile of hay bales by a large generator in a field that stretched as far as the eye could see. I parked and spoke something like this:
“Sweet girl, you are loved just the way you are. God made you and when He created you, He did not make a mistake. Everything about you, including the way you feel, is something that God is intimately familiar with and not afraid of. Do you know what the bible says about God’s knowledge of us? In Psalm 139 it says He knows everything about us. He even knows our thoughts and the very words we will speak before a single one of them was spoken. And the bible also says (Romans 5:8) that He loves us even with all this knowledge, because while we hated God He loved us enough to die for us. So, you don’t ever need to be afraid of sharing with God the things that are on your heart. In fact, it is actually super important that you do share those things. [But why, Mama? If He already knows?] Because it reminds us that His love for us is real and unconditional. Now, I need you to be brave and share the hardest and ugliest thoughts that you have towards Asher with God. But I need you to do it out loud.”
At that point, I directed each daughter to come with me over to the hay bales. I drew her attention to the privacy of our location and I reiterated that nothing she said would get her into trouble. I explained my plan and then gave her a gentle hug and whispered my love and affection into her ear before turning to go. Once I walked back into the circle of noise made by the generator, I turned to offer the support of being seen. They began hesitantly. I could see their lips moving – almost in silent prayer. But soon the words were pouring forth in a torrent of pain and terror. Their rage swept them up and they hit the hay bales banging with their little fists against an unseen enemy. They ran in circles screaming at the sky and begging God for answers that we still do not have. Their tears poured down their faces until each one was hoarse and exhausted. Only after I was sure they had spent their anger (it took two additional prompts for Georgia, and three for Olivia, before they finally said all the words – including the few almost comical versions of curse words their immature vocabularies recognized – before they were truly finished), did I reach for them and embrace them. They hugged me desperately, gasping for air and sobbing with the pain of remembered torment. I told them how proud of them I was and how brave they were. I looked them in the eye and reiterated my love.
I purchased two necklaces a couple of weeks earlier in anticipation of this exercise. The charm of each was different to represent the uniqueness of Georgia and Olivia. I brought the necklace with me and at this point, I pulled the necklace from my pocket and clasped it around my daughter’s neck. It is a marker to remind them that I saw them and still love them.
But more importantly, it reminds them that God sees them and loves them even more.