Our toddler was finally napping and I was otherwise alone in a quiet house when the tears came. They were prompted by this article - "3 Reasons Traditional Parenting Doesn't Work With Kids From Trauma" - and a host of other pressures, not the least of which was our non-stop schedule for nearly seven weeks straight. Of course that was when the phone rang. I wiped my tears, took a breath and carefully tried to modulate so that my voice would not give me away. After all, isn't putting on the good face what the missionary life - especially furlough - is all about? (Note: Please realize this question is tongue in cheek!)
As a child of missionaries having grown up in the fishbowl of ministry among other families like ours, I have seen firsthand the damage done by pretending everything is okay when it is not. I have walked into timebombs of family dynamics and been shocked to see that behind the scene of the pleasant preacher are simmering spousal disputes and angry glares across the dinner table. I have watched in heartbreak while some fellow MKs throw away everything we were taught together because they lost faith in their family and consequently, in their family's God.
While our family was by no means perfect, I am so thankful that my parents never pretended to be so with us. We used to tease our mom that she was "too" sensitive to guilt, always feeling bad for things that most people never thought twice about. (Now I minister alongside a missionary wife much like my mom, and wish I were more like them both!) One of the things I respect most about my dad is that I saw him change over the years he parented us. Somewhere along the way he learned to let go of preference issues and lead us with both conviction and compassion. When faced with how to react at key moments in my growing up years when I struggled and failed, he responded with truth and love. I can honestly say the behavior of my earthly father prepared me to trust my Heavenly Father in the trials and testings of life, for which I am forever grateful.
This is perhaps is why it is so painful to be the one responsible for what is called in today's lingo a (hashtag) parenting fail. Earlier in the week I snapped after an exhausting day of dysregulation by a "kid from trauma" (to borrow from the aforementioned article's title.) Immediately I was contrite and ashamed, and only because God is good He allowed my blowup to be redeemed into a much-needed, honest and tender conversation between a pair of siblings and myself. I apologized to each of my children, not just the two involved, because as a parent my failure affects them all. Over the next few days I read the book Born Broken and shed many tears. I recognized that my challenges are so small compared to what many adoptive families are facing through no fault of their own, but as a result of early childhood trauma with its shattering repercussions.
Reading the book affirmed my resolve that this year we must seek help that is not available overseas for our children. We have already begun educational testing for one son whose early malnutrition in Haiti forever altered his brain and responses. He is smart, funny and sweet but simply learns differently than others and we need to help him reach his full potential. We have also made contact with a Christian counseling service for a daughter who has always struggled with anxiety but has become increasingly debilitated by it in the face of so many huge life changes. I cannot always understand what she is going through. Often I fail the test of patience. But I do understand the language of words and she gave me permission to share a poem about her struggles:
"Error ... Error"
For the last year or so this word has been thrown at me.
When I talk to people and try to explain my problem, their eyes glare with the words: "That's not right." Their arms and hands say: "You are wrong." Their heads shake with embarrassment, their lips curve out repeatedly: "Error, error. How you think is absurd!"
I want to think straight and logically, but what is logic? Synonyms are: having or showing skill in thinking and reasoning.
Well, I clearly don't have that when panic stricken! I can't even think.
When I am panic possessed (I say "possessed" because it controls me), everywhere I look is fuzzy, bright, sometimes almost in slow motion it seems. All I am focused on is finding a familiar face or someone I can trust. Panic attacks are debilitating.
Every day I am faced with a moment where I choose between trusting God or letting fear consume me. I want to trust God and some moments are better than others.
My daily test is when I am in the shower. I know it's stupid to think people will leave me, but how about God? I struggle with assurance of salvation. I know Jesus has me and my feelings don't determine that, but when my heartbeat speeds up and my thoughts run free I forget that. I think Jesus will come to take His followers, and leave me. Now that is absurd. Jesus I need you, I believe, help my unbelief. Help me, God. This is an every day, almost every hour prayer.
I'm getting to the point where I am merely surviving a day. I wonder if I can get through tomorrow. God has a purpose for this. Sometimes I think ... (beeeeep.) You don't want to hear what I think; however God is good and He has a plan.
She first read me the words out loud, and I felt both pride and wonder that she had expressed so clearly what she was feeling. My heart also sighed with regret knowing there have been times when mine was one of the faces stating, "You are wrong." Reading her poem happened last night. Following that there was a long-distance phone call from a friend spilling burdens across the miles and ending after everyone else was sound asleep. It left me unable to sleep (but awake to serve Silas his middle-of-the-night bottle!) And then there was an early a.m. wake up call of a child banging the bathroom door to hurry a sibling along. All in all it was the perfect recipe for a tearful morning and the reminder that God does not ask for my perfection as a parent, but my reflection - of Him.
As I wrote that last statement, my thoughts turned to a hymn I've not heard in a very long time. Thomas Chisholm's words are those of my heart today. May I learn to be more and more like Christ as a parent to the precious children entrusted to me!
"O to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinners to find.
O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart."