As this summer draws to a close, I wanted to talk about what it means to heal from something traumatic that’s happened in your life.
When I talk about the trauma of this past year, I am not just talking about our awful foster care experience, but also about our house-hunting ordeal turned nightmare. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about this past year, figuring out the ways in which those difficult months, the most difficult of my life thus far, have changed me. I always worry about how bad experiences are going to shape me, because I’ve come to find that I’m SO sensitive and SO shapeable. I am entirely unable to put on a front or be happy about things if I’m not doing well inside. Open Book. That’s me. An Open Book that anyone can write in.
But is hardening my heart a good option? Is that what this last year has taught me– harden your heart and be careful who you love? Be careful what you dream for?
No. No matter how much those 5 months of my life hurt and sucked big time, I REFUSE to let them negatively affect me, as easy as that would be. For instance, the first question people ask us is, “Has this made you afraid to ever foster kids again?”
The answer to that is complicated. Do I think we will ever be ready to foster a teenager again? Nope, I can safely say that that is not something I ever want to put our family through again. But do I wish we could foster other kids? Make a difference in this world, even if it means heartache? Yes. A hundred times yes. In many ways, this experience has opened our eyes to the huge hurting world out there, and once you see it you can never unsee. I’m grateful that our negative experience taught us something so positive about our calling and about ourselves. I sometimes ask Jesse, “Why do you think that God allowed things to get so bad?”, and he always responds, “Because, there’s comfort knowing that we did everything we possibly could. It helps us to know that the failure was not our fault.”
Above all things, however, I think that this experience has taught me how to NOT be a victim, and that the consequences of letting someone or some circumstance walk all over your family are dreadful. When someone is unfair or downright cruel to me, I am the “flight” part of the “fight or flight”. I only know how to retreat and lick my wounds in secret, even if the abuse is ongoing. Jesse is actually the opposite end of this equation, which is what makes us so good for each other. When I just want to retreat and give up, he takes charge and faces the situation head on. In fact, the one thing he wishes he’d done differently this last year was stop the situation from getting as bad as it did, pulling the plug sooner.
A few examples of abuse in my life: I had a horrible boyfriend who was really bad for me. He treated me horribly. He took other girls’ phone numbers WHILE WE WERE ON DATES, and then accused me of being untrusting. Jesse was actually the one who helped me break up with this guy, because I didn’t have the nerve to do it myself. Even though the relationship was toxic and abusive, it was better than nothing and I stuck with it.
There was also the time I worked at a classical school in Ft. Worth and a particular mom had it out for me because I failed several of her kids’ papers. Since she had home-schooled them up to that point, she was deeply hurt by my criticism. She made it her personal mission to GET ME FIRED. She would literally sit in the carpool line all afternoon, going car to car, trying to collect enough dirt on me to get me fired. Seriously! And instead of standing up for myself, I took it. I never confronted her, just came home to Jesse sobbing every single day. As a result, I was afraid to ever set foot in a classroom again.
All of these situations have shown me that I do not need to be a victim when something wrong occurs. Just because someone is offended does NOT make it my fault. I do not need to accept personal responsibility if I have done all that I can on my end of things. The buck stops with what I can control. The end.
But that’s easier said than done, as anyone knows. It’s easy to let your thoughts wander, wonder what so and so thinks, wonder if so and so is mad, wonder what they might do. I am learning, left and right, that the biggest thing I need on a day to day basis is to control my thoughts. There were so many times during those 5 months that my thoughts were like buzzing bees around my head. And it got to be too much.
Finally, I was able to lean on the Lord in a way that people talk about with many cliche’s such as, “Give all your thoughts to Him”.
That always sounded cheesy to me, and I’d never understood it.
Until these last 5 months. It took me being in such a desperate place of being unable to control my own thoughts and anxieties to fall on the Lord and say, sometimes out loud, “I cannot handle this anymore, not for another second. I NEED you to take these thoughts from me.”
There was one time that I’ll never forget when I did this. We had just finished with an AWFUL day, full of police officers and self-harm threats from our foster child. I was desperate for comfort, and I cried out to God. And I got an IMMEDIATE response. As soon as I was done praying, I felt a warm presence, starting at my head and going all the way down to my toes. And I heard God speak. I cannot explain it, but I heard words. Someone said, “I am pleased. You have pleased me. And I love you so much.” It makes me tear up just to write this, because I rarely want to talk about it, it’s so precious to me. I’d never heard God speak to me before, and that day I heard it.
Learning to open my heart and let God show me how valuable I am has been the most important way in which this traumatic last year has changed me. I know God is there. I know my family is there. I know my friends are there. If I can stay fully aware of how much these people love me, I don’t need to harden my heart in order to protect it.
Love protects. Not the absence of love. This, I have learned.