When it first started looking like Little Buddy was going to be staying with us long term, maybe even permanently, we called in the heavy hitters for help to keep our family together. We had made progress in many ways, but the weight of the trauma, emotions and behaviors we were living with day-to-day would not be sustainable long term. Read: we were barely surviving, and knew we couldn’t last as a forever option without some expert help.
In-home counseling began, and I realized I was about to change more than any one else in the family. I had already been humbled a million times over with tantrums in the grocery store, case workers knowing all our drama, and having to say “no” to things I wanted to do simply because I couldn’t leave the helm of the ship for fear of falling off course. It was a heavy load. But letting a complete stranger in to my home for hours each week to analyze our family and figure out how to make it work? Whole ‘notha level of humble. But we were desperate, and willing to try anything at that point, so that superseded any reservations that may have remained regarding my comfort level…
She arrived with smiles and compassion, though she was so strong I couldn’t comprehend how she mixed the two traits. Somewhere in between Mary Poppins and the finest drill sergeant, she observed long enough to know where to start: by teaching us how to see through little guy’s eyes.
We had already taken the classes, we had already done all the training. We proudly had the certificates that dubbed us “Therapeutic Foster Parents,” but nothing prepared us for what it’s actually like on the battle ground. Practicing your skills while under fire is very necessary though exhausting. And sometimes, you trip and make a mistake. Or you just run out of endurance. Either way, when you call “Man Down!” and someone shows up on the rescue field, you never forget that face.
We learned how to put the Problem in the middle, not any one of us family members. The problem was not me, or Tim, or one of my kids… the problem was that we needed to understand what language this hurting child was speaking. He literally was delivered to our doorstep from a completely different world. He had only known hunger, fear, fighting and pain from the day he was born. He was now immersed in food, love, kindness and care for the first time… and it was literally scaring him to death. Our world was so foreign, and it did not make sense to him. Put yourself in another world where no one can understand you and you don’t know how to communicate what you need. Let me know your reaction, and I’ll tell you that’s what it looked like here.
Little guy knew anger. That is the only emotion he knew. If he was scared, he got angry. If he got hurt, he got angry. Frustrated? Anger. Tired? You get the picture.
Our family had watched and fallen in love with the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, a cartoon that follows a little girl’s thoughts as she goes through a family move across the country. Inside her mind are several key characters: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. We laughed and cried at the movie. We quoted lines from the movie. Never did we imagine it would help us walk through this hard journey.
In home showed up each week carrying a bag full of treasures and crafts and games, and one day it included Mr. Angry Man. The Mr. Angry Man. The one from the movie that we all identify with yet must try every day to control. Little man became enamored with him. We placed him on top of the refrigerator and the goal was to keep him up there where he belongs. If someone started struggling with controlling their anger, it was everyone’s job to bring it down off the fridge as a reminder to control the anger and get it back where it belongs.
It was hard, at first. Little guy flew off the handle so fast sometimes it was hard to even begin to practice the new concept. Sometimes his level of anger seemed to swallow the small plush toy. There was nothing to laugh about with a boy who could shake the house with his anger. In fact, I related to sadness many times more than anger during this season. But we kept trying. We never gave up. Sometimes, it worked enough to deflect the issue at hand, and we were able to re-route and keep going. Then it became more common and more of a habit.
We knew we turned a corner the day the kids all got into a scuffle in the main room. Tim got loud and started lecturing them on their list of wrongdoings, and standing there in the middle of the floor was little guy, staring past Tim and pointing to the top of the refrigerator where he could not reach, but surely somebody needed to bring Mr. Angry Man down, because that was the deal. I cringed for the way it probably looked to Tim, the youngest child in the family seemingly disrespecting his father figure at such an inappropriate time, but my heart rejoiced for the purpose behind it: we were recognizing anger, and working to keep it where it belonged.
It has been many months with Mr. Angry Man in our house. If he could talk, I cannot imagine what his perspective would be. He watched the tantrums lessen, the laughter grow, the heaviness lift a bit, and light shine more. Other emotions are getting words now, too: sad, upset, happy, and a couple of my personal favorite faux pas, “avoking” for tattling when one is provoking, and “prostrated” when trying to explain an overwhelming and frustrating stuation.
In the middle of all these months and the heaviness of steering such a ship in a long storm, I got so tired. I have learned a hard truth, that there is no measure for emotional exhaustion. When my babies were little, my mother would try to encourage me, “It’s just a season; it won’t always be like this.” I tried to believe it, even on my hardest days. Bringing this guy in made me remind myself the same advice, though this time it was much more tricky. No one can measure growth and healing from the outside, except when the light breaks through.
I did the only things I could think of to do during that time: give up more of me. The job I loved was now a scattered act of piece mealing papers, projects and events together, and I was too broken to try to keep up any type of façade for any one at that point. Working from home and late at night became some of my only options, and exhaustion often mocked me for what I could not complete.
Ironically, three months after our new guy moved in, I won such a highly esteemed award through our local Chamber of Commerce, the Female Visionary of the Year. I was beyond honored at the nomination never mind the award itself, and floored at the bizarre twist of circumstances that now had me feeling like the exact opposite of that recipient: my vision by then was to survive the day in front of me, and sleep through the night.
That next year I continued to give up more and more for my home and my family. Less meetings, less follow up on projects I had waited years to start working on, less involvement in the hands-on part of our business that really is so rewarding. I silently faded into the background, doing what I could from behind the scenes, from a laptop at home, or from my phone during long hours in waiting rooms for counseling sessions for my guy. It wasn’t just him: there were four other kids with eye doctors, check ups, dentists, homework and projects to be taken care of, growing and changing right before my eyes, and I was not going to fail them. I was going to do it well, even if it meant cranking praise and worship music every moment I had unaccounted for to fight bitterness, loneliness and grief for the life I had given up.
Mama was right: it was just a season, and every season does change.
The day finally came when in home came for our weekly visit and asked little buddy if he was ready to say goodbye to Mr. Angry Man. He was shocked and appalled. “What?! No!!” was his initial response. But as she explained that she had just met another little boy who was very much like him, she wanted to try to help him with Mr. Angry Man just like it helped our family, and he reluctantly agreed it was time to say good bye. As I brought him down off the fridge, I silently thanked our old friend for standing strong in times when I could not. He was faithful, and I was so grateful to see him go. It was time.
Dinner was a little quieter than usual that night, but my thoughts on this Rite of Passage may have been drowning out the kids’ normal banter. Something was different in our house, but I’m willing to say it could have been me.
Bedtime came around and as I was buzzing up and down the flights of stairs for forgotten blankies and stuffed animals, filling diffusers or doling out melatonin gummies, I saw a missed text message from a work friend I hadn’t seen in years, and all it read was “CONGRATULATIONS.”
It took a moment, but all of a sudden I remembered: we must have won.
I had seen the nomination a few weeks before that TNT Auto Body Repair and Service Centers had been nominated for Small Business of the Year by the Chamber’s Annual Awards this year. I was so flattered yet again, but we have been nominated many, many times before. The award always goes to an incredible business, and I count it a privilege to even be mentioned with some of the winners in the past. They have amazing businesses and run their company with dignity and class. It is an honor to be nominated, and TNT had only ever been nominated, never actually won. We joked about how we must be like the greatest Hollywood stars that never actually win an Oscar; it didn’t make our team any less amazing, but the Oscar would be nice to have on the shelf…
I went back up the stairs to read a story to the kids, musing about this news. Here I was, so immersed in taking care of my family that I could not even attend the dinner, drowning in court proceedings, counseling sessions and doctor visits so numerous I gave up so much of my job and learned how to work in crazy ways in crazy times… and this would be the year we actually won.
I’m so sure I audibly heard the Lord laughing at me as I trekked up the stairs that night.
It is He that does all things well, not always me. It’s His plan and His ways that are so much greater than mine. I could not be more proud of our team that has grown in both skill and numbers this year. They have taken our dream farther than Tim and I ever could on our own, and we are still not finished yet. We broke records this year that in the middle of my hopeless lonely walk this year I told myself could never be broken, and never would be broken because I was too busy on the home front to help get us where we needed to be. Oh, those voices.
But the Voice of Truth spoke up that night. It spoke as I handed off Mr. Angry Man to say good bye to that chapter, and it spoke again as I read that text from my long-lost work friend. It spoke as I held and prayed for my six beautiful children living under my roof, and it spoke as I drifted off to sleep that night.
The season is far from over, but there are signs of better days to come. If ever I’ve seen the Lord challenge me in my walk with Him, I have learned once again that if you can give it up, you can have it all.
My hope for you as you read this to be encouraged that the day will come when you close one chapter, and see fruits from another season you have sown in, even when it may seem impossible. That is the God we serve.