My experience as an adoptive parent tells me that the hard part is only now beginning. The ability to trust again, to rest, to find pleasure in simple activities.
For some, the ability to still enjoy life in the midst of chaos may have been their saving grace.
The adults have a better self-regulating system, a good healthy insulation of heart and mind. But children may carry with them the scars of fear buried deeply within. They may not have the words to process, the tools to unearth and bring to light what has happened to them… and two decades from now they may carry the scars of the war we are just experiencing.
I remember the story Brian Morgan told me, when he did a conference in Croatia, bringing together students from neighboring countries who were just kids when the war in Yugoslavia broke out. Some were so hurt they couldn’t be in the same room with their neighbors. Much less be vulnerable in front of them. The pain they saw inflicted on their parents was worse than if they had been hurt themselves.
Brian’s tool of choice is teaching on the Psalms of Lament, and encouraging his listeners on the journey, to verbalize their lament, to write it down, to begin the healing process through poetry.
Art is God’s gift for healing. Be that music, when your body feels the same reverberations of deep sounds and we, who experience music together, feel connected, in-tune, the healing process can begin.
Poetry though, as we write we may be surprised by what comes out from the least accessed corners of our mind, as we bring the pain outside of ourselves, contain it, name it, and then share it out-loud, then the miracles happen as people don’t avert their gaze. They sit with the pain. Your pain. They acknowledged it. They validate it. And try not to fix it. Because we simply can’t. We couldn’t even if we tried.
Adults need to undertake the healing journey on their own, willingly. And we are there to support and sustain, but we can’t walk it in their place. Imagine a safe place where both side of a story have a change to be heard…
We don’t understand the extent of the damage. On the outside people may look relieved, tearful, grateful, hopeful… kids feel safe enough while their mom or grandmother is by their side, holding their hand tightly, but there is a war going inside their little hearts too, their little minds, while their parents need to process their own much needed healing.
In stressful situation, when my daughters seem completely composed, calm, confident, sometimes, if you get close enough, you may even see their heart racing, through their shirt, and their pupils dilated. I have learned to let go of my plan and slow down, kneel to their level to get near them and help them feel safe. No danger is big enough to cause them such intense stress. It took me a long time to even see it. It took me hundreds of hours invested in classes, books, podcasts and stories to understand. I am not overdramatizing, and I don’t live my life immersed in trauma. Because part of the healing is having fun. Playing, playing with purpose, playing intentionally. Doing things that bring us all pleasure, resting, enjoying ice cream, enjoying a good meal, swimming, watching a silly movie and so on. But awareness is golden.
I may have been specifically equipped to see between the lines of children’s trauma. Though I’m not a psychologist. While adults need healing, embracing peace though understanding, by default they show the way to their kids. The holistic approach would be to help the adults understand and validate the trauma of their own kids as well, and that may give them purpose and hope for the next generation.
As Conrad was holding this adorable baby while his mom ate, the baby’s eyes would well up with tears. He didn’t seem distressed anymore. He was a little restless at first, especially while his mom was trying to eat, holding his wiggly body, but as Conrad picked the baby up, he turned to see where his mom was and then relaxed feeling safe in Conrad’s arms. You could tell he felt (if not heard) the vibration of Conrad’s voice (we’re not sure if he was also deaf – the entire group was though). The baby would look into Conrad’s eyes, or lock eyes with me, and just stay like that for a long time. I’d smile at him and tears would well up in his eyes. This interaction made us tearful too.
In 10 years, this baby and his siblings may have a story to tell. And I pray it will be a story of healing that started early. Too easily we discount the experience of children in the war. We don’t understand their behavior well enough. And these kids also learn to fly under the radar. Not make trouble. Not add to the burden of their parents. But it’s not ok long term. It’s not Sustainable. May we have the wisdom to listen to them as well and may we be brave to do the ground work necessary so that an entire generation would not grow up broken by resentment and hurt.
May we show love, and may we lead the way with awareness and skill. May we be salt and light in the world.