When the Shadows force you out

There’s a type of healing that begins in the shadows. In the dark night of the soul. In the hidden corners and lonely rooms. When inexplicable light carves out a home in those places, they become a sort of comforting that doesn’t make sense.

But at some point, we have to face that thing which threatened to overtake us.

In short, we can’t stay hidden forever. The healing that has only just begun, kind of demands it.

In January of 2019, after a very, very difficult fall semester, we finally gained some clarity and discovered that our oldest had been bullied at school basically since the year began. This had triggered his anxiety / trauma to put his body into hyper drive. A home which was formally peaceful became chaotic. Tears and anger ruled and threatened to overtake each of us in different ways.

Some days felt like a sort of hell had entered and refused to leave.

We retreated, because sometimes that’s the only option. We brought our sweet boy home and homeschooled till the year was over. In an effort to take care of the four of us, we withdrew from everything around us. Isolation took over. Loneliness set in.

But, then, so did healing. When there was nothing else around us, we began to watch kindness seep back in. We watched hearts and minds begin to heal. We saw new and healthier patterns be formed in each of us. In short, we saw hope.

Don’t get me wrong, many days these things were only glimmers, easily missed in the chaos of parenting through trauma. But they were there. In the long snuggles, the forts, the early morning park days.

Last month, we started a new school for both kids. J’s third school in as many years, E’s first year of kindergarten. We walked into school that day weary and worn out. We felt confident it was the right place, but I couldn’t have predicted how it would go.

Healing that had only just begun in isolation started to flourish in the light. We watched our children face a new school with bravery we didn’t know they had. There were tears, yes. There was overwhelming exhaustion at the end of the day. But there was also goodness. Pride. Kindness. A kind of rest. Hell was being pushed back, hope was coming to reign.

But, then. Then I held my sweet 5 year old as she kicked and screamed because kindergarten is hard and exhausting.

Then I counseled my 7 year old as he shared mean words from other kids at school directed at him.

And for a moment I wanted to run and to retreat and to go back to the quietness and privacy of our home.

But, then. Then, I saw all that we had been striving for begin to come to fruition. I watched a 5 year old cry but then choose snuggling and joy. I watched her blossom with incredible new found knowledge. I watched my brave boy speak boldly to those classmates and to his teachers.

I watched as brave children walked into school, tears and all, and chose to connect. Chose to express. Chose to advocate for themselves and for each other. I watched as they greeted each other with joy at the end of each day.

I mean, sure, they had literally moved furniture to barricade themselves inside their room to keep from going one morning (at least they used teamwork), because isolation can sometimes seem very appealing. Partial light in the comforts of home, can pull us back so easily. Healing is work. Sometimes fighting for it can seem just. too. hard.

But they also walked out of that room. They got dressed and brushed their teeth. They walked to school and used their words.

But, then.

There’s a type of healing that begins in the quiet, in the dark, in the ordinary, yes. But that beginning is nothing compared to the solidified healing that happens when we re-emerge.

Part of me wanted to cut and run when I heard of more mean comments on only the 4th day of school. It triggered all the trauma in us from the previous year. But then I watched as I saw what the Father had begun to weave through my children: A kind of strength that isn’t free of tears, but also isn’t bound by them; A kind of strength that fights for good and for hope, even when a loud voice is telling you to retreat; A kind of strength that is uniquely forged in pain. A kind of strength that is teaching me, daily.

Friends, this is a new season for the O’Brien 4. We’re still adjusting. Somedays, if I’m honest, can seem impossibly hard. Our oldest is gripped by a pain that he didn’t choose and anxieties he didn’t create. These things don’t get better so much as he gains tools that help him manage them more effectively. We are all a special kind of tired.

But, then. Then I see goodness emerge amidst impossible odds. Through my tears I watch mercy and grace come crashing in. And even while completely and utterly exhausted, I can’t help but be thankful.

All of these pictures by the very talented Priscilla Perumalla. We took them a year ago in October and they continue to be my favorites we’ve ever done. If you’re in NYC, book her yesterday!

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