If you want to know the answer to the question, "How have you grown in your relationship to God?" my answer will always be, "parenting."
Parenting through trauma has grown me in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of attending two counseling sessions in one week. (I generally love counseling, but it was a bit much.) It just so happened that I had scheduled my personal counselor and my daughter's counselor for a parent consult the same week. I go to my counselor about once a month to talk through anything and everything (I firmly believe all foster and adoptive parents should do this), and I like to schedule a parent consult with my daughter's counselor every other month, just to make sure we are on the same page.
On Tuesday, I went to my personal counselor. I love that she is 45 minutes away because it gives me time to clear my mind on my way there (and stop and get a frozen lemonade from Chick-fil-A) and also gives me time to clear my mind on the way home. Talking to my counselor looks pretty much the same each time. I sit down on her couch, place my phone and keys in my purse, and grab the pillow to feel a little less like I'm being evaluated and a little more like I'm talking to a long-lost friend. (Gosh, I hope she doesn't think I'm creepy.)
Then, I tell her what's going on. I usually tell her about a specific situation that happened that's been bothering me, wanting her to validate me and tell me I'm right. She usually doesn't. Instead, she challenges me to think about how I'm trying to solve the problems in our home on my own, without God's help. It's a riveting time. It's equally painful and healing, heartbreaking and beautiful; in many ways, counseling is a representation of how I have learned how to hold two things at once.
On Thursday, I had a Zoom parent consult with KK's therapist. Counseling sessions can be awkward in real life, and on Zoom, the potential for awkwardness skyrockets. I told her about the same situation I told me personal counselor, trying to get a different perspective and some solid advice. My personal counselor is good for dealing with and addressing sin and pointing me back to the Gospel, but KK's therapist is good for giving me practical wisdom in handling the issues that we deal with on a daily basis. At one point, she told me that she could sense the anxiety as I explained the situation to her. She could sense my lack of confidence in myself and in my ability to remain calm and regulated. Then, she asked me a question:
"Tell me about who you are and where you are when you feel like the most strong version of yourself."
My eyes started to water, tears seeking to escape my eyes and make their way down my face. (This is the part that is especially awkward on Zoom.) As soon as she said that, I recognized how fearful I am in these conflicts with my children. I don't like the person I am when tensions arise. I try to hurry up and get the conflict over with so that I don't have to live inside the fear that maybe this conflict will not be resolved. And if this conflict is not resolved, I will lose my precious children. This fear takes over, my voice is shaky and hurried, and I don't seek connection. In that moment, I believe that immediate resolution is the only way out, and I'll do anything to get us to that point.
After about a minute of trying to hide my crackling voice tears, I shakily answered her question: "with TJ." Because, with TJ, I have no worries that I am going to say the wrong thing. I can be fully, truly myself. I can tell him what I want (usually) and know that he won't look down on me, he won't feel intimidated. He loves me for who I am, and I am free to be the strongest version of me when I am with him. Even if we disagree, I know that he will always end up on my side, cheering me on. I thought of a picture of me that he took on a date where I felt especially like this and felt sad that I hadn't felt like that in a very, very long time.
The therapist compared the way that I act with TJ to walking on solid ground. However, in the conflict with my children, I am "tiptoe-ing," always trying to avoid the conflict until the conflict happens. Then, when the conflict happens, I stand even higher on my tip-toes, with no stability, no grounding. And so, when words fly or judgments are made or failure creeps up, I let those things knock me right off my feet. And I function like a ballerina who knows how to dance with her pointe shoes (I'm sure I'm getting this phrasing wrong), but has forgotten to put on the shoes. In fact, I've left the shoes in a different room altogether. I'm dancing on my tiptoes without the pointe shoes, and I'm left with bruised toes, sore ankles, and broken confidence.
The tears didn't stop until she asked me what that strong version of me would've done in this same situation. I had all of the answers. I knew what I should've done, what I could've done. She asked me to consciously and mindfully bring my strongest self into those situations next time a conflict occurred.
I left that week of double counseling thinking, "Which counselor's advice is more sound? What should I really be focusing on?"
I came to the conclusion that I needed to bring both counselors' advice together:
1. I recognize that I often try to fix all the problems without anyone's help - even God's.
2. I need to let go of the idea of being my own savior & the savior of my children. They already have one. I need to trust God and invite him into the situation immediately, allowing Him to guide and direct my steps.
3. Once I've trusted Him, I need to rely on His strength and confidence to guide me through the muck and mire of conflict.
4. I need to believe: I am strong because I have a strong Father. I am forgiven because I have a Savior. I am confident because I have the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Today, I'm holding onto these words:
"Get up and prepare for action.
Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say.
Do not be afraid of them,
or I will make you look foolish in front of them.
For see, today I have made you STRONG,
like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land -
the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight for you, but they will fail.
For I AM WITH YOU, and. I will TAKE CARE OF YOU.
I, the Lord, have spoken."