Confession #73: The Healing Process
It is one of the foundational skills we try to instill in our youth at Emmaus House.
Placed in the first sentence of our mission statement, we strive to prepare our youth to be able to stand on their own two feet and thrive.
Daily chores to learn how to manage a home, earning weekly allowances based on behavior and program participation, being held accountable to purchase their own clothes, shoes, and other personal wants, and learning to work and run a business and manage money through EmmausWorks are all examples of how we are trying to instill a sense of independence in each one of our teens as they live at Emmaus House.
Sounds like they all should be learning a lot, huh?
They are, but for some it has been difficult. Even though they are 18-23 years of age, some of them have struggled to grasp that independence is the reality that awaits them at this stage in life.
According to Patty Cogen in her book Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, “Independence for a teenager is equivalent to standing in a spotlight on the stage of life. To step confidently and comfortable into this spotlight a teen needs to have a clear sense of his identity, solid self-control, and a deep sense of connection to parents. Many non-adopted teens move into this spotlight eager for new adventures, but internationally adopted teens are highly conflicted because, for them, shadows of the past intrude on the glow from the spotlight. They still associate independence and separation with early experiences of abandonment, loss, and grief” (355). (Emphasis mine)
Although the teens at Emmaus House are not internationally adopted as Cogen speaks of, they still face the same fears of independence and in some ways on a magnified level due to the country they call home and because they lack a “sense of connection to parents”. As they grow closer to adulthood they, too, begin to face the issues of abandonment, loss, and grief, accompanied with hopelessness and fear due to the current state of their society.
To make matters worse, unlike most teens growing up during this stage of life, our teens are dealing with the fear that separation means isolation. Unlike most teens, our teens do not have parents to love and emotionally support them throughout their life. The one family unit they have known all their life has been their fellow brothers and sisters from the orphanage (now at Emmaus House) and that family is not guaranteed to stay intact once everyone goes their separate ways. Independence could mean losing family once again. And that makes independence that much scarier.
And these fear-based emotions don’t just stay emotions for some. For some, the anxiety of independence has led to physical problems. We have dealt with one teen at Emmaus House who has gone through times of not being able to eat or drink because they are so scared of the unknown. The stress caused them physical pains and they were literally making themselves sick with the thought of what it is going to mean for them to become an adult.
While our teens at Emmaus House are facing their fears with independence, that isn’t all they are dealing with on the inside. According to Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine in The Connected Child, many of them also struggle with variations of the following:
- “Abandonment, loss, and grief issues
- Attachment dysfunctions
- Neurological alterations
- Cognitive impairments
- Coordination and motor skills problems
- Sensory processing deficits
- Flashbacks and posttraumatic stress
At-risk adopted children appear to be a certain age physically, but inside they are playing catch up- emotionally, behaviorally, and developmentally. They are still healing from old wounds that are invisible to our eyes” (34-35).
Although they have not been adopted, these emotional issues still apply to our teens, if not more. I have seen just about every one of them played out through time- in some more than others. Fear, anger, anxiety, and depression are the most common. And without the luxury of counseling to work through their troubles, many of them take on coping skills of their own- coping skills which aren’t always appropriate and which sometimes dig up more pain than before.
How am I supposed to believe you really love me?
If only I have recorded how many times I have been asked this question in the past three years.
To speak “I love you” to them is one thing. To show them through actions is another. But to actually make them feel that the love is true- it is one of the greatest challenges.
For many of them, their belief in my love is wavering- meaning they only trust my love dependent on my actions. For example, when we were preparing to move into Emmaus House and explaining the new procedures that the teens would be earning allowances and would now be responsible to purchase their own clothes and shoes, we had a lot of retaliation. After the rage from our teens settled down, one of them came alone to my house. “I don’t understand why you aren’t going to help us with clothes and shoes anymore. How will I know if you really love me?” he admitted.
In other words, he didn’t know how else to see love other than through someone providing him with things. If I was about to take a step back and no longer do that for him, how else was he going to be able to see/believe in my love?
(We are 6 months in and I am still trying to prove my sincere love for this boy everyday. We are getting there, but without the power of a gift, I have to prove myself and he is testing me on all sorts of levels to make sure it’s the real deal. But I’ve told him I’m not budging.)
All of these issues (dealing with the upcoming life of independence, anxiety of the unknown, fear of isolation and separation, abandonment issues, anger, depression, and the struggle to trust in love) and much more are not things you would see in our teens if you would come and visit them on a short-term visit. Chances are, our teens would either be very friendly and social with you or they would be completely standoffish. It’s when you get into deep relationship with them that you begin to see these issues at the heart and the cause of their actions.
I love our teens to the moon and back! They are amazing. Truly. They have strength I could only dream of having. But, they have endured hard times. All of them. And the pain that has accumulated overtime has never been properly dealt with, and so for many of them, they struggle with basic life/emotional/relational skills today.
God, as we all know, is the ultimate Healer. I place my hope in Him and His church (in Haiti and in America) to be the healing force for their hearts. But it is because of pains like these that I am protective of their hearts. It is because of the grave amount of progress/healing that needs to be made in each one of them that I am cautious not to allow anything to cause a step backwards. And it is because I love them that I want to make sure all of us care for them in the best way possible.
God has called on the church to care for the orphaned child- not the government, not an institution, not a NGO. He called His people. For that reason, despite how difficult, He has placed teens like the youth of Emmaus House in our hands. Let us not take that responsibility lightly. So tomorrow, I am going to conclude my series with my thoughts, ideas, and suggestions on how we can best serve orphaned children across the globe. My thoughts, although vastly incomplete and a constant work in progress, are simply that: my thoughts. They aren’t gospel. They don’t make up a checklist for all to follow. And they all haven’t exactly been proven to work. But it is a launching pad- one I hope we can all discuss.
Talk to you tomorrow.