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Peace is a Journey

Psalm 23 (KJV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I sat on a couch listening as a mother sobbed uncontrollably.  She and her husband had taken a 6 year old boy into their home.  When they took the placement, the foster care agency had warned them that he had some behavioral issues that would be challenging, but the family felt a connection with his story, so they took him in.  He was their first foster placement.  The first 6 months had been perfect.  He bonded with their family and became an inseparable part of it.  He had boundless joy, a deep curiosity, and he was so smart.  Then suddenly, out of nowhere, everything changed.  She was crying because she was asking the agency to take him away, but the request was breaking her heart.

I had been brought in to see if the placement was salvageable with some support.  At first he had just stopped being polite, refusing to say please or thank you, but it quickly escalated.  By the time I was called in he was having violent episodes and the family was afraid of this boy they described as "feral".  He would stand on the dinner table and throw the food against the ceiling as he laughed maniacally.  He would try to grab the knife while the mother was preparing a meal.  He would hit, bite, scratch, and throw everything in site.  He had injured them several times and they were afraid.  He was unpredictable, sometimes acting like the boy that had first moved in, and then with no warning he would switch. 

As I worked with this family it became clear that the boy loved them and felt comfortable with them.  He wanted to stay with them.  It was actually because of how comfortable he felt, that the behavior started.  

I grew up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother.  If social services had discovered my situation, I would have been placed in foster care myself.  As a young adult I found myself in an interesting situation.  I had a well paying, promising job as a technical engineer at a civil engineering firm.  I was in love and engaged.  I was loved and cared for by my fiancee's family as if they were my own.  My adopted daughter was on her way and she was already a blessing and treasure.  I was happy, comfortable, safe, and loved for the first time in my life.  I had found outer peace and then the seizures started.  

It turns out that humans do something funny when they are used to trauma.  Trauma is the result of any situation that we lack the means to appropriately process in the moment.  The mind will store the memory away and lock it up until it is ready to process the experience.  When you are finally in a safe enough place to process the experience, the brain will begin reliving traumatic experiences in an attempt to process, integrate, and heal.  

The boy I had described earlier was finally in a place that he felt comfortable letting his guard down.  He believed he was safe enough to process there, so he did.  The result was a massive behavioral change that was a temporary but needed part of his healing process.  I worked with the family to manage the behavior in such a way that made them feel safe, but allowed him the space and time to process.  It took him about a year to get past the worst of it.  Long before the family saw the light at the end of the tunnel they made a decision to stick with him, and they adopted him.  

Similarly, when I found myself in a safe place, my brain started to process the trauma of my past.  I can tell you from first had experience that this is not a conscious thing, it just happens.  I spent about a year learning my triggers and what caused the seizure-like-panic-attacks.  Then I became a wilderness guide and a social worker to help others through the same process.  

If you are praying for peace in your life, and you instead find calamity, know that you may very well just be in the valley on the way there.  Let us not forget, that while God will lead us to peace, God will also have us feast at the table before our enemies first.  

God, lead us to peace.  Give us strength to feast before our enemies on our way there.  Help us to process, heal, and integrate our pasts.  Amen.


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