Our girls have PTSD as a result of the trauma that they have endured. Kids who have been through hard things have brain scans that look much like a soldier who has been on the battlefront. PTSD looks different for each person given their experience, personality, and their own biology. Like the rest of us, there is a fight or flight mode, but it tends to be more extreme and can last longer, or be delayed. Sleep can be disrupted, and even a happy excitement can be perceived by their bodies and brains as a threat. One of our girls retreats and cries or tries to inflict pain on herself when in a stressful situation. The other moves into fight mode and the energy level goes up, along with a lot of words that aren’t so nice.
I have tried to be patient over the years, knowing that this isn’t their fault, and that it really has nothing to do with me (although often the anger and behaviors are shot in my direction.). I don’t always handle it well, as I’m sure my neighbors can attest. I often get frustrated and just want my little fighter to get over it.
When I am in a stressful situation, my instinct is to fight as well. I remember a time when we lived in southern California. Our detached garage was on an alley. I had the door open to the garage, as well as the back door of our minivan because I was loading chairs into it to bring back to the church where we worked. Also in the back of the van were several bags full of toys for the Angel Tree ministry. You never leave an open garage door in an alley in Paramount. I knew better, but I did it anyway. I ran into the house for more chairs, and when I came back to our garage, I heard shopping bags rustling in the van. Fight mode kicked in. I threw the metal folding chairs down to the ground with a crash, to see a teenaged boy look up from the back of my van. I yelled at him, “What are you DOING?! Those toys are for little kids who don’t have any!! GET OUT OF THERE!!”, and I proceeded to CHASE HIM DOWN the alley. I ran behind him, getting closer, when he stripped off his shirt - to show me the tattoo of the gang he was in - and I kept running and yelling at him. Oh my goodness, what was I thinking? That’s just it - I wasn’t. Good thing he was faster than me. The fight mode - the adrenaline kicking in - was so strong I didn’t even think about any of it, I just did it.
Fast forward 15 years or so, and here comes my lesson in humility. Our sassy girl is just a whole lot of meanness to handle every. single. morning. And my fight mode wants to kick in every single time. And two times in the last month, when I have been on overdrive, I lost it: After a particularly rough morning getting ready, at school drop off, a dog in the back of a truck barked at my kids and I yelled at the owner. (Like, a lot. On the corner of Main St. In front of my kids’ school. With all kinds of parents watching.) And another time when I nicked the front of a car (also in front of my kids’ school with all kinds of parents watching yet again) I snapped at our nanny. Lord, help me.
Oy vey. This school that I love and want to serve and spread the peace of Christ as our family is there is the place that my wonderful temper has decided to rear its ugly head. Embarrassing. I apologized to both parties and all is well, but still. Humbling. Good grief.
But, because God is awesome and forgiving and wants to redeem every dumb thing we do, He reminded me of how gracious He is toward each one of us. And how important it is for me to have compassion and empathy (and self-control). Compassion for other crabby moms who probably had a rough morning too. Patience for my daughters, who can’t regulate these behaviors because of their past and their body chemistry. I kind of get it now. I responded in anger and with the fight in my and I'm a grown up who has a healthy brain and healthy childhood behind me, for Pete's sake. Humility that I, just like my kids, make mistakes, say things I shouldn’t, and need to apologize, too.
Bottom line, just like my precious littles, God is teaching me that I am ‘extra grace required.’ Thank goodness it never runs out.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
1 Peter 5:5-7 (NIV)
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”[a]
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.