As a child life specialist and play therapist, I watch kids day-by-day, come into my playroom and repetitively work over the emotional points of suffering in their lives. They’ll crash cars together over and over again; they’ll play out horrific words spoken to them; awful things done to them. They’ll play out their deepest fears.
Pain on repeat.
Kids don’t do this because they are dumb. They don’t do this because they are a glutton for punishment. They do this because they are trying to make sense of things. They’re replaying the images and words in their brain. They’re trying to find another way out. They’re trying to see if they heard wrong. They’re trying to muster courage.
I always look for resolution. Points in which the story changes. When do children have sirens sound in the distance—the sound of hope. Helpers are coming.
When do children begin to flip the words spoken to them? Replace hateful words with kind ones.
When do they acknowledge the word abuse? They shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t like that. Nothing I did should have allowed for that to happen.
When do they move slightly from the fetal position to crawling…
Then looking up…
Then standing while shaking…
Then taking the sword to kill the dragon that haunts their sleep.
When do these pivots happen?
It’s incredibly inspiring and invigorating to see the transitions—ever so slowly sometimes; often.
As I’ve started working with adults, I realize how much we are all just big kids with little kid wounds. We do the same things kids do. We work an issue over and over again. When I think about my own story, I see this pattern. Death has been the thing I play on repeat.
In the years spanning 13 to 15, I experienced the death of 4 classmates. Some I knew well—some from a distance.
–Jackie, the quiet girl who I knew for a year, died of a brain hemorrhage.
–Missy’s brother—I can’t even remember his name, died of a motorcycle accident.
–Amber, the girl on my softball team, car crash.
–Dusty, I knew since I was 6, my drivers’ ed buddy, death by suicide.
And the list goes on into adulthood…
More losses than I care to count.
I’ve fielded questions since I began my career like,
What makes someone become a child life specialist? Play therapist?
How do you handle all the sad things?
I promise, I don’t tell them, “Well, all sense of normalcy was shattered at 13 when I learned that kids die, so…”
But, internally, unconsciously, I think choosing this work was my way of crashing cars together. Trying to figure out what happened. Trying to figure out how kids can die and the world keep spinning.
Who do I blame?
How did this happen?
How could we have stopped it?
How do we fix this? Can we?
And how do I shake the images I have in my head of the funerals. The open caskets. The shitty mortician work that didn’t hide the scars. Me sitting in a pew in the back of a church sobbing because I didn’t understand.
The sirens screaming, Help is coming, arrived for me at 15.
Most people would have assumed I was a Christian, I think. I went to church. I didn’t drink or sleep around. I never smoked. I probably believed in God.
When Dusty died…
It created an urgency in me to figure things out.
I couldn’t handle the maybes. The assumptions.
I heard a lot of rhetoric of where Dusty was. Where did he go after he died?
It created a restlessness in me because I didn’t know where I’d go if I was the one who found myself in a car that spun out of control—or my brain randomly started bleeding—or I just got so sad.
Where would I go?
Leave it to teenage angst and ego to make it all about me. But I did.
And in the midst of all that, God showed up.
He showed up—He made me realize that I might be a good girl to my peers, but I needed a Savior.
My ambulance was faith. The gift of faith that occurred through restlessness and pain and faithful friends who told me who their source of hope was.
I became a Christian on Good Friday—it was after a student-led worship service I helped plan; it was sitting on a dock overlooking a lake with my best friend asking questions and crying out things I couldn’t figure out.
That’s where I first met Jesus.
Where I first began to know this Savior who could deal with my sin and may angst and the weird little patterns of behavior I chose to try to manage pain.
He became my therapist—watching me crash the cars together to answer the unanswerable, at times.
Therapy is slow, y’all. I’m a mess. Will probably always be a little, at least.
But I am forever in awe of a God who never tires of sitting patiently with me in the middle of the mess. Who stoops down in His playroom and sits next to me;
Who listens to the words unspoken as I bury things over and over again in the sand.
Who watches the busy way I move and think and talk, and smiles an easy, quiet, knowing smile that communicates, You can rest here. I’m safe.
Who sends me friends when I begin cancelling appointments with Him. He texts at just the right time to let me know He is thinking about me; I’m annoyed at first, but love that He is thinking of me. Never stops.
He is the one who is there, no matter how long it’s been.
No matter what mistakes I made in between sessions.
He is always there.
I don’t know what your version of crashing cars together is.
My guess is if you’ve reached double digits, you’ve experienced some point of suffering you are trying to make sense of, and receive comfort and healing for. My prayer for you is that you meet Jesus. I pray that you will see your need for a Savior—healing does not rest in your will-power or own might. It isn’t something you can figure out. You need God to scoop you up and care for you in ways only He can.
He’s the best therapist. He relentlessly heals in the most interesting ways.