Two weekends ago, my husband kicked me out.
I ended up at the Empowered to Connect conference in Washington, D.C. For those who don’t know, ETC is a movement inspired by the work of Dr. Karyn Purvis, who literally wrote the book (The Connected Child) on parenting “children from hard places.”
Tim and I were supposed to go to the conference together. We bought our tickets back in July, naively thinking it’d be a simple matter for him to take a day off, and for me to arrange childcare, dogsitting, and tutoring for a mere 36 hours.
Tim’s work couldn’t wait, and considering how ridiculously complicated it is for Mommy to go away overnight, I wanted to cancel the trip. But my husband, knowing how desperately I needed to breathe, insisted I go on my own. Thanks to the heroic efforts of my Mom/babysitter/substitute teacher, everyone survived.
Fool Me Once, Shame on Me…
Logisitics weren’t the biggest reason for my hesitation. I’ve been to my share of attachment trainings and adoption conferences. I knew what to expect in D.C. There’d be scientific studies to explain why children from hard places struggle to function in healthy ways. There’d be biblical truth to encourage and convict my adoptive mama’s heart. And there’d be hundreds of other adoptive parents – many in the prospective stage – trying to learn how to love their children in a way that brings healing.
Sounds good, right? But I was wary. I didn’t want to be duped into believing a two-day conference could transform my life as a mom. When you’ve already been down that road – when you’ve had those ah-ha moments and gone home full of enthusiasm, only to fall on your face again – well, let’s just say you get a little cynical.
But, like I said, my husband kicked me out, so I went. I spent the early morning drive to D.C. steeling myself against false hope. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…
I guess you wouldn’t say I was in the most receptive mood when I arrived fifteen minutes late for the opening session.
The place was packed, except for a few seats in the middle of each row. I had to bump and jostle my way past all the people who actually wanted to be there, which made me even grumpier. I set my conference notebook aside, resolving not to take notes, and sat with my arms folded through the entire first session.
The content was just what I expected, intensive education about brain development, disregulation, and sensory processing. All good stuff, but what I needed wasn’t about the head, or even about adoption. It was about the heart. Specifically, my heart.
That wasn’t a revelation. I’ve known it for years. Motherhood has been hard and scary, but not for the reasons I expected. The hardness and fear are inside me, and they were there long before we grafted a child into our family, and even before I birthed our others. Motherhood is just the spotlight that has persistently revealed my pre-existing brokenness.
As I sat amid that sea of conference-goers, their eager faces reflecting none of my turmoil, broken is exactly how I felt – broken, and alone.
At some point during the day, I began to thaw. It wasn’t a dramatic breakthrough, but once my walls started to crack, I couldn’t stop the demolition.
It’s funny, the things that change our course. That day, it was a speaker’s simple statement of empathy, sandwiched between braniac presentations of neurotransmitter studies. I don’t even remember the woman’s words, only her acknowledgement that there were some in attendance who had sunk low and reached the end of themselves – who were there because they didn’t know where else to go.
For mere seconds, she connected with my heart. I felt seen, and that changed everything.
I started to cry. It was one of those sneaky, stubborn cries – the kind where you try to distract yourself and ignore the tears, but they sneak out anyway. I didn’t have tissues, so I slouched down in my middle-row seat, blubbering until the session ended.
The tears continued on and off the rest of the day, like intermittent showers. I sniffled through the afternoon sessions, as I drove around looking for dinner, and as I sat in the shower in my hotel room.
It probably sounds sad and pathetic, but those tears were a good thing. They revealed a soft place I’d been protecting within a hard shell. And no matter how much it hurt, I knew it was better to be soft and broken than hard and stuck.
Yet another lesson I’ve learned through motherhood.
When Someone Sees You
I awoke the next morning ready to listen, and despite a lingering headache, I soaked up all the truth and encouragement my brain and heart could hold. As I drove home to my family that evening, I knew it had happened again – I’d given in to hope.
Hope is a high, and highs are inevitably followed by lows. I knew this, but instead of letting cynicism rob the moment, I accepted it. Whether I feel hope or not, it’s always there. Just as God is always there, even when my downcast spirit insists He’s far from me.
What was it about the conference that had freed me to hope, when I’d been so determined not to? This is the question I pondered most of the three-hour drive home. It wasn’t the knowledge, the stories, or even the biblical truth woven throughout scientific studies. It was one brief remark from one speaker – a handful of words that made me feel seen in my dark place. Seen, understood, and accepted.
What does that mean for me, as a mom, wife, friend, and writer? I’ve been drafting a mission statement for weeks, trying to hone a vision for the gifts God has stewarded to me. After the conference, I had a new purpose to add at the top of my list: to see and love people as they are, and allow myself to be seen as I am.
Does this resonate with you, as it did with me? Motherhood is just one place in which I needed to feel seen. There are so many others, and I know you have them, too. How can we help each other in this way? In what lonely struggle do you long to be seen and loved as you are?