I so clearly remember the moment from 2008. I was sitting in a cubicle at a research facility and I was having a bad day. I had experienced another difficulty in our journey through infertility, I had just received a phone call where I was told the other candidate was offered my dream job, and our landlord had just sent a notice that our rent was going up.
I was in a bit of distress.
I was also somewhat vocal about that distress and I might have been close to crying.
From seemingly nowhere, I heard the sweetest voice say, “How can I help you?” and immediately, I felt comforted and like I could take a breath. I had no idea what peace it would bring me to know that not only was someone a witness to my emotional experience in the moment, but they also were not leaving me alone in my struggle to process my grief and disappointment.
Her name was Catherine. She was an MPH (Master of Public Health) and nursing student. She sat in the cubicle next to mine, and she was interning for the same doctor whom I was supporting on a research project. There wasn’t actually anything that she could do to solve my problem; she couldn’t heal my broken body, she couldn’t make the church at which I wanted to work change their mind, and she couldn’t pay my now-impossible-to-pay rent.
But what she did do was even more powerful – even if she probably didn’t know it; at that moment, she was fulfilling God’s promise that he would never, ever, no not ever, leave or forsake me. Through her acknowledgement that something was occurring and her willingness to step into the messy, emotional, difficult space with me, she was communicating to me several important things:
- My lament is valid.
- I am heard.
- I am not alone.
- I am worth helping.
When someone is experiencing a circumstance (or set of circumstances) where they are feeling powerless, those are powerful truths that provide a sense of grounding and connection.
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Ten years later, none of those issues were resolved in a way that I could point to and say, “see! I was rescued!” We never did get to have a baby (we adopted instead), I didn’t ever work at another church (but hey, I’m at OC United!!!), and we ended up having to move to a 550 square foot one-bedroom apartment (for a while).
But what I did learn was the power of offering help to someone in distress. Which turned out to be one of the most instrumental things in providing a healing home for my children who came from hard places. When my children’s trauma would impact their ability to process information and they became overwhelmed, they would exhibit what looked like strange or defiant behaviors. Instead of taking it personal or trying to “shut it down,” I was able to see that they were in distress and had a need. And if it was a situation where they were still able to engage their pre-fontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain), I could calmly ask, “what do you need?” If it was a situation where they were firmly in a limbic state (the danger response part of the brain), I could still maintain that mental space of “how can I help you?” that would help me be compassionate, open, and curious when helping my kiddo regulate.
I think we have to be all three of those things when we consider engaging in healthy connections with those who are in distress or who are going through something “messy.” If we remove our compassion, we don’t travel with the person, we’re just nosy and paying attention. If we remove our openness, we may be curious and present, but we’ll our response will be limited and judgmental. If we lose our curiosity, we will only take things at face value and not look for what may behind the expression of loss, grief, or pain.
If you are person who is going through something right now, I want you to know that:
1) Your lament is valid.
2) God hears you.
3) You are not alone.
4) You are worth helping.
If this is not the season in which you currently find yourself and you are able to hold hope for someone else, I encourage you to be open to seeing where you might be compassionate to a person who is in distress and become an instrument of God’s peace.
Be like Catherine.
– Renae Dupuis
Program Director & Trauma Specialist, RESPITE Program
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Renae is the Program Director & Trauma Specialist with OC United’s RESPITE Program. If you are interested in joining the RESPITE Community through serving or receiving support and education, contact Renae at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The RESPITE Program is having its FIRST Conference this August. Registration is FREE.
Go to www.ocunited.org/respiteconf for more information!
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