One day I overheard my daughter describing something I used to do when she was a child. It was a little surprising to hear it from her perspective, how it appeared to her then.
For most of Mary Susan's childhood, we lived on a horse farm, which I ran as a single mom. We boarded over thirty horses on about 120 acres. Although we have lots of wonderful memories from this season in our lives, there were many days when I got very frustrated and angry; the tractor would break down before I had finished bush-hogging, the water hoses would freeze, or a stubborn horse might decide to live the rest of his life in a horse trailer. And then of course, there was the occasional boarder who trusted me with her horse child and was upset to find a runaway ball of horse manure hiding in the corner of the stall.
So here is Mary Susan's description of what would happen: "There were days when I would be in my bedroom and Mommy would run up the stairs, scream as loud as she could into a pillow, and then run back out the door with no explanation."
I don't think I ever thought about how that looked to her. At the time, it was the best way I could think of to handle my anger. And actually, it worked. I would usually run back out the door feeling much better.
Anger isn't something I feel like I struggle with, until I look at my collection of wounded cookware. I have a crock-pot that has to be propped up on one corner because the foot was broken off during a pretty rough trip across the kitchen floor. (It had the nerve to take up too much space in the cabinet.) And just take a look at this toaster. It only had one job to do and couldn't even do that, so I had no choice but to get even. And I did.
There is something that happens at Blue Monarch almost every time a new family moves in. The children we serve often show up with an overwhelming amount of anger. They are angry they have been neglected. Some children may be angry they were sexually abused and no one protected them. Perhaps they are mad they don't know what to do about this ugly secret. They are possibly upset about the things someone did to their mother. The list can go on, and on, and on. How does it come out? In very loud tantrums of screaming and yelling. There may also be punching, spitting, throwing, and stomping. It can get pretty ugly sometimes but it is almost always aimed at the mother. After all, they may have seen someone else treat her this way. They learned it.
Recently, we had a new family move in. The mother was completely overwhelmed with three young children, none of whom listened to her, no matter how loud she got. Our mothers are required to keep up with their children and know where they are at all times. But hers would scatter like chickens. She would sling one onto her hip, grab another by the hand, but how would she catch the third? Once one child started screaming and crying, they would all scream and cry, just because. As I was leaving one day midst this chaos, she asked me with desperation and tears in her eyes, "Miss Susan, can I please just take them to my room?" They had not even had dinner yet but she was ready to give up and I could see she was considering leaving.
"First of all, giving up will not change anything. But you need to listen to me. This WILL get better, I promise. If you will use the tools we give you, and stick to it consistently, I promise this will get better. And it will surprise you how quickly it does." It actually surprises me, too, even though I've seen it happen many, many times.
Day after day I saw the same scene outside my window. This mother's two-year-old would stomp out the back door and scream as loud as she could in the backyard outside my office. I was fascinated that tiny, little person could make such a loud noise. One day I sketched a picture of her screaming mouth because it reminded me so much of Charlie Brown's. Almost a perfect trapezoid.
Another day recently, we had a middle school boy who was angry he didn't get his way. His mother stayed strong. I was proud of her. She never lost her temper with him, and she stood her ground despite the fact he yelled for a straight hour and forty-five minutes. It's true. I timed him. (Thankfully he was outside for the most part.)
This is what I think is so amazing, though. That little girl screaming in the backyard? After only two weeks at Blue Monarch, with the mother consistently putting into practice the tools she was given, this precious child stopped screaming. She is now one of the happiest children I have ever seen because she finally has what she needs from her mother. Her attention. No need to scream for it.
And that middle school boy? He may be yelling to express his anger, but a few months ago I saw him leave with handcuffs in the back of a patrol car because his anger was so out of control. It was one of the saddest moments I have had at Blue Monarch and one I will never forget. But through our rich programs for this family, he is handling his anger much, much better now and has even become a straight-A student! Isn't that incredible?
Our children have many reasons to be angry. Their own stories may begin with, "There were days when I would be in my bedroom and Mommy would run up the stairs and scream as loud as she could...", but the story ends quite differently. Just now I wrote several examples of how this story tragically ended for some of our children, but then deleted them. Truth is, we don't really want to think about that, do we? And whatever you have imagined right now, I can almost promise you, the truth is worse than that.
I often wonder where our mothers and children would be if they had not come to Blue Monarch. For some of these children, I think they would probably have been abused, simply because that angry, screaming child might become someone's toaster. If not for Blue Monarch, it's quite possible that ten-year-old boy might have ended up in juvenile detention on the other side of Memphis, the only place in the state that will take children that young.
Instead, our families are given a soft place to land, even when they land with a crashing thud. Blue Monarch completely changes the trajectory for the entire family! We provide the daily hands-on coaching for a mother who is trying to parent sober for the first time. Our gifted counselor meets with the child individually, and with the family together, so they can express their hurts and needs in a healthy way. The mothers and children are given effective tools to manage their anger in a way that doesn't cause even more damage. With time and lots of patience, they learn to trust one another again, or maybe for the first time ever. They develop a personal relationship with Christ, learning to trust Him when they are hurting, instead of striking out at each other. And I really love this part - they heal and recover together - not apart.
Yesterday as I was leaving Blue Monarch, I spotted something in the distance that caught my eye. Out in the middle of our big yard was that same mother with her three young children. At first I thought something terrible had happened. Why were they on the ground? Then I realized, they were all rolling around on the grass together, every one of them laughing and playing like it was the most fun they had ever had. When they saw that I was watching, they all sat up and waved at me with smiles that beamed from ear to ear - then quickly went back to what they were doing, piling on top of each other in one big, ball of fun.
As I continued to watch, I could almost hear the children saying one day, "There were days...when Mommy would..." But this time, I believe the story is going to have a really happy ending.
Thank you, Lord, for showing us so powerfully, that children need to be able to recover with their mothers. Thank you for the tremendous healing we see every single day, and for all the anger that turns into love, right before our very eyes. Amen.