“My daddy messes me up.”
When Eli first told me how he felt about his father’s choice to move Eli out of our family home, I wept. Not in front of Eli, but alone, in a too-quiet, two-story house along a lush greenbelt where Eli once danced happy, his red hair ablaze under an accepting sun. My son’s confession came in the early beats of shadow-husband’s divorce and custody abuse.
My four-year-old boy couldn’t comprehend why he couldn’t stay in the only home he’s known. His tender heart couldn’t wrap itself around an abrupt move to his paternal grandmother’s house–to a cramped space defined by chaos and dark. Eli went from his open bedroom–blue walls, twinkle lights, and glow-in-the-dark stars–to a makeshift bedroom housing litter boxes. My only child walked blindly into filth and madness.
Readers, if you parent a child of divorce, you know the shape of my ache. If you’re “a product of divorce,” you know that Eli’s soul confusion threatens to linger into adulthood. Even amicable, necessary divorces leave stubborn scars.
To divorce is to split open. Divorce is breaking up and breaking down. It divides.
I cringe whenever I hear the language “product of divorce,” and I wonder: how do I ensure that Eli is a product of love and not divorce? How Pollyanna-ish am I to consider this possibility at all? Maybe “product of…” expressions are simple, unavoidable certainties: we’re all products of our environments.
Today I came across a blog by Rachel Anne Ridge. In her blog, Rachel makes a case for facilitating emotional safety for children through storytelling. She writes, “We are the ones who provide our people with tools to grow, and narratives to make sense of a world that can be hostile and frightening.” Rachel encourages parents to cocoon their little ones in the therapeutic embraces of good, relatable, and timely stories.
I call these stories heart stories because these narratives heal hearts young and old. They’re the stuff of big ideas, compassionate world views, and paths to recovery.
As a writing professor and practicing writer, I’m in the story business. In my community, I lead sensory storytimes for children with SPD. When I write this blog about my broken life, I’m acutely aware of the transformative power of words.
A single sentence has the capacity to heal. One word can spark a revolution.
For example, early in my blog, I referred to my abuser as “Shadow.” In “Ice Queen,” my “Shadow” became but one “shadow” among many. This person who bullied, threatened, and isolated for over a decade became powerless in a mind revolution that resists and rises above a legacy of abuse. My shadow-husband became a lost, compassion-worthy lamb.
Because of broken words, and the whole that God breathes into them, I stand changed. I am changed because of the grace, freedom, and insight that my new, soul-true narrative affords.
The tricky bit is bringing story’s transformative power to a fragile four-year-old living in a toxic environment I can’t control. However, I’ve been doing the crucial work of storytelling all of Eli’s life. In my letters to him and in prayers and conversations with and around him, I’ve been shaping my miracle child’s life story without being consciously aware of every penned or shared chapter.
Eli may not read my letters until he’s older, but they exist: words of celebration and comfort just for him.
When we speak Truth into our children, we shape the narratives they use to make sense of their broken circumstances. When we speak worth into our children, we prepare abundant lives lived whole. When we tell meaningful stories, we teach our children that they mean something to us and to the communities we serve. They are loved.
A book that seems to be helping Eli is Be a Friend by Salina Yoon. My son is different. He struggles to fit in with other kids. This book tells a powerful story applicable to everyone: be you. Rather than dissolve into someone else’s idea, be beautiful you. Love will always find you. Infinite Love has already found you. He built you with intent and for a specific purpose. So be held.
The heart stories with the greatest capacities to heal are really quite simple. These narratives, like God’s faithful words of redemption, reinforce that we belong. In a world that abuses, frightens, and alienates, we are never alone.
The fairy lights in Eli’s blue bedroom twinkle in the night even in this season when he’s away from his birth home. I do my best with the sacred mama moments entrusted to me by God. I envelop my boy in peaceful respite. We snuggle and watch Charlie Brown. We sip hot chocolate and play in the greenbelt until a Texan sunset casts pink and gold across our sky. We use every minute we have together to search for our white mermaid, our purple wizard, and the space rocks and metallic pinwheels that our secret garden grows.
Every shared moment is an opportunity for meaningful connection.
We talk magic. We sing silly songs, and we laugh. Eli and I cocoon ourselves in truths spoken, written, and read over us, and we love. Because of our shared eternal story, our good narrative is already imprinted upon our hearts.
“I love you, little mama,” my son said to me this week. “You’re gravity.”
I pray that Eli is the product of the safe, welcoming environment that God creates for grace-seekers. Readers, my prayer is also for us. May we seek, find, and craft powerful heart stories that make us whole. May we serve each other at the foot of a wooden cross. May we love wild into sunlight.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” ~Jeremiah 29:11-13
Love and light,