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images-5Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I sent Natalie and Lydia to youth group last night. I had just learned that Natalie had been cutting, several times on her left wrist and many more times on both hips.  I had cleaned up the blood, bandaged the wounds, and had been called every name from her book of hate.

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“Oh, you are going to church tonight,”  I yelled, so frustrated I could barely contain myself.  “Even if I have to drag you out of the car, you are going in to that youth service.”  (insert awkward pause and pointed finger)  “And you’re going to get something out of it too.”

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Sounds just like what Jesus would do, huh?

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We have a regular babysitter on Wednesday nights, so I admit that it’s a night I look forward to each week.  It’s a time when I get away by myself to fill up my empty tank while the girls are at church.  Probably because I was feeling spent after being driven clear to crazy town, and likely because the tank in my crazy town bus was way past empty, I selfishly decided to go through with the regular routine even though the day had been far from ‘routine’.

*

Lydia was put in charge.  (Like I said, what was I thinking?)  I gave her instructions to call out for a youth leader’s help if Natalie exhibited any behavior indicative of running away or harming herself. I told her she had my permission to use all measures necessary to keep her sister safe…basically, tackle her, knock her over the head, and hold her down until help comes.  Then I left my two teenage girls in the church parking lot and drove away.  I didn’t even look back.

*

My faith is long shot to heck, but I managed three words: “Lord, save Natalie.”

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When Natalie walked into North Cleveland Church of God wearing gym shorts and a tank (she refused to change her clothes and I was NOT going to wrestle that), a large white bandage covered her wrist.  Knowing she was bound for a treatment center out of state the following morning, she was ready to be done with me, with life, with church, and especially with God.  Lydia had asked what she should say if someone asked about how angry Natalie appeared or about the large bandage on her wrist.  “Tell the truth,” I told her, “if anyone judges Natalie harshly, then that jerk has just as big of a problem as your nutty sister.”  I’m not proud of it right now, but I did use the terms “jerk and “nutty”….at my core, I guess I’m still a redneck from Bradley County.  Lydia sort of looked at Natalie, rolled her eyes, and huffed.  I know what she was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing.  WHY????
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Just after the girls walked in, one of the college leaders made a bee-line for Natalie.  The young man didn’t stammer over his words; he looked straight into Natalie’s eyes and asked:  “How are you?  Is everything alright?”  Natalie responded with a short, sort of mumble: “Yeh, I’m alright”.  She would’ve preferred ANY house last night over God’s house.

 

The Lee University student could have walked away, but instead, he pursued her.  Who does that sound like?  Oh, this gets even better.  When Lydia and Natalie found their seats, who do you think sat right next to Natalie?  Yes!!!  He tried to make conversation and was rebuffed.  He attempted to joke around with her, but she didn’t laugh.  Still, he didn’t give up.  Eventually, he typed something into his cell phone.  Pointing to Natalie’s bandaged wrist and then to his own arm which held old scars,  this young man smiled and held up his phone’s screen for Natalie to read what he had typed:  “It’s going to be ok.”

*

When I dropped Natalie off at church, she was ready to pinch my head off and stomp on it.  Her eyes were filled with contempt.  Her words, slicing and dicing my heart.  So you can imagine my surprise when I came to pick the girls up and saw a complete transformation in her.  Eyes that only two hours earlier had drilled hate beams into me, were now soft and gentle.  Even the way she carried herself as she walked was different….as if a burden had been lifted.

*

As we drove away, I asked:  “Natalie, are you having regrets about the last couple of days?”

*

The guttural howl that came out of her after I presented that question sent chills:  “Please forgive me for everything I have said to you, Mom.  I promise I didn’t mean any of it.  I am so sorry.  Please, please forgive me.”

*

As the night went on, and as it dawned on Natalie that we had forgiven her, she bent over and wept.  “Why do you keep forgiving me after all I’ve done?”

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When you see true repentance, it cannot be mistaken for anything else.  And it was happening before my eyes.  A miracle.  Then she said this:

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“But there’s something you don’t know.  It’s the reason I cut myself today…and I don’t want to tell you, because it’s going to hurt you and I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

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My hands and feet went numb.  “Tell me.”

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“It’s going to hurt you so much, mom; I don’t think I can tell you.”

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Do you know those times when you want to know…but then again, you don’t want to know?  I had already been living out a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Did I really want to know?

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Lord no!!!

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But I needed to know.  She was sobbing, barely able to make out the words, but she told me everything she had been hiding:

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She had been having secret conversations with a couple of family members…. they had warned her not to trust me….suggested to her that I didn’t really love her, that I would probably end up abandoning her, and that my only devotion was to Hope and Charlie. One said that Chappy would divorce me and leave us with nothing.  Each also said they would come alongside her to offer monetary assistance if she ever needed them.  Basically, I was very very bad and they were very very good.

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In response , Natalie made a secret phone call to a counselor who works at the last treatment center where she resided for six months.  This particular counselor had formed an unhealthy attachment to Natalie and had gone as far as to tell Natalie that she was the one meant to be her family.  It was the reason we had removed her from their care.  Natalie called this woman and confided in her about what these two family members had told her.  Together, Natalie and this counselor concluded that she might not be “safe” at home with me….and said if Natalie ever needed to escape, that she would pick her up anytime and anywhere.

*

Natalie, who had been stable, happy, and more like herself than she’s been in a very long time became paranoid and afraid of Lydia and me, which plays right into her Reactive Attachment Disorder.  The strong had preyed upon the weak without regard for her mental well-being…and I had no idea.  Finally, Natalie couldn’t carry it any longer, so she imploded.

*

I am not writing this to air my family’s drama.  But trust me, just like you, we have a gracious plenty of it.  I am writing this because it is imperative that OUR story serve as an example of what can happen when people get involved in something they know very little about.  Like many teenage girls who are struggling with emotional issues, abuse, or childhood trauma, Natalie is extremely vulnerable.  She is fighting with everything in her to trust those who are caring for her, to accept unconditional love, and to defeat the demons of self harm.  It is a daily battle.  ANY secretive interference or intentional ‘negative speak’ CAN crush children like Natalie.

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In my case, it likely would have cost my daughter her life.

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What if I hadn’t walked in and found her?  What if I had gone to the grocery as planned?  What if I had been watering my flowers?  Taking a walk?  Doing laundry?  What if?

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We have an opportunity every single day to be exactly like that young man who approached Natalie with boldness last night at church.  Instead of standing far away from Natalie in fear or judgment, he chose to love and encourage.  And when she didn’t respond to him with kindness, he didn’t give up.  Because of his relentless friendship toward my daughter, Natalie’s heart softened so God could go to work.  Natalie describes the church service as being one that spoke directly to her heart, making her want to tell the truth, to trust me, and to say she was sorry.

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Say it with me with a resounding voice..say it with much faith, hope, and love!

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“It’s going to be ok.”

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(Thank you to all who prayed last night and for all of the offers of help. After seeing Natalie’s heart of repentance and after hearing what had prompted her actions, she will not be going to a treatment center at this time, but will be in counseling near home.)

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