June 16, 2016

Bring her home

In the early months of my senior year I made the choice—well . . . or it would have been made for me—to go to Alldredge Academy, a wilderness therapy school for troubled teens.

Was I troubled? Aren’t we all in some way? I didn’t have anything crazy on my record. I had gotten out of a couple dozen speeding tickets, had earrings up and down my ears, and dated many of the wrong kind of boys—so I was a fairly typical seventeen-year-old girl. But what many people didn’t know was I had been through the divorce of my parents the summer before fourth grade and it had left a very deep hole in my heart.

For years I had battled eating disorders. I had so many friends, but many days I felt alone. I was a cheerleader, and could run a mean 400 meters in track, but when I went home I struggled with depression. In my later teenage years I avoided my family and had a hard time building healthy relationships with them. 

I remember stepping foot on that wilderness school feeling very out of my element. There wasn’t a shower within 30 miles. No makeup or shopping malls. Just wilderness.

I was one of the oldest "troubled teens" there, and what I would soon come to learn was my struggles were peanuts compared to what those young kids had seen.

The first week I thought I might die. We were not allowed to talk to each other. I was left alone with my thoughts—the one thing I had spent a lifetime trying to avoid. I didn’t know myself at all. I had become so wrapped up in my sports and friends I hadn’t even had a conversation with myself in years.

Tears rolled down my face every night as I stared out my tent— made out of a tarp—into the dark sky. I felt so insignificant compared to its majesty and never ending existence.

I spent two months at that school—looking back those were the two months that would come to prepare me for the truly hard things my life would bring.

If you would have asked me that first day when I stepped off that plane—to a couple of body guard bouncers that escorted me to a troubled teen wilderness school—if it would have made a difference in my life I would have laughed in your face and said, “Hell no, I am just doing this to humor my over protective parents who think I am a hot mess.”

Little did I know that those two months would save my life.

So what did I learn during my time living in the wilderness? I learned about life. Some of the lessons were taught by the therapist, and others just in my mind and heart. I could write many books of the experiences and lessons I embraced in those sixty days—and maybe someday I will—but tonight these are the three things I want to share:

1.     1. We all have a shadow.    
      A dark cloud of what we think others think we are. Beliefs we have carried around living as truths. And to overcome this shadow first we have to acknowledge what lies it has told us were truths . . . and let them free. We can’t stop living the lies until we let them go. (Remind me to tell you the coolest story about an amazing experience I had when I was letting go of my shadow up a dark cave in a West Virginia River)

2. How to live virtuously

We have to live virtuously to live our full potential happiness. When we aren’t living according to the order of virtue, we cannot feel complete or content in our daily lives. Finding strength in living a virtuous life we can and will be able to better recognize positive things in others and in ourselves. Each virtue builds upon another. Without hope we cannot find faith. Without faith we cannot love. And without love there is no grace. So to fully live a life full of grace we must live the order of a virtuous being. A life of honesty, fidelity, integrity, nobility, and divine power. 

3. How to receive personal revelation

Until my days in the wilderness I never knew I could truly talk to God. I said my prayers, and tried my best to listen to the spirit, but it was in these quiet momentswhen no one else was there to tell me how to thinkthat I learned how to listen to His voice. 

I had always based my thoughts and decisions on what others thought—advice helped me find my way. During those two months I realized the power I had inside of me. I turned to God instead of man for how I should view myself. I asked for Him to give me strength when I felt alone, instead of seeking someone to come and feel that void. And when I asked—He answered.

I learned that when we are unplugged from all the things we think give us happiness and answers—that is when we truly find the source of our strength.

The internet, friends, family members—they all seem to have the advice we need. Many have traveled similar roads, so we cling to the choices they made—hoping that if we follow their course it will lead us down a similar road.  Or we avoid all the pitfalls we saw them climb out of, to avoid pain. Only we don’t realize it is that pain that led them to their greatest joy.

We search for answers in others perfect Facebook version of life, wishing we could be a fraction of the happiness they pretend to be. But what we fail to see is the struggles they have when the cameras are put away. We come to believe if we just follow the step by step advice on our favorite blog, then we will find that road to eternal joy. We are constantly seeking answers, but always wishing we felt like we found them.

So we do what are told. We follow the advice, try to live a similar story . . . but then the end comes and our life still feels void of something. That feeling of incompleteness is the gap that others advice—and online “experts”—are taking that should be filled with truths from our Creator.

Some answers will never be found online. The answers that really make the most impact in our lives will come from God.

He isn’t as distant as this planet makes Him seem. If you are struggling for the right advise you have not found any where in this world, it may be because the answer doesn’t exist here.

Pray. Ask. He will send answers.

(pictures by Susan Thomas)

I have used this gift of personal revelation in my life. It is what has given me strength to stand when the world had told me to give up. It is what carried me when I felt so insignificant and small over and over again.

This life truly is a test—not on who can make the most noise, take the best selfies, or have the most followers—it is a test to see who can remember the power they were born to live.

You are great. You are powerful, and smart, and capable, and loveable. So if you haven’t heard that today—or ever—today is the day you ask God what He thinks. I promise you, even if no one else does . . . He knows everything. The dark days, the lonely hours, and everything in between.

Life is like that cold dark wilderness in West Virginia I called home for two months—and as I hiked its quiet hills I learned to fight for the strength to stand.

 Fifteen years ago my mom sang this song at my graduation from wilderness therapy. It was a very emotional day for all the people in my group and their parents. In some ways it felt like the first day of a new life. 

This last weekend, she sang it again for another graduation so I asked my sister to record it for me. 

Parents, Please don’t give up. Your children are going to strike out—often and hard. Keep praying for them that they can find the personal revelation to understand their worth from the one source who can help them see their value. So they can hear God speak to their hearts. It may take many years, but He hasn’t given up on them . . . so don’t you.

Thank you Mom for being a rock. You always lived your life close to God and showed me how every single day. You could have given up on me many times, but never ever did. Instead you taught me what being a parent is all about. Love. 


Lisa said...

It's heartbreaking to look back on our childhood and teenage years with more experience and realize how many people were hurting and struggling, and they just got labeled by their behaviors - good and bad. The more I'm with the young women in my neighborhood now, the more I can see that they all have shadows like you wrote about, but too often I still hear them labeled (unfortunately, often by adults) instead of loved. It forces me to check myself and the way I'm thinking about others in the private chambers of my heart. I'm so sorry you were hurting all those years ago and in years since, and I'm grateful for the ways you keep opening your heart to bless me and so many others.

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