First Impressions Are Lasting Impressions

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I learned yesterday of the death of one of the most amazingly gifted and talented people that I’ve ever met. News of her death will be mourned all across our world. I’m not exaggerating or overstating her range of influence.

She was and will forever be honored and regarded as a world leader in finding answers and providing hope and resourcefulness to children and families from hard places. Her work was not just academic. At a heart-felt level, it filtered through the lenses of hands-on personal involvement and sacrificial commitment. Honestly, her life was her work and her work brought life out of the shadows of confusion, misunderstanding, heartache and pain experienced by many.

Her countenance was like a balm in Gilead that orchestrated wholeness and a sense of calm where before there had only been confusion, heartache and despair. Perhaps she was at her best when she was intervening in providing assistance and support to those who were at their worst.

News of her death shook my world. I didn’t see it coming. It literally hurt my heart. In fact, I have thought of little else since learning the sad news.

When I first met her, we were sharing waiting-room space in a Legislator’s office at the State Capitol. There were four of us waiting for the beginning of a public hearing. A District Court Judge who was also passionate about getting it right for children introduced me to her. What was it? That must have been ten, eleven, twelve years ago. I don’t know. I can’t really remember. As it turned out, the hearing was subsequently cancelled. The Legislative session didn’t adjourn until after midnight.

Trust me, the evening shared in the waiting room of a Legislator’s office was anything other than a waste of time. There was something about this woman that set her apart from anyone I’d ever met before. She was a representation of poise and grace. What were the words I used to describe her to a colleague the following day? It was almost like a scene out of the New Testament where someone had spent time with Christ and said to his brother, “You’ve got to come and see.”

I guess first impressions are lasting impressions. I remember telling colleagues about her. What I shared was true. Spending fifteen minutes in her presence was synonymous with spending fifteen minutes with God. God is love. So was she and her love was a manifestation of God’s love. Her whole approach to working with children from hard places was based on Biblical principles and an understanding that when we meet others at the point of need, we most represent God’s love in our life. That kind of love also promotes life for others.

Truthfully, I’ve never met anyone like her. She is truly the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I will not mention her by name because I don’t have the words or the ability to even begin to capture the essence of her being. I would not do her the disservice of even trying. Yet, news of her passing tugs at my heart.

I am reminded of an illustration I once heard: “At the funeral of Isabella Coleman, a long-time missionary to China, one of the Chinese men who was saved during her ministry and had worked with Miss Coleman during her years in China, spoke at her funeral. He said, ‘For those of you who did not know Miss Coleman, then no words are adequate to describe her.  For those of you who knew Miss Coleman, no words are necessary’”.

In every respect, the same is true for the lady I’ve mentioned. I don’t have the words to describe her or to capture the essence of her being. However, I will always remember the lessons learned.

One of the reasons that I’m still in the work that I do is because of her influence. Because of her, we now have better tools to equip children to find their voice and express their needs.

We now better understand the theory of attachment and the importance of trust. During infancy, when a child cries to have their needs met, if they are not comforted and the need addressed, they eventually lose their voice.  In the process, they also learn that those responsible for their care cannot be depended upon to meet their needs.

We also know that the imaginary fears of the dark are as real to a child from a hard place as actually being in an unsafe situation.  Felt safety is critically important to children.  Regardless of whether the fear is warranted or not, if the child is afraid they are in a constant state of alert and panic.  Sadly, fear is a constant companion for many of the children who come from hard places.  Fear negatively impacts cognitive ability, sensory processing and the ability for lasting attachments.

Some children are so accustomed to living in a state of constant fear and panic that it has become the status quo for them.  They don’t have the ability  to ever relax, let down their guard or dare to risk trusting someone to help.

So what do you do for a child who has become so accustomed to being fear-filled that he is literally afraid of not being afraid? How can you best help this child?

I could fill the page with the different ways she reframed what previously was thought best practice, but was in essence missing the mark.

I drifted off to sleep last night with the thought, “I am fortunate to have known her. In intermittent steps over the preceding ten-to-twelve years, she made my life better by enhancing my knowledge and helping me understand the importance of not giving up on children or even giving up on my ability to make a difference.

All My Best!

Don

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