Guest blog post!
Lisa Hamel is a Mom Mentor and Joy Coach who seeks to help women grow in joy and peace as they navigate life. She lives in a multigenerational home with her husband, two sons, and her mother. Learn more about her story at www.yourbrainonjoy.org.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that mere mortals are allowed to bring a baby home from the hospital. As new parents, we were both overjoyed and overwhelmed by our new addition to the family. From the beginning of our parenting journey, nothing was easy. Though we didn’t understand the Life Model yet, we could sense that our son was experiencing life on a very intense level.
As young parents, we didn’t realize that we were raising a child with an extremely sensitive neurobiology. His nervous system was so overwhelmed as an infant, that he wasn’t able to internalize the nurture, love, and delight we were pouring into him.
By age four, our son had a sensory diagnosis and by age eight, a diagnosis of Level One Autism, formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome.
During this tough season of parenting two small children, the Lord deepened my friendship with a woman who introduced me to the Life Model. She delighted in my boys and modeled many of the relational brain skills that we lacked. She has been an “elder” to our family in every sense.
Through her influence, we were introduced to the idea of Relational/Emotional Capacity. This concept is fleshed out in the analogy of a bridge and how much “traffic” or weight that bridge can bear before it breaks.
As Caius grew, we could see that he was sharing joy with us -what a win!! But his bridge was so weak or broken that he spent most of his life in overwhelm. And his overwhelm was HUGE!! This caused the rest of the family to have our relational circuits shut down and our bridges to weaken or break. It seemed like an endless cycle.
Thankfully, our elder friend and model was constantly demonstrating the relational brain skills from Thrive and Life Model. These gave us a vocabulary and tools to work through our tough emotions and return to joy. How important it is to live in community where the weak and strong are interacting!
Even though my older son’s behaviors were more obvious, we all have benefitted from what we’ve learned. Many adults like myself, can be elegant in our coping on the outside, but it’s an artificial maturity. My bridge wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be. My body paid the price with adrenal fatigue, insomnia, and many other issues. Our son’s “big” behaviors would amplify negative emotions in myself that I was accustomed to burying. I was writing emotional checks that my physical body couldn’t cash.
I wanted to be strong, but my child required true, authentic maturity- and that was something I couldn’t fake. I had to embrace my own weakness so I could grow and become the mom he needed. Weakness is where growth begins. Because I experienced that Jesus was glad to be with me. Because I experienced validation and comfort in my own overwhelm, I was able to slowly model those same things to my son. Having a biblical model to follow that also values emotional maturity has truly changed our lives!
As I learned from the study “Belonging” by Ed Khouri, the difficult circumstances in my life and my weaker emotional capacity were limiting my ability to act from the heart Jesus gave me. I realized that just as my son was on the autistic spectrum, our entire family was on the “bridge spectrum.” Some of us have rickety and fragile bridges, and some can handle heavier traffic without being overwhelmed.
I have friends who served the Lord in the jungles of New Guinea. After years of teaching basic skills like reading to the people, they introduced the concept of the “bridge man.” This is the name they use for Jesus. He is the “bridge man” because he made a way for sinful humans to have a relationship with God.
Jesus managed the most unimaginable, emotional traffic in the Garden of Gethsemene- yet he stayed connected to the Father and asked that His will be done. He kept the relationship bigger than the problem.
Because Jesus has a strong bridge, because he is the bridge, we have a relationship with our Creator.
We are all just trying to navigate living in a broken world, in broken bodies. Just as a spilled drink would cause an epic meltdown in our house, our negative emotions spill over onto each other in this world.
Jesus says very clearly in John 16:33:
“You will have trouble in this world, but take heart, I have overcome the world!”
Jesus came to redeem us. He came to make a way for us to be with God forever and to give eternal life now. Regardless of our bridge strength, His strong bridge gave us a joy-filled relationship with the Father and can model for us as we grow to become more like Him.
Now in adolescence, my son has the vocabulary and skills to manage his tough emotions. Though he still gets overwhelmed more easily than others, his bridge is growing stronger. Our entire family has grown in maturity and bridge strength.
There is no expiration date on our opportunity to grow.
The neuro-plasticity of our PFC shows us that God designed us to continue to grow and change. What a beautiful hope we have! Whether you spend most of your time with a broken bridge, a weak bridge, or a stronger one, give thanks that Jesus is the ultimate bridge for us all.