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This is going to be the death of me.

It’s a statement I’ve made often over the past several months, mostly under my breath and to myself.

One of my children has been struggling in a variety of ways, all stemming from a traumatic childhood lived outside of our home. He came to us through the foster care system at eight years old and has done fairly well — until last fall, when behaviors and attitudes started to ooze out, casting dark shadows over his countenance and our relationship.

I have to admit I haven’t always met him in this season with kindness or compassion. Often, I’ve left conversations with him wishing I’d approached it differently. And although apologies were exchanged, it still seemed like we were slogging through the months amidst anger and animosity.

It finally reached a point where we realized there was nothing more we could do ourselves and decided to reach out for help from professionals. They affirmed our concerns about his mental health and have implemented strategies to assist him, and those approaches are working to a certain extent. Dealing with trauma is a long road, one where you often feel like you are further down the path and then something slams you back and you realize you’re closer to the beginning than you realized.

It can be slow — painfully slow — and that is where I found myself these past several months with the thought, This will be the death of me.

I’ve been embarrassed to admit this to anyone other than my husband, who looks at me blankly when I say it — he knows better than to argue with me in those moments — but who I know would like to offer me all the reasons why our family will be okay.

The other morning, I lamented to him, “I know that God can do anything, but this just feels hopeless. I worry because I don’t see how things can be different.”

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We arrived at the classroom that was full of musical instruments and brightly colored floor tiles, risers and folding chairs lined up in rows to greet us. My husband and I found seats in the front and watched as the students began to file in, waving at smiling parents who returned their greeting.

My daughter Jasmine was performing a variety of tunes and dances she had learned along with the rest of her third-grade class. Between songs, I watched as she bent down quickly to tie her partner’s shoe. Smiling, the little girl with Down's syndrome waited patiently for Jasmine to finish before they both launched into the actions for the next song.

Welcome to Christmas Acts of Kindness, 2018! 

When our families first embarked upon our adventure in kindness seven years ago, we didn't realize that we were also empowering our children to respond to disasters and wrong-doing and crisis with the question of how they can help rather than watching events unfold with helplessness and despair. 

Mr. Rogers (my favorite show as a young child) said it best:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Advent has, for us, become a favorite event on the liturgical calendar; a time to pause in wonder as we anticipate the birth of our Savior, but also an opportunity to bring the Good News to those around us through intentional kindness, to train our children (and ourselves) to be the helpers Fred Rogers was taught to look for in the midst of bad news. 

I woke up in the grip of anxiety, heart thumping and body tense. It started more than a year ago, when actions beyond my control led to a strained relationship and left me feeling wounded and vulnerable. Though I slept well at night, the anxiety returned with a vengeance each morning.

The way I felt reminded me of a college friend who went to see his doctor because he thought he had a throat problem. Each time he would try to eat, his throat would close up, and swallowing was difficult. But when he went to the doctor, he was told that his physical symptoms were simply a manifestation of the inner anxiety he felt.

Now, 13 years after hearing my friend’s story, the erratic beat of my heart felt like a reflection of my own inner turmoil, and I wondered how to fix it. Outwardly, I looked fine. And most of the time, I felt fine—until I let my guard down enough to feel the anxiety that bled out of the soul-deep hurt I felt inside.