Facing our Fears

face_your_fearThis morning was one of the most difficult and rewarding parenting moments, thus far. Ezra didn’t want to go to school. I thought we had problem solved the struggle together and he was doing okay. Everything appeared good as we awaited the start of school while standing in line. Until he saw the boy who was saying mean things to him yesterday. Which triggered a full blown meltdown. It took everything in me not to have a meltdown myself. He clinged to me like a koala bear sobbing. He just wanted to go home and didn’t want to stay and work things out. Everything in me wanted to take him home so that he wouldn’t have to face his fears and struggle. I just wanted to run him home, take a sick day and cuddle with him and eat our comfort foods. That would’ve been much easier.

Life is not so easy, is it? Sometimes it would be much easier to stay home in the mornings and not face the difficulties and challenges of this world.

I remember when I was my son’s age, there was a little bully in my class. I remember the feeling of not wanting to ever face him. I felt so little, humiliated and afraid. It was my dad who helped me face my fears while comforting me along the way. I’m so glad he did. I’m so blessed to have a parent who modeled the ability to be vulnerable and talk openly about the hard things. I can’t imagine living without the freedom to share my struggles. I’m also glad I did the most difficult thing this morning by leaving my son at school after comforting and reassuring him that things would workout.

Sometimes we have to face our biggest struggles and not walk away when life gets tough. Thanks, dad, for instilling and equipping me with the ability to face difficulties, to do my best to make things work, and be resilient when things don’t workout how I hoped. I hope my son can learn from these experiences as well.

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A Divine Appointment at Lake Ewauna

jonathanhankins

Image courtesy of Toa55 @ freedigitalphotos.net Image courtesy of Toa55 @ freedigitalphotos.net

This afternoon became nothing like I had planned. After work, I decided I should hop on the paddleboard for some fresh air, clear my mind, perhaps build a six-pack. (Nah, who am I kidding?) Things were going splendidly when I found myself in the middle of the lake. I thought I was pretty awesome as I was gliding over the water without a care in the world. That is, until I realized the wind that had helped me get so far out beyond the shore would be to my disadvantage getting back to shore. I was lost in the moment and common sense was not catching up to me.

Although I never once fell in the cloudy green, algae infested waters, the wind and waves were determined to be my downfall. I was stuck. What seemed like hours of paddling towards the docks was more like…

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Human Touch – Part Three

Part Three – Another Personal Story about the Gift of Affection and Physical Touch
haitiSeveral years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Haiti twice in one year and work with the same handicapped orphanage. My wife and I took a team in early summer and returned in early winter. The second trip was a birthday surprise gift from my wife, which I will always hold as an incredible memory. During the first trip I formed a particular bond with a boy named Evans. His smile and belly laugh could melt your heart. Initially, I thought he was four or five based upon his body size. When he would smile, you could tell he already had his adult teeth, so he must be at least seven or eight. We later learned he was twelve. He showed so much progress during our short times spent with him. We spent several of the following months working with local hospitals and doctors attempting to get a medical visa for Evans and had even contemplated adoption. There was a special connection that was in-explainable.

To this day, there are certain sights, sounds and smells that remind me of those trips to Haiti, and Evans specifically. It is also special to remember my sweet wife in a time and place when life seemed more simple and less complicated. We were young and doing what we loved: serving those who couldn’t help themselves, together. Some days I wonder what our lives would have been like had we stayed and never returned to the States. I think we have a way about life here which makes us captive of our fears and anxieties surrounding finances and keeping up with society. We miss the simple things and miss each other in the process.
While we managed to raise a humanitarian awareness of our friends at the orphanage and raise some funds and send supplies; efforts of bringing Evans to the States were not successful. Although we tried maintaining contact with the orphanage, staff changes, the earthquake, and our busy lives made it difficult. While we started the coffee shop and my wife went to nursing school with the intent to go back to Haiti someday, life has a way of laughing at your good intentions, hopes and dreams. Barely keeping the doors of a business open during a struggling economy while racking up loan debt, and facing medical challenges, definitely has a way of changing the course of your life. Not everything has been lost, and certainly a lot has been gained and learned.
When the team first arrived at the orphanage, the residents had increased by thirty children due to a controversial closure of another orphanage. These children were developmentally or physically handicapped in one form or another. This increase in children in need of care was obviously daunting for the staff. Our team tried to lighten the load during the time we were there. The staff to child ratio wasn’t near the standard of what we would expect in our western civilization. The conditions were too difficult to process all at once, but we all knew the organization was doing the best with what they had. We participated in crafts and various activities with the children. We helped the staff with feeding the children and specifically made sure there wasn’t a child who would get missed in the chaos of mealtimes.
Most of the time was spent holding children who were not mobile and performing basic physical therapy with children whose muscles had atrophied. By the end of the day we smelled of sweat and urine. The tropical rains at the end of the day were refreshing, to say the least. While there was so much happening all at once between acclimating to a different climate and culture, figuring out the best way we could serve while navigating the language barrier, and trying not to show our emotionally overwhelmed side; I was able to witness first-hand the impact of human touch. Many of the children were laying in cots under the palm trees. So when we would hold them, massage their feet and hands, and butcher the language with our failed attempts; they would smile, laugh, and come alive. I have no doubt the greater the physical touch, the more the children came alive physically, mentally and emotionally.
This life experience has confirmed my belief of the positive effect of human interaction and physical touch and affection. I’ve seen children in quite desperate and lonely states come alive when they feel the embrace of another human.
I don’t think one has to go all the way to Haiti to have a similar experience. You may not even need to leave your own community. When appropriate, human interaction and physical touch are gifts to be shared and not to be locked away. Perhaps we get a glimpse of Heaven when we embrace.

Human Touch – Part Two

depressionPart Two – We Can’t Live Without Being Touched

“Something seems amiss: Millions of us now click into our social lives each day, count 100, 300, even 500+ friends in our networks, and yet somehow move through the entire day without having experienced one human-to-human, warm-bodied hug.” (Curt Pesman Hug Therapy: High-Touch Healing in a High-Tech World)

I’ve often wondered what effect does a lack of human affection have on mental illness?
A few months ago, I picked up a supplemental shift at our local residential treatment home for severely mentally and behaviorally challenged adolescents. Their was a young boy who lived there who was roughly ten, but had the mentality of a five year old. At one point after dinner, and the other children were playing games, he expressed the need to go to what is called the safe room for some personal space. Shortly after, loud sobbing and howling-like sounds were coming from the room. When I checked on the kiddo to see if everything was alright, he was curled up in a fetal position holding his knees tight against his chest.
bunnyThe amount of emotion he was expressing was more than I have ever seen a child his age display. At one point I thought he may be having an actual mental breakdown. When he began to calm on his own, I consulted another staff member to review the staff guidelines on touching residents. I have a five year old son, and I could instinctively feel this child just needed a hug. When advised against it, I asked him if he needed a pillow or something to hold. He immediately asked for his stuffed bunny from his bed. My heart broke as he held this bunny tightly, knowing that what he really needed was a warm appropriate embrace from another human. If he were my son, I would’ve been on the ground with him holding him and probably crying alongside him. Because life is just too hard to deal with alone.

I think it is sad we live in a day and age of fear-based agendas and have become overly sensitive to perceived liability that we overlook the obvious. Give the kid a hug.

I have a theory about the effects of human touch, and the lack of, on people in general. I’m sure it is not my own theory as there are many studies and research that promote this way of thinking. Our brains have a pleasure circuit. The same part of our brain that is stimulated by drugs and alcohol is the same that is stimulated by love and affection.  If a person is feeling isolated and alone, and they have a tendency to use substances to numb the pain of loneliness, this could becomes a problem. Many mental illnesses have anxiety and depression as a common denominator. Studies prove that most individuals who have a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness.

Could a simple embrace detour someone struggling with depression from making a self harming decision and point them towards hope? By stimulating that part of the brain, could it release enough endorphin to completely change a person’s course? We already know that exercise can do this. Could a hug do the same?

If individuals who struggle with a substance use disorder or mental illness find the courage to seek professional help, this can be the biggest obstacle towards the road to recovery. If struggling individuals can get to a safe place to talk about their issues with a professional and find solidarity with others on their journey, they are on the pathway to healing. Many require medication to monitor and stabilize moods and behaviors associated with the illness or even the most minimal forms of depression or anxiety. All of this therapy is proven to help significantly, otherwise I wouldn’t be in my line of work. I believe in what I do. I also believe that people desperately need to know they are acknowledged, appreciated, and affirmed with a simple touch.

Certainly there are traumatizing experiences which have to do with a person’s being the victim of inappropriate physical touch. I am certain that this increases the fears of someone who has experienced such abuse, making it difficult to let others in. This may need to be worked through sensitively, as the person learns what appropriate affection can look and feel like.

hugCountless stories, studies and research prove that human touch has been known to keep a newborn infant alive during the early first hours of life. There are also stories of doctors prescribing hugs for patients who have responded positively and improved the healing process by simply being touched. “In a world that has grown more complicated, more fierce in the demands made upon our hearts and pocket books, there is one easy, free gift left. The power of touch.” (Kathleen Keating; “Hug Therapy”)

As an overall society are we missing a therapeutic component which can’t be as easily prescribed? While it would be completely inappropriate for a mental health provider to prescribe a non platonic companionship or give their patient a hug, maybe that is all they really need at the moment. We try to get people to talk, but maybe they just want to be held. (Members of the legal and medical community are squirming, at this point of the conversation.)
Perhaps a simple touch could release the right amount of endorphin’s to the pleasure part of the brain that could actually keep a person from engaging in problematic behaviors or using substances. What if cuddle therapy wasn’t such a frowned upon thing?
Have we gone too far in creating barriers of fear and confused what kind of affection is appropriate and inappropriate? Are we more concerned with being professional than doing the right thing?
There’s another young man I’ve worked with who is known at school as the “hugger”. Part of his treatment plan was to learn more about personal space. I honestly struggled with this, because I’m wondering if we are trying to deprogram a child from what it means to be human. (Disclaimer: These thoughts are completely my own and don’t in anyway reflect those of my employer.) Some people are “huggers”. I’m okay with that. I appreciate huggers, as I mentioned in my previous post. In some circles, hugging is more socially acceptable than others. It’s not a bad thing, and I struggle with the idea of training a child otherwise. While we’ve done a good job educating our children about “Stranger Danger”, have we gone too far in raising generations of people living in fear of just anyone?
What would our corner of the world look like if we allowed others to invade our space more often? What if we hugged more? What if some of the more common displays of affection which are culturally relevant in other parts of the world and have significant historical presence were to become more normalized within what has become an independent society? Would we see a decrease in mental illnesses and substance abuse? Could people possibly live more physically healthy and productive lives by simply hugging more? There is plenty of research and studies to prove this might be the case.

So, what are you waiting for? Get a little closer. Hug a little more. Hesitate less. We are here to learn how to live and love well. Relationships are the core of our existence. Maybe we could all benefit from hugging more and pushing away less.
To my fellow warriors who are wrestling with all the struggle and brokenness that comes with being human. Know that you are not alone and there is beauty and hope in all of this. Wrap your arms around yourself, if you must, and just know that you are loved.