Alan, Dane, and I had an amazing evening last night at the 10 year anniversary celebration of the TCU Institute of Child Development.
WE. LOVE. THESE. PEOPLE!
It was like a reunion with Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, the staff, and 150+ trust-based advocates, many of whom we count as dear friends, who have helped further the work of the Institute.
The event rivaled a great wedding - cocktail hour complete with TCU purple margaritas, great band with the lead singer decked out in a flashy purple dinner jacket, scrumptious food complete with a chocolate bread pudding tamale for dessert. Yes, just YES, you need to experience that dessert....
The provost of the university spoke and said Texas Christian University has two great things going for it: Football and the Institute of Child Development!
Our family is very proud of Karyn. Our lives were forever changed by her passion, brilliance, and heart for the hurt child when we met her nearly sixteen years ago at Hope Connection Camp. To hear figures of the tens of thousands of lives around the globe that have now been impacted by her work brought me to tears.
Dane was interviewed for one of the video presentations and shared that at Hope Connection he learned to better regulate, to have self-control - which he still has to work on, and how to use his words to get what he needs. He proudly spoke of his accomplishments - now living in his own apartment, taking care of his dog, and working hard as a courtesy clerk at Albertson's. He said it takes a lot of courage and faith, but he believes all kids can get better. He was in hog heaven at the event, gathered with many familiar faces, and he enjoyed sharing memories from his Hope Connection days. His buttons were bursting with pride as guests complimented him on his presentation as well as on how far he has come in his life.
The evening ended with a toast to the next ten years of helping more vulnerable children. As we gave our final hugs, Dane was sad to say goodbye to the people that have so encouraged him through the years.
On the drive home, Alan and I were boasting about how grown-up and appropriate Dane was at the event. Truly. He was both gracious and grateful, engaged in conversation, and charming to the women. He talked football with the guys (even though the Frogs creamed the Longhorns), and was an encourager to parents who are still in the trenches with harmed children. As we were praising him, his brief reply was really profound, "I felt safe there."
And that is really what it's all about. We see the real Dane when he feels safe! Our high-risk son who suffered the horrible conditions of an orphanage, brain damage from fetal alcohol, and relationship harm of abandonment is a young adult who thrives when he feels safe. It's easy to feel safe at a gathering of 150+ people who believe in trust-based relationships and have been mesmerized by Miss Karyn. Don't we wish the whole world understood this?
We hear Karyn talk about "felt safety" all the time, but I don't think we deeply comprehend how often our kiddos don't feel safe. How can they feel safe when their little (or big) brains and bodies are on constant overload from sensory input, language delays, developmental lags, an over-reactive stress response system, and a true lack of knowledge about how relationships are supposed to work? Professionals, parents, and extended family members often treat these deficits with punitive or disapproving responses rather than looking to the need beneath the behavior. How can we help make our schools, churches, work places, and homes feel safe for kids from hard places so they can thrive?
Sometimes, even now, our home doesn't feel safe for our son. You'd think we'd have it down after 16 years of this life-changing information! But when we get stressed or over-tired or rushed, our home doesn't feel safe. When we think Dane should "get this by NOW" and have expectations that he can't always meet, our home doesn't feel safe. When we change plans too quickly and Dane reacts; then we in turn react instead of recognize that his brain processes differently, our home doesn't feel safe.
Last night was like a booster shot for me. Being with the TCU Institute folks reminds me of the value of safe places - creating safe places for kids, providing safe places for parents to find hope, and teaching about safe places to professionals.
And hearing Dane say he felt safe there has caused me to reflect on what things still aren't safe for him. I love that it's never too late to do a bit better. Trust-Based Relational Intervention is not something we transform to instantly. It is a process that comes in many layers, often over many years. It takes hard work and mindfulness of our own triggers, weaknesses, and even belief systems. As I always say, "It's more about you than you think it is." And a big "Me too" on that one!
So I'm slowing down the pace a bit to make space for safe places. I'm breathing deep and praying for God to show me when I'm still not quite attuned to what is causing distress. I'm saying "yes" today to pizza and football, even knowing that the outcome of the Texas Longhorn game might not feel safe to Dane... or his Daddy! How do you keep your home feeling safe?
P.S. It is important that you as a parent feel safe too, so take a look at your own safe places and safe people and take good care of YOU!