What Our Children Really Need to Know
By Debbie Milam
Christmas morning, although our family was in the midst of healing from a month of trauma; love and prosperity filled our home. The contrast of emotions and our experience made the joy ever more palpable. We opened presents, enjoyed each others company and savored a delicious breakfast feast. All was well in our home, until my 13 year old, usually mild mannered son, began ranting and raving. He was furious; I had forgotten to buy several items he needed to prepare his famous pound cake recipe that he intended to serve at Christmas dinner. His anger escalated when he thought that every store was closed for the holiday.
My intuition kicked into high gear, remembering that our local Walgreen's never, ever closed. I hopped into the car thinking I would run into the store quickly, get what I needed and head home. Little did I know that God had a profound lesson waiting for me.
As I gathered the sugar, eggs and butter I noticed a young man about 16 or 17. Every inch of his body was covered in tattoos and multiple piercing. Although his appearance attracted my attention, what was most evident was the level of pain and sadness on this young man's face. It was a look of utter despair, deep loneliness, and mournful suffering.
Maybe I was able to see this teenager's suffering because of the pain our family had felt this past month. Maybe all of the deep grieving we had experienced from the traumatic events in our lives had opened up my heart to a deeper level of empathy.
My heart expanded with compassion, thinking this was someone's child in the deepest state of despair. I began to pray for him, asking God to surround him in comfort. Each aisle I walked down, he was there, not following me but there for me to notice and to continue to pray for.
Knowing the power of prayer and trusting God would take care of this child, I thought the whole experience was over, paid for my items and walked out of the store. As I left the store once again I was confronted with this precious child of God. The young man sat on a bench with his face buried in his hands. In all of my life I do not think I have ever seen a sadder sight. Here it was Christmas morning when most families are together and this teenager was alone, in utter despair.
In my mind I called out to God, please show me how to uplift this young man. Do I need to sit with him, do I need to call Mental Health Services, do I need to bring him home with me? Then the still, small voice spoke to my heart; buy him a present, show him that someone notices him and cares that he is here.
I quickly ran back into the store and bought him a small gift. As I exited the store I approached this young man. I handed him the present and wished him a Merry Christmas. He looked completely shocked. I began to speak, telling him that I noticed how sad he looked and that I wanted to do something to cheer him up. As he listened he burst into tears. Through his crying he kept saying over and over again, "God bless you, thank you, you do not know how much this means to me." I said you're welcome and asked him if he was going to be alright. Within moments his entire presence changed and for the first time I saw his beautiful smile. He said now he would be okay.
As I got into my car, a flood of tears flowed down my face. Could a simple act of noticing a teenager's pain change their lives? Could a small gift to acknowledge another human being's suffering uplift them? I will never know how this encounter changed this young man's life. All I know is that my life will never be the same. This young man was an angel, bringing me so many profound lessons. I was able to see that spite of our own family's suffering we had each other to lean on. I was able to remember that through our challenges we grow in compassion. Finally, I was able to understand that every child needs to be loved, noticed, acknowledged and connected to others.
Take time today to notice the children in your lives, the ones that cross your path. Reach out beyond your own comfort zone and help another feel connected and acknowledged. May you and your children always have someone there when you need them.
Debbie Milam is an occupational therapist and parenting coach, her work has been featured in over 300 media outlets including The Miami Herald, Elle, Ladies Home Journal, PBS and The Hallmark Channel.