Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Picking Up The Pieces

Earlier this year Chup and I had the opportunity to visit Youth Village, a home for severely abused children. After I posted about our visit here, Lynsey commented about her time as a "family teacher" in a Youth Village home. I asked her if she would be interested in writing about her experience--specifically how she found and maintains personal boundaries. This essay has been very enlightening to read for both Chup and me, I hope it will help you too. Thank you Lynsey!

Picking up the Pieces: 
A Story About Boundaries and Love
by Lynsey Steadman Strader

In 2007 I was living in North Carolina with my husband Ben and our two-year old son, managing a Group Home for teenagers with various mental health diagnoses.  We spent 2 weeks being trained and warned about what we would encounter during our year as “Family Teachers.”

We were not prepared.

Two weeks into the job, I watched as a raging 16-year-old boy stood on the kitchen counter and sent every glass dish crashing to the floor.  He moved through the house, throwing books off the shelves, overturning couches, yelling and cursing.  Then he picked up a fork and scraped it down his arm repeatedly until blood was drawn while sitting on the couch as I taught our Family Home Evening lesson to the other kids.

That night ended with over $5,000 of damage. In addition to the shattered glassware, several holes were punched in walls, glass doors were broken and the company van had half of a large expletive scratched in it before my husband finally had to restrain him while the police were called.  When he threatened to kill Ben in front of them, he was handcuffed and taken to jail.  

He returned to the home the next day.

To say I struggled in this job would be an understatement.  I was born a peacemaker who shied away from confrontation. Living inside this home triggered my anxiety that manifested as insomnia, constantly feeling on-edge, and terrifying nightmares.  I felt like I was suffocating in the chaos of screaming kids, broken walls, and shattered dishes.

Though the first few months at the group home were traumatic, they were integral in altering the course of my life. It was the first time I realized the importance of having boundaries in relationships.  

Learning how to simultaneously keep boundaries and show love was challenging.  I felt I was given a gift from God that allowed me to strip away the troubled layers, seeing them as His wounded and broken sons and daughters, but it left my heart open -- raw and easily accessible for them to continually break it.  It was difficult to not internalize their tragic beginnings and not allow it to excuse their present behavior.  

To protect myself, I needed to share only pieces of my heart but, at the time, I didn’t know how. I vacillated between loving them so much it hurt and forcing myself to shut down, watching their self-destruction from the sidelines. 

Through trial, error, and time spent on my knees conversing with God, I learned with each "no" I said and each boundary I set, my skin grew thicker.  The kids knew what to expect, and the boundaries set up the ability for me to emotionally remove myself when needed. 

When our contract ended, the choice to leave was both heart wrenching and exhilarating.  As we settled into our post-group home life, I could breathe deeply and found sleep again.  Yet, my struggles with boundaries were not over.  I noticed parallels between relationships in my life and relationships with the teenagers.  I kept many people at arms-length because when I truly loved someone, it didn’t matter whether they were in a healthy place or not, I gave them my whole heart and they often took advantage of it.  When I had had enough, I walked myself through the doors of therapy.  I knew what was wrong; I just didn’t know how to fix it.  

In therapy I was taught this truth:  Boundaries = Self-Worth.

I had previously lived in a world of relationships without boundaries.  I avoided confrontation because I was afraid of hurting others, or worse, making them angry, convincing myself that I was being humble and Christ-like by "keeping the peace". I apologized for my emotions, for things I had or hadn't done.  The truth is, by allowing others to treat me in ways that were damaging, I wasn’t only telling them I deserved it, I was telling myself I deserved it.  The treatment I accepted was equivalent to what I thought I was worth.  These patterns were all I had known.  How was I going to start over from scratch? Who was I without them? 

In therapy, I learned to recognize and create healthy relationships.  It was not an easy process, and at times it felt like I was extracting a limb from my body.  I wrote lists of characteristics I imagined existed in healthy relationships... things I was learning I deserved... things I needed to not only receive, but would also be willing to give.  I wrote the steps I would take when someone crossed the line from healthy behaviors to unhealthy. 

My therapist warned me that as I started putting these boundaries into practice, the unhealthy relationships in my life would struggle.   She was right.  The individuals with whom I shared these sorts of relationships reacted with swift anger, cruel words and a constant questioning of my intentions.  I had to remind myself that allowing others to encroach on these boundaries was not showing love for them, it was showing a lack of love for myself.

My goal was to be able to live a life of emotional integrity and to truly know who I was deep down inside. I wanted to find and master the ability to stand in a room with any individual, set my own boundaries, and not allow their choices, actions or words to sway my opinion of myself. It was also important, in learning to set boundaries, that I retain the gift I felt I had been given to see past someone's troubled layers and love them unconditionally…to be able to stand up for myself while continuing to hold on to the soft parts I possessed. I wanted to find the balance.

As part of this process, I needed to clarify my personal spiritual beliefs. I had been born into a religion that was integrated and sewn into every aspect of my life. I needed to understand where religion ended and God began.  For several months I focused solely on finding my personal relationship to Divinity.

I discovered there is a fine line between guilt and shame. When I made a mistake, I felt unforgivable.  My relationship with God mirrored the relationships in my life, based on fear and guilt, feeling that I would never be able to measure up to His standards.  I realized I was taking my own feelings of self-loathing and projecting them onto God.  If I didn’t love myself or feel worthy of forgiveness, how could I expect those things from Him?

I gave myself a challenge, saying the same prayer for 30 days.  ‘Please help me to know your love, to feel it, see it and recognize it.  Help me to see me the way you see me.’  I knew I would have to work to find an answer to this prayer.  I committed to taking time to care for myself every day.  I did affirmations daily and somewhere along the way, I began to believe them.

And I promised God that I would make a conscious effort to seek Him.  

I began to see how much He loves me, and how much He always has. It became clear when I opened my eyes and finally focused on the good of His love. The good in the times I was offered friendship, kindness, forgiveness, understanding and mercy.  The good when I discovered that His love for me was reflected in the unconditional love from my children, and in the way that I loved them.  I began to see how my feelings for them paralleled His for me. Their weaknesses, strengths, perfections and imperfections became more acute and my heart was full of adoration for them, not in spite of their shortcomings, but because of them.  In those sacred moments, I could see my children for who they really are and my spirit resonated with this whispered truth: “This is exactly how He feels about you."

One step at a time, one day at a time, the broken cracks in my soul began to heal.  Fear and shame were relinquished from my relationship with God.  Spirituality and religion came together, merging easily.  As I implemented new boundaries, the unhealthy relationships in my life fell away, while the relationships that were based on love were strengthened. 

I think back on those frightening, life-changing moments, living among broken furniture and shattered glass in the Group Home and I now feel grateful. That year led me to seek out and claim a measure of peace and love for myself that had not existed before. While I’m not finished, I know I’m now on the right path.  And that, for me, is enough.


Jana said...

LOVE this! And I wrote that prayer down.

Lisette said...

My husband and I went through a very eye opening foster parent training, but for several reasons decided in the end it was not a good fit for us at this time. Anyone who loves mankind enough to help these struggling children are miraculous and courageous in their own right.

Andrea Parks said...

Beautiful!! I feel like all of us- especially women- need this lesson.... Boundaries= self worth! Thank you for sharing this. This is not something I was taught as a child- I thought the more I gave the more they would feel loved. But we actually model love to them when we love ourselves.

Lauren Horsley said...

So amazing. This post took my breath away when I first read it because it hits at the core of what the world constantly tries to rob us of - our inherent self worth. Lynsey's journey of discovering the source of that love from within is truly inspiring to me. Beautifully written, gracefully shared. Thank you so much.

it"s me said...

Thank you for sharing this. It truly resonated with me. I have come to some of the revelations here. But, have gained new insights from reading this. I will make that my prayer..becuase that where it all begins..with ourselves.

emilia. said...

this is awesome.

Kirsty said...

Thank you! Life changing.

Sara Jolie said...

The paragraph that begins "I had previously lived in a world of relationships without boundaries." exactly describes my first twenty years of life. I was constantly saying sorry and thinking I just needed to be more and more kind to be a peacemaker but in reality I was being disrespected and used all the time. Boundaries are so important to just finding peace for oneself. I loved this.

Melissa Johnson said...

This was the answer to my prayer today. Thank you.

Jennifer P said...

While I think it's admirable that the LDS church provides so many social services, I am frankly horrified that people with two weeks of training would be asked to work with children in such distress. Faith and service are good things to offer, but there are many situations that require professionals and this certainly sounds like one of them. It's not fair to the children or to the people asked working there.

Cathy said...

Wow! Thank you.

Shari said...

Thank you so much for this. This is very similar to my own story except I am in the middle of it. Much of the time I feel alone in this struggle but it is nice to read about others experience with similar self beliefs.
I work at a title one school where it is 90% free and reduce lunch besides having two homeless shelters in the boundaries. I was shutting everyone out because it would just suck the life out of me and couldn't allow myself to get more hurt than I already felt from life. It hurt too much to love them. I didn't realize how broken I was until I was in this setting around children who were also broken. I went to counseling for a year but still needed something more so I switched to having a life coach. She was amazing and really focuses on setting boundaries and loving self before you can love other people.
The thing that stood out to me in this post the most is the line that says "I needed to understand where religion ended and God began." I am doing that right now! It surprised me to see this similarity. I came to a point where I needed to know how I stood with God. I have been praying daily a very similar prayer and have spent a lot of time in quiet meditation.
Thank you again for this post.

Michelle said...

I needed this today, this week. Thank you.

Me said...

The biggest problem this lady had--was that she was looking for unconditional love. There is NO such thing. Love is taught, love is learned--love is BUILT upon conditions--which is why boundaries (conditions)=self worth. Without them--there is not love. This is true with "every day" people--and with our Lord. If she researched what Elder Nelson has said about this--she would fine that love is infinite and eternal--but not--never, ever without conditions!!! And now--everyone else who reads this can go and try to argue it--but I have found that this is completely and eternally true. It is my boundary. Find it out for yourself!!! Pray and ask.

delilas said...

Great Guess Post and a lot to chew on. Thanks Lynsey and cjane!

Megan said...

I feel like she was in my brain! Thank you for this!

Jennifer B. said...

Great essay Lynsey! Thank you! It peaked my interest--what kind of boundaries? I would love to read more and learn additional details about the kinds of boundaries people need in healthy relationships and how to establish them. Where can I read more? Do you have any recommendations?

kristy said...

more!!! I need to understand this in more depth. My mind has been opened to see more clearly my own problems and the roots of them. Yet, at the same time, I now have more questions than ever. Thank you for this post!

Rachel Chick said...

I love this so much! What a beautiful essay. It touched my heart and really hits home in the journey that all of us are making to find our relationship with God. Thank you, Lynsey, for your courage in writing this. And thank you, C.Jane. What an excellent post.

@Jennifer P - I'm pretty certain that the Youth Village program has no affiliation with the LDS church and the family teachers are not volunteers or "asked" to work there. I imagine that the interviewing and training for these individuals and the psychiatric care of these children is much more intensive than you are assuming.

the fam said...

jennifer p - there are so many broken people in the world, there are not enough professionals to handle them all. unless we all become adept at reaching out to those in our circles of influence, the world will never change. God doesn’t call professionals, he calls us.

Kara said...

Wow, thank you. I am learning these exact same things in counseling about myself right now. Now that I know some of my patterns, it is time for me to get on my knees and ask for help. Thanks for this.

T said...

From what I understand, being 'family teachers,' as this woman and her family were, is simply a PART of a child's treatment. This is not therapy, but an opportunity for a child who has never experienced healthy family life, to see a model of how a 'normal' family functions. This arrangement serves as a daily training ground to reinforce and fine-tune what the children are working on in therapy. While living in a family situation, children are given the opportunity to learn the basic skills of belonging to a family group and how to recognize and nurture safe, loving relationships. These are life skills that many children do not get the opportunity to learn. I think it's a phenomenal idea to have 'regular' people join forces with therapist and other highly trained professionals to provide a safe cradle of healing for the wounded child. What a great gift this family gave! I, for one, am deeply grateful for their willingness to surrender their own lives to allow other children the opportunity to find something they may never have known otherwise. Thank you!

I appreciate this post and the way that it illuminates the need for loving, but firm personal boundaries. It is the kindest skill we will learn in our whole lives, and it is usually a life-long endeavor to find the perfect balance between protecting our hearts while also maintaining the ability to offer it up freely. Your journey is a beautiful example of this, and I am encouraged by the things you shared.

lynsey said...

Oh my goodness, thank you so much for all of your incredible comments! I truly appreciate them so much.


You absolutely nailed it. Our roles as Family Teachers was to do our best to mirror a healthy home life for the kids we lived with, with the hope and intent that they could learn to have stable relationships that had real emotional connection attached to them when they returned to their own homes. Other group homes do not have the therapeutic teachings that came with ours, and the employees are there, but clock in and out, with the ability to go back to their "real" homes while the kids remained.

The Teaching Family Model is one my husband and I have become extremely passionate about, because so many of the kids we lived with had severe emotional attachment issues, which often led to severe physical reactions, causing them to be temporarily removed from the home for the safety of themselves and others. Modeling a family helped the kids to learn how to form attachments and relationships with people who truly cared about, while simultaneously teaching them life skills, coping skills, anger management skills, etc.

Each of the kids we lived with had an entire TEAM surrounding them, featuring biological/adoptive parents, therapists, psychiatrists, school counselors, etc. We were only a piece of that puzzle.

Yes, our training was 2 weeks long, but it was 8 hours a day of INTENSE training, shadowing, restraint techniques, etc. The owners of the company had lived in and managed the same home for years and knew exactly what to teach us, they are amazing people. However, nothing can really "train" you for this experience because there are so many variables. It is one that had to be learned hands-on, as we actually took on the roles of Family Teachers and worked our way through it.

We were also not abandoned after our training. We had several strong and incredibly supportive employees there with us almost daily, an amazing supervisor who was available in person and by phone, and the owners of the company were also part of our support network.

This company was not provided or funded by the LDS church. The owners are LDS, and often hired LDS couples to work as Family Teachers, but it was a position that my husband and I researched and applied for. I know there are other services like this provided by the LDS church, but this was not one of them.

Because of the length of this post, these were details I had to leave out, but am happy to share.

As far as going into more detail about boundaries, it's one I could write a post on just by itself. It's something that has taken me a few years to figure out how to do them the right way, for me. It's helped helped me to find an incredible amount of peace. I've been writing about it on my personal blog, and am posting in sections to hopefully make it easy to follow and not overwhelming, because starting to implement boundaries can absolutely feel overwhelming in the beginning.

Thank you again for reading this post and for your supportive feedback! And especially to CJane for posting it!

~Lynsey Strader

Julie said...

Boundaries define what there is about you to love.

Boundaries are
1. kind
2. gentle
3. respectful
4. firm

You do not need to justify or defend your boundaries.

Validation works, and yet it does not cause you to sacrifice your boundaries.


The above info. I got from a class taught by:
Joy and Gary Lundberg
It has and continues to change my life for the better.

THANK YOU so much for writing about this!! I wish I had known earlier... So much earlier. I am turning 50 this year. Happy Bday to CJane! Thanks for being brave.

marie said...

This guest post made me cry, for she has described my experience, minus the group home. I came to a very painful realization several years ago that a close relationship that I thought was built on love and respect was actually built on control. It nearly destroyed me, but I have survived and learned to not feel guilty about loving and standing up for myself. I learned that the greatest love one can have for another person is to stand up for what is right and true. I learned that it is just as wrong for someone to hurt me as it is for them to hurt anyone else. That sounds so obvious to say it, but to accept that truth was very difficult, and learning how to challenge that behavior towards me took all my strength, and I never could have gotten through it without the Lord's help. Interestingly, this person that I had to stand up to is still a part of my life and they are much, much happier now than they were when I was allowing them to walk all over me. They have recognized the error of their ways to a large extent, even though there are still struggles, but it has been worth it. I wouldn't trade my experiences and the knowledge and strength I've gained from it for anything in the world. Thank you so much, Lynsey for your guest post.

melissa34 said...

@ Me, I think that the Atonement is unconditional love which does exist. Christ has already paid for my sins, pains and sorrows without me having to do anything.

Celeste said...

as a comment poster said: thank you courtney for being brave. your blog is ALWAYS a bright spot in my day. it dares me to be brave too.

Mrs. Mari said...

Thank yo sharing your amazing story.
Blessings, Mari

Elyssium Earth said...

Awesome. Just what I needed. Thanks Lynsey.

chanel said...

sooooooo very very good. insightful. never thought about so much of this, yet it is exactly what i need. thank you!!!

Nicole Bruderer said...

This was an extremely powerful post that spoke straight to my people-pleasing (boundary-crossing) self. I'm working on teaching my 3 daughters to have enough self-worth that they don't need to sacrifice their true selves to please others, and this is such a beautiful perspective on that. Thanks for sharing Lynsey. And Courtney, I love where you blog is going--thanks for the important and thought provoking posts you're writing and for the guest posts that you're sharing.

A miracle a day keeps Satan away said...


I just moved to Virginia Beach, Va and I need something like this for my son. I have just started the process of putting him in a group home and really wanted something LDS. How do I look up "info" to see if there is something in my area or I can move to North Carolina if needed. May I have the name of the company so I can reseach it PLEASE!! I am desperate to help for my son to learn how to control his anger, learn social skills, etc. I am a single Mom and I am starting to get afraid of him and he is only 13. email me jeanean at hotmail dot com Thanks in advance!!! You might be the answer to a very long lasting prayer!!! Jeanean