During the second week of Bostyn’s hospitalization for her eye infection, she was moved to a different floor. I began to notice that no matter what time of day or night—every time I would walk through the hall to go see her, I would hear a baby screaming in a nearby room. After a few days, I decided to go and ask the nurses if there was anything I could do for the crying baby.
At first, the nurse was very resistant to even talk about the crying child on the other side of the door, but after a few minutes of my persistence, she opened up. “You know, that poor little baby is dying. I can’t give you any details about her condition . . . but it has been the saddest thing I have ever had to watch as a nurse. Her parents are mad at God. They don’t understand why they are being punished, and since they know they are losing her, they hardly come to see her anymore. There is only so much time we can spend with her, and so she cries for her parents all day and all night.”
As I walked to Bostyn’s room, I wondered how a parent could get to that point. How could you remove yourself so far from your suffering child’s pain as to let your own emotions become more important than hers? I decided they had to be surrounded by walls or some sort of barrier that somehow prevented them from seeing their child’s needs. Somewhere along their journey, they had built an imaginary protection to shield themselves from the pain of losing her. Walls of fear or hate. Even at a time when their little baby needed them the most, they had allowed their emotions or their pride to keep them from her. It seemed that somewhere inside of themselves, they truly believed they were punishing God for their trial—but the only one suffering was their already terminally ill baby girl.
Each person who has ever lived has had a completely different experience in life. Some have found ways to trust their world, and others have been given every reason to never let anyone in. In my experiences of suffering intense pain—I have learned to build walls: walls of protection to keep myself safe, walls of hate to keep my heart from getting broken again, and walls of fear to keep all the scary parts of the world out.
People begin building walls around themselves anytime a negative experience teaches them to fear or hate the world. Our physical bodies, mental cognition, and emotional capabilities all play into the building of our “walls.” When we find ourselves in a state of crisis, our physical bodies automatically go into “fight or flight” mode. Our mental state is heightened and everything we feel or see is intensified. Every emotion is more powerful, and every pain is more excruciating. In that split second when all of the powers that make up our existence are on overload, our brains work together with our emotions to build walls of protection around us to ensure that the experience is never duplicated. Our physical bodies react to prevent us from ever again taking the same steps that led us to that pivotal moment of extreme stress.
It is during those times—when our emotional, mental, and physical selves come together to build walls to shield us from future pain—that we learn to block things out. We learn to shut things down, or run from the present to ensure the past is not duplicating itself. Our bodies prepare themselves to fight or to take flight.
And that is where our triggers come into play. If we have had an experience that has caused us to build a wall, and something happens that threatens to duplicate that past experience—triggers fire and our subconscious takes us back to the fight or flight mechanism that occurred during the original situation. Sometimes it is obvious when these walls were built, and other times, we have no clue why or when we constructed them in the first place.
As I faced the task of trying to build a new family at the same time as waiting for a murder trial, it seemed as if I was surrounded by an imaginary structure of walls. It was obvious how some of those walls were built, but I don’t know that I will ever know for sure why others were erected.
However, one thing is for sure—for every reason I found to dig my deep hole of despair and build my massive walls, my family gave me a reason to climb out of the hole and break down the walls. It seemed that on all those days our blended-family misunderstandings occurred, they caused us to build new walls. But after every dark day, we began experiencing simple moments of love and hope, and the purity of those emotions helped us break down our newly-constructed walls.
Then just when I thought I had it all figured out, it seemed as if I’d get thrown a curve ball, or learn a new fact about the criminal case that would drill a new hole inside of me and create a new pain. From where I stood . . . my life seemed complete, and yet—I did not feel whole. But despite my walls of protection, Shawn continued to pull me up on the really dark days.
One afternoon, after I had received a difficult phone call from the detectives telling me about a disturbing piece of information they’d found on Emmett’s computer, I was really struggling. Walls of fear were shooting up all around me, and as the afternoon progressed, I could feel the darkness of the facts I’d been told surround me. Receiving new information about Emmett’s past didn’t change anything—but it still threatened my ability to move forward with faith toward the future.
Shawn came home early from work that day and told us all to load up into the car. The thought crossed my mind to just go get in bed and send everyone else with him, but I got in and buckled my seatbelt. Nobody knew where we were going. The kids laughed and joked as we drove. I was silent in the front seat, still surrounded by my gloom. I could hear the kids begging Shawn to tell them where we were headed, but he held firm and kept our destination a surprise. I remained quiet, rehearsing the past in my mind, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong in an effort to prevent any future tragedies.
Soon the car came to a halt as we pulled up to the most beat up bowling alley I’d ever seen. Shawn looked over at me and said, “Here we are! This is what we ALL need today.”
It didn’t look very promising, but we all piled out of the car. Shawn grabbed Ty’s car seat and I plopped Kaleeya onto my hip. Hand in hand, the big kids marched inside, and with delight, they bowled their little hearts out and laughed their heads off. The kids were so excited to be together playing as a family that it was as if that little run down bowling alley were Disneyland.
At one point, I sat on the bench and just watched. The smiles on their faces and the spirit in their giggles began to break down the wall of fear that had been building up around me all day. The earlier phone conversation began to fade from my mind as I watched my family members smile in joy. At that moment, tears rolled down my face, but they were tears of gratitude. I smiled as I saw my crew come together and laugh. I was grateful for a husband who knew how to play, even when everything around me told me to fight . . . or flee. Shawn knew how to smile and help us step away from the heavy parts of our life. He helped me see that even though I was surrounded by walls, we could break them down together.
For every hole that had been drilled into my heart,
I had to find a new way to keep it beating—
and sometimes the best medicine was love and laughter.
Despite my irrational internal belief that our life together couldn’t really begin until after the trial, Shawn was determined to start new traditions. I remember our first New Year’s Eve together as if it were yesterday. He had all these grand ideas of what the night would be like. He carried each child’s mattress down the stairs and pulled ours off of our bed, then positioned them around the living room floor for a “camp out.” At first, it just seemed like a ridiculous amount of work and a great big mess, but as the night went on—I began to see the wisdom in his plan. We laughed together until midnight as the New Year began.
I remember holding Shawn’s hand under our blanket and actually experiencing a glimpse of being whole. I remember kissing each child on his or her cheek that night, praying with all my heart that the New Year would bring us peace. My only New Year’s Resolution was to not have any more change. I wished for normalcy to come my way, where the only cares I had were what to make for lunch and what movie to see on date night. I hoped for a year of pure, sweet, tender moments that could remind me over and over again of what I was fighting so hard for.
And boy did I fight! I fought every day to find myself. I prayed every hour not to hate. I cried every night for the answers I still yearned to hear. But more and more, I also prayed for the ability to laugh. I yearned for the power to smile. I fought for the desire that once came naturally—to love. I begged God for the sparkle I used to have in my eye to one day shine brighter than it ever had before. I begged every night to one day feel whole again, and to have the walls that had come to block my view crumble.
Although my fight to obtain these blessings seemed to never cease, I began to see more of the little glimmers of sunshine as they came into view. I tried hard to let the fun parts of life into my heart. I searched for reasons to smile, even when my heart was breaking.
Walls. Each of us has built them—but building them is not the hard part. The challenge comes when we must break them down. A country is built one city at a time; a city is built street by street; a street is built one house at a time; a house is built wall by wall. Just like a house is built with walls to protect what is inside, we too build walls around us: walls of protection, but also walls of fear, and walls of hate. Some of these walls are necessary for us to progress in life, and yet . . . most of them hold us back from where we really want to be.
All the days of our lives, we will either be building or breaking down these imaginary—and yet very real—barriers. It will be a constant cycle of progression. Some days, pieces of the bricks will fall, and on other days, new bricks will form.
Walls are a protective mechanism to help your soul feel safe, but they can also stop you from truly giving and receiving love. Whatever emotion has created the foundation of your walls, love can crack each brick: loving those around you, loving those who have hurt you, and most importantly loving yourself. As those walls get broken down, piece by piece, you will begin to feel the love of those who believe in you. You will begin to see your worth in this world, and you will be able to feel the love that God has for you. Every day of your life, you can have the gift to see your worth.
I have always wondered what it will be like to grow old and look back on my life. What bricks will I have willingly built around myself, and what walls will I have fought my way through? What will I wish I had done differently, and what will I be glad I didn’t forget?
If you were on your deathbed at this very moment, what would you regret? I don’t think that before dying, many people would wish they had spent more time at work. Most would probably not wish they had taken another trip or made more money to buy another car. I doubt our last words would be about not having built a bigger house or about the boat we never had.
I think most of our regrets will be about our relationships. We will remember the times we failed our loved ones, failed to teach them truth, failed to be there when they needed us, failed to show them they played a part in helping us through some of our hard times, and failed to forgive them for any pains they may have caused us. But I think even more, we will regret the times we failed—or refused—to say we were sorry. We will regret the moments others needed us, but we did not let them in, and the times when the walls we’d built around ourselves prevented us from being who we wanted to be. It’s the relationships in our lives that we will look back upon and wish we could do over—not the “stuff” we did or did not have. We will wish we would have let our loved ones in, and not pushed people away.
We build walls to keep ourselves safe. Abuse or neglect create foundations on which many people construct walls so as to never let anyone get close to them ever again. Physical pain and emotional abuse generate barriers that remain with victims as they try to find a way to survive with the shields they have erected to block out the world. With such walls surrounding us—we are not able to live life to the fullest.
Fear doesn’t have to shut you down. When you have those moments when the walls you’ve built seem to shut everyone else out—pray to your God that He can help you break them down. Ask for His hand to guide you to the freedom you seek from your past.
Forgiveness is the answer to broken hearts. Love is the power that can break down your walls of darkness. Maybe love doesn’t change your son’s negative behaviors, but at least, he still knows you care. Maybe finding happiness does not mean your husband comes back to life, or leaves his mistress to come home. Maybe your mother never turns from her selfish ways that made her abandon you during a time of need. Maybe forgiveness doesn’t save your marriage, but it can save your soul. Maybe hope doesn’t save your baby dying in a hospital bed, but at least her last breaths were spent in your arms.
Sometimes our relationships are part of our test. The loss of a loved one, and their pain bring us times of doubt in ourselves and in God. I believe it is all part of our test—to see where our hearts belong. Is our love for God only apparent when our lives are perfect, or is our faith in Him unconditional, and not based upon what we’ve been given or where we are in life?
We don’t have to shut each other out. We don’t have to flee or fight our way out of our pain. There is a gift given to all of us that can break down those walls. Love, hope, and faith are the foundations upon which our lives can be built. Through the grace of God, all wrongs can be made right. All of our relationships can grow, and all of our walls of fear and hate can erode.
Not all days will be bright, but there is light in each one. Before you build a wall to keep the darkness out, make sure it doesn’t block you from the light. Break the bricks that are forming around you, crumble the towers that are keeping everyone out, and crack the walls of fear that stop you from smiling. Yesterday might have taught you to shut out the world, but today is the day to break through those barriers so the light can be seen.
Questions to Ponder:
- How can forgiving and loving others unconditionally help you break down walls?
- What relationships need mending in your life?
- What walls are preventing you from having fulfilling relationships?
Check out this post in the Charity Badge