While cleaning the clutter around my house one day, I stumbled onto this photo that was tucked in the back of a bookcase. I’m around 20 months old here. I never thought much about this photo, because I didn’t think it was the cutest one—the black dress looked a little, well not like me. At the time of this photo we lived in New York City, so perhaps it was just the NYC black thing. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.
However, this time I pulled it out. I found myself drawn into the photo. I thought about what she was thinking. She was doing such a good job sitting still, while the photographer had her sit on a chair. I considered that this little one started walking when she was only 9 months old and was already potty-trained. She was about to meet her new brother, too. I looked at her little eyes, and wondered what she saw in those days. How she loved going to the park and being on her duck in the Karl Schurz Park nestled on Manhattan’s East Side.
I decided to take this picture up to my bedroom and placed it on my nightstand. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, initially.
I have been told by my body (via adrenal fatigue), good friends, the needs of my children, and my loving husband to have grace on myself, to treat myself, to take care of myself. While this concept was nothing so fresh and new that it led to any epiphanies, looking at this picture of my 20-month self one night, a rush of surprising feelings came. I thought about the life that lay ahead of her. Her presence on this earth. A rush of tears streamed down my face. All I could do at first was apologize to her. I told her that I should have taken better care of her. I should have listened to her, and dignified her with respect, honor and time. I should have been gentle and sweet to her and not exposed her to certain compromises and mistreatment. Oh my, it’s a long list. I felt her looking at me, saying, “It’s about time. I’ve needed you.”
What happened next was simple. I just kissed her. I kissed the photo and held it close to my chest. I felt her sweetness, her energy, her pure heart. And I heard God say, “Tell her you’ll take care of her from now on.” I pulled the little photo back and looking at her and kissing her again said, “I’m going to look out for you. I’m going to listen to you. I’m going to make room for you to live and be loved. I see your pure, devoted heart. I’m so proud of you. I’m so grateful for you. I enjoy you, and I’m so fortunate to be the one that loves you.” It was a while before something sad and heavy lifted from me. I was sort of sweaty from crying. Eventually, what washed over me was some sort of deeper confidence and resolution, an empowerment that I didn’t know was missing.
I was first her, before I was anything else—a therapist, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Jesus’ statement to love God and then to love others as I love myself was no longer some vast web of mystery and confusion. It was streamlined, simple and freeing.
How has this affected my everyday life? Instead of saying, I have to _____, I evaluate: is that necessary for today? Is that true for me? Recently, I was running on the treadmill and spoke to her, “I will run until you don’t want me to run anymore. I’m listening.” In fact, this month’s blog was going to be about another topic, but this is the one my little girl told me to write.
Grab a picture of your younger self. And look at him or her with no agenda. Just notice the details of the photo. What is that little one, God’s precious lamb, saying to you? We cannot rescue the adult without rescuing the child. See what ways you can rescue your little one today. Please feel free to post your little girl and boy pictures and let us hear from you what that child is saying to you.
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.