Each year I want to remember to avoid air travel during Spring Break – but I forget. I got the reminder this morning when I was circling the parking lot like a red tailed hawk seeking a car to come out of a space like a gopher out of its hole.
The airports check in, security and boarding all confirmed – it was a school holiday. Children followed mom and dad throughout the lineups excited – wherever they were headed.
While going through security I could not find my noise cancelling headphones – my oasis of silence for flights. The instrument that I use to ensure I get lots of work done – missing. A faint memoric photo flash between synapses with an image of it sitting on my home office desk. A text message from son number three confirmed my fears “dad bose is on your office chair.” I realized I ‘d switched cases also leaving behind my backup – ear bud headphones. This was going to be a noisy flight. I was flying to Phoenix, the city that takes its name from the ancient Greek mythical firebird that rises again from it’s ashes after death.
Andrea and Ben
Beside me sat a brother and sister, Ben and Andrea. They were flying on their own for Spring Break to be with their mother in Phoenix. Ben was fifteen, Andrea just turned thirteen.
To look at them, Ben looked about two years younger than his chronological age while Andrea was trying to look five years older. Lulu-lemon athletic-wear accented by a Coach purse – she was acquainted with quality, and somebody was buying it for her. Ben was equally decked out with more electronic gadgets than I carry and it took him only seconds to get the two of them set up to watch a couple of episodes of Glee on DVD. They even had dual headphones (he writes with his head bowed in a mourning position.)
Andrea was sweet, polite, attractive and obviously not a traveling amateur. She reminded me of another Andrea I knew from our church years ago – a wonderful girl. Ben was one of the most polite young men I’ve encountered, often looking you right in the eye and saying ‘thank you.’ You can tell these two have done this travel thing before – several times. However, throughout the flight there were several behaviors that made me go ‘hmmmm.’ They seemed very close. Andrea often placed her hand on Ben’s shoulder or arm during turbulence and Ben was extremely gentle and kind to her, stepping up to the role of being her big brother.
The Glee episode ended and they ejected the DVD from the laptop.
“Who is your favorite singer on Glee?” I asked Andrea. Suddenly with bright blue eyes and full engagement she talked nonstop about her favorite songs, actors and episodes with Ben adding color commentary occasionally. I think she was thrilled to find an adult who knew anything about the show – we were new best friends. The two of them asked to be excused to use the lavatory – as I say, they were very polite.
On returning Andrea commented to Ben that she was hot so she removed her colorful logoed hoodie and rolled up the sleeves of her t-shirt. As she got settled in her seat she inadvertently exposed the lower side of her arm. It was covered with razor blade cuts – twenty to thirty on each arm in an array of patterned chaos. I looked away at first, not wanting to embarrass her. But then minutes later while typing on my laptop I asked, “How long have you been cutting?” – my eyes still looking at my screen.
You could tell she was looking at me, even Ben leaned forward, but was silent.
“Since I turned twelve” she said. I just kept typing.
“Why?” I quizzed.
“Well it is better than taking drugs” she responded with a confidence beyond her years.
“I suppose, but Andrea ‘why’ did you start cutting?”
“Other girls at my school do it too” the tone getting defensive. I closed the lid on my laptop making it suddenly darker in our row. Ben had turned away like he didn’t want to hear our conversation.
“Andrea, I’m a father – even a grandfather.” I backed this up by showing her photos of my sons, daughters and grandsons amidst lots of ‘Ahs.’
“I am just wanting to understand why a sharp, gifted, intelligent young woman like yourself would turn to cutting?”
“What difference does it make?” she asked, not in a defiant manner, but honestly wondering why it should matter what she does.
“I’m a mentor. That is what I do for a living, I mentor leaders – and I actually see a lot of leadership characteristics in you. So if you will allow me to put on a mentor hat for a minute, let me ask you a few questions?”
“Okay” Andrea replied just as Ben leaned forward and started listening again.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Ben laughed softly as I asked.
“No, I just turned thirteen you know.” replied Andrea, slightly embarrassed.
“Do you ever see yourself in a relationship with a boy – having a boyfriend?”
“Of course I do … he is going to be good looking, rich, fun to be with and knows where he is going in life.”
“Wow, you have your wish list established” She smiled at my response.
“Andrea, what type of girl do you think a young man like that would be attracted to?”
“Someone good looking and fun” she quipped knowing she had those two nailed.
“Sure those are two traits most would put on their list, but let me tell you what I have observed as a father of three boys – boys that would probably fit your criteria. They talked to me a lot more about finding a girl who was authentic, secure in herself, one who is honest and a good communicator and – get ready for the next one..” I paused while smiling. “Wait for it.. My boys were also looking for a gal who found security somewhere else – someone not totally dependent a boyfriend.”
“What? I don’t understand, what kind of security? I feel secure.”
“Do you? I’m talking about the kind of security you can get perhaps from your family, or from God.”
She looked at me, still fully engaged but obviously processing what I had just said. “My family is a disaster. (She avoided my God mention) My mom left us to live with her boyfriend because she found out about my dad’s girlfriend. Then they got divorced and my brother and I have to keep going to visit her cause she moved to Phoenix. My dad has to work extra hard now to pay her and he tries to make it up to us by buying us things.”
“Not that that is bad” Ben said cradling his new iPad.
“So is that ‘why’?” I referred Andrea back to my earlier question.
“I don’t know” she replied with a long drawn out ‘knooooow’, “but tell me about your boys.”
“Well what I am trying to share is that if I were your mentor I would be wanting you to achieve your goal of finding a nice boyfriend. I’d tell you that while cutting might give you a momentary high, it has left you all marked up. This will create temporary sympathy from some young men, but my guess is that the kind of boyfriend you would ‘like’ to have would actually be attracted to you in many ways but scared away by your cutting.”
Andrea rebutted, “Well I just won’t let him see.”
“Oh so you choose to not be authentic, to not reveal who you really are. That doesn’t win a man’s heart. Sounds like relational cheating is part of your family history, you don’t want to continue that pattern do you? Stuff like that gets passed on for generations.”
“Why do you care?” Andrea asked. She was wanting an answer, not fighting me.
“I care for you because God cares for you. You see Andrea I am a follower of Jesus, and my boys and I, we actually find out security in Him.”
Andrea and Ben stared at me like they had just looked in the rear view mirror of that SUV in the movie Jurassic Park. They didn’t say anything – just stared. I wondered if I had stepped over some invisible line. In their silence I asked, “You have heard of Jesus, right?” worried at what they might say given the look on their faces.
They didn’t answer as the wheels dropped on the aircraft and we entered the steep descent of final approach. “Well listen, there are over 2.1 billion men, women, teens and children around the world that would tell you what I want you to know. Jesus loves you and does want a relationship with you. He wants you to know that you can find your security in Him – He will not let you down.” I wrote out the name and email of Lia, an Arrow leader in Phoenix, who would be a perfect person to talk to if she wanted a break from her Mom’s situation. Lia could help Andrea with the encouragement to take next steps forward. I pray this dear phoenix can be raised up from the ashes of her life through a new relationship with Jesus.
As we stood amidst the busyness of disembarking Ben looked back at me saying, “Hey, thanks” with a grateful smile. Andrea was quiet and looking cared for with that ‘how did this conversation ever happen?’ look. I was grateful I didn’t have my noise canceling headphones on.
My friend and Arrow leader Brett Ullman shared these resources with me after reading the blog. – CP
http://www.yourstory.info – stories of students / parents who struggle with Self-injury
http://brettullman.com – a DVD called “Your Story: the wounding embrace” which is an hour talk on this subject. Not just information but what to we do if it is us who is struggling or if it is someone we live.
Marv Penner – Hope and Healing for Kids who Cut.
Patricia McCormick – Cut
Jerusha Clark – Inside a Cutters Mind