“You are a wonder,” Julia Roberts declares to her son in the movie Wonder. I gasped when I heard those words, because those same words were spoken to me just a month earlier.
Part of the group work for the Mind Body Skills sessions at the Cancer Caregivers workshop was a genogram exercise. I shared my family history, including the abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and suicides.
“How did you survive?” someone asked.
“The grace of God,” I replied.
“You are a wonder,” our group leader declared.
Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way and that God protected me.
Perhaps I was not physically safe, but my person—my essence, my spirit and soul, the parts of me that mattered most—were safe. God snatched me up and held me.
As a child, I felt as if I lived two lives—one inside my body and the other outside of it—and I felt both visible and invisible. I seemed to go unnoticed and my needs unattended to (invisible) but trauma happened to me (visible). I could not solve the mystery of this paradox; my only hope was in God.
I had good reason to trust God, because I knew what God had done for Jesus. I related to Jesus as an innocent victim and rejoiced in God’s intervention.
It took a lot of time (and some intense therapy) to get over the confusing messages of my childhood. At some point I realized I was always going to be broken and in need of healing; I would always be healing but never healed.
The introduction of a twelve-step program for adult children of alcoholics was a game-changer for me. Here were my people, others who had similar childhoods, who understood the paradoxes, who asked similar questions. We spoke the same language and shared knowing looks. I had come home.
One thing I did not share, though, was my having been called by God when I was eight. Like other paradoxes, this one made no sense. Why would God choose me? I was clearly damaged. I was not going to become a saint—or any kind of holy person. I was always going to be in need of healing, always seeking wholeness.
I recently read The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Toward the end of the book, Dr. Harris concludes that not all people who experienced childhood trauma are suffering. “In some people, adversity can foster perseverance, deepen empathy, strengthen the resolve to protect, and spark mini-superpowers, but in all people, it gets under our skin and into our DNA, and it becomes an important part of who we are.” (Page 218)
I am one of those whose early misfortune was transformed into gift. I can see the blessing in the curse and know that everything is possible with God, even bringing wholeness to a family tree with snapped branches.
It is a wonder.