Family and Friends/Family Problems/My Relationships Forced to Grow Up by Valentina Javier My parents got divorced when I was four years old. My mother, now a single mom with two kids, did everything in her power not to let the divorce destroy mine and my brother’s view of family. She fought to make sure we had everything we needed — especially a father figure. This father figure came to us in a very real way early on through my stepfather, but this new blessing didn’t come without its challenges. My mom and stepfather’s relationship had a number of rough patches. They were constantly fighting, most of which had a tendency to escalate beyond words (we still nervously chuckle at some of the holes in the wall from objects that were hurled during such altercations). When the fights got out of hand, everyone entered a state of self-defense — survival of the fittest. As the oldest child in the family, it was my job to be the protector, not only of myself, but of my brother and new baby sister as well. I was my siblings’ shield. As the arguments erupted, my inclination was not to take care of my own fear or distress, but to guard my siblings from experiencing anything that could hurt them.I accepted the role as their guardian and defender in what felt like a never-ending battle, during which I constantly repeated to myself, “You’re the oldest. Keep it together. They need you.” In the midst of it all, I was also my mother’s best friend and my stepdad’s handkerchief. When the fights would subside they would each come to me, unload their pain, and trust in me to give them words to magically fix the emotional devastation that had taken place. At the time, I thought this as a badge of honor. I saw myself as the hero — the glue that kept my family together. It was my job to bring everyone back together and I was good at it. This magical power though — this ability to be a parent, friend, and counselor all at once — made me grow up and robbed a piece of my childhood. Unfortunately, I did not realize just how numb I had become to the pain left in the aftermath of each fight. I didn’t see any of it as a problem — this was just our reality, our “normal” life. Wake up to Reality The effects of my family’s brokenness hit me like a brick one night at youth group. We were having a “healing night” that focused on the love of God. My youth leader went on and on explaining that we have a Father, God, who loves us beyond all things. Then, he invited us to pray, to speak to God and open our hearts to His love. My world began to collapse. Although a thousand questions about who this “God” was were rushing through my brain, my heart was on fire. Then came the brick that crushed it all — they sang “Niña de tus ojos.” (This Spanish worship song is written from the perspective of a woman who is seen by her God who created her and sees her as if she’s the only one in the world.) I was done. As the choir sang, I realized how much I wanted to be that beloved child. With tears running down my face, I felt for the first time every wound and every scar I had been numb to for so long. It all hit me — I was not OK. That night changed my life. For the first time I saw the hidden wounds of my past from being the “adult” in the brokenness that was my parents’ relationship, as well as the medicine I needed to heal those wounds — God’s love. Be His Child A lot of us are forced to grow up too soon. Different situations happen in life that push us from young and innocent, with no concept of fear and pain, to adulthood filled with anxiety, pain, and suffering. Maybe some of you, like me, have experienced the effects of divorce. Maybe you’ve been separated from your parents and have been forced to be the grown up in the house and raise your siblings. Maybe you’ve seen your parents abusing one another, verbally or physically, or you’ve gone through some other unbelievably difficult circumstance that has stripped you of your innocence and childhood. In these moments, we are tempted to hold it all together and be strong for everyone around us. But we have to remember that we are not supposed to do it on our own. We are still children called to rely on the love of the Father. No matter what your situation, hold in your heart the following verse: “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10). In your wilderness, in the emptiness of your desert, God throws His loving arms around you and holds you as His child, as the apple of His eye. You are so dearly loved by Him. You are defended and protected by Him. Though the situation may feel like it’s breaking you beyond repair, God is there holding you tight and loving you through it all. The moment you think you have to resolve every situation and fix every problem, is the moment the Lord wants you to turn to Him so He can comfort and console you. In the depths of your heartache, you are accompanied and cared for by a God who will never leave your side. Let HIM heal YOU This beautiful love, this incredible healing given to us by God, can only be received if we open ourselves to Him. In this midst of your brokenness, take a moment to open your heart to Him. God doesn’t expect you to “fix” yourself (on top of fixing everything else). He is willing to do all of the heavy lifting. He is ready to clean up the mess that is too much for you to handle — You just have to let Him. Cry out to Him in prayer: “Lord, I am lost in this desert. I need you; please, hold me like the apple of your eye.” He is ready, willing, and yearning to heal and love you. Waste no more time — call out and welcome Him in. Yes, my situation was difficult; it tore me apart and broke me down at times. But I realize now that it gave way to an opportunity for God to show me His immense and incredible love. God used every fight, every scream, every heartbreak to love me and care for me like no one in this world could. He used those situations to make me stronger, to make me better, to build a spirit within me that is able to withstand the winds of any storm. And that is precisely what He would like to do for you, too.