What Am I Willing To Do For Wholeness?



When my sister Katie was 22, she took a job as a preschool teacher at a Christian church.

She laughed, blithely, as she told me about it in one of our sporadic phone calls. She was in charge of twenty three-year-olds for a full day. Most of her students had not been fully potty trained. She only had an aide once an hour, for bathroom breaks.

She had no teaching experience.

I was nineteen, in college studying English. Had I tried to describe one of the circles of hell back then, I might have described my sister’s job. Children scared me. Little children especially: their noises, their abundant need, their unexpected screams.

Their aching, horrible vulnerability.

The reason children terrified me was because as a child I had sworn, over and over, that I would not forget what it was like. I was afraid of children because I was afraid of how I might hurt them if I lost control.

As Mary Karr put it in her book, The Art of Memoir, I passed my childhood “in a state of socially sanctioned disassociation” to keep from really taking in the central story of my family. It was this: both Katie and my older brother, Steve, spent most of our childhoods at a Christian children’s home called Sunshine Acres.

Their absence was hard. It grieved me. It undid me. But I still slept in my own bed at night.

They, however, grew up in institutions.

Katie stayed at the Acres for almost seven years. She bookended that experience with a traumatic stint at a psych ward at age nine, and months in treatment for eating disorders when she was seventeen and eighteen. And much as I know our parents wanted to parent her well when she lived with us, had that time been ideal, she wouldn’t have been sent away in the first place, right?

So my sister was bruised and battered from a ridiculously crappy childhood, and she signed up to be in charge of twenty screaming, pooping children.

It was madness.

Except—it wasn’t.

Years later, I started walking away from my habitual disassociation, and she and I started talking, really talking, about what happened back then. That’s when she told me about her first day at that job.

She told me she looked around at the chaos, and realized she could do one of two things. She could take out her frustration and bewilderment on these children when they pushed her buttons. It would have been understandable to choose this. It would have been natural.

But my sister chose differently. She decided to let them teach how to be the kind of parent she had not had.

The question my sister asked herself that day in her preschool class was this: what am I willing to do for wholeness?

It’s the question I keep asking myself.

How badly do I want to heal?

Am I willing to come undone to taste it? Am I ready to launch myself headlong into my fear? Am I ready to give up my coping mechanisms, my anger, my desire for revenge? Am I willing to stop telling myself I have no choice? Am I willing to stop pitying myself long enough to have empathy for other people?

What I love about my sister, and what I’m learning to cultivate in myself, is the readiness to throw myself off a cliff in order to heal.

The thirst for wholeness cannot be slaked with anything second-rate.

I have found, over and over, that the fierce, frenzied pursuit of wholeness is worth it. It is the parachute on our back when we go over a cliff. And it is the sweet taste of victory when we refuse to live afraid.

Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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