Little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned. -Alma 32:23
Yesterday the final speaker in our Church meeting was a man with an inspiring story. He had been raised in the Church but fell into troubled paths after some family trauma in his childhood. I loved when he declared with no shame in his demeanor, “I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.” After spending some time in jail, he made the decision to change his life and began to turn to God. Now he shares his story to give hope and strength to others who are struggling. I was so grateful that I was privileged to hear him speak, but I loved his story even more after what happened last night.
My husband had fallen asleep on the couch, and I was giving my 5-year-old daughter a haircut. Police search helicopters were out, but I was tuning them out. Their sound is a familiar (almost nightly) backdrop to our evenings. Phoenix is like that, but I always feel safe in our little neighborhood full of mostly retired and elderly people.
Then I heard what sounded like someone running across our flat roof. And my oldest daughter came into our impromptu hair-salon a few moments later, saying, “I think someone was running across the house!” Still, I didn’t really think much of it. I wondered if the sound might have been related to the search helicopters, but I was also too focused on finishing my daughter’s haircut to think much about it.
Afterward, my husband was saying our family prayer at bedtime when we heard something again. To me it sounded like someone sliding something (his body?) a foot or two on the roof directly above us, quickly followed by a low, muffled mumble. My husband initially thought it was an animal (he hadn’t heard the earlier incident since he had been asleep). But I was pretty convinced it was a person, so I asked him to call the police and let them know, just in case it was the person the helicopters had been looking for. I turned on all our outside lights and made sure the doors were locked and the security screens were covering the windows.
We were surprised how quickly the police showed up, and just moments later the helicopters were back shining crazy-bright lights onto our house and yard. I wasn’t at all worried until the first police officer rapped quietly on our carport door decked out in gear kind of like this, but with a smaller gun in his hand…
We gathered all of our kids, including the sleeping baby into one room and cuddled together. The officers had gone into the back yard, but requested that we leave the sliding glass door open in case they needed to run back through. Umm… OK…
We could hear their voices yelling and a loud speaker coming from the helicopter trying to get the man on the roof to put his hands up and come down. My 10-year-old daughter was crying. My 7-year-old son clung to my husband, saying, “I’m really scared.” I continued to quietly reassure them, “It’s going to be OK.” Miraculously, I felt totally sure of that. I knew everything would be fine.
Soon they had the man in custody, but the only way to get him to their vehicles in the front was to bring him through our house (since we don’t have a gate). So the officers asked us to move into the other room while they walked him through. We eagerly obliged.
Ultimately we found out that the man had run from the police earlier in the evening, but they didn’t know why. He was either very drunk or very high on drugs, and apparently he vomited on our roof after the officers arrived. They said he was just really tired from running, and our roof was the first place he found to stop and rest. In case you’re wondering how he managed that, it’s easy to get onto the roof from our backyard because of a storage shed attached to the house, and he probably jumped our fence from the big parking lot behind us. The police told us they would be taking him to a drug rehab facility, so hopefully he will be getting some help.
After the police left, it was after 1:00 in the morning. But we sat for a while with all the kids in our front room to decompress and talk about what had happened. We explained to the kids that the man was not dangerous or trying to harm us in any way but that he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
My 10-year-old daughter, still crying, said, “When the police got here, I prayed for the man that he would find his way to happiness.” I’m not sure how long I stared dumbfounded at her before responding, “Wow. That’s amazing.” When I thought she had only been afraid for her own safety, she had actually been thinking about this man’s well-being. Though I felt no ill will toward the man, it hadn’t even occurred to me to pray for him.
She went on to explain that she had been really touched by the speaker in church that morning… how he had been to jail and then found his way to God. Then in Sunday School her class had talked about repentance and how it can change our lives. So her tender heart’s first instinct was to pray for the one who was the source of her fear… that he too would find his way again.
This prompted a little bit more discussion about how usually people who are drug addicts or alcoholics have hard problems they are dealing with, but they are just looking for help in the wrong places. My daughter continued to cry, but I could tell that most of her fear had been replaced with peace and love. Her heart sent so much love to that man, and because of her example my heart did as well.
We have been choosing a scripture to ponderize as a family over the past several months. When I noticed our ponderize scripture hanging at eye-level on the refrigerator (a place I don’t usually hang it) last night before going to bed, I hoped that our “guest” may have glanced at it as the police led him through the kitchen to the carport door, despite being impaired.
This isn’t the first time my daughter has stunned me with her profound sensitivity and compassion. She was such an intense and seemingly-overly-dramatic toddler. At times I wasn’t sure I would survive her childhood. But now that she has outgrown the tantrum phase, I can see that what seemed to be a weakness in her younger years is actually one of her greatest strengths. She feels everything so deeply, and her sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others is part of that.
Apparently researchers have studied sensitive kids like mine and found evidence (similar to my own empirical hunches) that their intense feelings really can be a strength:
The reactive kids from supportive homes had the highest rates of prosocial behaviors (helping, sharing, inviting others to play), the lowest levels of behavioral issues (hostility, conduct problems) and the highest academic gains as the school year went on (Source).
I have seen so much of myself in her anxiety-provoked crying bouts over the years. But I also see so much strength and wisdom that I never had at her age. Her beautiful soul has blessed my life so deeply. What an honor to travel this mortal journey with her.