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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

A Garden Full of Valentines

I was wondering what I would have blogged about for Valentine’s Day last year and then I remembered, “Oh, I wasn’t even blogging a year ago.” In fact, it would be two more months before I wrote my first blog that even mentioned that I might have a story to tell. Then it was only nine months until BRAVE was published (hmmmm, it really was like having a baby).

So, what would I have said about love and what would I say about love now? As always, I would have gone and looked up a definition. “An intense feeling of deep affections.” Well, a bunch of ways we use the word “love” would certainly not be that.

“I love my coffee.”

“I love chocolate”

“I love the sound of ocean waves.”

“I love to go for a walk on a warm spring day.”

No, none of those fit the definition and neither do a lot of things that happen to me in the name of love. I don’t want to dwell there, but I think it needs to be understood that children who are abused get very mixed signals and they grow up to be very confused about love.

I can remember thinking that I wanted someone to tell me they loved me. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t true. What I wanted was for someone to demonstrate what true deep affection would feel like. In actuality, I had people in my life who were doing that on a pretty consistent basis, but I wasn’t able to receive it as truly being the deep affection I had so longed for from my mother.

I don’t want to dwell there either, but I find the populace in general to be very much lacking in an understanding of the effects of not having attachment needs met. It is as if God created a special place in the soul of a child in which, it was intended for the mother to grow a garden full of every type and hue of flower, but instead it was left untended and resembled something much more like a vacant city lot with a solid but broken fence surrounding it.

I called that space inside of me deadness. I kept everyone, including myself, safely outside the broken and empty space. I even planted a garden of my own right outside the fence so everyone would think I was as beautiful inside as I was on the outside. I wasn’t’. But it wasn’t ever my fault. Sadly, those who seek to hurt children recognize those desolate spaces inside of them and make the children believe they have the answer.

I hid that space through two years of therapy, but one very wise therapist knew it was there. I had to give up my story of a happy childhood to even know that space existed. When I finally opened the gate behind my beautifully tended outside garden and walked into the desolation, she helped me see that it was never meant to be so desolate. That space inside of me had just as much potential for beauty as the space where I created beauty on the outside. My grownup self could now go inside and heal the broken places and tend the garden that would begin to grow.

I worked and worked and worked to heal this space inside of me as she watched both my struggles and triumphs. She gently guided me in my somewhat awkward first attempts at caring for my inner garden. She helped me realize that loving care for the flowers was much better than obsessive weeding and attempts to control every aspect. I came to learn that my tears helped the garden grow exponentially as they washed away the darkness and pain. When I needed help, she was always ready to step in to help me—all the while showing me how I could care for myself the next time around.

Then one day, BRAVE arrived. It was the beautiful flower I had tended and nurtured for over three years. It wasn’t just one flower it was hundreds of flowers all being shipped in boxes to help others learn about how to heal the empty and broken spaces inside themselves. As I opened the box that held my first shipment of books, the anticipation was beyond understanding.

The first thing I wanted to do was to give a copy to the one who had helped me heal.

This wouldn’t happen for several days, but when accomplished, deep in the garden I had created inside myself, I felt an intense feeling of deep affection. The delightful look we exchanged as we held the book between us felt like an explosion of flowers in the garden of my soul. I had given the ultimate Valentine both myself and to the world.

I am so glad I decided to share the flowers from my garden. There are really too many to contain. Each one represents the tears I cried and the healing I desire for others. Yes, BRAVE is truly my Valentine to the hurting world. I hope all who have that desolate space inside their soul, will open the gate and quietly find a space to sit and read. I also hope that they will find that person, that one person, therapist, friend, or relative, who can help them begin to grow a garden where there was once desolation.

God’s ultimate plan was for that one person to help a child grow a garden inside. When this goes wrong, the desolation is indescribable. The answer is always going to depend on another human being and when those who should help cause harm instead, the damage is overwhelming—but the deep, consistent affection and the modeling of how to care for the hurting spaces inside of us can help us finally grow our own gardens.

It only takes one person to step into another’s life with true, deep affection to change a life forever. I know because one person did that for me. I am so thankful that there are those who professionally give their lives to help others as my therapist did for me. I believe it was a Valentine. I think the small child self deep inside of me finally knows what an inner garden grown out of what was expressed as highest regard actually feels like.

Happy Valentine’s Day to Me. Happy Valentine’s Day to Scott who learned about inner gardens right alongside of me. Happy Valentine’s Day to the world. I hope BRAVE helps many heal. And finally, Happy Valentine’s Day to Dr. Sue who taught me how to grow a garden inside my soul.

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