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A knife, a shield, a place of safety

Updated: Mar 3

I wasn’t the oldest kid on the block, but I was the biggest and strongest. My stature gave me a certain special treatment, but not the kind you are thinking.

Whether it was an abandoned house we found in the woods, or a new bicycle ramp, I went first. But it was not a privilege. It was because no one else wanted to get hurt. I was the life worth risking. I was the one it was okay to hurt. I was the one who could endure.

A burden too heavy for a kid to bear.

I was sitting in a chair one night perfectly still - afraid to move the wrong way or look at my stepfather wrong. I knew what it meant if I did. It would double the length of the already two-hour lecture.

Sometime over the weekend, I had participated in something that was clearly frowned upon by my stepfather. So, there I sat bearing the punishment for not complying with his every wish for my life. At some point my brother had gone downstairs. He got a free pass because he was younger and had followed my example. It was my job to make sure I was leading him down the right path.

The responsibility was both unfair and well beyond what I was able to carry. At the conclusion all I could say was “okay” - frozen in fear that if it came out wrong, the lecture would start over. I said it right. I could go. I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember walking down the stairs.

All I knew was that the door was shut, I was alone, and I was safe.

The truth screamed at me loud.

I was done.

My capacity had been reached and I would rather die than suffer a living death like that again. I contemplated the resources that could be manipulated to be lethal. My new knife I had gotten for Christmas. I walked to the dresser. I opened the drawer. I unsheathed the knife and felt it’s weight in my hand. It was somehow both lighter and heavier than I had remembered. The knife was carefully placed on my chest. I was ready.

There was only one more thing to think through. What would my death mean? There had been pastors and preachers that knew and invested in me. But they did that for many people and I would be just a number - a statistic.

My parents would be hurt. But they were why I was hurting. I didn’t care much how they might hurt. Maybe I even wanted them to hurt.

Then I heard a noise. It wasn’t loud, but it came from the next room. My younger brother was in the next room. He had not experienced what I had just experienced. In that moment I understood a reality that would be life-long identity shaping. My pain was a shield for him.

This was no different than an experimental bicycle ramp or a scary old house to explore. I had to go first. I didn’t want to, but it was my job. My wellbeing was expendable. I put the knife down from my chest. And in that same moment, I put down the quest for my own wellbeing. My life was meant to be a slow death that others might live. Protecting myself would feel like hurting others and allowing myself to be hurt would feel like protecting others.

But where is my place of safety?

It would be almost 20 years before I would see that thinking destroy the very things I was striving to protect and pierce the very hearts of those I thought I was shielding. Shielding others is important for leaders.

For the best leaders, it makes up a greater part the issues and people that they give their attention. But unless the shielding leader remains healthy and whole, those in their care will suffer. If a leader is going to remain whole, they must have a safe place for healing themselves. If they are to experience true safety, they must have both a connection with their true essence as well as a community where it is safe to share that essence. This is exactly the work that I and those at Find a Journey have devoted themselves to.

We believe that only safe, whole leaders shield others well.

Mark Cox

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