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April 2, 2020 / paperkids

Letting go.

IMG_6360 (1)Emma kicked hard and put a huge mark across the wall with her foot. Within ten minutes of the first visit with our new psychiatrist, she was having a full blown rage episode. Jared and I quickly dove into automatic-meltdown-management-mode. We surrounded Emma on the couch, protecting her fist from slamming into her head and guarding her body from any harm to herself, and anything or anyone around. These episodes had become a very regular occurrence in our home the last couple years and we fell into handling them with a strange kind of ease and methodology that comes with rigorous repetition.

In other words, we did this A LOT.

And this wonderful woman took it seriously. Even we weren’t really taking it serious anymore – it just had sort of become our normal. The aggression, the self injurious behaviors, the OCDs, the restlessness, the sleeplessness – they had somehow become our normal over the years. We kept adding medications, but nothing seemed to stabilize Emma for long. We had been to several doctors, but no one had ever picked up the phone for us like this. Without any hesitation, she firmly, but calmly called UCLA and knew exactly who to call and what to say. “Yes, I have a patient who needs to get in there…”

A couple of weeks, a three hour wait in the ER, and a shot of Thorazine later, we were standing in a bare, but peaceful room in the UCLA Adolescent Neuropsychiatric unit. It reminded me of one of my college dorm rooms with the exception of a soft lavender color on one wall. It even had its own bathroom. Emma was calm now and as we sat there on the bed looking at the room, it suddenly began to hit me – she would be here for more than just a couple of days. I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered that before. Honestly, I’m not sure I had thought past the wait in ER. That seemed traumatic enough. I never even thought we’d ever get this far in there!

She was on five different meds when she entered, which is why it was nearly impossible to treat her. She needed a complete med reset and it was way too dangerous to do at home with Emma’s aggression. This is what I had hoped and prayed for. HELP. But it all seemed impossible until we got the call that a bed was available.
I knew in my heart that this was answered prayer, but it felt unsettling. I was going to have to leave her there and let her stay for an uncertain amount of time. How long? Wait, were we really doing this?!!



Emma had never been away anywhere. Visiting hours were only a couple hours a day although in our case they would give us more time. She’d never slept anywhere else other than my parent’s house or on vacations with us.

A pile of paperwork kept me distracted from the deepening pit in my stomach. As we finished it up and prepared to say our goodbyes, I could feel panic rising up. This was one of the best hospitals in the country, but we didn’t know any of these people. They didn’t know Emma and no amount of questions on some forms could change that. Thoughts and worries over the small details of her life erupted over me … Who would shower her? Who would brush her teeth and change her? No one there would be able to type with her. Who would read her movements and understand her few words? Who would be there in the middle of the night when she wakes and roams around? Who would help her in the bathroom? Who would know what a fun loving, intelligent and sensitive girl my Emma was? …
Who would love her?… 

Jared and I were escorted out of the unit by a nurse through two heavy security doors. I’ll never forget the sound as the second one slammed shut behind us, echoing into the sterile hospital hallway. I looked at Jared and I knew we both felt numb and very empty as we walked silently to the car.

I wanted to hold onto hope, yet every time I visited Emma, I felt crushed. I kept expecting to feel better about it. But every time I walked in, something upset me. I never knew what I’d find. Yes, her room was looking more and more like my college dorm room every day. Clearly, she was exercising more independent daily living skills. And she was looking expressionless and lethargic due to sedation. The staff and care were top notch and everyone was incredibly nice and professional, but I couldn’t get used to leaving her with strangers. She was often asleep in her room when we arrived, which was yet another strange thing to see. Someone was always just outside the door or helping her with her daily routine, but it wasn’t us and that just felt so unsettling somehow.  She was 15 years old, but I had no experience leaving her anywhere – not even alone in a public restroom. Every time we left the hospital, I felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind. So many days I wanted to yank her out of there. I was glad that they had double security doors to keep her inside and safe, but the weight of that barrier crushed my heart every time I walked away.

Even though her smile had faded with the heavy meds, whenever I’d ask her with her iPad, she’d always type a very steady Emma response: “It’s very restful.”

Really?? Restful? I’d go crazy in here!

IMG_4946I always responded with optimism, but in my heart I felt anything but restful in there. I just wanted to burst out in tears there! After being there just the two hours, I wanted to escape that room and run out into the sunshine and fresh air. I wanted to run away and take her with me and never come back.

Didn’t she want that, too?!

Her world had become very small. She never wanted to go outside on the deck despite the times I tried. She wasn’t joining the other kids in group because of her impulsive behaviors and aggression. Every day I’d bring her something new for her room. I admit I went a little crazy with the Finding Dory theme and kept bringing toys and pillows and posters. That is, until one day when she typed “Maybe less is better.”

Her words always gave me encouragement and a smile in the moment. But this feeling inside of me lingered and grew over the days. Where was the hopefulness?  The house felt lonely and her room was empty and there was this feeling that came over me. It came over all of us as the days turned into weeks. I’d felt something similar before and one morning I realized what this feeling was.

IMG_5002I thought about that day we left the hospital after my younger brother Tim died in a sudden accident when I was Emma’s age. We came home without him and I wondered how my mom and dad came home at all after that. This in no way compared to that and yet, there it was lingering. Grief. And I wasn’t expecting it at all. A huge part of me felt restless and desperate. A huge part just felt gone.

One day I was laying on my bed which felt extremely strange because it seemed like every moment I was on high alert with Emma, making sure she didn’t hit herself, or grab someone or get into something dangerous. But now I didn’t feel her presence in the house. I would normally type with her and we normally go on walks together in the afternoons. I dressed her and bathed her. Caring for her was such a huge part of my life and I didn’t even know what to do with myself now that she was gone. This sorrow and fear had wrapped itself around my heart and I just couldn’t let go.

As I lay there on my bed, I noticed a message from my friend, Cheryl. She told me she’d been meditating on God’s word that morning and she thought of me when she read Psalm 4:4. So I quickly opened it up in my Bible app and read it…

“Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” (Psalm 4:4)

Be silent.

God completely flooded my heart in that moment. Those words pierced my heart and left me without any other thought – without any fear or worry. There was only silence. There was only a trembling of my spirit before God. It was that deep inner stillness that only He has ever brought me. It was as if God had reached down his hand and said, “She’s mine” and with the strength of those words, He lifted a heavy weight from my heart. A burden much too enormous for me to ever carry. I felt Him say in my spirit –

When are you going to trust me, Sabra? When will you let go?  She belongs to me and I love her. You have to let go.

I sat up. I couldn’t help but laugh. In less than a minute, my heart had been filled with pure joy!

Ok, God. Okay.

I stood up from the bed and felt lighter than I could ever remember feeling. The heaviness of fear and grief was gone. Peace and joy had taken its place.

Over the course of two weeks, Emma was taken off four pretty strong medications and one very heavy med was added. I was proud of her. She handled this independent experience so gracefully with such incredible peace and strength. No doubt it was from the Lord. She was released after two weeks and a day and was home a couple of days before Christmas. Having her home at last was truly the best gift I could ever ask for. But what God showed me through this was an unexpected gift. He gives eternal treasures that we didn’t think to ask for but which we soon realize we cannot live to the fullest without.


Emma’s life changed drastically after the hospitalization. She began sleeping through the night and her behaviors significantly diminished. She began in home behavior therapy which helped her regulate herself. Her world really opened up and she even began to type with her therapists and teachers at school using arm support, which was huge! One of her therapists, Lizzie, became her best friend and Emma began to type with her better than she did with me.

One day we were out to lunch with Lizzie and we were talking about Emma’s stay in the hospital. I was telling her how it was for me and how hard it was letting go, but that Emma seemed to find it restful. Emma grabbed Lizzie’s hand and began typing with determination.

“Yes the hospital was the best experience of my life you really don’t understand mom.”

IMG_7511Again, I was reminded that she has her own journey that I don’t always understand. Those words that God spoke to me that day on my bed rang in my heart again:

She belongs to me and I love her. 

This life isn’t perfect and we have very hard days still, but I will always rest in that truth which will never change.

Emma turned 16 years old that March and she didn’t want a big party. Just a nice dinner out. One of her wonderful behavior therapists, Kari, got her a balloon and flowers and I had an idea to make the day memorable.

“Emma, sometimes people release balloons in the sky to symbolize letting go of something. Is there something you want to let go of… or give up to God? We could write it on the balloon and just let it go.” Emma reached down to the iPad and began to type.

Emma : “Yearning to let go of earthly treasure in place of heavenly treasure.”


Oh this girl. When I think of the things that Emma desires, it’s just the little things that everyone takes for granted. She’d love to just sit and chat with a friend or answer a question with her mouth when someone asks her. These are her earthly treasures.

I took the balloon and wrote “Earthly treasure” on it. We went outside and I held Emma’s hand over the balloon so she wouldn’t let it go quite yet. I thought of how I was letting go. If I were to write down my treasure, what would it be?

It would have to be her.

We said a little prayer and let our little balloon go. We’d never see it again. It floated up, up, higher and higher, and we both watched it like two kids filled with wonder. We watched it until it lifted up over the treetops and out of sight. Up into the heavens.



Leave a Comment
  1. Lois / Apr 3 2020 4:17 am

    My beautiful girl Emma , I so love her and miss her . She has grown and is continuing to make progress every day- love you Emma Blue – Lois

    • Michelle Hanson / Apr 3 2020 3:28 pm

      What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

  2. moysl / Apr 3 2020 3:36 pm

    Your words flow from a heart that loves deeply and sees plainly what our Father in heaven freely gives us all. His compassion for His children never fails.

  3. Carolyn Shaver / Apr 4 2020 2:12 am

    That was a beautiful story…full of feelings and truth…always praying for her and your family…

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