Earlier this year, we cared for a teenager in foster care for a weekend. She is a remarkable artist; her pen and ink renderings draw the viewer in with astonishing clarity.

Liz took her to a store to buy a few art supplies. When they arrived, this talented young woman said she felt afraid. The neighborhood was familiar. One of the people who had hurt her lived nearby. As they pulled into the parking lot, she could feel a flashback rising.

Liz changed plans on a dime, slid the car into drive and drove away. No need to needlessly trigger a flashback. Art supplies would wait.

As the car moved toward another neighborhood, the young girl added, “sometimes I just wish I could be a normal kid.”

And the truth is, she is normal. As our pastor reminded his church some weeks ago, flashbacks and anxiety are a normal response to moral injury, or trauma. Her mind and body are responding just as they should.

I am parsing words here, I know, but think it’s an important point around mental health. Her experiences are abnormal, but she is responding to them, learning to heal, in very normal ways.

She had a point, though. She is not just an average teenager. She is brave. Strong. Determined. Honest.

She is exceptional.

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