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A Stabilizing Device

I was sitting in my office one afternoon when my phone rang. On the other end was a woman I did not know, but she knew of me. She had heard that I was beginning to help adoptive and foster families at the church and was given my number.

As we talked, her story unfolded. She was clearly distressed. Their daughter was seven when they adopted her, five full years ago. But rather than getting easier, challenges were growing.

“I’m done.” She said “I don’t think we can do this anymore. We have tried everything. We have been to a psychologist and have completed all of the classes offered by our health provider; we even did family counseling.”

“It’s not helping."

“Nothing seems to help.”

“And the boys... I have two biological sons. The stress it has brought into the home....what do we do if we just can’t do it? What does that look like?”

If I could describe the feeling in one word, it would be defeat. She sounded defeated. It was clear she was not lacking love, nor good intentions. She was sharp, motivated and well informed. My heart broke for this family.

My brother, who is a law enforcement officer, told me once that if you see someone drowning, NEVER just jump in after them, because you will both drown. A drowning person, driven by fear and reflexes, will try to stay above water by pushing the other person down. It is a survival instinct. To save someone from drowning you must have something to throw them: a rope or an object that can stabilize them. She needed a stabilizing device. Her timing was perfect. We were in the process of launching our first TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) Class at Bayside. I invited her to the class and prayed with her on the phone.

As I have been embracing the teaching and research of Karin Purvis, who developed TBRI, there is one thing I know for sure. As Karen would say, “There is hope and healing for every child.” I believe that with all of my heart. The first night of the training she was one of the first ones to arrive. We introduced the basic concepts and, at different points, invited families and individuals to talk around the tables. At the end of the class, as I talked with a couple, out of the corner of my eye I could see Sara standing off to my left. She waited until I was done talking with the others then, as the room emptied, she came to me and simply said “I think I just needed to remember there was hope.”

Don’t we all?

The next week Sara was back, this time with her husband. The training has three parts: Connecting, Empowering and Correcting. So far, we have only completed part one – Connecting. Even though we are only 1/3 of the way into the study, I asked Sara how TBRI was impacting her home. She said that most of their previous therapy and training was geared toward helping the child, rather than helping the parent better understand what is actually happening in the child. She said she felt like she had already gained a greater understanding of what is happening in her child.

“The biggest thing about this class for us is that we are doing it together. We are on the same team and since we are getting the same information and have the same understanding, it keeps us on the same page. Also, being in the class with the others helps us to realize we are not alone. We are not the only ones going through this.” She then listed a few of the specific strategies they have implemented and how her daughter has been responding. But again, it circles back to one word..hope.


When I reminded her of that first night and what she said to me after class, she grew quiet. After a brief pause, she said, “I remember that. I guess I forgot how desperate I was then.” It is not an overnight fix. It is not a secret formula. It is a renewed way of thinking. When working with kids from hard places, hope is as necessary as the air we breathe.

Hope is a stabilizing device.


Heidi White is on staff at Bayside's Thrive School as well as the Church Relations Director of Defending the Cause Regional Alliance. Her favorite thing in life is to see people encounter Jesus and through discipleship Heidi gets to walk alongside people as they pursue God and His call on their life. For more information about upcoming TBRI training classes please e-mail Heidi at


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