BringBackOurGirls (When the Nigerian Girls Feel Like Your Little Girl)

To grieve or not to grieve? That is the question we ask, when we choose our news. Do we put the brakes on our heart, or do we allow our hearts to break?

nigerian girls

I’m procrastinating, so I tap the CNN app on my iPhone and I scroll through the newsfeed. I stop when I see the headline announcing a mass kidnapping of young Nigerian girls by a group of militants. Defenseless girls. Disappeared. Sold. Traded. Trafficked. Brutalized.

I stare at the headline.

My thumb hovers over it.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I see an article just below it about a bug fix for the iPhone. My thumb twitches downward and hovers over the iPhone article. Meanwhile, I imagine my own little girl ripped from our home:

Her fingertips are just beyond mine as he pulls her out the door. I see her tear-streaked face. She looks at me frantically, expecting the protection I’ve always promised and her terror is mingled with confusion about why I’m not providing it. But they won’t let me go and the last thing I see as they pull her out of sight is the look in the eye of the man who is holding her. It’s a dead look. Whatever light was in him when he came into the world is gone. And now he is in charge of my daughter. In charge of taking her light away, too.

My thumb hovers.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I feel the tortured days and sleepless nights in the years to follow. I feel the pain of not knowing where she is. I feel the unutterable anguish of wondering if she is being brutalized at this very moment. These Nigerian girls are not my daughter, but, in some way only my soul comprehends, they are my daughter. Each and every one of them.

My thumb descends, and I choose to read about the girls.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

The Gift of Grief?

Mourning. Grief. We don’t seek them out. But they do seek us out. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be found? And why would we?

We allow grief to find us because it is the purest, most unadulterated form of love.

Grief opens up a place in us where our priorities are straight and our focus is narrow. In the midst of grief, we let go of ourselves altogether, and we embrace our connection to everything else—to a vast universe, a massive planet, and a sprawling humanity. Grief slows us down and brings us home to who we really are beneath all our distractions.

Grief delivers us into the center of our love.

Grief returns us to our souls.

Grieving may be the most spiritual thing any of us will ever do.

A Larger Grief

As I grieve the Nigerian girls, I’m confronted with another grief I’ve tried to ignore: scores of pedophiles visit my website every day.

The letter I wrote to my daughter has a high page-rank for Google searches containing the words “daddy” and “little girl.” Every day, almost half of the Google searches bringing people to UnTangled are searches for pornography in which little girls are being raped by older men. An entire underworld of little girls abducted, sold, trafficked, and brutalized.

A feeling of mourning wells up within me. Every time I check my blog stats.

Because the Nigerian news is not just a story of a remote cultural conflict—it is the story of countless, forgotten young girls throughout human history. It is a story about the grievous plight of women down through the centuries—half of humanity dominated by the physically stronger sex.

The story is changing. Finally. For the first time in the history of a species, brains are beginning to matter more than brawn. The playing field is leveling. Slowly. Which is why men are abducting young girls out of schools.

Do you feel the grief of it welling up within you? And do you feel the urge to reach out, to protect the unprotected, to rescue the disappeared, to remember the forgotten? Do you wonder if there is something you can do?

Because there is.

You can be you.

A Redemptive Grief

I almost didn’t write this post.

Because a little, shaming voice in my head kept saying, “What good will writing a blog post do? You’re just a writer. You’re not an activist or an affluent donor. You have nothing to offer here. Be quiet.”

Well, I call b.s.

A passion is defined as, “An extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything.” However, the word passion was originally derived from a Latin root meaning “to suffer.” What if our passion is the place our gifts meet our grief? And what if our grief is intended to guide our gifts?

What if the thing we’re passionate about doing is the thing we’re supposed to be doing about our suffering?

What if writers wrote about the things that grieve them? What if artists painted it and carved it and sculpted it? What if scrapbookers scrapbooked it and tweeters tweeted it and Facebookers posted their sorrow? What if speakers spoke about the lost and organizers organized rescues? What if everyone with a voice—whether it is quiet or loud—refused to remain silent about the thing that anguishes them?

The lost would be found—first in our hearts, and then in the world.

Today, a song was playing in our house and the chorus went like this: “If we all light up, we can scare away the dark.” Writing is my small way of lighting up. What is your way? And what would happen if you let it lead you home into the center of your passion, where your grief and gifts are mingled?

What would happen?

A feeling like morning would rise up within the human community.

If we all light up—in our own small way—we can scare away the dark.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

—————

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook.

Next Post: An Open Letter to Every Young Woman (About Getting Naked)

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Cathy

    Watch the documentary, Girls Rising, if you can. It was an emotional roller coaster to watch abused girls, impoverished girls, powerless girls claiming their place in this world. And it has sparked a lot of discussion of what can be done. Now my focus is on trying to do something at a community level to support young women. We’ll see. BTW, I have been told the DVD is available through Amazon and it has it’s own website as well. Love you blog. Always spot on!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for this recommendation, Cathy. I will definitely see the documentary, and I hope other readers will see your comment and check it out, as well.

  • Sabrina

    beautifully written. thank you for calling BS. i know that voice and he is to be rebuked, shut up, silenced. God has called you to this passion. keep shining!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for this encouragement, Sabrina!

  • jvhinson

    You sir are a good man, your writings a gift and your blog an island of hopefulness to a young father of two girls and a boy. I appreciate your words very much. Lets light up and scare away the dark.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You, sir, are very kind. ; ) I’m so glad to hear I can encourage you in some way as you care for your little ones. Light it up!

  • Ash

    I love your blog and receiving your news letter. Un tangled is beautiful, soul searching and uplifting, and its reality not make believe stuff, I wish all fathers can think the way you do about families and commitment . You write stuff that actually happens and most ppl experience it in their lives’ with their families and kids, it not whether you white ,black ,brown , yellow or green its the facts of life, even if your rich, middle class or poor, we all go thru the same drama of life and it made interesting by our children who keep us grounded and who make us be better parents. And my heart goes out to those little gals who were taken, Islam doesn’t degrade woman or children , what those monster are doing is not in any way related to Islam , what they are doing is solely for their own purpose.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ash, thanks for this comment. And I appreciate the way you characterized the men as “doing it solely for their own purpose.” What an accurate and succinct description of the motivation behind most darkness in the world.

  • Doreen M Vitullo-Matheny

    I totally agree with you but there are so many things that grieve me in the news today. How to make a difference for these girls and their grieving families frustrates me. I don’t have a platform to speak of but I deeply desire to do something to help and not just grieve for a moment. The thing has to hit home the way you thought of your daughter and imagined it happening to you. Where do we go from here?

    • Christina Haas

      I thinkn it can be as simple as being love each and every day to everyone you might. A smile to a stranger can make all the difference in their day. Of course, there are so many more ways of bringing about change, but it seems like the simplest one is just being love in the world. xoxo

      • drkellyflanagan

        Christina, well said. I had a paragraph about the small ways we can love that light up the dark, but I had to cut it for length and because it creates a whole other tangential post! Thanks for adding it here, and Doreen, I hope it provides some encouragement to you!

  • ALEJANDR1971

    Every time we talk about these girls whenever where it is named It is when we keep alive
    not know where we are, we’re looking to follow.
    Spread the word, is the way that keep looking.
    Maybe they do not know us, but we do know of them
    We must spread the word

    #BringBackOurGirls

    • drkellyflanagan

      Exactly, Alejandr, exactly.

  • Anna Eastland

    Beautiful and heartbreaking and hope filled. As a mother, thanks for this. There’s a nice Chris Rice song similar: “Carry your candle into the darkness, light up the world.” With new like this, it hurts to see each person as precious and worthy of our grief, but it’s the only way to remain human and to have the passion strive for a better world.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Grieving is the only way to remain human. I like that idea very much, Anna. Thank you.

  • mmr

    Thank you for writing the post. It is so connected to what is happening all around us; the controversy with the #bringbackourgirls , the pedophiles, all of it. Your post suggests that with a change in consciousness there is hope and I, for one, vote for hope.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Right on. A collective change in consciousness could change everything. I vote for hope with you!

  • Jim Sando

    You should thank God for your gift in being able to articulate “on paper” (on screen?) what goes on deep inside our souls and help us to understand and face the need we have to connect with our passion and grief. I know I thank God for your honest, emotionally laden, insightful blogs. You have given me something to ponder and meditate over.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jim, thank you for these kind words. I am, indeed, grateful every time I sit in front of a blank screen and the words start to come together and they don’t even begin to feel like they’re coming from me.

  • Katrina

    Thank you for your beautiful words. Thank you for ignoring that little shaming voice. You never know how far away your light can be seen. Your passion and your heart are truly appreciated and desperately needed in the world today.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for this encouragement, Katrina. So are yours!

  • keenasira

    Thank you, Kelly. Where there is suffering, there is a universal suffering….whether it is families in Nigeria suffering the unimaginable, or it is simple suffering in our own homes that cause us grief… how we take this grief and burst our hearts open is the key… As the Buddha said at the point of his Enlightenment, “One thing and one thing only do I teach, suffering and how to end suffering'” We have to begin to do that at home first….with our partners, our children… and lessons at home and as you so elegantly wrote, demonstrate that there is no time to waste…

    • drkellyflanagan

      The family is an invaluable training ground, indeed.

  • Christina Haas

    I have been reading Brene Brown this last week, and it is those of us who move past the shaming voice and become vulnerable who are the most courageous. In her opinion and my own. I think a writer can be an activist and that is a perfect way to do that. I am also a writer – author and blogger – and I consider my purpose to include activism. It’s all about bringing the light to the darkness. I write to bring abortion into the light. I hope that one day we will live in a world where the judgment stops and only the love remains. Thank you for taking a stand. http://christinaehaas.blogspot.com/.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I like the idea that of writing also being activism, no matter what scale we are doing it on. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog, Christina.

  • emmacw

    I have been thinking about the Nigerian girls too. I don’t think I am quite ready for grief; I am hazarding a hope that rescue may yet come. I do grieve that they have been taken; -and I do hope and pray that they may yet be released. Where there is life, there is hope!,

    • drkellyflanagan

      There is a strange connection between grief and hope. When you get to the bottom of grief, you always find hope there. It is a strange, beautiful mystery.

  • Jim Sando

    Those words are not coming from you…they’re coming from heaven through you. I have the same thing happen (occasionally…I’m not a writer!). I look at the screen and this great document and say to myself, “Where did that come from?” You are being used by a “higher power.” That is truly an honor.

  • Gerard

    thank you….ugh, but thank you

  • Daisa

    Beautiful. That’s all I can say. I too hold the view that the direction of our passion should be the one of our grief – though I refer to anger, usually. But this article touched me. You really have a gift with words, Dr. Kelly. Keep up the wonderful work!

  • Nancy

    What words of wisdom and so timely. We often spend mote time grieving our losses and contemplate the “what if’s.” But as you say if we turn our grief into our passions others will become the benefactors that may possibly bring hope into their world. As we give hope we continue to heal and carry the light into our own sphere of influence.
    Something to really ponder and embrace. Thank you this has been a very timely post as I near the end of my schooling with a social work degree and contemplate the next phase of my journey.

  • Mandy

    Thank you so much for this post Dr.K! As I read thru I could feel that you GET IT. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and I am constantly aware of the predators that lurk around us in this world. I may not be able to single everyone of them out but I know they are there. When I saw the news on these precious girls I felt sick for them and their families. My mind also turned to the more global issue of children in every place on this globe that are being abused and exploited. Even in our so called developed countries. I love that you rose up and gave some light to this. I have found since releasing myself from the chains of secrecy that there are a great number that would prefer if survivors kept things to themselves…they have their heads in the sand and really do not realize how dangerous that posture is! Keep speaking out as I will! Never give up because even if there are people who hate it there are precious ones who can not speak for themselves yet….but we can.

    Mandy

    • drkellyflanagan

      Mandy, given your story, your hopeful words have a special power. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

      Mandy, thank you for adding your voice and for your clear articulation that your story belongs to you: speaking or writing about your experiences is always your choice, in your hands, and not something that you — or any survivor — should feel pressured into silence about. It is a strong and compassionate decision you have made to turn your insider knowledge toward advocacy for children who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and those who are already suffering it. Be well.