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A Trauma Mama Watches “Moana”


I’ve got a confession. We watched “Moana” as a family for the first time on Saturday. . . and then we watched it four more times over the next three days. This movie clearly resonated with each member of our family for their own reasons. As the mother in a family where trauma is an ever-present part of our story, it wasn’t hard for me to see why.

I was raised with Cinderella and Belle as my childhood companions. Disney movies have always been a chance to see a reflection of myself. . . if I were constantly accompanied by woodland creatures through my magical, musical adventures. I saw myself through a mirror of fantasy and romance and while watching “Moana” I found myself once again looking for me in the story. I saw her in a brave little girl, in an understanding mother, in an eccentric and adventurous grandmother. I was struck by the beauty and complexity of the women in this movie.

But nothing compared me for my sense of identification with Te Fiti. (*spoilers ahead*)

There comes that moment in most movies when you have the major, perspective shifting realization the half-second before the main character does. While watching “Moana” and realizing the lava monster (Te Ka) WAS the formerly beautiful Te Fiti, robbed of her heart, I was struck with that sense of identification. I have been Te Ka. I see Te Ka present in my kids, too.

I have been burned. I’ve been wounded. I have hardened myself against those I should love. I have felt that emptiness where my heart should be. I have raged and cried and wailed against the pain I’ve had to experience. And I’ve seen healing.

I was glued to the screen (along with my kids), wondering how Moana would get that heart back to Te Ka. Her calm, purposeful walk toward the angry monster reminded me of the beautiful ways I’ve seen healing in my own life and how I’ve learned to offer it to my kids. When I lay down my own fears about being rejected by my wounded kids, when I choose to see the hurt beneath their behavior, it’s in those moments I’m doing my best and most sincere imitation of the way Jesus has loved me. In that moment of the movie, I saw the ways Jesus has reached out to me to remind me who I am. And whose I am. (Hear the song.)

I have crossed the horizon to find you

I know your name

They have stolen the heart from inside you

But this does not define you

This is not who you are

You know who you are

I know Jesus has seen the moments my heart has been wounded and he’s seen the pain of my children. I believe he has wept with us and for us. I know he has reached out to restore what has been broken. This story is a redemption story and while the mythology presented in “Moana” was clearly not “Christian” it was hard not to see that picture of Christ in an act of self-sacrifice meant to heal someone who on the outside seemed so unworthy of healing– someone who was actively pushing people away.

I wonder if it’s the catchy songs, the beautiful scenes or if it’s THAT that’s drawing my kids into this story over and over again. Some of my children have experienced great wounding in their lives. They have been through trauma. They have been burned. They have let the world convince them even those who could help them are probably there to harm them. They have felt rejection and abandonment and they have had to learn how to continue to trust.

I have seen their Te Ka moments– pushing against me, afraid to trust, angry at what they’ve lost and what’s been denied them. I have had to learn to walk calmly to them. I can’t be afraid or angry. I can’t always wait for them to get it together and come to me. I have to peacefully and confidently remind them that their trauma does not define them. Those loses are not who they are. Those things that feel like rejection are not who they are are. I remind them of whose they are. (And let’s not even talk about the horizon crossing involved in pursuing your child through international adoption. I am not the rescuer in my child’s story, but I could definitely identify with the feeling of a long journey that culminates in stepping out to risk loving someone who initially feels threatened and pushes you away.)

There is great beauty and healing in seeing that transformation from angry lava monster to green and growing. I’ve seen it with my kids. I’ve seen it in myself. These are transformations worth pursuing.

As I found myself wiping tears from my cheeks, I realized how often as my kids have learned to trust me, they have also been vehicles of healing in my life. In Moana, I saw my daughters. My fearless, confident daughters who know I love them and would cross the horizon to reach them in their sadness and pain. Because they feel so very secure in my love and in God’s love, they are able to offer that love to the world around them. They risk being hurt, risk being rejected to offer love. I watch my children reach out in selfless and beautiful ways to love those who are hard to reach. And I watch them love me.

When I am doing my best Te Ka impersonation– angry, irritable, irrationally frustrated by normal childhood antics– I see my girls love me. They put their foreheads to my forehead and offer me their perception of who I am. My kids should never be responsible for making me feel better. I don’t put that burden on them and that’s not my expectation. Which is why it has been beautiful and humbling to me to see it happen in spite of my belief that they don’t owe me that kind of love. I have come to realize they don’t always see the volcano inside me that I’m working to keep in check. They see me as flowering and lovely even when I know the other side. That’s who I want them to see and their unconditional love helps me to be that person the same way my unconditional love of them has helped them heal, too.

When we see the lava monster side of our kids coming out, we need to remember to look for the motivations behind the behavior. Instead of just focusing on the outward expressions, we have to look at the heart. We need to be the ones who believe our kids have the capacity to be soft and tender when they seem hard and closed off. We have to calmly walk into that storm, even when we feel afraid– cross the horizon and remind them who they are. That they are loved and worthy of love. Until we can restore that softness to their heart, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get lava monster reactions to our attempts to deal with their behavior. There is something beautiful waiting for us when we can help restore and heal their hearts.

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  1. I love this. Thank you.

  2. This was an amazing testimony, an important revealing, perspective.

    Thank you so much for allowing us this perspective.

  3. Great analogy! Trauma has really tried to take these kids down but thankfully they are resilient and with prayer, love, structure, and consistency, they will get their hearts back. Emotional injury and pain are mysterious–unlike a broken bone or skin, we don’t always know how to cleanse, apply ointment, or wrap those wounds….we know they exist and that they are painful but truthfully we (trauma moms) are attempting to care for wounds that we can’t clearly see. We do need the Lord’s strength and help….Thanks for your words……anything that clarifies for us, the realities faced by our traumatized kids is equipping and reassuring. Your description of the parallels between the movie and our lives is like focusing a lens to a clearer view of what we are doing here…we have every reason to be hopeful! Thanks again! Geri

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