I glance around the table at them as they take their respective seats. It has been an incredible ten-year journey of fits, starts, defeats, reboots, re-entries, failures, and beginning again. But with each descent into the darkness I emerge to sit at this table with more light, more humility, more grit—and more of my true self.
My eyes settle on the youngest of the group, Chrissy. She vacillates between the ages of 4 and 8. I can never be quite sure when she will appear or the age she’ll be when she emerges. She is tougher than she knows, wise, and suspicious of everything and everyone. She holds the key to the door that allows access to my heart and rarely permits entry to any. She is quick-witted, spirited, and easily terrified. She has endured more than any of the rest, and she has kept the committee together in times of siege. You wouldn’t know it to look at her scant frame, but she is a fighter. She can and will scrap with anyone who seeks to pursue any part of me. She was awakened to the evil of sexual abuse at age 4 by a pedophile uncle who saw her and an aunt who pretended not to see. She bears more scars than any of the others due to her constant vigil. She is ever alert to potential danger, and readily shows up to fight and defend, no matter the cost.
I hated Chrissy when I first realized who she was and the stories she held. I was ashamed of her and thought she was stupid for “letting” so much happen to her. It required opening my eyes to the darkness she’s endured to bear mere glimpses of her glory.
She is stunning.
The more I choose to crawl down into the depth of her pain, the more real I become. Our reconciliation and reunion have been tender, sacred, and holy. She is learning that she can “stand down” and just be a child, and I am learning to respect her terror and acknowledge her pain—to reassure her that I am here for her.
I’ve been reading the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers with a group of women at church. The group is comprised of young mothers, middle mothers, empty-nesters, aging mothers and grandmothers—all of whom recognize the hellishness of child sexual abuse. It’s where the book begins. As the pages turn, the story reveals an abused child who matures into a young woman who cannot accept love. She doesn’t know how. She tries to work to earn it, scrubs herself with rocks to remove the physical, emotional, and spiritual scars she bears as a result of the abuse, and struggles endlessly with the tension between the unconditional love—a place at the table—she is offered and the shame and guilt she bears from years of abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal, and hopelessness.
John Donne, whose life was filled with evil and darkness, asks God to “Batter my heart, three person’d God…”* and laments his union with the darkness that has held him captive for so many years. He begs God to capture him, and “divorce” him from the darkness—the desperation of his life held captive by evil—and to “ravish”** him.
The unconditional love seeking to cover the past abuse experienced by Angel in Redeeming Love, and the plea of John Donne that God “ravish” him, are redemptive images. I relate these to the way God has met me in the person of Chrissy, my 4-to-8-year-old Huntress. She shows me how God is teaching me to “…rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated,” and to “…renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)
If I had never sought to know and embrace the stories my little Huntress held, I would still have a deep chasm of fear, shame, and dread keeping me from the fullness of life God has for me. It’s a tender journey I’m learning to traverse.
I’m wondering where you are today, friend. And I’m praying there is someone who will walk beside you and accompany you as you view those never-before-seen places of your past. There are wise guides among us in this Red Tent community. I pray you will come and see as I have and risk for the reward.
*Batter my heart, three person’d God, John Donne.
**Take away by violence or to overcome with emotion such as joy or delight (https://www.Merriam-Webster.com)
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.