What Is Required with Goodbye?

I am familiar with goodbyes. I said goodbye to my innocence at 4-years-old. From ages 4 to 12, I buried my voice in an effort to extinguish the ongoing abuse and survive. By age 13 I had learned that my sadness engendered pity and my sexuality, attention. Male parents for whom I babysat groped for it, and male classmates took advantage of the perception I had of myself—that I was dangerous and unwanted for anything but exploitation. I had a target on my forehead that advertised I was public property. 

Early adulthood did not dissuade me from this dark impression as I found myself on the opposite side of our pastor’s desk with a revolver pointed directly at me, his words firing at me with pointblank clarity: “No one ever crosses me and lives.” He was no different from any other abuser—except that he represented God. As a new believer, I experienced profound confusion by this reality. I said goodbye to any hope of redemption. He was 65. I was 27.

My husband is the first and most tender man I have ever known. His first kiss was filled with kindness, compassion, tenderness, and love—no roving hands or demands to which I had become accustomed. We married three months after our first date. Marrying Tom was like entering into rest for the first time since I was 4-years-old. I fought to feel worthy of this man’s love—then had to say goodbye to that tenderness for a time after the pastor demanded my flesh or the lives of my three small children. 

But God had plans to prosper us and not to harm us; plans for hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). His word sustained us through misunderstanding, rejection, sorrow, desperation, and despair. Tom and I celebrated 52 years of marriage in April.

Our journey is replete with a variety of mountains, valleys, deserts, and provision for every need.

In December 2021, Tom was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiation therapy. In December 2022, he went in for a routine colonoscopy and was diagnosed with colon cancer. Later that day, after being sent for a CT scan to rule out any additional areas of concern, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. A follow-up CT scan in June revealed spots on his right lung and more thickening in his colon. He has already had additional surgery to remove returning cancerous bladder tumors. Tom has chosen surveillance rather than chemotherapy. 

As the reality of the most significant goodbye of my life looms large, I consider what is required. The sifting of my heart and soul in the depth of the valleys reveals significant gold:

  • We clung to each other through the darkness of betrayal and defeat;
  • We leaned on each other when the turbulence all but buried us alive;
  • We learned to attach, attune, repair, and forgive;
  • We learned the worth of the other and the blessing of facing hard things together;
  • We are learning the beauty in the often ignored—glances, touches, smiles, tears;
  • We are learning to practice love without contempt and to savor every moment we have;
  • We are learning how to love—even after 52 years.

Decades after the pastor’s abuse, I conversed with a speaker who was visiting our congregation. I told him of the years of abuse I had endured; of the target on my forehead announcing, “Public Property—Abuse Me,” and how I struggled to free myself of this label. His fingertip touched my forehead, and he said, “I see the word Healer, not victim.” At that moment I felt cleansed of shame and bathed in the Spirit of God. I said goodbye to a label burned into the flesh of my heart with which heaven did not agree.*

What label are you wearing with which heaven does not agree? I invite you to hear your new name and step fully into your Kingdom calling. Say goodbye to the curse, the lie you are believing. 

Goodbyes are not easy. Goodbyes born of evil will not win—not now, not ever. But whatever is born of love—of God—will endure in our hearts, minds, memories, actions. The next goodbye for Tom and me will not be longer than the eternity we will share. And on this side of that goodbye, we will walk together in truth and love, savoring every moment.

* The Singer by Calvin Miller

Christine Browning is a lover of story. She loves the warmth of sunlight on long morning walks, deep conversations, story work, reading, teaching, and kitties. Christine enjoys walking alongside others as they discover the beauty and heartache in their stories. She completed Narrative Focused Trauma Care Levels 1 and 2 and Externship at The Allender Center. She also teaches counseling at Milligan University in upper east Tennessee. Christine and her delightfully witty husband, Tom, have been married for 50+ years. They love gathering with family members, visits from their grands, and sunsets.