The following is a story from a year ago, an experience that kicked off an intense year of “coming home” in my own heart and mind.
“He’s a wonderful man,” the woman smilingly assures. Her mind is working, and compassion dawns in her eyes. “He’s a chaplain. My husband and I are very close friends with him and his wife. I cannot prove to you that he is safe, but I can tell you that we would never ask him to this role if he wasn’t. His 18 year old daughter will be with him, as well as two other female volunteers. Your daughter will never be alone with him. In fact, other than for snack time, she will never leave her pew. Only females will take her to the restroom.”
Pacing the hall, I watch through the doorway as the chaplain interacts with the children in his pew. I stare too long into his eyes as we duck out of each other’s way in the hall. When we stand side-by-side at the registrar’s table, I study his countenance.
Predators are users of convention. We think of them as nabbing a child off the street and taking them to secret places, but history shows us this scenario rarely takes place. Instead, childhood sexual abuse usually occurs in locations deemed safe: a church nursery, for example; a locker room, a school bus, a child’s own home. Yes, even a Vacation Bible School’s back right-hand pew.
And of course, a predator can be anybody, but usually is someone trusted and known. Often a parent or sibling, he or she may also be a doctor, an aunt or uncle, a babysitter, a teacher; pastors and chaplains can fit the bill.
I eye him. He smiles back at me. Instincts aren’t perfect, but I know my gut is highly attuned to this sort of thing. He’s safe. He’s safe. I walk away.
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I walk away because it is the right and best (and in the words of my 4-year-old, “the goodest”) thing to do. But it shakes up my heart and leaves all the damaged goods hanging out to dry. I curl on my front seat as if in the lap of Jesus, and cry. When I call my husband, I am hyperventilating: staccato-like wails of breaths inhaled between sobs. It hits me hard. I know she is safe. I know she is safe. But the fear, the pain!
My husband listens and encourages, “come home.”
Come home. That’s what a survivor does. She comes home. Over and over and over she takes common experiences by the bare hands and squishes them back into the shape of what is actually real. She takes bites of life and spits out the worms that are made up of trauma-shaped perceptions; she grabs hold of truth and stamps out the lies. To what is true, to what is real, to what is pure, to what is lovely and of good report, she again comes home.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.