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The following is a guest post by my long-time friend, Maryl Smith. In Maryl’s work, she has the opportunity to get acquainted with people in a more personal setting. She is very sensitive and a big support to people who have endured all kinds of abuse, including spiritual abuse. ~ja
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Moved by Compassion: The Story of Cherith
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I talked on the phone today with a dear friend who is an adoptive mother to eight special-needs kids. Her 10-year-old daughter was removed from her family of origin because the parents were white powder drug addicts. The foster home she was in for several years following was a hell on earth in comparison. She was drugged, confined and suffered extreme abuse of all kinds until she was rescued. The foster parents are now in jail. She joined my friends’ family several years ago.
During the Olympics, the family watched the diving competition and my friend’s daughter (I’ll call her Cherith) became enchanted by the thought of flying through the air with unfettered grace. It was all she talked about and eventually she announced that she wanted to learn to dive. Cherith was already a strong swimmer, but had no training or form. Although it could be a challenge for any swim teacher to instruct a child who had touch issues, her mom decided to take the chance and put her into a group swimming class that eventually would lead to diving instruction.
There was one condition; Cherith had to pass a basic swimming test to get into the class. She passed everything with flying colors- until it was time for taking side breaths. Her abuse history had the unexpected effect of making it terrifying for her to take a breath between strokes. Her sister, a weaker swimmer, passed but Cherith did not.
Cherith rarely talks about her abuse, so when I heard what happened next I was dumbfounded. After receiving the news that she did not pass her test, she began to wail and scream at the top of her lungs in agonizing gasps. Her cries quickly turned into a desperate prayer as she railed full-voice to the heavens; “God, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do anything right? My foster parents were right – I should be dead. They should have just killed me like they said they were going to. God why did you make me? Why am I still alive when I can never do anything!” She wailed all the way to the locker room, oblivious to the shocked crowd in the aquatic center that had fallen silent and turned to watch her painful exit.
That night the swim instructor called her mom. His supervisor and he had talked and decided to give Cherith a second chance to take the swim test. So the following week the whole family cheered her on as she practiced, tummy-down on the piano bench, alternating her strokes with side-breaths.
On the day of the test she walked resolutely to the pool, jumped in and began to swim. The same crowd that had witnessed her emotional outburst the week before was present once again. Every person grew eerily silent as they watched Cherith swim the first width without taking a single breath. Her mother’s heart twisted with grief. Then Cherith turned into her second width and immediately began to take measured breaths with every five strokes. She reached the wall, flipped and continued, taking breaths at regular intervals. At the required five widths Cherith didn’t stop, but pounded out another five laps before she pulled herself out of the pool.
Immediately the entire aquatic center erupted with wild cheers and applause. People were jumping up and down and slapping one another on the back with tears running down their faces. Complete strangers came up and threw their arms around Cherith’s mom. Afterwards, the pool manager commented that in all his years he had never seen anything like it. A full-scale celebration erupted for Cherith when she defied the lies and took back her life.
I cried as I listened to my friend relate her daughters incredible story. Then later this evening a curious thought struck me. What would this story look like if Cherith’s breakdown had occurred within the walls of a church? Would she have been given her chance of redemption and astounding victory? Or would she be condemned for her for lack of self-control, receiving punishment once again for how bad she was? Would the lie of the enemy have bitten deeper into her heart with every word and eventually killed her with despair, suicide, apathy, self-numbing or risk-taking? Would the church members wag their heads and say, “We knew it! She was nothing but trouble, unrepentant and a reprobate.” The thought was sobering.
I’m so thankful Cherith’s prayers were answered by Jesus, the shepherd who is moved by compassion every time He hears the cry of the broken. I am especially thankful that she wasn’t swimming among Pharisees.
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