Moved by Compassion: The Story of Cherith

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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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photo credit: evoo73 via photopin cc

20 comments on “Moved by Compassion: The Story of Cherith

  1. Great story with a great ending. In the right church the ending would have been exactly the same. Thankfully all churches are not the same because all groups of people are not the same.

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  2. This is what the “kingdom” on earth should look like. I praise God that this child will finally know she is valuable. She is “cherished” by her creator and those who perpetuated the evil against her are responsible. Not her. She has a long way to go and we all know the effects of that abuse will never completely leave but I pray she will find lots more love and peace.

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  3. What a beautiful example of love’s power to transform! I can’t be the only one to identify with Cherith’s pain. Most of us probably wouldn’t express our pain so openly at a sporting event or even in a church. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve cried “Why me” in the confines of my own home.

    Yes, Wesley Roy, I believe all churches are not the same. Unfortunately, for some of us, we have to overcome the lies and condescension fed to us by pastors, deacons, and other regular “laity” that are just as damaging as what Cherith’s foster-parents said to her. I’m so glad there are Christians in the blogosphere who are reaching out to make a difference. Because of them I am making progress in our home school this year like I haven’t in a long time.

    Go, Cherith!

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  4. So glad that it turned out well for Cherish, what an amazing girl and an amazing family!

    ” the shocked crowd…that had fallen silent and turned to watch her painful exit.” As the mother of a son with Autism I know this experience all too well. The anguish of a mother trying to calm a child in such an emotional state is great. Onlookers cannot know that the mother lives moment by moment on edge, never knowing when an outburst will happen. It can feel like being in a war zone. We are so often judged as being too lenient, not disciplining enough by people who have no idea what it is to live that way. When it happens in a church setting it is even worse. Rare is the church or congregant that is “safe” for us.

    Our current church proved to be just such a “safe” place on a Christmas Eve after we had been attending for about 3 months. It was crowded and we were standing along the sides toward the back, having arrived too late to get a seat for the candlelight service. My then 4 year old was unhappy about having to stand and wanted to take the seat on the end of the aisle when everyone stood. We tried to distract him, to hold him, to bounce him while we sang but it did not help. It was clear to me that even though this was a “family service” he could not maintain enough to stay. I carried him out and located the childcare room for the 4 and unders. On the way back in, an usher opened the door for me and said “It’s okay, we love children.” and smiled. After the service on the way out the door, a wonderfully kind woman (I still don’t know who she is) came up and said “Thank you for being here tonight. I know it can be difficult with kids sometimes,” The genuine love of Christ that these two strangers exhibited that night still brings me to tears.

    Please, when you see a mother struggling with her child’s behavior in church don’t stare. If appropriate offer to help or a few words of encouragement. Don’t assume that you know anything about how they discipline or about their lives. Frowning, turning around to look and whispering are not loving reactions. Why not rather say a silent prayer for the family and thank Jesus for the health of your own?

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  5. “Because of them I am making progress in our home school this year like I haven’t in a long time. ”

    Bravo!!! How cool is that?!?! I’m so happy for you, BTDT.

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  6. I agree with Wesley Roy that ” In the right church the ending would have been exactly the same.” I think that, where children are concerned, this would apply to most churches I have participated in. In my case it likely had to do with being in smaller communities where most everybody was personally acquainted with, or at least would recognize, most other people, including children, both inside and outside the church.

    When it came to ministering to adults who were carrying hurts from childhood, it has not been so good. In most places I have been, it probably wasn’t even recognized that adults can still carry pain, and worse, from childhood; and if it was known that somebody was having difficulty dealing with something bad that had happened to them as an adult, well, the attitude was along the lines of “forgive, forget, move on, just get over it.”

    I kept pressing one pastor for answers, or at least to recognize answers were needed, until he finally (and very publicly) blew up at me. This particular pastor seems to have gotten the idea that Christians shouldn’t, maybe even couldn’t, have emotional hurts. It is probably safe to say that depression was seen by him as evidence of sinfulness. I could go on.

    More healing is taking place as a result of this blog than was the case in every church I ever attended, with one bright exception–and in that church the deacons drove off the pastor that knew how to minister to hurting people. We are not without hope. It is being done right in some places, although it would appear to me that many of those places are outside the mainstream of what we regularly think of as church.

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  7. I just remembered another example of acceptance/inclusion that happened to us. About a year after the Christmas incident, our son was enrolled in the AWANA program. I didn’t think it was a good idea but my husband did and I so “submitted”. Surprise, surprise, our kindergartner had some problems in the class following directions and with transitions. Well the director of children’s ministries found out and contacted us. We told her that if he could have a schedule of what was to happen each night, he would fare much better. He would adjust easier if he had a social story about the situation and I offered to write one for him. This very busy woman laid aside her plans and activities for several consecutive Wednesday nights and sat in on the Kindergarten class, taking pictures and getting to know our son. She then spent her valuable time putting together a coil bound book with pictures and “story” showing step by step a typical night at AWANA and naming my son’s teachers. He enjoyed reading it (yes, he could read at 5 years old!) and thereafter was able to participate without many issues. I so appreciated that she quietly left the many to care for the one. That was love in action.

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  8. Cherith is a precious gift from God. My heart breaks to hear of how she was treated during her early childhood. And how her parent’s & foster parent’s actions still affect her. Even in being able to pass the swim test.

    Cherith has resolve, though! Praise God! Resolve is a great quality, a choice. And a character trait girls (& boys) should be encouraged to learn & develop as they grow up to become women (& men). Yay, Cherith! You did not give up!

    And even after not giving up & still trying yet again, had she still not been able to pass the swim test, her God-given infinite value would not have changed. As a matter of fact, her immense value has been the same all the way through. Her value has never changed. The problem is that certain people, those closest to her, should have known this, but didn’t.

    Christians need to believe that God values his creation, loves his creation, wants to be reconciled with his beloved creation. To undermine anyone’s value is to give our creator God less glory. God made us after all. 😉

    Cherith is a human being of immense worth. And there’s a lesson in there for me as well. I am of immense worth, as well. Thanks Jesus!

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  9. The mother of one of my son’s classmates posted this on facebook. Some churches are like this, some are not.

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  10. Tears running down my cheeks. May we all take back our lives in the face of the lies that we were taught as children and the lies the enemy whispers into our ears even now.

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  11. That was not just an emotional outburst.
    Cherith was having a breakdown.

    I know because I’ve had similar, though nothing anywhere near that severe. Whether from abuse (Cherith) or constant expectations of utter perfection (me), any failure or mistake in any way, no matter how trivial, flips you into suicidal worthlessness.

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  12. Hugs for H.U.G.!

    Life is too hard for perfection. I think this is why I feel like going ballistic when the following happens:

    Someone does something wrong, painful, or even abusive. The recipient responds, but is the one who is harshly, often publicly, rebuked for not doing it perfectly. (See my head banging against a brick wall!)

    Now if one is a spiritual leader, they better work at responding well and/or repenting quickly and fully. It’s a shame that it’s so often the leader claiming the right to extra grace while exacting perfection standards on everyone else.

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  13. Thinking about it this morning, it struck me: this video doesn’t have to be just about people with disabilities. It applies to anyone experiencing a trial in their life who turn to any church for support. Just take out the “until you calm down” and substitute “repent of your ‘sin'”, “attend church more”, “give regularly”, “sign a membership covenant”, “get married”, “believe our doctrine”, “discipline our way”, “dress modestly”, there are so many ways we can excuse ourselves from helping. I am guilty of excuse making myself. Jesus did not make caveats before he healed, fed or talked to people, he just loved them.

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  14. Life is too hard for perfection. I think this is why I feel like going ballistic when the following happens…

    There’s a pony for that. The plot of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Season 2 Episode 3 “Lesson Zero”, centers around Twilight Sparkle’s perfectionism leading her into a breakdown. (Starting with the opening scene, where she obsessively refrosts a bakers’ dozen of cupcakes to where each has the Exact Same Amount of frosting, almost wrecking the batch in the process.) In the episode, Twi cracks up the same way I do, worst-case scenarios spinning and growing in her head until she’s overwhelmed. Not helped by the fact that (as shown in another episode) her greatest fear is that of disappointing her mentor (and pony god-figure!) Princess Celestia.

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