As I look back from a place of hope and healing, I see glimmers of Christ's love shining through the darkness of my past. Memories once haunted by trauma are now sifted by grace and the gems begin to emerge. Even in the havoc, Christ is reaching out to us, revealing Himself, offering Himself and inviting us into communion.
This memory I am about to share took place around the time I was age 7. During this season I had no home nor stable family. I was traveling from place to place under the assumption that if I was pleasing enough to one of the "Papas" I was staying with, then I would be chosen as a daughter. These "Papas" were elite pedophiles across Europe and the Americas.
What I wanted more than anything was to be chosen as a daughter.
POTENTIAL TRIGGERS: references to child prostitution, no violence described, no sexual interactions described
Her hand is soft and warm in mine. Her hold is loose, a stark contrast to the desperate grasping of my heart on this dark night. I follow down the corridor, our soft steps muted by the busyness around us.
She leads me, determined yet graceful, into a well-lit room. Evading my gaze, she tends to the preparations, but something in her eyes betrays her. Although a stranger, she sees. She knows. She cares. Her presence kindles within me a familiar ache: hope.
Language is not a thing we share in common, but her gentle touch communicates what her words cannot—namely that though we are both insignificant specks entangled in the web around us, some immaterial part of us has remained intact. Neither of us can deaden ourselves to the reality of what the next few hours will bring.
These preparations she undertakes, my ‘enhancements’, I have never understood. I am a child. A hungry, love-sick, traumatized child. The men I will soon encounter do not care what I look like or smell like or dress like. They came for one thing. Why does she fuss over this frilly mess of fabric covering me? It won’t stay on long. What does it matter if my cheeks are rosy, if my eyes sparkle or if my dress matches my lips? These paints and oils and lotions only seem to embolden my underlying assumption that in and of myself I am not enough. Unwanted, unloved, unworthy. Just un-. In later years, I thought these beautification rituals akin to wrapping a present, yet I’ve never seen anyone tear into a gift the way some men tear into children’s bodies and souls.
But she knows. She knows what this night holds for me, as do I. Perhaps she once faced a night like this in her own childhood, although I wouldn’t call her an adult. She looks no more than 14. Perhaps the sight of me stirs embers of a far-off flame she’s spent years endeavoring to stomp out. Does she embody my future? Are hers the steps I follow? What other work is there when I outgrow this business if I still have not secured a father? How will I ever find love if I lose the only way I know how to earn it? Will I continue to live for a man’s pleasure even when I can no longer be the object of it?
The unknowns are haunting.
An ethereal clock ticks off in the distance, and with each stroke our mutual anxiety rises. Hers seeps out in every rapid tug of fabric and excessive brushing of my skin, nails and hair; mine through pleading glances, begging thoughts and a furrowed brow.
I have always craved nearness, but tonight the desire is unbearable. The risks weigh heavily before me. Any bonding between us is forbidden. I have seen children hurt for far less. Yet hope churns, rumbling beneath the ashes, and my yearning for attachment becomes more than I can grapple with. She sits facing me to performs her tasks. As she turns her attention to some vials behind her, I hold my breath, heart beating wildly, and place a tremulous hand lightly on hers.
A few seconds pass. The world around us fades as the air hangs in stillness, her face still hidden behind her, my hand on hers, our hearts touching.
Leaning back towards me, her eyes rise to meet mine. Her heavy expression tells me she understands. I feel her inviting me into the shared space between us. She is making room for me here. In this breaking moment, I am not alone after all. I am known. No words are spoken, yet everything I could ever want to say is poured out onto the lavish carpet between us.
She quietly finishes her work and begins to right the room, placing things in their proper spaces, she and I the only objects remaining without a home. She takes my hand to lead me into the darkness beyond but pauses. Her body pivots and I find her thin arms encircling me and drawing me into her. A tear slips silently down my cheek. I don’t know if it’s hers or mine, but I receive it like cool drink in the desert.
The embrace lingers in my heart as we press on into the darkness.
A timeless kindness broke through that endless night. She may not have been able to save me, but she willingly entered into my experience with me. Moments like these formed me and continued to feed my hungry soul through the years that followed.
I used to believe my greatest need was rescue—deliverance that would usher in a Deliverer for my heart to anchor upon. Surely I most needed a Savior, a Man that would prove Himself by searing through time and circumstance to remove me from peril. What I discovered, once freedom found me, was that there was a deeper need waiting. The Savior I looked for on the horizon had always been intimately close, standing at the door of my heart, knocking. He, like this young girl, was present with me, unguarded and openly inviting me into the space between us, inviting me to be known. Omnipotent God, a Gentleman, patiently offering intimacy.
There is a grace hidden within our Savior to go through and not around life’s hazards. I have begun to see and comprehend my history through the reality of His presence with me, then and now. My story has changed, yet the events remain the same. My pain, trauma and grief have always been shared. I found that ‘alone’ is a state of mind spawned by an enemy, and not the reality for a child of an omnipresent God. My need is not so different from any other woman – to be seen, loved and wanted. And He has always been right here, waiting with arms open, full of abundance and a warm smile.