I recently learned about an ancient Japanese art form known as kintsugi. Whenever a piece of ceramic or pottery breaks, Japanese artists repair the broken pieces with precious metals like gold, platinum, or silver. The cool thing about kintsugi is that even though you can easily see the cracks in the repaired piece, it makes it so much more beautiful and interesting than it was before, not in spite of the cracks, but because of them.
Kintsugi means “golden repair.” And there are several beautiful and empowering themes associated with this art form, themes like recognizing beauty in brokenness, and the art of embracing damage. At its core, the art of kintsugi is about strengthening our connections with ourselves and each other.
That is why Annette Oltmans and I chose kintsugi as the idea behind our new non-profit, The MEND Project. The MEND Project focuses on issues related to domestic violence and how we respond to victims when they finally take that brave step forward and ask for help. The way we respond to a victim of any form of trauma can either break her down even more, or bring about the restorative healing she so desperately needs. See how this played out in my own story…
I was in an emotionally, verbally, and psychologically abusive marriage for over eight years. Six years into my marriage, I reached a breaking point. I couldn’t take the abuse another day. I finally went to the person I thought would help and understand me more than anyone, my pastor. I’ll never forget that day, shaking in his office, barely even able to speak. I told him with every ounce of courage I could muster that I thought I was being abused, and I didn’t want to go home. I told him I needed help.
But I was shocked at his response. It wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. Rather than listening, embracing empathy, trying to understand my situation and help me heal, he added to the abuse I was already experiencing. He told me that Biblically, I couldn’t get a divorce, that instead, I needed to pray for strength. He asked me if I was submissive and loving to my husband. Did I give him everything he needed to allow him to be the true leader of our home? I told him I had been praying for strength for over six years, and that I had none left. And I walked out of that office and back into two more years of escalating abuse and horror.
I was like that ceramic pot, shattered into a thousand pieces not just by my abusive ex-husband, but even more so by my pastor and all my friends who refused to believe my cries for help.
We are all people in search of connections. We are all given so much power to speak words of life (or death) to someone who desperately needs our help. These connections can give us strength or break us down.
I was one of the lucky ones. After eight long years, I finally got the courage to leave. I started working for an anti-trafficking organization, IJM, and they helped me get out of my marriage. They believed me without question. Not only did they help me leave my abusive husband, but they became the support I needed.
Slowly but surely through my colleagues’ love, acceptance, and righteous anger, my broken pieces were mended back together. And like kintsugi, I became something new. Still a semblance of myself, but now with cracks that showed. Cracks mended with gold, making me stronger and more beautiful than before.
One of my favorite authors, CS Lewis says,
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
At The MEND Project, we teach people how to respond to victims of abuse and trauma so that their story is different than mine. We long for the day when victims of abuse finally come forward for help and are embraced, their voice heard, so that they can heal.
Today, take a moment and think about how you like to be treated, especially in your most vulnerable state. Think also, about how you treat others in their moments of vulnerability. You can truly make a difference in a person’s life simply based on how you respond to them.
We must all take note of the harm we are doing to another when we don’t slow down enough to be present and show compassion to those experiencing trauma. Will you be another push to the ground? Or like the beautiful kintsugi artist, will you offer a gentle hand reaching out to help and heal?