A desperate, unwed, teen mother taught me the true meaning of the Cross.
Teresa grew up in the impoverished West Side of inner city Denver. Like many families in her community, her family is ensnared in generational poverty and generational abuse. She came to me to find housing after her child’s father abandoned her– but her needs far exceeded shelter.
Teresa poured out her life story to me, sobbing in grief, bewilderment and rage.
She had a tumultuous childhood, living with a mother who struggled with addiction. During her childhood, a cousin and her mother’s boyfriend sexually abused her repeatedly. When she was 11, her stepfather, her one source of emotional support and safety, left the family; she was devastated and plunged into self-destruction through drugs and alcohol.
She dropped out of high school when she got pregnant, but since the birth of her daughter, she has been struggling to turn her life around and to establish a stable foundation for her child.
Teresa’s fierce love for her daughter is so remarkable. No, it’s mind-blowing—life-shaking.
Violence is woven into the fabric of life in Teresa’s community. Because that violence is unacknowledged, suppressed and untreated, it gets passed from generation to generation. Suffering people who were abused, knowing no other way to discharge their anguish and pain, become abusers.
The sins of the fathers are engrained in their children, and their children, and their children.
Teresa is the inheritor of that violent legacy and has suffered its effects in her body and being.
But Teresa is determined that the transmission of violence will end with her. She cried out, over and over, “My daughter will not have the life that I had!”
Teresa resolved that her daughter will not be abused, will not be abandoned, will not be mistreated—that she will be cherished, protected, believed in, and supported.
The depth and difficulty of Teresa’s resolution are staggering, as are its profound ramifications.
Her body and being are battered by violence, and its effects tragically distort her life. But she is electing heroically not to transmit that violence to others.
She absorbed the violence, and in the searing crucible of her suffering, she is turning it into love.
Teresa is, in her own life and body, halting the transmission of anger and trauma, by choosing to respond to violence with nonviolence.
She is transmuting the deathly power of violence into the quickening power of new life and new ways of being together.
Isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross?
He took the terrible power of human violence and broke it. Broke it in through his own broken body and unbroken spirit. He suffered all of the horror and trauma that a violent, insecure, retributive world could wield.
But he did not return violence for violence, did not reciprocate violence to the perpetrators or pass it on to others.
He met violence with nonviolence, vengeance with grace, blind reenactment with intentional new life. He endured the violence that was inflicted upon him, and through the redemptive power and love of God, he transfigured it into reconciliation and renewal.
A Christ figure walked into my office.
Her suffering, courage, passion and love shook me to my core, and shattered my superficial and complacent beliefs – (Or were they non-beliefs?) – about the harsh and transformative reality of the cross in today’s world.
I salute her in awe, heartbreak and gratitude.
Anne Kleinkopf works at Denver Inner City Parish, a wonderful human services organization that serves some of Denver’s poorest communities. She is also a wife, mother, friend, community activist, and general life-seeker. She blogs at theologyandliturgyforinnercitytrauma.org.