It may seem sometimes as though ICCS clients and staff and donors live quite different realities, with vastly different life experiences and backgrounds. Yet in fact, often when we learn each others’ stories, we find that we are much more connected than we might ever have imagined. It takes us all to make the ICCS community.
I had a chat with Anne Townesend recently, and learned a great deal about how life shapes us all, and how each of us can choose to use our own history for good.
It is an interesting time for our conversation. Just days ago, the news broke in Canada of the bodies of 215 indigenous children found at a residential school in BC’s interior – children lost and seemingly discarded. For Anne, as for all of us, this is a pivotal juncture, and a place where change can happen. “I hope we see an increased empathy and compassion…” she says, “a break in the cycle of damage leading to damage…”
This has, after all, happened in her own life.
Meeting Anne, you are left with the impression of a person who has experienced a great deal, but has come to a place of contentment, knowing that God has been with her, though it all. Her story and testimony show a picture rooted in fracture. Though she was born into a large family, she was taken from her birth parents in infancy and raised by relatives who molded her strictly towards a picture of their own ideal. Isolated, and punished brutally for non-conformity with her adoptive parents’ strictures, she grew up feeling bereft of care. The traumatic death of her adoptive father when she was only 12, and her mother several years later left her with deep scars, covering a rage that would only resurface years later.
Yet through it all, Anne felt the hand of God on her life, shaping her, and leading her forward. “He was with me in the dark times I cried myself to sleep, wondering why my parents or anyone else didn’t come to rescue me.” He was a gentle presence in the background, waiting for her to be ready to hear His call.
As a child, her life seemed rosy from the outside, but underneath she faced a much different reality. Sent away from her natural parents when she was very young, she was brought up by her biological aunt and uncle, officially adopted just before her uncle’s death – guaranteeing a support income for her aunt into the future. They gave her every material luxury she needed, but behind closed doors she was abused and beaten if she did not conform to the impossibly perfect ideal she was required to portray – “a walking, talking Barbie doll.”
Once she was strapped with electrical cord and slammed through a wall. Another time, when she was 16, she was knocked to the floor brutally. When she chose not to get up, her adoptive mother called the police. They were referred to a psychiatrist, but there a funny thing happened. After listening to her mother rail against Anne, the doctor asked to speak to Anne alone. Her mother walked out in anger, and the doctor turned to Anne and simply said, “I feel sorry for you.” It was her first validation, and in retrospect, it was a life changing moment. Though the abuse continued, from that day forward, Anne knew that she was not alone. It gave her strength, despite all, to hang on.
On graduating from high school though she had aspirations to continue studying, it was made clear to her that she needed to go out and work. “My mother’s government welfare cheque was not going to include funds for my keep any longer.” She started in office work, and in her second job, met a kind and gentle supervisor who “drew me out of my shell, and gave me hope that I might have worth.” Through sheer grit and determination, she worked her way from being a temporary receptionist all the way up to eventually being an insurance underwriter. At the same time she built a family, marrying young to a wonderful man and having two lovely children.
Before long, the suppressed pain from her childhood fear resurged, however. She had scars hidden deeply beneath the surface, and in mome
nts of stress they would resurge in anger and despair. She experienced this first as the new mother of a toddler, but pressed it down, vowing to not let her past impact her son. Later under intense job stress her past resurfaced again, uncontrollably, and her marriage fell apart.
Raw and broken, the moment had come for her to turn fully towards God. Invited to attend church by the couple she was lodging with after her separation, her life began to turn around and an emptiness she had never realized she had began, drop by drop, to be filled. “Sunday became my favorite day of the week,” she says, as bit by bit, God “softened the scar tissue on my heart to trust and care for others.”
One change led to another and soon she found herself driving across the country to set up a new life in Nanaimo. First a student, then working in a high powered job in Vancouver that no longer fit, then returning to recoup her strength in a little apartment suite. Though at times she faced meagre finances, she felt God guiding her to three part time jobs, each coming at just the right time to meet her needs. At the same time, she was befriended by a Christian counselor who helped her get to the root of her heart, and of healing. Together they worked through the guilt of her failed marriage, and the loss of her first husband to cancer several years later. In grace, “I had finally reached the point when I could look in the mirror and like the person looking back.”
And so she was ready for a new season in her life. While she was working a fill in day at one of her jobs, she had a chance meeting with the man who would become her second husband. On first meeting they chatted amiably. A short while later he invited her for a coffee, and then he invited himself along on a dream group tour she was taking to Israel. The day after they returned, he proposed. She had not been seeking a relationship and was floored by his proposal, but recognized quickly their shared interests and compassion – and faith.
Now Anne and John live a different life, taking that trust and care to new levels, supporting work in their church and reaching out as regular and generous donors and volunteers to programs throughout Nanaimo, including Island Crisis Care Society and its programs.
“I just feel driven to keep doing things that are beneficial to other people,” Anne says, and to mentor and guide others through the minefield of life.”
“Even a cracked vessel, can let God’s light shine through.”
As we close our conversation, I ask Anne what advice she would give to her younger self. She pauses in deep thought. Then she recalls the times when she sobbed herself to sleep as a child, feeling so alone, not knowing that God was there all the time, seeing her pain and struggle as a part of the process to make her whole. “ I guess I would tell her, you are not alone,” she says at last. “God really is with you.”