WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Crisis and Opportunity

By Tomo Hillbo

A mother bear with three bear cubs, on a river bank.

“My storehouse having burned down, I can now see the moon.”
— Mizuta Masahide, 17th-century Japanese samurai poet

Content warning: This reflection refers to the author experiencing abuse as a child.

In Japanese, “crisis” (危機) and “opportunity” (機会) share a character: 機. This character has many meanings—such as “spring of an archery bow”—but the first definition is a loom that produces an intricate fabric with a precise mechanism. Crisis and opportunity both spring out of an intricate mechanism that weaves a complex experience out of circumstance and impeccable timing. One causes great change; another brings possibility.

This is a story of my fabric. I grew up being abused for a decade by a family member. My parents were children of war and lacked inner peace to deal with something like that at home. I had no one who could help me. I convinced myself that I adored this abuser; it was safer to love him. The abuse stopped when I was 14, and my mind hid all evidence of the wrong he did to me while preserving the sense of guilt, that somehow it was all my fault. Also behind my consciousness, abuse and love got fused together. Many of my adult relationships suffered; they looked healthy on the surface but were deeply damaging inside. I believed I brought ruin everywhere I went—because I was me, utterly unlovable. Meanwhile, I kept a smile on my face and became an expert at appearing to be perfect.

Almost ten years had passed since I moved out of Japan when my abuser visited to stay for a week with his family in 2001. His two sons and my daughters were the same age, 4 and 2. My mama bear self sprung up and told me I couldn’t have him in the same room with my girls. I didn’t have a clue why she was telling me this so adamantly. But after they left, I started to remember. Memories came in a raging torrent and I lost my bearings in the roaring river of thorns. The pain was unbearable. I wanted it to end, but Mama Bear reminded me that my kids needed me. “My child, take a break,” she said. So I temporarily shut myself down and collapsed into her embrace.

The breakdown was a big crisis. And it was the beginning of my healing and liberation. It happened when I had no excuse not to look at my oozing wounds, as my girls’ wellbeing was at stake, and when I had resources to be able to afford the breakdown. I was incredibly lucky to be able to find an opportunity on the other side of the crisis. If any of the mechanisms hadn’t lined up, I might still be controlled by the toxins from my inner wounds.

As I started healing, I grieved for the child whose innocence was taken away, who was led to believe she was unworthy of life and love. The girl who suffered alone earned a mama bear who would love her until the end of days and protect her at all costs. For the first time in my life, I let myself be vulnerable because Mama Bear gave me permission. She loved me unconditionally, just like she loved my daughters.

The crisis was an opportunity for me to shed all pretense of “I’m fine, thank you” and start from scratch to learn to be fully me and love it, inner turmoil and all. I learned that strength comes from authenticity, never from perfection.

I wouldn’t be the same person now without that crisis woven into my life. It gave me an opportunity to grow: to move that much closer to love and meaning.

Spirit of love and light, pour in us so we may know opportunities in crisis, shine in us so we may learn to love our true selves, and manifest in us as lovingkindness to share with all who suffer secretly. Amen.

About the Author

Tomo Hillbo

Tomo Hillbo serves as the Director of Communications at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She is from Japan, a graphic designer, singer, mother, and wife of a Mennonite pastor from Sweden.


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