Brigitte Quinn: Out of Darkness, Into the Light
Meet Brigitte Quinn. She is a 38 year old wife and mother of three.
In more ways than one, hers has been a journey through darkness marked by pain’s chill. But it didn’t stop there.
Her darkest days ultimately gave way to the Light. And along the way, a Warmth was beckoning her.
Open your heart wide as you encounter these words. [You might want to grab some tissues.]
My growing up years were spent in Landrum, SC. My family and I moved here from Switzerland when I was really young, and we found our home in that sweet town. To me, it felt like the kind of neighborhood you see in the movies – kids riding bikes, neighbors who were genuine friends, a real sense of community.
I made a friend there named Ashley whose aunt lived on my street. She attended the church that sat across from my house. That church intrigued me. On Sunday mornings I always heard celebration coming from inside. Lots of hooping and hollering. What’s going on in there? I often wondered.
Ashley and her aunt were there every Sunday, and she was always inviting me to come with her. I would ask my mom, and sometimes, if I had finished all of my chores, she let me go.
I was fascinated by what I experienced there – the warmth of the people, the music… I remember hearing people talk about the Holy Ghost falling. I had no clue what they were talking about, of course. I was a wide-eyed, seven or eight year old little girl.
I had only rarely heard about the Lord at home. One of the few times the subject ever came up, it was explained to me that some people believe there is a God who created the world, while others believe something different. I was assured that whatever I chose to believe would be supported. That was the extent of my understanding of God when I entered that church for the first time. So any references congregants made to Jesus and the Spirit were lost on me. I had no way of connecting the dots to understand that the potential creator God mentioned at home was connected to the Jesus and Holy Ghost I was hearing about.
A year or so into my new found church life [I was now eight], I found myself sitting in a service beside Ashley when an altar call took place. Before I knew it, she stood up and went to the altar to respond. Oh no I thought. She is not going to leave me here by myself. I had seen such wild responses to previous altar calls – what they called “the Holy Ghost falling” – that I was afraid to be by myself when that happened. So I made a beeline to the altar. We were asked a few questions about believing in Jesus and then led in a prayer. I took my cues from Ashley and repeated whatever she said. The entire event was disconnected from my heart.
In that church, new believers were immediately baptized. So I ran across the street during service to let my mom know things wouldn’t finish until later…and that I was getting baptized. With a look of surprise, she allowed me to return to the service. Very soon, I was baptized…and, in the congregation’s eyes, was now saved.
Everyone kept referring to the “change” I was going to experience – the change inside that comes with salvation. I didn’t know what they meant. In the days that followed I kept looking for this “change.” I kept thinking maybe I would see it one morning when I looked in the mirror. But nothing ever seemed to happen. I kept waiting and waiting on it…
Summer came a few short months after that altar call and baptism experience. It was time for my trip to Switzerland. Every few years, my family and I took the trip back to visit family. This trip was different though; I was going by myself for the first time. I would be flying alone and, once there, spending time with my grandmother and a few other relatives. I was a little scared to go by myself but excited too.
My mom bought me new clothes to take – and even got me new Minnie Mouse pajamas to wear. Being the youngest girl of four children, I was thrilled to have so many new clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs. My luggage was packed, and I was ready!
After landing, my grandmother met me and said she had a surprise. Instead of heading to her house as we had planned, we were going to Uncle Rolf’s [her son’s] to meet my new baby cousin and spend a few days there. I was so excited – I loved babies! And I loved going to see Uncle Rolf. He was the life of the party and had so much personality. Being a photographer, he usually offered to take my picture too. The attention he gave me made me feel so special.
We arrived at his house and I met sweet Baby Emily.
Then my aunt and the children left for their trip to Canada. We had plans to stay at Rolf’s two nights. My grandmother, knowing how afraid I was of the dark, asked me who I wanted to sleep with: her or Uncle Rolf. Without saying it, I remembered my grandmother’s tendency to snore loudly. So I chose to sleep with Uncle Rolf that first night.
My grandmother tucked me into his giant bed, and I drifted off to sleep.
A while later, I don’t know how long, I woke up to him touching me. The memories of what took place for the rest of that night are broken. I remember feeling like something bad was happening but not knowing how to make it stop.
I woke up the next morning to my grandmother’s screams. “What have you done?!” she wailed at me. I looked… and there was blood all over my Minnie Mouse pajamas…and on the sheets too. “You’ve done a very bad thing. Don’t tell anyone what you’ve done.” I didn’t know what it was I had done.
“Go get in the bathtub!” she yelled through tears. She put something in the bathwater – maybe amonia. Whatever it was, it stung horribly. I was screaming and crying from the pain. She kept telling me to wash well as she stripped the sheets off the bed.
I had never seen my grandmother like this. She was hysterical – sad, furious, and frantic all at the same time.
She snatched up my pajamas and bed sheets, marched out to the yard, and lit them on fire.
I knew then how grave the situation was. I was afraid for my life. Something horrible had happened, and I was the one who did it.
We gathered our things, left the house, and went to the train station. She told me to sit at a nearby cafe and she would get me some ice cream shortly. Then she walked closer to the station. She was pacing. There was such a mixture of emotions coming from her. Some moments felt like she was furious, but others felt like she was taking up for me.
As she paced, she glanced back at me ever so often. The weight of the look on her face was crippling to me. I didn’t have a word for it, but I felt buried under something tremendous. The heaviness was unbearable.
I know now what it was. It was shame.
I also know now that my grandmother felt buried under her own heaviness. She had been ambushed with a situation that felt utterly disastrous.
After a while, the train arrived and off stepped Rolf. My grandmother went up to him, screaming in French. I knew she didn’t want me to hear what she was saying. On she went, yelling. Then she slapped his face. She marched over to me, and we grabbed our stuff and left.
The rest of the trip was a blur. I do remember my grandmother taking me to buy new pajamas. I looked frantically for Minnie Mouse ones – to no avail. My parents didn’t have much money. Every purchase mattered. I knew my mom was going to wonder where my new pajamas were when I got home.
Finally, I came home.
And sure enough, my mom noticed my pajamas were missing as we were unpacking. When she asked about them, I felt sick to my stomach. This is it I thought. It’s hard to convey the terror I felt. [Not only had my grandmother told me not to tell anyone, but she also said that if I did tell, my parents would send me away.] I eked out some made up answer about the pajamas and managed to dodge the truth.
Before long it was time for me to start the fourth grade. Having once been an A student, I quickly began acting out. I wrote hate letters to my teacher, drew pictures of me killing her, and started lying about everything… It was extremely disturbing to my family. One night when we were trying to fall asleep, my sister asked me what was wrong. “Why are you doing all this?” she asked. “I have a secret I can never tell you,” I told her.
I carried the secret for the next year. My acting out only worsened. I would sometimes think to myself about that “change” I had waited on – the change those church people told me I would experience. No wonder I never felt the change I thought. I’m a bad person. I did a terrible thing. Of course I’m not going to feel the change.
Around this time, my parents got called in for a conference with my teacher. While they were at the school, my sister confronted me. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing at school, but when they get home, you’re going to be in a world of trouble,” she said. My grandmother’s words came back to me. I went upstairs and started packing my bags. This is it I thought. They’re going to send me away. I’m all alone.
My sister saw me packing. “Brigitte, WHAT happened???” “I can’t tell you. I’ve done a very bad thing!” “Tell me,” she said. So from my broken memories and limited understanding, I told her what had happened with Rolf. And I begged her not to tell our parents.
Of course, she did tell them. This started a huge ruckus in our family. My parents called Grandmother and Rolf, drilling them with questions. There were several phone calls back and forth, with mixed responses from the two of them. My broken memory of what took place caused my story to appear to have holes.
For several years, I was very troubled. I ended up hearing more about God from friends the older I got, and it made me angry. If He was what people were describing Him to be, how on earth had he allowed such a horrible thing to happen to me right after I started attending church as a child?
I started seeing a psychologist named Helen when I was twelve. My dad needed concrete proof to believe that the abuse had really happened to me. After a simple preliminary test, Helen assured my parents that abuse had definitely taken place. My anger towards my parents became explosive. I knew how important money was to them [since there wasn’t much of it] – so I would take money out of my dad’s wallet and burn it. I found all sorts of passive aggressive ways to lash out. I continued therapy for four years.
In the midst of my darkness, I met a guy named Mark. He was two years older than me, and he had this way about him. We were just friends, but I was drawn to him. He was the first bright light my life had seen in years.
Eventually, my grandmother and uncle finally owned up to what had happened. They only acknowledged a sugar-coated version of the event, but it was still significant. Therapy finally helped me to reach a healthier place, and at the age of sixteen, I decided to confront them both face to face.
I had to break the silence, and I wanted to extend forgiveness to both of them. I knew I had to do it for my own release – I didn’t hinge any hopes on how they would respond. Because my grandmother had moved to the states, I saw her first. And though she didn’t want to talk about what had happened, she cried when I told her I forgave her.
Then I went to Switzerland with a letter I had written Rolf. I gave it to my godmother, and she made sure he got it. The experience of extending forgiveness was surreal. I was in this protected bubble where I could do the hard thing that needed to be done yet did not need a specific response to feel validated.
My friend, Mark, was waiting on me at the airport with roses when I came home. He asked me out on our first date soon after. [Unbeknownst to me, he had rededicated his life to the Lord while I had been on my trip. He was cleaning up his life and had new confidence to ask me out.]
Soon after we started dating, I met Mark’s parents. I noticed that they had his same winsomeness. Whatever I felt drawn to in Mark, they had it too. Okay I thought. They do go to church. Maybe that’s what it is.
I started asking Mark questions. His answers were always this loving invitation. He was never pushy. And once I told him about my abuse, he stepped all the more lightly when the subject of faith came up. He never gave me pat answers; the way he responded to me always felt real.
This dialogue continued for the rest of our courtship. He would invite me to church occasionally, and I usually said ‘no’. I was still very angry over what had happened to me. But my curiosity kept being sparked.
About six years into our relationship, I met a woman at the office where I was working in Atlanta. She had a light shining from her soul. It had nothing to do with her outward appearance. There was some intangible glow about her; she lit up the room when she walked in. And her words were full of love. She spoke such peace over me. She often invited me to come to church with her. I said ‘no’ every single time. But there was a real stirring in my heart by this point.
After seven years of dating, Mark and I married. I was twenty three.
We moved into my sister’s basement in North Carolina when we were starting out. This brought her friend, Donna, across my path. Donna was radiant just like the woman in Atlanta had been. There it is again I said to myself. How does she have that? Why do I not have that?
Every time Donna came over to my sister’s house, we would sit and talk. I asked her question after question. After these conversations, I resigned myself to believing there really was a God. “But this Jesus thing…” I told her, “I’m not there yet. I don’t see how Jesus is God.” “That’s okay,” she would say.
I decided to ask Mark’s dad some questions too. I told him about the prayer I prayed as a little girl and how I got baptized. He [and others] assured me that if I had a real experience back then, I was saved. But I knew when I heard their responses that what I did when I was eight had not been real in my heart. I had just mimicked what Ashley did.
About a year after getting married, we got a surprise. I was pregnant! We hadn’t even been trying… and I had been told I probably couldn’t conceive. After the initial shock, we were so excited.
But then I miscarried. It was devastating. Watching Mark’s pain was excruciating for me. This was yet another accusation I had against God.
In August of 2002, just four months after our miscarriage, we moved to Cowpens. My first interaction with our new next door neighbors came as I was putting up a flag in our yard for Halloween. It had a cat and a black moon on it. Their four year old daughter was standing nearby and said “My mom says you’re putting a sign of Satan in your yard.” Wow. I called Mark and told him the craziness that came out of that child’s mouth. Clearly, this family was a bunch of Jesus freaks.
In February, we had another miscarriage. And in April, we had another. Three miscarriages in a year’s time.
I was in the deepest pit. I would fume at God with my accusations. Why are you letting this happen?! Haven’t I been through enough??
That summer, I saw our next door neighbor, Crystal – you know, the crazy one – standing in her yard. She was pregnant. Great. Yet another reason not to talk to her. It felt cruel to see her with a swollen belly.
One day that August, I was sitting in our living room sobbing. I was watching A Baby Story and was overwhelmed with hopelessness. The possibility of ever having a child seemed destroyed.
Through my tears, I heard a knock at the door. I peeked through the blinds and saw it was Crystal. You’ve got to be kidding me. Now? Really?? I let her knock several times, wishing for a way to escape answering the door.
Finally I answered it. I barely opened the door. “Hi, I’m Crystal. I’m your neighbor. I’m sorry I haven’t come by sooner to meet you.” She was holding something homemade. “Do you have a minute for me to talk to you?”
“Umm, I really…”
She interrupted, “The Lord has impressed upon me that I have to come talk to you. I have something to tell you.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” I responded. I thought she was going to ask me if I was saved. Conversations with strangers that started this way in times past had always led to that question.
“I’m not sure you do know. Can I come in for a second? You may want to sit down,” she said. There was authority in her voice.
Fine I thought, rolling my eyes on the inside. I let her in. She thanked me profusely. She set the dish down, took a deep breath, and said, “Ok. I’m just going to come right out with it. There’s no use beating around the bush.”
“Sure,” I said. “Just spit it out.” I felt totally ready.
“God told me while I was washing dishes this morning… He said ‘You’re going over there today to tell her that she is going to be a mother. And she’s going to have a baby girl.’”
I fell to the floor weeping.
This woman had no idea I was just sitting in this house asking God ‘why?’ an hour earlier. I had never experienced anything like this before. She had no idea about the three babies we had lost. My heart couldn’t comprehend God going to this great length to comfort me. I was sobbing uncontrollably.
Crystal was beside herself, distraught at my reaction. She told me she didn’t want to upset me and that she had put off and put off coming over but just had to obey.
She ended up staying with me for two hours that day. When she prayed over me, I felt loved… and treasured… and safe… and completely understood. It is still one of the most profound moments of my entire life. She finished by saying “in Jesus Name.” She looked at me and asked, “Do you know that Jesus is God?” “No, I don’t.” I said through tears. “I prayed a prayer when I was eight, but I don’t.”
“It’s okay,” she said, “because He knows you… You keep praying anyway.”
Her words freed me. All of the sudden, it didn’t matter what I didn’t know. I didn’t feel weird praying to Jesus anymore. It was okay if I didn’t know Him for sure…because He knew me.”
The next month, I found out I was pregnant.
I was ecstatic. And couldn’t wait to tell Crystal. I added up the days and realized I had already conceived when she came over with that amazing word. I couldn’t get home from work fast enough.
When I told her, she said “Let’s pray.” We got on our knees. “Brigitte, put your hands on your stomach. You are not going to lose this baby.” She mentioned the woman with the issue of blood in her prayer and said we were reaching out to touch Him the same way she had. She told me to keep praying over my baby and asking God to wrap His arms around my child. And that’s what I did.
That December, after a timely conversation with our friends and subsequent invite from them, we went to see The Passion of the Christ. I was a sobbing mess through the entire movie. I kept feeling throughout the film that I was the one who put Him on that cross. I was completely enveloped by His love. I prayed in the theatre, “Jesus I want to know. If you are really God, show me. I need You to show up. I need something tangible.”
Two months later I was driving on Battleground Road heading home. The sun was setting behind the cross of a church steeple. It was a breathtaking sunset. But then my eyes went to that glaring Cross with the sun blazing behind it.
I felt His presence in the car with me. I couldn’t drive anymore.
I pulled over on the side of the road, shaking and weeping. “You are God, Jesus. You do love me. You’ve loved me from the start. You’ve been with me all along. I’m so sorry I couldn’t see You. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe. But I believe now… And I give you my whole life, every bit of it. I don’t have much to give, but I give it all to You. I will teach this child about You for the rest of my life.”
I physically felt His arms around me. And I was changed.
The change I had kept waiting on so many years ago – it finally happened.
On February 17, 2004.
Peace I cannot describe with words washed over me. It was the safest I had ever felt in my life. The surest I’ve ever been about anything. I felt whole…and could feel purpose in all the pain I had experienced.
I called Mark, Crystal, and another dear friend. I had to tell them my incredible news: I finally knew that Jesus was God! And I knew I had to get to a church service. Mark asked me where I wanted to go. “I don’t care – anywhere!” I said. I just wanted to get some place where I could “officially” share what had happened.
So he took me to a church the next Sunday, and I went down front. The poor altar man did not know what to do with me. I tried to explain to him what happened to me on the side of the road. “So I really know Jesus is God now!” I told him. “That is fantastic, ma’am. Are you ready to pray now?” I could see his bewilderment. My story had been totally missed on him. The bubble I had attached to this “official” experience was burst. Still, I was glad I did what I felt led to do. It was my first act of obedience as a believer.
I see now that God was making sure, from the get go, that I knew He was not a church building. He is not an institution – He’s too big to be contained by such things. I certainly hadn’t grown up idolizing church, and He made sure I wasn’t going to start now that I was a believer. My faith could never rest in an institution. It was only to rest in Him.
Two months later, on April 23, 2004, I gave birth to our daughter. Indescribable, explosive joy surged through my soul.
The word God had spoken through Crystal now came to pass entirely – we had our baby girl. She was born two years to the day after our first miscarriage. It was a kiss from Heaven for her to enter the world on the same date that had brought such sadness two years earlier.
Soon afterward, we got plugged into a church. I was baptized again – this time, with full understanding. I came out of that water putting on real newness. It was a profound moment.
I have since become a mother to two more precious children. My cup overflows. Every day I stand in awe at the gifts they are in my life.
Pain Births a Passion
In 2005, Mark and I went to Nicaragua for the first time. On that trip, I met more than one girl who had endured sexual abuse – and made a special connection with a survivor named Carla [name changed]. My heart was broken. Lord, these atrocities have to stop! Something has to be done.
I started praying. Praying for the girls, praying for answers to the problem, and standing in the gap for these orphans who had no one fighting for them.
In time, I learned that Carla had been sent back to her family for a while and had endured further abuse, resulting in pregnancy. She was now back at the orphanage and carrying a child.
I could not get back to Nicaragua fast enough. I wanted to tell Carla that this was not her fault, that this cycle can be broken with her baby.
I made it back in January 2013 and went to the orphanage asking to talk with her. Shame was all over her. She had a growing belly, and no one around her had said a word about the child she was expecting. I looked into her eyes and told her my story.
It was the first time I had had the courage to share my story in this way – and to talk about it without crying. I knew the Lord had done something in me. It was healing and tremendously freeing. Not only was I unveiling my own pain, but by doing so I was offering hope in the midst of someone else’s pain. I told her it wasn’t her fault and that this wasn’t the sum of her life. Tears started streaming down her face.
I went to the orphanage director and encouraged her to congratulate Carla on her baby. She did, and it broke the silence concerning the pregnancy. Carla’s face lit up, and soon every child at the orphanage was excitedly trying to touch her belly. The word for that day was freedom. It made itself known in a glorious way.
I knew the Lord had sparked something in me. As soon as I got home from that trip, I started researching organizations that might offer an outlet for me to serve others the way I had Carla. Months later, I discovered Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization. They were offering training the next week in Charleston! My friend, Michelle, joined me, and together we stepped into this new territory.
Michelle and I led our first Darkness to Light training in Nicaragua in November 2013.
Then I knew what I had to do; I knew my first presentation at home had to be with my family. I had to talk about this very painful topic with them in order to break the silence. I was terrified. God was going to have to come through or there would be no presentation.
Well, as always, He did come through. He carried me through every word of it. It was amazingly healing. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had carried shame through the years – my family had too. Feeling it lift was inexpressible.
God has ignited a passion in my heart to break the silence surrounding sexual abuse. When the secret is spoken, shame lifts. When darkness is exposed, it loses its power. It’s this truth that propels me forward with the hope of seeing others set free.
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
The Kingdom Dynamics at Work in Brigitte’s Story…
A scripture comes to mind as I think about her journey:
“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience,
not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
His kindness leads us to repentance. Not His whippings, not His pointed finger.
Oh, how beautifully Brigitte’s story demonstrates this. From her earliest days, dark though they were, His kindness was whispering to her. Through her friend, Ashley… Through the church across the street… Through the warmth of its congregation…
Then in her teenage years, there that Kindness was again. This time, in Mark. In his winsome way, his kind answers, his gentleness, his patience.
Then in her twenties, His kindness came in the form of the lady in Atlanta, Donna in North Carolina, then Crystal. Ah… Crystal.
Want to talk about kindness? Kindness – His kindness – will lavish life and hope on you while you’re accusing Him. And sometimes through vessels you would least expect. God sent His prophetic word to Brigitte through a woman she thought she didn’t like. Friends, this is nothing less than the Kindness of Almighty God.
Not only is He kind, but He is astoundingly patient (I Timothy 1:16).
He kept pursuing Brigitte’s heart as long as it took for her to grab hold of the Truth. He is relentless. And does not give up on us when it’s taking “longer than it should” for us to see Him. He knew what her heart needed to come to terms with Truth, and He didn’t stop until she did.
He is kind. He is patient.
And He lifts shame.
As early as the Garden of Eden, He’s been calling to us, pursuing us, in the midst of our shame (Genesis 3). Whether it was our own choice or someone else’s, there’s nothing we’ve done that’s too dirty for His love to touch. Nothing.
This is why [for those who may be wondering] the story includes some details of Brigitte’s abuse that make us cringe. Unless we’ve walked there, we have no idea how brutal someone’s shame has been. And thus, we miss the magnitude of the Love which met them right where they were.
Oh, how His beauty magnifies, how the power of His love explodes, when we grasp the depths into which He reaches.
And He doesn’t stop at simply touching our shame – oh no.
He obliterates it with His warm embrace.
Our hearts are made whole in His presence, and in turn, He empowers us to free others in His Name.
Am I the only one dancing and shouting right now? Beloved, throw off those chains – let’s celebrate this beautiful King!
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
I Peter 2:9
Thank you, Brigitte, for so vulnerably unveiling your journey –
and for following His kindness into the full light of day.
This song says it all: “I’ve tasted and seen, of the sweetest of loves, when my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone…” It’s a perfect rendering of Brigitte’s love story with God.
If you are interested in learning more about Darkness to Light,
you can visit its website at www.d2l.org.
To contact Brigitte about Darkness to Light trainings,
email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous #WorldChangingWomen [& The Story Behind These Stories]: