All of us have a story. Regardless of where we were born, the dynamics of our family, whether we were rich, poor, or somewhere in between, we all have a history that begins exactly the same.
“I was born on_______, in the city of _______.”
All human beings had a beginning. That beginning started exactly the same, biologically speaking. Of course, our birth stories would be different. Even among blood relatives, birth stories vary. For example, my firstborn, a son, was reluctant to leave the womb. We went to the hospital twice thinking the time had come, only to be sent home. A few days before his birth, I went to my weekly doctor’s appointment. She was surprised that I was still pregnant given I had been seven centimeters dilated for a week! She said that was definitely not the norm–that most women who are that far dilated are in a birthing room in active labor. I, on the other hand, left that appointment and went to lunch with my mom! It wasn’t until four days later, after a couple hours of off and on labor, that this child finally decided to exit his warm and cozy living space and enter the world. Our third child, also a son, apparently didn’t like the tight quarters of the womb. Labor started with him around 1:00 AM, waking me up from a sound sleep. After visiting the bathroom, where unbeknownst to me my water broke, I knew this baby was not going to wait for us to call grandma and grandpa to come sit with our other two sleeping babies. We phoned our next door neighbor who groggily came to wait for my parents and around 1:30 AM we set out for the hospital–30 miles from our home. My husband ran every red light down a thankfully empty busy road (with SO many stoplights) as I nearly broke his hand from the pain. When we arrived, the ER nurse in a panic put me in a wheelchair and literally ran with me to the maternity floor. Twelve short but intense minutes later, our son was born into this world. Although their stories differ, the process was pretty much the same.
Any one of us could sit with another person and tell stories from our lives. Chances are, that other person, even if just an acquaintance, will be able to understand at least some of the things we are saying, because, most likely, that person experienced something similar. There are people, though, who have gone through things that only certain others can truly understand. In 1994, my husband and I lost a baby. While many expressed their condolences to us, I found that those who had suffered a similar tragedy were the ones who really knew how to listen and comfort. One friend in particular, who had also lost a baby, came and cleaned my house for me. She remembered how difficult it was to get even the simplest thing done after that kind of loss. She also knew that a clean and orderly home would help create feelings of warmth and belonging. I have never forgotten that act of kindness though I doubt she remembers doing it. Similarly, I have a few friends who lost children when they were older. My heart breaks for them, but I cannot truly empathize with them. I do not know the pain of burying a sixteen year old who died tragically in a car accident, nor the pain of burying a five year old killed tragically by the school bus that was supposed to safely carry her to and from school. There are other aspects of our lives that sometimes require help beyond what even the most empathizing friend can give. Those parts of some of our stories, the most difficult and painful parts we may have, need the hand of an all powerful and all loving God. My two friends above both leaned, and continue to lean, hard into God, despite not knowing the why behind their tragic and immensely sad loss. Part of my story includes such a segment as well. It is a part I have not shared with many, yet it has haunted me for most of my life. It has wreaked havoc in my marriage, for the damage that was done is deep and is not easily undone. It is also one that for most of my life, brought shame and the belief that nothing could ever heal it. It is one I have wanted to write about and share for a long time but was never sure it was the right thing to do. Today, I decided that stories are not only powerful, but can also be of help to someone who may have gone through the same experience. Just as my friend who lost a baby provided an understanding shoulder when I needed it, I share part of this pain now in hopes of showing others what God can do when we are open to allowing Him to work. I do not claim to be completely healed. God is still working in me, and sometimes I definitely get in His way. It is a journey that will not be complete until I enter into His presence. That is where complete and total healing will happen. But, looking back over the last three years, I can say I am farther along the path of healing than I was five years ago.
The part of my story that has been locked away (for the most part) in a corner of my heart involves hurt at the hands of those who were supposed to love me. I see no need to name names or even relationships. I have forgiven–but only by the amazing grace and help of God. You see, for years, I was the victim of abuse. I use the word “victim” cautiously because for years I had the victim mentality. I no longer keep that mindset, although I do believe a person who suffers any kind of abuse at the hands of another is indeed a victim of the act. The abuse I endured permeated much of my childhood and adolescence. The abuse encompassed more than one area, meaning it was physical, emotional, and sexual in nature. It was well hidden for much of my life. It had to be for various reasons–reasons that I don’t believe are relevant to this piece of writing. It was largely the damage from this abuse that led me to the intense self-hatred I still possess. (Remember, I said I was still a work in progress–not completely healed yet.) I was fed lies about myself, about my body, about my family, and I believed every one of them. A child’s mind is impressionable beyond belief, and once a statement is cemented into a belief, it is a difficult process to turn around. In my case, the statements were repeated over and over so that I came to know them as truth. I believed I was ugly. I believed I was unwanted. I believed no man would ever want me. Those beliefs led me to the conclusion that all males were jerks–a belief I still struggle with to this day. I came to believe that that being a girl was a horrible sentence that only a mean God would impose. Therefore, in addition to my abusers, I blamed God for making me a girl at all. More than once I tried to end my life, believing I was worthless and so damaged that life just wasn’t worth living. I carried shame everywhere I went, fearing someone would know just by looking at me. I feared if someone did actually know, then even more bad things would happen, both to me and to those who perpetrated the damage. Secrets, especially bad ones, have a way of eating at a person, almost driving them to the point of insanity. I held this secret for many years, desperately trying to bury it in any way I could. But, secrets have a way of coming out eventually. Mine was no exception.
I won’t give details of all that took place in those years of horror. At some point, I may decide to do that in another venue. For now, I write this because I am certain there are other women and girls out there who are keeping such a secret. Shame and embarrassment, even fear, keeps them from saying anything. Sexual abuse is one of the two leading causes of suicide attempts–the other is bullying. As an abuse survivor, I would say with confidence that abuse in childhood is bullying in its most intense form. For most of my adult life, as I wrestled with how to reconcile the injustice that took place in my childhood with a loving, just God that people spoke of, I floundered not only in faith issues but also in relationships. Convinced that the lie told to me–that no man would ever want me–was indeed truth, I quickly attached myself to any guy who would give me the time of day. I constantly compared myself to those around me and knew I did not measure up to them in the beauty area. This is still a major struggle for me. I blamed God for allowing it to happen. It was this deep seated belief that God didn’t really care about me that kept me from a true relationship with Him for so long. It wasn’t until three years ago, when my pastor said some very hard words to me, that I realized that for all the years I had blamed God for the abuse, that blame got me nowhere. It didn’t take the abuse away. More importantly, it didn’t place the blame where it belonged–on the people who actually did the abusing. In conversations with my pastor as well as a trusted friend from church, I came to see that not only would God impart justice in His time, but also that He wept with me during those years of abuse.
Three years later, after this epiphany about God in my life, I can honestly say that I have forgiven those who abused me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean excused. Their behavior was completely wrong. But I am not the one they have to answer to. I belong to God; someday they will have to answer to my Father when they stand before Him. In the meantime, I know that carrying that hatred with me only hurts me. I once heard someone say, “Hurt people hurt people.” I have come to believe that those who abused me were hurting individuals. Somewhere, at some point in their lives, they were most likely hurt in a similar way. That actually saddens me now, where one time it would have made me happy. God has so much more work to do in me. I still struggle with so much of the emotional fallout from the years suffered at the hands of my abuser(s). Sometimes I still have flashbacks and nightmares of things that took place. I’m afraid to be alone at night–a difficult predicament when one is married to a man who often travels for his job. And, that traveling also causes issues, for I often catch myself believing that what my abusers told me is true–that I would never be truly loved by any man. A victim of abuse has a hard time trusting anyone…even someone who said a vow to love and cherish.
Statistics show that 28% of children in America are victims of sexual abuse before the age of seventeen. That statistic is approximate because often, abuse is not reported to anyone. It takes courage to tell on someone older and stronger than you. That means in a church youth group of forty kids, eleven of those students could be victims of sexual abuse. They may show up weekly with smiles on their faces, willingly participating in events, or they may be the kids who tend to not want to get involved and keep to themselves. The point being, it is often impossible to know if abuse is taking place–especially if the abuse takes the form of no visible evidence. I was a kid who showed up at youth group every week. Admittedly, I didn’t go willingly. My mom made me go, but no one there suspected anything so horrible was taking place in my life. If they did, they didn’t show it by attempting to come alongside me and try to show me Christian love. Of course I would have rejected them, but what could have changed for me if someone had persisted enough to help me learn to trust? What if someone would have taken an interest in me and built me up and taught me that my identity was found in Jesus, not in lies that were told to me or what had been done to me? Would I have turned to alcohol still to numb the memories and pain? Would I still have attempted to end my life, feeling like there was no reason to live since no one loved me anyway? These questions are obviously hypothetical since the hands of time cannot be turned back and things in the past cannot be changed. For me, what I went through has made me more aware that everyone has a story that may or may not be visible to others.
Time does not heal all wounds. Deep wounds, like those left by the loss of a child or abuse suffered at the hands of others, eventually stop bleeding, but the scars they leave behind seldom fade. My stomach bears the marks of multiple pregnancies. I do not detest my stretch marks, for they remind me of the wonderful and miraculous privilege of carrying our children. The scars left behind by my abusers are not visible–they are marks ingrained deeply on my heart. God has put pressure on those wounds that bled for so long, and now they no longer bleed. For children suffering abuse, others can come alongside them, love them, and encourage them to not keep the secret that potentially can cause so much damage. But only God can heal the wounds inflicted. Our jobs as adult Christians are to encourage young people to not keep such a secret, make sure they are getting the help they need, and constantly point them to the God who ultimately can heal them.
That’s only possible, though, if kids are told it is okay to talk about these difficult subjects. Kids need to hear that, sadly, this does happen, even in church going families. They need to hear testimonies of people who have been through it and have come to see the healing hand of God in their lives. Adults need to hear these things as well. I imagine there are many women, like me, who grew into adulthood hiding this shameful secret. (I realize that boys are often victims of abuse as well. I just write from my own perspective which is female) It is not a vindictive thing to be telling, but rather a freeing one. It is why I finally decided to go through the pain of sitting down and typing this entry–an entry that has taken me two days to compose. I know God can do a wonderful work in the heart of a person willing to allow Him the opportunity to do emotional surgery. I know because I am living proof of it, for it is only by the unbelievable grace of God that I can think of those who abused me and not feel hatred. God still has some major surgery to perform in me. Thankfully, I am learning more and more to trust Him with the knife.