[TRIGGER WARNING: Implicit descriptions of rape and sexual abuse]
Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! (Ephesians 5:11-16, The Message)
I was twelve years old when she discovered me riding my bicycle along the back roads of the town where I resided. She struck up a conversation with me about Jesus and church. Did I want to go? Yes. I invited Jesus into my heart shortly after that.
I was almost 14 when I began babysitting for her son and his wife; I loved their three-month old baby boy. Taking care of him made me feel important and needed. Soon, the boy’s father gave me attention that I had never known: suggestions on how to dress, how to act, and how to do what grown women learn to do. I felt special; he told me I was special; and I longed to believe I was special.
* * *
My life was already traumatic. Erroneously, my birth mother believed that getting pregnant would ensure a marriage proposal from my birth father. When that plan failed my birth mother chose to place me up for adoption. From age three until 11 or 12, my rage-a-holic father consistently beat me. It was no wonder that I gladly accepted Jesus into my life.
I knew what hell was, and Jesus was my only way out.
Doctors diagnosed my father with lung cancer sometime around my tenth year. I hated him and secretly rejoiced in his painful demise. Then I met Jesus, and everything changed. I sent my Bible and a note to in the VA Hospital. I shared how he needed Jesus and wrote a prayer for him. Three weeks before he died, Jesus appeared as a bright light in his hospital room. God transformed that abusive, cancer-ridden man into a forgiven, repentant man who sought me in tears for failing as a father. Would I please forgive him?
Three weeks after my father died, the man whose son I babysat took a detour while driving me home. The unthinkable happened on a dark back road as effortlessly as rain falling from a darkened sky. He comforted me in ways that no young innocent girl should know. Then he deposited me in my driveway as if nothing happened and drove away.
The unthinkable occurred many more times over the next four years. I endured his bi-polar drunken anger, grief and tears as he reckoned with his sins. When I finally escaped, his mother accused me of being the seducer who would forever carry the blame.
I spoke of this to few. I buried it in a shallow grave as it haunted me mercilessly. It is said: “That which you resist persists.”
One day, my twelve-year-old daughter disclosed that she and her younger sister had endured the same nightmare at the hands of someone we knew and trusted. This time the secrets were exposed. There were law enforcement officers and Child Protective Services, arrests, court dates, and front-page news sharing juicy details minus the names. In a small town, everyone knows, everyone whispers. Many shun victims, even in the church.
* * *
Two years ago, my 88-year-old mother made a confession: While babysitting, in 1939, an alcoholic man brutally robbed her 13-year-old innocence. No one knew besides her best friend who had endured the same abuse by the same man.
How sick the secrets make us when we suffer in silence, fear, toxic shame, self-hatred and self-blame.
Yes, I forgave my father … Yes, I forgave these men … I forgive because I have been forgiven of much, and choose to love much.
“My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. ‘For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. ‘The flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has arrived for pruning the vines, and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:10-12, NASB)
This story is part of our Stop the Silence, Start the Healing initiative. Each month we feature the story of one person who has never had the chance to tell her story, without fear, in a safe space. We honor these women who are speaking up.
Do you think you may be on the receiving end of abuse? Please visit our resource page for more information on what it is.
Image credit: Giuseppe Milo