Celebrating 15 Years of Freedom

November 10, 2004. The day before Veteran’s Day. The day freedom arrived for me. Freedom from abuse. Even though the years seem to fly by, on November 10 of each year, I am keenly reminded of just how far God has brought me in my healing journey. One month ago, I shared my story of finding my voice after abuse silenced me, with over 500 amazing individuals at a Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Michigan. Fifteen years ago, I could not see past the day that was before me. My life was filled with uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Fifteen years later, my days look much different. However, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support system God has placed around me.

When I spoke in Michigan, I listed all of the people who have advocated for me in various ways, identifying them by the role they played. Teacher. Guidance Counselor. Social Workers. SBI Agents. Coaches. Youth Pastor/Leaders. Professors. Friends. Family. The list goes on. I have never had to walk this healing journey alone.

I do not believe healing from childhood sexual abuse simply ends one day. I do not believe it is something we can just check off our to-do list. My body and my mind will always remember what happened. But, living in freedom, I have a choice.

Daily, I get to choose to keep pursuing a life of light, renewal, healing, and learning. I refuse to fall back into the place of silence where shame and fear once held me captive.

I am committing my 15th year of freedom to the continued fight for reform of the NC sex offender registry legislation. It is a fight for survivor’s voices to be honored and heard a decade after a court case is closed when abusers are provided the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry. Until all voices are heard and honored, I will fight.

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Life: 1 Year After Facing My Abuser in Court

It is so hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I returned home to North Carolina to face my abuser in court for the second time. Hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender was absolutely devastating. It is still infuriating and feels like a major injustice. It is terrifying to think about how he now attends little league baseball games as he stated in court that was one of his primary motivators for wanting to be removed from the registry. However, with time and healing, I have been able to turn those emotions into motivation and fuel to advocate for change. In this last year, God has opened doors for me that I believe are a direct result of my time spent in court a year ago.

I have had the incredible opportunity to begin speaking with a senator’s office in North Carolina. One of the primary goals I have set in advocacy is for victim notification of petition hearings. If I had not communicated with the District Attorney’s office in the years leading up to my abuser’s petition, I would not have been notified when my abuser was returning to court. North Carolina has an extremely helpful victim notification system that informs those who are registered to receive updates when the status of a sex offender changes. However, it does have a flaw. I received an update once when my abuser’s address changed. Then, I did not receive another update until I got the automated phone call letting me know my abuser was removed from the sex offender registry. There was no automated call to inform me of my abuser’s scheduled court date. I believe this will be a fairly simple “fix” to ensure that victims who want to be notified when his/her abuser petitions the court to be removed from the registry, he/she is informed in a timely manner. I fully support individuals who never want to be notified by a court again once a case is closed. However, I will stand firm in my beliefs that if a victim wants to be notified, he/she should be guaranteed timely notification. I will be forever grateful for the Assistant District Attorneys who listened to my concerns and promised to notify me as soon as my abuser was granted a court date for his petition. Even though the ruling was devastating, I will always rest knowing that I had the opportunity to speak truth in that courtroom.

The Lord has continued to ignite a passion in me to share my story so others can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of victim services I received through the years. God has opened doors for me to engage with individuals on the national level. This October I will travel to Ann Arbor, MI to lead a breakout session and give a keynote speech for a statewide child abuse and neglect conference. In December, I will have the opportunity to lead a breakout session for the Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. I first attended this specific conference in New Orleans eight years ago. I never imagined that I would be given that same platform to educate people from across the nation about the impact petition hearings have on individuals who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

In the days following the judge’s ruling, I flew back home to New Orleans and tried to launch back into my routine. Life did not fall back into place gracefully. I did not feel like the same person I was prior to the judge’s ruling. I felt like I had lost myself. Those feelings were a symptom of the trauma of reliving the abuse as I looked at my abuser from the witness stand. I was changed through that experience. Some of the plans I had for my life had to be delayed while I took some time to heal. God is so faithful and His timeline is always much better than any we can ever imagine. Six months after I appeared in court, I began seeing clients for counseling as a provisional licensed professional counselor. A couple of months after that, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same school where I received my master’s degree. Later this month I will attend my first course as a Ph.D. student.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I believe it is worth mentioning again. If you had told 13-year-old Kendall who had just talked with a social worker at school about the abuse she was experiencing at home that one day she would be standing where I am now- I would never have believed you. Abuse teaches us that we are unworthy, ruined, dirty, and shameful, among other things. You don’t grow up believing you have a voice because it has been silenced by an abuser.

God redeems. God heals. God loves. God will lift the voice of those who have been silenced.

For those of you who have joined me on this blogging journey, your support means the world to me. For those of you who have prayed for me over the years, I can not thank you enough. For those of you who think no one will hear your voice, I am listening.

This journey continues. Stay tuned for more blog posts, updates on legislative activities, and future speaking engagements. If you ever have any questions or want to know how you can advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse in your own community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Not My Shame

I’m fairly certain one of my earliest blog posts shares the same title as this one, but the words have been a truth I have held tightly through the healing journey. Not my shame. I remember my therapist telling me when I was around 17 years old that the shame I was carrying did not belong to me. Diane Langberg, a respected counselor/researcher/author/speaker, calls this type of shame “inflicted shame.” She defines it as “the shame of one person inflicted on the self of the other. It is the shame belonging to the perpetrator but carried by the victim” (Langberg, 2015, p. 133).  Many, if not all, survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience this type of shame. And it is not even ours to begin with.

Shame attacks the identity of an individual whereas guilt attacks the behavior of an individual. Guilt is quite often justified, the result of a sinful action; however, shame is one of Satan’s tactics of holding a person captive. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Shame infiltrates every aspect of our being and prohibits us from being able to see ourselves and our world as God desires.

When I reflect on my inflicted shame, it began the night the routine abuse started- when I was eight years old and quietly, but quickly, walked from my abuser’s bedroom to my bathroom sink and attempted to scrub his semen off my small hands. That is the first time I felt dirty. Not a muddy, been playing in the woods all day dirty, but a soul-penetrating dirty, that doesn’t wash off under the faucet. It was more than a physical dirty. The shame told me that I deserved what my abuser was doing to me. Shame said that I was unworthy. The shame was compounded by the secret I was instructed to keep. It could not be spoken, “or else.”

The impacts of shame continued to manifest in my life during my disclosures of the abuse and in the years following. When I would speak up about some of the things my abuser did, shame reminded me there were some acts that were unspeakable. Shame said, “you can’t tell anyone about that or you will be judged forever.” Shame during my teenage years told me that “no one will want to know the real you. You are only good for what your appearances can offer.” Shame led me to believe that rather than becoming a doctor, I should aspire to become a playboy bunny. Shame, that was not mine to begin with, tossed me into some deep, dark valleys. It was only the spiritual light that could lead me out of them.

My therapist and my youth pastor are the two people who initially helped me see the light. It took literal years of them pouring truth into my heart and mind before I began to recognize that I did not have to live with the shame my abuser inflicted on me. Here are some of the truths that helped me step into the light.

  1. Psychoeducation on abuse and trauma. I had to comprehend the dynamics of abuse and the power my abuser had over me. I had to see the little girl that was being abused, not the woman I seemed to become overnight who I believed should have stopped what was happening. I had to understand the impacts of trauma.
  2. Talking and trauma narrative. Shame festers in silence. I had to be able to speak the words of my experiences. I had to take back the power which silence had stolen. I told my story at my own pace and in my own words in a therapeutic environment with trusted individuals.
  3. Reclaiming my identity. The identity shame gave me became normal. Even though it was unhealthy and often resulted in more pain, it felt safe because it was what I knew. I had spent more time with the identity of shame then I had as a normal little girl. I had to recognize that it was not the identity God gave me. I sought scripture passages to reveal how God viewed me. I had to make lifestyle choices that would align with God’s view of his daughter.
  4. A whole lot of prayer and accountability. I pray for God to help me see myself and others through eyes like His. My youth pastor, therapist, and others prayed for my healing in the years after the abuse ended. When I feel myself starting to slip into old thought patterns that lead to a place of shame, I reach out to someone I know will hold me accountable. Have people in your life who will speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear and believe.
  5. Take back power. A pivotal moment in my healing journey occurred when I recognized that I could take back the power my abuser and Satan had over my life. I decided that I didn’t want to live according to the desires of my abuser and Satan. I decided that I would grow into the person God designed me to be. I decided to follow God’s will for my life wherever it led. I found my worth in simply being a human that God created for a purpose. I decided my purpose mattered.

I would be lying if I said I never struggle with shame. It is not a “follow the directions and fix the problem” kind of experience. However, I hold on to God’s truths tightly and they have the power to lift me out of the valley when I allow those truths to permeate my entire being. Shame will not be a part of my identity.

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Langberg, D. (2015). Suffering and the heart of God: How trauma destroys and Christ restores. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press

Why I Started Praying For My Abuser

Recently, I found my thoughts slipping back to the “what-ifs.” What if we had chosen to go to trial instead of accepting a plea deal? Maybe he would have received a heftier sentence. What if I could have told the investigators EVERYTHING my abuser did to me instead of the things that brought slightly less shame? The charges would have been greater. What if my abuser’s punishment had been more severe? Maybe he would still be on the sex offender registry. These what-if questions stemmed from my rational fear that my abuser will abuse again.

I struggled with feeling like I had not done enough to protect other children from my abuser. In reality, I have done everything I can possibly do to protect others from my abuser- disclosed the abuse, appeared in court, stayed up to date on everything sex offender registry related, and raised awareness through my blog. I may not be able to do anything physically to protect children from my abuser, but there is one powerful way I can take action.

Prayer.

I used to hate my abuser and I would wish for him to spend eternity in hell. Even that would not protect little girls from my abuser during his time on earth though. Thankfully, God has done a lot of work in my heart as well.

God is the only one who can truly change my abuser’s heart. My abuser’s repentance is the only way he can “not abuse.” If I want little girls to be protected from my abuser, then I must pray for my abuser. Ya’ll, that is no easy task.

I am not at the point where I can pray for his repentance on my own. Right now, it looks like this: “God, I know that you can change the heart of even the most hardened. I know that you can change my abuser’s heart and open his eyes to the destruction he causes when he abuses. Praying for him is not easy, but I know the only way little girls can be safe from him is through you. Please change his heart and lead him to repentance and redemption…”

God has helped me realize that there is no punishment he could have received here on earth that would have changed him. I absolutely believe that punishment and consequences for crimes are necessary. I believe that right now, punishment for abusing a child is not severe enough. But earthly punishment will not end child abuse. However, a repentant heart and a redeemed soul might keep one child safe.

This insight has granted me freedom from feeling responsible and peace in knowing that I am still taking action to keep others safe from my abuser every single time I pray for him. It’s not a prayer I excitedly pray, but I am trusting that God will continue molding me through this process and I trust that God will hear my prayers and work according to His will.

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I am praying for the protection of little girls like her.