Giving Thanks

It has been a week since my abuser was granted relief from the sex offender registry. This last week has been filled with more emotions that I can write and a pain deeper than I have felt in a long time. Now the shock has worn off and I am beginning to feel human again. In the midst of the pain, I have remembered, and I have been reminded of things for which I can give thanks. There has been and will be a greater good that God will allow to come out of this experience. So, in this post, I want to share a few of those things with you. In future posts, I will share about the hearing and what took place in the courtroom and suggestions I will make to legislators to better serve victims of childhood sexual abuse.

  1. I have to give all the thanks to God because He was at work even in the court room. Whether it was the comfort He provided my family, friends and I or the strength and courage He placed in my heart to take the stand in front of my abuser- I can’t imagine having faced that battle without my personal relationship with Him.
  2. I was surrounded physically by an amazing army of family and friends during each trip to court. They sacrificed time off from work, time spent relaxing or with their families, to sit on an insanely uncomfortable bench for HOURS in the court room. I was surrounded by so many people in spirit who lifted prayers and sent words of encouragement throughout the week reminding me that I was not alone.
  3. The Duplin County District Attorney’s Office walked with me every step of the court experience. From allowing me to enter early to avoid running into my abuser or his family in the halls, to explaining each aspect of the hearing, to fighting as hard as they could to ensure that my abuser would remain on the sex offender registry. They have stood with me for years as I prepared for that day. I don’t question a single action they took on my behalf and I am not left wondering whether there was something else they could have done.
  4. While the judge’s ruling was incredibly tough to listen to, the judge was fair and made a decision completely “by the books.” He did not take my case lightly. He delayed the hearing so that he could ensure he had a complete understanding of every law governing this specific type of hearing. He did not speed through the hearing, simply relying on what the defense and prosecutors presented to him. He made my abuser take the stand and face an open court where he was questioned about the abuse. He allowed me to read my victim impact statement in its entirety. While I disagree with the ruling, I know the judge made a decision based on the law (which has to change).
  5. I’m not sure anyone would have anticipated me giving thanks to the defense attorney, but his character was admirable. The defense attorney could have asked for portions of my victim impact statement to be omitted, but he did not object and allowed me to read it in its entirety. He also could have cross-examined me, but he chose to rest the case instead.
  6. While I wish with everything in me that my abuser would be registered as a sex offender for life, I am finding freedom in knowing that I will never have to face my abuser in court again. Based on the current state of the laws regulating/governing the sex offender registry, my abuser would likely have been removed from the sex offender registry at 15 years. Had his petition been denied last week, my abuser would have been able to file another petition for removal 365 days later. It spares me 3 extra petitions if he would ultimately be removed anyway. While it still hurts incredibly bad that he no longer has to register, I am relieved that neither I nor my family and friends, will have to go through this again.
  7. I am thankful for the woman that came and gave me a hug after I gave my statement. I don’t know her name or her story, but she thanked me for being brave. If I was supposed to go through all this so she knows she’s not alone and that her voice deserves to be heard, then it was all worth it.

Friends and Family, I cannot thank you enough for your outpouring of support over the years, but especially these last three weeks. This particular chapter has closed, but a new one is opening. Stay tuned to learn how you can help me change laws, make our states safer, and empower victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Petition Filed

I’m catching a flight back to North Carolina early tomorrow morning and for the first time I am wishing I did not have to travel home. I’m dreading it. I’m nervous. I’m scared. It all started with a phone call I hoped I would never receive.

On July 3, my phone started ringing and I quickly noticed it was Duplin County District Attorney’s Office. “I’m calling regarding the Mr. ***** case… He has filed to petition the court for removal from the sex offender registry…” For two years, I have known that I could receive this call any day, but that preparation did not make it any easier to hear those dreaded words. In fact, I had finally reached a point where I could go an extended period of time without even thinking about the abuse or his potential petition- which was a significant improvement from where I was a few years ago. I had just started to believe that maybe he simply would not petition.

So, I will board a plane tomorrow. At some point next week, I will enter a court room as I did 12 years ago and my abuser will be sitting, waiting. His attorney will argue that he has been rehabilitated and has “behaved well” for 12 years. He will probably say something to the effect of “he deserves another chance” and “the sex offender registry negatively affects his livelihood.” The prosecutor will argue that my abuser should have to wait at least 15 years to petition for removal from the registry as the federal guidelines suggest. He will also express concern for the public’s safety should my abuser be removed from the sex offender registry. Then, the prosecutor will let the judge know that I am in attendance and I would like to address the court.

While I have a statement that I prepared two years ago, now that I am facing this moment, words suddenly seem impossible to express my experiences, fears, concerns, and plea for a denial to my abuser’s petition. And there is a chance the judge will choose not to allow me to speak- because I had that chance twelve years ago.

So friends, I ask that you pray. Pray for the judge to grant me the opportunity to speak and for me to have the courage to speak boldly. While I would love to ask you to pray for the judge to deny the petition, I have to ask you to pray for me to have peace with whatever decision is made. I certainly hope with ever fiber of my being that it will be a firm denial of my abuser’s petition, but that is not in my realm of control. Pray for comfort and peace for my family and friends who are experiencing the impacts of this denial as well.

The name of my blog was not randomly chosen. It’s a reminder of what I’ve been called to be and do.

Brave Girl, Speak.

 

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Misdemeanor MOTIONS: Petition for Removal from the Sex Offender Registry

Reaching Goals

Yesterday, I got to walk across the stage in a beautiful chapel, in front of family, friends, and amazing professors to receive a Master of Arts in Counseling: Specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. It was a long five years of reading, studying, writing papers, giving presentations, counseling clients at two sites, attending weekly group and individual supervision, serving full time in ministry, reading some more, and yes- even memorizing the entire book of Philippians. I would not trade a single moment of the last five years of my educational and clinical experience. As I sat in the chapel, waiting for my name to be called, I could not help but reflect on the little girl that did not think her life would amount to anything.

But, God had and still has greater plans than anything Satan can attempt to stir up. God has transformed and redeemed the experiences that were meant to break me. God used His people to encourage me, support me and remind me of my worth so that I could one day see all that God desires for me. These special people have been there for me at my lowest of lows and my highest of highs and they continue to fight for me. I am so extremely grateful for each of these individual’s place in my life.

Now that I will have a break from writing papers, I look forward to blogging more- finishing the series I started about sex offenders and the church and other series. I am honored that I was selected to speak at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s National Colloquium in New Orleans in mid-June (If you are planning on attending, let me know- I’d love to see you) to share my story and how advocates empowered me to find my voice. I will begin pursuing licensure in counseling this summer and will work towards acceptance into the Ph.D. program in the future. I am certainly the most excited about welcoming my nephew to the world in August and all the spoiling of this precious baby that comes along with becoming a first time Auntie.

I hope if you are reading this, that you too will continue pursuing those goals and dreams that you’re not sure you can attain. There is nothing that you can’t achieve if you seek God’s will, surround yourself with people who support and encourage you, and make a decision that you will not give up even when it gets hard.

 

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My sweet PJ worked just as hard as I did for this MA

 

The Call That Made My Heart Race

Two weeks ago, I received a completely unexpected phone call. It was an automated message. I did not recognize the phone number, so I did not answer the call. My phone struggled to transcribe the message because it was nearly three minutes in length which piqued my interest in knowing who had called my phone.

“You are subscribed with us to receive updates about an offender whose last name is                      and whose first name is                         . I’m calling to tell you that this offender’s registered address has changed. The new address is                                 . Please note that it is possible that this offender’s address has changed because the offender has been incarcerated and is now in a North Carolina county jail…”

From the time the recording gave my abuser’s last name to the end of the message, I experienced many different physiological reactions and emotions. I immediately felt my heart begin to race as anxiety and fear swelled within me. Before the recording told me my abuser’s address had changed, my thoughts (irrational due to my brain’s survival motivated response) created a whole scenario about how my offender had successfully petitioned for removal from the registry and the court failed to notify me. Talk about some angry thoughts flying through my head! Next, I felt significantly relieved to learn that only my abuser’s address had changed, not his status as a sex offender. Finally, I experienced frustration because I could not recall the 4 digit pin I needed to enter to let the victim notification program know that I had received the message- thus, ensuring my phone would ring and I would receive the same message until I could recall my pin number or call the victim notification program itself.

When I recovered from the initial shock of this call, I quickly typed in the address to see where my abuser now lives. I choose to know where my abuser lives for various reasons I covered in an earlier post. It brings me comfort and a sense of safety to know this information.

I share this experience for two reasons. My first reason is to express my thanks for this program. While I somewhat regularly check out the sex offender registry to view the status of my abuser, it is a relief to know that this program will notify me if anything changes in his status. And, they will notify me very quickly. Less that two weeks before receiving this phone call, I had checked my abuser’s profile because it was close to the time he was required to verify his information.

My second reason for sharing this experience is because I want people to have an idea of what it might be like to receive that type of call. I was not prepared in any way for that call and had it been earlier in my healing, that call would have easily destroyed my day or week. Even 13 years after getting away from my abuser, I still react when I hear his name or get a call about him. That fight or flight or freeze response was immediately ignited. If you have signed up to receive offender notifications, and you get this same call, know that it is normal to feel all the emotions.

If you would like more information on how to register for notifications regarding a specific offender, follow the instructions on this website: https://vinelink.com/#/home

Make sure you pick a 4 digit pin that you won’t forget in a moment that could be very stressful.

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My phone’s attempt at finally transcribing the voicemail recording

My Abuser Could Be Your Neighbor

The primary reason I started this blog was to raise awareness of laws regulating the sex offender registry. Did you know that in most states sex offenders can petition for removal from the registry? My abuser is currently eligible and could file this type of petition any day. He was in his mid-late thirties when he began abusing me. I was eight years old. If he successfully petitions, he could one day be your neighbor and you would not know that he sexually abused a little girl for years.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you will pick up on my strong support of survivor voices, particularly when it comes to court proceedings. When my abuser entered his plea of no contest and was sentenced to 48 hours in jail, 36 months’ probation, and was required to register as a sex offender, I was not prepared to make any type of victim impact statement, despite being afforded the opportunity.  There was no advance preparation and simply being in the court room, in the same building as my abuser was overwhelming. Not making a statement haunted me. And I had to accept that the opportunity was missed.

Years later, when I learned that my abuser was going to be eligible to petition for removal from the registry, I was distraught. Rather than letting my voice be silenced in this matter, I started making phone calls. I was determined to not let another judge make a decision about my abuser without hearing my voice.

I am thankful for an ADA who heard my voice and listened. I am thankful for an ADA who will stand beside me if the day comes that my abuser petitions before a judge. I am thankful for an ADA who took the time to explain all the possible scenarios and who explained the basics of a victim impact statement. I am thankful for an ADA who is fighting for my voice to be heard.

A year and a half ago I posted my impact statement to my blog. While it was one of the most difficult pieces I have wrote and the scariest to post, I hope that seeing an example of an impact statement will help someone else write theirs. I found it to be healing to write. Hopefully, I never have to return to a court room and see my abuser. But if I do, I will be prepared and that is comforting.

If you have any questions or want more information about writing an impact statement, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “contact” tab.

Impact Statement

Today, when I entered this court room, I did not come in as a victim like I did ten years ago. Today, I am standing here as a survivor. However, being a survivor does not mean that I am freed from the effects of long term sexual abuse at the hands of xxxxxx, my former xxxxxxx, my abuser. Rather, being a survivor means that through the flashbacks, depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame, I will choose to keep living, thriving, and healing. That August night I watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with my then xxxxxxx forever changed my life.

What should have been an innocent bonding time turned into a nightmare that I lived every time the show aired and my abuser was home- sometimes five nights a week. While that August night is when the ongoing sexual abuse began, the intentional grooming process began long before that. When I was just six, seven, and eight years old, my abuser was preparing me for that night I would come lay in bed beside him to watch a television show- but leave a victim, terrified by his threat and feeling completely ashamed and broken. That August night I could have been covered from head to toe in manure and still I would have felt cleaner than I did as I washed my abuser’s semen off of me, at eight years old.

During the years of abuse, I would go to school every day and come home knowing what my abuser would expect of me that night. The threat and fear he instilled in me on that August night, and the years of grooming broke me down to the point that my abuser never once had to tell me to come back to the bedroom and perform sexual acts. I reached the point of believing that this was my duty and my abuser reinforced this belief by telling me that he knew “how curious little girls are” and that he was just “helping me out.” My abuser was never drunk, high, or under the influence of any mind-altering substance when the abuse occurred. Those things would not have excused the crimes, rather I say it to clarify that my abuser consciously chose to abuse me hundreds of times.

What I call my “Freedom Day,” came on November 10, 2004. I was a little over a month shy of turning 14. While I was freed in a physical sense from the hands of my abuser, I am still learning today that healing is life-long. Over 250 counseling sessions, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, antidepressants, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, shame, low self-worth- these are just some of the things I’ve dealt with in the last ten years. When physical freedom from the abuse happened, my entire world was turned upside down even more. My siblings, mom, and I were forced to leave a house we dearly loved, our belongings ended up ruined in storage, our precious pets were left in the care of my abuser, and we moved into a single bedroom in my grandparent’s house. And that was only the beginning.

I could spend a really long time detailing the last ten years of my life. There have been highs and lows but I’ve made it through them all, just like I survived the years of abuse. But that is not why we are here today. For nearly two years I have been anxious about this day. It absolutely terrifies me that there is a chance my abuser can be removed from the sex offender registry. There are hardly words to describe the peace of mind I have knowing that law enforcement knows where my abuser lives and that people who have children around him can know that he is a predator. It brings comfort to me to know that the likelihood of another child being abused by him is at least decreased some by him being on the sex offender registry. I am not his only victim. He also assaulted my xxxx xxxxxx. The abuse was not a one-time incident. I can look back at when I was an eight year old child and see just how manipulated and controlled I was by my abuser. He was brazen enough to abuse me not only in his bedroom, but also in the living room, in the swimming pool, and in the cab of his truck. The fact that he abused me despite the rest of my family being one room away shows just how capable he is of grooming another child and abusing them without anyone knowing- for years.

Not only does a denial to my abuser’s petition for removal from the registry protect other kids from the potential of being abused by him, but it also serves as continued justice for the crimes he committed against me. That August night when I was just eight years old, hoping to watch a television show and bond with my xxxxxxx, I was forever added to a list I didn’t choose- child sexual abuse victim. My xxxxxxx chose to put my name on that list. I will forever live with all that list brings. Just as I will always deal with the effects, I believe that my abuser should have to live with the ramifications of his actions, which landed him on a list. Even if my abuser is one of the very few predators that never abuses another child, it would be an injustice for him to no longer have to face the consequences of his choices that forever altered my life.  

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The Words I Wish My Abuser Would Say

How do you wish to plea Mr. *****? “No contest, your honor.”

As a 15-year-old walking through the judicial system, I did not understand how a “no contest” plea was acceptable in my type of case. If you know he is guilty, why can’t you make him say that? This plea, however, is what was accepted to protect me from the trauma of a trial [insert mixed feelings here].

If you are unfamiliar with a “no contest” or nolo contendere plea, it is when the defendant neither disputes nor admits to the crimes he/she has been charged. The way I remember it being explained to me as a teenager is that my abuser was refusing to admit his guilt but was willing to take the “punishment” that would be imposed for a guilty plea. I can recall people trying to comfort me by saying that no innocent person would plea this way because “who in their right mind would agree to be penalized for crimes they did not commit?”. While that explanation comforted me some, it was not the same as my abuser stating he was/is guilty of sexually abusing me.  More than anything in the world, I wanted to hear him confess.  

Why did an admission of guilt from my abuser feel completely necessary for me at 15 years old and why is it something that I still wish would happen to this day?

At 15 years old, I primarily wanted him to confess so that his family, who had become my family, would know that I was not lying. When my mom, siblings, and I moved immediately following my disclosure at 13, I lost an entire part of my family. Family that I had spent holidays and birthdays with for nearly 7 years. They were my aunts and uncles and cousins. I just wanted them to know the truth.

Today, I still want people to know the truth without any doubt. Every time I share my story, there is still a tinge of fear that wonders if the hearers will believe me. I want my abuser to validate the abuse in a way that only he can. When it comes down to it, only God, my abuser, and I know exactly what took place those many nights when I was just a child.

In my opinion, our norm response to disclosures of sexual abuse- with more questions than comfort and a greater emphasis on finding reasons why the disclosure couldn’t be truthful than looking at the evidence that supports a disclosure- contributes to the desire for an abuser to admit guilt. A desire for my abuser to admit his guilt.

As I have worked on this post, I have gone back and forth on whether this is one that I want to post because I believe there is the chance it can be interpreted incorrectly. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take (so if you have questions or think I’m crazy, please don’t hesitate to reach out). 99 days out of 100, I don’t think about or mull over wishing my abuser would admit his guilt. But it is one of the residual effects that sits far back in my mind and resurfaces every now and again. Whether my abuser ever admits his guilt during his time on earth, I commit to keep living brave and bold and to keep speaking truth.

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Redemption. Thirteen Years.

Thirteen years ago, I was a terrified thirteen-year-old child. I believed it would be my last day on earth as I left the security of my middle school walls. Thirteen years later, I am walking into a computer lab to take the most important exam of my graduate school career. I am honored that God is providing me with an extraordinary glimpse at redemption. What are the chances that I would be taking the CPCE the year that the test date falls on this pivotal day in my life? It is a powerful remembrance and an ode to God’s healing in my life to look back on the frightened child I was to the person I am today- taking an exam that will provide me the opportunity to continue counseling hurting people. Only God could orchestrate this redemption of November 10.

On November 10, 2004 my family learned about the abuse I had experienced for the previous years. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was finally freed from the hands of my abuser; however, I had learned to live with the pain of the abuse. I had no clue what the pain of healing would entail. There were times I did not think I would make it another day. But each time I reached that point, God showed me how and why I could make it another day, and another day after that. As the years passed, November 10 became a little less painful and a little more joyful. I slowly began to see progress in my healing and I found that there IS life after sexual abuse.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate that I don’t have to live in fear of my abuser. I celebrate that I don’t have to go to sleep each night with a secret no child should ever have to keep. I celebrate not having to keep silent in shame of what my abuser did to me. I celebrate each day of the last thirteen years that have led me to where I am today.

I don’t know where you may be on your healing journey from sexual abuse, but please know that there is hope. The pain will eventually ease. Joy will be felt throughout your soul once again. Your days can be reclaimed. God is at work. Keep going. Don’t give up. Make it another day. You are not alone. 

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 3: When Whistles Indicate Worth

When I think about how sexual abuse effected my view of self, there is one incident that most accurately depicts my identity struggles. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you will likely recognize this story.

I was around the age of 9 or 10 when I was on a weekend trip at a hotel with an indoor pool in Raleigh, NC. An indoor pool meant hours of entertainment for my siblings and me. When we entered the pool area, my siblings and I were ecstatic because we had the entire pool area to ourselves. As we played in the shallow water, I noticed a man in the sauna adjacent to the pool area. When our eyes locked, he slowly loosened the towel from around his waist exposing his nudity. Immediately, I equated this man in the sauna with my abuser back home. He acted the same as my abuser and within seconds a war was raging in my mind. “Am I supposed to go in there?” “I can’t leave my sister and brother alone in the pool.” “What if they followed me in to the sauna?” “I know what he needs me to do.” Thankfully another family joined my siblings and I in the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left.

In my previous post, I talked about how after the abuse began I did not see myself as a child any longer. This incident with a stranger in a hotel sauna epitomizes the destruction of my identity resulting from the abuse. I was no longer a child. I was only worthy for sexually pleasing men. The view that my worth was found in men’s actions towards me lingered for years.  

 When I was a teenager I can remember being out at Myrtle Beach or even the Walmart the next town over. Nearly every time I was out, at least one person would holler some sort of catcall or whistle. It made me frustrated for a brief second to be yelled at like that; however, it rapidly triggered in my brain the neural pathway that screamed “yes, you are still worthy, you are still wanted, you are still needed, this is right!”  I would question what was wrong with me if I was out and did not have a catcall directed my way. This was my normal. The frequency of whistles and catcalls indicated how I viewed my worth.

I started writing this post last week before the #MeToo movement began. I find it so timely that it took off just as I was finding the words to speak. It has been overwhelming, but not shocking, to see friend after friend post #MeToo on social media. I know behind each of those statuses there are probably several others who can’t post yet because it is not safe or simply because they don’t want to- and that is ABSOLUTELY okay too- I believe you.

I hope we don’t get caught up in the hashtag. I hope that we keep this conversation going. I hope that we take action so the #MeToo will be in reference to something positive we can all experience.

The change that I desire to see is an end to the degrading catcalls and inappropriate language used to speak to and/or describe women. Every time I heard a catcall or whistle, the beliefs my abuser instilled in me were reinforced. Every whistle perpetuated the belief: “this is it. This is what you are here for. This is what you were made to do. Now, go meet his needs.”

So, before you whistle or catcall that person- consider asking her name and how her day is going.

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 2: Where is the Child?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  “How can I look younger? What if people think I’m the mom here? What if people think I’m the wife here? How can I make sure people know I’m the daughter? I’ll have to make sure they hear me say ‘dad.” These thoughts flooded my 10-year-old brain as I strolled down the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach with my dad and two younger siblings.

Initially, when I began this series I was going to address the effects of sexual abuse on my view of God, my view of others, and my view of self. However, I quickly realized the intricate connection between those three views. I have decided to approach this series more from a developmental perspective detailing how those views changed through the years.

At ten years old, I no longer viewed myself as a child. Soon after the abuse began, my imaginative play diminished. I completely lost my ability to connect with Barbie dolls or stuffed animals. I could still play sports and board games, but anything that required the use of my imagination failed to culminate.

When my abuser stole my innocence, he ended my childhood. The transition into adolescence is often tumultuous followed by the excitement of entering independence and the freedom of adulthood; however, the ongoing sexual abuse disrupted those transitions and thrusted me too soon into an adult world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my ten-year-old physique reflected; but on the inside, the child had disappeared.

When I think about those thoughts that raced through my mind as I walked down the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, I grieve for that little girl who feared people would think these two kids, seven and nine years old, were her children. I grieve for the little girl who believed it was normal for a child to be in a sexual relationship with a grown man. I grieve for the little girl who believed no one could rescue her from her abuser.

Today, I see how God is continuing to work in and through each detail of my life. I see how He uses each of my experiences to educate others. Adults, if you recognize that a child suddenly stops engaging in imaginative play, have a conversation about sexual abuse. Create the environment and dialogue where a child will experience the safety and security necessary to take the bold step of disclosure. It could certainly be normal childhood development where imaginative play is no longer “cool,” but is that a risk you are willing to take? There is no harm that can come from having an age appropriate discussion about body safety and sexual abuse. Take that step.

A few months ago, I took my first step in the realm of poetry and I think it is worth sharing here as it exposes what it is like when innocence is stolen.

 

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

 

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I love these siblings of mine, more than words can express.

 

Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 1: Is God a Good Father?

After a nearly 2 month unintentional hiatus from blogging, I am glad to be back with a renewed desire to keep speaking bravely. In this post, I am eager to share the role God has played in my healing journey. Over the next few weeks (or longer) I will be sharing with you how childhood sexual abuse may impact your relationship with and view of God, others, and self.

I can’t remember a time in my life where I questioned whether there was a God. I grew up hearing God identified as a comforter, a protector, a refuge, the creator and the ALMIGHTY FATHER.

I don’t think there are words to describe the sheer confusion I experienced when my earthly stepfather chose to steal my innocence and repeatedly abuse me. There is no way my view of FATHER would not be altered. The person I viewed, in the flesh, as father, marred my understanding of the Father. At this point, I was in elementary and middle school. Because of those experiences, I had absolutely no desire to turn towards God or to even pursue a relationship with Him. Why would I? I had been so hurt by the person who played a significant father role in my life that seeking a relationship with God sounded like the most dangerous option out there.

Towards the end of middle school and in high school, I found a place of belonging in my youth group at church. The word I most commonly associate with my years in youth group is “home.” As my involvement in church increased, my knowledge of God deepened. However, I still wrestled with so many questions. I did not trust God with my life. I identified God as a comforter, protector, and refuge for others- but I did not believe He was those things for me. I would often have thoughts like, “somewhere along the way He must have lost track of me and He allowed me to fall into the grasp of a sexual predator,” or “He couldn’t possibly care for and love me like ya’ll say He does because He didn’t protect me from my abuser.” I also questioned how He could view me as His precious daughter when I felt completely “ruined.” Satan knew all the tricks to attack my self-worth and I suffered from those blows for years.

I am incredibly thankful for the adults who played a significant role in my life by speaking truth to me for years and for never giving up on me. I can remember so many times when my youth pastor, in a variety of forms, would tell me “Kendall, if you will let Him, God can take those horrible experiences of abuse to reach others in a way that He has equipped you to further the Kingdom and to help others.” But, I was not ready to LET God have that part of my life back. He did not help me when it was happening; therefore, I was going to figure out the whole “healing” thing on my own without Him.

By the time I reached my senior year of high school, I realized that I was simply spinning tires in the mud. Even though I had made substantial progress in counseling and my PTSD symptoms had nearly subsided, there was a piece of me that still felt empty. No matter how I attempted to fill it, it simply would not go away. Even though I was active in church and participated in every youth event possible, I did not have peace in my heart.

Along my healing journey, I learned about the role forgiveness can/does play in abuse recovery. After multiple attempts of trying to forgive my abuser on my own, I realized that was not working like I had hoped either. In a moment of despair I can vividly recall making a “pact” with God. “Lord, I know I have not given my life to you yet. I acknowledge that you are God’s son and that you died for me and my sins, but it is absolutely terrifying to think about letting you be my Father. Help me truly forgive my stepfather and break the chains that still exist and I will give my life back to you.” Moments later, I stood up with the congregation at my home church as the choir sang a song of worship and I whispered “I forgive you.” For the first time it felt authentic. In one journal entry, I described that moment as fireworks going off signifying freedom. It was a feeling that could only be generated by God working in my life. A few days later, I made a public profession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and God as my FATHER.

Now I would absolutely love to say that my relationship with God has been smiles, closeness, complete trust and devotion; but, that hasn’t been my story either. There have been and I am sure will continue to be highs and lows. There are still times when I catch myself questioning why certain things happened and I have to remind myself that even in those moments God is still good and He is always who He says He is. Even when I desire to run back to the old paths that abuse carved out for me, God is there in Spirit and through others to speak truth and help guide me back to where He has called and equipped me to be. I believe it is an absolute privilege and honor that He has allowed me to see the good that can come out of the bad as my youth pastor told me so many times. He has allowed me the opportunity to walk alongside others as they discovered their brave voices. He has provided me with the ability to live in freedom and hope after abuse. At the end of the day (and throughout the day), I know that I can run to my Father’s arms and they will be outstretched waiting for me. There won’t be a sexual favor expected in return. His arms will protect me, guide me, and comfort me.

As I have typed this post, I have prayed that you will be reminded of God’s goodness. If you have struggled with seeing and knowing God as a good, loving, trustworthy, sustaining, protecting, comforting, and Almighty Father, I get it. I know the road is not easy. I know that it is scary. I know that it is lonely. I pray this post will speak truth to you like my youth pastor spoke to me. I pray for the day that you will find yourself relishing in God’s fatherly love that can only be found in Him. He truly is a good, good Father.

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Stay tuned for part 2 by clicking the “follow” link.