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

A Decision I Will Never Regret

I can still vividly recall the shakiness and fear that seemed to consume me when the Assistant District Attorney called me to the stand to be sworn in last summer. Based on television shows, you would think the swearing in process is a piece of cake. We regularly see people place a hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How hard could it really be? Just get up there and tell the truth, right?

I will never consider testifying in court as a “light” event in a person’s life. I can remember my heart racing, my hands trembling, and my voice shaking as I was sworn in and took my seat. Testifying in court is not guaranteed to end in the survivor’s favor. That lack of certain conviction is what played the most significant role in accepting a plea agreement when my abuser was initially charged. I experienced only a glimpse of what a trial feels like when I testified at my abuser’s petition hearing. But that glimpse was enough to help me better understand the trauma that will occur in the courtroom.

Over the years, courts have implemented trauma-informed approaches to reduce the impacts of courtroom testimony on victims. But there is no way you can expect testifying in court to not have impacts on a person as he/she relives the trauma. We should be prepared to walk with individuals in the days, weeks, or months after the court has issued a ruling. Whether the ruling is favorable or not, there will be major impacts.

Facing my abuser in court and testifying on why he should not be granted a petition for removal from the sex offender registry is one decision I will never regret. I don’t have to wonder if there was anything else I could have done to prevent my abuser’s removal from the registry. I had the chance to speak the truth in public in front of my abuser and his family as they sat by his side. I got to reclaim the voice of “little Kendall” and stand up for her. And even though the court’s decision was not in my favor, I would make the same decision again.

I do believe there are times when allowing a plea deal to be reached is best for the case, especially when there has not been a prior conviction. When the case against my abuser was first heard it court, it was the best decision to accept a plea bargain. I believe that plea deals protect children from further trauma. But I also believe that there is power in having the opportunity to testify- especially at petition hearings. It is kind of like the saying “it has to get worse before it can get better.” Testifying is going to be worse (but not worse than the abuse endured), but then you can come out on the other side stronger and braver. It is awful to do everything in your power to influence a decision yet still have it not result in your favor. It is unspeakable to hear a judge say “Therefore, based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court orders, adjudges and decrees the relief requested by the petitioner is granted…” But, I have absolutely no regrets.

If your abuser is petitioning the court from removal from the sex offender registry, I would encourage you to reach out to the District Attorney’s office and seriously consider appearing in court to make a statement. I am more than willing to talk with you more about the experience.

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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.

A Roller Coaster Year- 2018

2018- where do I even begin?! This year I have felt like I was riding one of the fastest, scariest, most exhilarating, and most breath-taking roller coasters ever invented. It has been filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. But as this year comes to an end, I am left with excitement about the future. I am walking into 2019 with the “feel goods.” It is not because I anticipate great things happening in 2019; instead, it is because of who I have grown to be in 2018. My spirit is stronger, and my hope is greater. I have seen God’s promises fulfilled. I have experienced the renewal of strength that comes only through Him. I have rested in His comfort and goodness.

At the beginning of 2018, I found out I would become an aunt for the first time. Pure elation is the only way I can describe my feelings following that phone call. My excitement grew each month we got closer to welcoming my sweet nephew into the world. Though Emerson’s arrival was a whirlwind, he has brought nothing but sweetness and joy to my life. I take the role of aunt very seriously and I am grateful that in 2018 it became a part of my identity.

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Early in 2018, I started playing volleyball for a club in the city. It has been the best form of self-care I have afforded myself in many years. I am so thankful for the friendships that have formed on the court. Being back on the court allows me to connect with some of the best memories of my teenage years. Though I can’t jump as high or dig as quickly as I could at 16, playing volleyball again has been so much fun.

After 5 years of balancing graduate school and full-time employment, I finally graduated with my MA in Counseling in May. There is no feeling like graduating with a degree that will enable you to do exactly what you are called to do. Getting to walk across the stage with friends by my side and in front of family and professors who supported me through this journey was certainly one of the biggest moments of 2018. While I have definitely enjoyed my last 6 months of “no school work” and I will certainly enjoy the next 8 months of “no school work,” I am eager to begin the next phase of my education and hope to begin working on my Ph.D. in August.

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In late 2017, I took a leap of faith and submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference. In June 2018, I had the honor of presenting at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 25th Annual National Colloquium in New Orleans. It was an incredible opportunity which allowed me to connect with people who are devoted to protecting children from abuse.

July is the month that still feels like it’s a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong. But, it does belong and the events of July are a major component of what made me stronger this year. At the start of 2018, I had finally found rest and comfort in the belief that maybe my abuser simply was not going to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. It had been nearly 2 years since he became eligible so there was evidence to support my belief. In July, I got the phone call that crushed that belief. Over two days, I walked in and out of a courtroom multiple times. I spoke the truth of what happened and the ways the abuse impacted me. I was able to do exactly what my blog title encourages, “Brave Girl, Speak.” It was traumatic to go through the “courtroom scene” again. There was no outcome that could be in my “favor.” Either way the judge ruled, there would be pain. Had the law prevented my abuser from being removed from the registry, I would have had 365 days of respite before potentially reliving the scene again. The pain of hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal was indescribable. I am finding greater freedom in the judge’s ruling than I ever believed possible. I have now gone through the legal proceedings I desire to change. Though I never wanted to face my abuser in court again or experience that type of hearing, I needed to so that I would know what HAS to change. In 2019, I am determined to make progress towards seeing that change happen.

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During the fall months, I was privileged to focus fully on working and healing. I needed the time to heal the wounds that had been reopened in court and to rediscover my identity after it felt so lost following court. In November, I submitted my application for a provisional license as a professional counselor. In December, I received my approval and will now begin the journey towards being a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am excited to resume something I love and to continue growing in my counseling skills.

2019 will be here in just a few hours. I want to thank each of you who have followed my blog this year and who have supported me through the year’s ups and downs. I am excited for the journey that will continue in this new year.

God is Faithful

Before the start of each semester as a counselor intern, I was asked whether there was anything I anticipated occurring that would impact my ability to work with clients. Multiple times I explained how there was a possibility that my abuser would petition for removal from the sex offender registry and if that occurred, I would be traveling to North Carolina with little-advanced notice for an indefinite period of time. Talk about an awkward answer to a question! I felt like I would be viewed as paranoid, but this was my reality. For over two years, I lived on edge, wondering when I would get that phone call to tell me the petition had been filed.

God is faithful. He is true. He is working even when we cannot see it.

There were days when anxiety and fear of that one phone call consumed me. I questioned how the petitioning process could ever be a part of God’s plan for my life. I felt anger that the chapter of my life I so eagerly wanted to close remained open.

In a way that only God can orchestrate, I received the phone call during an “in-between” time; a time when I was enjoying a break from all things school related after having recently graduated. It was a time when I was not counseling, as I worked on my application to apply for provisional licensure. If I was going to receive the phone call, it rang in God’s perfect timing.

I was also fortunate to have time and space to heal from the impacts of the petition hearing. Having experienced the process, I can attest that it certainly would have impacted my ability to counsel clients during my internships. I believe that God protected me and my clients from the derailment that would occur if I had received that phone call during grad school. There is no other explanation I can conjure for why the petition was not filed for over 2 years during a time of eligibility to file. God has been so faithful during this process. I was not able to see the intricate details He was working out at the time. But now, I get to celebrate and proclaim Gods faithfulness. The chapter of my life involving my abuser is closed. I do not have to wonder when my phone will ring from the DA’s office. I do not have to face my abuser in court ever again. I get to return to counseling, now as a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor. Because the chapter where I was identified by the court as “victim” is now closed, I can begin the chapter as“advocate,” and fight for reform of the sex offender petition for removal from the registry process. And I know that I will be able to celebrate His faithfulness in this chapter too. I challenge myself, and you too, to celebrate and trust in God’s faithfulness not just when you see the results, but every single day.

Living the Serenity Prayer

ac· cep· tance | \ik-ˈsep-tən(t)s

Over the last few months, I have been learning what it means to live in acceptance of things that can’t be changed. I don’t like not being able to change things. I don’t like that my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. But, I have to accept it. So, what does that mean? What does that look like?

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer- whether you have heard it in some form of media or at a recovery support group. You can find it plastered on magnets for a refrigerator or on paperweights for an office desk. I can recall my first time hearing the Serenity Prayer recited when I was a very young girl attending one of my Papa’s anniversary chip meetings/celebrations for his recovery from alcoholism.

“God, grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition for accept: to endure without protest or reaction; to give acceptance or approval to.

“To endure without protest or reaction.”

Living in acceptance of the court’s decision to remove my abuser from the sex offender registry has involved choosing not to protest or react. The idea of appealing the court’s decision was incredibly tempting at some points in this healing process. However, it became unmistakably clear that if I chose to “protest” the decision, my growth and progress toward healing would be stunted. Appealing the case would give me, at most, 3 years before my abuser would inevitably be removed from the sex offender registry.

I have learned that living in acceptance of the decision the court made has granted me a freedom that I would not have otherwise. I no longer have to worry about the “day my abuser might petition” or how I would have the strength to face him in court year after year. It is by no means easy to live in acceptance, but choosing acceptance allows me to work towards the second part of the serenity prayer.

While I am living in acceptance of the court’s decision on my case, I am NOT living in acceptance of this being the outcome in future court cases.

“God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.”

Legislation CAN change. Because I am living in acceptance of my case outcome, I can pour my energy into seeking change. Fighting things that cannot change will result in fatigue, discouragement, and hopelessness. I don’t know what change will look like regarding legislation, but I know that my experience in the courtroom has provided me with the insight needed to fight for change. God continues to grant me the courage I need to reach out to lawmakers and to take steps toward ensuring survivors’ rights in the courtroom.

“God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference” of when things can be changed and when they cannot.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things I desire to see changed and the what-ifs. I strive to seek wisdom from God in knowing where to pour my energy. Recently, I learned my abuser now has an active Facebook page, which was formerly prohibited when he was listed as a sex offender. While it frightens me to think about the children he now has access to through social media, that is not something I can change. I can raise awareness about sex offenders and social media; however, I cannot waste energy worrying about the people he may “friend.”

These days, I am learning the Serenity Prayer is becoming a way of life. Each time something “new” happens as a result of my abuser’s removal from the sex offender registry, I turn to God to determine whether I need to find acceptance or courage while always seeking wisdom.

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God grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as a pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Amen.


Moving Forward

It has been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and type. Life seems to have been moving at an accelerated speed lately. One of the goals of my blog has always been to convey hope to others who have been hurt. Hope that the pain will lessen. Hope that the offender will be held accountable. Hope that one day, the abuse one has experienced will only be a chapter of his/her life instead of a bolded header on each page. Some days my hope seems minuscule compared to the other emotions; however, most days, hope permeates my entire being. God continues to show me that He is in control and He is going to use my story to positively impact this world. Two days ago, He showed me, yet again, how He is at work.

On October 23, I sent my first email to a North Carolina legislator. I briefly shared one of my concerns about the sex offender registry petitioning process. I prepared myself for a delayed response. With the election less than a week away, I knew the Senator likely had more important matters to attend to at this time. I just hoped for a response one day. Just eight days later, I opened my email and with complete joy and surprise read an email from the Senator’s assistant. Not only is the Senator interested in hearing my concerns and ideas, but he is also willing to meet with me!

Now, God didn’t just allow for a quick response from the Senator. Hours before I opened my email, I FINALLY submitted my paperwork to the Louisiana LPC Board of Examiners to begin my journey towards licensure as a counselor. I became eligible to begin this process the day after I graduated with my master’s degree; however, after court this past summer it was imperative that I took the time to work through the trauma and allow myself some time to heal. I don’t really believe in coincidences. I see the two events as little nuggets of hope that God continues to give me to remind me of His love for me and His desire to see good come out of bad.

I have no clue what doors will be opened next. I am thankful for these steps forward. While I may still get tripped up on some days, the momentum is definitely towards making things better for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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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

 

Sex Offenders and the Church: A Response, Part 1

Over the last few weeks I have studied protocols churches have already established to handle sex offenders’ attendance/participation in the church. There are many different views on this topic; however, every article I have read so far has been in agreement on how to handle one specific situation.

If a convicted sex offender desires to attend/participate in a church where the victim of his/her crimes attends, he/she should NOT be granted permission to attend; instead, he/she should be directed elsewhere.

As I stated in my previous post, my abuser did not go to church before or during the time he was abusing me. After my abuser was charged, he never attempted to attend my church- at least not to my knowledge. When I was in high school, I found peace and hope within the walls of my church. I can not begin to fathom what it would have been like to be in church with my abuser. I know that it would have significantly impacted my freedom to worship at the church I love. It took months of hard work in counseling to reduce the anxiety and fear I experienced simply at the sight of a yellow D.O.T truck in town because that was my abuser’s work truck. For those of you who live in Duplin County, you know it is nearly impossible to drive anywhere without seeing a yellow D.O.T truck. I would have never been able to sit through a worship service or any church activity with my abuser present.

It has been 13 years since my disclosure, and I still would not feel comfortable or safe in the presence of my abuser. Though I have experienced a lot of healing and I have even forgiven my abuser, I do not want to be in his presence- especially not in a place so special to me. There may be rare times when a victim/survivor eventually feels comfortable with his/her abuser worshipping in the same church, but I am willing to say that would be an extremely rare situation. In those cases, I think you yield to the wishes of the victim and follow the protocols set forth with any other sex offender.

A very possible/likely situation churches will face is when a person desires to attend who has been accused of sexual offenses but either has yet to be tried in court or there was not sufficient evidence for a legal case. What if the victim also attends? I will come back to this situation in a future post. For now, I will continue to cover situations involving a convicted sex offender. In the meantime, consider your reactions to that scenario and how you might respond.

In my next post, I will backtrack slightly from this post to cover some actions churches will want to take before they decide about whether a sex offender should be allowed to attend. I will also share links to sample protocols already established. Stay tuned!

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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.