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.

 

A Letter to my Abuser

So, I just finished writing this letter and I am still in somewhat of a shock that these words came from my heart. They literally just poured out of me. The first line was probably the most difficult. How do you address the person who abused you for years? I figured out what works for me. Here it goes…

October 19, 2016

To the man who stole my innocence.

Years ago I wrote you a letter. I never mailed it, thankfully. Although, it may have been good for you to read it. It was filled with hate and pain- a disastrous combination. I was at my lowest point of despair. I wanted you to witness how my life was ruined because of you. I do not regret writing that letter. It felt amazing to throw all the overwhelming emotions on paper… temporarily. I quickly learned that my hate and utter disdain for you did not change a single event that occurred in the past, it had no impact on you, and it was preventing me from living. I was existing, but I was not living.

With the help of a phenomenal counselor, I discovered how to live again. Slowly, those feelings of hatred faded. I learned that my life was not ruined, despite the really horrible things I endured. I made the decision to take back control of my life- my emotions, my thoughts, and my behaviors. Then, I chose to place my life, my trust, and my faith in the hands of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may appear that this was an easy transition, when reading my words, but it was far from that. It may appear that it happened over night; however, it actually took years.

At eight years old, my life was forever changed. I continue to encounter circumstances that demonstrate yet another way the long term sexual abuse impacts me. I believe this will be lifelong. Trauma can’t be undone. But, that is no longer a disparaging truth for me. New neural pathways have formed. I have the tools to cope with the triggers and nightmarish memories of the many nights of my childhood. And, in moments when coping and pressing forward is difficult, I have a support system and a counselor that I can reach to for support. My life is not ruined. My life is so worth living.

I never imagined I would consider forgiving you. However, as I grew in my faith and learned about the act of forgiving, it did not seem so foreign. Many times I tried telling myself that I had forgiven you because it was the “right” thing to do. But, it was never authentic and truly from my heart. I can still recall the exact date that I finally “felt” like I had forgiven you. I forgive you.

I believe there are many misconceptions about forgiveness. It does not undo the sexual abuse. It does not remove the sadness I still feel when I think back to when I was just a child- how little I was, how scared I was, how confused I was. It does not mean I no longer hold you responsible for your choices. And it certainly does not mean I want to join you for dinner. In fact, I still pray I never see you again. It does not mean that I will let you petition for removal from the sex offender registry without fighting with every ounce of strength I have for that not to happen.

Forgiving you has allowed me to not just live, but thrive. It has provided me with the ability to accept what happened to me as a chapter in my book of life. It is no longer the conclusion. Forgiving you grants me the ability to turn my focus towards the future- towards strengthening legislation that fights for and protects children, towards completing my degree in counseling so I can hopefully impact lives like my counselors impacted my life, and towards removing the stigma surrounding sexual abuse and creating conversations that need to occur.

Some say the pivotal moment of forgiveness occurs when a person reaches the point of being able to extend appropriate grace to the perpetrator. I’m not there yet. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure out whether that is something I agree with or not. Maybe one day I will reach that place. For now, I have peace with my level of forgiveness for you. So, whether you are wondering or not, my life is not ruined. I forgive you.

Sincerely,

A Very Brave Woman

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For anyone struggling with forgiveness, please know that it truly takes time. Don’t beat yourself up for not being at that point yet in your journey. Healing takes time. Forgiving takes time. In one of my favorite books, Mending the Soul by Steven R. Tracy, the last chapter is on forgiveness. The LAST chapter. In a coming post, I hope to further explore what forgiveness has looked like in my life.