A beautiful thing about this blog is that it reaches into your personal space. It can sit with you in your bedroom and speak to you when I physically cannot. It can reach to your secret places within and bring a spark of hope. I wish that I could see each one of you face to face, sit in your home, and just talk. Cry. And confess. That, however, is not a reality… so it brings me such joy in knowing that words on a page can reach you right where you are and bring life to dead places. I know that there are some of you who have been sexually abused. Some of you have named it so, and some of you may not have really known it for what it was. My dear friend Jenna has been a victim of this evil act and she has come out on the other side shinning with the love of Christ. My hope for you is that you too will find life again, and I know her words will be enlightening and encouraging to those who have suffered such great pain. It’s sensitive and it’s real.
Disclaimer: Whenever talking about the nature of sexual abuse we are walking on sacred ground. This topic brings to bear a weightiness that asks your heart to be examined. One word that I have become familiar with is self-care… if you are already in an unstable place it might not be helpful for you to continue reading. Ask yourself the question, “What does self-care look like for me right now?” It may be that you go call a friend and share your heart with them, it might look like sitting outside with your favorite book and a cup of tea or coffee, or it might be that you continuing to read on. As your eyes take in line by line what is held on your screen, you may realize for the first time that you were sexually abused. Many people go their entire lives without ever naming their abuse. Mostly because they had no idea that when their childhood friend convinced them to get naked and play a “game,” they were being sexually abused. People assume that if they were “compliant” or didn’t stop “it” from happening that they too are responsible. It’s about the narrative of the story and how you came to the place where your sexuality was first marked– for better or for worse. And for those of you who come to find that you were sexually abused or for those of you who already know that you were sexually abused, but never opened yourself up to engage the harm committed against you, there is hope. One of the most profound things I ever learned in Graduate School was that Christ had to stand at the footsteps of hell before he could ever be resurrected. Out of suffering comes life, but you must first allow God to take you to those places of darkness so he can restore what was taken from you. So breathe… this might hurt.
I write as a survivor of sexual abuse, I write as a someone who, as a little girl, suffered greatly at the hands of my abusers, and I write as a woman who returned to her memories of past abuse- to heal the little me that was left in a pool of fragmented confusion, contempt toward my body, and a distrust of men, woman and God- and invited God as well as my counselor into those places of torment to help me redefine my understanding of the traumatic events that occurred and to deepen my understanding of who I am as one who has been forgiven and one who forgives. And this process, it took me years to walk through; and at times I still reenter my darkness so God can continue to bring more healing to the places where love was lost.
In order to talk about sexual abuse, it must first be defined:
Sexual abuse is any contact or interaction (visual, verbal, or psychological) between a child/adolescent and an adult when the child/adolescent is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or any other person. Sexual abuse may be committed by a person under the age of eighteen when that person is significantly older than the victim or when the perpetrator is in a position of power and control over the victimized child/adolescent. When the sexual abuse is perpetrated by an adult or older child who is a blood or legal relative, it constitutes incest, or intrafamilial sexual abuse. – Dr. Dan Allender The Wounded Heart
Sexual abuse ranges on a spectrum of least severe, to severe, to most severe. The level of trauma that occurs is due to a number of different factors including the relationship to the perpetrator, the severity of the intrusion, use of violence, age of the perpetrator, and the duration of the abuse. No matter how a person was violated the point that needs to be acknowledged is that sexual abuse is damaging. And be aware that one of Satan’s tactics against your soul is to obscure the subtleties of sexual abuse and have you deny the impact that the abuse had on your heart. It is true, however, that a person whose dad used them as a surrogate spouse (confidant, ally, intimate friend) will experience less trauma than a person who was raped by her brother. To deconstruct more specifically the severity of abuse, I will use portions of my story to give examples, starting with Least Severe.
Least Severe. I had a teacher in High School who would playfully say things to me with a smile on his face like, “Sometimes I can’t even look at you because you remind me so much of my ex-wife, and she is a beautiful woman.” Statements like this create confusion. Something about his comment felt good, it was a compliment? But this compliment was laced with a tone of desire and disgust. The complex underlying messages were, “You are so dangerous that I must look away,” and “I had sex with a beautiful woman who looks just like you.” He compared me, a fifteen year old girl, to his adult former wife. This man was my teacher, he was in a position of authority over me. At the time, his words didn’t seem all that harmful especially because there was a thread of kindness that awakened my adolescent heart, yet his desire for me had been perverted and crossed the boundaries of a teacher student relationship. Unknowingly, deceit and betrayal had occurred, but as time went on the nuances of the abuse increased and became more overt. A few weeks later my parents sat me down in our living room to discuss what was going on with me and this teacher. Again, confusion warped my perception of reality. I felt shocked, a sense of shame and rage aggressively turned inside of me. My parents shared that this teacher confronted the Principal and explained that I was inappropriate with him, that he would see me in the hallways and I would be dressed fine, but when I would show up to his classroom my clothing was more revealing. Do you see it? Do you hear the setup? In the interactions we had he had approached me, yet I was the one that was named as the seducer. I finished my semester in his class with my head down and a sense of contempt both toward myself and toward him. Three years later, as a senior and never interacting with this teacher again, I was walking in the hallway and I saw his face. He was moving directly toward me, he looked at me and said, “I just have to tell you, you are one of the most, if not the most, beautiful girl in the entire school.” I smiled and said, “Thank you.” That compliment was direct, straight forward, and at the very onset felt nice. But then his words dropped down inside my soul and anger filled my lungs and I wanted to scream at him. And I wanted to cry. I had been falsely accused. For three years I bore the weight of responsibility for his desire toward me. And in that moment he revealed what was in his heart all along, he was attracted me and he used his position of power to control and manipulate the circumstances. He shamed me for what he feared most within himself.
Again this story of Sexual Abuse is on the spectrum of least severe, I was never touched by my teacher, He never specifically said anything sexual in nature, but there was psychological component to this abuse that subtly and sexually violated the teacher/student boundary. He never should have invited me into his personal struggle with my likeness to his beautiful ex-wife and he should have gotten help for what he was feeling toward me rather than blaming me for his desire. And the Principal as well as my parents should have addressed the situation differently. Had they been more curious, had they asked more questions my heart would have been defended and I would not have been the bearer of his shame.
When I think about my history of sexual abuse, this memory is not what comes to mind. It is easy for me to dismiss this story as merely a shameful memory. It is easy for me to think that this exchange had no lasting affect on my heart, but the truth is his betrayal was damaging. Had this been my only experience of abuse, I might have reacted differently and the betrayal would have seemed far greater or maybe not, but there were marks that raged war on my soul long before this experience ever took place which the enemy used to further deepen my wounds. I absorbed the word dangerous and agreed that my beauty made people hurt me. I also questioned the role I played, not only in that abusive experience, but also in other experiences where I was previously sexually abused. I wondered if every time that I was sexually abused if the abuse was my fault, I blamed myself for momentarily enjoying his attraction to me, and I blamed myself for being the seducer. So to minimize this experience, I would be aligning with Satan, the one who disguises himself as the angel of light, and I would fail to see how I colluded with darkness and agreed with my abusers.
Severe. When I was twelve… my older sister met an attractive guy on our family vacation. A few months later he stayed the night at our house on his way to massage therapy school in Hawaii. That night he had given my sister a massage while we were all in the family room. Soon after, everyone began to go to bed until it was just the two of us sitting on the couch watching TV. He then asked me if I wanted a massage too. I turned my back toward him, as a yes to his question, and he began gently rubbing my shoulders and talking. Talking about how much he cared for my sister… how amazing Hawaii is— essentially he was telling me to relax. All of a sudden I began to question, as his hands wondered off my back, if what he was doing was still part of the massage. Confusion. My thoughts were, “But he likes my sister and is talking about his feelings for her… he couldn’t possibly be trying to do something with me. I don’t understand what’s going on. Is this how they give massages in Hawaii?” His ability to confuse and manipulate was brilliant. As his touch continued to progress it became more violent. The pain became unbearable and I abruptly stood up. Told him I was tired. Turned off the television and walked up stairs to my bedroom. He followed behind. When I grabbed the handle of my bedroom door he whispered, “Hey, give me a hug goodnight.” I turned toward him, still confused as to what just happened, and opened my arms. When we hugged he softly spoke in my ear, “That’s why you’re such a slut—because you don’t know how to say no.”
It took me six months to go through this traumatic story in therapy. When I imagined myself back in my twelve year old body I was embarrassed and ashamed to tell the end of what happened that night. I believed that I wanted this guy to abuse me because I didn’t leave sooner. I thought if I was able to stand up and walk away then why did I stay till the pain of his touch became too painful? I was only twelve; of course I wanted to feel cared for by this older guy. It would have taken an act of God or my parents to walk down the stairs to pull me away from this man. For a moment I wanted to be in his arms, so I took his blame as truth. However, when I got to the end of this story again in therapy, truth broke through. I realized I did say no! I did stand up and I walked away! My anger had been misplaced for years toward myself and toward men, but never directed to the one who abused and marked me.
One of the most difficult things about sexual abuse that I’ve had acknowledge within my own my life is… No matter how harmful the abuse, how prolonged the abuse how gentle or violent the abuse… over the course of your life you will cause yourself more harm than the harm that was originally committed against you.
Repenting of the harm I caused myself and grieving the truth of what happened brought me much freedom. It moved me from a place of violence toward my body to a sense of kindness toward my heart. And there is something about this kindness that invites ourselves to be reconciled back to Christ. When we experience the sweetness of reconciliation, of this returning home to a loving God who embraces all of who we are, it allows us to offer this forgiveness, this love, to those who have harmed us. Nothing disarms evil more than the act of extending forgiveness to a person who did nothing to deserve it. This is why the love of God is so powerful. This Love can touch places inside of us that cruelty never could. And sometimes cruelty is more preferable because this Love, God’s love, disarms us and calls us to surrender. To surrender the ways that we have protected ourselves, and deadened our hearts, in order to never again be hurt. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ for gave you.” And may you know, forgiveness is a process. It may take years until you are ready to forgive, but getting to that place requires a willingness to reawaken your heart so that it may beat tenderly once again.
But when anything is exposed by light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light, Therefore it says,
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead
and Christ will shine on you. -Ephesians 5:13-14
Most Severe. When I was fourteen, I was raped. The day before I moved from California to Florida was one of the worst days of my life. California bore the marks of much pain and loss in my life and Florida… Florida was going to provide the glorious back drop of a new hope. But my hope shattered and burned to the ground before me. Part of my heart died that day when I was forced into powerlessness and betrayal.
I imagine you have questions like, “if God is Love then how can he allow such horrific things to happen to his children?” Or something like that. What I do know is, fourteen years later I have the privilege of sharing portions of my life with you because what evil intends for harm, God uses for good. Whatever your story is, whatever the burdens you may carry, Christ has the power to resuscitate your deadened heart and breathe life back into your lungs so that you may laugh, play, delight and love once again.
When we allow our experience, no matter how big or small, to fester deep within the depths of our heart, in a portion we think is “safe.” Where space and time is allowed to convince us that it was either lesser than we believed at the time, or what happened is better left in the dark, we invite fear to root itself. And fear…..changes everything. Fear is one of the most destructive strongholds one can posess. If we allow fear to take hold of us, the abundant life we were created for is held hostage. Held hostage by us, because now that fear is a factor… every decision we will make from this point on will be filtered consciously or unconsciously through it. How we relate to others, how we interact in everyday life. People and things we allow or do not allow in our lives can all be products of the fear of truth. Fear festers into shame, guilt, self-doubt, which then morphs into self-hatred and if continued to be locked up almost always instantaneously changes our perspective of God. When we allow ourselves to only process through this tremendous life hurt by ourselves we are susceptible to accepting lies as truth. We can quickly lose sight of the truth that
God is a loving God, who “CARES” for His children.
God knows you…personally. He’s not accusing you of anything, he is not angry with you for what happened… he wants to give you his mercy. When allowed to penetrate the heart there is peace in understanding that God already knows your heart.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
God is a refuge for those who have been offended, not someone to fear. He offers us a safe place.
Psalms 9:9 The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life. And yet, there are a number of accusations that we can make against our Father God, out of confusion… but fear keeps us from going to the very source that is our only source of freedom.
The process of healing… though it may sound simple for something that feels so complex
- Pray. Invite God into your situation and ask him to search your heart and reveal to you the healing work he wants to do in your life… have a conversation with him, journal what’s on your heart and wait, listen for the Holy Spirit’s response
- Read the Bible. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Allow the word of God to bring a sense of awe and wonder to your life. When we’re curious and we look for our questions in scripture it brings back to a place where we can locate God.
- Surround yourself in community. Whether that’s in a group counseling setting with others who are going through the same thing as you, joining a church, inviting your safe friends to converse with you about what you’re holding in your heart, etc. Ask others if they know of places for you to get help. (One book I would strongly recommend is The Wounded Heart and The Wounded Heart Workbook both by Dr. Dan Allender
- For those of you who have experienced sexual abuse I strongly encourage you to seek Counseling with someone who specializes in sexual abuse! I went to counseling for three years and it was the best gift I could have ever given myself!
When you begin to put language to the unsayable… when you name that which you had no names for, you open your heart up to a God who has been graciously awaiting for your return. By returning to the past and putting words to the suffering you survived… you get to reorient your future from death to Life from despair to Hope. And in these moments when you illuminate the darkness you create the space for the Kingdom of God to come to the earth and transform your life.
I wish I could take language
And fold it like cool, moist rags.
I would lay words on your forehead.
I would wrap words on your wrists.
“There, there,” my words would say-
Or something better.
I would ask them to murmur,
“Hush” and “Shh, shh, it’s all right.”
I would ask them to hold you all night.
I wish I could take language
And daub and soothe and cool
Where fever blisters and burns,
Where fever turns yourself against you.
I wish I could take language
And heal the words that were the wounds
You have no names for.
Words For It