Over the last year or so, we have watched as the veil over the topic of sexual abuse has been ripped open. The imaginary borders encircling those generally thought of as victims has widened. It’s not just the girl in low income housing, left alone with her mom’s creepy boyfriend. It’s not just the woman walking home alone late at night after a party with friends. It’s not just the troubled boy repeatedly taken to the principal’s office to be “punished”.
Victims have come forward from every walk of life. From those in the projects to those on the big screen. From children growing up in at risk homes to child stars supposedly living the American dream. No one is exempt, it seems.
Well, I would like to lift the veil even further and add my voice to the mix. It is a voice of shared experience and shared suffering. But it is also a voice of hope. If you see me smile now, you can know that it is genuine. If you hear me laugh, you can know that it is spilling forth from a joyful heart. Even if you see tears in my eyes, you can know that I cry with the confidence that happiness will visit again soon.
I know what it is like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And, just as the Psalmist said, I experienced the presence of the Lord through it all. I can testify to the goodness and mercy of our Shepherd. I have despaired and doubted and cried out in anguish and fear, but I have always come back to His Presence and I have discovered that it is enough. He is enough.
For those of you who know me, but aren’t aware of my history this will come as a shock. My situation doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of most abuse victims. I was raised in a godly, stable home with parents who loved me and who loved each other. I grew up in a nice neighborhood with neighbors who were more like family than simply people who lived on the same street. I was sheltered and protected and cared for and loved.
But evil acknowledges no stereotypes and secretly searches for a way to destroy what God has created for good. For me, evil found its way into my extended family, and I was introduced to the ways of darkness when I was only two years old. This particular family member would continue to abuse me until I reached puberty.
This abuse left a mark on my soul. I carried it with me like a child’s ratty blanket. Because I was so young when it happened, my understanding of the world and my place in it was distorted. I assumed, as much as such a young child can, that it was normal. But I also knew in my heart that it was bad. So, in evil’s twisted logic, I was bad. I felt worthless and broken. Though I was blessed with many happy experiences and more loving family than most, these feeling discolored my childhood, like a black and white picture with faint pigments showing through.
Like so many other abuse victims, I became a target for more evil. The mark on my soul seemed only visible to those who would become perpetrators. I was assaulted by an educator in elementary school and attacked by a teenager as a high schooler. But perhaps the most damaging act of betrayal I experienced occurred when I was thirteen years old. I was raped by a friend’s parents.
Just writing it out brings tears to my eyes and makes me sick to my stomach. I grieve for that girl. I grieve for what was taken from her and for what was given to her. That night took away my virginity, any sense of safety I had left, and my last thread of hope that I might be able to earn my worth through the approval of others. Instead, I was given a tangible fear that would haunt me for over a decade. I was given despair and desperation that would seek to claim my life later on.
The family member who initiated my abuse drew me into a valley of shadows, but the people who raped me ushered me into the valley of the shadow of death. I would struggle through that valley for years, fighting an eating disorder, severe depression, and even attempted suicide. I struggled with the goodness of a God who would let such atrocities happen to innocent children.
In Matthew 7, Jesus asks parents if they would give their child a snake when they ask for a fish. The question was rhetorical because, obviously, no good parent would seek to harm their own child. But I used to feel like God had given me the snake. That He had actually chosen this for me. But I know better now.
Maybe I was given a snake, but it wasn’t from God. Instead, as the Creator and Redeemer, He has taken that snake and managed to turn it into something beautiful and glorifying. He has taken my valley and brightened up the shadows to show me Life. A full and abundant life. A life not defined by fear and desperation, but defined by love and deliverance.
I have known brokenness. At times it seemed like I was beyond broken. Like the evil one had taken the broken pieces of my heart and crushed them down to pebbles and sand until it became unrecognizable. But, I have also experienced the loving hand of our Redeemer as he picks up those pieces and uses them to create something even more beautiful.
I still struggle at times. I can feel unimportant and lonely. Sometimes I question my purpose and wonder at God’s love for me. But I have had a glimpse at the bigger picture that Heaven presents and that gives me hope and joy. I have hope that my healing will be complete when I can see God face to face and fully know his love and goodness. And I can have joy even now because of his Spirit shining in the shadows of my life journey.
A wise woman once told me that sometimes you just have to believe that God is good. It can be challenging and it may even require greater faith than simply believing that he exists. But the reward for this kind of faith is a life full of joy and hope, no matter what. And who doesn’t want that?