We Have This Hope


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I struggle with remembering just how old I was, the night I sat in that blue padded church pew and completely hit rock bottom. I know I was older than 14.

I do recall what had triggered this melting of me.

There was a man preaching to the parents in our little congregation.

He spoke this blanket statement: “Statistics prove that children who are abused, will become abusers.”

I felt the pain hit my stomach, as if the person sitting next to me had just reached over and punched me right in my middle.

I began to cry, and I could not stop. I didn’t hear another word…only the sound of my inner voice screaming, “I WILL NEVER HURT A CHILD!”

The sermon ended a while later and someone prayed in closing. I didn’t move. I sat there stiff as a board and tears dripped off my chin. My friends asked if I needed something; one stayed beside me. Older ladies wondered what could be wrong. Some stared; some ignored. I just sat there without uttering a word. At one point, someone placed a wad of rolled up tissues in my hand and I cried.

I cry when I’m angry.

After what seemed like an hour or so, an older man walked up behind me, laid his heavy hand on my shoulder, and prayed that God would help me forgive. As he ended his prayer, he patted my shoulder and said, “Daughter, you’ve just gotta get over this.” Then he walked away.
I stood up, grabbed my Bible and purse and silently walked out. I got in our car and we drove home. Not a word was spoken about it. Ever.

For years, when this memory surfaced, I would whisper into the air, “I just need someone to tell me they can see how bad this hurts.”

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I don’t write these words today to blame or point fingers at the people in my story. I’ve come to terms and made peace with them.
I write these words today, because there are many who need to hear that they are not alone in their pain; that someone sees them.
I SEE YOU

I am a survivor of sexual abuse and incest and I see you.

I see you when you are trying to hold it all together…all deep inside yourself, because it doesn’t feel safe to tell anyone.
I see you when statistics are given, and you are supposed to be what the numbers say you are and you’re not.
I see you when it feels like the Church says “Come just as you are…but don’t say too much.”
I see you when they remind you that it happened a long time ago, but they have no idea that in the dark last night the memories showed up in your nightmares.
I see you when you finally feel courageous enough to tell your story, and one by one people walk right on out of your life, because they can’t deal with your mess or it means something has to change, and they can’t.
I see you when you’ve forgiven your abuser, but forgiveness doesn’t take the consequences away- and sometimes no one notices the consequences you are left with.
I see you when you the act of forgiving feels as impossible as throwing a lasso around the moon.

After fourteen years “my cat was out of the bag” and those around me spent a lot of energy stuffing the cat back into the bag, and shaming me into more silence- all under the guise of protecting my reputation as an abused girl. As an adult, I’ve come to understand the shame and discomfort they too were feeling. Seldom do we really know how to act when others are suffering this pain. It’s easiest and tidiest to shove it under the rug and move onto happy days.

A few weeks ago, I read several articles regarding a family where sexual molestation occurred. I’m limited to only knowing what I’ve read, and understand that I don’t know the whole story.
I feel deep sadness for the family- the ones who were violated and the violator.

It was as I scrolled down to read comments, when I felt that same gut-punch that is all too familiar, and tears fell.

I cry when I’m angry.

It’s been difficult to summon the courage to finally speak to what this feels like, and how I wish it were different, yet I can’t seem to shake the sense that I must. We need to see each other. We need to hear each other stories. We need to stay.
I am part of the Church- a body of people who have been charged with the responsibility to restore with gentleness, to be watchful and guard our hearts, and to bear up those who are suffering. This is the law of Christ.

“Brothers [and sisters], if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
-Galations 6:1-2 ESV

There are many who have learned from a very early age that their skin is not their very own property, but is actually used for someone else’s curiosities and desires. According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, there are the 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys to whom sexual abuse happened in their childhood, was their childhood, or is currently their childhood. It’s easy to say that it’s everywhere we turn!

When I read or hear stories about children being used in this way, it causes me to feel many emotions, not the least being anger. Yet, when I read or hear responses to these stories and reports it can leave me feeling discouraged that we will really ever do this responding well.

Because victims of sexual abuse are everywhere we turn, the Church has multiple opportunities to offer grace and hope to hurting people; to live as citizens who reflect the Good News about Jesus (Philippians 1:27). What I’ve been noticing is that the Church is the very first to shush and shame. It’s an untidy topic that we don’t know how to respond to, so we cover it with careless statements.

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WHAT WE HEAR

Below are ten statements that I have heard regarding me or another person:

“I’m sure if we shook everyone’s family tree, we’d find something!”

“You really just have to let the past be in the past.”

“I thought the Bible says we aren’t supposed to judge others?”

“Are they just trying to ruin his (the abuser’s) life?”

“That’s sad for those girls, but it happened a long time ago!”

“These days, girls dress so inappropriately, what do they expect?”

“If girls don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t look like hookers!”

“Well, at least you never got pregnant.”

“God must have thought you could handle it.”

“Some people just need to forgive and forget.”

I’ve had it with these righteous platitudes and ridiculous statements, and I’m calling on us to please stop saying them. Please.
With God’s help I have managed to let many things go in one ear and out the other, without them taking up much space in my mind or heart, but I’m willing to take this one for the team.

IT’S MESSY & MY HEALING ISN’T ON A SCHEDULE

I understand that it’s challenging to know what to say. I get that this is the most taboo subject on the planet and no one is comfortable talking about it. I understand that you feel like you should bring forgiveness into it, and believe me, forgiveness played the leading role in my healing—yet it took me twenty years from the day I chose to forgive to be able to move forward living within that forgiveness. To meet every single painful memory with grace took time and processing. It took years to learn and establish healthy boundaries, so that I could establish that I would not allow anyone to abuse me- ever. It is a daily process of replacing shame with value; lies with Truth. The journey of healing from abuse can’t be scheduled. Period.

Forgiveness became a possibility for me, when in compassion, a beloved counselor took the time to journey with me through understanding and application, and when my beloved signed up to walk beside me and hold my heart.

WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE TO US

I’m going to attempt to respond from the perspective I have as a survivor, to what the above ten statements really sound like. My hope is that by shining light on each one, you may hear them from the perspective of someone who lived far too long believing the abuse was her fault, and that she needed to keep secrets to keep standing. All the while she was breaking under the weight of her shame.

“I’m sure if we shook everyone’s family tree, we’d find something!”
“Your abuse is no big deal. It happens all the time.”
“We don’t know how to deal with what might fall out, so it would be a good idea to not shake the trees!”

“You really just have to let the past be in the past.”
“There are a lot of bad things that happened in your past, but its uncomfortable for me, when you bring it into the present, so please don’t talk about it.”

“I thought the Bible says we aren’t supposed to judge others?”
“It’s hard for me to imagine that ________ is capable of doing _________, so I think you should keep that quiet.”

“Are they just trying to ruin his (the abuser’s) life?”
“We are more concerned about keeping __________’s secret, then we are about what he/she did to you.”

“That’s sad for those girls, but it happened a long time ago!”
“It’s all very sad, but shouldn’t they be over it by now?”

“These days, girls dress so inappropriately, what do they expect?”
“Boys will be boys.”
“Boys can not be responsible for their actions.”

“If girls don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t look like hookers!”
“Boys can’t help themselves. It’s the girl’s responsibility to keep the boys from satisfying their urges.”

“Well, at least you never got pregnant.”
“Getting pregnant is all we are concerned about, because it’s really the only “result” that outwardly shows, and could embarrass the family.
“If you didn’t get pregnant, no harm, no foul. 

“God must have thought you could handle it.”
“You should feel special that God chose you to be abused.”

“Some people just need to forgive and forget.”
“We again can’t handle the truth. This is a messy subject, so it would make it easier for us if you would just let it go.”

You can bet your boots that I could write an entire book strictly devoted to my response to every single on of those statements. I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll just let those soak for a bit. Please tell me you can imagine how carelessly spoken words can inflict further pain? If we are going to respond well to those who are suffering, we need to understand their perspective…

What I’ve come to understand about humans is we are just so very human. We don’t say the right words because we can’t relate. Maybe we don’t want to be say nothing, so we fill the void with words that seem helpful, yet can break the broken even more.
Chances are misspoken words and insensitive reactions have punched you in the gut a time or two.

Please hear this:

No matter what has happened to you….

God sees you.

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HE STAYS

God sees you. God sees you and He doesn’t run away.
He doesn’t need you to utter a word.
He doesn’t need you to be quiet.
He doesn’t need you to be perfect.
He doesn’t need you to be fixed, or healed, or well, or over it.
He sees you, and He responds with what He will do in response to your suffering. Right in the middle of your deep and your dark, in all of your ugliest mess, He responds with His love.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
-Jeremiah 31:3 ESV

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

“Don’t panic, I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I am your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I, your God have a firm grip on you, and I’m not letting go.
-Isaiah 41: 10-12 MSG

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
-Isaiah 43: 1-3 NLT

“You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.” Isaiah 43: 4 NIV

I have found Jesus in the middle of my deepest pain. When the voices of shame and condemnation roar, I run to Him for refuge. I’ve discovered that His voice never shames. He is the safest place.

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WHAT MATTERS MOST

You do.

You who read the same articles and comments; feeling the same twist in your gut that I did.
You who has never admitted your shame to another living soul.
You who sits in padded pews and chairs and is dying from the inside out.
You who lives in a pit of despair and never sees a way out.
You who feels like no one would ever understand.
You who fills the void with everything you can eat, buy, hoard…
You who believes that you will never be worthy of love.

There is hope.
His name is Jesus.
He died on a cross for your pain and for your shame. He says that you matter enough to Him that He died for your healing.

“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”
-Isaiah 53:5

In her article @ truewoman.com Dawn Wilson states, “Satan doesn’t care how we react to the sinfulness of sexual abuse…as long as we don’t turn to Jesus. The enemy knows when we find our identity, security, and dignity in Christ, we can live in victory.” *

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FOR THE CHURCH

I’m really quite fond of you.
The Church has not always been a safe place for me, but in my adult years, I’ve come to find that there is refuge within her walls. Nearly two years ago, I was invited to share my story with my church family, and I’ve found grace around every corner.
There are so many who need that same grace. I know, because I see them. It comes with being one of them…most often an immediate recognition.
The suffering are walking through our doors; sitting in our chairs and they are begging to be seen.
They are not asking for Christian platitudes to smooth over their suffering, they are looking for hope.
We need to be ready with resources to offer counsel, rescue, and restoration.
GOOD NEWS: We have the answer!

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WHAT YOU CAN DO

1. Show grace in your responses, be gentle and encourage restoration. It’s the way of Jesus.

2. Listen without words. When they have come to the end of their words, simply ask if you can pray for them.
Example: “Jesus, ______ has just shared some very painful things that have happened. Thank you for bringing us together today, so that I can pray for her/him. I’m asking that as _________ works through this, that she/he will feel God’s love through me.”

3. If you need to respond on Social Media, become a hope-filled comment-or. There is plenty of judgement to go around. Offer hope, and you just might be the change someone is looking for. If truth needs to be spoken, bathe it in love.

4. Understand that professional help is most likely necessary. Don’t get trapped believing it’s up to you to fix anything. Be ready to give helpful resources. There are many resources for sexual abuse victims, so after listening, offer to help them find someone to talk to, or a place of rescue.

5. No matter how ugly the pain is, the person is valuable and worth everything to Jesus. In gentleness, represent the Good News of the Gospel: that the Cross makes redemption possible.

6. Be patient. God makes all things beautiful in His time, not ours.

I RECOMMEND

The organization: Speak Your Silence. They are doing good work! You can click on the highlight, and choose “Counseling”.

The book: Wounded Heart: Hope For Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse is a great resource to have on hand. I would recommend having a copy to share.

* Taken from “Sexual Abuse: Trusting God With My Past Hurts, Dawn Wilson, http://www.truewoman.com

All photos taken from pixabay.com, magdeline.com, or my personal gallery.

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