You Can’t Have Her

I know you think you’ve won. You inspired the evil that took what she didn’t offer. Sin is your craft and you are excellent at what you do. You planted the seed, fueled the selfish thoughts until you had someone she trusted convinced to betray her…until someone raped her.

It feels like you’ve won the battle. You seem to be winning many lately. Your downfall, however, it that you too quickly forget Who has already won the war. She’s her Father’s daughter. Her Father has you beaten.

You don’t own her.

She’s already given her heart to Him so, no matter how far down into the darkness you drag her, you can’t take away her light. He gave up His own life to save her from you, from your life’s work. He took the nails to protect her from the sting of death. You may have damaged her, but He is the Healer of all wounds.

You won’t destroy her.

I know it enrages you; I know it eats at you, to know that you’ve ultimately lost. I know you’ll keep trying to use this moment, covered in shame, to take her down. This moment will tempt her to believe your lies. The lie that she’s not worthy of love. The lie that this was somehow her fault. The lie that she deserved this pain. Don’t fool yourself…Even a whisper of His truth can drown out your loudest screams.

You can’t have her.

He watched you fall like lightning from Heaven. Through Him, she has authority over you. (Luke 10:18-19) Though today you’ve left her broken, crushed beneath the weight of it all…He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) You will not have the last word in her story…it’s already been written by The One who has claimed forever victory over you.

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Wearing Grace

I bought a bracelet last week with the word “Grace” on it. Who cares, right?! It’s a fairly common word. Used so commonly, in fact, that it’s become a little cliche. To those who have experienced the reality of grace, however, it’s more than just a word. Grace changes everything.

Though I’ve experienced grace in many forms, the specific reason I wanted to wear “Grace” in a place I’d often see is a hard one to talk about. In fact, I haven’t talked about it with anyone outside of the walls of my own home. Yet, I have a feeling I can’t be the only one who needs to “wear grace”…

I am a survivor of abuse. I was abused by boyfriends when I was in my late teens and early twenties but the abuse started long before that, in childhood. My mother had a difficult life. Her daily stressors were the sort that would cause anyone in that situation to feel drained and frustrated. My father was an alcoholic. My younger brother severely disabled, needing around-the-clock care. Mom was angry and over-tired. Yet, regardless of reason, her reaction to life’s stress was an unacceptable choice…

As a child, I remember pleading with family and friends for help, but no one would believe me because, to them, she appeared so meek. Harmless even. In reality, she was a master manipulator. Behind closed doors, her words cut deep. Her constant screaming left me on edge. Her insults and threats made me feel worthless and alone. All of her feelings of disappointment and resentment in marriage and in life were redirected towards me. I was never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough…Never enough. I worked hard to earn good grades and did the best I could to help around the house but it didn’t seem to matter how much effort I put in…she was never satisfied. She allowed her discontent with her circumstances to rule her life and her parenting. Never taking time for herself or accepting help that was offered, she fell apart emotionally and physically and took her children with her. I dreaded waking up each day. I’d dream of the day I’d turn eighteen and be able to leave home. My sense of identity was formed at the hands of a verbal abuser. My childhood, a secret hell.

Fast forward to today and, through God grace (there’s that word again 😉 ) and a lot of hard work, I am free from a life of abuse. I married a kind, loving man whose words and actions are chosen with care. I have four beautiful children, three of which have special needs (again…God’s always got a plan that He’s preparing us for). When I became a mother myself, I made a decision: Not my children.

I’m not sure if my grandparents had abused my mother. My family’s history is a blur. What I am sure of is the fact that abuse is a vicious cycle; a generational sin. Children who are abused run the risk of becoming abusers themselves because, when you’re raised in an environment of torment, you know nothing else. Abuse is your “normal”. Discovering what healthy relationships look like is a learning process. Herein lies the painful truth that abuse is ingrained in me. My parents laid the deep roots of my being in a foundation of verbal violence and recklessness. There are parts of me that are selfish and wicked because I was trained to be selfish and wicked. My words, before leaving my mouth, are often infused with a harsh coldness. The same disrespectful tone my own mother used with me. I find myself having to pause before I speak and put a great deal of concentration and energy into forming patient interactions with my children. At times, I am overwhelmed with shame, hot tears streaming down my face, as I pray desperate prayers for wisdom. There are days that I feel like a failure at parenting because I had no positive examples to set me up for success as a mother. I have no idea what I’m doing!

…BUT…

Grace.

It’s because of God’s grace that I’m able to say with confidence that I am rewriting my family’s legacy for my own children. In His power, the cycle stops with me. Abuse is a choice. A choice that, for many adult survivors of child abuse, has to be consciously made one moment at a time. As humans, our sins will always try to follow us from one generation to the next in a constant battle. As Christians, we are more than conquerors. His grace promises us that, even if we’ve been raised by an abuser, we have the power not to become one. The victory is in our hands!

Abuse tells me that I cannot be the mother my children deserve. Abuse whispers to me, when I’m frustrated or exhausted, that I don’t need to stop and choose my words carefully. Abuse tries to convince me that I’m entitled to my temper. Abuse shames me into believing that I can’t possibly be worthy of love; that I can’t love well.

Grace speaks the truth to my soul that, though I can never be a perfect parent, I can be the parent my children need. Grace stops me in my tracks and awakens me to the power of my words and their influence on those around me. Grace reminds me that, just as God gave up His only Son to show the depth of His love for me, I need to show that same love to my children as I sacrifice my time and my energy to parent them; as I show them kindness and patience when they’re struggling with their own sin. Grace gently nudges me towards self-care, so that I can care for my family. So, in the moments when I’m feeling overwhelmed or defeated, I’ll look down at the “Grace” that I’m wearing and remind myself to shower it over my loved ones, my interactions with those God places in my day-to-day life…and myself.

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To The Ones Who Abused Me

I can hardly put it into words, the depth of this pain. Everything within me shudders at the thought of even being here in this moment; walking into this darkness, approaching the past. The truth is that you haunt me. You invade my thoughts, uninvited. I carry the shame of a thousand sins I didn’t commit. I’m suffocating beneath the weight of all that your words, and your hands, have done.

You left me there, in the dark. Naked and alone. Too afraid to move, I couldn’t escape the reality that I was in too deep. I blamed myself. I went numb. Any sense of who I truly was had been stripped away. Overwhelmed by fear, in that moment I knew that if I didn’t find a way to leave you…you would kill me.

These memories imprison me. This fear of approaching the subject of you, and all the ways you hurt me, has kept me from experiencing the freedom to fully live. Instead, I’ve been slowly dying. A silent screaming, nightmare having, sobbing in the shower kind of emotional death. I wondered for the longest time if this was all I’d ever feel. This despair.

Years have passed since my escape and, though I may be just an afterthought to you now, I’m left struggling to pick up the pieces. I’m shattered. The very fabric of my being torn apart at the hands of your rage. I have a life now that is beyond anything I’d ever dreamed was possible. A family who brings joy to my aching soul. Yet, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I don’t deserve it. The tapes that you recorded for me replay in my mind, assuring me that I’m damaged goods. That, one day, it will all fall apart. That nothing good can possibly come from someone like me.

All that is within me longs for justice. For peace. A peace that God’s been holding out to me. It’s within my reach. Yet, I’ve been avoiding the call to be obedient. The call to bless those who curse me. To pray for those who abuse me (Luke 6:28). I’ve been choosing to allow this fear to reign in me. In a place that He’s already called His own. Though there’s no way to erase what you’ve done to me, there is one way to rebuild myself. To create new life where you’d once created chaos. There is healing; mending in the midst of this brokenness that can only come if I do the one thing that feels hardest right now…

Forgiveness.

So, I’m making the choice…I forgive you. I’m walking away. Holding on to all of this anger, this fear, and this despair is only destroying what’s left of me. I’m leaving what you’ve done in the hands of God, in exchange for freedom; in exchange for hope. Forgiving you doesn’t make what you’ve done okay, but it makes me available to live my life. To truly experience His grace and mercy. Forgiving you gives me the freedom to love and be loved again. Your sins are no longer my sins. Your shame is no longer my shame. You have no power over me.

I’m letting go of you and I’m grabbing on to joy. When those moments of pain and fear come back to haunt me, one moment at a time, I will surrender them to The One who will hold you accountable. One moment at a time, I will have my life back. I pray that you somehow overcome whatever hurt has caused you to abuse the ones you love. I pray that His light would shine into the darkness of your life. I pray that, one day, you’ll choose forgiveness too.

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The Sunday Morning Battle

My hands are shaking, my heart racing. The truth is ugly. A crimson stain in the snow. Yet, I find myself here at the altar. His light is crystal clear, warm and inviting me in…but the darkness feels stronger when I look at those around me; the church. I fight hard. The tears burning behind my eyes. The sense of judgement is overwhelming. What if they saw the real me? The one I’m dying to throw at the feet of Jesus.

Every Sunday is a battle. Outside, I hold it together. I walk through the door in a rush of preparedness. I’m prepared to smile, prepared to act happy, prepared to pretend. What I’m never prepared for is the overwhelming feeling that God is calling me to more. More than the standard of soul-crushing burdens hidden behind our Sunday best. He’s calling me to let go.

I’m a survivor. Of abuse. Of rape. Of nightmares turned real. I’m also a Christian. A believer. Of grace overflowing.  His love covers the deepest of scars, the deadliest of sins. His people are not always as quick to accept what they don’t understand.

There’s an unspoken rule amongst many churches, one that we don’t like to admit exists: Come…but come clean. Come at your best. Leave your scars and your dirt, all that brings discomfort, at home. Walk through those doors wearing a mask of joy and show the world what a “good Christian” looks like. Don’t let them see you break down. Keep your pain private. To be holy…be strong.

…but I’m not. I’m not strong, at least not right now. I’m struggling. I’m broken. At times I’m barely able to breathe, the PTSD taking hold as I try to function in the crowd. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety attacks, migraines, insomnia…the aftermath of being treated like an object has left me searching for light in the darkness. I’m in survival mode day in and day out and hardly breathe a word of it to anyone. Especially not anyone at church. Why? Because of the hush. The silence that follows stories like mine. Jesus himself spent most of his time with the hurting. He chose to befriend the outcasts; those who carried the burden of shame. Those who had suffered the unspeakable. He suffered with them. He suffered for them. He suffered for me…and, if I didn’t need Him, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be at the altar…broken.

The looks and the whispers that follow my open suffering…they fuel the fear that keeps me so guarded on Sunday morning. Yet, I know I’m not alone. I know that almost every person in every sanctuary is hurting. Every one of us has a dark side. Every one of us has been wronged. We are all there because we need Jesus. So, why hide our deepest hurts?

One in three women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in three. Many of those women are found within the walls of the church. Abuse knows no boundaries.

He calls to me in the midst of suffering, reminding me that He understands. He has paid the ultimate price, but not so that I could be silent. I am resolved. No more hiding. He’s called us to come as we are. Christ didn’t give His all for some perfect version of us…He loved us at our darkest.

So, whether they be tears of joy or of sorrow…I will cry on Sunday morning. I will lay down my deepest hurts and lift up my highest praises. I will bring my real self through those doors and I will not be ashamed. I will come alongside the hurting. I will not let judgment hinder me from being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who may also be one in three. For, only when we come forth bearing our chains, can they ever be broken.

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What To Do When Someone Tells You They’ve Been Abused

So many years have gone by since I was raped and it still hadn’t really sunk in until just a few months ago… I am carrying all of the shame.

He took what he wanted after I’d said no. He was violent with me just moments after telling me he loved me. He treated me as though I were worthless. He committed this selfish, disgusting act. He did these things…and then he walked away as if nothing had ever happened.

I walked away wounded to the core of my being. Ashamed. Disgraced.

Years and years went by and I eventually moved on with my life but I never moved on from that feeling. The feeling of being less than, disgusting, and worthless. Why do I feel this way, when he committed the crime? For two disturbing reasons: society’s response and Satan’s lies.

Before this year, I’d only told my story to a handful of people. I couldn’t bear to say the words out loud to anyone outside of a counselor’s office or the walls of my own house because of the all-too-common responses that still make anger swell within me: silence and judgment. Telling someone that you’ve been abused is extremely hard to do and, unfortunately, often results in situations that play out something like this: The survivor shares a small detail of their past that reveals they’ve been abused. (A way of testing the waters.) The person they’re talking to breaks eye contact. What was just a few seconds beforehand a back-and-forth conversation, is now nothing but awkward silence as the survivor panics and tries to come up with a change of subject. Then comes a slightly disturbed look in the eyes of the listener as they shift in their seats. Here, either the silence remains, or the listener chooses to make judgements about the survivor’s experience. The air hangs thick with shame, and it is then that survivors will often resolve to keep the pain locked inside for fear of making the situation even more uncomfortable. This only intensifies the loneliness that comes in the aftermath of abuse. In my own personal experience, these interactions gave more power to the lies that distorted my sense of self-worth.

Abuse is a breeding ground for Satan’s lies. A perfect opportunity for him to convince victims that they are no longer worthy of love, dignity or respect. Abuse can leave a person just a shell of who they once were, feeling empty and powerless, when the reality is that there’s nothing that God can’t redeem, nothing too big for Him to handle, and nothing that can change the depth of His love for us. Yet, that love, power and redemption can feel out of reach for victims of abuse, as they constantly hear Satan’s whispers of defeat. He works his way in to our thoughts and convinces us that no one is safe and everyone is judging us. That somehow we deserved the abuse, and that our intense feelings of worthlessness are not just feelings, but reality.

So, what should you do when someone tells you that they’ve been abused? Here’s a few simple ideas that can be a great support to someone who’s suffered this kind of trauma:

  1. “I’m here for you.”: Simple as that. When taking the terrifying step of bringing one’s past out into the light, those four words bring immense comfort.
  2. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”: There are so many acts of violence in so many headlines daily that the world has become rather desensitized to it. Knowing that the person you just told about your abuse genuinely feels compassion for you means so very much.
  3. Offer To Help: Let the person know that you truly want to help, and be prepared to do so. It may be as little as a coffee date to chat or helping the person track down resources.
  4. Pray For Them: Either right there in that moment, or let them know you’ll be praying for them regularly. This may not feel like much, but it’s the biggest thing any of us can do.

When someone you know breaks the silence, join them. Choose your words with care, but use them. These conversations will make you uncomfortable. They should! We should hurt with those who are hurting. We should cringe when we hear of a person being treated like an object. Our hearts should break for what breaks God’s heart, and abuse is one of those things that absolutely breaks the heart of God.

Whatever you decide to do, be assured that your helpful words and actions can change, or even save, a life.

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Breaking The Silence

I was beaten. I was raped. I was silent.

Not anymore…because I’m not the only one, living with this darkness.

He wasn’t a stranger in an alley. He was my boyfriend. I said no. He didn’t listen. Suddenly, everything changed. The world around me kept spinning, but those moments for me stood still. When I close my eyes, I still see him; That flash of anger in his eyes. In an instant, I became a statistic. A cold, hard fact lost in a desensitized world. I believed the lie that speaking out served no purpose. If anyone knew what had happened to me, I’d be the one getting the dirty looks. Not him. I’d already learned that most abusers walk free, unattached to the consequences of their choices. Meanwhile, I’d lose friends. My family would never look at me the same way again. I’d be viewed as damaged. Shame seeped into the depths of my being. I blamed myself. So, I buried every last traumatizing memory and walked away with a fake smile on my face. It was too hard, coming forward with my story. Instead, I quietly suffocated in my pain, locking myself away in the dark.

Eleven years later, I’m walking into the light. I won’t keep silent anymore. In the silence, evil wins…but evil made a grave mistake: It had forgotten Whose daughter I am.

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God…” Romans 8:38-39

This is my journey. A journey millions of others are on. From darkness to light. From victim to survivor. From broken to beautiful. My first instinct was to do the hard work of healing before I shared my story. I wasn’t sure I could help anyone right where I’m at. I wanted to present myself as someone who had it all together; someone who knew the answers. But I’m not there yet. Chances are, many reading this may not be either. The search for our true identity, the one that was ripped from us at the hands of abuse, doesn’t need to be a journey we venture on alone.

The truth is, I’m terrified. The fear of facing what haunts me has kept me frozen in time for years. Today, I’m choosing a new life. I’m rewriting the story. I’m following His plan…because we’re never too far gone, never in too deep. His love can reach us, no matter where we are. Today is the day I stand up and walk into the light, with The One who loved me at my darkest.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

Genesis 50:20

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