A Jesus With Skin On

“Why can’t you get over it?”

It’s one of the most hurtful statements you and I can utter to a person who has experienced abuse.

There are other ways of saying the same thing that seem a little more spiritual.  “You just need to forgive.”  “That happened a long time ago, and you need to stop letting it bother you.”  “Just stop believing the lies.”  “When are you going to choose to be a victor instead of a victim?” Or “But I thought you already worked through that.”

If there’s one thing I wish people would understand about sexual abuse, it would be this:  Sexual abuse is physically, spiritually, and emotionally damaging.  It affects every aspect of a person’s life – without exception.  It is a traumatic event that literally alters one’s brain.  (Check out this article about trauma and brain development here.)

I am very blessed to have a husband that has never made me feel like I should “get over it”.  I could not ask for a more supportive church and family.  Without a doubt, I would not be as far in my healing journey if it weren’t for my husband, church, and family.  I am not writing this because I feel unsupported in my journey.  I am writing this for the many victims in the Anabaptist culture and beyond who do not have a strong support system like I do.

I wish that we as Anabaptists understood abuse and trauma better. We tend to force or pressure people to be “normal”, which only further victimizes them.  We push them to forgive before they are ready and then expect them to never utter anything about it ever again.

It’s crazy. It’s like expecting a person with a traumatic brain injury to get out of the hospital bed and walk, or telling someone with a broken bone that the pain is all in their head.

Do you want someone to “get over it?”  Do you want them to heal?  Do you want them to be “okay”?

It’s really pretty simple.

Be Jesus to them. Show them what unconditional love really looks like.  Unconditional love is never forceful or pushy.  It doesn’t demand forgiveness, though forgiveness is important.  Instead, unconditional love loves at all times and in every circumstance.  Jesus is the ultimate example of Unconditional Love – because He is love.

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Photo credit

Jesus understands abuse much better than you and I do.  He understands the effects and He cares.  I think we could learn a few things from Him.  I wish we’d do better at giving grace to abuse victims.  Jesus does – why don’t we?

Helping the wounded takes time. It takes sacrifice. It means getting dirty. Too often we are like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We walk around the bleeding, broken person lying in the ditch.

Sometimes the reason we don’t stop to help is not because we do not care, but rather, because we do not know how.

There are many abuse victims in our churches who are dying because no one stops to help them.  They don’t feel safe, protected, or cared for.  And then we wonder why they leave the church or suddenly want nothing to do with God.

If you know someone who has been abused, you have an amazing opportunity to show them what true love is. Validate their pain and their feelings. Be a good listener. Do some research on abuse to help you better understand them.*  Care about them and love them well.

Don’t compare their journey with someone else’s. And most of all, don’t try to fix them.

You can’t.

But Jesus can. So show them Jesus.

One of my survivor friends summed it up like this: “Sometimes all we need is a Jesus with skin on.”

 

 

*I highly recommend the book “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender.  It is not light reading, but it lays out the damage abuse does and, most importantly, offers hope.

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Why I Value Modesty

There was a day, nearly eight years ago, that I came to a startling realization: I no longer cared about being modest.

I was tired of trying to camouflage my body. I was tired of trying to be Miss Invisible. I wondered what the point of modesty was because it certainly hadn’t provided protection.  No matter how plain I was dressed, there still were wandering eyes…and sometimes hands.  The only logical explanation I could come up with was that the female body was inheritantly evil, and therefore, needed to be covered.

I shudder now.  I was so close to throwing modesty out the window.  Honestly, it’s only the mercy of God that kept me from doing so.

Though I am not sure how I got the idea, I grew up thinking that modesty was to protect me from evil.  I thought that modesty was to, more or less, “keep men from lusting.”  If something bad happened to me, it was my fault – I must have dressed provocatively.

Thank God, I was wrong.

I began looking into what the Bible says about modesty and lust, and what I found unnerved me.  The verses that speak on modesty and sobriety say nothing about the need to do so because of a lustful eye.  On the contrary, when Jesus spoke about lust, He said “that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Funny how the clothing of the woman (or lack thereof) is not mentioned.

Why is that?

It’s because lust is a matter of the heart. “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  Mark 7:20-23

Because lust is a heart issue, my modesty does not solve a man’s lust problem.

The idea that modesty is the cure for lust degrades both men and women.  Think about it: it gives the connotation that men are sexual beasts who have no control over themselves.  That’s a very warped view of male sexuality.

Likewise, it portrays women as sexual objects, created for the pleasure of men and to be used at male discretion.  How perverse!  If the female body is the problem, why is the book of Song of Solomon in the Bible?

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Please hear me clearly.  Ladies, I am not suggesting that it’s okay for us to flaunt our bodies.  Immodesty is always wrong.

However, I am suggesting we take a step back and ask ourselves why modesty is important to us.

I value modesty because God clearly commands it – not because it protects me or because it keeps a man from lusting after my body.  I could wear a “tent” and there’d still be a few perverted-minded men who’d want what’s underneath.  And while I strive to be modest, I now understand that my modesty doesn’t cure a lustful heart.

You see, the value I place on modesty hasn’t changed.  But why I do it, has changed.

So, ask yourself: “Why is modesty important to me?”

Sometimes why you do what you do is just as important as what you do.

 

Not My Pain

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day.  It is etched deeply in my memory.

I wasn’t prepared for the grueling class periods when I signed up for a three week ladies healing group.  I wasn’t prepared for the incomprehensive amount of emotional pain and heartache that I was about to walk through – both in my own life and in walking through other’s pain.

I cannot be convinced that sexual abuse doesn’t affect a person – because it does.   It is the equivalent of emotional murder.  I wish I could somehow explain how it felt to listen to story after story of deep, excruciating pain.  The loss of innocence.  The horrible betrayal.  The utter powerlessness – to keep it from happening and to make it stop.  The ambivalence.  The shame.  The contempt.

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I wanted to run out of the room – away from it all.  Somewhere…anywhere.  I instinctively shielded my growing abdomen with my hands as I tried to protect my unborn child.

At break time, I found myself at the window.  It was a beautiful summer day, but I didn’t see that.  Tears blurred my vision.  I only felt the deep pain.  My whole body hurt.  Through my tears, I managed to talk to my baby: “It’s okay, child.  Mama will be alright.  It doesn’t feel safe right now, but it is.  I’ll protect you, little one.”

Sharing my own story of sexual abuse was harder than I had ever imagined.  Oh, I had talked about it before.  But this time was different – very different.

I cried as I told of the brutality and total powerlessness. I shared details that only a select few people knew. Deep sobs that I had bottled up inside of me spilled out and tears ran down my cheeks.  I found myself surrounded by the dear ladies in my class.  They cried with me.  It wasn’t my pain – it was our pain.

As the tears flowed from our eyes, I felt the presence of Jesus.  In my mind’s eye, I saw Him.  He was weeping with us – weeping for the little girls who’d been hurt so deeply.  Tears ran down His cheeks and fell to the ground.

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And then it hit me.  Our pain is His pain.  There is no pain or abuse that Jesus hasn’t experienced.  When He carried your pain and mine, our pain became His.  “He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows…” Isaiah 53:3-4

Dear hurting soul, Jesus understands your pain and He cares.  His tears fall with yours.  Because He makes your pain, His.

A Teaspoon of Honey and the Goodness of God

I am one of those people who’ve battled with questions such as this: If God is really good, then why does He let bad things happen to innocent?  Or to the righteous?

I went through a time in my life where I really questioned God’s goodness.  I questioned His love.

But what I was really asking was, “Where was God when I was a terrified little girl on the hard barn floor?  Where was He as I stared at the rafters, trying to distance myself from the man who towered over me?  Where was He in all the pain and confusion?”

Then one day, God began to help me process those questions in a unique way.

My husband came home from work to find his very emotional wife greet him at the door.  (Yes, I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened.)  His eyes were full of compassion, as always. He asked me what was wrong.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “where was God when that happened to me?”  He knew right away what I was talking about.  Back then, it was hard for me to talk about the rape.

He looked at me as he washed his hands in the sink.  I watched his face light up with sudden inspiration.

“Just a minute,” he said, walking into the kitchen.

I waited, wondering what in the world he was doing.

He soon returned, carefully balancing a spoon in his hand.

“Open your mouth,” he said.

“But what do you have on that spoon?” I questioned.  I pinched my lips tightly together.  I wasn’t going to try anything without knowing what it was. I figured it was probably vinegar or red pepper or something awful like that.

“Honey, open your mouth, please,” he said again.

I stubbornly obeyed.

“This is what God tastes like.”  He lifted the spoon to my mouth.

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PHOTO BY CATHY SCOLA VIA GETTY IMAGES

As soon as the honey hit my mouth, I began to cry.  A still, small voice inside of me said, “Ann, taste and see that I am good.  Blessed are those who trust in Me.”

Ben’s eyes were bright as he watched the Light dawn on me.

Then he quietly said, “You know what?  God is even sweeter than the honey you just tasted.  He is good, all of the time.  He is making something beautiful out of the ugly.  Remember, He loves you.”

I nodded as the tears trickled down my cheeks.

For a minute, all was silent.

“Sweetheart, where did you get that idea?” I asked, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

“What idea?  The honey on your tongue?”

“Yes.”

“At work today.  We were talking about Jewish traditions.  One of the ways that the Jews teach their children about the goodness of God and the sweetness of His Word is by giving them a teaspoon of honey on their tongue.”

I’d be lying if I’d say that this was the last time I ever struggled to believe that God is good.  I am so human.  Sometimes when things aren’t going well and life feels like it’s about to fall apart, I look up into my husband’s eyes and ask, “Ben, is God good?”

And without hesitation, he replies, “Yes, He is.  All the time.”

Though I have those times when I need to choose to believe the truth that God is good, I am beginning to feel it in my spirit.  To me, that is exciting.

Believing that God is good and choosing to trust Him go hand-in-hand; for you cannot trust God without a strong confidence and belief that He is good – no matter what.

I’m convinced that if we have a strong core belief in the goodness and sovereignty of God, we will be able to rest in that belief even when our lives “fall apart” overnight. When we wade through the question of “where was God when this happened” we will not become bitter because we have that assurance in our spirit that He is good.  When life leaves us feeling completely powerless, our faith will not be crushed.

You see, we don’t have to understand “why” when we believe that He is good all the time.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but if you’re like me, sometimes I just need a little reminder that God loves me and that He is good all the time – no matter what happens. And because He is good, I can trust His heart even when I don’t understand the “why”.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the man who trusts in him.” Ps. 34:8

Stripped of Control

Some things are impossible to forget.

I can still hear the sound of his boots on the wood as he raced up the stairs after me.  I can hear the door slam.  But the loud beats of my heart nearly stopped when he grabbed me and I looked into his eyes.

They were the eyes of evil.

There are very few words to describe the horror that followed.  I was stripped of all dignity and control.   I couldn’t get away.  I was trapped.

In the semi-darkness, I instinctively cried out to the only One I, in my little girl heart, believed could rescue me.  To this day, I’m not sure if the words were audible or not, but my spirit cried, “Help me, Jesus! Help me!”

As my body was being ravished and my spirit broken, I begged Jesus to save me.

But He didn’t come.

I was completely alone.  Alone with evil.

For years, I didn’t have any words for the terror I felt.  I just knew I was scared.  Very, very, very scared.  I lived in fear – fear that that terrible feeling of terror would eat me alive…next time.

Recently, I was able to name it.  Its name is Powerlessness.

In those horrific minutes as a little girl on the cold, hard floor, I experienced complete loss of control.  I could not get away.  I could not make it stop.  I could not even control my body.  I was completely powerless.

And, to top it all off, I felt abandoned by God.  Because He didn’t answer my prayer in the way I was expecting, it felt like He too, was powerless against that kind of evil.

I blamed myself for years.  I deceived myself into thinking that everything bad that happens is my fault.  I knew in my head that what happened to me as a little girl wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t seem to shake the blame and guilt I subjected myself to on a daily basis.

It got worse as the years went by.  I blamed myself for the wreck my family had when I was thirteen.  I blamed myself when the alarm clock failed to go off and my husband was late for work.  I blamed myself every time the children were disobedient.  I blamed myself for anything and everything.  I apologized frequently for the stupidest stuff.

Why?

Because if I could convince myself in powerless situations that “it is my fault”, I didn’t have to experience the awful feelings of terror that reminded me of the little girl at the hands of evil.  It was my self-defense against feeling powerless.

It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the reality of the scope of the powerlessness I faced as a child that I was able to truly believe in my heart that the abuse was not my fault.

Does Jesus understand powerlessness?  Does He know what it feel like to be stripped of control?

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Yes.  He chose to experience powerlessness.  He wouldn’t have had to subject Himself to the limitations of a human body and allow His creation to crucify Him on the cross.  He could have stepped off of that cross at any point.  But He didn’t.

He loved you and I too much to do that.

It is not wrong to feel powerless.  It’s part of being created.  After all, we are, in and of ourselves, powerless.

God is in control; not you, not me.  Do I understand why He sometimes allows evil things to happen?  No, I don’t.  I can’t – because I’m not God.

But if Jesus loved me enough to choose powerlessness over powerfulness, then I believe I can trust Him with my life.  And I can rest in the fact that He is good, even when I don’t understand His ways.

From Broken to Beautiful

Note: This article was written for the Winter Issue of Daughters of Promise (a magazine for Anabaptist women) and was published in December 2016.  Since the DOP Winter Issue 2016 is no longer available, I am sharing it here for those of you who’d like to read it.  The article is rather lengthy, but I hope it can be blessing to someone.  It contains a small part of my own story and though I feel quite vulnerable in publishing it here on my blog, it’s time to speak out and bless God for His continued healing in my life.  I am fully aware that part of my story contains a “taboo” subject in our conservative Anabaptist culture, hence the hestitation.  But I feel I’m stifling the glory of God by doing the “normal” thing and shutting up about the ugly stuff when there are so many hurting people who need to hear that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  I may share more in the future as the Spirit leads.  May God receive all the glory, for this isn’t really “my story” – it’s His story.  A story of redemptive beauty emerging from brokenness and pain.

 

Pain.

We are familiar with that word.  Most of us have experienced it at one time or another in our lives.  There are many kinds of pain – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional.  We talk about emotional pain like grief because we know what it’s like to lose someone close to us.

But I’d like to draw your attention to a different kind of pain.  Most of us know of people who’ve experienced it.  Some of us have experienced it first-hand.  But few people talk about it.  Few people know what to do with it. Most people don’t know how to find healing for themselves, or how to help someone else find healing. Sometimes, it isn’t even acknowledged as pain.

I’m talking about sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse is a full-blown epidemic in most Anabaptist communities across the globe.  The numbers of victims in our churches are not much different from the general population. According to statistics, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be abused by age eighteen. (These numbers are on the conservative side.  Most conservative counselors say the statistics are much higher in some communities.)

If you have experienced this kind of pain, you are not alone.  You are not crazy.  It was not your fault.  No matter what the voices in your head tell you, the truth is you are not trash. You are not ugly.  You are not worthless. You are not beyond hope.

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I once was a little girl who felt broken, ugly, worthless and dirty.  I felt like a rosebud that someone tried to pry open before it was time to bloom.  My innocent childhood was snatched away from me.  I wondered if I was normal.  I even asked my mom if I was a virgin.

Subconsciously, I knew something had happened to me.  But I had no memories of the abuse.  In fact, I remember very little of anything before I was ten years old.

When I was 21, I married a wonderful man who is better than my wildest dreams, Ben.  It was on our wedding night that I realized I had been raped years before.  It was physically impossible for me to have a sexual relationship.  I was devastated.  Hurt.  Here I was, a young bride who wanted to give everything to my husband, but I couldn’t.  My body was remembering the trauma, even though my mind had blocked the memories.

Ben and I contacted our premarital counselor who suggested that we see a doctor to make sure that I was physically healthy and able to have a sexual relationship.  A few days after our honeymoon, I was examined by a kind doctor. The invasiveness of the pelvic exam was like experiencing the rape all over again.  Everything inside of me screamed, “Stop!  Let me go! Why are you doing this?”   The pain was so unbearable I thought I would pass out. Then came the dreaded question, “Have you ever been raped?”  The doctor explained that I had vaginismus, which is when the body remembers trauma and causes muscles spasms to occur as a way to protect itself.

For nearly twelve weeks, I faithfully performed the exercises the doctor had prescribed.  I cried.  I prayed.  I was an emotional train wreck.  My husband never made me feel like I should just “brace up” or “get over it”.  One day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  Hmm, I mused. Jesus healed people instantly back then.  Maybe we should ask Him to heal me.

So I asked my dear husband if he thinks God cares about sex.

“Of course,” he replied.  “I think He does.”

“Do you think He cares enough to heal me?”  I asked timidly.

“Why don’t we ask Him?”

So we prayed.  It was just a simple prayer.  I didn’t “feel” any different, except I had peace.  But in that instant, God healed my vaginismus! It was gone!   (Thank you Jesus from the bottom of my heart!)

The next year was a difficult one for me.  Though I had experienced physical healing, emotionally my heart was an open wound.  I began to have flashbacks of the abuse.  My first flashback happened in a dingy cabin while we were camping with our church.

I had just laid down for a nap.  As I stared up at the rafters, I suddenly became a little girl again as I tried to distance myself from a man.  His eyes reminded me a vulture eyeing his prey.  I immediately curled myself into a fetal position and began to heave deep sobs that had never been released before.  I shook, moaned and writhed on the floor for a few minutes. My mind screamed with sheer horror at what had happened many years before.  The mental anguish was just as painful as the actual rape.  My husband held me as I wept.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.  I felt like I had been run over by a train.  In a way, I had.

Flashbacks are hard to describe. Usually something triggers them. Sometimes they are more of a body memory than an actual mental memory.  They leave you weak and vulnerable.  In those moments, I felt like a little girl who needed someone to protect me.  I wanted to hide.  At first, it was hard for me to realize that I was having a flashback, simply because I couldn’t “feel” anything.  But Ben learned to read my eyes.  He’d say, “Ann, are you okay?”  And I would burst into terrified tears.

“So,” I hear you asking, “how did you find healing?”

In some ways, the answer is simple. Jesus.  In other ways, the answer is complicated. Healing is a journey that takes time.  Sometimes years.

First of all, we have to acknowledge and accept what happened. This is an important step.  You simply cannot find healing for pain you refuse to acknowledge.   Childhood sexual abuse involves much more than “just” rape.  It includes inappropriate touching over and under clothes, the exposure of a child’s body, exposure to porn or adult nakedness, using force or trickery to make a child to perform sexual acts, inappropriate sexual comments made to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.

In my case, my mind had blocked those memories as a way to survive the horror.  They simply didn’t re-surface until I was at a safe place in my life.  If you suspect that you have repressed memories of abuse in your past, I would strongly encourage you to commit it to God.  He doesn’t hide things from us that we would be better off knowing.  If He thinks you are ready to deal with things, you will remember enough to work through what happened.

Not everyone blocks memories.  Maybe you remember everything, but you don’t want to deal with it.  It is hard to face the pain.  It hurts.  But you really can’t have true joy or peace by stuffing pain. Pushing away pain only works for so long.  Eventually, it will stick its ugly head up and scream for your attention until you choose to deal with it.  It doesn’t go away on its own.

It isn’t fun to face pain.  But let me tell you: It’s worth it.  It’s worth every tear.  It’s worth every flashback.  Please don’t fight it any longer.

Grieve. Grieving is another step in the healing process.  After you acknowledge the pain, you will likely be very emotional.  After all, your innocence was stolen from you.  In some ways, grieving your innocence is like grieving a loved one who walked away from God.  Innocence can never be returned after it is gone.

Everyone responds differently to grief.  Some people need to talk about what happened.  Others need to write or journal.  You will have days that you do more crying than smiling.  You will feel really good one minute and the next you will burst into tears.  And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying.

During those time of intense grief, bring your pain to Jesus.  Climb up onto His lap.  Rest your head against His shoulder.  Tell Him exactly how you feel.  He wants to carry your pain.  Let Him do that for you.  Spend time in His Word.  Mediate on it.  Talk audibly with God.  Ask Him hard questions.  Read good, wholesome books.  Take walks.  Find someone you can trust who is willing to listen to your heart anytime of the day or night.  Your heart is an open wound, so give yourself a lot of grace during this time.  Take care of yourself.  And don’t rush the process.  Take time to grieve.

Renounce the Lies.  Women who have experienced sexual abuse often face many lies that are deeply rooted in their soul due to the abuse they experienced as children. Some common lies are: “I’m worthless.”  “I’m ugly.”  “It’s my fault.”  “God doesn’t love me.”  And so on.  Identify the lies you are believing.

Once you have identified these lies, renounce them.  Use the Word of God to fight them. There is great Power in the Word! (Hebrews 4:12).  Stand in front of the mirror and speak Truth to yourself.  The devil cannot stand the Truth.  Share your struggle to believe truth with people who will stand and fight with you.  Write the Truth (opposite of the lie) on a paper and stick it on your closet door where you will see it every day.  Or write the lie on the bottom of your socks, and then “tramp on that lie” all day long.  Visuals like this have helped me to break the bondage of lies in my life.

And now for the most important step in healing from sexual abuse: Forgiveness.  I have no idea what comes to your mind when you here this word, but I’d like to explain what forgiveness means to me.

I’m not talking about forgetting what happened to you.  I’m not talking about giving the person who abused you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  I’m not talking about trusting the person who broke your trust.

It makes me sad to hear of churches and individuals pushing “forgiveness” on the victim in order to protect and hide the sin of the perpetrator.  That is not true forgiveness.  I’m sorry if that kind of emotional and spiritual abuse is part of your experience.  You probably want to scream when you hear this word, and I don’t blame you.  But please, keep reading.

True forgiveness is something that is impossible without Jesus.  In order to forgive, you need to realize your own sinfulness and accept God’s love and forgiveness for you.  Without this, it is totally impossible to truly forgive your perpetrator. When you realize that your sin is really no less sinful in Gods eyes than theirs, it makes it easier to choose forgiveness.

Forgiveness means that I accept what happened.  It means I choose to deal with the consequences of my abuser’s sin with a cheerful heart.  It’s saying, “Ok God, I choose to be okay with the flashbacks.  I can’t help what happened to me, but I can choose my reaction to it.”

Another aspect of forgiveness is taking responsibility for my reaction to the pain.  Because we are human, we respond to pain by becoming selfish and bitter.  Forgiveness means that we repent of bitterness.  It means that we choose to say “Yes, what he/she did was terrible, but my bitterness is hurting others too; so I choose to repent of it.”

Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.  You may need to forgive your perpetrator 100 times a day.  That’s fine.  When Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother?”, Jesus said, “Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21-35) Let me translate that in terms of working through sexual abuse.  Every time you think about what happened and you feel that familiar bitter spirit begin to rise within you, FORGIVE.  Don’t wait.  Do it right away.

If you struggle with flashbacks, forgive the minute the flashback is over.  You don’t even have to remember who it was that abused you.  You can still forgive them.  Do it every time you remember.  I will be honest with you: Forgiveness is the only way to deal with flashbacks. They are horrible experiences.  But I have found so much healing in forgiveness.  The prayer I often pray is as follows:

“Jesus, today I choose to forgive (name) for the pain he/she caused me when he/she (what they did to you).  I choose to forgive him/her and release him/her.  I don’t want to hold this against him/her any longer.  Please have mercy on him/her!  I will accept the consequences of his/her sin. Will you forgive me, Jesus, for being so focused on myself and bitter toward him/her?”

If you want to find healing, but feel powerless to choose to forgive, ask God to help you.  He doesn’t want to see you stuck in bitterness.  He is more than willing to give you the power you need to make that hard, but important, choice.

No, forgiveness is not easy.  But it is necessary if you want to find healing and peace.

And finally, don’t waste your pain by keeping silent about the healing that God is doing in your shattered heart.  Tell someone.  Look for opportunities to help someone else find healing from sexual abuse.  Don’t forget how it felt to be the little girl with a battered, bleeding heart.  There are so many people who need to hear about the redemption Jesus brings to broken little girls and boys.

I have asked God, “Why?  Why me?”  I think it’s okay to ask questions.  But don’t demand an answer.  Job asked God “why” too.  But God never answered his question.  It’s not that God didn’t care or didn’t hear.  Believe me, He does!  He cares about what happened to you.  But because His ways are so much higher than ours, our minds cannot always grasp the plans He has for us. (Is. 55:9)

So do I know why I was raped and abused? No.  But there’s one thing I am choosing to believe: God has a purpose for everything.  Even for a little girl who was brutally abused by men who professed to know God.

Has the healing journey been easy?  No.  Is it worth the pain?  YES.  A thousand times, yes.

Dear sister, if you’ve experienced this type of pain, please don’t try to stuff it in or pretend it’s not there.  There is hope, healing and redemption in Jesus Christ.  You don’t need to stay a victim to your past.  Remember, He loves you.  He wants to carry your pain.  He specializes in giving “beauty for ashes”. (Is 61:3) “…And with His stripes, we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

 

*statistics are from “11 Facts about Child Abuse” by dosomething.org.

Innocence and “The Talk”

“I just want to keep my children innocent as long as possible,” she said.

We all do.  What kind of parent doesn’t want to protect their children?  But judging by the number of sexually abused children in our circles, I wonder if we really know how.

In years gone by, we’ve been taught to keep our children “innocent” by refraining from telling them the facts of life until they are well into their teens – or right before they get married.  It’s called “The Talk”.  Has it worked?  Is innocence the ignorance of all things sexual?

parent-and-child (1)

We live in a world where sex is boldly proclaimed, and brazenly advertised and sold on a daily basis.  Pornography is easily accessible, thanks to the internet on our cell phones and the magazines in the checkout lines.  You don’t have to drive far to see plenty of billboards that are worse than the pictures published in the first porn magazines.

On top of all the junk floating around “out there,” we have a huge problem within the church – sexual abuse.  More and more children are being victimized every year, not by people from “out there” but by family members and church members within our circles.

Parents, it’s time we dig our heads out of the sand.  Our children are being exposed to sexual things long before they hit their teens.  There are children as young as two who are being raped and abused.  Boys are being shown pornography before they turn ten.  We have girls growing up who don’t remember ever feeling innocent.  I wish I could say that the situations I just mentioned are few and far between, but they aren’t.  It’s becoming far too “normal”.

It’s time to admit that our strategy isn’t working.  Judging by the epidemic of abuse in Anabaptist communities today, it is not a stretch to say that keeping our children ignorant about the facts of life has actually “fed” the abuse cycle.

Innocence is not ignorance.  Innocence has more to do with how a child finds out about the facts of life than with how much they know.  A child does not lose their innocence when we as parents explain sex and puberty in a pure, undefiled manner as God intended sex to be.  On the flip side, when abuse occurs and the child is conditioned to believe that sex is something dirty and shameful, innocence is definitely lost.  Untold damage to their view of God and their view of sex happens when a child is abused, whereas the facts of life, simply told in a safe and loving environment, and in an age appropriate way produces phenomenally different results.

There is nothing a perpetrator likes more than an ignorant child who has no sexual knowledge.  Why?  Because the child can be taught anything and everything about sex – the perpetrator’s way.  Abuse can go on for years when sexual things are introduced in this way.  The sexual deviations become “normalized” in the child’s mind because there is nothing to compare it to.  Furthermore, without a healthy view of their bodies and sex, children often hide the abuse from parents and caregivers because they don’t know any better.  Ignorance gives the perpetrator power while healthy, pure, facts of life from parental figures gives that power to children by helping them to say “NO” and helping them to distinguish between good touch and bad touch. 

Countless abuse survivors will tell you that they were not taught about good touch and bad touch.  Their parents tried to keep them innocent by ignorance and it didn’t work.  When the abuse started, they were confused.  It didn’t feel right, but “Uncle Jim says it’s okay and that this is what love is” so they accepted it as normal behavior.  On the other hand, I’ve talked to moms who’ve been open with their children about sexual things; they’ve told them what to do in a bad situation and answered their questions about the facts of life.  And many times, it’s those kinds of conversations that have saved children from abuse.

I do not want my children to find out about sex and their bodies from anyone other than my husband and I.  And in order to do that, it means starting before they are two.  It means teaching them the proper names for their private body parts in normal everyday life.  It means answering their many questions about where babies come from and why mama’s belly is so big. (Yes, I’m currently carrying our third child.)  It means explaining life to them and keeping the lines of communication open with our children.  It means listening to them and hearing their hearts.  It means reminding them that when God made their bodies, He said “It is very good.”

We all want to protect our children’s innocence.  None of us want to find out that our child knows far more than we told them because of a pervert in our circle of family or friends.  In this day and age, it means having “talks” instead of “the talk”.  Because innocence is not ignorance.

Let’s step up to the plate, parents.  And may God help us to protect the “little ones” He has so graciously given us to love.

 

Shattering a Culture of Silence

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Silence is golden.”  But is it always?  Is there ever a time when silence is not a good option?

Silence may be golden in some cases.  But I question whether our silence on sexual abuse in our Anabaptist churches has done anything other than cultivate more abuse. Most of us would like to think that we are pretty good – that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen all that often.  Yet many of us personally know people who’ve either been abused or who have abused.

Though abuse is often gossiped about in our communities, we hear very little about it over the pulpit.  Anabaptist periodicals rarely publish articles concerning it.  It’s almost like there’s an unspoken rule that claims we “shouldn’t talk about such things.”

female-child-with-hand-over-her-mouth

That sentence highlights a major part of the problem and also part of the solution.

By failing to bring sexual sin and abuse to light, we as Anabaptists have become bound in generational strongholds.  For the most part, the older generation thought it wrong to “talk about such things.”  But refusing to open up about the issues in their generation has only caused the sin and abuse to be passed on to their children and grandchildren.  Today, the younger generation faces an enormous epidemic of sexual abuse.

Thankfully, there are some people who are finally realizing that “not going there” has only multiplied the problem.  Our eyes are being opened by Jesus, Who loves children.

Of course, when anyone starts messing with the devil’s agenda to take back the ground that sexual abuse destroyed, they are in for some serious spiritual battles.  The people who are hiding behind the culture of secrets suddenly become wolves in sheep’s clothing.  People you thought highly of, suddenly “turn and rend you.”  All hell breaks loose, trying to distract you from the work God has given you to do – exposing the sin, helping the sinner, and bringing healing to the weak and hurting.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos and flying darts meant to forever shut you up, Jesus gives His blessing.  His Voice guides you through the battle.  He comforts.  He gives confirmation after confirmation.  His Hand in the battle to expose sexual sin in the conservative church is unmistakable.

Everywhere in His Word, I find His heart.  From Genesis to Revelation, His heart is the same.  He cares about the broken. (Ps. 147:3) His ear is tuned to the weak, the vulnerable, and the hurting.  (Ps. 10:17-18) He hears the cries of the children. (Gen. 21:17)  He defends the innocent.  (Ps. 82:3) He sets the captives free.  He binds up the brokenhearted.  He gives them beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

If we are honest, we as Anabaptists have failed miserably when it comes to hearing the cries of the children.  Instead of listening, we have been “shutting them up.”  Instead of caring, we’ve been stomping out the last little bit of life they had.   And the sick thing is, we do in the name of “forgive and forget”.  We take Scripture out of context to “prove” that “talking about such things” is sin.  Sometimes we tell them to “get over it.”

Worse yet, we blame the hurting for leaving our church.  We talk about them behind their backs.  We think they are rebellious, not realizing that WE might be to blame for their distrust and disgust for God and His Word.

Judgement is coming.  God does not deal kindly with those who trample the weak and needy.  (Ps. 109:16) He has little mercy for people who claim to know Him and offend children. (Matt. 18:6) To God, this is serious stuff.

What should we do and where do we start? How can we shatter the silence and shed the Light on the sin?

I beg you to start by reading the Word of God with an open heart.  Put all your preconceived ideas aside and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what God’s Word means.  Ask God to show you what He thinks about sexual sin and sexual abuse.  Seek His face.  He has the answers.

About a year ago, my husband and I began to ask God those same questions.  We started studying His Word, specifically paying attention to passages that pertained to sexual sin and sexual abuse.  We prayed a lot, and asked Him to guide us into all Truth.  Our view and perspective on what God thinks of abuse and how we should deal with it changed dramatically.

I can talk and write all I want, but I cannot change the hearts of “my people”.  But I know Someone Who can.   In fact, He already is, and I believe He will continue to do so.

If each of us would seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, it would be the start of a great Revival in our communities and churches.  It starts with you.  It starts with me.  Together with God, we can change our children and grandchildren’s destiny, so that they can be free from the generational strongholds that have plagued us.

To My Dear Mother

Dear Mom,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  I wanted to get you a special card, or flowers, or something….anything to let you know how much you mean to me.  But honestly, flowers and cards really don’t express it well enough.  Since writing happens to be my gift, I decided that might be a better option.

Mom, thank you.  Thank you for carrying me for nine long months.  Thank you for laboring all day and birthing my little body.  Thank you for holding me in your arms and weeping as you thought about the responsibility of guiding my soul.  Thank you for all those sleepless nights, diaper changes, laundry, and baths.

mother and child

Thank you for singing to me, for sharing your love of music with me, and for taking me for piano lessons.  Thank you for letting me sing all the different parts while I “sang” soprano in my head.  Thank you for the good memories of reciting a Psalm before nap time, and for the afternoons on the porch swing eagerly waiting for Daddy to arrive home from work.

I remember one time when you had a picnic lunch with us under the pine trees.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to do that.  Thank you for giving me special care when I was sick.  Thank you for praying with me when I had nightmares.  Thank you for answering my many questions and listening to my many stories. Thank you for your patience with me.

Very faintly I remember that before I’d go to sleep, you and Dad would pray with me and the rest of the children.  Thank you.  Thank you for teaching me of Jesus by your word and example.  Thank you for your vibrant spirit and for showing me how to love my husband by the way you love Dad.

Mom, I’m so blessed to have you as my mom.  I admire how you mothered.  I want to memorize scripture with my children and pray with them.  I want to sing with them.  I want them to have memories of watching the road for their daddy to arrive home from work.  I want them to know without a shadow of doubt that “Mommy loves Daddy”, just like I knew when I was growing up.

I’ve taken you for granted so many times.  But I want to change that.  Now I’m the one with a toddler pulling at my skirt and a baby who needs nursed.  Now I have little voices who call me “Mommy.”  It’s my turn to deal with the messy diapers, mountains of dirty laundry and dishes, the fingerprints on the window panes, and the short nights.

And my desire is to do my part as a mama to plant seeds in my children’s hearts just like you did with me.  So that someday, they too will rise up and do the same for their children, for God’s glory alone.

Thank you Mom!  I’m so glad God choose you to be my mom.  May God bless you this Mother’s Day and always.

I love you,

Ann

*Written the day before Mother’s Day 2016

 

Cried Dry

Have you ever experienced the kind of gut-wrenching pain that leaves you completely breathless and weak?  You know what I mean –  when your heart literally feels like it is being cut into hundreds of pieces?

I have.  I’ve even wondered if I was going to physically survive the emotional pain.  Death looked like a welcome relief.

I was given the following poem by a friend of mine who is quite familiar with emotional pain.  I am still in awe at the beauty and simplicity of the words.  My friend so graciously granted me permission to share it with you.

 

“It seems to me that sometime

The world must be

Cried dry.

 

That tears cannot flow forever

Even from humans

Like I.

 

But tears have a way of passing on-

Recycled by generations gone.

 

But someday God will wipe away

All the tears from

Our eyes.” *

 

cute-little-girl-crying
Photo credit: myria.com

 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for that day.

 

*The author wishes to be anonymous.  Please do not copy this poem without contacting me first so that I can get permission for you from the author.  Thank you for understanding.