It was in the weeks leading up to the trial of Ernie Willis that Tina Anderson introduced me to this song by Laura Story, titled "Blessings." In the days leading up to my departure date for New Hampshire, any time I heard this song, I wept uncontrollably with gut wrenching, heart-breaking sobs.
I cried for Tina's lost youth, for the callous disregard for her heart while making an extra effort to protect the rapist's family, for the lies told about her character when she wasn't allowed to go back to the Christian school to join her friends.
I cried for my own childhood memories and for those of dear loved ones that were molested by church leaders. I cried for the times I sat and allowed myself to be emotionally and spiritually abused as an adult. So many, many lost years. So many years that passed without the experience of unconditional love--without understanding God's grace.
My grief at times overwhelmed me. And after over forty years of stuffing all the hurt, I found that even though I wanted to talk about it, I still couldn't. The only comfort I found was in prayer and offering support for those still trying to escape abuse or still hurting from the abuse they left behind.
I cried more in the year between when Tina's story came out and the trial than I have cried in my whole life. My husband was an amazing friend and support, as were others.
I have often said when looking back on my life that the disciple I can most identify with is Peter (because he often acted or blurted things out without stopping to think first), but the Bible character that I find the most inspiring given my own history is Joseph. Thanks to a friend, I read a story not too long ago in Christianity Today that crystallized why I feel that way.
Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International, was born to a missionary family required by its mission board to send children away to boarding school by the age of six. As an adult, Wess joined many other former students of the Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea, Africa to speak out about the abuse suffered by the children at the hands of the missionary teachers and house parents. Crediting the experience for his own passion as an advocate for children, Stafford said, “Thankfully, for me, my story—a story that Satan intended for evil but that God redeemed for good—has a different ending.”
"There was no one to protect us. We had no advocates, no arms to run to. The very people who should have been our defenders were in fact our attackers."
I grew up in a church environment like that. The attached "Christian" school, a place my parents thought would nurture us in God's Word, was instead, a place of no protection against those that seemed to get a sick satisfaction for how they could hurt us without leaving signs or scars. Though sometimes they did leave bruises and welts.
Though Wes Stafford's experiences were different from my own, there was much about his story that resonated with me. I don't know how much of my own experiences I will ever share publicly, but I do know this: healing is possible. For me it began with understanding God's grace. It was only then that I could comprehend His unfailing, miraculous, unconditional love. Not surprisingly, He then began showing me how I could love my children as He loves me. I was free to leave behind the man-centered traditional parenting advice associated with my fundamentalist upbringing and free to embrace GRACE.
If you are reading this blog and wondering if there is healing for you, I want to assure you that there is! There are many resources and places of support you can pursue.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): this website can direct you to an abuse advocate in your location
SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests): support group for women and men abused by religious authority figures
Freedom from Abuse Network: a place offering support specifically for those coming out of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches
I want to close this post with a couple of quotes from the Christianity Today Article:
"All these years later, I am still never more than 10 seconds away from tears. But not all my tears are from sorrow. Just as easily, I can be moved to tears of great joy at what I get to do. I see victories in children's lives as evil is defeated, just as it was defeated in my own life."
"In finally telling my whole story, I have discovered the other side of my life's tapestry. Where I once saw only knots and tangles, I now see a beautiful picture of God's grace—his deliberate orchestration in a life lovingly entrusted to me. Sure enough, he had heard every scream, felt every blow, and wiped every tear as, through the pain, he crafted me into a tool he could use, redeemed for his glory."