This is the third post of our weeklong series, Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church, which features the stories of abuse survivors, along with insights from professional counselors, legal experts, and church leaders about how to better prepare Christians to prevent and respond to abuse. (Previous posts include: The Scar of Sexual Abuse by Mary DeMuth and No More Silence: An Interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E.) Through the course of the series, we will be discussing child abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual violence and abuse, and domestic violence. In addition, my friends Hannah, Joy, Shaney, and Elora will be hosting a synchroblog focused specifically on spiritual abuse, which you can learn more about here.
Today we will be focusing on the winding road to healing. This morning’s post comes to us from Grace Biskie. Grace is a high-school-student-wrangler for a non-profit foundation, a speaker, and a writer for Prodigal Magazine and A Deeper Story. Grace is working on her first book, Detroit's Daughter, a memoir about surviving her father, her brother, abuse, racism, Christians, boys, and poverty, while growing up in Detroit. She is married to Dave, and raising two handsome little Lego lovers, Ransom, 7, and Rhys, 3. She loves photography, fashion & swiss cake rolls. She hates horcruxes and human trafficking. You can follow her adventures in trying to lead a purposeful, grace-filled, beautiful life on her blog, Gabbing With Grace, or on Twitter.
Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse by a father
I gave my life fully, completely to Jesus at 19. That same December I went off to a large student conference where 500 of us gathered for a Hope & Healing seminar for abuse victims. Since I knew Jesus now, I thought it might be nice to explore the idea of how to help other women who had been through something similar. I, of course, had no healing left to do, because I, Gracie Green had met Jesus in early April.
I ended up hunched over on the floor, violently weeping, shaking uncontrollably while my InterVarsity staff worker, York prayed over me and soon called others over to help. Total train wreck.
Months later, I began counseling to finally address the beast in my life: as a kid my father had sexually abused me for several years. It took every ounce of my emotional, spiritual and physical being to continue to address the abuse, the consequences, the ramifications for three very long years. I continued in counseling while I was violent with suicidal desires, deep in depression, and addicted to shopping, masturbation, sleep and powdered doughnuts, all the while my Ma became very ill and poverty had encroached it's claws onto my bare back. I could barely move my neck. All that grief rose up and landed right on my shoulders, a constant reminder that everything was painful, everything a disgrace.
From the shame of the abuse, the shame of the depression (which was still largely a stigma for me), the shame of the masturbation alone for crying out loud, I would have buried myself and wrote "unworthy" on the tombstone if I could have. None of that looked like healing. I often wondered, 'How the hell is this healing? How am I anything remotely resembling God's healing so full of mercy?'
What I see now, I couldn't see then.
I remember telling someone for the first time that I'd officially forgiven my father. I was young. Seventh grade young. It had been less than a year since I'd testified against my Dad & watched him carted off to prison. I sat in a small group of six girls at Rhonda Duke's pre-tween birthday party and told them what happened. To quote myself, I said I was "like, sooo over it." Jodi Pennington looked at me and said, "It's so awesome that you told someone and that you forgive him!" I adored that gold star of affirmation.
I wish I could scoop up that naive' little babygirl and tell her she don't know the half.
The thing is, that same thing kept happening. At fourteen, I started a ridiculously unhealthy sexual relationship. Our tender ages should have been indication enough there would be trouble, but once I'd chosen sex for myself, I knew. I knew. Something was very, very wrong about sex. Not only was it painful and disgusting but that the act itself made me want to throw myself in front of the closest moving vehicle. Like most teenaged girls, I assumed that the something was wrong with me. I was the unworthy slut who got what was coming to her.
Again with the naivete, I thought if I visited my Dad in prison I'd be better, his repentance would soothe my problems away, but the the visit left me in absolute ruins.
After three years of married life, a Daddy-like dude came into my life which brought every single Daddy issue I had right back up to surface level. I went to a conference called "Guilt & Shame: Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse." Absolute hell on earth. It was misery. In my small group were eight people in their 50's, 60's & 70's. The oldest member was 87. We spent hours creating a Trauma Egg where we detailed every trauma in our lives and each took an hour to share. Every member of my group cried -some hysterically- through my egg presentation. It was their feedback that popped on a bright light bulb for me: they were jealous, full of holy envy that I had suffered the worst part of my healing journey while I was young, before I was married and before I had kids to worry over. All but one in our group of misfits hadn't lost their marriage over the consequences of the abuse: me.
I didn't realize at nineteen that I'd begun a long journey where often the first leg is the worse. I imagine it's a lot like that first step in Alcoholics Anonymous, just admitting the problem. I thought I was going in for the recommended twelve weeks, and it continued to surprise me, month-after-month for three years, that I was still in the thick of it.
I had such a riot at the Guilt & Shame Conference, I signed up for more counseling. Again. The Daddy-like dude issue only got worse. The next year, my father died. My husband and I attended his funeral because I wanted to tangibly extend grace –again—in a way I knew he couldn't shit on, being dead and all. But I learned at the funeral that he'd told his entire family that I'd lied about the abuse and that he was wrongfully imprisoned. That was a blow. And it was back to counseling.
I could go on with stories about this Daddy-like dude who I didn't end up evicting from my life until nine months ago (I know, I know), or more of the shameful choices I've made (plenty), or more of the counseling I've had (recently), or the weight these issues have put on my marriage (almost to its demise), but you probably get the point by now:
My healing, our healing, is a long journey like a trek up a steep, winding and dangerous mountain.
For this journey, you need camping gear. You need to stop and rest. You need water because it's taxing and flashlights because it's dark. You need correct expectations because no one climbs a strenuous mountain unprepared. But most of all, you need to know that you won't see the top, the very top until you pass from this life to the next. That mountain top experience of 100% healing from abuse is not for us in this not-yet-fully-here Kingdom of God in which we currently reside.
Call me a Negative Nancy, but I'm looking to heaven for my complete healing. I don't sugar coat, ya'll. My father broke my heart.
When I decided to stop trying to fix what is irrevocably broken, my hope soared.
One day I will see Him face to face, when all things will be made new for this tattered heart of mine. Until then, I press on in my messy-as-hell journey toward healing. Yes, this healing journey of mine has been as FUGLY as the day is long, but I'm still on it. I've watched others get off and shrivel into...well, a Jerry Springer episode.
The minute you climb down, the minute you back out of active healing and forgiveness, that's when you succumb. And as people so tightly held in God's hands, I want to encourage you not to give up. Don't be discouraged when the coping looks worse then a Housewives episode. This is not a one-stop shop. This is not a pastor who pushes you over and claims, "HEALED, in name of Jesus!" This is a less-than-reality-t.v.-worthy, day after day, messy journey of faith draggin' its triflin' self back to the cross where Jesus offers peace and blessing to the broken-hearted. I don't have a Dad, but peace and blessing I have in abundance.
With hope in Jesus, professional counseling, godly counsel, trusted books, anti-depressants, accountability, repentance within loving community and regular workouts I'm convinced every little thing is going to be alright...
...at least for today's journey.
Be sure to check out Grace’s blog. For abuse survivors, Grace recommends The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender.
For additional information on how churches can prevent and respond to abuse, check out yesterday’s interview with Boz Tchividjian.