This is the first 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. Through the course of the series, we will be discussing child abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual violence and abuse, and domestic violence. Morning posts will feature a survivor story (today’s comes from author Mary DeMuth), and afternoon posts will feature interviews and guest posts from professional counselors, legal experts, and leaders (later today you will meet Boz Tchividjian of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment--G.R.A.C.E). 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.
This morning's post comes to us from Mary DeMuth, a gifted author and all-around woman of valor, who blogs at http://www.marydemuth.com. Mary is the author of over a dozen books including her memoir Thin Places, which reveals her story of past neglect and abuse in raw clarity. She speaks around the nation and the world about living an uncaged life. Her greatest accomplishment? A dear, dear family in Texas—a husband of 22 years and three nearly-grown children. In her spare time she gardens, runs, leads a high school girls’ group, and cooks-cooks-cooks for family and friends.
Trigger Warning: memories of child sexual abuse
The Scar of Sexual Abuse
by Mary DeMuth
On a recent run, I watched as two young boys, maybe first graders, laboring up a hill with their scooters on the way to school. Smiles, wind, joy encircled the scene. But what made it even more sweet was this: a mom drove behind them, slower than slow, making sure they made it to school. They wanted adventure. She recognized that, but she also realized something important about this life: children need protection.
I tried not to cry at the scene. That is not my story. No parent following behind me, actively worrying about my well being. As an only child of a mom entangled in the hippie culture and a father already divorced, I walked, biked, skipped alone. You can find the entirety of my story in my memoir, Thin Places.
Here it is, told cinematically:
When I went to the babysitter's house at five, even she, Eva-the-chain-smoking-babysiter, did not protect me. The neighborhood boys, brothers, took me away from her, got me out of her wildly unkempt hair. Within eyeshot of the elementary school, in the incline of a wooded park, they violated me. Sexually assaulted me. Whispered threats. When I squirmed and cried and later resigned myself to their inevitable visits, they said they'd kill my parents if I told. I believed them. I obeyed and kept quiet.
Oh how what they did hurt. Stung. Ate at my insides. Burned. Their act emptied me of the little girl I've never fully recaptured, a carefree, dancing, joyful, sprite of a girl. My coping mechanism? Disconnecting. I remember staring up at those majestic evergreen trees, watching the limbs sway, begging for rescue, imagining myself a bird who could fly, fly away, nest in their motherly branches. As long as my mind disconnected into the trees, I could tolerate the boys.
Until they invited friends.
The passel of boys used a swear word to describe what they did to me. And I was scared to say that awful, awful word to my babysitter, fearing a trip to the bathroom, a bar of soap, and my open mouth. But the boys bringing their friends ignited my bravery. Smoke circling around her, I pulled Eva-the-chain-smoking-babysitter to me, whispered that awful word in her ear. She reeled heavenward, eyes wild. "I'll tell your mom," she said.
And I believed her.
But the boys came again. Knock, knock, knocked on the door to her home. And she, being the opposite of the mom who drove behind her scooter-happy kids, let them take me. And I thought (wrongly) that my mom knew but didn't care.
So I decided not one person on this evergreen-treed earth would protect me. Only I could.
Here I am at five years old, so you can grasp some perspective.
That little pixie-cut girl learned how to sleep. And sleep. My sleeping prevented their excursions. And then relief: we moved away.
Problem was, the boys had done their damage. Their scarring remained.
They'd etched into my soul this indelible scar that blazed across my forehead for every. single. predator to view as a welcome sign for violation. (Have you ever felt this way?) Somehow the creeps of the world knew my secret, though I kept it locked it away. The ragged, scabbed scar was a beacon, blaring, and it had its best result when I lived unsupervised. Which was often.
A boy removed his pants in a playhouse, told me we would be playing doctor. I ran.
A hired hand stepped way too close. I could smell his adolescent breath. I ran.
An older brother of a girl I babysat approached me from behind, slid his hands on my shoulders, then southward. I had nowhere to run, but I found a way to put distance between us.
I'm scrappy that way. After all, only I could protect myself.
I met Jesus under an evergreen tree at fifteen. That familiar place of violation where I watched the tree limbs now became a sanctuary where I realized someone dared to love me enough to follow me wherever I walked.
Meeting Jesus gave me the bravery to share my story. Initially I wasn't believed. So I told again. And again. And again. Until I connected with people who loved me, who dared to believe God would heal broken, messy me.
The painful truth: We who are violated experience that violation in the context of sick community, but the way of healing always involves better community. The very thing that damages us is the place where God heals us. Which is why so few heal. Because why would we entrust ourselves to anyone after parents neglected, babysitters made evil choices, and boys ruined us?
The other painful truth: I would not have healed had I not told my story. Isolation creates a festering wound. An untold story never, ever heals. Keeping it in only explodes you in other ways. Addiction. Rage. Depression. Suicidal thoughts. Repeating the very thing you swore you'd never do. These actions come when we bottle up our stories. Because the stories come out, just not in our words.
I'd love to say I'm wholly healed. I'm not fully. I still struggle with sex, as I chronicled in "The Sexy Wife I Can't Be" in Deeper Story a few weeks back. Violators have spied my scar well into adulthood. I've had to be extremely cautious about who I entrust my heart to. Men still freak me out. Women too. So many issues. I grieve that I wasn't protected. I grieve my childhood (can I call it a childhood?).
I cannot yet reconcile a Sovereign God with unprotected me. While I rejoice that I've experienced a bucketload of healing, I still don't understand why God would allow such horror. If I knew about a child being abused, I would make sure it wouldn't happen. Why didn't God step in? (Of course I'm well aware of free will, but even knowing people can make evil choices doesn't negate the feeling I have that God could've done something sooner.) These are honest, honest questions, ones I probably won't know the answer to this side of eternity.
When I get mired in those questions, I think of the still-scarred hands of Jesus. He took on the haunting--mine, yours, ours. He felt every abuse, every bout of pornography, every hidden awful sexual sin, every person who trafficked another, every boy who violated a little girl under evergreens. He endured God-knows-what in the wilderness, plus what must've seemed like unconscionable neglect when His Father abandoned Him on the cross. He understands.
And yet, He wears the scars of bearing the sins of others for ETERNITY. Right now, He is reminded of every single heinous sin ever committed, simply by looking at His wrists.
I am scarred. I am not fully free. Even lately I wrote a letter to those boys who molested me, and tasted a bit more freedom.
In my journey of healing, those scars have taken on a sliver of beauty to me. They remind me of my utter need for Jesus. My abandonment and sexual abuse (and fatherlessness...my father died when I was ten) were the very things that flung me into His Almighty arms. My weakness is the dance floor He has used to do great things through me (to His glory). I have the privilege of speaking openly about this issue that most keep hidden (that is the grace of God), and pray for people, and see them taste freedom, too. What a privilege! We who are scarred have become the protector we never had.
As the (scarred) hands and (pierced) feet of Jesus on this earth with villains aplenty, we can serve as agents of healing, change, life, renewal and hope. We who were abused can now lend voices to those who can't speak. That's my prayer. That's my hope. I dare to believe you can heal. And that even in this space of the internets, we can learn to be brave and tell our stories, to cry alongside, to be good community for each other and usher in healing. We can drive our cars slow, protecting those who ride before us.
Be sure to check out Mary's beautiful book, Thin Places. She has also written about "10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse" and "What to Do if You Are in a Spiritual Abusive Situation." She writes about domestic abuse in novel form in Life in Defiance.
And don't forget about the spiritual abuse awareness week synchroblog.