Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mental illness

As a young girl, I thought that my mother was very tired and very sickly.  She would sleep from the moment she got home on Friday night and not get up again until time for work on Monday.  Was she sick?  Super tired?  Avoiding me??

She missed a lot of my school functions, and even our church Christmas program every year.  My dad would show up and explain that Mom was "not feeling well".  Having her miss my functions made me cry in grade school, but by middle school I was used to it and didn't expect anyone to show up anymore.

When I was 8 or 9, I remember Dad saying that Mom needed to see a doctor.  I'd suggested that he call my friend's dad (a general practitioner), and Dad replied with "Not that kind of doctor."  He mumbled something about needing to see a doctor about her mind, her thoughts...  I didn't understand.  No one ever explained it to me.

When I was 19 - after watching her moods shift from deliriously happy to unable to get out of bed, and listening to her version of my childhood, her childhood, subsequent marriages, and our home life - it began to dawn on me that something was actually wrong with my mom.  I figured it was one of three options - she was a sociopath, she was mentally ill, or she was just plain mean.

As I was wrapping a very typical "granny" gift for my mom from my boys last week, I remembered something I'd long ago stuffed away...  When I was 14, my dad took my younger sister and me shopping for a gift for Mom.  We picked out a Christmas sweatshirt and some leggings (it was the 80's).  We LOVED it and thought Mom would too.  She didn't.  In fact, as we sat around the beautifully decorated Christmas tree opening gifts, she yelled at us.  I can still hear her saying "Did you really think I would like this?  When have you ever seen me wear something like this?"   On December 26th she took us back to the store to return it and made us hand the cash over to her so she could buy her own gift.  I was forever scarred by that...  I never bought a gift for her again without a specific wish list.

For the last several years I've suspected bipolar...  She has a ton of personal issues to work through, but she is more than just troubled.  Last week, my mom shared with me that she quit counseling in June and that she was diagnosed bipolar a long time ago.  She's taken various antidepressants, but a doctor has never even offered her lithium.  I thought lithium was the most effective way to stabilize the effects of bipolar?

She has seen dozens of counselors and doctors over the years, resulting in diagnoses of PTDS, anxiety, psychological shock, chemical imbalance, depression, and now bipolar.  And every time she walks away from those treating her, and ultimately the meds too.  She has made so much progress over the last couple of years.  I hate to see her get swallowed up again by old thoughts and patterns that continue to chip away at what is left of fragile relationships, her job, her LIFE.  When she is not overcome by the things that plague her, she is wonderful.

I heard the other day that children who are raised in volatile homes have higher incidence of mental illness, drug and alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and low academic achievement.  Looking back over the generations in my family I see this pattern played out over and over again.  It breaks my heart to look out at my extended family and see all of the children who were destroyed by ill parents, and in many cases have become ill themselves and are now caught in the cycle.

I pray for those effected by mental illness.  It is far reaching, for generations and generations.  I pray that we can rise above the circumstances in our childhoods when we have the opportunity, making wiser decisions than those who went before us, and knowing the hope and freedom there is in dealing with our struggles instead of being defined by them.  I pray for comfort for those whose loved ones are slipping away, and for strength and wisdom as we try to help those who need it.  For those who are in the grip of mental illness, I pray for a long enough pause in the turmoil that they will seek treatment and that their doctors would have the wisdom and know-how to treat them effectively.  I pray for an end to the suffering caused by mental illness, and for restoration to become common among families impacted by these devastating diseases.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you."  Numbers 6:24

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A family Christmas

Five years ago my mother invited us to Thanksgiving.  I emailed one of my pastors as soon as I received the invitation, heart pounding, hands shaking, seeking his reassurance that I was not sinning if I turned down the offer.  He didn't spoon-feed me the words I was looking for...  Instead, he reminded me that God's natural design was for families to be together, but also affirmed that in no way would God want me to be abused.  With our pastor's guidance, my husband and I established firm boundaries and a solid exit strategy should the Thanksgiving function turn bad.  We were relieved to not need the exit plan.

However...  That was the last time we spent a holiday together.  Heck, that was the last time I was under the same roof as my mother and sister at the same time.  In fact, I haven't even seen my sister in over four years.

I was keenly aware of my growth and healing when I came to my husband last night with this statement:  "We stopped having holidays with my family because it was too upsetting for me - too painful and unhealthy.  That rationale no longer exists, as I'm strong enough now to handle whatever happens and wise enough to know that their issues are not about me."  As we talked, we settled on a very different way of spending Christmas this year.

We are having my mom, sister, nephews and niece over for a Christmas celebration tomorrow night.  I know it's not Christmas Day, nor is it even Christmas Eve, but it's a start.  My children have only met their four cousins twice - very briefly in passing - I cannot imagine them never knowing them.  And, as disconnected and dysfunctional my mother is, she has shown tremendous commitment to getting well, and shows a sincere interest in being a better mother and grandmother.  I know that this time together would mean the world to her.

Truthfully, I do not like my mother or sister very much, but these feelings I have about them are based on things that happened in the distant past, when my sister and I were young and didn't have a lot of life experience (maturity) under our belts.  Of course my mother doesn't have that same excuse, but I believe that wounded people hurt people.  I have grown so very much in the years since we were last together, and I'm eager to see if they have too.  I have no idea where this meal will lead - if anywhere - but I look forward to seeing them and am praying for changed hearts and lives.  It would, indeed, be a Christmas miracle if the overwhelming feeling in the room was love.  I pray for love towards my birth family.  Blessed, relationship changing, opportunity-giving love.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

You've been remade!

You Are More
Tenth Avenue North

There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?
I'm not who I once was.
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love"

But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?
Yeah don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try

But don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

'Cause this is not about what you've done,
But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You've been remade
You've been remade.
You've been remade.
You've been remade.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I have been speaking and writing a lot about sexual abuse on the campus of the college I attend.  I'm a non-traditional student in my later 30's, and I've found that I'm occasionally looked to as a mentor figure, especially by young survivors of childhood abuse.

An 18 year old student approached me last week about doing an interview for a project she is working on.  She has to write a paper about "a local organization or place that people might like to visit".  While she concedes that no one wants to visit a child abuse victims advocacy center, she feels that a tremendous service can be provided by talking about sexual abuse and those who are committed to preventing and responding to it.  She is so awesome!  She has courage, tenacity and composure beyond her years.

I am so honored to be a part of her paper, and I thank her for the opportunity to share...but even more, I thank her for standing in the gap for survivors of sexual abuse and doing her part to make this world a safer place for children.


Sexual abuse is so painful - so intimate - that it often isolates survivors from healthy relationships.  Sexual abuse not only violates ones body, but their boundaries, sense of self, and ability to love and trust as well.  All too often, the experience teaches survivors not to trust appropriately, and sets survivors up for a lifetime of excruciating isolation and secret keeping, interrupted by periods of blindly trusting all the wrong people.  This cycle sets in motion a lifetime of repeated victimization.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse.  Abused at the hands of my parents, overlooked and neglected by my entire extended family, I know all too well the pain and isolation accompanied by sexual abuse.  For 29 years I accepted the blame and carried their secrets with me.  It was only when I stood firmly on my own two feet, declared that their crime was indeed a crime and no reflection on me, that I was able to begin moving forward, healing, recovering from what had interrupted my life for far too long.

It is only through breaking the silence - discarding the false beliefs that I was dirty, unlovable trash - that I began taking my first steps into wholeness.  Wholeness is delightful.  I never dared dream life could look this way.  I never believed I could truly be happy, loved, capable, confident, seen and known.  I cannot keep the fact that recovery is possible a secret; therefore, I talk.  I speak to student groups and women's groups, I lead support groups for survivors, I write a blog, my family chairs a fundraiser every year.  I share the facts about sexual abuse, define it, put a face to it, encourage survivors to seek recovery, share tips for keeping children safe, and support organizations whose mission it is to eradicate and respond to child sexual abuse.

One of my favorite organizations is Sunflower House, serving Johnson and Wyandotte Counties, providing abuse prevention classes to adults and children, and meeting the needs of children and families currently processing through a case of child sexual abuse.  Sunflower House provides an environment in which children undergo forensic interviews and medical exams on-site, rather than in police station interview rooms and doctor's offices.  Doctors on-site are able to write prescriptions as needed, and Sunflower House provides gift cards to cover the expense of medications.  Additionally, every child who comes through the door at Sunflower House is able to pick a gift out of the Bear Showcase as a pleasant surprise.  As a young girl who went through "the system" 28 years ago, shuttling between two different police stations and a sterile, grown-up gynecologist's office as a fourth grader, and then again as a teenager, I cannot emphasize enough what a difference Sunflower House makes in this part of the journey.  This serves to make an unbelievably difficult situation gentler.

Sunflower House is making a remarkable difference in the fight to eradicate and respond to child sexual abuse.  It is our honor to chair a fundraiser for them each year, and to spread the great news about their work.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


"Redemption is not only something that means we get to go to heaven, but something that He is passionate to carry out now, in specific life situations, to make things show His brand of beauty - in which a healed relationship or person can reflect more glory than one who never knew brokenness.-Kelly Minter, No Other Gods

Praying this for each of us today.  For too many, the abuse has been far-reaching and forever scarring...  Painful beyond what we can verbally express.  Isolating.  Lonely.  Fracturing families.  Robbing of us years and years of our lives...  Through that deep brokenness, healed by God's even deeper-penetrating healing, love, acceptance and provision, may each of our lives reflect more glory than one who never knew brokenness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Genesis 50:20

One trade off of returning to college this semester was that it wouldn't leave time for me to lead a sexual abuse recovery support group this fall.  I didn't even have to think about the decision to lead or not to lead because it was so completely obvious that I wasn't being called to lead a group right now.

Then my Public Speaking class started.

My teacher slips life lessons into his lectures every single day - most of them themed along the fact that how we talk often conveys "where we've been in life".  Where we've lived, how we've lived, what we've lived through, level of education, financial status...the list goes on.  The lessons are always accompanied with indirect encouragement and the God's honest truth that not one of us is limited by whatever difficulty we are facing.  I marvel at his heart for these young people and his uncanny ability (and willingness) to meet them where they are at in order to help them get to where they want to go.  So many of these kids have high aspirations that can easily become dwarfed by the challenges they are facing.

I knew from day one that I wanted to give a speech or two on something related to sexual abuse.  As I have been watching my teacher in class, I have diligently tried to piece together my first speech.  He has asked for volunteers to go first for the past two classes, and not a single hand has been raised.  After class the other day I went to talk with him about the difficulty I was having narrowing down the information and my heart to a single 5-7 minute speech.  Then he asked me to do something that still has my head spinning...

He wants to give me 10-15 minutes per speech, and he has asked me to give every speech this semester on the topic of sexual abuse.

I can hardly believe it!

I have mulled over my first speech quite a bit and have decided that rather than jump in with a bunch of abuse prevention information (for an informative speech), I would start by sharing my story.  Pinch me.  I get to talk with them about my own experience with poverty, a broken home, an absent birth father, a sexually abusive adopted father, a neglectful mother, feeling orphaned at 18, dropping out of college due to overwhelming loneliness and confusion, utter helplessness and paralyzing insecurity, underage and reckless drinking, destroyed relationships, and countless other unwise decisions that I regret to this day --- all as a result of unaddressed brokenness.  And I get to share the healing that takes place in a solid, loving relationship, with unwavering sobriety and careful attention to other unhealthy coping mechanisms, an unimaginable community of friends, and an honorable heavenly father who fills every hole left behind by not-so-honorable earthly beings.  The purpose of this speech is to persuade them to address past hurts sooner rather than later, saving precious time and allowing life to be restored to them.

Seriously?  I get to do this?  In a college classroom?  And after that, I get to talk about ways to keep kids safe!

God is good.  All the time.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."  Genesis 50:20

Saturday, July 24, 2010

College...your future...within reach

Did you know that fewer than 50% of all high school aged foster children in the United States will graduate from high school?  And only 3% of those kids will graduate from college with their Bachelors Degree?

I was never in foster care, but I should have been.  I was abused and neglected from age 7 into adulthood, but no one did anything about it.  I remained in the family home, and did my best - on my own instincts - to get through school.  Never once did a grown-up encourage me to do my homework, study, apply myself, take the ACT, or apply for college or college financial aid.  I didn't ask for help at school because I was afraid I'd have to explain why I needed their help.  I also never wanted to stand out as an excellent student, because I didn't want to be noticed.  So, I gladly slipped through high school without a single college credit and report cards full of B's and C's - well below my abilities.  I never studied for the ACT and never even looked at my ACT results.  I applied only to the nearest community college where I dropped out with a not-so-stellar GPA. 

You see...  This is where I compare myself to a foster child.  I'd moved out of my mother's home after graduating from high school.  I was suddenly on my own - no support, no experience, no one giving me advice or encouraging me, but also no one abusing me (at least not physically).  I worked full time to pay the rent, and went to school full time.  I still longed for my family, so I kept in touch with them often.  My mother was constantly criticizing, insulting and blaming me for her rotten life.  Every phone call ended with her unkind words followed by her slamming the phone down.  I'd call again a day or so later for more of the same.  Between my jobs, my relationship with my family, and trying to wash my sorrows away in bars, I was distracted from my academics to say the least.

I applied for financial aid that first semester and did not qualify because I had to include my parents' income due to my "minor dependent" status on their income tax return.  Never mind that I was not dependent on them.  Today there are ways around this - exceptions can be made for abuse survivors, emancipated children, etc.  Even if the government turns down your request for aid, the school has discretion to appeal on your behalf if you have extenuating circumstances!  I don't know if these exceptions existed in the early 90's, but I do know that I would never have asked for them if they did.  I did not want people knowing what trash I was.  At least that's how I thought of me - trash.

Flash forward all these years and I know that the abuse was no reflection on me, but had everything to do with them.

I also now regret nearly every decision I made regarding my education.  I wish I would have studied harder.  I wish I would have asked for help.  I wish I would have had the courage and confidence to pay attention at those college fairs at my high school.  I wish I would have allowed myself to dream bigger and believe that dreams can come true.  I wish I would have known that my youth was only the beginning, and that my future was up to me. 

The sky is the limit, not our abuse.  Abuse survivors - and foster children - are capable of absolutely anything.  We are not limited by what someone else did to us.

I am writing this with my younger readers in mind.  Don't blow the immediate opportunities that you are offered to move beyond the tragic circumstances in your life.  Don't wait years for a do-over, when you've got the chance right now to right the wrongs.

I'm getting my academic do-over right now.  Going back to college, having to do some maintenance to my damaged GPA, balancing life as wife and mother with a full course load at college, marveling at the options you have in terms of financial aid that are no longer available to me.  I can't help but smile when I reflect back over my life and see how far I've come, but that doesn't stop me from praying that each of you younger girls will not follow my exact (time, energy and emotion wasting) path.  I pray for earlier healing and success for you!

Girl Thrive is an amazing organization created with teen girls in mind.  Dr. Patti has occasionally visited this blog and even sent me two free copies of her book Invisible Girls.  If you are a teen girl whose life has been shattered by incest, Dr. Patti is here for you.  If you cannot afford to buy her book, send me an email and I'll mail you one of my copies -  But one of the greatest things that Girl Thrive provides is college scholarships to girls age 24 and under who are incest survivors.  Check out her website for more information!  There is a wonderful life awaiting each and every one of us.

"The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."  John 10:10

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Counseling with Mom

You might remember my mother asking me if I'd go to a counseling session with her last winter.  It took until mid-May for her to call again, this time with a scheduled appointment on the books.  Coincidentally, it fell on my son's last day of school and we had a conflict during the exact same time slot as the counseling session.  We rescheduled the conflicting appointment and put off end-of-school celebrations for a couple of hours so that I could go meet with my mother and her counselor.

For me, rearranging my schedule around this counseling session is what loving and honoring my mother looked like that day. While she has not "earned" this, God commands it...  Additionally, God has given me - and will continue to give me - far more than I deserve or could ever earn, so who I am to withhold that from my mother?

I was glad that we met with her counselor.  I knew that if she'd gone to meet with me and a counselor of my choosing that it would likely be counter-productive, scary for her, and would quite possibly do more harm than good.

Her counselor made me chuckle a little with her earthy, meditative Dharma style (as in Dharma & Greg), but she is also sharp, fair and committed to helping people get better.  She is not at all the counselor I'd have chosen, but I hope and pray that she has been hand-picked by God for my mother.

When the counselor turned to me and asked what I'd hoped to get out of my relationship with my mother, I honestly didn't know what to say.  In my childlike heart, I wanted to weep and say that all I ever wanted was a loving, care-giving mommy.  At the same time...  In my vast experience of having been there and done a relationship with her, I know that distance has really been best for me.  So long as she is so broken, confused, confusing, irresponsible, hurting, hurtful, blaming, neglecting and is best for me to keep a healthy distance.

Before she and I can have a relationship, she needs to experience healing in her own life.  Without a degree of healing, she cannot possibly experience genuine, selfless, regret, remorse and repentance for the acts she committed out of her brokenness.  Without healing from her own pain, she will not be able to recognize or take responsibility for the pain she's inflicted upon others.

Since our meeting last week, I have discovered a renewed heart for my mother.  I witnessed first-hand last week some of the craziness of her mind, but I could also see that she is sincere in her desire to be better.  That is a first.

I have always told people that it's never too late to repair a relationship...but I never really thought it would happen for me.  We have a very long way to go, but I feel hopeful.

"As much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". Romans 12:18

Monday, March 29, 2010

Unit 7 Lesson 2, Healthy Anger, Part2

Anger is part of God's nature.  The New Testament records that Jesus expressed anger on several occasions.  We can conclude that anger in itself is not bad, but unresolved anger becomes destructive.  Unresolved anger inevitably causes us inner turmoil.  The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry, and yet do not sin" (NASB).  Most of us know how to be angry, but what we need to learn is how to be angry without sinning.

Anger is  apart of God's nature.

How do you feel about that statement?  What effect does the fact that anger is a part of God's nature have on your recovery?

Anger is a signal that God has given us, just as pain is a signal.  Anger tells us that we rae being hurt, that something is wrong, or perhaps that someone is demanding too much.  Sometimes our anger becomes generalized and we us it as a defense.  When you understand the simple dynamics of anger, you see that, as a survivor of abuse, you have been deeply hurt.  Anger would be a natural response.  To remove that anger, you need to acknowledge it.  Hurt may be a residual emotion that you feel even after you have dealt with the anger.  You may express your anger in sudden outbursts, or you may reveal it in passive ways such as isolation or depression.  If you have displayed your anger in unproductive ways, you will probably retain that anger until you can learn how to release it positively, and use it to find out more about yourself instead of lashing out against yourself and others. 

Anger is a surface emotion.  Underneath the anger you will usually find other feelings that also need expression.

In your journal, write the feeling words that create the greatest emotional response...

Hurt     Rejection     Shame     Used     Humiliation     Alone     Unimportant

You may be using you ranger to protect yourself from feeling humiliated, used or hurt.  To feel anger is less painful than to feel the underlying emotion.

When you have been rejected, humiliated, used or when you have been hurt mentally, physically, or emotionally, the normal response is to become angry.  A young woman who had been a child victim of sexual abuse described how rejected and humiliated she felt as a young girl when the police came to her house.  She said, "I had been walking home from school when a man approached who said he would give me candy.  I never got candy, even though I went to the woods with him.  He raped me.  I was so sore, and blood was all over me.  He tore my dress.  A woman had seen me go with him, but it was over so quickly.  My mother got real mad at me and kept saying, "How could you be so stupid as to go anywhere with a stranger?"  With tha tstatement, my mother gave me a good weapon to punish myself.  I was so confused.  I didn't think anything could feel worse than what he did to me, but this was worse.  I thought, She's right, my mom's right.  Why did I go into the woods?  I was stupid.  I hate myself."

Because we have trained ourselves not to feel our emotions, sometimes we can more easily feel angry about the ause that happened to someone else.  In your journal, describe your feelings about what happened to the little girl you just read about.

Describe your feelings about the fact that the victim was blamed for the abuse.

Is your story similar to the story of the little girl?  Explain.

When Bill read the story it reminded him of how his father had shamed him because of the abuse he suffered from an aunt.  He was finally able to be angry at his father for not listening to him and understanding.

How is your story different?

You need to allow yourself to feel your anger about your abuse and about the way others reacted to your abuse.

Note the following methods you have been using to deal with your anger.

I suppress it.
I have sudden outbursts.
I have become depressed.
I turn it inward through self-hate.
I act out in passive-aggressive ways.
I am self-destructive.

None of the methods listed above are healthy expressions of anger.  Acknowledging that you are angry, validating your own significance, and focusing your anger on the abuse are healthy ways to deal with your anger.

Describe your feelings about how others have reacted to your abuse.

Jim had panic attacks when he thought someone needed something from him.  He discovered the source of those attacks.  He had never allowed himself to be angry at the soccer coach who sexually abused him.  Jim hated what the coach did to him in the locker room but craved the coach's praise on the field.  Jim was also angry at himself for wanting the praise.  Sexual abuse often puts the victim in a double-bind situation.

Remember your memory verse.

"Be angry, and yet do not sin."  Ephesians 4:26

Your anger is not a sin.  To feel angry when others take advantage of you is healthy and normal.  As you feel your anger you can deal with it in appropriate ways.  Then you will use less of the destructive ways mentioned above.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"I want to punch them"

Out of the blue, my 6 1/2 year old son says, "Hey, Mom, do you ever want to talk to your dads?"  Having no idea where this came from or where it was headed, I gently answered, "No, not really."  He replied, "Really?  Never?  You never want to talk to your dads?  You never wonder what they're doing and want to talk to them?"  My husband was driving, so I was able to turn my head enough to make eye contact and explain again... 

"My first dad abandoned me when I was a baby.  I found him when I was 26 and spent a weekend with him at his mom's house.  After that weekend, I called him a lot, and sent mail and email and he never responded.  He didn't want anything to do with me.  He doesn't love me like a Daddy should, so I've had to move on with my life without him.  My second dad adopted me when I was really young, but he didn't treat me right.  He abused me terribly and touched my body in ways that no child should ever be touched...  I told my mom about it when I was eight years old, but she never made him stop.  The abuse lasted until I was old enough to make it stop myself at age 15 1/2, and then a judge told him when I was 16 that he couldn't see me anymore and he told me that I was freed from his abuse.  The touching hurt my body, but more than that, the way my mom and dads treated me hurt my feelings and my heart.  I carried that pain with me every single day until I was almost 30 years old, when God really started to help me feel better.  To this day, my mom and my second dad won't take responsibility for what they did, and sometimes my mother even says it was all my fault.  They don't love me the way a Mommy or Daddy should, so I don't really ever think about wanting to call them just to chat."

I was not teary-eyed or angry as I spoke...  I was calm, truthful and reassuring to him that these are things that his Mommy and Daddy would never, ever do.  When I stopped talking, he replied, "I want to punch them."

I had to turn away then, because my eyes were immediately filled with tears.  This was only the second time anyone ever expressed anger over what happened to me.  The first was my husband...  God really blessed me with my husband and sons.  They really know how to wrap their arms and hearts around me and love me into wholeness.

As I quietly cried, my husband jumped in and talked with our sons about forgiveness and surrendering everything - good and bad - to God.  Isn't it amazing how God provides, day in and day out?  He never leaves us or forsakes us.  He has, without question, provided my guys to me as a gift.  They help me to recover more every day.

"Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the LORD." Romans 12:19

Monday, March 15, 2010

It is sad ... but God's got a plan

My feelings fluctuate as I grow, recover and get to know myself more deeply.  I am humbled by God's care and concern.  I am immensely grateful to be an ever-changing, ever-healing person.  I cannot put words to how it feels to know God's provision the way that I do.

But that does not always keep grief at bay.

For years my overwhelming feelings were anger, bitterness and rejection.  I felt grief for the first time four years ago.  It was freeing; comforting.  I was able to feel grief because I was finally able to see, believe and process the losses in my life.  Feeling grief involved recognizing that I was worthy.  That I deserved more than the treatment I received from my parents.

Ever since that day four years ago, grief  has been an occasional visitor.  It most often comes when I marvel at something that my children have that I did not.  You know - things as simple as childhood vacations or parents who volunteer in class.  My grief is generally a fleeting emotion, but there just the same.

Grief is visiting right now.

My teen years were spent formulating an escape plan.  I had to get out of my mother's abusive home the moment I graduated from high school.  For a few years, I bounced between living arrangements with friends, worked several part time jobs at once, and full time jobs at other times.  I went to college part time, and some semesters not at all.

I found myself completely unprepared to succeed in college.  I was unable to focus on my studies.  I lacked the self-esteem to be a motivated, self-starter.  Paying rent was my top priority and I knew nothing about grants or scholarships.  I didn't trust the idea of asking for help, as asking for help had failed me before.  I had the smarts for day-to-day survival, but did not know how to be an ambitious college student.

I left college with no degree.  It didn't matter to me at the time, but 16 years later it's a little crushing.

It didn't matter back then because all I wanted was to be a wife and mother.  I didn't care about a career.  If I'm being completely honest, I didn't think I had anything to offer professionally.  I knew I could be a good wife and mother - just do the opposite of my parents - but my image of myself said that I couldn't possibly contribute to anything professionally.  I was just trash.

I'm almost 36 now, married and raising two little boys...  I'm also trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up!  I want to do something I care about.  Work with abused children, or in child abuse prevention, or do fundraising for a worthwhile non-profit.  These jobs require a degree; a Masters in some cases.  So, my mind is completely overwhelmed with ideas of how to return to college.  I'm more than a little out of practice when it comes to the classroom!  And how do I fit college into my already busy life with two young children, volunteer work at school and church, a home to keep up and a husband that I want to spend time with?

As these thoughts have coursed through my brain over the last few months, I have fought back a few grief-filled tears.  Sexual abuse not only pierces a person's body, but their mind and heart as well.  Their life.  You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't already know that...  It's just so profoundly sad what childhood abuse can take away from a person.

I wouldn't change my life for anything...  If I wasn't a wreck as a young girl, I might have made drastically different decisions and ended up in a completely different place than where I'm at.  And I love where I'm at.  I love my husband and kids and pretty much everything about our lives.  I'm happy.

But, still, the suffering of children, young adults and grown men and women everywhere breaks my heart.  Sexual abuse has the power to collide with and destroy every aspect of a person's life.

As I ponder that fact, my mind goes to children around the world, waiting in foster care or orphanages for forever families to love and care for them.  These are children who have already been removed from their family's care, and often from their family's minds.  These children have the odds stacked against them.  They have every reason to struggle and fail as they move into adulthood; feeling abandoned, unloved and unworthy.  I pray for their healing and restoration.  I pray for loving families to intervene and give them their lives back.

It is not an overstatement to say that the losses caused by childhood abuse are profoundly sad.  They are.  But, I also know first hand that God is always present and in the middle of all things.  He loves every single one of us.  We were all made special and with a purpose.  And He provides hope and healing.

"Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now." Genesis 50:20

Read Genesis chapters 37-50 for more from God's word about a family's betrayal and God's perfect provision and plan.  Do you see any parallels between your life and Joseph's?  Do you see God's hand?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Unit 7 Lesson 1, Healthy Expressions of Anger

I botched up my last post a little...  I had our next unit wrong.  Between blogging lessons here and beginning a brand new support group here in town, I opened up to the wrong place the other day.  We have just finished the guilt & shame unit and are now moving onto feeling the anger and hurt.  So, my last post was more of a wrap-up of the lesson as opposed to a kick-off!  Sorry for any confusion.

Now for the correct lesson!

Focal passage and memory verse for Unit 7:  "Be angry and yet do not sin."  Ephesians 4:26

A young woman who had been a child victim of sexual abuse described how rejected and humiliated she felt as a young girl when the police came to her house.  She said, "I had been walking home from school when a man approached who said he would give me candy.  I never got candy, even though I went to the woods with him.  He raped me.  I was so sore, and blood was all over me.  He tore my dress.  A woman had seen me go with him, bu tit was over so quickly.  My mother got real mad at me and kept saying, "How could you be so stupid as to go anywhere with a stranger?"  With that statement, my mother gave me a good weapon to punish myself.  I was so confused.  I didn't think anything could feel worse than what he did to me, but this was worse.  I thought, "She's right, my mom's right.  Why did I go into the woods?  I was stupid.  I hate myself."

In this unit you will examine anger and hurt in the light of survivors...

Sara, a 25 yaer old woman, was expressing her feelings in a sexual abuse group.  "I am angry at my brothers!  I am angry at anyone who looks like my brothers!  I am just angry!"  For eight years Sara had been tormented by her brothers.  She had been held down, tied up, and forced to imitate pornographic material.  She described many humiliating and vicious acts perpetrated against her.  Sara had begged her parents for help, but they ignored her pleas.  She is very angry about what happened to her as a child.

Almost everyone would acknowledge the right of the victim to be angry about being abused.  Yet many people feel uncomfortable allowing survivors the right to express their anger.  All victims have anger and need to learn to express it appropriately - whether or not the person who committed the abuse, those who enabled the abuse, the church, or the world might be offended by the victim's anger.

As a general rule, expressing anger appropriately does not mean blowing up or throwing things.  It never involves using any form of violence.  In fact, these methods do not work and can become addictive behaviors leading to more emotional pain.

Most of the time expressing your anger appropriately means acknowledging, accepting, and expressing your anger in a mature and controlled manner.  Sometimes recovery from abuse requires more intense expressions of anger and rage than would, in most situations, seem appropriate.  You will learn some ways of channeling these intense feelings through this study.  You can also ask your therapist to help you express and release these intense feelings.

In your journals, write words or phrases that describe how you typically express your anger.  

Throw things.  Yell.  Stuff it inside.  Write.  Talk it out.  Slam doors.  Run.  Curse.  Control people.  Control circumstances.  Be a perfectionist.  Be nice.  Other??

Some of the responses above are more helpful than others.  Writing and talking out anger will help you to clarify your feelings.  Sometimes yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors does release some built-up tension.  However, others may be in your path so be careful to determine whether your anger is being destructive to yourself or to others.  You may not even realize when you are using behaviors such as controlling and perfectionism.

A Preliminary Word of Caution

Before you proceed with the main focus of this unit, consider this caution:  If you cannot use restraint in expressing your anger and you may harm others or yourself, immediately seek the help of a professional.  A qualified Christian counselor can help you to explore the factors that make it difficult for you to deal with anger constructively.  Lack of proper rest, physical problems, improper diet, depression, or being overwhelmed by memories of abuse can all impair your ability to cope with anger.

If you are prone to outbursts, you may find it helpful to meditate on Galatians 5 and the Book of Proverbs.  Try to recognize any behavior patterns in yourself that you learned from being around angry people.  For example, if you had an explosive parent, you may be imitating his or her uncontrollable temper.  If you get "too angry", you can delay your response to the source of your anger and remove yourself from the circumstances until you have received professional counseling.

In your journal, write a description of your behavior the last time you were very angry.

Be honest with yourself about your anger.  If you need to seek help to control your anger, find a counselor or support group in your area.

Do you need professional help to deal with your anger?  Why or why not?

Jane realized that she was taking her anger out on her husband and her children.  She felt sad as she realized that she was building a wall between herself and her family.  She determined to focus her hanger where it belonged.  She began a feelings journal and started talking about her anger with her support group.  (You are welcome to share your feelings in the comments on this blog, on the Facebook Fan Page or even in a private email to me, if you'd like.)

Give Yourself Permission to be Angry

Anger always will be expressed in some way.  Either you express it appropriately or it seeps out in ways that damage you and others.  Let's look at the need to give yourself permission to be angry.  Some of you may laugh at this idea because you consider yourself and angry person, or others consider you to be angry.  You may say, "I don't have any trouble being angry."  The challenge lies in allowing yourself to give appropriate outward expression to the inner anger you feel toward those who abused you and those who made it possible for them to abuse you.  Taking out your anger on yourself or on others who are not involved is not appropriate.  Some of you shut down your anger a long time ago, and you wonder what it's like to feel angry.

At the end of this section you have the chance to make a list of everyone with whom you are angry.  This list should include everyone from the actual people who abused you to all the people who allowed the abuse.  People who enabled the abuse - some call co-perpetrators - include everyone who, by what the did or what they didn't do, allowed the abuse to happen or to continue.  Those who enable abuse can include parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, and protective services...  You may also need to consider your anger toward the legal system and even toward God.

The role of the legal system is particularly important if you were molested as a child.  For example, many states require children as young as five years old to testify in front of their abusers.  Victims who have experienced these types of circumstances have a great deal of anger about the way the legal system re-victimized them.

A 36 year old woman described the experience of reporting her second rape by the same man.  She had not reported the first assault because she thought it would be better if no one knew, including her husband and family.  But when she was raped a second time, she chose to tell her family and the police.  Instead of help, however, she incurred accusations from them and eventually was encouraged by them to drop the charges.

Because of the deep hurt and anger involved, do not leave out any person, system or organization when you make your list of abusers and enablers.  Don't be afraid to include God on your list.  Virtually every victim feels great anger toward God.  Later in this unit you will explore the issue of anger toward God.  Cindy was so angry with God that she left he church for a few years and made a decision to be an atheist.  Last, but certainly not least, make sure to include yourself.  You probably have been beating yourself over the head for years anyway, so put yourself on the list.  Take plenty of time and allow God to reveal everyone toward whom you feel anger.  Don't misdirect that anger towards those not involved or toward yourself alone.

Make a list of every person who abused you, every person who enabled the abuse, and every organization or system that you feel has hurt you, let you down, or toward which you feel anger. 

Make another list of people toward whom you feel angry because they didn't understand your pain or support you when they learned about the abuse.

Your list needs to include your abuser or abusers and others who enable the abuse.  You may have also included friends, relatives, adn others who knew you at the time of the abuse.  Most people also experience anger at God.  Review your lists and add any people or organizations necessary.

Pray for yourself and other members of this online group.

Remember that ...

You can accept God's love and kindness.
The truth will set you free!
You are worthy and have God to lead you and comfort you.
You are clean.
You are wonderfully made.
You have permission to feel your anger and hurt. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Got guilt?

I've talked with several girlfriends lately who are struggling with guilt...  Mommy guilt.  Survivor's guilt.  All sorts of guilt.  I've written this post in my head a couple of times, but didn't know for sure if I'd actually publish it until I cracked open my Shelter book a few minutes ago.  I was prepared to get started on Unit 6, but when I saw the title I felt like perhaps I'm meant to prime your hearts a little first....

The title is "Letting Go of Shame and Guilt."

That said...  I'm going to kick the unit off with this blog post about my girlfriends' struggles with guilt. It is often easier to see wrong-thinking in others - you know, that whole objectivity thing...

My precious friend has cancer.  At diagnosis, she had it in four different spots in her abdomen and chest.  She has cancer, no question.  She's been going through chemo treatments for a few months now.  She was told to expect a great deal of nausea, complete hair loss right away, and dramatic weight loss.  She has undergone a few surgeries, had a port placed inside her chest, has received a few blood transfusions, is receiving daily shots in her stomach to prevent blood clots, and has at least one medical appointment every single week.  She has not experienced terrible nausea; however, she is certainly not feeling completely well.  She is not completely bald, but she has lost more than half of her hair.  And, rather than lose weight, she has gained it!  Her doctor has suggested she limit her diet even more than it's already been limited (due to bacterial concerns, there are certain fruits and veggies that were stricken from her diet months ago).  My friend is suffering...  She is self-conscious about her hair loss.  She is tired and doesn't feel well.  She nervously awaits test results like every other cancer patient.  She has scars and bruising and an device implanted into her chest.  She is self-conscious about her weight gain.  She has an emotional need to talk to other cancer survivors, but she feels "guilty" because she hasn't suffered the darkest extremes of the typical side effects.  She keeps saying, "It could be so much worse.  I really shouldn't be complaining."  She is minimizing what she is going through, merely because "it could be worse".  Out of guilt, she is not allowing herself to reach out to other cancer survivors for support.

I have another dear friend who is a working mom.  Like every other good mother, she readily sacrifices at every turn to meet the needs of her children.  She prepares well-balanced meals, does homework with them, plays with them, knows all of their friends and their friends' families.  She never misses an appointment or activity.  She nourishes them in every way.  Her kids love her and she loves them.  The kids know they are well-loved, but their mother beats herself up because she has to work.  It crushes me every time she says, "Stay-at-home-moms are the best!  Such good moms.  I'm just not as good a mom because I work!"  She is totally blaming herself and finding herself guilty of failure merely because she has to work.  She should ask her kids - they will tell her the truth.

And one last friend who's been on my mind is the mother of a child born with a medical condition.  While pregnant she took her vitamins, ate well, got some exercise...  Did everything that an expectant mother can do to ensure the health and wellness of her baby.  When her daughter was diagnosed with her condition, the mother's first words were, "What did I do wrong?"  And even as my friend explained her daughters condition to me (years after diagnosis), the mother still used the words "'s just something I passed on.  Something I must have or carry or did."  Let me tell you - this mother did NOTHING wrong.  Frankly, if we believe the words of our Heavenly Father, we are assured that this precious little girl's creation was His doing.  "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb."  Psalm 139:13.  And while we may not know or understand exactly what His plan is, we are assured that he has a plan and that it is perfect.  "For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11  My dear friend did nothing to cause her daughter to be born with this condition, but she blames herself.

As we get ready to start this unit on letting go of shame and guilt, I want to encourage you to pray through your own thoughts and beliefs.  Listen closely to the words that you say.  Hold them up to the light of God's truth.  How do your beliefs about yourself measure up?  Where do you see wrong-thinking?  Do you need to let go of shame and guilt?

Friday, February 19, 2010

We can be victorious!

Kelly's Korner is doing a blog carnival today called Show Us Your Ministry.  I am so happy to be a part of this, and I warmly welcome Kelly's readers to Victory Over Sexual Abuse.

You are either a survivor of sexual abuse or you know someone who is.  It's true - 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday.  Most suffer in silence.

The entire purpose for this blog - the mission for the Victory Over Sexual Abuse ministry - is to provide hope and encouragement to survivors of sexual abuse and the people who care about them.

The recovery process is long and difficult.  But, more than that, it is life-giving.  Changing.  Healing.  Empowering.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  John 10:10

On my journey, I have traveled from a life of painful, shameful isolation and brokenness, to a place of joy, peace, love and acceptance.  I have found purpose and wholeness.  I have been renewed.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

At Victory Over Sexual Abuse, you will find the lessons from the workbook that we use in our local support groups, as well as pieces of my personal recovery journey.  It is my heart's desire to share this with survivors and support people alike.  The work of recovery can only be done by the survivor, but support people are a critical component in healing.  Never underestimate the power of a support person's availability, affirmation, prayer and encouragement.

I welcome you, the survivor, and the survivor's friend!  Read on...  Take in the tools for the survivor, the tips for the support person, and the child abuse prevention and response information for everyone.

Bookmark this blog, become a follower or become a fan on Facebook.  Let's have discussions in the comments!  And, please, tell your friends -- since most survivors suffer in silence, you truly do not know who among you might need this.

To Kelly, all of my amazingly supportive friends, my husband and kids, and every other support person out there -- from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Your acceptance, care and concern are such an encouragement.  As I have walked this amazing journey in ministry with other survivors, we have often been carried by your prayers and kind words.  You are such a blessing.

And Jesus said "...Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me."  Matthew 25:40

To the survivor, I pray that you will find this to be a safe place of hope and encouragement.  I pray that you will shed the lies and discover the truth.  You are loved.  You are special.  You are worthy.  A crime was committed against you.  You are not guilty.  It was not your fault.  It did happen.  You can tell the truth.  There is hope.  You can heal.  You are not alone.  The list goes on...

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Matthew 25:40

As I think about each of you visiting right now, I am reminded that God uses all things for His glory and that only He can bring such beauty from ashes.  I am deeply grateful for his loving provision and healing hand.  I sit in awe of my Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The pain is the same

I often hear things along these lines...  "My childhood abuse was so horrendous, no one can relate to me" or "I was only abused a couple of times - nothing like his/her lifetime of abuse - I feel ashamed for making my abuse such a big deal.  I don't have the right to be in the same group with him/her!"

In both cases, we are isolating and even shaming ourselves.

Don't be fooled, friends.  That is not God talking!  He does not operate through guilt, shame or isolation.

The pain of sexual abuse is the same and we are all equally deserving of recovery!  No two people will share the exact same story or experiences, but the wounds are the same.  The girl who was raped repeatedly by her father shares the exact same violation to her heart as the boy who was fondled by a neighbor.

Some of us have more areas of violation than others.  It is undoubtedly an added tragedy when abuse happens at the hands of a family member, or when people turn a blind eye to abuse and allow it to happen.  It is crushing when responsible adults choose to silence a victim, rather than advocate for justice and support their healing journey.  And certainly grave circumstances like abductions or ritual abuse is unthinkable.  There are countless acts that compound the pain of sexual abuse; and these violations absolutely add another layer of wounding.  But hear me on this - it does not diminish what anyone else has been through, nor does it separate us one from the other.  We are all survivors of sexual abuse and that pain is the same. 

Satan works through shame and guilt.  He will tell you that you are undeserving of counseling / a support group / even your pain because "It could have been so much worse... Compared to someone else, you really didn't suffer all that much... You have so much to be grateful for, why are you focused on something that happened 30 years ago?"  Satan wants you to be stuck, alone, feeling miserable.

Don't guilt, shame or isolate yourself any longer.  The details of abuse are not the issue - the state of your heart is.  Embrace that truth and take the bold step of walking into recovery.  You deserve it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unit 6 Lesson 5, The Potter's Hand

The book of Jeremiah records an important story that applies to sexual abuse.  God sent Jeremiah to observe a potter at work.  The potter was making a pot, but he discovered a flaw.  Possibly the potter allowed his hand to slip, knocking the pot off center on the wheel.  At any rate, the pot was damaged.  So the potter remade the pot into another vessel.

"But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."  Jeremiah 18:4

Just as a pot can be damaged by the action of the potter, sexual abuse victims have been marred by the actions of abusers.  Teh abuser shapes a vessel that is full of shame, guilt, fear and despair.

Then God spoke to Jeremiah and gave the second half of the picture.  He said, "'Oh house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?' declares the Lord. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.'"  Jeremiah 18:6

When a pot has been damaged, the potter does not throw away the clay.  The potter reuses and reshapes the clay into a new vessel.  God said that just as the potter can use the damaged clay, He can make something beautiful from the ruins of our lives.  Contrast Jeremiah 18:4 and a passage that you have read previously....  Psalm 139:14 states, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

In your journal, write two lists.  Compare what you feel about yourself, or what you felt about yourself before beginning recovery, with Psalm 139:114.  Do you feel that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" or do you feel that you are "damaged goods"?

Fill in the blanks:

1.  What I have felt about myself:
2.  What the Scripture says about me:

People injure us when the abuse us, but God is the true Potter who takes the damaged clay and makes it into a beautiful vase.  Let God make you aware that you were created to be a vase full of life, full of value, full of worth.  You can recover as you allow God to remake you according to His plan.

Leave You Burden with the Perpetrator

Shame and guilt are both tremendously destructive.  To restore your life, you may need to forgive yourself for your own sinful choices.  Please do it.  Be cautious, however, to leave the shame and responsibility of sexual abuse with the person who abused you.  Most of us felt the need to seek God's forgiveness for our abuse as well as from choices that we had made based o our faulty thinking.  For us to ask for and accept God's forgiveness for our wrong choices is appropriate.  For us to see forgiveness for what others have done to us is fruitless.  You need not seek forgiveness for someone else's actions.

In the paragraph above you read about two kinds of forgiveness most of us feel the need to seek.  From your life experience, name at least one example of each.

1.  An example of my abuse (for which I do not need to be forgiven) is:
2. An example of a bad choice I made based on my wrong thinking is:

Many of us are accomplished self-guilt artists.  For the first response you may have listed any of the actions of your abuser or of those people who aggravated the abuse by their actions or their inaction.  For the second response, many of us have made wrong choices in dating or other relationships.  We sometimes have been vindictive, or critical, or defensive.  We need forgiveness for our choices.

"For you, Oh Lord, are good and ready to forgive [our trespasses - sending them away, letting them go completely and forever] and you are abundant in mercy and lovely riches to all those who call upon you." Psalm 86:5

In your journal, as an act of faith, please write:  "I thank you, Lord Jesus for your willingness to forgive my sins by sending them away, letting them go completely and forever."  Feel free to journal in detail the sins He has forgiven.

You are the victim of another person's sin.  If you had been shot by a bank robber and you had been paralyzed for life, you would be a victim of the person's crime and sin.  there would be no reason for shame or guilt on your part.

Many times we feel false guilt because we think our actions caused the abuse.  Sometimes the fact that we have made bad choices adds to the problem.  In the case of the bank robbery, suppose you had slipped away from the office during working hours, against company policy, to cash a check.  You would be guilty of violating company rules, bu tnot of wanting to be shot!

If some negligence of action on your part contributed to your sexual abuse, describe that negligence or action in your journal.

Did you, by that action or inaction, desire to be sexually abused?

Did you commit the crime by sexually abusing yourself or did someone else commit the abuse?  (Yes, the question seems ridiculous.)....  What is your answer?  I did it - OR - The perpetrator did it.

If you committed some indiscretion - whether great or small in your eyes - confess that action or negligence.  God forgives lavishly and freely.  But just as in the example of the person who was shot during the bank robbery, leave the perpetrator's guilt with the perpetrator, and leave any guilt that belongs to the enablers or co-perpetrators with them.

Exercises for forgiveness

Because we so frequently carry a load of guilt, some of it appropriate but most of it false, we usually need to work through our guilt issues.  The following exercises will help you to sort out the appropriate and the inappropriate guilt surrounding your abuse.

In your journal, describe anything surrounding your abuse about which you need to be forgiven.

Carolyn was only five years old when her parents left her alone and told her not to leave the house.  She was afraid, so she walked down the street to her uncle's home.  Her uncle sexually abused Carolyn.  For the next 40 years Carolyn blamed herself for the abuse.  She believe that, because she disobeyed her parents, she was to blame for the aubse.

Perhaps you have been carrying a weight of guilt and anger toward yourself for being drunk, disobeying your parents, or just using poor judgment about where to be.  None of these mean you were responsible for the abuse.  However, you may need to ask God to forgive you and you may need to forgive yourself for your poor judgment before you continue to recover.

In your journal, describe any choices that you may have made based on faulty thinking as a result of the abuse.

You may have described your difficulty relating to authority figures because of an abusive parent, or the consequences in your life caused by maintaining the secret.  You may have made poor choices as a result of poor boundaries.  Many survivors become sexually promiscuous as a result of the abuse.  One woman in recovery reported that she just recently had her first date ever that did not end in bed.  She said she simply did not know she had the right to say no to sexual advances.  Blaming ourselves for our poor choices will not help, but we do need to ask and accept forgiveness so we can move forward with our lives.

In the Old Testament we find that people suffered the consequences of the sins of others as we do today.  God, however, responds with a plan to redeem the victim of abuse.   

"They sinned against Me: I will change their glory into shame." Hosea 4:7

Hosea 4:7 is about the priests who were abusing their office and the people.  They were haughty and proud, but God promised to place the shame where it belonged - with the abuser rather than the victims.  The sexual abuser sins not only against the victim, but also against God.  The shame belongs to the person who committed the abuse.

In Isaiah 54:4, God speaks to His people using the imagery of a barren woman.  What He says speaks to the victim of sexual abuse as well.  Write down any word or phrase that gives you hope.

"Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
"For your husband is your Maker,

Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth. 
"For the LORD has called you..."
Isaiah 54:4-6

Give yourself and God the time to complete the good work He has started in you.  This is a very difficult and painful part of your recovery.  It may take a long time.  But please try to remember that even in the valley, God is with you.  He will redeem the time.  You can draw strength from God's promises in Isaiah 54:4, "fear not for you will not be put to shame ... humiliated ... [or] disgraced ... you will forget the shame of your youth."

In your journal, complete the following sentences, keeping in mind that God sees you from a different perspective than you see yourself right now.  Let God redefine how you see yourself.  If necessary, review this unit and your work thus far in Shelter.

For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...
For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...
For the Lord has called me...
In the Lord's eyes I am...

We pray that you were able to include words like beautifully and wonderfully made, His daughter/son, clean, worthy of love, to be healed, to be free from shame and guilt.

Many prayers for your continued recovery!  I am so proud of you.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Precious, Based on the novel PUSH

I picked up the book Precious at Costco a few weeks ago.  The first couple of chapters detail some pretty gruesome abuse and failures of "the system".  I was nauseous as I read, but I refused to put the book down (as much as my stomach wanted me to).  This story is a collection of experiences in the lives of young women the author met while teaching at an alternative school.  The awful acts and miserable failures are truths - facts of life for girls and boys around the world.  Putting the book down would mean turning a deaf ear and a cold shoulder to those who have walked in similar shoes.

As I read on, I was brought to tears by those who reached out to help this young girl.  I can relate to so much of what she feels and thinks.  I have experienced pieces of her story.

Reject before being rejected.  Keep secrets.  Trust no one.  Suspect everyone.

My heartbeat quickened and I read faster as she found her inner strength and determination to rise above her situation and make a life for herself.  She knew they were wrong and she was not!  She began to trust.  As I read her story, I vividly remembered sitting in counselors' offices, having the occasional person speak a word of encouragement and assistance into my ear.  I knew exactly what she was feeling.

That's how it works when two or more survivors gather.  We know.  We can lift each other up and take steps forward into a better life.

This book is a perfect illustration of the ugliness of so many forms of child abuse and systemic failures.  It is also a beautiful portrait of the support that can be found among like-minded survivors, and the incredible capacity the human spirit has for surviving and thriving.  Precious is a gut-wrenching book that is loaded with memory triggers and may be not be a good read for you right now.  But I believe there's a little bit of Precious (the young woman) in every survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  Kudos to the author for writing so honestly about the realities of child abuse.  And kudos to you for being here.  For taking the steps needed to reclaim your life!  You are a survivor.  A precious survivor.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fruitful Friday

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23

In my life, I frequently find hope in seeing others who've gone through similar circumstances and came out victorious on the other side... If they are progressing, it means that I can do it too! Let's share with one another the victories we've seen on our recovery journeys. The fruits that our Heavenly Father promises.

This is what FAITH looks like to me today.

God's Word has breathed life into me like nothing else. He is my redeemer, my restorer, my comforter, my provider and protector. My Heavenly Father. He continues to heal my heart, mind and soul. I have faith in his word - that I am special, loved, purposefully made, a part of His perfect plan. No matter what happens, I know that those things never change. He gave me a husband to walk through life hand-in-hand with. In the gift of my husband, God restored my faith in love and family. And, as if that wasn't enough, God has surrounded me with loving friends. Men and women that I've been in small groups, Bible studies and ministries with, school moms, neighborhood friends, sports families, even renewed friendships with childhood friends. Through them, God has restored my faith in humanity.

I praise God for the new lenses he's given me to see the world though. Faith is a beautiful thing.

Have you seen fruit in your journey? I would love to see it!! Write a post on your blog, linking back to this post, and leave a comment here with a link to your blog. I look forward to reading about the blessings in your life!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Unit 6 Lesson 4, The Damage of Secrecy

Before I get started with the lesson, I just have to say that my jaw dropped when I cracked my book open and saw the title. God has laid so much on my heart over the last few days about secrecy... I cannot wait to get into this lesson and see what he has waiting for me here! I don't believe in coincidence. I believe that God has timed this perfectly, that I would be studying secrecy at the exact moment that I am taking big steps in revealing more about myself. Cannot wait to share more with you in the coming days...

Until then... The lesson:

Secrecy gives shame and guilt the power to torment you. Secrecy isolates you within your own mind. It can cause you to believe that you are the only one experiencing such devastating trauma. We spoke earlier of shame being like a plant whose existence depends on water. People, like plants, must have water to survive. A human can live for many days without food, but only three days without water. To use that metaphor in another way, secrecy is the water that the memories of the abuse depend on for life.

In your journal, describe your life of secrecy the victimization and/or your life of secrecy after the victimization. How does it feel to have a secret life?

As you tell your story - in a safe environment with a pastor, counselor, or support group - you will dilute and destroy the strength of the memories of the abuse. By telling the story you destroy the power of shame and guilt. By telling the story you gain power and control over the memories. In our analogy, the memories are the nourishment of the guilt. The kind of toxic guilt and shame experienced in sexual abuse leads to feelings of condemnation.

You are working to memorize Romans 8:1. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Reciting this Scripture is not enough. Begin to move its wisdom from your head to your heart. Do this by quoting the Scripture, then writing a note to yourself every time a shame memory flashes across your mind. Determine in your heart to tell this memory to someone. As you apply the Scripture and break the silence, you will create an environment to neutralize the tendency for flashbacks. You may remember a new circumstance or incident. God will remove the obstacles blocking your memories and allow you to remember as necessary so that you can experience healing. When your memories cause you to feel shame, quote Romans 8:1 to remind yourself that there is no condemnation, no shame, or worthlessness. The memories can be just memories, without shame and guilt.

If you have not already done so, you are encouraged to begin writing your story when you are with a supportive person in a safe place. You need time alone to do your recovery work, but beware of isolating yourself. You need the presence and encouragement of others.

First review your affirmations.
  • I accept God's love and kindness toward me.
  • The truth will set me free!
  • I am worth to have God lead me and comfort me.
  • I am clean.
  • I am wonderfully made.
Quote your memory verse for this unit and any other Scriptures that have been meaningful to you.

Write down as many details as you can about on incident of sexual abuse. Write as though you were a reporter, answering the questions - who, what, when, where. Use additional pages as needed or write in a separate journal.

If you could only write on sentence, celebrate your ability to do that! Go on a walk, take a bubble bath, or listen to your favorite music. It will get easier! For now, read your affirmations again and thank God for walking with you through this process. You will make it!

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

Monday, January 25, 2010

Unit 6 Lesson 3, The Heaviness of Guilt

Sexual abuse produces strong feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Whether you are a victim of child sexual abuse or a victim of rape, you may have received messages like, "You are not worth as much as I am. My needs are more important than yours." At the time of the abuse, you the victim, are helpless. You cannot do anything to stop what is happening to you. Even though you cannot stop the abuse, you feel responsible because it is happening to you, not to someone else. The experience powerfully reinforces any feelings of inadequacy you already have fixed in your mind.

Gloria, a beautiful young woman, describes how she uses guilt to help her get things done with two small children and an ambitious husband. Clearly the cost of this kind of motivation is destructively high.

"I have a lot to do without much help at home. So whenever I get behind on things and feel depressed, I deliberately think about my abuse. I begin to feel sick and useless about myself. Then when I really need a boost of guilt, I begin to remember all the guys I slept with, and I start to cry and feel really bad. But it works, and I get everything done. It's like I punish myself and the penalty is to work real hard. I know, though, that the reason I am here and the reason I come to this group is that I hope it will help my children. Also, my husband makes me feel guilty about everything.

I know this is because I am so good at feeling guilty. In fact, I'm better than anybody at doing that. I realize that while using this guilt on myself makes me get things done, it also makes me feel really sad. The reason I beat myself over the head is because most of the time I just lie around and do nothing. I just don't have any energy. I guess I am depressed."

The joy of objectivity.

Guilt often produces anger turned inward, which can lead to depression, as it did for Gloria. This is only one of guilt's devastating effects on victims. To combat those effects, we urge you to begin by examining the areas of life where you feel guilty. To effectively examine our areas of guilt is often difficult because sexual abuse robs us of our objectivity and leaves us feeling guilty about almost everything, even though there is no basis for doing so.

In your journal, list several things that you frequently feel guilty about.

Review your list. Place a checkmark beside those items that represent attitudes and behaviors there were your responsibility. Draw a line through those that are feelings of false guilt - items that are someone else's responsibility. Place a question mark beside those that you are unsure of.

Remember that you were a victim of a crime. Many adult victims and most child victims never make a sound while they are being subject to abuse. They are frozen and unable emotionally to deal with the victimization. People are victims when they are unable to stop what is being done to them.

The danger of Denial

Beware of the universal reaction of denial. Don was a bicyclist whose ambition was to ride a "double century". A "double century" ride is 200 miles in 24 hours. Don entered a ride that consisted of four 50-mile courses. He rode the first hundred miles and was near exhaustion. He was only able to complete the third 50-mile loop about midnight by pushing his bike the last few miles. Don did not attempt to ride the final 50 miles. Instead he drove home, fell into bed, and was unable to walk the next day. That experience was 20 years ago, and Don still blames himself for not completing the 200 miles. He continues to blame and condemn himself with statements like, "I had eight hours left and I only had 50 miles to go. Why did I quit? I could have finished the ride. I'm a wimp and a failure."

Compare Don's story with the millions of times when a child or an adult is sexually abused by someone who is older, stronger, or more intimidating and then the victim things, "Why didn't I ..... (fill in the blank)?" In your journal, describe what is wrong with both Don's thinking and the sexual abuse victim's thinking.

You may have explained the problem in one of many ways. The problem is denial. Don exhibits irrational thinking over something as simple as a goal he could not reach. In the same way those of us who have suffered sexual abuse continue to blame ourselves and to think we should have done something differently. The feelings of guilt spread to every area of our lives. These feelings grow from our unrealistic expectations of ourselves. To feel guilty is easier than to accept the fact that we were powerless. don did not have the power to ride one more mile. We did not have the power to stop the abuse.

How have you practiced denial by blaming and punishing yourself?

One victim is now able to laugh at herself as she describes her feelings of guilt. "First I feel that I am not doing enough for God; then I feel guilty about my husband. Next I overwhelm myself with guilt feelings about my children. Then come my parents. Finally I get to my dog and feel guilty because I don't spend enough time with her. After that I watch some talk shows and end up looking in the mirror and trying to forgive myself for not taking care of me."

As humorous as this story might seem, it illustrates how we need to be objective about our guilt feelings if we are to make progress. Examining our thoughts helps us to see if God is convicting us to change areas in our lives. Healthy guilt points out the areas where we need to make changes. This kind of guilt leads to a change of heart which the Bible calls repentance. In Romans 2:4 Paul says that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. If we allow God to overcome our thoughts of guilt, both real and false, the path of freedom more than rewards us for the effort.

Read your list of guilt feelings again. Spend some time praying about the feelings on your list. Ask God to help you to let go of false guilt and to accept forgiveness for any behaviors and attitudes that are harmful to you and others.

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fruitful Friday

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23

When I started leading groups two years ago, a woman came by my house to pick up her workbook. My family was in the driveway, playing basketball... She parked in front of the house next door, so I walked over to meet her and give her her things. We chatted for a few minutes, and as she was about to leave, she looked back at me with tears in her eyes and said, "It gives me so much hope to watch your family playing so happily. I can't help imagining that this is waiting for me too."

I have often thought about her and how she'd found hope in merely catching a glimpse at what life has to offer through recovery. It makes me think of the "fruit" that knowing God (and his powerful healing and love) has produced in my life.

On Fridays, I want to rejoice with you - sharing with one another a snapshot of the fruit that we've experienced on this journey from victim to survivor.

This is what PEACE looks like to me today.

I am reminded of a picture taken at church camp 28+ years prior. That old picture was what peace looked like to me as a little girl... A week at camp. A week of love and carefree childish fun. A week - the only week a year - without the fear of sexual abuse. Today, I walk in the tall grass again, holding the hand of my precious son, knowing the indescribable peace that God has filled me with...everyday! I am removed from the fear of nighttime abuse and daily neglect and rejection. And my heart has been healed enough that I know true, year-round peace. God is so good!

Have you seen fruit in your journey? I would love to see it!! Write a post on your blog, linking back to this post, and leave a comment here with a link to your blog. I plan to figure out Mr. Linky between now and the next Fruitful Friday - until then, we'll have to use the comments to share.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


After all these years of sharing with others about my abusive childhood, I am still a bit uneasy in my response to "I'm sorry." They (whoever I'm sharing with) are not apologizing, they are expressing sympathy and also affirming for me that I was not at fault. And that's the intent behind my saying "I'm sorry" when someone shares their pain with me.

But... What are we (survivors) to say in response? Do we shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh, I know... It's okay."? Surly not. It's not okay. I think my general response is to nod in agreement and thank them for their concern, compassion and encouragement.

As I've pondered this today, I've thought about what would prompt me to say anything close to "It's okay".

It is not okay for adults to abuse children. Not okay at all. Ever. Never.

What I would mean to say is that I am okay.

That... Because I felt so utterly alone and unloved for 28 years, I have a deep appreciation for the relationships I have with my husband and children. If I had never known lonely and broken, would I take for granted the love and happiness I have found in this family?

That... Because I have never known the unconditional love and acceptance of earthly parents, I have an inexplicable desire for my heavenly father. Would I want Him to this degree if I'd had wonderfully loving parents?

That... Because I grew up in a discouraging, neglectful home, I have a heart for children who remind me of me. Would I be this drawn to children in need if I'd have had it all as a child?

That... I went through the things I went through to help others get through what they're going through. Without my being a survivor of sexual abuse, would I be as passionate in ministry or have the ability to relate to others the way I can now?

That... God wastes nothing. He is so powerful and purposeful that He uses even the ugliest of human sins for good. He has done that in my life...

And that makes me okay. He makes me okay.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hello {again}

The blog has gotten a bit of a make-over for the first time in a year! I also made a blog button that you can put on your blog, directing people over here if you'd like. ***Just copy this code and add the html as a gadget.

***Okay, so try as I might, I cannot figure out how to merely paste the code in rather than display the button itself! Anyone know??? Can't do it in my sidebar either. I'm clearly NOT a blog designer....just a blog writer! I will figure it out. Sorry...

With the new year (and a welcomed improvement in our family's schedule!) I am so excited to blog here more regularly and share more of myself and the incredible hope and expectations I have for continued recovery and restoration.

Hello 2010 and hello {again} to each of you! Many prayers and blessings.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Finding my voice

Growing up in an abusive, neglectful, rejecting home taught me to fear others. Fear love. Fear relationships. Fear rejection.

Assume that they don't care so that when they, in fact, don't care, it won't matter. Much.

Living like that left me in a constant state of disconnect from others. I was needy for a man's love... And knew I could get their attention with my body and a flirtatious laugh. But I was terrified of women. In a twisted way (that many of you will understand), my abuser (dad) showed an interest in me (albeit disgusting and criminal), it was my mother who so loudly rejected me.

I didn't have a genuine, completely vulnerable friendship until I was 30 years old.

At 30, I had a one year old child and was desperate for a friend. Play dates became times for my one friend and me to talk, and she openly shared her life and invited me to share mine. So, share I did. For the first time ever.

I could share with her about my life, but I could not talk about how I felt about her. That took a couple of years, actually.

Before I was able to tell my one friend how I felt about her, I experimented by expressing gratitude and admiration on safer subjects - our church staff. I'd send kind thank you notes via email, telling myself that if they did not respond it was likely only because they were busy. No reflection on me. To my surprise (and utter satisfaction and elation) they always responded with kind words in return. They did not reject me. I could express warm feelings for someone other than my husband and child and not get spit out!

After months and months of my sending nice emails to the church staff and receiving nice emails in return, I decided I wanted to let my friend know how much she meant to me. I sent her an email and two days later she wrote me back and said she was speechless... among other things. She did not say she was disgusted, for which I was incredibly happy.

From then on, I have never hesitated to send someone a note to tell them how much they mean to me, to thank them for something they did, or to encourage them through a difficult situation.

I have learned to not only love, but to express love and receive love. I have found that at my core I deeply love and care about people. I root for the underdog, fiercely defend what is right, and regularly seek to provide uplifting and encouraging feedback regarding people's work (be it motherhood, their job, ministry, etc).

In recent months, I have discovered the immense power of a little encouragement...

Six months ago, I sat through a sermon that was largely annoying for me. I listened to every word, but kept saying, "But what if....?" I was relating his message to the very real cancer scare we were in the middle of, asking what to do if your worry is not about material things but about the life or death of one's child? As his sermon neared the end, he answered my question. I realized that I was worrying because I didn't trust God's plan to be perfect. It was a moment that changed my heart in the middle of a gut-wrenching season of our lives. I wrote about it on my family blog as soon as I got home, which my pastor happened to read. He emailed me that night and told me that my post taught him something and was the tool God used to improve his message for the next day. (We go to church on Saturday nights, there were still four other services on Sunday.) My words - the words of a mere mom, a young woman with no Bible college or even Christian high school under her belt - spoke to a pastor's heart and served to improve his sermon. Something I said had a trickle-down effect on more than 5,000 people. Wow.

And just this week... A blogging mom wrote a post from the heart, and she received some pretty nasty criticism in response. I sent her an email, hoping to encourage and spur her on in her pursuit of being fully vulnerable, giving others a safe place to find encouragement and validation regarding struggles that are common to so many but not readily discussed. My email got her mind racing, and resulted in a beautiful blog post about living life in spite of our fears, acting out in obedience, and being vulnerable and authentic with our lives. I have heard that her blog receives 100,000 visitors each day! I cannot even wrap my mind around the idea that a short email from my heart to hers served to encourage a spectacular blog post that has been read by countless people around the world.

In no way do I think I'm responsible for either of these two situations. The pastor is a phenomenal teacher and the writer is incredibly talented. Both of them have received these talents through His gifting. God no doubt placed the sermon and the blog post on their hearts... but he also used me to put the tiniest bug in their ears.

I have a vivid memory from shortly after my 21st birthday. A woman (older than my mother) watched me squirm as someone handed me a gift. When we were sitting together in private, she gently took my hand and told me that I would need to learn how to accept a gift. She could not have been more right.

As a younger, completely broken woman... I was squeamish when presented gifts, speechless if someone expressed feelings for me, stiff if someone wanted to hug me, defensive if anyone said my parents had treated me poorly (even though they had), and completely frozen by the prospect of telling someone that I cared for them. In his perfect time, God healed all of that and gave me a voice.

I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but this is a voice I am forever grateful for!

"Every good and perfect gift is from above." James 1:17

If you lost your voice somewhere amidst the destruction of sexual abuse, I want to encourage you to take baby steps to get it back. Journal, blog, comment on this blog, talk with a counselor, get real with your spouse, make your first friend.

I'm amazed that my first friendship came about a just six short years ago... and jump started such a tremendous change in me. In that time, God has opened door after door, giving me places - each a little larger than the previous - to share my heart and use my voice. With God, I moved into a place where I was able to discover my heart, my needs, my longings. His purpose.

All too often, survivors of sexual abuse find that the abuse has stripped away everything that is good and righteous in this life. However, when we are intentional and seek godly support and wisdom in our recovery, we will find that He has so much more in store for us. It is true. God brings beauty from ashes... and He is the only one who can! When we trust him.

"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." Isaiah 61:3

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11:9