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


Shattered said...

I think you might have written this for me. I'm stunned. I can completely relate to your father showing you attention while your mother rejected you. I avoid friendships with women for the very same reasons. I don't have any real friends and like you, my daughter is really wanting to go on playdates and I just cannot bring myself to do it.

I struggle so badly with God and my relationship with Him. Most of the time I am angry with Him and I avoid anything God-related.

What you write is very honest and captivating. I will continue to read...


Patricia Singleton said...

What a beautiful post. I recently wrote my own article about how the ripple effect can change lives of people that we have never met.

Jennifer, God is ok with your anger. I remember being so angry at God myself for a lot of years. Because He didn't stop the childhood incest, I thought He had turned His back on me and that I didn't matter. Today I know that He was always there waiting for me to turn around and see Him. He was always there giving me the strength to endure and would one day give me the courage to speak out about my incest experiences to help others on the road to recovery. God loves us enough until we can learn to love ourselves.

The women in my childhood were very judgmental. My dad and an uncle were the ones who sexually abused me but my mother was the one that I was afraid would blame me for the incest. I didn't trust women for a very long time because of this.

In 1989 God brought a wonderful woman into my life as a counselor, mother substitute, best friend, wonderful woman role model. I only knew her for 3 years before she was killed. She taught me in that three years that I could trust women. I now know that anyone who would blame the child for the incest isn't worth knowing or having in my life. Today I have many women friends with a few that are best friends. My life today is enriched by having those women as friends.

Sorry about the length of this comment. I tend to be long-winded when I really care about the topic.