Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sister, Not Victim

I don't often share my story. 

From the time I could toddle till around the age of seven I was sexually abused by two men. One of my more vivid childhood memories is being locked in a room as a little girl, wanting to go to the bathroom to pee, and not being allowed out until I had performed sexual acts for them. I didn't want to wet my big girl undies. I just wanted to use the bathroom. I was so scared. The fear, the guilt, the shame from those years was heavy and clinging like tar. It made a 3-year-old feel it was her fault, even 15 years later. I failed to see any further damage that could be done to someone as broken as I was. 

I was wholly unsurprised when I was raped by a classmate in college.

Rape seemed the price of living with female parts; it seemed that this was what men did if you, as a woman, made a mistake. Porn, sex, rape, violence -- this was sexuality. Ugly, dirty, frightened, painful, shameful. Diseased.

I learned that broken things can be, well, broken worse. What followed strikes me as so stereotypical -- sex, drugs, and alcohol -- that I hope my testimony doesn't sound trite. It's certainly not a fresh take on failed coping mechanisms. Some months later I reached peak unrecognizability. I was not the sort of person I wanted to be, and even convinced as I was that I didn't deserve better, I didn't care anymore -- I wanted better. So, weeping on the floor of my apartment, I begged God to make me well. Actually, that night I just begged him for sleep without fear. And I slept. To sleep without anxiety, without terror, without nightmares pulled from reality, was life changing. And so I was saved. 

Shortly after that, I met my husband, and after we were married we moved to Moscow, Idaho. I was pretty sure everyone could see my gross past on me, like visible scars. In hindsight, I think that the wiser folks could see I was functionally a new Christian, and that's probably why we got so many kind words and dinner invites. How funny and narcissistic I was, thinking that my sins were so novel and precious. What would 22-year-old me think of me now? I'm a happily exhausted mom, so I don't really qualify for having a salty past, right? Unless I'm wearing my "Raped in '03" shirt, I assume I'm safe from speculation, but I hope that other young women have more wisdom than I did. Wisdom enough to know that they are not alone, not when the statistics have us at such high numbers, not when Jesus Christ washes it all away.

It's hard for me to write the ways my church has helped us. It is all given to us so freely, so abundantly, it has been easy to take it for granted. Unless the help someone wants is constant back rubs and perpetual victimhood. To say that there aren't consequences -- that would be facile. Sin has consequences -- my sins and the sins of my abusers and rapist. Yes, there are consequences. So God gave me my husband, a man of incredible compassion, patience, and discernment. Not just any man can be part of the forgiveness and healing that comes after abuse. Someone that can hold me and comfort me, be my protection, my safe place. More precious, someone unafraid to tell me the wonderful truth: that it's done, it's over, and it can't get me now. The lights are on, the bogey man is not under the bed.

When you, Ppl of The Internets, claiming authority on the topics of abuse and recovery, tell the world and me how I should feel, what I should be afraid of; when you turn a gaze of pity, mark the words and things that must necessarily traumatize me, demanding that I see the bogeymen where God shines only light, you are highlighting pages of my history. You are looking at me and seeing a moment of my life and insisting that I live in it. You are putting me back in that locked room. How dare you. 

When you put limitations on God's grace and forgiveness, when you point out sins as though they are simply too much for our Lord and Savior, you are calling into question all the grace and forgiveness poured out on me. Think, think what the proposition of limited grace and forgiveness means for people saddled with the guilt and shame of abuse. How dare you. 

It is God's grace that I am in Moscow and a member of Christ Church. God gave me a church community of faithful men and women -- full of men that love and cherish their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers. The type of men that, a decade ago, I thought were as real as the tooth fairy, here becoming husbands and fathers, looking after their wives and daughters with so much love it makes my heart burst. Women with so much joy, compassion, and ferocious will...I am so happy to be bringing up my daughters here. God gave me Pastor Wilson and his family, who have been a blessing at every turn through wise teachings, faithful examples, and kind friendships. It's a community where I am a sister in Christ, not the heap of shame and pain that sin made of me. A church where I can share my experience in safety and comfort, but it's not demanded of me, because they know I'm more than that. A pastor that doesn't tiptoe around me as a victim, but treats me as one stronger for having survived the fire.

All I wanted was to sleep, and God woke me to a life so full of blessings I can't think of it without tears of gratitude and joy. 

So no, I don't often share my story, but it's not because I am ashamed. It's because that shame is a world apart from the woman I am now. I have a story of years peppered with vile things that happened, foolish things I did, but by God's grace I am not bound to those foul moments. I get to be so much more. I get to be a friend, a sister, a wife, a mother. Through God's grace my identity is in Christ alone.