It's never too late to begin the healing process from childhood sexual abuse. It's never too early to fall in love with the person God created you to be. Long ago someone made a choice to take away your innocence, but today that someone can't touch your freedom to heal.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Tamar's Redemption Style

We had spent the past twelve hours together, a little shopping, a little food, a little sleep, and a lot of conversation. I had said little and listened much. Not because I didn’t have anything I wanted to say, I had a boatload of statements I wanted to make and questions I wanted answered regarding her present life choices and how they were affecting her and others. But Wisdom told me to be quiet . . . until our last few moments together.

“Are you angry with God for all the pain you’ve had in your life?” I asked, holding each word gently in my hands and presenting them to her slowly, carefully, one by one.

Her gaze remained fixed on the road ahead, her hands gripped the steering wheel. “I’ve never thought about that,” she said. “But . . . I have wondered what I’ve done wrong in my life to deserve all of this.”

And there it was. I could see it. She had pulled the band-aid back just far enough for me to see one of the lies that festered joyfully and danced freely on the edge of her wound, looking up to laugh and smirk at me before diving back deeply into her injury. “Honey, God’s not like that,” I said. “He’s not getting you back for wrongs done. You’ve had great wrongs done to you and losses in your life. You can tell him you’re angry. He can handle it.”

Then she startled me. She whipped the band aid back farther, exposing a gaping, oozing hole. “I don’t know how to say this, but I think my heart is hard.” And as quickly as she yanked the band-aid back, she reapplied it, pressing it against her skin, careful to make a perfect seal.

She pulled her car next to mine. Our time together was over; our conversation ended. I fought to keep my tears under control. Her face showed no sign of emotion. “I love you,” I whispered as I hugged her. Then I got into my car and cried out to the Healer of hard hearts during my long drive home.

A year passed and her choices became darker with each passing month, the wound grew so large it literally sucked her in, swallowing any remaining healthy tissue. The drugs she trusted to numb her pain and keep the wound from spreading betrayed her. She kissed the face of death. It took the paramedics an hour to resuscitate her. It took her loved ones five hours to convince her she had hit bottom and the only road leading anywhere was up.

She took the up road. It was a long and arduous climb. But as she reached out a shaky hand toward Jesus and he clasped his nail-scarred hands around hers, she felt strength for the journey. Jesus stripped each lie naked before her and silenced each menacing laugh that sought to trip her. And when she felt the need to stop traveling and beat on his chest and tell him of her anger, he took every blow until she was exhausted and fell peacefully into his arms—a time to rest. And miraculously, her life began to change as her heart began to soften.

I spent twenty-four hours with her recently. We did a little shopping, a little eating, and a lot of talking. We said much and listened much. Her face was radiant. And I couldn’t help but notice, the band-aid was gone and so was the wound. But her scar remains . . . and it is beautiful. It tells a story—a story of redemption.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Hope

"I was violated at the age of five, ten, and fifteen," she said. "At five I was touched inappropriately, at ten my girlfriends and I were playing at the park and a man exposed himself and masturbated in front of us, and at fifteen an older boy sexually assaulted me on my way home from school."

I've known this woman for over twenty-five years. I know her well. She has lived and does live a joyful life. So I asked, "Why haven't these events paralyzed you in your adult life?"

"It's how my parents handled each incident that has made all the difference," she said. "They listened to me, believed me, and took action every time. I have little memory of the first incident. I know I told my mother about the inappropriate touch, she took me to the doctor to make sure I was okay physically, and she and my father protected me from the perpetrator. They dealt with him.

"I remember the second time well," she continued.  "It was awkward, but my friends and I ran and told my dad, he took us to the police station immediately. The police caught the exhibitionist and he went to jail. We found out later that this man was a wanted on other sexual charges.

"And the third time, I ran home and told my parents. They took me to the police station and we ended up with a court case. I had to testify. It was scary, but my parents supported me the entire time. The older boy was charged and sentenced to prison.

"But do you want to know what happened after that? What's really amazing?" she asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Being a tiny girl and a racial minority in a large public high school, I used to avoid the cliques of students standing outside the front of the high school each morning and slip in a side door to avoid any kind of taunting or bullying. After I won the court case . . . I used the front door."

I can't promise you by following the six steps to protecting your kids, in my previous posts, that your children will not experience a violation. It happens to one out of four girls and one out of six boys before their eighteenth birthdays. But what my survivor friends will tell you is that it's not the sexual act or violation that does the most damage to their hearts, minds, and souls. It's the isolation. It's the secret. It's the not being able to tell, or worse, not being believed.

My friend was blessed to have amazing parents who listened to her, believed her, and took action. She knows this and thanks God for them. And she has allowed me to share her story with you so your children can use the front door too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Conversation (Part Six)

"And what do you write about?"

All eyes are on me. It's my turn to answer the question.

I take a deep breath and respond, "I write about sexual abuse."

I get this question all the time when I attend writers' conferences.  It's a natural inquiry at lunch or over dinner with fellow writers. Sometimes my response is followed by an awkward silence, especially in mixed company, but most of the time, the table comes alive with questions, comments, and most often, with a disclosure from a female. "It happened to me." She says, "Thank you for doing what you're doing."

"You're welcome." I say.

I know sexual abuse isn't easy to talk about, but the more we talk about it, the less power it has to enslave survivors and harm our kids. The pain of sexual abuse thrives in silence; the act of sexual abuse depends on silence.

So talk about it, talk about it, and talk about it some more. Let those around you (friends, family, babysitters, and neighbors) know you've been reading about how to protect your kids. Ask your child's coaches, church leaders, and music instructors what their organizations are doing to protect your kids from perpetrators.

Raising our voices regarding this issue has the power to shatter the silence that erodes a survivor's life and the power to divert the perpetrator who steals a child's innocence.

Join me.Take a deep breath and say, "I speak about sexual abuse."

And I promise you, someday, someone will say, "Thank you."

Step Six: Talk about sexual abuse. Joining our voices has the power to shatter the silence that erodes a survivor's life and the power to divert the perpetrator who steals a child's innocence. Perpetrators thrive in environments of silence and ignorance. They also count on our children to keep secrets. We must teach our children that, within our families, we don’t keep secrets (step five). We must also empower our children to say no to adults when they don't feel like hugging or kissing because perpetrators avoid confident children who know they can set boundaries (step four). And remember that perpetrators avoid knowledgeable, confident kids (step three) who have a relationship with their parents (step two), especially those parents who refuse to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse (step one).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Protecting Our Kids: The Secret (Part Five)

Mrs. Beasley and Me
"Do you want to know a secret? I know one."

Longing to hear her whisper the seeeecret, I leaned in close and pulled my doll's string again.

"Do you want to try on my glasses?” Mrs. Beasley asked. “You may if you wish."

Huh? I pulled her string again.

"Do you want to play?"

I stared at my doll. I didn't want to try on her glasses or play with her—I wanted to know the secret! Frustrated, I grabbed her by the neck and pulled her string over and over again. Mrs. Beasley asked me more questions until she asked again, “Do you want to know a secret? I know one.”

With one more pull of the cord, my hopes of hearing her secret were dashed forever. Mrs. Beasley never divulged her secret but continued on with the same cycle of questions, and I was ready to yank her string right out of her polka-dotted little bottom.  I still loved my Mrs. Beasley doll, but I was one disappointed six-year old. Why? Because children love secrets.

Perpetrators love secrets too. They depend on them and will use cunning methods and various threats to convince your child to keep their secrets. Understanding this fact gives parents an opportunity to thwart a perpetrator’s plans by creating a home environment where secrets are discussed and discouraged.

“But what about ‘fun’ secrets?” You might ask. Lest you think I’m an old humbug, let me give you a replacement word for secret that’s even more fun for children and it begins with s. Replace the word secret with SURPRISE.

Let’s say you’re going to have a surprise party for grandma and you don’t want your little darling to blow the cover. You could say, “Sweetheart, we’re going to have a surprise party for grandma. We’re not going to tell her about it until she walks through the door and we all yell, ‘SURPRISE!’ and then you get to answer all of grandma’s questions and tell her everything.” Choosing our words wisely as parents requires some thinking and creativity, but it's well worth our time and effort when the goal is protecting our kids.

I don’t know who designed Mrs. Beasley, but whoever did, took the time to understand children. Thousands of Mrs. Beasley dolls were sold in the sixties and early seventies. Perpetrators take the time to understand children too. And thousands of children will be molested this year. It’s important for parents to remember what it’s like to be a child and do what they can to keep their children from becoming another statistic, shackled by a lonely, senseless secret.

Perpetrators count on our children to keep secrets. Our fifth step in protecting our kids is teaching our children that, within our families, we don’t keep secrets. We must also empower our children to say no to adults when they don't feel like hugging or kissing because perpetrators avoid confident children who know they can set boundaries (step four). And remember that perpetrators avoid knowledgeable, confident kids (step three) who have a relationship with their parents (step two), especially those parents who refuse to ignore the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse (step one).
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