Trigger warning: this post details one instance of my childhood sexual abuse. This is a very painful story. I can only post it openly because of who I am in Jesus. Not only has my beloved Savior taken away my personal sins, he has dealt with the shame and stigma of sins committed against me. These experiences do not and never will define me because of who I am in Christ. I am fully in the arms of my Savior both in this life and the next and I share this because my Savior does not shy away from the pain and suffering of humanity. He enters into it. He has suffered with us and has saved us through his suffering. He is the embodiment of divine empathy toward humans like me. These experiences, as painful as they are, cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in those who trust in Jesus. God is for us, he is not against us. Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. In that confidence, I share this part of my story.
I distinctly remember what I was wearing the night my grandfather (the PCA elder I’ve written about before) sexually abused me. Yes. Not only was the man who took advantage of me a leader in our church, he was also a leader in our family. Funny, though, isn’t it? That I remember what I was wearing? So many people ask, “Well, what was she wearing?” when they hear about assault or abuse. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing — a long white Christmas nightgown with funny little decorations on the front and a red bow at the top. I loved that nightgown. It was my favorite which is why I wanted to wear it at my grandparents when we spent the night there. I was maybe 8 years old.
I also distinctly remember how excited I was to be there. My parents were out of town with my oldest brother, so it was a special occasion for me and my older brother to spend the night there. That evening, my grandfather and I sat in the den a few feet away from each other — my grandfather sat in his wheelchair while I bounced around in a giant Lay-Z-Boy. My grandmother and other brother were in the hallway, discussing something. If I remember correctly, the TV was on, probably Lawrence Welk or the like.
And then I made what still feels like the biggest mistake of my life — I told my grandfather I loved him. I was just so happy to be there and I wanted him to know that, so I wrote “I love you” on a sticky note and handed it to him. He picked up another sticky note and a pen and wrote “I love you, too” on it. I remember his handwriting. It looked like spiders had skated through an ink pad and then danced on the bright yellow paper. It was barely legible. That wasn’t really his fault, though. He had Parkinson’s disease. Then he called me over to his wheelchair, told me he loved me, and molested me while asking me detailed questions about sexuality and my anatomy. Again. I was about 8 years old.
I’m not sure I can adequately describe to you the way that feeling of happiness and excitement plummeted into panic and fear in the space of a few seconds. To this day, any feeling of genuine excitement triggers an immediate “shut down” of all emotions and a descent into panic. The only “safe” emotion is fear. Fear would have protected me. Excitement brought harm and pain. Decades later, I have yet to regain my ability to feel excitement without a constant triggering of dread and despair. Even as I write this, all I feel is an odd disassociation from it which is probably why this post may come across as very matter-of-fact. I can’t help that, though.
When my parents called the next day to check on us, I asked them if my older brother and I could stay by ourselves that night instead of staying at our grandparents’ house. To my surprise and relief, they agreed. I was so afraid of my grandfather by that point that I felt safer alone with my brother in a trailer house parked out in the middle of nowhere than anywhere near him. What a tragedy.
But I’m not afraid of my grandfather anymore. And I’m not afraid to recognize what his character was and how it harmed me. The burden he placed on me so many years ago belongs squarely at the feet of Jesus and that is where I leave it to look up at my resurrected Savior. Don’t pity me for this story. Jesus has dealt with the shame of this and other experiences — all of my hope and joy rests in him. But I hope you will use this story to love other survivors and protect the vulnerable around you today. Here are some resources that can help you do just that.