Tonight’s blog is the story of a teenager caught in a nightmare of sexual assault, death threats and terror in the Anabaptist community. It is also a story of hope, redemption and healing. I do not know this young women well. We’ve only met on Facebook. (I hope that changes one day). But I did engage at length with her and am blessed by her courage, compassion, transparency and resilience.
She made it very clear that her story is her own; it is not a pattern for everyone. God redeemed in ways that are not always possible because it is so rare for offenders to be allowed to get to the end of themselves. Too often people – church, family, friends – stand in the way of offenders coming to that end, and facing honestly their own crimes and evil.
I love a good redemption story. To see healing, that is what our hearts long for, above all. Sadly, in sexual abuse cases, the redemption stories are often used to beat other survivors over the head, or guilt-trip them for not choosing a similar path. This should not be. We need to give space for redemption to play out differently in different stories. We are not all the same, and God has not given us a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula. He leads us gently, and remembers that we are human, and has compassion on us.
I am working on writing the redemption story of my life. How I went from being a teenager who prayed my father would get killed (because murder wasn’t an option), to sitting by his bed in the hospital, holding his hand as we talked, and giving him hugs. It is a story that needs to be told, when the time is right. As do many redemption stories. But with those stories there must always, always be space for other survivors to choose walk their own redemption story without any guilt or shame imposed on them if they cannot cope with relationship. There is only One Way to redemption, but the practical ways in which we walk that path varies.
Remember that as you read this story, and any other story.
SURVIVOR REDEMPTION STORY
My story has much in common with many of victims: Grooming, abuse, death threats, depression and PTSD, forgiveness (eventually!), and a remaining deep concern for other sex abuse victims.
Prose leaves more questions than straight-up story-telling. Nonetheless, I felt too ashamed and horrified to document in journal form the abuses and death threats as a teen; I wrote it in prose instead, after I had recovered enough to see it for the evil it was.
That prose was destroyed by an adult who knew and had allowed my abuser more opportunities. “I thought it would be too traumatic for you in the future.” Too traumatic for me to read my own writing?! I rewrote, saving the key phrases that most clearly stuck in memory, and adding pieces to reflect the story of reconciliation.
I do not believe that reconciliation should be the first goal in an abuse story. Nor do I believe that every story should end in reconciliation. Most will not. And that is OK! Reconciliation [in those situations where it is part of the story] hinges, not on the victim’s forgiveness (although that’s a piece of it) but on the abuser’s change of heart; this should be common sense!
My story ends well enough: I am at peace even in the presence of the abuser. But that is NOT due to HOW the reconciliation took place! Instead, it is due to the fact that he came to the end of his rope, and got desperate enough to go to extreme measures to address key factors that drove him towards abuse. I’ve watched him in a crowd since we reconciled; his eyes do not follow beautiful women. His speech is not fueled with hatred. His demeanor, once powerful and aggressive, has mellowed. It is on THIS change of character that reconciliation can be considered—and such a change is rare. Even then, it must be the victim’s choice.
How did the reconciling take place?
When I was an ordinary church member, I had a sad story and I needed to learn how to cope well and move forward. That was all. But when a desirable church position opened up, I was strongly urged to pursue reconciliation.
If reconciliation is not important enough to help an everyday member pursue, it is not important enough to help a candidate for a Sunday School class, youth ministry, regular ministry, or single mom’s ministry, or ANY other position, to pursue. This idea that ministry somehow makes a person eligible for the pursuit of God’s goodnesses such as reconciliation, is nothing more than arrogance; the most ordinary, every-day, unseen person should be the focus of equal care. Yes, ministry requires knowledge of reconciliation and conflict resolution. So does marriage, so does holding a job. People in ministry aren’t special.
I am keeping this anonymous, as the people behind this reconciliation are people I care for, people I have learned from, and, most importantly, people who get most of the things right when dealing with sex abuse. I have no desire to ‘call out’ anyone who is on the side of victims, and can extend grace to cover blunders. These are people who believe in being honest and cooperative with the courts; if they were humble enough to sit down and listen to my hindsight view of what happened, I would welcome that, because I think they would sincerely use it to do what’s right by the victim next time.
I was very uneasy about meeting the abuser due to previous death threats; these fears kept me up at night prior to the meeting.
My concerns were downplayed.
Just because he was penitent, and it did work out in my case, doesn’t make it healthy.
If “Avoid the presence of someone who threatened my life” is a boundary the victim wants, by all means, honor it. Find some way to pursue reconciliation without breaking that boundary. Helpers of victims—be it family, friends, a counselor, or a pastor—need to realize that while some threats are bluffs, some are real, and it adds to a victim’s sense of powerlessness to override those threat concerns. And even where the threats are a bluff, because the victim has already been assaulted sexually, they will be real to them.
My story is one of God providing tremendous grace in the face of great hardship; tremendous kindness towards a prodigal; wisdom for the helpers; grace to cover the helpers’ blunders; and the daily graces to walk well with others as I pursue ongoing healing.
While I believe that I have largely healed from the sexual abuse, due to an accurate understanding of sexuality and an ability to participate in healthy relationships, I have NOT yet healed from the verbal abuse. If I am given a rebuke in a manner that seems powerful and condescending, it stirs up the darkest memories (kind rebukes don’t do this) and I will cut the powerful and condescending person out of my life in an attempt to maintain sanity. In addition, I still find myself irrationally paranoid of guns. So, like many of you, my story is an ongoing story of “Wow, look how far I’ve healed!” and “Wow, so much more to go!”
Without further ado, the prose—the only written remnant I have for the singular most life-changing story I’ve experienced to date.
The dungeon was musty, damp
With straw and rats
One small window in the wall opposite the door
Too small, and out of my reach,
No hope of escape
A passerby’s foot could shut out near all light–
And there were passersby,
Just none that ever saw the window
Or even seemed aware that they walked so near a prison
despite the immensity of the building itself.
They had potatoes to chop
I dreamed of being seen by one—just one—passerby
Someone who would go speak to someone
who would let me out
before hunger and loneliness and insanity and torture began.
I was too young.
I heard human footsteps.
Not from the ground above where the passersby hurried to and from market
Potatoes to chop, parsley to sell;
But from within the prison itself
Past the other dungeons,
could it be,
stopping at mine.
Keys jingled, hushed
I could not clearly see who this was
or why the form seemed to wish itself disguised,
as though we were not already in a dungeon
musty and damp,
precious little light,
with straw and rats.
But the voice was human!
Perhaps I would not be tortured
But yet, I might.
A hand reached out, friendly
Wary, I shrunk further
Even the rats seemed unsure
Then I saw his eyes
Seeing me, not as a fully clothed girl,
Just the body beneath.
The hand twisted
And I saw at the last moment, this was no human hand!!
Fingers fashioned as if, no, these are,
The hot red prongs of the Devil’s pitchfork.
Eyes now saw
Not my clothes
Not my body
My very soul.
His intentions were for the very core of my being.
With a gentle swipe,
The Devil Prong Fingers ripped me open and I
Fell off my bench
Into the pile of
Straw and rats.
The ripping continued.
I would not survive this.
The Monster left.
I lay dying in my own blood
Gargling screams for help.
I could not arise.
Time passed and barely conscious,
I became aware of light
Not from the window.
The purest, the kindest light
I had ever imagined.
My very own angels
To take me out.
As if nobody had ever locked my dungeon
As if nobody guarded the prison
With hushed voices and gentle touch,
These angels caused me to stand and I saw
His presence invited truth, so
I asked Him where He was when
Devil Prongs touched my body,
Ripped my soul
He’d been crying the whole time
When all I was aware of was my dungeon
With straw and rats,
And my near-lifeless form flooding blood.
He held me, and cried, and promised to be a
Counselor to me.
I, too, became a passerby of the prison
The Devil runs.
I had potatoes to chop when
I was sent back in
But Jesus went with me.
There was a prisoner I must speak to—
The Monster Human with Devil Pronged Fingers
I shrank back
He told me to forgive and
In a moment borne of soul honesty,
I told Jesus I don’t forgive monsters.
“He saw you not as human, but as an object of his darkness;
You see him not as human but as an object to be despised.
I died for no mere object, but for humanity.
When you see him as human, you will find it in your heart to forgive.”
See him, no longer a monster?
Jesus, You’ll have to help me with that.
The earth shook
My heart’s guards fell over as
And the tremendous stone
Got pushed aside.
From deep inside, Jesus Himself rose up,
And peace fell.
But I have not forgotten
The Devil’s Prong-Fingers
Compassionate when I wondered where He’d been
Too high, too distant
Blocking the light
What with those potatoes to chop
The blood gargling from my throat as I screamed
The prison still stands.
The Devil still runs it.
The young are still tortured.
~ anonymous ~
~ T ~
NOTE OF UPDATE RE: RAPE VICTIM
The survivor of rape at the hands of three men is now focusing on counseling. I will meet with her before long for the first time, God willing, and look at what are the right ‘next steps’. Based on preliminary conversations, is likely that she will need a lawyer to help navigate the process. When and if that time comes, will do an update and give you opportunity to contribute to those costs. For now we have funds to pay for about 20 sessions of counseling. If more funds are needed on this front, I will post a request. Until then, thank you all! God bless you for entering into her story of healing!
ONLY 1 MORE DAY TO REGISTER WITH LUNCH AND CONCERT INCLUDED!
(ENDS AUGUST 1, 2019)
THE GATHERING, NOVEMBER 2, 2019, LANCASTER BIBLE COLLEGE:
One of the things we are working toward November 2, 2019, at THE GATHERING, is creating a place where we collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse, and their trusted support persons to join together for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering. We will cry out to God, together. The invitation is to ‘come as you are’ in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
EARLY CONCERT REGISTRATION FOR ALL SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE:
If you are a sex abuse survivor – Anabaptist or not – and are not a sex offender, who wishes to attend the ‘concert only’ portion of The Gathering, we will allow for early registration before tickets are released to the public, August 1, 2019. For link to register for the concert only, email AslanHasHeard@gmail.com. Subject line: “Concert link for survivors”.
If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.