(Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse).
I was the youngest of 8 children – 4 boys, 4 girls. There were sports, music, piano lessons. Birthday parties, summer vacations. We went to church every Sunday, went to a Catholic school. It seems I’ve had a great life, doesn’t it? I didn’t always see it that way.
I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
My oldest brother started abusing me when I was 3 years old and it continued on and off for 14 more years. I told what was happening when I was maybe 4 or 5, and once more at some point, but nothing was done to stop it. After that, I decided this was my problem, my fault. That’s why nothing was done to stop it; I must have deserved it. I hated myself.
Through my childhood and adolescence, and well into my adult years, I felt fear, anxiety, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, hatred, bitterness, shame, guilt, you name it. I felt worthless, alone, dirty. I didn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
Looking back, I’m amazed I passed high school. I’m amazed I didn’t run away from home or get into drugs. I’m amazed I didn’t end up on the streets, selling my body for sex. I started drinking in grade 9 and smoking in grade 10. I was a heavy drinker, mostly to help me fall asleep. I didn’t care about myself at all; I just existed. I still suffer from PTSD and am on medication to help me sleep. I’m also on medication for anxiety and depression.
How did I survive all that?
Something was keeping me sane, keeping me from wanting to die.
I knew of Jesus growing up – or at least about church. All the recited prayers, rituals, rites of passage. But I didn’t really know Jesus at this point. Fast-forward to just after high school and my first real encounter with Jesus. My aunt and uncle needed some help with their kids and I went to Vancouver to stay with them. I knew my aunt and uncle were born-again Christians but I didn’t really know what that meant. I soon learned Jesus was at the centre of everything they did, as a family and as individuals. I felt something I hadn’t felt before: Safety. Joy. A sense of belonging. Love. They showed me who Jesus was by their love. Jesus filled their home; you couldn’t deny it. Daily devotionals in their living room, Friday night youth groups. Worship music.
That 3-month period was when Jesus rescued me. He took me out of my nightmare and gave me safe haven. Jesus was my anchor. I must have seen Jesus in my uncle … I told him a bit of what I had endured, but then forgot I had. He mentioned it to me in a message a few years ago, 30 years later – and I had blocked it out. God revealed Himself there. It was as if He was saying, “You are not forgotten – I haven’t forgotten about you.”
I was baptized on July 23, 2017 at FAC. That was the day I started following Jesus. For real. Not just words but a way of life.
I turned my life over to Jesus.
It’s Not Just About Me
God was preparing me for what He was going to call me to do. My brother died almost exactly one year later, on July 25, 2018. He told me he’d been diagnosed with cancer and was going to die. He didn’t ask for forgiveness; we didn’t talk about much. But I started to feel compassion and empathy. Love grew in my heart for my brother.
By all accounts, I shouldn’t have felt much except hurt and anger. But, by the amazing grace given to me by Jesus, I started sharing Bible verses with him. I drove him to doctors’ appointments, cared for needs, shared worship songs, and sat with him while he told his mother he was dying. The Holy Spirit led me to ask a pastor to pray with him.
About a week before he died, he gave his heart to Jesus.
Why did I spend time with him and pray for him? It was the amazing grace given to me by Jesus. This wasn’t really about me. Not only did God want to rescue me; He wanted to rescue the one who deeply hurt me. It was about the Lord’s salvation – and who was I to stand in the way of that? I was even able to speak to his children about God. I read Psalm 23 at his funeral – a Psalm that almost seems as if it was written specifically for me.
Though my parents came from a generation that didn’t talk about these things, it doesn’t negate the deep, deep wounds their inaction caused. My dad passed away when I was 19; I never had a chance to confront him. My relationship with my mom was strained, to say the least.
Even after I told her again, after my own daughters were born, what happened to me, my mom still put my abuser first. It was like being abused again – like I still didn’t matter to her. In fact, anything I told her about the abuser or the abuse, I ended up comforting her, consoling her. What about me? I couldn’t even tell her I loved her for a long time – I didn’t feel loved by her. But God was working in me in regards to this relationship, softening my heart towards her as well. Jesus put unconditional love, compassion, and empathy in my heart for her. That was amazing grace.
My mom has since been diagnosed with dementia and is in Long-Term Care. Not long ago, my aunt (my mom’s younger sister), with gentleness, patience, and love, asked if she could step in on my mom’s behalf as a proxy, and asked for that forgiveness. God, revealing Himself again, so faithful to bring healing.
This is who Jesus is, and what He does.
Stepping Through an Open Door
In March 2020, COVID became a pandemic and the world went into lockdown. I was doing all I could to stay calm. I already had so much anxiety from my own life; I didn’t have the energy for this.
I prayed … What did it mean for us? But I also prayed to God to help me, knowing He could take all things and work them for good. I prayed that this time of social distancing and isolation would become a blessing instead of an inconvenience, and that I might be a better person coming out of the pandemic than when I went in. I didn’t know what that path would look like or where it would take me. I didn’t know the deep wounds suffered from my sexual abuse trauma would be the very thing He would bring to the light. I thought I had successfully buried those forever. I never dreamed I would open up to anyone else. My mom knew. My siblings, my husband, my uncle knew. That was enough. Or so I thought.
I have another aunt and uncle who are born-again Christians. I always wanted what they had but wasn’t quite sure what that was. I’ve been in touch with this aunt on and off over the years, mostly just keeping our families in touch. A few months ago, my aunt sent me a message about a court case involving gender dysphoria. Not by my own strength but by the Holy Spirit, I found myself typing that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I wanted to share with her that Jesus had rescued me and carried me all those years.
I could have left it at that, but God had a different plan. I’d had counselling and therapy but when it got really tough, that’s when I bailed. But this time felt different somehow. God opened a door for me and I walked through in faith. God has shown Himself to me over the years, in the little things and in the big things … This was a big one. He had been shaping me, molding me, and equipping me for this moment. These last few months have been some of the most painful places I’ve ever been. I have been so vulnerable but so grateful for that vulnerability. Being this vulnerable has drawn me even closer to God. My deepest wounds, hidden for 50 years, are being brought into the light where Jesus takes them and heals them, and brings freedom.
God knew this journey would be very painful.
He knew deep wounds still affected my daily living. He would equip me for the journey. I have never been alone. Jesus has been in the valley with me and on the mountaintop with me – and everywhere else in between. He cries when I cry and rejoices when I rejoice. He loves me more than I could ever imagine.
He took my hand and said, “Precious child of Mine, you have been so hurt. What I want most of all for you is healing, freedom, peace, love, joy. Trust Me, follow Me, and I will restore you to what I created you to be. Not only that, I will make a new creation in you, more beautiful than you could imagine. Then, when My Holy Spirit prompts you or puts a desire on your heart, I want you to tell others about Me. Tell them about our great love story. Tell them about the hope you have. Tell them about our journey together. Then I will bless them, too – just as I have blessed you.”
Surviving Abuse: Nothing is Impossible with God
There are many places on my journey where I’ve encountered Jesus. I look back to those horrific years and I realize now that Jesus carried me. He has given me all the strength to endure and survive and I belong to Him. He brought me out of the darkness and into the light – His light – over and over and over again. He took away my desire to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. He was working in me all along, softening my calloused heart so I was able to forgive my brother and my parents.
How did I forgive? How could I forgive? Forgiveness doesn’t exonerate the person or make their actions acceptable. It also doesn’t mean you forget what happened. It’s all about a decision deep in your heart to move forward … to begin the healing process. But in order to do that, one would need to have Jesus living at their core. He is the only one with all the power and strength and grace to make that happen.
Without Jesus, they are only words.
With Jesus, they are an undeniable action and act of grace.
I never could have imagined talking about my abuse. I was too ashamed. Too hurt. Too damaged. Not worthy of real happiness. But nothing is impossible for God. He loves me with an everlasting love. He knit me together in my mother’s womb, created me in His image. He promises never to leave me or forsake me. He has given me new life. I am living my life for Him. He has blessed me with the most wonderful husband of 27 years – a loving, strong, patient, gentle man who would love me despite all of my deep wounds. He protected me and our daughters from the people who hurt me. He has been a gentle giant in my life. God blessed us with 3 beautiful daughters – true gifts from God. They have taught us about unconditional love, acceptance, gentleness, patience.
I’ve always wondered what my purpose was – and especially the purpose in my suffering. That has been my loudest cry to God in prayer. What was God calling me to do? I have encountered God and He has answered me. The Holy Spirit has put a strong desire on my heart to share with others who Jesus is, and that He can bring more healing and freedom than you could ever imagine! To reach other broken hearts, deeply wounded souls, and let you know Jesus loves you. Jesus wants to heal you. Jesus wants to set you free. He not only wants to; He is able.
Jesus took ALL of my suffering, all my sorrow, all my pain, all my sadness to the cross. I am safely tucked under the shadow of His wing. Jesus will do that for you. He is worthy of all the praise and glory.
– Kathleen is part of the FAC Online campus. We’re grateful to her for courageously sharing her story of God’s grace and power at work in her life.
Ready to share what God’s doing in your life? Tell us your story.
You may also be interested in …
- Care & Support groups and resources through FAC
- Sonshine Community Services if you’re experiencing domestic abuse
- 24-hour Alberta Family Violence Info Line: 403-310-1818 (toll free)