The importance of survivor stories.

“I’m continually blown away at the strength of survivors telling their stories. After years of abuse they know that telling their story will garner attacks by ignorant people, and they still tell. All the more reason we need to encourage and honor survivors. ” Jimmy Hinton

Survivor stories will play a huge role in decreasing the statistics on sexual assault. I’m thankful our culture is starting to listen and want to be educated on this epidemic. Here are a few ways Survivor stories will play a powerful role in that.

They will help us understand and identify all the different type predators and the methods they use to abuse.

A great example of two different ways predators operate have been shown recently in the two documentaries, Surviving R Kelly and Leaving Neverland. R Kelly used his fame and young girls wanting to make it in the music industry. Then once he got them isolated from their families he was controlling, cruel and used fear to abuse them. Micheal Jackson also used his fame to his advantage, but instead of using fear to control he convinced his victims that he was the victim, and needed them to help him not be lonely and to make up for his lost childhood. He used love and gifts to abuse them.

Survivors telling their stories also help other survivors begin their healing process. No matter what your story is, it’s important and helpful. I think often times people shy away from sharing their story because they think they didn’t have it as bad as someone else, and that is absolutely untrue. If you remember everything or if your memories are fuzzy both of your stories are important. If your abuse occurred over years or it was only once, both stories are valid and helpful. If you knew your abuser or it was a stranger, both stories need to be heard. If you told and turned your abuser in or you have never told a single soul, both stories will be relatable to someone. If you are healed or just starting the process both stories can help save lives. Both men and and women’s stories are equally as important and desperately need to be heard. All stories matter.

Survivors stories help us better educate and teach our children how to protect themselves, as well as making it harder for predators to operate.

I pray that our world will be a kinder and safer space for these stories to be told, and for those telling their stories now, I stand with you, and respect you pushing through the evil for the greater good.

Narrative change

One of the biggest narratives I would love to be a part of changing is that if you are a survivor of childhood sexual assault, then your future is doomed and you forever will be a mess. That simply is not true. I don’t want to downplay the trauma and the trials that do come along with being a survivor, but no one is ever hopeless because of any trauma they have gone through. I know many survivors who are incredibly successful, heathy, loving people, who went through hell and came through it with more compassion, strength and love for others than most. Let’s stop this lie and be a part of rooting people on for healing and hope. Here are some of my thoughts on how to start changing this narrative.

Encourage survivors to seek professional help. I have been in counseling most of my life off and on and it has been huge on helping me to be able to recover from my trauma and flourish in the way God intended my life to be. It is never too late to seek help and start the healing process.

Correct people when they make negative or hopeless comments. I know this one is kinda scary, but it’s something that I have been doing that last couple of years, and if you do it in a kind way I have found they appreciate the honesty and perspective.

Listen to survivors stories, they are incredibly powerful, insightful and bring so much truth on this subject and can really help change some people’s assumptions about survivors.

This world can be hard, and unfortunately no one gets out without some type of pain or hardship, but no one is ever too far gone or defined by it. Let’s help people find hope.

The book that helped me heal.

Have you ever read a book you wish everyone would read, not just because it’s written well but because it’s gonna help save lives? That’s exactly how I feel about Rid Of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. This book was crucial in my healing from sexual assault. The book has a wealth of knowledge, not only for survivors but for anyone who wants to help in the prevention, education, and support of sexual assault victims. I’m going to highlight some of my favorite parts of the book, and what was particularly helpful for me. But do yourself a favor and read this book.

“Disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, and wounds. It alienates and isolates.” “Grace is love that seeks you out even if you have nothing to give in return.” The book starts off with these two definitions and immediately I was hooked. Unlike the millions of the books I had read on this subject, I could tell this one was going toget to the heart of the issue and be a tool for real healing.

The first part of the book really goes into detail defining what sexual assault is and the effects it has on the victim. One quote that really struck a chord with me was, “Many victims feel the effects of sexual assault but are isolated or confused because they believed a popular misconception of what sexual assault entails.” One of the ways I would cope with being a survivor was to minimize the traumas that happened to me, and this lengthy explanation helped me to fully understand and grieve the sins committed against me.

The last part of the book has survivors stories, which is such a powerful, helpful, and hard thing to hear, but it really made me feel less alone and more understood. The book ends on healing and handing over your wounds to Jesus, our healer. This book left me feeling so loved by God, and so hopeful for my future. I’ll end this with another beautiful truth from the book. “Grace re-creates what violence destroyed.”

I hope this book is as helpful to you as it was to me.

Freaked out about childcare.

I knew that the day I became a Mom, childcare, sleepovers, church camps, and all of the fun childhood events would be a serious struggle. I prayed and prayed while I was pregnant for help to hand this worry over to God.

When my baby was five months old, I found out the most heartbreaking news- my abuser had other victims. After this, my fear for putting my daughter in childcare grew immensely and I found myself dropping out of commitments that involved childcare. I was one of the rare victims that actually told and turned in my abuser while it was happening, but unfortunately, our system has failed children and sexual assault victims for far too long, and he was free to continue to abuse. And he did.

I was talking to a friend and fellow survivor about how she handled childcare with her kids and how she’s not in a constant panic. She wisely told me that the same grace that God gave us to get through it, will be the same grace God will give our kids with whatever hardships they go through, and the best things we can do as parents is to talk and educate our kids on this subject from a young age.

One incredibly helpful book for kids on this subject is God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb. I have already read this to my one- and a half-year-old, and will continue to read and discuss this with her as she gets older. The entire book is helpful, but I especially like the last page where they talk about nine ways to protect your children from sexual abuse.

  1. Explain to your child that God made their body.
  2. Teach proper names for private body parts.
  3. Invite your child’s communication.
  4. Talk about touches.
  5. Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions.
  6. Throw out the word “secret.”
  7. Clarify rules for playing “doctor.”
  8. Identify whom to trust.
  9. Report suspected abuse immediately.

I’m incredibly thankful for wise friendships and great educational books on this subject to help with the prevention of abuse and to help ease this worried Mama’s heart.

It gets better.

It gets better,

little by little and day by day.

It gets better,

you find your voice and the shame fades away.

It gets better,

you’re freed from the anger and love takes its place.

It gets better,

lies lose their power and truth finds its way.

It gets better,

you find hope in the hopeless and help others do the same.

Forgiveness

“To forgive is to “swallow” evil and prevent it from going further.” Tolstoy

2010 was a huge year for me, I turned 30, went to Africa and London, but nothing would compare to the miraculous gift God gave me that year.

While I was in Africa, we were talking one evening with some of the people of the village and they were telling us there were a lot of young girls pregnant because the men in that village were raping them. Because they were pregnant they were kicked out of school and the men were not being held accountable in any way. They were understandably outraged as was I. I couldn’t talk or hear another word, I went to my room and cried all night. That was the angriest I have ever felt, I truly hated those men and felt I could have killed them in that moment.

After that trip, I was still completely heartbroken for those girls and processing a lot. I was in a church service and the topic was on forgiveness. I felt God nudge me to write a letter to my dad ( my abuser).

I wanted nothing to do with that. I told God I wouldn’t do it unless it was sincere, and the only thing I was sincere about with my dad was how much I hated him. God kept nudging me to just write. I finally started and as I began to type the first word the Holy Spirit overwhelmed me and completely melted my hard heart towards my dad. Jesus wrecked me with his grace and forgiveness for me. I felt free and so completely loved by God. I was free from being enslaved to my anger, I was freed from being a victim and I was free to let God handle and judge the sins of abusers. Forgiveness for my abuser was a miracle that only God could perform and was a life changing amazing gift to receive.

The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the people with equity. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:7-10

Beneta was my safe person.

We all need a safe person, and Beneta was mine. Beneta was my mom’s best friend. They met at church while my mom was pregnant with me and my twin brother. Even while writing this, I realized God’s grace in bringing her into my life while I was still in the womb, knowing that He would use her in such a huge way in my life.

Beneta was so many wonderful things, a truly uniquely gifted woman in almost every way. But what always stood out to me the most was what a godly, compassionate women she was.

Beneta was a survivor of sexual assault from a family member. She became a Christian counselor and helped a lot of people, including myself.

One of the biggest lies I believed when I was younger, was that I was dirty and washed up, and that no Christian man would ever want me. The thought of having to explain to my future husband that my dad was my abuser just shackled me with shame. I felt hopeless.

Beneta’s life made me feel hopeful, she was married to a godly man, was a wonderful mother, and was using her hardships to help others- all in the name of Jesus. I admired her so much and wanted my life to be like hers.

Beneta passed away in 1999. I was 19 years old at that time, and weeks before she passed, she helped me write one of the hardest letters of my life. I miss her so much, and cherish the time I had with her. I’m so thankful God used her to bring me closer to Him.

I wrote her a letter after her passing and I’ll end this the same way I did when I was 19.

I can’t wait to sing with you heaven.

A weighty issue on abuse.

I was recently listening to a popular podcast and they were talking about how overweight people just lacked discipline and if they could just figure that out for 90 days, losing weight would be no problem. It made me cringe thinking about the overweight people listening and being put in this “you must be lazy” box if you’re overweight. When I personally know that a lot of the reason comes from horrific pain and trauma.

I’ve struggled with weight my whole life and it’s the worst. It’s a struggle that not only you have to deal with, but everyone else gets to see and judge as well.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault and my abuser was my Dad. In his eyes, the worst thing that you could ever be was overweight, so that’s exactly what I wanted to be. I remember gaining weight on purpose around the age 15 just to stick it to him; I was so full of anger and hate towards him. Looking back now as an adult, I also see that it was a way to protect myself from him and make myself unattractive to him and any other man that was like him.

Jesus has healed and freed me so much from this abuse and feeling like a victim, but this food issue I have is still something I need to fully surrender. Even as I started this blog, knowing that I was going to have to talk about hard subjects, I noticed my bad habits of turning to food for comfort and protection was in full force.

We are all made in God’s image, there is no one perfect body type. If someone is struggling with over eating, or not eating enough, please be kind. You never know what they are trying to heal from.

3 helpful ways to respond to a survivors story.

This post is meant for adults who have been abused in the past. If someone is a minor or is currently being abused, they need help immediately. http://rain.org  has great resources on how to help. Their hotline is available 24/7 at 800.656.4673.

When a survivor is telling you their story, they are letting you in on a very private part of their life. It’s an incredibly vulnerable and hard thing to share. It’s also a hard thing to hear and often hard to know how to respond appropriately. I’ve recieved some hurtful responses by well-meaning people who just had a lack of understanding on this subject. Here are some of my insights on helpful responses.

1. Just listen.

Let them lead the conversation and reveal the details they are comfortable with sharing. It’s human nature to want to know all the details, but don’t ask for them. When a survivor is telling you any part of their story they are reliving a very traumatic event. The most helpful response is listening without prying.

2. Tell them you believe them.

If someone says they have been a victim, just believe them. The majority of victims truly have nothing to gain by opening up and, for most, it’s an embarrassing and shameful thing to admit. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, false reporting on sexual assault is between 2% and 10%. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and every 11 minutes, that victim is a child. Please just believe them.

3. Ask them how you can support them.

Everyone feels supported differently and by simply asking that question, they can share how they want to be supported. A few of the ways I’ve felt most supported have been a simple “Thank you for sharing” or “How can I pray for you?” Encouraging words go along way and have made me feel heard, believed, and cared for.

My survivor story.

I have a sweet friend who is battling Stage 4 cancer for the second time. Whenever she tells her story to someone new she starts with, “My story is a God story.” I love her for that- for so many reasons. That is exactly how I feel about my story.

My abuser is my biological father. He abused me in all forms, but sexual abuse was the most frequent. I remember it starting at the age of three, and the last incident occured when I was 18 years old.

One of the first attacks from my dad that I remember was when we’re left alone for some reason and as soon as we were, he immediately grabbed me and put me in his room. His whole demeanor changed but his eyes changed and that scared me the most. They looked completely different- they were dark and his pupils were huge. I was too young to understand what was happening, but I knew it was bad. My heart began to beat out of my chest, and just when the abuse began I felt an overwhelming wave of protection come over me. I didn’t feel a thing, and I was in complete peace. I was too young to know that was God, but as soon as I heard about Jesus, I knew with all my heart that was Him.

My next abuser was my high school boyfriend. I was 19 years old when he raped me. It was a one-time incident and I dated him another two years after this happened.

To this day almost no one knows this part of my story, but if I want my story to be helpful to other survivors and create awareness, I have to be completely honest.

I’m still working through why I’ve hidden this more than the abuse from my dad. I know one of the reasons was because I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was abused by her dad and also the girl who was raped. I didn’t want to deal with this happening to me again, so I buried it deep inside and tried my best to act like it never happened.

After the rape, I went into the darkest place I have ever been, and stayed in that place for years. Through those years God never left me and patiently guided me through my healing, anger, and doubts.

As I was writing this, God put this verse on my heart. Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I thank God for using some of my darkest and hardest times to help others who have been through the same.