Until the age of almost four, I thought I lived in such a safe place. My little world was happy and carefree…until the day it was shattered, the day I was sexually abused. And the crime was committed by the man I had looked up to, loved and trusted—my own father. Being so young, I didn’t know what was happening. I just knew it felt “icky” and “dirty.” Even though I didn’t know the word “betrayed” at the time, I felt betrayed! My world was utterly shaken!
What could I do? I didn’t know why, but I somehow felt that I had done something wrong. I was too ashamed, even at that age, to tell anyone. However, a few months later I got the courage to tell my mom. She was devastated, but she felt helpless because she was afraid of Dad’s temper. Also, Mom, having been born in the 1890s, had a Victorian hush-hush mindset. She basically went into denial, and at that time there were no crisis lines or organizations that one could go to for help. So my mother didn’t know of anyone to turn to. Being a kind and gentle religious woman, Mom only knew to pray for me.
This sickening incident occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s. I later learned that Dad had been emotionally depressed, due to circumstances of that challenging time, and he became an alcoholic. I’m sure that had an influence on his inexcusable actions.
Having two older sisters, who got the brunt of Dad’s sexual abuse, I was spared any further abuse until I was age 11, when I endured several ongoing incidents of his sexual abuse. Dad threatened my sisters and me with bodily harm if we told anyone. Again, we didn’t know whom to turn to.
How did I escape my dad? When I was almost 12, Mom was sick and knew she was dying, so she arranged for me to go live with a close relative and his wife. I never saw Mom again, as she died shortly thereafter. I briefly saw my dad only once, a few months later, then never again. I heard that he died about six years after our brief encounter. I had nightmares during those six years until I was 18 years old.
Lonely, but aware I wasn’t totally alone
For most of my high school years, I was a latchkey kid because the relatives I lived with worked. I would come home to an empty house each day and had to fight off feelings of abandonment. I used to sometimes visit a neighbor woman and her children after school to keep from feeling so lonely. Her husband was occasionally there. He seemed nice enough, but one afternoon, when I was home alone, he came to the back door to borrow some tools, which I had been told he was allowed to do. When I opened the door, he grabbed me and tried to kiss me. I smelled alcohol on his breath, and it was “Dad” all over again. I struggled and managed to push him away and talked him into going home. He later apologized to me when I was a safe distance from him. I lost all trust of older men and never again visited that neighbor’s home. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone, even though I had done nothing to encourage the abuse.
However, in spite of my miserable trials, I never felt totally alone because I knew there was God—and not only because of my mom’s influence. I had several bad falls as a kid, and, each time, it was amazing that I didn’t suffer worse injuries. It seemed more and more evident that God had miraculously protected me. Looking back, I believe God was working with me, even in my preteen and teen years, to prepare me for His calling me to follow Him.
During those lonely, challenging years, God helped me to focus on the good times in my life (there were some good times in between the bad!) to keep me going. And I believe He gave me and helped me to use the creative gifts of music and writing, which later developed into writing poetry, to give my life meaning and keep me hopeful. Those gifts helped me to know who I am—a child of God—regardless of the bad things that had happened to me.
Most importantly, God guided me to the Bible. As a teen, I began to seriously wonder about things I had read in the Bible. Those thoughts were seeds that years later sprouted into a serious desire to live by God’s Word.
Why did I marry an abusive man?
I’ve often heard that a child of an abusive parent tends to gravitate to and marry an abusive person. That’s what happened with me when I married at age 19. I felt like there was a sign on my back—“used goods.” I was naïve and lacking confidence. I was attracted to this man partly because of this and his family’s interest in music. I had a longing to belong somewhere—to have a real family again.
My husband turned out to be verbally, emotionally and physically abusive to me. (Not surprisingly, I found out later that his father had had a bad temper and had emotionally abused his son.) However, we stayed together for over 14 years and had three wonderful children. My greatest sadness during that time was how my husband also abused his children. I tried to leave him on two different occasions, but it was very difficult with three little children and no family to go to. There were no safe houses for abused women at that time.
While writing this article, I’ve come to better understand why many victims of sexual, emotional and/or physical abuse are attracted to abusers or potential abusers. However, I can only speak for myself. I believe I was subconsciously drawn to the familiar (someone who reminded me of home)—a sick kind of comfort zone—like a bad habit. It is scary to break away from familiar patterns and step into the unknown—into uncharted waters—especially if one’s self esteem has been greatly damaged. I didn’t feel I was good enough to set my standards high. There were red flags of warning before I married, but I was so needy for love, understanding and a real family that I didn’t heed them.
A happy life dawned when I began to understand the Bible!
One of my husband’s relatives introduced me to a magazine that taught biblical understanding. That got me started in a serious study of the Bible, which angered my husband and triggered even more abuse. I began attending worship services on the Sabbath in 1965. My husband deserted me and our children shortly thereafter.
Several years after that I married a wonderful man. We had to cope with our initial emotional baggage, which we each brought to the marriage, but with God’s help, we’ve been working through our problems and daily growing towards a happier marriage. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to overcome the scars of sexual or any other type of childhood abuse. But God is gracious and will bring us through the pain and give us healing if we trust Him and don’t give up!
I’ve had many trials and emotional battles in life, both before God's calling and after. Often I didn’t have any support group, but a group of women who became my friends gave me strong support during my first years as part of the Church—support and encouragement that helped me a lot! Some of the ministers were also a big help to me. Most importantly, I learned to rely on God, and He always pulled me through.
Forgiveness and God’s healing
It has been very therapeutic and healing for me to be able to forgive my abusers, both my father and my first husband. Also my neighbor. Even though they are not alive to receive that forgiveness, I have found it to be important for my own mental and emotional health to forgive. After Dad died, I prayed that God would help me to forgive him. Then I wrote Dad a heartfelt letter expressing the betrayal and pain I endured because of his actions. I found it to be therapeutic in the healing process.
After beseeching God again to help me to forgive my dad, I reread (several times) the letter I had written him—and then tore it up! But before I tore it up, I was finally able to say out loud, “I forgive you, Dad.” Tearing the letter up—and throwing it in the trash can—helped me to put much of my pain behind me. It gave me a finality of letting go of the past. Certain situations still trigger bad memories from time to time, but the letter process helped a great deal in working through the pain. I believe God did the real healing!
Some scriptures I especially love
Following are some of the key scriptures that have been especially encouraging to me through the years:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
Also many of the Psalms and Proverbs have been very helpful to me.
In time, I came to realize that what has happened to me, although it had a bearing on my life, does not define who I am. One doesn’t ever in this lifetime get totally over these bad experiences, but one does, with God’s help, get past them. They certainly don’t hinder my potential to be in God’s Kingdom after Christ returns!
Many of life’s negative experiences tend to make us feel inferior. But remember what the Bible reveals. God loves us! He created us in His image! For a very great destiny! He greatly values who we are now and especially who we will be in the future!
I can see how my trials have “worked together for good.” They’ve enabled me to know how to encourage others who have gone through similar experiences. And according to my understanding of the Bible, I’ll have the opportunity to help many others after Christ returns to earth and I’m in God’s Kingdom, and I’ll do it more effectively!
In the meantime, I hope and pray my story has encouraged you.