Redemption. Thirteen Years.

Thirteen years ago, I was a terrified thirteen-year-old child. I believed it would be my last day on earth as I left the security of my middle school walls. Thirteen years later, I am walking into a computer lab to take the most important exam of my graduate school career. I am honored that God is providing me with an extraordinary glimpse at redemption. What are the chances that I would be taking the CPCE the year that the test date falls on this pivotal day in my life? It is a powerful remembrance and an ode to God’s healing in my life to look back on the frightened child I was to the person I am today- taking an exam that will provide me the opportunity to continue counseling hurting people. Only God could orchestrate this redemption of November 10.

On November 10, 2004 my family learned about the abuse I had experienced for the previous years. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was finally freed from the hands of my abuser; however, I had learned to live with the pain of the abuse. I had no clue what the pain of healing would entail. There were times I did not think I would make it another day. But each time I reached that point, God showed me how and why I could make it another day, and another day after that. As the years passed, November 10 became a little less painful and a little more joyful. I slowly began to see progress in my healing and I found that there IS life after sexual abuse.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate that I don’t have to live in fear of my abuser. I celebrate that I don’t have to go to sleep each night with a secret no child should ever have to keep. I celebrate not having to keep silent in shame of what my abuser did to me. I celebrate each day of the last thirteen years that have led me to where I am today.

I don’t know where you may be on your healing journey from sexual abuse, but please know that there is hope. The pain will eventually ease. Joy will be felt throughout your soul once again. Your days can be reclaimed. God is at work. Keep going. Don’t give up. Make it another day. You are not alone. 

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 3: When Whistles Indicate Worth

When I think about how sexual abuse effected my view of self, there is one incident that most accurately depicts my identity struggles. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you will likely recognize this story.

I was around the age of 9 or 10 when I was on a weekend trip at a hotel with an indoor pool in Raleigh, NC. An indoor pool meant hours of entertainment for my siblings and me. When we entered the pool area, my siblings and I were ecstatic because we had the entire pool area to ourselves. As we played in the shallow water, I noticed a man in the sauna adjacent to the pool area. When our eyes locked, he slowly loosened the towel from around his waist exposing his nudity. Immediately, I equated this man in the sauna with my abuser back home. He acted the same as my abuser and within seconds a war was raging in my mind. “Am I supposed to go in there?” “I can’t leave my sister and brother alone in the pool.” “What if they followed me in to the sauna?” “I know what he needs me to do.” Thankfully another family joined my siblings and I in the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left.

In my previous post, I talked about how after the abuse began I did not see myself as a child any longer. This incident with a stranger in a hotel sauna epitomizes the destruction of my identity resulting from the abuse. I was no longer a child. I was only worthy for sexually pleasing men. The view that my worth was found in men’s actions towards me lingered for years.  

 When I was a teenager I can remember being out at Myrtle Beach or even the Walmart the next town over. Nearly every time I was out, at least one person would holler some sort of catcall or whistle. It made me frustrated for a brief second to be yelled at like that; however, it rapidly triggered in my brain the neural pathway that screamed “yes, you are still worthy, you are still wanted, you are still needed, this is right!”  I would question what was wrong with me if I was out and did not have a catcall directed my way. This was my normal. The frequency of whistles and catcalls indicated how I viewed my worth.

I started writing this post last week before the #MeToo movement began. I find it so timely that it took off just as I was finding the words to speak. It has been overwhelming, but not shocking, to see friend after friend post #MeToo on social media. I know behind each of those statuses there are probably several others who can’t post yet because it is not safe or simply because they don’t want to- and that is ABSOLUTELY okay too- I believe you.

I hope we don’t get caught up in the hashtag. I hope that we keep this conversation going. I hope that we take action so the #MeToo will be in reference to something positive we can all experience.

The change that I desire to see is an end to the degrading catcalls and inappropriate language used to speak to and/or describe women. Every time I heard a catcall or whistle, the beliefs my abuser instilled in me were reinforced. Every whistle perpetuated the belief: “this is it. This is what you are here for. This is what you were made to do. Now, go meet his needs.”

So, before you whistle or catcall that person- consider asking her name and how her day is going.

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 2: Where is the Child?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  “How can I look younger? What if people think I’m the mom here? What if people think I’m the wife here? How can I make sure people know I’m the daughter? I’ll have to make sure they hear me say ‘dad.” These thoughts flooded my 10-year-old brain as I strolled down the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach with my dad and two younger siblings.

Initially, when I began this series I was going to address the effects of sexual abuse on my view of God, my view of others, and my view of self. However, I quickly realized the intricate connection between those three views. I have decided to approach this series more from a developmental perspective detailing how those views changed through the years.

At ten years old, I no longer viewed myself as a child. Soon after the abuse began, my imaginative play diminished. I completely lost my ability to connect with Barbie dolls or stuffed animals. I could still play sports and board games, but anything that required the use of my imagination failed to culminate.

When my abuser stole my innocence, he ended my childhood. The transition into adolescence is often tumultuous followed by the excitement of entering independence and the freedom of adulthood; however, the ongoing sexual abuse disrupted those transitions and thrusted me too soon into an adult world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my ten-year-old physique reflected; but on the inside, the child had disappeared.

When I think about those thoughts that raced through my mind as I walked down the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, I grieve for that little girl who feared people would think these two kids, seven and nine years old, were her children. I grieve for the little girl who believed it was normal for a child to be in a sexual relationship with a grown man. I grieve for the little girl who believed no one could rescue her from her abuser.

Today, I see how God is continuing to work in and through each detail of my life. I see how He uses each of my experiences to educate others. Adults, if you recognize that a child suddenly stops engaging in imaginative play, have a conversation about sexual abuse. Create the environment and dialogue where a child will experience the safety and security necessary to take the bold step of disclosure. It could certainly be normal childhood development where imaginative play is no longer “cool,” but is that a risk you are willing to take? There is no harm that can come from having an age appropriate discussion about body safety and sexual abuse. Take that step.

A few months ago, I took my first step in the realm of poetry and I think it is worth sharing here as it exposes what it is like when innocence is stolen.

 

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

 

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I love these siblings of mine, more than words can express.

 

Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 1: Is God a Good Father?

After a nearly 2 month unintentional hiatus from blogging, I am glad to be back with a renewed desire to keep speaking bravely. In this post, I am eager to share the role God has played in my healing journey. Over the next few weeks (or longer) I will be sharing with you how childhood sexual abuse may impact your relationship with and view of God, others, and self.

I can’t remember a time in my life where I questioned whether there was a God. I grew up hearing God identified as a comforter, a protector, a refuge, the creator and the ALMIGHTY FATHER.

I don’t think there are words to describe the sheer confusion I experienced when my earthly stepfather chose to steal my innocence and repeatedly abuse me. There is no way my view of FATHER would not be altered. The person I viewed, in the flesh, as father, marred my understanding of the Father. At this point, I was in elementary and middle school. Because of those experiences, I had absolutely no desire to turn towards God or to even pursue a relationship with Him. Why would I? I had been so hurt by the person who played a significant father role in my life that seeking a relationship with God sounded like the most dangerous option out there.

Towards the end of middle school and in high school, I found a place of belonging in my youth group at church. The word I most commonly associate with my years in youth group is “home.” As my involvement in church increased, my knowledge of God deepened. However, I still wrestled with so many questions. I did not trust God with my life. I identified God as a comforter, protector, and refuge for others- but I did not believe He was those things for me. I would often have thoughts like, “somewhere along the way He must have lost track of me and He allowed me to fall into the grasp of a sexual predator,” or “He couldn’t possibly care for and love me like ya’ll say He does because He didn’t protect me from my abuser.” I also questioned how He could view me as His precious daughter when I felt completely “ruined.” Satan knew all the tricks to attack my self-worth and I suffered from those blows for years.

I am incredibly thankful for the adults who played a significant role in my life by speaking truth to me for years and for never giving up on me. I can remember so many times when my youth pastor, in a variety of forms, would tell me “Kendall, if you will let Him, God can take those horrible experiences of abuse to reach others in a way that He has equipped you to further the Kingdom and to help others.” But, I was not ready to LET God have that part of my life back. He did not help me when it was happening; therefore, I was going to figure out the whole “healing” thing on my own without Him.

By the time I reached my senior year of high school, I realized that I was simply spinning tires in the mud. Even though I had made substantial progress in counseling and my PTSD symptoms had nearly subsided, there was a piece of me that still felt empty. No matter how I attempted to fill it, it simply would not go away. Even though I was active in church and participated in every youth event possible, I did not have peace in my heart.

Along my healing journey, I learned about the role forgiveness can/does play in abuse recovery. After multiple attempts of trying to forgive my abuser on my own, I realized that was not working like I had hoped either. In a moment of despair I can vividly recall making a “pact” with God. “Lord, I know I have not given my life to you yet. I acknowledge that you are God’s son and that you died for me and my sins, but it is absolutely terrifying to think about letting you be my Father. Help me truly forgive my stepfather and break the chains that still exist and I will give my life back to you.” Moments later, I stood up with the congregation at my home church as the choir sang a song of worship and I whispered “I forgive you.” For the first time it felt authentic. In one journal entry, I described that moment as fireworks going off signifying freedom. It was a feeling that could only be generated by God working in my life. A few days later, I made a public profession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and God as my FATHER.

Now I would absolutely love to say that my relationship with God has been smiles, closeness, complete trust and devotion; but, that hasn’t been my story either. There have been and I am sure will continue to be highs and lows. There are still times when I catch myself questioning why certain things happened and I have to remind myself that even in those moments God is still good and He is always who He says He is. Even when I desire to run back to the old paths that abuse carved out for me, God is there in Spirit and through others to speak truth and help guide me back to where He has called and equipped me to be. I believe it is an absolute privilege and honor that He has allowed me to see the good that can come out of the bad as my youth pastor told me so many times. He has allowed me the opportunity to walk alongside others as they discovered their brave voices. He has provided me with the ability to live in freedom and hope after abuse. At the end of the day (and throughout the day), I know that I can run to my Father’s arms and they will be outstretched waiting for me. There won’t be a sexual favor expected in return. His arms will protect me, guide me, and comfort me.

As I have typed this post, I have prayed that you will be reminded of God’s goodness. If you have struggled with seeing and knowing God as a good, loving, trustworthy, sustaining, protecting, comforting, and Almighty Father, I get it. I know the road is not easy. I know that it is scary. I know that it is lonely. I pray this post will speak truth to you like my youth pastor spoke to me. I pray for the day that you will find yourself relishing in God’s fatherly love that can only be found in Him. He truly is a good, good Father.

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Stay tuned for part 2 by clicking the “follow” link.

 

3 Pivotal Words. Could You Say Them?

We can all say three words, right? Seems pretty simple. What if I tell you these three words could be the most arduous words you may need to say? What if I say these three words could mean the difference between hope and despair, security and endangerment, and possibly even life and death? Could you still say them even if they may wreak havoc on life as you know it?

When the pain and distress of facing my abuser each day at home outweighed my fear of his threats, I made my first disclosure of the abuse. I wonder how often this is true. When the pain is so great and the threats no longer seem to be the worst thing that can happen, how often is that the point that disclosures occur? It makes sense. I can remember thinking that if my abuser killed me (as his threat implied) at least I would be free. It felt like I had absolutely nothing to lose when I wrote that letter in the fifth grade.

I remember that day (although I don’t know the date) as clear as yesterday. My abuser and I had been in an argument over something likely trivial, but it was the breaking point. It just could not get any worse in my child mind. I went to my room and scribbled a letter that began with an apology before detailing incidents of abuse.  I delivered the letter to an adult in my life. In that moment, it felt like I was putting my life in someone else’s hands.

Unfortunately, for the person who received the letter, it was just too hard to believe that someone like my abuser could actually be an abuser and the things I wrote simply could not be true. Therefore, no action was taken to end the abuse. My abuser later learned of my disclosure. Instead of hurting or killing me or my loved ones, my abuser learned that he had total control of me. Because now, I had said something but no one believed me which abusers often warn will happen.

In that moment following my disclosure, the only three words I needed to hear were “I believe you.”

So, here’s what happens when the words “I believe you” do not follow a disclosure. I learned my abuser was right… in so many ways. I learned the abusive acts were not bad or wrong, they must be normal because no one said otherwise. I learned my abuser was right, no one would believe me. I learned my abuser was right, this is what I was made for and what I was supposed to do.

I don’t write this post to blame or bash people who don’t or haven’t immediately acted on an abuse disclosure. I have forgiven the person who received my first letter and have a relationship with that person to this day.

I write this post to challenge you to commit to the response a child needs even when those three words take every ounce of strength in you to voice.

Take this journey with me. It is not going to be easy. It will be uncomfortable. It may be the most difficult thing you do today.

Imagine receiving a letter from a child that your best friend or your sibling or husband or child’s coach or pastor has been abusing said child. Take a moment and imagine that that.

I know it’s incredibly hard. It is not something anyone wants to imagine. It is something we usually believe will never happen or could not happen.

Then decide, in that moment, what words, if any, are going to flow from your mouth.

Will you question the child’s truthfulness? Will you say, “no way, he/she could never do such as thing.” Will you push the letter away and say tell someone else? Will you say, “if this is true, then…” Will you begin digging into the who, what, when, where, how, and why?

I have made a commitment to myself (and I hope you will too), that if I ever encounter such a situation, the three words from my mouth will be “I believe you.”

It is my belief that if a child has trusted me enough and/or has reached a place of seeing no other way out it is my responsibility to believe them in that moment. I know a lot can happen in the days, weeks, months, and years after disclosure, but in that moment, I am going to fight for that child with every ounce of my being.

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I’m very interested in hearing other perspectives and thoughts on disclosure and responses, so please share them. Leave a comment or drop me an email under the contact me tab.

 

Independence Day. Milestones. And a Hope for Change

On July 4, another milestone was reached on this blogging journey- 5,000+ views… Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the words I’ve been able to write and share, through the grace of God, would have had this reach. To kick off the next 5,000 views, I want to share about a news article I read recently that has reignited my desire to fight for stricter laws pertaining to the sex offender registry.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my post about a brave young woman fighting against her abuser once again. Upon his release from prison, her abuser (now a registered sex offender) was permitted to move into his mother’s home next door to her family home. There are absolutely no current statutes that prevent this from happening in her state.

Can you imagine- as a child being abused by a relative, courageously disclosing the abuse knowing the threats your abuser made, fighting through a court case, and then coming home one day and seeing your abuser sitting on his new front porch right across the street?

I can only imagine the fear, anxiety, disappointment, disgust, and absolute agony one must feel amongst a myriad of other emotions in this situation. We must do better. Our legislation, across the United States, has come such a long way in the fight for the rights and security of people impacted by sexual abuse, but there are still significant changes that need to occur.

From what I have read in various articles so far, only 5 states have laws preventing this from happening. My hope and prayer is that all states will laws preventing sex offenders from ever being able to move in close proximity to their victims. So, if you are reading this and have involvement with legislators in your state- please consider taking this issue to the podium and let’s make this change happen.

For more information on Danielle’s story, please follow the links below:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/22/us/sex-offender-moves-in-next-door-to-victim-trnd/index.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/oklahoma-law-allowed-girls-molester-to-move-in-next-door/

 Thank you for reading, praying, encouraging, sharing, and joining with me on this blogging journey ❤

 

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One of my favorite pictures from Independence Day.

 

 

 

Protect Your Child This Summer

This is an edit of a previous post, “Sexual Abuse in the Presence of Others,” because as summer begins it is important to pay close attention to who has access to children. Many children will venture off to various camps, spend time with extended family members, and travel on vacation with their family. Unfortunately, these are all places that sexual abuse occurs. They are places that we often don’t think about sexual abuse occurring because typically there are a). many people around, b). people we trust, and c). it’s all about the fun. Sexual abuse does not always happen “in the dark” or in isolated locations. It can happen in the midst of others.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that “approximately three quarters of reported cases of child sexual abuse are committed by family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s ‘circle of trust.” I know it is hard to imagine anyone in your family or extended circle of trust harming your child, but it has happened too many times to too many people and we can’t ignore this any longer.

I believe many people have the misconception that sexual abuse can only occur behind closed doors or when the abuser is alone with their victim. It’s interesting that I started this post the other night and today while scrolling through twitter, I saw a very similar post. We sometimes have the thought “well no one will try to do anything with so many people around watching.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. Abuse can happen in your presence and abusers are so powerful in their manipulation skills that no one will be wiser.

There were many times my abuser was brazen enough to abuse me in the presence of others. Some evenings when I was a child, we would sit around and watch television together in the living room. It became expected of me to grab a quilt and sit in my abuser’s lap during what should have been a safe and innocent bonding time. He was bold enough to do this because he knew how much he had manipulated me. I was so fearful in those moments that I would sit and act as normal as possible while he abused me rather than pushing the quilt away and screaming. Sexual abuse occurred in the presence of others.

In a previous post, “The Power in Truth,” I detailed an encounter I had with an older man in the pool area of a hotel. While it was only that man in the sauna and my siblings and I swimming in the pool, this was a very public location that a predator preyed.

If you have children, I hope you will take the time to talk about body rights and healthy touch. Empower them. Give them the choice of whether or not to hug a family member. Maybe a handshake or high five is more comfortable for your child. If your child appears fearful or nervous around certain people, do not brush it off as shyness- ask questions. Fight through the discomfort this type of conversation may bring and have these necessary conversations now.

My intention is not to make you paranoid about every person your child comes into contact with, but to make you aware that abuse does happen in the presence of other people. It is not always isolated incidents.  And just because it is a holiday or summer vacation does not mean an abuser will take a day off and abstain from abusing.

 

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Children deserve to know their body rights at any age. There are age appropriate ways to have these conversations. It is never too early to empower children.

 

 

 

Innocence Stolen.

This is my first attempt at poetry. I am amazed at how different it feels to write poetry than basic blog posts. There is so much emotion attached when writing in this style. So, here’s to a new adventure, we will see where it goes. The title of this first piece is “Innocence Stolen.”

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

 

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

 

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

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Let’s Talk About It

No means no.

Stop means stop.

A lack of yes or no, means no.

Yes means yes, until a person says no.

I don’t know, likely means no.

No does not mean try to convince me.

The lines have become so blurred in regards to what constitutes consent to having sex and what does not. It really is a simple concept. But our society is struggling with consent and rape. Not just the people in society, but the laws that govern our society as well.

I recently watched the documentary Audrie and Daisy. If you haven’t watched it, you need to. It’s available on Netflix. I’m not going to review the documentary, but I do want to share my thoughts on one interview that bothered me more than the others. An interview with the sheriff in the town of Marysville depicted the all too common view that rape is not always rape.

Here is one statement the sheriff made:

“One of the parts that people have really blown out of proportion in this entire case is that everybody wants to throw the word ‘rape’ out there. It’s very popular, ‘the rape,’ ‘the Maryville rape,’ ‘the Coleman rape.’ Nothing that occurred that night ever rose to the level of the elements of the crime of rape.”

And this, is one of his final statements:

“As far as I can tell, the boys are the only ones who want to put this behind them and try to move on with their lives and try to make things of themselves.”

I will let you watch the documentary to determine what you think about the statements. But when the sheriff of the town does not believe that being sexually assaulted while unconscious constitutes rape, then how can we keep moving forward in society where rape culture doesn’t exist.

Just imagine saying no or remaining silent and dissociating, or pleading to be left alone, or begging a person to stop, or waking up after being unconscious to that feeling only those who have experienced it know, or being shown a video the next day or week of the sexual crimes committed against you while unconscious.

That is rape. Let’s talk about it. Let’s call it what it is. Let’s hold rapists accountable for their actions. Let’s hear and believe the ones who come forward and report crimes. Let’s pray for and encourage those who haven’t spoke up yet. Let’s end rape jokes. Let’s make a difference.

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Photo obtained from: https://sarphe.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/more-than-no-means-no-moving-toward-a-culture-of-consent/

 

 

 

Trust Your Gut

I’ve always heard the phrase “trust your gut” but it was not until I was an adult that I realized the magnitude of this statement and the immense truth it holds. Over the last several weeks, I have had very similar conversations with multiple people about the importance of listening to our instincts, or commonly referred to as our gut. In many cases, this gut feeling manifests and there is no explanation for having the uneasiness accompanied by internal alarm bells.

My thoughts in this blog are primarily spurred by a specific incident that occurred some time ago. I was in the presence of an acquaintance. In previous encounters with this person, I recall feeling some uneasiness- it is that feeling that you can’t exactly put into words, but you know something just isn’t quite right. It’s that gut instinct. But, because I could not identify a precise or logical reason for my feelings, I pushed them down and ignored what my body was trying to tell me.

With each encounter with this person, I pushed those feelings down even further because I could not find any reason to think this person was unsafe. In my mind, I questioned whether I was just overreacting because of the trauma I experienced as a child. There was nothing noticeable about this person that I believed should signal these alarm bells. This person did not act in any way that scared me or made me nervous. I never saw this person interact with others in a way that concerned me. There was nothing outwardly happening to cause this gut feeling, something just did not feel right.

Eventually, I learned that gut feeling was there for a reason. Those alarm bells were going off to protect me. Eventually, this person crossed the line and made me regret not listening to that gut feeling. From that moment on, I made the decision to listen to that gut feeling and not question it. I will thank my body for protecting me, rather than assuming it’s just some crazy overreaction.

Now, I need to clarify that I do not get this feeling often. Of all the people I encounter in a year, only a few interactions have ignited this gut feeling and internal alarm bells. This is why I have promised myself that I will never get mad because I have a gut feeling I can’t understand and I’m not going to push that feeling down out of fear that it may be wrong. Acknowledge the feeling, trust it, and do what you have to do to stay safe. butterfly