Friday, March 5, 2010

God Always Gets His Way

Yesterday I did something that I never thought I would do. I sat down with the pastor of my church and spoke with him about the sexual abuse in my childhood. I felt badly for the guy. I hit him with a fairly heavy topic out of left field, but as he told me, when people ask to speak with him privately they are rarely seeking gardening advice. That was an interesting metaphor, as part of the reason for my speaking with him was to plant a seed. I just didn’t know that until I was finished.

When I wrote of my childhood last October (herehere, and here) the response I received was quite unexpected. There were many people who contacted me privately and said, “Me, too.” Some of them were virtual friends and some of them were virtual strangers while others were people in my community and still others were members of my church. “Me, too.” Those were powerful words. After I wrote and posted those entries the big question that I asked myself was, “Where do I go from here?” I had to wait awhile before I received that answer.

Some time last year my friend Jim, the recovery minister in California, asked me when I was going to sit down with my pastor and tell my story. My reaction to that suggestion was somewhere along the lines of…

“What?! Are you freaking high? What are you smoking in that church of yours? I’m supposed to waltz into my pastor’s office out of the blue and drop this bomb shell?”

Well, that’s pretty much what I did.

Why?

If I learned anything from telling my story and reading the stories of other abuse survivors on an excellent website called Violence Unsilenced it is that there are more people like me than I ever would have expected. We all share a common need. We need to regain our voices. Regaining their voice is a critical step in recovery for the abuse victim because silence becomes an ingrained pattern of behavior for the abuse victim. Silence is an excellent tool used by abusers to control the abused. You may not appreciate the skill that an accomplished pedophile uses to explain to his young victims that everything they are doing is perfectly natural but we have to keep it a secret (because other people just don’t understand), unless you’ve heard the presentation. Most people cannot fathom the fear of harm imprinted in the mind of an abused woman when her husband or boyfriend tells her that he will kill her, and sometimes their children, if she utters a word. It’s very easy to say, “I would never let that happen to me.” Many of the women telling their stories at Violence Unsilenced said the same thing.

Silence is the easiest response when victims speak out and are met with disbelief by family members and condemnation from people intent on protecting the abuser. It happens far more often than you would imagine. All too often the victim is blamed for causing problems with a fictions story of abuse, so they learn to keep quiet. Silence is needed when surrounded by people who subscribe to the myth that abuse victims grow up to be abusers, so if we can identify the victim we should prevent them from interacting with our children. Better be safe than sorry, you know. And the victim becomes victimized again, this time by a well intentioned but clueless society. I’ve lived that last scenario while sitting in the middle of a Virtus training session, the program started by the Catholic Church to train people on how to spot abusers. The trainers weren’t spouting that rubbish, but many of my fellow attendees were. I wondered what their reaction would have been if I stood up, grabbed the microphone, and told my story, but I sat silently for fear of what would happen to my children in our community after word got out.

I regained my voice after two things happened. The first is that I learned to trust God. I learned that He would protect me if I spoke out. I did speak out when I shared my story on this blog. The second is that I confronted my mother after 30 years and asked her how she could have failed so completely to protect me from my pedophile when she suspected what he was before I ever went to his house and never took the proper steps to prevent it from happening. I knew the answer to that question before I asked it, but the question absolutely had to be asked. It needed to be asked for 30 years. My mother, a woman of amazing strength and courage, handled the question with equally amazing Grace.

One thing that I have learned about Christians and recovery is that there are many congregations and many pastors who meet abused people with judgment and condemnation rather than with love. I’ve heard too many tales of Sunday school teachers removed from their position after they approached their pastors in need of counseling and told their story of abuse or of a troubled marriage. There is no room for human frailty and suffering in some communities of fallen people depending entirely upon Christ’s sacrifice for their salvation. These are churches that do not understand Grace, something that I have known for awhile and a fact that my pastor spoke of in our talk yesterday. I was pleased to hear him say that. If he hadn’t I would have been concerned. Abuse victims need a safe, Christ-centered, Grace filled place to share, learn, grow, and heal. I discovered that my church is that safe haven. At least it is inside my pastor’s office. I suspect that it is in the majority of the congregation, too.

So, I told my story without a an agenda. I wasn’t trying to accomplish any particular goal except to tell him what happened and offer up myself as a resource to him or other victims should the need arise. I planted a seed. I was called to do it. And like Jonah when he ran from God and suffered the consequences of his fear and disobedience until he answered the call, I ran from that call for awhile until God caught my attention. I couldn’t string together two complete sentences for a week until I took care of that task. God always gets His way.

11 comments:

Teacher Mommy said...

You know that your willingness to speak out has already affected me, for the good. So thank you for that. It is astonishing (in a horrific sort of way, really) how often I've heard that "Me too!" since October. As you said, pain calls to pain.

Thank you for your courage.

Oklahoma Granny said...

I really have no words other than God bless you for having the courage to plant that seed. I'm sure many people will be helped because of it.

The_Kid said...

What needs to happen will happen eh?

I've heard and believe most pedophiles have over 450 victims before they are caught the first time.

Mrs. A said...

Good for you, Arby. A very important seed you've planted.

TobyBo said...

I am so glad you are heeding God's call. I often think how much better it is to do that in the first place than to end up covered with whale puke, like Jonah. But far too often I go to Tarshish instead of Nineveh...

tsinclair said...

Trusting God is not always easy, but it can be very rewarding. I am happy that you found the strength to do this. I cannot say I know, but I imagine these are all steps of healing - a healing that might continue the rest of your life.

Nikowa Lee said...

Fear is SO powerful. It's the #1 tool of abusers.

I must admit, I was in an abusive marriage & I still fear that man!

Junosmom said...

Arby, I read this and the related blogs. I'm sorry for the pain you felt and continue to feel, but I am admiring of your strength, of you trust in God, Of your ability to tell your story that may help others. Thank you for sharing.

Arby said...

Hey, Junosmom! There is considerable pain in the very first post in this series. It becomes progressively less as I write more. I can honestly say that this subject does not bring with it nearly as much pain as it does pleasure at the opportunity of helping others.

GingerB said...

Dear Arby, I hope you get the healing that you so rightly deserve. I'm glad you are finding what helps you deal with the horrors inflicted upon you, and I am glad your church is helpful. As a prosecutor, I heard all too many times of churches who offered very little to abuse victims and I am delighted your experience is different.

Linda said...

Thanks you. This puts things in perspective, does it not?