As a child, I loved going to Karen’s house and playing with her daughter Susie. Karen had a quick laugh; provided fun, kid-approved snacks; and allowed us to play outside with Susie until the street lights came on. I loved going to grandma’s house because I knew I could play with Susie .
Three decades later, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Karen and Susie at a local craft show. The place was noisy and crowded and full of unnecessary stuff, but there she was! Before I thought, I reached out, took her arm, looked her square in the face, and squealed, “Karen! It’s me!”
Rewind the clock ten years, and I would have broken into a sweat, started seeing tunnel-vision, and gasped for air if I had even thought she saw me, let alone if she she had spoken to me. I’m talking a full-on anxiety attack, post-traumatic-stress style.
Ten years ago my father was incarcerated for two felony charges of sexual violence against a minor. Due to the timing of the offense and the law changes, he was issued a range of two consecutive sentences, totaling 15 to 50 years. My father was sentenced on his father’s birthday, which was five days into my honeymoon.
Talk about timing! But I digress, that’s another blog post.
You see, ten years ago, I was a newlywed who was finishing her second year in a new career as a teacher. I had stress coming from every direction. A simple run to the local Kroger was a trigger for a panic attack. I was terrified to meet anyone who knew my father, who knew my family, or who was my family.
Even though my father had penned a rather detailed and disturbing confession letter, he still continues to argue he was coerced into writing those haunting words.
Many in my town, in my family, believe his innocence.
So bumping into Karen and initiating conversation with her reflects a significant growth point in me. I didn’t break into a sweat, my heart rate didn’t spike, and–for the first time ever–I had forgotten about the fear of my dad being brought up in conversation.
And then she said it.
“So how’s your dad?”
Didn’t see that one coming. Fear was no where to be found, just surprise.
“Well, you do know that he’s in prison, right?”
“Oh, well, I would have thought he was out by now.”
“Oh, no. He doesn’t go up for parole until the end of 2014.”
“Well, then, tell him I said ‘hi,'” Karen beamed, leaning forward to seal with a cheeky smile.
“I’m not really in touch with him,” I said, exhaling slowly, deliberately…awaiting her reply.
Pulling back, almost as if I wasn’t really the person she thought I was, but rather a stranger, Karen closed the conversation with, “What a weird world we live in.”
To be honest, I didn’t give much heed to her words at the time because I was so thrilled that my body didn’t nearly stroke out from my blood pressure surging out of control.
Karen’s words felt accusatory once I reflected upon them, and they stirred up that belly-fire in me that makes me want to shout, to be heard: “Stop the madness!”
A weird world it is in which we live when the abused is shunned, isolated, cut off, discounted, marginalized, discarded, and viewed as worthless.
As refined and affluent Americans, it makes us squirm to talk about incest, rape, molestation, and any other form of sexual violence. These topics are instant conversation stoppers.
Ironically, the Bible is stocked with passages that address sexual violence, condemn its practice, and details God’s heart on the matter.
Jesus loved the children who ran to him and sat upon his knee. He spoke protective words over them, about them, to us that included a harsh judgment for maltreatment of a little one (Matt. 18.5-6).
“Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, oh hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul?” (Prov. 24.11-2).
In all fairness to Karen, we were never intimate in our relationship. I enjoyed her hospitality and her snacks and the quiet home she allowed us to play in with her daughter Susie, but she never knew me. In fact, I never knew her.
I think it’s safe to say she heard my dad’s story second-hand, assumed I supported his claim of innocence, and was just attempting polite conversation.
But tonight, as I struggle to put words with thought, I rejoice. What once had caused debilitating fear and anxiety and dread, no longer causes great angst. Healing remains necessary in some parts of my heart, as evidenced by the anger that boiled up while thinking on Karen’s words, but God is causing healing and growth in my heart. Fear no longer dominates my every waking thought when I go out in public.
For that, I am thankful.
Today, I’m accepting the dare to give thanks and to rejoice in the healing that God has done in my heart.
What’s your next step?
In what ways can you give thanks to the Lord for healing and growth, as evidenced in your every day? What triggers do you have that still cause fear, shame, or powerlessness? Consider sharing your victories with a like-minded friend who could celebrate with you.