Today marks 31 years since my life was changed. The day was remarkably similar to today...beautiful spring day, a little chill in the air. That's about where the similarities end.
I am not the same.
31 years ago, I walked out of my high school to find a lifelong friend in the parking lot. I left that parking lot a victim of rape, full of shame and hurt, the tendrils of bitterness already rooted in my heart. I entered that parking lot full of confidence, ready to face the world ahead of me and sure of what my future held. I left that parking lot full of fear, hatred, regret and sadness. Those things I carried for a long time. They're all natural results of the trauma of sexual assault. The problem wasn't my initial reaction to being hurt; the problem was that I tried to carry them on my own for way too long.
If you know me, you likely know my story. I bought into the shame of rape hook, line and sinker. I wore it like a cloak that would protect me. I hid behind it, believing the lies I'd been told during 20 minutes of horror more than the truth I'd been told the entire rest of my life. So many people have asked me over the years, "what was it that finally brought you back, that made you realize what you were believing was not true? How did you come back from the shame? How did you heal?"
Psalm 40 tells it so well. "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him". (Psalm 40:1-3)
It may seem strange to you to hear that Jesus healed me, but I assure you he did. His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins has allowed me to be free, not only from sin but from fear, shame, resentment, bitterness, depression... all of it. Because He forgave me, I have been able to forgive the one who hurt me so much.
I know that a wall just went up for some of you because I said the word "Forgive". I know because I've been there too. When I was new in the journey of healing from sexual assault, I thought forgiveness was ridiculous. How could I ever forgive this guy? He didn't deserve it! But then I realized that I didn't deserve the forgiveness I'd been given either, and I saw that to be like Jesus, I needed to learn to act like Jesus. It wasn't a quick thing; not even close. It was a daily decision to choose forgiveness verbally until my heart began to feel it and embrace it.
And you know what? Embrace it, I have! I write these words to you with a heart that holds zero anger, zero resentment, zero regret, zero shame. I write these words with a heart that feels compassion toward the one who hurt me more than I ever dreamed possible. I write this from a life that longs to show others the beauty of living a life of forgiveness because it brings us closer to the Lord. Forgiveness isn't even between me and the one who hurt me; it's between me and Jesus. The one who forgave me commands that I do the same. And I promise you that He never asks me to forgive more than I've been forgiven. He won't for you either.
Today I am free. I'm free of shame. I'm free of rage. I'm free of depression. I'm free of the chains that held me in bondage. I'm free of hurt. I am free to love, and love I do! I am free to live without fear. I am free to walk with my head held high, unashamed of who I am. I am free to believe the Truth of who Christ says I am- chosen, loved, adopted into his family, sealed with his grace, purposed by him, and so much more. I am free to trust others and myself. I am free to use my gifts for good in this world. I am free to try new things. I am free to fail and try again. I am free to love like Jesus in this world.
I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that day anymore (thank you Lord!). But on days like today, I choose to remember. Remembering doesn't make me a victim again; it simply reminds me of how far the Lord has brought me. I remember so I can acknowledge how great God's healing has been on my life. I remember so I can be reminded of the chains I once wore that are now broken.
And then I move on. Remembering is just memories. And memories can't hurt me; they're just memories. In remembering I acknowledge the scars I carry internally and the healing those scars prove. I love those scars. They represent so much grace and mercy and healing. They represent freedom to me.
My guess is that you have some scars too. Probably you have some like me, inflicted my others. Perhaps you have some self-inflicted scars. Let me remind you that scars are a sign of healing. And forgiveness is how I learned to realize that truth. Maybe, just maybe, the same is for you.
Maybe the world needs to see your scars. I am so very grateful that showing my scars have allowed me the honor of walking through the journey to healing with so many others who've endured sexual assault. Maybe someone needs to see the scars you carry to know they aren't alone either. Maybe someone needs to see healing is possible, and your story is the one to tell them that truth.
If you are reading this as a fellow survivor of sexual assault and feel like you're alone in this world, let me assure you that you do not have to walk alone. I'd be most honored to walk with you to healing. If you don't believe that healing is possible, I'll believe it for the both of us until you're ready. If you need help connecting to a counselor, I'd be happy to help you find one. But whatever you do, don't stay silent. Silence is the enemy of healing. And you're worth so much more.
Today, I celebrate Freedom. All praise be to God!