A friend recently posed this question to me: “If you could go back to when you were sixteen years old and give yourself a word of advice, what would that be?”
Instead of blurting out what I knew was in my heart—fearful of causing an unwanted shock factor—I rambled on, explaining how rebellious and stubborn I had been at sixteen and how I should have listened to advice from my parents and those older than myself.
I pondered my friend’s question over the next several days and concluded that there was a compelling reason why I was so rebellious and stubborn. At the tender, yet naïve, age of sixteen, I had already endured four years of sexual abuse by a close family member, on an almost weekly basis. I was innocent, young, confused, afraid, and not sure where I could turn for help. Who would believe me? How would my family be affected if I revealed the secret? I felt guilty, dirty, and unloved.
If I were able to go back to sixteen, I now know I would fall on my knees, challenging myself to find another adult, somebody I could trust with the horrible secret hidden so deep within my being. If I could have found someone, anyone, to confide in, it may have saved me from another four years of tormented abuse.
Has someone ever deeply hurt you? Maybe you’ve also been abused physically, mentally, or sexually many years ago, or maybe recently? Perhaps a family member has mistreated you, or somebody you work with, and you can’t find within yourself the ability to forgive the person who was responsible for the mistreatment. You are positive that, regardless of the regret your abuser may or may not feel, and despite sincerest apologies and pleas for forgiveness, in your own strength you know it would be impossible to forgive them. I know what you’re feeling. I’ve been there and know firsthand that it’s not easy to forgive that type of abuse in your own strength.
Obviously, we live in a broken world where injustice is rampant in our society. But, despite this fact, where can we turn and in whom can we trust?
Being sexually abused by someone I was inherently taught to trust altered my view of a sovereign God who loved me enough to die for me.
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I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few Christians who can proclaim that they know exactly when the Lord revealed his purpose for their life. Without a doubt, I’m completely aware of when he revealed his purpose for mine.
Over the past several years, I’ve felt an inward tug to share what the Lord has done and is still doing in my life with our hurting world. While I was going through difficult times, I wasn’t always conscious of how God was shaping my life. But as I look back, I can see his hand guiding me into what his desire is for me.
On October 30, 2011, my husband and I enjoyed the last morning of a whirlwind four-week trip through California, Oregon, and Washington. It was Sunday morning and we planned to visit a newly planted church where old friends were attending. But, for some unknown reason, that particular morning we felt more compelled to stay inside our cozy cottage, where we snuggled close together on the sofa and watched In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Stanley’s forty-minute message centered on the purpose of our lives being used for the glory of God. He ended his sermon with a question that radically changed my life. Though I don’t remember his exact words, I distinctly remember the point.
One day you will stand before the Lord your God. All-knowing God will look you eye to eye and heart to heart and ask, “What did you do with your life that has brought glory and honor to me?” He’ll continue, “What did you do with the spiritual gifts I so generously gave to you, my child? Who did you tell the Good News of the gospel, possibly leading another precious soul to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?” How will you answer when he asks that all-important and soul-searching question?
Suddenly, as if I had been stunned out of a dispassionate spirit, I heard God’s voice, the words pounding deep in my heart, loud and clear. “Judy, have I not blessed you with a firsthand knowledge of my forgiveness, by my grace and mercy? I want you to tell others about the forgiveness I offer to each one of my children. It is I alone who can forgive your past, present, and future sins!”
I felt as if I’d been hit with a two-by-four. I immediately knew what my answer would be. A loud, reverberating voice inside me screamed out, “Write a book. Tell others about events of my life and how today I’m able to see that my Lord was with me along every step of my journey. Talk about how tragic and deep the pain of my past was. Include the answer to the essential question for someone who has been abused: ‘How could I possibly forgive another person, especially someone who abused me so deeply and continued abusing me for so long?’”
In the few years since then, I’ve discovered that I can truly trust what God’s Word promises to those who call him Savior; namely, that Jesus loves his children unconditionally. He knows we’re sinners in need of his mercy and grace, and without him, we’re completely lost.
Jesus relates a story in Matthew 19:26, following his encounter with the rich young ruler. Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!”
Most of us have heard the poem “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson. The poem recounts a conversation when a child of God asks something like this, “God, why is it that during the hardest and most difficult times of my life and during my most painful experiences there are only one set of footprints and not two?” God lovingly answered, “Because, that was when I carried you.”
Come back with me to the difficult years of my life as I recollect a tragic, heart-wrenching journey, as well as many celebratory moments, when I was becoming Made New.