The day my heart shattered was one of those moments frozen in time, much like 911. She was in her late twenties when she told me about the molestation that occurred 15 years earlier. She shared it in snippets over the following year with each revelation cutting deeper than the last. How could this be? How could my older brother have sexually abused “my baby”? How could I have missed the signs? I have never doubted her story. In retrospect, I see it clearly. Yet, the sordid details of his betrayal still defy comprehension.
I had been having flashbacks myself for quite some time but didn’t realize that was what they were. I attributed them to imagination and wondered what was wrong with me. I thought perhaps they were connected to something I read or saw in a movie. I felt guilt and alarm whenever the flashbacks occurred and had been fearful of the unknown much of my life. Then one day in answer to prayer, their reality was confirmed as detailed recollections of my own trauma came more clearly into focus. I was mortified! The repressed and disjointed memories came together to reveal the tragic story of my own abuse that occurred at least 30 years prior to my daughter’s. It took several years for me to process and actually own this truth.
One thing that made acknowledging the truth so difficult was the nagging question: “How could I forget something so important that could have prevented my child from also being harmed?” It was hard enough to reflect upon the signs of her abuse missed years earlier, but when I realized it happened to me first many years before that, the guilt was overwhelming! Counselors admonished, “You can’t blame yourself for what you didn’t know,” but I wanted to know why? I reasoned, “God is all-knowing, so why didn’t He help me remember sooner so I could have protected her?”
I have always heard that “God’s timing is perfect,” yet in the case of child abuse I did not believe that. In addition to Christian counseling, Transformation Prayer Ministry has helped me discern heart-felt beliefs and to practice listening prayer. As I voiced my guilt-laden concerns to God several years ago, utilizing this model of prayer, I heard Him say to me, “Joy, the betrayal was so deep that you couldn’t begin to face it without knowing My heart for you in a truer sense first.”
As I reflected upon this, I realized that experiencing God’s love for me and then discovering I could trust Him to carry me through such excruciating emotional pain made my recovery possible. Aside from that, suicide or a nervous breakdown seemed more probable. I no longer think remembering my abuse before I knew “my God had arms,” would have made me a better mother, nor can I be certain that “knowing” about my brother would have kept my children safe. After all, they encountered other predators, in addition to him, while growing up. However, I can say with certainty that knowing the love of God now has enabled me to draw upon His strength to support my daughter, as well as other family members, today.
This week during my morning quiet time, an interesting scripture caught my eye:
At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at His command they encamped…When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out…Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. (Numbers 9:18-22)
The Israelites were on their way to a land God promised them. As I read this, I envisioned my kids in the back seat of my car on the way to a promised vacation. “When are we going to get there?” they would ask repeatedly! Can you imagine waiting in a desert for a whole year—without explanation—until God (in the form of a cloud) decided to move again? I think we often assume God is opposing us when His ways aren’t clear to us. At this point in the story, however, waiting upon God wasn’t a punishment at all; rather it was evidence of their trust. In waiting for God and trusting His timing, they were assured of His presence to guide them even when His purposes weren’t discernible.
Hebrews 13:8 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I believe He can reach back in time to heal just as readily as He could have reached forward in time to protect. I am learning to trust Him one day at a time, especially during those times when understanding seems to lie beyond today.
Can you relate to my struggles? What role has guilt played in your journey?