This past week I read a book that stirred feelings deep in my soul again. The book, A Serial Killer’s Daughter, by Kerri Rawson chronicled the journey Kerri has been on since learning at the age of 26 that her dad was the notorious BTK serial killer in Kansas. All the years prior to that, she simply knew and loved him as “Dad.” The duplicity, betrayal, shock, and shame she experienced were in some ways similar to my own. As I reflected upon her story, I realized I have faced similar hurdles on my own journey toward healing.
The first hurdle was the painful realization that someone I loved and thought loved me had actually been very different from what I had believed. Before I knew how my brother abused my child, he was my hero and confidant. Since I was a little girl, he had always made me feel special. We enjoyed long conversations about everything imaginable, and I thought I could always count on him in times of need. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death together when our dad died, and when my daughter was struggling in her pre-teen years, he offered to spend quality time with her. Little did I know those times would evolve into some of the worst sexual abuse imaginable. In fact, I would not know this until she found the courage to tell me 15 years later. How can a man harm his own flesh and blood that way? How does he betray his little sister’s trust like that? Who was this man I called my brother? He went from being a seemingly honorable guy to become a child molester. He had little regard for us or the things that mattered most to us. Instead, he used us for his own sick, twisted ends. Beginning to acknowledge to myself who my brother really was, instead of who I wanted and thought I needed him to be, was the first doorway toward healing.
The second hurdle was allowing myself to grieve the loss of the brother I thought I knew. He was special to me and my experiences with him had been very significant. Grieving is hard to do when the facts are telling you how untrustworthy your brother really was. I felt foolish; I had been duped. I was ashamed to have been taken in this way. I knew my grief would not make sense to anyone who knew what my brother had done, yet the loss was very real. In her book, Kerri struggled with this too. In fact, she spent many chapters helping her readers experience her dad’s humanity before revealing the magnitude of his crimes. To the rest of the world, he was a serial killer; yet, he was still her dad, and they had meaningful memories just as my brother and I did. The members of my immediate family had no use for my brother once the abuse was disclosed, so how could I still have feelings? Yes, the second doorway to healing has been to allow myself to grieve the brother I thought I knew and to acknowledge that I still miss him.
The third hurdle related to identity. What does it say about me if someone I thought so highly of thought so little of me? When your feelings are passed over in such a callous fashion, you begin to question why you mattered so little. Was I not worthy of his love or respect? Most men do not betray their families in that way! Was there something in me that merited such betrayal? That is the Devil’s lie that I wrestled with in the wake of my brother’s crime. I was ashamed of what he had done, and I was appalled that he did it to me and my child! After I confronted him, he turned on me with a vengeance. He tried to turn others against me too. All of this took a toll on my self-image and self-esteem. It was only through the doorway of healing prayer that I was able to rise above self-condemnation and embrace God’s truth that I am still deeply loved. Christ became the older brother that I needed in place of the one I had so painfully loss. As I learned to see myself through the eyes of Christ, I discovered my true identity, and I realized that the only one responsible for my brother’s sin was my brother.
The fourth hurdle dealt with questions of good and evil. If God loved me and my daughter, why did he allow such evil to be perpetuated against us? All my life I was taught to trust God. Why does a good God let bad things happen to innocent people? My daughter has suffered so much as a result of my brother’s sin. Surely, God could have protected her by giving me just an inkling that she was in danger! Can we expect Him to protect us now? Suddenly the world feels a lot less safe! The reality is that God was present when those events took place. He could have miraculously intervened, but He didn’t. Why? I believe it is because for love to exist, there also must be choice. My brother had a choice to abuse or not—to love or not. He selfishly chose to abuse which had deep consequences for all involved. That is not to say that God cannot redeem those consequences in my and my daughter’s lives, but it does indicate that safety as I had previously understood it was an illusion. As long as free will exists for us and others, so does the potential for harm. The fourth doorway was an encounter with God’s sovereignty in the face of unfair suffering and the discovery that His love is greater still.
The fifth hurdle is proving to be the most difficult by far. It’s the struggle to love as Jesus does in the face of such evil. It is easy to love a devoted brother who cares for you. It is quite another thing to love a brother who rewarded your devotion by raping your child! What does love look like when that happens? What does love do when other family members continue to speak fondly of him, denying that anything really serious occurred? How do I love those who treat me and my child like liars through their implicit denial? How do I relate well to a wounded child-become-woman who has been hardened by such experiences? How do I respond to all those who have hurt us so deeply? The Word says we are to love others as Jesus has loved us. How has He loved us? He loved us when we didn’t deserve His love. He loved us before we loved Him back. He loved us sacrificially, laying down His life for us. His grace has new implications for me now. Grace is favor that is not deserved. Recently, God has been speaking to me about His kindness and how it leads to repentance. Can I be a conduit of His kindness even in the face of such unspeakable evil? If so, what would such kindness look like? Denial refuses to admit that a crime has occurred. Love refuses to deny that evil exists, yet remains true to the author of Love in the face of it. Love leaves a doorway open for grace. Love leaves the door open for God.