I knew her. I heard the gossip before the media even caught a whiff. It was a small town, and something this scandalous wouldn't be slow to spread.
I knew her. A lot of us did. She was my PE teacher throughout elementary school. I knew her. I was shocked but also not surprised. I had been in those tanning beds—the ones where she had hidden video cameras and captured young girls undressing. I imagine most of us in our small town held our breath as, one by one, the girls who could be identified were notified that they been violated. She went to prison. I think. Why does it take so long for justice that by the time someone's life settles into their consequence, most people have already moved on?
You may be wondering: were you? Did this woman victimize you? My answer will probably shock you. No. I wasn't. Multiple times....
As news spread, families in the 90s suddenly had to awaken to the idea that a female can be a sexual predator. Probably a lot of people still don't fully grasp the concept. For my family, the realization caused ripple effects that shook my mom and, in some ways, forever shook my story. That woman had "selflessly" played with the teacher's kids after school. She loved hanging out with us. It turns out she loved it so much that over the years, she pestered my mom over and over to let me come over to her house "to watch movies".
What if my mom had said yes?
I didn't have to wonder what could have happened for long. When I began my internship for my counseling degree, I found myself working with teenage girls with sexual trauma and aggression. All of a sudden, as story after story unfolded, I was acutely aware that a female predator had groomed me. One decision. One "I feel bad for saying no" on my mom's part, and I have zero doubt that my story would have taken a plot twist. Who would have blamed her but herself? It was the 80's. We thought kids were safe back then. I've pondered the kindness of the Lord for giving my mom firm resolve and discernment. Even as I write that sentence, I am praying for you reading this. I am praying for all the people reading this who are in a puddle of tears because your protection slipped when you needed it most. I am praying for each one of you who is flooded right now with anger and resentment or believe the lie that you weren't worth protecting. I'm praying for the protector who feels crushing guilt for missing the signs.
I've rarely shared this story because I have a level of survivor's guilt. I've tucked it away as my blessing but haven't openly celebrated it because I never want to cause someone else to feel the doubt and betrayal of their trauma.
So why now? I recently heard a testimony that shook me to my core and rattled lose my agreement to stay silent. I heard Brandie's story. It was sadly a story I've heard many times over the years. The abuse started when she was young. She was never safe and always guilt-ridden that she didn't manage to protect her younger siblings despite her own vulnerability. The enemy loves to plant the seed of "you're a failure" and "you are not good enough" early. If he can get that root to grow, he counts on us to nourish our minds with the bitter fruit it produces and for its disease to spread throughout our entire life. His seeds found fertile soil in Brandi's early life. Her broken response to her trauma led to a lifestyle of giving herself away to man after man. Desperate for love. Desperate for affirmation and security. Each experience stealing more and more pieces of her self-worth.
She walked with her head held low—a practice that was expected by the first one: "Eyes down. You are mine. Nothing more." Until he was gone...then who was she? Lower and lower, she sank. Until broken and tattered, she found herself on her face begging God to help her, begging Him to make her whole.
She shared the early part of her story with a restlessness; you could feel her anguish even from a distance. Until she described the night, she felt Jesus fill her up. Her face settled into the sweetest, most innocent smile, eyes softening, body stilling. Jesus heard her cry for help. He ripped the lies out at the root. "Once I felt Jesus in me, I couldn't imagine letting any of those men share that space. I couldn't imagine Him seeing me like that, not after I knew his holiness. But then I realized he had been. He had been there the whole time. I suddenly saw him beside me when I was a little girl. He sat with me. I was never alone. I didn't go through any of that alone. He was with me when I caused my own pain, and he was with me then when I begged him for help". Her life is transformed.
As I listened to Brandie, God once again reminded me of this secret part of my story. My old guilt flared up. Why Lord? Why did you not spare her too? I know Him. I KNOW that the consequence of sin fires Him up. I realize that within free will, He will permit the results to play out. He sees how the ripple effects of our sin affect others around us. But last night, I saw Him sitting beside both of those little girls as their mothers made very different decisions, the ripple effect of decisions made over them. I saw Him offer both of those little girls the opportunity to know how He sees us despite it. He had a plan for those little girls. He died to redeem both of our stories. His redemption would offer both of us a chance to use our story to impact the world around us if we would just say yes. He sat beside both of those girls and whispered love and worth and freedom the whole time. He showed up as a gardener who is willing to pull up the weed lies from the soil of our belief system if we will let Him tend to it.
Over the years, I have believed the lie that my testimony is weak because I don't have a dramatic one. I have lived a pretty easy life compared to so many people. It's been a comfortable life, so the temptation is to settle into that. Be a church attendee who is never thoroughly shaken by the realization of my desperate need for a savior. To pridefully walk through life as if I'm not among the least of these. The enemy doesn't care what hijacks us as long as we miss the straight and narrow path—jokes on him. I love Jesus with my whole heart. But until something unlocked in me, I agreed with the enemy that my testimony is unhelpful. Unimpressive. Unworthy of being told.
For years, Brandie believed the lie that her past disqualified her from leading a good Christian life. She never thought she had anything to offer because of the sin that the enemy could pull up in her mind. She was ashamed of her story. Scandalous. Shocking. Unworthy.
Do you see it? Do you see how the enemy used the same exact tactic on both of us? He sent the demon of sexual trauma knocking. He sent the lie that the results left both of us less than and used it to keep us silent. Why? Revelation 12:11 says, "they will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony." Satan's ultimate goal is to keep us from Jesus, and if that doesn't work, to keep us silent. He wants us to believe our story isn't valuable in the kingdom of God; however, he can spin it.
But here we both are. Overcomers. Because despite the choices of others and the choices we have made ourselves, we have both set our eyes on Jesus and declared Him author and perfecter of our faith. And we have opened our hearts and shared our testimony.
Whatever you've been through, whatever you've done. Whatever you've avoided and whatever you've believed about yourself, is it truth according to God's word, or is it an agreement with the enemy of your soul that holds you in bondage? Here's an excellent way to test the spirit: are you using your story to disciple and encourage others? Does it give God glory? Does it point people towards the truth? If not, it may be time to sink to your face and beg him to put your broken pieces back together. Let Him write your story in the light of His loving truth. On the cross, He declared you worthy and redeemable and loved.