Friday, September 24, 2010

Beauty from Ashes by T***


Beauty from Ashes by T*** (last name withheld) A true story.

This story was written by one of our Hope members. This is a true story about herself and the horror she faced daily starting in early childhood....

This is the story of my life. I will warn you, it isn’t easy to read. There will not be graphic details – but enough to tell my story.

I was born in 1970. I don’t remember much from my early years. Pictures seem like someone else’s life and not my own. It is strange to see the little girl yet not be able to remember her at all. Most people have memories from their early childhood – I have none.

I was young the first time I remember it happening. I don’t have memories of the actual incident. I merely remember my father buttoning his shirt and trying to convince me not to tell Mommy because Daddy would go to jail and Mommy and Daddy would get a divorce. I didn’t want that did I? That’s my first memory and enough of a memory to give you an idea of what happened. I do remember where it happened and at that time, I was under 6 years of age. He told me it was our secret, our game to play.

Fast forward to my teenage years. By this time, I was angry, defiant, and hated God. I prayed often – but I felt my prayers were falling on deaf ears. The incident I described above was happening several times a week and had been since that first memory. It had progressed to violence as I was now old enough to try to fight him off. My father controlled every aspect of my life – listened to my phone conversations, followed me around town when I was out with friends – even managed to get my boss to tap the phones so he could listen in – telling my boss I was dealing drugs from his business (my father did some work for him and they were friends). I was a prisoner in my own home.

I stood between my father and the rest of my family. I felt it was my job to protect them. I heard repeated threats about what would happen to them if I were to leave or to tell. It was those threats that kept me from leaving.

Several times – I tried to take my own life – but God had better plans for me. I swallowed bottles of pills – to never have any side effects. For some reason, I never turned to drugs or alcohol. I was too busy trying to stay in control.

Three different times during my teenage years, my father tried to kill me by choking me. Twice because I threatened to tell, and once because I came home to find him going through my room – he slapped me across the face – and I slapped him back. That sent him into a rage I will never forget. My Mom stepped in and he threw her into a wall. A sibling attempted to dial 911 but my father ripped the phone out of the wall. He then took a baseball bat and smashed everything in sight. It was a terrifying night and I begged my Mom to take us away. His rage lasted almost a week – and finally ended after getting me alone to rape me yet again.

One of the most difficult things about my childhood was that many times, the rape involved watching a horror film such as the exorcist or the shining. Those memories were ones I battled with well into my adult life. I had many sleepless nights and whether you believe it or not, woke up face to face with demons on more than one occasion.

In high school, I was very dedicated to band. I threw myself into my instrument and into my music – it was my escape. When I had nothing else – I had my music. Music ended up being the tool God used to remove me from the situation.

During my senior year, I received a music scholarship to a Christian college. My family attended church off and on – but it was never a big part of our lives. If nothing else, it was an opportunity for my father to show the world how “perfect” we were – forcing us to sing and to look perfect. No one ever suspected what was really happening inside our home.

By a miracle, my father let me go to college. The most difficult decision I ever made was to leave my family behind. I was sure the day I left for college; I would never see them alive again.

I turned 18 shortly after arriving on campus. My birthday present - my father showed up on campus – 3 hours away – to take me home.  He stopped on the side of the road on the way and raped me. I arrived home with smeared makeup and a ripped shirt to a house full of high school friends and a surprise birthday party. Yet, I had become so good at living a lie that I was able to fend off questions and concerns and no one thought anything of it.

Back on campus, my father would call in the middle of the night several times a week. My roommates had no idea why the phone would ring and I would jump to answer it. He would never talk but breathe heavily in the phone to remind me he had not forgotten me.

One weekend, my roommates were gone and the phone rang as usual. That night, I hit the end. I threw the phone into the wall, smashing it to pieces. I fell on my face before God and told Him I couldn’t take it anymore. I challenged God to show me He was real. I told Him I couldn’t do this on my own anymore and I was His. That night I gave everything to Him – and it was the best decision I ever made.
Things didn’t change overnight. In fact, I went home for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, to much the same things. However – God began to change me. He began to work in my heart. He began to heal me even before I told someone else what was happening to me.

Shortly before Easter, I gathered the courage to call my father and tell him I was bringing my boyfriend home for Easter. I told him it was the only way I was coming home. I thought I would be safe. Two days before I was to come home, I received a letter from my Mom and all it said was “don’t come home”, nothing more. My Mom couldn’t get mail out to me that wasn’t approved by him – so I knew something was really wrong. Still, I planned on going home.The next day, I was sitting in a dorm waiting for a friend when my roommate burst in and told me the police were on the phone. I knew in that moment it was over. I thought my family was dead – but I was still keeping the perfect face, even though panic had taken over my heart. 

When I got to the phone, it was not the police but my Mom. I don’t remember her words – but I remember telling her just a small piece of what my life was like. It was the first she knew. It was the first time I ever told anyone.

My father was arrested that night. We found out later he had closed out bank accounts, paid off bills, sold a car – did things that would indicate he was checking out of life. Days before I was to come home, he held a baseball bat to my Mom’s throat and told her he would kill us all when I came home.

Even though sexual abuse was not talked about in the 80's and people didn’t know a lot about it – my father was never released the night of the arrest. He stayed in the county jail until his sentencing. To the best of my recall, because I had not written down the exact dates of the rapes and because I was 18 at the time of the arrest, my father was not charged with what he did to me. Out of protection for other family members, I can’t say exactly what he was charged with. In the end, we plea bargained, never had a trial and he was given an 8 year sentence and served 6. Justice, in that sense, was never served.

God is an amazing God. He is the Healer. He is the Almighty. He mends the broken heart. As Isaiah says, he is the restorer of places long devastated and the renewed of ruined cities. I was devastated – and ruined – but I was not forgotten.

To this day, it brings tears to my eyes to think of all God has done in my life. What I just shared with you is merely the tip of the iceberg of my life. I should be crazy; I should be depressed, I should be in a mental institution, on drugs, or dead.

But what I should be is not what God intended me to be.

He gives beauty for ashes. My life was nothing but ashes – but the beauty that has come out of the fire is nothing but a miracle. He gives the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. He has clothed me with gladness and a garment of praise.

The road has been long. The path has been rugged. There have been times I have been unable to see His light – but I will tell you that my God is into the business of making all things new. He is in the business of proclaiming freedom for the captives and releasing prisoners from the darkness.

One thing I want to share is the importance of forgiveness. If you are reading this and you have suffered a path similar to mine – let me encourage you. Forgiveness is possible. Will you forget? No. Forgiveness is a process – and sometimes one that you continue in until the day you die – but it is possible. It is also necessary. You will be forever chained to your past if you do not forgive. I will tell you forgiveness took me many, many years – and there are still times I have to check myself in the mirror of Jesus and make sure my heart is in the right place. Is it easy? No. Does it feel good? Definitely not, but forgiveness is a choice you make – and sometimes that choice is moment by moment, day by day, memory by memory. Yet, it is a choice that at some point – you must make.

Jesus can give you beauty from ashes. Jesus can and does free you from the shackles of your past. It is possible. Jesus heals all wounds.  You have to be willing to let Him – you have to let go and not live in that hate, that anger, that bitterness anymore. You have to walk THROUGH what you experienced and not jump around or over or pretend it didn’t happen. Although you will hate hearing this, your past helped shape who you are today. Jesus shapes who you are tomorrow. Let Him shape you.

I am so in love with my Jesus. I have much to be thankful for. I am forever in His gratitude for His gift on the cross. If not for that – where would I be today?

Instead today I am happy, whole, without spot or blemish – washed with the blood of the lamb – white as snow. I am forgiven and not forgotten. Restored, renewed, redeemed. I am full of hope and promise and full of His grace and mercy over my life every single day. I wear a crown of beauty. Without Jesus, I would be nothing – but instead – He has given me everything.

He will give you everything too. You only have to ask. It’s a gift and it’s yours for the taking. Let Jesus take over and watch what He can do with a life sold out to Him.

One more thing before I go, Jesus is the only answer. I strongly encourage counseling – don’t try to do this alone, seek Godly counsel.  In the end though – Jesus is the only answer. There is no answer outside of Him. Not alcohol, not drugs, not prostitution, not hate, not anger, not revenge. Jesus is the only answer. He is the only way to true freedom. There is no other.

There is more to this story – but this is where we’ll leave it for now.
He gives beauty from ashes – and I’m forever grateful.
~ T***

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