There is no wound so grotesque that it cannot become a resource for healing. That’s the way of the future. The world we live in tells us to hide our scars, to pretend we are stronger and more beautiful than we are. The new world God is creating through us is one in which scars are displayed like merit badges instead of hidden under makeup. We don’t conceal our scars because our scars tell our story, and our story, however broken, is a story of the tenderness of God.
– Jonathan Martin, Prototype, p. 107 (emphasis mine)
I am honored that my friend Katie* has given me her story to publish here in installments. It’s an important story for a lot of reasons, I think — instructive as we all seek to do better at loving and looking out for one another in our families, our churches, our communities; and intimate and vulnerable in that me too way that allows us to feel less alone on our own journeys toward healing. Katie’s story is about a God Who comforts the broken-hearted and uplifts the lowly, who redeems our tragedies and makes all things new.
[[Trigger warnings for sexual abuse and mental illness.]]
My name is Katie.* I’m an image bearer of God, a Jesus follower, a woman, a mother, a wife, and a lover of the written word. I’m a thinker, a doer, and sometimes a perfectionist. I’m a reluctant daughter, an overprotective sister, and I’m addicted to Dr. Pepper. I’m a feminist who sees the baking of bread and the washing of dishes as two of the holiest things I can do in a day. I’m a homeschooling mom teaching my children both creation and evolution. In a former life I was a Video Production director who was paid to boss middle aged men around. I’m a fiscal conservative social liberal evangelical episcopalian who crochets while watching Doctor Who. I think too deeply and express it too often. I feel too deeply and don’t express it often enough.
I am all of these things, and I’m living with a secret.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse.
Fourteen years ago I was 15 years old: Excitedly anticipating a driver’s permit. Starting a job as a bagger at a grocery store (a job that to this day remains my favorite of all jobs I’ve been paid for). Caring for a mother suffering a severe mental illness. At 15 I was the daughter of an absentee father who, in an effort to provide for his family, took a job that required out of state travel five days a week. At 15 I was active in my church’s video ministry, the only place I truly felt at home and understood.
At 15 I did not yet have my first boyfriend — well, not in the traditional sense. At 15 I had a sexual partner old enough to be my father. A man who had fathered two boys older than myself, boys I looked up to and considered friends. At 15 I was dropping out of high school to be ‘home schooled’ – which meant that my dad handed me some math books and a cd with my curriculum on it and left for work, while my mother lay on the couch and suffered side effects of medications that left her a vegetable. I never completed my high school education.
At 15 I had two outlets that brought me joy. One was a video production course offered at a neighboring high school. Despite being home schooled I was permitted to enroll in a single class at the local high school: a single class that constituted my entire high school experience. My second outlet was the video production ministry at my church. This ministry was run by the man who sexually abused me for two and a half years of my life.
I was 13 years old when I met him. It’s funny, I have a terrible memory. I can remember very little of my childhood, I never know where my keys or phone are and I cannot tell you the events of the last 72 hours, no matter how important they are. But I remember nearly every encounter I’ve ever had with the man who would eventually rape me. I can close my eyes and see him standing, coffee in hand, on the balcony aisle of our church. I can see his suit, his tie, the way he was leaning against a half wall. I can see the expression on his face, an expression I would later learn to read like a letter written in my own hand.
When I was 13 I read an ad in our church bulletin seeking volunteers for a brand new video ministry starting up in our church. The ad was small, maybe two sentences, and it ran for only a week, but that was enough for me. I attended the first meeting and found myself the only female, and the only person under 30, in attendance. Most of the men there didn’t take me seriously – an awkward thirteen-year-old girl pretending to be an adult. But the ministry director, JD*, did. Perhaps he sensed how desperate I was to accomplish something. Perhaps he was aware of how bright I was. Maybe he just liked me. The reason is unimportant; the reality is, he welcomed me in.
It was no time at all before he became like a father to me. Very often, I jokingly called him Dad, even though it bothered him when I did it – fatherly wasn’t what he was going for. The other men in the ministry belittled me and sought to put me in my place. They were bullies, threatened that a girl, not yet in high school could navigate the world of production as well as they could. JD never treated me that way. He treated me like a prodigy, not an annoyance. He listened to my ideas and put them into practice when they worked. He didn’t coddle me or blow smoke up my skirt, he called me out when I was immature, he held me to a standard of excellence he knew me capable of. He had high expectations and I grew professionally because of them. He treated the production we were doing like it was as important as the work on stage and I was starstruck. As a result I took the work as seriously as he did.
The video ministry – and JD — became the center of my world. I ran camera for him every week without fail. I didn’t join the youth group or engage with any people my own age. I didn’t attend a Sunday school class. I didn’t attend church. I volunteered in my ministry. No one noticed me. Not many people counted me a friend. I had a few, sure. But he meant the most.
When I was 14 my mother was readmitted to a hospital psychiatric unit. I remember going to visit her and watching her writhe on a bed as her legs spasmed and she appeared to be running in place. I remember her trying to comfort me from a place beyond this world and failing miserably. I remember cooking meals and pretending all was well and trying to avoid people who wanted to tell me how they were praying for me. I remember feeling awkward and ashamed as my body changed and kids called me ugly. I remember studying and seeing that ‘A’ as the only thing that made sense in a world gone mad. The only success I could point to.
Everything in life was falling apart except for JD and the work we did together. The video ministry grew. I became a director, and I was good at it. There were video shoots for ministries and outside businesses that hired my mentor’s services. I thought he was brilliant and one of a kind. He thought the same of me and he told me so, often. I spent all of that summer tethered to him. We were always together in one fashion or another. I was 15 and skipping gleefully to the end of my childhood.
*all names have been changed
Part 2 of Katie’s story will be up on Thursday.