Based on my recent posts, I’ve had some people I grew up with contact me and apologize for not seeing what was happening or not doing something. These are people my own age – they were kids at the time the same as I was. For them and for all of you who are reading this story, Please know that if you were someone I grew up with, you too were a child. You’re now looking at this through adult eyes. I want to tell you that I don’t hold any grudges against any of you. Any responsibility belonged to Cleo, Lou, Felix (you’ll meet him later) and the other adults who turned a blind eye and ear to abuse but knew the truth and didn’t do anything to stop it. You had no way of knowing what was going on. I’m OK today. I’m going to take a “time out” from the story itself so I can explain.
It isn’t that I feel “good” or “right” or anything else. It’s a confidence that I know God hasn’t left me – He never did – and that He will redeem it all somehow in some way. I don’t have the answers and I don’t understand it. But I know that He held on to me the whole way and He is still holding on. That is very clear to me even now as I’m working through the story again.
People are the ones who told me God was this or that, or that He didn’t love me or that I wasn’t worthy. All my life, people have been trying to speak for God. And these are people who were supposed to be offering me “help” by their actions. They acknowledge what happened was bad, but they told their own versions of the story (I was sold rather than kidnapped. I needed to forgive and forget about past abuse. I needed to change and start acting better, etc.) It was never so clear as when a so-called Christian counselor said – “I can’t help you. No one can help you. Not even God can help you.” That’s the time I hit the bottom and tried to escape it permanently by my own hand.
But Jesus wasn’t the one beating me up. That came from others, from their words. And I believed their words. All those sent to counsel me had the same message … until one day while I was bawling my eyes out, an older man with a white beard walks by. Turns out he was a Methodist minister. I hadn’t met him before and have never seen him since. But during that one meeting, he showed me clearly that Jesus loved me. He took the time (quite a while that day) to help me separate what I had heard from the fundamentalist crowd about God’s wrath versus the Love and Mercy God really offered. The page in my life slowly started to turn. It took a long time, because shutting down the “you’re not worth anything” messages is hard. They were very well ingrained by this time.
I saw a “secular, unsaved” therapist (never mind the fact that she was a Southern Baptist). The old crowd told me she was evil just because she was licensed. But this time, I didn’t listen to their words. I was learning boundaries. I began to see there were plenty of other Christians – real Christians – in the world around me. This is something that may sound strange, but fundamentalists teach that those who don’t believe exactly as they do are probably unsaved, going to hell, or at the very least not living as they should. Most of the cruelty came from fundamentalists. I began to question the things I had been told. If they were so very wrong about this therapist, these other Christians I had met, and the like … what else were they in error about?
So I pulled into myself, focused on finishing school, and even dropped church for a while. When I started attending again, it was one of those “off limits” community churches which got tongues wagging even more. But having been exposed to Grace finally, I didn’t care about them anymore. I became aware that I didn’t have to earn my place with God like they said I did. I began working as a nurse for the County in which I was living at the time. That really opened up my eyes. You might call it all part of my own “Grace awakening” process.
Fast forward several years and I’m hit between the eyes with cancer. I was told, “God gave you cancer.” But that’s all they offered. No other support came. And it is a serious, rare cancer where the doctors wanted me to get to a specific treatment center. Tongues still wagging and now I’m mad: “God! How can you do this to me? Haven’t I been through enough?” And the answer came from an unlikely source.
My oncologist was an Italian Catholic who reminded me both of us were people of Faith. He reminded me that God hadn’t left and that Jesus would stand with me. A few days later, I have a job that covered my living expenses for six months, and an offer from the Diocese of Philadelphia to pay for moving. And I’m not a Catholic then or now! How’s that for WWJD? My old fundamentalist friends start the gossip chain. I’m taking money from Catholics. Yet none of them offer to help in any way.
Through it all, as I look back, I hear (not audibly) God’s voice (still and small like it usually is) saying clearly, “I am still here, Cathy. I love you unconditionally and will always stand by you. You don’t need to work it out by yourself. Leave it all to Me.” So even when my story upsets you, know that I am “OK” right now. I’m “OK” because God says I am. He hasn’t left and I know He won’t. I do have days when my faith is weak. When my body is sick. When PTSD flashbacks taunt me. When I am angry, frustrated, even depressed. Telling my story is just a part of my healing. Pausing for some reflections is a good thing.