Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Back-story

North of Chicago, right on Lake Michigan, there’s a little town called Kenosha. I get up there once a year or so to spend time with one of my spiritual fathers and his family. I also go up there to clear my head and slow things down for a couple days. There’s a great little coffee shop on the water called Common Grounds where the barista asks questions like, “If you could be personified by one event in history, what would it be?” It’s the kind of place I imagine an author writing some inspiring memoir or iconic piece of fiction in; the kind of place that feels like it should be experienced in black and white.

Just down the road on the Main Street, which feels like the main street in many small towns, is a flower shop called Summer’s Garden. On one of my trips, I stopped in to kill a few minutes before the wine bar next-door opened up. There was a fantastic aroma coming from the front of the store but it wasn’t the flowers. It was soap! There were a number of different scents, some smelled more like something I wanted to eat than use in the shower. The shop owners, Lyna and Kevin, were so kind – I must have asked them a million questions about soap and they answered every one. Lyna makes it at home. She explained the process and the ingredients and the difference between good soap and great soap. She also told me about growing up in Kenosha and living in two houses her whole life. She began to tell the stories of each of the soap labels which were old family photos repurposed. Lyna had a fascinating story. I was so glad to have spent those ten or fifteen minutes listening before buying some soap to take home. I wasn’t just buying soap though – I was investing in her story.

One of the things I love about my church is the importance Pastor Jamie places not only on the narrative of the gospel but also on the interpersonal narratives within our community. Almost every year our small group takes a few weeks and gives everyone in the group an hour or so to share their back-story. It has really helped to create a deeper “soul environment”. It’s not easy telling people where you’ve been and what you’ve done but when you are with people that love you it takes the pressure off. It also opens up space for a continued conversation. The idea that a story doesn’t have to be a testimony is kind of refreshing. I mean that in the context of creating a space where the person sharing their back-story knows that it’s an unfinished narrative and it doesn’t need a happy ending. I’d like to share one such story with you, this is Sherry’s story – it’s not pretty but it is beautiful.
I was a victim of childhood molestation at the age of 5-6. As a teenager I got involved with drugs and alcohol. I overdosed in Jr. High. I was raped at 15 and began to live a promiscuous life style. By the end of my senior year I was pregnant and that pregnancy ended in abortion due to pressure. I moved from home just before I turned 18, into the home of a man twice my age that I had known for less than a month. We married 2 years later and the marriage ended in its first year. I had another relationship that resulted in a pregnancy and the father pressured me into having an abortion. Shortly after, he ended the relationship and moved across the country. I met another man that I shared my secrets with who assured me he loved me and he would never leave if I got pregnant. When I found myself pregnant once again, he tried to pressure me to have an abortion, saying it was something I had done in the past and he didn’t see why I couldn’t do it again. But I chose to carry my baby this time, and did it as a single mom.
I felt guilt, shame, rejection, abandoned, and damaged for all the bad choices I had made. I didn’t know how my life could change. But I loved my baby more than anything and I wanted to be better.
I tried psychological counseling but they wanted to excuse my behavior as “the only choices I could have made at the time” when deep down inside I knew that wasn’t the truth. The memories haunted me. My health was suffering, and I ended up having to take leave from my job.
Surgery and chronic pain left me addicted to pain meds and as a result my doctor placed me in a hospital for withdrawal. However, the in-house psychologist decided I should stay longer to address the past issues. I was in denial of my need or their ability to handle my need. My 3 day stay became a 30 day stay.
I hated being there, separated from my child. One night I cried out to God – on my knees in the library, asking if there really was a God, would he help me, admitting I couldn’t do it alone.
Through the rehab program I met my husband. He brought us to a church where I heard that Jesus loved me and wanted to forgive me for all my sins. In December of 1988 I was introduced to Jesus in a personal way and was amazed that He loved me and would forgive me for all I had done.
I was excited to be involved in church, serving in the office, prayer meetings, learning, and eventually even leading ladies studies. But inside of me I still cringed every time I heard a message on abortion and the murder it was. I sat in silence, guilt, and shame, believing that if anyone knew my story they wouldn’t want me teaching their kids, leading studies or even be part of fellowship. I was forgiven, but still in bondage.
I heard a woman speak on the radio one day who talked about the affects of abortion on women. When she listed the symptoms of post abortion trauma she was talking to me and the tears flowed down my face. I contacted the ministry and that was the beginning of my transition from forgiveness to healing.
The Word of God taught through the study helped me to see my sin and my life in light of God’s Word; to identify areas I needed to confess of my sins and ask forgiveness. But it also identified areas in my life where I needed to be willing to forgive what others had done that hurt me and showed me how to depend on God’s grace to walk out the choices of forgiveness.
Psalms 32:3-5 says, “When I kept silent in my sin my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was zapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” and you forgave the guilt of my sin”.
The enemy wants to keep us silent, groaning, drained, depressed and guilt ridden, but God doesn’t want that for us. God not only forgave the sin, he forgave the guilt of the sin. Continued guilt from confessed sin is not from Him.
Healing is a process…Confession and forgiveness is huge parts of that process.
Years ago a medical professional sexually molested me during therapy. I was devastated. I was almost crippled, as if I were the 5 year old child. But this time was different, I knew God, and I knew He would help me. So this time, instead of living in fear, hiding and owning someone else’s actions, with the support of my husband, my child, and my pastor I addressed it head on. It was one of the hardest and most painful things I ever faced. But, I was not alone. God’s love and grace walked with me through every uncomfortable step. And when the trial was over, although my assaulter was let go, I was free in a way I had never known possible. I had done the right thing and stood up.
As a result, I went to the ministry where I began my walk of healing, and inquired to become a bible leader and online counselor. I completed that training in 2008 and have since then shared my story with individuals, spoken at churches, and banquets. God did the healing and He always goes before me and prepares me when I speak. In 3 years I have worked with over 50 women through this program, either online or in person.
Most Christians know that I John 1:9 say’s “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So, we know that God forgives our sins, but it is common for women and men involved with abortion to read this verse and think, “every sin but this one”. But 1 John 1:9 doesn’t say “every sin but this one.” It says; He forgives us all our sins, even “this one”.
I don’t live in my past. I don’t glorify my past. I seek to glorify the one who redeemed me from my past and made me whole… Jesus. When he places a hurting woman in my life, be it as a result of the ministry, or in an unexpected place, I am no longer ashamed; I know who I am in Him. That is true freedom.
It would be easy to zoom in on any part of Sherry’s story and be angry at God, on the surface it seems that there were decades where His goodness was missing. I don’t have an explanation for this. I do know that God worked all of that hurt and pain together for good. God is a God of redemption. Her love for God hopes all things and believes all things and has kept no record of wrong doing.

The narrative of Sherry’s life is deeply personal because the third pregnancy, the child she decided to carry was me. She is my mother.


I'm just Lore said...

Beautiful. Amazing. I'm so glad you're in my life.

Andrea said...

whoa. whoa. i'm in tears. that was amazing.

Stephen said...

I wouldn't think for a second to be angry at God for those things that happened, but my view of God is different from most. The problem with being angry at God is it suggests that He owes us something.

That was a really incredible post - An amazing story of redemption and healing. Your mother is a wonderful woman! Glory to God.