Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Journey of Healing

When I first sat down to write this testimony, I was going to try to include as much as possible—make it comprehensive. This was going to be an exercise for me more than for you. But for some reason, I found that I could never sit down to write it. I would sit down, and then feel completely uncompelled to continue. So….I’m going to scrap that idea and start from scratch. Here are the words from my heart:

I was sexually abused as a child. I am not going to tell you how long or how badly or by whom. Because—to a certain extent—that doesn’t matter. What matters is the pain and destruction that continued to fester into my adulthood.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder my first year of college, I would have never looked back at what had happened to me—I would have kept it buried for life. But psychiatric intake interviews don’t leave sexual abuse uncovered.

However, although I didn’t deny the abuse, I did not let it surface either. In fact I refused to talk about it with multiple therapists. It was not until I relapsed the third time, and God rescued me with a call to life—a true life; not the lie that I had been living—did I submit to the need for healing of this deep wound.

I mentioned my intention to my therapist, with whom I had been working for about a year. However, it took another year and a half—and lingering (albeit easier to hide) enslavement to my eating disorder—before I finally decided to jump into intentional healing from my abuse. I joined an intensive healing ministry at my church called Living Waters.

Living Waters was a ministry originally founded for those struggling with same-sex attraction; however, over the years it developed into a ministry for those desiring freedom from sexual abuse and sexual addiction, and now the program involves relational healing as well.  I joined this program, which is six months long, with the specific purpose of dealing with my sexual abuse, and in turn getting rid of my eating disorder once and for all.

Little was I prepared for what Living Waters introduced into my spiritual relationship with God. The ministry involves teaching and a heavy emphasis on prayer—through which, one comes into contact with the Holy Spirit of the Living God. The lesson on abuse came about half-way through the program. I knew it was coming; my leaders and small group knew my testimony—they knew it was coming; long story short: EVERYONE knew it was coming. However, in the weeks and months prior to this night, I merely skimmed the surface of what was really deep in my heart. The abuse was actually touched on twice before that night, but I was too afraid to go any further.

One of the times that I could have addressed the abuse, my leader said to me, “Jaime, that has to come up and out.” Although I backed down, those words stuck with me. To my ears, they were eating disordered words (purging). Her words made me realize that it was this very thing in the pit of my stomach that I was trying to push down with food. And once it was “up and out,” I would no longer feel compelled to stuff things down my throat anymore.

The night to pray finally came. There was another woman in my small group who had a history of sexual abuse and she went first. This caused me to fear, because I needed to go that night—I had already asked to see the one who had wounded me the next day—fully intending to make this a finished work. However, God had everything under control. Because this woman went before me, she was able to lead me on the path to healing with God. She had already asked Jesus for a memory in which she could pursue healing. I had not thought of this. So I asked Jesus for a memory. And he gave me one immediately. Now, I have many memories from the abuse; however, this one confused me because nothing was actually happening in the memory—it was a memory of waiting for something to happen. However, all of the feelings were in that memory: the fear, the shame, the dirtiness, the guilt. Outside of my memory, one of the leaders in my group told the woman praying to invite Jesus into her memory. Doubtful that this was even possible for me, I invited Jesus into my memory. And to my shock, Jesus appeared, standing at the foot of my bed. At this point I began questioning what Jesus would really be able to do for me. Sure He was in my memory, but this was a memory—there is no way He can change what has already happened. He cannot alter my life. He cannot say, “Oh, Jaime. I will protect you. What is about to happen will not really going to happen.” No, Jesus cannot do that. With this realization, I began to panic—I would be stuck with my shame and dirtiness forever! In my memory, I rushed toward Jesus, clutched His legs, and began sobbing, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” By now, the sobs in my memory were my sobs in the present time. The pain was too much to endure without my small group praying with me, so I pulled myself out of memory and began to focus on the prayer of the other woman.

This still was in God’s plan because I was able to see this woman achieve healing for herself, and it gave me hope—hope that Jesus could do something for me too. So I told the women in my group what had happened thus far in my memory, then they went with me back into the memory—back to clinging to Jesus’s legs—back to sobbing, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Only this time, Jesus did something. Jesus reached down, stroked my hair, and said, “It’s not yours.” Although Jesus did not verbalize it, I knew in my heart He was saying that the guilt was not mine. I thought about the guilt going back to the one who wounded me, but that was not what He was implying. Jesus was taking the guilt from me, and putting it on Himself—He was taking my guilt, regardless of who had given it to me. Slowly my sobs stopped, as the shame was extracted from my heart. Then I was able to pray a prayer of breaking the sexual union between me and my wounder. Then I prayed forgiveness over him—and I meant it—I could feel it in my heart.  

The next day, I traveled to see this man. I was able to interact with him out of freedom for the first time that I can remember. I realized that he had been trying to love me for quite a while. Perhaps he had been trying to express his remorse. But I had been keeping up a solid wall between the two of us in self-protection. This particular day, though, I was able to take the wall down—to see him as a real person—to receive love from him. Before the end of the visit, I had spoken of the abuse verbally to him, received affirmation from him that it did in fact happen, told him that Christ has taken most of my shame, given him my forgiveness, and received his apology. We ended the visit with a hug—for the first time, it was a genuine hug—and an exchange of the words “I love you”—once again, genuine for the first time.

I drove home that day, a new person. No longer a girl; but a woman.

However, my story doesn’t end there. That encounter happened about three months ago. Living Waters ended last night. And my life is not perfect.

The abuse that I endured as a child spread out into many areas of my life. I have lived for so many years with a core of shame that it became the foundation of my very identity. Now that that piece of me is “up and out” I no longer know who I am. I spent my life trying to construct a perfect identity that would cover up the dirtiness deep within me. But now, God keeps whispering, “Jaime, you don’t need to be that way anymore.” Now, don’t get me wrong, it is nice to hear God whispering it, but it is also completely terrifying. Because I seriously don’t know what to do with myself. And the problem is that I am tempted daily to take on aspects of my old self. I still struggle with food. I still struggle with my self-image. I still tend to cling to perfectionism. My moods oscillate between normal and depressed. I still don’t have a grip on what healthy boundaries look like. And besides all this, I am noticing other relationships in my life that are broken.

My life is not magically better because I “dealt” with the sexual abuse. To be honest, I was hoping it would be. But such is not the case. I still have a lot of work to do. Healing is never complete. It is never going to be finished until we are perfected in our resurrection. However, I do want to state that Christ did a “finished work” when he met with me that night in my memory. My core shame concerning the abuse is gone. I have flashbacks still, but the paralyzing shame is no longer there. But because the abuse went unhealed for so long, it set me up for more wounding throughout my life. This is the healing that Christ will continually do in my life.

Tonight, I was on the way home from a difficult singing practice. I was thinking about all the work that I have to do—that in a childish way I simply don’t want to do—and I felt myself swinging into a depressed mood. But then this song, came through my stereo, “My Victory” by Jimmy Needham:

Never turning back to the way things were
I'm stronger now than I was before
I hear the sound that freedom brings
It's ringing loud
Now I am free to lift my eyes
For grace is alive

You are the hope that broke the dark in me
You are the light that shines when I can't see
You are, You are, You are my victory

My weakness Yours, Your mercy mine
My God You're not the leaving kind
I sing the song that freedom brings
It's ringing loud
Now I am free to lift my eyes
My God is alive

In times of trouble
When I'm not able
You are, my God, You are
My chains are broken
Your gates are open

You are the hope that broke the dark in me
You are the light that shines when I can't see
You are, You are, You are

You are the hope that broke the dark in me
You are the light that shines when I can't see
You are, You are, You are my victory
You are my victory, God You deliver me, You are my victory

This song reminded me that I am truly free. My freedom in Christ is not dependent upon how “healed” I am or how “perfected” I am. I am free to choose Joy. My mood does not have to be enslaved to the little ups and downs in my life. And furthermore, I no longer have to live a lie. This is a scary thought, because it means that I must trust someone else for my freedom. But this is where faith comes in. I no longer have to manufacture a fake form of victory. I am free to struggle, but I am not struggling to be free (from “The Struggle” by Tenth Avenue North). Healing IS possible—just be prepared for it to be a lifelong process. Thankfully we have a Savior to travel along that road with us. Thanks be to God.

Psalm 149:4
“For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.”

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