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God Did the Miraculous

By Rebecca Perry
In Hope & Healing
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Before joining the Shelter from the Storm recovery group, I believed that if anyone knew what had happened to me, then there’s no way they could love me or even stand to look at me with anything other than disgust, rejection and soul-sucking pity. Back then, I was saturated in shame and weighed down by false guilt. I hated and blamed myself for what other people had done to me. I knew that I didn’t like what happened to me, but I didn’t think that it counted as abuse because my experience did not fit the cultural stereotype – an older man assaulting a child. I didn’t realize then, but I do now, that the devil can and does use anyone he can get his slimy claws into. Abusers can be young or old, male or female, strangers or someone we know, even friends and family. There is no stereotype. Any stereotype is a lie.

In the spring of 2011, I somehow found the courage and desperation to join Shelter from the Storm, Irving Bible Church’s confidential sexual abuse recovery group. The small group that I joined included six other women, two of whom were the group facilitators. In the first meeting, the facilitators gave us each a workbook and asked us to do the homework for each week prior to our weekly meeting during which we would have an opportunity to share some of our homework answers. Also, at our first meeting, the facilitators established healthy group boundaries which they modeled and maintained for the group. I was pretty much boundaryless back then, and the group helped me to build up my own boundaries and honor the boundaries of others. In this safe space, I learned the truth, God’s truth, about the abuse – that it was abuse, that it was not my fault, that God hates abuse, that much of my behavior is a result of the abuse and that I could choose now to let go of my harmful and unhelpful behaviors.

For the first few meetings, I didn’t share much of anything. I was afraid that once the group learned who had abused me and how I was abused, they would kick me out. I thought that I was unqualified to be there. But the group didn’t reject me or kick me out. And slowly, I began to trust the other women there and feel comfortable sharing some of my story.

Halfway through the group semester, our weekly meeting involved us each sharing the details of one incident of abuse – the who, the when, the where and the what. I’m sure that our facilitators gently advised us the meeting before that we would be doing this, and I know the workbook lets us know. But for some reason, I blocked that major detail out of my mind. When I got to the meeting that evening and realized what we would be doing, I felt like all the wind had just been knocked out of me. Waves of fear and shame crashed through my mind as I struggled to appear calm and not terrified.

Knowing that I would be panicked and not able to concentrate until I shared my incident of abuse, I volunteered to go first and just get it over with – like ripping off a Band-Aid. Thankfully, the process is gentle and follows this pattern which was explained by the group facilitators: first, the facilitator asked me how I felt about sharing, then she asked me to share my story, then she asked me how I felt after sharing, then she asked each of the group members how they felt about what I shared, and finally, she asked me how I felt after hearing what the group felt.

It was the first time I’d told anyone the specific details of what happened to me. This group of women listened to me describe in detail these gross, vile and horrifying things and then they said the most surprising and amazing things to me – they said that they loved me, that I didn’t deserve for that to happen to me, that they were angry that I was abused and that they felt compassion for me. I was dumbfounded. Before they said those things, I was so sure they would kick me out of the group after they heard my story. I was terrified that they would say that the abuse was my fault, that I asked for it, that I should have stopped it, that I wasn’t truly a victim of abuse, that I wasn’t one of them, and that I didn’t belong in their group. I was sure they would tell me that I was an imposter. But they didn’t.

Instead, they did the exact opposite – they loved me and accepted me as I was, even as I exposed my deepest humiliation and pain to them.

Sharing the details of my story for the first time that night was the most terrifying, liberating and wonderful experience of my life. Even now, eight years later, I can confidently say that that experience is one of the defining moments of my life. I actually went home that night rejoicing and celebrating, which was not something I did on a regular or even irregular basis back then. I had never before tasted such freedom in my life. At that time, I was 37 years old and had survived being abused for the first 34 years of my life by at least three different people that I can remember.

We had six more weekly meetings after that night followed by a celebration dinner where we got together, shared a meal, shared our individual celebration projects (paintings, poetry, collages, scrapbooks) and gave each other encouraging notes. And for one night together, we didn’t talk about the abuse. We just celebrated each other, our lives and this crazy journey that we had just made together. That celebration dinner was another new and beautiful experience for me that I think about with great fondness and wonder at the goodness of God.

Those six women will always have a place in my heart. They showed up faithfully to our meetings each week, shared pieces of their story and listened to pieces of mine. We didn’t comment or ask questions about each other’s sharing. We just listened. That was it. That was all I could handle at that time and maybe that’s true for them as well. Yet, because of that group of women, I will never be the same. I did my part. The other women did their part. And God did the miraculous.

That first Shelter group semester wasn’t the end of my healing journey. My journey is ongoing due to the depth of my trauma and the pace God has set for me. But that first group changed everything for me. It broke through part of the thick layers of brick walls that surrounded my heart back then. It began to demolish the strongholds of the devil’s lies about my worth and identity. Those women showed me that I am lovable and acceptable, even when someone knows the wretched, horrible truth about my past. That group gave me the courage to keep fighting for greater healing and freedom and the hope to believe for a better life, even to dare to hope for something as extravagant and outrageous as the abundant life that God promised us in the Bible. It was a defining season in my life that set me on fire to pursue more of God’s healing, restoration and love.

After experiencing several more years of increasing freedom and restoration, I realized that I have a gift for communicating in a way that is simple yet profound and that resonates with others. I had been silenced for so long by the abuse that this gift was completely hidden from me until God’s healing revealed it. With God’s help, I wrote and published my first book– a book of poetry written in the midst of my healing journey with articles for each poem giving deeper insight and understanding to the trauma of abuse. I could not have done anything so brave and vulnerable like that without the breakthrough and restoration that I experienced in Shelter from the Storm. Being in the Shelter group was a giant first step that set me on a journey which allowed God to begin unlocking my voice and filling me with the courage to speak up and tell my story through writing, so that I can let others know that they are not alone and that God is aching to heal them, if they will just let Him into those wounded places of their heart.

I want to let you know that if I can go through Shelter with all my doubts, fears, anger and insecurities, then I believe that you can, too. I believe that you can be brave, for yourself and your loved ones. You can step out in faith and see what God is patiently, lovingly and fiercely waiting to do for you. He wants to heal you more than you want to be healed. And He’s totally ok with you being angry with Him. You can’t break God. Give Him everything you’ve got – all the pain, shame and anger – and let Him take that from you so that He can replace it with something more wonderful than you can ever dream of or imagine.

Rebecca’s raw poetry is a reflection of her journey through the healing process. You can find her work on amazon.com.

References: Perry, Rebecca Anne. Onions: peeling back the layers, poetry in the process of recovering from trauma. Perry2Publishing, 2018.

Registration is now open for Shelter from the Storm at www.irvingbible.org/emotionalsupport.

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