“I was born. Whether or not that is of consequence is yet to be determined.”
I still remember writing those words for a high school creative writing assignment. I had not yet determined if my life was relevant or even necessary. Those thoughts were not new to me; they had haunted me for as long as I could remember. Why?
My mother was eighteen years old when I was born. I was the second child of three girls. When I was eighteen months old, she left us for good, leaving me with a deep emptiness since my mommy didn’t love me or want to see me. Even though my father had custody, he worked full time, and so we were sent to live with an aunt and uncle. It was then that the sexual abuse by my uncle began.
I already felt unimportant being abandoned, and the message I received from the abuse was that a girl’s worth was tied to what she could do for men; girls were objects to be used. That belief continued as my father remarried, divorced, and remarried again, with sexual abuse not only continuing by my uncle, but also later on by other male relatives.
At age seven, my sisters and I were living with my father and second stepmother full time. The lessons of the subjugation of females were reinforced daily in our home. Only the male voice counted — specifically my father’s voice — and when my brother was born, his voice counted, too. Mine did not; I was told I was a stupid girl and that girls were “less than” boys. My father’s abusive treatment grew worse, and I lived in a constant fear that ruled my life. “Yours is not to reason why, yours is not to give reply, yours is but to do…or die” was his adaptation of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” It was a mantra that ruminated so often that after a while he really didn’t need to repeat it. My role in life was to serve and fulfill the needs of the male species and keep my opinions to myself. Since I equated my view of God with my father, I concluded that God didn’t care about me (or females). I didn’t matter to anyone and had nothing worthwhile to say. I believed that I was too stupid to go to college, and, with so little self-worth and a desperate desire to matter to someone, at age seventeen I married a man who seemed different. He was not, and his views and treatment turned out to be even more demeaning and abusive than those of my father and male relatives. I resigned myself to a life of suffering and abuse under male domination and headship.
Hierarchical views are a part of our culture; one doesn’t have to go to church to learn them. However, when I did start going to church as an adult, the message was repeated. Men are the head of the house; they are the final authority in all matters. There was no option but to stay in an abusive marriage because I had been taught that Christians don’t divorce. Trying to be a “good Christian wife” and be submissive in all things didn’t stop the emotional and physical beatings, degradation, and rapes. I knew I would eventually die psychologically under that oppression, but what choice did I have?
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:15)
A mother can forget the baby at her breast. I know that first hand. And it leaves the baby with a sense of wrongness about who he or she is. But I also lived with another gnawing sense in my soul that knew that the way I was treated was wrong. It may have felt “normal” because it was the only thing I knew, but it never felt “right.” Buried under the layers of shame, worthlessness, and guilt, a Still Small Voice was trying to tell me that there was more to life, and that there was a meaning to my existence. Life had taught me not to trust anyone, including myself, so I didn’t know whether I could trust the Voice or my interpretation of what he was saying. So I stayed silent and remained in my marital prison for almost twenty years. I had my first son, then my second, and then my third. They were my rays of hope in a life of despair. I loved them and held them dear and cared so deeply about them. I worked hard to make their lives worthwhile and full of meaning. Yet, while I held my precious boys, inside my little girl wounds were crying out, “Where was someone to hold me close? Why couldn’t someone care about me?” One day, I learned the truth — Someone did care.
God showed me his love in a most amazing way. At the time, I didn’t think it was so amazing. Oh, how I hated him that day. As I sat watching a video on abused children, God brought me face to face with my past. I began to wrestle with God. I dared him to face me! We didn’t just wrestle overnight as Jacob did; we spent three days and nights wrestling. I screamed, raged, yelled, “Why didn’t you do anything? Why was this my life?” As I sobbed with pains too deep for words, he waited patiently for me to tire out. When it ended, I was so exhausted that I could do nothing but tearfully wait and listen. God spoke to me and told my heart that he loved me. I began to understand that he cared about me and all who suffer. I realized he didn’t hate females. Imagine that! In fact, he made me a female on purpose. I started a journey that day, one in which I began to believe that Voice from long ago — the One that would not be silenced. The One that told me I had just as much worth as anyone else. The One who told me I had meaning. The One who showed me I didn’t have to live the way I was living. And he told me something else that day. He told me he would not waste a single tear I shed over the years and that he would use all that I went through to help others. I believed him, and still do.
It was a long journey to believe in my own value, but as I did, changes occurred. As I learned the truth about God’s tender mercy, a truth that included full equality for women, it became the bridge that rescued my faith. More than that, it redeemed my life. The Lord showed me that all the things I had been told by so many were wrong. Through prayer and study, God showed me that he wanted more for my life because my life mattered — I mattered. A hierarchical credence kept me from knowing the Lord’s true design for men and women and perpetuated the over forty years of abuse I endured as a child and adult. Believing in biblical equality gave me the courage to seek freedom for myself and my three sons. I had found the bridge to meaning and still stand on its crest.
God’s redemption became my source of strength. But he was not finished. My bridge to freedom and meaning included gaining the courage to, as a single mother with three children, go to college and graduate school. I found out the most amazing thing — I am not stupid! In fact, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with both degrees! It still astounds me sometimes — not that I could do it, but that for all those years I believed I couldn’t. I became a licensed counselor, specializing in helping those who suffer abuse, and I could see God’s redemptive plan working in my life. God also restored my relationship with my dad, and for that I am richly blessed. But the words God placed on my heart years ago still echoed. I knew God would use the wounds from my past for good purposes, however I wasn’t yet sure how. He was using me to help others, but the Still Small Voice was again whispering, Was there more?
God brought a wonderful godly man into my life, and in 2003 we were married. George is also a counselor and has helped men with relational issues for over twenty years. I primarily work with women and children and he primarily works with men, and both of us believe in biblical equality. Perfect match! He shares my heart when it comes to helping those who suffer. Together, we co-founded the Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, a nonprofit ministry committed to changing the lives of women and children. Our mission is to educate, equip, and empower the Christian community to be God’s hands to rescue the oppressed, correct the oppressors, and promote respectful treatment of all. We offer help, hope, and healing through seminars, resources, support, and counseling, and we assist churches in beginning their own domestic abuse ministries. This is the ministry God placed on my heart many years ago. The task is great and the battle against patriarchy is fierce, especially because I, a woman, am the main presenter. Yet the ministry is making a difference in the lives of the women and girls in our Christian community and the community at large. We do, and we will continue to, build bridges to freedom. However, all-encompassing change in our world will only be brought through the bridge of biblical equality.
God’s truth about women was my bridge to finding meaning in a life filled with abuse. This led my life experiences, pain, and healing journey to become my bridge to ministry. Embracing equality changed things — it changed me. Hierarchical views kept me a prisoner with no purpose. Biblical equality not only gave me freedom, meaning, and a vital ministry, it also saved my faith…and my life. Now, I know the answer to the statement I made so many years ago. I was born…and that is of consequence.