Friday, June 20, 2014
Where There's a Will...
Dear George Will,
Hope you don’t mind if I call you George. Phew, what a crazy couple weeks. Of course yours has been so very public; mine private, contemplative, as I’ve processed your article published in The Washington Post. I must tell you I’ve come a long way, I’ve noticed, because a few years ago - heck even a year ago - I would’ve immediately fired off a response, quite hostile I’ll admit, one I’d regret later.
During these couple weeks I’ve narrowed my focus specifically to your phrase “coveted status that confers privileges.” Thank you, George. You’ve ignited serious soul-searching, and I’ve come to some epiphanies and deepened my spirituality as I’ve thought about forgiveness and redemption. Something in me has even come to believe that if my stepfather were alive today, I think I’d be able to stand strong before him and forgive him.
I was sexually assaulted (molested they called it back in the day) by a neighbor boy; and when I told some kids, they didn’t believe me. The seeds of being doubted and ashamed were planted. A year later, my new stepfather began wooing me with gifts I readily accepted, which led to a summer of molestation. His threats of killing me and my family if I told, and my fear no one would believe me, as well as the shame that I’d enjoyed the gifts and attention he showered on me before that first assault, kept my lips sealed. It wasn’t until that silver-haired Phil Donahue turned to the camera during an episode of his show, looked me in the eyes and said don’t believe the abuser. Tell. And keep telling until someone believes you. I did that very day, and my mother sent me to safety while she dealt with the fallout.
Here’s the rub: She didn’t prosecute. He was a respected man in the community, and she didn’t want to put me through facing her soon-to-be ex-husband in court. In her mind she was protecting me; in my 11-year-old mind I felt she doubted me, I was partly to blame, and I feared he’d continue preying on other girls.
So those seeds of doubt and shame sprouted. The advice of “forget it and it will go away” was conveyed. A series of choices starting in my teens developed as I looked for ways to cope. I turned to alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity. I was looking for comfort in all the wrong places.
Here’s the profound part: What began flowering in me was a heart filling with mercy. In my 20s, after making mistake after mistake, I developed a deep love for the downtrodden, for single moms, for the bullied, for people who feel no one cares. In my 30s, I zoned into a passion of seeking out ways to help teens, especially in that critical junior high age when drugs and alcohol are easily attainable and those hormones are flaring – the same age at which I chose my destructive path.
So while mulling over your phrase “coveted status that confers privileges,” I came to the realization that ten or so years ago I was given opportunities to share my story, to bring to light the darkness that consumed me. And each chance lifted a layer of shame in which I wallowed.
George, I’ve had the “privilege” to work with youth, to walk alongside teen girls as they hit that pivotal age. I’ve had the “privilege” to mentor a young lady - who’s experienced much trauma in her life - beginning in her seventh-grade year and continuing through her senior year. I’ve had the “privilege” to share my story in front of a group of women ranging in age from teens to elderly in Nicaragua, some who’ve experienced similar journeys. I have to tell you, I cried as this group surrounded me after I spoke, laid their hands on me and prayed for me. I thought I was there to minister to them, but no, these strong women were loving on me.
The last I’ll share – I hope I haven’t lost your attention – is I’ve had the “privilege” to share my story with groups of women at a handful of retreats. I am not comfortable speaking in front of groups, but when I lean on my faith, I wish you could see the power my God injects. I blossom when He helps me conquer my discomfort. And I treasure the moments when other women who’ve experienced abuse share their stories.
So in the phrase “coveted status that confers privileges” on which I’ve meditated, while I disagree with “coveted” - because please search your heart and understand no sexual assault victim “wishes for, especially eagerly,” (dictionary def.) that experience – I will agree, in my own experience, that your words “status that confers privilege” describes me because I am given opportunities to redeem my choices and make peace with my past.
George, I look forward to how you’ll redeem your experience of a couple weeks ago and the fallout. Hoping to witness redemption at its finest. I wish you all my best. Grace and peace.