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Beautiful Past

Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

This is the story of my life.  I will warn you -  it won’t be easy to read.   There will not be graphic details – but enough to tell the story.  And it’s long – sorry – I tried to keep it as short as possible!  Hard to sum up 40 years in a small space ;-)

I was born in New York in 1970.  I don’t remember much from my early years and pictures seem like someone else’s life and not my own.  It is strange to see the little girl yet not be able to remember her at all.  Most people have memories from their early childhood – I have none.

I’m not completely sure of the age I was in my earliest memories.  I only remember a little girl confused and very much alone.  I was young the first time I remember it happening.  I don’t have memories of the actual incident – I merely remember my father buttoning his shirt and trying to convince me not to tell my Mommy because Daddy would go to jail.  Mommy and Daddy would get a divorce.  I didn’t want that did I?  That’s my first memory and enough of a memory to give you an idea of my childhood.  This was before my brother was born – so I had to be younger than 6.

Fast forward to my teenage years.  I was angry, defiant, and hated God.  I prayed often – but my prayers fell on what I thought were deaf ears.  The incident I described above was happening several times a week.  My father controlled every aspect of our lives – listened to our phone conversations, followed me around town when I was out with friends – even managed to get my boss to tap the phones so he could listen in – telling my boss I was dealing drugs from his business.  We were prisoners in our own home.

I often stood between my father and the rest of my family.  I felt it was my job to protect them.  I heard repeated threats about what would happen to them if I were to leave or to tell.  It was those threats that kept me from leaving.

Several times – I tried to take my own life – but God had better plans for me.  I swallowed bottles of pills – to never have any side effects. For some reason, I never turned to drugs or alcohol.  I was too busy trying to stay in control.

One of the most difficult things about my childhood was many times, the rape involved watching a horror film such as the exorcist or the shining.  Those memories were ones I battled with well into my adult life.  I had many sleepless nights and whether you believe it or not, woke up face to face with demons on more than one occasion.

In high school, I was very involved in band.  I threw myself into my instrument and my music – it was my escape.  When I had nothing else – I had music.  Music ended up being the tool God used to remove me from the situation.  I received a music scholarship to a Christian college.  We attended church off and on – but it was never a big part of our lives.  If nothing else, it was an opportunity for my father to show the world how “perfect” we were – forcing us to sing and to look perfect.  No one ever suspected what was really happening inside our home.

By a miracle, my father let me go to college.  The most difficult decision I ever made was to leave my family behind.  I was sure the day I left for college I would never see them again.  I turned 18 shortly after arriving on campus.  My birthday present?  My father showed up on campus – 3 hours from our home – to take me home.  He stopped on the side of the road on the way home and raped me.  I arrived home with smeared makeup and a ripped shirt to a house full of high school friends and a surprise birthday party.  I covered, as I always did - and no one was the wiser.

Back on campus, my father would call at 2:30 a.m. many nights. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. for years after this.  2:30 a.m. was also the time he would sneak into my room at night when I was younger because my Mom was asleep.   My roommates in college had no idea why the phone would ring at such an hour and I would run to answer it, afraid they would answer instead, just to hear his breathing.  He would never talk – just let me know he hadn’t forgotten about me.

One weekend, my roommates were gone and the phone rang as usual.  That night, I hit the end.  I threw the phone into the wall, smashing it to pieces.  I fell on my face before God and told Him I couldn’t take it anymore.  I challenged God to show me He was real.That night I gave everything to Him – and it was the best decision I ever made.

Things didn’t change over night.  In fact, I went home for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, to much the same things.  However – God began to change me.  He began to work in my heart, he began to heal me even before I told someone else what was happening to me.

Shortly before Easter, I gathered the courage to call my father and tell him I was bringing my boyfriend home for Easter.  I told him it was the only way I was coming home.  I thought I would be safe.  2 days before I was to come home, I received a letter from my Mom and all it said was “don’t come home”.  Nothing more.  My Mom couldn’t get mail out to me that wasn’t approved by him – so I knew something was really wrong.  Still, I planned on going home.

The next day, I was sitting in a dorm waiting for a friend when my roommate burst in and told me the police were on the phone.  I knew in that moment it was over.  I thought my family was dead – but I was still keeping the perfect face, even though panic had taken over my heart.  Honestly, that’s still something I have to watch – looking on the outside that everything is totally fine when on the inside, things are not so good.  I’m a work in progress :-)

When I got to the phone, it was not the police but my Mom at the police station.  I don’t remember her words – but I remember telling her just a small piece of what my life was like.  It was the first she knew. It was the first time I ever told anyone anything.

My father was arrested that night.  We found out later he had closed out accounts, paid off bills – did things that would indicate he was checking out of life.  To this day, we believe he was planning on killing all of us if I had come home for Easter.  He had held a baseball bat to my Mom’s throat and threatened her.  I don’t remember the exact words – but basically that if I brought that boy home, something bad was going to happen.

Even though sexual abuse was not talked about in the late 80′s and people didn’t know a lot about it – my father was never released.  He stayed in the county jail until his sentencing.  According to the prosecutor, because I had not written down the exact dates of the rapes and because I was 18 at the time of the arrest, my father was not charged with what he did to me.  They had a better chance at trial for going after him for things he did to other family members.  In the end, we plea bargained, never had a trial and he was given an 8 year sentence and served 6.  Justice, in that sense, was never served.

God is an amazing God.  He is the Healer.  He is the Almighty.  He mends the broken heart.  As Isaiah says, he is the restorer of places long devastated and the renewer of ruined cities.  I was devastated – and ruined – but I was not forgotten.

To this day, it brings tears to my eyes to think of all God has done in my life.  What I just shared with you is merely the tip of the iceberg of my life.  I should be crazy, I should be depressed, I should be in a mental institution, on drugs, or dead.

But what I should be is not what God intended me to be.

He gives beauty for ashes.  My life was nothing but ashes – but the beauty that has come out of the fire – is nothing but a miracle.  He gives the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  He has clothed me with gladness and a garment of praise.

The road has been long.  The path has been rugged.  There have been times I have been unable to see His light – but I will tell you that my God is into the business of making all things new.  He is in the business of proclaiming freedom for the captives and releasing prisoners from the darkness.

One thing I want to share is the importance of forgiveness.  If you are reading this and you have suffered a path similar to mine – let me encourage you.  Forgiveness is possible.  Will you forget?  No.  Forgiveness is a process – and sometimes one that you continue in until the day you die – but it is possible.  It is also necessary.  You will be forever chained to your past if you do not forgive.  I will tell you forgiveness took me many, many years – and there are still times I have to check myself in the mirror of Jesus and make sure my heart is still in the right place.  Is it easy?  No.  Does it feel good?  Definitely not.  But forgiveness is a choice you make – and sometimes that choice is moment by moment, day by day, memory by memory. Yet, it is a choice that at some point – you must make.

Jesus can give you beauty from ashes.  Jesus can and does free you from the shackles of your past.  It is possible.  Jesus heals all wounds.  You have to be willing to let Him – you have to let go and not live in that hate, that anger, that bitterness anymore.  You have to walk THROUGH what you experienced and not jump around or over or pretend it didn’t happen.  Although you will hate hearing this – your past helped shape who you are today.  But Jesus shapes who you are tomorrow.  Let Him shape you.

I am so in love with my Jesus.  I have much to be thankful for.  I am forever in His gratitude for His gift on the cross.  If not for that – where would I be today?

Instead today I am happy, whole, without spot or blemish – washed with the blood of the lamb – white as snow.  I am forgiven and not forgotten.  Restored, renewed, redeemed.  Full of hope, full of promise and full of His grace and mercy over my life every single day.  I wear a crown of beauty.  Without Jesus, I would be nothing – but instead – He has given me everything.

He will give you everything too.  You only have to ask.  It’s a gift and it’s yours for the taking.  Let Jesus take over and watch what He can do with a life sold out to Him.

One more thing before I go – Jesus is the only answer.  I strongly encourage counseling – don’t try to do this alone -  seek Godly counsel.  In the end though – Jesus is the only answer.  There is no answer outside of Him.  None.  Not alcohol, not drugs, not prostitution, not hate, not anger, not revenge,  – Jesus is the only answer.  He is the only way to true freedom. There is no other.

There is more to this story – but this is where we’ll leave it for now.

He gives beauty from ashes – and I’m forever grateful.
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