The Darkest Valley – PT.2

One moment of courage can change the trajectory of your entire life. For me, that moment was when I walked through the scary office doors to my very first counseling appointment. If you read my previous blog, you know that it only took two months after first signing up and then canceling my counseling appointment for me to finally gain the courage to do the unthinkable, go to counseling.

In the Christian world, at least the Christian world I grew up in if you went counseling you were crazy. I mean that literally. I understood counseling was made available for people who were mentally not there. People who were borderline suicidal, somewhat crazy, or all-around crazy. I confidently placed myself in the “somewhat crazy” category since I did not fully want to be in counseling but was crazy enough to do it. Now I see how delusional I was to even think counseling was for the crazy. How the tables turned.

I’ve started and stopped counseling a total of three times. The first time was during my freshman year in college. That was the first time I said out loud the awful terrible that had happened. It didn’t come instantly. It took several counseling sessions for me to finally admit to my very patient counselor why I really was in her office. I had walls. Big walls. Hard ones that I refused to have anyone dare to break. Before each counseling session, my counselor prayed and after each counseling session, she prayed again. Every word in her prayer tormented me until I finally broke down and was honest. Completely honest about how that one night changed and wrecked who I saw in the mirror, who I believed I was and the fervid hate I had towards men. I thought I was a monster. A monster for allowing the assault to happen. A monster because I brought it on to myself. A monster for being dumb to think I could trust anyone. And a monster because I held scars that made me see an ugly reflection looking back at me each time I glanced at the mirror. I was a monster that was living a very fake life and in desperate need of counseling.

Counseling was messy. My resistant and impenetrable heart softened after each session that the impossible became evidently possible right before my eyes. I was healing. Every session entailed gut-wrenching, painful, agonizing ugly crying moments of truth. Things I didn’t even realize that were a part of what had shaped my thinking were brought to light which explained the why behind the what. Inadvertently, despite my view of counseling and stubborn heart, I realized, counseling helped. The big challenge after months of counseling was to tell my parents. And just that I did. I asked my brother and sister-in-law to drive me home to Houston. Once there, in my parent’s bedroom, I opened up without shame and revealed what I thought I would never be able to do.

After I word vomited I waited in what felt like eternal silence. I had prepared for the unthinkable. A part of me still believed that no one would believe me. For crying out loud, the lead Pastor told me that so if he said it, it must be true, right? The look on my parent’s faces was not one of unbelief. Rather I saw instantaneous regret and shame. Not in me, rather in their efforts to keep me safe. I remember clear as day that night in their bedroom as they held me weeping and in agony and for a split second I saw myself. The agony I had secretly held to myself for years prior. I knew I had to reassure them it was not their fault and will never be their fault. I knew they had a journey for themselves to take to heal. But that’s their story to tell. I love my mom and dad both. I love them wholeheartedly and have loved them even deeper as we bonded over a tragedy. God always somehow makes good out of evil and that good healed my broken heart.

After telling my parents, my siblings were next. It was hard. They were and are my best friends. Like my parents, I saw the regret and shame they inflicted on themselves. For not protecting me I presume. For lack of foresight maybe. Or maybe from seeing their baby sister wounded by people they trusted and even confided in. But I was no longer wounded. Eventually, they began to see that, but like my parents, they needed time for themselves to heal and walk their own journey. I loved my brothers, but my love and bond for them deepened that day. Again, God always somehow makes good out of evil and that good healed my broken heart.

I went to counseling a couple months after my first breakthrough and then summertime came which led me overseas in Egypt for a lengthy internship. I didn’t sign back up for counseling again until Jarrod (my husband) came into my life. I was treading new waters with now having to reveal the depths of my heart to someone I was beginning to love. Jarrod, in his patience, did not rush or question me. He was patient with me when I asked him to not hold my hands. He was patient with me when I asked him not to kiss me. He was patient with me when I didn’t want to hug or be embraced. And then one day, in his patience, Jarrod loving advised me to go to counseling. He knew I was wrestling and that I needed someone to talk to. He knew that those walls I had up were stemmed from deep wounds that started the beginning stages of healing but weren’t quite there yet. So again, I signed up for counseling. Another messy process. How do I love a man? How do I trust he won’t hurt me? How do I trust he won’t use my body for his needs and take advantage of my innocence? After months of counseling sessions, I took the brave step and opened up to Jarrod who patiently gave me time. The time I needed to be comfortable enough to be vulnerable.

He never once judged. Rather, Jarrod looked me dead in the face eyes locked into mine glossy from compassionate hurt. After my word vomit, he gently said “I love you, Vashti. Everything about you. I see you. Nothing but you. The pure heart that first attracted me to you and the pure heart that’s before me now. We will get through this.” And we have. I’ve never felt more safe and protected. I guess his 6’7″ built body has something to do with it, but in all honestly, Jarrod is exactly who I needed.

My last counseling session was months leading up to marriage. The sex bed petrified me. As much as I thoroughly trusted Jarrod, the tinge of fear always resurrected when the nightmares aired their ugly face. All the what if’s resurfaced and again, with time, a very patient soon-to-be husband and counselor we made it to the wedding day. The absolute best day of my life. A day I probably would have run away from had it not been for the God moments perfectly orchestrated and my choice to respond to those divine encounters.

The cross was my answer and still is. Every part of healing pointed back to the blood-shed on the cross. Transgressions of all nature are paid by a perfect man for imperfect people. Every counseling session brought out a new understanding of forgiveness. It brought out a new revelation of God’s redemptive work. It brought out a new understanding of my wrecked heart that desperately craved healing and wholeness. A price I was willing to take for the sake of my wellbeing and sanity.

C.S. Lewis said it well,

Forgiving does not mean excusing… it does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.

I refused to live in hate. I refused to live bitter. I refused to feel like a monster for the rest of my life. I refused to live with insecurities and poor self-esteem. And in my refusal, I had a very tough choice to make. I needed to forgive my transgressors and I needed to forgive myself for the self-hate I inflicted. There’s no excuse for the assault. In time, the consequence will come. Not by my might, rather through Christ my vindicator. What is also inexcusable is living with hate that kills. And I choose not to walk with a cloud over my head the rest of my life.

Even though I have walked one of the darkest valleys, I will fear not. Because I know who is my comfort. I know who is my healer. I know who is for me. And I know who will vindicate and justify me. I know He will do the same for you.

My journey isn’t quite over. There’s far more to the healing that has been left unsaid. In time I may share more, but I will leave you with this.

If you are or know someone that’s a victim of any type of abuse or assault, don’t shy away from speaking out. You owe it yourself and the safety of those around you to be bold. Seek help. Seek counseling and don’t be afraid of the messy healing.

If there’s a verse I would encourage you to study as you walk the tough road to healing, it’s Psalm 23. I actually had to memorize this verse around the age of 5 and haven’t forgotten it since. It’s one of my favorite Psalms and one I fall back on whenever days get tough. I challenge you to dive into all the treasures hidden in this Psalm. You won’t regret it. Healing is right before you. Jesus is waiting on you. He won’t force nor coerce you into healing. Rather, it’s your choice.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

I’m sorry the church hurt you.

Did you know that,

  1. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
  2. A quarter of male victims of sexual assault were under 10 years of age.
  3. Rape Statistics show that less than 20% of rapes are reported.
  4. Women and men with disabilities face twice the risk of sexual assault than able-bodied individuals.
  5.  Approximately 70 women commit suicide every day in the US following an act of sexual violence.
  6. Over 25% of male sexual assault victims will experience their first assault before 10 years of age.
  7. Over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance.
  8. Almost 95% of child victims knew their sexual attacker.
  9. The majority (90%) of rape victims are female.
  10. Girls and women between the ages of 16 and 19 are 4x more likely than girls and women in other age groups to be assaulted or raped.

Did you also know that,

In 2019 over 1,700 priests and clergy were accused of sexual abuse. Before 2018, over 1,000 children in Pennsylvania alone were found to be victims of sexual abuse under the Roman Catholic Faith. In 2019, 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Influential leaders like Brian Houston were found concealing child sexual abuse by his father. There’s Ravi Zacharias who has been accused of rape and sexual misconduct. In 2021, Micahn Carter resigned after rape allegations.

Sexual abuse occurs in religious schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and rectories, confessionals, and various other settings. Aside from these, sexual abuse in the form of rape, molestation, and emotional abuse occurs in 1,691 different religious institutions around the world. According to the National Congregational Study Survey, there are an estimated 380,000 churches in the U.S. alone not factoring those around the world that house the grounds for some form of sexual abuse.

Often when sexual abuse allegations are exposed, religious institutional members are left in disbelief towards the abuse claims. This has left many wondering why members have greater loyalty to the institution than to the abused victim. The abusers, predators, and sex offenders, they are only human, right? While the claims leave devout followers awestruck, claims eventually turn to whispers and are eventually forgotten.

While I cannot fully articulate the damage any form of abuse can inflict on your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical psyche, what I do hope to provide is hope. The complexity of navigating life and faith after these situations is nearly impossible, but God’s justice is like no other and proves the nearly impossible is possible.

Back home in Belize... 
I was midway through my teenage years when I got hurt by the church. Shortly after worship practice, I was given a ride home by the worship pastor. I hopped in the back seat looking through the window, heart full sitting next to my fellow worship singer friends. There were three of us who were being taken home that night. The first two were safely taken to their home and I was last. I remember saying goodnight to my friends with no care in the world. Little did I know, things would not pan out the way I had ever imagined. Rather than driving towards my house, the worship pastor drove the opposite direction and parked in a dark location. Things like "I've been thinking about you a lot," "You are beautiful," "I've always wanted someone like you," "Don't be scared," were said as he made his way to the backseat. He forced my body on his and his hands explored areas that I had promised myself would be reserved for my husband someday. I remember being stiff, repeating the words "please stop," and my eyes blurred from tears. He started unbuttoning my pants when the door to the truck flung open, and there standing was a man whose face I could not see. He stood tall with a gun in his hand pointing it right at my predator. 
The worship pastor pushed the man, jumped to the front seat, and sped off. I remember sitting in the back seat shaking, holding myself while I kept my crying to a whisper. The truck stopped again. I looked up hopeful thinking I was home only to be in a dark area once more, far from home. The worship pastor hopped to the back seat once more of which I assume to finish what he started. I ignored where his hands went and angrily listened to him saying, "You wanted this," "This is okay," "I've always wanted you," "I've been dreaming about you." He started unbuttoning again. This time I didn't fight where his hands were going. I simply sat numb questioning everything I ever knew. It was then for the second time, the door to the truck flung open and who I presume is the same man as before stood with a gun in his hand pointing at my predator. The man with the gun didn't say a word. I still could not see his face. I saw fear in the worship pastors face and he sped off and drove me home. The car ride was silent. The entire ride home not a word was said. And before he unlocked the car doors to my freedom, he warned me to tell no one and that if I did tell anyone, especially my parents, they would never believe me. No one would ever believe me. That night I lost respect for men. 

Three days after this event, I went to the lead pastors of the church thinking they would believe me. I was told my parents wouldn't so maybe the pastors would. I met with the lead pastors and tearfully explained what had happened just a couple nights prior. Bluntly I was told, "You need to take a cold shower," (at the time I didn’t understand what that phrase meant; it wasn’t until I was in counseling did I find out the insult meant by that phrase). I was also told, "You brought this on yourself," "Things like this happen because people like you bring it on yourself," "He struggles with lusting, but you are to blame too." They told me to never tell anyone, especially my parents because I will cause my parent's marriage to end, I will break up the worship pastor's family and I will break up the church. I would be to blame for the destruction. At the end of their "advising," they prayed over me and I left. I left disgusted, overwhelmed with guilt and shame. I left hopeless and confused. I was alone. That day, I lost respect for the church.

I am sorry the church hurt you. I am sorry if reading this brings up old wounds. I am sorry if it brings up pain and resurfaces hurt that was once buried. I am sorry for what you or a loved one experienced. I truly am sorry.

Interesting isn’t it? That all it takes is one life-changing moment to shift the way we think and live. There are many days I wish it never happened. I still wish it never did. Have I healed? Yes (still am). Do I still hurt? Absolutely (I often do). Getting married has recently opened a new side of how this trauma has affected me. Learning to love my husband, learning how to enjoy physical touch and understanding to appreciate the gift of sex without thinking about the day things shifted in my life as a teenager has been difficult.

The “church” failed me and I hated them for it. After the sexual assault, I still went to church because quite frankly I had no choice. No one knew what happened except for myself, the predator, and the lead pastors. I somehow convinced my mom I didn’t want to be on the worship team any longer and volunteered elsewhere. Eventually, my family ended up moving. I had hoped moving far away would leave the past where it was but it followed me. It followed me for years. The hate for the church followed. The hate for men followed. The hate I inflicted on myself intensified. The “church” failed me. For some of you, the church failed you too and I am sorry they did.

In another blog, I will write about how I eventually told my parents, counseling and the healing process, but what I do want to address is you. You and your feelings towards the church. It’s baffling to think one would dedicate loyalty to an institution that failed them, right? It is nonsensical even. But the church didn’t fail you. Before you quit reading, just give me a couple more minutes of your time. Yes, the church on the broader side of things fails by covering up sin, but you know who really failed you? Man. In order to walk back into the church, I had to shift blame from an institution founded on Christ’s love and target the root. The root wasn’t the church. The root was humans. Three of them for that matter. The worship pastor and the lead pastor and his wife. The church didn’t do anything to me, rather the people who led the church violated and stripped away the confidence I placed in God’s people. They convinced me that I was to blame for the violation, and they convinced me that I would be the cause of the destruction of my family, the predator’s family and more so the destruction of the church had I spoken out. And I listened. I believed it for a very long time.

The church didn’t fail you. Man did. Humans did, and humans are awful great at sinning, covering their sin and living boldly in their sin as if nothing ever happened. I am talking to you who refuse to step into a church. I am talking to you who refuse to see God as loving and true. I am talking to you who hate Christianity because of occurrences like mine. I am talking to you because I believed just as you are believing. The church didn’t fail you. Man did.

Let’s get back to basics. What was God’s original intent for the church in the first place? The church is where God’s people unite in diversity as one body. It’s a compilation of unique entities that follow the Biblical instruction and example of Christ. In the church are apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, helping, guidance, and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. The church is where individuals who want to be more like Christ communion to do exactly that. There’s of course more to this, but you get the point. The church was founded on Christ’s love and example, but as we’ve seen in centuries past, humans do a pretty crappy job at doing just that. We’ve made it about self and we entertained and covered up sin. We’ve made the church about appearance rather than authenticity. In some occasions, the church has become the modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, where correction is absent and “freedom in Christ” is misrepresented with gratifying desires contrary to who Christ is.

I blamed the church for quite some time that I lost trust in pastors and leaders. I was always on guard and for a while never able to engage in corporate worship without reflecting on how the church failed me. This mindset shifted one night when I asked God why He would allow bad things to happen and why did His people fail me. That’s a story for another time, but let me tell you, God met me exactly where I was.

How far I’ve come has been no easy road to walk. Somedays I get overwhelmed. Somedays I feel fear creeping in and the events of the night where everything changed replays in my head haunting my thoughts. There are nights I wake up sweating from nightmares as if I relived that night for the first time. There are days I walk filled with insecurity. I don’t trust well. I am more on guard than I probably should be. I’ve had to learn that my husband’s love for me is pure and not evil. In the dark days, I remember, God healed and God restored what has once been stripped away. God reassured and keeps reassuring.

Before I conclude, if you are or know someone that has been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or abuse, I urge you to seek help and expose the truth. Don’t believe the lie that no one will believe you, you are to blame, and that you will be the reason for destruction. If there’s anything I wish I could tell myself back then, it would be – don’t be afraid to speak out!

I guess in some way that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. After many years of being too scared and ashamed carrying guilt that was never mine in the first place, I have learned the power of exposing. No, not for me. Rather, to bring awareness of the hidden darkness that is present even in the church.

Parents, if you’re reading this, regularly ask your children how life is going inside and outside the church. Listen and watch for signs. Ask the questions and create a healthy environment for honesty. Be especially aware of grooming done by men or women who have taken a special liking to your child. This by no means is a reflection of poor parenting on my parent’s part. I would never in a million years blame them. Simply, just be aware.

And friend,…the church didn’t hurt you. Man did. And I am sorry. Fight the urge to not blame God for a man’s choice. Man’s failure is no reflection of the Father’s heart. In your suffering God is present and He grieves when you do.

Speak out and forget not…

He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them,
And redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.
Psalms 106:10