Golden Threads: A Resurrection Story

April 21, 2011

By Kat Teraji

Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I am writing this for all of you who have been touched by one of our nation's biggest hidden epidemics. 
 
I had always looked up to my father. He was an amazing person in many ways, gifted with a golden voice like Bing Crosby, a poet, and an artist who could always answer the most difficult questions on Jeopardy.
 
But I understood from age seven that my silence about our family secret was what held our precious little family of three together.
 
It was hard to comprehend how the fun-loving dad I had always trusted could be the same person who began sexually abusing me as a child of seven, one whose secrets I would feel obligated to keep for many years at the expense of my own well being.
 
When it began, I felt completely under his control, powerless, with nothing I could do in my own defense. I thought that what was happening was my fault. Why did he pick me? It must be because there was something bad about me as a person.
 
When someone close to you causes you harm, you are on guard all the time. You lie awake wondering when the next shock is going to come, never feeling safe in your own home. You barricade the bedroom door at night with your toy box.
 
You wonder what you have done that makes you so unlovable that your own parent can't decide not to hurt you anymore. You feel overwhelming feelings of shame and worthlessness. You think that no one else can relate to what you are going through.      
 
What I didn't know is that 47 percent of all reported sexual assaults on children are by family members and 49 percent are by those who know the child or the child's family (teachers, coaches, physicians, neighbors, and pastors).
 
Even as an adult, there were nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were days when I experienced flashbacks of memories that played and replayed in my head like a bad home movie in my head with no "stop" button for me to hit.
 
Though the harm done to me physically lasted six years, the emotional pain and fallout from it lasted for more than 25 years – 25 years of living with a heavy heart and sleepless nights. 
 
It was only when I began sharing my story with others that I discovered I was not alone. Pastor Lee Neish of The United Methodist Church was leading a small Bible study in which we were learning how to share our own personal stories of our faith journey.
 
It was there that I met a gentle and quiet man named Don Londgren who was old enough to be my father and who made me feel that I could tell my real story for the first time. Don made me comfortable by first sharing the story of experiencing anguishing pain in his back and how he had been healed through prayer. The pain had been so severe in the past that it had rendered him incapable of doing anything, even standing up up. When I told him the story of my own pain, he was not repulsed, as I expected and feared he would be. His reaction was nothing but positive and affirming. 
 
It was the first time I had told anyone my deep, dark secret.
  
It would take a book to tell you about all the people who have helped me on this road back to self-esteem. God has sent many messengers my way, but it was Don's example and empathy that helped me to see that I did not have some distant "religious" God Who couldn't understand what I was feeling.
 
Isaiah talks about how "by His wounds we are healed." To me this became quite literal, not just symbolic. Jesus can have perfect empathy for me because no matter what pain I have gone through, it is nothing compared to His in bearing all the sins of the world, including what my father did, all my faults, all my bitterness, and my own anger towards God. If He had taken an easier road, it would be harder for me to believe that God could really understand the level of pain in my heart. 
 
But this willingness on His part to die completely takes away all my anger for what has happened to me – that anger just dissolves in the face of a God Who would build this kind of bridge to bring me back to relationship. Jesus Christ understands pain of all kinds. Jesus Christ knows what it is to carry unbearable burdens. God takes whatever painful things have happened in our lives and uses it all for good. 
 
My dad unintentionally taught me many things, but the most important one is to approach others with empathy because you never know what kind of pain another person is carrying around. I will venture to say that what has happened to me has become a blessing in disguise; it has made me much stronger than I would have been otherwise. What has caused you to suffer most can become your greatest strength. God takes the worst brokenness and creates something new out of it. 
 
Sometimes we only see the backside of the tapestry of life with all its imperfections and poor stitching, but the day will come when we will walk around to the other side and see the golden threads of the full design in all its glory.
 
I discovered how helpful my own pain could be in making others feel comfortable to open up and share theirs. What once seemed like the unredeemable nightmare of my past became a tool for helping others. You don't have to be a victim whose life is defined by the bad things that have happened to you. You have something unique to offer; you are one of a kind. You are the only you there will ever be in the entire history of the world!
 
Don't allow your abuser to victimize you a second time by suffering in silence. Bringing secrets out into the light takes away their power. There is no fear that can hold me back anymore because I know that I can survive anything. After this heartache, there is a resiliency that only survivors of traumatic experience share.
 
And you are a survivor, too.
 
Find one other person you can talk to. Do whatever you have to do to take that first step towards getting help. Don't stay in the darkness. Come on out and join us here in the light.
 
For reporting numbers in your area, call the Childhelp USA® National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD® 1-800-422-4453). Calls are anonymous and toll free. State-of-the-art technology provides translators 24 hours a day in 170 languages. Visit http://www.childhelp.org/ for more information.
 
Kat Teraji is a regular contributor to Instant Connection. She lives in Gilroy, California and is an active member of Gilroy United Methodist Church.