Have you ever made a decision and then watched the world fight you tooth and nail? Watched your relationships become toxic instead of sustaining?
I’m there. I’ve made a decision and now I’m telling my loved ones “I’m under attack and I know it’s not you. This isn’t what you want. So can we stop fighting and start praying?”
I’m pretty sure this is how I battle Satan and his plots for evil in my life.
So why am I under attack?
A few weeks ago I told you about a women’s retreat I attended. I also told you about a horrible thing that happened to me at a young age. Last week I had dinner with 80 of the best women from my church and I heard one speak to me.
“Do not hide your story. Do not be ashamed of what has happened to you. Do not let Satan win. Be vulnerable. Be open. Let God use your pain for good.”
It was shocking. I prayed asking God what exactly was I supposed to disclose? Not everything. Surely the world should not hear about all the pain I’ve been through.
As clearly as I’ve ever heard a message from my redeemer, I heard it.
Tell them everything. Tell them about the shame, the feelings of worthlessness, and then tell them how you got through it. Tell them about the people I placed in your life to love you no matter what. Be vulnerable and I will use your pain to help others.
I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but I do know one thing.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
One thing. This is not a poor Brenna story. The response I’m looking for is not “I can’t believe this happened to you”. This is quite literally a story of redemption. God never gave up on me, even when I walked away from him, he was always there orchestrating my life for his greatness.
So here we go.
I was seven years old, my mom was pregnant with my first brother, her third child, and trying to run a restaurant with a game room (think centipede, pac-man, pinball) at the same time. I was the sweet young lady with my own ‘regulars’ that refused to let the other waitresses pour their coffee. One of those regulars went by Teddy. I remember him being in his late fifties, early sixties. Well known around town, family man, three daughters if I remember correctly that he frequently took fishing when they were younger.
I was his girl.
Looking back, it’s obvious what he was doing. They call it grooming. Nobody else was so adamant that I be the one to pour his coffee, bring out his breakfast, sit next to him and tell him about anything I wanted to.
But then it went further. I was standing next to a pinball game waiting for my parents the first time he put his hand down my pants and fondled me. He asked if I liked it. I didn’t know what to say so I said “I guess so”.
I started avoiding him after that. I would bring coffee but I would stand as far away as possible. I definitely would not sit next to him.
It was several months after that first time. I was playing pool with my little sister and he came in. I kept walking around the table to stay away from him but eventually he got to me. The same thing happened. He asked me again if I liked it, this time though I said “I don’t know”. He told me he would stop if I wanted him to. I said yes. He told me that this was our secret and nobody needed to know.
At seven years old I experienced my first feelings of shame and guilt. I didn’t understand what had just happened, I just knew it didn’t feel good. Shortly after that our restaurant was closed due to carbon monoxide poisoning and we moved. I felt free, like I could forget what he had done and I would never have to see him again.
Five years later after a brief stint in Nebraska, my family returned to Colorado. I remember we were cleaning the house one day, I had moved the massive dining table to the side of the room and was sweeping and mopping when the doorbell rang. I answered the door and there he was. Teddy was standing at my front door. My mom welcomed him in and they proceeded to catch up on everything they had missed over the last five years. Then came the question.
“You should let me take my girls fishing. Brenna and Tatia, would you like to go fishing one of these weekends?”
I was scared out of my mind. I tried to come up with reasons we couldn’t go but my mom was insistent that we loved fishing and it would be great. Keep in mind that at this point our little secret had stayed just that. A secret. My mom had no idea. And honestly, I still didn’t understand what had happened. I just didn’t like the feelings associated.
Teddy left with the agreement that me and Tatia would join him soon for a Saturday of fishing. I looked at my sister, 7 or 8 years old and I knew, he would do the same thing to her. I couldn’t let her experience this same thing so I went to my mom and I told her what he had done.
I apologized profusely because I was convinced I had done something really bad. Why else would he have told me to keep it a secret? Mom cried. She cried so hard and she hugged me so tight. She told me I would never see him again and that what he did was so wrong and it wasn’t my fault.
The days after that were a blur. She went to the police and started an investigation. Unfortunately after talking to so many people, there just wasn’t anything he could be charged with. Sexual assault on a minor carried a three year statute of limitations. It had been five years. They searched for other victims, and came up empty handed.
Honestly though, that’s not what hurts the most.
My stepdad refused to believe me. He accused me of lying, making the whole thing up to get attention. He had lost a friend and it was my fault.
For the past nine years, I had felt a growing disdain from my stepdad. He didn’t want me, he didn’t love me, and he definitely didn’t like me. Once this came out though, his hatred toward me became worse.
I had become fairly heavy, like size 18 women’s heavy. I ate crappy food and in general had no self confidence. The boys in my youth group teased me about my size, my stepdad frequently called me fat. I had to listen to him tell me that I would never do anything, that I would wind up pregnant before I graduated high school. I was accused of sleeping with boys that came to hang out. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 17 years old, but if you asked him, he would swear I lost it at 12 or 13.
But here’s another secret that, until this year when I told my husband, I kept locked away inside my head.
When I was 13 we got our first ‘internet’ computer. Windows 95 version. And I discovered the world of chat rooms and “cybering”. Now known as sexting because that’s how quick this has evolved.
I felt things that I wasn’t sure how to process, after being exposed to sexuality at such a young age, I didn’t know what to do. So I cybered with strangers. I learned about sex in an environment that I could quickly erase through the browser settings. It was without a doubt, the most damaging thing I could have done as teenager. I felt so incredibly guilty but I managed to convince myself that at least I wasn’t having real sex, there was no risk of std’s or pregnancy and it allowed me to process through these sexual feelings that I had dealt with from a very young age.
But then I did have sex. My senior year of high school, my boyfriend and I were finally alone and the opportunity was not going to get any better. I left for college that fall and it became worse. The need for approval and the need to be accepted turn into alcoholism which resulted in multiple sexual partners. Now, at thirty years old, I still battle with feelings of shame because I don’t know how many men I’ve slept with. I ask forgiveness on a daily basis and I know I’m forgiven but unfortunately it’s still a sin that I will carry for the rest of my life.
Looking back, there is one reason I didn’t crash so hard I couldn’t recover. God was watching over me. He protected me when I was not making any kind of good decisions.
I met my ex in the middle of that season. There were red flags going up like crazy even in that first exchange but I was still a twenty year old girl with no confidence searching for someone to love me. I was damaged to the point that I couldn’t see the love I already had from God, my family, and my friends. I thought I needed a boyfriend to be whole. So I got one. Then the crazy idea came that I needed a baby to be whole. So I had Elizabeth. This child who is just like me, who gave me this incredible title of mom, who made me start thinking of someone besides myself. God gave me Elizabeth to bring me back to him.
Do you want to know what happens when God gives you another human being to raise? I’ll tell you what happened to me. I started praying again. I needed God to assure me that Elizabeth would never experience my pain. I needed him to tell me how to raise this sweet girl so that she didn’t make the same mistakes that I did.
The first thing he used Elizabeth for was to tell me that I didn’t deserve to be abused. Elizabeth deserved a daddy that would treat me with respect and show her how she should expect to be treated. So I took the first step to show her what she deserves, I left her father. I look at that decision as the first step to this incredible relationship I have with Jesus now.
Let me tell you something though. Making that decision did NOT turn my life completely around. Quite the opposite in fact. I was still searching for love. I was a little bit wiser about the kind of man I didn’t want in my life but I hadn’t created the list of who God wanted in my life. So I fell for the wrong man again. He didn’t beat me. He didn’t call me names. He walked away though when I told him I was pregnant.
Jennifer was a co-worker turned friend after we both left the company where we met. It seemed like she had the perfect life. The perfect husband, a sweet little girl, a house, and even more, a church they called home. She asked me several times, “Come check out South. I know you’ll love it and they will love you”
A church would love me? That’s hilarious. I was raised in a baptist church that criticized my mom for being a single mom after my stepdad walked out on his own free will. She didn’t do enough to keep him apparently.
I told Jenn, there’s NO WAY a church would accept me. I was a single mom, with two kids from different dads. I was the worst kind of sinner.
She kept asking. And God kept telling me that my children needed to meet him. So two months after Colm was born, I came to visit South Fellowship. Six years later and we haven’t left.
Shortly after we started going to church, I filed for custody of Elizabeth. I needed something preventing him from taking off with her. I honestly didn’t think it was an option that he would get anything less than supervised visits. I was wrong. He was given every other weekend and one full week during summer vacation.
At some point that year I heard a message about praying for those that have hurt us. Do you know how hard that is? I do…
But I did. And again, looking back (because you know hindsight is 50/50), God used my sweet Elizabeth. I hated the fact that I had to give her to the person that threatened her very life. But I didn’t have a choice so my prayer became asking God to use Elizabeth to show her dad God’s plan for his life. I don’t know what that has done to him but I have to believe it’s done something.
Elizabeth accepted Jesus into her heart a couple years ago and this past year she made the decision to be baptized and proclaim her relationship with him. My girl sings praise to him that overwhelms my heart when I hear her. She’s passionate about her love for a God that will guide her through this entire life.
After everything I’ve been through I still pray that he will protect her and guide her every decision. But there is a peace that I have that surpasses every fear.
Every single one of my children will make wrong decisions that will impact their life and shape each of them for good or bad. And I have very little control over all of it. God is in control of it all though. I know without a shadow of a doubt that despite everything I’ve gone through, he will use it all and he will do it through this relationship I have with him.
I was talking to a friend Tuesday night after hearing that I need to be vulnerable, I need to let God use me and my story for his plan. She told me “Brenna, God is calling you now because you made it through. You’re broken but healing and that’s where he can use you. You’re not in the middle of it anymore, you can look back and see what he did for you and you can speak that truth to others.”
She’s right. I’m still on this journey but it’s a different journey right now. I’m not surviving, I’m not asking him to get me through this. I can see what he’s done and now I’m asking him what can I do.