Please note: The following story is about severe abuse and might trigger a strong reaction from those who have suffered similar trauma.
Kirsten was finishing the last half mile of her trail run as the narrow dirt path wound through the rich, green foliage. The forest was bright with the hues of a new spring as each foot pounded firmly into the dirt below. Body connected, spirit weary. A group of runners passed by, a few of them acquaintances who nodded their heads to her in recognition.
She forced her eyes down quickly before jumping into the car. If they only knew who I really am, she thought. For so long as a little girl, she had been numb to her own traumatic life, harboring a sea of vicious secrets. She longed to feel something—anything.
Every day she would put on the mask again, the one that hid the shame still locked away in silence. She felt like a liar at times behind her walls of success in the outside world. “It would be so much easier to say, ‘I’m a runner, I’ve completed all these marathons, have two beautiful kids and live in a great community in Beaverton,’ and just forget the horrific life I experienced as a child growing up.’”
From a very young age, Kirsten had learned to silence her voice, submit her body and abandon emotions — keeping quiet late at night when he would come into her bedroom. Being forced to participate in his sexual fantasies and addictions. Confusion and pain morphed with a tender young girl’s desire to still be loved.
But it was her father. Surely he loved her? There was a constant blur between right and wrong.
From an outsider’s perspective, Kirsten and her father had a close relationship. He would take her fishing, and they would go on hikes in the woods together. But the woods were full of secrets. They had become an isolated place where sexual abuse was unleashed on her. As he started to tie her up and become more violent, her deep fear of her father intensified. She was only the tender age of seven. To Kirsten, the only example of love she witnessed was not love at all. It was intense abuse with verbal manipulation. Scars. Bruises. Distrust. And an
The constant fear inside Kirsten raged like an all-consuming flame. Her own mother despised her for getting in the way of her marriage. When Kirsten’s father would bring her back into the house with scrapes and cuts, her mother would coldly demand, “clean yourself up.” Referencing nothing, yet knowing everything. It propelled Kirsten to be numb and compliant, even as she was trafficked by her father throughout their farm community by her own father. Ten-year-old Kirsten and her father would join the rest of the family at the dinner table—her eyes cast down, her spirit devastated and hollowed. The burning silence of secrets spoke louder than anyone else in the room, including her silent mother.
The Kirsten that showed up to middle school every day was disengaged and disconnected from everyone, including herself. Bound to silence, her jaw was locked shut from voicing the truth of the relentless, face-to-face sexual trauma. She felt full of shame and unworthy of deeper relationships with her classmates because of these secrets. School became a cherished place of safety, of normalcy, of kids playing kindly—a far cry from the many men’s houses she was taken to in exchange for cash.
Following her parents' divorce in high school, her abuse abruptly stopped and her life started to take a positive turn. She was able to smile and talk more to friends at school. But to encapsulate the pain, her brain began an unconscious descent into a frost of temporary amnesia. Her junior year, she joined track and field and channeled her suppressed, built up anger into running; here, she could let it out and fly to the finish line. A strong endurance runner and the captain of her cross country team, Kirsten soon found herself standing on podiums with medals, applause and the unfamiliar budding of a self-esteem. She started to think that maybe there was something worthy in her.
As Kirsten transitioned into college life in Illinois, she met the man who would become her husband. He was different and treated her well,
“I had actually forgotten and suppressed a lot of my pain and abuse, and I think God spared me from processing all of the mess until I was in a safe place.”
Upon finishing her degree, Kirsten worked at one of the top hospitals in the country. She had attained the “good life” she had always wanted and was thriving outwardly. Her painful past had not forgotten her, however, and headaches began to gain their ground as the pressure of her sleeping secrets built to an impossible tolerance. Fearing the possibility of serious health problems, she desperately sought help from medical professionals, including physical therapists; but it was their physical touch that triggered her mind and spirit—a horrifying release of her memory.
She closed her eyes and flashed back to dirt and rocks digging into her skin as her father drug her by her foot through the woods. An overwhelming and familiar fear began to overtake her as her mind could no longer contain the bursting dam of traumatic years she had endured—and blocked out—as a child. She continued to re-live chilling memories, drifting in and out of newly thawed images that felt like someone else’s distant life. As she allowed the memories to flood back, she was finally faced with the reality of rape, incest, and trafficking as the truth of what she had really survived.
In that painful moment on the physical therapy table, she cried out from the bottom of her heart “God, I have never asked you for anything in my whole life, but please, please help me.“ Suddenly, a warmth and flash of light came over her with a wave of calm and peace sweeping away the heaviness. She did not know what had just happened but knew that it had changed her.
On a frozen, snowy day in Illinois, she found herself at the lakefront sitting in her car, overwhelmed by her own experience. Her eyes flooded with an endless stream of hot tears and emotion as she sat in the horror of her new reality along with a hope unfamiliar to her. She had an intense urge to attend a Christian church for the first time in her life.
At church, she decided to take communion for the first time, and as she took the bread and the juice, a peaceful vision came into her mind of herself lying on the physical therapy table. Where before it was just her and the therapist, she now saw Jesus embracing her as a peaceful covering. She realized that Jesus was her savior and that he loved her.
Even with the truth of Jesus leading her, the effects of the violence and trauma still bore deep scars. She started praying to Jesus to help her. She began reading the Bible and letting God’s words wash over her as she grappled with the pain that was now exposed like an open wound. She found help in a small group focused on healing trauma, and for the first time, she was met with tangible compassion and love from other women. She was shocked at the loving response she received because, as a child, her mother had always rejected her pain and promised that people would reject her if she ever told. There was no doubt that the healing power of Jesus was at hand and her soul was beginning to be knit back together.
Life for Kirsten was becoming real and raw—often too much to handle. Soon, she and her husband moved to Los Angeles, and with the dramatic shift of city and the loss of her support system, Kirsten spiraled with her memories. She unsuccessfully attempted to take her own life, and it was at this pivotal point, she finally realized how desperately she needed professional help. She needed someone who was safe, understood trauma and could handle the depth of her pain. She reached out and found a Christian therapist.
As the healing process continued, her emotional frost began to thaw. For years, she had become a master of deception, holding people and emotion at arm's length. To her awe and amazement, Kirsten became pregnant first with a son, and 2 years later with a daughter—true miracles and redeeming gifts from her Savior. She had doubted that she would ever be able to have children from her physical trauma. A deep warmth for her babies filled her heart, a warmth Kirsten came to know as love. God was working to restore and mend her in ways that were beyond her understanding; her ability to bond with and nurture her children were growing. Desperately longing to have the emotional connectedness she needed to be a vulnerable wife, friend, and mother, she pressed into therapy and the safe people God had brought into her life.
But despite the love abundantly poured out to her, there still remained a deep pit of pain in her core—it was the thing they call shame.
Career changes led Kirsten and her family of four to the Portland area where they quickly found community and support through Beaverton Foursquare. The family's spiritual roots were deepening, their relational ties were growing, and continued therapy brought Kirsten new revelation.
On the outside, she continued to be successful as a professional and known as a good mom, engaged in her community. But behind her veneer there remained the deep, spiritual wounds from being sexually violated by her father and the many men who paid for her body. This shame made her feel like she was going to die from the inside out, and she pleaded with God to release her from this burden.
Determined to heal for her children, her marriage, and herself, she wanted to stop the generational effects of sin from being passed on and knew God was with her. She realized she had internalized the horrific acts thrust upon her as her own fault—as something she somehow deserved. Her abusers had blamed her and she had accepted their lies. As a part of her deep healing, Kirsten was able to find a therapist specializing in trauma, as well as additional support through the Biblically based healing group, Mending the Soul.
Within the community of Beaverton Foursquare Kirsten and her husband’s faith in God began to deepen. As her children started to know the love of Jesus, they followed in their father’s footsteps by being baptized at Beaverton Foursquare—an incredible gift for their family. Healing had been a painful process of restoration, and sometimes Kirsten wondered if she would ever be done, but she was beginning to see the fruit of trusting Jesus and being embraced by her community.
Still wearing her masks situationally to function in the world, Kirsten found herself a few weeks into a Rooted community group being asked by her leader to share her story. No one here knows yet, Kirsten thought, I can still hide. Part of her desperately wanted to silence her voice, but she was compelled to break that silence. The Holy Spirit gave her peace, and in a quivering voice, she spoke of all her deep brokenness. Like a balm to her soul, she was met with love, mercy, and support in the eyes of her brothers and sisters in Christ. Her spirit comforted, her eyes lifted, her silence broken.
Kirsten continues her ongoing journey of healing and forgiveness. Brick by brick, God is restoring and redeeming her through her understanding and acceptance of what true, true love should be. He has provided her with an authentic community in which she can be fully known. And as read in Isaiah 61, he has bestowed upon her a crown of beauty instead of ashes.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
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.