Sexual Abuse Survivor Update: Mark Aderholt, International Mission Board & Southern Baptist Convention

It has been over four months since Mark Aderholt, the man who sexually abused me in 1996 and 1997, when I was 16 years old, was arrested and charged with three felonies: two counts of Indecency with a Child–Sexual Contact and one count of Sexual Assault of a Child under the age of 17.

This arrest made headlines because the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission arm, the International Mission Board, knew about the abuse, found it to be credible after an internal investigation in 2007, and did not report it to authorities or within the SBC, citing they could potentially face legal issues if they had let Aderholt’s future employers know that he sexually abused a teenager when he was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That’s why he was able to get a job pastoring in an SBC church two months after he resigned from the IMB, and climbed the ranks into a state convention executive position.

Even after his arrest, the IMB held defensive ground until their then-president, David Platt, returned from remote Africa and found out about the “extremely disturbing” situation. He and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC), called to apologize and asked what I wanted them to do. I said I wanted them to open up my case and others to make sure any sexual abuse or misconduct that was criminal was reported to authorities and to make sure there were no other victims during Aderholt’s tenure overseas. Platt went over his public statement to make sure it addressed everything I wished and that night, released it. The following day, SBC president J.D. Greear, who was also aware of the incident, announced the SBC was launching a sexual abuse study group which was funded $250,000 in September.

I wanted to issue this update to address questions I’ve received since all this happened.

  • Mr. Aderholt will be facing the Tarrant County grand jury very soon–within the next few weeks from what I understand. I am meeting with the ADA and prosecutor for this case this week. If he is indicted, he will have the chance to enter his plea (guilty/not guilty/etc.)
  • I emailed the IMB to get an update and received a reply from the current interim president, Clyde Meador. Mr. Meador was aware of my abuse in 2007 and was one of the people I spoke to from the IMB about it back then. He said I should expect to hear from the third party investigators (I do not know who this group is) in fall. I have yet to hear from them.
  • I have not been contacted by anybody in the SBC about the sexual abuse study group and from what I have been able to see in my brief glances on social media, it appears relatively obscure as far as any actionable details.
  • There have been a few public panels put on by the ERLC and other SBC entities, but unfortunately, I have not seen any true action taking place that is any different than before.
  • I do not see anything new that helps prevent abuse, that is looking into past credible abuse, or that is offering support to known survivors of abuse within the SBC. At a minimum, I absolutely think there should be a fund to help survivors receive trauma-informed therapeutic help.
  • I’ve decided I need to do what I can to help other survivors. I’m writing and self-publishing a book called Healing Together: A Guide for Helping Sexual Abuse Survivors that will be out as soon as I can get it done. I am hoping by the end of the year at the latest. Following me on social media is probably the best way to find out about it if you’re interested. (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

It may appear the SBC has a mountain of a task to climb and in many ways it does; that’s what happens when you allow crime and sin to dirty up under your rugs for so long.

At the same time, it’s really not that difficult.

How? They could be in contact with survivors to by writing a short email or a dialing up a quick phone call. Any words of, “How are you? How can we pray? How is your family?” from the powers-that-be who have made promises to reconcile these wounds would actually make a huge difference, at least to me.

I have communicated my personal wishes and clearly stated that hearing nothing from the SBC would be painful. In a majority of the places where I stated this, those requests have gone unanswered. And as I predicted, the silence is painful. They know and yet they do not act.

I was hopeful this summer when these big statements were made. That hope, however, has been tempered by silence and relative inaction. In my case, instead of closing the gap of mistrust caused by the SBC, it continues to widen…maybe a bit more slowly now, but the stitches are being torn apart and the wound is still raw and open.

Lest you think I’m sitting in a puddle of tears, not all is in despair: I am most encouraged and supported by local authorities and law and order. Constant contact, support, sincere inquiries into wellbeing, victim support services, face-to-face meetings, “we want to make this right for you and here is how we are doing it,” and people keeping promises make the criminal side of this ordeal a bit more bearable. Also, a HUGE amount of support from online–other survivors, pastors I don’t know, and people I have met along the way–has also been a great source of encouragement.

Nursing school is going well and we are excited to be in our new home for the holidays, ending what seems to be a constant stream of moving and rentals. Charlotte is 2 1/2 and it’s a fun and crazy age that has us laughing and crying and sometimes visits to urgent care for big bumps on heads. Tim’s work has been incredibly supportive in giving him time off to even financially assisting with some medical bills. Even a VPs Tim’s company of 10K+ employees pulled me aside once to ask how this case is going and how we are doing—he saw it in the local paper here. I was amazed he put the awkwardness away and asked, “how are you?” and it spoke life into my heart.

That’s all I have for now. Don’t give up asking for what is owed. Don’t hesitate to report your abuse. Ask for help. And don’t give up hope, but at the same time, learn not to expect it from the places you think it should come from, like the church.

That’s what I’m learning (again) anyway.

 

[edit: Need to add this to my post: there are 2 leaders who’ve been constant & supportive of me in this situation: Ed Stetzer and Dr. Russell Moore. I understand many people have many different feelings about lots of issues surrounding them, but they have both been very supportive. Worth noting. I also know they hosted 2 of the panels I have mentioned that I’m happy for, but don’t think they (the panels) do much. However, I want to give credit where credit is due and we have been grateful for their prayers and support on many occasion.]

Anne Marie Miller’s Statement on Her Sexual Abuse Story and the International Mission Board Cover Up

The Missions Organization of Southern Baptist Convention Did Not Report Credible Sexual Assault Accusations to Law Enforcement and Knowingly Did Not Communicate to Other SBC Entities as the Offender Was Promoted Within the Convention

When I signed off my blog in May 2017, I never thought I’d be writing on this platform again. I definitely didn’t expect a year later, in between my daughter’s diaper changes and first steps, I would be meeting with detectives and going back into inpatient trauma treatment.

I didn’t know I would learn Mark Aderholt, the man who sexually abused me when I was sixteen years old–whom I reported to the International Mission Board in 2007–was not reported to local authorities (contrary to their policy mentioned in a recent statement). I didn’t know I would learn he had an opportunity to resign instead of being terminated (also contrary to their recent statement). Here is an email from the IMB’s General Counsel, stating Aderholt was not terminated from his role and was not reported to authorities.

The collision of learning about Aderholt’s upward mobility and increased responsibility within the SBC, potential access to vulnerable people groups with his travels, and the IMB’s failure to report both to authorities and within the SBC spurred me to make a personally difficult and necessary decision: reporting him to law enforcement.

Because of the overwhelming evidence of this crime, the Crimes Against Children unit of the Arlington, Texas Police Department quickly accepted, investigated, and when deemed credible, passed the case along to the Tarrant County District Attorney who then issued warrants for this man’s arrest. He was arrested, jailed, and released on bond–all within three months of my original police report.

If there was one statement I could delete from human language in regard to sexual abuse reporting, it would be, “Why did he/she wait so long to report? Why now?” and I would like to address that in this post.

  • First and foremost, sexual trauma is brutal. The pain, shame, and confusion that happens when someone is violated on a physically intimate and in my case, a spiritual level destroys a person. It is more common than not that people do not immediately recognize or report sexual trauma. There are evidence-based studies that confirm this. To expect an abuse survivor to head over to the police soon after he or she was violated is insensitive, ill-informed, and without compassion.
  • For me, I did not recognize my abuse as abuse until I was my abuser’s age in 2005. When I was serving in student ministry at the age of 25, one night at a coworker’s 25th birthday party, I had a realization of how inappropriate a sexual relationship between a 25-year-old and a 16-year-old is. Serendipitously the following day, I saw a television program on the grooming process most predators use and it mirrored my experience. I was forever changed. The next day, I went to a counselor in my church to discuss it. I still didn’t realize what occurred was an actual crime. She was not well versed in mandatory reporting and did not know she needed to report this either.
  • Two years later in 2007, in my process of healing, I continued to realize the gravity of what happened. My abuser was a missionary overseas with the IMB and when a friend who was a pastor learned of my abuse, he immediately went to the IMB to report it. The IMB conducted an internal investigation after the abuser denied it, and they unanimously determined the abuse happened. They asked me if I wanted to report it to law enforcement. I said I didn’t think I could emotionally handle it. In my mind, if a criminal investigation was anything like the IMB investigation, I knew I couldn’t handle it. They inappropriately crossed boundaries with their questions that had nothing to do with why we all were there, which was humiliating, and while they respected my request, they also broke the law by not reporting it. The correct answer is “We’re sorry you don’t feel like you can report it. We have to, regardless. Let us walk you through this and help you with any psychological trauma that may result.” This team was not trauma-informed and the pain that was caused directly and significantly affected my physical and emotional health over the past ten years. After opening my deepest wound, they left me with no care plan or any offer of any help for my activated emotional state. I had one, off-the-record conversation with the IMB psychologist who reassured me it was normal for me to not remember every detail of my abuse—a common trauma response that disturbed me greatly. That was the only tangible psychological care I was offered or received. The financial cost for both physical and mental health treatment has always been a struggle too, and there is no way to seek any relief nor has any financial assistance been offered at any point in time despite knowing of my various hospitalizations. This is contrary to their policy to provide compassionate care to abuse survivors.
  • In my former career as an author and speaker in the evangelical world (2008-2016), I spoke generically but freely about my abuse. It’s mentioned in old blogs, each of my books (though when it was written or spoken about, I changed minor details to protect my abuser’s and the IMB’s identity, at the IMB’s request (link), and because general publishing rules require it).

So, while it initially took me almost a decade to recognize it as abuse, immediately after I did, I took action on it.

I have been speaking about my abuse since 2005.

It is well documented by the IMB itself that they have known about my abuse since 2007. However, on July 10, 2018, they said: “The IMB learned about the charges against [Aderholt] from the Star-Telegram’s July 9 report.” (Update: They say they specifically meant “the criminal charges” in this instance.)

They have ignored my question of “how can he still serve within the SBC?” (copy of an email I sent the IMB in 2011) and have told me to “let it go” when I wanted answers about the investigation (copy of an email I received from the IMB in 2007).

The question isn’t why did I not report it (because I did) but why did the IMB not report it eleven years ago or at any time in the last ten years that I have brought my questions up to them.

Over the last couple of weeks, as I continued to realize the amount of ignorance in regard to sexual abuse demonstrated by many of those within SBC churches and entities, I saw the power in sharing my story grow more necessary and I could no longer in good conscience keep silent about the inaction of the IMB.

It is necessary for me to publicly come out with my story because I have been speaking about my abuse for so long, both privately in the IMB investigation and publicly in my past career, the question, “why now?”–although NEVER should apply in any sexual misconduct–definitely does not apply in my story.

My hope in sharing my story is four-fold:

  • It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, those with similar stories who have felt unheard or who have not felt safe enough to report their abuse can and will come forward and find freedom. It is a freedom that is painful and terrifying to walk into, but it is freedom nonetheless. If you are a survivor of abuse and do not know your next steps, please email me. I could not have walked down this road without support from others who know the law and who have walked down this road in their own life. It’s time for me to pass this on. You are not alone. Please. Email me.
  • It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, the SBC will see that there is a systemic problem and there are intentional efforts to cover up sexual abuse within not only its churches but within its peripheral entities and finally, once and for all, change this. The idol of autonomy within the SBC hurts people and protects the people who hurt them. This cannot happen anymore and because of the well-documented inaction in my case, to argue otherwise is impossible.
  • It is my hope that by coming forward publicly, I am letting the SBC formally know I am personally willing and passionately interested in helping develop systems to create change and am open to that conversation.  I am a woman who is gifted in communication, system development, and I possess a deep understanding of and empathy for abuse survivors. I am hopeful about this, SBC. Reach out to me. Please let me and other people help you. You can no longer hide under autonomous systems (or lack thereof) that have been proven over time to be inefficient and/or non-existent. You must take responsibility for changing this and the time to do so is now. 
  • Finally, it is my hope that by coming forward publicly, whether you are a survivor, an abuser, the loved one of a survivor or abuser, or simply a bystander to all this, that we all will know the hope, love, freedom, and joy that is found through a saving relationship in Christ. It is through this relationship that I have the hope, love, freedom, and joy that I have and these things fuel each and every imperfect step I take.

Be kind to others, and gentle with yourself.

With love and gratitude,

anne-sig

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Marie Miller


PLEASE NOTE: This is my formal statement on the reports that have been published today. If there is something that was not answered here that is both appropriate and relevant, please email me at anne@annemariemiller.com. 

To clarify, my abuse was never violent or forced.

I may not be able to respond to all emails and I may have a friend assist me in answering, but know your email will be read and I will pray for you if you request. If you need assistance with reporting sexual abuse and don’t know where to go, please email me and I will help you.

Due to a recent accident, I am having several invasive procedures this week so I may not be able to respond immediately depending on if I am in surgery/recovery. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Also, thank you for your respect for mine and my family’s privacy. It’s still incredibly raw and not easy to speak about, so your grace is appreciated. Please be kind in your responses publicly, and show love to those who show pain or ignorance. Believe the best. It’s the only way we can move forward together.

When God Gives You a Miracle

Even if God has given me a miracle only for today, it is a miracle nonetheless.

I’ve always struggled with faith.

Not my belief in God (though sometimes, I have).

But my belief in what God can do.

And more specifically, what God can do in and through me.

I’m a pragmatist, even as emotional as I can be. I’m rational. I’m realistic.

In regard to healing, I’ve seen God heal others of much, and me of much.

I’ve also seen Him not heal, at least in the way people prayed. (True, they were “healed the other side of heaven,” but sometimes things just don’t make sense on this side.)

For twenty years, I’ve battled a painful fight with endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. It sounds weird, but essentially once a month, this tissue causes much inflammation, lesions, bleeding, and curl-up-in-a-ball-and-cry kinds of pain. It affects fertility and when it’s happening, I’m essentially useless for two or three days. It hurts to walk. To eat. To watch TV.

I’ve had surgery to have it removed, but as long as there are hormones in my body, it will always come back. The only true “cure” is a radical hysterectomy, removing all reproductive parts, and staying off estrogen therapy, which causes early, surgical menopause – a much faster, more intense process than the normal “change of life.”

It would also mean ending any chance Tim and I have of biologically conceiving our own baby, without going to extreme measures.

Sunday night and into Monday, it felt like a fire was ripping through my abdomen, down my legs, up to my shoulders, into my knees. Tim and I were supposed to go to a movie premiere for a movie about healing, Holy Ghost Reborn​, but thought it would be best if I stayed home instead and he went.

I started looking for an OBGYN in Iowa to discuss options, including a radical hysterectomy. I fell asleep. I woke up and asked Tim if they had started praying after the movie yet, and if not, if he could go up there to pray with someone about this.

As my text made it through to him, he was already on his way for prayer.

A woman named Anne (yep), met him in the front and asked what she could pray for. He explained our situation.

The other Anne also suffered from endometriosis.

The other Anne said my faith has made me well (important to note: this was also the passage we studied at church on Sunday, which I shouldn’t have heard because I was supposed to work in the nursery, but someone else really wanted to work in there instead, so I was able to be in the service).

The other Anne said we’d have many kids (I’m hoping not any more fur babies; two dogs are enough, thanks).

And when I received the texts from Tim telling me this, I began weeping in bed, still grieving the miscarriages from this year, afraid that it could be true, that I could be healed, afraid that it wasn’t true, that I could not be healed.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.48.17 AM

Because God doesn’t always heal people like we think.

Tim got home, told me to put my jeans back on and believe the T-shirt I was wearing. “What t-shirt?” I had dressed for bed in the dark. I looked down and was wearing the “Jesus Loves You” t-shirt Tim’s friend made. We were going to go back to the movie theatre and get more prayer.

A few minutes later, we pulled in.

Nobody was there.

My Doubting Thomas said, “See? see? This healing isn’t for you!”

Tim calls our pastor, Dan.

“Can you guys pray over Anne?”

Ten minutes later, late at night, we arrived at Dan’s house. I waddled in, hunched over in pain, still crying, still confused, still angry, still grieving, and still hopeful. I was honest. I said I don’t believe God always heals, so I should have no right to expect it. I don’t want to get my hopes up and be let down. My faith is already so small.

Dan and his wife Sarah prayed over us. My body felt numb and I didn’t know why. Pain meds? All the crying and emotions and it was late? An hour later we walked out, exhausted. I went straight to bed when we got home, my eyes swollen and painful from crying.

I slept through the night, only rising when a dog kicked me in the ribs. My eyes were still sore, but I wandered into the kitchen for some water. Looking out the window, over the bluffs and allowing my eyes adjust to the new light of day, I realized something.

I felt…different.

I wasn’t in pain.

If you know anything about endometriosis, the pain doesn’t just suddenly stop, especially in the middle of an episode. It may lessen or come and go, but it doesn’t stop.

But more than the lack of pain, something in my heart–that hole that was left by knowing how broken my insides are–the grief that has been weighing on me for most of this year…it was gone.

It was removed.

I tiptoed around the apartment getting ready to run to the grocery store, afraid if I made too much noise, somehow the pain, both the physical and emotional pain, would wake up and come back.

But it didn’t.

I told friends who were praying for me, fighting for me, waging war in the heavens for me, what happened. I confessed to Sarah my fear that it was surreal, and reality would set in soon. She wrote back:

“There was an old African village lady God healed in the movie, a witch doctor, but she did not smile. The guy explained that the older generation always had a saying…’don’t smile today because tomorrow you will cry.’

The pastor that healed her (who had a crazy story) said, ‘I smile today because I don’t care about tomorrow!’ Meaning he was thankful for the miracles today held, and he fully trusted God for whatever tomorrow held. Eventually they got this old lady who had been healed to smile and even dance. It was precious. Enjoy your miracle today!”

Do I know what will happen tomorrow? At this time next month? In a year? Will I have a baby, or a radical hysterectomy? Will I be sidelined with pain or dancing in new healing?

I don’t.

But as my friend Sarah says, I will enjoy my miracle today.

After I returned from the grocery store, Tim asked how I felt. Being a non-verbal processor, I wasn’t quite sure how to put into words what happened. Honestly? A part of me was afraid to say, “I think I’m healed.” But the words slowly made it out of my mouth.

He sat in the orange chair across from the sectional, ADD getting the best of him, and while celebrating with me, noticed a weird reflection on our ceiling.

“What’s that reflection coming from?” I looked up and saw some red.

“Oh, it’s probably that red bottle on the window sill.”

He moved it, the reflection didn’t change.

“Are you kidding me? Look how big it is!” A full array of colors, a rainbow, displayed over me on the ceiling. Tim looked out the window and noticed the sunrise was shining on a No Parking sign down on the street, five floors down.

The sign was reflecting that rainbow all the way into our apartment window, directly over me, at that very moment.

“It’s God’s promise to you.” Tim said.

This does not feel normal to me. It does not feel comfortable. The devil and the angel on my shoulders are still playing a game of tug-of-war. But I have been surrounded by prayer, covered in promises, and so I will walk in faith. I will take up my mat and tell, I will sing, I will dance, and I will smile about what God has done.

Even if God has given me a miracle only for today, it is a miracle nonetheless.

And to Him be the glory for the things He has done.

To All The Mothers Who Will Never Hold Their Babies on Mother’s Day

mothers-day-for-childless-anne-marie-miller

It’s really quite odd and blessed, the duality of joy and grief.

A few weeks ago, Tim and I experienced a new type of happiness for us…a new kind of joy. I woke up early on a Wednesday morning with the strong urge to take a pregnancy test, even though I wasn’t late for my cycle.

Five pregnancy tests later (I may be a little compulsive), we learned we were going to be parents.

Everything seemed complete and right. We fell in love with the poppy-seed-sized clump of baby whose DNA was being written with each passing day. We celebrated with our friends, our family, our students.

We met with our fertility doctor and some test results came back uncertain, but not concerning. I needed to start incorporating hormone therapy and that would increase my progesterone, giving the poppy seed a nice home in which to start growing. Within a few days, those levels went up to exactly what they needed to be. My HCG, however, wasn’t climbing as quickly as it should. We were told to watch for pain or symptoms that would indicate we needed to pay closer attention during these very sensitive first months.

The following Friday night around midnight, I awoke to pain. The pain that says, “Something isn’t right.” Being a classic hypochondriac (and at this moment, by the grace of God, a fairly reasonable one), I forced myself back to sleep telling myself, “It’s probably indigestion. Don’t worry. If you still feel this way in the morning, you can always get it checked out then.” I fell back asleep.

Saturday morning, the pain was worse. Tim said we needed to go to the hospital, and at this point, I knew something was wrong. However, I procrastinated. I told him, “The longer I just lie here in bed, everything is normal. The moment we get to the hospital, it could all be over.”

I wasn’t willing to accept this.

We arrived to the emergency room and said exactly what our fertility doctor said to say. A few blood tests later and the ER doctor walks in, sits down next to me, holds my hand and says, “At this point, it’s clear you have an ectopic pregnancy and you’re starting to miscarry. I’m sorry.”

He left, and Tim came over and reached around the bed rail, holding me. We both wept at the life inside me that was on its way to being born inside of heaven. We would not get to hold this baby in our arms or put this child to sleep in his or her crib. There would be no diaper blow outs, no baby showers, no ringing in the new year as a family of three.

The faith that came so easily was hard to grasp hold of as it floated away with our dream.

We went home, exhausted, making tearful calls to family and a few friends as we were unsure of the next steps. Hours later, our fertility doctor calls and says we need to meet her at the hospital at 7 pm. She needed to remove my left fallopian tube and the 200ccs of blood that drained into my abdomen from my tube’s slow rupture.

Returning to the emergency room, we saw familiar faces dressed in blue scrubs from that morning, each knowing what happened. With hugs and condolences from strangers, I was given some pain medication and wheeled back to the surgical holding area. Nobody else was having surgery Saturday night (they were probably eating and drinking and being merry), so it was only a matter of minutes before the anesthesiologists and nurses prepared me for my second reproductive surgery in the last year.

I drifted off into an hour-long sleep, waking up to kind words from a smiling nurse. Tim came in shortly after speaking to our doctor, confirming everything she suspected: the baby implanted in my left fallopian tube, caused it to start rupturing, and our doctor was able to safely remove my tube, and the blood, and I would be fine.

But define the word, “fine”… would you?

I stayed in the hospital overnight with Tim next to me. A first-rate medical team insured I was physically comfortable, and messages from friends and family helped ease the emotional pain.

In some drug-induced blur, I recalled how strange it was that I even took a pregnancy test that Wednesday morning. I had no reason to. I wasn’t late and I didn’t feel “pregnant” (whatever that means). However, if I wouldn’t have taken those tests and seen our fertility doctor, I likely would have written off the cramps I felt as normal cramps and the bleeding I had as a normal cycle.

I didn’t realize the severity of my symptoms and likely wouldn’t have until I lost so much blood I passed out. But because of that urge to take that first pregnancy test and the relationship we established with our fertility doctor, I was safe and healthy.

Even though our baby passed away and woke up on the other side of eternity, that doesn’t change the fact that Tim and I are still parents. Before the world was made, God knew this baby would exist. Somehow everything worked together perfectly and this baby formed.

We were able to be a mom and a dad to this little human for only a few weeks, and life is life, even when it finds itself removed from this earth.

The peace that wrapped us up before we knew anything was wrong still holds us, in spite of the grief we feel from the loss. Knowing that God knew this child since the beginning of time and knows each of us and has gone before us and sees the plan He has created for us gives us great cause to rejoice as we mourn.

It’s natural to feel as if two seemingly opposing forces can’t co-exist, like joyfulness and grief. But because they can, and they do, we know it is only because of His grace that miracles like this happen and we experience both joy and grief in their entirety, in chorus.

I never realized the tension of Mother’s Day when you’ve lost a child; I always heard it, but I didn’t understand. Now, in a poppy-seed-sized way, I do. So, if you are missing your own child, regardless of how or when he or she departed, know you are not alone, and I wish you the most honest of Mother’s Days. Nothing will ever change the fact that you are a mother.

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor

marydemuth-headshot-squareToday, I am so thrilled to share a guest post from my friend Mary DeMuth. Mary and I met when I worked at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. People knew I was writing and thought it’d be cool for me to meet a real author, so Mary came in and we chatted. She sent me a copy of her book and told me one day, maybe I’d have my book contract. Two years later, I did.

Beyond writing, Mary and I share a common thread that’s a little more faded, a little thinner. We were both sexually abused. Though our stories differ, our hearts beat the same for helping others know there is hope beyond abuse. We have survived, and you can too.

Here’s a letter from her to you. Or maybe to someone you know.

Love, Anne

(Get Mary’s Book Not Marked as an eBook here and a paperback here.).

***

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor,

I don’t really like the word victim. Even survivor has a strange connotation. And I’m not too keen on victor. None of those words encapsulate what happened to you, the devastation sexual abuse enacted on your heart. But we’re strangled by language sometimes–even writers can’t adequately express horror.

I much like the word BRAVE. Because it’s so darn brave to walk away from something like that. It’s brave to forgive. Brave to live your life in the wake of sexual trauma. Brave to hold your head high.

First let me say I am sorry. I’m so terribly sad that sexual abuse is part of your story. It’s not right. Someone chose to take something from you–your volition and your body. That person (or people) violated you. They used their power and bully persuasion to overwhelm you with their sinful desires. And now you’re the one left feeling dirty and used–while so many perpetrators walk this earth free. 

It’s not fair.

Some of you feel shame and guilt in gigantic measure, heaped upon you. Some of you feel that you invited the abuse. The way you dressed. The hole in your heart that longed for attention. The equating of sex with love and affection. You feel you wooed the perpetrator somehow. Let me say this: A person who adores and loves you would NEVER EVER violate you. Never. Instead of violation, they would protect. They would pray for you. They would honor your boundaries.

Someone’s selfish gratification is not your fault. Don’t own that. Dare to believe your worth, and allow yourself the feel the grace that God grants you. Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You were abused. You didn’t want it. Someone took from you–like a thief. They may have used slick words, threatened you, persuaded you that you wanted it, but it’s not true. Thieves are often liars.

In sexual abuse’s aftermath, you’ve possibly thought of suicide. You’ve cut your skin until the blood came. You over-ate. You spent years hard as rock, bitter as horseradish, always vigilant–ready to fight. You’ve protected your heart with ironclad resolve. No one will EVER hurt you that way again. Not on your watch.

All these coping strategies had good purpose a long time ago. They protected you. But now they’re strangling the life out of you. I only say that because I’ve walked the path of isolation and withdrawal. Actually, I spent about a decade of my life keeping the sexual abuse secret. And once I let the secret out, I decided I’d been healed, so I tucked it back away for another decade and lived inside myself–not daring to deeply engage my heart.

An untold story never heals, friend. Isolation only masks the problem.

That’s not living. It’s existing. It’s pushing stuff down that you hope stays submerged forever.

Unfortunately, our stories have a way of coming out–almost always in our actions. We end up hurting those we love. Some people become perpetrators because they never deal with getting better.

I know there are questions. I have them too. 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?
  • Why didn’t He step in and rescue?
  • Why do I have to suffer seemingly forever for something someone else did to me?
  • Why can’t I ever feel normal?
  • Will I ever be able to enjoy sex?
  • Why does my spouse have to suffer for something someone else did to me?
  • What’s wrong with me that I kept being violated?
  • Was I put on this earth to be stolen from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What was it about me that perpetrators found irresistible?
  • Why do other people keep telling me it was a long time ago and I should be over this?

I want to assure you that these questions are entirely, utterly normal. And you should ask them. You should wrestle with them. Some of them will not be answered this side of eternity.

When I feel overwhelmed by the whys and the whats, I stop a moment and consider Jesus. This may not resonate with you because you might be mad at Him. That’s okay. I hear you. But there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands.

He took on the sins of everyone, including sexual sin, upon His holy, undeserving shoulders. He suffered for everyone’s wicked crookedness. And when He hung on a cross, He did so naked. Exposed. Shamed. Humiliated. Bleeding.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3DThat’s why, when I write about sexual abuse recovery, I have to involve Jesus. He has been the single best healer in my journey. He understands. He comes alongside. He “gets” violation.

Sexual abuse is devastating. It pulls the rug out from under your worth. It keeps you scared. It infiltrates nearly every area of your life, consciously and subconsciously.

But I am here to let you know there is hope. Though the healing journey is long, it is possible. When I tell my story now, it feels like I’m sharing about another person’s sexual abuse. I’ve experienced profound healing. It didn’t happen passively or quickly. I had to WANT it, pursue it. I had to stop shoving it down and bringing my story into the light–with praying friends, with counselors, with my husband.

Today I enjoy sex. I can share my story without getting that vomit-y feeling in my stomach. The flashbacks are less and less. I still have moments, of course. But I am so much farther along than I had been.

I want to end this letter with this truth: You are amazing. You survived something traumatic and horrific. You are reading this letter blessedly alive, connected to others. Your story absolutely matters. Don’t let the trauma steal your story of hope today.

Joyfully free,

Mary

***

I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Anne for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.