If you are a regular reader of my blog, then by now you probably know that I have a huge place in my heart for encouraging women who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse to speak their truth, find healing in God, and even restore broken relationships. My passion for this stems in large part from my own past, but even more so from my present. What I mean by that is the more I have shared my story, the more women who have confided in me their “me, too” story. The longer I have been involved in small group and women’s ministry, the more stories I have heard of women still battling for release from their past and healing in their present.
I long for every woman (and man) who has a story of childhood sexual abuse to know the freedom of repair that I have found in my life,through my relationship with God and the help of a wonderful counselor. It took me many years of hard work — sometimes taking one step forward, and two steps back — to realize complete healing and restoration, and I think that’s partly because for a long time I didn’t know where to go for help. There weren’t a lot of resources available to me 20 years ago when I started my journey, and I didn’t feel comfortable seeking help in the church.
Thankfully, things have changed. Today, more women are opening up about their pasts within the church and creating a safe place for others to seek help and support. There are also more resources available. One of these just hit book shelves last week, and it’s written by a friend, and fellow survivor, Crystal Sutherland. The book is called Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and I believe with all my heart this book is going to be life-changing for millions of men and women around the world.
Now, before I go any further, I want to say a few things. Firstly, I’m not being compensated in any way to share my thoughts on this book. Yes, Crystal is a friend of mine and I guest blog for her occasionally, but that is because I support the mission of her ministry. There are an estimated 42 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse today, just in the United States [source: National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse]. And that estimate is just based on reported cases, so we know there are many more. Folks, it’s going to take thousands of counselors, women’s shelters, ministers, sisters, friends, mothers, writers, etc.to come together with the same mission to end this desecration of youth and lead the victims toward a place of hope and healing. Crystal is one of the many called and equipped to help with this.
Secondly, I am sharing about this book because I’ve read it and I believe it is unlike anything else currently available to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Despite our friendship and shared ministry, I would not be writing about this book if I didn’t feel the urgent need to get it in the hands of as many women and men as possible.
Now, if you are a survivor of abuse, or know someone who is, or if you are in a position of counseling and ministering to others who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, here’s what you need to know: only God can provide true freedom and healing. While God did not create the sin that is damaging so many young girls and boys, He can bring the men and women they’ve become out of the darkness from their past and make them whole again.
This is what Journey to Heal is really all about. It is a guide for survivors on how to allow God to come along side of them and walk them through this journey toward healing, toward freedom, and toward a new life. Because, true healing can only happen once we place our hope in Christ.
The seven steps Crystal outlines in the book include: 1. Committing to the journey, 2. Facing the truth, 3. Sharing your story, 4. Settling the unsettled, 5. Forgiving and letting go, 6. Discovering your true identity, and 7. Establishing a new life in Christ. Crystal put these steps together based on her own personal journey, the journey of countless other women she’s ministered to, and based on insight and guidance from ministers and licensed counselors who have spent years helping abuse victims. Even though this book didn’t exist when I went through my own journey, I can tell you these seven steps are all things I had to walk through to get to the other side; and they were all essential to me eventually finding freedom and healing.
I believe we all know someone who was a victim, and chances are many of them are still suffering the effects of the abuse from their past: whether that be through depression, addiction, a need for control, mistrust of others, body issues, failed relationships, feelings of shame, fear or hopelessness, or just downright denial, these things keep us in a permanent state of victim-hood and they prevent us from realizing the life God has planned for us.
“God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves…[but] we tend to settle for less than God’s best for us, because we don’t recognize our own value and worth,” explains Crystal in chapter 3 of Journey to Heal.
But God’s word promises this: “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth.” – Isaiah 54:4 (NLT).
It’s time for a movement. Time for the church to rise up and be the source of hope and healing. Time for victims to refuse to accept the lie that a piece of them will forever be missing, stolen by their abuser, and leaving a giant hole in their soul that’s led them to settle for a life of suffering, of fear, and of shame. It’s time to end the silence and take back the joy, hope, and freedom that was stolen, along with their innocence.
Because God promises So. Much. More.
Because only God has the power to heal our brokenness and lead us into a brand new life.
I know, because I have lived this story.
In addition to the book, Crystal is finishing up an online, real-time study that begins June 1st.
I leave you all with this prayer:
God, bless the women and men who have suffered the unthinkable. May they know that the sin of their abusers is not theirs to carry and they no longer have to bear the weight of their past. May they admit they desire freedom and they are worth the effort it will take to get there. But most of all, let them know that they do not have to do it alone. Let them find their strength in You; let them stop believing the lies of their abusers and the lies of the enemy, and let them instead believe the truth that they do not have to be afraid anymore, “there is no more disgrace.” Instead, there is a life of healing and of freedom waiting for them, a life filled with the beauty and grace of Your love. Amen.
Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.
I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.
In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.
On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?
This is part two of two. Click here to read Part One.
If you’ve ever been on a mission trip you know that the best part about missions work is you always come home having been more impacted, more changed, more spiritually full — just more — than any impact, change, or help you brought to the community where you served. This is the beauty of God and how He works. I knew this going to Pine Ridge, but I just never expected THIS.
The weeks leading to the trip had been hard…really hard. In fact I almost backed out of the trip at the last minute. So by the time we landed in Rapid City I was feeling very grateful that God had healed my body and enabled me to get everything done at home and work that needed doing so I could be here. I felt sure it was where I was meant to be and He had provided the way.
It’s a two hour drive from Rapid City to Pine Ridge. On the way we passed the badlands and stopped at an overlook to take in the view and snap a few photos. This being my first time to South Dakota I was inspired by everything I saw. I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at this endless horizon of rolling pinnacles and spires.
It had been raining when we landed, but thankfully stopped by the time we pulled off the side of Highway 40. The best view was just down a short hill, and a narrow dirt path led the way. Not really thinking about the fact that I was wearing my favorite Tom’s — great for flying, not so good for traction — I eagerly descended the narrow path. What I didn’t realize was the mud in South Dakota is not like Virginia mud. It is compact and sticky. While it felt pretty firm under my steps, it was sticking to the bottom of my treadless shoes, forming layer, upon layer of a thick, pasty mess. I made it about 1/3 of the way down the hill when I felt my foot start slide. In a moment of spontaneous reflex I shifted my weight to try and catch myself, and ended up rolling my left ankle and landing on the ground.
I felt something snap. I knew it was not good. My pride was bruised, my bottom muddy, but worse, my ankle was throbbing. I sat for a minute trying to compose myself. Some of the guys came over to help me up and I carefully tested putting weight on my ankle. Pain shot up my leg and I thought, “oh God, please. Don’t let this be serious.”
I managed to hobble down the rest of the hill (avoiding the narrow mud path), so I could get my tourist picture, while my internal dialogue said, “you’ll be ok; it’s just a twisted ankle, just walk it off.”
By the time I limped back to the top and removed my shoes to inspect the damage my ankle was already swollen, and by the time we arrived at Restoration Church in Pine Ridge an hour later, I was fighting back tears. The slightest movement or pressure sent lightning bolts up my leg. That’s when the reality that I was not going to be able to just “walk it off” set in.
A few hours later I was sitting in a pew with my foot propped up and ice on it. The rest of the crew was getting ready to walk over the hill to another building where the guys would be sleeping. I stayed behind and used the opportunity of being alone to call home. The tears came quickly as I told my husband what happened. I cried bitterly as I said out loud the words that I’d been carrying in my heart, “I don’t understand why! Why would God bring me here only for this to happen before we even get to the Reservation? I’m here to do a job and I can’t do that if I can’t even stand on my own two feet!” My husband comforted me the best he could and I dried my tears before the rest of the crew came back and saw me. But the frustration and anger began to form a bitter stone in my chest.
When everyone returned, Pastor Wade, the missionary we were working with, came over and asked how I was doing. I explained that everything was very tight and stiff and the slightest movement was incredibly painful. He then asked if he could pray for my ankle. I said yes and the rest of the team gathered around to pray over me. Wade placed his hands over my foot and ankle and began to pray. He said the exact words I had said to my husband moments before: “Lord, you have brought Jelise here to do a job. She can’t do that with an injured foot. Heal her so she can do your work.” Over and over he prayed, “I ask you to heal her in Jesus’s name.”
As he prayed I felt a deep heat start to form in my ankle and radiate out.
When he finished, Wade asked me if I could move my ankle. I hesitated, unsure of what to do, because I knew just moments ago I couldn’t. But slowly I started to point and flex my foot and was startled by the sudden mobility. Then I began to move it side to side and couldn’t believe that I felt little pain or resistance. I looked up at Wade and burst into tears because I honestly could not believe what was happening. I think everyone was stunned and no one talked for a few moments.
But it doesn’t end there…
…the next day was Sunday. I woke up and my ankle felt pretty good, albeit a little sore and I could still not put my full weight on it. But at least no lightning bolts were shooting up my leg. We traveled an hour to the church in Kyle where we’d be working and had Sunday service and shared lunch with the congregation. We did some light cleaning and assessed what supplies we needed to complete the work that was needed on the building. Then we drove back to Pine Ridge and a few of us went to the local grocery store. By the time evening came my ankle was once again swollen and hurting quite a bit. I felt it stiffening up again. Wade prayed over my ankle one more time before he left for the night and I felt some improvement immediately after, but told him it was still too painful to put weight on it.
Looking at the list of jobs we were going to be doing throughout the week — painting, laying tile, yard work, cleaning, etc., I wondered what I would be able to do that didn’t require either being on my feet all day or getting up and down often. And I felt the bitter frustration return.
At 10 p.m. that night I found myself alone in the sanctuary reading my Bible. Earlier that day Wade had talked about what it looked like to praise God. He talked about the many Hebrew and Greek words that were all translated into the single English word praise. He referenced the use of these different words throughout scripture, many of which are found in Psalms. So I opened my Bible to Psalms and started to flip through the pages. I settled on Psalm 18 and began to read:
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psalm 18:1-2,6).
I took comfort in those words, in knowing that God heard my distress call.
I continued to read until I came to verse 36: “You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words. In all of my years spent reading scripture I don’t ever remember reading a verse about an ankle. The words themselves, so specific to my situation — having rolled my ankle while walking a narrow path. I knew in my heart that it was no accident that I came to this verse, and I felt a sudden urging in my heart to pray that verse over my ankle.
I glanced around, thankful I was alone, placed my hands on my ankle and began to speak verse 36 like a prayer. “Lord, you widen my path so my ankle won’t roll. I believe you can heal me, and you can undo the damage because you make my path wide so my ankle won’t roll.” Over and over I prayed. Then I felt heat come into my ankle again. Tears slid down my cheeks as I kept praying the same words over and over again believing them more with each utterance. Finally the heat subsided and I stopped. I stood up and took a tentative step. I felt no pain.
I took another step and tested putting full weight on my left foot. Still no pain. I walked up and down the aisle of the church crying. I didn’t have to limp, my ankle felt loose and mobile, and there was no pain.
I spent the following five days scrubbing, mopping, laying tile and grout, assembling book cases, installing lights, and more. At the end of each day my back, my knees and my hands hurt from labor, but I had virtually no pain in my ankle.
It was not until Saturday morning, as we departed Pine Ridge and headed for the airport, that I felt the familiar stiffening I’d felt days before. By the time we arrived at the airport I was limping again.
It’s been three weeks since I slipped on that narrow path and rolled my ankle. I know I did some serious damage because my ankle is still healing. But for those five days in Pine Ridge that we were working? My pain was gone. I know God healed me long enough to do what He’d brought me 1,500 miles to do.
Now, I realize some of this might be hard to believe. And that’s OK. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in your chair reading stories of healing and struggled to trust it was true. But the thing is God doesn’t need us to believe in order to perform miracles. His healing power is greater than you or me. He treats, and cures, and saves, and heals every day, whether our faith is big enough to accept it or not.
God will provide what we need in order to do His work.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
What area of your life needs healing? Relationships; physical health; emotional well being. Take your pain to Him. Trust in Him. He will hear you. He will heal you.
On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?
This is part one. To read part two, click here.
Why Pine Ridge?
Five months ago I knew little about Pine Ridge Reservation or the Oglala Lakota that call it home. Very little.
I had read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee years ago, and vaguely remember hearing about the plight of the North American Plains Indian at an Indigo Girls concert back in my college days. But beyond that I couldn’t tell you much. What I was oblivious to five months ago is now what consumes much of my thoughts and has taken up permanent residence in my heart.
Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses about 2 million acres along the southern border of South Dakota — it is roughly the size of Connecticut. Home to the Oglala Lakota, one of the seven bands of Lakota tribe within the Sioux Nation, Pine Ridge has roughly 32,000 people living within its borders.
Oglala Lakota County, which encompasses most of the reservation, is the second poorest county (based on per capita income) within the United States. The unemployment rate is estimated between 80-90%, with very little businesses or jobs available on the reservation.
The alcoholism rate is estimated at 80% and 1 in 4 infants are born with fetal alcohol syndrome or related effects. But perhaps the worst epidemic within Pine Ridge is the rate of suicides. A reported 30 suicides have occurred within the last year, and between December 2014-March 2015 there were 103 reported attempts. Most of these attempts were made by teens and young adults, with the teen suicide rate in Pine Ridge being four times the national average.
Life expectancy in Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States, and the second lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere, only after Haiti.
Once you learn something like this, you can never unlearn it. Now that I know this — know that there is a forgotten place smack in the middle of the U.S. with a forgotten people who are struggling to survive, struggling to find hope — everything has changed for me.
Five months ago when a man I had never met stood up in front of our church one Sunday and shared these statistics and some of the stories behind them, all I could think was “I have to go.”
Getting there and getting to work
Making the decision to go was an easy one. Getting there proved a bit harder. The weeks leading up to the trip were full of challenges and I felt a full-on attack from the enemy. I thought about cancelling. My presence wasn’t really needed that much, I reasoned, the team would get along fine without me. Of course, what I didn’t consider was how much I needed to be there.
Within three hours of landing in South Dakota I sprained my ankle. I’ll share more about that story in Part Two, but let’s just say that I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel at that point. Thankfully, God is steadfast and merciful, even when I am missing the big picture and wavering in my faith.
The mission we were coming to support is called Restoration Church, led by missionary Wade M. Wade and his family, who also served as missionaries in West Africa for many years, have been working with the people of Pine Ridge for about four years. The original Restoration Church is located in the capital of the reservation, also called Pine Ridge. The heart of the ministry is to love and serve the people of Pine Ridge the way Jesus loved and served. They offer a food pantry, emergency assistance, counseling, a prison ministry, and do work to improve living conditions on the reservation, such as home repairs.
While driving through the reservation you will see a number of church buildings, most of them are relics left over from when the reservation was first established over 130 years ago and assimilation was the primary goal. I won’t go into politics here, as is my general policy with this blog, but no matter what you believe about the history of our country and decisions made, the bottom-line is within the reservation Christianity is largely associated with the government and government actions from the last 130 years, and therefore there is a general sentiment of mistrust when it comes to the church.
The approach of Wade and the rest of the team at Restoration to serve within the community has earned respect, and a reputation for being genuine and honorable. In large part due to this, just three weeks before our team arrived Wade and team were granted use of a second location, in the town of Kyle, about 55 minutes drive from the location in Pine Ridge. The building had sat unused for years following a bad experience with a previous church in residence. Getting approval for use of the building from the council leader, who is not a Christian, was significant. And the timing of our arrival was providential.
We attended church service in Kyle, their third service since securing the building, the day after our arrival. As we took inventory of what needed to be done, the list seemed endless. The floor was a bare concrete slab; only one bathroom worked and was in bad shape; lights were out, walls needed patched, and a mountain of boxes of left-behind items filled the room that needed to become a nursery; the kitchenette where we helped prepare lunch that day was the kind of dirty that only a paint scraper, a gallon of vinegar and several hours of work could fix; the yard was overgrown, screens were torn and the front door didn’t lock. That’s just what we saw on the first day. As the week continued we also uncovered HVAC, electrical and plumbing issues.
We had 14 people of varying skill level, and only five working days to get as much accomplished as possible. Like the loaves and fishes, God somehow managed to multiply our time and resources and when we left, I say with no ounce of pride, it was a completely transformed building.
Healing in Pine Ridge
The day we left Pine Ridge a special event called the “Wiping of Tears” was going to take place at the building in Kyle. One of the elders, explained that the Wiping of Tears was an ancient condolence ceremony practiced by many Native American tribes, (it is done every year in Pine Ridge on the anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre) and is seen as a time to move on from grief and suffering. This particular event was for anyone who had been impacted by or lost someone to suicide. They provided a hot meal and then prayed over those who were hurting and mourning.
We were boarding our flight in Rapid City before the event took place, but Wade has since told me that everyone that came that day was amazed by the transformation of the building. Even the council leader, who four weeks earlier had granted use of the building, could not believe the transformation. She was especially drawn to the nursery and said she wanted to bring her grandchildren there to play in that room.
The work we did in Kyle is not really about a building. It’s not about laying tile or painting walls or cleaning a kitchen. I know that a fixed-up building will not solve the problems plaguing the people of Pine Ridge.
But God can.
On the surface it may just look like a safe, clean, nice place to receive a hot meal, be prayed over, and receive the love of Jesus. But my God can do more. He can use this building to heal hearts, provide hope to the lost, and even save lives. I’ve seen what He’s doing and I can tell you healing is happening in Pine Ridge.
To hear the rest of the story, read Healing in Pine Ridge: Part 2.
If you’ve been convicted by what you’ve read and feel led to do something, here are four things you can do right now to help the people of Pine Ridge and the mission of Restoration Church:
- Watch this video and then go and tell people about the healing that is happening in Pine Ridge! Creating awareness is key to solving this problem.
- Pray for the people of Pine Ridge, for the team at Restoration Church, for Pastor Wade and his family.
- Go and serve. Grace Community Church in Winchester, VA is planning another trip in May. If you are local and would like more information, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Give financially. If you feel led to give financially, you can mail a check to:
938 Walnut Ave.
Hot Springs, SD 57747
Restoration Church has a 501c3 status and donations are tax deductible.
UPDATE: About 12 hours after I finished this blog post and hit “publish” I got an update from Wade. Included was a link to this video he put together documenting the transformation of the building in Kyle. He also let us know that one of the women we met while we were there decided to give her life to Jesus and was baptized since we left. God is good!