Surviving 21 Years of Abuse: This is Not My Story

 
Jennifer Michelle Greenberg | August 20th 2019

I wrote my words backwards. I was 5 years old, and my kindergarten teacher worried I was dyslexic. My mother was afraid I’d be treated differently. And she worried about negative influences from a few unruly friends I had. She chose to homeschool. And while homeschooling is a blessing – and I myself have chosen to homeschool my children – the privacy, the seclusion, and the isolation it afforded created a protective shield for my father.

There was a strange contrast of extremes in our home. My mother read the Bible to us. My father saved pornography to my computer desktop. My mother made home-cooked meals from scratch. My father made perverse comments, and wandered around the house with his boxers unbuttoned. My mother encouraged me to reach for my dreams. My father threatened to shoot me if I ever tried to escape.

Despite my fear, my child’s mind instinctively wanted to believe that my dad was a good man. I thought he was a brilliant theologian, protective guardian, and loving husband. As Paul says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11. But one doesn’t arrive at adulthood in an instant. As I slowly became a woman, I slowly began to understand what my dad truly was, and that I could not change him.

Not Forsaken

Not Forsaken

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A story of surviving abuse by the power of gospel hope

I need you to be my Dad

One night, when I was about 11 years old, I stayed up late praying and weeping. I’d come to the realization that my dad didn’t love me; or that his version of love was twisted and dangerous. What I’d originally interpreted as compliments I now recognized as innuendo. What I used to view as accidents, I began to understand as intentional patterns of cruel behavior. Our pastor had preached a sermon about how we can call God our ‘Abba;’ our Daddy. So, I told God, “This man in my house, my biological father, is a stranger to me. I need you to take his place. I need you to be my Dad; to protect me and guide me. Otherwise, I don’t think I’ll survive my teenage years.”

Though I’d always believed in God and loved Jesus as my Savior, that night God gave me a special peace; a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I knew that I was loved. I knew that my heart, mind, and soul were defended, protected, and sustained by Jesus. I knew I had a Father who loved me.

Yet despite my God-given faith, and despite believing that there was joy and a better life beyond what I was experiencing, I was still living with abuse; continually saturated in the caustic perversion, violence, and twisted lies that isolated and oppressed me. The more I matured, the more I understood the depth of my dad’s sin. And the more I understood, the less hope I had that he would ever change or love me.

I will never leave your or forsake you

When I was 15 years old, I became suicidal. I overheard my dad telling my mom what a beautiful figure he thought I was developing. She agreed, and in my heart, something broke. I told God I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t live like that. I remember thinking, “Just three more years, and then college and freedom,” but those three years felt like an eternity. In my darkest moment, as I held a razor blade to my wrist, a voice broke through the misery in my head. It said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

You know that chapter in Pilgrim’s Progress, where Help reaches down his hand and pulls Christian out of the Slough of Despond? In that moment, I felt as if God himself had torn through the curtain of my human perception, reached out his hand, and lifted me from the quicksand of despair. In my most hopeless hours, God gave me hope. When I was drowning in darkness, Christ shone a Light. He was my Shepherd through the valley of the shadow of death.

I find peace knowing that God is far angrier over abuse than I can ever imagine being.

God is using it for good

We know that God is sovereign. He is all-powerful, all-holy, and all-wise. He could have puffed all my suffering out of existence. He could have caused me to be born to different parents. He could have softened my dad’s heart and transformed him into a righteous man. He could have motivated a pastor or family friend to ask questions, understand, and intervene. He did not.

To paraphrase Paul (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. 3,000 times I begged God to fix my dad and heal my family, but he said, “My grace is sufficient.” Therefore I have no shame, and I gladly share my story now. For when I was weak, then he was strong. When I should have lost my faith – when I should have given up – God’s Spirit remained at work in my soul, holding together the pieces of my fragmenting heart.

I rest in the knowledge that God is good. I find peace knowing that he is far angrier over abuse than I can ever imagine being. Whatever his plan, and whatever his purpose, I know that my Redeemer loves, and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).

Today, as Joseph said to his abusive brothers, I can also say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Great harm was intended against me. Great damage has been done. But God is using it for good. Had he not guided and loved me through 21 years of abuse, and even more years of PTSD, trauma, and recovery, I’d likely not be alive right now. I’d probably have committed suicide at 15, and many times after. I’d never have read the Bible to my boyfriend at 18 and helped lead him to faith in Christ. We never would have gotten married. Our three little girls would have never been born. I never would have been able to talk fellow survivors through thoughts of suicide, helped them report their abusers, or walked alongside them during the healing process. I never would have written my book.

But I am not saying these things to boast, or if I do, it is only to boast in the work of Jesus. He is the Savior who endured abuse, slander, betrayal, and crucifixion, so that I could overcome, so that we could reach Heaven. He is my Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. He is the Faithful One who will never leave me or forsake me. I know this for certain, because he never has. This is not my story. It is his.

Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor is a new book from Jenn Greenberg. In the book Jenn shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations. Buy the book here

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg lives in Texas with her husband, Jason, and their three young daughters. A writer and recording artist, Jenn tweets @JennMGreenberg and blogs at jennifergreenberg.net.

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