As you’ve heard over and over lately, our WHOLE Women’s Conference is coming soon!
Over the next few weeks we will be featuring guest posts from a few of the women who are leading the various breakout sessions at WHOLE. This will give you a glimpse at the many areas being addressed at WHOLE as well as to get to know the women behind the breakout topics. It’s important to know that at WHOLE, every woman who leads a breakout has personally experienced the topic she is addressing.
These are real women who have found wholeness in their specific area of brokenness. Let that inspire you. There’s hope for whatever you’ve faced and/or are currently facing and for that friend, sister, mother, etc. that you don’t feel equipped to help today.
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Breakout: Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse
Leader: Tonya Shrader
Having once thought of myself as nothing more than the abandoned daughter of an addict, invisible child of a woman struggling with mental illness, and broken young woman desperately hiding the pain of childhood sexual abuse, it is an overwhelming honor and privilege to be speaking at WHOLE Women’s Conference. The concept of wholeness is precious and real to me, as I know full well the depths of my brokenness – every sin ever committed against me, and every sin I later committed against others – and the inexplicable healing grace and forgiveness that can only come from the Lord.
My husband and I first visited my church about a month before our first child was born. He was looking for a godly place for us to grow spiritually, while I was looking to reinvent for my son what church had been to me as a young girl – the only safe place where I could fearlessly be a kid. Little did I know that I would immediately be met by God’s word, challenging my understanding of abuse, forgiveness, survival, healing, family, and relationships. Aside from my husband, I didn’t really yet have a friend, so God gave me one. And he used this friend, and my husband, and our quickly expanding “church family” to continue prompting life change in me. I put church family in parenthesis because, back then, family was a surreal and scary concept to me. After all, family had been nothing but a source of pain and shame for 29 years, so embracing another human as family was not something I was quick to do.
However, as I embraced God’s truths – that He is a father to the fatherless, a defender of orphans and widows, and close to the brokenhearted – I began to gain a new perspective of my life and the world around me. I was not alone. I was not fatherless. As I read about how God has great plans for me, and can bring goodness out of evil and treasures out of darkness, I surrendered more of my past to Him in exchange for His promises of a new, full life. In Genesis, I learned that I was not the first to be abused and abandoned, and I was eager to lay down the idea that I was defined by my past. God does not see me as “damaged”. In time, I also learned the challenging lesson that choosing to forgive is not for those who have hurt me, but for my own peace. And I learned that forgiveness is not a one-time thing, and recovery can be a long, painful process, but that it is also among the most life-giving pursuits imaginable. In order for me to heal, I had to learn to put up healthy boundaries with my family. And, eventually, God made it clear when it was time for some of these boundaries to move in order for restoration of relationships to take place.
While I “lost” all of my childhood to abuse and serious fractures in the family, God has been faithful to redeem all of it. He has allowed pleasant memories to return as I’ve chosen to release the old bitter ones. He has made a way for me to live honestly and vulnerably with everyone I know, including my entire family that I’d previously kept at a distance. To this day, He continues to mend hearts and relationships. He has provided peace, joy, belonging, love and purpose beyond my wildest imagination. I am a walking reminder that God’s mercies are new every day and that he’s in the business of performing miracles and giving second chances. I can honestly say that I once had a gaping hole, but he’s made me WHOLE again.