May I have the courage to…

ribbons with prayers

This fall, I participated in an Art Prize installation by writing prayers on red ribbons for girls and women, both in general, and for those who have survived sexual abuse and exploitation (more about that later in this post). I wrote names of girls and women I knew were survivors. I wrote prayers that a girl would be rescued that day. I wrote prayers that assured the reader that she was worthy of being rescued.  Several times, I wrote, “May you have the courage to tell your story.”

And then: “May I have the courage to tell my story.”

I paused.

That was not what I’d intended to write. This was supposed to be about them. But in this area, there is no them. There is us.

I added my name to the next ribbon, because I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

When I was in grade 1,when I’d go to a neighborhood friend’s house to play, her father would take me in another room and touch me. It happened multiple times, although I don’t remember how many. I didn’t remember telling my mother, but credited our moving to Australia with stopping the abuse. It wasn’t until I was a parent, myself, and grieving that I never gave my parents the opportunity to protect me, that I found out that I had. I’d come home upset after a party at this friend’s house. My mother couldn’t get out of me what had happened, but she’d assured me that I never had to go back to that house. Ever. Later that year, when we were safely in Australia, she got it out of me, and she’d written to warn other families in the neighborhood with daughters who would go to this girl’s house to play.

Compared to the abuse suffered by other people I know, and how adults in their lives compounded the abuse by being angry at and blaming the victim, mine is a mild story. But it is mine.

It has been fuel to the fire of my anger against men. I used it to justify my poor treatment of men in my late teens/early 20s. But God did a mighty work in my life by convincing me that men are His children, too, and worthy of being treated as such — this paradigm shift made healthy relationships (both sexual and otherwise) with men possible.

The organization that used those ribbons is the Red Cord Community, helmed by my good friend Lorilyn Wiering. Here’s a photo of the Art Prize exhibit.

Photo by Red Cord Community of its Art Prize exhibit

Handling so many prayers while I helped tie the ribbons to the wires was moving. Seeing all those prayers fluttering in the breeze, bathing the heads of tall people who walked through the installation, was beautiful and powerful. Telling the story of the organization and the purpose of the ribbons, and watching people — children and adults — add their prayers and their stories was profound and lovely, and sometimes sad. But always a privilege.

Lorilyn’s tagline on her email, and her vision for the Red Cord Community is this: “Together we will become a community where all are givers and all are receivers.”

Yes.

As part of a community like that, sometimes I will be the receiver of stories and the giver of love and understanding, and other times I will give my story and receive love and understanding — thereby enabling me to give deeper and richer (and even holier) love and understanding.

I pray for you to have courage to do whatever it is that you feel God (or the universe) nudging you to do. And, frankly, I pray that I do not get a massive vulnerability hangover for writing this.

14 thoughts on “May I have the courage to…

  1. Thank you for your courage and your story. May God encourage and strengthen you as you use your experiences to bless others.

      1. I read about that too, Mary. So much courage for those young men to speak out and also for the school administrators not to hush it up…

  2. Natalie, this is powerful. Thanks for courageously sharing your own story. It’s shocking to think about how many children have been abused by people they have trusted. I’ve been reading about a new hazing ritual at a NJ high school where freshman football players were abused by their senior counterparts. The principal, to his credit, shut down the whole football program for the remainder of the year while the cases have been brought to court. I can’t imagine the courage it took for the first young man to come forward and tell someone. His courage paved the way for other players to come forward, just as Lorilyn’s Red Cord Community does.

  3. Me, too, thanks for writing 🙂 We all have a story, sorry to say, but by sharing, we become whole and let God’s peace wash away our pain. in Jesus, MB

  4. Thank you so much for that. I am amazed by how many women can relate to stories of sexual abuse. There are soooo many of us who have had this in their lives.. When women hear other women’s stories, it proves that most women can relate to them/us and it empowers them/us. Children simply do not know how to express this kind of thing. I thank all those mothers who gently work with their kids so they will learn to express themselves freely and be received with love and respect when they do. Thank you so much

  5. Thank you for sharing your story Natalie..I have been a victim of this too. I just don’t have the courage or will to share it but I highly appreciated what you did..

  6. My little sister, my nieces daughters (three of her four daughters).
    Sexuality is to be lovely, not abused.
    Pain and shame are heavy burdens to bear.
    The law gives heavy treatment to sexual abuse.
    We are heavily involved with this family as I write.
    Horror and loss on many levels, and dad knows it too.
    Removed from your family for four years.
    As I feel speechless at times, and yet I keep loving all of them.
    This brings out a destructive anger.
    Finding a place for love and anger can be good.
    Clipped sentences is necessary as I share, today.
    I want to be on ‘holy ground’.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth — yes, pain and love and anger and holy ground, all mixing together. May you be the holy ground for these family members.

  7. I found this really moving in your humble honesty. Your story IS important. I am glad you found the courage to do so. I am glad you were believed. I am glad you advocate for others. Sending you a fat load of love today.

    1. Thank you, Tanya. I am glad my mother believed me — I think of that often when I read of the struggles of those suffering from ME, as well.

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