What I want you to know about sexual abuse and the power of forgiveness

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Meredith Cox

The time between my fourth and seventh birthdays is full of my first memories. I remember a backyard hill covered in leaves. I remember a pink swing that my loving father built for me. I remember bringing my baby sister home. I remember singing with my mother. I remember a tiny trampoline that held three laughing kids. I remember jazz music in the kitchen. I vaguely recollect a black Minnie Mouse sweatsuit and a pair of bedazzled velvet loafers that were among a little girl's favorites.

I also remember the stink of Brut cologne and Aqua Net hair spray. The eerie shade of orange-yellow that the sun sometimes turns as it sets; the same shade that would shine in through the window of that small room with the desks and old carpet. I remember panic attacks at home and at school; not being able to take a deep breath or think straight. I remember my abuse and my abuser. I remember the day it stopped.

I won't shock you with details or a name. Suffice to say, my experience was true to statistics and my abuser was a male relative. He was a looming presence until he died. He was at every holiday dinner, most parties, even at church on Sundays. During the years of abuse, I thought nothing of him coming into my family's home for a visit, but once he was "found out" and I was questioned (and assured that I had done nothing wrong), something switched or broke or maybe just got shaken up inside.

Now I felt awkward, uncomfortable, and so so so angry. I can't describe the anger of a seven-year-old, but it felt like I could scream loud enough to shake a building or hit hard enough to send a grown man flying. Once the outbursts toned down, though, a gradual numbness settled in and I decided that I would pursue perfection instead.

I want you to know how my silent quest for control revealed itself through obsessive-compulsive tendencies. How it kept friendships superficial and me simultaneously longing for the approval of, but ready to leave in a heartbeat, anyone who infringed upon my sense of power. It kept me bound to men, wanting to be "the best" in their eyes, and threatened by other women who could bring to light my shortcomings.

I want you to know how soul-killing my life was until everything changed.

I want you to know about the forgiveness that exploded into my life. How it grew the shimmer of hope that I had once accepted as being forever out of my reach into real and true joy! I want you to know how it feels to have the weight of bitterness and hatred lifted from your heart and replaced with grace and mercy. To know the difference between tears of sadness, the kind that never seem to stop, and the tears that must find their way out when you are too overwhelmed by how beautiful the world looks now. I want you to feel the freedom of releasing the blame you've held another broken person in for so long.

I want you to know the warmth of a kind, genuine, inspiring, encouraging and loving husband's embrace. I want you to know the song of a child's laugh and the gentleness in their precious eyes. I want you to know that life can be whole, more than you ever dared to imagine.

I want you to know that there are days that this new life is hard to accept; that there are fears that maybe it really is too good to be true or that the same things might happen to the ones I love. I am no longer alone with my fears, though. I have found the One who takes my fears, my sometimes hesitant and defensive heart, my shortcomings, and mends them. I want you to know that everything can be made new.

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