There is a significant age difference between my boss and me. Me:17. Him: I don’t know, really, maybe in his 40s—old enough to be married, to be a manager, to have his own office. Still, I consider him a friend. We chat, banter, and sometimes things get a little too flirtatious. But I don’t mind. I like the attention. I like his attention.
One day, and many days to follow, we cross a line. I’ll spare you the details because I am honestly still sparing myself the details, but even now, 25 years later, I hate the thought of him locking his office door with me inside. I hate him staring at my body, complimenting me, telling me that he’ll give me bonuses based on our time together. I hate myself for not running away, screaming.
It has taken me a good two decades to call this by its proper name. I describe it as a “relationship” at first. Then I get braver and call it an “inappropriate relationship.”
But my bravest self, my adult self, my whole self, finally names it accurately—sexual abuse and an inequitable power dynamic.
Much of my healing work is documented in a book written for younger women, Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan, 2015) So I won’t say everything here.
But as an older woman now, who is still processing the pain I felt about those days behind locked doors, I find that one of the most powerful tools I have is my imagination. I picture Jesus there with me in the office.
He invites me to listen to him speak truths over me, when all I want to tell myself are lies.
I deserve this.
God can’t love me.
God won’t forgive me.
I am always going to be a slut.
Daughter, I give you value. You are enough.
Do not abandon yourself; I will never abandon you.
You are beautiful. You are mine.
You are new.
His words heal me, and heal me again. And what once felt like a forever shame-stained piece of my story is now covered in this truth: God makes all things new.
After spending years with a therapist, I decide to revisit my younger self, the girl behind those locked office doors.
I walk into the office where he drew too close, touched without consent, and stole me from me. It’s not his office anymore, of course. Though his presence isn’t here, the feelings certainly remain.
At first, I want this place to be a flower shop or a hospital, something to represent beauty from ashes. But I know something now that I didn’t know before—it doesn’t matter what this place is, because I am the beauty from ashes.
God redeems me. I am released and redeemed, no longer a captive.
I can’t quite name it, this healing change that continually unfolds, but the last of my pain is being replaced by something new, something explosive, something whole and good—the presence of Jesus with me, the love of Jesus covering me, the dignity of Jesus rising—stronger than my shame.
And I can say with confidence, like the psalmist before me, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered in shame (Psalm 34:5).”