My maternal grandparents lived in the lower half of our house and every summer my older cousins spent the summer there. I was 13 when one of my cousins raped me. I remember him holding me down and putting a blade to my neck, promising if I told he would harm my parents.
This continued every summer for three years. For most kids the end of the school year and summer was filled the promise of fun and adventure, but for me, it was the promise of a never-ending nightmare. My cousin took every opportunity to remind me that I was his – he’d touch me, rub me, grab me or had forcible sex with me. I felt disgusting, filthy and shameful. The smell of marijuana on his skin and his breath made me ill. His touch made my skin crawl. I had begun to hate my own flesh and felt like I could never get clean enough. No matter how many times a scrubbed, I couldn’t get his stench off of me. The only place I could escape was music, there I could lose myself. There was no pain in my musical world, there I was accepted and comforted.
I turned 16 in March of 1985. Summer was approaching and so was my impending nightmare. I was so scared and depressed. I went to school and was so overcome with fear and sadness that I had a breakdown in the girls’ room where my friends found me. I told them I was tired of living. They took me to the guidance office and told my counselor. I told my counselor everything. I felt such a release. Finally someone knew and someone would rescue me. The counselor called my mother and asked her to come to the school. I thought my nightmare was over.
When my mom arrived, we told her what had been happening to me. It infuriated her. Eventually I discovered that the anger she felt wasn’t because her child had been repeatedly violated, but because she believed that “if this happened I wanted it.” I came to realize that betrayal hurt almost as much as the rape. We never spoke of my experience. It became a nasty little secret, which set me on a course of self-hate, low self-esteem, shame, guilt, anger, and a profound sense of betrayal. Where was my hero? Wasn’t I important enough for someone to advocate for me? To hold me when the night terrors gripped me and robbed me of sleep? Didn’t anyone care that my innocence and all that I wanted to be when I grew up was stolen from me? Why did no one care? What was so wrong with me that no one could see me or cared that I was drowning?
I began to believe the lie that I was worthless and unlovable. I hated my assaulter and I hated my mother. I carried these feelings with me everywhere I went. They affected the way I perceived life. I was distrustful and began to act out sexually. At the age of 17, the young man I was dating raped me after I broke up with him. This I kept to myself and didn’t share with anyone. I felt like this was commonplace for me; that being a receptacle for some man’s anger, dominance and sense of entitlement was all that I was on this earth for. I was a walking gaping wound, trying to find something or someone to save me from this abyss of pain.
I decided the only thing that could help was death. My Godsister belonged to a competition choir that was auditioning. She invited me to audition too. So I accepted her invitation. It was perfect. I’d go to the audition and while I was there I’d kill myself. I couldn’t sleep that night and as I laid next to my Godsister I began to cry. I began to speak to God. I told him, “I don’t know if you really exist, but I hurt and I’m scared and I’m tired.” I told Him that every breath I took was like a knife going into my chest. I told Him, “If the only reason You put me on this earth was to be abused, then I don’t want to be here.” I gave Him an ultimatum. I told Him that if He didn’t put someone in my life who would love me for me, when I returned from church the next night, I was going to kill myself. As I was speaking to Him and crying, the room filled with light and I was able to sleep.
The next day when I went to church, I met my husband. For the first time I heard God’s voice. He said, “That’s him.” Though God used my husband to minister to some broken places, there was still a void. We became parents when I was 18 and he was 17. Once again, the enemy used my mother to try to destroy me. My pregnancy was shameful to her. So after unsuccessfully trying to get a late-term abortion, my aunt took me in and I lived with her for the reminder of my pregnancy. Yet again betrayal and shame were my garments. My husband, who at the time was my boyfriend, was very dedicated to me, but my mother would use every opportunity to remind me what a disappointment and disgrace I was.
I had my baby and I gave him to my aunt to care for. This way he wasn’t a constant reminder that I had failed as a daughter yet again. I felt like, How can I raise this child, I’m unworthy, he deserves better than me? It would be three years before I mustered the courage to stand up to my mother, bring my baby home and marry the man I love. Yet, that void was growing wider and wider, I cared for and nurtured shame, resentment, guilt, abandonment and unworthiness as though they were my children. The first five years of my marriage I wrestled with flashbacks and night terrors as a result of the rapes and unresolved issues. These kept me from being intimate with my husband. I couldn’t stand his touch because all I could see were my abusers. I fell into depression. I was so alone and the pain was so deep-seated, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The Denene I had known was consigned to oblivion. I was defunct. I felt I had not only lost my usefulness, but my value as well.
One morning in 1997, I was channel surfing and came across TBN. Pastor Paula White was ministering to women on taking back what the enemy had stolen. She said take Christ back to the place where you died. I got up off my bed, went to the hallway of my home where I was first violated, to the place where I died, where all that was pure and true in me was perverted, marred and stained. I fell to my knees and I cried out to Jesus, “Please Lord heal me, take this hurt, despair, unforgiveness, and shame because I can’t carry it anymore. It’s killing me.” I needed to be saved from this sea of anguish, I needed this ever-widening void of nothingness to be filled. My acute consciousness of Jesus’ presence rushed over me like a flood. In that moment all that I had been chained to since I was 13 was gone, I felt His love envelope me. It was soothing, it was healing, it overshadowed me.
I offered my whole self as a living sacrifice, and He set my soul on fire. He didn’t just restore my joy, He gave me joy anew. He unlocked my ability to laugh, to receive and give love, not what I perceived love to be, but His definition of love – Agape (a Greek word translated as God’s love). He took back all that the enemy used to silence and destroy me. He gave me the power to reclaim my life, to release those whom I had held captive through my utter abhorrence and anger towards them. He revealed to me that my unabridged deliverance was tied to not just submitting all to the Father, not just forgiving myself, but forgiving those who had hurt me, I released my mother and the men who raped and betrayed me. What had been fragmented and discarded had been made whole, by the Father.
Psalms 30:11-12 says: “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise.” Today, 17 years later, I am happily married for almost 25 years, have given birth to four of the most incredible young men. I have earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Women Gender Studies, enrolled to complete my Masters in Marriage, Family and Children Counseling, and working on completing certification in Crisis Intervention. I have served as a Confidential Sexual Assault Advocate for three years, volunteer at Center for Hope and Safety (formerly Shelter Our Sisters), and support/help women and girls to navigate their journey to healing from sexual assault and abuse.
Denene C. Lucas-Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Life Speaks is all about Her testimony, Her life, and who God is in Her story. Here we write our stories in hopes of helping other women find their relationship with Jesus Christ.