One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to watch your child struggle, knowing they must fight their way through the obstacle their facing so they can come out stronger on the other side. When Blake has his accident, I could walk beside him, but the battle was his to fight. I couldn’t do it for him, no matter how badly I wanted to.
Last fall, Blake joined the local archery club and has since set his cap on competing in the Olympics someday. It was smooth sailing at first—archery seemed to come naturally to him and he excelled effortlessly. The kid could shoot a bow for hours and not wear out. (Which is saying something, considering it’s 28 pounds of force he’s pulling against with each shot.)
Then he hit a wall. Scores started falling and no matter how much he practiced or tried, he couldn’t seem to improve. As his mom, I could encourage and cheer him on, but the fight was his to win.
Blake’s doctors would say that for him to be in archery at all after a brain injury like that is a medical miracle, to excel in archery—to the highest ranks of archers—is asking too much. But Blake has never been one to let the accident hold him back, and this was no exception. He refuses to let it be his excuse to settle.
The first weekend in January brought with it a practice tournament to prepare everyone for State. Blake, despite his efforts, got the lowest score there. He left incredibly discouraged and down on himself. I told him that everyone had those days, everyone had failures. It was what you did with them that mattered. I encouraged him to make the week leading up to the state competition his “training montage” so the victory at State would be even sweeter. All week long, the entire family would periodically hum the theme from Rocky at him, a joking reminder of what he was working for.
He worked hard, listening intently to everything the coach said and practicing every day. When I couldn’t take him to the range, he practiced outside in the bitter cold.
Friday, I took off work early so we could head to the tournament. I wanted to give the boys a night in a hotel and I didn’t want the impending snow to keep Blake from his tournament. Of course, nothing went as planned—from work emergencies that had me stopping at McDonald’s for Wi-Fi to put out proverbial fires, to bickering kids, to ending the night with a lapful of lemonade. We couldn’t sleep, and somebody (not us) set the alarm in our room for 5:21 am. The entire experience had me feeling pretty flustered. And then we got there, and the whole thing seemed so big that I was a nervous wreck, and I wasn’t even the one shooting. Per Blake, he was partly excited, partly terrified.
But then he started to shoot, and I could tell he was remembering and doing everything he worked on with his instructor. I couldn’t keep track of his score because I’d forgotten my binoculars, but I could tell he was doing well, that whatever the scores for the day, he’d be able to walk away with his head held high.
Most importantly, I could tell he was having fun and making friends. Blake thrives on social interaction, and he was completely in his element here, doing two of his favorite things: shooting his bow and making people smile.
When he told me his score, he’d scored 44 points higher than the “Please Lord, let him at least score this” amount I had in my head. As the awards ceremony began, I quickly realized that he’d scored well enough to at least place in his division, which was, of course, just about the last division to receive their awards. (Talk about suspense...)
And in true Rocky fashion, Blake’s training montage paid off with a gold medal! (There might have been tears from mom... it's a possibility.) As difficult as it was to watch Blake fight a battle I couldn't help with, but there is no greater feeling than watching your child succeed when they've worked so hard for something. Even better, watching him make good friends and develop into the kind of young men you can be proud of.
What do you think of when you hear someone say “childhood sexual abuse”? If you’re like most people, just hearing those words likely stirs up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings, even if sexual abuse hasn’t touched your life in any way. There’s a stigma and a taboo surrounding sexual abuse, but there shouldn’t be. If we have any hope of bringing light into the darkness of abuse, we have to be able to put aside our discomfort and talk about it.
Let me speak first to survivors. Shame thrives in the darkness of secrecy, but it can’t survive without the secret. The first and vital step toward healing is to speak. As impossible as it sounds, freedom from shame only happens by shining a light on the very thing you feel compelled to hide. All of the things you imagine happening if someone were to know your secret are just that—imaginings. I let those imaginings keep me silent for a lifetime. Please don’t let that happen to you. Freedom is found in speaking your truth. People who love you will still love you when they know. I promise. And it won’t change how they think about you either. To the people who know and love you, you are so much more than anything—even this—that happened to you.
So what if you’re not an abuse survivor? How can you bring light into the darkness of abuse? Well, you are the very people survivors need to be able to tell. One of the fears that kept me from sharing my story was the fear of how people would react. It’s a valid fear. Hearing those words come from the mouth of someone you know can be shocking and can stir up that discomfort I mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t have to.
I’ve come to know a young man who is a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Matt Pipkin is the founder of Speak Your Silence (www.speakyoursilence.org). Speak Your Silence is all about helping survivors find their voice and share their secret. But Matt has gone about his mission in a unique way. He’s reaching out to the people who will hear the stories! He wants to create an environment where survivors know they’re supported before they speak their first word, and he has a tangible way to do it—The Stitch. The Stitch is an orange zigzag sewn onto any piece of clothing or accessory that represents the voice frequency of survivors. I recently interviewed Matt and here is how he explained The Stitch.
“The Stitch is not simply to be worn by those directly affected by child sexual abuse, but by all of us. Imagine you’re in room surrounded by people you love and you have a story you’ve never shared before, due to fear, shame, and guilt. How much safer would you feel sharing your story if every single person in that room was wearing The Stitch?”
How cool is that? The other thing Matt told me in his interview was how he felt when he first shared his story with his mom and dad. They overwhelmed him with love. When he told me that, it brought me to tears. That is the reaction every childhood sexual abuse survivor deserves.
So…survivors, speak! And listeners, love overwhelmingly!
Speak Your Silence has other unique ways you can directly help abuse survivors. Check them out when you have a chance.
Niki Krauss is a Yankee by birth, a Southerner by choice, and a joy-filled lover of Jesus by grace. After twenty-four years of moving around the country as the wife of a Marine Corps aviator, she and her husband of forty years have settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Niki is the former assistant editor for the Marine Corps Gazette, the professional journal of the United States Marine Corps, where she wielded her red pen for fifteen years. As a sexual abuse survivor herself, her most recent passion is leading faith-based support groups for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
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Little Girl Mended, Niki's powerful story of abuse and redemption, is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.