When I invited Joe Kitchens, Director of High School Student Ministries at Community Fellowship Church, to write something for the Shameless Men series, I had no idea that he had such a powerful story to tell. Joe experienced sexual abuse starting at very young age from someone who should have been his most intimate and trusted earthly relation.
I know you will be moved by Joe’s story and the work of Christ through it allâ€”beauty from ashes, baby.
I am praying that we all allow Joe’s story to shake us to pray for other victims of abuse. If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse and would like to talk to someone, please encourage them to contact any of the pastors at Community Fellowship or connect with the resources at Women at risk, International.
Joe blogs at joekitchens.com and can be found leading, goofing-off, and using the word “legit” at CF Highschool Min. gatherings and events.
My Story of Healing and Forgiveness
Imagine yourself as a five-year old. You wake up early and the first thing you do is run into the living room to watch your favorite show. You push the Care Bears tape into the VCR and suddenly, the image of naked people doing the unthinkable is in front of you.
Imagine itâ€™s a few years later and you come across this gigantic stack of magazines in the bathroom cabinet that show very similar images to the ones you saw as a five-year-old. Imagine you have a parent who is not only completely okay with you seeing the magazines, but encourages it.
This is the same parent who is teaching you things that a child should never learn. And itâ€™s not book learning, itâ€™s â€œhands onâ€ learning.
Imagine your brother being taken away by the state and remaining in their custody for years. Imagine feeling sadness for your brother, while your hatred grew for your mother.
This was my childhood.
My mother was a very abusive personâ€”in just about every wayâ€”but her primary means of abuse was sexual.
While kids in my class were making jokes about sleeping with each otherâ€™s moms, I wondered if they had any idea what they were saying. And because of what I knew of my mom, a part of me wondered if what they were saying to me with those jokes was true.
I felt a ton of shameâ€”ashamed of the increased desires that came as a result of being a sexual victim. Feelings that come from abuse are something that should never be experienced as a boy (or girl), and they affected the way I interacted with people, especially people of the opposite sex.
As my desires increased, so did my hatred for my mom. I felt like she was the source of all of my sin and that she had ruined me for life. Mostly, I couldnâ€™t figure out why God would let something like this happen to me or my family. I was angry.
In college I got involved in a campus ministry and began to talk with friends who had also experienced sexual abuse. There was freedom and healing in being able to talk about the pain, frustration, and confusion. What really stuck with me were our conversations about forgiveness. Iâ€™d always heard that in order to be a Christian you needed to be able to forgive. I remember sharing the gospel with my dad when I received Christ in high school, and the reason he gave for not being able to become a Christian was that he couldnâ€™t forgive my motherâ€”I didnâ€™t have an answer for that. I began to ask myself whether I had forgiven my mom and what that would look like.
God began to reveal to me that because of Christâ€™s sacrifice on the cross, I could receive healingâ€” not because I forgive first, but because I am first forgiven. The healing I received in that forgiveness gave me the ability to forgive my mom.
Now I know that while it is possible to receive healing from simply forgiving, I would argue that you receive a deeper and truer healing when you realize that you have been forgiven a multitude of sins. When you have been healed through the Gospel, you realize that your sins are in no way greater than anyone elseâ€™s, so their forgiveness is just as possible as yours. Why? Because there is no sin that Christ cannot conquer. His death wasnâ€™t limited in its capability to conquer sin.
And so my momâ€™s forgiveness is possible in Christ. For me to deny her forgiveness is to deny my own. Because Christ died for a wretched sinner like me, there is forgiveness possible for her.
Iâ€™ve been in youth ministry now for seven years and one Winter Camp I was able to give a seminar on Abuse and Forgiveness. When I shared my story there was a deathly silence, followed by an onslaught of questions.
I told the students that at first I hated my momâ€”they resonated with that. However, when I shared that in response to the grace and forgiveness God first showed me, I now forgive herâ€” the mood of the room changed. Tears were shed, people began praying for one another, students and leaders alike were opening up about things that had happened/been happening to them. I am so grateful that God has used my story to minister to so many others.
I havenâ€™t seen my mom in almost 18 years, but recently I sought her out through Facebook, and actually found her. I sent her a long message related to the Gospel and forgiveness, and that I hoped to reconcile with her. Through her acceptance of my friend request I discovered that she claims to be a Christian and there is a video of her baptism. Is that all legit? There is one thing I knowâ€”with God all things are possible.