I grew up going to meeting in Oklahoma (United States), and our family moved to the Clever convention grounds in Missouri when I was a teenager. Trying to understand which parts of my life were shaped by growing up professing is like trying to understand which raindrop was made from the ocean: in some ways, they all were.
This is what I do know:
- When I eat Starbursts, Smarties, white bread with squirt butter, or scrambled eggs made just the right way, I am little me again for a second: Sitting on a hard wooden bench, tummy growling at the smell of convention stew, clenching my eyes and praying for understanding.
- Listening to a sister worker teach the story of the Good Samaritan when I was a small child was the first time I considered what is now one of my most strongly held beliefs: Action is what gives love meaning, and we are called to act with love and empathy to the most vulnerable among us, no matter how scary it might be to do so.
- No sound has ever touched my heart more than the singing at convention. The voices rose together in harmony to become more powerful and wonderful than any one voice could ever be alone — a resounding song you could hear from anywhere on the convention grounds.
When I eat Starbursts, I throw away the lemon ones.
When I was five, I was sexually abused by the son of my parents’ closest professing friends. I didn’t have the words to understand what had happened, and when I told my parent, they told me it was just a disgusting dream and not to talk about it again.
My abuser continued to approach me at conventions and gospel meetings. He would pull a yellow lemon Starburst from his leather coat and leer above me so he could watch me eat it. I’d told him once — before — that it was my favorite flavor.
Action is what gives love meaning.
When I was twelve, my parents told me and my siblings that we’d stay with my abuser for an evening while they went to an event with his parents. I pleaded with them to find anyone else to watch us, even the babysitter I hated most. They said I could go to his house or stay home while my younger siblings went alone.
I knew what would happen to me if I went. And I knew what might happen to my sisters if I didn’t. Even at twelve, I knew which choice I had to make. I went, and he sexually abused me again. Because I loved my sisters, I sacrificed myself to protect them.
Our voices are more powerful and beautiful together than they could ever be alone.
So many of us were taught to silence ourselves to keep the harmony… but maybe somewhere along the way, the song changed from what it was meant to be. Maybe others sang louder and changed the key to suit themselves. No one wanted to stop singing or cause discord, so they kept on going, not even noticing as more and more of us became silent.
I have lived the pain of silence. When I was five, I was told to stay silent and that nothing happened to me. I think I may understand why my parent couldn’t acknowledge what happened to me. My voice had no power, and people would accuse them of causing discord if they spoke up. If my parent could convince me it was a dream, maybe we’d both be spared the pain that would cause. I wish my parent had known how powerful little Selkie’s voice could have been if they’d had the chorus of support they deserved.
I am not silent anymore: I am lifting my voice—for little me, for those who came before me, for those who don’t yet feel safe enough to use their voice, and for all of the vulnerable ones who deserve our protection.
The victim-survivors before me lifted their voices and gave me the courage to add my voice to theirs, and many more will join us. Some of us are whispering, and some of us are roaring, but together, our voices are beautiful and steadfast. By lifting our voices together, we will continue to show our love by supporting one another and protecting others from the pain we experienced.
In the six months since I wrote my story, so much has changed. I have learned more about what happened to me as a child, and many who knew my abuser have shared their experiences with him. I have been welcomed with open arms into communities of loving and kind humans who would never have heard my voice before. I have reconnected in meaningful ways with loved ones and acquaintances from my childhood. For the first time in our lives, my parents and I talked openly, honestly, and extensively about what happened to me. After apologizing to me in private for their part in my pain, my parents wrote an open letter of apology to me, my siblings, victim-survivors, and their fellowship community.
I have begun to heal in ways that are profound and life-changing.