For Me, Not Because of Him

Today is ten years since the man—who did everything to ruin my life—died.

He was a senior pastor. We trusted him. I trusted him…until I feared him. He took my life. My soul. He left me with a shell and mask to give the world.

This man first started to abuse me at 4 years old. By 6, he sold me to a man who exploited children sexually in photography (child pornographer) who moved in next door to me. I lived at home. I knew my family’s souls hung in the balance if anyone knew what I had done—so I fought to protect them and hide everything.

The pastor told me he was helping me cleanse my sins and saving myself and my family by what he was “having to do” to me. By 8, another man had moved into the neighborhood and bought access to me as well. He was a trafficker and also exploited children sexually in photography.

I lived at home. I hid my pain. I made up stories for my injuries (or covered them by re-injuring myself). And yet, people knew me as one of the happiest kids they had ever known. And that joy…it was NOT an act. Sometimes the happiness was. But the joy was pure and real.

I could survive any darkness and my joy could not be crushed. Even in tears and under layers of battle-warn scars and grime, hope and joy beat deeply within me. I thrived on laughter (and still do)—real, soul-bending laughter—and I brought it with me wherever I went. Because this joy…this laughter…this hope…was MY DEFIANCE.

He could try to take everything from me. But he couldn’t take the life within me that sees that I can make it—that sees the smallest spark of light in the darkest of places.

Today is ten years since his death. Many are honoring what a “godly man” they think he was. They are saying, “We cannot fathom the lives he touched.” Eerily, that is the truest of all statements.

So today I got a tattoo. FOR me. In honor of the unbeatable spirit of joy that has been placed within me. The tattoo is not because of him, but for me. Today is my day. Not his. This life I live is my life. Not his.

Thank you, Cerney at Golden Rule Tattoo for gifting this beautiful tattoo to me for my healing journey. It’s art that I created, drew, and colored. And you did a magnificent job of bringing it to life on my arm.

The chains are breaking free and becoming birds flying in their freedom straight toward the words on the front of my arm: “Be a voice not an echo.”

May my voice be filled with laughter as I continue to fight and warrior onward. May the joy within me be contagious alongside hope. And may armies of warriors know they are not alone.

May we all be #DefiantlyJoyful.

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