Finding Freedom on Independence Day
The Father love of God reaches out to His hurting child.
by P. J. Anna
Fireworks explode all around me tonight. The Nebraska summer air is thickened as thousands of brilliant lights fill the night sky.
Despite the excitement, the annual celebration of our country’s independence is a vivid, painful reminder of the worst summer of my life. Strange as it may sound, for over thirty years fireworks reminded me of Father’s brutal betrayal.
Verbal arguments often led to physical exchanges in my family. It didn’t take much to set Father off. Loud, angry words scared my little sister, Sandi, and me. At one point Mom hit Father in the head with a cast iron skillet before walking out the door.
I often grabbed my little sister’s trembling hand and headed to our bedroom. The arguments happened so frequently, we ran when they started.
Relief came when my parents divorced. I spent the next year with my grandparents, where I enjoyed being doted on by them, a drastic change from my previous home life.
After my parents’ divorce, the courts ordered my sister and me to spend the following summer with Father. He lived halfway across the country from Mom. It didn’t matter; Mom still had to send Sandi (age five) and me (age seven) to Father’s house.
Father lived in a two-bedroom unit in a trailer park packed with rundown, tired-looking trailers. The unit’s thin walls blocked little sound, so we frequently heard noises from Father’s bedroom when he entertained with his lady friends.
He often locked my sister and me outside while he spent time with one of his many girlfriends, leaving us on our own with nothing to drink. Although hot and thirsty, I preferred playing outside to being stuck in the trailer.
The first time Father called me into the bathroom, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know to run from him. I didn’t know he would touch me intimately as no father should ever touch his daughter.
Despite my protests, he raped me. Why wouldn’t he stop? Didn’t he hear my screams? Later I realized my screams never made it past my mouth. Overwhelmed, part of me shut down.
Unable to feel.
Unable to express.
Unable to escape.
Afterward, I lay on my bunk bed. While fireworks rhythmically exploded in the night sky, my heart pounded so fast in my chest, I thought I might explode. The townspeople celebrated, but I cried.
Sandi didn’t know why, so she tried to comfort me. She brushed my hair out of my face and patted my arm. “What’s wrong, Sissy?”
I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I sobbed and rocked myself to sleep.
Several times that summer, Father called me into the bathroom with the same intention. Each time, a bit more of me died inside. He stole the innocence of my youth. That was the last summer I spent in Kansas with Father.
I became tainted with an anger so deep, it seeped out into my teens and well into my adult years. One day in high school, so much energy flowed through me, I punched a hole in the wall in the stairwell landing. The next day, nursing bruised knuckles, I repaired the hole.
A troubled child, Sandi tended to act out. We fought like most siblings, but unlike most siblings, our squabbles frequently turned into physical altercations.
Sandi was a scrapper, and what she lacked in size, she made up in pure meanness. As a teenager, she spent time in detention centers, where doctors sought to diagnose her. I was struggling with my own pain at the time and didn’t understand where Sandi’s meanness came from.
Changed through betrayal
I found out later that Sandi suffered the same abuse at Father’s hands. Father separated Sandi and me often, taking one of us into the bathroom while leaving the other outside to play alone. His betrayal changed our lives.
Sandi and I were more alike than I ever knew. My sister’s mind split into multiple personalities in order to cope. In her early teens “Michelle,” a rough and physically strong persona protective of Sandi, made her first appearance. For years the family struggled to understand what triggered Michelle’s appearance. What fueled Sandi’s meanness?
Marriage and misery
Years after the summer I spent with Father, I met Al in a grocery store where he delivered and I clerked. It took a while, but eventually I felt safe with Al and told him my life’s story. We married three years later.
And every year I continued to struggle through the Fourth of July celebrations, battling memories of the only summer I spent in Kansas. Every year I prayed God would take away the pain.
Al understood my general unsettledness. Every July he kept me busy with various activities. Though I tried to hide the pain from family and friends, my husband saw right through me.
I’d weep my way through the holiday that celebrated our nation’s freedom, but I felt trapped. I found myself withdrawing, retreating, and hurting. Though I tried my best to survive the first week of July and its festivities, each summer I faced the same battle: Stay sane. Don’t remember. . . .
Only this Fourth of July night feels different.
Tonight I feel a freedom I struggle to explain. It’s a cleansing freedom, far beyond the delight of moving to a new state — a freedom that comes only from God. He has made me new.
Al walks into the room, where I sit in my favorite rocker. Tears stream down my face, and I smile. “These are not tears of pain, grief, or sorrow,” I tell him. “These are cleansing tears. Tonight while I listened to the fireworks, God showed me I no longer need to hang onto those painful memories with Father. I am finally free!”
Like the relief valve on a pressure cooker, the tears racing down my face take with them pressure from years of bottled pain.
Promise from God
On this Fourth of July, God reminds me of His promise for me:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18, 19, NIV).
No longer am I a child quivering in the corner.
No longer do the painful memories in Kansas control me.
No longer am I afraid Father will call me into the bathroom.
Tonight I see the fireworks for the beauty and celebration intended.
Tonight I am free.
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