When My Worst Fear Came True
Seventeen years ago, my husband, Mike, and I moved from Southern California to the White Mountains of northeast Arizona. We had just begun our family. In that sleepy, little town population 2,000 we felt confident we could raise our children in peace and safety.
For years, we did enjoy the quiet community, and we even launched a successful business there. Life was serene and relatively uneventful until one April afternoon two years ago.
That day seemed ordinary as I hurried about my household activities. Everywhere I went, I was accompanied by my fifth child, 3-year-old Tiffany.
Tiffany was our "surprise package," arriving six years after our other children. This tiny girl's sweet smile and bubbly personality made her the family favorite. Tiff was adored by all of us.
As the afternoon progressed, my daughter and I chatted as we folded clothes. I launched into my "concerned mother" routine, casually asking Tiffany a question I had directed at one time or another to all of my children.
"Has anyone ever touched your private area, Tiff?"
She nodded yes.
"Who?" I demanded, nausea gripping my stomach.
"Wesley," came her quiet answer.
Wesley. The 12 year old boy I had hired to look after Tiffany several afternoons a week while I worked at my home based business. I had always been home while they played together.
Don't panic, Dianne, I calmed myself. Perhaps Tiffany is mistaken.
But, as I questioned her further, I realized no 3-year-old could invent the disgusting details Tiff was relating to me.
Decisively, I gathered my purse and my daughter and headed straight to the police. Six months before, I had read this advice immediately contact authorities in a magazine article on child molestation. Little did I realize that this horror would soon invade my own life.
At the police station, Tiffany was taken into a different room for questioning. The authorities had been taught specific procedures to pull the facts out of a small child with a limited vocabulary. Afterwards, they suggested I call a friend to take Tiffany home while they spoke privately with me.
In their office, the officers disclosed the extent of Tiffany's victimization. Not only had my 3-year-old been sexually molested over a week's time, but she had also been raped.
Right in their office, I began to scream. I yelled and carried on, never wanting to stop. When I finished reacting, I knew I'd have to face the reality of what had happened to my precious child.
In my heart, I didn't want to believe it. How could a 12 year old boy do this? I thought. Didn't boys that age fill their minds with thoughts of BMX bikes, baseball cards and Nintendo games? Where had Wesley come up with these vile ideas?
Dealing with the aftermath
That evening, when the police questioned Wesley at his home, the boy admitted to everything.
Meanwhile, I took Tiffany to a woman gynecologist, who medically confirmed that the rape had occurred. My daughter immediately began seeing a counselor, beginning the process of working through the trauma.
But I couldn't get over what that boy had done to my innocent little girl. Resentment dominated me. I blamed Wesley for the hurt he'd caused our family.
"He's shattered an innocent girl's life," I told my husband. "Wesley deserves to be punished."
I began to build a case against him, imagining ways to hurt Wesley. Friends, even Christians, justified my vengeful spirit. But because of my spiritual upbringing, deep inside I recognized that there was one important element missing from the tragedy God's grace.
Oh, it was there alright. I knew that from His Word and past experience, but it was difficult to feel His grace amidst such devastating turmoil.
One day, as a friend drove Tiffany and me to a counseling session, she remarked, "Well, Dianne, welcome to the 'Poor-Broken-Slob Club.' Now you can see if your words really work."
I knew what she was referring to.
For years I had been active in a pro-life ministry, counseling post-abortion victims. From the outside looking in, I had experienced other women's abortions, desertions and abuse. I always counseled with positive words and Scripture. Lives had been changed while trusting Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. . . ."
Now Tiffany's life had been broken. I was certain no good would ever come from my small child's victimization. In my heart, I knew I was capable of deep hatred. However, in counseling embittered women, I had learned what internal venom could do. I knew it could destroy both my relationships with God and my family. I wasn't strong enough to stop the hating, but I knew God was.
At this point, I didn't feel ready to forgive Wesley. But out of past experience, I knew I had to trust God to use the worst in my life to glorify Himself and benefit others.
With this belief, I whispered a simple, stumbling prayer: "God, don't let me hate."
In my mind, I envisioned a chasm as deep as the Grand Canyon filled with my bile. I saw myself standing on the brink, slipping fast. I knew if I fell in, my joyful, victorious Christian life would be over.
I pleaded again, "God, don't let me step over that edge. Please hold me back."
Even after I prayed, I still wrestled with my emotions. But for the first time in two months, I felt some peace as I allowed God's grace to sustain me.
Cause and effect
The following September, the court date arrived for Wesley's sentencing. I had wondered how a 12-year-old boy could come up with the atrocities Wesley had. My answer came as his counselor revealed his findings.
At a vulnerable age and a crucial time in Wesley's life as his parents were experiencing marital problems the youth had been introduced to hardcore pornographic materials at a summer camp. It was only a matter of time before Wesley acted out what he had seen.
During the court proceedings, Mike and I were allowed to share our grief.
Unable to contain his tears, my husband said, "I will never be able to look at a little girl again without wondering if this terrible thing has happened to her, too."
Standing next to Mike, I poured out my heart. Putting the incident from my mind seemed impossible, especially in our small town where we'd run into Wesley at social events or even the grocery store. Seeing him had even triggered a reaction from Tiffany, the therapist reported. Tiff had begun acting out the molestation with her dolls.
I concluded my statement by pleading with the family to move. "I can't stand the thought of living in the same town and seeing this boy all the time."
When I sat down, the judge called Wesley and his mother to the bench and asked if they had anything to say. The boy stammered as he apologized for his actions, adding, "I've lost all my friends."
His broken mother, weeping openly, expressed her own hurt and remorse over her son's crime.
"Our lives have been shattered," she cried. "This is my son, and I love him. Yet what he has done is so terrible. I know how Mrs. Smith's heart is broken because my heart is broken, too."
Suddenly at that moment, I saw the woman through a mother's eyes. Realizing that her life had also been devastated, I prayed my third prayer: "Lord, help me to forgive."
God had kept me from stepping off the edge into hatred. Now I desperately needed His help to set both Wesley and me free. The Lord honored my request, and I was acutely aware that the mercy I was feeling was a gift from God.
The judge cleared his throat, then sentenced Wesley to two weeks of residential counseling. (Later, we discovered this was a controversial secular program where the youngsters were exposed to more hard core porn while outfitted with a sensor. If they showed an arousal, they were made to sniff ammonia as a deterrent. After this "therapy," he would be released on probation until age 18.)
After pronouncing sentence, the judge announced to the courtroom, "I am giving this boy the strongest sentence I can under the law."
As the gavel came down to dismiss the case, I whispered to Joanne, from the Victim's Assistance Department, "I'd like to have a word with Wesley."
"No, I don't want you to, Dianne." Her voice was firm. "It's best if the two parties don't interact. I've actually seen fistfights take place."
After assuring Joanne that would not happen, I hurried over to Wesley and his mother. When I reached them, I hugged each one.
Looking Wesley straight in the eye, I told him, "Nothing will ever take away the pain you have caused our family. But, I want you to know something, Wesley. Because of Jesus Christ and His love for all of us, I am able to fully forgive you."
As I returned to my family, I overheard Joanne comment, "Well, I'll be! In all my years in this work, I've never seen anything like that in this courtroom!"
Later, Wesley's mother told me if I hadn't expressed forgiveness to her son, she knew he could never fully recover from his crime.
I still pray for Wesley, that his restoration will be complete, as mine has been. Oh, the pain is still there, but the hatred and vengeance are gone. God has placed peace in my heart instead. He was able to use our family's tragedy for His glory, and hopefully, to help others.
Moving past the pain
Some months later, I flew to Washington, D.C., to speak at a meeting of the "Enough Is Enough" anti-pornography campaign. This group of women is seeking to reduce sexual violence and to prevent women and children from becoming victims of harmful pornography.
I testified (without using my last name) that porn brought unforgettable harm to a 3-year-old girl-and a 12-year-old boy. I pleaded that our nation's lawmakers would wake up and work to eliminate child pornography and illegal hard-core porn from the open market.
It's been two years since my daughter's molestation. Recently, I took her to the therapist who has worked with her since the incident. Her words brought joy and relief to my heart.
"Your daughter is doing wonderfully," she said. "She's happy and adjusting well. She doesn't need to continue therapy at this time." I learned that I had to be aware that during several development stages, a few sessions could be helpful so recurring memories don't overwhelm her.
As a mother, I continue to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. As I do, I take with me the assurance that God's grace His undeserved love and forgiveness will be my traveling companion.
* The names used in this article have been changed to protect their identities.
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