Screaming at the top of my lungs I entered this world on a hot and humid September day. My parents christened me Diane Parker. I was the little girl they had always dreamed of and desired. With two older brothers, I was the baby of the family. Some would say I was the dearly loved and spoiled rotten little princess of our family. My identity was firmly established very early on.

Or so it seemed. It took only a few years for that identity to be robbed. Little by little, the person I once was—an innocent little girl who believed those surrounding her accepted and loved her—disappeared. And in her place emerged another little girl who looked exactly like the other Diane, except this Diane no longer believed those around her, including her mother and father, would love her if they ever found out her secret.

Don’t Tell Anyone

By the time I was five, I was being molested on a regular basis by someone very close to me. I never fully understood until much later that what was happening to me was not normal. Only when he told me no one could know did I begin to think what WE were doing was bad. How could I discern at such a young and vulnerable age that WE were doing anything wrong? I didn’t understand he was the one doing wrong, that I was a victim in his sick and twisted game.

He told me not to tell anyone, that if I did, they would think I was a bad little girl. He said they would not love me anymore if they knew all the bad things I did. He said no one, not even my momma and daddy, would love me if they knew I let him and the others do all those things to me. As a little girl, all I wanted was to know my parents loved me.

As I grew, my abuser placed more and more blame and shame on me. I became riddled with guilt over something I really had no control over. I remember asking myself the same question time and again: If I was so bad, why was I the one hiding in fear that he might find me and do things to me. As the years went by, he used every form of manipulation and intimidation he could to keep me from telling anyone what was happening behind closed doors and in wooded areas.

Ten years passed before I found the courage to stand up to his abuse.

Go Ahead; Tell Them

When I finally reached a place of desperation within myself, I called his bluff. No matter what, I had to end the abuse. It was either end the abuse by walking out of it or end the abuse by ending my life. That was how desperate I had become.

I remember the day so clearly. He came into my room. Sitting in the middle of the floor, he said he had something new he wanted us to try. When he described what he wanted to do, I was disgusted. I stood up and told him no. He threatened me. He taunted me by saying my parents would hate me. I started for the door. He told me that he was going to tell my parents. Continuing to scare me, he said they would give me the worst beating of my life. I did not stop walking.

I rushed ahead of him and called out to my mom and dad. I told them he had something to tell them. This time I was the one taunting saying, “Go ahead! Tell them!” He turned and walked away. That was the last day he ever tried to lay his hands on me.

Recovery is Slow

I have never fully recovered from all those years of abuse, manipulations and threats. Somehow, in survival mode, my mind locked away all those memories for a time. I blocked the abuse from my everyday consciousness in order to survive. Ten years passed before an event happened to awaken those distant and dormant incestuous memories—like an old movie reel, the memories rolled across my mind’s eyes allowing me to view everything. All of it.

For most of my life, I carried a heavy burden—hatred. I absolutely hated the man who molested me. I could not stomach looking at him, much less having him touch me, even in passing. His touch nauseated me. My hatred burned me on the inside and erupted on the outside. It was pretty obvious to everyone how I despised him.

My mother often berated me about how I mistreated him when I treated other people so much better. But my mother spoke out of ignorance. See, I never told my parents about the abuse. I never wanted them to know how sick and twisted he was. They never knew why I hated him so. The hatred was like a cancer deep inside of me, and the disease was killing me from the inside out, body and soul.

How do you find freedom from a childhood of abuse? How does a person find freedom from years of lies and manipulations told to her or him by another? For me, it was my faith in God, who was ever present in my life, walking alongside of me and giving me strength to persevere. It was my Savior, Jesus, who demonstrated authentic and unconditional love on the cross.

It took years before I forgave my abuser. From the overabundance of grace and forgiveness that was shown and given to me by my Savior for my own sins, I knew I must forgive the one who harmed and damaged me. During the time I was struggling so desperately for healing, a pastor told me that not only should we forgive, but also we must reconcile ourselves with what was done to us by another—the searing pain and scars another forged. My pastor said the Lord never allows pain and suffering without a plan to redeem all the hurt and heartache associated with it.

Forgiving my abuser and reconciling myself with the past put me on the road to recognizing who I really was.

Who Am I?

I never was a willing participant in the monstrous acts committed against me. The reasons my abuser gave me to keep my mouth shut were lies.

In truth, my parents did love me, and nothing I could have done would have kept them from loving me. I was not a bad girl; I was a good, little girl whose childhood was stolen. I was not guilty of any crude or disgusting acts; I was a little girl whose innocence was ripped away by a selfish and perverted person.

I grew up to realize the things he did to me did not—and still do not—define me. I may have scars, but the scars tell me how far my Lord has taken me—from a place of desperation and self-loathing to a place of peace and acceptance in who I am in Him, a beautiful creation formed by His very own hands. His Beloved.

Freedom is a glorious thing. It is a birthright granted to us from God, and no one has the right to take it away from us. Today, I am a liberated woman in the Christ Jesus, freed from all the lies and manipulations of my abuser.

And with freedom comes great responsibility. I choose to encourage those who have been hurt. There is healing in forgiveness. By choosing to forgive my abuser, I chose freedom from any power he might have had over me. I wholeheartedly agree with what Dr. Phil McGraw once said about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is what you do for yourself, not for other people. When you forgive, it does not mean that you approve of what has happened. Rather, it means that you are giving yourself permission to move on with your life.”

God tells us to forgive because He first forgave us. When I decided to put my pride and hurt aside and forgive the one who hurt me so cruelly, I reclaimed who I am.

I am Diane Parker. I am a survivor by the grace and strength of my Lord. Will the real me stand up?