When she was in the third grade, 10-year-old Carissa* was violated for the first time by a man she trusted.
The man who should have loved, protected, and valued her as an aspiring young girl instead inflicted abuse that destroyed her self-worth and crushed her young psyche.
Yet, almost forty years later, this once-victimized young girl has discovered that she is a woman of worth where it counts — in the eyes of Christ.
Born in the summer of 1971 in the Bible Belt of Middle America, Carissa* grew up in a small urban community known for its moral values and conservative politics.
Her parents both worked for the local railroad and then, as she grew older, her father started his own business in the construction industry.
That business would eventually fail when Carissa was a teenager and the family struggled financially, almost losing their home.
Although by all outward appearances they maintained the image of a successful and happy family, behind the walls of their middle class home were secret hardships and destructive demons.
Outwardly, they were a very religious family attending church each week. Carissa’s parents even taught a Sunday School class of children her own age.
However, while they were involved in community, Carissa’s social life outside of the family was strictly limited.
She believes this was to keep anyone from discovering the dark secret that was going on in their home. Her mother didn’t even know or realize the atrocities that were occurring under her own roof.
Confused, conflicted, and emotionally chained to her abuser, she withdrew within herself afraid to imagine or aspire to be anything more than a victim.
When asked about her dreams and goals for the future she said, “When I was a teenager, I didn’t have any dreams. I didn’t believe I could be anyone or do anything.”
Sadly, her abuser would not be the only one to suppress her dignity and potential.
Her teachers at school misinterpreted her demeanor as a lack of intelligence and assumed she was below average. She was placed in a remedial reading class, and labeled “unexceptional” and “destined to mediocracy.”
Those formidable years of development for Carissa, when she should have been encouraged and nurtured, were instead filled with belittling remarks and negativity.
She was repeatedly told, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
When she said she was going to college, she was told, “You’re too stupid. You’ll never graduate.”
Her home was filled with criticism and sarcasm. While there were moments of laughter, it was always at someone else’s expense.
When compared to others, she was never good enough. There was always an expectation of perfection that could never be achieved and that expectation kept her feeling defeated.
To avoid rejection or retaliation, she would be forced to repeatedly acquiesce to her abuser’s demands for “favors.”
For over twenty years she chose to remain silent about her abuse in an effort to protect her siblings and keep their family together.
She had also been repeatedly told by her abuser that no one would believe her; and in some ways that had proven true.
Her brothers are both exceptionally intelligent and talented; and their accomplishments and gifts were always showcased above that of Carissa and her younger sister.
This attitude of male superiority was always prevalent in the home, another subtle means of reminding Carissa of her subservient place.
The physical abuse continued until the day she was married when she was just eighteen years old. This was the first of several liberating moments in her life that God would use to help her break the chains from her abuser.
Her fiance, Jonah*, had a much different assessment of her and stood in stark contrast to the image she carried in her own mind.
By her own confession, she would tell you that she was a loner in school, not the most popular girl in her class.
Yet, Jonah saw her as a girl glowing with beauty and radiance. Despite her inner fears, when she was away from the shadows of her home, Carissa shined. She lit up a room with her personality.
Jonah recalls that he first noticed Carissa at church after returning from completing his college education. She was sixteen and still in high school. Long, dark kinky hair framed her tanned and freckled face.
Her husband recalls, “I can still vividly see the peach colored bathing suit she was wearing the night I first kissed her in her backyard pool.”
For him, it was truly love at first sight.
She would later admit, “I don’t know if I truly loved him when we got married, because I didn’t know what real love was supposed to look like. I married him to get out of my house and the situation I was in.”
After thirty years, Carissa fell deeply in love with Jonah, though it has not always been easy to open her vulnerable heart to his affections. Over the years, Jonah has loved her as Christ loved the church, telling her that she is a woman of infinite worth and loved by God.
And despite being told she was too stupid and would never amount to anything, God proved that wrong by blessing her with a career of service in nursing.
She doesn’t have any recollection of truly wanting to be a nurse, but when she enrolled in the local community college after getting married she says, “I had no I idea what I wanted to do as a career, but I had a friend that was in nursing school and so I thought, ‘I guess I can do that.’”
Looking back on that moment she says, “With God’s help, the day I graduated from nursing school and then passed my nursing board exams was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.”
With that achievement, she proved her abuser wrong. She ripped from his hands the oppressive weapon of his verbal subjugation.
Surprisingly, although she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and has worked in the medical field her entire career, Carissa has never worked in the role of the typical clinical nurse.
Instead, Carissa has become very successful in the area of clinical research, traveling across the US for a highly-rated global company receiving numerous awards for her exceptional work in monitoring oncology clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies.
“I feel that I can be the voice for the patient,” Carissa explains, “ensuring that they receive the best care and treatment available.”
She has equally become a champion for the rights of the victims of medical malpractice.
Carissa has a heart for the outcasts and marginalized people in the world.
She adamantly defends those who have been victimized or taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. She says, “Even though my earthly father didn’t love me in the way he should, I know I have a heavenly Father who loves me immensely and always seeks my good and not my harm.”
She desperately wants other people to feel that same love.
Today, Carissa is still driven by an internal need to be perfect and becomes visibly shaken and even ill if she believes she has disappointed someone or failed to provide the best care to her patients.
The events of her childhood and young adolescent life have left many residual emotional scars, but with God’s help and the loving reassurances of her husband, Carissa continues to find strength and power and even victory over her circumstances.
She would never refer to herself as a victim.
Carissa also serves her family as an amazing mom to two beautiful daughters and a son who she would fight to protect until her dying breath.
In extreme contrast to her own experience, she elevates her children as the greatest gift from God she’s ever received aside from her own salvation both spiritually and physically.
She has taught her daughters to be young women of character and self-sufficient. She has repeatedly told them to love men deeply, but to never let a man have control over their life. She has raised her son to be respectful of his female counterparts and to treat them as women of worth and dignity.
Her friends and colleagues say she is unashamedly vocal and opinionated, fiercely independent, can command a room, and is at the same time tender-hearted, compassionate, and charming.
Along with protecting her patients, she has helped many other women overcome the trauma of abuse.
Although her experience had the potential to crush her, through God’s grace and the expressions of consistent love from others, Carissa continues to overcome the trauma of her childhood.
She is now a confident and successful woman who has not allowed her past to define her future.
*Note: Names have been changed to protect the identities of the subjects of the article. Carissa’s abuser, who is still living, has never been formerly charged for his abuse. While there has only been limited contact for the past 20 years, Carissa still prays that he will one day seek forgiveness; and when he does, she will be ready to extend the grace of God to a man who doesn’t deserve it because that is what God has done for her.