I love a roaring fire in the fireplace! The smell of the wood burning, the crackling sounds, the beautiful colors of the dancing flames and the warmth. Give me a cabin in the woods sitting in front of a fire on a snowy day and I’m in heaven. Then comes the day after when the ashes must be cleaned out. It’s a nasty job. Those ashes go everywhere and get into everything. It’s hard to get rid of them.
In High School I worked after school and weekends and summers knowing I was going to have to pay for college because my parents didn’t have the financial resources to send me. I worked at a card shop where the owner was a grouchy man who rarely affirmed employees. He also thought that if you worked for him he had claim to your time off the clock to do his grocery shopping, walk his dog and take his clothes to the dry cleaner. After a couple years of doing that I decided I would prefer to work for someone who appreciated my work and didn’t have unrealistic expectations.
So, I went looking for a new job. I saw a posting for a waitress position at a small diner close to my house. I went in to apply and found out the shift that was open was 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Not my ideal time, but the owner was ready to hire me on the spot. I took the job and started training. During the training at around 3:00 a.m. one morning, the owner cornered me at the countered and forcibly kissed and groped me. He then told me there was a couch in the back room we would use for his pleasure when there were no customers in the middle of the night.
After the first few nights I was so afraid of what might happen that I was an emotional wreck before going to work. I tried to stay busy and encourage customers to stay longer so the owner and I would never be alone. But I knew, one night the place was going to be empty and then what would happen?
The next day I quit. What I thought was going to be an improvement in work environment was worse than my previous job. Going to that job was like sitting in the fireplace ashes. They got into every part of my life. I felt like a bad person wondering what I had done to invite that attention. I was afraid of men, uncomfortable being alone with anyone. I was embarrassed to tell people that after ten days I had left the job, too afraid to say why. I felt used and dirty.
It took a long time for me to clean out the ashes of shame, uncertainty, and embarrassment. I did clean out the ashes and came to wholeness. Since that time, I have helped other women living in the ashes. Women who were sexually abused by men they trusted, family members, church youth leaders, coaches, pastors, professors, spouses and bosses. I’ve sat in the ashes with them, and then walked with them as they have begun the work of cleaning out the ashes and themselves coming to healing and wholeness.
If you are a woman who has experienced sexual abuse, don’t try to clean out the ashes alone. Find a friend you can trust or a professional who will support you and walk the journey with you. If you know someone who has been sexually abused, offer support and then allow them to invite you into their journey.
I encourage local churches to consider offering a time in worship to focus on sexual abuse. Preach about it! This let’s victims know it’s okay to talk about it. During worship offer an opportunity for healing prayer for those who are victims or know victims of sexual assault. Invite the congregation to have an experience of offering a victim into God’s healing presence by placing a flower or other symbol on the communion table and conclude with a prayer for those who have been victimized to experience God’s healing.
As the church may we be part of helping to clean out the ashes and bring healing and wholeness.