By R. Jackson

Life should begin sweet; but, sometimes, we are born into lemons.

Childhood sexual abuse most likely occurs right at HOME by someone the family knows well. About 1 in every 3 girls, in the U.S., is sexually abused before their 18th birthday. I was she… I was the little girl whose cries in the night went unheard, ignored or dismissed by adults who were supposed to protect me. Being abused had become my ‘normal’ before I was 6 years old. Being abandoned, neglected and born to drug addicted parents lead me to the foster care system where I aged out at 17 years old upon graduating high school early. During those years I was not afforded the opportunity to learn proper relationship building skills because of a lack of trust, attachment disorder, emotional detachment and mental dissociation – this was the results of many years of abuse. Through the dysfunction I came to believe that every relationship would use me in some way, shape, form or fashion. People pleasing addiction became my normal during childhood. Never feeling good enough, thin enough or smart enough caused me to seek validation to affirm my self-worth from others. Hating myself was comfortable yet I had hope that my life would change someday.

Growing up in the foster care system reinforced my faulty thinking almost daily. I was a business transaction and a check each month was the desired result of the caregivers who provided shelter for me. I was not at home! I somehow knew that I was a victim of nothing more than circumstance and my mind constantly struggled to find peace with WHY… Self talk and my faith in Jesus had become my allies in surviving a traumatic childhood. The SURVIVOR awakened in me when my friend (now husband) introduced me to the gift of “human’ LOVE and indirectly gave me permission to HEAL, on purpose – spiritual love was all I had known prior to our divine meeting. I had learned to exist through my invisible pain by wearing MANY masks. Overachieving was my favorite although the ego, pride, being self-absorbed, a workaholic and an arrogant person is how I cried out loud. And then it happened… The bitterness of life about killed me through a suicide attempt. It was during these critical weeks of intense counseling that I was taught the secrets to making great lemonade.

For the first time in my life, I learned how to put words to my pain instead of isolating and hiding behind school, work, being a wife and a soccer mom. God awakened my soul and caused my heart to yearn for a better ME! Forgiving myself for accepting responsibility for the abuse was the best gift that I gave to ME! Letting go of the bitterness, rage and hate that I had become comfortable with was a journey of pain and love. Yet, along my journey I fell deeply in love with ME causing me to be authentic, trusting and vulnerable without fear when inviting others to share relationship with me. For the first time in my life, I showed up (not the masked woman).

Most importantly, I share my lemonade, freely with others, especially girls and women who have been suffered from the traumatic affects of sexual and physical abuse. God’s gift of grace, love and hope is what propels me forward each day! As such, I give it back to others when God provides me with those sweet opportunities.

I am undoubtedly aware that the lemons of abuse that were given to me in childhood have beautifully ripened and the lemonade that I get to make now through what I know to be my life’s purpose is to walk alongside of abuse survivors and assist them along their healing journey. While the need for love was never met in my adolescent years, I have been BLESSED with it and much more by the relationships that I cultivate as an adult.

“To all who mourn, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3 NLT)