Fearless Grace: How God turned abuse into an opportunity for compassion

We want to protect our children from those who would seek to steal their innocence, but we don’t want our children to live in fear. How do we balance these seemingly competing demands? How do we nurture healthy views of sexuality, relationships, affection, and boundaries? We have sought out the voice of a mother who has raised two young adults who are bearing the beautiful fruit of the investment she and her husband made in their son and daughter. We are excited to give her an opportunity to share her story with you.

When our daughter, Jessica, arrived home from pre-school the day it happened there was nothing unusual in her behavior. But that weekend she told me something about her little friend that rang the bell of alarm in my heart. Sara, a girl in her class, had suggested that they hide from the teacher under the table. They were giggling innocently as they saw the teacher’s legs walk by but then Sara did something very strange and touched Jessica in a place that made her feel … uncomfortable.

We sought to cultivate a home full of healthy conversation including conversation about important things like sexuality. So even at that early age she knew that her body was good but also to tell us if anyone ever touched her in a wrong way. Because conversation was normal in our home Jessica felt totally comfortable bringing this experience to us as a natural part of talking throughout the day.

We didn’t make a big deal of it with our daughter, but in my heart I feared that her friend, Sara, had unwittingly opened a window into the darkness in which she was living. We knew that we needed to respond, but we also didn’t want to overreact. We knew that talking too much about negative experiences can cause them to take on a feeling of reality that isn’t actually real, doing more damage in the process. This was a moment for love not fear. We didn’t want our daughter to see her friend with fear, disgust, or judgmentalism. So we dropped the subject with Jessica but went to the principle to discuss our concerns who agreed to keep the girls in separate classes.

My concern for Sara never went away. It played like the faint sound of static in the background of my heart and remained that distant hum until it was awakened to new life in the closing days of 6th grade. I sat in the crowd of parents at the school concert and listened with deepening sorrow as Sara sang a song she had written for her father, with her guitar in her hands and tears rolling down her face. This should have been a sweet moment, but as each verse met my ears my spirit groaned within me and I knew something deeper was being revealed. Everyone applauded but I sat there silently asking “Lord, is it only me?”

By the time the girls reached freshman year Sara had changed dramatically. Her friend group had shifted and she started experimenting with drugs and drinking. But even as we observed the girl’s lives moving in such different directions we also watched curiously as we saw God drawing beautiful strings of common interest between them. Both of them were developing a passion to rescue those trapped in sex trafficking. I was watching as God, for many years, had been cultivating in my daughter a genuine heart of concern for Sara, though she had no idea at this point what my own concerns were.

As high school progressed so did the unrelenting collapse of Sara’s life. Her parents had divorced in junior high and by sophomore year her mother was remarried, with a new baby, and Sara was now living on her own. As Jessica got more involved helping women trapped in abuse her concern for Sara intensified. Finally, in a moment of transparent conversation with my daughter, Sara confirmed what her father had done to her when she was a little girl.

As Senior year began to roll quickly toward graduation Jessica and Sara found themselves again brought together, this time as the dual targets of their Math teacher’s thoughtless tongue. As the class was struggling to comprehend the opaque concept of calculus derivatives, the teacher lifted her voice and in front of the entire class called my daughter “lazy” and then leveling her gaze on Sara hurtfully declared she was “an obtuse pothead.” It’s still strange to me that the teacher singled out Jessica and Sara. But I’m glad that they received the lash of this teacher’s tongue together because it gave us a chance to come to the defense of a girl who didn’t have anyone left to defend her. What man had intended for evil God intended for good. Sara’s part in our story had begun with us seeking to protect our daughter from her. Now, God had opened up a small but important way to protect Sara; to show her that there is a God who hears the cry of the poor and defenseless.

When my husband and I met with the principal we made it very clear we wanted to help, not attack, the teacher and to help both these girls graduate. To the credit of the teacher she had the character to apologize to both Jessica and Sara in the same public manner in which she had spoken those unkind words. She even gave my daughter her phone number and was really obliging to help her with key projects needed for graduation. When Jessica walked across the stage to graduate a few months later it was a really special moment between her, the principal, and the English teacher. Sara never made it to the graduation. My daughter is now in graduate school and is still passionate to end the sex trade. She is also still passionate about Sara and tries in different ways to keep track of her.

I would love for this article to conclude on the sweet note of Sara’s salvation, but that’s not how this chapter in her story is ending. But I’ve been given a vision for Sara. I believe that God placed that concern in my heart and kept it burning all these years for a reason. I believe that God allowed us the wisdom to protect our daughter without building a wall of fear for a reason. God has been bringing Sara back into my daughter’s life, again and again, for a reason. I pray that someday a new chapter will open and Sara will finally experience the grace of God for broken sinners, like me, like you, and like her.

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