How I learned to forgive my abuser

A cousin’s sexual abuse ruined Kari Scarbrough’s trust in others. The healing of forgiveness remains a daily choice.

I was molested over the course of many years as a young girl.

The abuse started with a little inappropriate touching by an older cousin. Over time, it developed into something much more serious.

I dreaded family get-togethers and picnics because I knew I would be cornered and taken advantage of and then threatened if I told anyone what he had done. I felt so much guilt and shame as if I brought it upon myself or it was my fault.

So I kept it a secret. I went to church every week, got good grades, played sports, and seemed like a typical, happy child on the outside.

How could I tell my churchgoing family what was happening to me behind closed doors? How would my elementary school friends look at me if I shared the burden I carried with me constantly?

On a family outing with my husband, Dylan, and my sons, Kazen, left, and Jaxon, right.

Fearing Everyone

I struggled with trust in every aspect of my life, so it was hard to build genuine friendships and relationships growing up.

I never fully opened up to friends or family because I was so worried if I shared my secret, they would tell other people, and everyone would know this awful, deep, dark thing about me. I always felt as if people had an angle and were out to get me, so I kept everyone an arm’s length away.

I grew up in church and was there every time the doors were open. I got baptized at 12 because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I also secretly hoped this would be the thing that would “fix” me and make me feel better or normal.

I was completely broken on the inside.

I stayed up at night thinking, “If God was such a good father, why did he allow me to go through something so horrific that left me feeling unworthy, unloved, lonely and depressed?”

I battled depression and suicidal thoughts because I just never felt good enough. It was a constant battle of never feeling pretty, or constantly comparing myself to people that seemed to have their life together.

I put on a mask of peace and contentment every day, but I was completely broken on the inside.

Having fun with photo props at KidSpring with my goofball husband. Confiding my secret to him only made our marriage stronger.

An Understanding Husband

I spent years looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places.

I turned to sex and alcohol as an escape and a way to try to feel the love I so desperately longed for.

My turnaround began when I got married to a crazy-good man who had followed me out of state for college.

I felt like I wasn’t worthy of a husband that could love me and all my baggage. But when I told him my secret, it didn’t change anything, except maybe to help him understand more about me. In fact, I think my husband loved me better and more after I opened up to him, which kind of blew my mind!

I really didn’t understand how he could look at me and not see me as the damaged woman I so clearly felt I was. How could someone love me for me, without limits and expectations? I struggled for years to wrap my mind around that!

Until Jesus changes our heart, we cannot truly forgive anyone.

After my husband and I had kids, we finally settled down at a church and started serving. We were sent to a conference, and it was there I made the decision to stop carrying this weight that was crushing me; this secret that caused doubt and fear and anxiety in all aspects of my life.

I confided in a woman attending the conference with us, and she, in turn, was able to confide in me about things she was carrying!

At the conference, I finally understood that going to church every week and putting on a “church face” was not the same as a relationship with God! It was then I completely surrendered my life to Jesus and stepped into a relationship with Him.

When unforgiveness controlled me, I knew how to put on a happy face. Healing let me experience the true joy of real friendships, such as those I have with my volunteers.

Letting Go

Jesus helped me to begin to process what I went through by pushing me to turn to people — to trust them and to share my story — for the first time ever. I was forced to face my past, which I had worked so hard to keep hidden for so long.

A good friend pointed out to me that it seemed as though I was harboring bitterness. She asked me if I had forgiven my cousin because I would never be healed from these wounds if I didn’t work toward forgiveness.

This took some time on my part. I wasn’t sure how to let go of everything I clung to for all those years. It was not easy, and it took longer than I’d like to admit.

But through major prayer — both my own and from others on my behalf — I was able to forgive the one who abused me all those years ago. I asked the Lord to help soften my heart toward my abuser, so I could move on and not allow this to be something that hindered me any longer.

Celebrating the baptism of my youngest son, Kazen, left. My eldest son, Jaxon, baptized his little brother because he was the one to lead him to Jesus in September 2017.

A Daily Process

Until Jesus changes our heart, we cannot truly forgive anyone. I believe forgiveness apart from faith is impossible.

While forgiveness gave me peace, I also learned forgiveness isn't one-and-done but a continual process.

When the wounds are this deep, forgiveness is a journey and an act of faith and obedience to constantly surrender the hurt, anger, and bitterness to the Lord.

Something as simple as the smell of the laundry detergent from the clothes my abuser was wearing can trigger a thought or a memory and send my mind spinning, bringing back thoughts of that scared little girl, powerless to the larger boy towering above her.

The more time I spend with Jesus, the easier this process becomes. But it is still a process.

When a memory is triggered I have only two choices.

I can either allow the memory to consume me, so fear seeps in and drags me down that dark memory lane of despair, depression, and worthlessness.

Or I can press into Jesus by crying out in prayer (and reach out to others to cry out with me) so He can comfort me and give me the strength and the faith to forgive again.

The longer I walk with Jesus, and the more time I spend with Him, the easier this process becomes. But it is still a process.

My past will not dictate who I am, but it has allowed God to shape me and change me to someone that is fully reliant on Him.

God is a good father and really can use our pain in every awful situation for his glory.

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus.

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus. By talking about what Jesus has done for you, it’s like joining a conversation God is already having with them.