Teresa’s Story: God Puts People in Our Paths to Lead Us to Him
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, among the cases of child sexual abuse reported to law enforcement, 93 percent of the perpetrators are someone the children know. Of those, 34 percent are family members, 59 percent are acquaintances, and 7 percent are strangers (1). So it is more likely that those who abuse children sexually are someone the children know and trust but are not family members. Regardless of who the perpetrator is, however, sexual abuse has lifelong consequences for the survivor.
When Teresa Rosenthal was a young girl, she witnessed her father’s physical abuse of her mother, and it affected her deeply. Adding to Teresa’s trauma is the fact that when she was only six, a family friend sexually abused her. She didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for forty years, and during that time, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as anger, took their toll on her life. But God began placing people in Teresa’s life to guide her to the Lord.
. “Children and Teens: Statistics,” RAINN website, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens.
When I was six years old, I was abused by a family friend, several times. I will call him James. His family and mine had grown up together, and he would babysit for my parents. I had other brothers and sisters, and I was the youngest of the girls. He would always find a way to distract the others and then say I was being bad, so I had to go to bed. Each time the abuse happened, he would tell me it was because I was being bad and that if I told my mother, she wouldn’t love me anymore. My father’s moods changed radically and for no apparent reason, and James used that to keep me silent. He said that if I told my father, he would not believe me, and then I would be in more trouble for lying.
My father was physically abusive to my mother, and his moods changed often. With us kids, he would be loving and having fun one minute, and then the next minute we would be getting spanked. Most times it was way too hard and long. It was like walking on eggshells around him. I never knew what mood he was going to be in or when the violence would erupt. Sometimes my father would beat my mother and then bring her into the bedroom to show us her beaten body and say, “This is what happens when you don’t listen to me.”
One night, James was babysitting, and he abused me again. My mother knew something was not right with me, so she asked me if something had happened. I lied to her and told her no because I believed all the lies James had told me over and over. My mother knew I wasn’t telling the truth. She and my father got into a fight that night about it, and again he beat her up. I remember sneaking into their bedroom that night and putting an icepack on her eye. I wanted to tell her I was sorry and tell her the truth, but I was too scared. After that night, James was no longer allowed in our house or around me.
The Downward Spiral Continued
I shut all that up inside me and didn’t speak of it for four decades. I felt crushed for lying to my mother, and I was angry at my father and the man who abused me. I felt cheated out of my childhood. I felt ashamed of the abuse and very depressed. I was so confused. I tried to rationalize in my mind what I had done wrong to deserve it.
At forty-three, I was fired for the first time ever from my job. As I was searching for employment, I got mixed in with a group and started doing meth. They talked me into bootlegging to pay my living expenses. Within a year and a half, I was arrested five or six times for resisting arrest because I could no longer control all that anger and hurt I had bottled up inside of me for so many years.
Then I found out my daughter was going through the same thing my mother had—being physically abused by her husband. I was trying to help her, but at the time, to her, I was the bad person. I found out about an incident between my daughter and son-in-law, and I took matters into my own hands and went after him. I went to the house where he was and became very violent and destructive. After several police arrived and a long, drawn-out struggle, I was arrested.
God Sent Me to the Laundromat to Meet Laura
Two days before I went to jail, my washing machine at home conked out, so I went to a Laundromat. A woman walked in as I was washing my clothes, and we said hi to one another. Then two days later, I saw her in jail; it turns out that she does jail ministry. Her name is Laura. She came to my bunk and spoke to me for a minute and asked me to meet with the other women. I received my first Bible in jail, and although I didn’t really understand it, I spent almost all my time writing down what I was reading from the Bible. Every Tuesday night, Laura and a couple of other ladies would come in and minister to us. I didn’t know what it was about then, but something struck my curiosity as I listened and watched them.
When I got home, the doors were boarded up because my house had been robbed while I was in jail. So I just sat outside all night by myself until morning, not having a clear thought and feeling hopeless. For the first time ever in my life, I called on God and said, “What am I supposed to do?” At that moment, I looked beside me, and there sat the Bible from jail. I opened it, and inside was the number of a church where I could reach Laura. It just happened to be Sunday morning. I called and asked for her, and she quickly called me back. She and her husband came to visit me after the morning service.
The next Sunday, Laura picked me up and took me to church with her. I was very uncertain about it all, but I remember how amazing it was seeing the people singing and worshipping. Something was hitting my heart that I had never felt before. That very day, I felt God’s love and was forever changed. I had so many questions. Laura was there to answer them, and she backed them up with the Bible.
One sermon the pastor gave told the story from the Bible about Joseph forgiving his jealous brothers for selling him into slavery. It showed me how powerful God’s love and grace are. I needed that hope. I needed Jesus! Laura knew what was happening, and she led me to the altar. The pastor said the Sinner’s Prayer with me, and I was saved. I immediately felt hope, and a wonderful peace come over me. I felt His loving grace pour over me. He instantly delivered me from alcohol and drugs.
Sharing My Healing with Others
True freedom and healing came to me when I chose to forgive James. I tried to find him to tell him in person but was unable to. But by telling God and myself that I had forgiven James, it also allowed me to forgive my father and to forgive myself for the choices I had made in my past. For the first time in my life, I have peace and hope. I am now forty-nine, and I know the truth. It has set me free in a way only Jesus could do.
I attend an amazing spirit-filled church. I attend church regularly and help out wherever it is needed. I have gone to the jail a few times with the Jail Ministry ladies and have had the opportunity to witness and testify to many different people.
It is amazing how God puts people in our paths that He wants us to reach out to. God put an amazing young woman in my path who owns her own business and has a heart for giving and helping people. She is married and has a son. After a short time of knowing them, they attended church with me and my son and now are members. God put it on my heart to start talking about my story with her. I didn’t understand why, but I opened up a little at a time to her. Turns out she needed to receive that same emotional healing that I went through.
My Take on Teresa’s Story
Teresa has done a masterful job of articulating the pain she endured as a result of dual traumaschildhood sexual abuse and witnessing her father abusing her mother. These traumas affected Teresa for the next forty years of her life. Like many abuse survivors, she turned to alcohol, drugs, and self-harm as ways to cope with the wounds that cannot heal without God’s grace.
Forgiving someone who has harmed us is difficult. Some people are never able to do so, and the inability to forgive damages them further, for the rest of their lives. Teresa said it well: “God puts it in your heart, and once you see things through God’s eyes, it allows you to forgive. It is at that point that He sets you free.” We all can learn this life-changing lesson that it took Teresa four decades to learn.
Teresa’s story also is a testament to the way God puts people in our paths who lead us where He wants us to go. God put Laura in Teresa’s life at a time when Teresa was giving up on ever feeling anything other than pain. And now God is putting Teresa in other women’s lives to provide them with comfort and godly guidance as she helps them make that difficult journey from brokenness to healing and forgiveness. Not only has Teresa been liberated from her painful past but she also has become a blessing and a conduit for the same liberation for many others. She is returning God’s amazing grace.
Time for Personal Reflection
1. Have you ever forgiven someone and then discovered that forgiving one person made it easier to forgive others—and yourself? If you are struggling to obey God’s command to forgive others as He forgave us, know that doing so will set you free.
This excerpt is from my book Grace Revealed: Finding God’s Strength in Any Crisis, with permission by BroadStreet Publishing.