Our most stressful period was when I was 8 to 11 years old. My mother was very ill and finally passed away, and my father remarried. I was being sexually molested by an uncle, my father's brother. Should my dad have educated his daughters about the dangers of being around his brother, someone he knew to be inappropriately drawn to young girls? Yes, of course. I think that people who are barely hanging on themselves sometimes lose sight of caring for others, even their own children. Sue Cassel
I tell you about these experiences so you can understand how God's love reached into this mess. When going through the worst of the stress, God gave me a vision of heaven. I didn't see clouds or angels or people who had gone before me, but I walked with Jesus. This experience brought me peace like I have never felt on this earth, before or since. I do not think I am anyone special. God was gracious and sent a gift that sustained me when I was otherwise very alone. I understood in a real way, at a young age, that though this world can harm our bodies and our emotions, God himself guards our spirits when we seek him.
Post-traumatic stress really didn't kick in fully until I was twenty-one, when, several weeks before my wedding, I found myself suddenly homeless after my dad divorced my step-mom and told my sister and me that we had to leave too.
Adjusting to married life brought up old anxieties, and eventually my anxiety became quite intense. I hated the fact that getting past old abuse issues through counseling meant pretty much reliving it again. This was not an easy process. However, once past it, I realized that God had again protected my spirit, leaving me capable of loving my husband and my children in ways that are healthy.
I recently shared my experiences with my 16 year-old daughter, after she saw the movie, "Heaven is for Real." She asked, "Why can't I have an experience like you and the boy in the movie had? I want God to feel that real to me, too." What she said made sense. Most of us want God to be real to us in a tangible way.
I believe that we are called, as the church, to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus. If we are truly living in this way, fewer of us will be seeking a supernatural sign of God's love, and more of us will be experiencing his love right where we worship. Our churches can become places of peace and refuge when we authentically practice God's plan for showing love to those who are hurting.
Sue Cassel wrote this article while serving ADN as a Field Associate. She lives in northern Indiana. She and her husband Scott have two daughters.