It was surprisingly quiet. Joseph and I were enjoying a rare moment without the hustle and bustle of our seven children. They were all at the lake, and even though it was past 8pm, the summer sun stood well above the horizon. I was excited about the lazy Sunday evenings that came during our warm, northern months. This was our first.
The phone call was unexpected. The mother of one of our daughter’s friends. I fidgeted as I answered. She was awkward and unsure of herself. I had no idea what she wanted. Finally, she apologized and blurted out, “Georgia told Emi that Asher is practicing sex on her.”
And in those few simple words, my world ended.
I hung up the phone in a daze. I remember turning to Joseph and sharing what Emi’s mom had told me. We clung to the hope that it was some malicious game of revenge. Perhaps Georgia said it to get back at Asher for his hurtful and mean-spirited behavior. Maybe it was a prank. Emi was not always the world’s best influence. But deep down the Lord began to whisper to our hearts.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. -Isaiah 43:1-2
By the time our children returned from the lake the sun had set, and only the brilliant pinks and oranges of a hot day remained. We quietly asked Georgia into our room. Sitting with her across from us, steeling myself for her reply, Joseph and I asked if Asher was sexually abusing her.
There was no question she was sincere. Her posture broke and untold amounts of pain appeared just below the surface of her twelve year old face. She sobbed a little but stayed decidedly in control. Somehow all the conversations and books and articles and lessons from the past decades came pouring back into me and Joseph, and we calmly reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. She was not to blame. We would protect her.
What were we even saying! We would protect her? How? By removing our son from our own home after he already hurt her? By disowning him? By pretending this never happened and then claim that Christ’s sacrifice can redeem all things – even this? My mind screamed at me that I was already a liar. I was already making promises I could not keep. I had already failed. But my voice stayed still and my arms circled around our precious little girl. She smiled wanly as she turned to leave our bedroom. Just as she reached the door I blurted out, “Does anyone besides Emi know?”
“Well, Olivia does.”
“Because he was doing it to her, too.”
…Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Moments later, we were sitting in the exact same position with our 9 year old daughter Olivia. She fidgeted obviously nervous that she was in trouble. Why else would Georgia be summoned and then her? But then her whole posture changed when we asked her our question, “Is Asher sexually abusing you?” She burst into tears and heaved great sobs. I honestly could not tell if they were out of terror or relief. I imagine it was both. Joseph pulled her to himself and soothed her with soft clucking sounds. We reiterated the same words to her and made the same feeble attempt at appearing calm and in control. This wasn’t your fault. You are not to blame. You did nothing wrong. We are going to protect you.
I was beginning to spin out of control in my mind. I looked around my room to grasp anything that was real, but everything was still the same. I couldn’t seem to register my panic. I distinctly recognized that I must be in shock.
Joseph looked at me with the mirror of my own eyes. Olivia had gone. There was nothing left but to call in Asher. I stood numbly and walked to the door, but then I stopped. I turned to my husband and barely spoke the name of our younger son, “Nathan.” His face went pale and he nodded glumly.
Nathan peeked into the room with a face full of worry and suspicion. His cheeks were red from a day spent in the sun, but we could still see the flush of concern. Joseph quickly reassured him that he wasn’t in trouble, but that we needed him to come inside and close the door. He obeyed and sat gingerly on the edge of the chair. His seven year old expressions still echoed much of his toddler years.
“Nathan, it is important that you understand that you are not in trouble. You have done nothing wrong. However, we must ask you a serious question. It is necessary that you answer us honestly, even if the answer is scary or feels like it might get you or someone else in trouble. Do you understand?” Nathan’s eyes grew big and he nodded mutely. “Nathan, has Asher ever touched you inappropriately? Has he ever made you uncomfortable or done things to your body even after you told him to stop?” His eyes glazed over and even before he could answer, I knew what was coming.
…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you
Joseph choked back a sob. I pulled him to my heart and uttered those same words we had spoken to Georgia and Olivia. I begged God to take away the guilt that I was lying to my babies. I pleaded silently that in that very moment He would reassure me that His plan of redemption was big enough for this mess – this ugly, disgusting, foul mess.
Nathan quietly closed the door behind him and my husband and I stared at one another. I honestly do not know how we managed to live through those moments. They will be forever etched in my memory, and yet it all still feels like a dream. My heart ached and my mind was numb. We barely spoke. I think we managed to pray for God to give us wisdom as we prepared to call in Asher. Maybe we didn’t, and I just imagined it.
Asher breezed into our room in his characteristic, nonchalant way. He was tired and happy from a day in the water. It appeared that nothing could burst his bubble. He plopped down heavily on the chair and asked, “S’up?” Joseph blurted out the truth without ceremony. “We just found out that you are sexually abusing your siblings. Is this true?” Asher’s face fell and he suddenly grew tense. He lifted his face up to us both and silently nodded. “Georgia?” His body seemed almost to shrink in on itself as he stiffly bobbed his head up and down. “Olivia?” Smaller… “Nathan?” Smaller… “Asher! What on earth are you doing!?” But before Asher could answer his father, I suddenly felt a deep pain rise up inside of me. “Asher,” I said calmly, “has this happened to you?”
…when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
I am now the mama to both the victims and the perpetrator.
This is not the testimony I want. This is the testimony entrusted to me.