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Finding Healing From Sexual Assault (Part 2 of 2)

Air Date 04/19/2017

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Leila Sommerfeld and Kathleen Terrill openly share about the pain and devastation they've experienced as rape survivors, and offer hope to women who've been sexually assaulted as they discuss the healing and restoration they've found through the power of God's love. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Mrs. Leila Sommerfeld: For years I would sleep with my gun by my bed, my car keys; I was determined to make a quick getaway. And of course, now I know Jesus is there. I know, but at the time I was so traumatized, I couldn't even think about Jesus or God; I just wanted that gun. When my husband was out of town one time, I slept at the front door with those things, the gun and the keys.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That's Leila Sommerfeld, describing years of anxiety and fear that she faced after a traumatic event in her life. It was a woman's worst nightmare. And she's back with us again today on "Focus on the Family" as we return to a very serious topic. And of course, this isn't going to be appropriate for young children, so please if you have some kids within earshot of this conversation, direct their attention elsewhere.

I'm John Fuller. Thanks for joining us today. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, last time we heard two incredible and heartbreaking stories about sexual assault and the long nightmare of grief, shame and feeling unworthy that many victims, including these two guests, experienced. Rape is a terrible evil and as we heard last time, it represents the worst kind of spiritual warfare that Satan can use to destroy people. Like that verse in John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy." But here's the good news. God's hope can be found in the midst of all that pain and terror. Jesus goes on to say in that same verse, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."

That was the experience of our guests. You mentioned Leila, John. Kathleen Terrill is another survivor who was willing to share her story with us. And I've gotta say, I so deeply respect these women for being courageous to open up their lives and offer a path of hope and healing to other victims. If you didn't hear the program last time, get the download or CD of that or get our free "Focus on the Family" app, so you can listen that way. This is such an important program for the Christian community to hear and it's important to share it with friends who may have experienced it.

John: Yeah, you can get the download, CD or our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And as we said last time, I was able to meet with Leila and Kathleen in the studio and Leila is an author, life coach and former lay counselor and she teaches recovery for fellow victims. She's written a book about her experiences and how God has healed. It's called Beyond Our Control: Restructuring Your Life After Sexual Assault. Kathleen helps lead a ministry called Embrace Grace, which provides emotional, practical and spiritual help for young women and their families who are facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Jim: John, I was so disappointed I wasn't able to be in the studio with you and I'm grateful for the job that you did, so thank you. Let's get to part two of your conversation with these ladies on today's "Focus on the Family."

Body:

John: Kathleen, last time we didn't get into it. There was some immediate pain and great difficulties for many, many months.

Kathleen Terrill: Yes.

John: You had the abortion. That was not the end of the trauma though, and the struggles. Describe for us the weeks and months after that, and how this pain followed you.

Kathleen: Yes, absolutely. Like I described before, in a world that no longer seemed real to me, my shame and my guilt were the only things that felt real, and I truly did cling to those, almost as my friends, because they felt real to me.

John: Now okay, I don't understand that, so unpack that a little bit more. How could shame and guilt feel so comfortable as to almost be friends?

Kathleen: Yes. I immediately became extremely depressed, so I was diagnosed at a later time with posttraumatic stress. I was also dealing with depression. My life was most decidedly spiraling downwards. So, I began to use alcohol and I became a completely different person than the person I was prior to the sexual assault. Everything I knew about myself now looked different, sounded different, acted different. It really was like a completely different person altogether.

And the shame and the guilt, I clung to those. They felt alive to me, where the rest of who I was and who I had been seemed dead inside of me. And so, that shame and that guilt really did feel very, very real and authentic to me, and so I clung to those.

John: [I] cannot imagine. And Kathleen, it got so bad that you really started to contemplate suicide, at least on one occasion.

Kathleen: On one occasion, yes.

John: Tell us about that.

Kathleen: Never before had suicide ever crossed my mind.

John: Okay.

Kathleen: However, the pain had become so intense, one evening I was driving home, it was late at night and I was driving, and as I was driving, the pain was just overwhelming. And I heard a whisper say, "If you just end it now, you won't have to live with this pain anymore. It will all be over." And in that instant I came into agreement with that lie, that most decidedly was a lie. I said, "Yes, I don't have to live with this anymore." And so, I steered my car towards this giant light pole that I saw on the side of the road. It was right there. It was just enormous light pole.

John: This was on a highway.

Kathleen: This was on the side of a highway, yes.

John: So this was gonna be a high-speed impact.

Kathleen: Yes, exactly. And just immediately {I] said, "Okay, I'm going to commit suicide. I'm going to wrap my car around that pole and this will all be over."

And so, as I'm driving my car and again, I'm heading straight for that pole, I come through an intersection that I should have turned left to head home to where I was originally going, but I'm heading towards this light pole. And in an instant, my car turned. The wheels on my car turned smoothly. There was no erratic driving. There [were] no screeching wheels, just this perfect smooth turn of the wheel heading back in the direction I should have been going.

John: Oh.

Kathleen: And as my wheels turned, I heard the voice of the Lord say to me, "Kathleen, if you will allow Me, if you will allow Me to come in to heal your heart, to heal the pain, all of this will not have been in vain. I have a plan; I have a purpose for your life; and you will help other mommies and babies.

Now to someone who's in the middle of trying to kill themselves, it's almost an unbelievable statement to hear God say something like that so clearly in that moment and to literally turn your direction of your life completely back to where you should have been going. And in that moment, again, one word from the Lord can change absolutely everything. One word from God can do what years of counseling can never do. And it was that one word from the Lord that really softened my heart and drew me back into His kindness to begin the healing.

John: So, you did go back home.

Kathleen: Yes. (Laughing)

John: And was there an immediate change in your circumstances, your heart, your well-being? Or was that just literally a turning point for you?

Kathleen: Um-hm, it most decidedly was, for sure, a turning point, literally and spiritually. And the process began there for me. It was that process where He took a piece of that wall that I had built around my heart and replaced it with His grace, and as He replaced it with His grace, it grew my trust that He was faithful to finish what He began.

John: And how did He do that? What kinds of things happened in the coming days and months?

Kathleen: Really it began with He and I together personally, my speaking with Him, reading His Word, putting on worship music again for the first time in a very long time, and just allowing myself to be exposed to Him to allow Him to come in and to speak to all of those hurt places.

And as I said, as I began to just trust Him a little bit more and a little bit more, it wasn't this dramatic turn; it was a piece by piece. He was so gentle and so kind and willing to follow my lead on what I would allow. But as I allowed Him more and more access to my heart, the healing became more and more profound as I gave Him that space.

John: Well, only God can do that kind of restorative work, especially after so much pain.

Kathleen: That's right.

John: And I hope that our conversation today on "Focus on the Family" is giving you some hope that even though He may feel distant, God is there; He can reach into your circumstances; He can speak to you. And we have resources, helps, a great team of caring Christian counselors here at Focus on the Family, and our number is 1-800 A FAMILY. 1-800-232-6459 or you can find help at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio.

And one of the resources we're offering is a book written by Leila Rae Sommerfeld. It's called Beyond Our Control, and you'll find details about that. It's an excellent book, and I hope you'll get a copy for your church library, for yourself, just because undoubtedly you know somebody that needs to hear this kind of encouragement.

Now Leila, despite hope and encouragement, you indicated a few minutes ago that it's been a long, long road of recovery for you. Describe how long, and you said the nightmares took 20-25 years to disappear?

Leila: Thirty, 35.

John: Oh my goodness.

Leila: Well, when I came to Oregon, I connected with a church that turned my life around. Well, it's God that turned my life around, but if we have a teachable spirit, God can help us, but we have to surrender first. Surrender everything, our whole being to Him and have a teachable spirit.

So, when I started going to this particular church, I had such a spiritual turnaround and a new love for God, a new love for Jesus, and I really wanted to love and serve Him, and I really grew. That next five years I really, really grew a lot spiritually and I realized how good and gracious and loving and patient [God was]. God had waited all these years for me to surrender so He could help me, and He never wavered.

John: Now you said the nightmares are gone. What helped [that]?

Leila: I don't have any nightmares right now.

John: When did the fear start to subside and become something of the past?

Leila: The fear, it was just a slow process.

John: Okay.

Leila: It's sort of like the body healing.

John: Now we heard Kathleen describe a very dramatic moment of God speaking to her. Did He speak to you in any particularly specific ways? Or was it just over time through His Word and through some inner healing?

Leila: Well, I believe that it was a process and over time. But when I asked God to show me where He was when this happened, and it was very, very clear that He was standing in that doorway and protecting my children, and protecting me. I mean I could've had a killer rapist.

John: Protecting your children during the assault, yeah.

Leila: He could've killed all of us. I had a gun; I didn't know how to use it. (Laughs) But it was just a process and then when He showed me about the children being safe, it just really spoke to me, and then I really wanted to share the story so other women could be healed.

John: Yeah well, and again, your story's in the book, Beyond Our Control. There was something in here that was absolutely incredible to me, and that is that you were at a clinic where perpetrators and victims were brought together for, essentially, a group therapy session. Describe that.

Leila: This was at Good Samaritan Ministries, they're in Beaverton, Oregon, and it was the non-profit Christian mental health clinic. They also offer all kinds of classes. They have organizations all over the world. But the men that were in the class were mandated to be in some kind of group and so, the women had been victims at one time in their life, and of course the women sat on the other side of the room.

And one lady that had been so traumatized was holding the hand of the lady that was leading the group. So, we got a chance to hear their stories. We didn't excuse them or condone them, but we heard the horror stories that they went through, a lot of them, the majority of them, about their childhood abuse and what happened to them.

John: Hm.

Leila: And so, then pretty soon I started to look at these men through the eyes of Jesus. I just thought, well, you know, Jesus loves them. This doesn't mean what they did is right or anything like that and we don't excuse it.

But I just began to understand that they had a messy life, too. And it was very weird to be holding the hand of a pedophile or something, because we held hands when we … we ended in prayer.

John: Leila, why would any victim want to go to something like that? And how did that experience change you?

Leila: I don't think any victim wants to go, but once they do go, I think they become less fearful of those type of people, and I, again, they hear their stories and then they begin to have compassion, and it turns the hate into compassion.

John: Was it a pivotal time for you?

Leila: Yes, it was very much so. I'm glad I participated in that. And I have a couple stories in my book where they had gone through it and it changed them and I thought it was incredible.

I don't know what it did to the perpetrators, but they did get to hear the women talk about the pain the perpetrators had caused and how they had suffered. And many of them were sincere in that they didn't realize that the people suffer as a victim initially. And so that was very good for them to hear the other, the women's or the victims' stories.

John: Kathleen, I want go back to you and that moment when the car turned, supernaturally turned and the Lord said, "I've got something for you."

Kathleen: Yes.

John: Fast-forward to what God did and how that became a vibrant ministry.

Kathleen: Absolutely. So I'm honored to be with the ministry Embrace Grace. At Embrace Grace we offer support groups for women all over the nation—actually as well as Canada currently and Africa as well. But we have support groups that are hosted in churches all over for women walking through an unplanned pregnancy and also for single young moms.

Kathleen: Um, and it's such an honor that God's fulfilled His promises; that those words he spoke to me in that moment of destruction, spoke life into my life, and as I've walked through the healing process with Him, I watched that promise come into fruition now.

What's so interesting in Embrace Grace as well, it's a small-group format with curriculum that we provide churches to know how to be the church in a pro-love way, to welcome these hurting, amazing young moms into the body of Christ for discipleship and mentorship, and how do we love on them and support them to become the best moms that they possibly can be?

There's a ministry night that happens in the program called "Chains Night," and it's a night where we invite the Lord in to speak to areas of hurt or areas of chains or baggage that they might be holding onto in their lives, and invite God in to really heal and speak to those areas.

And so often we hear [that] the numbers are staggering of how many women are now in an unplanned pregnancy that have had a sexual assault or some sort of trauma along this line in their history. And so, it's just amazing that God uses even that to bring healing into their lives to prepare them to be the best moms that they can be with their new babies in the future.

John: Well, you both are such an example of what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 when he said, "The very comfort we've received we pass on to others." And that pain in your life has not been without purpose in God's hand. That's a beautiful way for Him to take that moment when He speaks to you and to start to grow something and now you're ministering to women with unplanned pregnancies, many of whom are coming from circumstances that you yourself experienced.

Kathleen: Absolutely.

John: Wow.Well, I'd like to spend our remaining time just talking through some practical things. For instance, for a woman who experiences an assault, what are some very practical things she should do? And this would be for single women, for daughters in the home, for wives who are perhaps hiding a secret. What encouragement do you give them in terms of practical steps after an assault?

Kathleen: Step one, call 911. Step one is get the authorities involved. You're not meant to walk this path alone, and there are resources in your community and your body--the church body--that needs to come alongside you and support you. You do not need to hide in shame. You do not have to isolate yourself.

Shame, like I said before, withdraws us, but God's love draws us out into a beautiful place. So step one, call authorities, file a report, make sure that you've not cleaned up any evidence that could be used and needed in a future case.

Leila: And go to the hospital, because if you go to the hospital and they do a rape exam, they put together a rape kit, and they have everything in there that would, if the person who did that can be convicted.

And yes, don't change your clothes; don't do anything; just go. And nowadays, at least in Oregon, we have the Sexual Assault Resource Center [which] sends an advocate. I was an advocate for about three years. And they'll send somebody to the hospital. It doesn't make any difference if it's 4 in the morning; someone from there will show up to be supportive of that person.

And also, if you go to the hospital, rape is a crime against the state, so the state will pay for any expenses at the hospital. They do ask the women to come back. They check them for STDs or AIDs. They have them come back in six months, check them again, and the state will pay for all, and for some counseling, they will pay for that.

John: Okay, but Kathleen, there are so many women who are thinking, I cannot do that.

Kathleen: Uh-hm, that was me.

John: I can't call 911. I can't tell anybody. Talk to their fears and help them understand why they must.

Kathleen: You deserve to be fought for, don't have to hide. You've done nothing wrong.When God looks at you, I think the first thing He would want to say to you is, "I'm so sorry," that, that is completely against the Father's heart for you, and He longs to just wrap you up in His arms, to hold you close, and to comfort you. So you have no reason to fear, nothing to be afraid of. Again, this was not your crime; you did nothing wrong. And allow others to come around you, to equip you to be able to walk through this process so that it doesn't take 10 years or 30 years for you to come to the healing place that God wants to bring you to.

John: Leila, you indicated that writing down was a pretty powerful thing for you, writing down some of the aspects of the trauma.

Leila: Yes.

John: Why is that so significant for a woman to actually take a pen and a paper or on a computer write down what she's experienced and what she's feeling?

Leila: A person, when they write it down, [it] gets their emotions out. To just talk, your emotions don't come out because you're holding back. You know, you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of people.

John: You're protecting yourself.

Leila: But you start writing, and in my book we do have about four writing assignments for the women. They don't have to do it, but they usually all do it.And when you come to that, then you want to say, "Okay, how did that make me feel?" Now you go into, "Well, it made me feel ashamed," it's just getting those feelings out on paper [that] just amazes them. And some of the women have written two or three pages where they thought [they hardly had] anything [to write], just whether getting what has happened to you in a negative way on paper allows you to get your emotions out and say, "That made me feel dirty." Or "My heart was shattered. My spirit was broken." Now you've got that out, [it starts] cleaning you and healing you.

John: Exposing that part of your life to God allows Him to shine light on that darkness?

Kathleen: Absolutely. Absolutely.

John: I think you both would encourage women who have been assaulted sexually to choose to heal. I can understand where a woman would have a hard time doing that. Speak to that.

Kathleen: I think the Father is so gentle that again His heart for us is redemption and restoration. Those are His specialties. He's an expert at that. And choosing to heal really can be as simple as just saying, "I'm hurting, God, will You help me understand this?" It can start with just a simple acknowledgement. Talk to Him about all of your fears. Talk to Him about what you're feeling and where those hurts are coming from. He's not afraid of anything that you have to say. He just wants you to allow Him to be invited into those spaces.

Again, God's the epitome of a gentleman. He will never force Himself upon you as your perpetrator did. He is a gentleman; that is His nature and His character, His--absolute, beautiful, pure love for you. And when we invite Him in, He, again, He's gentle; He's kind; He takes His time. He's going to slowly—or quickly, depending on how the pace you set—come in and begin to heal all those areas of your life. So there is nothing to be afraid of here. He's going to be so gentle with you.

Leila: And many women choose to not heal because what has happened to them becomes their identity, and some of them want to hang onto it even though they're in a lot of pain. But we talk about that in class, and I said when you choose to heal is when the healing begins, and turn this over to God and talk to God and say, "God, I want to heal and I'm willing to listen to You and You show me the path." And that's when the healing begins is when they choose to heal.

John: Well, Kathleen Terrill and Leila Sommerfeld, thank you so much for being with us and for being so very honest about a deeply personal and painful chapter.

Leila andKathleen: Thank you for having us.

John: God showed up and He's done a remarkable healing in your life, hasn't He."

Leila andKathleen: Uh-hm, yes.

John: And I believe that through the past couple of days of programs, He's going to reach many, many women on his behalf through you stories Thank you for being so courageous to share with us.

Leila andKathleen: Thank you.

Closing:

Jim: This is "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly. What we just heard was the conclusion of a conversation with my colleague, John Fuller, that he had with two women who experienced sexual assault. I am sure there are some listening right now who wonder why we needed to address this difficult topic today. The fact is, we don't talk about this enough and there are too many women and men who have suffered from this kind of trauma and abuse.

Where are they going to go for counseling and the deep healing they'll need to rebuild their lives in Christ. As Kathleen and Leila shared, many victims suffer in silence. This is one of those things that you're embarrassed to talk about. It brings shame and they don't know what to do to get out of that darkness and despair. The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it's so important for us in the Christian community to understand the trauma that victims experience and how we can serve them better.

One resource I recommend you get is Leila's book, Beyond Our Control, which is full of so much hope and practical hope for both survivors and for their family and friends. As a matter of fact, I'd love to send you a complimentary copy of this book when you send us a financial gift today. That's how important it is. If you can't afford it, still call us. We will get this book into your hands, because I believe in the message of healing that it contains.

John: Ask for your copy of Beyond Our Control when you call 800- A -FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or donate and find a copy at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

And please consider how you can support the ministry of Focus. We want to be one of these rescue stations for women and men who have nowhere else to go. That's why we have Christian counselors on staff and many other resources and tools for hurting families. Your generosity makes this work possible and we can't do it without you. If you've benefitted from Focus resources or one of the programs we've aired in the past, can I ask you to help us in the same way? Help us help others so that they, too, can get the healing they need in our Lord Jesus Christ.

John: And you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Now in addition to Leila's book, ask for a CD or the download of this two-day program, which includes more content than we could share on this broadcast.

And coming up next time on "Focus on the Family," Carey Casey wants to inspire grandfathers to be champions for your grandchildren.

Excerpt:

Mr. Carey Casey: When it really gets down to it, we have to look at this thing called "legacy." And that's gonna live longer than us. We have to be about something that's bigger than us, that will live longer than us.

End of Excerpt

John: I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening and do plan to be with us again next time, as we help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Guest

Leila Sommerfeld

View Bio

Leila Rae Sommerfeld's greatest passion is helping hurting women heal from the aftermath of rape and other harrowing experiences. As a rape survivor, she leads recovery classes using her award-winning book, Beyond Our Control: Restructuring Your Life After Sexual Assault. Leila has also authored a novel and had articles published in numerous magazines. She volunteers as a life coach at the Salvation Army Family Services in Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband reside. The couple has three children, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. You can learn more about Leila at her website, www.leilarae.com.

Guest

Kathleen Terrill

View Bio

Kathleen Terrill is Director of Operations at Embrace Grace, a non-profit that works with hundreds of churches across the nation and world, providing curriculum to help women with unintended pregnancies and single, young moms. Kathleen's heart beats for the broken, the outcast and the ones who feel unworthy. Her greatest joy is serving God and His people, sharing the power of His love to transform hearts and encouraging others to walk in the identity and freedom found only in Jesus Christ. Kathleen and her husband, Bobby, have three children.