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No Longer Doubting God's Love

“I did hear the comments from relatives about, ‘You almost killed your mother when you were born. You were not supposed to happen.’ If that's what you hear and you hear nothing else, then you figure that has to be the truth.”

Sean grew up in a small Iowa town. From a young age he was off exploring but also searching for acceptance. Sean recalls, “Every child wants to be loved. And I didn't feel strongly loved at home. And I do remember often feeling alone and sad and wishing I had more friends.” That isolation made him a target. When Sean was five, a friendly teenage boy lured him to a shed and sexually abused Sean. He remembers, “When he was done, he didn't hit me that I recall that day, but he certainly yelled at me, and suddenly the nice person that led me in there was gone. And he basically told me, ‘You will keep your mouth shut, because now no one's ever gonna want you’”

Sean kept quiet, but his abuser didn’t. Word spread and for the next four years other predators took their turn. Traumatized and broken Sean believed what they told him. "’This is what you made for, it's the only thing you're good for.’  And they would pretend to love me, and I began to believe that's what love was.”  Meanwhile, Sean’s mom occasionally took him to Sunday School, where he learned about a God he never thought could help. But when he couldn’t take any more, Sean decided to pray. He remembers, “I'm at home, I'm hiding in the back of my closet, and I knew about prayer, and I knew about God, and I remember crying out saying, ‘Father, help me.’ And He did and it was instant. Tears stopped, but I think they even dried up. I mean, it was incredible.”

Two weeks later the family moved to Arizona and the abuse ended. Sean had a fresh start, but the emotional damage was done. He says, “And I became a very angry kid. Because I thought I can't be vulnerable again.”  Although he still wanted to be loved, Sean put up walls so that no one would hurt him again. He recalls, “I just wanted to be accepted and feel like I belong. And I never felt like I fit.”

As he entered high school, Sean made a friend who led him in a prayer asking Jesus into his life. But Sean still had doubts that anyone – even God -- could love him.  He thought, “If God knew where I was and where I'd been and what had been done to me and what I'd let people do to me and all these other assumptions, He wouldn't want me, love me or forgive me.”

After high school Sean joined the Navy hoping for some structure in his life. But his past still plagued him. He recalls, “I grew from an angry little kid to an angry young man, and a defensive adult. There was a big part of me that had become a person who said, the world is gonna hurt you, so trust no one.” He would spend the next 20 years in the Navy, carrying his burden and keeping people at arm’s length. Sean remembers, “I wanted companionship, but I didn't want a true meaningful relationship, because I thought nobody could possibly want anything to do with me.” Sean retired from the Navy with two degrees and began working as a landscape architect. It was then he started dating Susan, a strong Christian woman. But when it got serious, Sean did what he always did: he ended it. He remembers, “And she said, ‘Why are we breaking up? I'm in love with you.’ And I said, ‘People did things to me when I was little, you can't possibly want me, because I'm damaged goods.’ And she said, ‘God doesn't see you as damaged goods, and neither do I. I am in love with you.’ It was life-changing absolutely for me in that moment.”

This time Sean stayed and the two married a year later. They got involved in a local church where Sean learned about the depths of God’s love. Then Sean met someone who would one day help him confront his past. He recalls, “I would run into a woman in my church who had spoken about her work with abused children and adults, and she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘When were you abused?’ And I was stunned in that moment, absolutely stunned.” The woman turned out to be a counselor. A few months into his sessions, she brought in a woman to pray over Sean. He remembers, “She started praying in tongues and suddenly it's like my whole world changed immediately.  Just like when I was a little kid in that closet. Same thing. That weight that fell off then, it was look ‘boom’. Something else would fall off. And something else, and something else.  It was such a joyful moment, the last of those things went and all the shadows were gone.  And this light fell in – it was like this light that we're working under here, only much brighter. And complete. And I was free. And I knew it. And I still know it.”

Sean no longer saw himself as a mistake, but a person fully loved by God. He says, “My story really isn't about what people did to me, it's not even about the stupid mistakes I made on my own, it's about what God's doing in me and doing through me. He has given me purpose.  God says I'm a masterpiece. God says, ‘I have carved your name in the palm of my hand.’ God says I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Today Sean is no longer enslaved to his past. He has forgiven the people who abused him and even goes into prisons to share God’s love to convicted child molesters. He says, “People ask me now how I can forgive, it's like because God forgives me. It's no more complicated than that. He said, ‘Yeah, it's that simple. All you have to do is want to.’  No matter how broken you may think you are, if there is breath in your lungs, there is hope in your life.”

Check out Sean's book, Wretch: Haunted by Shadows - Rescued by Jesus.

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