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“I felt very lost, overlooked, and invisible while I was growing up,” said Jennifer Collins. “I felt so different from a lot of my friends, and my youth was filled with confusion about my sexuality. I questioned if I was even in the right body – it didn’t feel like it was mine.

“My first abuser was a family housekeeper and babysitter. I don’t have many memories, but with the pieces I’ve put together, it started around the age of three or four. There was a lot of sexual expression that shouldn’t have been there from a very early age. Throughout my childhood, I was convinced that I was the only one who had these experiences, feelings, and actions. This led me to a heavy feeling that there was something deeply wrong with me.

“I didn’t feel valuable or like I was worth taking care of, especially after my parents’ neglect led to another experience of sexual abuse from one of their employees. I became complacent and thought that this kind of harm was just something that would happen to me.

“I felt hopeless, trapped by my own brokenness and the harm done to me. Spiritually, I was so hungry. I desperately wanted God in my life, but I thought my ‘dirtiness’ blocked any chance of having a connection with God.

“As a teen, my first boyfriend was another perpetrator of sexual abuse. Because of my previous experiences, I had no boundaries or context of what was happening to me. I felt captive to all the mess in my life – the darkness, confusion, and secrets. This is when panic attacks and suicidal thoughts started becoming more frequent.

“My relationships with men became a safe place for me. I thought I had control. I tried to never be without a boyfriend. In my mind, I thought men only wanted one thing: my body. And, if I was beautiful and flirty, I would get acceptance and love. I tried to be charming and attractive, but, in reality, I was controlling and manipulative toward the men I was dating.

“When I was about 18, I was encouraged to read Romans, and that is when I felt like I really understood God’s grace. Before reading this, I saw God as distant; I thought I could never measure up. But it felt like I was meeting myself for the first time as I was meeting God. That is when I fell in love with God. As my walls began to crumble, I started to believe that I had value and was worthy of love and care. This was the relationship I’d been craving my entire life.

“Nothing changed in my life in an instant, but things started to feel clearer. I decided to move away from things that were harming me and move toward healthy relationships. I realized things about myself that I had never seen before, like how I had been hurting myself for so long through my relationships, self-criticism, and physical harm.

“Previously, I thought God made a mistake when He made me. I always was so scared He was going to be mad at me. While the Bible acknowledged the reality that I was broken, it also clearly explained how God comes close to me in that brokenness. Yes, I was separated from God without Jesus, but God provided hope for me through His Son’s death and resurrection. Through Scripture, the Lord was showing me His softness. For the first time, I saw God as a tender, loving, caring, and compassionate Father. Something I’d never experienced before.

“When I married my husband years later, I started having flashbacks to my experiences of sexual abuse. I thought that being married would solve all my problems, but it opened old wounds. I quietly wrestled for two years before finally admitting that I needed help. Instead of facing my issues head on, I was using denial, control, and perfectionism to cope. By the grace of God, those tools stopped working, and I was starting the journey of healing from sexual abuse.

“The first night I attended Watermark’s sexual abuse recovery ministry, it felt like I was home. I was finally with people I could completely be open with. I could finally connect with other women who had similar experiences. I felt such a relief because I finally was feeling the freedom that comes from being completely known and accepted by others.

“God has done layers of healing in my life through His Word and His people. I can share and openly talk about my past experiences. My fear was removed. Now, I can connect with my emotions instead of feeling numb. God is helping me find joy, peace, and trust in healthy relationships. It felt like my whole life was tied in a knot and God unraveled it to help me understand the full story.

“God is in the business of rescuing, redeeming, restoring, and repurposing. He promises to take your story of guilt and shame, everything done to you, everything you’ve done, and even you as a person, and turn all of it into a strong and beautiful reminder of His goodness and glory.”

Courageous Hope begins July 19.