Vitnisburður Ethnu á íslensku

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Ég hef aldrei haldið bakgrunni mínum leyndum og þegar ég starfaði í Darlington AOG birti ég vitnisburð minn í fréttabréfi kirkjunnar. Í gegnum árin hefur Guð notað vitnisburð minn til að færa mörgum konum lækningu og von og þó ég þakki ekki Guði fyrir að hafa upplifað misnotkun, þá er ég þakklát fyrir það góða sem hefur komið út úr þeirri lífsreynslu gegnum árin.

Ég hef ákveðið að fara ekki út í smáatriði misnotkunarinnar hér, það nægir að segja að þegar ég var 7 ára gömul var mér rænt af nágranna og haldið fanginni í nokkra klukkutíma. Á þeim tíma varð ég endurtekið fyrir kynferðislegu ofbeldi og mér hótað. Mér voru gefnir peningar (til að ég þegði) og sagt að ef ég segði frá yrði fjölskylda mín drepin. Ég kom frá mjög fátækri fjölskyldu, svo það fyrsta sem ég gerði þegar mér var sleppt var að eyða peningunum sem ég fékk í búð á staðnum. Ég kom heim nokkrum klukkustundum seinna og hélt fast um stóran poka af nammi. Móðir mín sagði að hún hefði strax vitað þegar hún sá mig að eitthvað slæmt hefði gerst. Það var hringt í lögregluna og pabba minn. Þegar þeir komu var árásarmaðurinn flúinn. Það kom brátt í ljós að hann hafði misnotað mörg önnur börn á svæðinu, en óttaslegnir foreldrarnir höfðu ekki þorað að hafa samband við lögregluna. Þegar hann var farinn komu þau öll og sögðu sína sögu. Þetta var sorgardagur fyrir bæinn. Seinna var hann eltur uppi og skotinn í höfuðið af óþekktri manneskju og hann liggur í ómerktri gröf nærri staðnum sem við bjuggum.

Áhrif þessa atburðar á fjölskyldu mína voru hræðileg. Engin orð fá lýst afleiðingum þess sem gerðist þennan dag. Ég varð mjög lokuð, talaði ekki við neinn, varð hrædd við allt og alla. Foreldrar mínir ásökuðu sig, faðir minn barðist í þögn árum saman. Það að ég hafði verið fangi í húsinu á móti og hún ekki vitað um það, nærri eyðilagði blíða og kærleiksríka móður mína. Að hún hefði verið að sinna sínum daglegu stöfum meðan mér var nauðgað var eitthvað sem hún fyrirgaf sjálfri sér aldrei. Já við þjáðumst öll og vorum særð, en á mismunandi hátt. Misnotkun hefur ekki aðeins áhrif á manneskjuna sem brotið er á, heldur alla fjölskylduna. Eftir nokkra mánuði, lokaði hugur minn á allar minningar frá þessum dögum og það var ekki fyrr en ég var nærri sautján ára og reynt var að nauðga mér (og tókst ekki, þar sem ég sparkaði í klofið á honum og hljóp inn í búð eftir hjálp) um hábjartan dag, í afgirtum garði fyrir framan búð, að minningarnar byrjuðu að koma til baka.
Ég bað mömmu mína að útskýra hvað hafið gerst þennan dag fyrir mörgum árum. Hún gerði það og í fyrsta sinn gerði ég mér grein fyrir stærð málsins. Svo mörgum börnum nauðgað eða þau beitt líkamlegu ofbeldi, svo margar fjölskyldur niðurbrotnar, einn maður látinn, fjölskylda hans sundurtætt. Þetta var of mikið til að meðtaka. Í þetta skipti, ýtti ég minningunum djúpt niður. Núna vissi ég hvað ég var að gera. Þetta var eitthvað sem ég vildi ekki muna … aldrei nokkurn tíma.

Tveim árum seinna kynntist ég og giftist Chris. Lífið hefði átt að vera draumur en það var það ekki, fyrir hvorugt okkar. Chris komst fljótt að því hvernig það er að búa með manneskju með dimma leyndardóma fortíðarinnar. Sífelldar martraðir, ástæðulaus ótti við allt sem hreyfðist og dapurt geð sem skyndilega snérist í svartnætti. En ég hélt áfram að ýta minningunni niður, þangað til börnin okkar tvö fæddust. Þegar ég horfði á þau leika sér hamingjusöm í garðinum dag einn, varð ég allt í einu yfirbuguð af reiði yfir að barnæska mín hafði liðið í einmannaleika, ólýsanlegri sorg og tilfinningalegum sársauka. Frá þeirri stundu varð ég þunglyndari og þunglyndari.

Á þessum tíma var ég farin að sækja föndurhóp hjá Darlington AOG. Í tvö ár sótti ég þangað eða þar til börnin byrjuðu í skóla. Dag einn, ákvað ég að fara á kvöldsamkomu á sunnudegi. Allir voru hissa á að sjá mig þar, ég hafði aldrei talað um kirkju við neinn þegar ég sótti föndurhópinn. Ég var alin upp í kaþólsku kirkjunni og var búin að fá nóg af trúarbrögðum (eða það hélt ég). Á samkomunni þetta sunnudagskvöld heyrði ég rödd sem sagði skýrt “ég elska þig”. Ég heyrði þetta eins og talað væri upphátt og ég þekkti þessa rödd strax. Þetta var sama röddin sem ég hafði heyrt þegar ég var sjö ára, og hendur árásarmannsins voru þétt vafnar um hálsinn á mér. Þá heyrðum við bæði einhvern kalla ákveðið nafnið mitt. Það dugði til að brjóta þau illu álög sem við höfðum bæði verið föst í. Hann lét mig detta á gólfið og leyfði mér að fara. Þessi rödd hafði bjargað lífi mínu einu sinni og þarna bjargaði hún mér aftur. Ég tók á móti Kristi þá strax. Ég hef aldrei efast eða hikað í trú minni síðan. Hvers vegna ætti ég að gera það? Ég á allt sem ég þarf í Drottni mínum.

Líf mitt breyttist á undraverðan hátt eftir að ég frelsaðist. Þunglyndinu var létt af mér og kom aldrei aftur. Jafnvel líkami minn virtist léttari, það var eins og miklum þunga hefði verið lyft af öxlum mínum. Ég lærði að hlæja og gráta. Það mikilvægasta af öllu fyrir mig var að ég lærði að elska án skilyrða. Það var ný reynsla. Eftir að hafa alla æfi vantreyst fólki og ekki getað snert það, gat ég treyst fólki og sjálfri mér í aðstæðum sem ég hafði aldrei getað áður. Innan nokkurra mánaða sótti ég um í hjúkrunarnámi. Þegar ég lauk námi eftir þrjú ár, 1995, hófst það sem átti eftir að vera ótrúlega gefandi starf innan heilbrigðis og félags sviðs og í fræðimennsku.

Eins og hjá flestum hefur líf mitt mótast af reynslu minni, bæði góðri og slæmri. Sagt er að það sem drepur þig ekki gerir þig sterkari og í mínu tilviki þá held ég að það sé satt. Ef ég hefði ekki orðið kristin á þessum tíma er ég viss um að líf mitt hefði orðið allt annað en það sem ég nýt í dag. Kanski hljómar það eins og gömul lumma en styrkur minn kemur frá sambandi mínu við Krist. Án hans reikna ég með að hryllingur fortíðar minnar hefði yfirbugað mig. Eins og annað fólk (dýrðlingar sem aðrir) er ég sterk á sumum sviðum en veik á öðrum.

Ég er sterk í því að sjá aðstæður í heild sinni og geta um leið komið auga á hluti sem þarf að laga, þetta er hæfileiki sem ég nota stöðuglega í vinnunni, bæði í veraldlegu og kristilegu starfi. Ég er sterk í að viðurkenna mistök mín og er ekki hrædd við að bakka og leiðrétta það sem miður hefur farið. Ég er t.d. fljót að gera mér grein fyrir því þegar ég hef ekki rétt fyrir mér og alltaf tilbúin að leiðrétta og jafnvel ganga á minn rétt. Ef mér er stillt upp við vegg, þá vil ég frekar láta einhvern halda að hann hafi rétt fyrir sér, jafnvel þó svo sé ekki, því ég veit af fyrri reynslu að Guð mun seinna sýna viðkomandi villu hans. Mér hefur æfinlega fundist að það “að hafa rétt fyrir sér” sé ofmetið. Þó ég segi þetta, þá eru sum atriði sem þarf að berjast fyrir og vinna, málið er að velja hvaða málefni eru þess virði að berjast fyrir. Ég trúi því að veikleikar fylgi einfaldlega styrkleikunum; það er ekki hægt að hafa annað án hins. Þannig gerði Guð okkur. Í veikleika okkar köllum við til hans, í styrkleika okkar gefum við honum dýrðina, hvort heldur sem er þá er sigur á báða bóga.

Líf mitt heldur áfram að vera varðað ævintýrum á göngunni með Guði. Þegar þetta er skrifað er ég að ljúka doktorsgráðu í rannsóknum á heilabilun (PhD in dementia research). Heilabilun skiptir mig miklu máli bæði af persónulegum og faglegum ástæðum. Þegar þessu er lokið vonast ég til að geta unnið á Íslandi og notað þekkingu mína og hæfileika svo að fólk með heilabilun og umönnunaraðilar þeirra geti notið þjónustu sem er hönnuð fyrir þarfir þeirra. Ég vonast einnig til að vinna með fólki sem ekki er með minnissjúkdóma til að kenna þeim hvernig þau geta dregið úr hættu á að fá heilabilun síðar á æfinni. Verkefnin eru mörg og ég óttast að fólk með heilabilun mæti afgangi. Ég á samt stóran Guð sem þráir að blessa börnin sín og að vita það, er hvatning til að vinna eins vel og ég get og skipta máli þar sem hann hefur sett mig.

Hvað nú um veikleikana sem ég sleppti að tala um áðan…? Þrátt fyrir veikleika minn fyrir ódýrum matreiðslubókum og eldhúsáhöldum, þá eru eftir 21 ár á göngunni með Guði mínum fáir ytri lestir eftir, það er þó nóg eftir af þeim hið innra. Ég forðast samt líkamsþjálfum á næstum sjúklegan hátt, þó fór ég einstaka sinnum með Chris í morgungöngu þegar við bjuggum á Englandi. Ég skammast mín fyrir að viðurkenna að það var svo sjaldan að þegar sonur okkar James sá minn hluta af rúminu mannlausan kl. 6:15 einn morguninn fyrir nokkrum mánuðum, gerði hann ráð fyrir að ég hefði dottið fram úr og sofnað aftur á gólfinu hinum megin við rúmið. Honum datt aldrei í hug sá möguleiki að ég hefði farið á fætur snemma til að fara í göngu!

Þýðing eftir Lilja Óskarsdóttir

Walking in the light…

I have never kept my family background secret and in fact during my time at Darlington AOG I published my testimony in the Church newsletter. Over the years, God has used my testimony to bring healing and hope to many women and although I don’t thank God for the experience of abuse, I am grateful for the good that has come from it over the years.

I have decided not to go into intimate details of the abuse here, suffice to say that when I was seven years old, I was abducted by a neighbour and held captive for several hours. During that time, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted and threatened. I was given money (to keep me quiet) and told that my family would be killed if I told anyone. I came from a very poor family, so the first thing I did when released was spend the money I was given at the local travelling shop. I came home several hours later clutching a big bag of sweets. My mother said she took one look at me and knew that something bad had happened. Someone called the police and my dad. By the time they arrived my abuser had fled. It soon came to light however that he had abused many other children in the area, but the frightened parents had been too scared to inform the police. With him gone, they all came forward and shared their stories. It was a sad day for the town. My abuser was later hunted down and shot in the head by unknown persons and his body lays in an unmarked grave near to where we used to live.

The effects on my family and me were devastating. There are no words to sufficiently describe the aftermath of the events that occurred that day. I became very reclusive, wouldn’t talk to anyone, became frightened of, well everyone and everything. My parents struggled with terrible guilt issues, my dad raged silently for years afterwards. The knowledge that I was held captive in the house opposite ours and she didn´t know nearly destroyed my gentle and loving mum. That she was going about the normal business of daily life while I was being raped was something she never forgave herself for. Yes, we all suffered and we all hurt – albeit in different ways. Abuse doesn’t just affect the person violated, it affects the whole family. After some months, my mind blocked out all memory of those days and it wasn’t until I was almost seventeen and someone tried  to rape me (unsuccessfully as it turns out because I kicked him hard in the ‘family jewels’ and ran into the shop for help) in broad daylight in the hedged front garden of a local shop, that my memory started to return. I asked my mum to explain to me what happened on that day all those years ago, she did and for the first time I took in the enormity of the situation – so many children raped or physically assaulted, so many families devastated, one man dead, his family torn apart. It was too much to take in. This time, I pushed it down deep inside. Unlike the first time, I knew what I was doing. This was something I never wanted to remember again…ever.

A couple of years later I met and married Chris. Life should have been a dream, but it wasn’t, not for either of us. Chris quickly found out what it was like to live with someone with a dark, overwhelming secret. Nightly nightmares, irrational fears of anything that moved and sad moods that would quickly turn into dark ones were the norm. But, somehow, I continued to push it down, until that is the birth of our two children. Watching them play happily in the garden one day, I suddenly became overwhelmed with anger that my childhood had been one of loneliness, unspeakable grief and emotional pain. From that time on, I gradually became more and more depressed, spiralling into a world of strange and scary thoughts.

Around this time, I had started to going to a craft club held by Darlington AOG. I went there for two years until the children started school. One day, I decided to go to the Sunday evening meeting. Everyone was surprised to see me there, I had never talked about the Church to anyone during the time I attended the craft club as, having been brought up in the Catholic Church, I had had my fill of religion (so I thought). As I stood in the meeting that Sunday evening I heard a voice clear as day that simply said ‘I love you’. I heard it as an audible voice and it was one that I recognised immediately. It was the same voice that I had heard as a seven year old, with my abusers hands tightly wrapped around my neck, we both heard someone call my name urgently. It was enough to break the evil spell we were both caught up in. He dropped me to the floor and let me leave. The sound of that voice had saved my life once and here it was saving me again. I immediately surrendered my life to Christ. I have never wavered or faltered in my faith since. Why would I? I have everything I need in my Lord.

My life changed dramatically after my conversion. My depression lifted, never to return. Even my body felt lighter, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted of my shoulders. I learned to laugh and to cry in turn. Most importantly for me, I learned to love without restraint. This was a new experience for me. After a lifetime of not trusting, not touching, I found myself trusting people, and myself, in situations that I could never have done before. Within months, I had applied for registered nurse training. When I qualified three years later in 1995, I began what would become an incredibly rewarding career within health, social care and academia.

Like most people, my life has been very much shaped by my experiences, both the good and the bad. They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and in my case I think that’s actually true. If I hadn’t become a Christian when I did, I am sure my life would have turned out to be very different to the one I enjoy now. It sounds cliché I know, but in my case, my strength comes from my relationship with Christ. Without Him, I suspect the terrors of my past would overwhelm me. Like all people (saints or no) I am strong in some areas and weak in others.

I am strong in terms of being able to see any situation in its entirety while being able to pinpoint areas of concern, this is a skill I use all the time in my work, both secular and non-secular. I am strong in the sense that even if I make a mistake, I am not afraid to go back to the situation and make things right. I am, for example, quick to realise when I am wrong and willing always to put things right, even if I have to compromise my own rights. In a tight spot, I would much rather let someone think they are right, even if they are not, because I know from experience that God will show them the error of their ways at some point in the future. I have anyway always felt that ‘being in the right’ was over-rated. Having said that, some issues have to be fought over and won, it’s simply a matter of choosing which battles I really need to win day-to-day. I’m a great believer in that weaknesses are simply strength’s foil; you cannot have one without the other. It is how God made us. In our weakness we call out to Him, in our strength we give glory to Him, either way, it’s a win-win situation.

My life continues to be marked by adventures in God. At the moment I am completing a PhD in dementia research. Dementia is something that is very close to my heart for a number of reasons, both personal and professional. When completed, I hope to work in Iceland, sharing my knowledge and skills so that people with dementia and their care partners can look forward to services designed around their needs. I also hope to work with people who don’t have dementia to teach them how they can reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life. There is much to do and I fear so little time for people with dementia. I have a big God however whose very heart is to bless His children. Knowing that, I am encouraged to work as hard as I can to make a difference where He has placed me.

Now, what about those weaknesses I avoided talking about earlier…? Notwithstanding my penchant for cheap cookery books and kitchen gadgets, after 21 years of being in relationship with my God, I have few remaining (external) vices, plenty still on the inside though. I do however, have an aversion to exercise that borders on the pathological, although when we lived in England I did occasionally accompany Chris on his early morning walks. An event I’m ashamed to admit so rare that when our son James saw my side of the bed empty at 6.15 am one morning a couple of months ago, he assumed I had fallen out of bed and snuggled back to sleep on the floor on the opposite side of the bed. It never occurred to him that I may have got up early for a walk. Bless him!

Molly aged 5, “Why is God sending Pastor Chris to Iceland?”

Molly, who knew the difference between Brie and Babybel when she was just two years old, was puzzled. She loved God and she really liked Pastor Chris and she just couldn’t work out why God would send Pastor Chris to Iceland. Molly however, wasn’t the only one to ask the question. Many, many people asked us, why on earth are you planning to go to Iceland? All praised the fantastic work Chris had done in the village of Evenwood with and through the Church and felt sad (some bereft) at the thought of us leaving to go back to Iceland. In an effort to convince us to stay, more than one person pointed out the work still do to in Evenwood and beyond. Friends, good friends who we love and who love us, earnestly begged us to reconsider, one dear friend actually said, ‘How can you turn your back on your own people?” And another, a good friend and colleague of Chris – who happens to be a non-Christian, pointed out that there were plenty of sinners in Britain, so we really didn’t need to go abroad to find souls to save 🙂 Given the concerns and disappointment voiced by so many people, Chris and I thought it best to use this blog post to explain why we decided to go back to Iceland at this time. So, put the kettle on and then cosy up on the sofa, you may be here for some time. When Chris and I arrived back in England after a sojourn of five years in Iceland, it would be somewhat of an understatement to say that we were a tadge surprised. You see, we thought we were on our way to Syracuse in New York State. No, before you ask, we didn’t board the wrong plane. I won’t however go into that just yet, as that is a whole other story worthy of a blog post of its own. Suffice to say, we arrived in England, slightly bewildered and fully expecting to be on our travels again after a two-week stay in the NorthEast celebrating Kim’s 18th birthday. However for a multitude of reasons we ended up staying in England. Chris worked for the Church as a volunteer for one year and I started work at Durham University as a Research Associate. After about a year, we heard that Evenwood Assembly were looking to recruit a Pastor. Although it wasn’t something that had occurred to us before, we decided to go to the village of Evenwood and have a look around and to see if we felt God speak to us about the post. So, one sunny afternoon, we drove to Evenwood for a look around and to meet some of the locals. We walked around the village, chatted to some local people and walked around the outside of the Church building. We both felt an immediate connection with the village and decided to spend time praying about whether Chris should apply for the post. Some time later, Chris contacted the spokesperson for the Church and arranged a meeting. The rest is, so to speak, history. Although we were very pleased to be offered the post as Pastor and Mrs, we nevertheless felt that we could only commit to the work for five years. Five years was not a random number we plucked out of the air. Nor, did we sit down together and work out how long we should stay. Rather, we just ‘knew’ on a spiritual level, that things would change after five years. Although we had no idea what that change would be. Our time at Evenwood was a blessed one. We were blessed by the people of the Church and their families and by the people we came to know so well in the village and surrounding areas. Despite knowing that things would change after five years, we spent every moment focussed on the here and now and took every opportunity available to us to grow the Church and to be a blessing to the local people. We were undoubtedly happy and blessed to be in England. And yet, our deep and abiding love for Iceland and her people, never left us. We would look at a picture of an Icelandic sunset or a photo of one of the villages we had worked in and our hearts were immediately homesick. I once walked behind an Icelandic couple in Heathrow airport, just to hear them speak Icelandic (I know, very sad) and we both read the Icelandic news every day. On occasions we knew more about what was going on in Iceland, than our friends who lived there. IKEA became the place we went to when we needed to talk through our life in England and what we felt God wanted us to do in the future. For almost five years we heard nothing from God in terms of what the future held. Instead, God blessed us by filling our hearts and minds with ideas on making the Church more ‘visible’ in the local community. We worked with the Church tirelessly to share our experience and knowledge on how to ‘professionalise’ aspects of the Church and to bring it up to date with UK legislation. In the work God gave us to do, we were blessed with eager co-workers and supporters in the congregation and beyond. For five years we lived as though tomorrow with its many decisions, was a long way off in the future. On August 31st 2011 however, we woke to a feeling of ‘today is the day’ we would understand what the future would hold, albeit in part. We went out for a walk in Hamsterly Forest and talked and talked. By the end of the walk (and talk) we had decided it was time to go back to Iceland. The first people we told were our children. The second people we told were the people of the Church in Evenwood. Rarely, have we broken news to people we love with a sadder heart than we did on that Sunday evening. Although our hearts felt a peace about the decision we had made, nevertheless, prior to the meeting Chris (unbeknownst to me) asked God for external confirmation that this indeed was the right decision and the right time. During the meeting, one of Church leaders stood up and basically said. “I know you have been wrestling with a difficult decision. I want you to know that the decision you are about to make is the right one. Moreover, if you do not go ahead and make the decision, you will no longer be in my (God’s) will”. Well, I nearly fell of my chair and Chris and I exchanged looks of surprise. No longer in God’s will! Did God really just say that to us? Chris got up to preach and when he had finished, he broke the news to the congregation. After the meeting, another leader in the Church confirmed that they too had been about to get up and say exactly the same thing. It seems that God really wanted to confirm to our hearts that we were on the right track. So to answer Molly’s question and the question on the lips of our friends and fellow workers….we decided to go back to Iceland at this time because we believe that God asked us to. We believe that He has work for us to do that will bring blessing to Iceland and her people and will also bring blessing into our lives. And yes, we know that there is still much work to be done in Evenwood and beyond, but we believe that God has not called us to do it, we believe that He will, in His infinite wisdom, call others to the work. But ultimately we are prepared to spend the rest of our lives in Iceland (if asked to do so) because we want to remain at the centre of God’s will, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10.