Finding my real identity by Wendy Terrado
Guest post by Wendy Terrado
This is a follow-up to Wendy’s account of her abuse and its coverup at Bob Jones University. To read that account, click here for Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.
When someone calls me and requests, “¿Dice señora Terrado?” in gorgeous Spanish, I know it’s clearly a sales call. That’s simply not me. I can barely fumble out a “no entiendo” as I hang up.
Sometimes when I poorly enunciate, Siri translates my name as “Went to Toronto.” Um … also not me.
I’ve been a victim of identity theft before, and it’s no fun to try to prove to others who I am and who I’m not.
But sometimes life experiences are hijacked by Satan to try to rip off my true identity … and at those times it’s a really good thing I know who I am!
It’s taken a very long time for me to gain this clarity. Criminal behavior perpetrated against me wreaked havoc in my college experience. It cheated me out of things like restful sleep and confident relationships. Thankfully, I’ve been counseled by a professional who is well trained in addressing such trauma. His expertise is a quality combination of education, compassion, wisdom, and Christian values. Because of my “Christian” experience, the other three played a much more important role, giving me time to retest Christianity’s trustworthiness.
My biggest challenge was the component of spiritual identity that floundered for years because of the “leadership” beliefs that hacked into my soul and perpetrated lies.
For decades after my on-campus rape, Satan, the one whose specialty is to steal, kill, and destroy, routinely gave me evil reminders of the beliefs and teachings of those spiritual leaders:
— I had no intrinsic value.
— I was to be silent to “protect” God’s image.
— I needed to be a “better” Christian to be worthy of grace.
— I needed to cower and obey prideful leaders.
But that’s NOT who I am!
For decades “then” still defined me. I felt worthless and ashamed, embarrassed and irreversibly stained. Grief hovered over me, and the torment seemed as if it would go on forever.
— I couldn’t seek help. Seeking help was portrayed as sinful or, at the very least, a spiritual weakness that distracted people from focusing on God.
— I couldn’t pray. Praying felt futile and pointless. I was so embarrassed by guilt-ridden preaching and lectures from people that I felt terrified to be exposed before God. I felt that He hadn’t cared enough to keep me safe, so I must have less value than other “more important” people who were “more primary” to his plan.
— I couldn’t read the Bible. My mind was numb from reading words that seemed too far away from reality to reach me.
However . . .
I did find myself identifying with the woman in John 8—feeling trapped and completely mortified as public attention was drawn to her and men were looming over her, giving verbal attacks and debate while she was in the dirt grasping for any little shred of dignity. Nobody viewed her as valuable; they were just using her to prove how “right” their religious rules were.
She was probably in shock and crying and terrified to make eye contact with anyone. I know I was.
I understand John 8 very differently now. I differ with many Bible scholars on two key things in the story—
why Jesus knelt down and
what he wrote in the dirt.
While I realize that neither of these things is specified in the text, I think the two perspectives reveal a vastly different theology. Humor me here …
In short, I was taught that Jesus knelt down to disengage from the discussion, and that he busied himself writing down the sins of the religious leaders so they would feel guilty and self-conscious and quit trying to act so arrogant.
But what if his actions had nothing to do with the “important” people? What if he was more interested in the crying, fearful woman with the bad reputation than he was about the nicely dressed MEN with good PR and credentials and good positions?
I think SHE is all he cared about at that moment. Because she was ENOUGH right at that very second—feeling subhuman, in a horribly shameful moment of sin and nakedness and disarray and pain. Jesus didn’t stand with the “men of God.” He knelt down to be by HER.
Really in some ways this downward movement wasn’t a big deal. He had stepped out of heaven to live in dirty, messed-up towns here on earth … because He wanted to show us Emmanuel. Why not stoop down to the very dirt to BE WITH one of his dearly loved kids?
But it was a very big deal to HER. There she is, barely staying present in the moment, staring at the ground and willing it to swallow her up. Just wanting to disappear. Wanting to be anywhere but there.
What if Jesus wrote something for her eyes only? Maybe something like, “you didn’t deserve to be set up like this,” or “I’m so sorry for how they’re trying to use you.” He was right there. On her level. What if he erased those ugly feelings from the dirt? Did she dare to meet his eyes?
Or maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe he met her eyes just once before he started writing. He could have written words like: you are forgiven; you are loved; you are important to me; I care. Maybe there were dark wet circles in the dirt as they both cried together.
Eventually the attackers left the two of them, kneeling together in the middle of the path.
I think when he stood, he reached out a hand to help her stand with him. He lifted her face and restored her dignity. She was worthy! This moment of stunning comfort may have been the first time anyone had treated her as significant and valuable.
Yes I realize this is a woman with “a reputation.” We don’t know what parts of her life were forced on her and how she contributed to her own sin or unwise choices. I treasure the fact that Jesus felt it more important to intentionally treat her with love than to throw stones at her.
He gave her another chance. A new life. A new identity.
God sent his own Son to die for my sins. His holiness has been honored while my soul is redeemed. As Isaiah 43:25 says, he has blotted out my transgressions for his own sake, and remembers my sins no more. Just as Micah 7:19 promises, he has had compassion on me and has hurled my iniquities into the depths of the sea.
“Where are your accusers now?” Jesus asked the woman on the ground in John 8. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord,” she answered. No one had condemned her. Not even Jesus. Especially not Jesus. When he said, “Go and sin no more,” he said, “I don’t condemn you.”
I know who I am today because my counselor helped me to recognize Jesus in the middle of the ugliness. I didn’t find Him in religious leaders, but in ordinary people who offered comfort. I went from being confused and uncertain—about myself, about God—to hopeful and grateful.
Jesus left heaven and moved into MY neighborhood—not just to provide eternal salvation but to show how he walks alongside my messy, confused experiences to interpret with truth and give me my real identity. Bob Jones University officials still don’t seem to understand it, but there is NO more condemnation—through my acceptance of His sacrifice in my place, Jesus has declared me to be priceless and acceptable and free.
I can accept my flaws. I will not cower. I no longer need to hide. No matter how you say or spell my name, I am God’s masterpiece, and He takes delight in me!
This testimony is beautiful and insightful. God has made you a trophy of His grace.
GOD is so much more loving than those men in robes with rituals of religion. Thankful for your testimony of His grace and Word in your life!!
Jesus’ love IS unconditional. It has taken me many years to understand that to BJU image is all, I did not experience any love from those in positions of authority. There was plenty of spiritual and emotional abuse, but little under standing. Thanks for standing up for what is right.
What a beautiful testimony, Wendy! I love the picture you painted of Jesus kneeling down, ministering to the woman caught in adultery. He is grace and mercy and kindness; He heals the brokenhearted.
I was robbed of a life-long marriage by a husband who committed crimes against children. My pain is different from yours, yet similar. I’ve experienced the shame, the feeling of being cast out, the judgment, the sorrow, the sleepless nights. The all-encompassing sadness.
But God is good. He gives me hope for the future. He is right here with me, whispering love to me even as I weep in sorrow and empathy for you. Heaven awaits us. Our joy will be made full. There is HOPE.