Through abusive experiences from a very young age; Cherie’s idea of what Love is was warped and toxic. Can God reshape her thinking? What does real Love look like in God's eyes?
I was the fifth of five children in my parents' relationship. From the age of three, we had a family friend live with us. Unbeknown to my parents, this guy was sexually abusing me. And he would tell me that this is what people who love you do. If people don't do this, then they don't actually love you. Being the formative years of my life, that formed a very strong belief that love was associated with sex.
After some time, my mother walked out on our family. She left with that guy and took away the only person that I thought loved me. Years progressed and, being the '80s and the '90s, my father disciplined us with a hiding when we did something wrong. My dad would often say, "It's because I love you." So then I learnt to associate the word love with abuse as well as sex.
This had ongoing issues for me. From the age of fourteen, I developed an addiction to pornography. The kind of thing that I would seek out was the kind of thing that I thought would make me feel like I was loved. I was raised going to church, so I heard that God loved me. I heard other people tell me they loved me. But my mind couldn't comprehend it because the meaning was so distorted.
I continued to live like that for over 20years, until I had a breakdown one night in 2000. I was drunk, and I just said to God, "You know, this isn't the life that you've promised me. Where is the joy? Where is the hope? Where is the peace? Where is the healing that You told me You would give me?"
The next day, I received an email from the Richmond New Life Church inviting me to a women's ministry night online. I had never been to the church, I didn't know anybody, but for whatever reason I decided to attend. I sat there very quietly in the background and started building relationships with people who were very different from what I knew. They supported me alongside my journey of recovery from mental health and just accepted me for who I was.
About three or four months later I was journaling and I was writing, "What if?" You know, "What if these things hadn't happened? What if I hadn't left home at 16? What if I hadn't made the mistakes I made or done the things that I did?" And I felt God say to me, "Yes, what if?" I said back to Him, "What are You talking about?" and He said to me, "What if they were wrong? What if this isn't what love is? What if you are lovable? What if you aren't stupid? What if you can do things?"
I was really challenged by that. I struggled with it a lot because my brain said love is defined by sex. It is defined by abuse. But my heart was saying, "Actually I'm not sure that's right anymore, because I've read God's word and He says that love is patient, and love is kind, and love is caring.” And those two things couldn't exist at the same time.
The more that I allowed my thoughts to change and Him to challenge what I was thinking, the more it brought freedom to me, because all of a sudden I was loved, I was lovable, and I was able to love other people. So instead of questioning, "What if I was lovable?" I would say, "I am lovable, therefore." And that changed the way that I acted. It changed the way that I held myself. It changed the way that I held other people. In my relationships, I was able to have a sense of everything being okay, because I am lovable, I am accepted, I am wanted.
It totally changed the relationship that I had with God. All of a sudden He wasn't this distant far-off person but He was somebody that I could talk to daily. He was somebody that I could rely on. He was somebody that I could trust. There are still days where I have to actively make the choice again and say, "No, this is not the path that I need to go down. This is not where my value is determined. This is not what I want to be or who I want to be." So I still struggle, but not in the same way. It's a lot easier to say, "No, I don't need that in my life anymore."
For anyone else who is struggling with the “what ifs”, I want to give a few “you ares”. You are worthy. You are loved. You are wanted. You are accepted. You are needed. And who you are makes a really big difference.