Dedicated to Karen F Riley
(1962 – 2013)
Karen was just 50 years years old when she passed. She was a support to those who had experienced abuse and will be greatly missed. She will be also be remembered by those whom she helped to educate – those who had not experienced abuse; to enable them to show compassion, understanding and recognise signs of abuse to help further protect children.
Life has taken me on many twists and turns, and in many ways, I’ve arrived back at the beginning, only from a different viewpoint. And when I look back over my life, it’s like a clearly defined road map from beginning to end, with each stop connecting to another, but at the time, I may as well have been lost, as that is how it felt.
You see, when I was very young, I was sexually abused. I remember writing from the time I could hold a pen and knew script. Looking back, I saw writing as God’s gift to help me survive that painful childhood. It was a catharsis and in many ways, a lifeline that kept me afloat.
In high school, I was bullied mercilessly because I was withdrawn and isolated due to the abusive situation going on at home. I thought everyone would know what was going on by looking at me and the shame drove me to keep silent and reclusive. As an adult, I became the ultimate people pleaser and used that façade as a mask to hide (not so well) my unforgiveness, rage, pain and disappointment. It surfaced when I least expected it and in the most inappropriate ways.
After a series of traumatic back-to-back events, including the loss of my job, the near death of my husband, a serious tractor trailer accident involving my daughter, and an employee who stole the company’s savings, I had finally had enough. That’s when God stepped in and pulled me back from the brink; when I finally reached the point of surrender and stopped trying to do it all in my own strength and way. He immediately got busy changing my life and cleaning all of the past gunk out of my life; pride, arrogant entitlement and justifiable resentment, all tools that the enemy uses to keep us in shackles. Once the chains were off, I began to walk in a freedom I never knew before. But that freedom came with a price; one I was gladly willing to pay. You see, so many of my brothers and sisters were still in chains, silenced by the traumas and shame of their past and not realizing that they could have a brand new life if they only were willing to give up the lies and pain and walk in truth and freedom.
The journaling I did as a child, as a means to escape the horrors of my childhood, soon gave rise to a new book – an inspirational journey of my healing process through Christ; a road map, if you will, to help others. From a withdrawn teenager hiding in the shadows to a metamorphisized, redeemed survivor, I began taking the stage to share the story of my escape from bondage. People would come up to me at the end with tears in their eyes, saying that they thought they were the only ones who had gone through this or felt like this and now they knew they were not alone. Even more rewarding were those who had not been through sexual abuse. Those who realized that the folks in their lives that they had shunned, thinking they were weird, different or crazy, may have just been suffering in silence, with their pain oozing out. Sparks of compassion replaced ignorance, knowledge replaced complacency, and two groups on opposing sides were now connecting.
So I had come full circle in many ways, but God was not done with me yet. I still had my own battlefields to conquer. One of them was my struggles with weight. I began to take up running again, only this time, running for health, instead of running in fear. My past hypervigilance and renewed listening to my body told me that something was wrong and God whispered that I had cancer. Well, I actually had cancer most of my life, just not the kind that comes from mutating cells. And in no touch of irony, the malignant tumor grew in the area where I had been traumatized so many years ago. Out of this, too, sprung a blessing. Now I could relate not only to those who had been abused, bullied, ignored and misunderstood, but now I could relate to those with cancer.
The doctors gave me a very short time to live; the truth, is that I had many years of life without cancer where I had never truly been alive. Each day now is a blessing. The book, the ministry, the website of resources, are all tools to connect people who would never have considered each other before. Is it hard for me to get up on stage and tell my story? No! It is a joy because I feel like I have been given a special key to reach people and set them free from their cages; a key bought and paid for by the blood of my Savior.
Have I had a terrible, painful, traumatic life? No! I have not been scourged with the flesh torn from my back, dragged a heavy wooden cross through the streets while people spat at me and cursed me. Nor have I hung naked from a cross as soldiers gambled at my feet for my clothing. No, I have led a charmed life. I have led a life I never deserved or earned. This is my chance to tell others, with every borrowed breath I have. When someone comes up to me and says that they now realize they are not alone, I smile because I know they have never truly been alone. They just didn’t know it.
About Karen F Riley
Karen F. Riley started writing when she was eight years old. She was nationally published at the age of eleven. Karen then started writing for newspapers and magazines such as The Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Monthly and The Tri-Town News. She authored three weekly newspaper columns and four books:
Whispers in the Pines: The Secrets of Colliers Mills
Voices in the Pines: True Stories from the New Jersey Pine Barrens
Images of America: The Pine Barrens of New Jersey
Healing in the Hurting Places
Voices in the Pines was a silver international IPPY award winner in 2010 and Healing in the Hurting Places was an Eric Hoffer Award 2012 finalist.
Karen was married to Bill for over 30 years and the proud parents of three children: Lisa, Laura and Christopher and one granddaughter, Lilyana. They resided in the rural town of New Egypt, New Jersey.
After 20 years in the corporate world, in seven different fields and having survived four layoffs, she started her own business. KFR Communications, LLC – a custom graphic and website design company with her business partner, Andrew Gioulis which specializes in branding and started a self-publishing division to help authors publish and market their books.
For most of her life, Karen measured her success by what she achieved in her own strength. Then on July 24, 2005, that world and belief system was rocked when she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Karen began to understand why God blessed her with the gift of writing and speaking and how she could glorify Him with it. She began writing as a means to deal with the pain of childhood sexual abuse and headed up a ministry called Healing in the Hurting Places to offer hope to those suffering in the same way. This book was part of that journey. Karen believed that through education, we can stem the tide on the rising epidemic of childhood sexual abuse. She was grateful that her book touched so many lives and helped people realize that they are not alone and they could begin their own healing journeys.
In 2011, Karen was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and was given a short time to live. She planned to make the most of whatever time God gave her to continue to be a ripple in the pond and make a difference in others’ lives wherever she could. For too many years, she suffered alone in silence and was able to help others find their own voices.
Karen saw her childhood sexual abuse, bullying and cancer as blessings. She took heart in this Scripture: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)
If you have any questions, or are wanting to seek further advice and support, please feel free to get in touch.