With abuse comes hard lessons, but lessons that count for eternity.

With abuse comes hard lessons, but lessons that count for eternity.

I’ve only known Lori Cunningham a few short weeks through an online friendship, but I know there is something very special about her. I think of the beautiful, delicate rose whose petals have fallen to the ground only to be crushed by uncaring feet. But the result is the sweet aroma that infuses its surroundings with beauty and grace.

You see, Lori is that delicate rose who was crushed as a child, but she found the faithfulness of the Lord in her anguish and now her life emits the sweet aroma of Christ to the world around her. Although her story is very painful to read, she has found the presence of God throughout — even in the most vile moments. Lori clings to His outstretched hand, and He imparts grace and healing.

Welcome to Faith Notes, Lori!

I have no memories of not knowing violent abuse.

I have no memories of not knowing God.

This reality is still very strange to me.

I was born in Miami, Florida in 1965. I grew up in a blended family and have lived all over the United States. I attended many schools, facing over and over all the challenges that go along with moving often. I was incubated in abuse for over fifteen years. The secrecy of it was profound. It affected me. Changed me. Shaped me.

My main abuser was strong, powerful, and a master manipulator. I choose not to speak about him publicly, but rather about the realities of abuse and its aftermath. I talk and write about childhood abuse because it’s what I am familiar with and because countless children live in this horrific reality, all alone. Nightmares, terror, darkness, chaos, shame…they endure it all alone.

I believe it is in the secrecy Satan thrives.

I believe he targets babies and children because he can shatter their ability to trust from the start.

To believe Jesus is who He says He is takes trust. Once that trust is poisoned, one is much less likely to ever trust Christ. Oddly, I don’t have any memories of not trusting Him. I remember screaming to God in my mind through rapes and beatings and torture.

One time I told God if He didn’t stop this man then I would. I was in the third grade and we were sitting in church. We took up the whole pew—mom, dad, my two brothers, one of my step-sisters, and me. I was privately telling God how I was going to kill my abuser. A priest was speaking from the pulpit, not sure what all he was saying. But suddenly I heard him say this, “vengeance is mine says the Lord.”

I heard it loud and clear.

I felt as though I was the only one there in that moment and that God was speaking to me.

I believe He did several things in me that day. He gave me understanding. I knew what it meant. He gave me faith. I believed it. He began growing the gift of mercy in me.

I never killed my abuser.

From that day forward I prayed for him and actually felt sorry for him and what it was going to be like for him when he faced God. That terrified me. Changed me. Shaped me. I used to bang my head on walls to try and make the images go away. I stopped doing that (it didn’t work). I read my bible when I could and talked to Him about everything. I wanted to know Jesus more and to hide myself in Him.

I have several stories of when I believe God intervened, but He did not stop the abuse. He did not rescue me out of the abuse. I don’t know why, but I trust Him. I trust Him with my questions, my fears, my doubts, my anger, and my lack of understanding, even as my body and soul still echo with the irreparable damage.

One of my prayers I started praying as a young adult, and will continue to pray, is “please, do not let my suffering be in vain.” He tells us we will have troubles in this world — this is a fallen world and it is temporary. He promises through all of it to never leave us or forsake us.

This is where grit-faith comes in. Tenacious faith, met with brutal honesty, brought bare before the throne of grace.

Lori and John Cunningham, Founders/Directors of Central Arkansas Youth Camp

Lori and John Cunningham, Founders/Directors of Central Arkansas Youth Camp

I want you to put your faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. And if you are saved, I want you to know this does not mean being spared the horrors of this world, for Christ Himself experienced all the horror of this world. Salvation is eternal life with Christ. It means being spared the horrors of the next world for all eternity.

I saturate my soul with the life of Christ. How He lived, how He treated people, how people treated Him, and how He responded to opposition and abuse. How He loved. Oh how He loved. He is our example in all things.

Loving like He does means doing hard things. It means loving those who hate you, who harm you, and wanting only good things for them. It means forgiving as He has forgiven me. Everything God does is good, however painful and lonely; He will redeem and bring about something good, something new, something honored.

Sometimes He does rescue us right away from suffering, other times He carries us through it. Either way, He is always good and faithful and completely trustworthy. I implore you to trust Him, knowing your suffering is not in vain.

You are not alone.

Scriptures I cling to:

John 11:35  Jesus wept.

John 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.

Hebrews 12:2-3  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Nahum 1:3  The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of His feet.

1 John 5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

More About Lori:

Lori Cunningham

Lori Cunningham

Lori Cunningham (her pen name is Enola Ton) currently lives in Florida with her husband and best friend, John. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren. For close to twenty years, Lori and John served as houseparents and mentors for teens at a youth ranch in Arkansas. Ten years ago they partnered with another couple to establish a summer camp.  Central Arkansas Youth Camp is a one week, Christ-centered, summer camp experience provided without charge for kids who would not otherwise be able to afford to attend. They recently moved from Arkansas to Lori’s home state, Florida, but plan to continue facilitating CAYC as long as they are able.

Lori’s experiences of suffering through childhood abuse and overcoming the mess left in its wake, has given her a unique perspective and approach to helping others through the healing process. She is not where she wants to be, but she is not where she was. She is moving ever forward to Christ Jesus. She has written and facilitated retreats and seminars, focusing on the effects of childhood abuse carried over into adulthood and how to navigate these land mines through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Her book “The Pain of Reality and The Reality of Pain” is a reflective approach Lori utilizes in her own healing process. Many others have found hope and healing through her work. Her book is a powerful reminder; you are not alone!

Lori’s book is available in paperback and digital forms. You may also visit Lori’s Blog.

Her email address is enolatonlori@gmail.com You can also find her on twitter at @enolatonlori