42.9709° N, 82.4249° W
Port Huron, Michigan
Lisa Gray experienced every mother’s worst nightmare.
Only, for Gray’s family, it wasn’t a bad dream; it was reality. Gray’s daughter, then a sophomore in high school, told her that her stepfather – Gray’s ex-husband – had sexually abused her for seven years.
The story of what Gray’s family went through, from discovery through a trial in the court system to seeing the perpetrator placed behind bars for a very long time, is the subject of Gray’s new book, They Don’t Tell: Child Abuse: A Mother’s Perspective.
It was late 2006 when Gray’s daughter, Nicole, told her mother what had happened to her. The abuse started when Nicole was in third grade.
At the time, Gray was recently divorced from the abuser, but the revealing conversation between mother and daughter was the beginning of a year-long odyssey that took them through the court system as justice was served.
The experience that Gray and her family went through is a testament to the fact that, sadly, sexual abuse can be found in homes of families from all walks of life. Gray is educated and successful – she has a bachelor’s degree in urban policy analysis from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in education and counseling from Central Michigan University – and she enjoyed a varied and interesting career working in a number of different industries ranging from a Fortune 500 company to her retirement from the Social Security administration.
Divorced from her first husband while living and working in Washington, D.C., she returned to her hometown of Port Huron as a single mother. “I wanted my kids to be raised in a small town,” she said.
As a single parent, she wasn’t looking for love, but she found it in a man she met at church.
“Everyone liked him,” she said, noting that other members of the congregation doted on him and he was genuinely good to them as well, helping out whenever help was needed. “He was very family-oriented and he was very family-centered,” she said. It seemed like a good fit for a man marrying a woman with children.
After a few years, however, she began feeling like something wasn’t right with the marriage. “He was not really loving the Lord like I thought he was,” she said. “I started to see a hypocritical side of him.”
It wasn’t until the divorce was final, he was out of their lives and her daughter came forward that she began to realize how far off the path of righteousness he had fallen. And, as a mother, she was devastated not only for her daughter and the trauma she had experienced, but also at the horror of realizing she had no idea it had been going on in her own home.
“I went through every emotion you can imagine,” she said.
In 2013, Gray’s brother encouraged her to write a book. She wanted to share her story with other parents who might be going through a similar life event.
She emphasizes that the book is about her side of the story as a parent in crisis. This is not her daughter’s story. “Her story is not my story to tell,” she said. “This story was about me and what it was like for a mother to go through something like this. It’s about my guilt. It was my responsibility to care for and protect my daughter. In the end, there is only one person you can blame, though, and that is the perpetrator.”
Gray self-published her book and learned about the writing and the process by using the internet and finding a good editor. She started at first by “writing bits and pieces” and “sometimes, I would have to stop writing so I could lay down and cry.”
With the help of therapy and prayer, both Gray and her daughter are in a better place now.
She noted that healing herself was just as important as making sure her daughter healed, as well.
“It’s so important for the mother to do some self-care so she can help her daughter so they can survive and be whole again.”
And that has definitely happened for her daughter. Now 24, Nicole recently completed a licensed practical nurse program and is preparing to continue her education and earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
“She’s walking with her head held high,” said Gray with a smile.