This week I was invited to a movie premiere of a documentary that two of my high school friends had produced. In my mind, I decided I was going to support my friends on their great accomplishment – no matter what the topic. So to be honest, I didn’t do any research as to the content of the film.
I invited a couple of my friends to join me, because who wouldn’t want to be a part of a red carpet premiere where you know the producers! As we get to the venue and checked in, we were each offered an individual packet of tissues. This was the first clue that I was in for a life-changing event. We headed up the stairs and as we walked into the screening room, I notice one of the side vendor tables – “Supporting Survivors of Sexual Assault.” I will be honest, it stopped me in my tracks for a brief moment. I all of a sudden started wondering about the topic of this movie and what my friends and I were about to experience.
The Face of Resilience
As found our way to our seats, they were introducing the film, Miss America by Day. We quickly found out this movie was a documentary of the life of Marilyn Van Derbur, former Miss America and powerful motivational speaker who became a global advocate and healer for sexual abuse survivors when her personal truth of being an incest survivor was exposed.
As they called Marlyn Van Derbur and her husband Larry Atler up, this beautiful, confident, radiant woman with a glowing smile took the stage. Standing before me was the face of resilience. Her love and compassion for healing was palpable…reaching all the way to the back of the room.
As the movie began unfold and tell her story, the shock and horror of her reality as a child transformed to healing and victory. The one phrase that impacted me the most was how she described the process of telling the love of her life what had happened. By sharing the truth with him and his response of love and acceptance, “there was a crack in the shame.”
Inviting others to Crack the Shame
At the end of the movie, Marilyn Van Derbur once again took the stage. With a deep compassion in her voice she spoke to the survivors of sexual assault, rape, and incest that were present in the room. She apologized to them, acknowledging that they had to endure this trauma. With a warrior passion, she encouraged each man or woman who had experienced this to please stand. She explained that by standing they were beginning or continuing on the journey of triumphing over the shame that shrouds victims of sexual assault. With that at least half of the room stood up.
It’s a Journey
As the people stood, you could tell some had already experienced healing from their past. There was a strength and boldness to their demeanor. For others, it was the first time they admitted to anyone that the sexual assault had happened. As we were instructed to turn to the ones standing around us and acknowledge them by saying, “I am sorry you had to experience that.” you could feel the healing begin to happen. You could see the tears that were a release of the pent-up emotions and feelings. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.
It Started With Her Story
Marilyn Van Derbur had spent many years on many stages; starting as Miss America and then having a successful career as a motivational speaker. She hadn’t planned on telling this part of her story. The shame was too great. The thing is, once the newspapers got wind of what happened, they ran the story anyways. Within weeks, over 3000 men and women in the Denver area came forward to support her. Since then, she has written a book about her story, Miss America By Day; and now has released a documentary by the same name. She has impacted millions.
I know that each one of us has endured various types of trauma. Many have secrets that are buried way deep down inside. I would encourage you to seek help. Find a counselor or a pastor; confide in them and share your story. Get a special private journal and write it out. You may be the only one to read it; or God may choose to use your testimony to heal and set free hundreds of thousands of people.
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