Six weeks into a blissful honeymoon, my life turned into a nightmare when my 9-year-old daughter is taken away and my new husband is falsely accused of child sexual abuse.
Dragged under the churning wheels of the child protection system, I was given a choice: cooperate in prosecuting my innocent husband or lose my daughter.
When we didn’t give in to pressure, I lost custody of my daughter and my husband was charged with a felony that carried a 16-year prison sentence.
No one wanted to hear our side of the story.
No one wanted to know the truth.
I wrote about my family’s experience in Wheels of Injustice: Saving My Child from the Child Savers. The book is a behind-the-scenes true account of the out-of-control child protection system of the 1980s and its victims, who risked everything to expose its egregiously unjust acts and reform it.
God met me in the midst of this nightmare and showed me that trusting Him will drive out fear, no matter what the circumstance.
Here’s an excerpt from my book that describes my low point—
The day of the verdict came. We all squeezed into the courtroom. Clark was at the defense table with his lawyer. I was sitting directly behind him.
The foreman handed a piece of paper to the judge. After glancing at the paper, the judge handed it back to the foreman, who loudly read:
“We—the people of the jury—find the defendant… not guilty.”
Not guilty. NOT guilty! NOT GUILTY! I collapsed with relief. Before the judge dismissed the jury, he told them they were now free to talk about the trial.
Several members of the jury came over to where Clark and I stood and, with tears in their eyes, told us how sorry they were that we had been subjected to this nightmare. I was in shock. For so long, I had believed that everyone hated us and would never see us as anything but child abusers. I was so shocked at their reaction, I just stood there and cried….
Everything was great then, right? They returned Emily after Clark was found “not guilty?”
The DSS Dependency and Neglect case was not affected by the “not guilty” verdict in Clark’s trial. Does that make sense to you? Would it make sense to anybody? If he was not guilty of abuse, how could I be guilty of not protecting Emily from someone who wasn’t abusing her?
Here’s what the DSS told us, “Just because Clark was found not guilty in criminal court, it doesn’t mean he’s innocent.”
Since the burden of proof was not as high in civil cases as it was in criminal cases, the status of the civil case related to the criminal case remained unaffected. If the DSS decided they wanted to continue to pursue it, they could.
And—of course they did. They were just getting started with their revenge against me for not siding with them in the first place.
So, it was with joy and occasional bouts of heart-stopping terror that I met the news in late November that we were going to have another child.
Yes, I was pregnant.
The Dependency and Neglect case brought against me by the DSS continued unabated throughout that Christmas holiday season. Clark’s success at trial only made them even more determined to punish me for daring to disagree with their conclusions and recommendations.
I felt like a piñata, swinging back and forth with each blow, helpless to change my circumstances or avoid the “beatings” I was getting. I wondered if I would ever be free from this alien attack force. They wanted to permanently remove my custody rights regarding Emily and prevent Clark from ever being alone with her.
Most of the time, Clark and I focused on the excitement of having a baby instead of thinking about the DSS. We endlessly discussed names. In 1986, a baby’s gender could not be determined before birth, and we finally settled on the name Carson, a unisex name. We were excited, yes, but I had moments of extreme anxiety over what could happen. Would the DSS be standing outside my hospital room during the baby’s birth, just waiting to remove Carson, too? These thoughts kept me on edge much of the time.
The stress continued to mount. Three days before the Dependency and Neglect hearing in February of 1987, I had a checkup with the obstetrician. Our unborn baby had died.
I was shocked and heartbroken.
I gave up. I was depressed and beaten and couldn’t fight any more. Too many beautiful parts of my life had been stolen from me in the previous twelve months and replaced with ugly lies and ruthless vindictiveness.
I’d experienced so much emotional trauma in such a short time that I accepted most of the conditions in the petition in exchange for a dismissal of the case against me. I signed the agreement, and at the hearing, the case against me was dismissed.
Immediately after the hearing, I was admitted to the hospital for surgery to remove Carson and say goodbye to our unborn child.
I am the kind of person who can make a joke out of almost any event, and I wish I could say something humorous about this period in my life to lighten the retelling of this sad story, but… I got nothing. It was very, very sad.
My relationship with God also hit the rocks. I continued to have conflicting feelings. Should I pray? Why even bother? Was God even real? He had rejected so many of my pleas in the past year—with the exception of Clark’s acquittal—that I was beginning to wonder, question, and seriously doubt.
I finally settled on one way to relate to God.
I said, “God, if you really exist, you are going to have to show me—prove it to me. If you can’t do that, I’m not going to believe in you anymore.”
My faith was decimated. I had come to the end of myself.
Then I stopped praying, stopped believing, stopped going to church, stopped talking about God—I stopped everything.
I just stopped.
I stopped, but God didn’t. He kept gently pointing out to me that He was there, through Bible verses that just popped into my head at the right moment, hearing a lyric on the radio, and seeing a quote or Bible verse. Eventually, the coincidences of God reminding me of His love was too much for me to ignore, and I returned to Him. I realized that He’d been with me the whole time, and our experience, while devastating for us, served a larger purpose.
Here is how I explained it in my book.
I had a few questions for God now that I was on speaking terms with Him again. Why did we have to go through this nightmare in the first place? What was the “big picture” good reason for our false accusation? How did all this fit into the verse in Romans 8:28?
“All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
The answers eventually came to me.
Scott Peck begins his book The Road Less Traveled, with these words, “Life is difficult.”
No one is immune to problems, but God can create something good out of any situation. The important question is, How do we respond to a problem? How much faith do we put in God to see us through? I know now that much of the emotional anguish I experienced occurred because I allowed fear to overwhelm my thoughts and emotions.
From the perspective of a “big picture good reason,” I saw an entire nationwide system reformed as a direct result of our false accusation.
But why did God allow the child protection system to specifically rip our family apart?
All I can conclude is that it had to happen to enough people who were willing to stand up against it to pave the way for laws and policies to change.
Did God know in advance that Clark and I would fight relentlessly to reform the system? I wouldn’t have bet on us, particularly not on me. Why did God?
After God threw a monkey wrench into my suicide attempt, I eventually realized that God had tasks He wanted me to accomplish, and I believe that pushing to reform the child protection system was one of them. God knew that, with His help, I could be one of those people who didn’t give up.
The child protection system didn’t know what hit them when we fought back. Along came… us and countless others who loudly shouted, “Stop! You’re hurting people, you’re destroying families, you’re making things worse, not better!”
And it worked, although it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight.
Initiating change took the concerted effort of a lot of people who made great personal sacrifices. They gave up their privacy, went through the pain of constantly retelling their stories, and put up with being called the lowest of the low in the ranking of criminals—child abusers. And some, like Clark and I, were considered below even that low ranking—child molesters.
But it didn’t matter anymore. I knew that we were on God’s path for our lives. And I knew He was there through all of it.
Clark and I served on a Legislative Task Force to revise the child abuse laws in the State of Colorado, and several other states used it as a model to change their laws, as well. And in 1993, our reforms reached the Federal level. On August 10, 1993, President Clinton signed the Family Preservation and Support Services Program Act. It authorized nearly one billion dollars over five years to fund services to “promote family strength and stability, enhance parental functioning, and protect children.”
Now I know that God is here with me, no matter how dire the circumstance. And I know that God loves us.
I discovered—through experiencing it first-hand—the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m grateful every day that God made a way for us to have a relationship with Him through Jesus. I’ve been able to forgive all the people involved in our court cases—whether they know it or not—but only because of God’s grace.
I also learned to see how my own mistakes and faults contributed to negative circumstances and failed relationships, such as my first marriage. Although I wrote earlier chapters from the perspective of myself at the time, God has since given me the ability to see Daryl and other people through different eyes, without the elements of blame woven into those earlier chapters.
I’m grateful that He sends His Holy Spirit to guide us. And even when we fail to be the people we want to be—even when we “color outside the lines”—God is still there.
All we have to do is turn around and we’ll see Him again as He reaches out His Hand and envelops us in His warmth and love. Like the good shepherd, He never stops calling out to us.
I will close with the second half of a poem I wrote about my experience.
Then from the bottom,
the depths of my soul,
I feel a stirring
where there was a hole
in my heart.
From my hope,
which lay dead on the floor,
a simple small voice
says, “Open the door.”
I’ve lost so much!
And I don’t know if
I’ve fallen too far
off the salvation cliff.
It seems my faith
most surely has died.
But I am not dead,
even though I had tried.
So I’ll take a chance
that I really have heard
the voice of a God
who has heard every word
of all of the prayers
I sent up above,
and doesn’t hold grudges,
He only holds love.
Slowly I rise
to my feet and endure
the rest of my fate.
Churning wheels obscure
the meaning of justice,
of fairness and truth,
concepts that I thought
were true in my youth.
Now it is clear.
People cannot achieve
or uphold all the values
we’re told to believe.
Faith shouldn’t rest
on what people will do.
Disappointment will follow,
mistrust will ensue.
I slowly find my way
back to the Lord.
He calls to me
and soon after, restores
my hope and my faith
in His goodness and grace.
And I walk with Jesus
each day that I face.
I think the game of life is really about this picture and quote that I wrote. Whose lives did we touch with our love and kindness? Whose lives were made better because we existed? Whose souls were saved by our words or deeds? That is our legacy – what we leave behind.
Susan has Nominated (N) or Introduced (I) the following, plus (S- person shared their story): COMING SOON
Trust God. He is in control. Don’t let circumstances or events cause you doubt. When things don’t go as planned, rest assured that God has better plans for you. He loves you more than you can imagine.
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Soul Sonshine/Susan Louise Gabriel
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