By Catelynne Lewis
Please be aware that the following piece discusses the sensitive topics of: sexual abuse of a minor, rape, sex workers, and substance abuse.
As of May 2022, we have a new college graduate in the midst of our Bethesda Mission staff. Not only has she worked at Bethesda for the last three years exuding excellence and wisdom, but she also has incredible firsthand experience of what it is like to get a second chance at redemption. With her most recent achievement, she has been in high demand. Yet Lori McNeil (Women’s Shelter Counselor) had time in her jam-packed schedule to meet with me and share her testimony.
Lori, a Harrisburg native, grew up in a home where love was as scarce as a good meal. Her mother (who then, and currently identifies as a homosexual) was a frequent visitor at the local county jail for Lori’s entire life. From foster home to foster home Lori went, not knowing what environment she would be thrust into, including those that would lead to her experiences of being sexually abused. Starting at age five, she was molested by those in her life that should have been her safe havens: family members, foster guardians, and even a deacon in her local church congregation. Searching for independence and acceptance, she eventually came to find herself as a sex worker and was so for many years, having three children during this time. Lori even recalls a time where she was seven months pregnant when she was called upon by a man for the night, who would eventually take her to a corn field and rape her, crushing her legs and pelvis.
“I ran to the neighbor’s house and eventually had to go to the hospital for my injuries. It was so hard being seven months pregnant and needing to learn, basically, how to walk again.”
In addition to working in an environment that had led to her emotional and physical deterioration, Lori became addicted to crack cocaine with many failed attempts at sobriety. She sought temporary sanctuary in a Harrisburg Drug & Alcohol Rehab where she was told words that only fueled her with the will-power to flush drugs out of her life once and for all:
“You will never stop using.” How wrong that counselor was.
Leaving the rehab and its counterproductive advice, she was referred to Bethesda in the early 90s and never looked back. She clung to its fortress of safety and encouragement we provided for a year before she made the decision to make her life’s mosaic of the glass shards left. Slowly volleying her way through her college degree, parenting, and working full-time, Lori achieved a milestone she would never have thought possible: a college degree. Lori became the first in her family to ever finish their post-secondary education and is now the proud owner of a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology degree from Liberty University. Lori feels that the transformational journey from victimization/substance abuse to her current victories exemplify hopeful possibilities to those she guides on the path of restoration and healing. Lori now has six children, is married (her husband is Larry McNeil who was recently featured in TheBurg newspaper), and has been clean for the past 32 years!
While she has worked in the mental health field for the last twenty years in various capacities, her recent accomplishment has awarded her with an academic credibility that I was curious to tap. In my interview with Lori, I was able to ask questions about her field as an accredited professional in mental health/trauma recovery.
1. What is a misconception in the mental health field?
“I believe that people do not realize how much trauma affects an individual, there is just so much trauma. Not only are you working with people that had problems that may have some mental health [issues] that are contributing, but you also have to understand their past which include broken homes, rejection, and generational trauma.”
2. How has your education in the behavioral sciences solidified your faith?
“Again, it is understanding that trauma relates back to your healing. I am someone who really believes in generational curses and we are in a spiritual world with spiritual forces that are around us. The patterns that you see through the generations [are often linked] to what we see in those we work with, whether or not it is hereditary goes back to strongholds that have attached themselves to families. When you grow up affected, you grow up infected.”
Lori mentioned that so many scriptures and stories of particular Bible characters reinforce the methods and psychological tactics she utilizes. Her first example was that of Amnon (King David’s son) and his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Not only does this story deal with the emotional trauma of Amnon’s incestuous rape of his sister, but also the rejection she feels when he immediately shoves her out of the door, bolting her from re-entrance. It is not simply the act of what happened in these verses, but the emotional damage that was done to Tamar by someone she believed she could trust. Lori says many of the women she works with have similar stories and baggage to unpack, and feels it is her responsibility to use the culmination of her gifts, experience, and academic background to help unwind the knots that have clogged the mental health of our Harrisburg families.
For more information on the Women’s Shelter at Bethesda Mission, contact Shelley Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-257-4447 ext: 408.To schedule a tour, contact email@example.com or call 717-579-0146.
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