FamilyLife Today®

Conditioned for Evil

with Brad and Cheryl Tuggle | October 9, 2008
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A married woman recounts the sexual and emotional abuse of her past. Today on the broadcast, Cheryl Tuggle recounts the sexual and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of her father.

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  • A married woman recounts the sexual and emotional abuse of her past. Today on the broadcast, Cheryl Tuggle recounts the sexual and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of her father.

A married woman recounts the sexual and emotional abuse of her past.

Conditioned for Evil

With Brad and Cheryl Tuggle
October 09, 2008
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Bob: We're going to be dealing with a subject on FamilyLife Today that is delicate.  In fact, parents may want to make the choice not to have younger listeners tuned in.  We're going to be meeting Cheryl Tuggle who grew up as a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  She remembers what it was like growing up in a home that wasn't safe.

Cheryl: My father was incarcerated two different times for armed robbery, and so he would be in and out of our house, and so when he was gone, it was a relief.  It was just normal.  It was – you know, I didn't like it, but it's all you've ever known.  You clearly don't – I mean, when I look at it now, as an adult, you know, evaluating – I don't think I had any options.  I just thought, you know, you just close your eyes and just hope it's over soon.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 9th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll share Cheryl Tuggle's story today, the kind of story that no little girl should have to experience as she is growing up.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  In some ways, Dennis, the subject we're talking about today is – well, it's almost a hidden epidemic, I think, in our culture. 

Dennis: I think the subject of sexual abuse is – well, is one uniquely suited for the Christian community, because where else are people going to be able to find the power to forgive, the ability to love and to move toward hope and healing.  It's really our message, it's the message of redemption of what Christ did for all of us.

Bob: Well, and we don't have any idea how many marriage relationships are affected by this issue.

Dennis: Millions, undoubtedly.

Bob: And there may be husbands and wives who aren't even aware that this is what's affecting their marriage.  They haven't put the two together, you know?  My background and our marriage, they don't see them connected, but they really are.

Dennis: They really are.  In fact, just a couple of statistics that bring it home – one in four girls before the age of 14 and one in six boys before the age of 16 have been sexually abused.  Now, that's a tough statistic – to think about anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of our sons and daughters, the young people we see, have been impacted by this evil.  And I think it demands that we speak up, and we speak out, and we talk clearly about how does the Bible help us respond to this and where is God in the midst of all this?

And we have a story to tell you today that is a compelling story.  Cheryl Tuggle and her husband, Brad, join us on FamilyLife Today.  Brad, Cheryl, welcome to the broadcast.

Brad: Thanks for having us.

Cheryl: Thank you.

Dennis: Cheryl and Brad have teamed up to write a book called "A Healing Marriage."  Brad is a pastor and together they have two daughters.  And, Cheryl, this is really your story, a story of how you were abused as a little girl.  Brad, obviously, it became your story as a result of loving her and your marriage to Cheryl and really being a part of the healing process.

But every story has a context, and, Cheryl, your story really starts in a home that was a home that didn't know anything about God, didn't show up at church.  Tell me, did you ever go to church as a little girl?

Cheryl: No, no.

Dennis: Never been?

Cheryl: Well, I take it back – probably about eight – when I was about eight years old, there was a VBS that came through the neighborhood, and the only reason I was able to go is because it was kind of free babysitting.  So I attended VBS, Vacation Bible School.  I got to the end of that week, and they started talking about hell, and I was scared to death, so I got myself up there, but that was the first and only time I'd ever been.

Dennis: And as our listeners are about to find out, there was a reason why you hadn't showed up a church.  It wasn't a part of your family's life, whatsoever.

Cheryl: No, I had a grandmother that had a role in caring for me, and she was a praying woman, but she lived way out in the middle of nowhere.  So she pretty much would do – I remember seeing her read the Bible, but as far as going to church, that was not something that any of my family had.

Bob: You were the oldest of four children, is that right?

Cheryl: The oldest girl.

Bob: And you remember growing up that you and your daddy were affectionate with one another.  He was affectionate with you.  Your mom was kind of distant.

Cheryl: Yes.

Bob: But your dad was …

Cheryl: He was the nurturer of the family.  My mother was very detached, never – I don't remember ever, with any of my – in fact, my sisters, I took care of them like dolls.  I had real dolls that I took care of them, but she never was nurturing, never rocking, holding us, nothing.

Bob: But your dad would tickle you and have you sit on his lap and was warm and tender, right?

Cheryl: Mm-hm, yes.

Bob: And then, all of a sudden, that took a turn that, as a child, you didn't understand that there was anything unusual going on?

Cheryl: No, I was clearly conditioned into it.  Probably – well, it would have to be, by the time I was physically able to that it started.  And then as time went on, I pretty much protected my sisters because probably – I was trying to remember how old I was – probably between 13 and 14, and I, at that time, was starting to date.  My parents would let me go out with guys that were 23 years old, and as a mother now I just shudder to think there's just no way I'd let my children do that.  But I was, and as I started dating, this side of him came out that was more like a jealousy.

Bob: Let me back you up, because I want you to take us through this a little bit, if you can.  You say you were physically conditioned or prepared for this kind of sexual abuse from your father.  How did it go from tickling and cuddling to something more than that?

Cheryl: He would come at night.  We shared – I always shared a room with my sisters.  We had individual beds, and I would wake up in the night, and he would be there.

Bob: As a young teenager or a preteen?

Cheryl: Mm-hm, preteen.

Dennis: Where was your mom in all this?

Cheryl: She was in the house.

Dennis: Did she know he was in there?

Cheryl: She never said anything.  Probably a few years – right before I left home when I was 15, I remember cleaning the house and finding magazines under the bed, and he had – he was a great artist and had a talent that who knows what had happened if he had pursued that, but he had made drawings of women and would have these little clouds, like a cartoon, you know, that they would be talking, and had references of daddy and different things that had that kind of talk going on, and she – I found them, so I find it hard to believe that she didn't have any kind of knowledge of it.

Brad: Even earlier than that, though, even when you were three or four, you'd be sitting on your dad's lap, and he would be playing and tickling you, and it was even at that early age when he started exposing himself to you.

Cheryl: Yes, yes.

Brad: So you began to be conditioned at the age of three or four, and that exposure was what gradually led you to a greater abuse later.

Cheryl: Yeah, it wasn't scary.  I mean, it was startling, obviously, that he would be there.  And, like I said, as time went on, and I got older and was around my friends and kind of would watch their relationship with their fathers and, you know, each year it seemed like, as I got older, I could sense a changing in me and then more of him holding on and trying to control me and, of course, once boys came into the picture, then it crossed over to where it was like a jealousy.

Dennis: You undoubtedly talked to your sisters later on.  Did they ever wake up?  Did they ever …

Cheryl: Not that I remember, and that's – I think that looking back at it now, I think that's why I wanted to protect them.  It never – you know, I think about it now, you know, in your mind's eye, and I thought, "Well, why didn't I say something to them to protect them?"  But at the time I was just thinking I didn't want them to even have that kind of thought in their mind to completely protect them. 

I have a sister that's the middle sister that looks just like me only younger.  And he made a statement to me one time that – and I was not wanting to cooperate with him, and he said, "That's okay, she looks just like you."  And it caused me to comply, because I didn't want him to go for them.

Dennis: You know, it's interesting that in the midst of this evil being perpetrated upon you, and you realizing in a childlike way it wasn't normal – that you still had it within you to want to protect your sisters from evil.  Why didn't you go to an adult or to your mom and spill the beans?  I think this is a part of those who don't understand sexual abuse, they simply don't understand how strong the perpetrator can control the child in this situation.

Cheryl: Well, for one, I couldn't trust my mother.  She had her own issues.  My father was a truck driver at the time and was incarcerated two different times for armed robbery, and so he would be in and out of our house, and so when he was gone, it was a relief, but my mother had kind of a revolving door of different men that would come in and was married several times.  So I just became accustomed to being the parent even though I was a child, to my sisters.  But I couldn't trust her, I really couldn't.  Just watching how she behaved and carried herself.

Bob: Cheryl, let me ask you, given the conditioning that had occurred with you and how your father had really set you up for this kind of sexual abuse, there was still an awareness in your conscience and your heart and your soul, maybe not when you were three, sitting on his lap, but as you grew older, you knew what dad was doing was not right?

Cheryl: Yeah, you know, between – especially between 14 – well, 13 and 14, I had run away twice.  And during those – and then by the time I was 15 I left completely for good.

Bob: But let me go back to when you were 10 or 11 or 12.  When your dad started coming in at night and climbing into bed with you, was there something in you going, "No, this isn't right," or did you go, "I guess this is just how it works?"

Cheryl: Well, you just kind of – it's all you've ever known.  You clearly don't – I mean, when I look at it now, as an adult, into, you know, evaluating, I don't think I had any options.  Now, by the time – when my father was gone, the times that I had relief for a while, you know, we'd have this revolving door of boyfriends that my mother would have, and if he didn't want children, we were gone the next day, and we would go with my aunt or my grandmother, and that would be hard because I would be the one to have to explain to my sisters why we were there, because she wouldn't tell us where we were going.  It was like we were going to go see our grandmother for the day, and she'd just disappear.

So I had comfort with my grandmother and my aunt, and we were away from it, it was a different world, and so it never occurred to me to tell them something really ugly, and I don't know that I could have articulated it to them.  I was just relieved that we were not with them.

Dennis: You had another grandparent, your father's father, who was also unsafe.

Cheryl: Right.  I stayed with them from the time I was probably just a few months old periodically, but the times that I remember would have been, I don't know, three, that I would stay in the bed with them – my grandmother on one side, my grandfather on the other, and I can remember four instances where it was inappropriate.  It never escalated to the level that my father was, but it was clearly not appropriate behavior.

Bob: There was touching going on.

Cheryl: Right, yes.

Bob: And this was while your grandmother was asleep your grandfather was doing this?

Cheryl: Yes.

Dennis: And that led you to believe, along with some other evidence you came across, that perhaps your father …

Cheryl: Yeah, later when I started really trying to look back and kind of put the pieces together when I was having to really challenge myself on, you know, forgiving my father, forgiving my mother and putting things together, I really believe that he was.

Dennis: You believe your father was sexually abused.

Cheryl: Right, yes.

Dennis: Pardon me for asking this question, it's very personal, but what about getting pregnant?

Cheryl: God protected me.  I just – yeah, because you hear stories all the time, and I don't know.  I know when I was 13, I had a serious – got sick really bad and had to go to the hospital and, at that time, I had a tumor that was the size of a baby, a six-pound thing, and it was an emergency surgery, lost an ovarian tube, but it wasn't.  I mean, they checked me then.  My dad was very – especially once I got to a certain age, that we weren't – we didn't go to doctors, and this particular time when I was rushed to the hospital, he was gone.  But when he found out, he raced up to the hospital, threw back the curtains, and was going to take me out until he saw that I was really sick.

But, yeah, I think about that, too, that, gosh, you know, that was one of the questions why, you know, when I started looking at all this, it could have been so much worse, but it wasn't.

Dennis: Your father displayed again what I would have to call abnormal qualities in relating to you.  You were in a fight in front of your house one time.

Cheryl: Mm-hm.

Dennis: Share with our listeners what he said to you in the midst of that fight.

Cheryl: This is a guy that I was – my parents let me date.  I was – just turned 14, he was 23, and I don't remember the reason that they had got in a fight, but he was out in the courtyard fighting with this guy that I was dating, and it was really – it was really bad, and I was scared, and so I ran into the house and was in the closet and hiding, just shuddering over what was going to happen, and he came in, and he was all bloody, and he kneeled to me and looked at me and said, "Well, at least he can't say that he was the first."  And that is when I started seeing this jealousy – that it was – had crossed over to this place.  And shortly after that, within probably a couple of months, is the first time I ran away.

Bob: When a girl has grown up in a home without sexual abuse, when she starts to turn 11 or 12 or 13, adolescence is coming her body starts to change, that's when her awareness of sexuality begins to blossom, and she starts to have to think about these things.  What is it like for someone to approach all of that pre-adolescence and adolescence when sexual behavior has been a part of how you've grown up?

Cheryl: From as far back as I can remember, I just – I clearly had no boundaries.

Dennis: You didn't come into it innocent?

Cheryl: No, no.

Bob: You said you had no boundaries.  I guess you just thought this is something people do?

Cheryl: This is the way it is, yeah.  This is my reality, and this is what – I did watch – I really studied people for a long time and just – I noticed with my friends and things, and that was kind of – that is the one thing that I really started looking at the relationships between their fathers, and that is when this gnawing at me that something is not right here.

Bob: But when a boy wanted to be your boyfriend or wanted to kiss you, your instinctive reaction was this leads to sexual behavior?

Cheryl: Mm-hm, I just figured that was just the natural course.

Bob: Mm-hm.

Dennis: It's the way you get the guy's attention?

Cheryl: Mm-hm.  Well, and I had seen that with my mother.  That's what all that mattered to her, that's all she talked about, that was the – it was all about sex.  You know, the way she dressed, the way – and the people that my father hung out with.  As a woman, that's what you're just expected to do.

Bob: That's years of mental programming that kind of got hardwired into your soul.  That after you got married and then divorced, I mean, you had to confront all of this at some point, and it wasn't really until you met Brad and started to have a relationship with him, and he led you to Christ.

Cheryl: Right.

Bob: Was that the first time you pulled back and went, "Oh, this isn't how the world works for everybody."  Or had you realized that?

Cheryl: Probably, towards the end of my first marriage, I mean, thinking back at it now, it had to do with my influence of my grandmother and my aunt.  They both were very healthy role models, and I don't know that I could have articulated it then, but – especially with my aunt and her husband – he was the first healthy role model that I had, and so I really studied them and the way he dealt with his children and the way that they would dress.  And so just by osmosis, I think, more than anything, just that's the genesis of what started impacting me – of wanting to be like them.

Dennis: Cheryl, as I was reading your story, I have four daughters.  I have to tell you, this is like a foreign language to me, and yet I know it's a language that is spoken far too frequently in our culture.  And I just – I so appreciate your courage in being willing to let others hear your story, because a part of the hope that needs to be theirs and the healing that they need to experience comes as the past is acknowledged, as it's brought out into the light, and it can be talked about with a perspective that God has about it.

And as we talk about your abuse, I know one of your – almost a life verse, I've not heard you say that, but is Colossians, chapter 3, verse 12 and following, and I just want to read this, because this is really, I think, your story – "Put on, then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other."  That's a wow.  That you could move to forgive.

You've forgiven your father, your grandfather, the men.  Only Christ could enable you to do that, and there's been a witness of this forgiveness in your husband, Brad.  And, Brad, we haven't heard your perspective of this story today.  We're going to hear more as we unpack this, but you introduced her to the One who could enable her to forgive.  You led her to Christ, and then ultimately were married and, as we're going to hear, is a great story of God's redeeming love – not quick, not instant, but over time.

Bob: You remember sitting down not long ago with Nancy Leigh DeMoss who wrote a book on the subject of forgiveness called "Choosing Forgiveness," and we talked about what a challenge that can be for folks who have had the kind of circumstance that Brad and Cheryl have had, and we recognize, Dennis, that there may be a lot of our listeners who – just listening to Cheryl's story today, has opened a fresh wound for them.

So we want to make the CD of our conversation with Nancy on the subject of forgiveness available to any listener who would call to request it today.  You simply call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I would like that CD on forgiveness," and we will send it to you at no cost.  We appreciate you listening to FamilyLife Today, and we hope that God will use this program to bring some hope and some healing to where there has been pain and bitterness in the past.

So, again, if a listener is interested in receiving the CD called "Choosing Forgiveness," you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and request it, and we're happy to send it out to you – 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let me invite you also to get in touch with us if you're interested in getting a copy of Brad and Cheryl's book called "A Healing Marriage."  It tells much of the story we've heard today and provides couples with a picture of how a husband and wife can come together and work together to bring the kind of hope and healing we've talked about here today.

Again, if you're interested in a copy of the book, "A Healing Marriage," you can find out more on our website, which is  Go to the home page, and on the right side of the screen you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  Click where it says "Learn More," and that will take you to an area of the site where there is information about the book, "A Healing Marriage."  There is also information about Dan Allender's book, "The Wounded Heart," that provides hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Again, both resources are on our website at  Click on the right side of the screen where you see the box that says "Today's Broadcast," and you can order online, if you'd like, or if it's easier, just call the toll-free number – 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you.

Now, tomorrow we're going to talk about the impact that Cheryl's background has had on Brad and Cheryl's marriage relationship.  They'll be back to talk with us about that.  I hope you can be back as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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Episodes in this Series

Women Day 2
Facing the Family Baggage Head On
with Brad and Cheryl Tuggle October 10, 2008
Childhood sexual abuse brought a ripple effect to Cheryl Tuggle’s marriage.
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