From Light, to Dark, to Enlightenment By Laura Elizabeth Gray

Once upon a time, in early January, the year of our Lord 1966, a little soul made its way to earth and into the arms of Gerald and Elaine.  They gave their eighth child, the name Laura, the feminized form of laurus, Latin for “bay laurel plant”.  Although Laura isn’t a name in the Bible, the original meaning of victory and crowning seemed to suit her.

My parents are devout Roman Catholics who met in the eighth grade and married young. When I was born, my mother already had seven children under the age of 11. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a four-bedroom home with one shower, one television, and one rotary telephone. There were 16 similar homes on Luanna Drive with 60 school-age kids. Like so many large Catholic families, we loaded up in our wood-paneled station wagon and filed into a blonde oak pew for Mass every Sunday.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was considered an honor to host the parish priest in your home. Most referred to him as “Father”, while I called him The Monster. He was a close friend of my parents and a frequent guest in our home.  As a precocious three-year-old, I danced and performed around the living room, and he beckoned me to “come sit on my lap.” The day I did, the twirling stopped, terror began, and darkness had set in.

A few years later, shortly after my 6th birthday and a week’s stay in the children’s hospital, the abuse had stopped. Doctors attributed my symptoms to an allergic reaction to bubble bath. Out of intense fear, I locked the secret in my mind, which physiologically had suffered, and the formation of my brain was forever affected.

For years, I bore the dark shame from my tormented childhood filled with sexual abuse at the hands of a religious figure and a close family friend. During my late teens and early twenties, I suffered through bulimia, cutting, mental diagnoses, and an overall disdain for my body. At the age of 32, I found the strength to start talking about everything that had happened to me. 

My father often said while teaching me to drive, “Don’t look in the rearview mirror. The road is in front of you.” His words ring true today. As a young child, I was terrorized into remaining silent. However, through my deepest wounds and despite my darkest days, in 2015 I created IPride, a successful self-esteem program for youth.

With moves across the country, I enjoyed diverse experiences in sales, human resources, marketing communications to my current position where I proudly serve as Director of Development for the ALS Association. However, the single most meaningful role is that of “mom” to my 3 incredible sons.

I am so grateful for the many friends who have lifted me on this journey, through various acts of kindness, listening and unconditional love. Since the severe trauma in my early years had disrupted my creative development with a young brain frozen in fight or flight, one friend gave me the simple gift of a coloring book and a box of 64 crayons to inspire a sense of wonder. On December 29, 2022, after signing my name to a completed masterpiece in the coloring book, I began praying to God from the heart of a grown woman yet with the faith of a small child. “Please God, please reconnect me to my imagination” I prayed these words over and over until I had fallen asleep.

Startled awake at dawn, I reached for the pen and journal next to my bed and without any conscious thought or hesitation, wrote the story “The Swing on the Silver Star in the Royal Purple Sky. Adventures of the Little Girl Seeking her Lost Inner Light.”  When the last word had been written, I felt breathless, like a little one running through the fields.  In gratitude and with a jubilant heart, I now offered prayers of thanks to our God for returning something that I felt had long been gone and perhaps forever lost.

“But most of all, she discovered the light had never been lost. It was always within her very own heart.”

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