Stolen Innocence: How One Awful Moment Changed My Life for the Better

Written by Ann Burns

January 5, 2022

When the Villains are Beautiful

I love childhood memories. They’re idyllic and full of laughter — like a healing balm, a comfy blanket, or your favorite kind of pie.

At least, most of them.

But what if one of your earliest memories was not quite like that? What if it was actually really, really ugly?

When I was about four years old, I was over at a family’s house. I’m not sure what we were doing or even who was all there. Like many far off memories, this one is much like a lone puzzle piece that has no clear context — where did it come from? Where does it belong? And most of all, why on earth do I still have it?

And, like many of those fragment-like memories, my answer is “I have no idea.” I just know I have this blurred polaroid image from the early days of childhood that I’ve never been able to lose.

Never. Ever. 

I could go for long periods of time without recollecting it, and then, without rhyme or reason, it would find its way back into my cranium.

And I would frown. It always made me frown.

It was the day someone ripped a precious part of my innocence away. It was the first time I saw pornography.

I remember the women. What they looked like. Yes, even now, twenty-plus years later, they’re still with me.

I don’t like this memory. I don’t even like writing about it.  The boy who was looking at these images laughed at me when he saw my shame, confusion, and excruciating embarrassment.

“What’s the matter, Ann?” He said with a smirk. 

He mocked my shame. I stood there in horror. A horror that I’ve never been able to forget. And then, the memory ends.

I have no idea what happened after. I probably ran and hid, but for years I kept that memory a secret.

In that moment, at such a tiny age, I believe something was born inside of me. I have wrestled with that memory for years.

It haunted me.

Those women, whoever they are, are my sisters in Christ. I carry their unnamed faces in my mind and heart.

As I grew up, anytime I encountered that kind of brokenness and hurt in the world, something inside of me ached. It was that exact same ache I felt when I was four years old.

I used to get angry about it.  And sometimes, I still do. “Ugh, can’t I just have blinders? I am tired of running into this stuff.”

“You’re not called to be a hermit, Ann.” Priests would tell me.

True. They had a point. 

And besides, wearing blinders is not what  this life is all about. I prayed about it, and as I pushed onward, it seemed as if God was saying, “Ann, these are my children— these are my daughters, see how much they hurt. See how much I ache for them.”

I was certain my vocation was tethered to defending and reclaiming the good, the pure, and cultivating the belief that we are made for more. We are made for Love— for Goodness. After all, Heaven is our true home. 

A few years back, my own life started to fall apart. I felt trapped in a job that drained me, and all I held dear seemed to be crumbling. It was then I was reminded of that charge. I’m called to more.

How transforming would it be if we could just remember those simple words? I took action; back in 2019, I started working on a tiny little hobby called “The Feminine Project.” Because I believe women are made for more: they are the heart of society. 

As I sit here, reflecting over the journey of TFP these past couple years, and look over my goals for this year, I want to remind you of that exact same charge.

You are made for more.
Your life is of so much value.
You are made for LOVE.

Christ said to St. Teresa of Avila, “I would create the whole universe again just to hear you say ‘you love Me.”

All the aches and pains that we might carry around with us are nothing to Our Lord. So, this 2022,  let’s take them to the foot of the Cross.

In fact, Christ can use our bad memories, the difficult times, and our current trials to plant beautiful seeds.

Don’t be afraid to let them grow.

I sincerely believe that on that fateful day when I was four years old, God planted the very first seed for what is now The Feminine Project. Let Him be the boss. We’re just the interns, as Jen Fulwiler likes to say.

Our sorrows are no match for the joy of Heaven. So, don’t fear the cross, and remember: Your Father is right beside you, ready to pick you up, and carry you onward.


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