When Rita Lee was young, she faced a lot of abuse.
“My dad was an alcoholic and mostly absentee,” said Lee, a member of Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster. “He was verbally abusive to my brother but he often hurt our mother physically. My mother developed some mental challenges because of this and we didn’t live with her for a time.”
The children were sent to a relative’s home — and the abuse got worse.
By the time Lee reached adulthood, she had a past littered with emotional and physical abuse and repeated attempted sexual attacks. She said she struggled with the presence of God while living in abusive homes.
‘Anchor’ in hard times
“I used to watch Billy Graham crusades on TV,” she said. “I was eight or nine when I told mother after seeing a program that I wanted to go to heaven. She prayed with me and I was saved. But it was when I became a teenager that I finally got it, when I realized that God really cared about me. I began to see that He was my anchor in difficult times.”
Lee said another pivotal factor in her life was the ministry of a man named Hope.
“That was really his name,” she said with a laugh. “Mr. Hope was a layman at the local Church of God. He drove a bus and picked up the ragamuffin kids in our neighborhood and then he taught the Bible to us. One day he described the agony of Jesus on the cross, and Mr. Hope began to weep. I learned there were some good men in the world, and God cared about me by sending Mr. Hope to teach us.”
Lee said another milestone was sharing her faith with her dad.
“My dad thought he’d done so many terrible things that God wouldn’t forgive him. But he committed his life to the Lord in the hospital and I sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at his bedside.”
Lee said she also brought a brother and sister to Christ and has continued to try to be a witness to her children and grandchildren. She said it’s painful to relive her childhood abuse but she feels compelled to share her experiences to benefit others.
In an effort to do that on a broader scale, she recently published her autobiography, “Every Sparrow That Falls,” which grew out of a journal she worked on for 20 years as she processed through the abuse.
“I wrote especially for others — and there are many — who carry with them a deep brokenness because of experiences with abuse and dysfunction of one kind or another,” she said.
In addition to the testimony of what she faced and her growing realization about God’s care, Lee said she hopes the book will inspire other caring adults to be watchful and to intervene.
“I know that there are many other children who even today are going through some unspeakable circumstances and carry with them some secrets they’re afraid to tell,” she said. “I hope those who read this book will keep their eyes open to this and have the courage to step in where it’s needed.”
For more information, visit everysparrowthatfalls.com.