My adopted father disgusted me. When I was in my preteen years he’d ask me to sit on his lap. He’d grab my leg whenever the Charmin toilet paper commercial would come on and say, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” I abhorred that commercial. I did not want this kind of attention from him, yet I believed if I didn’t laugh and go along with him he’d get upset and the whole house would have to deal with it. I felt a responsibility to be self sufficient and the emotional navigator in our house. Not only did he disgust me, but I was also afraid of him. The memory is vague, but one day he was in his home office and had a gun. I vaguely remember loud voices. My mom told me to hide in my room. Later that night my mom got me out of bed and told me to be quiet. My uncle waited outside and took us to his house. But then my mom went back to him. Several months later my adopted father was chasing a man in our house with a gun down the stairs outside my room. My mom held me tight telling me to be quiet. Once again we fled to stay with my grandmother.
It wasn’t long after that that my adopted father was hospitalized. My mom said he’d had a nervous breakdown, because he couldn’t handle things. My grandmother was a tell all kind of person. She was nosy and a gossip. I’d sit on her front porch and and tell her who my uncle’s mail that for some reason she got was from. She would shake her head saying she wondered if my uncle was having trouble paying his bills. She’d tell me how my adopted father, her other son, had spent her money, hocked her jewelry, and lost everything buying drinks in bars for “those men.” I think my adopted father was also involved in the homosexual lifestyle and had tried unsuccessfully to hide it. She would talk about his great fall from being the vice president of a major bank and the shame it brought. Then she’d make comments about my mom wearing too much lipstick and she wondered where she was going. As a child, this caused me to feel really confused and also ashamed of my parents. My grandmother obviously had determined that neither of her sons could handle life. She talked about them like she was ashamed of them, but I also think she enjoyed the drama of it all. As I listened to her talk, I was determined to never be like my family.
A year or so later after my adopted father got out of the hospital my mom and I moved into a little house next door to my grandmother and my uncle’s country store. One night my mom had sent me to my room again, but this time I snuck out. My uncle was in my adopted father’s bedroom. The door would never close good and there was a crack that I could see inside. My adopted father was in the bed and was crying and saying over and over he was sorry. From the conversation I understood that he had stolen some tools off of my uncle’s truck. I went to my room disgusted by his actions. He had been so pitiful. I’d had a problem with stealing off and on since I was little. Acquiring something that belonged to someone else gave me a thrill, but also made me feel ashamed. Some times I’d even return the item. Once I got caught by my neighbor taking a box of chocolate pudding. I had felt so ashamed. Seeing my adopted father crying on his bed it frightened me. Would I still be a thief at his age? Would I be that pitiful? Would others like my grandmother sit on their front porch and gossip about me? I declared that night I’d never steal again and I didn’t.
I had learned to be emotionally strong, because I didn’t want to be like them and because I’d learned that if I didn’t handle things there would be hell to pay.
The third incident with my adopted father and a gun was the night I talked to a guy I’d recently broken up with on the phone they didn’t like. My mom got so upset with me that this time she ran leaving me behind with him. Why anyone let this man have a gun is beyond me?! But he had one and placed it on the table in the den. He screamed that if my former boyfriend showed up at our house that he’d kill him. That night I fell apart. I sat in the hallway and cried and screamed that I should just kill myself. My adopted father told me to go ahead. It was obvious that he just didn’t care. He had no sympathy for me. Even my mom had abandoned me. I’d had sex with the guy they didn’t like. I think I believed they knew it and were rejecting me. I truly believed I was so disgusting I didn’t deserve to live. I called my older cousin to come get me. I went with her to my uncle’s house. She was able to calm me down.
I determined once again after that night that I’d have to do better at holding it together. The pain of that night had been too much to bear. I’d stared my own self contempt right in the face and I hated what I saw. I would get it together. I would not become my father. I would earn their respect again. I would be self sufficient.
Not long after I met my husband. My adopted father liked him because he liked his father. They had carpooled to college together many years before. I’m not surprised he liked him. My husband’s father was an alcoholic and a wife and child abuser. He was a kindred spirit to my adopted father.
When I married my husband and finally got away from my adopted father it felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. Yet I still believed that I had to hold it all together for even my husband to stay with me. Over the years when the finances got out of hand or I had lustful thoughts about another man I felt so ashamed. I hid it from him because I feared he’d tell me what my adopted father did that I should just go ahead and kill myself. My life wasn’t worth living.
My husband’s family wasn’t safe or stable either. Like my adopted father they’d learned to hold it together on the outside. When we first got married I idolized his Mom. She appeared to be a strong woman who could handle anything. When we discovered her life wasn’t together at all it was a blow to both my husband and me. Things in his family got very chaotic very fast. My husband was falling apart slowly at the seams. Once again I found myself taking the responsibility to be the emotional navigator of our home. The pressure I put myself under was more than I could take. I tried so hard to hold it together, but every once in a while I couldn’t. When I told my husband about a credit card debt I’d hidden from him he was so upset with me. I feared he would abandon me then, but he got over it and actually seemed to loosen up some about money with me. But I still had so much shame about who I was and didn’t understand why.
Then after a huge fall out with my husband’s brother which we resulted in us leaving the church we attended with him I met my abusive pastor. My brother in law had told me over the phone that I was a sinner who needed to repent for trying to help a former drug addict in our church. The relationship had truly been an attempt on my part to help him. But the drug addict had left the church and my brother in law accused me if having an inappropriate relationship with him. He also told my husband that I was an evil woman and the cause of all our families problems. It was the lie I’d always believed about myself. Somehow I was a bad person that no one could love unless I did what they wanted. Once again I’d screwed things up.
My abusive pastor from the first conversation began to tell me good things about myself. He told me over and over again that I was a beautiful and amazing woman. Even when I got upset he didn’t lose his cool. He told me I was a piece of cake. He was the first person I ever met that I believed could handle me at my worst. But instead of helping me he took advantage of it. He told me I was his soul mate, that he loved me, lusted me and I was irresistible. They were the words I’d longed to hear but never had. Not because my husband hadn’t told me, but because I had never let my guard down with my husband to show him my real self – A woman who was actually broken and falling apart, but trying desperately to hold it together.
This pastor saw that woman and said he loved her. I was putty in his hands. He was the emotional navigator of the relationship. All he had to do was make a suggestion of what he’d like and I’d do it. He’d pretend like he didn’t want me to, but I believe he knew I would do it and then it’d be my fault because he’d said he didn’t really want want me to do it. One of the marks of a manipulator is that one is confused on their presence. This was definitely the case with me. He had a way of twisting the truth in a way that it felt like my fault. It was insanity that carried over into how I did my job, dealt with people in the church, but most of all sexually. I was a puppet on a string and he was the puppet master. It went on for almost ten years. I got sick of things the way they were, but I didn’t know how to change them.
He was the one person who seemed to be able to handle the real me. I was scared to death of being without him and being all alone. When I learned he was going to retire from the ministry, I was worried about my dependence on him. The woman who felt responsible for everyone else’s emotions, didn’t know how she could survive without the man she’d made responsible for hers. I begged him at first to stay at the church. When he wouldn’t I got angry. He’d been telling me what to do for so long I didn’t think I could make a decision on my own, yet he insisted I wasn’t dependent on him. He assured me over and over again that he wouldn’t leave me. And he didn’t. He enjoyed being in control of me.
But things began to change when I wasn’t with him almost every day. I had to learn to do things without his advice. I had a new pastor who expected me to do my job without his help. I called and texted the former pastor a lot initially to help me get through things, but then I began seeing a side of him I’d never seen. He started making “suggestions” to me on what he thought the new pastor was doing wrong. I’d learned over the years to work hard at making him happy and do what I could to follow through with his “suggestions.” As you can imagine the new pastor who had his own way of doing things did not appreciate some of the things I mentioned to him that my former pastor said needed to change. The former pastor was also getting involved in conflict with another employee of the church and making waves. I know this because he told me he was talking to her. When she blew up at the new pastor and quit one day I wondered how much the former pastor had contributed to her blowing up and insulting the new pastor in a very hurtful way. Seeing the pain on the new pastors face caused me to question the way my former pastor was and had been doing things. The new pastor didn’t have any guile. He spoke truth to me about what he liked and didn’t like. I liked and respected him, because he treated me like an equal not someone he was trying to control. I began to see I could do my job without the former pastor. I discovered I actually had something to contribute to the church.
And the fear I’d struggled with began to lose it’s paralyzing grip on me. One step at a time I was finding freedom, and my former pastor wasn’t happy about it.
And I began to hear God’s voice again.
The scales began to fall off of my eyes. A hunger for listening to and reading ministers of the true Gospel of Jesus like Steve Brown and the other amazing people with Key Life Ministries grew. I heard about Zach Van Dyke, Tullian, and my counselor Sharon Hersh and began to listen to and read them as well. I bombarded my mind with the truth and for the first time in my life began to understand the love of God and realized He saw me at my worst and loved me.
But when I finally told the truth about the spiritual abuse and the deception I’d fallen prey to people in the church reacted, as people do. Amazingly, my husband only reacted with love. The lie I’d believed that he wouldn’t love me broken and messed up like I thought I was had been another fear Satan used to keep me paralyzed. Even after the miracle of my husband’s forgiveness of me and the fact that he was standing by my side telling others what my former pastor had done was spiritual abuse when they called it an affair, I reacted too and have allowed myself since that time to once again believe the lie that people will not love me if they know the truth. The most paralyzing fear I have sitting in church is that these people won’t understand and will reject me. I have been feeling the pressure once again to hold it all together, keep others happy, and be the emotional navigator of my family. And it’s slowly sucking the life out of me that God wants me to live. It’s keeping me numb and making it difficult to grieve the horrible things that have been done to me on and off for most of my life.
My counselor has been calling me on it. Telling me I need to grieve, and that she thinks I might believe I don’t deserve to grieve. I’ve been frustrated by her words, because deep down I knew they were true.
Dan Allender says as abuse victims often the thing we need to repent of is our own self sufficiency. The pride that says we can manage life and others by doing more and trying harder. We forget that we are broken and desperately need God. We forget He is at work restoring us, fighting for us, sovereign over every aspect of our lives, promising to bring good out of everything in our lives. All we need to do is be still and listen to Him say:
Luke 12:32-34 ESV
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Father, I acknowledge and agree with you that I’m trying too hard to do it on my own. Everything that I am trying to accomplish on my own by holding it together emotionally is not only ineffective but harmful to the life you intend for me to have. I continue to lose and wear myself out. There is none who does good, no not one, and I am no different. You are the only one Who is good and capable of bringing good, and You have given me this goodness. You love me at my worst, because you don’t see anything but the good imputed to me through Christ. Please help me rest in this. Help me to stop trying. Help me to embrace all of who you created me to be. To feel the joy and pain of life. To see the truth about the evil committed against me and cling even more to the goodness you’ve given me. To recognize the dignity that was stolen from me and take hold of how you did what no one else could and are bringing good out of what the enemy of my soul meant for the bad. Deliver me from the crippling fear that steals my voice and cripples me with the paralyzing disease of people pleasing. Give me the freedom to feel real love and compassion for others that casts out all fear.
Thank you for the wisdom to see these things. You are the only treasure my heart has found a home with. There’s no one to follow, but you.