I recently finished the book Snake Oil and the Art of Healing and Truth Telling by Becca Stevens. Since I moved to the Nashville area this past year, I have been hearing about Thistle Farms, but I knew little about it other than it was another well known nonprofit in the area. When a coworker mentioned Becca in a conversation about St. Augustine’s Chapel where Becca is a priest, I got curious and did what I do best and Googled her!
I found a couple of video clips online about Thistle Farms. I was moved by the tremendous work this organization is doing to help women whose lives have been devastated by addiction, abuse or sex trafficking.
When I looked up Becca’s books on my Kindle, the title Snake Oil got my attention. Becca shares her own story and what gave her the vision for Thistle Farms. Abused as a child by a leader in her church disguising himself as a caring family friend, Becca carried the deep wounds of sexual abuse and betrayal until she was an adult and sees her abuser again. Becca writes:
One day, after running into the man who abused me at a wedding ceremony, where he tried to hug me as if everything were fine between us, I finally decided it was time to call his house. I needed to talk with my abuser. It was scary to call, but I knew if I wanted to serve others I needed to stop carrying around my own wounds like precious pearls. I had to give them back to the man who abused me.
In a video interview, Becca describes her decision to confront her abuser as a decision to give him back his story. Her words hit home with me.
The nature of sexual abuse is it’s ability to hide so well. Abusers whisper, do not tell. They ask us to take their secrets to our grave.
AA has a mantra, we are only as sick as our secrets. Sexual abuse secrets keeps victims locked away in the deep sickness of shame. The injuries they carry can take on a life of their own and become their story.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is one a pastor shared with me years ago. After listening to a podcast sermon he preached, I reached out to him through an anonymous email about an abusive secret that I had been keeping for too long. His response was, Come out into the light. And then he shared this verse.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
Ephesians 5:11-13 NIV
Recently this same pastor, Zach Van Dyke, wrote an article about how the church can shepherd those who have been abused well. I greatly appreciate his words, and I pray that churches will start to pay attention and look for ways to help with the abuse crisis happening everywhere.
Becca’s decision to confront her abuser and give him back his story has given me the courage in this blog to do the same.
I have been silent for the most part about what my own abuse history except on an anonymous blog which was an assignment given to me by my therapist.
I realize part of the reason I have been silent is I have continued to take responsibility for things that were not my fault.
Shame has kept me silent.
For a long time I have tried to figure out why I was the one chosen to be abused.
I have experienced abuse from family, peers, and spiritual leaders.
With all of this history, it is easy for me to conclude that it must have somehow been my fault.
But when I stop carrying responsibility for things that were not my fault, I can see clearly that another’s abusive actions are their story, and not mine.
A parent who chooses to abuse their child emotionally, physically or sexually has a cancer hidden eating away at their own soul that has nothing to do with their child.
A peer who forces himself on another without their consent has nothing to do with the person who happens to be around them when a desperate urge takes over.
A spiritual leader who abuses his position is not motivated by care for the person who is under their authority, but rather a sickness hidden away in one of the compartments of his mind that others cannot see.
I still remember the day my abuser called right after I had told his abuse story to another person. When I saw his name flash on my cell phone screen I was terrified. I didn’t answer and ran to hide for fear that he would come looking for me.
I ran that day because I believed that his abuse story was my story. I’d been fooled for so long into believing that it was all my fault.
But the abusive actions of another is not my story and it’s not yours either if you have been abused.
The decision to take from another to meet one’s owns needs reveals something about the abuser not the abused.
However, the pain inflicted by abuse onto it’s victims, is our story. What we do with our pain, can determine whether it will become our whole story.
My pain motivated me for too long to hide abusive secrets as an adult. This choice prolonged the abuse of myself and others. I will always regret that I didn’t speak up sooner. The reality is all of us are capable of abusing one another, and that’s why it’s so important that we start to address these issues that have been hidden for too long
The pain of abuse is something I live with every day, and has been a journey that has involved years of therapy that even after I still deal with emotional triggers that cause me to want to run and hide from everyone at times.
The saddest part of my story is the church that was once a refuge now feels like an unsafe place. I know in my heart that only time, process and learning to trust again will heal these wounds. And the reality is, some may never heal completely this side of Heaven.
Becca was asked in the interview if she was mad with God for the abuse she suffered by a church leader. I was amazed that she answered without even thinking about her words. She said that God had never been her problem. She went on to explain how others in her church community had brought healing to her.
I am very thankful for those who have loved and prayed for me even when I haven’t been able to go to church.
I have come to believe that abuse is not the story God has written for us. Abuse is twisted desire from a broken human heart motived by desperation and spurred on by evil. And all of us are capable of it, except for the grace of God.
I also believe despite what I have heard from others about God’s sovereignty, that abuse is not God’s plan for our lives.
God does grow beautiful things out of manure. He does work all things together for the good. Flowers bloom out of the messy blackened soil to bring beauty to a world that needs hope.
Abuse transformed reveals the glory of God. Only He can take what our enemy meant for evil and use it to bring beauty and healing to one another’s lives.
Abuse is part of my story that I wish was not there. I would not wish it on anyone. But abuse is not my whole story. God has written something much better for me.
If you’ve suffered abuse, He’s written something much better for you, too.
Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender