Seven years ago on a hot summer day in Alabama, I took this photo sitting across the road at my mailbox from the house we lived in at the time.
On this particular day, I can still remember how hopeless and trapped I felt when I looked up at the sky and saw a beautiful rainbow over our house.
This photo was taken a month after I told church leadership that the previous pastor had been abusing me for almost a decade. I had been hopeful that my church would help our family to heal if I told them the truth. It didn’t happen. Instead we were told that the matter no longer would be discussed.
Taking my mail from the mailbox that day, I had been going through the motions of my life day to day. One day ran into another. I managed to get out once a day, get the mail, and rush in and out of the local dollar store to get what we needed, hoping against hope that I would not see anyone I knew. I was terrified of seeing someone. Overwhelmed that one look from them would send me over the edge and drowning in my shame once again.
I still remember the phone call that started to alert me to the reality that the church was not going to help us. My husband and I were in another state where we had been receiving two weeks of intensive therapy to help us deal with what the pastor had done. We were about to go to bed when the phone rang. One of the church leaders called to give us a report about the church wide meeting they’d held informing the church about our previous pastor being deposed from ministry. They had read letters from the previous pastor and from my counselor and me. According to the leader, everyone was understanding and “the meeting had gone very well. ” When we hung up the phone, my husband and I both felt deeply disturbed. We struggled to sleep and did not know why we were so troubled. When we returned from therapy, we discovered what was wrong. We realized that the church leaders edited the letter my counselor and I had written leaving out abuse, including only my apology for not being honest with them. We figured this out because people kept saying they forgave me, rather than they were sorry for what happened. We confronted the church leaders and they acknowledged that they’d edited what we had written. They did not tell the church that I was abused. By information being excluded, church members saw what had happened as an affair where both parties repented. The leaders apologized, but did not offer to make things right. Instead I was told the matter would no longer be discussed. It was time for the church to move on. I heard stories of people snickering about me at school events. I was part of the town scandal, and I no longer wanted to live if I had to keep living there.
I remember pounding on the wall screaming at God to please do something. Thankfully, a few days after my outburst, my husband got a new job several hours away.
The day I looked at the rainbow across the road and took this photo, God gently whispered that He would keep His promise and bring good out of what the enemy meant for evil. That day as I glanced up at the sky, I knew He had heard me. I was able to hold on, and thankfully our house sold and we were in another town the following month. I know without a shadow of a doubt if our family had stayed I couldn’t have survived. God knew it, too.
Every year I see this photo in my Facebook memories, and I remember what God promised. Every year I have been thankful to no longer be in the town where the worst harm and betrayal happened in a church with less than 100 members. Every year I have wondered why it happened, and if I will ever heal enough to not struggle with hypervigilence and a lack of trust of anyone in a position of leadership.
This year it is hard for me to believe it was seven years ago. I ran across a picture of one of my dearest friends in that church who walked beside me on the worst days. I still miss her so much. The words of a song we used to sing in church ring in my mind…how deep the pain of seering loss. I still grieve these losses. It could have been different if the truth had been honored and if the church had been what Jesus intended for the church to be.
As I said in my last post, I’m not a theologian. I can’t tell you where things went wrong. I don’t know what a healthy church should look like.
But I do know what I need and what most of us need. Love that is patient, kind, gentle, humble, caring, enduring, honest and present. Love that rejoices in the truth. Love that abhors evil and abuse. Love that protects and heals. Love that reveals to the world that God is love.
As I mentioned before, I am no longer attending church, but thankfully I have been able to see God’s love outside of the church. Sometimes I think being in the church obstructed my view of it. I saw it this morning in the kindness of two McDonald’s crew members who smiled and joked with me. I saw it in the beauty of the blue skies as I swept off my deck. I read it text messages and emails from family and friends sharing their hearts and inviting me to lunch. I saw it on Facebook in posts from friends struggling in their lives and still trying to look out for the good of everyone else. I see it in the people who take the time to read my posts, and so many other places.
If you have been abused in a church, I pray today that God gives you a rainbow of hope that gives you the strength to keep going. I am so sorry that you have suffered in these ways. I hope it helps to know that you are not alone. May God bless, protect and guide you every step of the way with His love. 💛
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20