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God, PTSD and Choices 

And despite my PTSD, in the depths of my soul, I know that He is a safe place for me.  

Show me the right path, O Lord ; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.

Psalms 25:4‭-‬5 NLT

I struggle with PTSD. I have for most of my life. I did not want to believe that this condition was something that I would have to learn to live with, but the more I’ve learned through counseling and reading about PTSD, I have had to accept that it is something I suffer from.  I read a New York Times article recently about PTSD and it’s causes, symptoms, and the new treatments that are proving to be successful. Bessel Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist whose whole life has been been spent learning about trauma, also author of The Body Keeps the Score, has made a lot of headway in helping people with PTSD live with trauma. I’ve come to understand from his work how being exposed to trauma can cause even the normal things in life to be exceedingly difficult at times for those who suffer with PTSD.  Those of us struggling with PTSD have to learn how to live with memories that sometimes play on an endless loop in our minds. Treatment often involves dealing with the traumatic memories in an environment that is safe until one becomes desensitized to the dedlbilitating effects of the memories.  I am still very much on a journey of learning how to live with PTSD. The more I’m learning to deal with the pain of the trauma from my past with my counselor and with safe people who understand, the more hope I have that I can function in life with PTSD.  I’ve also discovered the more I am able to remind myself of God’s presence constantly with me and keeping my soul safe, I also find the effects of PTSD are becoming more manageable in my life. But I have to be honest, living with PTSD is still difficult, and what makes it even harder is that others who are not struggling do not understand why simple choices can be so hard.  Please know if you are suffering with PTSD that God understands your struggles and He does not ever condemn you for what you are having to overcome.  He has compassion for you and grieves with you in your pain. I believe that knowing this is the most important truth that we can cling to when the effects of trauma feel overwhelming. 

I have discovered that a sure way to trigger my PTSD is to give me an important choice to make.  It’s about way more than choosing what flavor ice cream or what kind of K-cups I want for my coffee machine, even though sometimes I find these simple choices challenging, it’s about deciding about something that will totally disrupt my daily routine. Ultimately, the serious choices we are called to make at certain times in our lives remind us how really out of our control circumstances can be. And for those of us who desperately cling to control for security that is tough! 

Very little about our circumstances have been predictable since our family left the place we’d lived our whole lives.  I took it for granted how much the familiarity of the place I’d always called home gave me the comfort of predictability. I believed that moving would give our family the opportunity to start fresh, but I had no idea how difficult starting over would be. Just because we change location does not mean that we change who we really are and the obstacles we must overcome. As a matter of fact, changing location produces a whole new set of problems. 

I don’t mean to be discouraging if you are considering a move. Moving was the only choice I believe that our family had to keep ourselves together and sane. We desperately needed to get away from the people, places and things that triggered so much pain in our lives. God had not given us the grace to stay there, and He was compassionate to our cries to get out and opened the door quickly for us to move.  

However, so much has been unstable since we moved. Our children have struggled to make friends. We’ve drifted in and out of churches that we’d hoped would be where we belonged. We’ve felt like strangers in a strange land having lost the familiarity of the place we had always called home. Although our children have begun to make friends and we believe we’ve finally found a church where we belong, my husband is on his third job and has recently had to cut back on his hours due to recent back surgery and his continued struggles with depression and anxiety. I’m currently out of work after quitting a job in a work situation recently that triggered me terribly, and now I am faced with the dilemma of where to go to work again. 

I was asked to make a choice last week about going back to place I’d worked a year ago that I had grown to feel a part of, but due to budget cuts I was laid off quickly with little notice. It was a change that took me by surprise and yet another loss that I had to grieve.  The amount of hours I’ve been asked to work this time are not certain. I’ve also been warned that the things may still be unstable there. Although, I need the work I became overwhelmed by the possibility of going to work and things being unstable again. I’m so very tired of things changing. I long for some consistency and stability in my life. 

When one suffers from PTSD, triggers cause the warning system of our brains to override the thinking parts of our brains. This has been the case with making a decision about this job. My fear of change and losing control kicked my amygdala into overdrive, but finally after talking to my husband he was able to get my prefrontal cortex operating again. He encouraged me to take my time in making a decision and not to jump into anything I was not certain about.  I’ve applied for other jobs that have the potential to provide tasks more consistent with my talents and offer the potential for more stability and potential growth. This week is the last full week that our children are out of school.  It’s also the week that I have asked the Lord to open opportunities for another job that He may have for me or encourage me to go back to where I was and trust Him with the uncertainties. Change is coming whether I want it to or not! 

Trusting God with major choices is really difficult for me. There’s so much about His role as Father that I am still seeking to understand.  The traumatic relationship with my own adopted father is almost impossible not to project onto God at times. How can I learn to trust God as a good father when the man who raised me caused me to lose so much of who I was? Also, how can I trust Him as a good Father when a man in a position to teach me about Him also led me astray?  Sometimes it seems impossible. 

But yet for some reason God has given me the grace to hold onto my hope in Him. My faith, though miniscule it may be at times, continues to keep me moving forward believing that somehow He is directing me towards what He has for me. And despite my PTSD, in the depths of my soul, I know that He is a safe place for me.  

Surely God hasn’t brought me this far to leave me hanging in uncertainty. 

I love Daniel’s words in the closing season of Rectify.  Daniel is also a sufferer of PTSD as a result of trauma he suffered from being on death row for 19 years.  Daniel has struggled to adjust to so many changes in his life after being released from prison. Much is uncertain about his future, but he holds onto hope that something better is ahead. 

Daniel:  Somewhere in all of this I’ve managed to fight for myself for some reason – to fight for my life for some reason and I survived for some reason and here I am still for some reason and me not knowing that reason doesn’t diminish or invalidate it or disprove its existence and that’s what I’m going with today, Mr. Stern. No promises beyond that.

John: Words to live by, Mr. Holden, for today.

We are here for a reason, even though sometimes that reason isn’t clear. The pain we’ve suffered has not been in vain. We are still here despite what we have been through. Today, we can move forward trusting that God is with us and promises us a future and a hope. Today, we can rest in the fact that He is transforming what the enemy meant for evil into our ultimate good.  

And even though I still don’t know what choice I’m going to make, I know when the time comes God will direct me in the way that I should go. 

Who are those who fear the Lord ? He will show them the path they should choose.

Psalms 25:12 NLT

Finding Hope in Grief 

The painful process of dealing with our losses can result in hope when it reveals to us a loving Father who grieves with us and promises restoration. 

Grief crowds the heart, eats up all your energy and chronically imposes upon your peace.  But grief isn’t some evil force that’s only there to cause pain, grief is escorting up an even deeper feeling, a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. 
Katherine Schafler, The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving 

Recently,  I started to read the book Recovering from the Losses in Life by H. Norman Wright. It’s a book my counselor suggested I read over a year ago, but at the time I just wasn’t ready to process at the time. I could not see any benefit of feeling more pain. It seemed to take all I could do to function with what I was dealing with at the time. But lately,  I’ve been seeing the need of continuing to work through the losses in my life, not because I look forward to feeling the pain, but rather because I know pain is a necessary part of healing. 

I mentioned the show Rectify in my last blog. It’s a beautiful, redemptive show that I highly recommend.  The main character, Daniel, has recently been released from being on death row. Daniel suffers from PTSD after spending almost twenty years in a prison where horrible things happened to him. The adjustment to life outside the prison walls is overwhelming to him, but the memories of the pain he suffered behind the prison walls is by far his biggest obstacle. Daniel is out of prison, but inside his mind he is still locked up.  When someone recommends to him that he seek treatment for his PTSD, Daniel has the same reaction that I did to the thought of more pain; resistance.  

When pain is all one can feel, the last thing we want to do is add more pain.  

Eventually, Daniel realizes the only way to heal is to go back to it’s source and grieve what was lost. 

I initially started to grieve the losses in my childhood with my former pastor. I believed that opening up to him about my pain was what I needed to do to be able to move forward in my life.  I had no idea at the time how deep my pain really went, how crippling it would be to just remember some of the traumas that I had suppressed. I was not at all prepared.  Because my former pastor did not keep appropriate boundaries and what resulted was an abusive relationship and even more trauma, I am sure that you can understand when my counselor suggested facing my past again that it would be the last thing I’d want to do. 

I think the most difficult thing about grieving is how weak it makes me feel. Ever since being abused as a child, control is the only thing I could rely on to keep me safe. But as I’ve gotten older I’m beginning to understand that control has not really kept me safe, rather it has caused life to become an even more frightening place. 

Scripture says that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. That God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.  The only thing that can truly make us feel safe is knowing that God loves us and wants what’s best for us.  Our own fear and control keep us from experiencing this, and therefore keep us feeling unsafe. 

The painful process of dealing with our losses can result in hope when it reveals to us a loving Father who grieves with us and promises restoration

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

1 Thessalonians 4:13‭-‬14 ESV

As children of God, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because of Jesus, we have hope. Because of His resurrection, we can be assured that one day we will not ever have to grieve again. He has conquered death, sin, and the grave. And this hope has been the only thing that has kept keep me moving forward at times.   

But not only is the hope we have in the afterlife, but grief offers us clarity into what it is we really desire and need in life. Katherine Schafler states, 

But grief isn’t some evil force that’s only there to cause pain, grief is escorting up an even deeper feeling, a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. 

More than anything else, grief has shown me what I really need and want. Growing up in fear, taught me to live a life of control. I didn’t know that children needed fathers and mothers to keep them safe. I believed I could do it all on my own. But the pain of grief revealed to me what a tremendous loss this really was in my life. 

I was never meant to live life alone. I was created to be loved not abused. 

Ultimately, the pain of these losses has let me know that I am alive. It’s been the breath of God into a soul that thought that it was dead.

“But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. Your breasts became full, and your body hair grew, but you were still naked. And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord , and you became mine.

Ezekiel 16:6‭-‬8 NLT

Jesus, the Man of sorrows acquainted with our griefs, has not abandoned us in our pain.  He grieves with us in all that we have lost. Grief reminds us that we were not created to live in the broken world, but that we were created to have wholeness and life through Him. 

Even though I’ve been able to find hope in my grief, I still have to move forward through the process of experiencing the pain that grief causes and also the fears that more loss will occur, and it is difficult. I recognize that my  default mode is to do everything I can to control. Letting go of this need is a day by day,  moment by moment process in which I need the Holy Spirit to help me through. I will try and fail, but sometimes I will try and succeed. Reinvesting into life, moving forward towards the things I know that I really want and need are risky from a human perspective. Sometimes I find myself hiding in my room wishing I didn’t ever have to make another choice again. So much in life causes me to fear losing something else. However, my own control numbs me to the place where I feel nothing and that’s an awful place to be, so I recognize I must make one small investment after another towards the life I know God wants me to live.  One more step towards relationships. One more step towards change. One more step towards love. One more step towards hope reminding myself that He is a good Father who always keeps His promises. 

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”

John 14:1 NLT

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:3‭-‬5 NLT

*Photo Credit Rectify, Sundance Channel 

Dear Pain

I know if I do not deal with my pain when it comes that sooner or later my pain will deal with me.

Yesterday,  I was given an assignment by my counselor to write about the painful emotions that I felt as a child that crop up as an adult at adult at times when I do not want them to.

Most of us avoid pain any way that we can. Some of us numb it through drugs, alcohol or sex. Some us talk ourselves out of believing that it’s really that bad. Some of us never slow down enough to feel it.

I’ve tried in every way possible to avoid pain, and I still do not want to deal with it now. I’d much rather binge watch Netflix with a large bowl of popcorn, however I know if I do not deal with my pain when it comes that sooner or later my pain will deal with me.I have learned from a lifetime of stuffing pain that the day always comes when I cannot do it anymore. 

Ten years ago, I had been strong for so long, pretending I had it together, that God was taking me to a happier place away from all of my childhood memories. That He had given me a new victorious Christian life. But I discovered I was wrong. I could not control my pain anymore. It controlled me. 

I started watching the show Rectify last night on Netflix.  It’s the story of a man, Daniel Holden,  who was on death row for 20 years. He is released on a technicality and to be retried for the murder. But while he is awaiting retrial,  he goes home. In one scene, the main character hugs his sister in law for a brief time. Daniel  becomes overwhelmed with emotion at the loving touch of another human being. He doesn’t want to let go. The desperation from not receiving touch for so many years is clear. He clings to her for dear life unleashing the powerful force of grief he felt from being untouched for so long.

My emotions were locked away for most of my life. I desperately longed to be heard as a little girl, but it was clear that my parents were not equipped to deal with my pain. I’ll never forget the night my parents were upset with me when they caught me talking to an ex boyfriend who they did not like. They jumped the gun believing that we were getting back together. My mom left the house devastated, leaving me alone with my adopted father. It didn’t matter how many times I tried to explain that I was just trying to keep a peaceful relationship with this boy, my adopted father would hear none of it.  He got angrier and angrier at me and my ex boyfriend. He eventually got a handgun out and put it down on the coffee table. He screamed that he would kill him if he came to our house.  I was so upset that I began screaming I wished I could die. My adopted father said he didn’t care and continued to rant about how he’d kill my ex boyfriend if he came.  It was clear that I was not being heard and that telling him my pain would only continue to escalate the situation. I called my cousin and asked her to come pick me up.  When she arrived at my house I stood out in the yard screaming into the darkness, but I knew if my adopted father heard that he did not care.

Even after I got married and had my first child, my adopted father was still letting me know that my pain was not safe with him. A week after having my first child, I was in the hospital with an infection.  He came to visit and I was crying. He actually got angry with me. He declared that I’d better hold it together or they might send a psychiatrist in for me.  He then said I should be grateful, because my mom was stuck at my house with my baby.  I was crushed. Not only had he made me afraid to cry but also guilted about my mother babysitting while I was in the hospital. When I look back on these times, it’s clear why I learned to bottle my emotions up.  It was the only thing that kept me safe. And it became a pattern of life into my adult years.   

But then I met a pastor who was a father figure to me.  He encouraged me to open up to him about my feelings and he responded with concern. When he hugged me for the first time I was like the character in Rectify and clung to him like a person who had been locked away for decades without love. His hug gave me life like I’d never experienced before.  But if you’ve read my story, you know it didn’t take long before the lack of boundaries turned my relationship with him into an abusive one that lasted 10 years. 

It’s clear looking back today on my life that my pain and finding a safe way to express it is crucial to my life.  The older I get the more I realize that I’m less able to stuff it anymore. It is more likely to come flooding out at time when I don’t want it to, and if I overreact around others I’m left feeling ashamed and responsible once again for not being in control of my emotions. 

My counselor told me yesterday that responsibility is the ability to respond. But when we feel ashamed we feel stuck and unable to respond well.  I realize for a large part of my life I’ve been ashamed of my emotions because of the way my parents reacted to them.  I learned at an early age that allowing myself to feel what I was created to feel produced negative results. Therefore, I learned to stuff emotions that would not be acceptable. I learned to behave in ways that kept others happy with me even if those ways were not a true reflection of how I felt. Therefore, I also took responsibility for their bad behavior, too! 

I’m still on a long journey of allowing myself to feel the emotions God intended for me to feel. Pain lets us know when something is wrong. Pain also motivates us to ask for help from God and others. I realize my relationship with God is also lacking because even with Him I try to express what I think He wants me to feel rather than what I really do, but God knows my heart. He looks past all of my trying to hold it all together and His Holy Spirit prays for me even when I don’t know how to pray for myself.  The thing that amazed me the most about God when I first felt His presence was that He heard my pain and He comforted me.  He was a safe place to release my pain, however my efforts to try to be a good religious person caused me to lose sight of that.  Also, painful circumstances in my life knocked me back into a self protective mode of trying to control things around me by not expressing what I really felt honestly to others. And it made me an easy target for a predator. 

Certainly, after all the painful circumstances our family has been through, my tendency is definitely to hold my feelings in and protect myself and others from them.  I saw how my desperate need for love took me to a very dark place. But I’m realizing these days that it wasn’t my feelings that were ever the problem. It was not being able to deal with my feelings in a healthy way that was. Of course as a child, I didn’t know another way to deal with my emotions. I could not help the situation I was born into. None of that was my fault.  As an adult who had not learned a better way to cope, there were also certain elements outside of my control. I have learned like many of us do through brokenness that my way does not work anymore and I need to try another way. I realize my fighting to escape my childhood emotions are not working anymore and it is time to give them space in my life to be expressed in a healthy way. 

I think the reason I have been so afraid of these emotions is that I think they will cripple me again. I fear that I won’t be able to function like I did when I first started to open up to my former pastor about them. But I’m beginning to see finally that these emotions can come out in healthy ways if I will allow myself to be honest about them with God and others who are safe to share them with.  

When we are able to be vulnerable with God and with others, we find that our powerful painful emotions begin to lose their power in our lives.  The shameful lies that we believe about how we should feel begin to die in the light with friends who understand and we learn to respond better. The shame we feel about our emotions  are transformed into truth when can share them honestly with those who know how to listen. My heart breaks to hear that so many leave the church because no one understood their pain, and tried to fix them without even listening.   When we do not know how to deal with our own pain, we can’t help others deal with theirs either. 

I’m learning slowly to share bits of my story with friends who are not afraid to share their story with me.  I cannot express enough how this has changed so much for the good for me. I no longer feel desperate like I did when I went to my pastor for help. I no longer feel so very alone. When others listen compassionately, it also helps to give me a glimpse of the compassion of God, and enables me to be honest with Him. 

Even with all in learning about my pain, there is still a lot that is there that I haven’t been able to release. There are still memories stuck in my subconscious mind that I am afraid of how they will make me feel.  So today I’m writing a letter to my pain (an assignment from my counselor), to give it permission to come out when it needs to, so that it won’t come out when it has to.  More than anything else I want to stop feeling crippled by overwhelming emotions that keep me stuck.

If you can relate to some of what I’m writing here, maybe you can consider writing one of these letters, too or reaching out to a safe friend who will really listen.

Pain isn’t meant to be stuffed. It’s meant to be felt and motivate us to pay attention and get the help we need.

Dear Pain, 

I know that you are there, because you come out at night when I’m trying to sleep and cause my mind to listen when things are finally quiet. I’m sorry that it takes this for me to actually listen. 

I know I avoid you when I’m craving another donut or yearning to numb out in front of the TV. I don’t know why it’s just so hard to feel what it is that you want me to. 

I am beginning to see lately that you really are not a bad thing. You help me see what I need. You help me understand the things that continue to hurt me. 

You shouted no when my adopted father touched me and let others bring me harm. You knew I was just a little girl and that this was not supposed to be happening. You were not something to be ashamed of when I felt really bad. What happened was a terrible thing and dear Pain you let me know that it was. 

I know I have allowed control to push you over and over back inside. It’s been bullying you around for too long. Control really is the adversary that I need to let go of because it’s what’s brought me harm. You have been the one who has consistently said that the harm happening in my life was wrong.  So I thank you for that. 

I also know I try to minimize what you make me feel as well. I tell myself that whatever it is it’s really not that bad, but you want me to see the reality of all that is going on before it gets any worse. Oh how I wish I’d listened to you when you tried to tell me things were really bad. 

I think I’m figuring out you are more of a friend than a foe.  I don’t like the way you make me feel but I know you are necessary for me to be healthy and whole. I invite you to continue to guide and direct me in the ways I need to go. And I will try to do a better job of cooperating with you. 

Liz

Broken Trust 

I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

Jeremiah 23:3‭-‬4 NLT

Recently, I was asked by an author to review his book on spiritual abuse. I had never heard of F Remy Diederich before I received his email, so I did not know what to expect. However, after reading Broken Trust,  I found myself wishing I had been able to read this book several years ago. I believe his work to be one of the best and most practical that I have read on the subject. I highly recommend it if you or someone you know has been spiritually abused.  I also highly recommend it if you are in any kind of ministry.  I believe every church needs to understand spiritual abuse and the toxic system that produces it. We like to think that because it hasn’t happened to us that it won’t, but it’s closer than we think – in our hearts so prone to wander away from our God. 

It’s interesting to note,  that recently in a conversation with a friend, I was voicing my frustration over how hopeless hearing about spiritual abuse can make one feel. I struggle to read other victims accounts and even watch television shows about abuse involving the church, because it reminds so much of the pain of spiritual abuse.  It’s not that I don’t care about other’s stories, it’s that I care so much that I cannot bear to think that this kind of thing continues to happen in the one place on earth where we should be able to find safety in – the church of Jesus Christ.  I find myself feeling angry, powerless and overwhelmed at times, especially when I hear how the church wrongly handles abuse cases. Statistics show that the majority of churches when made aware of a victimization of a member by clergy, actually bring more pain and confusion to victims.  Victims who need their churches for support after suffering from spiritual abuse many times are misunderstood and are left to struggle alone.  In a Baylor study conducted in 2015 of 280 women who were victims of clergy sexual misconduct, 92% did not feel supported by their churches after the abuse was exposed.  When I read statistics like this, it’s almost impossible not to feel hopeless, alone and afraid to trust. I long for the church to reveal the love of Jesus Christ, to teach the truth, and bring healing to those who are broken, but in the abuse advocacy world many times all I can hear about are more painful stories of abuse in the church. They are stories that need to be told. The truth must be brought into the light to be healed. However, I long to hear more stories of evil being overcome with good.  I am encouraged to say after reading Broken Trust, I see this good at work. 

As a victim of spiritual abuse, my voice was taken from me. Not only by the pastor’s abuse, but by other leaders in the church when I revealed the spiritual abuse to them. As Remy points out in the book, once victims of abuse begin to understand that those placed in a position to lead them have brought them harm instead, they discover that they have a lot they need to say.  We long to be heard and understood. However, the church struggles to just listen without telling us to quickly forgive or attempt to minimize the damage in an effort to protect the institution.  However, Remy does not stifle the voices of those who are hurting because of spiritual abuse, he listens and brings comfort as a wounded healer who has suffered in the same ways as we have. He acknowledgedes the damage that has been done and the evil that has occurred. His loving compassion is a healing balm to the victim’s  soul and reveals the love of Jesus Christ.  

Not only is Broken Trust a source of encouragement and healing to victims, but it is also a great resource for pastors and churches.  Remy does not charge into the church with guns blazing. He does not harshly criticize or condemn. He tells the truth gently and lovingly from a pastor’s perspective about the spiritual abuse without excusing, minimizing, or normalizing it.  He causes his readers to dig deep to the root of the problem, and work towards true healing for all involved. It is rare to find such a balanced and unifying approach in today’s world that is quick to point fingers and polarize. The church desperately needs this approach towards so many issues today.  

Lastly, Broken Trust has been another step in the process of healing from my own shame.  This book has helped me to see clearly the importance of placing responsibility for spiritual abuse in the right place.  Spiritual abuse is not 50/50. When sexual abuse is involved, it is not an affair. It is always the responsibility of the pastor to guard and protect the flock. When pastors use their position of power to meet their own needs through abuse, when pastors take advantage rather than serve, it is never a victim’s fault. Healing can only come by recognizing this truth and not feeling ashamed for someone else’s offense. It can only come when we have grieved over the damage that has been done and all that we have lost.  It can only come when we let go and decide to trust our Heavenly Father to make things right. 

Finally, Broken Trust helps me to find what I was looking for so desperately when I went to an abusive pastor for help; hope and healing through a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

This book is a MUST READ! 

Liz 

Monsters in the Dark 

A friend of mine once told me, Monsters hide in the dark.  

Recently I started listening to a podcast called Undone Redone by Tray and Melody Lovvorn. Tray and Melody share as a couple honestly about their divorce which resulted after Tray’s sexual addiction was exposed.  The tag line for their podcast is that their divorce did not work out, because years later after healing and the work of the Gospel in both of their lives they reconciled and remarried. Their story has been very encouraging and healing to me, because it reveals that on the other side of our secrets being exposed, God can and does bring new life.  Tray and Melody now spend their time helping others heal from sexual addiction.

Staggering percentages of men and women in church struggle with sexual addiction. According to Prodigals International:

  • 5 out of every 10 men in the church are struggling with some issue concerning pornography
  • 34% of churchgoing women said they have intentionally visited porn websites online
  • 54% of pastors admitted to viewing Internet porn in the last year and 30% admitted viewing within the past month
  • 50% of all Christian men are addicted to pornography
  • 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography
  • 60% of women admit to having significant struggles with lust

These statistics reveal that the church does not struggle any less with lust than the rest of the world. The way we deal with these struggles is crucial to to our spiritual and mental health. Healing cannot occur until we are willing to bring our struggles out into the light and be honest about them. Darkness will only grow if we cover it up.

A friend of mine once told me, Monsters hide in the dark.  

Several years ago, my own lust felt like a terrible monster to me. It hid most of the time in the parts of my mind that I didn’t allow others to see. It fed on the shame and self contempt that had become a part of who I was since being sexually abused as a child. Unfortunately, I went to a pastor for help who struggled with lust, too and his own hidden darkness met mine and disaster occurred. 

However, for the past three years, I’ve been able to share honestly with safe people and as a result the lies wrapped tightly around my soul have begun to unravel allowing me to experience true freedom.

Truly,  when darkness is brought into light with those who are living in the light, the monster of lust begins to lose it’s power as God’s transforming work begins. 

One of my first exposures to pornography was when I was around nine years old in a friend’s garage. She’d discovered the adult magazines hidden in some of her father’s things and could not wait for me to see them. I giggled at the images with her trying to pretend that what I saw did not bother me. Later, I would also discover the same kind of glossy magazines in a family member’s bathroom. As I flipped through them, I can still recall something stirring deeply in me that I did not understand. I had learned at an early age through abuse that there were certain things that were not supposed to be talked about, so I didn’t tell anyone that I looked at the magazines.

The sexual secrets that had begun as a stir of pleasure viewing porn for the very first time as a child grew into an insatiable appetite as a teen that I could not control when it came. Life at home was hard. My adopted father was severely depressed and anxious, and let everyone to know it. My mother and I walked on eggshells to spare ourselves from another outburst, but still they eventually came, and I escaped to my room to a fantasy life that sometimes took me to dark places. I shudder to think where I would have gone if I’d had Google, but thank God I didn’t, so the worst I could do was inside my own mind, which was bad enough. As I got older and had boyfriends, my fantasies had opportunity to be acted out, and my shame only grew. I believed when I married a good man and we went to church together that my struggles with lust would finally go away, but they only got buried more deeply in my soul.

Although as an adult,I wasn’t viewing pornography or giving into sexual temptations every week or even every month, the shame over my sexual sin from my younger years was still there. My tendency to give in to lust and escape the monotony and the pain of life was still there, too. Again, the lust was only inside my mind, but I feared one day that I might go too far.

Several years into our marriage, relationships in our extended family began to spiral out of control. In the middle of this family chaos, I was suffering from post partum depression and my husband was exhausted much of the time from dealing with his own pain by working too hard. And if this wasn’t enough, our church was experiencing problems that involved family, too. We were hit by so many forces at once it felt like a category five hurricane. We desperately needed relief and support from somewhere and decided to attend another church that some friends had told us about.

This church that was thirty miles away from home felt like a shelter from the storm. The people were friendly, the pastor appeared to be a smart and strong leader who would provide us with support.  Two weeks after visiting this church he visited our home and comforted our hearts with the assurance that God was near.

Because my life was in such chaos, the desire to escape the emotional pain was overwhelming. Lust cropped it’s head up and the shame that followed it did, too. The darkness overwhelmed me like it never had before.

I still don’t understand why things got so dark so fast, and why the lust that had been somewhat under control decided to come out again. Maybe it was because the wheels had run off with so many things I’d placed my hope in. Maybe it was because of so many failed relationships.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my husband. I truly did. When I made a commitment to him for life, I meant it as much as I was capable of understanding what commitment meant at the time.

But I wasn’t aware of the ticking time bomb inside of my soul.  I wasn’t aware of the desperation in my heart and the growing monster of lust inside.

I had no idea how powerful the sexual abuse I suffered as a child was in it’s ability to produce self-hatred and how much it had crippled me. I desperately longed for someone to tell me that I was loved.  But strangely enough when they did, I found it almost impossible to believe.  I just could not overcome the lie that I wasn’t worth anything.

The pastor seemed genuinely concerned for our family’s well-being.  He reached out with kindness every opportunity he had to. I’ll never forget the first time he took my hand and asked me if I’d be willing to help teach the youth at church.  It was strange that even in this short conversation I felt drawn to him. There was just something in his eyes that communicated he wanted to know me more.  One email led to another and then the phone conversations began. It wasn’t long after that I confessed on the phone with him about the struggles with lust and the surfacing memories of childhood sexual abuse, and we agreed to meet in person to talk face to face.

Looking back to my first meeting with him, I should have known something was wrong because of how badly I yearned to be with him, but my heart clung desperately to the hope that he was going to help me heal.  It felt like the most beautiful moment in my life when he wrapped his arms around me after listening to me describe what my adopted father had done to me. I thought I’d met God for a moment when I stood up to leave and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said he loved me.  But then a few months later, he shared with me his desire for me sexually, and asked me to keep it a secret. The ticking time bomb inside of me went off and the monster grew.

Lust isn’t just some dirty thing we do when no is watching. It comes from a place of longing in the deepest parts of our soul to know that we are wanted, but also to know that there’s something good about us that’s worthy of being loved.

A bad connection can feel better than no connection when one’s heart feels all alone.

Dark secrets shared between two desperate souls can feel an awful lot like love.

But it’s not love, it’s abuse when it’s with someone who’s been placed in a position to watch out for your soul.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13‭-‬14 ESV

I realize looking back on things, that the reason my lust felt like a monster, was because before I met my former pastor, I’d never been forced to look it in the eye. I was too ashamed. But time after time of giving in, standing in front of the bathroom mirror before and after I sinned, I faced the monster and saw a broken little girl behind it’s eyes. A little girl desperately longing to be loved and belong, relentlessly seeking to know she was worth something and clinging tightly to whatever control she could find through five minutes of pleasure that she was willing to risk everything for. She knew it was self-destructive. She knew she could destroy everything. There was a part of her that believed it was what she deserved. Maybe when she lost everything she could finally rest in the truth that she was the awful person she’d been fighting not to believe that she was.

The saddest and sickest parts of the abuse I experienced from the pastor was his rationalization that it was OK to give into lust a little bit to find relief.  Just so it wouldn’t take over and consume. He normalized the behavior, made some of it feel like it wasn’t a big deal. We all struggle with lust. We just don’t talk about it. It keeps us humble and compassionate towards others who are in sin.  And this went on for years. He was desperately clinging to his control, too.

But it was never OK to give in. It was never OK to hide. God was not tempting us to sin. He did not call us to continue in sin so that grace would abound.

You were running [the race] well; who has interfered and prevented you from obeying the truth? This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ]. A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church].

GALATIANS 5:7‭-‬9 AMP

I’m so thankful for the Gospel that one day finally cut through all the lies and called me out of the darkness into His holy light. I will always wonder why it was listening to Tullian’s sermons on the Ten Commandments that God used to ultimately get through to me, especially since not too long after that he was exposed for clergy sexual abuse. But regardless of who it was who read the scriptures, God used his message to remind me of His law summed up in only two commands.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 ESV

The scriptures finally cut through the lie I believed that day that deceived me into believing what I had with the pastor was love.  It wasn’t love. Love does no harm to it’s neighbor. Love does not lie. Love rejoices in the truth.

It’s been a long road of healing since that time. My confession brought an overwhelming amount of confusion and pain to my family, the pastor’s family and the church.  It resulted in so much loss. I will always deeply regret these things.

But the monster finally died in the light. And because of the Gospel I have been set free from it’s power over me.

However, I admit I still have a long way to go in healing from all the shame. I need the Gospel daily to constantly remind me that God is not judging me.

For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin.

HEBREWS 4:15 AMP

Jesus knows our struggles. He sees the pain we want to escape. He knows the longing that’s behind our lust and His desire is always to set us free by satisfying our souls with His love. Jesus is not shocked or appalled by our sin. He knows where it comes from. He knows what we really need. He sympathizes with us. His love relentlessly pursues us until we cannot run from Him anymore.

A good friend once reminded me that in the church the greatest need is for broken people to preach the Gospel to each other. I might have given up on the church all together if it hadn’t been for people like him reminding me of what church is really all about.

When one has been spiritually abused, fear of the church is the most difficult thing to overcome. But I’ve come to realize that the thing I fear the most, is also where my healing lies and my story has an opportunity to be redeemed.

I shared with my counselor recently how I would really like to be able to write about something else.  Let’s face it, sharing about dark battles with lust and sexual abuse aren’t things to be proud of.  But then she pointed out if my story wasn’t told that there would be a big void, and reminded me how other’s broken stories have helped me. She jokingly said that she and I unfortunately had not been called to be a Joel Osteen! Her own broken story of alcoholism is what caused me to reach out to her, and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t! So I know that she is right.

If you’ve got a similar story, I encourage you to find others to tell. Without it there is a big void, too.  Our brokenness is where His light shines through and transforms the darkness in other people’s lives.  I thank God for people like Tray and Melody and others like the ministry team at the church we attend now who do that so beautifully.

If you are struggling with sexual sin, please know that you are not alone, but also know that God’s desire is also to set you free, not keep you trapped in the dark. Run to Jesus. Cling to the Gospel. Preach it to one another. He’s a lot closer than you think.

Inasmuch then as we [believers] have a great High Priest who has [already ascended and] passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession [of faith and cling tenaciously to our absolute trust in Him as Savior]. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin. Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment].

HEBREWS 4:14‭-‬16 AMP

*Photo credit

A Letter to Church Leaders 

I understand why the church covered it up. I’d spent most of my life covering up the damage of abuse, trying to protect myself from it’s painful realities, trying to rewrite the narrative of my own story so that it’d be less messy than it appeared. And it only led me more deeply into sin. 

Dear Church Leader,

I want to begin this letter by saying that I still love the church and believe that the work of the church is the most important work in the world.  I do not want to bring further damage to the reputation of the church. I am not here to criticize or point out everything wrong with the church. I am writing this to appeal to the heart of the church; the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I didn’t grow up in church.  I only attended Sunday School and church a few times as a child. I began attending church when I was 19 with the man who would later become my husband for now 25 years. We have been attending church and supporting the church faithfully since that time with the exception of the past three years because of disillusionment over spiritual abuse, but recently our family has started attending again.

The teaching that we have received in church has been very beneficial and valuable to our family.   The churches we have attended have taught us so much good about the love of Jesus and His life. They’ve for the most part been doctrinally sound, too.   What I’ve learned in church has been life transforming for me and has given me the hope I desperately cling to every day. So I have a vested interest in the church and want very much to see her thrive and reveal the love of Jesus to the world, which is why I am writing this.

However, in recent years I’ve been really bothered by what I see happening in the church.  In our modern culture of 24 hour news and social media, the church seems to polarize like the world on just about everything.  It grieves my heart that from the world’s perspective it’s easy to conclude we are more concerned about issues than we are about loving one another and revealing Jesus through our love.

The polarization seems to happen concerning those who have been spiritually abused by pastors, too. Some Christians refuse to believe that sexual victimization by a pastor is even possible concerning an adult and label it as an affair. Many churches focus on getting the pastor help and restoring him and allow victims to fall by the wayside.  It was clear in my own story, that though the church deposed my former pastor from ministry, that they had a real issue with recognizing the fact that I had been spiritually abused, and that others in the church may have been as well. Other similar abuse stories across the country, reveal the same minimization of what is considered a crime in 13 states.  See this link for further information on clergy sexual abuse laws. 

Clergy sexual abuse is not just an issue to polarize about. Victims, churches and pastors are members of one another and called to work together as a body to bring healing not more division. We are on the same side.

As I’ve had time to reflect on my own story, the most difficult thing for me to understand has been how much responsibility I actually had. I believe that when I confessed my sinful actions in the relationship the church had no problem hearing that and holding me accountable. They also had no problem saying that they forgave me.   However, they had a real problem when I mentioned spiritual abuse, and I was accused by one of the leaders for shirking my responsibility.  I was reminded of my confession of sin and my consequences were losing my job as an administrative assistant as well as my sin being exposed to the entire church.

After processing through trauma of abuse, I am able to see the responsibility I had in the sinful relationship that occurred as a result of my former pastor not keeping appropriate boundaries with me in counseling. I know that I committed sexual sin that brought consequences on my family, the pastor’s family and the church. These were the sole reasons that I confessed. God convicted my heart that the sin had harmed others and needed to be exposed.  I continue to grieve over the losses that my own sinful actions caused.

However, I also now realize that the sin was a direct result of the pastor’s abuse. It was not my fault. When I went to my former pastor for counseling for childhood sexual abuse I was severely traumatized and vulnerable. I was looking for help.  It is a well known fact that it is normal for those going for counseling to transfer their childhood feelings to a substitute like a pastor or therapist. Boundaries must always be in place to protect against countetransferance and an inappropriate relationship developing. The secular world does a much better job of educating about this than the church does. However, my former pastor was well aware of these boundaries and even pointed them out to me, but he also spiritualized his love for me by saying it was from God. He became a father figure to me early on, and I believed the love he showed me was from God, but then he confessed to me one day that he loved me as a man would his wife.  Not only did my pastor not keep appropriate boundaries with me, but he also crossed them.  He also asked me to not tell anyone about our special relationship, because he would lose everything if I did. So I made a promise to carry this secret to my grave, because I’d already developed an unhealthy and codependent relationship with him. 

I hope that through reading this that you can see the wrong that occurred.  This letter is not about me walking away clear of any responsibility. This letter is about the church being educated on the damage of spiritual abuse.

This letter is also about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the compassion He showed others who were trapped in many different sins for many different reasons and how His primary purpose was to bring true healing to all of us.

The Hope of Survivors is an organization who supports and ministers to families who have suffered from clergy sexual abuse. These families, in almost every case,  have not only been traumatized by an abusive pastor, but also by their churches. Baylor University studies also support these statistics. Some victims say the damage that the church caused was even worse than what the pastor caused by abusing them. This ought not to be so!   I read early on that one of the most difficult things to overcome as a spiritual abuse survivor is the lack of understanding from others. I suspect in most cases other victims experience what we did, church leaders who accused them of not taking responsibility for their actions, members of the congregation who were very uncomfortable when the abuse subject came up, friends who wanted to help but didn’t know how, or others who were quick to remind them how important it is to quickly forgive.

The shame and isolation that go along with spiritual abuse is absolutely overwhelming and can feel completely hopeless.  We are not meant to suffer alone.  Our family,  like many other families who’ve experienced abuse, decided we had no choice except to leave our community we’d become disconnected from, so that we could hold our family together and get away from the constant reminders of shame and abuse.

In our case,  the church did offer to support us through the healing process, but since they refused to acknowledge the clergy abuse that was the root of the problem,  it was clear that healing would not occur.

My counselor asked me early on how could things have been done differently that would have brought healing to everyone involved? We’ve had three years to think about it,  and here are some things that we think would have helped.

First of all, the best case scenario is that the abuse would have never occurred.  That’s another story, but I do believe a huge missing element in my previous church was someone else sharing leadership with the pastor. Our church had other leaders, my husband being one,  but it was clear that the buck stopped with the pastor. Usually,  whatever he wanted was done with very little resistance from anyone else.  I believe God called the church to work together as a body not just one person. My counselor, Sharon Hersh, did a podcast on the Key Life Pastor’s Chat. This show emphasized the importance of pastors having a support system and she shared some of my story.   I believe in an abusive situation this is lacking as well as accountability. You can listen to the podcast here.

But abuse did occur in my case, and it resulted in a ten year inappropriate and sexual relationship. Not only was the church deceived, but our families were tangled up in the abuse as well.  The pastor called my husband his best friend. I was very close with the pastor’s wife and his daughter and niece.  Actually, they were my closest friends.  So needless to say,  when the deception was exposed,  it resulted in a tremendous amount of pain and confusion.

Looking back on things the main pressure behind the decisions that were made by our church leaders were to do damage control and protect the church from gossip.

The church’s reputation should never come before protecting those who have been harmed by abuse.

In the book of I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul has heard about an extremely messy situation in the church.  It is clear from his letter that his first concern was not gossip around the church, that was already going on,  but primarily for the spiritual health of the church. Paul does not minimize the sin and make it more palatable. He names it in all of it’s ugliness and calls the church to remove the sin, and embrace Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness in sincerity and truth.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:1‭-‬8 ESV

In this particular situation,  Paul calls for the man who was with his father’s wife to be removed from the church.  There are no instructions concerning the woman involved.

Our church did commendably tell those in a position of higher authority in our denomination what I had confessed in detail, and the former pastor was deposed. Following this, the leaders chose to have a meeting informing the church about why the former pastor was deposed. We were not present at the meeting.  They did it when we were out of town receiving intensive counseling.   During this meeting a letter of apology was read from the former pastor and from me and my counselor.  I do not know what the pastor’s letter said, but I do know by our church leaders own confessions after the fact that our letter to the church was edited without my permission to leave out the details concerning the spiritual abuse.  My husband and I were told that the relationship in the church meeting wasn’t labeled as abuse or an affair. The true abusive narrative of our story was left out. As a result, other victims who may have been present at the meeting would most likely not have come forth for fear of being exposed as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the pressure to protect the church from gossip was the main driving force behind having a meeting that gave an explanation for what had occurred. The leaders in the church knew that when word got out that the former pastor had been deposed that the congregation would be devastated.  They wanted to address what had occurred before gossip was allowed to start.   I reluctantly agreed, but was later told when I changed my mind that I had no choice in the matter. I’ve learned since that time that the victim’s  name, even in adult abuse cases, should be protected (See SNAP for more information on how to deal with abuse in your church.). Nevertheless, I finally agreed to allow the elders to tell the congregation my name if they would read a letter from me and my counselor in it’s entirity. We believed that this letter would open the door to educating the church about what had occurred, so that anyone else who may have suffered could come forward.  Diane Langberg, a trauma and abuse expert (resources here), says that abuse is always a part of a system. 

It is critical that churches dealing with clergy abuse also be educated on the abusive system and the damages caused. 

Dr. Langberg sent free resources to our church to educate the church at one leaders request, however the regional elder assigned to our church over the disciplinary process declared education was not necessary, and all that was needed was the scriptures. It was clear in our situation that those in higher positions of authority in the church need education, too. 

We believed that the only way that we and the church could heal was to expose the abuse and educate the church and begin to untangle the lies.  In a conference call with my counselor, our church leaders agreed to this. However, after the congregational meeting was over, and our edited letter was read, we were told that they’d provide a small group support to help us heal, but that nothing further would be done as far as educating the church on abuse. 

It’s important to note,  that several months earlier before I confessed, there was a large national conference in our church’s denomination where leaders all over the country had signed a resolution agreeing to not turn a blind eye to sexual abuse in the church and to come alongside and minister and protect victims and their families . Reading this resolution at a church staff meeting,  gave me hope that the church was going to finally open the door to address an issue that our family had been severely effected by. The resolution was printed for the church bulletin and handed out.  We even had the opportunity at that time to order educational materials for the church, but ordering fell to the wayside.

In our situation, there was a tremendous opportunity to apply exactly what our denomination had resolved to do, but the opportunity was lost in covering up the truth.

I understand why the church covered it up. I’d spent most of my life covering up the damage of abuse, trying to protect myself from it’s painful realities, trying to rewrite the narrative of my own story so that it’d be less messy than it appeared. And it only led me more deeply into sin.

The apostle Paul’s first concern was not protecting the church from gossip, it was for the church’s spiritual health.  The only way for them to heal was to expose the sin and take every necessary precaution to ensure that it was removed, because it had effected the entire church. And the only way to do this was in sincerity and truth of the Gospel.

The truth was my former pastor’s secret sin hadn’t just effected my family and his,  it had effected the entire church. Whether they knew it or not, the fact that they covered the truth up revealed an environment that could not deal with the truth.

Knowing the truth is a long process for all of us that’s starts with being honest about the pain our sin causes. Thus the reason, I’ve been writing this blog for three years.

What could they have done differently? They could have started with the truth. However, the problem was they had had the painful truth minimized and covered up for at least a decade by their pastor. His lies, just like all of our lies, do tremendous damage to ourselves and each other. They’d come to believe the narrative that this pastor was an OK guy who was human just like they were. It was the same lie that kept me repeating the cycle of abuse with him. If our family had gone along with this story, we could have stayed at the church and continued to minimize the damage of sexual abuse and not be healed. But God called us to remove all the sinful leaven and embrace the truth.  In the following year, we removed our membership from the church.

Because the church minimized the damage of the sin, they also minimized the power of the gospel to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

They also kept others from knowing the true power of Christ’s love who sees us at our worst and loves us still.

Jesus’ primary concern wasn’t about gossip. He was concerned about the sick being healed. He was concerned about the lost being found. He was concerned about the blind being able to see. He was concerned about the dead being brought to life. 

If clergy sexual abuse has happened in your church, please pray for God’s sincerity and truth to reveal who the church truly is in Him through the power of the Gospel and what He calls you to do about this harmful leaven in your midst. No matter how messy the sin or ugly the truth, please do not cover it up. I did and suffered greatly because of it. Expose it and bring it into the light to be healed. Please do not minimize it. Call it what it is and experience the power of the Gospel and Christ’s tremendous power to heal. 

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:28‭-‬32 ESV

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬13 ESV

Longings and Pain

When denying pain doesn’t work, I find myself wanting to escape it through my longings.

What longings does pain awaken in you? Are you catching sight of the passions that have the greatest control over you? Maybe it’s a passion for being special, doing something significant, having security, being supple and stretchable, being connected and intimately known, being sexually fulfilled, finding self-actualization, or even being spiritually formed. The realization of how such passions drive you— how they, rather than God himself, have become your Mecca of Happiness—points you to God and to whatever is blocking deeper communion with him. 

Daniel BushUndefended 

When I ask myself the question, what do I really long for, I’d like to believe that my first answer would be God. 

But I’m still a broken human being who is a work in progress. 

And I am not home yet. 

I confess my heart still longs for things on this earth. 

Those longings become crystal clear especially when I am in pain. I want to run to them to escape. 

I am amazed at how my default mode is still to flee from experiencing pain and disappointment. If I can convince myself that everything is fine then my mind can be put to rest temporarily. But when things get out of my control it isn’t as easy to pretend that everything is fine. 

When denying pain doesn’t work, I find myself wanting to escape it through my longings. 

Not too long ago, I was a part of a ladies support group led by a counselor.  Our leader taught us about pain and how important it is to learn how to deal with it. 

The way that we deal with pain is extremely important in how healthy our lives are. 

If you’ve read my story,  you know that my own pain over ten years ago caused me to reach out to my former pastor for help. However, instead of leading me to the Lord, he led me down a path of escaping my pain through a spiritually abusive relationship. 

But for years I had no clue that the relationship was abusive. 

I believed that it was good. 

I believed that having him as a father figure in my life relieved the pain of my childhood abuse. 

I believed when he told me that he loved me everything wrong in my life was made right. 

I believed when he embraced me for the first time that I’d found the security my heart had always desperately searched for. 

I believed when he told me I was special that I really was. 

I believed when I was with him that I truly belonged. 

I have come to understand after three years of therapy, that the desires I had were not the problem. 

The desires were God’s desires that He had placed in me.  

It is not part of God’s plan for any child to be abused. 

He created us to be loved, kept safe, and nurtured into the unique person He made us to be. 

But evil stole these things away from me before I even knew who I was. 

It’s pretty clear looking back that my former abusive pastor had some major pain that he was escaping, too. But he denied that that was true. In our final conversation,  he was still insisting that love for me had been his motivation for every choice he’d made, even the wrong ones. 

I was so confused when he told me this. I questioned my own sanity. 

But since that time I’ve come to understand the truth; escaping our pain through desires that God placed in us in the wrong ways can cleverly deceive us into believing and justifying that what we are receiving is good. 

Our hearts can be so easily led astray. 

But even in my deception there was something I could never reconcile in my mind completely, and it was that what brought me relief was something God said not to do.  

After wrestling with God for almost a decade over the dishonesty in my life, God finally won the battle.  The pain had become unbearable despite my best efforts to escape it. 

The suffocating lies of the deception with the pastor had become more painful than the pain I’d been trying to initially escape. 

And my heart longed more than anything else to be free. 

Freedom from the lies brought instant relief.  Telling the truth for the first time to my counselor on the phone enabled me to truly breathe.  

But the underlying pain that drove me into the abusive relationship with the pastor was still there, and the way the church handled my confession by exposing me just heaped on more pain. (On a side note, I’ve learned from The Hope of Survivors that the majority of churches deal with spiritual abuse in a way that brings more pain to the victims. I pray to God that He would show the church this is not His way!) 

And I was still left with the question of how I was going to deal with all the pain. 

The realization of how such passions drive you— how they, rather than God himself, have become your Mecca of Happiness—points you to God and to whatever is blocking deeper communion with him. Daniel Bush

The answer was always closer than I had dared to look. I was so close when my pastor hugged me and said he loved me and made me feel like I belonged. I was standing on the precipice of the truth in the moment of being honest about my pain and brokenness and need. For the first time in my life when I was with him I truly saw the one thing God created me for. Love. But then I got pushed into the ditch. 

Relationships with others are never meant to replace our relationship with God. 

But thank God He brought people into my life since that time who pulled me out of the ditch and have reminded me over and over again that He has made me clean. 

My husband who has been honest about his own struggles and listened to me through my own.  It hasn’t always been easy or pretty being married to each other, but by the grace of God and His truth we’ve managed to overcome so much. 

My counselor and friend, Sharon Hersh, has been there for three years faithfully every week. I cannot thank her enough for the constant love she has given in her time. 

Podcasts like the ones at Key Life ministries have encouraged my heart daily and spiritually fed me when nothing made any sense. 

Books by broken people like Daniel Bush who have not been afraid to share have helped me to know that I am not alone. 

A faithful friend in ministry who has encouraged me without expecting anything in return whenever I’ve needed help.  

And finally a church where people are honest about their struggles and teach the Gospel faithfully every week. 

All of these things are sources of His love, but they are never meant to replace it. 

I think as long as I live on this earth my weakness will be to turn to others to fulfill the longings of my heart especially when I am in pain.  

Human nature is messy and we desperately need our Savior every moment to give us grace so we will only worship Him. 

But at the end of the day, the best thing we can do is be honest with ourselves, honest with others and honest with God about the struggles we face.  And continue to preach the Gospel to one another, because it’s the only fulfillment of our longings and real relief for our pain. 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.

John 15:12‭-‬14 ESV


Nothing to Prove or Protect 

It’s about our tendency in the church to deny the evil that is in our hearts and pretend that it is not there.  

Several months ago, I was trying to make a decision about whether to attend a family function or not. I discussed it with my counselor, and she encouraged me to ask myself the question if I went would I have anything to prove or protect?

It was a question I had to think about for a long time.  Ultimately, I decided not to go to the gathering, because I knew if I did I’d feel the pressure to prove that I was not the same woman that I used to be. I’d also be careful to protect myself by not saying or doing anything that could bring me further harm. In the end, it was just better for me to stay at home and spare myself the painful stress. 

I wish I didn’t care so much about what others think about me. I wish I didn’t want to prove that I’m not the same person that I was. I wish I didn’t feel the need to protect myself from further judgment, but I do. 

That’s what happens to most of us when we’ve tried so hard to impress others by wearing a mask and our mask gets knocked off.  

The shame of having my worst sins exposed never seems to go away. 

The humiliation of knowing that people talk about me as a woman who cheated on her husband with the former pastor makes me feel sick with shame. 

The reality of the pain and disillusionment my sins brought to my family, my children, and friends is sometimes almost more than I can bear. 

I cling to and take great comfort in knowing that because of Jesus I don’t have anything to prove to God. He is my righteousness. He has forgiven my sins and washed and made me clean. 

He also knows the truth about the abuse that occurred. (If you have suffered from spiritual abuse, rest assured He knows your pain, too.) 

I am relieved that the pressure is off with God to protect myself from being judged. He isn’t watching and waiting for me to mess up.  Because of Jesus, I have nothing to protect because He took the penalty of all my sins and will not condemn me. I am His child and that will never change. 

Jesus knows everything and still loves me. 

However, people are not so forgiving. I tell myself it should not matter what other people think, but is that really true?  Of course it matters, because God created us for connection. 

The sad truth is we all want to belong, but many of us do it by trying to be what we think others want us to be rather than being honest about who we really are. 

We cover things up to prove and protect ourselves. 

It’s one of the biggest problems that I’ve seen in the church, and also one of the main pressures that led me deeper into sin.  

I’ve been reading the book Undefended by Pastor Daniel Bush.  In the book, he talks about the three monkeys that illustrate the message see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.  He says:

Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru will attest: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, is the way to live in the world. The Japanese proverb intends to encourage the heart to focus on doing good and not evil— to be of good mind, speech, and action, to rein yourself in, exercise self-control, and maintain propriety in all things.

The meaning has been lost in translation. In the West the mystic monkeys are understood as communicating that we can be good by ignoring the bad.

I relate so well to his analogy, because I have done it so much in my own life. I do not want to acknowledge how messed up I really am.  I’d rather do like the monkeys and cover up my eyes, ears, and mouth. But the problem is when you’ve been exposed like me you can’t hide anymore, and my mask is just too shattered to put it back together again. But oh how I have tried. 

I have also come to realize the presence of this tendency in other people’s lives.  It was especially evident when I confessed my sin and other leaders in the church worked so hard to make it more palatable for others to hear.  The truth that spiritual abuse had occurred was not something they wanted the church to hear. Now that time has passed I think I’m beginning to understand why they covered it up.  

None of us really want to acknowledge how messed up we really are. It’s in our human DNA to prove and protect ourselves. 

But the protection we think we have, the shiny masks we wear,  are really walls that we build between ourselves, a thick massive structure that divide and keep us from the true connections God intended for us to have.  And when we aren’t connected we become desperate for relief and we become susceptible to the very sins that we try so hard to deny that are there. I know because it happened to me. 

It’s crucial that the church address the problem of spiritual abuse, because I think that abuse of adults and children in the church is an outward evidence of a serious internal problem in the church. It’s not just about the predators and the victims.  It’s also not about shifting the blame to pastors and shirking responsibility for victims. 

It’s about our tendency in the church to deny the evil that is in our hearts and pretend that it is not there.  

It’s clear to me that it’s a problem, because when evil is exposed so many in the church don’t know what to do. Churches have a history of moving abusers around, covering up sins with quick forgiveness, and minimizing the seriousness of the evil that has occurred.  

But if you’ve ever had someone truly hurt you,  you know that the relationship cannot ever be the same until there has been an acknowledgement of all the damage that has occurred. My former pastor’s superficial apology to my husband in a letter did more harm than good. 

We can call ourselves imperfect humans all day long, but until we truly own the pain we caused another,  the relationship will never be restored. 

Do we really think that God wants us to raise the rug and sweep our evil deeds under it just so everyone can stay comfortable and thinking they are fine? Do we really think that pretending that we are better than we are is going to earn us what we really want?

We cannot accomplish good by ignoring the bad.  

I don’t have anything to prove, because my life and my choices have proven that I’ve messed up. 

I don’t have anything to protect. The reputation that I could hold it all together and be strong has been proven to be a sham. 

But what could have happened if I’d have gone to my former church looking for help and found a room full of people who were honest about their own messiness?   What if I’d found a pastor who did not feel the need to hide his own sin? 

Everything would have been different. 

Sin and brokenness are evident all around me every time I turn on the news or scroll through social media. We are informed 24 hours a day about how messed up and evil our world can be. How is it we can look in the mirrors and pretend that we are fine? 

We are not fine. We desperately need help. 

… all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God… 

ROMANS 3:23 AMP

I love that Steve Brown regularly reminds his listeners to kiss their demons on the lips. They are there and we might as well face them, but the truth is it’s almost impossible to do it alone. We need each other with the masks and walls that divide us removed. 

We need to acknowledge our own brokenness and find relief through Christ’s forgiveness, so that we can truly offer the same acknowledgement of our sins and forgiveness to one another. 

We don’t have anything to prove or protect. 

We only have His grace and forgiveness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is everything. And He has called us to live it out together. 

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord . Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Romans 12:9‭-‬21 NLT

Our Help

He is the only Savior. 

​Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “ Lord , help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.

Psalms 107:4‭-‬6 NLT

I have trusted in the wrong things to help. 

This morning I woke up thinking about the choices I have made.  A common theme runs throughout my life. I have trusted in the wrong things to help.  

Yesterday my daughter’s iPhone was giving me the same message over and over again that her account could not be verified. Every attempt to fix the problem returned me to the same message. If I could not verify the iPhone with Apple, I was unable to do anything except to go around in circles coming to the same message over and over again. Then of all the crazy things after reading forums on the internet, I determined the problem was simple. Somehow her time and date had gotten changed in the phone and because of this Apple refused to let us connect.  Once I changed the date, Apple opened the door and let us in. 

I’m amazed at how much my life has been like an iPhone that cannot be verified. I run around in circles doing the same things over and over again always returning to the same message that communicates to me that what I’m doing isn’t working. 

Because this blog is targeted to survivors of spiritual abuse, and because I am one myself, I am conscious in everything I write here to keep those who are struggling and confused in mind. I know what this feels like. I still struggle every day.  It’s a long and difficult path that can get really dark. I pray if you are on this path with me that you would know that God has not left you nor will He.  And I pray that He’d remove every ounce of shame from all of us. It was not your fault. God gave us pastors to lead us to Him and Him alone, but when our pastor led us to himself for his own consumption, he committed a horrible evil. 

However, since that time God has been doing a work inside my own heart. He has been gentle and kind. 

A smoking flax He will not snuff out. 

A bruised reed He will not break. 

Condemnation is not from Him. 

And I have come to realize how many times I trust in other things for help.  

It breaks my heart to see this, because I wish I’d have known how He has been there all along. 

Our hearts are prone to wander in a broken world full of pain. 

Life is full of a thousand different ways we can experience relief.  

Sometimes we get stuck in a cycle of turning to the wrong things for help. 

I wonder sometimes how many times will I run around in circles before I see that He is there. 

It’s ok to want relief. 

It’s ok to ask for help.

But remember your Heavenly Father and turn to Him first. 

He is the only Savior. 

Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless. Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died. “ Lord , help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress. He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live. 

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. 

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery. They rebelled against the words of God, scorning the counsel of the Most High. That is why he broke them with hard labor; they fell, and no one was there to help them. “ Lord , help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains. 

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron. 

Some were fools; they rebelled and suffered for their sins. They couldn’t stand the thought of food, and they were knocking on death’s door. “ Lord , help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death. 

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and sing joyfully about his glorious acts. 

Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world. They, too, observed the Lord ’s power in action, his impressive works on the deepest seas. He spoke, and the winds rose, stirring up the waves. Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits’ end. “ Lord , help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor! 

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation and before the leaders of the nation.

Psalms 107:4‭-‬32 NLT

Giving My Heart Away

And yet He still loves me. 

​“Even now,” declares the Lord , “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:12‭-‬13 NIV

I’ll never forget that question my counselor asked me in one of our first face to face sessions. I sat on the couch buried beneath a pillow and she asked, why do you give your heart away so quickly?

It’s a question that’s ruminated through my mind many times since I sat in her office almost three years ago.

God’s children have been giving their hearts away to other things and people since humanity fell.

Our hearts are broken time and time again.

I gave my broken heart away to a pastor who told me he loved me, and I thought my dream for a father who would love me had finally come true.  

Getting a hug from him was like taking a drug for me, a drug that made me feel complete. 

But just like any drug,  the positive effects did not last, the lows came flooding in, as well as a demand for another hit.

The confusing part is, I didn’t know it was an addiction, I believed that it was love.

I wasn’t purchasing crack on the street. I was sitting in my pastor’s office desperately looking for God.

How could it all turn out so wrong?

There was a darkness in my soul that  I wanted to go away. A history of abuse that had been overwhelming and confusing me for most of my life. He was the only person I’d met who was willing to walk through the darkness with me. He was also the only one who didn’t seem afraid. I believed that he was like Jesus and not afraid to touch my sinful soul. I believed that his hug had made me whole. 

I had no idea  I had become a slave.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

Romans 6:12 NIV

It did not feel like slavery. It felt like what I was made for. I talked to him on the phone every day and looked for any opportunity to be with him.

And by the time what I knew was sinful entered into the picture,  I was already hooked.

Even in our final conversation, my former pastor was still calling what we had love.

But it wasn’t love. It never had been love.

It (Love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:5‭-‬7 NIV 

But why did I give my heart away to something that wasn’t love?

Recently,  I sat at the end of my son’s dock overlooking the peaceful waters and watching the swallows fly freely just above my head.  I wanted to admire the beauty that surrounded me, wanted to experience the peaceful moment and allow my soul to rest.

But rest was difficult to get find. A pressure in my chest kept reminding me that there was so much in my life that wasn’t in control; so many unanswered questions about the future of my life. Would things ever get better? Or would trauma continue to be the story of my life?

My husband has been saying lately that he’s afraid to hope. So much bad has happened in our lives. So many things have not turned out as we’d planned.  So many decisions that we need to make about the future of our lives and our children’s lives.

Our hearts are still broken and are desperately longing for relief and answers about what is to come.

It’s the same place I was in when I met my former pastor.

And it’s a terrifying place to be.

The truth is sometimes we choose control over love.

I could just as easily walk back into slavery to something else and experience temporary relief, however this time I couldn’t do it with ignorance as an excuse.

What I see now about the lies I believed before, I cannot unsee.

I know if I give my heart away to anything except God it will only bring more pain.

But still the struggle is real. Especially when the desire for God to do something to bring relief is only met with silence.

How many times in 40 years of wandering in the dessert did the Israelites cry out in frustration to God? How many times did they wish that they were back in Israel where at least the choices were made for them and they knew what to expect?

The Israelites lost sight of the freedom that God promised. They didn’t like having to choose to follow God when so much was uncertain. When so much was unseen. They were tired of their empty bellys and tired of things not being at all the way they’d imagined they would be.

And I get tired, too.

How much longer do I have to wander around in this desert and wait for God to move? How many times will I wonder if I wasn’t better off in Egypt? How many more times will I hope and only experience disappointment?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12 NLT

My hope for relief didn’t come from where I thought it would.  Relief finally came at the end of years of disappointment of hoping in something that could never bring hope.

The children of Israel wrestled with God for 40 years in the desert wanting hope on their terms; wanting control more than love.

Even after God had rescued them from slavery they still didn’t trust in His plan to bring them good.

Even after God rescued me, I still doubt, too.

When I am thrilled with the reality of who God is and what He has done, I am filled with feelings that are consonant with any intimate relationship. I feel close, connected, engaged, passionate, and alive. On the other hand, when my heart is oriented toward securing life (or a cab, or a waitress to bring my bill, or a break from struggling with the thorns and thistles in my garden) through my own power and wisdom, I am serving another master, not God. 

Dan Allender, Bold Love 

We are all called to live as sons not as slaves.

A son expects his father to bring him good.

A slave lives in fear of losing what good he has.

Many days I confess I live in fear of losing what good I have.

I still cling to control more than I do love. 

Trauma dictates more of my life than hope does. 

And yet He still loves me. 

For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.

Psalms 103:14 NLT

And herein lies our hope.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 

Romans 5:5 NLT

And I pray for the grace today to choose love over control and to give my heart only away to Him.