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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.

Dare to Hope 

​The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord .

Lamentations 3:19‭-‬26 NLT

Hope can be a scary thing when all you’ve hoped for seems like it has been lost; when bitterness is all that’s left.

At times I have never wanted to hope again.

I will never forget how awful it has been.

I hoped for so many things that did not come true.

But hope was not the problem.  

It was what I hoped in that was. 

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:24‭-‬25 ESV

The shame of placing my hope in the wrong things has been difficult to sort through.

Understanding that hope isn’t the problem, but where I was looking for it was is the key to moving forward.

I believed that there was something wrong with me for wanting the things that I did. That somehow those desires are what caused me to sin.

But it was never wrong to desire a father figure in my life or a person to love me unconditionally. Those are the kind of relationships God created us for.

To grow up with an abusive father placed a big hole in my life and filled it with fear.

Initially, my former pastor seemed to fill that hole and put those fears to rest. He made me feel safe. Until I discovered he wasn’t safe at all.

How can I hope again after so much that I hoped for brought such destruction?

How can I not hope for something better than this?

Therefore, I will hope in something else besides the things that have disappointed me.

I will hope in God.

I will continue to seek after Him.

There is no where else to go.

When I’m able to see past the pain of my life, I recognize His loving presence has been there all along.

He’s never ceased calling me back to Him.

His mercies are new every morning.

What a good and faithful Father He is.

He is my safety.

He will never do me harm.  

His hope is bigger than my disappointment.

His hope is beyond what my mind is capable of understanding.

He is worth waiting for.

I dare to Hope in Him.

 

The Hope of Survivors

Image result for the hope of survivors

This is a tremendous ministry that supports families who have been abused by clergy.  If  are a survivor and need help, please reach out to them.

http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/do_you_need_help.php

And if you can, support them with a donation!  They are a rare and much needed ministry to many who are suffering!

http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/donate.php

 

Partners Against Sexual Abuse

Dear Senator (name removed), I greatly appreciate your time in reading my letter. I hope that today finds you doing well. Thank you for all you are doing to make life in (place removed)County better. We only recently moved to (name removed) , but we have grown to love the area. I spoke with a […]

via Letter from an Abuse Survivor to their Senator (Names Removed) — PASA Partners Against Sexual Abuse

This is a letter that I wrote to my Senator last year.

If you are interested in getting laws passed in your state against clergy or counselor sexual abuse, I encourage you to visit this new page that I am helping a friend set up.  PASA is an opportunity to educate and connect victims and concerned citizens in an effort to pass laws in states that do not have laws against this type of destructive behavior.  Check out PASA, follow our page and share it with others!

God bless,

Liz

A Good Road? 

He will not let go of us. 

I want to preface what I have written by saying, if you have experienced spiritual abuse, I suspect you’ve wondered like I have if life will ever be the same again.  

Being on the other side of this kind of suffering can feel like a very lonely and confusing place to be. 

I am sorry that you are here. I have no doubt God hates what has happened to us. There is nothing good about what happened, and it must be grieved. 

But evil has not won even though it may feel like it has.  God can and will and promises absolutely to do what He does best and turn this evil that has occurred into good in our lives.  This isn’t a pat answer. 

It’s an anchor of hope that we can know is holding tightly onto us when it feels like we have been hit by a hurricane. 

He will not let go of us. 

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:18‭-‬20 NLT

As our family has continued to struggle with the past and the doubt, fear, anxiety and depression that surround it, our constant prayer is for God to show us His plan for our lives. 

Most of all to know that it is good. 

Sometimes we wonder if He is listening. 

The journey has been long and confusing on a road with many twists and turns. 

One of most difficult things to overcome is the tendency to look back at where I’ve been and question every bad choice I ever made, especially the ones that caused me to sin. 

At times, my sins play on an continuous reel reminding me that if I had not made certain choices or if I’d made better ones, we would not be struggling as much as we are. 

It’s been almost three years since I told the truth about the secret abusive relationship I had with the former pastor.  Three years since I felt more freedom than I’d ever had before. And three years since I experienced more shame from others than I knew was possible.  It has been a rollercoaster ride that has continued. 

I don’t mean to discourage you if you have been through the same thing. More than anything else I want to tell you how much easier it gets as time goes on, but the truth is living with the consequences of spiritual abuse is still very hard. 

And I think one of the hardest things is knowing God’s plan and trusting God’s plan for good when so much bad has occurred. 

This past Sunday,  the pastor of the church we’ve been attending acknowledged the painful reality of life in this broken world. Sometimes things get better. Sometimes they do not. However, he said because of God’s work in our lives that no matter what road we are on it is good.

Despite what sounded somewhat despairing in hearing that sometimes things do not get better, these words brought us comfort, because we knew that they were true.  

A large part of getting through the damage of spiritual abuse is the acceptance and acknowledgement of all that has been lost and knowing that some of it can never be regained.  

Actually what’s made things more difficult in our struggles are the people who’ve told us that if we’d just say certain prayers or believe certain things that we’d live a better life.  If we’d just forgive and move on everything would be fine.  

The lack of understanding of other believers concerning spiritual abuse is probably one of the most difficult things to overcome. 

The reality that we have friends who are still in a relationship with our former pastor is difficult, too.  They have forgiven and moved on.  It’s not something that can be discussed with them. The only way to have a friendship is just not to bring it up. And it’s hard because so much of our lives involved the former pastor.  

But the difficult question is:

How can this road possibly be good?   

And the reel from the past begins to play again, and it keeps going back to the scene where I did things I’d give anything to go back and choose not to do again. If I’d made different choices everything could be so different. What would life be like without this overwhelming shame? 

How can this road possibly be good, God?  

My shame has taken me back to the cross over and over again. Clinging to His goodness and righteousness I’ve understood more than I ever did before I was abused how desperately I need Him every moment to remind me that because of Jesus death I am clean and I am His. 

The evil that operated inside of the abusive system, the twisted desires that wrapped me and my family up in a tangled web of idolatry and deceit have caused our hearts seek the truth and worship the Only One capable of real love.  

Love that doesn’t harm. 

Love that doesn’t have a hidden agenda. 

Love that casts out fear. 

Love that tells me I belong.

And nothing in this world can give me this love.  

Only one Person can.  

He’s the one who called me out of the lies into the truth. 

He’s the one who assured me over and over again when I almost lost my mind that He was going to bring good out of all the evil that had occurred. 

He’s the One I held onto when there was nothing else to.  

He’s the One who’s love is big enough to fill the desperate longing in my soul. 

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV 

And I am so very thankful for Him.

The road is hard. 

The road is long. 

The road is a process. 

But He is with us.  

He has not nor will He ever abandon us. 

The road I’ve been on has taught me this more than anything else. 

Therefore, even though the road is painful, it is also very good. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1‭-‬4 ESV

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The Capacity to Love 

To experience the love of someone who unconditionally loves and accepts you despite where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you is life transforming. To be loved in this way causes us to love in return. 

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

Luke 7:47 NLT

Too many Christians get saved and leave before they get loved. That is why so many Christians are narrow, critical, and judgmental. They should have stayed until they got loved. God doesn’t need you. He does fine without your help…He wants you to just let him love you for a while. When you have enough love to give to somebody else, he’ll send you back into the field. And one other thing: God mostly uses wounded healers. As painful as your sin is right now, it is the stuff that God will use to build a monument to his glory. Not only that, you will find great power in your wound.

Steve BrownApproaching God

What if we replaced this notion of our essential damage with a sense of our essential capacity to love… 

Sharon Salzberg, A Standing Meditation for Self-Care

A couple of days ago talking with my counselor, I realized how much I still view myself through the lens of someone who is damaged.  On the painful days, especially when the PTSD kicks in, this lie can feel as if it is suffocating my soul.  It can cause me to believe I have no capacity to do good because of my damage, and especially no capacity to love. 

If you’ve suffered any kind of abuse, especially sexual abuse or been involved in sexual sin, maybe this lie does the same thing to you.  

The only way I’ve found relief from the lies is in searching for the truth, and clinging to God’s redemptive plan despite the evil that has been done. What the enemy means for evil, the Lord will indeed bring good out of. He promises us over and over again in His word. I also believe that God does mostly use wounded healers, and that there is great power in our wounds.  It is my prayer that the acknowledgment of my own painful wounds will give you the same comfort I have found in other wounded healers who have not been afraid to share. 

But I think it’s also important to communicate that God’s redemption of our pain is not a pat answer to encourage us to avoid our pain. I see this happening too much in the church and a lot of damage is done by it. The nature of pain is that it points to something that needs our attention. 

In the Christian life, our pain can be the biggest driving force that brings us to Jesus, and I have discovered He is usually not a means of escaping the pain, but rather The Light that leads us through it towards hope. 

I think that one of the most painful things about the spiritual abuse was having my sinful part in the abusive cycle exposed and seeing the reactions of others to it.  Others who did not understand or believe that the spiritual abuse had occurred. Others who made light of it by calling it an affair. Others who said that I was not a victim. Others who made jokes, judged and criticized without ever speaking to me directly about what had occurred. Gossip does many times make it’s way back to those who are being gossipped about. Our words have the tremendous capacity to bring great good and do tremendous harm. The words spoken by others about me continue to haunt and revisit my mind on a regular basis. 

I know that I let the opinions of others effect me too much. I know that I am not defined by what other people think, but rather by who God says that I am. But there’s just something about my brain that causes me to get stuck in the opinions of others, and I have allowed these opinions many times  to cause me to view myself as damaged goods and incapable of being used by God to do good.  And more times than I wish I did, I see myself as someone who only brings out the worst in others.  

It’s the lie that first made it’s way into my life as an abused child. The one that said because bad things happened to me then I must be bad. 

If Satan can keep me believing this lie about myself, he can cripple me from accomplishing the good God has for me to do. He can keep me putting up walls and keeping others out. He can keep me believing that God will never use me again. 

But Satan is not in control, God is. And despite how many lies I hear about myself, God’s redemptive purpose for my life continues to bring light to the truth into my heart.  

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6 NLT

God doesn’t stop working in our lives just because we sinned. As a matter of fact, God’s most powerful work in our lives begins when He exposes our sin and we experience His love. 

The story of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’s feet is told in every gospel account. God wanted to make sure that we heard her story.  Her sin was out in the open for everyone to see. There was no where to hide from their judgment. There was no where to escape the reality that she was damaged goods.  If she was a prostitute as many believe she was, she had probably been used and disposed of over and over again.  I imagine she’d lost all hope before Jesus came along. But when she heard about Jesus everything changed.

To experience the love of someone who unconditionally loves and accepts you despite where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you is life transforming. To be loved in this way causes us to love in return. 

And this woman gave everything of value that she had to love Jesus in return, because He was everything she had ever wanted in life. She didn’t have any goodness to cling to, and everything that she could lose she poured out onto Jesus’s feet in an act of extravagant worship and love.

The reaction of the religious people to a sinful woman washing Jesus’s feet reveals once again that things have not changed. They were appalled that Jesus would allow her to touch Him.They believed that God only associated with those who were clean. Therefore, they judged Jesus, too for even associating with her.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Luke 7:39 NLT

On a side note, I’m saddened by how much I see this going on in our world. One thing that has changed about our world is how much information is accessible to us and how loud the judgments are about everything going on in our world. If social media and 24 hour news had been around in Jesus time, Simon the Pharisee might not have kept his thoughts to himself. He might have taken a picture and tweeted it to all of his friends. 

If he is a prophet of God, why would he let her do this? hashtag #notofgod

Simon’s friends may have retweeted his picture,  and the responses of Simon’s friend’s friends might have sparked a controversy to be fought in the comments section. Everyone would have an opinion. And if other’s didn’t agree with Simon’s opinion then some might assume that they were not of God either. 

But what does the judgment of this Pharisee reveal about his capacity to receive God’s love?  

Jesus did not fight out what He believed on social media. He just made sure that this woman’s story was told over and over again in scripture.  Whether people were willing to hear what He said about her love, in all likelihood would depend on whether they’d loved Jesus like she had.  Simon was still clinging to his own capacity for goodness and missed the truth of God’s redemptive plan.  But this woman knew she wasn’t good and clung to God’s goodness with all she had. And what resulted was gratitude, genuine worship and love. 

The power of other’s opinions that I allow to cripple me continue to reveal my humanness and desperate need for God’s love in my life. The lies that I struggle not to believe send me to Jesus over and over again so that He will remind me of the truth of who I really am. 

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15‭-‬16 NLT

The power of other’s opinions, and the pain I have experienced as a result have also taught me the importance of showing compassion rather than judgment.  

The truth is I am not damaged goods because of my sin, and neither are you. We do not bring out the worst in other’s, but rather our brokenness drives us to kneel before Jesus and opens us up to receiving His love in ways others cannot. The more we receive His love, the greater our capacity to love God and others in return.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”


The Healthy Church

The truth is there are no completely healthy churches. We live in a fallen world and we are all are broken by sin.

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Christ went in to reverse the whole conception of leadership: The leader was to serve. Diane Langberg, Clergy Sexual Abuse

From the time people in Jesus’s day began to hear that He was the promised Messiah, disappointment and disbelief began to spread.  Jesus fell short of the expectations that people had. They’d wanted a king who would bring prosperity and peace to the land and their lives.

His rag tag bunch of followers were a disappointment, too. Certainly, the real Messiah had better things to do than hang out with the dregs of society, but Jesus made them a priority.

It doesn’t take much evaluation to determine that things have not changed much since that time.  The world is still looking for a strong leader to save us all from the chaos in the world and bring us peace, comfort and prosperity, and those of us in the church are no exception.

But Jesus has always been more concerned about our souls than He has the peace of the world around us. Our physical lives in this world are only a speck in the eternal scheme of things.  God wants to heal our souls so that we can spend eternity with him.  He knows that true rest and peace in this world is not possible without Him.

Those who followed Jesus were weak and needy and knew it and their outward lives revealed it.  They’d given up a long time ago trying to cover it up.  They had sought what they needed in the world and it had left them sorely disappointed.

Those who still placed their hope in their ability to control their lives in their current circumstances, clung to their comfort and sought a leader who would keep them there.  Their hope was still in what they could see and they didn’t want anyone to disrupt it. Therefore, Jesus was a disappointment.

To deny the reality of our brokenness and need and to attempt to cover it up is to miss an opportunity to meet Jesus.

To look for strong leaders who will help us live in comfort without entering the reality of our pain and brokenness, or leaders who will tell us that everything is OK when it’s not, is missing God’s call to enter a relationship and a dependency on the only One can bring us real peace.

Only when we are able to see our brokenness and our need for Jesus do we really turn to Him.

The confusing part of my story is that I knew how desperate I was, and I went to the church in search of someone to help me find Jesus, but instead I found a wolf.

When leaders lead us to think that they are operating on behalf of Jesus and we are in a vulnerable and confused state, many of us will unknowingly follow those leaders into a ditch.

And I guess the real question is, How do we know which ones are leading us to Jesus and which ones intend to do us harm?  

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:15-20

It is clear from the scriptures that false prophets are in the church, yet as a victim of clergy abuse, I have found very few people in the church who are willing to admit that they are there.

Maybe it’s out of fear that we are not willing to talk about it or it’s just too horrendous for our minds to imagine that there would be people in the churches that we hold dear who will lead us astray.  Mostly, I think it may be because we like the comfort of thinking that everything is fine when it actually is not.

But no matter what our reasons for not talking more about it, the reality is they are there and in our refusal to recognize evil it continues to wreak havoc.

Any power not in active communion with God is not neutral or harmless, but demonic. Diane Langberg, Clergy Sexual Abuse

Only when the truth is exposed can it be brought out into the light and healed.

Being a part of this exposure has enabled me to see certain truths that others have not seen.  If you are victim of clergy abuse, in all likelihood you will see many of these truths, too.  So take comfort, as my counselor told me early on in counseling what you see, you will not unsee. God will not waste your pain and you will be wiser as a result.

But please know that I am so very sorry for what you have gone through. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been through it can fully understand the despair that one feels when they go to the church for hope and only find abuse.

Clergy abuse is never the victim’s fault, but it is clear that wolves in the church pretend to be one of us and they use our own hopes and desire to deceive us.

Last night I after watching the first two episodes of Anne with an E on Netflix I was reminded once again of the desires of my heart that a my former pastor preyed upon and used to lead me astray. Anne has been an orphan all of her life. More than anything else,  Anne wants to belong to a family who will love her and accept all of her brokenness and quirky ways.  Anne talks too much. She’s coped with her abandonment, losses and abuse by escaping into books and fantasy and she bubbles over telling everything she thinks to whoever will listen. Anne is outwardly a mess.  No matter how hard she tries she cannot hold it in. Anne is also desperately afraid of rejection.  In the first episode, she’s riding home with her new foster father talking without taking a breath. She asks him does he want her to be quiet, that she knew her talking got on other’s nerves. The foster father surprises her with acceptance and tells her that he likes listening to her.

Later in the show, Anne is running across the train station after she hears her foster father call her daughter for the first time.  The expression on her face tells us that the thing she has always hoped for has finally come true.  Not long after, Anne is asked to write her name in the family Bible, a declaration that she is now a permanent part of her foster  family.  Anne finally belongs.

The desire to belong was the bait that lured me in.  When my former pastor told me that he loved me, I gave him my heart.

The hardest part about the abuse from a spiritual leader I received was how it stole my heart.

And my former pastor used my heart for his own pleasure.

This is not the work of Jesus or the work of anyone who follows Him.

Jesus wants to give us the desires of our heart and bring about His goodness in our lives.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13:3-5

Jesus served.

Let those words sit for a minute and think about them.

Jesus knelt down and washed the disciples dirty feet.  God had given Him everything that He needed. He had all the power, all the authority to do anything that He wanted to do. He didn’t need anything from the disciples.  But what He did want was to serve them and teach them how to do the same for each other.

Because it is the nature of love to give. Not to take.

It is the nature of evil to take everything that it can for itself.

When Jesus is truly at work in our lives, His love motivates us to give.

When I gave my former pastor my heart, all my heart wanted to do was take, and whatever I got was not enough.  And it was a vicious cycle of abuse that continued for almost a decade.

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits...And in any healthy relationship love should be the primary fruit that we find.

If you’ve been abused by clergy it may seem like there are not any healthy churches or leaders out there.  It may seem like you are swimming in a sea filled with sharks.  Sometimes in your shame it may even feel like you are the shark.

But there are lifeguards out there, so please don’t give up.

As I write this, it has been almost three years since our family came out of our own abusive situation.  We have visited several churches. We have stayed at home and listened to a lot of podcasts, too.  Healing takes time.  Give yourself permission to heal.  It’s really ok.

The truth is there are no completely healthy churches. We live in a fallen world and we are all are broken by sin.  The best thing we can look for in a church and it’s leader is one where there is acknowledgement that we desperately need Jesus and that He is our only source of true hope, not anything in this world.  He’s the only one who loves us and accepts us just as we are and loves us with all of His heart and tells us we belong to Him.

So like Anne with an E know our name is written in His book and it’ll never be erased. He has called us His Children and promised that we are a part of His family forever. Through Him, we have everything we need even when the world feels like the world is falling apart.

Messiah has come and He is making all things new.

This world isn’t home, but He’s got one waiting for us.  One day peace will come to our bodies and souls. One day all the tears will be wiped away forever by Him.

He is Our Unseen Hope and the only hope we need.

And He is at the center of every healthy church.

The Unhealthy System

If you are in a church and you feel like something isn’t right, pray and ask questions. If you are a part of that body, you have a right to. If they aren’t open to questions, then maybe it is time to leave.

If one member suffers, all suffer together;
1 Corinthians 12:26

I lived in secrets for close to a decade in a church where I worked, volunteered and was a member.  I believed the church was healthy.  I believed that I was as healthy as a Christian could be.  My definition of health meant that I was doing the best that I could to live the Christian life and look healthy on the outside, but it was not the truth.

If you’ve read my story, you know that there were many secrets I kept about my relationship with my former pastor from my friends and my family.  I lived a double life.

When I look back on that time, I cannot tell you how thankful I am to be free.  I never want to live that way again.

After the truth was exposed and the dust had settled, conversations with friends revealed that they had been suspicious that something was wrong, but they didn’t examine what they were feeling enough to ask questions.  It’s hard to believe that in all the ten years of hiding, that not one person who regularly attended the church asked me if anything was going on between us.

There was a lady for a short time who was part of the music ministry at the church.  She sent me an email telling me she had some concerns about me and the pastor doing too much on our own.  She pointed out to me that it was strange that there were several pictures of the pastor in our family’s photo album.  I believe she was sensitive enough to see that something was wrong.  She left the church not long after.

Unhealthy systems seem to operate that way.  Those of us in them don’t really understand that it’s unhealthy, but often times those on the outside can see things that are not right.

If you are in a church and you feel like something isn’t right, pray and ask questions.  If you are a part of that body, you have a right to. If they aren’t open to questions, then maybe it is time to leave.

Clergy abuse is always part of an unhealthy system. Coming out of an unhealthy system and living with the pain that it caused, has caused our family to have a lot of fear that we will wind up in this kind of situation again.

Fear is beneficial in the sense that it heightens our awareness to the things going on around us.  But fear can be crippling if one is not able to work through what it is that is causing them to be afraid and make healthy decisions about it.  Fear calls us to pay attention and dig deeper into what it is we are afraid of.

Reading Diane Langberg’s article recently on clergy abuse gave me a lot of clarity about some of the manifestations and causes of an unhealthy church environment, and understanding these things helped me to see the problems that were present before and know what I needed to look for in a healthy church. This knowledge has helped to ease some of my fear.

If you have suffered from clergy abuse, I know the church can be a terrifying place. Please do not let anyone minimize your pain and cause you to feel it is not legitimate and that you should just forgive, forget and move on.  Healing takes time and is a process.  And we only heal, when we are honest with ourselves and God.  I have been stunned by Christians who have told my husband that he just needed to forgive without even telling him that they were sorry for what he had gone through.  This kind of advice brought even more harm to him, and caused him to back away from them at a time when he needed others in his life to encourage him the most. Give yourself time to heal, and trust God’s Holy Spirit to guide you in moving forward.  I believe that a healthy church environment can be very beneficial to healing.  God called us to operate as a body together.  However, I also know how detrimental an unhealthy environment can be to our souls.  Keep trying to find help and support, but know it is OK if you are not ready to go back to church.

However, if you are ready to move forward in finding a church again, here are some insights I gained from Dr. Langberg’s article, Clergy Sexual Abuse.

To find sexual abuse perpetrated by a shepherd in the church of Jesus Christ toward some of the sheep is indeed a crop failure.  Many things must be wrong for such an appalling, heartbreaking phenomenon to occur.  I believe one of the problems is poison in the soil.

Dr. Langberg goes on to explain that one of these poisons is revealed in the way that we define the role of a leader in the church.   

All Knowing?

If the person in the position at the top is the expert, then the followers tend to abdicate their power. Diane Langberg

The first thing that caused me to be “awestruck” by my former pastor was the knowledge that he had.  He was an expository teacher.   He taught with authority and confidence.  There were a lot of things that I was not sure about after leaving my previous church environment where the leader was more passive and didn’t take a stand on important issues.  This pastor appeared to know what he was talking about, and listening to him cleared up a lot of confusion I had.  After only a short period of time, I placed a lot of confidence in what he said.  I emailed him for advice, and began to rely on him to help me work through some things that were bothering me.  He always seemed to have the answer for everything.  I noticed that other people in the church had a lot of confidence in him as well.  It wasn’t long before I stopped seeking God and started seeking the pastor for advice.

I have come to understand since this time that healthy environments leave us with questions and move us toward God to find the answers.

All powerful?

As long as we continue to define leadership as the world does – a position demanding expertise and charisma – we will breed leaders who feel isolated and desperately seek omnipotence. Diane Langberg

I admit that my understanding of what I thought a pastor was supposed to be only fed into the abusive dynamic of my relationship with him.  Part of this was due to ignorance on my part of understanding exactly what my role was as a woman in ministry.  In the church and even in the culture I grew up in,  I believed that women didn’t have much of a voice in the church.  My understanding of God’s role for man as a leader and my role of submission was out of balance and off skew, so it was easy to give away the little power I believed I had.  As the relationship with the pastor grew, I was amazed at his charismatic ability to lead the church and accomplish so much.  He just knew how to make things happen, and he seemed to be behind most everything that was going on.  Eventually, I thought he hung the moon and offered him constant praise for what he was doing well.  I trusted more in his ability to accomplish things for God’s kingdom more than I did God’s power.

Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.  Martin Luther

The drive for power is often a cloak for terrible anxiety….Unmanged anxiety leads to pathology. The more isolated, insignificant, and ineffective one feels, the greater the need for power. Diane Langberg

I imagine a source of anxiety for a lot of pastors is the expectations that are placed on them.  I’m not in any way minimizing the damage that is done by abuse or the responsibility a pastor has to lead God’s people to Jesus.  It’s a high calling and one that God calls pastors highly accountable for.  Their failure to lead the church to Jesus can cause many who follow them to fail.  But I also know that being an idol for someone else takes a toll on one’s soul.  Power over another comes at a high cost and demands more power to pay it. I don’t know if anyone else idolized my former pastor to the degree that I did, but I do I  know he was in a position to help a lot of people in the church, and I saw how upset he got when he didn’t think he had any control over decisions that others were making.  It was especially evident when he retired and another pastor took over that the power he had in other’s lives was way too important to him.

How a church views those who are in leadership can contribute greatly to the health of the church.  A church that longs for a leader who will be in control and carry out their agenda can result in idolatry and chaos.  Things haven’t changed since Israel begged God for a king, and what resulted after that were many evil kings.  There is just something in our DNA that wants a strong leader who will accomplish what we desire, but if we place our hope in anyone more than we do Jesus we will experience great despair.

In the poisonous soil of an unhealthy church there are often expectations of knowledge and power that God never intended for us to have in a human leader, but only in Him.

The sad thing about our expectations is that so many of us have been taught wrongly by the church and our culture what true leadership is.   In seeking a healthy church, we must examine our expectations in light of what Jesus modeled through His leadership and we must look for that model in a healthy church.

If we want to prevent sexual abuse of the sheep by their shepherds, then we must go back to the Word of God for an understanding of what it truly means to lead, and what it truly means to follow. Diane Langberg.

The next blog will examine what a healthy church looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace and Law

How could the church, God’s system set in place to bring healing and relief to the broken, be the cause of so much hurt?

Diane Langberg 

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:16‭-‬23 ESV

Lately, I’ve been struggling to understand how to apply grace and law to the issue of clergy abuse.

Grace and freedom from the law of condemnation through the forgiveness of Christ, is what continues to bring my heart freedom and relief. I want to share this freedom with everyone I know no matter what kind of sin they’ve committed.  The more I’ve understood my own sin, the more I’ve been humbled and thankful for God’s grace. Scripture teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but no one is beyond the reach of His mercy, and that includes pastors who abuse their God given authority. And as the story of the prostitute who washed Jesus’s feet teaches us, the greater our sin and understanding of it,  the greater the grace and the love it produces in our lives.

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Luke 7:47 ESV

Even though Jesus revealed through the prostitute’s story,  the greater our sin, the greater our capacity to receive grace,  He never minimized the damage sin caused.  

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1‭-‬2 ESV

Everything Jesus did teaches us that He came to bring freedom from the slavery of sin and the death it would ultimately bring to those who did not turn away from it and turn to Him. Those who were unwilling to see their sin continued on a destructive path bringing continual damage to themselves and others.  Ironically, the religious leaders of Jesus’s time were the ones who refused to recognize the truth and brought the most harm.  I do not believe that much has changed.  The scriptures are full of warnings of wolves who would come in and attempt to lead others astray. Great evil is at work when we are unwilling to recognize the damage our sin causes, especially when we are in a position of leading others.

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew 24:24

Our family has been on the receiving end of that damage.  The clergy abuse that we suffered under for almost a decade, has brought more pain, confusion,  loneliness and depression than we ever knew was possible.

How could the church, God’s system set in place to bring healing and relief to the broken,  be the cause of so much hurt? 

It’s been a question we’ve asked ourselves many times.  This blog has been an effort to understand and find the source of this pain, because I want the hurting to stop.  I do not want anyone else to experience the kind of pain that we have.

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend,  the one I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, create a website for a new organization PASA (Partners Against Sexual Abuse). My friend is a volunteer with The Hope of Survivors ,who has experienced clergy abuse herself and is on the front lines helping others who are continuing to be harmed by this kind of abuse.  She believes that these efforts to make states aware of their laws concerning counselor and clergy sexual misconduct will motivate concerned people to work together to get laws passed and bring about a much needed change. If you want to be a part of this effort, please reach out to PASA here.

As I’ve worked on this website, I’ve considered the pros and cons of laws against clergy abuse being passed. Clergy abuse is not against the law in the state where I live. Currently, there are only 13 states that have laws against it. (Find out your state’s law here.)  As a result of this,  I felt the only ones I could go to for help were in the church, and that only resulted in more damage being done. Sadly, the church refused to look seriously at the damage of the abuse and seek understanding as to why it had occurred. Rather,  they focused more on efforts to do damage control and to protect the church’s reputation. They chose to minimize the severity of the abuse and label it an affair that the pastor was just “more responsible for.”  Had laws against clergy abuse been in place in my state when it was exposed, at least from the perspective of the law it would have been clear who the law breaker and who the victim was, and that would have helped!  It would also allow pastors to be prosecuted for these types of crimes, possibly serving prison time.  At the very least, these particular crimes would be exposed and a matter of public record, which would help to minimize the possibility of others being abused.  These laws would also enable victims to more easily seek restitution for damages that have been done.  I have been in counseling for three years, and other family members have been in counseling as well, and these types of services can take a toll on finances.  Because of this many will not get they help that they need.  Sadly, many victims of clergy abuse have suffered much loss of friends, finances, and have received little or no help from the church.

However, there are also potential negatives to a law against clergy abuse being passed, and thus the reason some are against it. Just as with any law, more judgment and less grace can and will occur in some churches. Also, more fear and control can squash the freedom God intended for us to have in our relationships with one another, as well as the added pressure to perform for God and pretend everything is fine, all of which I believe are one of the contributing factors as to why abuse occurs.  Laws against this type of abuse will expose more abuse and continue to bring damage to the church’s reputation and cause some people to avoid attending church.

Nevertheless, God is ultimately in charge of the authorities who make the decisions as to whether laws are passed or not. Laws are made to keep us safe and protect us from evil.  And if the church will not do what it can to protect it’s members from the evil of abuse, then God will use the laws of the land to do it.

Therefore whoever resists authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13:2‭-‬7 ESV

I wish that a law was not necessary to protect those in the church from abuse. I believe that God has provided a much better way for His church to operate rather than out of fear of the law.  He has called us to love one another with a love that does not need a law to tell us what’s right and wrong. A love that calls us to think more about others than ourselves. A love that calls us to humility and service rather than power and control of one another. A love that sees others who are hurting and desires to bring healing.

Accepting God’s grace and giving it to one another is always the best solution. But true grace can only come when one is willing to acknowledge the truth about the brokenness of humanity and the pain we cause one another when we operate outside of God’s will.  True Grace only comes when we recognize how desperately all of us need it. And maybe a law against clergy abuse is the only way some church leaders who abuse can recognize they need it.

I stayed in an abusive relationship with my former pastor for almost ten years, and the reason I stayed as long as I did was that I believed that if I told the truth that others would not offer grace and both of us stood to lose everything. He asked me to promise that I would take the secret of the sexual nature of our relationship to my grave, and I did until I began to suffocate under the pressure of the lies.

But I learned a painful lesson through exposing the truth as well.  Telling the truth to people who do not understand their own need for grace brings even more damage, especially when it is in a church environment. So if you are in a clergy abuse situation, please reach out to an organization like The Hope of Survivors or a licensed professional counselor.  Abuse is always a part of a system, and going to a damaged system for help, most often results in more damage being done.

Whether a law gets passed or not, I believe God calls Christians first and foremost to recognize our desperate need for Him in how we function as a church and that we work diligently to keep the church healthy, not by producing more fear of the darkness, but by bringing the darkness into the light and facing it head on.

Abuse happens in unhealthy systems, and when this kind of pain occurs we are called to look at the body and what needs to change for all of us. True leaders are not called to make light of abuse in the church or make it more palatable for others so they’ll stay comfortable with their belief that everything is fine.  Leaders are not called to protect the reputation of the church. Leaders are called to serve the church in truth.

(Love) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

I Cor. 13:6

If you would like more information on how to protect your church against clergy abuse, this article and these videos from Diane Langberg are exceptional resources for any church.

It’s Really Not Your Fault 

The truth does indeed set us free, but much of that freedom comes through a process. 

When I first began to understand that I had been abused by my pastor, the confusion was overwhelming.  I’d believed with much shame for years both my pastor and I were sinning against God and therefore equally responsible, and sometimes I even took all the blame on myself.  I did not understand all the dynamics of a pastor abusing his position of power, and it’d never seriously crossed my mind that my pastor might be a predator. 

I’ve discovered as I’ve written this blog for the past two years that I continue to revisit the same truths over and over again.  My brain needs constant redirection towards the truth and away from the default thought patterns I learned and practiced for years. 

Since the beginning of my healing process, it’s been difficult to separate my own sin from the pastor’s responsibility. I’ve struggled in confusion over and over again whether I should view myself as a victim or a willing participant. I did not want to view myself as a victim, because it felt like I had no control over my choices. I did not want to see myself as a willing participant, because as a victim of childhood sexual abuse this caused me to believe that somehow I’d caused all of the abuse. Both views of myself brought great shame, and the ambivalence I felt over which category I belonged in brought only more shame and confusion. 

But recently the truth about my victimization and my sin began to take a little more root in my heart. For a little over a year,  I’ve been friends with a volunteer with the organization The Hope of Survivors. They are a great ministry who devote their time and resources in helping adult victims of sexual abuse, and recently this friend, who is also a victim of clergy abuse, provided relief from my confusion. 

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:5‭-‬6 ESV

I realized as I listened to my friend read this verse and point out the word causes Jesus spoke, that my pastor had indeed caused me to sin. God had placed him in a position of authority as my pastor. He was called to watch over my soul and lead me to Jesus, but instead he chose to fulfill his own desires through me. Not only that but he’d been counseling me as a victim of childhood sexual abuse and in my vulnerability I was not able to see things clearly, which made what he did even worse.  I understood that what my pastor did was not my fault, but I also understood that I’d made choices as a result of his bad leadership that caused me to sin.  

The more I’ve been able to understand the truth of what happened to me, the more the truth has shed light on the sin and shame that have ruled my heart for most of my life. Recognizing the former pastor’s responsibility in my sin lifts the heavy weight of condemnation and enables me to view myself and my sin the way that God does.  

The truth does indeed set us free, but much of that freedom comes through a process. 

I don’t know where you are on your journey, but I suspect if you were abused by your pastor you still need to be reminded that it really was not your fault.  

I’ve come to realize that Jesus only calls us to repent for the sins that we have committed. When we take on responsibility for the things that were not our fault, we can become overwhelmed by false guilt and the shame that it produces. Jesus wants us to know the truth that it’s not our fault, and see ourselves as His children who were truly led astray.  He wants us to cling to His righteousness for the sins that we committed as a result, and know that there is no condemnation.  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 ESV

 If you are a victim of clergy abuse who is still struggling, I encourage you to reach out to The Hope of Survivors or feel free to email me at ourunseenhope@gmail.com