Blog

Good or Bad Connection?

We are able to tell the difference between the good and bad connections by the fruits that they produce.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:11‭-‬16 NLT

In a world that is full of #MeToo #churchtoo #EmptyThePews and #silenceinnotspiritual, it is easy to understand why so many people are making the decision not to return to church. I am speechless and still reeling from the applause that Andy Savage recieved from those who heard his “confession” this past Sunday. Jules tragic story is all too familiar to me. However, the cheering response from the church, is sadly familiar as well. I, too blindly applauded my former pastor’s abusive ways for almost a decade.

This past week I’ve had flashbacks of sitting in my former pastor’s office for the first time. I shared with him secrets I had never told anyone else. I did not know at the time that I was severely traumatized from sexual abuse I suffered from my father as a child and desperately needed to be in counseling. I believed that reaching out to him for help was the best thing I could do.

A moment stands out in my mind in tremendous clarity. He asked me that day, “What do you want?” Without hesitation I said, “To be loved.” It was then that he opened up his arms, and I knelt by his chair and hugged him for several minutes. On that day everything shifted for me psychologically. In those brief moments, I felt for the first time in my life like I connected with another human being.

I have spent so much time trying to understand why that hug changed so much for me. Initially, I believed it healed me, but the fruits that developed in the relationship I had with this pastor later revealed that I had indeed swallowed poison, and slowly my relationship with this man began to suck the life out of me and bring great harm to myself and others.

I have come to understand since that time how very cautious we need to be about what or who we connect with. I think being adopted and not bonding with my parents made me even more desperate for connection. But we all long for connection. God made us for it. It is not good for man to be alone. True connection brings healing and growth. When we do not have good connections in our lives, it is easy to fall into addictive and harmful relationships that can appear to be a good thing, but really they are just Lies so clever that they sound like the truth.

If you are reading this blog I encourage you to really look at the connections in your lives and what they are producing. Do they encourage you to love others more? Have they helped you see the truth about the things in your life that need to mature and heal or have they caused you to feel stuck? Do they have you keeping secrets and minimizing harmful behaviors or are they encouraging you to be honest and take responsibility?

We can tell the difference between the good and bad connections by the fruits that they produce.

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Matthew 7:15‭-‬20 NLT

Jesus said we will be able to tell the false prophets by their fruits as well. When a pastor minimizes a crime of sexual assault he committed, no matter how many years ago, by calling it an incident, the fruit of repentance is not there. When a church applauds rather than weeps over such a thing, a healthy body is not present. Bad connections are present. This should cause us all in the church to take a long, hard look at what or who we are truly worshipping and recognize the need for repentance.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
2 Peter 3:9 NLT

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Fellowship not Codependency

God is our only hope, not each other.

I realized during a worship service this past Sunday that most of the time I am afraid of church because of codependency, not fellowship. During this particular service, the focus was on the new year and reflecting on what had happened to us in 2017 that brought us joy and pain and what we longed to receive from God in 2018. The pastor asked us to think of our desires for the next year in one word and give it to God trusting Him to provide as the music played. There was very little teaching and most of the time was spent reflecting, worshipping and receiving communion. My word was home, since we are looking to move some time in the next year. My husband’s word was peace. I felt hopeful when we left that God had indeed heard our request and we could trust Him to provide. I felt encouraged that we’d been with others who had been seeking the same God we were.

After having experienced so much hurt and disillusionment in the church in previous years, a large part of attending church for me today is spent overcoming fear of others and questioning the motives of the pastor. Since experiencing spiritual abuse, it is almost impossible for me not to do this.

I am still very much hypervigilant when it comes to church. Healing from trauma takes time, and I have come to realize through therapy that acceptance of where I am in this process is the best way to heal.

However, during this service my fears died down as I listened to the music and reflected on my life, my desires, and God. For the first time in a while, I felt at peace.

I read so many stories of abuse in the church these days. I very much believe the church needs to address these issues and make providing a safe church for it’s members a priority, however I also believe that God too often not being the center of our churches is our biggest problem

The realization hit me Sunday that church and worshipping together is not the problem. God encourages us to come together regularly to worship and encourage one another. Problems happen in the church when it becomes less about God and more about people trying to promote personal agendas or fix one another. This was what caused my abuse, not attending a church.

My own pain and suffering came when I went to the pastor for help. He did not do what pastors are supposed to do which was pray for me, encourage me with scripture, or watch out for my soul. He had an agenda. He wanted to fix me, be my hero, and I wanted to be fixed and find Superman.

Codependency was the problem, not Christian fellowship.

I think it is important to say again, that I realize the abuse was not my fault. It was the pastor’s responsibility to keep the relationship safe. However, it is important for my healing that I recognize my own abuse was part of a two fold problem. One part was the former pastor abused me. The other part was that I placed my hope in a man rather than God.

I was never in control of my pastor’s choices. I had no way of knowing that he had an agenda. I was not seeking to be abused when I shared my story with him in his office. In many ways, I was absolutely searching for God. And that’s what makes what he did so evil. On a side note, churches need to take a long hard look at the damage that this behavior causes and the tremendous risk it puts our churches in. We too quickly want to forgive and embrace grace and put these men back in leadership positions where they can continue to abuse. I read in article recently that we would not be so quick to place a nursery worker back in the nursery who had shaken a child. Are our souls not important, too? No doubt, our souls are the most precious and vulnerable parts of who we are. A pastor who has the role of watching out for our souls has the biggest responsibility a person can have. However, I also have to acknowledge that my own desires played a big part in the pain and suffering. And this is something I now have control of. And I have come to realize that placing my hope in anything other than God will end in disappointment.

My own desires led me away and enticed me. I longed for a father more than anything else in this world. Someone who would love me and tell me that I was special. Someone who would tell me that I wasn’t a piece of trash. Someone who would treasure me and not abuse me.

There was never anything wrong with my desire. It was God-given. We were created for love and nurturing. We were meant to have parents who would give us this. When we do not receive this and experience abuse instead, we are left with a big black void.

The words my therapist gave me are some of the most important ones I have heard. There are no more mothers and fathers. Once we become adults the set we have are our only ones. And many of us need to grieve that they were not at all what we needed.

Where can we go with this huge grief? Who is the Only One who can fill those big black voids in any of our lives?

But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy. Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord — rejoice in his presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalms 68:3‭-‬6 NLT

God is the only Father to the fatherless, and if a pastor does not lead us to Him, then we need to flee.

Also, if our relationships in the church are becoming more about parenting one another, then we need to flee those as well.

God is our only hope, not each other.

It’s been difficult for me to come to this realization, but knowing it is the truth and recognizing my responsibility in keeping my relationships in the church healthy is the only control I have over not being abused again.

I have also realized that a lot of people do not understand that this is a problem in the church and that many of us who see it as a problem often feel very alone in the church. However, I have to remind myself that even in this God is with me, and the only way I can be a part of a church again is if I cling to Him. Only out of my relationship with Him can true fellowship and love for others happen.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 NLT

Why We Need the Church 

Far too often the church is silent on the issue of sexual abuse in the church. 

Yesterday, I went to church again.  Both my husband and I were encouraged by the message, and strengthened by the reminder that Jesus loves and forgives us.

We chatted in the large gathering area of the mega church with a few people on the hospitality team.  We were served coffee by a friendly guy at the coffee bar.  The people seemed genuinely happy that we were there, and expressed an interest in our lives.

The musical talent on the stage was tremendous. The songs were meaningful and comforting.  They reminded me that I am God’s child and I don’t have to be afraid. They reminded me that I can trust God.

The message communicated truths to me that were applicable and timely in my life.  This past week I had been reading Gerald May’s book Addiction and Grace,  and I was blown away by the fact that some of the things the speaker said hammered in some of the same truths.  I heard God say to my heart once again to loosen my grip on the things of this world and make room for the good that only He can give me. I needed to hear this message.

I wonder sometimes how church can be so comforting and terrifying at the same time.  Our family suffered the worst abuse and betrayal by the pastor of our previous church, and when it was exposed by me, the elders manipulated the truth to make it more palatable to the church.  What happened to me wasn’t labeled as abuse or an affair, and because of this most concluded I had just had an affair.  The shame, confusion and betrayal of the people we had known as our family caused us to feel we had no choice except to move and start over.

I have written about my experience over and over again on this blog.  I have struggled hard with my own confusion and fear, sometimes feeling like I would drown in it. I have found relief only through others who are willing to listen and understand, most of whom have been victims themselves.  My therapist has walked beside me for three years faithfully and has kept me sane.

I read a tweet from Diane Langberg recently. Dr. Langberg does tremendous work in educating the church especially in the areas of abuse of power.  She attempted to educate my former church leaders, but they did not apply what she had to say.

I have discovered the difficult way what Dr. Langberg says is true.  We need community and connection to survive. We need to be able to share our sorrows and pain.  Loneliness is suffocating and has made me feel as if I was dying on the inside.

Scripture is clear that God’s plan for the church is to provide this kind of community.  Church is not a mandate that proves we are high and holy Christians.  Church is a place where we encourage one another, weep and rejoice with one another, and bear one another’s burdens.

Church also is not a place where we micromanage one another’s lives or where pastors abuse their position and take advantage of their God given power, intended to be used to serve the body of Christ.

I do not believe that all churches abuse, however more and more stories continue to hit social media with taglines like #churchtoo #MeToo and #EmptyThePews, and when I  read these stories I can feel totally disillusioned by the church. I have met so many who have been through similar experiences who have totally given up on ever attending church again.  When I have heard their stories, I totally understand.

I think what is most bothersome to me is the fact that I read minimal responses from the religious leaders who want to help victims and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Far too often the church is silent on the issue of sexual abuse in the church.  The voices I hear the most are the victims crying out in pain and the church leaders either calling them liars, asking them why they waited so long to report the abuse, or defending themselves.  Similar stories are coming out of Hollywood and politics.  Sometimes I am so confused and angry that I am tempted to shut down every social media account I have.

But I will not shut down my accounts, because I believe that these stories are important to listen to and respond to.  God has called us to be salt and light in this world. If we remain quiet, God says that the rocks will cry out.

I have not given up on the church. I still believe that God is doing so much good through the church.

However, I am confused as to why the church is not being more vocal about the abuse that is taking place in her midst?

It is my prayer again today that God would speak to any church leaders who are willing to hear about the abuse problem in the church and that they would repent, pray and seek His face and act in wisdom to prevent these kinds of things from happening in their midst.  I also pray that churches would give victims a voice to share their story and walk with them through the confusion of their pain.  We need each other.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9‭-‬21 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/rom.12.9-21.ESV

A Safer Church 

A prepared church is a safer church.  

Last night I followed the hashtag #churchtoo on Twitter, and was saddened once again by more sexual abuse stories in the church.

I am overwhelmed lately by all the abuse exposures that are coming out of Hollywood, politics and the church. My social media pages are bombarded with more and more pain.  I can only take in so much before despair starts to overwhelm me. 

I am so very exhausted by the accusations, the victim blaming, the polarization, and the lack of love and empathy.  I am sickened by the denial and apathetic at times that things probably will not change in certain circles. 

Jesus told us not to be dismayed by the tribulations in our world. He promised that He has overcome the world.  I am constantly having to remind myself of this truth as I am bombarded by so much pain and confusion, especially coming out of the church. 

Hashtags like #emptythepews are circulating.  I cannot tell you how sick and sad this makes me feel.  I have learned so much about the Bible by being in church.  I have been so blessed by songs that have healed my heart in church. I’ve had some of my closest friendships in church. I’ve even grown closer to God in church.  I love the church. I want to be part of a church. However, these days I am really struggling to be a part of one. 

I know that there are good churches with good leaders.  I have been exceedingly grateful for the guidance and support they have given me through my most painful and discouraging times. I do not know if I could have survived if these people had not given me hope to hold onto.  So thank you to the pastors and leaders in through church who are truly doing the work of Jesus Christ.

However, despite all the good I have witnessed in the church, I am scared to death of the church these days.  My own #churchtoo story is a tragedy.  I was sexually and emotionally abused by my pastor for ten years, who I’d gone to for counseling, and when I finally found the courage to tell someone what happened, my story was edited by leaders in the church so that it would not be labeled as the abuse that it was. I was accused of shirking responsibility for my sin. Those in the church and community believed and still believed that we’d just had an affair. 

The past few years have been a healing journey for our family in another town several hours away from where the abuse occurred.  We have continued to attempt consistently to find churches where we would be able to heal and feel somewhat safe. However, it has not happened yet and I am beginning to wonder if it will. 

I am constantly questioning whether what I am struggling with in church is a result of the overwhelming fear brought on by PTSD or  legitimate concerns.   I have had many conversations with my therapist and others who have been through similar things in an effort to understand, and I have decided that it’s both.

I think it is unrealistic for me to expect that church will not trigger me considering the abuse happened in the church.  Every time I enter a church I will be reminded. Certain words and phrases will be reminders.  Songs that I sang in my previous church will bring up an emotional response. When I go to church these days, I prepare myself mentally as best I know how to redirect my thinking to the real reason I am at church, to worship God. Most of the time I am able to attend these days without being overwhelmed.

However, as more and more stories of abuse are being exposed in the church I am learning that some of my concerns about the church are more than PTSD, they are legitimate safety concerns that need to be addressed and not minimized in order for me to be able to continue to be a part of the church.

Sunday, my husband and I visited another church for the first time. We are considering a move to another town, and community is an important part of our decision making process in choosing where to live.  I continue to cling to the hope that attending church is a good way to meet others in a community and to find out if it is where we belong.

The people at the church we attended were friendly, genuine, hospitable and engaged us in conversation. The pastor talked to us at length about the area, offered advice on good places to live, and did not seem in any hurry to end our conversation. We felt accepted from the moment we walked through the door.  One couple even offered to have us over for lunch the next time we visited the church.  Needless to say this church ranks pretty high on the list of one we’d return to. 

At the end of the service, the church had a meeting concerning safety. We decided to stick around to hear what they had to say. It was clear that the leaders and members had made protecting the church  a priority.  They had a team of people with walkie talkies to monitor the security of the building and the weather, as well as security cameras installed.  No doubt if one had to be in church when an act of violence, fire  or bad weather was going to occur, I would certainly want to be in this one!   They even performed a couple of drills.

I commend this church on being prepared. I appreciate that it is important to have a plan of action in place to keep the members safe and help to put to ease the minds of those of us who are also afraid of a bad weather or active shooter situation.  Now more than ever it is clear that we live in a world full of tribulation.  Jesus advised that we be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.  This church was certainly practicing wisdom in dealing with these kinds of situations.  However, after having time to think about it, I wondered if this church had a policy concerning sexual abuse in place?  

Even though I do not have the answer to that question, because it was the only time we had ever attended that church, I do wonder why it is so easy to address issues like bad weather and active shooters and not sexual abuse.  The chances of those kinds of incidents occurring  during the less than two hours spent in church are very low percentage wise, however all kinds of abuse happen far more often in the church, and most churches have no plans to deal with it. The secular world does a far better job of addressing these types of issues making it clear that if certain lines are crossed criminal action will be sought out. Why does the church choose not to do the same thing?

Abuse in the church is an overwhelming issue these days that is very complicated and difficult to talk about.  I do not have all the answers, but I do know where to start. Churches can start by doing the work needed to ensure that congregations are safe.  They can use wisdom and have a plan of action in place to protect children and adults from abuse.  Also, they can choose not to minimize or cover up abuse when it does occur. 

A prepared church is a safer church.  

For more information in how to protect children and adults in church, these websites are a great place to start. 

GRACE

The Hope of Survivors 

SNAP 

The Fellowship of Suffering 

In the fellowship of our sufferings with Jesus and each other, we bring true relief to our pain through hope. 

​While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7‭-‬10 NLT

Last night after watching a recent episode of This is Us, I found myself wondering why we work so hard to avoid pain?  One of the main characters, Jack, in the show is an alcoholic. He shares with his wife in a scene what he is learning in AA. He tells her the only way to get to the other side of his struggle with alcoholism is to learn how to sit in the pain of his childhood, and it is clear how difficult it is for Jack to do this. Opening up our hearts to feel pains we have worked so hard to avoid in our lives, can feel like an overwhelming flood in which we will drown. The reality is pain, especially the pain of our past is excruciatingly painful and causes us to feel weak and out of control. It is understandable that we’d want to avoid this feeling as much as possible, but Jack has gotten to the place in life where he knows he could lose everything if he does not. 

I will never forget the tsunami of crushing emotions that hit me with such force when I began to open up to my former pastor about the childhood sexual abuse my mind had suppressed for over thirty years.  When the memories began to resurface, I wanted to do anything I could to get relief from the pain. 

I believed I had found my relief clinging to the pastor who said he was trying to help me, but who I later discovered was actually helping himself.  But being with him gave me moments that made me feel safe and in control of my emotions, which is the reason I stayed in the abusive situation for so long. 

I realize as I write this that probably the worst part of feeling pain is how out of control it causes me to feel. In these moments,  I become a little girl who was being forced to do things she never wanted to do. And she would give anything to escape. It was not the life she was intended to live. It was a nightmare she could not wake up from. And who does not want to escape that? But as a child, the incidious evil done to me was inescapable, and I had to cling to whatever control I had, which meant I blamed myself somehow.  As an adult, I do not live in the nightmare of my childhood anymore, but when I haven’t reconciled the truth that the pain of the horrible things that were done to me were not my fault, I continue to be stuck in believing this lie. The only way to see the truth is to allow myself to experience the pain of what someone else did to me. 

The reality is the things we cling to to escape our pain only bring about more abuse.  I know because I stayed stuck in this cycle for almost ten years.  I am grateful to be on the other side of the abusive relationship with my former pastor pastor. Grateful to have escaped the lies that were suffocating me. However, I still find myself wanting to escape the pain of it all. But just like Jack, I have come to the place in my life where I know that I cannot do it anymore.

The biggest question of all is what can I do with my pain? Where can I process it and be safe? How can I grieve without drowning in the tsunami of it all? Especially when the person who I believe was safe to process it with was not safe? 

A friend in ministry messaged me a couple of days ago offering to process some of the things I’m struggling with about the church with me.  I don’t know if anyone, especially those in ministry, can understand how painful church can be for those who were abused in the church.  As Christa Brown describes in her book This Little Light, trusting the church again feels like you are going to fall on the same sword that you were cut with.  Even working with people in a therapeutic environment every day who have given their lives to helping others does not feel safe at times, because a man who I thought was going to help me actually harmed me even more. 

Suffering from spiritual abuse can feel very lonely at times. 

Reading the last paragraph I just wrote feels a little like a pity party to me. But I remind myself it’s not. It’s me recognizing the pain that I feel inside and allowing myself to feel it.  It is part of the process that I am learning to embrace with self-compassion, which plays a huge part in delivering me from the lie that the abuse I suffered was all my fault.  

If you were abused, it is not your fault either. 

I continue to be exceedingly grateful for others in my life who share stories so similar to mine. You have suffered in the same ways that I have, and some days you are the only ones who feel safe to me. We have shared in the fellowship of suffering together. We have felt stronger when we are together. 

Today, I am reminded of Someone Else who suffered from spiritual abuse. Religious leaders got Him nailed to the cross, and that puts those of us who suffer as a result of spiritual abuse in good company.  Jesus understands our sorrow more than anyone else can. 

He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death.

Jesus did not want to experience pain either. He prayed for relief. And His Father heard him. And Jesus became the source of our eternal salvation. He became our High Priest. 

Because of Christ’s sufferings, we are promised ultimate relief one day from our pain. However,  Jesus did not escape pain, rather He faced it for us.  And whenever we face our pain, we accomplish the same thing for each other. 

In the fellowship of our sufferings with Jesus and each other, we bring true relief to our pain through hope. 

Thank you to all who share their painful stories, who reenter your nightmares and share them with us.   Your pain has not been wasted.

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10‭-‬11 ESV

Forgiving the Church 

But if we want real forgiveness and real healing, we must face the real injury.

This morning I came across a quote by Desmond Tutu, and it struck me profoundly, because it helped me to really understand what I need to forgive the church for.

From The Book of Forgiving:  The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu:

Forgiveness is not some airy-fairy thing.  It has to do with the real world.  Healing and reconciliation are not magic spells.  They do not erase the reality of an injury.  To forgive is not to pretend that what happened did not happen.  Healing does not draw a veil over the hurt.  Rather, healing and reconciliation demand an honest reckoning.  For Christians, Jesus Christ sets the pattern for forgiveness and reconciliation.  He offered his betrayers forgiveness.  Jesus, the Son of God, could erase the signs of leprosy; heal those broken in body, mind, or spirit; and restore sight to the blind.  He must also have been able to obliterate the signs of the torture and death he endured.  But he chose not to erase that evidence.  After the resurrection, he appeared to his disciples.  In most instances, he showed them his wounds and his scars.  This is what healing demands.  Behavior that is hurtful, shameful, abusive, or demeaning must be brought into the fierce light of truth.  And truth can be brutal.  In fact, truth may exacerbate the hurt; it might make things worse.  But if we want real forgiveness and real healing, we must face the real injury.

Forgiveness is the core truth of Christianity. Jesus forgave us. Our sins separated us from God, but because of His death on the cross we have been forgiven and reconciled to Him. Totally undeserved. Total grace. And I am so thankful for this.

Jesus spoke strong words about forgiveness. He said if we did not forgive one another, He would not forgive us. I don’t think Jesus is laying out a requirement for salvation, but rather I think He is communicating that forgiveness is always the fruit of being forgiven.

So why must I forgive the church that has taught about forgiveness? What could there possibly be to forgive?

The fact that there is something to forgive communicates that a wrong was done. A wrong that has caused another to suffer a loss and pain.  A wrong that cries out for justice. Jesus gave His life as a payment for the sins of all Who trust Him. When we believe, we know that our sins have been paid for in full.  But forgiveness wasn’t cheap. It cost God His life.  Scripture does not hold back in giving us the details of the high price that was paid. One need only watch the film The Passion of the Christ to catch a glimpse of how expensive it was.

Desmond Tutu reminded me that Jesus showed His disciples His wounds and scars.  Certainly, God could have wiped every sign of them away, but He did not. There was a reason the scars stayed. Jesus wanted us to remember His pain.

Our pain is important to Jesus. He keeps our tears in a bottle, and He promises one day to wipe the tears from our eyes. He prays for us when our hurts are so deep that we do not know how to even speak what we need. Our pain matters very much to Him.

When I think back to the abusive relationship I had with my former pastor, the issue that stands out the most is how much in my own mind I minimized the damage to my family, his family and the church by keeping the abuse a secret. For almost a decade, my mind and heart were so twisted by the lies that I could not see the truth. But when the weight of the secrets became too heavy to carry any longer, God opened my eyes to the real injuries.

As Tutu said, bringing the truth out into the light often causes things to get worse before they get better. This was definitely the case when I confessed to the sins I had committed with the former pastor.  The church that had at least appeared peaceful felt the force of being hit by a F5 tornado.

The first reaction from the other church leaders was to do whatever they could to minimize the damage.  We all understood what exposing this truth could do to the church and it’s reputation in the community.  I certainly understood it because I had been keeping the abuse a secret for the very same reason.  However, in an effort to stop the damage,  I had come to understand that I needed to tell the truth.  I told the leaders everything I’d done, because I wanted to be free and begin the healing process. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. The pastor who had taken over the church at that time acknowledged that the former pastor had abused me. He was committed to exposing the abuse so that anyone else who had been abused could come forward.  I reluctantly agreed to allow them to tell what I had told them to the entire church, in an effort to bring the truth into the light so others could heal.  But when the church held the meeting, I was told it best that I not be there, so I wrote a letter with my therapist explaining the process of abuse and confessing to what I’d done as a result of succumbing to the former pastor’s manipulation. However, the church leaders decided this truth was too much for the congregation to handle. They decided it best to make my letter more palatable by leaving out the abuse process and just sharing the confession.  As a result, the church determined that the pastor and I had had an affair.  A few days following the church meeting my husband and I attended a Sunday service at the church, believing that my entire letter had been read. However, when people came up to me telling me they forgave me rather than they were sorry about what happened to me, I was floored. I was thankful that they forgave my sin, but shocked that no one acknowledged that the pastor had abused me.  My husband and I went to the leaders to ask questions about the meeting only to discover that they had edited my letter.

But if we want real forgiveness and real healing, we must face the real injury.

Our family left the church, because when we asked our leaders to expose the injuries caused by the former pastor, they refused. Minimizing the abuse brought less damage to the church’s reputation. They could rebuild and move on putting the sin behind them. But our family could not heal in an environment that refused to acknowledge the real injuries that had occurred.  We could not simply forgive and move on until we understood all the damage that had been done to our souls.

We are three years past all of this, and are still very much in a process of being untangled from the lies that have been suffocating the life out of us. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but I can assure you it’s not. The confusion has been overwhelming, and the lack of support from the church has made it even more so, and that’s been one of the most difficult things to forgive.

I realize I’m still struggling with this, because any time conversations come up in Christian circles that appear to be skipping over the pain and going right to peace, I feel like I am in chaos. I realize today what I most need to forgive is the denial that has so saturated the church culture and causes many to not acknowledge the whole truth about just how broken we are.

I currently work in a mental health facility. Almost every day I hear horrific stories of abuse that people have grown up in. I see the aftermath and people who struggle to put one foot in front of the other and function in life.  It is heartbreaking. However, it is also hopeful when I hear stories of people who face the whole truth about the damage abuse has caused in their lives with therapists equipped to help them, and they don’t hold back from the truth and face it all and learn how to live despite it and beauty is discovered in the ashes.

Yesterday, I heard a terrible story of an innocent little girl forced to perform a sex act on an older man.  I wanted to crawl under my desk and weep for the damage that was done to her soul. I thought of my own little girl and what she’d been forced to do do as a five year old by an older teen. I thought about what I was forced to do as a little girl and what psychological manipulation by my pastor caused me to do as an adult. I wanted to scream at the painful horror of it all.

I do not know know what it’s going to take for many in the church to understand the damage that abuse causes and begin to acknowledge it so that people can heal, but I pray that they do not have to find out the way that I did. Because I do not want another soul to go through it.

So please just stop minimizing the damage. Please stop covering up the abuse.  Jesus’s death is sufficient to deal with the worst of the injuries. We can call it what it is and stop trying to pretend it isn’t there. Do you realize you are minimizing the very power of the Gospel that you proclaim by refusing to expose the very darkness that God has called us to bring our into the light? It’s not about us and our goodness that draws others to Christ. It’s about Him and His goodness and love that brings beauty from the ashes. It’s about His love that caused Him to be crushed by our transgressions so that we could be healed from those we have committed and others have committed against us.

I confess I still have a long way to go in forgiving the institution of the church in it’s refusal to call abuse what it is.  I don’t know that I will ever stop being angry about it, especially when I continue to read more stories of it happening again. How can I ever trust another church again? I love God’s people.  I really do.  How can I not love something that I am a part of?  I want to be a part of fellowship, but the triggers that come when I hear churchy language that communicate if we will just trust Jesus everything will be fine are just too much to bear. I need to trust in a Jesus Who is with us when everything has fallen apart and nothing makes sense anymore. I need to trust in a Jesus Who sits with us us in our pain caused from the ugliness of abuse no matter how long it takes to heal.

I realize that others who have not been where I have cannot understand. I also realize that it’s important that I love them where they are, too. However, I’m still very much in a process just like they are, so I need to know it’s ok to take a break from church gatherings that bring up painful reminders that cannot be processed with people who are not in the same place that I am.  Some conversations are best to be had with my therapist or others who have been through the same thing.   I believe that we heal best in community, but further damage can be done in a community that does not understand. I can only pray that one day I will be further along in the healing process that I won’t be so triggered by conversations, but that time is not now so I need to trust that God will be with me where I am in the healing process.  I recognize as well that communication with others is a key part in helping those who want to understand and help, which is one of the reasons that I am writing this.

I want to take the time to thank all of you out there online who have been a support to me by sharing your stories.  There are so many. Even though I don’t know you personally, we share in the fellowship of suffering and this has encouraged and strengthened my soul. We are the church, too whether we are able to enter a building together or not.  The similarities of God’s work in our lives reminds me that God is ever present with us.  And I’m so very thankful for you.

Beautiful Things

Helping Those Who Are Traumatized by the Church 

Traumatized people need to know first that God cares about their pain.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come. ”

Luke 4:18‭-‬19 NLT

I watched a snippet of a sermon from a church in another town a couple of days ago.  My husband is considering a job change which could eventually cause us to move.  Even though church has been a source of great trauma for our family, we still very much want to be a part of a church. We believe that God created us for fellowship with one another. We agree with God that it is not good for us to be alone. But after listening to five minutes of the message from this church,  I turned it off. The pastor was doing what I have heard quite a few pastors do, and that’s criticize those who do not go to church. He actually called the person who had written an article about not going to church stupid.  I don’t know about you, but I do not believe criticizing someone who does not go to church, is an effective way to encourage people to attend church.  I believe the most effective way of getting people to come to church is providing an environment where they understand that Jesus meets them where they are.

I watched the video Hope Rising created by the  American Bible Society again last night. It addresses the issue of helping those who have suffered from trauma connect with God. The video points out that people who suffer from traumatic experiences struggle to connect with God until they have worked through their trauma. Traumatized people need to know first that God cares about their pain.

God does care about our pain. So much so that the Bible says He keeps our tears in a bottle. When I allow myself to think about this truth alone I am moved in the deepest part of my soul. The Bible also says God is near to the brokenhearted. A bruised reed He will not break. A smoking flax He will not put out. These truths are a healing balm to my hurting and traumatized soul.

I believe a lot of churches do a good job of teaching these truths to their members. The heart of the Gospel after all is Jesus loved us so much that He died to save us from the brokenness and sin in this world. However, for those of us who have been traumatized by religion attending church can be exceedingly difficult. And when pastors preach that those who do not go to church are stupid it definitely does not help!

I recognize that for those in ministry it is difficult to meet everyone just where they are, especially those who have been harmed by the church and find it difficult to attend.  How can a pastor help someone who struggles to come to the place where he has been called to teach? I think it is important to note that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about false teachers and the damage they cause. He warned that false teachers would continue to increase in the church.  The Apostle Paul also warned about the same thing.  So one way pastors can help those in their congregation who have suffered from abuse in a religious environment, is take the time to acknowledge that abuse does occur in the church and have a plan to deal with it when it does before it happens!  I am absolutely heartbroken over stories of abuse that I read about happening in the church today and the pastors who are covering it up or worse blaming the victim. This is an insidious thing. We in the church of Jesus Christ must acknowledge that abuse does occur in the church. We need to give those who have been abused in the church permission to talk about it and to grieve it.  We must bring it into the light where it can be talked about and heal. As long as we are more concerned about our reputation and not those who are hurting in our congregations, we will not be effective in carrying out the hope of the Gospel the way God has called us to.

Another thing that I believe that churches can do to help those who have suffered abuse in the church is remind them it is OK not to attend church. When someone you know has been abused by the church does not attend, let them know that you care, but also remind them it is OK to take time away, too. Send them a link for the sermon and ask them how you can pray for them.  Also, equip others in the church who are empathetic and willing to meet with those who are hurting one on one. In my own personal experience,  one on one is less intimidating than a group. We are all on different journeys and sometimes we can traumatize one another without meaning to.

The most important thing is be patient and don’t push. If a person who has been harmed by the church needs to sit on the back row every Sunday for five years or more, then let them.  Give them space, but also let them know you care by reaching out from time to time.  This will go a long way in helping with the healing process that will only come with time and gained trust.

I read a quote from Diane Langberg recently that trauma is the biggest mission field of the 21st century.   It is more important now more than ever that we in the church be equipped to serve in these areas. This includes ministering especially to those who have been harmed by religion.  I encourage you if you are in ministry, take the time to educate yourself about trauma and abuse in the church.  

Here are a couple of websites that are very helpful :

Global Trauma Recovery 

Trauma Healing Institution

Religion and Power 

Can I tell you what frightens me more than anything else these days? Men in power in ministry. Not only do I get frightened, but I get angry when I read yet another story of how religious leaders have banded together to misuse their power and bring great harm.

Two days ago I read a tragic story about a woman named Jane. Jane had her whole life in front of her, with a 4.0 grade average and a vision to serve others in ministry in her future. She goes off to Bible college with a promising future ahead.  However, before she can complete Bible college, one night a seminary student decides to violently steal from her what he wants without her permission. He drugs and rapes her, sending her life into a spiral of chaos and pain for years to come. My words fall short in describing what I’m sure Jane went through and is still going through, but it was an incidious evil.

But what’s even more unbelievable to me is how men in a position of power at this seminary hear about the issue and decide that they know what needs to be done about it. And what needs to be done has nothing to do with helping the victim or protecting others, rather it has to do with protecting their own reputation and control.  And they do it all in the name of God.

When I read stories like Jane’s, I don’t think I can ever join a church and submit to it’s elders. I never want men to have that kind of control in my life again. 

However, scripture makes it clear that churches need leaders to be a church. Leaders are ordained by God and we are told as members to submit to them.  

Just as Luther didn’t like the book of James being in the Bible because of it’s emphasis on works, I must confess that I  do not like the verses that refer to submission to church leaders after what I have experienced. Submission feels like giving someone the power to abuse and suffocate me. And I never want to experience that again. 

However, Peter sheds some light on the role of leaders in the church, and his words comfort my heart. 

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t Lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:1‭-‬5 NLT

Care. Watch over. Lead by example. Not for selfish gain. With humility. 

The leaders Peter describe are not at all like the men that I am afraid of. They do not band together to protect their own agendas. They do not serve themselves. They do not bring further harm to the flock. These leaders care, protect and lead with humility.  These leaders come alongside those who are victims of sexual assault and see to it justice is served. If they aren’t doing this they aren’t the leaders God called them to be. They are following their own agenda and not His.  And God will judge them. 

And I realize I don’t have to be afraid, nor so I need to be quick to join a church or submit to it’s leadership. I can take my time and wait to see if a leader is worthy of following. If he isn’t leading me to Jesus and truly caring about the things Christ cared about then I can walk away.  And so can you.

My heart goes out to Jane and others like us who have suffered at the hands of those in religious power. God is no where near this kind of abuse! It is incidious evil!  May God continue to expose these evil deeds and bring grace, healing and justice. 

Belonging 

Shame disconnects us from others. Shame causes us to feel worse than anyone else and like we do not belong. When a parent’s behavior towards us communicates that we are not who they want us to be, that we are a disappointment, shame takes up residence in our hearts. 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 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. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Romans 8:14‭-‬17 NLT

When I was a young teen, I spilled an entire gallon container of sticky tea all over the kitchen table and it made a horrible mess. My father screamed at me words I cannot remember, but the shame of that moment I will never forget. 

Shame disconnects us from others. Shame causes us to feel worse than anyone else and like we do not belong. When a parent’s behavior towards us communicates that we are not who they want us to be, that we are a disappointment, shame takes up residence in our hearts. 

I wish that spilling the tea was the only thing I did that made me feel ashamed. At least that mess was something that I could take some blame for.  There were other things that happened in my childhood, dark and evil and dispicable things that my father did to me, that I know now I was not to blame for, but at the time I believed that they were my fault.  

Something happens to the heart of a child when they are abused rather than nurtured and brought up to be the person God created them to be.  Shame saturated my heart and made it grow hard and desperate for love and control and belonging. Desperate to receive what it was to created to receive so it could thrive and grow to be the person I was supposed to be. 

I did not know I was carrying around this kind of heart when I met my former pastor. I did not know how terribly desperate I was. When he hugged me and told me he loved me everything in my world began to feel like it was changing for the good. But the tiny sprouts of life that began to come up died when he told me he desired me in the same twisted sexual way that my own father had. My heart grew cold and desperate once again. But again, I did not know it was this way. I convinced myself that my twisted relationship with him and my adopted father who had abused me was the only love I deserved. 

Ten years later, as I was straightening up the church sanctuary on a Monday morning and listening to a sermon on my phone, God opened my ears to another kind of love. A love that was not disappointed in me no matter how many times I had made a mess. A love that called me back home to my Father. A love that said I have taken all of your shame on the cross. And the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed everything. 

Now when life happens and I make a mess of things, my loving Heavenly Father comes alongside to help me clean it up. He reminds me that it is OK, and that I am always forgiven. He invites me to sit down again at the table. He does not care if I spill the tea. He loves broken people and wants us to know we always belong at His table. And for the first time in my life, I want to please Him out of love and not fear. 

My heart still has a lot of healing that needs to take place. A lifetime of abuse I am sure will always cause me to have obstacles to overcome that others do not. But I am not alone. I have a loving Heavenly Father whose hope does not disappoint. Who tells me to not be afraid. He will never reject me. I belong to Him.  And that is everything. 

For more of my story, go to Caught

Resources:

The Heart Of Man: Overcoming Shame And Finding Identity

http://heartofmanmovie.com/
 

Photo Credit  

Salvation and Strength 

For thus said the Lord God , the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling… 

Isaiah 30:15 ESV

If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, you are probably all too familiar with the how difficult it is to find rest, be still and trust.  If you are a victim of clergy abuse, trusting God especially can seem like an impossibility.  As a victim of both, I am still very much on a journey of learning how to rest and trust God. It is a journey I have discovered that must be traveled slowly without putting myself under pressure and patiently one moment at a time. It is a journey where I have learned only to expect enough grace to get me through each day. It is a journey where my own struggle for control is constantly being challenged. It is a journey where I am learning through crushed expectations of the way I think things should work out that God is a good Father Who alone knows what is best for me.  

Yesterday, my husband and I took a ride through several miles of rural country a few miles from our house.  Getting away from the noise of town is something that brings him peace.  My husband has suffered from depression for most of his life.  He grew up with an alcoholic, narcissistic father who physically and emotionally abused him, his mother and his other two brothers.  Then, as an adult he was deceived in the worst possible ways by his pastor and the man who claimed to be his best friend with his wife. I struggle every single day with the shame of how my actions added more pain to my husband’s life. Even though we know the former pastor abused us, it’s still very difficult seeing my husband suffer as a result of my part in what happened. Probably the most difficult thing for me to do is be quiet and trust that God is a good Father who knows what my husband needs to get through this. 

Sometimes I am able to look back and thank God for all that He has saved us from, however when the pain of the past comes crashing in it can feel like we are still in need of salvation. And I realize that we are. 

God help us, God save us and help us to find rest in you. Help us to know that you are a good Father. Teach us not to chase after salvation apart from you. 

I want to be able to believe that somehow salvation and trusting in God will mean that I don’t struggle as much anymore, but I’ve come to realize that is not true.  As long as we live in this broken world we will always struggle and long to be saved. Acceptance brings quietness to my mind. Knowing it’s not up to me to figure out how everything should work out helps, too. Believing God isn’t at all like my abusive father or pastor is what I cling to the most. God is not a child abuser. He is a loving compassionate Father who promises to bring us only good. This is where my only strength lies. 

Although it seems like everything is out of control at times, He knows what I need and He knows what my husband needs and what you need as well. Take it one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time, be kind to yourself, find rest and quiet in whatever ways that you can and trust Him to lead. He loves us.  He’s got this. He is with us.  He will never leave. I’m preaching to myself today.  Hope it helps you, too! 

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:18‭-‬21 ESV