The Institutional Church Is Not God

Our wounds are where His light gets in and out.

Last night there was a post on Facebook reminding me that seven years ago I became friends with my therapist on social media. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the years of work we did together and the relationship of trust we built. I am not sure that I could have survived without her. Thank you, Sharon.

I also want to take this opportunity to say if you have experienced spiritual abuse, you deserve to find relief and experience healing. Going to a therapist does not mean you are weak. It means you are taking care of the valuable person that you are. It means that you want to live and thrive. It means that you are strong and brave. Good therapy is a gift from God, but sometimes that hasn’t been the message I have received from the church.

Many times I have walked away from a church service believing that if I just had enough faith I would not need therapy. It’s not that anyone says it directly. As a matter of fact, most people in church would probably tell me that going to therapy is a good thing to do. Rather, it’s a message I walk away from conversations, prayers and sermons feeling about myself. It’s a feeling that can cause a deep anger to rise up in me against religious things.

I have learned in therapy that the only way to get better is to honor my feelings, acknowledge them and express them in a healthy way. Writing for me is one of the most important tools I have for expression. I am one of those people who carry around emotions inside myself without even realizing it until my stomach starts to hurt and tell me something has to give.

A consistent painful emotion that continues to come out for me is one of anger and frustration towards religion. This time of the year especially brings it back up again. Five years ago during this time of the year, I couldn’t convince the church that abuse took place. The church leaders wanted that word to go away. They embraced half truths and false peace. They chose denial in an effort to protect the reputation of the church.

Even as the anger rises up in me towards my previous church leaders, so do other emotions; shame, guilt, and regret for the lies that I believed when I was being abused and the lies that I told to protect my own reputation. The words, Forgive them Father for they know not what they do resonate deeply inside of me. The shame and guilt begin to subside when I recognize just how broken and needy we all are; when I realize forgiving others is the only way to forgive myself. However, even after recognizing my own need for continual forgiveness, I still experience feelings of anger and frustration towards the institution of the church. Even as I write this, I hear a voice inside my head say that maybe I am angry with God. I have no doubt that hidden within my heart there are still so many emotions God has yet to bring to the surface, one of which is anger towards God. However, in this case I do not think that much of my anger towards the church has anything to do with a hidden anger towards God. I learned early in my healing journey from spiritual abuse that the only way to keep my faith in God was to separate the institutional church from Him. I have had to allow God to reveal Himself to me in other ways, because it has just been too painful to look for Him in the ways I did before in the institutional church.

Before I was spiritually abused, I was committed to the church. I was there almost every Sunday and Wednesday. When I wasn’t there, I was thinking about being there. I realize as I write this that in many ways the church was a home for me. And therein lies where the deep pain of betrayal is. The place I once believed was home let me down in ways I never believed it would. As an adopted child, I had always longed for a place I could belong. For a long time the church felt like that place. As I reflect back on those days, I realize that in my own desperation I made the church a lot more than what it was ever supposed to be. The church was never supposed to be home. The church was only supposed to be the place that reminded me of my real home in Him.

In some ways, the institutional church is like a movie about Jesus. Whenever I have watched a one, (even with Mel Gibson, as amazing as his portrayal was) it registers with me that no human actor will ever be able to portray the picture of who God really is. Our human understanding of Him will always fall short until we are fully transformed into His image.

We see things in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see him face to face. Nothing on earth reveals Him in all of His fullness, not a movie, not a pastor, and not the church.

Creation longs for redemption. Our hearts long for home. The best we humans can do is reveal Him through our flawed and fractured love for one another while we are here on earth. I think where a lot of my anger comes from is that the church sometimes communicates that it is the only way to God. At least that’s what I believed for a long time.

Sometimes when we believe this lie so much we turn to the church for help that they are not equipped to to give and sometimes are too proud to admit it. When this happens, tremendous damage is done. God created doctors and therapists to do His work. One should never look to the church to replace the work that God has gifted others to do. I’m not saying pastors can’t help, they do. But what I am saying is sometimes they are limited in what they can do. I believe every church should work with doctors and therapists and support their work as part of God’s redemptive plan.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the institutional church has all the answers. Don’t let a sermon make you feel like you don’t have enough faith in God because you are struggling with anxiety and depression. Don’t let another’s prayer make you feel guilty, because sometimes the only prayer you know how to pray is, help. Don’t let another’s facade that they have all the answers make you feel like there’s something wrong with you because you do not know what to do. Don’t think that just because you have been spiritually abused in church that it was God that brought you harm.

Broken humanity disguising itself as an angel of light truly does the destroyer’s work. However, humanity that knows and acknowledges that it is broken reveals the true light of Jesus through the cracks of our souls. Our wounds are where His light gets in and out. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. The Institutional church is not God. It’s a place where we can learn about God, worship God, but it was never intended to replace God.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9‭-‬10 ESV

Finding a Safe Place

This week I have been spending some time focusing on self-care and finding a safe place for my mind and heart to rest. I have been listening to Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, PhD. It’s a book that uses the basic principles of EMDR for self-help and healing of trauma. I highly recommend the book especially if you are considering EMDR therapy.

Last week, I worked my last day at a treatment center as an administrative assistant. I had been working there almost three years. I left the facility Friday overwhelmed by emotions and experiencing a deep sense of loss of familiarity, relationships, and purpose. I drove away feeling fear in the pit of my stomach about what was ahead.

Change is especially difficult for me. It always has been. Learning new things and new people feels threatening. I fear rejection. I fear losing control. I fear others who I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know will be people who do not respect my boundaries and trigger me.

I also experience a deep fear of being alone.

Change and uncertainty of what’s ahead brings up the pain and losses of the past. I remember the people and the relationships that I have lost. The family and friends who have left a big empty space behind.

While it is extremely important that we grieve the losses in our lives and honor our pain, it is also critical that we learn how to live and function with our losses and embrace goodness. I confess in those really painful moments this can feel like an impossible task. But it is not impossible. It is a process. I regularly have to remind myself.

Those of us who have suffered from complex trauma at an early age can find it extremely difficult not to go to worst case scenarios when we experience the normal stressors and changes in life. The neural pathways in our brains move towards preparing us for worst case scenarios and how to protect ourselves.

I’ve learned in therapy that we play an important role in healing from trauma. When we learn to pay attention to what we are experiencing in our minds and bodies and practice self care, our brains can begin to rewire themselves. The pathways in our brains can learn to go somewhere besides worse case scenarios.

One of primary tools of EMDR is being able to find a safe or a calm place for our minds to go when we begin to experience the overwhelming emotions of our past traumas. We train our brains through calming techniques and positive imagery to go somewhere besides worse case scenario. It is extremely important that this place be somewhere that we have not experienced any kind of trauma.

For many people, especially Christians, this safe place might be in church. However, if one has suffered from spiritual abuse, church is the very place where trauma occurred. I have discovered that going to church many times does not feel safe. Rather, it is the place where I actually need to practice what I am learning in EMDR.

Listening to Dan Allender’s podcast recently on spiritual abuse, helped me to understand that I have been too hard on myself when it comes to attending church. My attempts to push past the traumatic memories in church have been ineffective. I have gotten into a pattern of thinking that when I feel bad in church it’s because God is not pleased with me. Last week my husband and I prayed for God to help us hear directly from Him outside of church. Then we heard the Allender podcast and experienced the compassion rather than judgement of God. We felt encouraged to look for other ways to experience Him outside of church. My husband and I took yesterday off from church. We spent time outside enjoying nature. We drove out of town and did some shopping and had lunch. It was a good day. It felt safe.

On a side note, I want to say that I have some wonderful friends who are a part of the church. They have been safe people for me. They have listened, loved, helped and encouraged me. They have been the hands and feet of Jesus. However, even for these dear people I think it is difficult for them to grasp how their safe place can feel dangerous to us. Our absence from church and church functions can feel like rejection rather than our own self-care. This is where communication is important. Even as I write this I am searching for the words to say. At the end of the day, all any of us can do is be honest with the people we care about. Even when there isn’t understanding there can still be mutual respect for one another. Those who really care will stick around and try to understand. Those who can’t understand we have to let go of placing expectations on ourselves to keep them happy. We are not giving up on attending church, but we are giving ourselves permission to take care of ourselves.

Listening to Dr. Shapiro’s book last week, I was able to discover my own safe place. It was a memory that I hadn’t thought of in years, but it brought a peace to my heart I desperately needed to experience with all the changes happening.

I found my biological father when I was 19 years old. I drove several hours to another state to spend time with him. Our first night out we went to the bowling ally. We sat at the table eating and smoking a cigarette together. Neither of us smoked on a regular basis. It was simply something we both wanted to do on this night out. As this memory resurfaced in my mind, I felt my stomach relax. I felt heard, loved, listened to and accepted in my biological father’s presence. I felt safe. Even though after this experience I went through a wide range of emotions, I knew in those moments that my Father loved me and that was all that mattered.

As I think back to this memory, I thank God for this reminder. I am able to see that He is a good Father who gives good gifts outside of church. I am comforted to know that He truly does meet us where we are.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord , is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord .
Zephaniah 3:15‭-‬20 ESV

Self-Care after Spiritual Abuse

I am too hard on myself.

I push myself to be better than I am.

I want to do everything right.

And keep everyone from getting upset with me.

I realize how much I am doing this to myself when circumstances reveal to me just how out of my control things are.

Then the self-condemnation comes.

I feel overwhelmed, discouraged and wonder if I will ever get any better. It never ceases to amaze me how one triggering event can take my brain to a very dark place.

Most people aren’t able to give us the compassion that we need.

Only the safe ones can.

Especially when we’ve suffered from spiritual abuse.

The same scriptures that give others a reason to hope have been twisted and used to abuse us.

The messages we receive from well intended Christians tell us to forgive. To not get stuck in being a victim. To not let bitterness overtake us. Keep reading scripture. Keep praying. Keep serving Jesus. Keep coming to church.

It’s the best advice they have to give.

These are words that encourage them.

It’s easy to conclude that we must be doing something wrong when these words don’t encourage but rather condemn us even more.

It’s been five years since I last saw the man who abused our family.

And I still find myself believing the lie that the abuse was my fault.

And this lie pushes me to try to be a better Christian than I am and results in me being too hard on myself.

And then I just want to give up.

These are hard things to confess.

I thought I was better than I am.

But the wounds of spiritual abuse run deep.

And just when I think I am moving past them something happens to remind me that they are still there.

The quotes below come from a recent airing on The Allender Center podcast on the subject of spiritual abuse.

Dan: “They’re your guardian. They’re your protector. But they also have access to pass through that boundary and then become your abuser. […] It’s back to mind control. You feel nuts. But then it’s likely reinterpreted that you’re just not trusting God or you’re not believing good things.”

Rachael: “And then it almost feels like part of you goes underground, and then a part of you gets to stay above ground. Which means all this pain in places that actually need a lot of tending, need a lot of care, need a lot of love, are so cut off from God, because it’s now moved into that sense of either being innocent or being stained.”

I realize after reading these words that so much of the time my own pain is hidden from me.

There’s another part of me that can operate and function well on the surface.

This part can go to work and perform well.

This part can go to church and smile, stand in front of the church and read a scripture passage and give others the impression that I am doing fine.

But the reality is there is still so much pain hidden beneath the surface that needs healing.

This podcast helped me to understand how important it is to acknowledge my hidden pain when it comes to the surface.

This painful part of me went underground, because when I trusted the wrong person they used it to abuse and manipulate me.

When someone who is ordained by God to serve, protect and help us trample down our boundaries and get inside our souls and do tremendous damage, the fallout is deep distrust of others and ourselves.

We build walls to protect ourselves.

Walls that give the appearance that we are a lot stronger than what we are.

A couple of therapists gave me valuable advice.

They said to just observe others, especially at church.

To give myself all the time I needed to heal.

I forget this advice a lot.

I get impatient with myself.

I allow the words and expectations of others push me to do more and try harder.

And then I find myself crumbling under their weight.

And the pain comes seeping out.

My husband and I prayed yesterday that God would speak directly to us.

That He would help us to see past people and hear from Him.

And I turned on the Allender podcast and God spoke to the damaged parts of my soul.

And I knew in those moments that God sees our pain.

He knows and hurts for us, too.

He cares and prays for us when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves.

He’s angry about the abuse.

He promises to bring justice.

He promises to wipe away all of our tears.

And He said for me to treat myself with the same compassion He gives me.

I feel the weight of the pressure lift off of my shoulders.

My soul is safe with Him.

I can honor my pain by allowing it to come to the surface for Him to heal.

If your soul has been damaged by spiritual abuse, please know that God understands even when others can’t.

He will not abandon us.

Dan: “We would not be doing this if we did not think there was the potential for deep, deep change. But when you have suffered this deeply in this arena, with the stain of that level of evil, where you have actually come to feel and fear that you are as dark and evil as the person who harmed you, it is very hard to believe that you will have your body back, that this kind of shame which is indelible and permanent will never, ever be able to be escaped, and therefore isn’t it better to just try to isolate, go low, escape from involving. To that I say Hell no, hell no that isn’t true, because Heaven yes, there is actually a redemptive process that will bring you back to regain your body.”

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A Healing Response

“Research has shown that the ability of a victim to heal from sexual assault is definitively linked to the response they receive when they disclose.”-Rachael Denhollander

Find out more about this research at: https://buff.ly/2KWRK2M

#EndAbuseEverywhere #SurvivorCare

I had a nightmare last night.

I was being abused again by a man who was supposed to be helping me.

The old familiar feelings of longing for a father’s love, mixed with desire and confusion came flooding back.

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced these same emotions.

Where did they come from?

Are they still hiding away inside waiting for the right time to come out and pounce on me, my fear is quick to ask?

The only way I know how to deal with these emotions is to write them down.

To bring them out into the light.

To not give my mind a chance to ruminate on them.

To not allow shame to take root.

Darkness is transformed into the light when it is brought out into the light.

I remember that I heard a story yesterday at work that is currently being investigated about a child who is possibly be being abused by a family member.

Her story reminded me of my own.

I felt pain and anger hearing it.

But I didn’t talk to anyone about it.

My mind needed to release what I felt.

And the dream came.

Working in a residential treatment center has taught me how to pay attention to what I feel and find ways to deal with my emotions in a healthier way than I did fifteen years ago when I was abused.

No matter how far away I get from the experience, I still remember the relief from pain that being abused brought.

That’s a hard thing to confess.

I cannot express enough the importance of having safe people in our lives to process our pain with.

Pain creates a deep need for relief.

True relief is not escape.

True relief comes from being honest with myself and God about where my pain comes from.

It comes from a desire for true connection with people who will look out for me and keep me safe.

There’s a big void in my life where a loving, protective father should have been.

Instead, I had a father who brought me harm.

It’s a loss that I have spent a lifetime experiencing.

It’s a loss I continue to grieve.

We do not have an opportunity to grow up and be parented again.

We can only start where we are with the people who are around us.

I confess trust is still hard for me.

But I have come to realize that trust is crucial to my healing.

Trust enables us to receive goodness and hope again.

Without trust and others to connect with my world becomes dull and cynical as my heart grows harder.

But thank God He doesn’t ever stop working the soil of our hearts, so that hope can grow.

People are often the tools God uses to work the soil.

A therapist who lovingly walked and processed with me through my darkest secrets and most horrific pain.

A kind friend sitting across the table in a coffee shop listening to me with compassion and empathy.

A pastor’s wife who believes and accepts me despite my past.

Coworkers and supervisors who have kept healthy boundaries and treated me with dignity and respect consistently day after day.

A husband who has forgiven me time and time again.

Children who love me unconditionally despite all the ways I haven’t been there for them.

All of these and others have been God’s tools and a testimony of His hope.

They reveal to me how much our loving responses to one another bring about His healing and relief.

“Research has shown that the ability of a victim to heal from sexual assault is definitively linked to the response they receive when they disclose.”
-Rachael Denhollander.

I agree wholeheartedly with Rachel.

My own experiences have taught me that the way people respond to our abuse disclosers tremendously impact our healing.

God, grant us the wisdom and grace to learn how to respond well to one another.

To love with healthy boundaries.

To report abuse to the police.

To love without judgement or condemnation.

To listen and learn from one another.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord , that he may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1‭-‬3 ESV

Once you see the scriptures through a lens of abuse, Hankel told me, you can’t unsee it. This lens makes us cautious to use biblical phrases such as “turn the other cheek” and further complicates traditionally venerated biblical figures—even the “great King David.”

When we preach or write or offer counsel, this lens prompts us to ask ourselves, Would these words be healing and empowering to a person facing violence? And this lens changes the way we see Jesus: publicly abused, but wholly liberated. And if this is how we see Christianity’s central figure, how might we re-center the vulnerable at every level of the church?

Let There be Light by Jenna Barret

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The Gift of Hope

Real hope does not put us to shame.

I spent some time this morning thinking about these words.

It has been fifteen years since I knelt beside a man that I called pastor and asked him to give me something he was not able to give.

Hope.

I did not know at the time how desperately I longed for a father’s love.

I did not know how much pain I was in.

His hug that day caused my brain to wake up to it.

And I believed he was my hope.

But the hope that he gave brought me much shame.

This is the time of the year that it happened, and I find myself struggling more than usual.

Sometimes I find it difficult to read the scriptures and find hope, because I am reminded of this shame.

Sometimes sitting in church I am overwhelmed with memories of it through a song or sermon.

Sometimes, on the really bad days, I wonder if I will carry the weight of this shame for the rest of my life?

How much more can I possibly write about it?

How much more can I possibly say that I forgive?

What else needs to be said to finally put this memory to rest for good?

I wish I knew.

But thank God He meets us where we are, even on the really bad days.

And He reminds me to take life one day at a time.

Trusting that He will see me through even when I wonder if He has abandoned me.

I confess sometimes it just feels too hard.

I heard a pastor discussing spiritual abuse a while ago.

He said that often people don’t know how to stop being a victim after being abused.

His words hurt even if they were true.

It’s hard not to get stuck in being a victim when one has been victimized.

None of us like to believe that suffering can be so out of our control.

We’d much rather assume that a person who is suffering isn’t doing enough.

They just don’t have enough faith.

They just aren’t pursuing God enough.

Reading their Bible enough.

Praying enough.

Surely God would not allow a person to suffer so much.

Try telling that to someone with a cancer diagnosis.

Why is mental illness any different?

It’s so important that we do not judge one another in our suffering.

Only when we learn listen to our own pain and one another’s pain can we bring healing and relief to those who are hurting.

We are not victims.

We are survivers.

We learn to be thrivers despite what we have been through.

I believe it.

But it is a process.

And there is no exact formula for everyone.

God heals us in His own time and in ways that He knows we need.

My therapist has said to me more than once that the definition of responsibility is the ability to respond.

Respond to life’s circumstances one day at the time in a better way than we did before.

Learn from the past.

What we see we will not unsee.

Respond differently.

Respond better.

Speak up.

Be honest.

Be kind to ourselves.

Ask for help.

Never give up.

Look to God for help.

For me this looks like today reading one scripture verse.

One simple promise.

That God’s hope does not disappoint.

His love has not abandoned us.

It is the gift of hope.

And real hope does not put us to shame.

Changes

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:18‭-‬19 ESV

Lately, I’ve been thinking that God is going to change some things in my life, and I am scared to death.

Why do we resist change?

What is it about it that feels like such a threat?

Change means that we temporarily will be in unfamiliar territory where we will feel out of control.

But newness cannot come without change.

As I think about changes, my mind goes back to situations that have not turned out at all like I thought they would.

I was so full of hope when my pastor told me I would be delivered. I believed that God was going to heal me. But then I was harmed even more.

Remember not the former things…

But how can I forget?

I long to forget.

To grab hold of the new.

But what keeps me from it?

Fear of more disappointment and pain.

Is God playing tricks on me?

Can He be trusted to really deliver on His promises?

The conversation in my head sounds all too familiar.

The garden.

A serpent.

Filling her head with lies.

And she listened.

So did I.

So do I.

But how do I not listen and believe his lies?

Especially when changes come.

Especially when I have lost so much.

What is holding me back?

Grief.

So much.

Why can’t I let go?

What do I need to let go of to grab hold of something new?

Control of my emotions.

It is OK to admit that I am not strong.

That I need help.

Getting help makes me vulnerable.

How do I know that I won’t be harmed again?

I don’t know that I won’t.

But I do know now that I have choices even if someone tries to abuse me.

God has given me a voice to stop it and to ask for help.

Not everyone is out to abuse.

Some people care.

It’s ok to let them.

Help me, God.

Help my unbelief.

Help me to let go.

To accept change.

To receive the new.

To hope again.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

The Power of Love

A few weeks ago, I started to read the book The Power of Attachment. The book by Diane Poole Heller talks about the different ways we connect to one another in relationships, and the importance that our early childhood plays in developing these attachments.

I was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. My biological mother was raised Catholic. Her parents sent her away to give birth to me. She only held me for a few moments before I was handed over to the State and placed in the home of a foster parent for three months. After three months, I was adopted by my parents. From my baby pictures, I appeared to be a well adjusted and happy child. However, my earliest memories as a child communicate to me that I struggled most of the time with feeling like I belonged. Up until I was in my twenties, I believed that there was something wrong with me. I thought that being adopted and not being a blood relative of my family was what caused me to feel out of place. But then I found both of my biological parents, and realized that I still felt disconnected.

Reading Diane’s book has helped me to see that my lack of connection is about more than being adopted. What it is about is being raised by parents who did not know how to connect with me in a healthy way. Parents who didn’t connect with their parents either. My adopted mother’s mom died when she was just a little girl. She had very few memories of her, and didn’t talk about her father much either. My adopted father’s mother lived until I was in my twenties. He spent a lot of time talking about how she favored his brother over him. His father died when he was a child. His earliest memories were of him shooting up morphine in front of him.

I spent my childhood believing that I was the reason that I couldn’t connect with my parents. Even though they provided for my physical needs, I felt responsible for my own emotional needs and insanely for theirs, too. Sexual abuse taught me that it was my responsibility to meet my father’s emotional needs. It was also up to me to keep this secret from my mother. I had to work really hard to do my part to keep everyone happy. I felt like I lived in a minefield waiting for the next explosion to go off. I thought if I watched my every step I could keep something else bad from happening. Even though it didn’t work, I never stopped trying to make it work. It was the only thing I knew to do to survive.

Diane Heller provides exercises in her book to help people like me who grew up not feeling attached to start a process of feeling more secure. One of the exercises says to imagine having parents who had relationships with others in their lives who met their emotional needs. She said to visualize what it would have been like if our mother had friends she went out with who brought her happiness. As I visualized this, it felt like the knots in my stomach began to relax. Momma did not need me to do everything right to be happy. She was happy all on her own. I wasn’t walking in a mine field where I had to focus on my every step. I could focus on just being myself. I could see clearly through this practice that the reason I felt disconnected as a child was because I never felt the freedom to just be myself.

Other exercises in the book encourage the reader to think about the people in our lives who they felt safe around and remember how these people made them feel. I experienced relief as I thought back to an older couple who were friends with my mom. I stayed with them for a week when my parents went out of town. Their house was in the country. I chased chickens around their back yard. I sat on the porch drinking lemonade and eating homemade goodies. I went to the store and got a brown paper sack full of candy. It felt safe to be myself.

God talks about us coming to Him as little children, but I have so few memories of times when I felt like I could be a little child. I don’t know how to be a child and this has greatly effected my ability to connect with God. I am realizing that I still spend a lot of life feeling like I am walking through a mine field. There has been so much loss in my life that I wonder if I will ever find the freedom to be myself again.

I confess I struggle with feeling angry and cynical about how my life has been. Am I destined to be forever disconnected from God because I do not even know how to come to Him as a little child? I confess it feels impossible to me and with the religious abuse I experienced no where at all feels safe. The only thing I know to do is to continue to be honest about the struggles that I have with God and with others who are safe. In church it has been very challenging to find these people. Too often I hear judgment in their comments or quick fixes that sound more about control than a relationship with God. I cannot continue to sit through conversations like this. I desperately long to connect with God. I want to believe that He is a Father who wants to bring me only good. But these days I’m struggling with this. Even though our relationship with God is based on faith and not by sight, I see how much relationships play a part in revealing the goodness of God to people. Jesus had relationships with people. He didn’t tell them to just believe and walk away. He risked and really cared even though He knew that they would abandon Him when He needed them the most. When I think about this part of the story and Who God is through Jesus, I realize He doesn’t need me to do anything to meet His needs. I can be the kid who chases chickens in the back yard. I can laugh and drink lemonade on the front porch. I can find the relief of just being myself. This is the Gospel. It really is good news. This is the hope that I hold onto even when I feel like I am walking through a mine field. Truly, it’s a miracle that I even believe in Him at all. But faith is a mystery and a gift that we are not responsible for acquiring on our own. I so need God’s help every moment to give me the strength to keep moving forward, but I also need other people who are willing to hang in there in a relationship with me. People who do not need me to meet their emotional needs and keep them happy. People who love me right where I am struggling with all of my doubts and cynicism. I pray that God would help me to be this kind of person to others, too. In a world where half the people do not feel securely attached in their relationships, I believe that this is what Jesus has called us to be to one another. If all we are doing is telling others what to believe and what to do without investing time in relationships, we are missing the life giving portion of the message. I’m tired of cold and empty religion. I’m tired of just surviving. I pray that God would help us to see how desperately we need love and connection to one another. It’s the only way the world can know that we belong to Him. It’s the only way to give each other real hope.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

A Good Father

I want my children to know who they really are.

I want them to recognize those things within themselves that make them unique in a way no one else can be.

I want them to feel connected to themselves and their Creator.

I want them to not struggle with knowing who they are.

I want them to know they belong always with us and to God.

I don’t want them to be lonely or afraid.

I want them to rest in knowing we are always here for them and we will never reject them no matter what.

This is love.

It isn’t dependent on anything.

It doesn’t require anything.

It simply just is.

Why do I struggle so much with knowing God wants all the same things for His Children?

Why do I feel so much fear about the uncertainty of things?

Why do I get lost and confused when the outlook is bleak?

The nature of our humanity wants to be in control.

It does not like to wait.

It wants to see the solution.

It experiences great pain when it can’t.

God knows that our humanity is dust.

We get blown away by every wind of change.

For those of us who have not experienced a good example of earthly parents, God knows especially how strong our need for control is? He sees our despair when we just can’t hold it all together anymore.

He is a Father to the fatherless.

He keeps our tears in a bottle, because we are the apple of His eye.

Deep in my heart I know this, but my brain shouts so loud at times I can’t hear it.

I need to be kind to myself and wait for the voices in my head to die down.

How can I trust Him when all I’ve ever been able to trust is myself? When so much in my life has ended badly? My own control hasn’t worked out so well either.

How can I know who He is really when I am regularly reminded of a man who taught me how to twist His words in the one place I learn about Him the most in church? It’s very hard to get past ten years of verses, experiences and songs that ended in such a bad way. Our memory is such a part of our everyday lives. So many of our decisions are based on good or bad experiences that we have had. The profound life changing experiences I’ve had with God are what keep me going back despite all of the memories. The relationships with others in the past who have brought me joy keep me encouraging me to not give up on the church.

Gradually I’m beginning to see that God is a good Father who wants to give us good gifts.

He wants us to know who we are.

He wants us to see our uniqueness and know that we matter.

He wants us to know we belong to Him.

He expects nothing in return.

His love isn’t dependent on anything.

It just is.

Perfect love without fear of punishment.

Dust brought together.

Wholeness.

Life.

The wind blows away only what isn’t necessary anymore.

What’s left is who I really am in Him.

If I chase the wind to catch what is blowing away, I am bringing more pain to myself.

New life calls me to move forward despite the past.

It is hard.

But it is the only way.

To find myself.

To find others who care.

To find Him.

Father, light the path and lead the way with your goodness and mercy.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:9‭-‬11 NLT

The Season for Acceptance

There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven– A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.
ECCLESIASTES 3:1‭-‬8 AMP

Acceptance.

Just let go.

Move on.

It sounds so easy.

But it’s been incredibly hard for me.

So many unanswered questions.

So much doubt, fear and second guessing myself.

All the shoulda, coulda, and wouldas are hard to let go of and move past.

Rather they feel like a hundred knots in my stomach that just twist tighter the more out of control I feel.

Regret.

A family member warned my husband a few years ago, you can live with a lot of things, but you don’t want to live with regret.

Regret feels like a prison cell.

One cannot change the choices that they have made.

One can only say to themselves, If only I’d done it differently.

Therefore do everything you can to avoid regret.

Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge.

Sometimes our choices result in things happening that profoundly impact the direction that our lives will go.

Sometimes we lose things and people we care about, and no matter how much we would like to have them back we cannot.

I heard someone say recently that God always desires reconciliation.

Does that mean we keep trying to somehow change the outcome even with those in our lives who continue to hurt us?

Does that mean that we open up old wounds of others that we have harmed?

All because we don’t want to live with the regret of irreconcilable differences?

Or does it mean we just accept things as they are and move on?

These are questions that I have been wrestling with lately.

My mother passed away last October.

My father-in-law is nearing the end of his life.

The finality of death brings up many unanswered questions.

What can we do to keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with the shame of regret?

I have to believe that if God is the loving Father that the Bible portrays Him to be, then His desire is for us not to live in regret.

If God had wanted us to be stuck in the consequences of our sin, He would not have sent Jesus.

His forgiveness has set us free from the prison of regret.

Because of Jesus, there is always a way out.

Sin no longer leads to death.

We are promised resurrection and life.

But new life can look different than what we think.

And it can look different for all of us depending on the appointed time or season of life God has us in.

Sometimes it means we still lose what we wish we’d had.

Sometimes it means we find what we always wanted.

Sometimes it means a lifetime of unmet needs.

Sometimes it means God meeting needs in ways we never imagined.

People believed that Jesus would be the promised Messiah who would fix a broken political system and make things right.

But Jesus wasn’t at all what most people expected.

His ways were past finding out.

They still are.

But I confess I still try to figure them out.

My mother is gone.

My relationship with Jesus never brought about reconciliation between me and her.

Was it because I didn’t pursue reconciliation hard enough?

Was it because she couldn’t handle the truth of how much harm my adopted father’s sexual abuse caused me?

Was I simply too afraid to trust Jesus in my relationship with her?

Or did He show my mother mercy by sparing her pain in her final days?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that God does not want me stuck in regret.

Nor does my Mom.

There is a time to give up what has been lost.

My mom didn’t meet my needs.

I think she tried.

Even if it wasn’t hard enough.

I didn’t try hard enough either.

Sometimes there’s just too much water under the bridge.

Sometimes all we can do in the end is offer one another peace and forgiveness.

This is acceptance.

This is the only way I can live with myself.

We are all in different seasons of our lives.

Some of us are called to reconcile.

Some of us are called to accept what we have lost.

Life is difficult, complicated, confusing, and painful.

The universe is broken.

Let us stir one another up to make better choices.

But let us also accept that we do not have all the answers.

Let us point one another to the One who does and be kind.

He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]–yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
ECCLESIASTES 3:11 AMP

Caught – Our Unseen Hope

And yet He still whispers it is finished.

Four years ago, I wrote this post right after I’d confessed my most shameful secret to my previous church. I had been involved in a spiritually abusive relationship with my former pastor. What I wrote revealed a deep shame that I had been carrying my entire life. A shame that had sucked the life out of me, causing me to be desperate to receive acceptance and love, and perfectly ripe for abuse.

Recently, the words from this post came back to my mind when a family member began to shame me for things I had not done what he believed I should have done in support of my family. The old familiar weight of crushing, painful shame felt heavy on me again. It felt like I had walked back into a war zone where the bodies of all those I had harmed were strewn all about. My mother passed away last week suddenly. The shock of losing her triggered a lot of painful emotions and words that may have been more about my brother’s grief than wanting to hurt me. Still those words hurt so much that I made the decision not to go to my mother’s funeral that would take place in the middle of the town where the I’d be bombarded with painful memories of the past.

My choice not to attend her funeral was one I deliberated about with my husband, my friends, my therapist and even my coworkers for hours. I wanted to be strong enough to go. I wanted to not be in that old familiar crippling pain again. I wanted to walk in the strength of the Lord and not believe the lies that were screaming in my head about what a bad person I had been. I wanted to be there for my brother and put the past behind. I wanted to say goodbye to my mother. But after much ambivalence and many prayers, I decided it was just too much.

When I read this post again this morning, I was reminded that none of us are able to carry the weight of our sin and shame. Nor can we carry the weight of the shame that others place on us. Only One is strong enough to carry it.

I wish I was a better representative of Jesus. I wish I was more of a reflection of His righteousness. I wish I didn’t take back the shame. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of what people think. I wish I didn’t still avoid my pain. I wish I didn’t listen to the lies. But I still do. And yet He still whispers it is finished.

Thank you, Jesus for understanding when others do not. Thank you for praying for me when I do not know how to pray for myself. Thank you for not stopping the work that you are doing in me even when I want to give up. Thank you for always being faithful no matter what. Give me the grace to move forward in the truth of who you are. To trust that you are a good and perfect Heavenly Father. Heal my heart so that I continue to receive the love that casts out all fear. In my weakness give me your strength. In my discouragement, give me your hope. I can do nothing without you, yet with you I can do all the things that You have given me to do. Bless those who read this post with the knowledge of who you are and the greatness of your love that knows no boundaries. That we could look past our sin and sorrow, our grief and pain and see only you.

https://ourunseenhope.com/2014/11/01/caught/