Beliefs

Beliefs take root in our heart and direct the choices that we make. Our beliefs determine our choices which can ultimately result in life or death.

When I was a little girl, my earliest belief was that I was in the way of my family and what it was they were trying to accomplish. What did my parents want? Peace, stability, happiness. But they didn’t seem to be able to attain these things. And somehow I believed it was my fault. 

When I was in the first grade, I remember sitting in our fancy living room, surrounded by my mother’s china and crystal dishes, flipping through the pages of a book on the coffee table about adoption. I was adopted when I was three months old.  My parents loved to tell the story about how they brought me home and showed me off to their friends. I was a beautiful baby they said.  I was what they had wanted for so long.  But like the beautiful dishes on the tables in the living room, I felt like it was my job to stay out of the way in a room that was rarely used gathering dust until they wanted to use me.

I don’t know how I came to believe such a bleak story about my life.  There were certainly good times. Christmas morning standing at the top of the stairs glancing down to see beneath the glittering Christmas tree, all the things I had asked for; Barbie car, Barbie house, Barbie dolls and Barbie clothes. I would spend the next few days fantasizing with Barbie. She lived in a nice house with a nice car. She was beautiful. She was loved. She was wanted. She made others happy.  She was happy.  Her plastic face always held a perfect smile with the perfect color lipstick that never smeared while I was having accidents and causing my mother to have to clean up the urine soaked furniture in my room. 

I’m not sure when my father’s sexual abuse started. I wonder if it didn’t begin before my earliest memories of it, but I do know my first beliefs about myself were those that communicated that I was a big disappointment.

This past week I have been been reading Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.  In one of the final chapters, she talks about how the meaning of the word belief has changed over the centuries.  She says:

In the sixteenth century, “to believe” meant “to set the heart upon,” or “to give the heart to,” as in, “I believe in love.” But in the centuries following the Enlightenment, secular use of the words “belief” and “believe” began to change until they said less about the disposition of one’s heart than about the furniture in one’s mind.

The sixteenth century writers were right about belief.  Beliefs take root in our heart and direct the choices that we make. Our beliefs determine our choices which can ultimately result in life or death.

For a long time my religious beliefs were the furniture in my mind that I was able to move around and put in just the right places to block the closet to my heart. This gave me a false sense that I was in control. I told myself that I was a new person in Christ and that my past did not matter anymore.  But the more life and circumstances happened the more full the closet became and no matter how much I moved the furniture in my mind around I could not keep my heart from breaking through.   It wasn’t long before my mind was flooded with bits and pieces of the past mixed in with a present that was out of my control.  I was drowning in things I didn’t understand.   Then a man entered into my life.  He showed me how to find other spaces in my mind where I could put away the things that I didn’t have control over.  He helped me clean up my cluttered mind and gave me a new belief system that made it’s way to my heart.  For a time, I believed good things about myself and God.  But then I realized it was all a lie.  I was for this man the same thing I was to my father, something to be used. And it was spiritual abuse.

I do not want abuse to shape my beliefs anymore. But I need something more than beliefs that simply occupy space in my mind. I need beliefs that will uproot the lies in my heart and give me new ones about myself.  The most influential men in my life used me.  I need someone who is more influential than they are to change my beliefs. Lately, I’ve been catching glimpses of Him around me in the things I read, in the people I encounter, in the beauty of nature and even within my own heart that cares about others. Only a God who is named love can uproot the bad beliefs about myself and give me good ones.   I am valuable to Him and so are you, no matter how badly someone else has treated you. 

My prayer today:

God reveal your love and goodness to all humanity. Help us to see the promised hope of our Messiah this time of the year.  Remind us that you came to bring good news of peace and joy to ALL mankind.  Let your love uproot the lies about ourselves and replace them with the truth of who You created us to be. May your perfect love cast out all of our fears and give us the grace to love ourselves and one another.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Embracing the Good

I realize today there are millions of people in this country in pain, because they won’t experience a Norman Rockwell painting Thanksgiving. And even if their day looks like a Rockwell on the outside, on the inside they may feel like they are living in a Dante illustration of hell. 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:9

There is a memory that my mind does not know how to let go of. I am kneeling beside the pastor of my former church. His arms are wrapped tightly around me as I hug him.

Even though this happened over five years ago, and what followed this hug was a spiritually abusive relationship, my mind does not know how to let go of this moment that changed my life in ways I will never completely comprehend.

Last week as I was talking to a new friend at work about my struggles to let go of my traumatic past, she shared with me about her own abuse history. She said for a long time her abuse was all that she knew how to talk about. She said that she had one friend who reminded her that she was talking about her abuse again. She was grateful for this friend, because she realized that her mind for some reason did not want to let go of her trauma and she knew that she still had some work to do around it.

As I listened to her talk, I realized that I, too, struggle to let go of my own trauma. I want to let go but I don’t know how.

Sometimes when I hear people talking about letting go of the past, I feel condemned. It sounds like it’s an easy choice to make and one that I am too stubborn to make. When I feel condemned, it just causes me to cling more tightly to my past and all the reasons why I don’t know how to let go.

My friend sharing vulnerably about her own struggle to let go gave me a different perspective. Since she is someone who has suffered in similar ways, I do not feel condemned. Rather I feel empathy for what she went through and admiration that she has been able to move forward. In her, I see someone who is determined to embrace the good in her life.

As I write this, it becomes clear to me that in order to let go of the past we have to find something else good to grab hold of.

Over the past few years, our family has been in a process of healing. Our therapist told us early on that it could take this long. I had hoped when I heard this that I would be further along than I am now. I have come a long way, and I am grateful. However, I think my expectation was that the past would be in the past and not still be coming up in conversations as much.

I think one of the biggest obstacles we face as trauma survivors, is not letting abuse become our only story. I say only story, because I believe that telling others about our abuse history can provide healing and hope to others, especially when we can tell it without getting lost in it. Abuse will always be a part of my story, but lately God has been communicating to me that it is not my only story.

Working in mental health care, I have met so many people who have had every reason to live out the rest of their lives trapped in their own traumatic story. The stories I’ve seen and heard have caused me to question everything I believe about life and faith. I wonder how can anyone can possibly ever escape the hellish nightmare that they have survived. I spoke with a woman a few days ago about a lifetime of abuse she suffered. Her words were hurried as she spoke about her history barely taking a breath. So much pain. Yet, she held onto her faith and hope for dear life. As she left with her two young children following closely behind, I was so glad that she knew her story was about more than abuse. I was glad that she was fighting for herself and her family so that they could live a better story.

I have also met people who never learn how to live another story. Sadly, they live and die never escaping the prison of all the wrong that was done to them. Their pain is an endless flow of acid that eats away at the hope of everyone around them. This statement causes me to think of my adopted father who retold his abusive story over and over again throughout my childhood. He didn’t have any friends. He was angry at his family. The only thing that made him happy was his cats and buying something else. I wonder did he simply choose to stay trapped in his abuse story or if he just simply never found the key to get out? Did he look for the key? Weren’t his children enough reason to at least try and find it?

Today is Thanksgiving. We have an abundance of good food in the refrigerator to prepare. We will travel south to cook and eat with our children. Our small family of five will gather around the table to talk and eat too much. There will be so much good to be thankful for. However, as childhood trauma survivors, both my husband and I will struggle to enjoy it. This is a difficult thing for me to confess. How can I not possibly see all the good that I have? How is it that I am not overflowing with Thanksgiving that our family is still together after all that we have been through? As I said earlier in this post, beating myself up for not being able to let go of the past only sends me into a spiral of guilt that causes me to get more lost in my past. I realize today there are millions of people in this country in pain, because they won’t experience a Norman Rockwell painting Thanksgiving. And even if their day looks like a Rockwell on the outside, on the inside they may feel like they are living in a Dante illustration of hell. The expectations that our culture places on our holiday season is a reminder to many of us of the family that we did not have. The sad reality is that hospitals will fill up with people who are battling suicidal thoughts and those suffering with mental illness will struggle more. The holidays are hard for me is a confession I have heard several times over the past few weeks. Their courage to speak honestly with me has given me the courage to speak up, too.

I believe the reason that the scene in a pastor’s office over five years ago plays over and over in my mind, is that in this moment with him I believed that I was safe, that I belonged, and that I was loved by him and by God. This was the one thing that I had longed for my entire life, and I experienced it in that moment. Before I realized it was abusive, I was able to grab hold of something good and trust that it was good for me. My mind experienced life and hope for the very first time. Before I met him, I did not trust that anyone could ever love me. But when I believed that he cared, I was able to allow myself to believe that there was something good in life to hold onto. The hardest thing for me to do now is to forgive myself for trusting someone who would betray me in the worst possible ways. Recently, I watched a Netflix show on cults. A scene flashed on the screen from Jonestown of the thousands of people who trusted Jim Jones and as a result wound up dead. As I heard more about their stories, I realized that they, too, had just wanted to feel accepted, loved and safe but they, like me, trusted in the wrong person.

I think the biggest question that I am asking myself today is how can I let go of the betrayal and grab hold of something better? How can I let go of the fear of something else bad happening and embrace the good that is right in front of me?

Let life happen is the answer that echoes in my mind. Be present in the here and now. Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves without expectations, without condemnation, and with acceptance that you are in a healing process.

Embrace the good that you know is good. Trust those who have proven to be trustworthy and faithful in your life. Pay attention to things your feelings. If something doesn’t feel right it’s ok to walk away.

.. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...

I realized reading this that God inspired Paul to write this not so that we would use it to condemn ourselves or others with because we are struggling to move past the bad things that have happened to us. Rather, God wrote it because He cares about our mental health. He knows how desperately we need to be able to see these things in a broken world filled with pain.

This is grace.

And a goodness that I can embrace, hold on to and trust in.

He will never abandon us or betray us.

If today is a hard day for you, please know that it’s ok. Don’t allow the expectations of others to overwhelm you. Just be who you are and where you are in your healing process and know that God meets you where you are.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are in a crisis, please reach out for help. You are not alone. There are people who care and want to help. Here is the number of people who can help.

Call 1-800-273-8255 or text to 741741.

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

Photo credit

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 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/

Fear

What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.

Last night I tossed and turned in fear. Life is changing. Things feel out of control. Like I’m in room with everything strewn out across the floor and not knowing where to put anything. All I can do is sit in the chaos. And I hate it. Once again we are moving. This time a little less than an hour away. Nothing like the move we made four years ago, but with plenty of things to remind us of it. We are moving at the same time of year. Boxes are piled up against the walls. The emails from the mortgage company wanting to know about everything we owe. It’s scary because I worry about if we are spending too much. If our neighbors will be good ones. If our jobs will continue to provide so that we can pay a new mortgage. So many unknowns. So many things that could go wrong.

Fear rises in my chest from a place deep inside. Its strange how I can think I’m doing so well one day, and then fear comes and knocks the breath right out of me when I start to feel like I don’t have control.

Lately, I’ve been reading about attachment disorders and developmental trauma. Being an adopted child, I have been reading to understand more about myself. One thing that has stood out to me in what I’ve read is how much fear children who do not have healthy attachments with their parents live in. Being adopted I can relate to this fear only too well. As I look back over my life, I realize fear has never really left me.

I remember hearing a preacher point out one time how many times God says in the Bible do not be afraid. I don’t know the exact number, but I know its a lot. God knows how desperately we all need to hear it. At the core of our being is the need to be safe.

When I think about what it might have been like as a baby to be born and taken away from my mother at birth I know it must have been terribly frightening. After three months in a foster home things would change again and I’d go to live with my adopted family. A family that was far from stable. Is it any wonder I am still afraid? Is it any wonder I want to feel in control?

Sometimes I’m able to remind myself that God is in control and not let fear take hold, but with so many things out of control right now and the stakes being higher for something to go wrong, I’m finding its a lot more difficult to trust. I want to trust God, I really do, but the fear won’t let go sometimes.

What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.

As I look back over my life there have been so many losses. So many times when I’ve believed that things would be ok, but they were not. So many people I thought would be in my life for a lot longer than what they were and now they are gone. Was it my fault? Am I destined to ruin everything good? Fear haunts me with these heavy questions.

I hear regularly at the residential treatment center where I work the importance of being honest with ourselves about our losses and allowing ourselves to acknowledge and feel their pain. Recently, I heard one of the residents weeping over the realization that she’d never have a mom and dad who would love her like God meant for her to be loved. It broke my heart for her. But it also broke my heart for me. Because I want the same thing she does. A place to be safe and belong.

Why is it so hard to love one another the way we should? Why has the love of so many grown cold? Why do we in our worst pain wind up hurting those closest to us? I wish I knew, but I don’t. But like this young girl who was forced to accept the reality that things had not worked out at all like she hoped, I too must accept that reality and keep moving forward to a future that is unknown, grieving the losses along the way. But also believing that there is hope up ahead.

This morning a Bible verse came into my mind after a night of tossing and turning in fear.

Lord , my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord — now and always.
Psalms 131:1‭-‬3 NLT

God meets us where we are. He never rejects us because of our fear. He reminds us that He is holding us close and that He will never leave. Even when fear is overwhelming us, our souls can rest in this truth.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:18 ESV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalms 56:3 ESV

I sought the Lord , and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalms 34:4 ESV

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

Painful Reminders and God’s Redemption

And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced.
Joel 2:25‭-‬27 NLT

Yesterday, a friend sent me another article about a well known mega church pastor being exposed for sexually abusing women. I could not bring myself to read it, because I knew if I did I might become overwhelmed again by memories. Others might be able to disregard this information as something that happened somewhere else in another church without taking it personally, but for me it hits too close to home.

There is hardly an aspect of my life that has not been touched by the spiritual abuse our family suffered. There are so many reminders of a part of our lives that we wish had never occurred. But it did occur and things as simple as seeing a certain vehicle on the road or hearing a song played in church can remind me of the man who abused and manipulated us.

For four years we’ve have been in and out of churches struggling to find a place to belong. No where has felt safe. Every single church has reminded us of all that we have lost and caused us to be afraid of losing what little of our faith we have left.

But the most recent church we have attended has been different. People genuinely seem to care. They’ve opened their homes and lives to our family, and have made us feel a part. They’ve listened to our stories with love and not judgment. The suffocating loneliness we have felt has begun to lift. We have even made a decision to move closer to this church.

However, the fears we have of being spiritually abused again are still very much there. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to the people in this church, the bigger the fear of being harmed again. We opened our hearts before and look what happened. They were trampled and left in a bloody mess on the floor. How can we trust that the people won’t do the same?

The past four years of disillusionment with the church has left us with only God to rely on. He hasn’t wasted this time. We have learned the importance of trusting Him more than anyone else. After the wheels came off in my own faith journey, I have recognized how broken we as human beings really are. If I place my trust in man more than God, I am sure to be devastated again and again. Therefore, I continue to remind myself of the importance of looking to Jesus, the only author and perfector of our faith.

It is a huge relief to be on the other side of abuse. Sometimes I find myself longing to forget the whole thing ever happened. To put the past in the past and never look back again. But then another abuse story makes the headlines of the news. And to make matters worse after I read it then someone on a Christian podcast that I listen to regularly or someone in church reads a quote from the same pastor accused of abusing women. Sometimes it causes me to want to run as far away from the church that I can and never look back. But my heart won’t let me leave. So I continue to stay and face the problems the best way that I know how; by being honest with myself and others about them.

After what I’ve been through in the church, you’d think I wouldn’t be so surprised when abuse is exposed. But I still feel crushed when another prominent Christian leader is accused of abuse. A few names come to my mind of men who had a positive spiritual influence on my life who in recent years have had abuse exposures. Their books and sermons have taught me a lot about God. Now they are just another statistic. What can one do with this information? From what I have observed, some in the church will avoid looking at these truths all together. Some will label these stories as fake news. Some will say don’t mess with God’s annointed. Some will say never let them teach again. And some just don’t know about these stories at all. There are also many who will do as I do and avoid reading them when they do hear, because it brings up too much pain. However, I believe that the church’s tendency to avoid the painful truth about spiritual abuse is only going to contribute to it more. Problems do not go away by avoiding them or pretending that they are not there. Problems don’t go away with judgement. Darkness is transformed when it is brought into the light. Jesus did not avoid addressing corrupt spiritual leaders, nor should we.

How polarized our culture has become doesn’t help the problem either. Christians everywhere on my social media page seem to be about the business of pointing out the errors in others theology or politics and judging one another based on which side they choose to be in. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve hidden the feeds of a large majority of my friends I have on social media, because of the divisive things they post. These are confusing and discouraging times we live in especially as a Christian who Jesus called to love others. The tendency in a polarized society can also be to just point out the good. To post positive memes and pictures that communicate to me that if we talk about anything negative we have a lack of faith. This isn’t helpful either.

Those who are victims advocates are working diligently to expose abuse in the church. I have found a lot of peace and understanding by following ministries who are facing abuse in the church head on and working diligently to give a voice to those victims who do not have one. I’m so grateful for the work that they do. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know if we would have survived. But sometimes reading one story after another of abuse in the church that they post can make it difficult to believe there are actually good ministers. Just as there is a big need in me to be heard, there is an even bigger need for me to be able to be a part of a Christian community where I feel safe, and I have found the only way to do this is for me is to avoid reading too many abuse stories that make it extremely difficult for me to trust others.

The process of healing from spiritual abuse has been a long and difficult one. I have learned that one of the most important things I need to do is be patient with myself and remind myself that God is not going to waste any of our pain. He will redeem it all. I believe that we as survivors play a very important role in being a part of the solution. Each and every one of our stories matter. Because our stories reveal a desperate need in the church for change. And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about. So don’t give up. Keep speaking. Keep believing. Keep looking for the people who genuinely care. God has not abandoned us. He is working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot understand, but I believe one day we will. He is a good Father. Though those who we believed were the heroes of our faith have let us down and crushed us time and time again, Jesus will never let us down and promises to restore all that we have lost. Keep looking to Him. He won’t let you go.

I Won’t Let you Go

Joy in the Darkness

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

I read this quote from Henri Nouwen this morning. His words hit home with me and the journey I have been on for the past few years.

One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my own Christian walk is acknowledging the darkness, and not becoming overwhelmed by it.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Why do children get abused and abandoned by the parents who were supposed to give them love?

How can I listen the cries at work of a heartbroken child wanting her Daddy to come get her and not feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and desperation I hear in her voice?

How can a father abandon his child?

What do I do with the news that a neighbor just down the street took a gun and killed his mother, child and then turned it on himself.

So much darkness, death, and despair.

The darkness creeps into my mind.

It wants to take over.

I struggle to find the light of hope.

Social media is full of memes and statements from friends who encourage positive thinking and pious platitudes meant to inspire and keep us looking up.

They only cause me to feel more darkness.

I will not pretend the darkness is not there. As horrible as feeling it’s pain is, it also let’s me know that I am still alive and part of the human race. My own pain has caused me to want to lock myself away in denial. To never look back at all the darkness that has taken place in my own life. But everytime I try to it feels like the lid of a casket coming down. There has to be a way to live in this world of darkness without being overwhelmed or living in denial.

As Nouwen says, the joy of the Lord is what causes us to look for the light when the darkness of the world creeps in.

We are not alone.

We are loved by a God who is kind.

A God who redeems and restores.

A God who transforms the darkness into light.

Sometimes I can’t see Him.

Sometimes I have to walk in the darkness feeling my way through looking for the light.

Sometimes I get lost and Jesus finds me.

But He never leaves us alone even when we choose darkness over the light.

He is a good Father.

Today, I’m thankful for those people in my life who continue to point me to the flashes of light of His love that shines through the brokenness of our lives. Thankful for those who walk through the darkness with me and let me know that I am not alone. You are flashes of light along the way. You are proof that although this world gets really dark, that darkness will not overcome the light of His love.

There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The Megaphone of Pain

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

Every time I finish a blog and press publish, I wonder if it was the last one written about a very painful chapter of my life. I wonder if I will finally be able to move on past it. But then something else comes up and I write another one.

Maybe we never stop retelling our stories.

Maybe they have to be retold in order for our hearts to acknowledge just how broken we are.

Maybe facing our brokenness and pain is the only way we can know just how much He loves us.

After writing here for four years, I have come to realize that it is the painful parts of our stories that we work so hard to escape that are actually where true relief and healing lie. It is when I distract myself from my pain, that I actually prolong healing.

Yet, I still distract sometimes.

But thank God He doesn’t allow me to do it for long.

He arranges situations, people, places and things together in such a way that I am unable to avoid what it is He wants me to see.

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

I had never met the couple who sat at the poolside table with me on a church youth trip a couple of days ago. I can’t even explain how our small talk over pasta turned so personal so quick.

She was a pastor’s daughter with her own broken story to tell. Betrayal. Loss. Deception. Lies. Our stories collided as each of us shared. She did not appear bitter. Rather, it was clear she had worked hard to forgive her father for not being who she thought that he was. She did not judge me either. Instead, she and her husband voiced condolences over what I had experienced and prayed for me.

Lately, I have been exhausted and overwhelmed by so many stories of abuse in the church. With every story I read, I am reminded of my own pain again. Sometimes I just cannot go on reading. Sometimes I just want to put the past behind. To move on into what God has in the next chapter of my life. I had hoped this church youth trip would be an opportunity to take a break and maybe even start fresh.

But pain rose to the surface again. A deep sorrow over how my choices had hurt another pastor’s daughter. The overwhelming emotions caused me to a hug the stranger in front of me and tell her how sorry I was for what she had been through. I felt my heart heal a little more. The pain began to fade away. Other emotions followed. Grace. Love. Mercy. Peace. Redemption. Gratitude.

Why does He love us so much?

Why does He keep pursuing us even when run away?

I don’t know.

But He just does.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬5 ESV