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

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

Legitimate Needs

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process. I thought that what I was afraid of more than anything else was that something awful would happen to them, but the secret I began to glimpse was that I was really less afraid for the children than I was afraid for myself. What dangerous and unknown new role might I fall into if the role of father were taken from me and suddenly the sky was the limit, if instead of trying to take care of my children’s needs, I started taking care of my own needs, some of which were so powerful and long neglected that I was afraid they might overwhelm me?

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess that I have the same secret as Frederick Buechner.

I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.

I fear if I acknowledge that they are there that they will overwhelm me.

For so long I have taken care of everyone else’s needs, and I have neglected my own.

It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.

On the surface…

But beneath all of this outward care and concern for others is a little kid who has not had her own legitimate needs met.

I have begun to realize this recently especially working at a residential treatment program where kids from all walks of life are hospitalized because of losses and unmet needs that manifest themselves in addiction, anger, or self-harm. For these kids, the wheels have run off. They have been caught in their desperation, and because of this they have the perfect opportunity to see what it is they really need and begin to heal. Some will take this opportunity. Others will not.

Recognizing the legitimate needs in our lives that have not been met can cause one to feel out of control and weak. Sometimes it feels safer to lock these needs away inside and pretend like we are fine. But we are not fine. Unmet needs can become like the dungeon Little Ease (pictured above) that Buechner describes hidden directly below a beautiful chapel (pictured below) in the Tower of London. It was an incredibly small 4 ft. square space where it was impossible to stand or even lie down. Like this dungeon, our unmet needs can feel like they will suffocate and crush us until we get them met. I know because I managed to make it until I was in my thirties carrying around an overwhelming amount of unmet needs. I had no idea that being given up for adoption caused me to desperately long for connection. My mind had also suppressed the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my adoptive father, and I had no understanding that my need for healthy love was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. And one day it did explode, unleashing years of pent up anger and hurt that manifested itself in an abusive and addictive relationship with my former pastor, who I believed was the one person who could meet my unmet needs. But as addictions do, it only made things worse and I became just like one of the kids at work. The wheels ran off and I was caught. For the past four years, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to see what it is that I really need and get better. Sometimes I take the opportunity. Sometimes I do not. The hardest thing for me to do these days is recognize my legitimate needs, because I am afraid that they will be like a ticking time bomb that will explode again. A large part of my struggle is truly believing that there isn’t something wrong with me. As I look back on my life, I struggle to see the little kid who just needed to be held and loved. Sometimes all I see is a little kid who could never do anything right and who caused bad things to happen all around her.

It would seem to me after all the writing and processing I have done that I would not still struggle so much, but I do. Healing can be a long process. It’s hard being patient with myself. The other night driving home from a Bible study with my daughter, she began to talk about how difficult it was to trust others at this new church because of memories of the losses in her other church. I felt crushed under the weight of the reality that my choices had contributed to her present struggle. I realized how many times I hadn’t been there for her. These were years I could never get back. All because I was pursuing what I thought I had to have. My unmet legitimate needs had caused me to pursue things that brought me much shame.

I feel much compassion for my daughter. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to bring her relief. To cause her to be able to feel that she is a part. To help her believe in the goodness of people again and recognize God working in their lives. I know that the lack of trust she struggles with comes from legitimate needs for connection she is afraid to have met. I know it also comes from having her own hope shattered by trusting in the wrong people and having her own innocence stolen. Betrayals that have been totally out of her control and that were never her fault. I have no problem at all loving her and reminding her that she is not alone. I can tell her over and over again that it is not her fault. However, showing myself the same compassion seems impossible at times. Frederick Buechner’s words strike a powerful chord in me:

To love our neighbors as we love ourselves means also to love ourselves as we love our neighbors. It means to treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as we would the person next door who is in trouble.

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess I have not loved myself well. My default mode is self-contempt, and only the grace of God can save me from it.

But will I let Him?

Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?

I have to believe that nothing can stop the truth that sets us free.

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

The truth is there are no more fathers and mothers. There is no opportunity to live my life over and do it right the next time. The betrayals, the losses and the regret will always be a part of my story. It’s ok to be sad about these losses. To offer myself the same compassion I give my daughter. I can also thank God because of Jesus that these things don’t have to be the way our story ends.

He is a Father to the Fatherless.

He is the Resurrection and the Life.

There is no shame in our legitimate needs.

They are what drive us to Him.

Our hearts cry out to be loved and love in return and for all our fear to be gone.

He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.

“ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

Joy

Demons love to be analyzed…

Someone coined the phrase a long time ago, Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

For the past four years, I have learned to accept that most of my days will be spent getting by, sometimes wondering if I will make it and other days thinking I might not; every day asking God to help me get through to the other side of this grief.

I did not realize until recently how very accustomed I have become to just the struggle of getting through. It has become the devil that I know. It has become in many ways what is comfortable to me.

But recently I started to experience something that has been almost foreign to me. Something that is almost impossible to experience when one’s heart has been numbed by grief. Joy.

Much more than happiness. It does not flee as fast. It takes root in one’s heart and begins to grow ever so slowly as one begins to hope.

Yesterday, after a conversation with my daughter I realized she felt it, too. And she was scared to death of losing it. Scared to death that it would slip through her fingers like so many things have.

How can one wait patiently for joy to grow? My heart cries out, Please God do not let me be disappointed again! I’d rather stay here with the devil I know than have to deal with one that I don’t. I’d rather be numb than to experience life only to have it squashed out again by death.

The doubts begin to bombard me as soon as joy breaks through.

What if it’s all a lie?

What if you are being deceived again?

A fellow blogger shared a quote yesterday. Her blog is called The Holy Absurd. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s struggling and needs to find hope and know they are not alone. The quote was from Henri Nouwen’s book Love, Henri. He said, We’ll never overcome the demons by analyzing them, but only by forgetting them in an all-consuming love for God. Demons love to be analyzed because it keeps our attention directed to them.

Demons love to be analyzed…

I analyze what I know and what I don’t know. I have indeed been wrong before. Once I believed I found joy, but it was a mirage in the desert. It only appeared to be the real thing to my dry and thirsty soul. But the pursuit of it almost killed me. The devil will not let me forget. Ambivalence sets in as doubts arise begging to be analyzed.

God, please help me!

Stop fighting.

Stop analyzing.

Be still.

Trust.

He promises living water.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen.

The devil I don’t know isn’t a devil at all.

It’s merely hope unseen.

Joy growing just beneath the surface of a heart that’s felt dead for too long.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Joy comes when desire breaks through the hardened surface of a grieving heart. To care again is a huge risk. It’s more terrifying than anything I know. My daughter’s tears caused me to see this. To love is to at all is to risk losing it all again. It is not safe. But to not love is worse than death.

God, help us to not be afraid to love again.

I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
John 15:11‭-‬15 MSG

Photo credit

Monsters in the Dark 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 5:13‭-‬14 ESV

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

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

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

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

GALATIANS 5:7‭-‬9 AMP

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

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

Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

HEBREWS 4:15 AMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEBREWS 4:14‭-‬16 AMP

*Photo credit

Speaking the Truth 

Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.

​And pain holds the possibility of returning us back to that ground. When tragedy affects us, there is no more room for pretense. When health is stolen from us, our false selves relax their controlling grip. All of a sudden we’re thrown into a raw, unfiltered space. We’re thrust into the boxing ring , and it feels like God is our greatest enemy. In these times, the fluff has to go. Throw out the self-help book. Refuse the Kleenex meant to clean you up quickly. Avert your eyes when the super-spiritual comforter comes with her encouraging Bible verse. Let your entire being descend into its earthy, rugged ground. “Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.” 

Chuck DegroatFalling into Goodness 

“Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”  

The words sliced into my heart this morning with the precision of a Good and Perfect Physician’s cut. 

How much energy have I spent throughout my life determining what I ought to say to keep others happy and even God happy ?

In the absence of speaking what I really want to say, I have spoken what others need or expect me to say rather than what I need to say, and I have lost myself. 

As a Christian this behavior  seems so sacrificial, so spiritual, well meaning, and kind. It’s been easy to determine this the way God intended for us to live when others who are uncomfortable with our honesty shut down our words with scripture verses.  

And as a Christian, sometimes saying what keeps others happy can even feel like love. 

But it isn’t love; it’s codependency. It isn’t kindness or sacrifice. It’s a rope around the neck of our souls choking the life out of us. If our kindness comes from a place of insincerity it doesn’t do anyone any good, especially ourselves. 

Jesus said He desired mercy, not sacrifice, and worship that comes from an honest heart. A broken prostitute washing Jesus’ feet with her hair is the example He gives of true worship from a heart that received great mercy. 

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

Luke 7:47 ESV

But there is great mercy for the codependent,too, when we are able to receive it and live it out. I’ve received it in spurts with overwhelming gratitude, allowing it to flow out to others with true mercy at times, but then only to return to my deeply ingrained habits that give me a false sense of control. True mercy gets choked out and sacrifice from my false self trying to keep everyone happy returns.   

Jesus has lived this struggle with me. He’s felt the pain as my stomach has churned with acid and twisted in knots for fear of how someone was going to react to what I said or did. 

He sees the little girl hiding in her room binging on horror movies, wanting to be brave like the characters on the screen facing their fears, but never finding the ability to do anything other than escape her pain momentarily. 

And He prays for me to be set free. 

What a loving and patient Heavenly Father we have. He knows all about our struggles, and we can trust Him to be with us even when we are falling back into our codependent patterns. 

But He’s also in a process of changing us, making us more like Him, setting us more and more free from the lie that tells us it’s not OK to say what our heart needs to speak. 

And here’s what mine needs to say: I’m tired, really tired of keeping others happy. I’m tired of allowing their behavior to control how good or bad my day will be. I’m tired of oppressive, unhappy people placing the responsibility of their happiness on me. If my best isn’t good enough then they can go and suck their thumb in another room! 

I’m also tired of thinking I need to do and say everything right for God to be pleased.It’s a lie from the pit of Hell and it smells like smoke, as Steve Brown likes to say. It’s a lie that keeps me from receiving true mercy and sharing it with others. 

May the truth of His mercy saturate and take root in my codependent heart and give me the courage to speak the truth! If you are struggling with codependency, I pray as you read this you’d have the courage to do the same. 

“Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”

Remember, blessed are the broken. On the wilderness journey of life, there is no path around, under, or over –only through. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it all out. Go through it, with boxing gloves on, honest as you can. Maybe, in the end, you’ll be able to surrender with Job. Maybe in the wordless ground of your being, connected again to your creation-dust, you’ll be able to say with Job I’m convinced: 

You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. Job 42: 1

 Prayer: 

God, I’d like to enter into a more honest place with you. In the midst of a world that sanitizes suffering, I want to be a person who has nothing to hide between us. Give me the courage to trust you with my whole heart and story. Amen. 

Chuck DegroatFalling into Goodness 

Restoring the Shack

We didn’t get led astray by a wrong message we heard in a movie or a book, Deception is deception because it takes what belongs to you without you even knowing it, rather it was by a man we trusted to lead us.

A couple of nights ago I watched the show Restoring the Shack on TBN about the new controversial movie The Shack. In the show, the author of the book the movie was based on, William Paul Young, shares the incredible story of God’s healing work in his life. 

If you are a Christian on social media, I’m sure you’ve probably read something by a concerned Christians calling William Paul Young a heretic. Many believe the truths of scripture have been compromised. Many declare that they won’t watch the movie and you shouldn’t either. Some say the movie teaches universalism and some say the characters representing God in the movie are graven images. But in this beautiful work of fiction, I saw more scriptural truth than I did anything else. 

Steve Brown, founder of Key life ministries and a seminary professor, likes to say 50% of what he says is wrong, so those who are listening to him will have to check to find out which part is true. I believe this applies to the movie The Shack, too.  Certainly, every believer looking to find theological truths in this movie should examine the scriptures.  However, they should also bear in mind that William Paul Young wrote this as a work of fiction.

Christians are instructed by scripture to be concerned about theological truths and the destructiveness of heretical teachings. Jesus warned about wolves in sheep’s clothing. The apostle Paul described the destructiveness of the wolves with many tears. 

The little book of Jude is dedicated to warning the church about false teachers. His book reveals false prophets who aren’t on the movie screen or in a book, but in the church.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

Jude 1:12‭-‬13 ESV

It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

Jude 1:19 ESV

Whenever there is division among Christians, we the church of Jesus Christ called to love one another and bear with one another, need to especially take a closer look. Scripture is clear at the heart of division is pride. And that never brings about anything good. However, Jude also reveals to us that these false teacher are sitting next to us at church. They might be your pastor or a deacon. They might be your best Paul warns that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Deception is deception because it takes what belongs to you without you even knowing it, and our family has lost a lot. We didn’t get led astray by a wrong message we heard in a movie or a book, rather it was by a man we trusted to lead us.

With all that said, I’m not trying to start a fight. There’s enough of that going on already!  I’m just here to share how this inspiring movie impacted me. 

William Paul Young grew up in a crushing religious environment. He was the child of a missionary. He was sexually abused multiple times as a child. He wrote the book The Shack originally as a Christmas gift for his kids, because he didn’t have money to buy them a present. The book being published was even a fluke.

Paul also lived his life in ministry for years as what he calls a pretender and a predator. His poor moral choices did great harm to his family that it took 11 years to heal from.  

The inspiration behind the book was Paul’s own realization that those who grow up in broken homes have on the inside something that is like a broken shack in desperate need of repair. He shares how over the years his relationship with God began to restore his own broken down shack.  The book and movie are a reflection of the amazing work God did in his life over about 11 year period of time. His story resonates with me because of what I’ve learned over the past few years about trauma and what it does to our brains.  It’s a long process of healing to get out of trauma mode. Our bodies do not forget the damage that has been done. Love and compassion and relationships are what bring healing. Especially if it’s from a parent who will never let us down – Our Perfect Heavenly Father. I thank God that He is restoring my own broken down shack.

As Christians our broken stories reveal a God who relentlessly pursues us and meets us where we are. He’s the only one who can see all the pain and know what we need. Certainly, Scripture is the ultimate source where God is revealed to us. But scripture teaches us that Creation reveals God, too. I heard Steve Brown say recently because Jesus says He is Truth that wherever truth is Jesus is there. And Paul’s true story of brokenness and restoration was the truth I needed to hear. In my own journey, God has used other’s books and stories many times to reveal the true nature of God’s loving character and gradually over time to meet me in some really dark places where the Bible only reminded me of my own spiritual abuse. Truly, God knows our pain and meets us just where we are. 

Everyone’s journey is different, because we are all uniquely designed by our Creator. And it’s not anyone else’s place to judge the work that God is doing in someone else’s life.  Judgement day will come, and according to Jesus what we see is going to surprise the religious people especially. 

So be careful before you label someone a heretic. Be careful before you judge another’s heart. And don’t forget what God says about the human heart and that you have one. God is the only judge, because He’s the only one whose motives are totally pure and good.


“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.”

Jeremiah 17:9‭-‬10 NLT
A house divided cannot stand. We should never compromise the truth, but we shouldn’t squash the good in our efforts to be right either.  And for someone like me The Shack has been a clear evidence of His goodness and love for me. You don’t have to agree, but Jesus does call you to love.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Ephesians 4:2‭-‬4 NLT

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:12‭-‬14 ESV

Remembering God’s Love

We live in a world of black and white missing the beauty around us and not knowing that we were created to be a part of something more.

Yesterday my daughter and I watched the controversial movie The Shack. I’d read the book years before, but and had forgotten some of the profound truths I’d learned from reading it and was grateful to be reminded again.

I really don’t understand all the fuss over the movie. I watched it and didn’t conclude at the end of it that I should begin worshipping God as an African American female, rather the movie left me longing to find my way back to the beauty of a God who loves me beyond my comprehension and wants me to know it.

I’ll never forget the early days following my first encounter with God, when I stepped outside and looked up at the sky. All of a sudden, my world changed from black and white to stunning HD.  The sky became a sea of deep turquoise filled with enormous 3D clouds that reached out to me begging to be touched. The music of what sounded like hundreds of birds saturated my ears with crystal clear melodies. For the first time in my life I felt connected to the universe, a part of something immense and beautiful and good. All because I’d come to understand that the Creator of all of this beauty loved me and called me His own.

When one grows up in fear, like Mack in the movie and like me, afraid and not experiencing the freedom to be the person we were created to be, life becomes more about what we can control and accomplish on our own. We live in a world of black and white missing the beauty around us and not knowing that we were created to be a part of something more. We settle for cheap imitations of His love that only lead us further away from the person He created us to be.

My own black and white world gave me a false sense of safety, mostly because I thought I’d learned what to expect, until things spun out of my control and everything became black. But lost in the dark and alone, God led me out of the darkness and told me He loved me and for the first time ever I began to see the beauty of His goodness in Technicolor.

I wish that I could stay in those times when life feels alive and filled with color. I wish I didn’t slip back into black and white. I wish I could experience the joy of new life in Christ all over again and every day for the rest of my life, but there’s always something out of my control that calls me back to the black and white. 

But watching The Shack helped me to see that God never leaves us and is always calling us back to the knowledge of His great love for us.

God told the church of Ephesus who’d lost their first love to remember. And that’s what The Shack called me to do – remember. And that reminder was worth every dollar spent on my movie ticket. 

A Hug

God’s love doesn’t need to be hidden. God’s love certainly isn’t a poisonous snake.

​Jesus could have healed everyone with a word. He had the power to do long-distance miracles, but when the time was right, he touched people. Because sometimes that is the love and healing we need. 

Mike Foster, People of the Second Chance

I will never forget the first time my former pastor touched me. I’d told him the broken story of my childhood and how alone I’d felt growing up.

He looked at me directly in the eyes, “You’ve told me that before. What is it you really want?”

The pastor had called me a couple of hours before telling me the story of seeing a little girl hugged by her Dad at the barber shop, and how God impressed on his heart that that was something I’d never received as a little girl from her Dad. He told me with much sadness how it grieved his heart.  

When he called me, I’d been having a really hard day. Memories of the past had been haunting me. I was sitting on the bathroom floor praying and staring at a candle and longing for freedom from the oppression I felt. It amazed me that he called at the perfect time, and I believed without a shadow of a doubt that it was a God thing.

We agreed on the phone that he would meet with me to counsel for the first time in person. He called his wife so he wouldn’t have to meet with me alone. She would keep my kids in the nursery while we met.

The first words that came out of his mouth when I sat down in front of him were, “Some people never get delivered, but I believe that you will get delivered.”

And as I knelt down beside his chair and told him that the reason I was really in his office that day was to be loved, deliverance was what I was hoping for.

He wrapped his arms around me and gently rubbed my back. Powerful emotions like I’d never felt before overwhelmed me. 

In that brief hug everything that I longed for seemed to be present. Someone really loved me, and everything changed. 

When we stood up he was crying. He said, “I don’t understand it, but I love you.”

I hugged him again and had never felt so happy in my life. 

As I drove home that day something in me changed on a deep level for the better. I was no longer the shame filled freak who brought out the worst in people. I was loved by the pastor of the church, a man I looked up to and respected-a man who’d become a father figure to me. 

If only our relationship could have stayed there.

But it didn’t, and the very next day he was telling me how he’d felt like he stepped on a rattlesnake when he hugged me. He said it could never happen again. That in counseling the counselor never came from behind his desk to touch those on the other side. Then he proceeded to tell me he’d told his wife and she was upset and wanted him to refer me. (I wish now that he had,even though I begged him not to that day).

And all my happiness came crashing down. Everything beautiful that had occurred had all of a sudden become dirty and forbidden. 

But when he told me he didn’t want to refer me, that he’d work on his wife, my hope was restored. After a few days, he said his wife had reluctantly agreed to allow him to counsel me over the phone, but that he could never hug me in her presence. But he continued to hug me in her absence and the absence of others. 

And in the darkness of our secrets, sin grew.

As I look back on that time, I cannot throw out the freedom I found in that first hug. I believe now after working at a residential treatment program for teens, that I’d been an unattached child with a desperate heart longing for love and acceptance. When he hugged me that day all of the lies I believed about how bad I was came crashing down. The fact that he was my pastor made it even more powerful. I connected with another human being that day, and even though it became sinful and abusive it still changed something in me.

Looking back on that time, causes me to realize how important outward expressions of love towards one another really are. And some of us are so desperate for this touch, because we didn’t get it when we were kids. Healthy touch produces oxytocin in our brains, a hormone that delivers positive emotions. Words of acceptance and love along with affection bring healing to our lives and the pain we experience in this broken world. I’ve never been a touchy feely person, because of the abuse I’ve suffered in my past has caused me to be afraid of touch, but I’m learning slowly to give hugs especially to my kids, because I know how important they are.

I still don’t understand all the reasons the pastor was so upset over that hug. But I do know that calling it dangerous only made things worse. 

Loving one another out in the open where others can see is what God has called us to do. It is by our love that the world will know that we are His disciples. God’s love doesn’t need to be hidden.  God’s love certainly isn’t a poisonous snake.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying things. Touch is a powerful thing, and scripture even says to be careful about who we lay our hands on. So we really do need to be wise. And all the more reason not to keep secrets. Pastors especially need others to share openly with and get advice from. Proverbs says the more people in our lives we can get good counsel from the better, and a psychologist should definitely be one of those counselors especially in cases like mine.  We are not meant to do it alone.

And I believe because so many of us are doing it alone, that this is the reason so much abuse is occurring. We rush in and out of each others lives, smiling and pretending everything is fine especially on Sunday, while in the meantime we struggle to hold things together. And predators come along and take advantage of our weaknesses. And maybe those predators are just as desperate for love as their prey. We are worn out, weary, stressed out and pressured to be more than what God called us to be. We numb ourselves with whatever we can to deny the pain we feel inside. We too often are doing life alone when we really just need someone to tell our pain to and to hug and hear that we are still loved. 

I wish I knew how to stop the insanity of how we live our lives. I wish I knew how to get people to slow down and listen and to really care. But I don’t. But I do know that taking the time to really care is painful and often calls us to take the time to do something when another is in pain. My husband reminded me of this when he came home last night from a job he’d done at a very broken woman’s home. She reeked of alcohol and cigarettes and lived in a house that was wrecked. It was obvious that her life was filled with great pain and hopelessness. My husband wept as he told me about her life and how much he hated how hard and hopeless our world can be. She didn’t have enough money to pay for the two hours of work that he and his boss had done, and they agreed to take less, since it was clear she had little to give. And my husband even agreed to decline the two and a half hours of time and a half pay he could have been paid to help cover what she could not pay.  He’d never tell anyone but me that he did that, by the way. But I will, because what he did is really what it’s all about. It’s about simply taking the time to notice the pain around us and offer love. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what He calls us to do.  

God help me to slow down, to notice others and to offer love and maybe even a hug.

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.”

John 13:34‭-‬35 NLT