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

My Story – Part 1 The Truth that Sets Us Free

It is the truth alone that is able to set us free from the lies our enemy uses to snare us. 

Since I first published my story on this blog, a lot has happened. The hash tags #MeToo, #churchtoo and #silenceisnotspirtual have been appearing regularly in my social media feed. More and more victims have found the courage to step forward and expose the dark secrets of sexual abuse. While I am encouraged by the truth being exposed, I have also been overwhelmed by how much sexual abuse has happened to children and adults inside the church. Boz Tchividjian with the organization GRACE (Godly Response against Abuse in a Christian Environment) has stated that he believes the evangelical church has exceeded the Catholic church in incidences of abuse. This is a terrible tragedy when a place of hope becomes a place where abuse runs rampant. As Christ followers, I believe we must make every effort to protect the church from this. My own personal story is an effort to make Christians aware of what is happening, so that we can prevent further harm.

I wrote my story originally here in 2014. Recently, after discussing it with my therapist, I decided to rewrite my story and leave out some of the specific details that might be harmful to others who were not directly involved if my identity is ever revealed, as well as add some new insights that I have gained since I started the healing process.

I started attending the church where my abuse occurred in December of 2003. My husband, myself and our three kids almost immediately felt a part of this congregation after only a few Sundays. The people were friendly, the teaching was encouraging, and most of all the hurts we had been experiencing in our previous church were no longer right in front of us. My husband’s family had been at our previous church, and we had been caught up in the middle of a lot past trauma that was resurfacing in his family from a lifetime of abuse and manipulation from his alcoholic father. We needed to find a safe haven away from all of that, and believed this church was the answer to our prayers.

The pastor of this church called me out of the blue one day after we had only attended the church two Sundays. He said that he had been thinking about us and wanted to know if there was a good time for him to come visit. A few nights later, he was sitting in our den. He made us feel so cared about that we began to tell him about the hurts we were experiencing from my husband’s family. Up until this pastor came for a visit, we had not had anyone to talk to about these hurts. We were so relieved to have someone listen. And we became fast friends with him.

After a few months, when I was more comfortable with the pastor, I sent him an email asking for advice about a situation in our previous church involving a guy friend who had left the faith. I was beating myself up over the situation, because my husband’s family had told me that I shouldn’t have been close friends with a person of the opposite sex. Even though the relationship had been totally appropriate, I still felt guilty. (This was normal for me. Growing up in an abusive home, I had carried around guilt for most of my life for everything that went wrong. ) The pastor responded quickly giving me encouragement and reassurance. In the email, he also shared how he had formed emotional connections with several women over the course of his ministry, and that it had never been innapropriate. He let me know quickly he welcomed communication from women in the church.

I had never met anyone abused by a pastor before. I had no idea how much this kind of abuse actually happened. I thought it only happened in cults or crazy religious belief systems. I believed if women followed their husband and other male leaders in their lives that they would be protected by God. As our email correspondence turned into more and more phone conversations, I believed that this pastor was just being a good friend and leader to me. The attention he was giving me made me feel very special. He was old enough to be my father, and since my relationship with my adopted father had never been good, I was very happy about this. However, something about the relationship I had with him also began to bring up some past trauma that I had not ever processed with anyone. Memories of sexual abuse by my adopted father began to resurface. I was overwhelmed and confused and started to share with the pastor over the phone what I was experiencing. One day, the pastor called me and said he had developed a strong emotional attachment to me unlike any other he’d had. Even though I was somewhat taken aback by his words, I also felt more whole hearing them. As an adopted child, I had always felt somewhat disconnected from others. I thought his attachment to me meant that I had finally bonded with someone.

In the summer of 2004, the pastor and I met for the first time in his office. The pastor’s wife kept my kids in the church’s back nursery while we sat in his office on the other end of the church. I began talking to him about some of the memories I was having. He listened and told me he believed that I would be delivered from all of the trauma of the past. The pastor asked me what I really wanted meeting with him. I told him that it was to be loved. We had discussed him giving me a hug during our time together on the phone earlier. I believed if he hugged me that it would help me to heal. The moment felt surreal as I knelt on the floor next to his chair and he began to hug me. It felt like a lifetime had passed as he gently rubbed my back. When we got up to leave the room, the pastor looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I don’t understand this, but I love you.” I was so flabbergasted by his words, that I didn’t know what to say. I think I may have mumbled that I loved him, too. I can’t really remember anything other than being flooded with powerful emotions. All I knew was I believed I had found the person I belonged with. I also believed wholeheartedly that God had healed a deep brokenness inside of me. I was so overwhelmed when I left the church that I literally felt drunk.

However, what I thought was my dream come true quickly turned dark. The next day the pastor called me with devastating news. He said his wife was upset over our hug in his office and she was insisting that he refer me to a counselor. He expressed that he wished he had not even told her about the hug, but he said he had been overwhelmed by the experience and told her without thinking. He said when he hugged me it felt like he had stepped on a rattlesnake. Needless to say, I was utterly confused. I had walked away from the experience the day before believing that God had healed me. Listening to him compare it to stepping on a poisionous snake, turned my hope to shame. I became upset and begged him not to refer me to someone else. As I look back on that time, I cannot help but wonder if that had been his plan all along. He called me a little later and said his wife had reluctantly agreed for me to be counseled by him on the phone. After a few days, we began working through the book On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg. Ironically, Dr. Langberg shared in the earliest chapters of her book about appropriate boundaries when counseling victims of sexual abuse. The pastor talked about it with me. He said he knew he hadn’t kept appropriate boundaries with me. He even said others in ministry would call what had happened abusive. He said that no one could understand the relationship we had except God. And I believed him.

It was understood that he could not touch me again in front of his wife. However, our meetings continued. I’d go by the church to see him when it was safe to get a hug. He came by my house sometimes, too. Everytime I was with him those first few months, I felt like I was drunk. I had no idea at the time that what had actually happened was I had become addicted to him. As more and more memories of my past began to resurface, I became even more dependent on him. There were days I didn’t even want to move out of my bedroom as the memories of sexual abuse that came up as a result of our counseling flooded my mind. It was difficult for me to even take care of my kids I was so traumatized. He talked me out my despair, so I could get up and do what I needed to do. Sometimes our phone conversations went on for hours, and we didn’t miss one day of talking. I continued to believe it was because he was the person God had put in my life to take the place of the father I had always wanted.

As I look back on those times, I can see clearly now that I was disoriented, disconnected and sometimes even totally dissociated from reality. It’s still difficult not to feel shame over how decieved I was, and it’s important that I remind myself that I was mentally very ill and vulnerable during this time. I remember even begging him to adopt me and believing that he might actually do it. But then one day after I’d begged him to do this, he dropped a bomb on me. I say a bomb because it crushed all of my hopes about our relationship as soon as it hit. He told me, “Not only do I love you like a father would a child, but I love you like a man would a wife.” He said, “If we lived in another time and place, I would marry you.” Then he made me promise I would take that secret to my grave. He also said that we were soul mates. In those moments, everything changed for me. The lie I had always believed about myself that everything bad that had happened to me was my fault flooded my mind. I believed my adopted father’s sexual abuse was my fault. I believed something dark inside of me brought it out in him. I believed that I had done the same thing to this pastor, and that no one could love me the way they were supposed to.

I believed I was bad and I accepted the sick and twisted version of what I convinced myself was the only kind of love that I was worthy to receive; sexual abuse.

Everything went downhill from there. It’s not helpful to talk about the details to me or anyone else, but a secret relationship continued for almost a decade after that. I learned to live a double life. I learned how to keep secrets even though they were crushing my soul. Even though I tried really hard to convince myself that what I was experiencing with this pastor was love, God wouldn’t let me believe it.

My heart was in chaos and pain every single day, because God never stopped pursuing me.

I have been blogging here for four years now. Every blog has been an effort to understand what happened to me and how to protect myself from it happening again. I’ve met many others on this journey who have shared stories which have been remarkably similar to my own. They are so resembling my story that it feels like abusers all use the same playbook. However, I’ve come to recognize it isn’t actually a playbook they are following, but rather a carefully crafted plan laid out by a very worthy adversary who knows us and our weaknesses better than we know them ourselves.

It is the truth alone that is able to set us free from the lies our enemy uses to snare us.

The truth about ourselves and our weaknesses.

The truth about our legitimate needs.

The truth about how much God loves us no matter what.

His perfect love casts out all fear.

In Christ Jesus, we have been set free.

We are no longer slaves.

He must increase.

We must decrease.

No man can ever take His place.

He does not share His glory with anyone.

These truths are the treasure hidden in the field that once we know it is there we will sell everything to aquire it.

Because we know how priceless it is.

Don’t stop seeking the truth.

God is truth.

We meet Him when we are honest with ourselves.

Honest with each other.

And honest with God.

He is real.

Don’t give up.

My story is a testimony that He is a God who keeps His promises.

Even what the enemy meant for evil, God will work it for our good.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NLT

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 ESV

You are Faithful Forever

Perfect in Love

You Are Sovereign over us.

Michael W. Smith

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

Something Real

I wholeheartedly agree that it’s better to be out of church than in the wrong one.

I just finished reading Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Ester. Before I purchased this book, I didn’t have any idea how beneficial and encouraging it would be to me as a survivor of spiritual abuse. I did not know how similar our stories would be. Though Elizabeth grew up in a very legalistic cult called The Assembly in California, and I experienced abuse from a mainline denomination that puts a lot of emphasis on grace and not legalism, the effects of spiritual abuse that I have had are much the same as those Elizabeth experienced coming out of a cult. Her story was a huge comfort to me, and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. There is also a Ted Talk Why I Left an Evangelical Cult given by her sister, Dawn Smith, that is very encouraging. I’m amazed by the resilience of these women, and hope that I can one day experience the freedom to share openly about my own spiritually abusive situation without feeling so much fear of rejection. Elizabeth and Dawn have let me know that it is possible to get to the other side of spiritual abuse and offer hope and healing to others. I believe that one day my day will come, but I also know that right now it’s ok to be where I am in the healing process, and blogging anonymously here. No matter where you are in the process of healing, please know it’s ok, too.

Elizabeth describes her struggles in the book with severe anxiety at church. Like us, her and her husband tried attending church not long after they both left the cult. After much mental anguish, Elizabeth was encouraged by her counselor to take a break from attending church to give herself time to heal.

We, too, have struggled so much the past three years with attending church. My husband and I have visited eight different churches since leaving our abusive church, three we stayed at for a significant period of time time, five we visited once and never went back. We stayed out of church for several months and always felt like something was missing from our lives. We’ve consistently listened to podcasts associated with Keylife Network, because of their consistent emphasis on God’s freedom, grace and love. They have been a lifeline to us. But we have continued to feel that there is something missing from our lives, and we have come to realize it’s less about church attendance and more about relationships with people who truly desire to know God.

After Elizabeth leaves The Assembly cult, and begins to attend a Catholic church without her husband, Matt, who also left The Assembly, he is frustrated and declares:

After everything we went through in The Assembly, why would you want to go to a church that regularly makes headlines with scandals by men in authority?… What else is drawing you there? Why are you always looking for something better?”

Elizabeth responds:

I’m not looking for something better, Matt. I just want something real.

Her words ressonate with me in a powerful way. Ever since we left our abusive church three years ago, I’ve been looking for something that has taken us through the doors of one church after another only to come out disillusioned and empty handed. I have been looking for something real and for whatever reason have not been able to find it. Maybe because it hasn’t been there. Or maybe because I’ve been too afraid to find it.

Recently, I had coffee with a friend who shared with me about her own frustrations with the church. She’s worn out with the narcissistic leadership, codependency, and rules based religion taught in the church. She longs for something real, too, but based on our conversation that night she’s given up on finding it inside a church building. She is not alone in her conclusion. Others who have been through similar experiences are leaving the church as well. I would be the last one to tell them they are doing something wrong. My mother-in-law, after being married to an abusive man for over 20 years, came to the conclusion and said it to us regularly, “It’s better to be alone than to be married to some people!”

I wholeheartedly agree that it’s better to be out of church than in the wrong one.

The question is, is there a real one?

Honestly, I’ve almost come to the same conclusion my friend has many times in saying that true fellowship is not found in traditional church. However, when I look back to times spent with good friends who were a part of the church, I realize that this statement is not true of my experiences. I still miss the genuine relationships I had with others in our previous church. Once I began to break away from the suffocating relationship with the abusive pastor, I began to find room in my life and heart for other people. Even though I didn’t find the words to tell them the truth until I exposed the pastor’s abuse, I had very much wanted to tell these few people the truth. And I still miss them very much.

In writing this blog, I have found fellowship and understanding from others who have not judged me. You have been a safe place. You have been my church. Many of you have similar stories. Many of you long for the same thing I do. I so appreciate your support. But I’m still looking for something real in the church.

If you’ve followed much of my blog, you have walked through the doors of these churches with me. You have experienced the hope I have felt as well as the disappointment and disillusionment with the church. I think I have said to myself after every church that this is the last one. I won’t go down this path again and be disappointed yet again.

And here we are into our fifth week at our ninth church in three years. Maybe some of you are thinking we are a living example of the word insanity. Maybe we are crazy. Or maybe we are crazy like a fox as Steve Brown likes to say. No matter what conclusion you come to, this is our story – we have not given up hope.

Recently, I had coffee with a female deacon from our latest church. After the damage I’ve experienced from abusive men, it’s refreshing to talk to a female leader in the church. She listened to my story and shared her own painful one. Ironically, her and her family left the same denomination we did. This past Sunday we learned that the pastor of the same church grew up in The Assembly cult. I was blown away because I’d never even heard of the cult until I watched Dawn’s Ted Talk the day before.

I wonder what God is doing?

Maybe this church is different.

Maybe it’s something real.

“Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will [instead] give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will [instead] give him a snake? If you then, evil (sinful by nature) as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.
MATTHEW 7:7‭-‬11 AMP

Don’t give up hope. God knows what we need!

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 

Trapped 

But God has me trapped, too, because I know without Him I have no hope at all.

​Powerlessness, the inability to redirect the family heartache, stop the physical touch of the abuser, or silence the hollow screams inside the heart, is a reality that is endemic to all human-kind, but is faced by few. We are all helpless, but only those who have been radically deprived of the inherent freedom to choose and the legitimate desire to redirect that which is wrong will know how truly powerless we are in every endeavor that matters the most to us. Powerlessness is no gift, but the consequences of facing our helplessness, as victims of abuse and even more as sojourners in a world that is not our own, can open the door to new vistas of power and a radical taste of what it means to be free.

Dan Allender The Wounded Heart 

Last week I experienced the suffocating pain of being trapped. The heaviness of another’s expectations felt like a load of rocks on my back. I put myself under enough pressure, so when another person puts pressure on, it feels like too much for me to bear. 

The worst part of this pressure is feeling like I have no power to change it, like it is somehow my fault. Temporary relief comes in getting away from it and driving through the window of a fast food restaurant stuffing my face with salty fries. At least I can make the choice to bring myself pleasure through food, but afterwards my stomach says this was a mistake! 

To feel weak brings great shame. When I lose my cool with another person because of the pressure that they are applying and then they tell me that I’m wrong to get upset, I feel like it’s all my fault. I feel powerless to change the other person. I feel powerless to change me. I feel trapped in a small cell of circumstances beyond my control. 

I felt like this when I was a little girl and he asked me to come in his room to sleep under the electric blanket to stay warm. I felt powerless to say no. I feared what would happen if I did. So I chose to go with him and keep him happy, because he was my father and I didn’t have a choice.  When the abuse happened, I determined it must be my fault, because I’d made the choice to sleep in the bed with him.  I felt ashamed. 

He told me the consequences of telling the truth would bring us both great harm. I felt the pressure of living a lie every single day. I felt ashamed and he was the only one who brought me relief. I was weak and vulnerable when I asked him for help. He was the pastor and should have known better, but still he chose to cross the line first. And I chose to follow him into the ditch . Once again I felt the shame of making the wrong choice. Once again I felt weak, powerless, and trapped. But this time I was an adult who could get out, yet felt powerless to until ten years in and suffocating under the pressure I could do it no more and finally spoke the truth. 

Last week I had a few things to say to God on my way to work. Why was He allowing this pressure to come on me again? Why was I so uncertain, ashamed and blaming myself still for other people’s choices? Why do I still struggle to know that I am His child? Why am I not able to hear from Him? Why is it so very hard?  Haven’t I been through enough? Still I get silence, and it made me angry and thoughts of just throwing in the towel on my beliefs briefly flashed through my mind. 

But God has me trapped, too, because I know without Him I have no hope at all. 

Finally, the prayers for wisdom are getting answered as I’ve ranted to my counselor, friends and my husband. In their kindness to just listen I’ve heard the words coming out of my own mouth and realized my frustrations go way past my current circumstances. They go all the way back to a little girl who still feels trapped. 

God, why didn’t you rescue me? Why wasn’t there another way to save us other than allowing evil to roam the earth and do so much damage? Why am I unable to change without feeling so much pressure? Why can’t there be an easier way?  Why must we count it all joy?  

Looking in the distance to the hills that He created, I recognize these questions are too big for me to answer. But it still makes me angry, because feeling trapped seems like the most unfair place to be. Gripping the steering wheel my silent scream is heard by only Him. 

And I realize that’s just what He wanted to hear. My anger is not rejected. He loves me just the same. He reassures me that I am His child. I can use my voice and choose what’s best for me and my family in these circumstances and He will be with me when I do. I am not powerless over my choices anymore. 

I am free. 

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

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

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