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

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Losing to Gain Part 2

So much has been lost.

But so much needed to be gone.

A few weeks ago the pastor at the church we’ve been attending said something that has replayed in my head ever since. He said, “Maybe you got what you wanted, and when you grabbed hold of it it turned to ashes.”

A visual picture flashed in my mind the moment he spoke. I could see in my mind’s eye ashes falling through my fingers.

I believed when I met a pastor who called me his little girl that everything I ever wanted I had received.

But it all turned to ashes.

As I look back at all the time I wasted, sometimes all I can see is a large pile of gray dust.

Sometimes it seems like there is no life anywhere in sight.

My hands are empty now.

What I once held so dear is gone.

I am afraid to grab hold of anything else.

Afraid that it will turn to ashes, too.

I realize maybe this is the best place for me to be.

With empty hands held open waiting for God to give me what I really need.

So much has been lost.

But so much needed to be gone.

The only way to receive from God is to let go.

He makes beautiful things out of the dust.

When our dreams burn up we realize how superficial they really were.

God has called us to something deeper.

Something better.

We were made for more.

We were made to live.

Live in the love of our Heavenly Father who knew us and what we needed before the beginning of time.

The Spirit of God , the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn, To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory. They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new. You’ll hire outsiders to herd your flocks and foreigners to work your fields, But you’ll have the title “Priests of God ,” honored as ministers of our God. You’ll feast on the bounty of nations, you’ll bask in their glory. Because you got a double dose of trouble and more than your share of contempt, Your inheritance in the land will be doubled and your joy go on forever.
Isaiah 61:1‭-‬7 MSG

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!

Helping Those Who Are Traumatized by the Church 

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

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

Luke 4:18‭-‬19 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of websites that are very helpful :

Global Trauma Recovery 

Trauma Healing Institution

Broken Trust 

I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord , have spoken!

Jeremiah 23:3‭-‬4 NLT

Recently, I was asked by an author to review his book on spiritual abuse. I had never heard of F Remy Diederich before I received his email, so I did not know what to expect. However, after reading Broken Trust,  I found myself wishing I had been able to read this book several years ago. I believe his work to be one of the best and most practical that I have read on the subject. I highly recommend it if you or someone you know has been spiritually abused.  I also highly recommend it if you are in any kind of ministry.  I believe every church needs to understand spiritual abuse and the toxic system that produces it. We like to think that because it hasn’t happened to us that it won’t, but it’s closer than we think – in our hearts so prone to wander away from our God. 

It’s interesting to note,  that recently in a conversation with a friend, I was voicing my frustration over how hopeless hearing about spiritual abuse can make one feel. I struggle to read other victims accounts and even watch television shows about abuse involving the church, because it reminds so much of the pain of spiritual abuse.  It’s not that I don’t care about other’s stories, it’s that I care so much that I cannot bear to think that this kind of thing continues to happen in the one place on earth where we should be able to find safety in – the church of Jesus Christ.  I find myself feeling angry, powerless and overwhelmed at times, especially when I hear how the church wrongly handles abuse cases. Statistics show that the majority of churches when made aware of a victimization of a member by clergy, actually bring more pain and confusion to victims.  Victims who need their churches for support after suffering from spiritual abuse many times are misunderstood and are left to struggle alone.  In a Baylor study conducted in 2015 of 280 women who were victims of clergy sexual misconduct, 92% did not feel supported by their churches after the abuse was exposed.  When I read statistics like this, it’s almost impossible not to feel hopeless, alone and afraid to trust. I long for the church to reveal the love of Jesus Christ, to teach the truth, and bring healing to those who are broken, but in the abuse advocacy world many times all I can hear about are more painful stories of abuse in the church. They are stories that need to be told. The truth must be brought into the light to be healed. However, I long to hear more stories of evil being overcome with good.  I am encouraged to say after reading Broken Trust, I see this good at work. 

As a victim of spiritual abuse, my voice was taken from me. Not only by the pastor’s abuse, but by other leaders in the church when I revealed the spiritual abuse to them. As Remy points out in the book, once victims of abuse begin to understand that those placed in a position to lead them have brought them harm instead, they discover that they have a lot they need to say.  We long to be heard and understood. However, the church struggles to just listen without telling us to quickly forgive or attempt to minimize the damage in an effort to protect the institution.  However, Remy does not stifle the voices of those who are hurting because of spiritual abuse, he listens and brings comfort as a wounded healer who has suffered in the same ways as we have. He acknowledgedes the damage that has been done and the evil that has occurred. His loving compassion is a healing balm to the victim’s  soul and reveals the love of Jesus Christ.  

Not only is Broken Trust a source of encouragement and healing to victims, but it is also a great resource for pastors and churches.  Remy does not charge into the church with guns blazing. He does not harshly criticize or condemn. He tells the truth gently and lovingly from a pastor’s perspective about the spiritual abuse without excusing, minimizing, or normalizing it.  He causes his readers to dig deep to the root of the problem, and work towards true healing for all involved. It is rare to find such a balanced and unifying approach in today’s world that is quick to point fingers and polarize. The church desperately needs this approach towards so many issues today.  

Lastly, Broken Trust has been another step in the process of healing from my own shame.  This book has helped me to see clearly the importance of placing responsibility for spiritual abuse in the right place.  Spiritual abuse is not 50/50. When sexual abuse is involved, it is not an affair. It is always the responsibility of the pastor to guard and protect the flock. When pastors use their position of power to meet their own needs through abuse, when pastors take advantage rather than serve, it is never a victim’s fault. Healing can only come by recognizing this truth and not feeling ashamed for someone else’s offense. It can only come when we have grieved over the damage that has been done and all that we have lost.  It can only come when we let go and decide to trust our Heavenly Father to make things right. 

Finally, Broken Trust helps me to find what I was looking for so desperately when I went to an abusive pastor for help; hope and healing through a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

This book is a MUST READ! 

Liz 

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

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