Learning to Live with Losses

When someone loses a limb, everyone knows they won’t grow another to replace it. Learning to live with this reality is challenging, of course, but there’s no emotional energy wasted on waiting, hoping, trying to grow a new one. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D., The Pain of Trauma, Psychology Today

If only we could see clearly what we have lost due to trauma in our lives, maybe we would be easier on ourselves. However, when we look in the mirror we look just like anyone else, and we wonder why we can’t just function like everyone else.In faith communities especially, we hear about overcoming our fears with faith, doing all things through Christ who gives us strength, pressing on towards the goal of our upward calling, and sometimes we walk away feeling like failures when we struggle.I want to be stronger than what I am. I want to go back to being the person that I was before I was spiritually abused, but the reality is I can’t.Making this statement is not about feeling sorry for myself. It’s not about wallowing in self pity. It’s not about being a victim. It’s about being able to recognize my losses and move forward, accepting the fact that I am not the same person that I was. I have new limitations. There are painful reminders that will continue to remind me of the things that I have lost. I cannot just suck it up, fake it til I make it, and move on. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. Everytime I wind up biting off more than I can chew and regretting it later on.The only way to move forward is to honor my pain and accept where I am in my healing journey.I realized recently that I push myself too much in church. I sit through conversations that bring confusion and pain about God. These conversations cause me to slide back into fear, apathy, and the feeling that I’m struggling alone. An important part of my healing journey has been learning my limitations and giving myself a lot of grace when I am not where I wish I was in my healing journey. It really is ok to struggle and feel weak. These are the times God says we experience His strength the most.Today I deleted half of my friends on Facebook. People who were a part of a very difficult season of life. For my own healing and peace of mind, I needed to let them go. Saying goodbye to some of them was especially hard. I didn’t want to let go of the hope that one day we would have the friendship we had before. But I knew it was time to trust God with what is ahead.Wherever you are in your healing journey, know that God is right by your side and that He is kind, compassionate and loving towards you. Embrace His comfort. Be kind to yourself. We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living again. He promises.

After Neverland

I cannot express enough how thankful I am for Oprah Winfrey’s show After Neverland. It is the aftershow that aired immediately following the documentary Leaving Neverland.

Leaving Neverland is a new documentary on HBO about two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who share their stories of being abused by Michael Jackson as children. It is an incredibly difficult show to watch due to the graphic details given about the abuse. However, the show brings to light how easily families and victims can be deceived by the process of grooming by sexual abusers.

After Neverland especially revealed many important truths that we all need to be aware of concerning sexual abuse. Here are a few of them that I took away from the show (spoiler alert) :

Abuse rarely looks like abuse.

Oprah pointed out how the word abuse sometimes brings a different definition to our minds. Many times when people hear the word abuse they look for outward signs of injury. However, sexual abuse is often hidden and abuse victims can appear outwardly ok while on the inside they are carrying a heavy, dark secret that is eating away at their soul.

Abusers are capable of doing good things.

Abusive people are often kind and generous people. They do good things. They help others. This is hard for our minds to comprehend especially in a polorized society where we want to make something either good or bad. If we want to recognize abuse we have to be willing to look past our cognitive biases towards people we assume are good. We need to pay attention, give ourselves time to observe the behavior of others before we make assumptions about what kind of person they are. We also need to learn to be in tune to our own internal signals that alert us when something isn’t right.

Abuse to victims can look and feel like love.

This is a tough one for people who haven’t suffered sexual abuse to understand. It is not abnormal for it to take decades for victims of abuse to come forward, because they do not believe they have been abused. Children especially can become easily convinced that the abuse that they are receiving is care from another. A psychologist once pointed out to me that a young child being sexually abused might view it no differently than eating an ice cream cone. Children simply do not have the capacity to understand nor the language to express sexual abuse.

Abuse brings tremendous shame on victims.

Sexual abuse warps one’s identity. Abusers train victims well to believe that they are active and willing participants in the abuse. Michael Jackson gave his victims wedding rings as a symbol of his “love” for them. But he also told them if they told anyone else about what was happening that they would all go to jail. How confusing this must have been. He had convinced these children that what they had was good and special. The long grooming process had caused these children to believe that they wanted what he was giving them. Their stories were a modern day Hansel and Gretel where they were fed candy until they were ready to be feasted upon by the evil witch. Ironically, Michael’s Neverland had a movie theater stocked with popcorn and candy.

Abuse victims normally believe the abuse is their fault.

The grooming process can be very similar to someone pursuing a romantic relationship. A victim is wooed through a gradual, intentional process into a trusting relationship. Victims are often given gifts, favors and made to feel special. Who doesn’t enjoy being treated this way. Sexual abuse usually happens only when the abuser thinks he has gained the trust of his victim and has them in a position where they are so dependent on them that they don’t want to tell. Because abusers use a victim’s desires to lead them astray, they often carry the guilt that they are responsible for the abuse. They feel as if their own desires have deceived them. Oprah shared how understanding the grooming process was the only thing that finally convinced her that she was not to blame for abuse she suffered in childhood.

We can help each other heal by listening.

There are already disagreements about whether or not these men are telling the truth. The Jackson family have denied these accusations and say they are furious about the show. This is all too common as well when it comes to stories of sexual abuse. We get so lost in our opinions that we forget real people are involved. Not only Michael Jackson’s victims, but others around the world who have suffered in similar ways. But if we choose to listen to one another without judgment we can learn how to protect ourselves and others and healing can take place.

Spotlight on Spiritual Abuse

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

Once again spiritual, sexual abuse has made the headlines. The Houston Chronicle published an article on Sunday 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms.

I have no doubt that this article just scratches the surface of the sexual abuse that continues to be exposed in churches across America. Every time I read something like this I am reminded of my own story of spiritual abuse and the refusal of the church to address the problem fully. They wanted to call what happened to me sin and just move on protecting the reputation of the church.

The familiar hymn Jesus Paid it All is sung in churches everywhere. Those of us who are Christians go to church feeling the relief of Christ’s promised forgiveness. We will no longer die in our sins. We only need to accept His forgiveness and forgive one another and the tremendous debts on all of our behalves are paid. Sweet relief floods my own heart as I take communion and am reminded that the body and blood of Christ were given for me. I do not take this lightly. I am ever so thankful for what God has saved me from. I am moved to offer this same mercy to others, to not judge harshly and to do unto to others as I would have done unto me. But sadly it is often these beautiful truths that are distorted in spiritual abuse to justify sweeping abuse under the rug.

I was involved in an abusive relationship with a pastor for almost a decade. Sadly, I convinced myself while in this relationship that Christ’s forgiveness meant with repentance the slate would be wiped clean for both of us. However, the reality was I was stuck in abusive relationship that was eating away at my soul.

Thankfully, God was not absent in my story. He continued to speak to my heart about the deception that I was involved in. Finally, it got to the place where I could not sleep at night until I exposed what had been happening.

The church was ill prepared to deal with what I told them. Initially, there was an acknowledgment that an abuse of power had taken place, but then the pastor said he was sorry when he was deposed and things changed. There was a church meeting, I’m sorry letters were read and people in the church just forgave the sin. However, there was also deception that took place in the meeting. My letter was edited to take out the parts that described spiritual abuse and only reflected my sorrow over my sin. The spiritual abuse was swept under the rug. The matter was put to rest, so that the church could move forward.

I really do understand why the church wanted to move forward. I had been wanting to move forward past the reality of spiritual abuse for years. However, the church didn’t see what I was finally able to see after so many years of being trapped, and that was that the roots of spiritual abuse run deep. Much like a cancer, every bit must be dealt with and removed or it will continue to spread. I know because I have spent almost five years in therapy for it.

Please hear me now, I am not limiting God’s forgiveness, nor am I taking away the necessity to forgive, but what I am saying is forgiveness isn’t nearly as easy as we think it is. After all, forgiveness is what put Jesus on the cross.

There’s something about modern American Christianity that can deceptively lead us to thinking that following Christ is like taking a walk through the park on easy street. We forget that Jesus said there would be tribulation and that Paul said when we followed Him we would suffer as He did. Our suffering isn’t just choosing to forgive someone and not dealing with the painful realities that their sin has caused. Sometimes forgiveness can feel like nails being hammered into our hands and feet.

When sexual abuse is exposed in a church often the reputation of the church is at risk. Easy forgiveness of the perpetrators can seem like the best way to move forward. However, recent stories reveal that forgiveness isn’t stopping the abuse. Abusers move onto other churches and continue to abuse. The reputation of the church is protected as victim after victim are sacrificed.

Jesus gave His own life for the church. We can rest assure that He isn’t calling us to cover the sins of abusers in the church. Rather, God is calling us as Christians to be His hands and feet and be proactive in stopping it.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:5‭, ‬7‭-‬10 ESV

Reading these verses this morning, I noticed that God calls us to take an active part in putting to death sexual immorality. Strongs defines to put to death (nekros) as: to view as a corpse, i.e. without life; to regard (but not “make”) as dead, inoperative; to mortify, deprive of life or energizing power; (figuratively) to cut off (sever) everything that energizes (especially sin in Col 3:5).

The words to sever everything that energizes speak volumes about root causes of evil desires. Working at a residential treatment center has taught me that most negative behaviors have a root causes that empower them. Often the work of discovering these root causes is a very painful one. As humans we do everything we can to avoid pain. These verses reveal clearly that putting to death our sins is done through an active painful process on our part. When is death not painful? Only when we have gone to the root causes of what is motivating our behaviors can we actually put it to death.

When the church offers easy forgiveness and chooses to ignore sexual crimes just because someone repented they are continuing to enable a perpetrator to abuse, because he is never forced to look at the damage he has done or do the work that is required to find healing.

Only when we put to death sin, can we actually put on Christ and reveal His love and forgiveness to the world.

I believe God has put a spotlight on spiritual abuse and is providing us an opportunity to truly reveal His righteousness to the world.

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 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 3:5‭, ‬12‭-‬14 ESV

The Season for Acceptance

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

Acceptance.

Just let go.

Move on.

It sounds so easy.

But it’s been incredibly hard for me.

So many unanswered questions.

So much doubt, fear and second guessing myself.

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

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

Regret.

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

Regret feels like a prison cell.

One cannot change the choices that they have made.

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

Therefore do everything you can to avoid regret.

Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge.

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

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

I heard someone say recently that God always desires reconciliation.

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

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

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

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

These are questions that I have been wrestling with lately.

My mother passed away last October.

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

The finality of death brings up many unanswered questions.

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

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

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

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

Because of Jesus, there is always a way out.

Sin no longer leads to death.

We are promised resurrection and life.

But new life can look different than what we think.

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

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

Sometimes it means we find what we always wanted.

Sometimes it means a lifetime of unmet needs.

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

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

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

His ways were past finding out.

They still are.

But I confess I still try to figure them out.

My mother is gone.

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, I don’t know.

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

Nor does my Mom.

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

My mom didn’t meet my needs.

I think she tried.

Even if it wasn’t hard enough.

I didn’t try hard enough either.

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

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

This is acceptance.

This is the only way I can live with myself.

We are all in different seasons of our lives.

Some of us are called to reconcile.

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

Life is difficult, complicated, confusing, and painful.

The universe is broken.

Let us stir one another up to make better choices.

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

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

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

Real Redemption

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is. Sharon Hersh

I don’t like to talk about how broken I really am.

I don’t like to think about the damaging effects sexual abuse has had on my life.

I don’t like to acknowledge how dark my thoughts have been.

I’d much rather put on a positive front and pretend I’m much more together than I really am.

I’d much rather you think it’s all in the past and that those things don’t still effect me.

But the truth is, I am still very much broken, hurting and needy.

Sometimes I just manage to convince myself I’m a lot better than what I really am.

But then things come up that remind me of my past and I remember.

I’m hit with the cold, stark reality of how broken I really am.

And it’s really messy.

So messy that I throw my decision to eat healthy once again right out the window and pull through the drive in at Dunkin Donuts. Two chocolate cream filled donuts provide two minutes of sweet pleasure and relief, followed by a stomach ache and thoughts that just return.

Why is it so difficult to face the pain of how desperate and needy I really am?

Why do I run to everything else before I run to Jesus?

Because I like to be in control.

But I’m not really in control.

And that’s what terrifies me the most.

People can and will hurt you.

I can and do hurt myself.

My body longs for redemption and relief.

My soul longs for a world where all the wrongs will be made right, where little boys and girls won’t be abused anymore.

Where our perfect Heavenly Father will meet our every need.

The dark, unimaginable horror stories I’ve heard and seen in my own lifetime in even small glimpses cause me to realize why Jesus had to die.

Sin indeed leads to death.

It is horrible. More horrible than our minds want to imagine.

We desperately need redemption.

This truth is never more clear than when things are falling apart.

When we try to cover up our pain what does the rest of the world see?

Do they see broken people made whole?

Or do they see people who manage so well on their own that they don’t need to be redeemed?

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is.

Jesus, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain. To cling to your righteousness for our covering alone. The world is desperate and hurting and needs to see your real redemption at work. May our brokenness be the cracks where your light shines through.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…
2 Corinthians 5:1‭-‬4 ESV

Healing the Wounded Heart

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Jeremiah 31:3 ESV

Recently, I started reading Dan Allender’s book again, Healing the Wounded Heart, as well as working my way through the first chapter of the companion workbook. I highly recommend both of these books even though it is hard work getting through them. The questions are difficult. It’s not a book to rush through. I have had to take long breaks from this work, but God has continued to call me back to it, especially this time of the year which is when the worst abuses occurred in my life.

Grieving the sexual abuse that has happened to us in our lives is probably the most important thing we will ever do, because it is through grieving our losses that we connect with God in ways we cannot any other way. It is through our grief and pain, that God gives us lasting hope and joy. God takes no pleasure in our pain, but He longs to heal it, to be invited into it, to be trusted. He pursues us and invites us consistently to let Him into these dark places in our lives. I have fought Him long and hard. I have run far away from my grief. I have tried to find relief from the pain of my past on my own, and have only suffered more. God is the only One Who has given me relief. His kindness and faithfulness to me have been an anchor for my soul. But still I recognize there is more work to be done. I wonder if it will ever end. God assures me that it will. It will for you, too. He can be trusted. God is not a child abuser. I’m so very thankful for this truth.

One of the first assignments Dr. Allender gives is acknowledgeding the abuse we have suffered. Naming it. I confess I thought it was too much to name it all again. Haven’t I thought about all of that enough? Then I began to compile a list.

I was sexually abused by my adopted father and another man beginning around the age of 8. The abuse happened off and on until I was around 11 until my mom moved back in with him.

I was molested by a teenage male around age 9 playing hide and seek.

I was sexually molested by a much older cousin when I was 13 while my parents sat in the next room.

I was fondled and shamed by two different guys in my class over and over again in high school when I was 14 and 15 until I got an older possessive boyfriend that they were scared of. However, he was also mentally abusive and tried to talk me into terrible sex acts.

Finally, I was sexually abused by my former pastor for six years but stayed in the relationship with him for ten.

I realized as I wrote all of this again, that I indeed have much to overcome and grieve.

But I also realized what a miracle it is that I am still sane.

Is it any wonder it’s so difficult to trust anyone?

Is it any wonder I struggle to trust myself?

If you have suffered from sexual abuse, please be kind to yourself. You have suffered greatly.

Also, know that God sees your pain and will meet you in it.

He won’t let you go.

A few questions from Healing the Wounded Heart Workbook.

1. How has trust in God, others, and yourself been shattered because of your abuse?

2. What would you like to see happen for you in the realm of trust and faith?

3. How has hope been undermined by your fear, anger, and contempt?

4. What would you like to see happen for you in the realm of hope?

5. How has love come to be viewed as dangerous and/or foolish?

6. What would you like to see happen for you in the realm of love?

Song for reflection: Faithful by Sarah Reeves

Opening Our Hearts After Abuse

He won’t let us go.

If we never open our hearts again after abuse, we believe that we can protect ourselves.

But really what happens is we get trapped inside ourselves with only our painful memories.

If we keep our hearts closed, we will suffocate and die.

We need love to live.

We need to let the trauma out.

Everytime I begin to crack the door open, my hypervigilent mind goes back to the time when I opened my heart to a man who told me the things that I so desperately longed to hear.

The more I see the potential for love, the stronger the memories become.

The closer we get to what we truly need, the more our enemy works to keep us from it.

My abuser’s words whisper to me all over again.

You are beautiful.

You are special.

You belong to me.

We are soul mates.

I will never leave you.

His words caused my heart to open wide to receive whatever he wanted to give me.

But what I received was abuse.

Is it any wonder that one would want to close their heart forever after such a thing?

Abuse causes deep shame for the desires that we had that caused us to open our hearts.

But the desires were never the problem.

Let me say that again. Our desires are not the problem.

The one who decided to lure us in through our desire was the problem.

An evil so dark and insidious that wanted to kill us.

He wanted to take us from Him.

He wanted to destroy what God created for good.

A fish hook with a worm dangling from it causes the fish to pursue it, because of it’s hunger.

However, once it’s mouth has clamped down on what it thinks is food pain happens.

The fish is caught, but not because of it’s desire for food. It was the fisherman who used it’s desire against it to meet his own needs.

It’s very difficult for me to separate my desire from shame. As soon as desire comes, I begin to fear that it will get me into trouble again.

The same desires that caused my heart to open up and receive abuse, are the same desires that God placed in us that cause our hearts to open to Him.

How do we open our hearts to receive from Him?

How do we trust again?

How can we risk again?

It starts with a desire to escape the numbness that being locked inside our own selves causes.

God gently nudges at our hearts letting us know He is there.

He gently leads us showing us the things that we need to see in order to be able to trust and risk again.

The truth that sets us free.

His perfect love that casts our fear.

His love is patient.

He will not stop reminding us.

He’s got us even when we think we can’t hold onto sanity for another moment.

He won’t let us go.

God, help us to know this and to open our hearts to receive the love that you have to give.

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.
Song of Songs 4:7 NLT

For he said, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.
Zechariah 2:8 NLT

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.
1 John 4:4 NLT

But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
1 Corinthians 6:16‭-‬17 NLT

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
Hebrews 13:5 NLT

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

The Power to Change

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:3‭-‬8 ESV

I have to confess, most of the time I get frustrated if I think others are telling me what to do.

I’ve heard Steve Brown say he likes to argue with stop signs, and I know just what he means.

It’s not that I want to be difficult and resist those who want to motivate me towards positive changes.

It’s that I don’t like the pressure I feel when someone tells me what to do.

Lately, I have been trying to understand what is behind this frustration I feel.

Don’t we go to church and small groups to encourage one another to do good works?

Don’t we need the encouraging directives of others to help us bring about positive changes in our lives?

Maybe these directives are indeed what some need to bring about positive change, but to me they can just feel like another weight added to an already heavy load.

After a couple of days this past week of mental pain and questioning if I really was just a rebellious Christian who didn’t want to obey, I spent some time praying. God in His kindness answered me and helped me to understand what was really going on.

For most of my life there was an unspoken rule in my house.

Don’t do anything that will make your parents unhappy.

Life at home was like walking through a mine field, and I never knew when I might trip on a live wire causing everything to blow up.

Dan Allender says in his book The Wounded Heart that abuse victims often blame themselves when abuse occurs, because this gives them a false sense of control over what happened to them. It is too much for a child’s mind to fathom that a parent would choose to harm them. This means they have no control over the bad that happens to them, so they look for control wherever they can find it., and blaming themselves is where many do.

My own false sense of control came by embracing an identity full of self-contempt.

My pastor pointed out recently how he believed that Satan often uses sexual abuse to imprint shameful lies on a person’s soul. His words struck a chord with me.

I had no doubt that It’s all your fault is the lie that Satan had imprinted on my soul long ago.

Taking responsibility for everything that happens in one’s life is a load that becomes increasingly heavier as we become older. Sooner or later it becomes too heavy to carry anymore. It’s then that Satan comes in and whispers another lie, You can’t do anything right. You are powerless to change anything that happens to you.

When I became a Christian in my twenties, I embraced my identity as a child of God and felt free for the first time in my life. I was motivated to go to church, read the Bible, share my faith, and encourage others to do the same. I began to believe finally that I wasn’t a total screw up. But then things in the church that involved people I was close to began to spiral out of control. Even though the circumstances were out of my control, I began to question if I had done something wrong. When an angry family member pointed out that I was to blame for some of the chaos, I began to believe the lie again that it was my fault.

Transformation is a process in our lives. As I look back on my early days as a Christian, I know that what God started in my life then was real. I truly belonged to Him. But there were still so many losses that I hadn’t grieved, so much darkness that needed to be brought into the light. Also, a lot of death that needed to happen so that I could truly experience life.

When I started to believe that everything that went wrong in the church was my fault, the lie that I was powerless over my life and choices began to take root. When an abusive leader told me that I belonged to him, I found what I thought was relief. It felt like a cup of cold water in the desert, until he became a drug that sucked every bit of life out of me. But thank God His kindness called me back out into the light.

I still struggle with confusion over how a Christian could make the choice to stay in an abusive relationship for ten years and live a double life. But nevertheless, I did. I wonder sometimes was there anything surrounding all the circumstances that led me towards making that choice that could have made a difference? What could have stopped me from believing such a lie about myself? Did I need more people giving positive directives? Did I need more encouragement to do the right thing? Did I have the power within myself to change? Aren’t these the question most of us ask ourselves when we sit in church on Sunday morning, especially when one has experienced many painful consequences of sin?

More than anything else I want to tap into the source that brings about true change in my life. I never want to go back to the deadened life that I lived. I never want to embrace the lie again that everything is my fault. I never want to believe that it’s all up to me to change my life and fail miserably again. I know that I cannot do it on my own.

Neil Anderson said a long time ago, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The truth is sometimes people give advice because they really do care. And if I run everytime I feel like someone is trying to tell me what to do, my world will become a very lonely place. I know that part of my healing journey is sticking around and letting others care about me even when some of the things they do or say might cause me discomfort or pain. This is not to say that anyone should stay in an environment that is abusive. We should always flee those kinds of environments. I’m talking about learning to trust others again after one has experienced imense hurt and betrayal.

However, I think it’s important that those who are in ministry realize in the times that we live in where so many have been hurt by the church, that there are a lot of other people who are just like me, who have been abused and are carrying a heavy load of responsibility for what happened to them. We need loads lifted, not added. We need to know that what happened to us is not our fault. We need to know that we are loved by God and others even when we don’t know how to take your advice.

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

Steve Brown also likes to say that Christians are like porcupines huddled together in a storm. If we stay together we will get hurt. But if we leave, we miss an opportunity to be loved.

Dear God, help us to stay and to love one another.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 ESV

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Romans 7:10‭-‬25 ESV

My Story – Part 2 A Victim’s Responsibility

It means looking at all the fall out, the pain and the blood and recognizing that God looked down and saw the same thing when Jesus was on the cross and said, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Sometimes people don’t look or act like victims on the outside.

Sometimes our wounds are hidden on the inside.

After I confessed to the church and my husband about the secrets I had kept for almost a decade with the former pastor, the biggest challenge for me was understanding my responsibility.

An elder in the church made the statement to my husband when referencing what happened to me, “She was not a victim.” His words shook me to the core and saturated me with shame. If I wasn’t a victim of sexual abuse, it meant to me that I was responsible.

Another leader in the church accused me of shirking responsibility when I called what happened to me spiritual abuse. He reminded me of how I had deceived others, too. I wondered if I was just fooling myself and blaming others for my sins.

My therapist defined responsibility for me a while back.

She said responsibility is the ability to respond.

I wish I could understand why it took me so long to respond.

I wish I could somehow go back and change how everything happened.

The truth is, all I can do is take responsibility for the things that I did and did not do and let God sort out the rest.

But what I can say, is that when I really heard God’s voice, I responded and told the truth about the lie I had been living for way too long.

It was a Monday morning staff meeting at the church that caused my wounds to reveal themselves to the pastor and the youth pastor at the church. The former abusive pastor had retired the year before, and I was now working with two other men who were not abusive and who I considered friends. The power the former pastor had over me had slowly began to diminish. We were still “friends,” we still talked every day, but the intensity of the relationship had died out.

The new pastor had been to an annual denominational meeting and was sharing with me and the youth pastor about a resolution all the ministers had signed that stated they would work together to effectively minister to those in the church who had been sexually abused. Here is part of what it said:

Be it further resolved that we urge all church leaders to use their influence for the protection of children, by any and all godly means, including preaching and teaching against the heinous sin of child sexual abuse, warning anyone with knowledge of these sins to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), and by supporting victims who often suffer in silence and shame without the vocal and compassionate support of the church;

The pastor wanted us to take turns reading sections of this resolution, but when he asked me to read my part I shouted out in a burst of anger instead, “If only this had been signed earlier.” I don’t remember what I said after this. I just remember shaking all over. Both pastors knew something was very wrong and strongly encouraged me to find a counselor.

I emailed a therapist in another state whose books I had read to see if she would counsel me over the phone. She responded and made an appointment to talk the following week. I tried as best I knew how to continue to try to do my job at the church, however on the inside I felt like I was falling apart at the seams. While I was cleaning the sanctuary of the church after the Sunday service, I was listening to a sermon podcast on my phone. The pastor was talking about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Hearing his words caused another wound to rise to the surface. I realized that I had not loved my neighbors. I had been deceiving them all. It was in that moment that I knew God wanted me to tell the truth. I fought Him hard. Ten years of lies seemed like too much to confess. But I could not rest or sleep until I agreed with God that I’d tell the truth.

During the first appointment with my therapist, I finally uttered the words I had not spoken to anyone before. I told her that I had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with the former pastor. When I shared with her the details of what had happened, she shocked me by calling it abuse. She also said it was possible that the former pastor was a predator. I did not know what to say. I listened to her talk about abuse of power, appropriate boundaries, and the responsibility of someone in a pastor’s position to keep relationships with those they were ministering to healthy. The truth hit me hard. I had been abused again.

When the phone conversation ended, the new pastor walked in the door of the church. He asked me how the therapy session went, and we sat down in the sanctuary of the church to talk about it. I was so overwhelmed that I told him everything without thinking about the implications. It was the new pastor’s first church and he had only been there for a year. He placed his face in his hands overwhelmed himself.

The following week I met with the new pastor again. He had reached out to the president of the seminary he had graduated from for help. The president reached out to ironically the same therapist whose book the former pastor had counseled me with, Dr. Diane Langberg, for help. Dr. Langberg responded after hearing my story and agreed with my therapist calling it a severe case of spiritual abuse. She mailed the church educational materials to help us understand what had occurred. She also talked to the pastor on the phone advising him on how to proceed in exposing the abuse. The first step was to tell the leaders in the church. The next step was to tell my husband.

The next parts of my story are some of the most painful to tell. I will never forget the night the new pastor told my husband. We had arranged to meet at our house after he got off work. The kids would spend the night at a friend’s house. The hours before the pastor came and my husband got home are permanently stamped in my mind. The house was empty and so very quiet. But a storm was raging inside my soul. I feared everything in my life was about to fall apart. I walked down the hall of my house stopping at each of my children’s rooms. Would things ever be the same again? Would my husband divorce me? Would my children hate me? My heart was overwhelmed with fear. Please, dear God, help me.

My husband came home soon after. He was tired from a long day at work. He did not know why the pastor was coming over to talk to us. He went straight to the shower to get ready for his visit.

A short while later, we were all sitting in our den when the pastor broke the news to my husband. He was speechless for a moment and I braced myself for the worst. Finally, when he did speak, he said these words, “I knew that something was about to happen when I was in the shower and heard the words, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'” And he got up from his chair, walked across the room and hugged me saying that he forgave me. I knew for the first time in my life I had witnessed a miracle.

The relief I experienced over the next few days was unlike anything I’d felt before. The truth had indeed set me free and my husband had forgiven me. I began to believe that everything would be ok. I had no idea how bad things were about to get.

In the following days, the leaders in the denomination would meet and make a decision about how to handle what I had exposed. There were emails and other correspondence that were turned over to them. The day finally came that they confronted the pastor with the news. On that day, the former pastor and his wife tried to call me and I blocked their numbers on my phone. I was scared to death and drove an hour away with the new pastor and his wife to another town to later meet my husband. In the days following this, the former pastor was deposed from ministry.

The church sent me and my husband away for several days of intensive counseling in Colorado with my therapist. While we were there it was decided by the church leaders that a church meeting would be held exposing the reason why the pastor was deposed. I did not want my name to be given at the meeting, but the leaders in the church insisted that the entire story be told in an effort to protect the church from gossip. My husband and I agreed on the grounds that a letter my therapist and I had written would be read and the church would be educated about spiritual abuse. On a conference call with our therapist, these terms were agreed upon.

My husband and I were still Colorado for counseling when the meeting happened. Not only were members of the church invited to attend the meeting but visitors were, too. We received a call after the meeting was over from the new pastor of the church. He said that the meeting had been peaceful and that people seemed to take the news better than expected. A text I received from the pastor’s daughter confirmed that people were going to try to forgive and move on. The news should have given us peace, but my husband and I both were unsettled and we did not know why.

We returned home and attended church the following Sunday. I knew if I did not go then I probably would never return. The former pastor had been told not to return to the church and had been assigned to another one. We walked in to church after the service started and slid into a back seats. I was so overwhelmed sitting in church that I don’t remember a word the pastor said. I was way too aware that everyone in the church knew what had happened. I was so afraid of the responses I would receive when the service was over. When it ended several people walked up to us giving us hugs and telling us they loved us. Some came by and spoke silently that they forgave me. I didn’t know what to say to this. I was confused that they forgave me for being abused. I wondered why no one said I am sorry for what we had been through. A text later from another member gave further clarity. She texted saying everyone messed up and it was OK. She said I shouldn’t beat myself up. What! I was shocked. It was clear that major facts from my story were missing. My husband and I asked the pastor if abuse had been explained to the church and if the letter from my therapist had been read like we had agreed. He stated that in the meeting what that what happened between the former pastor and me was not called abuse or an affair. We placed a call to the head of the denomination who had been in charge of the meeting asking him why a large part of the story had been left out. He accused me of shirking my responsibility by trying to call what happened to me as abuse. He brought up what I had done to deceive others in the church. I was crushed. Over the next few days we met with leaders in the church and they finally admitted that they edited my letter and that the church was not educated on spiritual abuse. They also told us that as far as everything went the matter was over. They offered to help our family deal with the fall-out, but they would not change the story of what was told to the church. They were satisfied that the damage to the church had been minimal and bringing it up further would only do more harm. Even though the new pastor did apologize to us for not being truthful, our family was so hurt that we left the church and never returned. In the following months, I was so overwhelmed by shame that I did not want to leave the house. My husband and I decided the only way to survive as a family was to move.

A year later my husband and I wrote the church a letter requesting that they remove our names off the membership role at the church. We began to attempt to rebuild our lives and trust God with what was ahead. It has been incredibly difficult and lonely. Not only did the pastor deceive us but the church did, too.

As I have said earlier, this blog has been a journey to sort through all the confusion and pain, an outlet for me to be honest with myself, others and God. Writing all of this has been like opening up wounds all over again. Why would I want to remember such pain? Because I believe the only way to move forward is to somehow reconcile the past and grieve all that has been lost.

Four year later, I realize it’s time for me to forgive myself and the church. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Nor does it mean pretending everything is fine or minimizing the damage that was done. It means looking at all the fall out, the pain and the blood and recognizing that God looked down and saw the same thing when Jesus was on the cross and said, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Sometimes people don’t look or act like victims on the outside.

Sometimes our wounds are hidden on the inside.

We are all fighting difficult battles.

We need to be kind.

We need to speak the truth to one another.

We need to protect one another.

We only have the ability to respond to the things that we have control over.

That’s what I did when the time came.

I need to forgive myself, too.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19‭-‬21 NLT

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