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

Legitimate Needs

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

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

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

I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.

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

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

It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.

On the surface…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

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

But will I let Him?

Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?

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

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

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

He is a Father to the Fatherless.

He is the Resurrection and the Life.

There is no shame in our legitimate needs.

They are what drive us to Him.

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

He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner

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

Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

Belonging 

Shame disconnects us from others. Shame causes us to feel worse than anyone else and like we do not belong. When a parent’s behavior towards us communicates that we are not who they want us to be, that we are a disappointment, shame takes up residence in our hearts. 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Romans 8:14‭-‬17 NLT

When I was a young teen, I spilled an entire gallon container of sticky tea all over the kitchen table and it made a horrible mess. My father screamed at me words I cannot remember, but the shame of that moment I will never forget. 

Shame disconnects us from others. Shame causes us to feel worse than anyone else and like we do not belong. When a parent’s behavior towards us communicates that we are not who they want us to be, that we are a disappointment, shame takes up residence in our hearts. 

I wish that spilling the tea was the only thing I did that made me feel ashamed. At least that mess was something that I could take some blame for.  There were other things that happened in my childhood, dark and evil and dispicable things that my father did to me, that I know now I was not to blame for, but at the time I believed that they were my fault.  

Something happens to the heart of a child when they are abused rather than nurtured and brought up to be the person God created them to be.  Shame saturated my heart and made it grow hard and desperate for love and control and belonging. Desperate to receive what it was to created to receive so it could thrive and grow to be the person I was supposed to be. 

I did not know I was carrying around this kind of heart when I met my former pastor. I did not know how terribly desperate I was. When he hugged me and told me he loved me everything in my world began to feel like it was changing for the good. But the tiny sprouts of life that began to come up died when he told me he desired me in the same twisted sexual way that my own father had. My heart grew cold and desperate once again. But again, I did not know it was this way. I convinced myself that my twisted relationship with him and my adopted father who had abused me was the only love I deserved. 

Ten years later, as I was straightening up the church sanctuary on a Monday morning and listening to a sermon on my phone, God opened my ears to another kind of love. A love that was not disappointed in me no matter how many times I had made a mess. A love that called me back home to my Father. A love that said I have taken all of your shame on the cross. And the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed everything. 

Now when life happens and I make a mess of things, my loving Heavenly Father comes alongside to help me clean it up. He reminds me that it is OK, and that I am always forgiven. He invites me to sit down again at the table. He does not care if I spill the tea. He loves broken people and wants us to know we always belong at His table. And for the first time in my life, I want to please Him out of love and not fear. 

My heart still has a lot of healing that needs to take place. A lifetime of abuse I am sure will always cause me to have obstacles to overcome that others do not. But I am not alone. I have a loving Heavenly Father whose hope does not disappoint. Who tells me to not be afraid. He will never reject me. I belong to Him.  And that is everything. 

For more of my story, go to Caught

Resources:

The Heart Of Man: Overcoming Shame And Finding Identity

http://heartofmanmovie.com/
 

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