Caught – Our Unseen Hope

And yet He still whispers it is finished.

Four years ago, I wrote this post right after I’d confessed my most shameful secret to my previous church. I had been involved in a spiritually abusive relationship with my former pastor. What I wrote revealed a deep shame that I had been carrying my entire life. A shame that had sucked the life out of me, causing me to be desperate to receive acceptance and love, and perfectly ripe for abuse.

Recently, the words from this post came back to my mind when a family member began to shame me for things I had not done what he believed I should have done in support of my family. The old familiar weight of crushing, painful shame felt heavy on me again. It felt like I had walked back into a war zone where the bodies of all those I had harmed were strewn all about. My mother passed away last week suddenly. The shock of losing her triggered a lot of painful emotions and words that may have been more about my brother’s grief than wanting to hurt me. Still those words hurt so much that I made the decision not to go to my mother’s funeral that would take place in the middle of the town where the I’d be bombarded with painful memories of the past.

My choice not to attend her funeral was one I deliberated about with my husband, my friends, my therapist and even my coworkers for hours. I wanted to be strong enough to go. I wanted to not be in that old familiar crippling pain again. I wanted to walk in the strength of the Lord and not believe the lies that were screaming in my head about what a bad person I had been. I wanted to be there for my brother and put the past behind. I wanted to say goodbye to my mother. But after much ambivalence and many prayers, I decided it was just too much.

When I read this post again this morning, I was reminded that none of us are able to carry the weight of our sin and shame. Nor can we carry the weight of the shame that others place on us. Only One is strong enough to carry it.

I wish I was a better representative of Jesus. I wish I was more of a reflection of His righteousness. I wish I didn’t take back the shame. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of what people think. I wish I didn’t still avoid my pain. I wish I didn’t listen to the lies. But I still do. And yet He still whispers it is finished.

Thank you, Jesus for understanding when others do not. Thank you for praying for me when I do not know how to pray for myself. Thank you for not stopping the work that you are doing in me even when I want to give up. Thank you for always being faithful no matter what. Give me the grace to move forward in the truth of who you are. To trust that you are a good and perfect Heavenly Father. Heal my heart so that I continue to receive the love that casts out all fear. In my weakness give me your strength. In my discouragement, give me your hope. I can do nothing without you, yet with you I can do all the things that You have given me to do. Bless those who read this post with the knowledge of who you are and the greatness of your love that knows no boundaries. That we could look past our sin and sorrow, our grief and pain and see only you.

https://ourunseenhope.com/2014/11/01/caught/

Fear

What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.

Last night I tossed and turned in fear. Life is changing. Things feel out of control. Like I’m in room with everything strewn out across the floor and not knowing where to put anything. All I can do is sit in the chaos. And I hate it. Once again we are moving. This time a little less than an hour away. Nothing like the move we made four years ago, but with plenty of things to remind us of it. We are moving at the same time of year. Boxes are piled up against the walls. The emails from the mortgage company wanting to know about everything we owe. It’s scary because I worry about if we are spending too much. If our neighbors will be good ones. If our jobs will continue to provide so that we can pay a new mortgage. So many unknowns. So many things that could go wrong.

Fear rises in my chest from a place deep inside. Its strange how I can think I’m doing so well one day, and then fear comes and knocks the breath right out of me when I start to feel like I don’t have control.

Lately, I’ve been reading about attachment disorders and developmental trauma. Being an adopted child, I have been reading to understand more about myself. One thing that has stood out to me in what I’ve read is how much fear children who do not have healthy attachments with their parents live in. Being adopted I can relate to this fear only too well. As I look back over my life, I realize fear has never really left me.

I remember hearing a preacher point out one time how many times God says in the Bible do not be afraid. I don’t know the exact number, but I know its a lot. God knows how desperately we all need to hear it. At the core of our being is the need to be safe.

When I think about what it might have been like as a baby to be born and taken away from my mother at birth I know it must have been terribly frightening. After three months in a foster home things would change again and I’d go to live with my adopted family. A family that was far from stable. Is it any wonder I am still afraid? Is it any wonder I want to feel in control?

Sometimes I’m able to remind myself that God is in control and not let fear take hold, but with so many things out of control right now and the stakes being higher for something to go wrong, I’m finding its a lot more difficult to trust. I want to trust God, I really do, but the fear won’t let go sometimes.

What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.

As I look back over my life there have been so many losses. So many times when I’ve believed that things would be ok, but they were not. So many people I thought would be in my life for a lot longer than what they were and now they are gone. Was it my fault? Am I destined to ruin everything good? Fear haunts me with these heavy questions.

I hear regularly at the residential treatment center where I work the importance of being honest with ourselves about our losses and allowing ourselves to acknowledge and feel their pain. Recently, I heard one of the residents weeping over the realization that she’d never have a mom and dad who would love her like God meant for her to be loved. It broke my heart for her. But it also broke my heart for me. Because I want the same thing she does. A place to be safe and belong.

Why is it so hard to love one another the way we should? Why has the love of so many grown cold? Why do we in our worst pain wind up hurting those closest to us? I wish I knew, but I don’t. But like this young girl who was forced to accept the reality that things had not worked out at all like she hoped, I too must accept that reality and keep moving forward to a future that is unknown, grieving the losses along the way. But also believing that there is hope up ahead.

This morning a Bible verse came into my mind after a night of tossing and turning in fear.

Lord , my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord — now and always.
Psalms 131:1‭-‬3 NLT

God meets us where we are. He never rejects us because of our fear. He reminds us that He is holding us close and that He will never leave. Even when fear is overwhelming us, our souls can rest in this truth.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:18 ESV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalms 56:3 ESV

I sought the Lord , and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalms 34:4 ESV

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

Painful Reminders and God’s Redemption

And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced.
Joel 2:25‭-‬27 NLT

Yesterday, a friend sent me another article about a well known mega church pastor being exposed for sexually abusing women. I could not bring myself to read it, because I knew if I did I might become overwhelmed again by memories. Others might be able to disregard this information as something that happened somewhere else in another church without taking it personally, but for me it hits too close to home.

There is hardly an aspect of my life that has not been touched by the spiritual abuse our family suffered. There are so many reminders of a part of our lives that we wish had never occurred. But it did occur and things as simple as seeing a certain vehicle on the road or hearing a song played in church can remind me of the man who abused and manipulated us.

For four years we’ve have been in and out of churches struggling to find a place to belong. No where has felt safe. Every single church has reminded us of all that we have lost and caused us to be afraid of losing what little of our faith we have left.

But the most recent church we have attended has been different. People genuinely seem to care. They’ve opened their homes and lives to our family, and have made us feel a part. They’ve listened to our stories with love and not judgment. The suffocating loneliness we have felt has begun to lift. We have even made a decision to move closer to this church.

However, the fears we have of being spiritually abused again are still very much there. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to the people in this church, the bigger the fear of being harmed again. We opened our hearts before and look what happened. They were trampled and left in a bloody mess on the floor. How can we trust that the people won’t do the same?

The past four years of disillusionment with the church has left us with only God to rely on. He hasn’t wasted this time. We have learned the importance of trusting Him more than anyone else. After the wheels came off in my own faith journey, I have recognized how broken we as human beings really are. If I place my trust in man more than God, I am sure to be devastated again and again. Therefore, I continue to remind myself of the importance of looking to Jesus, the only author and perfector of our faith.

It is a huge relief to be on the other side of abuse. Sometimes I find myself longing to forget the whole thing ever happened. To put the past in the past and never look back again. But then another abuse story makes the headlines of the news. And to make matters worse after I read it then someone on a Christian podcast that I listen to regularly or someone in church reads a quote from the same pastor accused of abusing women. Sometimes it causes me to want to run as far away from the church that I can and never look back. But my heart won’t let me leave. So I continue to stay and face the problems the best way that I know how; by being honest with myself and others about them.

After what I’ve been through in the church, you’d think I wouldn’t be so surprised when abuse is exposed. But I still feel crushed when another prominent Christian leader is accused of abuse. A few names come to my mind of men who had a positive spiritual influence on my life who in recent years have had abuse exposures. Their books and sermons have taught me a lot about God. Now they are just another statistic. What can one do with this information? From what I have observed, some in the church will avoid looking at these truths all together. Some will label these stories as fake news. Some will say don’t mess with God’s annointed. Some will say never let them teach again. And some just don’t know about these stories at all. There are also many who will do as I do and avoid reading them when they do hear, because it brings up too much pain. However, I believe that the church’s tendency to avoid the painful truth about spiritual abuse is only going to contribute to it more. Problems do not go away by avoiding them or pretending that they are not there. Problems don’t go away with judgement. Darkness is transformed when it is brought into the light. Jesus did not avoid addressing corrupt spiritual leaders, nor should we.

How polarized our culture has become doesn’t help the problem either. Christians everywhere on my social media page seem to be about the business of pointing out the errors in others theology or politics and judging one another based on which side they choose to be in. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve hidden the feeds of a large majority of my friends I have on social media, because of the divisive things they post. These are confusing and discouraging times we live in especially as a Christian who Jesus called to love others. The tendency in a polarized society can also be to just point out the good. To post positive memes and pictures that communicate to me that if we talk about anything negative we have a lack of faith. This isn’t helpful either.

Those who are victims advocates are working diligently to expose abuse in the church. I have found a lot of peace and understanding by following ministries who are facing abuse in the church head on and working diligently to give a voice to those victims who do not have one. I’m so grateful for the work that they do. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know if we would have survived. But sometimes reading one story after another of abuse in the church that they post can make it difficult to believe there are actually good ministers. Just as there is a big need in me to be heard, there is an even bigger need for me to be able to be a part of a Christian community where I feel safe, and I have found the only way to do this is for me is to avoid reading too many abuse stories that make it extremely difficult for me to trust others.

The process of healing from spiritual abuse has been a long and difficult one. I have learned that one of the most important things I need to do is be patient with myself and remind myself that God is not going to waste any of our pain. He will redeem it all. I believe that we as survivors play a very important role in being a part of the solution. Each and every one of our stories matter. Because our stories reveal a desperate need in the church for change. And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about. So don’t give up. Keep speaking. Keep believing. Keep looking for the people who genuinely care. God has not abandoned us. He is working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot understand, but I believe one day we will. He is a good Father. Though those who we believed were the heroes of our faith have let us down and crushed us time and time again, Jesus will never let us down and promises to restore all that we have lost. Keep looking to Him. He won’t let you go.

I Won’t Let you Go

Joy in the Darkness

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

I read this quote from Henri Nouwen this morning. His words hit home with me and the journey I have been on for the past few years.

One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my own Christian walk is acknowledging the darkness, and not becoming overwhelmed by it.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Why do children get abused and abandoned by the parents who were supposed to give them love?

How can I listen the cries at work of a heartbroken child wanting her Daddy to come get her and not feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and desperation I hear in her voice?

How can a father abandon his child?

What do I do with the news that a neighbor just down the street took a gun and killed his mother, child and then turned it on himself.

So much darkness, death, and despair.

The darkness creeps into my mind.

It wants to take over.

I struggle to find the light of hope.

Social media is full of memes and statements from friends who encourage positive thinking and pious platitudes meant to inspire and keep us looking up.

They only cause me to feel more darkness.

I will not pretend the darkness is not there. As horrible as feeling it’s pain is, it also let’s me know that I am still alive and part of the human race. My own pain has caused me to want to lock myself away in denial. To never look back at all the darkness that has taken place in my own life. But everytime I try to it feels like the lid of a casket coming down. There has to be a way to live in this world of darkness without being overwhelmed or living in denial.

As Nouwen says, the joy of the Lord is what causes us to look for the light when the darkness of the world creeps in.

We are not alone.

We are loved by a God who is kind.

A God who redeems and restores.

A God who transforms the darkness into light.

Sometimes I can’t see Him.

Sometimes I have to walk in the darkness feeling my way through looking for the light.

Sometimes I get lost and Jesus finds me.

But He never leaves us alone even when we choose darkness over the light.

He is a good Father.

Today, I’m thankful for those people in my life who continue to point me to the flashes of light of His love that shines through the brokenness of our lives. Thankful for those who walk through the darkness with me and let me know that I am not alone. You are flashes of light along the way. You are proof that although this world gets really dark, that darkness will not overcome the light of His love.

There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

Letting Go

I don’t want to let go.

Because I am afraid of what will happen if I do.

I let go before.

I trusted him.

I fell into his control.

And I gave him everything.

What came out of me terrified me more than what I saw come out in him.

My most desperate needs were like a vacuum that pulled him into the place that he had sought to go.

A place of emptiness.

Cold.

Dark.

Lonely.

Dying to be filled.

And he wanted to fill it.

Be the hero of my story.

The same emptiness was inside him, too.

Emptiness can never fill emptiness.

The hole just gets bigger.

And real life gets consumed.

But God did not let go of me.

He flooded the darkness with light.

He showed me what was really happening.

And I cried out to Him for help.

He was faithful to save me once again from myself.

I have to let go.

Not to fall into my own control.

Or someone else’s control.

But into Him.

His goodness.

His faithfulness.

He alone can transform darkness into light.

And heal the emptiness in our souls.

And you will, through your own fault, let go of your [grip on your] inheritance That I gave you; And I will make you serve your enemies In a land which you do not know; For you have kindled a fire in My anger Which will burn forever. Thus says the Lord , “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind, Making [weak, faulty human] flesh his strength, And whose mind and heart turn away from the Lord . “For he will be like a shrub in the [parched] desert; And shall not see prosperity when it comes, But shall live in the rocky places of the wilderness, In an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed [with spiritual security] is the man who believes and trusts in and relies on the Lord And whose hope and confident expectation is the Lord . “For he will be [nourished] like a tree planted by the waters, That spreads out its roots by the river; And will not fear the heat when it comes; But its leaves will be green and moist. And it will not be anxious and concerned in a year of drought Nor stop bearing fruit. “The heart is deceitful above all things And it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives? “I, the Lord , search and examine the mind, I test the heart, To give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
JEREMIAH 17:4‭-‬10 AMP

“I did not send [these counterfeit] prophets, Yet they ran; I did not speak to them, Yet they prophesied. “But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned My people from their evil way And from the evil of their decisions and deeds. “Am I a God who is at hand,” says the Lord , “And not a God far away?” “Can anyone hide himself in secret places So that I cannot see him?” says the Lord . “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord .
JEREMIAH 23:21‭-‬24 AMP

“Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries to which I have driven them and bring them back to their folds and pastures; and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them. And they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” says the Lord .
JEREMIAH 23:3‭-‬4 AMP

For I [fully] satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person.”
JEREMIAH 31:25 AMP

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.
Acts of the Apostles 17:24‭-‬25 NLT

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

The Megaphone of Pain

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

Every time I finish a blog and press publish, I wonder if it was the last one written about a very painful chapter of my life. I wonder if I will finally be able to move on past it. But then something else comes up and I write another one.

Maybe we never stop retelling our stories.

Maybe they have to be retold in order for our hearts to acknowledge just how broken we are.

Maybe facing our brokenness and pain is the only way we can know just how much He loves us.

After writing here for four years, I have come to realize that it is the painful parts of our stories that we work so hard to escape that are actually where true relief and healing lie. It is when I distract myself from my pain, that I actually prolong healing.

Yet, I still distract sometimes.

But thank God He doesn’t allow me to do it for long.

He arranges situations, people, places and things together in such a way that I am unable to avoid what it is He wants me to see.

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

I had never met the couple who sat at the poolside table with me on a church youth trip a couple of days ago. I can’t even explain how our small talk over pasta turned so personal so quick.

She was a pastor’s daughter with her own broken story to tell. Betrayal. Loss. Deception. Lies. Our stories collided as each of us shared. She did not appear bitter. Rather, it was clear she had worked hard to forgive her father for not being who she thought that he was. She did not judge me either. Instead, she and her husband voiced condolences over what I had experienced and prayed for me.

Lately, I have been exhausted and overwhelmed by so many stories of abuse in the church. With every story I read, I am reminded of my own pain again. Sometimes I just cannot go on reading. Sometimes I just want to put the past behind. To move on into what God has in the next chapter of my life. I had hoped this church youth trip would be an opportunity to take a break and maybe even start fresh.

But pain rose to the surface again. A deep sorrow over how my choices had hurt another pastor’s daughter. The overwhelming emotions caused me to a hug the stranger in front of me and tell her how sorry I was for what she had been through. I felt my heart heal a little more. The pain began to fade away. Other emotions followed. Grace. Love. Mercy. Peace. Redemption. Gratitude.

Why does He love us so much?

Why does He keep pursuing us even when run away?

I don’t know.

But He just does.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬5 ESV

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