The Gift of Hope

Real hope does not put us to shame.

I spent some time this morning thinking about these words.

It has been fifteen years since I knelt beside a man that I called pastor and asked him to give me something he was not able to give.

Hope.

I did not know at the time how desperately I longed for a father’s love.

I did not know how much pain I was in.

His hug that day caused my brain to wake up to it.

And I believed he was my hope.

But the hope that he gave brought me much shame.

This is the time of the year that it happened, and I find myself struggling more than usual.

Sometimes I find it difficult to read the scriptures and find hope, because I am reminded of this shame.

Sometimes sitting in church I am overwhelmed with memories of it through a song or sermon.

Sometimes, on the really bad days, I wonder if I will carry the weight of this shame for the rest of my life?

How much more can I possibly write about it?

How much more can I possibly say that I forgive?

What else needs to be said to finally put this memory to rest for good?

I wish I knew.

But thank God He meets us where we are, even on the really bad days.

And He reminds me to take life one day at a time.

Trusting that He will see me through even when I wonder if He has abandoned me.

I confess sometimes it just feels too hard.

I heard a pastor discussing spiritual abuse a while ago.

He said that often people don’t know how to stop being a victim after being abused.

His words hurt even if they were true.

It’s hard not to get stuck in being a victim when one has been victimized.

None of us like to believe that suffering can be so out of our control.

We’d much rather assume that a person who is suffering isn’t doing enough.

They just don’t have enough faith.

They just aren’t pursuing God enough.

Reading their Bible enough.

Praying enough.

Surely God would not allow a person to suffer so much.

Try telling that to someone with a cancer diagnosis.

Why is mental illness any different?

It’s so important that we do not judge one another in our suffering.

Only when we learn listen to our own pain and one another’s pain can we bring healing and relief to those who are hurting.

We are not victims.

We are survivers.

We learn to be thrivers despite what we have been through.

I believe it.

But it is a process.

And there is no exact formula for everyone.

God heals us in His own time and in ways that He knows we need.

My therapist has said to me more than once that the definition of responsibility is the ability to respond.

Respond to life’s circumstances one day at the time in a better way than we did before.

Learn from the past.

What we see we will not unsee.

Respond differently.

Respond better.

Speak up.

Be honest.

Be kind to ourselves.

Ask for help.

Never give up.

Look to God for help.

For me this looks like today reading one scripture verse.

One simple promise.

That God’s hope does not disappoint.

His love has not abandoned us.

It is the gift of hope.

And real hope does not put us to shame.

The Power of Love

A few weeks ago, I started to read the book The Power of Attachment. The book by Diane Poole Heller talks about the different ways we connect to one another in relationships, and the importance that our early childhood plays in developing these attachments.

I was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. My biological mother was raised Catholic. Her parents sent her away to give birth to me. She only held me for a few moments before I was handed over to the State and placed in the home of a foster parent for three months. After three months, I was adopted by my parents. From my baby pictures, I appeared to be a well adjusted and happy child. However, my earliest memories as a child communicate to me that I struggled most of the time with feeling like I belonged. Up until I was in my twenties, I believed that there was something wrong with me. I thought that being adopted and not being a blood relative of my family was what caused me to feel out of place. But then I found both of my biological parents, and realized that I still felt disconnected.

Reading Diane’s book has helped me to see that my lack of connection is about more than being adopted. What it is about is being raised by parents who did not know how to connect with me in a healthy way. Parents who didn’t connect with their parents either. My adopted mother’s mom died when she was just a little girl. She had very few memories of her, and didn’t talk about her father much either. My adopted father’s mother lived until I was in my twenties. He spent a lot of time talking about how she favored his brother over him. His father died when he was a child. His earliest memories were of him shooting up morphine in front of him.

I spent my childhood believing that I was the reason that I couldn’t connect with my parents. Even though they provided for my physical needs, I felt responsible for my own emotional needs and insanely for theirs, too. Sexual abuse taught me that it was my responsibility to meet my father’s emotional needs. It was also up to me to keep this secret from my mother. I had to work really hard to do my part to keep everyone happy. I felt like I lived in a minefield waiting for the next explosion to go off. I thought if I watched my every step I could keep something else bad from happening. Even though it didn’t work, I never stopped trying to make it work. It was the only thing I knew to do to survive.

Diane Heller provides exercises in her book to help people like me who grew up not feeling attached to start a process of feeling more secure. One of the exercises says to imagine having parents who had relationships with others in their lives who met their emotional needs. She said to visualize what it would have been like if our mother had friends she went out with who brought her happiness. As I visualized this, it felt like the knots in my stomach began to relax. Momma did not need me to do everything right to be happy. She was happy all on her own. I wasn’t walking in a mine field where I had to focus on my every step. I could focus on just being myself. I could see clearly through this practice that the reason I felt disconnected as a child was because I never felt the freedom to just be myself.

Other exercises in the book encourage the reader to think about the people in our lives who they felt safe around and remember how these people made them feel. I experienced relief as I thought back to an older couple who were friends with my mom. I stayed with them for a week when my parents went out of town. Their house was in the country. I chased chickens around their back yard. I sat on the porch drinking lemonade and eating homemade goodies. I went to the store and got a brown paper sack full of candy. It felt safe to be myself.

God talks about us coming to Him as little children, but I have so few memories of times when I felt like I could be a little child. I don’t know how to be a child and this has greatly effected my ability to connect with God. I am realizing that I still spend a lot of life feeling like I am walking through a mine field. There has been so much loss in my life that I wonder if I will ever find the freedom to be myself again.

I confess I struggle with feeling angry and cynical about how my life has been. Am I destined to be forever disconnected from God because I do not even know how to come to Him as a little child? I confess it feels impossible to me and with the religious abuse I experienced no where at all feels safe. The only thing I know to do is to continue to be honest about the struggles that I have with God and with others who are safe. In church it has been very challenging to find these people. Too often I hear judgment in their comments or quick fixes that sound more about control than a relationship with God. I cannot continue to sit through conversations like this. I desperately long to connect with God. I want to believe that He is a Father who wants to bring me only good. But these days I’m struggling with this. Even though our relationship with God is based on faith and not by sight, I see how much relationships play a part in revealing the goodness of God to people. Jesus had relationships with people. He didn’t tell them to just believe and walk away. He risked and really cared even though He knew that they would abandon Him when He needed them the most. When I think about this part of the story and Who God is through Jesus, I realize He doesn’t need me to do anything to meet His needs. I can be the kid who chases chickens in the back yard. I can laugh and drink lemonade on the front porch. I can find the relief of just being myself. This is the Gospel. It really is good news. This is the hope that I hold onto even when I feel like I am walking through a mine field. Truly, it’s a miracle that I even believe in Him at all. But faith is a mystery and a gift that we are not responsible for acquiring on our own. I so need God’s help every moment to give me the strength to keep moving forward, but I also need other people who are willing to hang in there in a relationship with me. People who do not need me to meet their emotional needs and keep them happy. People who love me right where I am struggling with all of my doubts and cynicism. I pray that God would help me to be this kind of person to others, too. In a world where half the people do not feel securely attached in their relationships, I believe that this is what Jesus has called us to be to one another. If all we are doing is telling others what to believe and what to do without investing time in relationships, we are missing the life giving portion of the message. I’m tired of cold and empty religion. I’m tired of just surviving. I pray that God would help us to see how desperately we need love and connection to one another. It’s the only way the world can know that we belong to Him. It’s the only way to give each other real hope.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

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.

A Good Father

I want my children to know who they really are.

I want them to recognize those things within themselves that make them unique in a way no one else can be.

I want them to feel connected to themselves and their Creator.

I want them to not struggle with knowing who they are.

I want them to know they belong always with us and to God.

I don’t want them to be lonely or afraid.

I want them to rest in knowing we are always here for them and we will never reject them no matter what.

This is love.

It isn’t dependent on anything.

It doesn’t require anything.

It simply just is.

Why do I struggle so much with knowing God wants all the same things for His Children?

Why do I feel so much fear about the uncertainty of things?

Why do I get lost and confused when the outlook is bleak?

The nature of our humanity wants to be in control.

It does not like to wait.

It wants to see the solution.

It experiences great pain when it can’t.

God knows that our humanity is dust.

We get blown away by every wind of change.

For those of us who have not experienced a good example of earthly parents, God knows especially how strong our need for control is? He sees our despair when we just can’t hold it all together anymore.

He is a Father to the fatherless.

He keeps our tears in a bottle, because we are the apple of His eye.

Deep in my heart I know this, but my brain shouts so loud at times I can’t hear it.

I need to be kind to myself and wait for the voices in my head to die down.

How can I trust Him when all I’ve ever been able to trust is myself? When so much in my life has ended badly? My own control hasn’t worked out so well either.

How can I know who He is really when I am regularly reminded of a man who taught me how to twist His words in the one place I learn about Him the most in church? It’s very hard to get past ten years of verses, experiences and songs that ended in such a bad way. Our memory is such a part of our everyday lives. So many of our decisions are based on good or bad experiences that we have had. The profound life changing experiences I’ve had with God are what keep me going back despite all of the memories. The relationships with others in the past who have brought me joy keep me encouraging me to not give up on the church.

Gradually I’m beginning to see that God is a good Father who wants to give us good gifts.

He wants us to know who we are.

He wants us to see our uniqueness and know that we matter.

He wants us to know we belong to Him.

He expects nothing in return.

His love isn’t dependent on anything.

It just is.

Perfect love without fear of punishment.

Dust brought together.

Wholeness.

Life.

The wind blows away only what isn’t necessary anymore.

What’s left is who I really am in Him.

If I chase the wind to catch what is blowing away, I am bringing more pain to myself.

New life calls me to move forward despite the past.

It is hard.

But it is the only way.

To find myself.

To find others who care.

To find Him.

Father, light the path and lead the way with your goodness and mercy.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:9‭-‬11 NLT

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

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

Saving Lives

I believe these days we might be more likely to find Jesus in a residential treatment center than in a church.

If you have been on social media recently, you have most likely been bombarded with stories about the lives of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, two shining stars in our world whose lives were snuffed out recently by suicide. We are left with more questions than we are answers. Article after article has been written this past week to celebrate their lives and attempt offer some clarity as to why they ended so abruptly.

This morning I read a post in The Nation about Anthony Bourdain by David Klion. In this article, he described Bourdain as a man who truly experienced all that life had to offer, the good and the bad. Klion ended the article by stating:

Depression can sometimes be the price paid for seeing the world too clearly, in all its contradiction and cruelty, and for being unable to endure the full weight of it. No one saw more of the world more clearly than Anthony Bourdain, and the awful tragedy is that the one thing he may not have seen clearly was his own irreplaceable contribution.

Anthony Bourdain experienced the best that life in this world has to offer, however he was also very familiar with the darkness, and if this article is correct, it seems it became more than he could take.

Working at a residential treatment center like I do, gives one a clear picture of the cruelty and contradictions in the world, unlike any other place I have ever been. There is a stark contrast between being here and the church I worked in for a decade. Sometimes I long to be back at the church office, especially on the heavy days at work when I hear the horror stories that our minds do not want to comprehend. Last week I left work so overwhelmed by the sexual abuse stories I’d heard, I found it difficult to think of anything else. I cried on the way home and wondered what kind of hell is this world that we live in. It was a stark contrast from my days at the church office when I went home concerned, because I wasn’t able to balance the church’s checking account. As I write this, I wonder why these two worlds are so different. It seems that ministry and mental health should be working hand in hand.

Based on my experiences, however churches and mental health organizations work apart more than they do together. The church many times has felt to me like a place where we escape from the horrors of life and tell ourselves that things are much better than they really are. When bad things happen in the church, such as abuse, the church does not know how to deal with it. When people suffer with depression or anxiety we offer pious platitudes in an effort to put a band aid in issues rather than work towards truly helping one another heal from hurts. I am amazed at how many stories of people I hear of people who have been more traumatized than helped by the church. I recognize this is based on my own limited experiences, and that there are many churches who are truly helping others, but this has often not been the case for me. Many churches I have been a part of have caused me to think that if I would just do what they think I should that I will somehow be spared from the pain of life. Either I am doing something wrong or they are wrong, because this has not been my experience. I read an article recently by a very wealthy evangelist who described her own tragic story of sexual abuse from her father. She went on to talk about how she forgave her father and later bought him a house. While I do not judge the validity of her story, I struggle with the message it communicates to those of us who have not been able to forgive and reconcile and live with the fallout daily from abuse. I also struggle with her books which encourage that a proper belief system can end depression and anxiety. This doesn’t feel at all like relief to me. This feels like judgement and control.

Jesus said a bruised reed He will not break, a smoking flax He will not put out, and His life on earth revealed this clearly to us. Where people were unheard and hurting, Jesus was there listening, loving, and bringing comfort not judgment. I believe these days we would more likely find Jesus in a residential treatment center than in a church.

When I read the stories of people who have chosen to end their lives, I am able to understand the reasons why they do so. The world can become very heavy and dark at times, thus the reason we need one another so much.

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

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 NLT

As I have written this blog, I have really struggled to find the words that I want to say. The reality is people are hurting in our world, and we desperately need to help one another out. We need to be doing the work that saves lives.

Four years ago when I exposed my former pastor’s abuse I lost my job and my church family. We were forced to move, because I was too ashamed to even go to the grocery store. When we moved we had to start all over in a new place. We didn’t have any support or friends in our community and there were times the pain was so much that I wanted to die. Had it not been for those like my therapist and others in ministry who stayed in contact with us through email, we might have given up. We have drifted in and out of churches sometimes finding support. Sometimes feeling more isolated than ever. However, right now we are in a church where we feel supported, and we are very thankful for this!

My heart cries out to the Lord that He would change this. The hurting needs to stop. We need to be Jesus to one another. We need to stop the judging, the pressure and learn how to truly love. We cannot do this without Him. But we can repent that we have been trying to.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

For more information, here is a video from
Diane Langberg :

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out. There are people who will help.

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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