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

Overcoming the Spirit of Condemnation

When all is said and done the truth will stand.

Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.
Acts of the Apostles 13:46 NLT

Do you ever judge yourself as unworthy?

I surely do.

I get focused on the past.

All the mistakes I’ve made.

All the sins I’ve committed.

All the things I wish I was doing better now.

I am so hard on myself.

I wish I could turn off the self-condemning thoughts when they come, but I find it almost impossible to do at times.

Last week in a conversation with my therapist, she encouraged me to take the time to pray for God to take away the spirit of condemnation when it comes. I’ve made more of an effort to do this this week. Yesterday, as I prayed I noticed that it helped.

The problem with condemning thoughts is they sneak up on me. It’s not like I intentionally decide to believe a lie. It just happens, because the feelings are so overwhelming associated with the lies are so big that it feels like it must be true. I believe this is why we need one another to constantly redirect our thinking to what is true. It’s also why we need communion to remind ourselves that Jesus has forgiven all.

A male nurse at work has a freedom that I wish I had. He just says what he thinks all the time, even if he probably should not sometimes. Yesterday, he made the statement that I was the nicest person at work. I thought, what is he crazy? If he really knew me he wouldn’t say such things. Later, he blurted out something about someone else that wasn’t as kind, but nonetheless true. I looked at him like I couldn’t believe he said that. He said, “My Daddy taught me when all is said and done, the truth will always stand.” I thought about what he said for a moment and realized he was right.

But sometimes the truth is hard to find, especially when the lies bombard our minds in a cacophony of screaming accusations.

Sometimes truth is hidden behind a mountain of shame.

I have realized lately that one of the most difficult things for me to do is to ask for help.

I’ve done it on my own for so long, that it feels normal.

As long as I don’t ask for help, I don’t have to worry about someone else hurting me.

I may act kind, together, and ok, but I don’t feel that way at all.

The truth is, I need help, because most of the time I’m my own worst enemy.

A cacophony of voices shouted at Jesus, too.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
Matthew 27:39‭-‬44 NLT

When we struggle with condemnation, it’s important to remind ourselves that Jesus did, too.

We do not suffer alone.

When all is said and done the truth will stand.

I am His child.

Condemnation will not stop happening until I breathe my last breath.

The Christian life is not easy.

We follow in His steps.

In the world we will have tribulation.

Shame will come.

But in Jesus we have peace.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:1‭-‬2‭, ‬11 NLT

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Jesus Wept

Jesus weeps for us.

When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
JOHN 11:33‭-‬35 AMP

I heard Brene Brown say in a video clip recently, in order for forgiveness to happen something has to die.

Death brings much sorrow. Whether it be the death of a dream, the expectations we had, a person we loved, or our hope of receiving what we needed from a caregiver in our lives. All death is incredibly painful.

In John Chapter 11, we see Jesus in the middle of the great sorrow that death brings when he arrives at the home of Lazarus and sees Mary weeping. Even though Jesus knows that He is going to bring Lazarus back to life, He does not avoid the sorrow. He embraces it fully, to the point He feels anger over it.

I don’t know about you, but at first glance this story confuses me. Jesus, Who is the Resurrection and the Life, weeps to the point of being angry over death. Maybe I struggle with the this so much, because I work so hard to avoid any kind of pain.

I don’t realize most of the time how many times in a day I am reassuring myself that I am fine when I really am not. I stuff a piece of chocolate in my mouth enjoying the temporary boost I receive from a sugar high. I open up my Facebook app and notice the little red notification that someone liked or shared what I posted. I cram handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and numb out the week’s frustrations with a new series on Netflix or Hulu. I consume ravenously the moments when I feel excitement or pleasure, but resist the ones where I experience boredom or pain. And it’s all because I know deep down, that I really am not ok.

Sooner or later sorrow always catches up with us. Our brains notice reminders of past events and bring them to our attention. As Bessel Van Der Kolk book title communicates our Body Keeps the Score.

Summers are an especially difficult time for me. This pain began when as a young girl I was so excited to get to go meet with my father who was separated from my mother at the time. He promised to take me out to eat and shopping for a new swimsuit. He said I’d get to see a new liter of puppies his neighbors dog had just had. After consuming a large hot dog covered in cheese at a nice restaurant, we wandered across the mall to the pet store. I had to go see Arthur, the mynah bird, who talked to everyone who passed by. I could have spent all day talking to him and dreaming of the day that I could have a bird like him of my own. But it wasn’t long before it was time to go to my father’s trailer that I’d never been to before before. It was easier to leave Arthur because I was going to get to see the puppies! Anticipation filled my heart as we drove that way. My parents had been separated for a period of time. My father was an alcoholic who I thought was trying to stop. I didn’t understand much about addiction at the time, but I knew that when he turned up a glass with that dark brown pungent liquid that really bad things could occur. Once the police even came. Another time, my mom and I snuck out during the night. I was so relieved he’d stopped drinking. I was so excited about a new start. But then on this day that was supposed to be the start of a new beginning for us, my father turned into the package store. Even though he promised he was just going to have one drink and asked me not to tell my mother, I knew when he walked out with the tall paper sack that things were not at all as I thought they were going to be. Deep disappointment and sadness filled my heart. And a weekend that was supposed to be a good time spent with my father, became very, very dark.

As I have mentioned before, I work in a residential treatment program for teenagers who are dealing with all sorts of addiction, trauma and losses. It’s an environment that brings hope and healing to so many, but it’s also an environment filled with much sorrow and pain. The other day I passed a kid who was just finishing up his lunch. My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid. He’s a kid like so many others there who’ve made some bad choices, because of tremendous lossese they have suffered in their lives. The program teaches these teenagers how to make better choices despite the fact that sometimes the caregivers in their lives continue to make the wrong ones. As these kids allow themselves to face the pain they have been trying to avoid, they begin to process it and grieve. There are no unhealthy snacks to consume to bring temporary relief. There are no TV and cellphones to distract them from their pain. Only the harsh cold reality of the pain they have worked so hard to avoid. However, once they face this pain hope begins to break through. I saw it in this teenager’s eyes that day, and I felt it in my own heart.

In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.

Why did Lazarus have to die?

Why did Mary and Martha have to suffer the confusion of loving someone whom they loved so very much?

Why do parents choose addictions over their children?

Why must a child’s hope of a parent who is present and loves them be totally crushed?

Why doesn’t Jesus just avoid the pain of sorrow when He knows that life is coming again?

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!” Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:37‭-‬40 MSG

After tremendous suffering and pain, Jesus breathed His last breath as a human being. Death had finally come.

It is finished, He said.

That day in the car as I watched my father walk out with a bag of whiskey in his hand, all hope seemed lost of ever having a father who would love me.

He (Jesus) was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled.

Jesus wept.

My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid.

Jesus weeps for us.

In our suffering we experience connection with Him.

We find forgiveness.

By His wounds we are healed.

I don’t know why it has to happen the way that it does.

But I know that on the other side of death, life will come.

Sing to the Lord , all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:4‭-‬5 NLT

Jesus, Make us One

Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20‭-‬21 NLT

In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out. But scrolling through my social media most days, I am disappointed and disheartened. It seems that we are more likely to unite over the things that we are against than the things that we are for. Even in the church, there is division over just about everything.

Where is the oneness Jesus prayed that we would have?

Where are the people who belong to God and each other?

From my earliest memory, I have always felt a sense of disconnection and a desire to belong. I have not felt comfortable in my own skin. I have especially not felt comfortable around other people. In the residential treatment center where I work, I have learned that these feelings are an outward symptom that are signaling me to pay attention to a deeper issue, a core issue of loss that resulted from being given up for adoption by my biological mother. The mother who carried me around in her womb for nine months, the person whose heart beat soothed me, delivered me out of the comfort of her womb and into a strange place where I’d never hear her heartbeat again. And then after spending a few moments in her arms, a nurse took me away from her to be raised by a stranger. What goes through a child’s mind when a loss like this occurs? Somewhere deep inside I developed a belief that there must have been something wrong with me for my own mother not to want me. To soothe this deep wound of rejection, I have searched desperately for somewhere to belong; someone or something to fill loss inside.

At this same treatment center where I work, I see the same desire in the eyes of kids who have been abandoned by their parents. They have no place to call home. Some of them are so kind it will cause your heart to melt. They are eager to please, because they think if they just do everything right somehow they will be loved. Some of them fight tooth and nail to keep people from getting close. They’ve experienced loss and they have decided it’s best to keep others out.

God created humanity with a deep need for connection and belonging. Our hearts cannot feel whole until they have experienced the love of another. Left alone our hearts become cold, hard and lifeless. When we suffer betrayal and losses of those in our lives we believe that we belonged to, there is a bloody and painful separation that we must grieve. Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal. I believe Jesus prayed for His disciples to belong to one another, because not only do we need these connections for survival, but also when we belong to one another we send out a strong message to the world that Jesus is alive and there is real hope, belonging and connection in Him. We also invite others in to be a part.

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I am a survivor of sexual abuse from my former pastor. My need for belonging caused me to give away my heart to someone who was not capable of loving me and give me what I really needed. All he could do was take what he thought he needed for himself. All I could do was the same. What I believed was love caused me to do things I promised I never would. I lost myself completely and forgot who God told me I was. For the past four years, I’ve been healing from this abuse. I’ve spent much time writing about what happened in an effort to understand how everything went so wrong.

I became a Christian in my 20’s. I experienced God in a powerful way right after my adopted father died. Suppressed memories of sexual abuse from this same man caused me to have so much anxiety I could barely sit still. My insides felt like they would shake apart until I talked to the doctor I worked for about it. He was a man who loved God and who cared about me in the right way. He prescribed medication for the anxiety and also shared with me about his own struggles. He encouraged me to read a few chapters in the book of Romans. That day after I went home and started to read, I met my Father who loved me, assured me that He always had. I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life. I could not get enough of God in the months that followed. I felt alive for the first time ever.

But then life began to happen. My husband’s family that I believed was stable began to fall apart. Secrets came to light and masks began to fall off. I began to question everything, even my faith in God. The church we were apart of was in the middle of the mess. The young adult Sunday school class we had started even began to fall apart. I discovered much of my life had been built on the sinking sand of false hope in people who were not who I thought they were. We left the church seeking refuge, but what we found in another church was even worse.

One might wonder why in the world I have not given up on the church after all I have seen happen? Many who have experienced abuse in the church have turned tail and run away in an effort to to keep themselves safe. No one can blame them either. Safety is another core human need. God calls us to protect ourselves and one another.

I suppose my need for belonging outweighs my need for safety. Maybe it’s irrational, but it’s true nonetheless. God placed in my heart a desire to pray for the church to experience oneness early on in my Christian walk. I don’t understand it, but I love the church deeply. I want to see her thrive and grow and reveal the love of Jesus. But I have seen it fail at this more than succeed. I don’t know why I haven’t given up.

Maybe it’s because in the most desperate moments of my life I’ve experienced this belonging through the love of others who have held onto the same hope. On the darkest of days, we’ve held hands and prayed and wept together. We’ve reminded one another that we are not alone. In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out.

I have not given up on the church. Jesus hasn’t either. Now more than ever the world needs to see our love for one another. In a divided world where the love of so many has grown cold, even in the church, true connection and love stands out.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2 NLT

Recently, I watched this talk given by Lisa Bevere on men and women serving together in the church. I was greatly encouraged by what she had to say. I believe the church desperately needs to listen, especially with so much sexual abuse being exposed in the church. I believe if we as a church want to truly reveal the love of Jesus to the world, we will stop running from abuse and trying to deny it is happening. We will work together as men and women to find solutions of how to protect one another. We will stop adding more rules that keep men and women more disconnected and stop assuming that all men are after sex and all women are after men to seduce them and steal their positions. I’m so very tired of the blaming. I’m so longing for restoration, unity, and peace.

Jesus, make us one.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
John 17:22‭-‬26 NLT

Joy

Demons love to be analyzed…

Someone coined the phrase a long time ago, Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

For the past four years, I have learned to accept that most of my days will be spent getting by, sometimes wondering if I will make it and other days thinking I might not; every day asking God to help me get through to the other side of this grief.

I did not realize until recently how very accustomed I have become to just the struggle of getting through. It has become the devil that I know. It has become in many ways what is comfortable to me.

But recently I started to experience something that has been almost foreign to me. Something that is almost impossible to experience when one’s heart has been numbed by grief. Joy.

Much more than happiness. It does not flee as fast. It takes root in one’s heart and begins to grow ever so slowly as one begins to hope.

Yesterday, after a conversation with my daughter I realized she felt it, too. And she was scared to death of losing it. Scared to death that it would slip through her fingers like so many things have.

How can one wait patiently for joy to grow? My heart cries out, Please God do not let me be disappointed again! I’d rather stay here with the devil I know than have to deal with one that I don’t. I’d rather be numb than to experience life only to have it squashed out again by death.

The doubts begin to bombard me as soon as joy breaks through.

What if it’s all a lie?

What if you are being deceived again?

A fellow blogger shared a quote yesterday. Her blog is called The Holy Absurd. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s struggling and needs to find hope and know they are not alone. The quote was from Henri Nouwen’s book Love, Henri. He said, We’ll never overcome the demons by analyzing them, but only by forgetting them in an all-consuming love for God. Demons love to be analyzed because it keeps our attention directed to them.

Demons love to be analyzed…

I analyze what I know and what I don’t know. I have indeed been wrong before. Once I believed I found joy, but it was a mirage in the desert. It only appeared to be the real thing to my dry and thirsty soul. But the pursuit of it almost killed me. The devil will not let me forget. Ambivalence sets in as doubts arise begging to be analyzed.

God, please help me!

Stop fighting.

Stop analyzing.

Be still.

Trust.

He promises living water.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen.

The devil I don’t know isn’t a devil at all.

It’s merely hope unseen.

Joy growing just beneath the surface of a heart that’s felt dead for too long.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Joy comes when desire breaks through the hardened surface of a grieving heart. To care again is a huge risk. It’s more terrifying than anything I know. My daughter’s tears caused me to see this. To love is to at all is to risk losing it all again. It is not safe. But to not love is worse than death.

God, help us to not be afraid to love again.

I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
John 15:11‭-‬15 MSG

Photo credit

Inappropriate Relationships

“An act of love doesn’t cause lives to be torn apart, people to be thrown into pain, and children to be emotionally burdened for life. We may think it’s love or that our careless, destructive behaviors are justified, but what passes for “love” in most inappropriate relationships is a combination of hormones and a desperate need for our egos to be validated.”

Thankful to Sharon Hersh for giving me a voice in this interview for Key Life Ministries.  A must hear for anyone in the ministry.

http://www.keylife.org/articles/key-life-pastors-chat-with-sharon-hersh

Also thankful for Steve Brown’s heart on how the church handles these issues.

http://www.keylife.org/articles/the-warrior-is-a-child

PTSD and the Wolf at the Door

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Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get a little strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute

Don Henley In New York Minute

This familiar song came to my mind after a counseling session yesterday with my husband and his counselor.  We talked about trauma in both my life and my husband’s life, and how the effects of it often scatters our stories like puzzle pieces all across the floor, leaving us to pick up the pieces one by one in an attempt to make sense of it all.

As I told my story once again, I was able to find a few more pieces of the puzzle and see even more clearly the picture that my own counselor has been trying to  show me.

Most of my life has been about waiting for the bomb to drop.  I spend so much of my time in a hyper-vigilant state looking for evidence that another one is going to fall that I’m wearing myself out.  I burn up a tremendous amount of emotional energy doing this.

I’ve suffered from PTSD ever since what I believed as a child was a near perfect family home was completely shattered. In a New York Minute, everything in my life changed when I realized for the first time that my adopted father was an alcoholic who’d spent all his money and a lot of other people’s money writing bad checks.  Our family lost everything, first the car, then our home and all of my things. The greatest loss being the safety I’d believed I had. Then my adopted father came out of the closet as a full fledged alcoholic. He and my mom separated for a short time and my own nightmare of sexual abuse began.  Not only had I lost the security of my home and family, but also my innocence.

Around the time that Don Henley’s song was popular, my husband, who was then my boyfriend, had helped me locate my biological mother who I had never met. I’d been given up for adoption as an infant.  I think I hoped finding her would enable me to start over, find someone new that I could identify with, and provide me an escape for the shame and pain I felt inside.  I listened to the song In A New York Minute over and over again.  I didn’t know it then, but I realize now just how  desperate I was to find someone to love and get away from the wolf at the door.

Finding my biological parents didn’t accomplish what I wanted.  I realize now that no one could.  My biological parents were both as broken as I was.  Though I had an immediate bond with my biological father, neither he nor my mother, could take away the deep sense of shame I felt in my soul.  My biological mother wasn’t stable, and wanted me to take away her own shame.  The relationship became another bomb that exploded in my life.  I ended the relationship with her and my biological father that year.  I couldn’t handle the disappointment of knowing that my biological parents couldn’t give me back all that I’d lost.   I later reconnected with my biological father when I had more realistic expectations, but our relationship felt awkward most of the time.  I think I was just too afraid.

When I got married, my husband’s family seemed as together as any family I’d met. I began to  believe that maybe I’d found a safe place.  His mom was a warm and accepting woman who loved the Lord.  His brothers and cousins were friendly and seemingly together and stable.  It felt like we were all one big happy family, living only a few miles from one another.

But the land mines began to go off one by one over the years, followed by a big bomb that eventually moved us out of that community.  My husband’s family fell apart.  Some of them even began to feel like enemies.  When one of my husband’s family members called me  saying that I brought out the worst in my husband and was the source of most of his problems, the fear buried deep in my heart that I was to blame for all the bombs that had exploded in my life surfaced in my mind devastating me.

It was then that we then began visiting the church where my abusive pastor preached.  As we listened to this man teach with power and conviction, once again I found myself believing that I’d found a safe environment.  And then the memories of my childhood abuse began to surface.  I’d had glimpses before which had led me to believe that I’d been abused by my adopted father, but never with this much clarity.  I began emailing the pastor about things that were troubling me.  I even remember sending him a cartoon picture of Wiley coyote trying to get the sheep and thanking him for his teaching that was protecting us from wolves that sought to destroy the body of Christ.  I had no idea that this pastor was indeed a wolf.

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If you haven’t read my story, you can do so by clicking here, but to make a long story short, this pastor became what I thought was a safe place.  He was telling me that I was special and all the things I’d longed to hear.  He appeared to be such a strong person.  When I was with him the condemnatory voices inside my head that had told me I brought out the worst in others silenced.  For the first few months of my relationship with him I allowed myself to believe that I was in a war-free zone.  As we talked about the worst of my abuse and he reassured me I learned to settle down and rest.  But then another bomb dropped.  This pastor revealed to me that he didn’t just love me like a father, but as someone he’d love to make his wife.  I knew in my heart it was wrong, but letting go of the safety I thought I’d found was just too much.   And his confession that he loved me in the wrong way just confirmed the lie that had been haunting me my whole life, that I brought out the worst in others.  I believed that this pastor was the best I could hope for in the broken world.  I couldn’t allow myself to think that he was anything else.  The thought of another loss was just too much to bear.

But ten years later that pastor retired and I became friends with the new pastor, a man who was not a wolf, but someone who truly loved  the church and wanted to serve Christ.  You can read that part of my story here. And as I started to become friends with this pastor and his wife, the scales began to fall off of my eyes about my former pastor’s abuse.  Another bomb dropped, when I realized that he wasn’t at all the man I thought he was.   I believed that this new pastor and my friends were my safe place and the relationship with my former pastor lost it’s control over me. But if you read all of my story, you know that those relationships weren’t safe either, because when I confessed to them what happened with the former pastor they reacted in fear.  Rather than educate the church on how abusive my former pastor had been, the leaders allowed others in the church to believe what happened was an affair that my former pastor had just been more accountable for because of his leadership position.  They didn’t protect me as a victim and told the whole church what I’d done.

When this bomb hit, it felt nuclear.  It took all I could do to function. I couldn’t go to church anymore or drive to town for fear that someone would see me.  Once again the lies were screaming at me that I brought out the worst in everyone.  I was the one lighting all the bombs and eventually I’d just destroy everyone in my path.  I know it wasn’t rational now, but inside my head at the time it felt so real.  Had it not been for my counselor, my husband and people like Steve Brown who were telling me to not give up, I know I would have attempted to end my life.  But thank God by His grace, He moved us to another town.

Now here we are, almost a year later after all of the last bombs dropped and I am finally starting to be able to put together the pieces of my broken story.

First of all, I recognize the bombs were not my fault.  I didn’t light them.  I didn’t make someone else light them.  They fell and I was powerless to keep it from happening.

I can take responsibility for the choices that I made that I knew were not right.  I can wish that I’d asked for help.  I can wish that I hadn’t disregarded God’s law.

But I could not change the traumatic events that happened in my life or my husband’s family.  They were not my fault.  They were out of my control.

Secondly, I see a clear pattern in my life of looking for hope in what I can see in this broken world.  I see all the relationships that fell apart that I’d believed would give me the safety, acceptance and love I’d longed since my childhood.  I kept thinking I could get back the days when I believed everything was fine, but it just  didn’t happen no matter how hard I have tried.  The whole world is broken and longing for redemption.  It is unrealistic to look for my security and safety here, even at the church.

Thirdly, no matter how hyper-vigilant I have been, I haven’t been able to keep the bombs from dropping, nor have I been able to keep the wolf away from the door.  This world isn’t safe.  And Jesus never said it would be.  But He did promise us He’d never leave us and that one day it’d all be made new.

And therein lies what I must cling to.  Yes, the wolf has been at the door, huffed and puffed and even blown down the door and the house, but Jesus is there, too.  Yes, the bombs have dropped and will drop again, but beneath the ashes God is making something beautiful.

So it’s time to stop trying so hard.  Time to take a rest.  Time to trust that He’s got it all under control.  Time to believe that when He promises to bring about good for us out of everything good and bad that has happened in our lives that He really does mean it.

In a world where people are broken, relationships fall apart, and no where feels like home, He is our blessed unseen hope and He is preparing for us our eternal home.

And one day, in a New York minute, everything will change for the good…

…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:1-5

My counselor posted this amazing video a couple of days ago on Facebook.   It’s called The Plot Twist You Didn’t see Coming.  Included in this message is a video that is one of the most powerful portrayals I have ever seen of what it feels like to be a victim of child abuse and the difference that real love from another can make in an abuse victim’s life.  Though we are all broken and limited in meeting all the needs of others, we have a  such a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of Christ’s love into one another’s lives that can make a huge difference and even save lives.   I thank God for those people in this broken world who are willing to  the take the time and risks to love those who have been severely traumatized by circumstances in their lives out of their control. I thank God that I am one of those who has received that love from others and been saved.  I hope one day to return the favor.

Watch the video here (the clip begins at 11:19):

http://www.tsdowntown.com/component/preachit/message/the-plot-twist-you-didn-t-see-coming/watch?Itemid=

God bless,

Liz