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

After Neverland

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

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

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

Abuse rarely looks like abuse.

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

Abusers are capable of doing good things.

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

Abuse to victims can look and feel like love.

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

Abuse brings tremendous shame on victims.

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

Abuse victims normally believe the abuse is their fault.

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

We can help each other heal by listening.

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

Spotlight on Spiritual Abuse

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is will we as the church cooperate?

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:5‭, ‬12‭-‬14 ESV

Caught – Our Unseen Hope

And yet He still whispers it is finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Story – Part 1 The Truth that Sets Us Free

It is the truth alone that is able to set us free from the lies our enemy uses to snare us. 

Since I first published my story on this blog, a lot has happened. The hash tags #MeToo, #churchtoo and #silenceisnotspirtual have been appearing regularly in my social media feed. More and more victims have found the courage to step forward and expose the dark secrets of sexual abuse. While I am encouraged by the truth being exposed, I have also been overwhelmed by how much sexual abuse has happened to children and adults inside the church. Boz Tchividjian with the organization GRACE (Godly Response against Abuse in a Christian Environment) has stated that he believes the evangelical church has exceeded the Catholic church in incidences of abuse. This is a terrible tragedy when a place of hope becomes a place where abuse runs rampant. As Christ followers, I believe we must make every effort to protect the church from this. My own personal story is an effort to make Christians aware of what is happening, so that we can prevent further harm.

I wrote my story originally here in 2014. Recently, after discussing it with my therapist, I decided to rewrite my story and leave out some of the specific details that might be harmful to others who were not directly involved if my identity is ever revealed, as well as add some new insights that I have gained since I started the healing process.

I started attending the church where my abuse occurred in December of 2003. My husband, myself and our three kids almost immediately felt a part of this congregation after only a few Sundays. The people were friendly, the teaching was encouraging, and most of all the hurts we had been experiencing in our previous church were no longer right in front of us. My husband’s family had been at our previous church, and we had been caught up in the middle of a lot past trauma that was resurfacing in his family from a lifetime of abuse and manipulation from his alcoholic father. We needed to find a safe haven away from all of that, and believed this church was the answer to our prayers.

The pastor of this church called me out of the blue one day after we had only attended the church two Sundays. He said that he had been thinking about us and wanted to know if there was a good time for him to come visit. A few nights later, he was sitting in our den. He made us feel so cared about that we began to tell him about the hurts we were experiencing from my husband’s family. Up until this pastor came for a visit, we had not had anyone to talk to about these hurts. We were so relieved to have someone listen. And we became fast friends with him.

After a few months, when I was more comfortable with the pastor, I sent him an email asking for advice about a situation in our previous church involving a guy friend who had left the faith. I was beating myself up over the situation, because my husband’s family had told me that I shouldn’t have been close friends with a person of the opposite sex. Even though the relationship had been totally appropriate, I still felt guilty. (This was normal for me. Growing up in an abusive home, I had carried around guilt for most of my life for everything that went wrong. ) The pastor responded quickly giving me encouragement and reassurance. In the email, he also shared how he had formed emotional connections with several women over the course of his ministry, and that it had never been innapropriate. He let me know quickly he welcomed communication from women in the church.

I had never met anyone abused by a pastor before. I had no idea how much this kind of abuse actually happened. I thought it only happened in cults or crazy religious belief systems. I believed if women followed their husband and other male leaders in their lives that they would be protected by God. As our email correspondence turned into more and more phone conversations, I believed that this pastor was just being a good friend and leader to me. The attention he was giving me made me feel very special. He was old enough to be my father, and since my relationship with my adopted father had never been good, I was very happy about this. However, something about the relationship I had with him also began to bring up some past trauma that I had not ever processed with anyone. Memories of sexual abuse by my adopted father began to resurface. I was overwhelmed and confused and started to share with the pastor over the phone what I was experiencing. One day, the pastor called me and said he had developed a strong emotional attachment to me unlike any other he’d had. Even though I was somewhat taken aback by his words, I also felt more whole hearing them. As an adopted child, I had always felt somewhat disconnected from others. I thought his attachment to me meant that I had finally bonded with someone.

In the summer of 2004, the pastor and I met for the first time in his office. The pastor’s wife kept my kids in the church’s back nursery while we sat in his office on the other end of the church. I began talking to him about some of the memories I was having. He listened and told me he believed that I would be delivered from all of the trauma of the past. The pastor asked me what I really wanted meeting with him. I told him that it was to be loved. We had discussed him giving me a hug during our time together on the phone earlier. I believed if he hugged me that it would help me to heal. The moment felt surreal as I knelt on the floor next to his chair and he began to hug me. It felt like a lifetime had passed as he gently rubbed my back. When we got up to leave the room, the pastor looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I don’t understand this, but I love you.” I was so flabbergasted by his words, that I didn’t know what to say. I think I may have mumbled that I loved him, too. I can’t really remember anything other than being flooded with powerful emotions. All I knew was I believed I had found the person I belonged with. I also believed wholeheartedly that God had healed a deep brokenness inside of me. I was so overwhelmed when I left the church that I literally felt drunk.

However, what I thought was my dream come true quickly turned dark. The next day the pastor called me with devastating news. He said his wife was upset over our hug in his office and she was insisting that he refer me to a counselor. He expressed that he wished he had not even told her about the hug, but he said he had been overwhelmed by the experience and told her without thinking. He said when he hugged me it felt like he had stepped on a rattlesnake. Needless to say, I was utterly confused. I had walked away from the experience the day before believing that God had healed me. Listening to him compare it to stepping on a poisionous snake, turned my hope to shame. I became upset and begged him not to refer me to someone else. As I look back on that time, I cannot help but wonder if that had been his plan all along. He called me a little later and said his wife had reluctantly agreed for me to be counseled by him on the phone. After a few days, we began working through the book On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg. Ironically, Dr. Langberg shared in the earliest chapters of her book about appropriate boundaries when counseling victims of sexual abuse. The pastor talked about it with me. He said he knew he hadn’t kept appropriate boundaries with me. He even said others in ministry would call what had happened abusive. He said that no one could understand the relationship we had except God. And I believed him.

It was understood that he could not touch me again in front of his wife. However, our meetings continued. I’d go by the church to see him when it was safe to get a hug. He came by my house sometimes, too. Everytime I was with him those first few months, I felt like I was drunk. I had no idea at the time that what had actually happened was I had become addicted to him. As more and more memories of my past began to resurface, I became even more dependent on him. There were days I didn’t even want to move out of my bedroom as the memories of sexual abuse that came up as a result of our counseling flooded my mind. It was difficult for me to even take care of my kids I was so traumatized. He talked me out my despair, so I could get up and do what I needed to do. Sometimes our phone conversations went on for hours, and we didn’t miss one day of talking. I continued to believe it was because he was the person God had put in my life to take the place of the father I had always wanted.

As I look back on those times, I can see clearly now that I was disoriented, disconnected and sometimes even totally dissociated from reality. It’s still difficult not to feel shame over how decieved I was, and it’s important that I remind myself that I was mentally very ill and vulnerable during this time. I remember even begging him to adopt me and believing that he might actually do it. But then one day after I’d begged him to do this, he dropped a bomb on me. I say a bomb because it crushed all of my hopes about our relationship as soon as it hit. He told me, “Not only do I love you like a father would a child, but I love you like a man would a wife.” He said, “If we lived in another time and place, I would marry you.” Then he made me promise I would take that secret to my grave. He also said that we were soul mates. In those moments, everything changed for me. The lie I had always believed about myself that everything bad that had happened to me was my fault flooded my mind. I believed my adopted father’s sexual abuse was my fault. I believed something dark inside of me brought it out in him. I believed that I had done the same thing to this pastor, and that no one could love me the way they were supposed to.

I believed I was bad and I accepted the sick and twisted version of what I convinced myself was the only kind of love that I was worthy to receive; sexual abuse.

Everything went downhill from there. It’s not helpful to talk about the details to me or anyone else, but a secret relationship continued for almost a decade after that. I learned to live a double life. I learned how to keep secrets even though they were crushing my soul. Even though I tried really hard to convince myself that what I was experiencing with this pastor was love, God wouldn’t let me believe it.

My heart was in chaos and pain every single day, because God never stopped pursuing me.

I have been blogging here for four years now. Every blog has been an effort to understand what happened to me and how to protect myself from it happening again. I’ve met many others on this journey who have shared stories which have been remarkably similar to my own. They are so resembling my story that it feels like abusers all use the same playbook. However, I’ve come to recognize it isn’t actually a playbook they are following, but rather a carefully crafted plan laid out by a very worthy adversary who knows us and our weaknesses better than we know them ourselves.

It is the truth alone that is able to set us free from the lies our enemy uses to snare us.

The truth about ourselves and our weaknesses.

The truth about our legitimate needs.

The truth about how much God loves us no matter what.

His perfect love casts out all fear.

In Christ Jesus, we have been set free.

We are no longer slaves.

He must increase.

We must decrease.

No man can ever take His place.

He does not share His glory with anyone.

These truths are the treasure hidden in the field that once we know it is there we will sell everything to aquire it.

Because we know how priceless it is.

Don’t stop seeking the truth.

God is truth.

We meet Him when we are honest with ourselves.

Honest with each other.

And honest with God.

He is real.

Don’t give up.

My story is a testimony that He is a God who keeps His promises.

Even what the enemy meant for evil, God will work it for our good.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NLT

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 ESV

You are Faithful Forever

Perfect in Love

You Are Sovereign over us.

Michael W. Smith

Legitimate Needs

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

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

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

I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.

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

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

It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.

On the surface…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

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

But will I let Him?

Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?

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

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

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

He is a Father to the Fatherless.

He is the Resurrection and the Life.

There is no shame in our legitimate needs.

They are what drive us to Him.

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

He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.

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

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner

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

Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

The Role of a Pastor

I think it’s important for me see the truth about what really happened that day in my former pastor’s office, so that I can be clear on other’s roles in ministry in my life.  I also believe it’s important that it be clear, so that I can know what my role is as a minister of God’s spirit to those around me as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what really happened on a spiritual level when I sought my former pastor for guidance about what God was doing in my life and was later spiritually abused. Recently, having become a part of another church that is starting to feel like a place where I belong is raising all sorts of questions in my mind. There’s still much confusion, even after all my writing and seeking the truth, about what parts of those moments in my former pastor’s office might have actually been something God was doing in my life. Sometimes I wonder if God was involved at all, and am really confused and question my own ability to trust God’s spirit in me. Because of spiritual abuse, I have much ambivalence about God’s work in my life. I question what is about me and what is about Him. I question who is serving Jesus and who is serving themselves. This keeps me in a lot of chaos. Thus the reason spiritual abuse is so harmful. It does damage to one’s soul.

Last week in a coversation with my therapist, we discussed an email exchange I had shared with her between myself, the pastor of the current church we’ve been attending and a female deacon. Because of my past history, I was too afraid to email the pastor without someone else being copied due to the fact the relationship with my former pastor began through email. On a side note, I want to say that I think that many times God places us back in situations similar to one’s we’ve been in before, not as a test, but rather to reveal to us how far we’ve come. I realized reading the email from the pastor that I was encouraged very much, but his words didn’t have the same power over me that my former pastor’s words did. My therapist made the statement that she felt the communication between myself and my new pastor seemed really good to her. However, when she used the words my pastor, I immediately reacted to what she said, and corrected her by adamantly saying he’s not my pastor. I prefer to call him by his first name. Being the good therapist that she is, she wanted to know where this reaction was coming from. She asked, “How do you define the role of a pastor?” She encouraged me to think about this. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

I think it’s important for me see the truth about what really happened that day in my former pastor’s office, so that I can be clear on other’s roles in ministry in my life. I also believe it’s important that it be clear, so that I can know what my role is as a minister of God’s spirit to those around me as well.

Last week the pastor’s mother of the church we’ve been attending asked me if I’d like to help serve communion at church. I was taken aback. I haven’t been at this church for very long, and I had a preconceived notion that this means I cannot serve in any capacity. However, clearly this church does not have this expectation. I was honored to be asked, but also very humbled.

Communion is something sacred that’s totally about God. But can I be honest? Initially, I wanted to make it about me. I wanted to think about how the church I was previously a part of did not allow women to serve communion. Only male elders were allowed to serve. I even made a joke to the same deacon I’d emailed, who I knew would understand, that I sure would like for those old boys to see me participating. But just as soon as the words came off my tongue, I corrected myself as I realized it was communion I was talking about. Then I followed up with, “Are you sure if I serve that it won’t start thundering outside?” She smiled at me and said, “I am quite sure.”

Being in the role of someone who gives another what God intends for them to receive, is an honored place indeed. But if I really think about, I recognize that serving communion is just one example of this. Actually, everything we do as children of God is giving to others what God wants them to have. But as human beings many times we miss this mark and make it more about us.

It’s so easy for me to place a pastor in a position of importance that in someway causes me to think he’s closer to God than I am. As a Christian raised in the south, men themselves in my mind were in a position of authority over me. Of course being a victim of multiple occurrences of sexual abuse throughout my life, caused me to feel like everyone was more important than me. I believed that I brought out the worst in people, and that the only thing I could give others was a curse. So it’s easy to understand why when I walked in my former pastor’s office and he hugged me and told me that he loved me that it was like receiving a tall, cold glass of water to my parched soul. In my mind he was good, he was close to God. In some way I thought this made me better, too. Actually, I recognize now that he represented God to me. But all that was ever supposed to happen in his office that day was for me to receive from God what He wanted me to have. And it wasn’t that I belonged to the pastor. It was that I belonged to God.

I suspect somewhere it did thunder that day when my former pastor took what God wanted me to have and used it for himself. Even though a pastor’s role does not make him any better or more important than any other child of God, it’s crucial that he take his role seriously, as he has the opportunity to make a huge impact on another’s life. He can bring much good or do much bad.

As I have thought about the role of a pastor, I’m recognizing that part of God’s plan is for me to have one, but I see this role totally different from how I did before. And I’m so very thankful for all God has healed in my life.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:11‭-‬16 NLT

Healing Connections

His statement shook me to the core.  I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

I’ve been on a writing streak lately. I keep thinking when I write one of these posts, it’s gonna be the last one for a while. But stuff just keeps coming to my mind and I need to get it out somehow, so here it is. Thanks for bearing with me, readers. This one is going to be a little rough.

Today, a familiar song was played at church. It was a song that my former abusive pastor used to sing sometimes in the sanctuary alone on a weekday about God’s love. A vivid memory flashed into my mind’s eye of him singing with tears in his eyes. I tried not to think about it. Tried to think of the words of the song and separate it from the memory of him, but I couldn’t. So I did the only thing I knew to do, I prayed that wherever he was that God would heal his heart even though the thoughts of him intruding my mind made me angry. How dare he invade my space again! Why can’t I just heal and move forward leaving the past in the past?

Memories of him also invaded my mind last night. At an after wedding party, a pastor in the family gently rubbed his hand up and down my back as he was leaving. It wasn’t inappropriate, but I was very aware it was happening. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Maybe it’s because he speaks the same language my former pastor did about grace and forgiveness and excusing pastors when they fall because they are imperfect. I tossed and tumbled when I got home in bed. My head ached from the glass of champagne I’d had. I got up to take ibuprofen. I drank a glass of milk and took a Melatonin and got back in bed. I tried to take deep breathes and focus on God, but the memory of this pastor’s hand on my back and our conversation shook me to the core. Why didn’t I speak up more for abused women while I was talking to him?! Why did I agree and say that if God could use a jackass he could use imperfect men? Why can’t I just speak instead of smile and nod and politely keep the peace? Why did I feel like others might be watching me talking alone to him and think the worst about me? My heart cried out to God, Will I carry this shame for the rest of my life?!

I felt a deep desire for my Heavenly Father to just come and let me crawl up in His arms and cry. I was so exhausted from the memories and the questions swirling in my head. Amazingly after a few moments, I sensed His presence there. I was finally able to go to sleep.

I’m overwhelmed with emotions in this season of my life. I question and I doubt and I struggle with shame. But then I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Yesterday morning, I woke up hopeful and ecstatic that God was healing my heart. I actually felt it. Driving down the interstate home from work the day before I shouted out loud because I felt so alive. Woo! What in the world is happening to me? Am I losing my mind?

My therapist explained to me last week that what I am experiencing is part of the healing process. She said that joy will come in spurts. I was relieved to know that at least it was normal, because it feels a little like I’m going off the deep end!

I usually spend a lot more time fine tuning my blog posts to make them flow better, but not this one it’s raw like my feelings are and kinda of crazy and all over the place. Somehow by writing it all down, I am trying to make sense of it all.

What is bringing about this change?

Why is God more real than He has been before?

Yesterday, I read the blog post Today’s Problem with Masculinity isn’t What You Think. It’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read, because it’s so insightful of not only the problem with masculinity, but the problem with so many of us; loneliness.

The author describes his experience serving in Iraq. He talks about the men serving alongside him giving him the strength to make it. He explained that often people think of those in the military as being a lot tougher than we think, but he went on to explain how serving together was really how they survived. He says:

Of the men I served with I can tell you about their life stories, fears, victories, relationships, and struggles. We’ve cried, hugged, laughed, and shared some of our deepest secrets with one another.

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gets lobbed around like a grenade in a china store as an explanation for why soldiers are killing themselves at an endemic rate, I believe the answer is much simpler. We’re lonely and lack the emotional intimacy we once had with our brothers in arms.

His statement shook me to the core. I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

Today, I wondered as the memory flashed in my mind of a man who caused me so much pain singing about God’s love how lonely he must have been been. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m not saying it should have been covered up. I’m certainly not saying he should ever be given the opportunity to abuse again. But what I am saying, is I believe loneliness and lack of connection can drive us to do terrible things. I know because I did terrible things. Standing in church, feeling like people actually care has given me a taste of something that has helped my own heart to realize that Jesus is indeed alive. This taste of life has also helped me to see how lonely I have really been. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also very, very good.

I think in our efforts to miminize abuse in the church, not only are we harming victims but victimizers as well. Grace is a free gift, but it’s not a cheap gift that merely covers our sins in denial or makes statements that excuse sin easily. Sin is costly, destroys, and leads to death. How can we ever take something so deadly lightly? I never ever want to live that life again. How can we think that the very grace that sets us free would allow us to stay in sin that holds us captive by minimizing it? It was this lie that kept me imprisoned. Grace indeed sets us free. It indeed covers all sin. But it never enables us to sin. That’s a huge lie. If we want to deal with abuse we must bring it into the light, and look at it and all the damage it’s done. As we see the damage, as we grieve the losses, then can we go to the root causes of why it happened and allow God to heal it. As God has done this work in my life, I’m realizing loneliness and lack of connection were the driving forces behind so many of my choices. And it’s possible it was the driving force behind my former pastor’s abuse. It’s not for me to judge his heart. It’s not for me to wonder about or try to fix, but I can pray that God would give him what he needs.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family. I’m hopeful that we have finally found somewhere we belong. But even if it’s not where we think it is, this journey is causing me to realize the importance of doing my part in caring about others around me and being kind because we all are all fighting difficult battles. And we fight them much better together than alone.

Jesus, help us to love one another.

What Love Really Means