A Different Lens

Our long and painful history with the church casts a dark shadow over what many people view as a ray of hope.

This morning I was writing a long time email friend about my ongoing struggle with attending church on Sunday. She stopped attending church years before. She has not stopped being the church, however. She has had a long and faithful walk with Jesus, and His love flows through the caring words that she writes to me. Even though we have never met, she encourages me on a regular basis. Our communication is true fellowship filled with weeping and rejoicing about our day to day lives. Even though we don’t meet together weekly, I believe that our relationship is church, and I am very grateful for her. Thank you, Nancy!

We talked about recently how our own upbringing and life experiences effect the way we view God, what we communicate about God and even the church we attend. As I have thought about it, I realize that trauma and abuse have caused me to view God, the church and other Christians through a different lens than I did before I was abused. My therapist once told me that what we see we do not unsee. How true it is that abuse brings about an awareness that others do not have. Abuse in the church has enabled me to recognize group thinking and what it leads to. For our family it led to minimizing the damage of abuse and feelings of abandonment from the people we thought would be in our lives long-term. It has helped me to recognize more easily unhealthy codependent patterns in relationships and narcissistic tendencies in church leadership. I am grateful for what we have learned. I believe it will protect us from getting caught in the same trap again. However, I also recognize that seeing these truths is a double edged sword that not only heals but harms, because it has also made it very difficult for our family to trust any church.

Daily my husband and I pray for wisdom and God’s direction on my commute to work in the morning. We honestly admit to one another and God that we don’t know what to do about our spiritual lives. We long to experience closeness and connection to God, but for us religious services can actually get in the way of this. Our long and painful history with the church casts a dark shadow over what many people view as a ray of hope.

I did not grow up regularly attending church. Our family attended a Methodist church on and off, but I remember very little about my experiences there. I saw glimpses of God in the books and movies that I read to escape an abusive childhood. I prayed for His help when I was lonely and afraid and overwhelmed. When I was nineteen God brought my husband into my life, and we started attending the conservative and reformed church he served as an elder in. After attending this church a few years, the congregation decided to get rid of a pastor we cared about over different political views. In the heat of the election year, true opinions came out, division happened and we left that church and to attend a traditional evangelical church in the community. My husband eventually became a deacon in this church and we started a small Sunday school group together. But after serving in this church a few years, a couple of members of my husband’s family got involved in some very messy scenarios involving this congregation. My husband being in leadership made things more difficult. He felt forced to make decisions concerning his family, and it became an even bigger mess. Once again we were uprooted from a church we had invested time and energy into. It was when we were exhausted, hurting and our wounds still fresh that we made the decision to leave that church and go to different reformed church. And this was the church where our family was spiritually abused by the pastor for ten years.

When I think back about the church experiences that I have had since I started attending church, they cast a long dark shadow indeed. It’s no surprise that we struggle to feel a part of another church. We’ve tried so hard to start fresh, but even after five years it is still difficult.

A therapist I work with recently spoke about one of Dan Siegel’s methods of dealing with overwhelming emotions. He encourages people to use the SIFT method to understand the why behind our painful emotions in an effort to help us deal with them more effectively. SIFT: S, sensations; I, images; F, feelings; and T, thoughts.

Using Siegel’s SIFT method, it becomes clear to me that I am continuing to view church through a traumatic lens.

Sensation: Unable to relax. Tightened stomach. Tightened neck. Inability to focus.

Images: Previous similar experiences in church that resulted in being harmed.

Feelings: Fear. Shame. Guilt. Anger. Disconnected from God. Judged. Grief. Sadness. Remorse. Unloved. Unaccepted. Rejected.

Thoughts: This is not safe. You have messed up and are too messed up to ever be accepted by others or God. God is done with you. You can’t do anything right. Your life will never get better.

Sometimes I am able to see these thoughts for what they are and tell myself that they are not true, focus on something else and not be so negatively effected by them. But sometimes the thoughts get in like a virus and overwhelm my psychological system and the mental misery can last for days. I think most of us fight similar mental battles depending on our own past hurts, and we all have to learn what triggers us, when we are most susceptible to these triggers, and find effective ways to dealing when they do come, however most people do not experience them around church unless they have experienced a similar trauma.

The lack of understanding in the church over psychological suffering that comes from trauma in the church makes church even that much more difficult to attend at times. Even the most loving people in the church who have so patiently listened to my hurt, I think struggle to know how to really help. I think I fear as well that my struggles are just too much for them, because I certainly feel at times that they are too much for me. The reality is that most people are not equipped to deal with spiritual abuse in the church, and I don’t need to expect that they are. When I am not triggered by a negative experience, I see people in the church more clearly … People who are fighting their own difficult battles the best way they know how. The reality is no one person will ever be able to give us everything we need. No one church will ever be able to say all the right things. As my email friend has reminded me more than once, people are a mixed bag of good and bad. We are broken. We are beautiful. From our mouths can flow blessings of encouragement to one another and curses that can crush each other’s spirits. As Steve Brown has said about church, we are “porcupines huddled together in a storm. If you don’t want to get hurt, you need to leave.” With all this being said, it is clear to me that ultimately in order to learn how to deal with our own internal struggles, it is important that we understand ourselves well, what brings up negative emotions for us, when are we most susceptible to them, and what can we do to help us deal with them more effectively. What is it that we really need?

As I process all I have written here, it is clear to me that I need a good understanding of who God is and how much He loves, accepts and values me. I need to know He is with me even when He feels a million miles away. I need to that no matter how many times I haven’t listened to Him, He never gives up on me.

I have a mental image that occasionally comes to my mind of Jesus smiling at me. His eyes are full of empathy. He is pleased with me. He wants me to know it and live in that knowledge. He wants to take away the heavy chains of shame and guilt, sorrow, regret and remorse. He wants me to feel light as a feather free from all of it. He wants to carry me in His arms and take me to rest beside still waters where He rejoices over me with singing. This is the The Jesus who came to me when I was in my 20s and my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t sit still and told me He had seen my suffering throughout my life, and He had been there through it all praying for me. This is The Jesus who whispered to me after ten years of abuse to come out into the light and be set free. This is the Jesus who weeps over sheep who have been stripped bare by a wolf. This is The Jesus whom I love. This is The Jesus I worship when I see another beautiful sunrise or sunset. This is The Jesus I see in the deer walking peacefully across our property or the little silver fish flipping on their sides and shimmering like jewels in our flowing creek. This is The Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. This is the Creator of all things Good. This is the One promising to bring restoration, healing, and peace to a world that sometimes feels as if it has gone mad. This is The same Jesus who hated the pain we are in so much that He got on a cross willingly to take it upon Himself to save us from ourselves. This is The Same Jesus loving those inside and outside the institutional church. He knows our forms. He remembers that we are dust.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…

My husband and I will keep looking for This Jesus not only inside our broken churches, but in our day to day lives. It all matters to Him. We matter to Him. This is the only lens that we can truly see Him through.

I am what you are most afraid of: your deepest, most wounded, and naked self. I am what you do to what you could love. I am your deepest goodness and your deepest beauty, which you deny and disfigure. Your only badness consists in what you do to goodness—your own and anybody else’s. You run away from, and you even attack, the only thing that will really transform you. But there is nothing to hate or to attack. If you try, you will become a mirror image of the same. Embrace it all in me. I am yourself. I am all of creation. I am everybody and every thing.”

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe by Richard Rohr

The Institutional Church Is Not God

Our wounds are where His light gets in and out.

Last night there was a post on Facebook reminding me that seven years ago I became friends with my therapist on social media. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the years of work we did together and the relationship of trust we built. I am not sure that I could have survived without her. Thank you, Sharon.

I also want to take this opportunity to say if you have experienced spiritual abuse, you deserve to find relief and experience healing. Going to a therapist does not mean you are weak. It means you are taking care of the valuable person that you are. It means that you want to live and thrive. It means that you are strong and brave. Good therapy is a gift from God, but sometimes that hasn’t been the message I have received from the church.

Many times I have walked away from a church service believing that if I just had enough faith I would not need therapy. It’s not that anyone says it directly. As a matter of fact, most people in church would probably tell me that going to therapy is a good thing to do. Rather, it’s a message I walk away from conversations, prayers and sermons feeling about myself. It’s a feeling that can cause a deep anger to rise up in me against religious things.

I have learned in therapy that the only way to get better is to honor my feelings, acknowledge them and express them in a healthy way. Writing for me is one of the most important tools I have for expression. I am one of those people who carry around emotions inside myself without even realizing it until my stomach starts to hurt and tell me something has to give.

A consistent painful emotion that continues to come out for me is one of anger and frustration towards religion. This time of the year especially brings it back up again. Five years ago during this time of the year, I couldn’t convince the church that abuse took place. The church leaders wanted that word to go away. They embraced half truths and false peace. They chose denial in an effort to protect the reputation of the church.

Even as the anger rises up in me towards my previous church leaders, so do other emotions; shame, guilt, and regret for the lies that I believed when I was being abused and the lies that I told to protect my own reputation. The words, Forgive them Father for they know not what they do resonate deeply inside of me. The shame and guilt begin to subside when I recognize just how broken and needy we all are; when I realize forgiving others is the only way to forgive myself. However, even after recognizing my own need for continual forgiveness, I still experience feelings of anger and frustration towards the institution of the church. Even as I write this, I hear a voice inside my head say that maybe I am angry with God. I have no doubt that hidden within my heart there are still so many emotions God has yet to bring to the surface, one of which is anger towards God. However, in this case I do not think that much of my anger towards the church has anything to do with a hidden anger towards God. I learned early in my healing journey from spiritual abuse that the only way to keep my faith in God was to separate the institutional church from Him. I have had to allow God to reveal Himself to me in other ways, because it has just been too painful to look for Him in the ways I did before in the institutional church.

Before I was spiritually abused, I was committed to the church. I was there almost every Sunday and Wednesday. When I wasn’t there, I was thinking about being there. I realize as I write this that in many ways the church was a home for me. And therein lies where the deep pain of betrayal is. The place I once believed was home let me down in ways I never believed it would. As an adopted child, I had always longed for a place I could belong. For a long time the church felt like that place. As I reflect back on those days, I realize that in my own desperation I made the church a lot more than what it was ever supposed to be. The church was never supposed to be home. The church was only supposed to be the place that reminded me of my real home in Him.

In some ways, the institutional church is like a movie about Jesus. Whenever I have watched a one, (even with Mel Gibson, as amazing as his portrayal was) it registers with me that no human actor will ever be able to portray the picture of who God really is. Our human understanding of Him will always fall short until we are fully transformed into His image.

We see things in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see him face to face. Nothing on earth reveals Him in all of His fullness, not a movie, not a pastor, and not the church.

Creation longs for redemption. Our hearts long for home. The best we humans can do is reveal Him through our flawed and fractured love for one another while we are here on earth. I think where a lot of my anger comes from is that the church sometimes communicates that it is the only way to God. At least that’s what I believed for a long time.

Sometimes when we believe this lie so much we turn to the church for help that they are not equipped to to give and sometimes are too proud to admit it. When this happens, tremendous damage is done. God created doctors and therapists to do His work. One should never look to the church to replace the work that God has gifted others to do. I’m not saying pastors can’t help, they do. But what I am saying is sometimes they are limited in what they can do. I believe every church should work with doctors and therapists and support their work as part of God’s redemptive plan.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the institutional church has all the answers. Don’t let a sermon make you feel like you don’t have enough faith in God because you are struggling with anxiety and depression. Don’t let another’s prayer make you feel guilty, because sometimes the only prayer you know how to pray is, help. Don’t let another’s facade that they have all the answers make you feel like there’s something wrong with you because you do not know what to do. Don’t think that just because you have been spiritually abused in church that it was God that brought you harm.

Broken humanity disguising itself as an angel of light truly does the destroyer’s work. However, humanity that knows and acknowledges that it is broken reveals the true light of Jesus through the cracks of our souls. Our wounds are where His light gets in and out. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. The Institutional church is not God. It’s a place where we can learn about God, worship God, but it was never intended to replace God.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9‭-‬10 ESV

The Gift of Hope

Real hope does not put us to shame.

I spent some time this morning thinking about these words.

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

Hope.

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

I did not know how much pain I was in.

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

And I believed he was my hope.

But the hope that he gave brought me much shame.

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

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

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

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

How much more can I possibly write about it?

How much more can I possibly say that I forgive?

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

I wish I knew.

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

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

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

I confess sometimes it just feels too hard.

I heard a pastor discussing spiritual abuse a while ago.

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

His words hurt even if they were true.

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

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

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

They just don’t have enough faith.

They just aren’t pursuing God enough.

Reading their Bible enough.

Praying enough.

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

Try telling that to someone with a cancer diagnosis.

Why is mental illness any different?

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

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

We are not victims.

We are survivers.

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

I believe it.

But it is a process.

And there is no exact formula for everyone.

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

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

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

Learn from the past.

What we see we will not unsee.

Respond differently.

Respond better.

Speak up.

Be honest.

Be kind to ourselves.

Ask for help.

Never give up.

Look to God for help.

For me this looks like today reading one scripture verse.

One simple promise.

That God’s hope does not disappoint.

His love has not abandoned us.

It is the gift of hope.

And real hope does not put us to shame.

Changes

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:18‭-‬19 ESV

Lately, I’ve been thinking that God is going to change some things in my life, and I am scared to death.

Why do we resist change?

What is it about it that feels like such a threat?

Change means that we temporarily will be in unfamiliar territory where we will feel out of control.

But newness cannot come without change.

As I think about changes, my mind goes back to situations that have not turned out at all like I thought they would.

I was so full of hope when my pastor told me I would be delivered. I believed that God was going to heal me. But then I was harmed even more.

Remember not the former things…

But how can I forget?

I long to forget.

To grab hold of the new.

But what keeps me from it?

Fear of more disappointment and pain.

Is God playing tricks on me?

Can He be trusted to really deliver on His promises?

The conversation in my head sounds all too familiar.

The garden.

A serpent.

Filling her head with lies.

And she listened.

So did I.

So do I.

But how do I not listen and believe his lies?

Especially when changes come.

Especially when I have lost so much.

What is holding me back?

Grief.

So much.

Why can’t I let go?

What do I need to let go of to grab hold of something new?

Control of my emotions.

It is OK to admit that I am not strong.

That I need help.

Getting help makes me vulnerable.

How do I know that I won’t be harmed again?

I don’t know that I won’t.

But I do know now that I have choices even if someone tries to abuse me.

God has given me a voice to stop it and to ask for help.

Not everyone is out to abuse.

Some people care.

It’s ok to let them.

Help me, God.

Help my unbelief.

Help me to let go.

To accept change.

To receive the new.

To hope again.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

The Power of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Season for Acceptance

There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven– A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.
ECCLESIASTES 3:1‭-‬8 AMP

Acceptance.

Just let go.

Move on.

It sounds so easy.

But it’s been incredibly hard for me.

So many unanswered questions.

So much doubt, fear and second guessing myself.

All the shoulda, coulda, and wouldas are hard to let go of and move past.

Rather they feel like a hundred knots in my stomach that just twist tighter the more out of control I feel.

Regret.

A family member warned my husband a few years ago, you can live with a lot of things, but you don’t want to live with regret.

Regret feels like a prison cell.

One cannot change the choices that they have made.

One can only say to themselves, If only I’d done it differently.

Therefore do everything you can to avoid regret.

Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge.

Sometimes our choices result in things happening that profoundly impact the direction that our lives will go.

Sometimes we lose things and people we care about, and no matter how much we would like to have them back we cannot.

I heard someone say recently that God always desires reconciliation.

Does that mean we keep trying to somehow change the outcome even with those in our lives who continue to hurt us?

Does that mean that we open up old wounds of others that we have harmed?

All because we don’t want to live with the regret of irreconcilable differences?

Or does it mean we just accept things as they are and move on?

These are questions that I have been wrestling with lately.

My mother passed away last October.

My father-in-law is nearing the end of his life.

The finality of death brings up many unanswered questions.

What can we do to keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with the shame of regret?

I have to believe that if God is the loving Father that the Bible portrays Him to be, then His desire is for us not to live in regret.

If God had wanted us to be stuck in the consequences of our sin, He would not have sent Jesus.

His forgiveness has set us free from the prison of regret.

Because of Jesus, there is always a way out.

Sin no longer leads to death.

We are promised resurrection and life.

But new life can look different than what we think.

And it can look different for all of us depending on the appointed time or season of life God has us in.

Sometimes it means we still lose what we wish we’d had.

Sometimes it means we find what we always wanted.

Sometimes it means a lifetime of unmet needs.

Sometimes it means God meeting needs in ways we never imagined.

People believed that Jesus would be the promised Messiah who would fix a broken political system and make things right.

But Jesus wasn’t at all what most people expected.

His ways were past finding out.

They still are.

But I confess I still try to figure them out.

My mother is gone.

My relationship with Jesus never brought about reconciliation between me and her.

Was it because I didn’t pursue reconciliation hard enough?

Was it because she couldn’t handle the truth of how much harm my adopted father’s sexual abuse caused me?

Was I simply too afraid to trust Jesus in my relationship with her?

Or did He show my mother mercy by sparing her pain in her final days?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that God does not want me stuck in regret.

Nor does my Mom.

There is a time to give up what has been lost.

My mom didn’t meet my needs.

I think she tried.

Even if it wasn’t hard enough.

I didn’t try hard enough either.

Sometimes there’s just too much water under the bridge.

Sometimes all we can do in the end is offer one another peace and forgiveness.

This is acceptance.

This is the only way I can live with myself.

We are all in different seasons of our lives.

Some of us are called to reconcile.

Some of us are called to accept what we have lost.

Life is difficult, complicated, confusing, and painful.

The universe is broken.

Let us stir one another up to make better choices.

But let us also accept that we do not have all the answers.

Let us point one another to the One who does and be kind.

He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]–yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
ECCLESIASTES 3:11 AMP

Caught – Our Unseen Hope

And yet He still whispers it is finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painful Reminders and God’s Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Won’t Let you Go