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.”

The Power to Change

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:3‭-‬8 ESV

I have to confess, most of the time I get frustrated if I think others are telling me what to do.

I’ve heard Steve Brown say he likes to argue with stop signs, and I know just what he means.

It’s not that I want to be difficult and resist those who want to motivate me towards positive changes.

It’s that I don’t like the pressure I feel when someone tells me what to do.

Lately, I have been trying to understand what is behind this frustration I feel.

Don’t we go to church and small groups to encourage one another to do good works?

Don’t we need the encouraging directives of others to help us bring about positive changes in our lives?

Maybe these directives are indeed what some need to bring about positive change, but to me they can just feel like another weight added to an already heavy load.

After a couple of days this past week of mental pain and questioning if I really was just a rebellious Christian who didn’t want to obey, I spent some time praying. God in His kindness answered me and helped me to understand what was really going on.

For most of my life there was an unspoken rule in my house.

Don’t do anything that will make your parents unhappy.

Life at home was like walking through a mine field, and I never knew when I might trip on a live wire causing everything to blow up.

Dan Allender says in his book The Wounded Heart that abuse victims often blame themselves when abuse occurs, because this gives them a false sense of control over what happened to them. It is too much for a child’s mind to fathom that a parent would choose to harm them. This means they have no control over the bad that happens to them, so they look for control wherever they can find it., and blaming themselves is where many do.

My own false sense of control came by embracing an identity full of self-contempt.

My pastor pointed out recently how he believed that Satan often uses sexual abuse to imprint shameful lies on a person’s soul. His words struck a chord with me.

I had no doubt that It’s all your fault is the lie that Satan had imprinted on my soul long ago.

Taking responsibility for everything that happens in one’s life is a load that becomes increasingly heavier as we become older. Sooner or later it becomes too heavy to carry anymore. It’s then that Satan comes in and whispers another lie, You can’t do anything right. You are powerless to change anything that happens to you.

When I became a Christian in my twenties, I embraced my identity as a child of God and felt free for the first time in my life. I was motivated to go to church, read the Bible, share my faith, and encourage others to do the same. I began to believe finally that I wasn’t a total screw up. But then things in the church that involved people I was close to began to spiral out of control. Even though the circumstances were out of my control, I began to question if I had done something wrong. When an angry family member pointed out that I was to blame for some of the chaos, I began to believe the lie again that it was my fault.

Transformation is a process in our lives. As I look back on my early days as a Christian, I know that what God started in my life then was real. I truly belonged to Him. But there were still so many losses that I hadn’t grieved, so much darkness that needed to be brought into the light. Also, a lot of death that needed to happen so that I could truly experience life.

When I started to believe that everything that went wrong in the church was my fault, the lie that I was powerless over my life and choices began to take root. When an abusive leader told me that I belonged to him, I found what I thought was relief. It felt like a cup of cold water in the desert, until he became a drug that sucked every bit of life out of me. But thank God His kindness called me back out into the light.

I still struggle with confusion over how a Christian could make the choice to stay in an abusive relationship for ten years and live a double life. But nevertheless, I did. I wonder sometimes was there anything surrounding all the circumstances that led me towards making that choice that could have made a difference? What could have stopped me from believing such a lie about myself? Did I need more people giving positive directives? Did I need more encouragement to do the right thing? Did I have the power within myself to change? Aren’t these the question most of us ask ourselves when we sit in church on Sunday morning, especially when one has experienced many painful consequences of sin?

More than anything else I want to tap into the source that brings about true change in my life. I never want to go back to the deadened life that I lived. I never want to embrace the lie again that everything is my fault. I never want to believe that it’s all up to me to change my life and fail miserably again. I know that I cannot do it on my own.

Neil Anderson said a long time ago, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The truth is sometimes people give advice because they really do care. And if I run everytime I feel like someone is trying to tell me what to do, my world will become a very lonely place. I know that part of my healing journey is sticking around and letting others care about me even when some of the things they do or say might cause me discomfort or pain. This is not to say that anyone should stay in an environment that is abusive. We should always flee those kinds of environments. I’m talking about learning to trust others again after one has experienced imense hurt and betrayal.

However, I think it’s important that those who are in ministry realize in the times that we live in where so many have been hurt by the church, that there are a lot of other people who are just like me, who have been abused and are carrying a heavy load of responsibility for what happened to them. We need loads lifted, not added. We need to know that what happened to us is not our fault. We need to know that we are loved by God and others even when we don’t know how to take your advice.

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

Steve Brown also likes to say that Christians are like porcupines huddled together in a storm. If we stay together we will get hurt. But if we leave, we miss an opportunity to be loved.

Dear God, help us to stay and to love one another.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 ESV

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Romans 7:10‭-‬25 ESV

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

Jesus Wept

Jesus weeps for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did Lazarus have to die?

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

Why do parents choose addictions over their children?

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

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

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

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

It is finished, He said.

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

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

Jesus wept.

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

Jesus weeps for us.

In our suffering we experience connection with Him.

We find forgiveness.

By His wounds we are healed.

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

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

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

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

Jesus, Make us One

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

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

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

Where is the oneness Jesus prayed that we would have?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, make us one.

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

Hope

Somewhere in our hearts, the source of true hope is hidden.

Somewhere in our hearts, the source of true hope is hidden.

Humanity looks everywhere for hope in what it can see.

As I sit here and reflect, I can come up with a long list of things I believe will bring relief if they will just happen.

At the top of my list is finding a place that we can finally call home.

A place where we don’t have to move again.

A place that feels safe.

A place where we belong.

But things are still unsettled and might be for a while.

Why do I look for hope in what I can see?

Hope that is seen is not hope.

The frustrations continue.

Comparing myself to others.

Not smart enough.

Not skinny enough.

Not rich enough.

Not good enough.

The mirror does not hold my hope either.

No amount of knowledge, beauty, money, or good works can bring me hope.

Somewhere in my heart the true source of hope is hidden.

When the time is right.

When I am tired of looking.

When I am tired of fighting with myself.

The true source of hope speaks.

He has been here all along groaning and sighing with me in these longings that are too deep and painful for words.

He knows what I need.

He prays for it on my behalf, because He knows that I don’t know what it is.

He’s seen what I have suffered.

He has wept for me.

He is my one true Father.

I do not need another one.

I belong to Him.

He belongs to me.

He is home.

He loves me.

The real me.

Not who I think I need to be.

He is my hope.

Somewhere in my heart the true source of hope is hidden.

Only when I stop looking for it in what I see, do I find Him.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:22‭-‬30 ESV

Rushing to Belong

All of my running seems really in vain when I stop and think about where it has gotten me in the past.

Lately, I’ve been reading Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. This book has opened my eyes to how desperately I long to belong, and how easily I allow life to cause me to miss the ways that God says I already do.

I realized yesterday how quickly I rush through life. I was frustrated when my computer software was not allowing me to log into the program I needed to use. I wanted to get to the store, but the person on the online chat was keeping me from it. After an hour, with still no resolve, I closed the computer to wait until next week to get someone on the phone who could help solve my problem. I went to the store much later than I planned, which was fine, because actually I didn’t have anything else that I needed to do. Yet, I was rushing for no reason. Running when I didn’t need to be.

I started asking myself this morning why I am running and rushing so much? What is there that I hope to find when I stop running? Why can’t I just settle into the moment, doing what needs to be done taking my time? Is something chasing me, or am I afraid I will miss something if I slow down? Rushing is like driving too fast, most of the time one saves very little time and uses way more gas and energy. I know this in my head, but applying it is another story.

If I look behind, I realize nothing is chasing me and forcing me to move at a much faster pace, other than a culture that seems to always be in a hurry. I believe that I am running towards something that I hope to attain. As I have thought long and hard about this question, I believe Richard Rohr helped me to see what it is. I believe that I am rushing through life in an effort to finally find that place where I belong.

My husband recently had a job change. He’s driving four days a week and almost 200 miles a day. If he goes to full-time at this job, we plan to purchase a home closer to where he works. I struggle so much with staying where we are and waiting until we move. The reality is one day we won’t be here in the town we live in. We will be somewhere else that maybe we can call home.

The past three years of living in the town we are in now has been very difficult for us. Healing from the trauma and losses suffered in our previous church and family has been a slow process.

A three hour conversation over coffee with our real estate agent was an enlightening experience. She encouraged me to let finding the right house just happen, and not try to force it. She pointed out how people often become addicted to looking at houses on real estate apps. She said that sometimes people are still looking for houses after they have already purchased and moved into the one they want. It seems that what we look so diligently to find falls way short of what we expect it to be.

A house in a neighborhood can easily offer the false hope that this is the place we will finally belong.

A pastor who spoke for God on Sunday and flattered me with empty words on Monday felt like belonging, too.

All of my running seems really in vain when I stop and think about where it has gotten me in the past.

It seems to me as Richard Rohr so wisely points out that I need to slow down and realize that I already belong just where I am even if we may not always be here.

But what is logical and what I understand I need to be doing in my head, doesn’t always make it to my heart. Acceptance is a long and grueling process that doesn’t offer the instant gratification that I’m used to receiving when I chase after the things that I want. Acceptance means that I need to slow down, take a deep breath and wait which seems impossible to do for someone like me.

But what if I could believe that God can give me what I’ve been rushing through life so quickly to find? What if I could know that slowing down would actually give it to me? I’d have to slow down to actually know that, right?

How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why isn’t it obvious? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our reality.

Excerpt From: “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” by Richard Rohr. Scribd.

God is already with us. Therefore the belonging that I am rushing to find is already here.

What sweet relief this knowledge brings.

I can slow down.

Stop looking.

I already belong.

And this is everything.

Help me, God, to not forget.

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

Ephesians 2:19‭-‬22 MSG

If you are like me and need every encouragement to slow down, this video is a wonderful way to remember how to do this:

Godspeed

What I Wish Others in Ministry Knew about Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is an issue that’s making the headlines across a lot of magazines and newspaper articles today, but far too often it’s easy to conclude an “us and them” mentality, and assume after the shock of what we have read wears off that it won’t or isn’t happening in our church.

The church is full of broken people, so we shouldn’t be surprised it’s happening all around us. Rather, we should expect it and be prepared.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3 ESV

My former pastor wasn’t prepared that one day he’d be brought up on spiritual abuse charges when he began counseling me.  I certainly never planned to be the one to bring him up on charges.  I just wanted his help in what was a very confusing time in my life.  

My family had recently become members of the church he pastored.   He was an excellent teacher who appeared very wise.  My husband and I had come out of a recent bad church experience where leadership had fallen weak in dealing with serious issues.  We were drawn immediately to this pastor’s outward strength, grit and ability to lead the church well. 

In early 2004, I did what many church members do and sent an email to my pastor asking for help.   I’d been struggling for a long time with confusing  memories of childhood sexual abuse.  I was desperate for answers, and someone who would understand and care enough to listen. 

From my perspective, this pastor really seemed to care.  He answered my emails in a timely manner, and eventually after communicating that way for a short time, he began to call me.  

During the course of one of our phone conversations, the pastor communicated to me how much he’d started to to care about me,  and what an encouragement I was to him. He said we shared a soul connection. 

I didn’t expect the reaction I had to his words.  I didn’t understand at the time my own desperation and longing for connection and attention.  I believed he was God’s gift of an earthly father who was providing all the things that had been lacking in my relationship with my own father. 

What I didn’t understand was the powerful flood of emotions my relationship with this pastor awakened in me.  He became all I could think about day and night.   The only thing that comes close to describing what I felt was a story of addiction to cocaine I heard a former youth pastor tell me.  He said after the first snort of coke he was so exhilarated he couldn’t wait until his next hit. His journey took him to an actual prison.  I had no idea I was headed to a destiny not so different.

Then a few months later things spiraled even further out of control when, my pastor confessed to me that he would marry me if circumstances were such that he could.  Up until this time,  I’d looked up to him as a father figure. This news shocked and exhilarated all at the same time. I was ashamed but rejoicing; hating myself and feeling more special than I ever had.  I was the woman who brought out the worst in my pastor,  but also the woman he was willing risk everything for.  The little girl who’d told this pastor her most terrible secrets, and who’d hoped she would be free of all of her shame, curled up in the dark corners of my subconscious and began to cry. Self-contempt and ambivalence took over my heart and mind in a consuming flood. I became powerless to think clearly as the rush of conflicting emotions caused me dissociate.  I came to believe I couldn’t live without this man, and I swore I’d never tell a soul.

He (Jesus) also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:39-40 ESV

And ten years later, we were still in a ditch all  tangled up in a mess of lies and secrets we were keeping from our families and the church. 

The lies had so wrapped so tightly around my heart over the years until I came to the place that I  knew if they were not cut away that I would die.  After many years of struggling with the Lord(He so desperately wanted me to be free!), I finally confessed the truth to another pastor.

To make a long story short, my abusive pastor, who’d recently retired, was deposed from the ministry, and a public meeting was held at the church with my elders and the new pastor of the church giving a brief and edited explanation of what had occurred. Rather than calling what happened spiritual abuse and treating me as a victim, they gave my name and the pastor’s names to the congregation.  Many walked away from the meeting thinking only an unfortunate affair had occurred. 

Since that time, our family has moved away from that town and withdrawn our membership from that church.  We’ve  been in counseling now for over a year since.  It has a very confusing and difficult time for our family, and one that I believe could have been prevented with more education in the church on ways to prevent spiritual abuse. 

As I said initially,  we are all broken human beings and spiritual abuse isn’t something we can afford to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it won’t happen to us.  In a world where one in every four women are sexually abused, and one in every six men are, there are many victims in churches desperately seeking help, many times from the pastor.  The pastor needs to be prepared when victims come. It is my hope that my story can be one of the ways pastors and church leaders can learn.

I don’t know the reasons why my pastor did what he did, but I can guess some. Maybe he was overworked, burned out, feeling underappreciated, lonely and desperate much like I was. Maybe his own longing for connection caused him to make terrible choices just like me. 

God doesn’t intend for us to live the Christian life alone.  We need one another.  We need love, understanding,  and others who will listen and not judge. We need those who recognize their own brokenness and who will humbly come alongside of us as wounded healers when we fall and help pick us up again.  We need someone who will sit with us in our sorrow,  not be shocked by our sin, who’ll remind us where our righteousness comes from (not our goodness but Jesus!), and who will love us like Jesus does.  Victims of abuse need this.  Pastors need this. Because when we don’t have these kinds of connections in our lives, we look for them in places where we will only do more damage to our souls and others around us.

I think the best place to start is by just being honest about our needs and our brokenness, and to stop pretending we are a perfect church, rather than a desperate church who needs a perfect Jesus. Maybe if we do this we will stop being so shocked by one another’s sins.  Maybe others will find courage to be honest when they hear us being honest. Maybe in our vulnerability we will find connection and learn how to really love like Jesus. His love will never fail even when we do.

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 MSG