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

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

Joy

Demons love to be analyzed…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if it’s all a lie?

What if you are being deceived again?

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

Demons love to be analyzed…

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

God, please help me!

Stop fighting.

Stop analyzing.

Be still.

Trust.

He promises living water.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen.

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

It’s merely hope unseen.

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

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

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

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

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

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

Photo credit

My Words

Jesus said that what is in our hearts come out of our mouths. He wants us to speak.

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
Matthew 12:33‭-‬37 NLT

I will never forget the day I was told that my name would be given and my story would be told the way that they wanted it to be told. I was on the other side of the country. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I had lost all control over what happened there. I hung up the phone and walked into the bathroom, got down on the floor and began to pound and scream into the carpet. I kept hearing the words, “Your name will be given.” I had lost all control.

I have come to understand that when people like me who have suffered from abuse lose control, it brings much pain. On this day, I felt more pain than I had in a long time time. I think after all the years of numbing my pain, I had almost forgotten what it felt like. Being faced with the reality that I had no choice over how my story would be told, what people would think, came crashing in on top of me. Who I was suffocated under the debris. The dust filled my lungs, and I lost my voice. My name would be given, my story would be told the way that they wanted it to be told. I could not do anything to stop it from happening.

They had taken my voice. They would rewrite my words.

For years I’d learned how to pretend everything was fine, to keep everyone happy and thinking that I was a person who was at least trying to do the right thing, but I wasn’t doing the right thing and sometimes I didn’t even want to. But I knew how to say what they wanted to hear. All I wanted was for my pain to go away.

When I told the truth about the lie I’d been living, I believed that others would show me compassion, dig down deep into their own stories and somehow help me to be able to live with what I had done. But that was my mistake projecting what I felt at the time onto them. They hadn’t lived what I had lived. They didn’t see what I saw. They only saw what had brought them harm, and they wanted their own pain to go away. And they told the story in such a way that would minimize the damage that had been done.

Isn’t that what most of us do? Do whatever we can to make the pain go away? Attempt to return to normalcy as quickly as possible when everything falls apart? That’s certainly what I did when I made a terrible choice to place my trust in the wrong person. I gave him all my hopes and dreams and believed that I was putting them in the right place. He was the father I had always wanted but never had. He was the first person I’d ever met that I felt totally accepted by. The first time he hugged me the world seemed like a safer place.

Working at a residential treatment program for people who have suffered from all kinds of trauma is teaching me so much about life, pain, and our deep need to be loved. I see myself in their stories. I weep inside over all they have lost. My heart leaps with joy when they learn how to trust the people who are helping them and begin the process of healing. They are in a place where people can truly help them.

The hardest thing for me to do is to learn how to trust again, to speak again with the voice that God gave me. The reality is that what I say can and will be misunderstood, and I will be judged. The lack of control I have over how others see me is terrifying.

Jesus said that what is in our hearts come out of our mouths. He wants us to speak. Our words can build others up. Our words can tear others down. They can bring hope or they can bring despair. But our words are a true reflection of who we are no matter how they effect others. We must not let others take away the things that we need to say about our own stories, because being honest about who we are is what reveals God’s glory in our lives through who He created us to be.

That day in that bathroom pounding in the floor somewhere inside of me I think I thought I lost the right to ever speak again. I believed that my words were too damaging to others and that the truth that I knew was too toxic for others to hear. So I found a safe place to write. Here on this blog where no one had to know who I was, where I was, and they could choose to read or not to read and I didn’t have to look at them and know the choice that they made or experience their judgment about what I had said.

But I do not believe that God will have me be silent forever on an anonymous blog. I am learning how to speak again ever so slowly. I am learning that others are trustworthy to tell my story to. Healing takes time. Piece by piece, I have been able to give back to God my life that came crashing down. He has breathed life into my lungs. He is giving me words to speak again. I am so very thankful.

Please know that if abuse has somehow stolen your voice, you can speak again. Your words matter, especially to God.

Yesterday, in my despair over still being too afraid to speak, I thought about making the pain go away again. I wondered if I was destined to always make bad choices, to trust the wrong people, to be toxic to others lives. I considered for a moment returning to that life. At least the pain went away temporarily there. At least I didn’t have to think so much about what I needed to say. I cried out in anger and frustration to God. And He heard. His kindness and compassion flooded my soul. He knew my pain only too well. He told me it was OK and He loved me in return.

Even if you haven’t found anyone that you have felt safe enough to talk to, please know that God wants to hear what you have to say. He longs to show us compassion. He prays for us when we cannot speak the words. He keeps our tears in His bottle. He longs to wipe away all of our tears.

We can trust Him with our words.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 NLT