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

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

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

Joy in the Darkness

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

I read this quote from Henri Nouwen this morning. His words hit home with me and the journey I have been on for the past few years.

One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my own Christian walk is acknowledging the darkness, and not becoming overwhelmed by it.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Why do children get abused and abandoned by the parents who were supposed to give them love?

How can I listen the cries at work of a heartbroken child wanting her Daddy to come get her and not feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and desperation I hear in her voice?

How can a father abandon his child?

What do I do with the news that a neighbor just down the street took a gun and killed his mother, child and then turned it on himself.

So much darkness, death, and despair.

The darkness creeps into my mind.

It wants to take over.

I struggle to find the light of hope.

Social media is full of memes and statements from friends who encourage positive thinking and pious platitudes meant to inspire and keep us looking up.

They only cause me to feel more darkness.

I will not pretend the darkness is not there. As horrible as feeling it’s pain is, it also let’s me know that I am still alive and part of the human race. My own pain has caused me to want to lock myself away in denial. To never look back at all the darkness that has taken place in my own life. But everytime I try to it feels like the lid of a casket coming down. There has to be a way to live in this world of darkness without being overwhelmed or living in denial.

As Nouwen says, the joy of the Lord is what causes us to look for the light when the darkness of the world creeps in.

We are not alone.

We are loved by a God who is kind.

A God who redeems and restores.

A God who transforms the darkness into light.

Sometimes I can’t see Him.

Sometimes I have to walk in the darkness feeling my way through looking for the light.

Sometimes I get lost and Jesus finds me.

But He never leaves us alone even when we choose darkness over the light.

He is a good Father.

Today, I’m thankful for those people in my life who continue to point me to the flashes of light of His love that shines through the brokenness of our lives. Thankful for those who walk through the darkness with me and let me know that I am not alone. You are flashes of light along the way. You are proof that although this world gets really dark, that darkness will not overcome the light of His love.

There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The Megaphone of Pain

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

Every time I finish a blog and press publish, I wonder if it was the last one written about a very painful chapter of my life. I wonder if I will finally be able to move on past it. But then something else comes up and I write another one.

Maybe we never stop retelling our stories.

Maybe they have to be retold in order for our hearts to acknowledge just how broken we are.

Maybe facing our brokenness and pain is the only way we can know just how much He loves us.

After writing here for four years, I have come to realize that it is the painful parts of our stories that we work so hard to escape that are actually where true relief and healing lie. It is when I distract myself from my pain, that I actually prolong healing.

Yet, I still distract sometimes.

But thank God He doesn’t allow me to do it for long.

He arranges situations, people, places and things together in such a way that I am unable to avoid what it is He wants me to see.

He is a good Father who knows just what we need.

I had never met the couple who sat at the poolside table with me on a church youth trip a couple of days ago. I can’t even explain how our small talk over pasta turned so personal so quick.

She was a pastor’s daughter with her own broken story to tell. Betrayal. Loss. Deception. Lies. Our stories collided as each of us shared. She did not appear bitter. Rather, it was clear she had worked hard to forgive her father for not being who she thought that he was. She did not judge me either. Instead, she and her husband voiced condolences over what I had experienced and prayed for me.

Lately, I have been exhausted and overwhelmed by so many stories of abuse in the church. With every story I read, I am reminded of my own pain again. Sometimes I just cannot go on reading. Sometimes I just want to put the past behind. To move on into what God has in the next chapter of my life. I had hoped this church youth trip would be an opportunity to take a break and maybe even start fresh.

But pain rose to the surface again. A deep sorrow over how my choices had hurt another pastor’s daughter. The overwhelming emotions caused me to a hug the stranger in front of me and tell her how sorry I was for what she had been through. I felt my heart heal a little more. The pain began to fade away. Other emotions followed. Grace. Love. Mercy. Peace. Redemption. Gratitude.

Why does He love us so much?

Why does He keep pursuing us even when run away?

I don’t know.

But He just does.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬5 ESV

Trust

The wounds are where the light shines through.

What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought.

“Telling Secrets”by Frederick Buechner. Scribd.

I miss so much of what God is doing in my life being lost in thoughts.

Trying to figure out all the reasons why things are happening the way they are.

The more I think.

The more I talk.

The more confused I sometimes get.

Sometimes God just wants us to be still and listen to what it is that He has to say in the every day, ordinary happenings in our lives.

Yesterday, sitting in church, I noticed a tear slowly trickling down from the corner of my daughter’s eye.

The pastor was talking about the role of a shepherd being to protect the sheep.

My brain was being bombarded by an overwhelming flood of thoughts.

Memories, questions, doubts, fears, hopes and dreams that one day it would all make sense.

I wanted to solve the problem of not knowing what God is doing. I hate not having the answers. I want to know if what I’m hearing is real. Is he sincere? Is this God speaking? Or am I being deceived all over again.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

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

Ambivalence.

But then I happen to glance next to me and see a tear slowly trickling down her face.

Sorrow mingled with hope filled my heart.

The wounds are where the light shines through. Switchfoot

And somehow I knew it was going to be ok.

Jesus is here.

Healing is happening for all of us.

Slow down, look and listen.

Stop thinking.

Loosen your grip.

Trust.

Be still.

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

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:7‭-‬10 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

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