Real Redemption

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is. Sharon Hersh

I don’t like to talk about how broken I really am.

I don’t like to think about the damaging effects sexual abuse has had on my life.

I don’t like to acknowledge how dark my thoughts have been.

I’d much rather put on a positive front and pretend I’m much more together than I really am.

I’d much rather you think it’s all in the past and that those things don’t still effect me.

But the truth is, I am still very much broken, hurting and needy.

Sometimes I just manage to convince myself I’m a lot better than what I really am.

But then things come up that remind me of my past and I remember.

I’m hit with the cold, stark reality of how broken I really am.

And it’s really messy.

So messy that I throw my decision to eat healthy once again right out the window and pull through the drive in at Dunkin Donuts. Two chocolate cream filled donuts provide two minutes of sweet pleasure and relief, followed by a stomach ache and thoughts that just return.

Why is it so difficult to face the pain of how desperate and needy I really am?

Why do I run to everything else before I run to Jesus?

Because I like to be in control.

But I’m not really in control.

And that’s what terrifies me the most.

People can and will hurt you.

I can and do hurt myself.

My body longs for redemption and relief.

My soul longs for a world where all the wrongs will be made right, where little boys and girls won’t be abused anymore.

Where our perfect Heavenly Father will meet our every need.

The dark, unimaginable horror stories I’ve heard and seen in my own lifetime in even small glimpses cause me to realize why Jesus had to die.

Sin indeed leads to death.

It is horrible. More horrible than our minds want to imagine.

We desperately need redemption.

This truth is never more clear than when things are falling apart.

When we try to cover up our pain what does the rest of the world see?

Do they see broken people made whole?

Or do they see people who manage so well on their own that they don’t need to be redeemed?

In order for something to be redeemed, you have to acknowledge how broken it is.

Jesus, grant us the courage to acknowledge our pain. To cling to your righteousness for our covering alone. The world is desperate and hurting and needs to see your real redemption at work. May our brokenness be the cracks where your light shines through.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…
2 Corinthians 5:1‭-‬4 ESV

Opening Our Hearts After Abuse

He won’t let us go.

If we never open our hearts again after abuse, we believe that we can protect ourselves.

But really what happens is we get trapped inside ourselves with only our painful memories.

If we keep our hearts closed, we will suffocate and die.

We need love to live.

We need to let the trauma out.

Everytime I begin to crack the door open, my hypervigilent mind goes back to the time when I opened my heart to a man who told me the things that I so desperately longed to hear.

The more I see the potential for love, the stronger the memories become.

The closer we get to what we truly need, the more our enemy works to keep us from it.

My abuser’s words whisper to me all over again.

You are beautiful.

You are special.

You belong to me.

We are soul mates.

I will never leave you.

His words caused my heart to open wide to receive whatever he wanted to give me.

But what I received was abuse.

Is it any wonder that one would want to close their heart forever after such a thing?

Abuse causes deep shame for the desires that we had that caused us to open our hearts.

But the desires were never the problem.

Let me say that again. Our desires are not the problem.

The one who decided to lure us in through our desire was the problem.

An evil so dark and insidious that wanted to kill us.

He wanted to take us from Him.

He wanted to destroy what God created for good.

A fish hook with a worm dangling from it causes the fish to pursue it, because of it’s hunger.

However, once it’s mouth has clamped down on what it thinks is food pain happens.

The fish is caught, but not because of it’s desire for food. It was the fisherman who used it’s desire against it to meet his own needs.

It’s very difficult for me to separate my desire from shame. As soon as desire comes, I begin to fear that it will get me into trouble again.

The same desires that caused my heart to open up and receive abuse, are the same desires that God placed in us that cause our hearts to open to Him.

How do we open our hearts to receive from Him?

How do we trust again?

How can we risk again?

It starts with a desire to escape the numbness that being locked inside our own selves causes.

God gently nudges at our hearts letting us know He is there.

He gently leads us showing us the things that we need to see in order to be able to trust and risk again.

The truth that sets us free.

His perfect love that casts our fear.

His love is patient.

He will not stop reminding us.

He’s got us even when we think we can’t hold onto sanity for another moment.

He won’t let us go.

God, help us to know this and to open our hearts to receive the love that you have to give.

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.
Song of Songs 4:7 NLT

For he said, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.
Zechariah 2:8 NLT

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.
1 John 4:4 NLT

But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
1 Corinthians 6:16‭-‬17 NLT

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
Hebrews 13:5 NLT

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

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

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

What Fills You Up?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Philippians 2:3‭-‬7 ESV

Jesus emptied Himself.

As I think about these verses, I recognize how many times throughout my day I’m looking for something to fill me up. I don’t like being empty. I want to be full and satisfied.

It never ceases to amaze me how conversations with my therapist cause me to really think about things in ways I haven’t thought about them before. Yesterday, we talked about the role emptiness plays in spiritual abuse. I felt empty, spiritually depleted and desperate when I went to my former pastor for help. This put me in an incredibly vulnerable position to him. His role as a pastor was to encourage me to find what I needed from Jesus, but instead he became the person who fulfilled my needs.

As I look back on that time, I am blown away by how subtle the deception was, but also how similar the feeling of fullness that I recieved from him was to my experiences with God in the past.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

We can indeed be filled with something that feels good and be misled into believing it is from God.

That’s why it’s so important to ask ourselves what really is filling us up?

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, we’ve been attending a new church. It’s been a good experience thus far. I’m actually starting to feel like I’m experiencing life again. However, in some ways this is frightening to me, because I am afraid of being deceived again.

The question my therapist and I discussed was how can I know if what’s happening is real? How can I know if I’m being filled with the goodness of God? The answer is as simple as thinking about what it really is that fills me up.

The pastor of this church has a lot of energy. I only recently realized that this church is actually charismatic. I have had a preconceived notion about charismatics for most of my life. The stories I’d heard about what went on in some churches like this had always turned me off. They seemed out of control and unstable. And for someone like me that was a complete turn off. Holding it together on the outside is extremely important to me. I don’t like to dance, hold my hands up, or even pray out loud. I much prefer the comfort of hiding behind my screen writing about Jesus behind the scenes. I wonder if God doesn’t get a chuckle from leading me to a charismatic church where I am hearing from Him more clearly than I have in a long time. The pastor of this church has been a conduit for some of what I’ve heard. And lately God has been speaking to me a lot about how He uses our brokenness to reveal the light of His love. In this scenario, it would be incredibly easy to look to the pastor as the source of what I’m hearing, rather than God. It would also be easy to allow myself to feed off of this pastor’s energy and become dependent on him rather than God. I recognize only too well from my past experience how easy it is to be filled with the wrong thing which does not feel at all like the wrong thing. The energy one recieves from allowing another person to fill us can very closely resemble God’s filling in our lives. That’s why it is in the forefront of my mind how incredibly important it is to ask myself what it is that is filling me.

As broken human beings in a world that so much of the time feels out of control, we don’t like to feel empty or to wait on God. Doing so can feel like a waste of time. It’s hard not to grab hold of the first thing that comes along that looks appetizing and want to consume it. Our Western culture in particular struggles with this. I’ve really been struck lately by just how consumeristic we are and how much this has effected me. It’s taken me years to finally realize if I consume all of the food that I want to eat when I want to eat it, I will only experience a short term benefit followed by an overwhelming feeling of sickness. It seems the older I get the more I really have to pay attention to what I am putting in my mouth. I am learning this about my spiritual life as well. What I choose to allow to fill me up can make all the difference between how I feel on the other side of consuming it.

Yesterday, my daughter and I spent some time sharing with the pastor our past hurts and current fears about the church. I have felt lately the only way to move forward past these fears is to face them head on. Walking in the doors of the church to meet with him, felt like dejavu. I wondered if I wasn’t losing my mind to be attempting to trust another pastor with our hurts. I reminded myself that I wasn’t the same person I was before. I was no longer vulnerable in the same ways. This became even clearer to me after talking to him. It revealed a lot of God’s healing in my own life when I realized this pastor was just another human being just like me; a broken clay pot who God’s light shines through, and he made sure we knew it, too.

He didn’t offer us himself.

He offered us God instead.

I was so incredibly relieved.

What fills you up?

For this reason [grasping the greatness of this plan by which Jews and Gentiles are joined together in Christ] I bow my knees [in reverence] before the Father [of our Lord Jesus Christ], from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name [God–the first and ultimate Father]. May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.
EPHESIANS 3:14‭-‬21 AMP

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

The Role of a Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is bringing about this change?

Why is God more real than He has been before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, help us to love one another.

What Love Really Means

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

Helping Those Who Are Traumatized by the Church 

Traumatized people need to know first that God cares about their pain.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come. ”

Luke 4:18‭-‬19 NLT

I watched a snippet of a sermon from a church in another town a couple of days ago.  My husband is considering a job change which could eventually cause us to move.  Even though church has been a source of great trauma for our family, we still very much want to be a part of a church. We believe that God created us for fellowship with one another. We agree with God that it is not good for us to be alone. But after listening to five minutes of the message from this church,  I turned it off. The pastor was doing what I have heard quite a few pastors do, and that’s criticize those who do not go to church. He actually called the person who had written an article about not going to church stupid.  I don’t know about you, but I do not believe criticizing someone who does not go to church, is an effective way to encourage people to attend church.  I believe the most effective way of getting people to come to church is providing an environment where they understand that Jesus meets them where they are.

I watched the video Hope Rising created by the  American Bible Society again last night. It addresses the issue of helping those who have suffered from trauma connect with God. The video points out that people who suffer from traumatic experiences struggle to connect with God until they have worked through their trauma. Traumatized people need to know first that God cares about their pain.

God does care about our pain. So much so that the Bible says He keeps our tears in a bottle. When I allow myself to think about this truth alone I am moved in the deepest part of my soul. The Bible also says God is near to the brokenhearted. A bruised reed He will not break. A smoking flax He will not put out. These truths are a healing balm to my hurting and traumatized soul.

I believe a lot of churches do a good job of teaching these truths to their members. The heart of the Gospel after all is Jesus loved us so much that He died to save us from the brokenness and sin in this world. However, for those of us who have been traumatized by religion attending church can be exceedingly difficult. And when pastors preach that those who do not go to church are stupid it definitely does not help!

I recognize that for those in ministry it is difficult to meet everyone just where they are, especially those who have been harmed by the church and find it difficult to attend.  How can a pastor help someone who struggles to come to the place where he has been called to teach? I think it is important to note that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about false teachers and the damage they cause. He warned that false teachers would continue to increase in the church.  The Apostle Paul also warned about the same thing.  So one way pastors can help those in their congregation who have suffered from abuse in a religious environment, is take the time to acknowledge that abuse does occur in the church and have a plan to deal with it when it does before it happens!  I am absolutely heartbroken over stories of abuse that I read about happening in the church today and the pastors who are covering it up or worse blaming the victim. This is an insidious thing. We in the church of Jesus Christ must acknowledge that abuse does occur in the church. We need to give those who have been abused in the church permission to talk about it and to grieve it.  We must bring it into the light where it can be talked about and heal. As long as we are more concerned about our reputation and not those who are hurting in our congregations, we will not be effective in carrying out the hope of the Gospel the way God has called us to.

Another thing that I believe that churches can do to help those who have suffered abuse in the church is remind them it is OK not to attend church. When someone you know has been abused by the church does not attend, let them know that you care, but also remind them it is OK to take time away, too. Send them a link for the sermon and ask them how you can pray for them.  Also, equip others in the church who are empathetic and willing to meet with those who are hurting one on one. In my own personal experience,  one on one is less intimidating than a group. We are all on different journeys and sometimes we can traumatize one another without meaning to.

The most important thing is be patient and don’t push. If a person who has been harmed by the church needs to sit on the back row every Sunday for five years or more, then let them.  Give them space, but also let them know you care by reaching out from time to time.  This will go a long way in helping with the healing process that will only come with time and gained trust.

I read a quote from Diane Langberg recently that trauma is the biggest mission field of the 21st century.   It is more important now more than ever that we in the church be equipped to serve in these areas. This includes ministering especially to those who have been harmed by religion.  I encourage you if you are in ministry, take the time to educate yourself about trauma and abuse in the church.  

Here are a couple of websites that are very helpful :

Global Trauma Recovery 

Trauma Healing Institution