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

Salvation and Strength 

For thus said the Lord God , the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling… 

Isaiah 30:15 ESV

If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, you are probably all too familiar with the how difficult it is to find rest, be still and trust.  If you are a victim of clergy abuse, trusting God especially can seem like an impossibility.  As a victim of both, I am still very much on a journey of learning how to rest and trust God. It is a journey I have discovered that must be traveled slowly without putting myself under pressure and patiently one moment at a time. It is a journey where I have learned only to expect enough grace to get me through each day. It is a journey where my own struggle for control is constantly being challenged. It is a journey where I am learning through crushed expectations of the way I think things should work out that God is a good Father Who alone knows what is best for me.  

Yesterday, my husband and I took a ride through several miles of rural country a few miles from our house.  Getting away from the noise of town is something that brings him peace.  My husband has suffered from depression for most of his life.  He grew up with an alcoholic, narcissistic father who physically and emotionally abused him, his mother and his other two brothers.  Then, as an adult he was deceived in the worst possible ways by his pastor and the man who claimed to be his best friend with his wife. I struggle every single day with the shame of how my actions added more pain to my husband’s life. Even though we know the former pastor abused us, it’s still very difficult seeing my husband suffer as a result of my part in what happened. Probably the most difficult thing for me to do is be quiet and trust that God is a good Father who knows what my husband needs to get through this. 

Sometimes I am able to look back and thank God for all that He has saved us from, however when the pain of the past comes crashing in it can feel like we are still in need of salvation. And I realize that we are. 

God help us, God save us and help us to find rest in you. Help us to know that you are a good Father. Teach us not to chase after salvation apart from you. 

I want to be able to believe that somehow salvation and trusting in God will mean that I don’t struggle as much anymore, but I’ve come to realize that is not true.  As long as we live in this broken world we will always struggle and long to be saved. Acceptance brings quietness to my mind. Knowing it’s not up to me to figure out how everything should work out helps, too. Believing God isn’t at all like my abusive father or pastor is what I cling to the most. God is not a child abuser. He is a loving compassionate Father who promises to bring us only good. This is where my only strength lies. 

Although it seems like everything is out of control at times, He knows what I need and He knows what my husband needs and what you need as well. Take it one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time, be kind to yourself, find rest and quiet in whatever ways that you can and trust Him to lead. He loves us.  He’s got this. He is with us.  He will never leave. I’m preaching to myself today.  Hope it helps you, too! 

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

Isaiah 30:18‭-‬21 ESV

God, PTSD and Choices 

And despite my PTSD, in the depths of my soul, I know that He is a safe place for me.  

Show me the right path, O Lord ; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.

Psalms 25:4‭-‬5 NLT

I struggle with PTSD. I have for most of my life. I did not want to believe that this condition was something that I would have to learn to live with, but the more I’ve learned through counseling and reading about PTSD, I have had to accept that it is something I suffer from.  I read a New York Times article recently about PTSD and it’s causes, symptoms, and the new treatments that are proving to be successful. Bessel Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist whose whole life has been been spent learning about trauma, also author of The Body Keeps the Score, has made a lot of headway in helping people with PTSD live with trauma. I’ve come to understand from his work how being exposed to trauma can cause even the normal things in life to be exceedingly difficult at times for those who suffer with PTSD.  Those of us struggling with PTSD have to learn how to live with memories that sometimes play on an endless loop in our minds. Treatment often involves dealing with the traumatic memories in an environment that is safe until one becomes desensitized to the dedlbilitating effects of the memories.  I am still very much on a journey of learning how to live with PTSD. The more I’m learning to deal with the pain of the trauma from my past with my counselor and with safe people who understand, the more hope I have that I can function in life with PTSD.  I’ve also discovered the more I am able to remind myself of God’s presence constantly with me and keeping my soul safe, I also find the effects of PTSD are becoming more manageable in my life. But I have to be honest, living with PTSD is still difficult, and what makes it even harder is that others who are not struggling do not understand why simple choices can be so hard.  Please know if you are suffering with PTSD that God understands your struggles and He does not ever condemn you for what you are having to overcome.  He has compassion for you and grieves with you in your pain. I believe that knowing this is the most important truth that we can cling to when the effects of trauma feel overwhelming. 

I have discovered that a sure way to trigger my PTSD is to give me an important choice to make.  It’s about way more than choosing what flavor ice cream or what kind of K-cups I want for my coffee machine, even though sometimes I find these simple choices challenging, it’s about deciding about something that will totally disrupt my daily routine. Ultimately, the serious choices we are called to make at certain times in our lives remind us how really out of our control circumstances can be. And for those of us who desperately cling to control for security that is tough! 

Very little about our circumstances have been predictable since our family left the place we’d lived our whole lives.  I took it for granted how much the familiarity of the place I’d always called home gave me the comfort of predictability. I believed that moving would give our family the opportunity to start fresh, but I had no idea how difficult starting over would be. Just because we change location does not mean that we change who we really are and the obstacles we must overcome. As a matter of fact, changing location produces a whole new set of problems. 

I don’t mean to be discouraging if you are considering a move. Moving was the only choice I believe that our family had to keep ourselves together and sane. We desperately needed to get away from the people, places and things that triggered so much pain in our lives. God had not given us the grace to stay there, and He was compassionate to our cries to get out and opened the door quickly for us to move.  

However, so much has been unstable since we moved. Our children have struggled to make friends. We’ve drifted in and out of churches that we’d hoped would be where we belonged. We’ve felt like strangers in a strange land having lost the familiarity of the place we had always called home. Although our children have begun to make friends and we believe we’ve finally found a church where we belong, my husband is on his third job and has recently had to cut back on his hours due to recent back surgery and his continued struggles with depression and anxiety. I’m currently out of work after quitting a job in a work situation recently that triggered me terribly, and now I am faced with the dilemma of where to go to work again. 

I was asked to make a choice last week about going back to place I’d worked a year ago that I had grown to feel a part of, but due to budget cuts I was laid off quickly with little notice. It was a change that took me by surprise and yet another loss that I had to grieve.  The amount of hours I’ve been asked to work this time are not certain. I’ve also been warned that the things may still be unstable there. Although, I need the work I became overwhelmed by the possibility of going to work and things being unstable again. I’m so very tired of things changing. I long for some consistency and stability in my life. 

When one suffers from PTSD, triggers cause the warning system of our brains to override the thinking parts of our brains. This has been the case with making a decision about this job. My fear of change and losing control kicked my amygdala into overdrive, but finally after talking to my husband he was able to get my prefrontal cortex operating again. He encouraged me to take my time in making a decision and not to jump into anything I was not certain about.  I’ve applied for other jobs that have the potential to provide tasks more consistent with my talents and offer the potential for more stability and potential growth. This week is the last full week that our children are out of school.  It’s also the week that I have asked the Lord to open opportunities for another job that He may have for me or encourage me to go back to where I was and trust Him with the uncertainties. Change is coming whether I want it to or not! 

Trusting God with major choices is really difficult for me. There’s so much about His role as Father that I am still seeking to understand.  The traumatic relationship with my own adopted father is almost impossible not to project onto God at times. How can I learn to trust God as a good father when the man who raised me caused me to lose so much of who I was? Also, how can I trust Him as a good Father when a man in a position to teach me about Him also led me astray?  Sometimes it seems impossible. 

But yet for some reason God has given me the grace to hold onto my hope in Him. My faith, though miniscule it may be at times, continues to keep me moving forward believing that somehow He is directing me towards what He has for me. And despite my PTSD, in the depths of my soul, I know that He is a safe place for me.  

Surely God hasn’t brought me this far to leave me hanging in uncertainty. 

I love Daniel’s words in the closing season of Rectify.  Daniel is also a sufferer of PTSD as a result of trauma he suffered from being on death row for 19 years.  Daniel has struggled to adjust to so many changes in his life after being released from prison. Much is uncertain about his future, but he holds onto hope that something better is ahead. 

Daniel:  Somewhere in all of this I’ve managed to fight for myself for some reason – to fight for my life for some reason and I survived for some reason and here I am still for some reason and me not knowing that reason doesn’t diminish or invalidate it or disprove its existence and that’s what I’m going with today, Mr. Stern. No promises beyond that.

John: Words to live by, Mr. Holden, for today.

We are here for a reason, even though sometimes that reason isn’t clear. The pain we’ve suffered has not been in vain. We are still here despite what we have been through. Today, we can move forward trusting that God is with us and promises us a future and a hope. Today, we can rest in the fact that He is transforming what the enemy meant for evil into our ultimate good.  

And even though I still don’t know what choice I’m going to make, I know when the time comes God will direct me in the way that I should go. 

Who are those who fear the Lord ? He will show them the path they should choose.

Psalms 25:12 NLT

Monsters in the Dark 

A friend of mine once told me, Monsters hide in the dark.  

Recently I started listening to a podcast called Undone Redone by Tray and Melody Lovvorn. Tray and Melody share as a couple honestly about their divorce which resulted after Tray’s sexual addiction was exposed.  The tag line for their podcast is that their divorce did not work out, because years later after healing and the work of the Gospel in both of their lives they reconciled and remarried. Their story has been very encouraging and healing to me, because it reveals that on the other side of our secrets being exposed, God can and does bring new life.  Tray and Melody now spend their time helping others heal from sexual addiction.

Staggering percentages of men and women in church struggle with sexual addiction. According to Prodigals International:

  • 5 out of every 10 men in the church are struggling with some issue concerning pornography
  • 34% of churchgoing women said they have intentionally visited porn websites online
  • 54% of pastors admitted to viewing Internet porn in the last year and 30% admitted viewing within the past month
  • 50% of all Christian men are addicted to pornography
  • 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography
  • 60% of women admit to having significant struggles with lust

These statistics reveal that the church does not struggle any less with lust than the rest of the world. The way we deal with these struggles is crucial to to our spiritual and mental health. Healing cannot occur until we are willing to bring our struggles out into the light and be honest about them. Darkness will only grow if we cover it up.

A friend of mine once told me, Monsters hide in the dark.  

Several years ago, my own lust felt like a terrible monster to me. It hid most of the time in the parts of my mind that I didn’t allow others to see. It fed on the shame and self contempt that had become a part of who I was since being sexually abused as a child. Unfortunately, I went to a pastor for help who struggled with lust, too and his own hidden darkness met mine and disaster occurred. 

However, for the past three years, I’ve been able to share honestly with safe people and as a result the lies wrapped tightly around my soul have begun to unravel allowing me to experience true freedom.

Truly,  when darkness is brought into light with those who are living in the light, the monster of lust begins to lose it’s power as God’s transforming work begins. 

One of my first exposures to pornography was when I was around nine years old in a friend’s garage. She’d discovered the adult magazines hidden in some of her father’s things and could not wait for me to see them. I giggled at the images with her trying to pretend that what I saw did not bother me. Later, I would also discover the same kind of glossy magazines in a family member’s bathroom. As I flipped through them, I can still recall something stirring deeply in me that I did not understand. I had learned at an early age through abuse that there were certain things that were not supposed to be talked about, so I didn’t tell anyone that I looked at the magazines.

The sexual secrets that had begun as a stir of pleasure viewing porn for the very first time as a child grew into an insatiable appetite as a teen that I could not control when it came. Life at home was hard. My adopted father was severely depressed and anxious, and let everyone to know it. My mother and I walked on eggshells to spare ourselves from another outburst, but still they eventually came, and I escaped to my room to a fantasy life that sometimes took me to dark places. I shudder to think where I would have gone if I’d had Google, but thank God I didn’t, so the worst I could do was inside my own mind, which was bad enough. As I got older and had boyfriends, my fantasies had opportunity to be acted out, and my shame only grew. I believed when I married a good man and we went to church together that my struggles with lust would finally go away, but they only got buried more deeply in my soul.

Although as an adult,I wasn’t viewing pornography or giving into sexual temptations every week or even every month, the shame over my sexual sin from my younger years was still there. My tendency to give in to lust and escape the monotony and the pain of life was still there, too. Again, the lust was only inside my mind, but I feared one day that I might go too far.

Several years into our marriage, relationships in our extended family began to spiral out of control. In the middle of this family chaos, I was suffering from post partum depression and my husband was exhausted much of the time from dealing with his own pain by working too hard. And if this wasn’t enough, our church was experiencing problems that involved family, too. We were hit by so many forces at once it felt like a category five hurricane. We desperately needed relief and support from somewhere and decided to attend another church that some friends had told us about.

This church that was thirty miles away from home felt like a shelter from the storm. The people were friendly, the pastor appeared to be a smart and strong leader who would provide us with support.  Two weeks after visiting this church he visited our home and comforted our hearts with the assurance that God was near.

Because my life was in such chaos, the desire to escape the emotional pain was overwhelming. Lust cropped it’s head up and the shame that followed it did, too. The darkness overwhelmed me like it never had before.

I still don’t understand why things got so dark so fast, and why the lust that had been somewhat under control decided to come out again. Maybe it was because the wheels had run off with so many things I’d placed my hope in. Maybe it was because of so many failed relationships.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my husband. I truly did. When I made a commitment to him for life, I meant it as much as I was capable of understanding what commitment meant at the time.

But I wasn’t aware of the ticking time bomb inside of my soul.  I wasn’t aware of the desperation in my heart and the growing monster of lust inside.

I had no idea how powerful the sexual abuse I suffered as a child was in it’s ability to produce self-hatred and how much it had crippled me. I desperately longed for someone to tell me that I was loved.  But strangely enough when they did, I found it almost impossible to believe.  I just could not overcome the lie that I wasn’t worth anything.

The pastor seemed genuinely concerned for our family’s well-being.  He reached out with kindness every opportunity he had to. I’ll never forget the first time he took my hand and asked me if I’d be willing to help teach the youth at church.  It was strange that even in this short conversation I felt drawn to him. There was just something in his eyes that communicated he wanted to know me more.  One email led to another and then the phone conversations began. It wasn’t long after that I confessed on the phone with him about the struggles with lust and the surfacing memories of childhood sexual abuse, and we agreed to meet in person to talk face to face.

Looking back to my first meeting with him, I should have known something was wrong because of how badly I yearned to be with him, but my heart clung desperately to the hope that he was going to help me heal.  It felt like the most beautiful moment in my life when he wrapped his arms around me after listening to me describe what my adopted father had done to me. I thought I’d met God for a moment when I stood up to leave and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said he loved me.  But then a few months later, he shared with me his desire for me sexually, and asked me to keep it a secret. The ticking time bomb inside of me went off and the monster grew.

Lust isn’t just some dirty thing we do when no is watching. It comes from a place of longing in the deepest parts of our soul to know that we are wanted, but also to know that there’s something good about us that’s worthy of being loved.

A bad connection can feel better than no connection when one’s heart feels all alone.

Dark secrets shared between two desperate souls can feel an awful lot like love.

But it’s not love, it’s abuse when it’s with someone who’s been placed in a position to watch out for your soul.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13‭-‬14 ESV

I realize looking back on things, that the reason my lust felt like a monster, was because before I met my former pastor, I’d never been forced to look it in the eye. I was too ashamed. But time after time of giving in, standing in front of the bathroom mirror before and after I sinned, I faced the monster and saw a broken little girl behind it’s eyes. A little girl desperately longing to be loved and belong, relentlessly seeking to know she was worth something and clinging tightly to whatever control she could find through five minutes of pleasure that she was willing to risk everything for. She knew it was self-destructive. She knew she could destroy everything. There was a part of her that believed it was what she deserved. Maybe when she lost everything she could finally rest in the truth that she was the awful person she’d been fighting not to believe that she was.

The saddest and sickest parts of the abuse I experienced from the pastor was his rationalization that it was OK to give into lust a little bit to find relief.  Just so it wouldn’t take over and consume. He normalized the behavior, made some of it feel like it wasn’t a big deal. We all struggle with lust. We just don’t talk about it. It keeps us humble and compassionate towards others who are in sin.  And this went on for years. He was desperately clinging to his control, too.

But it was never OK to give in. It was never OK to hide. God was not tempting us to sin. He did not call us to continue in sin so that grace would abound.

You were running [the race] well; who has interfered and prevented you from obeying the truth? This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ]. A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church].

GALATIANS 5:7‭-‬9 AMP

I’m so thankful for the Gospel that one day finally cut through all the lies and called me out of the darkness into His holy light. I will always wonder why it was listening to Tullian’s sermons on the Ten Commandments that God used to ultimately get through to me, especially since not too long after that he was exposed for clergy sexual abuse. But regardless of who it was who read the scriptures, God used his message to remind me of His law summed up in only two commands.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37‭-‬40 ESV

The scriptures finally cut through the lie I believed that day that deceived me into believing what I had with the pastor was love.  It wasn’t love. Love does no harm to it’s neighbor. Love does not lie. Love rejoices in the truth.

It’s been a long road of healing since that time. My confession brought an overwhelming amount of confusion and pain to my family, the pastor’s family and the church.  It resulted in so much loss. I will always deeply regret these things.

But the monster finally died in the light. And because of the Gospel I have been set free from it’s power over me.

However, I admit I still have a long way to go in healing from all the shame. I need the Gospel daily to constantly remind me that God is not judging me.

For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin.

HEBREWS 4:15 AMP

Jesus knows our struggles. He sees the pain we want to escape. He knows the longing that’s behind our lust and His desire is always to set us free by satisfying our souls with His love. Jesus is not shocked or appalled by our sin. He knows where it comes from. He knows what we really need. He sympathizes with us. His love relentlessly pursues us until we cannot run from Him anymore.

A good friend once reminded me that in the church the greatest need is for broken people to preach the Gospel to each other. I might have given up on the church all together if it hadn’t been for people like him reminding me of what church is really all about.

When one has been spiritually abused, fear of the church is the most difficult thing to overcome. But I’ve come to realize that the thing I fear the most, is also where my healing lies and my story has an opportunity to be redeemed.

I shared with my counselor recently how I would really like to be able to write about something else.  Let’s face it, sharing about dark battles with lust and sexual abuse aren’t things to be proud of.  But then she pointed out if my story wasn’t told that there would be a big void, and reminded me how other’s broken stories have helped me. She jokingly said that she and I unfortunately had not been called to be a Joel Osteen! Her own broken story of alcoholism is what caused me to reach out to her, and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t! So I know that she is right.

If you’ve got a similar story, I encourage you to find others to tell. Without it there is a big void, too.  Our brokenness is where His light shines through and transforms the darkness in other people’s lives.  I thank God for people like Tray and Melody and others like the ministry team at the church we attend now who do that so beautifully.

If you are struggling with sexual sin, please know that you are not alone, but also know that God’s desire is also to set you free, not keep you trapped in the dark. Run to Jesus. Cling to the Gospel. Preach it to one another. He’s a lot closer than you think.

Inasmuch then as we [believers] have a great High Priest who has [already ascended and] passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession [of faith and cling tenaciously to our absolute trust in Him as Savior]. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin. Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment].

HEBREWS 4:14‭-‬16 AMP

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