Saving Lives

I believe these days we might be more likely to find Jesus in a residential treatment center than in a church.

If you have been on social media recently, you have most likely been bombarded with stories about the lives of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, two shining stars in our world whose lives were snuffed out recently by suicide. We are left with more questions than we are answers. Article after article has been written this past week to celebrate their lives and attempt offer some clarity as to why they ended so abruptly.

This morning I read a post in The Nation about Anthony Bourdain by David Klion. In this article, he described Bourdain as a man who truly experienced all that life had to offer, the good and the bad. Klion ended the article by stating:

Depression can sometimes be the price paid for seeing the world too clearly, in all its contradiction and cruelty, and for being unable to endure the full weight of it. No one saw more of the world more clearly than Anthony Bourdain, and the awful tragedy is that the one thing he may not have seen clearly was his own irreplaceable contribution.

Anthony Bourdain experienced the best that life in this world has to offer, however he was also very familiar with the darkness, and if this article is correct, it seems it became more than he could take.

Working at a residential treatment center like I do, gives one a clear picture of the cruelty and contradictions in the world, unlike any other place I have ever been. There is a stark contrast between being here and the church I worked in for a decade. Sometimes I long to be back at the church office, especially on the heavy days at work when I hear the horror stories that our minds do not want to comprehend. Last week I left work so overwhelmed by the sexual abuse stories I’d heard, I found it difficult to think of anything else. I cried on the way home and wondered what kind of hell is this world that we live in. It was a stark contrast from my days at the church office when I went home concerned, because I wasn’t able to balance the church’s checking account. As I write this, I wonder why these two worlds are so different. It seems that ministry and mental health should be working hand in hand.

Based on my experiences, however churches and mental health organizations work apart more than they do together. The church many times has felt to me like a place where we escape from the horrors of life and tell ourselves that things are much better than they really are. When bad things happen in the church, such as abuse, the church does not know how to deal with it. When people suffer with depression or anxiety we offer pious platitudes in an effort to put a band aid in issues rather than work towards truly helping one another heal from hurts. I am amazed at how many stories of people I hear of people who have been more traumatized than helped by the church. I recognize this is based on my own limited experiences, and that there are many churches who are truly helping others, but this has often not been the case for me. Many churches I have been a part of have caused me to think that if I would just do what they think I should that I will somehow be spared from the pain of life. Either I am doing something wrong or they are wrong, because this has not been my experience. I read an article recently by a very wealthy evangelist who described her own tragic story of sexual abuse from her father. She went on to talk about how she forgave her father and later bought him a house. While I do not judge the validity of her story, I struggle with the message it communicates to those of us who have not been able to forgive and reconcile and live with the fallout daily from abuse. I also struggle with her books which encourage that a proper belief system can end depression and anxiety. This doesn’t feel at all like relief to me. This feels like judgement and control.

Jesus said a bruised reed He will not break, a smoking flax He will not put out, and His life on earth revealed this clearly to us. Where people were unheard and hurting, Jesus was there listening, loving, and bringing comfort not judgment. I believe these days we would more likely find Jesus in a residential treatment center than in a church.

When I read the stories of people who have chosen to end their lives, I am able to understand the reasons why they do so. The world can become very heavy and dark at times, thus the reason we need one another so much.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NLT

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 NLT

As I have written this blog, I have really struggled to find the words that I want to say. The reality is people are hurting in our world, and we desperately need to help one another out. We need to be doing the work that saves lives.

Four years ago when I exposed my former pastor’s abuse I lost my job and my church family. We were forced to move, because I was too ashamed to even go to the grocery store. When we moved we had to start all over in a new place. We didn’t have any support or friends in our community and there were times the pain was so much that I wanted to die. Had it not been for those like my therapist and others in ministry who stayed in contact with us through email, we might have given up. We have drifted in and out of churches sometimes finding support. Sometimes feeling more isolated than ever. However, right now we are in a church where we feel supported, and we are very thankful for this!

My heart cries out to the Lord that He would change this. The hurting needs to stop. We need to be Jesus to one another. We need to stop the judging, the pressure and learn how to truly love. We cannot do this without Him. But we can repent that we have been trying to.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

For more information, here is a video from
Diane Langberg :

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out. There are people who will help.

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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

*Photo credit

Rooted in His Love

But I have to admit my heart still gets so impatient at times. Growing in His fertile soil doesn’t provide the instant gratification that the shallow soil did, nor does it comfort me with the presence of the tangled up weeds of the abusive relationship that let me know I wasn’t alone. Sometimes the process seems too slow and very lonely.

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I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:16-21 NLT

As I was writing my prayers this morning, I found myself asking God why I’d made such horrible choices over ten years ago, and how I could hurt my family in such a way. Even though God has been healing some of the pain,  every day I experience a great sense of loss in my family, loss of friends, loss of job,  loss of a place that had been home to us for a very long time.  I see it in my husband and kids, too, and it’s incredibly difficult. Over and over again my mind has gone back to that desperate gnawing away in my soul that caused me to do things I never believed I would.

I’m not writing this out of guilt or shame. Jesus has forgiven my sin and removed it as far as the east is from the west.  His death on the cross paid for every sin I’ve ever committed or will ever commit. He’s taken away my shame and covered me with His righteousness.  I cling to this truth for dear life these days.  It’s my ever present unseen hope.

But the reality is, even though I am forgiven and not condemned by God, I am living out the rest of my life in a broken body that is desperate to go it’s own way, desperate for self-gratification, and desperately impatient. And we have a worthy adversary who knows our weaknesses  better than we do, and he walks to and fro waiting for an opportunity to encourage us toward our default and destructive mode. But we must never forget that God always has a better plan, because that’s what happened to me, and sometimes I  wonder if I ever knew that God had a better plan.

Growing up in an abusive home causes a victim to believe that evey time something bad happens that they have no control. In their powerlessness, they begin to lose hope of things ever changing for the better.  Many of us never experienced a fertile soil of love to grow roots in, therefore it feels as if the sun of fiery trials will scorch us, or the thorns of the weeds around us will choke out every bit of life. 

I remember like it was yesterday the yearning in my heart before the abusive relationship with my former pastor began.  I was desperately longing for something to grow roots into; a home providing an environment of love. When this pastor and I began to talk and he expressed his love to me, I believed I’d discovered the priceless treasure of real love in fertile soil.  I dug deep and buried my heart and soul in the relationship only to discover more weeds and thorns. But my desperate heart wasn’t willing to give up hope that this relationship was what I needed, and only after I’d been pierced one too many times, was bleeding all over the place , and felt I had no life in me to choke out, did I cry out to God to pull me out of this field of lies.

And I’m still thanking Him that He did, and that He placed me in the fertile soil of His love and forgiveness where I can finally grow into the person He created me to be. 

But I have to admit my heart still gets so impatient at times. Growing in His fertile soil doesn’t provide the instant gratification that the shallow soil did, nor does it comfort me with the presence of the tangled up weeds of the abusive relationship that let me know I wasn’t alone.  Sometimes the process seems too slow and very lonely. 

I’m reminding myself today that the soil of God’s love is rich in the nourishment of His promises, and because He’s THE God who always keeps His promises, I can bank on it.  He’s also working to bring about good in my life. He will finish what He started. He hasn’t, nor will He ever leave me alone.  He won’t leave you alone either. 

Today, I’m also very thankful for those of you who are rooted and grounded together with me in His love.  It is my sincerest prayer that we’d all continue to grow deep roots into the rich soil of His love for us.  That no shallow soil would satisfy us, and that the weeds and thorns would quickly be uprooted as we follow Him and not our own ways. That our roots would go so deep as we know His great love for us,  that we’d know that nothing, nothing will ever snatch us out of His hand.

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39 NLT

What I Wish Others in Ministry Knew about Spiritual Abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 3:14-19 MSG

Permission to Grieve

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One of the most helpful things we can do for one another in times of great loss and pain is to let those who are hurting grieve.

I cannot tell you the times that someone has come to me during a time of terrible emotional pain, and I have cut them off with one of God’s promises or some pious platitude before they could finish.  I thought I was offering them a piece of bread that would nourish and give them strength, but as I look back on that time I realize I just wanted them to move past the pain, because it made me uncomfortable. 

When I thought was giving sound advice, I recognize I was just trying to control the conversation so we could move on to more positive things.

As I think about some of the things Christians have said to me during my own time of suffering, it has caused me to see more clearly what people in pain really need.  

And sometimes what looks like well intended advice often feels more like a burdensome, crushing stone rather than nourishing bread.

I’ve been reading Dan Allender and Tremper Longman’s book this morning The Cry of the Soul.  Their words have caused me to question my responses to my own emotional pain and to the pain of others.

I pride myself in being an emotionally strong person.  I learned this at an early age in a home full of chaos, because it helped me to feel safe.  My adopted father did not like for me to show negative emotions, because it upset him.  He made me so angry, because I didn’t like the pressure I felt under to keep it together around him, however I hated chaos more, so I worked really hard to keep my emotions under control.

I didn’t like the pain I suffered when I upset my adopted father.  He didn’t like the pain he suffered when I got upset.  Do you see what’s going on?  All of this pressure was coming from avoiding the pain. 

I recognize I’ve done this to others in the church, and I feel very sorrowful about this now. I admit I still struggle.  I think of my friend who went through a horrible divorce a little while ago.  I tried so hard to make her feel better by saying the right things, when all she needed for me to do was sit with her in her pain, grieve with her, and let her know she wasn’t alone.  I know this now, because this is what my own heart desperately longs for.

Allender and Longman say,

The Psalms provoke us to move out of denial. Christians are particularly adept at numbing themselves against painful emotions. “After all,” we reason, “we should be joyful because we know that God is in control.” Negative emotions such as fear, anger, or depression are stigmatized as inappropriate because God is love and grants us peace.

I’m not saying we don’t ever offer hope, because we definitely need the hope of God’s promises.  I just believe that we need to pay closer attention to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and recognize that sometimes we just need to sit through the discomfort of another’s pain and listen. To take our time and be patient with their pain, to give a hug and let them know that it is OK to feel bad about whatever they have lost without the compulsion to fix their pain. To consider even that it is perfectly OK to end a conversation without giving them a promise or platitude that communicates they need to accept this pain and move on quickly.   To trust God to take them through the stages of grief in His perfect time.  And if in doubt about what they need, to maybe ask.

We are encouraged in scripture to bear one another’s burdens, not carry their loads.  When I take the responsibility upon myself to fix another’s problems it feels like I’m carrying their load and it’s too heavy, because I’ve already got my own load.  I’m not made to carry anyone else’s load, only Christ is able to do that.  Carrying others loads leads to unhealthy emotional attachments and codependency.   When we recognize that we don’t have to fix another’s pain we are actually freed to love them in a much more healthy way for us and them.

Please hear me I am not being critical.  I am the “chief of sinners” in this area and I am preaching to myself!  And I don’t want to be in another train wreck like I was before.  I’m striving for healthy relationships with others, because that is where God’s love is revealed best to us and to the world.

In The Cry of the Soul, Allender and Longman quote Psalm 88.  The words brought me great comfort. The Psalmist is crying out to God in his time of terrible troubles.  It’s obvious he has lost so much and is at the end of his rope.  He’s angry, weak, alone and feels trapped. He wonders if his life will ever be useful. He declares darkness is his closest friend.  Reading this I felt so understood.

One of the things that stands out about this psalm is the psalmist says nothing positive. At the time, he is lost in his pain. Many of the psalms end with declaration that the psalmist will trust God, but not this one.  This psalmist has let out all his pain, because he is desperate and knows where to go for his only source of hope. And I can hear God saying in the silence:  It’s OK to just let it all out.  I’m here.  I’m listening.  I give you permission to grieve.

Psalms 88:1-18 NLT

O  lord , God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me. Interlude You have driven my friends away by making me repulsive to them. I am in a trap with no way of escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O  lord ; I lift my hands to you for mercy. Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you? Interlude Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness? O  lord , I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day. O  lord , why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me? I have been sick and close to death since my youth. I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors. Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me. Your terrors have paralyzed me. They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long. They have engulfed me completely. You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend.