A Different Lens

Our long and painful history with the church casts a dark shadow over what many people view as a ray of hope.

This morning I was writing a long time email friend about my ongoing struggle with attending church on Sunday. She stopped attending church years before. She has not stopped being the church, however. She has had a long and faithful walk with Jesus, and His love flows through the caring words that she writes to me. Even though we have never met, she encourages me on a regular basis. Our communication is true fellowship filled with weeping and rejoicing about our day to day lives. Even though we don’t meet together weekly, I believe that our relationship is church, and I am very grateful for her. Thank you, Nancy!

We talked about recently how our own upbringing and life experiences effect the way we view God, what we communicate about God and even the church we attend. As I have thought about it, I realize that trauma and abuse have caused me to view God, the church and other Christians through a different lens than I did before I was abused. My therapist once told me that what we see we do not unsee. How true it is that abuse brings about an awareness that others do not have. Abuse in the church has enabled me to recognize group thinking and what it leads to. For our family it led to minimizing the damage of abuse and feelings of abandonment from the people we thought would be in our lives long-term. It has helped me to recognize more easily unhealthy codependent patterns in relationships and narcissistic tendencies in church leadership. I am grateful for what we have learned. I believe it will protect us from getting caught in the same trap again. However, I also recognize that seeing these truths is a double edged sword that not only heals but harms, because it has also made it very difficult for our family to trust any church.

Daily my husband and I pray for wisdom and God’s direction on my commute to work in the morning. We honestly admit to one another and God that we don’t know what to do about our spiritual lives. We long to experience closeness and connection to God, but for us religious services can actually get in the way of this. Our long and painful history with the church casts a dark shadow over what many people view as a ray of hope.

I did not grow up regularly attending church. Our family attended a Methodist church on and off, but I remember very little about my experiences there. I saw glimpses of God in the books and movies that I read to escape an abusive childhood. I prayed for His help when I was lonely and afraid and overwhelmed. When I was nineteen God brought my husband into my life, and we started attending the conservative and reformed church he served as an elder in. After attending this church a few years, the congregation decided to get rid of a pastor we cared about over different political views. In the heat of the election year, true opinions came out, division happened and we left that church and to attend a traditional evangelical church in the community. My husband eventually became a deacon in this church and we started a small Sunday school group together. But after serving in this church a few years, a couple of members of my husband’s family got involved in some very messy scenarios involving this congregation. My husband being in leadership made things more difficult. He felt forced to make decisions concerning his family, and it became an even bigger mess. Once again we were uprooted from a church we had invested time and energy into. It was when we were exhausted, hurting and our wounds still fresh that we made the decision to leave that church and go to different reformed church. And this was the church where our family was spiritually abused by the pastor for ten years.

When I think back about the church experiences that I have had since I started attending church, they cast a long dark shadow indeed. It’s no surprise that we struggle to feel a part of another church. We’ve tried so hard to start fresh, but even after five years it is still difficult.

A therapist I work with recently spoke about one of Dan Siegel’s methods of dealing with overwhelming emotions. He encourages people to use the SIFT method to understand the why behind our painful emotions in an effort to help us deal with them more effectively. SIFT: S, sensations; I, images; F, feelings; and T, thoughts.

Using Siegel’s SIFT method, it becomes clear to me that I am continuing to view church through a traumatic lens.

Sensation: Unable to relax. Tightened stomach. Tightened neck. Inability to focus.

Images: Previous similar experiences in church that resulted in being harmed.

Feelings: Fear. Shame. Guilt. Anger. Disconnected from God. Judged. Grief. Sadness. Remorse. Unloved. Unaccepted. Rejected.

Thoughts: This is not safe. You have messed up and are too messed up to ever be accepted by others or God. God is done with you. You can’t do anything right. Your life will never get better.

Sometimes I am able to see these thoughts for what they are and tell myself that they are not true, focus on something else and not be so negatively effected by them. But sometimes the thoughts get in like a virus and overwhelm my psychological system and the mental misery can last for days. I think most of us fight similar mental battles depending on our own past hurts, and we all have to learn what triggers us, when we are most susceptible to these triggers, and find effective ways to dealing when they do come, however most people do not experience them around church unless they have experienced a similar trauma.

The lack of understanding in the church over psychological suffering that comes from trauma in the church makes church even that much more difficult to attend at times. Even the most loving people in the church who have so patiently listened to my hurt, I think struggle to know how to really help. I think I fear as well that my struggles are just too much for them, because I certainly feel at times that they are too much for me. The reality is that most people are not equipped to deal with spiritual abuse in the church, and I don’t need to expect that they are. When I am not triggered by a negative experience, I see people in the church more clearly … People who are fighting their own difficult battles the best way they know how. The reality is no one person will ever be able to give us everything we need. No one church will ever be able to say all the right things. As my email friend has reminded me more than once, people are a mixed bag of good and bad. We are broken. We are beautiful. From our mouths can flow blessings of encouragement to one another and curses that can crush each other’s spirits. As Steve Brown has said about church, we are “porcupines huddled together in a storm. If you don’t want to get hurt, you need to leave.” With all this being said, it is clear to me that ultimately in order to learn how to deal with our own internal struggles, it is important that we understand ourselves well, what brings up negative emotions for us, when are we most susceptible to them, and what can we do to help us deal with them more effectively. What is it that we really need?

As I process all I have written here, it is clear to me that I need a good understanding of who God is and how much He loves, accepts and values me. I need to know He is with me even when He feels a million miles away. I need to that no matter how many times I haven’t listened to Him, He never gives up on me.

I have a mental image that occasionally comes to my mind of Jesus smiling at me. His eyes are full of empathy. He is pleased with me. He wants me to know it and live in that knowledge. He wants to take away the heavy chains of shame and guilt, sorrow, regret and remorse. He wants me to feel light as a feather free from all of it. He wants to carry me in His arms and take me to rest beside still waters where He rejoices over me with singing. This is the The Jesus who came to me when I was in my 20s and my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t sit still and told me He had seen my suffering throughout my life, and He had been there through it all praying for me. This is The Jesus who whispered to me after ten years of abuse to come out into the light and be set free. This is the Jesus who weeps over sheep who have been stripped bare by a wolf. This is The Jesus whom I love. This is The Jesus I worship when I see another beautiful sunrise or sunset. This is The Jesus I see in the deer walking peacefully across our property or the little silver fish flipping on their sides and shimmering like jewels in our flowing creek. This is The Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. This is the Creator of all things Good. This is the One promising to bring restoration, healing, and peace to a world that sometimes feels as if it has gone mad. This is The same Jesus who hated the pain we are in so much that He got on a cross willingly to take it upon Himself to save us from ourselves. This is The Same Jesus loving those inside and outside the institutional church. He knows our forms. He remembers that we are dust.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…

My husband and I will keep looking for This Jesus not only inside our broken churches, but in our day to day lives. It all matters to Him. We matter to Him. This is the only lens that we can truly see Him through.

I am what you are most afraid of: your deepest, most wounded, and naked self. I am what you do to what you could love. I am your deepest goodness and your deepest beauty, which you deny and disfigure. Your only badness consists in what you do to goodness—your own and anybody else’s. You run away from, and you even attack, the only thing that will really transform you. But there is nothing to hate or to attack. If you try, you will become a mirror image of the same. Embrace it all in me. I am yourself. I am all of creation. I am everybody and every thing.”

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe by Richard Rohr

The Institutional Church Is Not God

Our wounds are where His light gets in and out.

Last night there was a post on Facebook reminding me that seven years ago I became friends with my therapist on social media. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the years of work we did together and the relationship of trust we built. I am not sure that I could have survived without her. Thank you, Sharon.

I also want to take this opportunity to say if you have experienced spiritual abuse, you deserve to find relief and experience healing. Going to a therapist does not mean you are weak. It means you are taking care of the valuable person that you are. It means that you want to live and thrive. It means that you are strong and brave. Good therapy is a gift from God, but sometimes that hasn’t been the message I have received from the church.

Many times I have walked away from a church service believing that if I just had enough faith I would not need therapy. It’s not that anyone says it directly. As a matter of fact, most people in church would probably tell me that going to therapy is a good thing to do. Rather, it’s a message I walk away from conversations, prayers and sermons feeling about myself. It’s a feeling that can cause a deep anger to rise up in me against religious things.

I have learned in therapy that the only way to get better is to honor my feelings, acknowledge them and express them in a healthy way. Writing for me is one of the most important tools I have for expression. I am one of those people who carry around emotions inside myself without even realizing it until my stomach starts to hurt and tell me something has to give.

A consistent painful emotion that continues to come out for me is one of anger and frustration towards religion. This time of the year especially brings it back up again. Five years ago during this time of the year, I couldn’t convince the church that abuse took place. The church leaders wanted that word to go away. They embraced half truths and false peace. They chose denial in an effort to protect the reputation of the church.

Even as the anger rises up in me towards my previous church leaders, so do other emotions; shame, guilt, and regret for the lies that I believed when I was being abused and the lies that I told to protect my own reputation. The words, Forgive them Father for they know not what they do resonate deeply inside of me. The shame and guilt begin to subside when I recognize just how broken and needy we all are; when I realize forgiving others is the only way to forgive myself. However, even after recognizing my own need for continual forgiveness, I still experience feelings of anger and frustration towards the institution of the church. Even as I write this, I hear a voice inside my head say that maybe I am angry with God. I have no doubt that hidden within my heart there are still so many emotions God has yet to bring to the surface, one of which is anger towards God. However, in this case I do not think that much of my anger towards the church has anything to do with a hidden anger towards God. I learned early in my healing journey from spiritual abuse that the only way to keep my faith in God was to separate the institutional church from Him. I have had to allow God to reveal Himself to me in other ways, because it has just been too painful to look for Him in the ways I did before in the institutional church.

Before I was spiritually abused, I was committed to the church. I was there almost every Sunday and Wednesday. When I wasn’t there, I was thinking about being there. I realize as I write this that in many ways the church was a home for me. And therein lies where the deep pain of betrayal is. The place I once believed was home let me down in ways I never believed it would. As an adopted child, I had always longed for a place I could belong. For a long time the church felt like that place. As I reflect back on those days, I realize that in my own desperation I made the church a lot more than what it was ever supposed to be. The church was never supposed to be home. The church was only supposed to be the place that reminded me of my real home in Him.

In some ways, the institutional church is like a movie about Jesus. Whenever I have watched a one, (even with Mel Gibson, as amazing as his portrayal was) it registers with me that no human actor will ever be able to portray the picture of who God really is. Our human understanding of Him will always fall short until we are fully transformed into His image.

We see things in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see him face to face. Nothing on earth reveals Him in all of His fullness, not a movie, not a pastor, and not the church.

Creation longs for redemption. Our hearts long for home. The best we humans can do is reveal Him through our flawed and fractured love for one another while we are here on earth. I think where a lot of my anger comes from is that the church sometimes communicates that it is the only way to God. At least that’s what I believed for a long time.

Sometimes when we believe this lie so much we turn to the church for help that they are not equipped to to give and sometimes are too proud to admit it. When this happens, tremendous damage is done. God created doctors and therapists to do His work. One should never look to the church to replace the work that God has gifted others to do. I’m not saying pastors can’t help, they do. But what I am saying is sometimes they are limited in what they can do. I believe every church should work with doctors and therapists and support their work as part of God’s redemptive plan.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the institutional church has all the answers. Don’t let a sermon make you feel like you don’t have enough faith in God because you are struggling with anxiety and depression. Don’t let another’s prayer make you feel guilty, because sometimes the only prayer you know how to pray is, help. Don’t let another’s facade that they have all the answers make you feel like there’s something wrong with you because you do not know what to do. Don’t think that just because you have been spiritually abused in church that it was God that brought you harm.

Broken humanity disguising itself as an angel of light truly does the destroyer’s work. However, humanity that knows and acknowledges that it is broken reveals the true light of Jesus through the cracks of our souls. Our wounds are where His light gets in and out. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. The Institutional church is not God. It’s a place where we can learn about God, worship God, but it was never intended to replace God.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9‭-‬10 ESV

Learning to Live with Losses

When someone loses a limb, everyone knows they won’t grow another to replace it. Learning to live with this reality is challenging, of course, but there’s no emotional energy wasted on waiting, hoping, trying to grow a new one. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D., The Pain of Trauma, Psychology Today

If only we could see clearly what we have lost due to trauma in our lives, maybe we would be easier on ourselves. However, when we look in the mirror we look just like anyone else, and we wonder why we can’t just function like everyone else.In faith communities especially, we hear about overcoming our fears with faith, doing all things through Christ who gives us strength, pressing on towards the goal of our upward calling, and sometimes we walk away feeling like failures when we struggle.I want to be stronger than what I am. I want to go back to being the person that I was before I was spiritually abused, but the reality is I can’t.Making this statement is not about feeling sorry for myself. It’s not about wallowing in self pity. It’s not about being a victim. It’s about being able to recognize my losses and move forward, accepting the fact that I am not the same person that I was. I have new limitations. There are painful reminders that will continue to remind me of the things that I have lost. I cannot just suck it up, fake it til I make it, and move on. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. Everytime I wind up biting off more than I can chew and regretting it later on.The only way to move forward is to honor my pain and accept where I am in my healing journey.I realized recently that I push myself too much in church. I sit through conversations that bring confusion and pain about God. These conversations cause me to slide back into fear, apathy, and the feeling that I’m struggling alone. An important part of my healing journey has been learning my limitations and giving myself a lot of grace when I am not where I wish I was in my healing journey. It really is ok to struggle and feel weak. These are the times God says we experience His strength the most.Today I deleted half of my friends on Facebook. People who were a part of a very difficult season of life. For my own healing and peace of mind, I needed to let them go. Saying goodbye to some of them was especially hard. I didn’t want to let go of the hope that one day we would have the friendship we had before. But I knew it was time to trust God with what is ahead.Wherever you are in your healing journey, know that God is right by your side and that He is kind, compassionate and loving towards you. Embrace His comfort. Be kind to yourself. We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living again. He promises.

Letting Go

I don’t want to let go.

Because I am afraid of what will happen if I do.

I let go before.

I trusted him.

I fell into his control.

And I gave him everything.

What came out of me terrified me more than what I saw come out in him.

My most desperate needs were like a vacuum that pulled him into the place that he had sought to go.

A place of emptiness.

Cold.

Dark.

Lonely.

Dying to be filled.

And he wanted to fill it.

Be the hero of my story.

The same emptiness was inside him, too.

Emptiness can never fill emptiness.

The hole just gets bigger.

And real life gets consumed.

But God did not let go of me.

He flooded the darkness with light.

He showed me what was really happening.

And I cried out to Him for help.

He was faithful to save me once again from myself.

I have to let go.

Not to fall into my own control.

Or someone else’s control.

But into Him.

His goodness.

His faithfulness.

He alone can transform darkness into light.

And heal the emptiness in our souls.

And you will, through your own fault, let go of your [grip on your] inheritance That I gave you; And I will make you serve your enemies In a land which you do not know; For you have kindled a fire in My anger Which will burn forever. Thus says the Lord , “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind, Making [weak, faulty human] flesh his strength, And whose mind and heart turn away from the Lord . “For he will be like a shrub in the [parched] desert; And shall not see prosperity when it comes, But shall live in the rocky places of the wilderness, In an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed [with spiritual security] is the man who believes and trusts in and relies on the Lord And whose hope and confident expectation is the Lord . “For he will be [nourished] like a tree planted by the waters, That spreads out its roots by the river; And will not fear the heat when it comes; But its leaves will be green and moist. And it will not be anxious and concerned in a year of drought Nor stop bearing fruit. “The heart is deceitful above all things And it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives? “I, the Lord , search and examine the mind, I test the heart, To give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
JEREMIAH 17:4‭-‬10 AMP

“I did not send [these counterfeit] prophets, Yet they ran; I did not speak to them, Yet they prophesied. “But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned My people from their evil way And from the evil of their decisions and deeds. “Am I a God who is at hand,” says the Lord , “And not a God far away?” “Can anyone hide himself in secret places So that I cannot see him?” says the Lord . “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord .
JEREMIAH 23:21‭-‬24 AMP

“Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries to which I have driven them and bring them back to their folds and pastures; and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them. And they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” says the Lord .
JEREMIAH 23:3‭-‬4 AMP

For I [fully] satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person.”
JEREMIAH 31:25 AMP

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.
Acts of the Apostles 17:24‭-‬25 NLT

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

My Story – Part 2 A Victim’s Responsibility

It means looking at all the fall out, the pain and the blood and recognizing that God looked down and saw the same thing when Jesus was on the cross and said, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Sometimes people don’t look or act like victims on the outside.

Sometimes our wounds are hidden on the inside.

After I confessed to the church and my husband about the secrets I had kept for almost a decade with the former pastor, the biggest challenge for me was understanding my responsibility.

An elder in the church made the statement to my husband when referencing what happened to me, “She was not a victim.” His words shook me to the core and saturated me with shame. If I wasn’t a victim of sexual abuse, it meant to me that I was responsible.

Another leader in the church accused me of shirking responsibility when I called what happened to me spiritual abuse. He reminded me of how I had deceived others, too. I wondered if I was just fooling myself and blaming others for my sins.

My therapist defined responsibility for me a while back.

She said responsibility is the ability to respond.

I wish I could understand why it took me so long to respond.

I wish I could somehow go back and change how everything happened.

The truth is, all I can do is take responsibility for the things that I did and did not do and let God sort out the rest.

But what I can say, is that when I really heard God’s voice, I responded and told the truth about the lie I had been living for way too long.

It was a Monday morning staff meeting at the church that caused my wounds to reveal themselves to the pastor and the youth pastor at the church. The former abusive pastor had retired the year before, and I was now working with two other men who were not abusive and who I considered friends. The power the former pastor had over me had slowly began to diminish. We were still “friends,” we still talked every day, but the intensity of the relationship had died out.

The new pastor had been to an annual denominational meeting and was sharing with me and the youth pastor about a resolution all the ministers had signed that stated they would work together to effectively minister to those in the church who had been sexually abused. Here is part of what it said:

Be it further resolved that we urge all church leaders to use their influence for the protection of children, by any and all godly means, including preaching and teaching against the heinous sin of child sexual abuse, warning anyone with knowledge of these sins to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), and by supporting victims who often suffer in silence and shame without the vocal and compassionate support of the church;

The pastor wanted us to take turns reading sections of this resolution, but when he asked me to read my part I shouted out in a burst of anger instead, “If only this had been signed earlier.” I don’t remember what I said after this. I just remember shaking all over. Both pastors knew something was very wrong and strongly encouraged me to find a counselor.

I emailed a therapist in another state whose books I had read to see if she would counsel me over the phone. She responded and made an appointment to talk the following week. I tried as best I knew how to continue to try to do my job at the church, however on the inside I felt like I was falling apart at the seams. While I was cleaning the sanctuary of the church after the Sunday service, I was listening to a sermon podcast on my phone. The pastor was talking about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Hearing his words caused another wound to rise to the surface. I realized that I had not loved my neighbors. I had been deceiving them all. It was in that moment that I knew God wanted me to tell the truth. I fought Him hard. Ten years of lies seemed like too much to confess. But I could not rest or sleep until I agreed with God that I’d tell the truth.

During the first appointment with my therapist, I finally uttered the words I had not spoken to anyone before. I told her that I had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with the former pastor. When I shared with her the details of what had happened, she shocked me by calling it abuse. She also said it was possible that the former pastor was a predator. I did not know what to say. I listened to her talk about abuse of power, appropriate boundaries, and the responsibility of someone in a pastor’s position to keep relationships with those they were ministering to healthy. The truth hit me hard. I had been abused again.

When the phone conversation ended, the new pastor walked in the door of the church. He asked me how the therapy session went, and we sat down in the sanctuary of the church to talk about it. I was so overwhelmed that I told him everything without thinking about the implications. It was the new pastor’s first church and he had only been there for a year. He placed his face in his hands overwhelmed himself.

The following week I met with the new pastor again. He had reached out to the president of the seminary he had graduated from for help. The president reached out to ironically the same therapist whose book the former pastor had counseled me with, Dr. Diane Langberg, for help. Dr. Langberg responded after hearing my story and agreed with my therapist calling it a severe case of spiritual abuse. She mailed the church educational materials to help us understand what had occurred. She also talked to the pastor on the phone advising him on how to proceed in exposing the abuse. The first step was to tell the leaders in the church. The next step was to tell my husband.

The next parts of my story are some of the most painful to tell. I will never forget the night the new pastor told my husband. We had arranged to meet at our house after he got off work. The kids would spend the night at a friend’s house. The hours before the pastor came and my husband got home are permanently stamped in my mind. The house was empty and so very quiet. But a storm was raging inside my soul. I feared everything in my life was about to fall apart. I walked down the hall of my house stopping at each of my children’s rooms. Would things ever be the same again? Would my husband divorce me? Would my children hate me? My heart was overwhelmed with fear. Please, dear God, help me.

My husband came home soon after. He was tired from a long day at work. He did not know why the pastor was coming over to talk to us. He went straight to the shower to get ready for his visit.

A short while later, we were all sitting in our den when the pastor broke the news to my husband. He was speechless for a moment and I braced myself for the worst. Finally, when he did speak, he said these words, “I knew that something was about to happen when I was in the shower and heard the words, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'” And he got up from his chair, walked across the room and hugged me saying that he forgave me. I knew for the first time in my life I had witnessed a miracle.

The relief I experienced over the next few days was unlike anything I’d felt before. The truth had indeed set me free and my husband had forgiven me. I began to believe that everything would be ok. I had no idea how bad things were about to get.

In the following days, the leaders in the denomination would meet and make a decision about how to handle what I had exposed. There were emails and other correspondence that were turned over to them. The day finally came that they confronted the pastor with the news. On that day, the former pastor and his wife tried to call me and I blocked their numbers on my phone. I was scared to death and drove an hour away with the new pastor and his wife to another town to later meet my husband. In the days following this, the former pastor was deposed from ministry.

The church sent me and my husband away for several days of intensive counseling in Colorado with my therapist. While we were there it was decided by the church leaders that a church meeting would be held exposing the reason why the pastor was deposed. I did not want my name to be given at the meeting, but the leaders in the church insisted that the entire story be told in an effort to protect the church from gossip. My husband and I agreed on the grounds that a letter my therapist and I had written would be read and the church would be educated about spiritual abuse. On a conference call with our therapist, these terms were agreed upon.

My husband and I were still Colorado for counseling when the meeting happened. Not only were members of the church invited to attend the meeting but visitors were, too. We received a call after the meeting was over from the new pastor of the church. He said that the meeting had been peaceful and that people seemed to take the news better than expected. A text I received from the pastor’s daughter confirmed that people were going to try to forgive and move on. The news should have given us peace, but my husband and I both were unsettled and we did not know why.

We returned home and attended church the following Sunday. I knew if I did not go then I probably would never return. The former pastor had been told not to return to the church and had been assigned to another one. We walked in to church after the service started and slid into a back seats. I was so overwhelmed sitting in church that I don’t remember a word the pastor said. I was way too aware that everyone in the church knew what had happened. I was so afraid of the responses I would receive when the service was over. When it ended several people walked up to us giving us hugs and telling us they loved us. Some came by and spoke silently that they forgave me. I didn’t know what to say to this. I was confused that they forgave me for being abused. I wondered why no one said I am sorry for what we had been through. A text later from another member gave further clarity. She texted saying everyone messed up and it was OK. She said I shouldn’t beat myself up. What! I was shocked. It was clear that major facts from my story were missing. My husband and I asked the pastor if abuse had been explained to the church and if the letter from my therapist had been read like we had agreed. He stated that in the meeting what that what happened between the former pastor and me was not called abuse or an affair. We placed a call to the head of the denomination who had been in charge of the meeting asking him why a large part of the story had been left out. He accused me of shirking my responsibility by trying to call what happened to me as abuse. He brought up what I had done to deceive others in the church. I was crushed. Over the next few days we met with leaders in the church and they finally admitted that they edited my letter and that the church was not educated on spiritual abuse. They also told us that as far as everything went the matter was over. They offered to help our family deal with the fall-out, but they would not change the story of what was told to the church. They were satisfied that the damage to the church had been minimal and bringing it up further would only do more harm. Even though the new pastor did apologize to us for not being truthful, our family was so hurt that we left the church and never returned. In the following months, I was so overwhelmed by shame that I did not want to leave the house. My husband and I decided the only way to survive as a family was to move.

A year later my husband and I wrote the church a letter requesting that they remove our names off the membership role at the church. We began to attempt to rebuild our lives and trust God with what was ahead. It has been incredibly difficult and lonely. Not only did the pastor deceive us but the church did, too.

As I have said earlier, this blog has been a journey to sort through all the confusion and pain, an outlet for me to be honest with myself, others and God. Writing all of this has been like opening up wounds all over again. Why would I want to remember such pain? Because I believe the only way to move forward is to somehow reconcile the past and grieve all that has been lost.

Four year later, I realize it’s time for me to forgive myself and the church. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Nor does it mean pretending everything is fine or minimizing the damage that was done. It means looking at all the fall out, the pain and the blood and recognizing that God looked down and saw the same thing when Jesus was on the cross and said, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Sometimes people don’t look or act like victims on the outside.

Sometimes our wounds are hidden on the inside.

We are all fighting difficult battles.

We need to be kind.

We need to speak the truth to one another.

We need to protect one another.

We only have the ability to respond to the things that we have control over.

That’s what I did when the time came.

I need to forgive myself, too.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19‭-‬21 NLT