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

Self-Care after Spiritual Abuse

I am too hard on myself.

I push myself to be better than I am.

I want to do everything right.

And keep everyone from getting upset with me.

I realize how much I am doing this to myself when circumstances reveal to me just how out of my control things are.

Then the self-condemnation comes.

I feel overwhelmed, discouraged and wonder if I will ever get any better. It never ceases to amaze me how one triggering event can take my brain to a very dark place.

Most people aren’t able to give us the compassion that we need.

Only the safe ones can.

Especially when we’ve suffered from spiritual abuse.

The same scriptures that give others a reason to hope have been twisted and used to abuse us.

The messages we receive from well intended Christians tell us to forgive. To not get stuck in being a victim. To not let bitterness overtake us. Keep reading scripture. Keep praying. Keep serving Jesus. Keep coming to church.

It’s the best advice they have to give.

These are words that encourage them.

It’s easy to conclude that we must be doing something wrong when these words don’t encourage but rather condemn us even more.

It’s been five years since I last saw the man who abused our family.

And I still find myself believing the lie that the abuse was my fault.

And this lie pushes me to try to be a better Christian than I am and results in me being too hard on myself.

And then I just want to give up.

These are hard things to confess.

I thought I was better than I am.

But the wounds of spiritual abuse run deep.

And just when I think I am moving past them something happens to remind me that they are still there.

The quotes below come from a recent airing on The Allender Center podcast on the subject of spiritual abuse.

Dan: “They’re your guardian. They’re your protector. But they also have access to pass through that boundary and then become your abuser. […] It’s back to mind control. You feel nuts. But then it’s likely reinterpreted that you’re just not trusting God or you’re not believing good things.”

Rachael: “And then it almost feels like part of you goes underground, and then a part of you gets to stay above ground. Which means all this pain in places that actually need a lot of tending, need a lot of care, need a lot of love, are so cut off from God, because it’s now moved into that sense of either being innocent or being stained.”

I realize after reading these words that so much of the time my own pain is hidden from me.

There’s another part of me that can operate and function well on the surface.

This part can go to work and perform well.

This part can go to church and smile, stand in front of the church and read a scripture passage and give others the impression that I am doing fine.

But the reality is there is still so much pain hidden beneath the surface that needs healing.

This podcast helped me to understand how important it is to acknowledge my hidden pain when it comes to the surface.

This painful part of me went underground, because when I trusted the wrong person they used it to abuse and manipulate me.

When someone who is ordained by God to serve, protect and help us trample down our boundaries and get inside our souls and do tremendous damage, the fallout is deep distrust of others and ourselves.

We build walls to protect ourselves.

Walls that give the appearance that we are a lot stronger than what we are.

A couple of therapists gave me valuable advice.

They said to just observe others, especially at church.

To give myself all the time I needed to heal.

I forget this advice a lot.

I get impatient with myself.

I allow the words and expectations of others push me to do more and try harder.

And then I find myself crumbling under their weight.

And the pain comes seeping out.

My husband and I prayed yesterday that God would speak directly to us.

That He would help us to see past people and hear from Him.

And I turned on the Allender podcast and God spoke to the damaged parts of my soul.

And I knew in those moments that God sees our pain.

He knows and hurts for us, too.

He cares and prays for us when we don’t know how to pray for ourselves.

He’s angry about the abuse.

He promises to bring justice.

He promises to wipe away all of our tears.

And He said for me to treat myself with the same compassion He gives me.

I feel the weight of the pressure lift off of my shoulders.

My soul is safe with Him.

I can honor my pain by allowing it to come to the surface for Him to heal.

If your soul has been damaged by spiritual abuse, please know that God understands even when others can’t.

He will not abandon us.

Dan: “We would not be doing this if we did not think there was the potential for deep, deep change. But when you have suffered this deeply in this arena, with the stain of that level of evil, where you have actually come to feel and fear that you are as dark and evil as the person who harmed you, it is very hard to believe that you will have your body back, that this kind of shame which is indelible and permanent will never, ever be able to be escaped, and therefore isn’t it better to just try to isolate, go low, escape from involving. To that I say Hell no, hell no that isn’t true, because Heaven yes, there is actually a redemptive process that will bring you back to regain your body.”

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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

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

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

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

Finding Hope in Grief 

The painful process of dealing with our losses can result in hope when it reveals to us a loving Father who grieves with us and promises restoration. 

Grief crowds the heart, eats up all your energy and chronically imposes upon your peace.  But grief isn’t some evil force that’s only there to cause pain, grief is escorting up an even deeper feeling, a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. 
Katherine Schafler, The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving 

Recently,  I started to read the book Recovering from the Losses in Life by H. Norman Wright. It’s a book my counselor suggested I read over a year ago, but at the time I just wasn’t ready to process at the time. I could not see any benefit of feeling more pain. It seemed to take all I could do to function with what I was dealing with at the time. But lately,  I’ve been seeing the need of continuing to work through the losses in my life, not because I look forward to feeling the pain, but rather because I know pain is a necessary part of healing. 

I mentioned the show Rectify in my last blog. It’s a beautiful, redemptive show that I highly recommend.  The main character, Daniel, has recently been released from being on death row. Daniel suffers from PTSD after spending almost twenty years in a prison where horrible things happened to him. The adjustment to life outside the prison walls is overwhelming to him, but the memories of the pain he suffered behind the prison walls is by far his biggest obstacle. Daniel is out of prison, but inside his mind he is still locked up.  When someone recommends to him that he seek treatment for his PTSD, Daniel has the same reaction that I did to the thought of more pain; resistance.  

When pain is all one can feel, the last thing we want to do is add more pain.  

Eventually, Daniel realizes the only way to heal is to go back to it’s source and grieve what was lost. 

I initially started to grieve the losses in my childhood with my former pastor. I believed that opening up to him about my pain was what I needed to do to be able to move forward in my life.  I had no idea at the time how deep my pain really went, how crippling it would be to just remember some of the traumas that I had suppressed. I was not at all prepared.  Because my former pastor did not keep appropriate boundaries and what resulted was an abusive relationship and even more trauma, I am sure that you can understand when my counselor suggested facing my past again that it would be the last thing I’d want to do. 

I think the most difficult thing about grieving is how weak it makes me feel. Ever since being abused as a child, control is the only thing I could rely on to keep me safe. But as I’ve gotten older I’m beginning to understand that control has not really kept me safe, rather it has caused life to become an even more frightening place. 

Scripture says that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. That God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.  The only thing that can truly make us feel safe is knowing that God loves us and wants what’s best for us.  Our own fear and control keep us from experiencing this, and therefore keep us feeling unsafe. 

The painful process of dealing with our losses can result in hope when it reveals to us a loving Father who grieves with us and promises restoration

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

1 Thessalonians 4:13‭-‬14 ESV

As children of God, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because of Jesus, we have hope. Because of His resurrection, we can be assured that one day we will not ever have to grieve again. He has conquered death, sin, and the grave. And this hope has been the only thing that has kept keep me moving forward at times.   

But not only is the hope we have in the afterlife, but grief offers us clarity into what it is we really desire and need in life. Katherine Schafler states, 

But grief isn’t some evil force that’s only there to cause pain, grief is escorting up an even deeper feeling, a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. 

More than anything else, grief has shown me what I really need and want. Growing up in fear, taught me to live a life of control. I didn’t know that children needed fathers and mothers to keep them safe. I believed I could do it all on my own. But the pain of grief revealed to me what a tremendous loss this really was in my life. 

I was never meant to live life alone. I was created to be loved not abused. 

Ultimately, the pain of these losses has let me know that I am alive. It’s been the breath of God into a soul that thought that it was dead.

“But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. Your breasts became full, and your body hair grew, but you were still naked. And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord , and you became mine.

Ezekiel 16:6‭-‬8 NLT

Jesus, the Man of sorrows acquainted with our griefs, has not abandoned us in our pain.  He grieves with us in all that we have lost. Grief reminds us that we were not created to live in the broken world, but that we were created to have wholeness and life through Him. 

Even though I’ve been able to find hope in my grief, I still have to move forward through the process of experiencing the pain that grief causes and also the fears that more loss will occur, and it is difficult. I recognize that my  default mode is to do everything I can to control. Letting go of this need is a day by day,  moment by moment process in which I need the Holy Spirit to help me through. I will try and fail, but sometimes I will try and succeed. Reinvesting into life, moving forward towards the things I know that I really want and need are risky from a human perspective. Sometimes I find myself hiding in my room wishing I didn’t ever have to make another choice again. So much in life causes me to fear losing something else. However, my own control numbs me to the place where I feel nothing and that’s an awful place to be, so I recognize I must make one small investment after another towards the life I know God wants me to live.  One more step towards relationships. One more step towards change. One more step towards love. One more step towards hope reminding myself that He is a good Father who always keeps His promises. 

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”

John 14:1 NLT

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:3‭-‬5 NLT

*Photo Credit Rectify, Sundance Channel 

Caught

Caught

Caught

Every part of me wants to flee this town and never have to look anyone in the face again. I’ve begged God to let me go, but I’m still here.

This morning I woke thinking of the parallels in my life and my adopted father’s life and what is happening now. I am in the middle of a scandal in the same town he was over thirty years ago. I always swore I’d never be as stupid as he was, yet here I am.

My parents adopted me when I was three months old. They brought me home to a house that is right behind the church. My brother, who was 12 at the time, would ride me around as a baby on his go kart where the church now sits. I was told by my mom that made me very happy. Those were the good day’s before everything fell apart.

My adopted father was the vice president of a bank in this town. He’d worked his way up to success and my brother and I wanted for nothing. We moved to a bigger house in the nicest neighborhood behind the country club.  I could have taken pride in who I was and what family I was apart of, but for some reason I never seemed to be able to. At the core of who I was even as a little girl was shame that I wasn’t good enough.

My adopted father began to make bad choices that involved alcohol, writing bad checks, and God only knows what else.  He had appeared to be a man who had it all together. He was friendly, well dressed with a nice home and family, yet somewhere on the inside something went awry and he stumbled into the depths of human depravity taking us with him.

We lost everything, absolutely everything. I didn’t understand what had happened. My mom was angry and I was very, very afraid. My brother had escaped the worst of the downfall getting married not long before the house of cards fell.

For the later part of my adopted father’s life I listened to him rant about this town and the people in it. They’d taken everything that belonged to him. People he’d known at the bank had back stabbed him. Rather than take the responsibility for his fall he blamed others that he fell and the rest of his life was lived in utter shame.

I was taught that you made sure you held it together on the outside. If I ever lost it once and cried or got upset he screamed at me. Once I spilled a pitcher of tea on the kitchen table. It wet everything and made a huge mess. He was upset with me. I have lived years in fear of spilling the tea and messing up everything around me.  It’s been a huge responsibility, and I’m so very tired of doing it. As a matter of fact, I can’t anymore.

When I came to this church years ago I had no idea I’d stand in the middle of a scandal just as my adopted father so many years ago.  What makes me sick in all this is I’ve been more concerned about the mess I’ve made from spilling the tea and what everyone is going to think of ME rather than the hurt I’ve caused my family and will continue to cause my family if I continue to live in shame. I can’t carry the weight of my shame. I have three choices, I can  blame others as my adopted father did and die a slow and miserable life eating away at my family with the acid of bitterness,  I can internalize my shame and commit suicide leaving my family with nothing, or I can give it to the only One who can carry it.

He’s been waiting all of my life for me to give it to Him. He once stood naked and exposed before everyone, the laughing stock of many, a mad man to others, a Savior to those of us who will look to Him and not be ashamed. The sin that I gave into as an escape from my pain and the man I replaced my very Savior with are both covered with Christ’s death on the cross.  I could easily blame the man who became my idol for everything, but I won’t. I remember clearly the day I made the choice to turn away from my loving Father who warned me not to walk a certain way. From a worldly standpoint, the severity of his crime is indeed worse than mine. People looked up to him, expected more. I did, too and that’s why I’m writing this today.  I expected so much I made him a god. He was only a man who could do nothing without Christ, and Christ says to all of us, “It is Finished.”

Yes, there are consequences. Others have been hurt badly. Thus the reason for the law, to keep us loving our neighbors. The words I am sorry seem too shallow, but I am very sorry for not loving all of you. There is no excuse, but there is a relief we can all look to.  Jesus Christ hanging on a cross took the shame and said, “It is Finished.”  I’m here because I believe that. In this knowledge I am breaking the generational chains that have held me captive my entire life. Because of Him and Him alone, I am finally free.

Thank God in Jesus Christ our Lord.