Archive for March, 2015

For the first several weeks after we were tossed out of our church I felt like I still had sea legs.  I had learned over the years to walk somewhat steadily – or at least with a great deal of familiarity – as the wind and waves of spiritual abuse crashed over and around me.  Though I found myself on solid ground, my body, mind, and spirit continued for a time to lurch and sway as though I were still on board that hulking monstronsity of a church from whence my spiritually abusive treatment had pounded unabatedly.

The deception of sea legs once one is back on solid ground is that you feel as though you are wobbling, rolling, and shifting.  It is more than unsettling.  It is nauseating and frightening.  I lived in a panic not knowing if I could or even should move forward in a life devoid of church, Christian friends, and that all-important to-do list that had made me moderately acceptable the last few years as I gave inordinate amounts of time and money to the church.  For years while I was in the church, I was scourging myself to show my agreement with the leadership that I was completely unworthy.  So, too, I was exhausting myself trying to prove that I was changing into a better person by attempting to make things right, to grovel, to repent for sins of which I was unaware, to give more, do more, be more of what they wanted me to be.  I tried so hard to win their favor – it was like riding on a ship in a storm.  I would lean one way as the ship rolled and crashed, but just as I thought I was finding my footing it would writhe in the opposite direction.  After years and years, this became my “normal.”  I knew how to navigate on the ship, how to stay upright on my feet. Truly, I clung to the railing of the ship for years and vomited and vomited and vomited over the side – a sure sign to my abusers that I was not yet worthy of their acceptance and favor.  I was so incredibly sick from the way that the ship church kept rolling and twisting and if affected every aspect of my life.

And yet this had become the life that I knew.  It was the life I was comfortable with.  It was my world.  And I didn’t know how to live without it.  So when I was thrust onto the solid grown outside the church, I continued for a time to roll and twist and vomit. My initial reaction upon being irradicated from the church was to do anything and everything to win my way back onto the ship.  My husband and I attempted to set up meetings.  I was willing to admit to anything, confess that I was the wicked witch of the west, take whatever punishment was deemed appropriate – no matter how degrading, shaming, or humiliating.  

But after a few days, the nausea began to abate, the room around me stopped spinning and roiling, and as I realized that none of those whom I had counted Christian  friends in the church were not going to make any effort to reach out to me, my perspective began to change.  Though I had been blogging for a couple of years about my experience with spiritual abuse, until my dependency began to wear off, I was like an addict who knows that what they are “using” is killing them.  I had been willing to “pay ” anything to stay in that noxious environment and it wasn’t until I was out of it, which was for me a short while, that the mesmerization began to loosen its hold on me.

Still not completely free, for a while I entertained the idea of trying to accomplish outside the church what I had wanted to achieve inside the church.  I had always felt called to minister to people who struggled with being “lesser than” – from supporting aspiring worship leaders to helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.  So, I of course thought about starting a ministry for the spiritually abused.  I met with a few people and communicated with a counselor about having her input or even leadership in a group.  (The counselor had also been abused by the same person in leadership who had tossed me out of the church.)  I thought about writing a book – and still am often encouraged to do so.

During those first few months, I so wanted for my life outside of the church to continue just as it had when I was inside the church.  It was where I found my identity and I didn’t want to let that identity go.  But with time, I began to realize that my desire to have a “ministry” outside of the church was simply my continued attempt to convince myself and others that I was worthy, I was good enough, I did measure up, that I was valuable.  All of those messages from the church that I was unloved, unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, were still rambling around in my head and heart and I was still trying to board a ship of my own making – trying to do something to convince those who had abused me – and myself – that they were wrong.  

Gradually, as the ground beneath my feet became more and more stable, I my heart began to realize that which my head had known for many, many years:  that my value was inherent in that I was made in the image of God and I am one of His beloved.  The head-heart connection is, ultimately what kept me in that abusive environment for so long.  I knew in my head that the messages the church and senior pastor had been communicating to me all of those years about not measuring up were wrong.  It was this “knowing” that kept me from being acceptable to him because I would tell him how wrong he was – theologically and with scripture as proof.  Time and time again I railed to the pastor that what was happening to me was wrong and why it was wrong and why it needed to stop.  And I demanded answers about why it wasn’t changing.  Yet, he refused to respond.  At one point he even derided me for being a “theologian” as though the fact that I could support my stand with scripture was another negative about me.  

I responded that I am not a theologian but I do understand grace and mercy, forgiveness and reconcilliation and restoration.  And the fact that I demanded those things for myself and for others was the impetus for it being denied me in deeper and deeper ways until I was totally ostracized and then eventually tossed out fo the church. Being in that situation – fighting for what was right and what was true and what was most Christ-like, yet living under tyranny and judgment and ostracism created an atmosphere like a ship in a storm at sea.  It was my strength of faith and survival instinct that allowed me to endure nearly debilitating abusiveness for so long.

The journey of truth from head to heart over time brought me to a place where I was able to gradually let go of my need/desire to prove my worth – to anyone.  My value is not determined by anything other than my existence.  And the only accomlishments I need to make are to do what is placed before me each moment of each day.  Leading my students to discover, expressing the delight of seeing my granddaughter, watching my sons turn into gentlemen of character and integrity, walking side by side with my husband as we grow old with grace, encouraging friends, neighbors and acquaintances, offering a kind word to everyone we meet.

When the ground is solid beneath your feet, you discover that striving is unnecessary.  You discover what it means to walk humbly with God.  

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A must read.

A Cry For Justice

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

One of the things we do regularly at ACFJ is to call upon pastors, elders, denominations, church members, para-church ministries, seminaries and faculty, counselors and others to roll up their sleeves and join hands with us in this battle against evil in the church.  Namely, the evil of abuse. The evil of abusers and the evil of the church rendering injustice to abuse victims. You…

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“I’m praying for your healing.”

“What makes you think I’m not healed?”

“You keep talking about it.  You won’t talk about it any more once you are completely healed.”

“Seriously?  Remember how they told me I wasn’t to tell anyone what was happening to me?”

“Yeah.”

“As along as I wasn’t talking, I was immersed in their abusive treatment.  It wasn’t until I started healing that I was able to talk about it.  In fact, talking about it is one of the best indications that I have healed.  Talking about it means that I am not ashamed, I am not hiding, I am whole and strong and victorious.  Not only that, but talking about it allows me to extend the overflow of strengh, wholeness, and healing that I have to others who are looking and longing for healing from the abuses they have suffered.”

Where do people get the idea that silence is an indicator of one’s “health”?  Throughout both of my spiritually abusive experiences silence was the great shamer.  “You can’t tell anyone” was a decree that I didn’t measure up and my plight was so shameful that to speak of it would be catastrophic.  Don’t tell anyone or they will know that you are defective.  Don’t tell anyone or it will prove that you deserve this and much more.  Don’t tell anyone if you ever want to get out of the mess you are in.

Not being able to tell is confusing.  Especially in my case where I wasn’t being told why I was being ostracized or what I had supposedly done wrong.  Not being able to tell kept me from getting or finding answers.  Not being able to tell kept me from being able to ask for help outside of those who were abusing me.

Not telling gave me hope that if I kept silent long enough, maybe that would prove my worth, my loyalty.  Not telling gave me hope that I would be able to salvage my dignity.  Not telling was the only thing I had to cling to.  

But not telling also kept me prisoner.  I walked a tightrope of trying to balance asking my abuser to help me while at the same time trying to win his favor.  I pleaded for help that only he could give – hoping to win his sympathy but ultimately incurring his contempt.  The more I tried to avoid further abusive behavior, the deeper the ostracism became, moving from not being able to participate in one area of ministry (worship/music) to not being able to serve in any capacity, to not being able to be involved in anything except general worship services (warming a pew, putting money in the offering).  

It was so confusing to try so hard to do everything “right” and have the result be further banishment.  

For several years, even though I had been through a spiritually abusive experience before, I could not nor did I want to recognize what was happening as abuse.  It was a “misunderstanding,” a “stressful time,” an “it will blow over, just give it time.”  But as the castigation spiralled from weeks to months to years, I became more and more worn-down spiritually, to the point that my PTSD symptoms were becoming apparent to those around me. 

I would weep through worship services – triggered by lyrics of God’s love (because He obviously didn’t love me) and by sermons about grace (there was obviously no grace for me).  Just walking in the door of the church brought a dark cloud over me.  I couldn’t lift my eyes to meet others’ and I avoided speaking as much as possible – too afraid that anything I might do would lead to even greater persecution.

Finally, when my PTSD became so pronounced that I was having panic attacks at the thought of meeting with church leadership (the pastor wanted to place me before a tribunal, of sorts), I sought counseling.  Yet even as I drove to that first counseling session, I was beginning to come up for air – to recognize that what had been done to me, what had happened and was continuing to happen was spiritual abuse. 

My counselor immediately recognized that what was happening had damaged my spiritual health and she immediately recognized that my pastor had no respect for me.  Even then, I didn’t want to accept the truth.  For about two minutes.  

Just as I had spiralled down through the years, without even realizing, it, I had begun to spiral back up and my healing had already begun as I continued over the years to plead with the senior pastor.  I had spent years and hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls asking for, begging for, demanding that he explain why I had been treated so injuriously for so long.  With every unanswered question, every ignored request for help, every cancelled meeting, I had initially spiralled down, and then, gradually began spiralling back up.  Regaining my strength, my relationship with God, my wisdom, my tenacity.

And ultimately, it was that strength than got me tossed out of the church.  Because I talked.  To my counselor.  To a couple of church “friends.”  To family.  

When I was finally strong enough, healthy enough, to face those who had abused me and demand a God-honoring conclusion to their mistreatment, they couldn’t do it.  They couldn’t face me.  Couldn’t face up to their sin.  Couldn’t confess or apologize or repent.  They refused to talk.  To me.

Talking leads to and confirms healing.  So please don’t think that because I continue to talk or blog that I am still wounded and struggling.  I am happier and healthier than I have been in many years.  Life is good.  God is good.

And if anyone out there needs someone to talk to – to listen to their story so they can find healing – I’m here for you.