Mar 18, 2013

telling the truth, part four (the end)

I won’t experience the fullness of redemption until I die or Jesus comes back (HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE), but I am being renewed day by day. Sometimes I get tired of crying, which only makes me cry more, but God has been so faithful to supply every need.* After posting the first part of my testimony, I was shocked by the amount of people who had similar stories. I felt burdened for days because I seriously, actually hate that sexual abuse is so common, especially within the church. There is a comfort in knowing I’m not alone, though. Most people who contacted me hadn’t shared the truth yet, but felt empowered to do so after reading my story. I couldn’t help but cry after each message, bewildered that God would use me to bring about freedom in another person’s life. I’m honored.

A lot of people have asked what I personally need prayer for, so here’s where I am:

1. My life still feels a little fragile and chaotic. I’ve found that I can only process things for three or four days at a time before going crazy. I’ve taken up watercolor painting and cupcake making, though, which helps my brain from spontaneously combusting. I’m tired (and look tired) almost always, because it turns out your body is physically affected by the sudden surfacing of a decade’s worth of emotions. This is part of the process but it can get exhausting, so I’d love prayer for joy and energy.

2. In the past months of book-reading and life-processing, I’ve realized how much resentment and distrust I have towards my family and consequently the church. I’ve joined a congregation that I love and immediately connected with, but there is still part of me that anticipates being harmed and rejected by the leadership. I am confident that God has placed me underneath healthy leaders that will nurture and support me, but I’d love prayer for a healed, trusting heart towards the church. I’ve found myself trying to impress them and earn their approval, but God has been faithful to let me trip and stumble through it all. I think I ugly-cried in front of the teaching pastor within a month. And one of the first weeks I led worship, I accidently slept through the entire morning service. Walking in for the next three gatherings, I expected everyone to roll their eyes and shove a microphone in my face. Instead, the worship pastor gave me a fist pump and said, “I’m happy you’re alive.” YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS.

3. As of this moment, I think I’ve forgiven the boy who abused me. But it’s a daily choice and steady struggle, so I’d love prayer for a forgiving, humble heart towards my abuser. I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again: my offenses against God are infinitely greater than my abuser’s offenses against me. Because Jesus radically forgave me, I am compelled to extend that same forgiveness to others.

4. Digging deeper, it seems that I’m more damaged by the spiritual abuse that allowed for unresolved sexual abuse rather than the sexual abuse by itself. It’s all pretty dreadful, but I’ve found it most difficult to walk in forgiveness in this area. That being said, I most need prayer for a forgiving, humble heart towards my extended family. I think I’ve cognitively forgiven them, meaning I know it’s the right thing to do…but this reality hasn’t seeped into my heart yet. Some days I pray that God would bless them. Other days I pray for a meteor attack. This kind of bitterness only harms me, though. I continually go back to the truth that nobody has mistreated me more than I have mistreated God. While I have been wronged, I am ultimately a wrongdoer. Clearly I’m still working through things and can’t say I have the attitude of a saint yet… but I’m getting there, one day at a time.

Honestly, I'll take all the prayers I can get. I'm not picky even a little bit. Really though, thank you for caring and reading and reaching out to me over the past few weeks. I literally jump around my room at every message because I know God is doing something here, way beyond my story or circle of friends or blog posts. He is on the move, I'm certain of it.

In many ways, I feel as if I’m finishing the introduction chapter of my life. History has been accounted for and the stage has been set. There is a wonderful adventure ahead and I know good days are coming.

The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater. –Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

*When I say I cry all the time, I’m not even remotely kidding. I teared up during a Publix commercial the other day and realized it was a problem.

Mar 12, 2013

telling the truth, part three

(This post will only make sense within the context of Part One and Part Two)

I spent the summer of 2012 in northeast England, living and ministering with these awesome people. At this point, I had only shared the story of my abuse (and addictions and rebellion that ensued) with three different friends. Upon arriving in England, though, God clearly spoke to me and said I was there to share my testimony. I literally (out loud) said, “NO THANKS,” but within a week God got his way and half of England knew my story. It was strangely liberating to share the worst things about myself with a room full of strangers, but with an understanding of God’s sovereignty and unconditional love, I was able to point to the darkest, most wicked areas of my heart and confidently claim that Jesus was greater.

It was helpful for me to verbally process my testimony because I hadn’t yet recognized that the sexual and spiritual abuses were intertwined with my addictions and insecurities. It’s odd that something as awful as abuse can turn into a haze after being ignored for long enough. While it was always there, I often asked myself, “Did that even happen?” But every time I shared my story, God revealed another connection to another dot. I left England with an assurance that God was doing a great, redeeming work in my life, but I also knew it was time to share the truth. Everyone thought they knew me, but I was really just a stranger.

I told everyone in my family separately. This was in an effort to share the necessary details and nothing more. Nobody knows everything except me and him* and God, of course, but I’ve shared enough that it doesn’t feel like secret anymore. My parents and siblings experienced a million different emotions after I told the truth. There was guilt and anger and sadness and loss mixed with a joy of knowing that God had both spared my life and would redeem it. Those first days were special and the presence of God was tangible.

The next five months are undeniably the hardest to write about. I seriously cried like seven times a day because I felt so confused and broken. Night after night, I questioned whether I should’ve said anything in the first place. And I want to be really careful with my words here because it’s still a sensitive situation… but this is part of the truth and I’m so sick of keeping secrets it’s not even funny.

When I came back from England, my entire family (extended and immediate) was still in ministry together. Because the person who abused me is a relative, though, everything was bound to get messy when I told the truth. I only want to share details that prove to be valuable, so I will simply leave it at this: After more than thirty years of functioning in a specific way, my entire family structure fell apart. Some thought it best to remain storefront mannequins for the sake of ministry and blood loyalty. I don’t think anything was done maliciously, but it seemed as if I blew the whistle to call a foul and everyone continued to play the game like nothing was wrong.

I wish I could talk to you in person and explain the implications of this. The entirety of my life revolved around ministry. Loyalty to the cause was of primary importance, and within a few weeks, the foundations shook and everything fell apart. The relationships I had with my extended family—people I had seen every week for twenty-one years—were severed. Of course I felt guilty, too, because everyone else was affected by the truth. I saw my mom and dad and sisters and brothers lose relationships with their uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents. Everything changed.

When the walls around you begin to collapse, you’re forced to discover what you really believe about God and what you thought you believed about God. I particularly questioned his goodness and sovereignty.** Being obedient to him immediately resulted in a broken, angry family and like 20239 days of crying. Why would a good and sovereign Father let this happen, right? Even still, I learned to reconcile my circumstances under the umbrella of God’s character. This was the only way I could maintain sanity. If my circumstances dictated the character of God, he would constantly be changing from good to bad to kind to mean to loving to hateful. If the character of God determined my circumstances, though, even the worst of situations could be a foundation for joy—knowing that all things work together for my good and his glory, and in suffering I am being molded into his likeness. I’ve found myself planted between these tensions:

God is absolutely good, absolutely sovereign, and absolutely loves me.
Also, my family is absolutely broken, I was absolutely abused, and my face has absolutely aged prematurely due to the stress of it all.

It’s not pretty, but it’s true.

This feels like the most scattered post to me, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because everything’s not wrapped in a sparkly pink bow yet. My therapist*** thinks I’ve not fully processed through my bitterness and rejection issues and frustration towards the “family ministry” mentality. And that’s probably true, too.


*The boy who abused me. I tried to structure that sentence in a hundred different ways but it still sounds ugly. Sorry.

**The past few years, magnified in these last months, have taught me that God is big enough to handle my questions. If I hadn’t ever questioned or doubted or struggled with God, there’s no way I would’ve gotten to the point of telling the truth. Instead, I would’ve continued to mindlessly play the game of lifeless religion. God isn’t intimidated by me or my questions. That being said, I’ve also learned to shut my mouth and raise my hands. I’m not as good at this (SURPRISE) but I’m growing.

***You need one, too.

Mar 11, 2013

telling the truth, part two

(If you've not read Part One yet, you probably should so this will make more sense)

As soon as I got my own car, I went to Starbucks almost every day after school. I became fast friends with people that worked there and had a crush on all the boys because they were musicians with cool tattoos. One day, a friendly barista asked me if I had ever listened to Matt Chandler. For all I knew, Matt Chandler was a rockstar or maybe a classical violinist… I didn’t know he was a pastor. Furthermore, I was baffled that someone would purposefully listen to a sermon outside of church on Sunday morning. But because this barista was a cute musician with cool tattoos, I responded back, “I don’t know who he is, but I’ll listen to almost anything!” He sent me a podcast from Matt Chandler entitled “2009, part 2.” I listened to the first thirty seconds, realized it was a sermon, and didn’t touch it again.

Six months later, I found myself crying my eyes out with a broken heart. The details aren’t terribly important, but this is the first time I can remember being depressed. Keeping true to my dramatic personality, I locked myself in my room for days until my eyes were puffy and bloodshot. One night, while continuing to weep like a pathetic little puppy, I thought about the podcast I got from the cute barista at Starbucks. Looking back, it’s clear that God was orchestrating this entire thing...but at the time I was like, “WHY AM I THINKING ABOUT A SERMON WHEN I JUST GOT DUMPED.” About to be forever changed, though, I wrapped myself in a blanket and listened to “2009, part 2.”

I’m not totally confident in how to explain the next hour of my life. It was as if God opened up my eyes and shouted, “You’re mine!” And that was that. I couldn’t have stopped it even if I wanted to.

Within minutes of listening to this sermon, I fell in love with Jesus. Something shifted in my heart and God’s grace and love and redemption made sense. At one point in the message, Chandler talked about how God’s affections for me are not wavered by my shortcomings because of the cross. I remember crying and crying because I never realized the grace of God freed me up from trying to earn the grace of God. I couldn’t work enough or hide enough or wear enough costumes and masks. His death paid for me in full, covering every ounce of addiction and shame and rebellion. It reminds me of the famous verse in Romans 5: “But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If this kind of love doesn’t make you drop to your knees in awe, nothing will.

For the next year or so, I found myself continually coming back to this truth: I cannot contribute to my own salvation. I cannot reconcile myself to a Holy God. Even if all of humanity’s good deeds were put into the same lot, it would not be enough to pay for one person’s salvation. I can either humbly submit to the mercies of God or spend the rest of my life enslaved to self-righteousness and religion.*

What a concept, right? To think that you and I do not split the cost when it comes to salvation? It’s not like God contributed 50% on the cross with the expectation that we would cover the other 50% by means of good deeds and mission trips.** I had been living in a vicious cycle of dead religion: doing everything I could to suppress the anger of God, just to fall short and earn the anger of God, just to work even harder in order to suppress it again. That night, though, Jesus called me out of chains and into mercy; out of darkness and into light.

I’ve laugh-cried like six times while writing this because I still can’t believe Jesus saved me through a podcast from a random pastor in Texas while I was crying over a goofy boy. And the only reason I had the podcast was because I was addicted to venti iced passion tea lemonades from Starbucks. COME ON.

*I really hate the “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” fad because there are many ways in which Christianity is a religion. In the context of this post, though, I mean religion in the negative sense—man trying to reconcile himself to God by means of good works.

** I call this the “halfsies mentality” in case you were wondering. Sometimes it feels good to use complicated theological terms, you know?

Mar 5, 2013

: telling the truth, part one

I need you to know I’ve drafted and deleted this post at least twenty times in the past six months. The first ten drafts were written out of anger and revenge. The next ten were written out a mixture of sadness, frustration and loss. Now, I’m crossing my fingers for pure motives and writing out of broken joy mixed with a pinch of hopeful expectation. I’ve divided up this blog series (so official!) into four different parts. As a warning, the first one is by far the most depressing, but I promise it ends well because the plan of God can't be stopped—his truth marches on in my life and your life and the lives of everyone across all time and history. This is a big step for me and I'm excited/grateful you're sharing in it.

Living a secret life is incredibly difficult to keep up with, but many times we’re taught to be OK because everyone else is OK. Foolishly we walk around like storefront mannequins with colorful masks and costumes, completely ignoring the poison that ails our hearts. I’m not sure where the idea came from that Christians are called to look like robots that never struggle with anything because WE’RE COVERED BY THE BLOOD AND DON’T EVER HAVE PROBLEMS EVER… but it’s an artificial and mechanical way of living. It's a lie, really. And I’m not trying to be dramatic or depressing or overly intense, but there’s the sweetest, most amazing freedom found in exposing the truth.

God exposed the truth, didn’t he? He didn’t sweep our sin under the rug and ignore the condition of our souls. Instead, he uncovered the darkness of humanity by sending Light to earth: “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). If God isn’t in the business of secret-keeping* I’m not going to be either. 

When I was eleven, I was sexually abused in the trunk of a car while my church’s softball team was winning a playoff game fifty yards away. He was a member of my extended family, and five years older than me, so I didn’t say a thing.** My entire family (extended and immediate) was very involved in ministry. We ate together every Sunday after church. We spent holidays and celebrated birthdays and baptisms and weddings year after year. Being in a ministry family often comes with the expectation of acting like storefront mannequins, though. There is a pressure to look perfect and have the right answers and be problem-free forever and always. In my experience, many tensions were ignored for the sake of ministry and many relationships suffered for the sake of sermons and songs. In the same way, my abuse was left completely unresolved. Sometimes it's easier (and less disruptive) to act as if bad things never happened in the first place.

The sun kept rising and the world kept spinning, so I moved along and didn't mention it again. Out of the eighty-seven million books I’ve read about childhood abuse in the past several months, almost all of them agree that this is when I went into survival mode. I know it’s kind of gloomy, but it really makes sense of why I acted the way I did, especially in high school. I was addicted to a number of things*** and stopped eating for a while and couldn’t carry on healthy relationships with anyone. Seriously, if you have time, read this article on adult victims of childhood abuse because I fit into a ton of those statistics. 

I didn’t like myself, didn’t like other people, and really didn’t like Jesus. But I never missed a Sunday at church, don't you worry.

The next nine years of my life were spent “wandering from the fold of God." I was coping and rebelling and harboring hatred in my heart while simultaneously wearing elaborate masks and costumes for the world to see. I won like... every single Bible drill and never cussed and didn't sneak into any R-rated movies (except Sweeney Todd at age 16), but my soul was quickly withering away.

It's kind of surreal to put everything into words, especially this part of my life. I just can't believe Jesus pursued and saved me in my wandering. What a Savior.

This is a good stopping point, I think. The upward swing is coming.

*In this context, God isn’t in the business of secret keeping. Meaning, everything that is hidden will be exposed (Matthew 10, Mark 4). But there are certainly secrets God has (Deuteronomy 29:29) because he’s God and we’re not. So in some sense, God is both in the business and not in the business of secret keeping.

**I want to make it abundantly clear that my dad and brothers haven’t ever (ever ever ever) laid a hand on me. Except one time my brother farted in my face and covered me with a blanket to make me smell it.

***I’m not dancing around anything, I just want to be mindful of the ages and experience of people reading this.