Tag Archive | sexual abuse

Compassion Changed My Life. Thank You, Pastor!

I realize this blog is a little long; but, it’s important to raise our spiritual leader(s) up on a regular basis–by offering prayer and at times showing them some appreciation. In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to dedicate this blog to those who have given their time to tend their flocks.  I know that my pastor’s compassion helped me to change my life.  I was sexually abused as a child, and I had a lot of baggage.  My pastor helped me to understand how to leave my past abuse behind while becoming more passionate for Christ.

So how can we show our appreciation to our spiritual leaders?  Well, most pastors put a significant amount of their time into preparing sermons.  I think one of the best ways to give encouragement to them is by being faithful participants in the congregation.

Many pastors pour their heart out, using God’s words, into a sermon to tell us the truth of His grace and love for us.  These words spoken, allow us to understand the faith & hope we can have through Him so that we can live and have a passion for Him.

It seems to me that the life of a pastor might be one of the loneliest professions one could pick. It has the makings of a very tough, demanding – and lonely – occupation.

Frustrating?  Some of the times, yes.  Rewarding? Most times, yes.  Spiritually fulfilling? I am most certain yes, and on many different levels.

To spend one’s “everyday” life to further the kingdom of God must be a great profession indeed.

We all have days where nothing seems to go right. Maybe days of immense stress with any number of things that could be contributing to a “bad day.” Maybe you’re having a “season” of bad days.

When that happens, it’s not uncommon for us to talk the situation over with a spouse, family member, friend, or peer. Those conversations can be a great relief.  Maybe you might come up with some solutions that you had not considered.

Your pastor has probably had some of those same “bad” days; but, unlike the rest of us, they often don’t have the luxury of a sounding board.

Think about it.  Most of us have jobs where we are faced with “performance” appraisals once, maybe twice a year.   Pastors are continually being critiqued on a weekly basis. I’m sure there is someone sitting in the pews, on any given Sunday, who is thinking that the sermon could have been better, or that the music wasn’t to their liking, or that the service just wasn’t “good” enough.

It’s almost certain that at least some of the comments will make their way back to them. Who are they going to discuss their concerns with about the fact that no matter what they do…somebody seems to be unhappy?

Then there’s this role of counselor.  We often speak to our spiritual leader in confidence. Things said, and seen, can weigh heavily on their heart.  All along pondering how to deal with such difficult situations. Yet, where can they go when they are feeling emotionally drained themselves?  Where can they go to receive advice about how to handle a particular situation?  That could be a whole separate blog; but, at this time I want to share what one of my pastors did for me.

As a child I had been sexually abused by my stepfather from the ages of 7-15…becoming most intense from age 9 and on.  I had no idea of how much the abuse really affected me.  The following is an excerpt from my site “About Grace Desired”:

     “My husband, Sam Hairston, had researched and found a church that taught reformed doctrine.  We had been attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church for over a year. I have never been one to stand out at church.  I have pretty much been a back row worshiper.  I obviously lacked passion for His truth–because there was definitely a lack of knowledge.

As time went on, and due to the good leadership at the church, I began to understand more of the Bible–the truth of His Word.  The senior pastor, Tom Gibbs, has a vision and a passion for furthering His kingdom by being compassionate toward His people.  The church has a vision and passion as well.  Together, the community of the whole church has a passion for wanting to further His kingdom within our city and beyond.  For the first time, since I was in high school, I had begun to love a church.

At church it was spoken that the broken (being me) could be energized by the “grace of God”.  Week after week, I began to hear that Jesus was for the brokenhearted.  Tom preached, and I heard that Jesus could be my champion, and that I could be made new like the “Oaks of Righteousness“.  I also heard that God took delight in me.  I thought, who me?  I am a broken and scarred sinner who is full of shame, guilt, fear, and contempt.  How can that possibly be?  I was a skeptic!

At the time, Pastor Tom Gibbs, and his wife Tara, believed something else.  They had noticed the back row worshiper and her family.  I was told that they had prayed for us prior to their time spent with me.  I suppose they wanted us to become the front row family.

Anyway,  they began to play an integral part in my life.  They dedicated much of their time trying to help me see that His grace and love is the reality of my faith & hope; thus, I would learn that I have really received His grace for my past secrets.  They helped me to begin to understand that my shame, guilt, fear, along with my contempt, were unnecessary–because Christ took all of that away when He was nailed to the cross. The path was becoming clearer.  I was to begin my journey learning that God desired me for who I was…even if I was broken.

I began to realize that God was actually “wining and dining” me.  God longed for my attention.  I began to feel God’s love, and it was the kind of love that I subconsciously craved for years and did not know it.  Many, many months went by, and little did we know that a volcanic eruption (in epic proportion) would follow after the completion of the workbook.  It was very painful to recall the memories I had suppressed.  I began to have nightmares.  I had no idea of  the emotions that were surfacing to the top (like the beach ball). These were emotions that I had harbored within my very soul for years.

My “season” of confusion, self-hatred, and fear became too complex… even to the point of  a deep despair.  I began to become so frustrated that I cut myself a couple of different times.  Of course I never really wanted to die; but, that I just wanted to get the horrible shame, guilt, and fear out of my body.  

My “season” of emotions turned into “seasons” gone bad; kind of like a really bad reality TV show.

I believe God puts people into our lives for a reason. I definitely believe God brought the Gibbs’ into my life for a reason.”

Sometimes we put our spiritual leaders on pedestals of sorts – and it’s got to be a little lonely up there. We might forget that they’re human beings just like we are. They have strengths, and they have weaknesses, just like us. They get tired. They get frustrated. They need a pat on the back every once in a while, too!

So while Pastor Appreciation Month is a great thing, remember it’s important to support them all year long with prayers and words of encouragement. If last week’s sermon had a particular impact on you, say so. Send your spiritual leader a note of appreciation. You can also support spiritual leaders by becoming more involved with the church.

If we are enthusiastic followers of God, it will mean something to God – and to His ordained servants.  I’m thankful that my pastor showed compassion and saw more in me, than I saw in me.  He saw that God was not finished with me yet.  Through his compassion he helped me to leave my past abuse behind and helped me to become more passionate for Him.  Thank you, Pastor!

My prayer for spiritual leaders would be: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” ~Philippians 1:2

In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, I would like to thank the rest of the staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas.  They are as follows: Tom Gibbs, Senior Pastor; Brandon Eggar, Associate Pastor; Victor Martinez, Assistant Pastor; Michael Novak, RUF Pastor; Brent Watkins, Music Ministry (BTW he also has his own jazz band “South Texas Jazz); Bekah McNeel, Children’s Director; Matt Beham, Youth Director (who has spent countless hours with my kids); Harriet Peavy, Office Administrator; Sarah Gill, Assistant Administrator.  I would also like to thank the Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses for their countless hours of service.  There are so many others that play an integral part behind the scenes, and God bless you all for your time and efforts to further His kingdom.

Stop…in the Name of Love!

Domestic Violence is an abuse like no other. This type of abuse affects all involved. If there is violence in the home, the whole family is involved.  In honor of those who have suffered from domestic violence, my plea is stop…in the name of love

There are many people who can’t deal with the reality of their behaviors. They distort the truth to serve their self. There are a few who have no concern for others well-being, and will do whatever it takes to manipulate the situation.

Some people tend to hide their problems very well. They live an emotionally empty life creating situations to serve their own needs. Some want to come across as “good” people, yet behind closed doors they may become hurtful to others. But those on the outside don’t always see what’s going on behind closed doors; thus, causing further problems leading to some confusion.

After a while it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what’s being distorted.  Those who suffer begin to doubt their reality and question whether or not they are crazy, or whether the other person is really right about what they say. Due to my past sexual abuse, I could also be one to distort reality…especially if I thought I might be abandoned, or become vulnerable.

The truth is…they, as well as myself, are not always right!

Some people don’t exhibit the volatile extreme emotions.  They are calm and quiet for the most post part.  They “seem” unmoved by the feelings of others…even if they really care about others. This also “seems” that they may not be fulfilled by the relationships within their lives. This may leave them with the feeling of being empty: thus, trying to fill their lives with behaviors that are not always acceptable. Others exude extreme emotions; wearing them on their sleeves when they are easily upset.  I fall into the later category.

Most behaviors originate from an extreme emotion triggered by fear, or lack of confidence. I know that with my own fears of abandonment, I can easily hurt the very people I care about.  I have  periods of remorse, deep regret, and shame for my extreme behaviors.  Most people, who hurt others, usually feel some type of remorse…of course there are those who do not seem to show any. Sometimes this period of remorse is called the “Honeymoon” period.

This period often has the feeling that there may be hope, and encouragement.  Then during other periods, there may be extreme agitation, that is often intensified by the lack of self confidence, or fear of not having expectations met.  Sometimes people come across as not being empathetic…especially toward another. The perception is that there is no real problem; thus, there is no need to work on any relationships.

Domestic violence is an often “smoothed over” in families today, and Christian families are not immune to its “flaming darts”. The warning signs can be hidden or disregarded.

In Proverbs 26 it says, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’…The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body…Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, … A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Many may regret  hanging on, or trying to stay in a relationship, especially when it may be debilitating. The reality is that abuse hurts, no matter who you are, or how old you are. It destroys you from the inside out, and cuts away at how you believe in yourself…your very core.  There is a realization that one may face that there is no escape from the abuse without giving up a huge part of one’s life. Some put up with attacks before retreating to safety. Alcohol/substance abuse can elevate attacks.  There comes a time when too long is…way too long.

When a relationship gets really bad, they can drain us. And while we all want to be faithful within our relationships, we can really get ourselves in a bind by “sticking” with a harmful situation too long. We begin not to have enough strength left to help ourselves…much less our family.  We may become ill, or very irritable from lack of sleep.  Anxiety takes over eventually leading to despair if help is not received. When faced with domestic violence, many seek guidance and solace within their faith.

People have a desire to be faithful within relationships. But it is really important to be realistic about our own strength.  The problem is that leaving is hard. The thought of the ending of a dream as a reality is painful.  Being faithful can be tiring. In fact, one may not have enough strength to leave…if it comes down to it. Repeated “fight and flight” responses to self, or another, is tiring, and might need some extra reserves just to make it through the day. Decisions that are best made for the relationship can be quite painful and draining as well.

For the abused they often feel abandoned by God. Christians often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships because they don’t understand the scripture where it talks about submissiveness.  Sometimes a church leader may strongly encourage the victim not to give up on the abuser; thus, they feel the need to remain in the relationship for fear of breaking covenant.  One seriously has to look ahead to the message that is trying to be conveyed.

The message is clear.  The victim got into the situation because of desiring to be loved.  Instead of looking for love from people; Love must be looked for in God–the One who loves us unconditionally.  God is love!  Put your trust and love in God.  He will never fail!

…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God .”  ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Love comforts us!  The Lord sympathizes with us.  He knows what it was like to suffer needlessly at the hands of others.  Because of this, we are allowed to “…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”  ~ Hebrews 4:16

Abused people are usually able to find strength in their faith and/or community. If they are comfortable doing so, they may talk to their religious leaders about their situations.  If asked by the victim, spiritual support should be given.  Be encouraging to one another.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

As a religious community, it is important to have some knowledge on domestic violence issues.  Pastors could use the pulpit as a way to educate the congregation of such issues.  It’s important not to offer poor advice for a member’s situation. Sometimes advising to stay with an abuser to keep the family intact at all costs may cause more, or unnecessary, damage to the relationship(s) and sometimes safety problems.  It is good advice from religious community to suggest seeking couples counseling  from a trained professional.

There is so much madness that goes on behind the scenes.  Verbal and emotional abuse can cause much anxiety within the victim and possibly family members.  There are many horror stories of physical and sexual abuse that tags along with the previous mentioned abuses.  For some there is no way out…except by death: either being the victim of someone’s abuse, or suicide to get out.  It’s important to become educated on signs of domestic violence, and what to do.  I pray that the religious community will get involved, and that be one of the first things to do.  Even if only praying, and acting as encouragement, is all the religious community can do…that would be a blessed start and most welcomed.

Stop in the name of Love!  Stop the madness of abuse.  Become educated.   Learn of God’s unconditional love that He has for the brokenhearted.  Learn how He will renew and restore  broken hearts.  He gives strength to the weak, and rest to the weary.  Seek Him and He will open the door to healing.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  ~ 2Corinthians 4:16-18

I Am More Than a Broken Girl. I’ve Survived.

I was sexually abused growing up as a child; BUT, I am more than a broken girl.  I’ve survived.  I’m a child of God; therefore, I’m not who I used to be!

There’s a verse in Proverbs that says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son,but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  This text was originally written in Hebrew.  There have been many different translations, and much interpretation; but, in this case discipline was meant to teach or guide, and it was not supposed to be used as a punishment.

I was often “disciplined” by my step father; but, looking back…it was definitely a punishment and not really a “teaching” moment.  His way of disciplining varied from speaking harsh words that I was worthless, to physically hitting me, and he often sexually degraded me.  I never really knew which form of discipline I would be receiving; therefore, I was constantly on edge.

The anxiety that I experienced as a child was often due to the fear of punishment.  My thoughts would be when would my step father come again?  What have I done to deserve this?  Will I ever be good enough to warrant praise?  I thought I must be very bad to be so punished.  I would often feel guilty for upsetting him enough to do such things.  I would associate feelings of guilt with being punished.  Even today, I may apologize for something that I did not do (although I do lots of things that need apologizing for).

Child sexual abuse is the use of sexual behavior in a way to control the behaviors, or actions, of a child.  Sexual abuse acted upon a child can have lasting effects that can carry through to adulthood.  One of the main reasons is that the victim keeps the abuse quiet, and does not tell anyone.  In a child’s mind, if there are no witnesses…who is going to believe them?

Sexual abuse can be quite confusing to a child especially when the one who is doing the abusing is supposed to be doing the loving and protecting.  It’s a harsh reality and confusing when this takes place.

Looking back, I would say that no one really knew I was being abused.  I had bruises, and when others asked me about them…I would just say that I got them playing sports…or I fell down.  I feared being found out which could lead to more potential pain.

My step father had ways to keep me quiet.  He told me I was worthless, that I was tainted, and that no one would want me.  This caused a great fear of  abandonment within me that I still have trouble with today–when I get depressed.  Many feelings have remained with me stuck in the back of my mind.  It is a sick situation–fearing that no one will want me, like me, or that I will have a spouse to take care of me.  It’s a horrible feeling!

My step father said he would beat me up if I told anyone, and since he already hit me…I did not tell anyone.  I seriously did not give out the gory details until my pastor and his wife recommended a book called “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender.

It has been three years this month (October) since I began that life changing journey.  I was afraid, even as old as I was, to tell my heinous secrets from my past.  I was living in darkness hoping no one would find out.  The problem was that my secret was beginning to take root inside of me and weeds were beginning to grow.  I was letting the darkness consume me.  The lies I had heard for most of my life were turning me into a sad, broken girl.

I know I have mentioned this before; but my pastor, Tom Gibbs, once told me that, “By giving into the fear of darkness, it will only compound the pain and evil of what has already happened.  By you keeping things hidden it will gain power over you.  Remember, that God is Light and there is no darkness in Him.”

The Urban Dictionary has two definitions for a broken girl.  A broken girl (lower case) is a girl that has tattoos that show or unconventional piercings. The bigger, or more of them, the more broken she is.  A Broken Girl (capital letters) is a term the redwings use to describe a girl who… is not reputable to tell any of your friends about at all and no one would want to know about.

To me, I felt as if I was the broken girl defined.  I had been told I was worthless.  I felt as if I were a disgrace.  I felt misunderstood.  There are days I still feel like this…of course from my own doing.  On occasion I have a little help from others; but, for the most part…it’s just the lies of my past.

Matthew West has an amazing album out.  He took stories from other people’s lives and he wrote songs about them.  His album, and tour, is called “Story of  Your Life”.  He did a great job writing theses songs about various experiences, and tied them to how God loves us.  Some stories were of praises, and some not.   There is one particular song that he wrote about a broken girl, and it was very real to me.  The good news is that he talks about the Good News.  Matthew talks about how God is Love… figuratively and literally in this song. He says that Love sees us differently.  Love sees beauty, and He can’t be taken away from the broken girl.  Matthew’s words struck a chord with me, and here are part of the lyrics of a “Broken Girl”:

Look what he’s done to you
It isn’t fair
Your light was bright and new
But he didn’t care
He took the heart of a little girl
And made it grow up too fast

Now words like “innocence”
Don’t mean a thing
You hear the music play
But you can’t sing
Those pictures in your mind
Keep you locked up inside your past

This is a song for the broken girl
The one pushed aside by the cold, cold world
You are
Hear me when I say
You’re not the worthless they made you feel
There is a Love they can never steal away
And you don’t have to stay the broken girl

Those damaged goods you see
In your reflection
Love sees them differently
Love sees perfection
A beautiful display
Of healing on the way tonight
Tonight

Like Matthew, I want to reiterate that God is Love.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:7

God loves those who are crushed in spirit.  One of my homework assignments when I first met with the Gibbs’ at their home, was to find verses where it said that God loved me.  I found out that I was His Beloved.  I learned lots of things that I had never known.  No one had really taken an interest in me spiritually since I was 16…this was 30 years later.  A lot had happened over those years.  A heart became hardened.  Roots of bitterness were taking over.

I had to make some changes, and quick.   Tom also told me that I must learn to let Jesus love me, and I must love Him in return.  If I don’t do this…it will be impossible for Him to pull my weeds and replace them with flowers.  I have really come far despite my abuse and lack of knowing a lot about the Good News; but, I can cultivate a bigger garden if I let God help me.

I will say that I did question God, in the beginning of my journey, why I had to be naked and exposed?  No child should have to experience this kind of pain alone.  God revealed to me that I was not alone.   He was with me.  Christ suffered with me, and for me. The difference when Christ suffered for me was that I was in the crowd.  I was the one of the ones who shamed Christ.  I pinned him down with my sins.  I was the one who caused His suffering and the exposing of His naked body.  Jesus took my shame.  He did it all for me. The truth is that Christ suffered for me, He showed me grace, and now he gives me hope.

I am more than a broken girl.  I’ve survived.  I have lived through things I never would thought I was capable of, and it was all because of Christ.  His Love has helped me to discover that I’m worth fighting for, and He has given me strength to survive. Christ is healing me, pulling my weeds out to make a beautiful garden.  I am a child of God.  I’m not who I used to be.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. ~ Psalm 147:3

“I Can’t Carry It! But, I Can Carry You!”

Toward the end of Tolkien’s book “The Return of the King, Frodo says,

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

Because of my past sexual abuse, I have a few things from my past that the hurts go rather deep.  I’ve thought…could they ever really mend?

My pastor, Tom Gibbs, once told me that, “By giving into the fear of darkness, it will only compound the pain and evil of what has already happened.  By you keeping things hidden it will gain power over you.  Remember, that God is Light and there is no darkness in Him.”

The hope in my brokenness is through the Light of Jesus; because through His Light all darkness shall go away.

My pastor also told me that I had been standing–waiting in the dark.

I have ignored the Light for many years.  While I had been waiting in the dark, I remembered that there was a light that had been behind the “door of my heart”.  I had been longing and hoping for the Light of Jesus to be shed on me.

Come to find out–Jesus’ Light had been there the whole time.  I just needed to turn around, truly see Him, and let Him into the dark places of my heart.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  ~Psalm 34:18

Looking back, I suppose Jesus allowed the memories of my past abuse to resurface because it needed to be dealt with.  Maybe the Lord was reopening these wounds, so that I could truly forgive my self, and others.

For years I felt intense anger, and had tried to ignore my emotions.  I was angry at my stepfather for the sexual abuse he had committed. I was angry about the memories that I had been left  to deal with.  I also felt guilty about being angry.

After studying Psalms, and learning about God’s emotions, I began to learn about my own emotions.  It helped to see some examples of how God felt about certain things; therefore, I was better able to understand, and was able to let some anger go as well.

It has been a slow process; but, I have made some progress.

I’m not going to lie,  opening wounds, is a lot of my own fault!  No one makes me hold onto the past.  The last few years I have been searching as to why I have harbored so much pain deep within.  I don’t want to pick at my wounds keeping them fresh; but, sometimes I find myself doing just that. While keeping them open, it has caused pain for myself, and others. It’s a vicious cycle that had potential to consume me.

In my desperation to find out answers of why others could not understand me…I began hurting them.  I hurt the very ones I cared about.  I might verbally be abusive, and this only compounded the feelings of guilt that I already felt. I began to feel that I was not worthy.  I felt that I was a mistake, or a disgrace, to all that were around me.  Once again the cycle was in place and continuing to gain force.

Sometimes, I couldn’t stand myself  for what I had done; thus, on occasion I hurt myself.  I felt that if I hurt myself–there would be some restitution for hurting others verbally.  However, most did not know that I had sought restitution…within myself.

I began isolating myself.  I thought that  isolating my self from others–would “save” them from me.  In my mind this is how I thought I should “handle” this type of situation. But, in isolating my self, it caused much pain of feeling abandoned…even if I was the cause of my own abandonment.

I have a friend Joey who recently told me that, “the one who abuses is usually the one holding onto their own personal wounds. They never really heal because they keep picking at the scabs, re-opening the hurts of the past and keeping them fresh. Then they lash out at whoever is closest to them, because the ones that originally caused the hurt are usually long gone. The wounding then becomes transferred to another victim. It becomes a vicious cycle unless the abused can short-circuit the circle of pain; thus, the need for a professional counselor to help me.  His name is Jesus and I thank Him every day!”

These were some words to mull over.  These were strong words of wisdom.

I began to continue picking at my wounds–keeping them fresh and open.  I felt few seemed to understand me. I felt others didn’t believe that there was great suffering in my past.  I felt I had to defend myself to others so they could understand. I felt since they had not experienced that kind of abuse…that they may feel how that could have happened. I also felt worse when some didn’t want to understand my past at all…to be discarded.  I felt they were extremely insensitive.  I let these feelings cause great confusion within me.

Now, pondering what my friend said…I realized that Jesus is the best counselor.  My pastor and I had also talked about how the Lord had given me His Holy Spirit–to be my counselor/comforter.  He had been with me always, even when others were absent.  He walks with me right now!

I definitely need to hold onto this truth, even when my way seems very dark.  I know that there will be brighter days!

Knowing this I began to feel safe enough to take steps forward toward healing, and understanding Him.  I have learned that I could trust, and not all would judge me—no matter my mistakes. I was beginning to understand that I was not a misfit.

I tend to see things in night or day.  I am a perfectionist about some things and lack concern about other things.  My pastor told me that Jesus was less interested in me being perfect than in me knowing His mercy and grace.  The very mercy and grace that covers all of my mistakes.

Through great wisdom of many, I have begun to replace my thoughts of guilt with thoughts of His joy, truth, and grace.

Finally I am beginning to feel that I am loved, valued, and treasured.

I know there have been many prayers for me,  some like “Lord, keep Beth from lying to her self.  Pray that she will begin to see Your truth—Your Light.  Prayers like, “May You be a beacon of Light for her in dark places, when all her other lights go out.”

Right before Jesus died on the cross he said, “Into Your hands, Father, I commit my spirit”.

I need to commit my spirit to Him. I should no longer be powerless or broken from my past guilt. Through Jesus, I have the same power to resurrect myself from my pit of darkness, brokenness, and despair.  I should no longer feel guilt over my past.

Physically, on Earth, God could not carry my guilt; but, He told me to release it, let Him carry me, and finally be rid of it.

One of my favorite parts from “The Return of the King”, is when Samwise and Frodo are at the bottom of Mt. Doom.  Samwise begins talking to Frodo about the ring and says, “I can’t carry it for you! But I can carry you! Come on!”

The ring had caused open wounds around Frodo’s neck because of the weight of the ring.  Frodo needed to get rid of the ring; therefore, Samwise carries Frodo up Mt. Doom.  Eventually, Frodo was able to throw the ring into the fires…where it was destroyed.

God is telling me that He will carry me.  God would not have brought me to the abuse, and then back to the memories of it, or healing of it, if He could not bring me through it. His eyes are fixed on me.  Like the “refiner’s fire”, God begins to purify me of my past guilt, so that I can be made new in His Light.

Praise Him for His great strength, and Light!

Hidden Shame

Sometimes I had put up walls and hid–not to keep people out; but, to see who cared enough to break them down.

“Shame is a feeling deep within our being that makes us want to hide.”

I had hidden shame. It was such shame that stemmed from the feeling of being exposed (in my case I was exposed), being made visible, and examined by another who was rather critical of me.  Because of this feeling, I wanted to be invisible.

Experiencing this type of shame, my eyes began to turn inward–becoming an enormous self-judging problem.  I saw myself as a failure.  I felt as if I was a mistake, which made many mistakes.

As a child, I tried hard not to make mistakes.  I felt I needed to meet the expectations of others, or what I thought others wanted. I feared that others would reject me if I did not meet their expectations.

I equated some of my feelings of shame to the abandonment and isolation that I experienced from those important to me.  I apparently took this to be that I was not valued enough–to be taken care of.

As a child I was dependent on others.  Being valued was important to me.  When that support was missing, I am sure I began to unconsciously think I was unworthy–disconnecting within my world more and more.

At times my shame felt proportionate with the situation.  Sometimes, I was able to laugh off the small instances, and move on; other times, I just wanted to hide.  There are times I still just want hide.  It’s like when I hid behind my hands.  It gave me a sense of not being exposed.

Sometimes in my sense of hiding, or going away, is where the thought of suicide came into play.  I began to self-devalue myself, and self-hate.  Why not? Others have thought that about me…or so “I thought”.

The anxiety that I experienced as a child was often due to the fear of punishment.  My thoughts would be when would my step father come again?  What have I done to deserve this?  Will I ever be good enough to warrant praise?  I thought I must be very bad to be so punished.  I would often feel guilty for upsetting him enough to do such things.  I would associate feelings of guilt with being punished.  Even today, I may apologize for something that I did not do (although I do lots of things that need apologizing for).

I felt completely alone as a child.  I was alone.  I was the only child.  Within the solitude of isolation is where I began to think I was unlovable and even invisible—that I was a big mistake.

In essence, I began to lose myself within my self.  I tended to “magnify” how I thought others were viewing me.  I may had the feeling of disgust for not living up to other’s expectations.  I wanted to be needed, be perfect, and to be loved and accepted by others.  When my expectations were eluded, or thought to not be met, I felt isolated…even when it is my own self doing.  I still do this at times.

I know that some of the unresolved, unspoken, and repetitive shame I experienced as a child has caused pain throughout my whole life. My shame has been rooted into my heart in a negative way. I let those negative messages fester over the years.  It became a part of my everyday life.  I had become what I thought I was—a mistake.  I was lost in the darkness, not attempting to see any light.

Over the last couple of years I have begun to let the Lord use my shame to make positive changes in my life.  Jesus began to open the door to my heart.  This was the door that I have kept closed for most of my life.  He has slowly opened that door allowing me to look back at the shame of the sexual abuse that I endured.

I have leaned heavily on that door–keeping it shut for many, many years.  It is not that I had forgotten about what happened, but I chose to place it in a part of my heart that I did not want to see, or open.  It was nice and dark over in that corner—trying to be invisible.  I did not want to look; but, Jesus has taken my hand, and He has begun to slowly open that door.

Once He opened the door the memories of abuse came flooding back. I could see the various acts that had happened to me as a child, and I was scared.

While standing at the door I have noticed that there was a light behind me, but not really thinking much about it.

What was Jesus trying to show me about my past?

All of a sudden, I thought about how I felt when I was pinned down by my stepfather.  How I felt completely powerless, naked, and exposed!  I was angry!

Then Jesus pointed out to me how His naked, exposed body had been nailed to the cross, and He, too, was completely powerless.

And uh yes…what’s your point?  I am thinking about me, Lord, not you.

Then I began to think about those who were near me, and did not take up for me.  The time the “friend” was in the chicken shack while her uncle did the unthinkable.  How there was no investigation about how I got all those bruises?  Why didn’t the doctor pursue what he had original thought—that I might be pregnant?  There was no investigation.  Others sat back and did nothing!

Then Jesus pointed out to me that He, too, had friends and family who stood by and did nothing to help.

I had never thought about it in this way.  Yes, I know the story, but had I never really thought about how abandoned Jesus must of felt.  I was only thinking of “me” and how I felt.

It is true!  Jesus, the King of Kings, was nailed on the cross, and not one person tried to help Him while He suffered.  And who did He suffer on the cross for?  He suffered for all those who were watching in the crowd.

In essence, I was in the crowd.  I was the one who shamed Christ.  I pinned him down with my sins.  I was the one who caused His suffering and the exposing of His naked body.  Jesus took my shame.  He did it all for me.

Jesus could have saved Himself, but He made the greatest sacrifice so I could live.  Jesus despised the shame so much that He endured the cross taking on all of my hidden shame and guilt that I pinned Him down with and gave me grace.  The grace that I had so desired is now the grace that I have received.  Thank you for His love and grace that has given me hope to stop hiding my shame!

“…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame,…”  ~ Hebrews 12:2

Strength to Carry On

I have been thinking, and trying to pinpoint, on how to express myself on the particular topic of strength. Some kinds of strength are good.  After all, it is a reflection of God Himself, and He said this is a good thing.  But, I think some strength, if misused, can be hurtful.  It does not have to necessarily have to be physical strength (like tackling someone to the ground); it can be as little as a look of disapproval.

Certain strengths have the potential to become an intimidating misuse of power over another person. I think it is important to know, that if gone unnoticed, strength could get out of hand and end up hurting others (like a form of bullying).  My disclaimer is that I have taken part, and we probably all have taken part in a misuse of power some time or another.  I myself can be rather dominating and/or manipulating.  It is a control thing.  It’s the power within me thinking that I can fix things on my own…instead of truly turning things over to God.  I have finally realized that can become a misuse of power that I frequent.

I think that it is God’s desire for us to use our positive strength to lead our families; like the Sanctus Real song says, “To stand up for them when they can’t”.  To be a wall…a somewhat pillar of strength.  God’s own characteristics include strength & tenderness; respect & forgiveness through His grace & mercy.  Only God can be the true judge of our life.

If we are truly made in God’s image, then we must have a desire to gain those characteristics—to be strong and loving.

There is nothing wrong with being physically strong, if one acts in an appropriate manner.  I guess I am trying to say that maybe a better strength to “workout” for–would be the strength that comes from the heart.  Reading the Bible, worshiping, taking part in a community are all great ways to strengthen your heart.

Strength looks different for different people.  It could be a silent strength, verbal strength, strong- heroic type strength, being protective and gentle for the abused, or even having the strength to be humble.

In Genesis, we find out that Eve was very manipulative.  Granted, she probably could not have wrestled Adam into eating the apple; instead, she used her verbal strength and tempted him in this way.  Although, Adam had been informed of this particular tree prior to Eve being created;  he chose to remain silent, or passive.  Adam could have spoken up and said something to warn Eve about not eating from this tree.  Eve obviously did not understand the importance of not eating the apple from the tree.  She insisted, to Adam, that the serpent was telling the truth…so they ate from the tree, and we know the rest of the story.

Eve using her verbal strength to tempt Adam led to his passiveness…which led to other problems; for instance, violence followed once they began procreating.  This violence started between brothers and definitely became a misuse of power and strength.  I believe many have seen this kind of power misused at some point in their life. This type of strength does not discriminate!

I also believe that we have the capability to misuse our own strength of power at times.  We are all sinners!  An extreme misuse of this strong power can be destructive for all involved.

So why do people misuse their power?

Maybe their “good” strength was ignored, or shamed, by someone.  Maybe their insecurities lead to their downfall.  Maybe wanting the other person to change encouraged manipulation of others…which is a misuse of power.

I am guilty of this sin.  My idol of controlling outcomes of others is one of my gross misuses of power.

God was proud of Jesus.  He claimed Him as His son, and said He loved Him. Affirmation is really important!  Although men and women like different kinds of affirmation, that does not mean to ignore each other because of the differences.  We all feel that we don’t measure up.  We are all insecure at one time or another—made vulnerable.  For some, the vulnerability might come from past abuse; belittling could be happening presently. Finally, some are scared of what the future has in store for them.  Will I be made fun of because of my lack of _?_ (fill in your own blank).

Abuse is a type of strength that is blatantly misused.  It comes in many forms.  It could be words spoken, or not.  It could mean being aggressive physically, or passive emotionally (not being protected).  It could be getting fired for something that one did not do—maybe simply because you’re too old.  It can also come as sexual abuse.  This type of abuse can have many levels of abuse: from harsh words spoken to the extreme of being beaten, or even worse things that I don’t really care to mention.

Sometimes rather than being a strong leader, we give in to our fears and insecurities.  Sometimes, we are just plain jealous of other’s strengths. I know this all too well.  Sometimes, I am more concerned about what people think of me, rather than worrying about how I am alienating God.  I also get caught up in wanting something that I really don’t need and may want to coerce someone out of it…or want them to give it to me.  It doesn’t have to be a material object; it could be as much as wanting protection, love, and respect.

When a person lashes out physically, or verbally, they feel as if they have some kind of strength (or power); but, in essence, it is not genuine strength.  It is hurtful, and it might be considered bullying.  Again, this could stem from their own insecurity or weakness.

This is not always true; but, some may have a deep rooted insecurity that they may not even be aware of within themselves. I will say nothing really justifies bullying, or being manipulative of others.  It is very hurtful to those that are on the receiving side.

Loving accountability must take place to help achieve the goal of healing from misused strength.  This can be done through community; such as with a church, some peers, or a strong group of friends.  Loving accountability must also take place to help one not to misuse their “weak” strength.  Both types of accountability need love and encouragement.

I will say that pointing out the misuse of power of another will usually not help.  Often times, it will make things worse.  Learning to love boldly would be most helpful in this situation.  Dan Allender uses an example of telling a story/example so that another  may see their misuse in character.  It’s like a mirror; thus, one could see the reflection of their action. This may allow them to see how they are truly behaving.

The act of “loving boldly” does not always work. One may have a change of the symptom, but not of the heart.  To love someone boldly takes some practice.  For one thing, the mirror would have to be turned one self first before reflecting the mirror on the other person.

Good strength, or power, can lead to good things.  Just look what Christ did for us so that we could live.  It took great strength, courage, and forgiveness to be able to do what He did.  I could never really fathom what He did at all. It was the greatest heroic act that has ever taken place.

Knowing that there is freedom in Christ, the heart will need to go under a complete restoration.  One might begin with being less self-centered.  I struggle with this quite often as well with many other idols.  I may think that it is all about me.  How I am feeling? I may not always take into consideration how the other person may be feeling, or what pain I may be causing to them.

One thing that needs to take place for restoration to occur may be admitting that a change needs to take place…especially in one’s heart. If you can’t admit your weaknesses, it will be almost impossible for restoration to take place. Blaming others will not make a change in the heart.

Now some may say that the other is too sensitive. Of course there may be times when one can be too sensitive.  If others continually make others feel that they are too sensitive; then, it’s possible that the weakness of the one pointing out may hurt others.

Now a misuse of power can take place within one self.  One can blame them self or have a self loathing of self due to guilt and shame.  All of this can lead up to the misuse of power within one self, and will usually get worse.

There will be times that one may tell their self that another person may be the problem, and that the other person needs to get the help. This could be an excuse which seems to cover the true problem…maybe the problem is within them.  Literally, the misuse of power can’t be seen by the person abusing it.

Surrendering and/or confessing your misused strength to Christ is essential.  It is important to acknowledge what you have done to hurt others, and it is important to ask God for forgiveness; but, it must be sincere.

When talking with another be genuine, and give many details.  This allows the other person to know that one is truly sorry.  Being humble is good when it’s sincere.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Luke).

Let God love and forgive those that misused strength.  His grace and mercy should be all consuming. One must accept the fact that God can use a restored heart to further His Kingdom, despite one’s weaknesses–past or present or even future.

Again, responsibility and accountability should take place.  This is one of the first steps to restoration of misused strength.  It is not just enough to say sorry; but, to truly understand why.  To tell the other that one is sorry, and act upon it, is a great strength.  Those that take responsibility will take their consequence and learn from it to become a restored person.

Now understand that restoration may not always occur; but, when one realizes their sinful nature, the process can begin to take place.  One must learn to put off “your old self” so that one can “put on the new self.  To know that we are created to be like God”. (Ephesians)

God wants to bring true healing; but, it can’t happen without humility.  If one continues down the wrong path they might become self-destructive, or may be the root of someone else becoming self-destructive.  Being humble does not mean to let others run all over them; but, to just stop misusing the strength that God has given.

One must become totally broken and surrender to Him.  God is for the brokenhearted and He will make the heart new.  We are sufficient in His grace, and He finds strengths in our weaknesses; thus, we will be given strength to carry on.  The kind of strength to carry on restoration due to grace, love, and humility.

“…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

We will have the strength to carry on…with the Son, and through the Son. Power will be given to the weak, and make us strong!

When Did My Faith Become Real?

When did my faith become real?  I believe receiving faith is never-ending; therefore, my faith becomes more real with each “real” season I experience.  I recently told a friend that my current season of tribulations was like a bad reality TV show, and that I sincerely hoped that it would not be picked up for another season.

All joking aside, one of the worst trials I have ever had to go through was when I was a child.  I was sexually abused.  That terrible season has left many battle wounds and scars that still have not completely healed.

That experience led me to live a life that was not always conducive to spiritual growth.  I lived in fear of others…especially men.  My relational skills were lacking, and thus my communication skills followed suit.  Because I let my anger get the best of me, I became one who began to contribute to the pain of others.  The pain I caused was mainly due to my own selfish idols, and of my own making.

I was like a horse wearing blinders.  I could not see the pain I was causing others because of the pain I harbored inside, or even the pain I was causing myself.

As a result of my past abuse I have carried a backpack full of idols, pain, and fear.  I lack self confidence.  I am a skeptic when it comes to thinking that my Father could give me the grace of forgiveness that I so desire.  Even though I did not wish this abuse on myself, in the back of my mind I always wonder if I deserved it.

My husband, Sam, has explained his take on the situation.  If I had gone into the doctor’s office to get a physical, and several days later I got strep throat…did that mean I wanted to get strep throat?  Of course not, nor did I expect to get it.  Strep throat  causes many to become quite ill.  In fact, I usually get a headache and nausea along with it–making it a triple whammy!   Under the circumstances, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I never asked for the strep throat, and I certainly never asked for the abuse. My friend described the abuse like an illness that was given to me.  I couldn’t help it!  It was given to me.  I was so very young, and the abuser had no right to pin the abuse on me as my fault.  To threaten me with harsh words, and fists to body…warning me to never tell or he would beat me up.  No child deserves to be treated with such disrespect. To be made to feel like scum, and then told that no one will ever want them because they were tainted.

I believed him!

I have always wanted to run in a race; but, definitely lacked the passion to train.  Trust me, I am no runner.  When I was at Baylor University I was on the track team; but, as a javelin thrower.  Running was definitely not my forte.  In fact, one year I did not qualify in the javelin for the Texas Relays, so I had to run the 10K.  It took me an hour and six minutes to run that race.  The man who ran the half marathon passed me up.  BTW…now I would be lucky to walk a 10K.

Now I am remembering that I have this awfully heavy backpack, and I am thinking how do I run with a heavy backpack?  I see the military, or fitness gurus running with heavy loads to train; but, I don’t want to train with a heavy backpack.  I am not a fitness guru, and I definitely don’t want to train with a heavy load.  It would be extremely hard!

So how do I lighten the load in my backpack?  I have carried the load for many years.  I have become quite attached to my many idols, and I don’t know which ones should stay or go.

Then my Heavenly Father suggests to me to give Him my backpack.  I asked Him, “Why do you want my backpack?”

He answered, “Because, I love you, and I want you to run to me. I want you to fix your eyes on Me.  I have made a promise to  carry your heavy burdens, and I want you to run the race that is set before you.”

Okay, so even if I were to give Him my backpack, how would that help me to see Him?  How would that allow me a clearer vision to be able to run to Him?

I know now that I lacked a true passion for recognizing my Father, and his promise that He made to me.  I lacked faith and hope in the words He was telling me to obey.   I must really enjoy my bad reality TV show because that’s where I was headed…back to “seasons gone bad.”

I tried to focus on Him; but, I could not see Him at all.  I only recognized my stepfather, and all of the horrible things he had done and/or told me.  He was no father to me.  He did not protect me, or love me.  I became scared…so much so, that a couple of times during the race I considered suicide as an alternative to facing my fears.  Truth is, my own hindrances of my own  idols were causing  me to lack the faith I needed to run the race…to run the race with patient endurance.

I wanted to hurry up and train for the race my way.  I wanted to be in control.  In the back of my mind I wondered if I could run the race by myself?  Did I really need my Father?  Could I train without any help, because asking for help might mean I was weak?  I certainly did not want to look weak and unworthy to anyone.  I mean my stepfather did say that no one would want someone as worthless as myself.  I wanted to believe I could prove my stepfather wrong.

I learned quickly that training, and running alone, did not seem to be working for me.  Training by myself, I noticed that I seem to fail every time. I was extremely out of shape.

I wondered do I really  to need the “Author and Finisher” of my faith to help me train for this race?  Does He really know what path to take to get to the finish line?  Would He really be the only One who would be able to keep me from “jumping the gun” at the start of the race, and would certainly keep me from facing disqualification?  Would He do this for me just because He loved me?

I had to really dig deep inside to see what I really desired.  Did I want to continue carrying my heavy backpack, or give it freely to Him? My faith was lacking; but, He told me, “Come ye who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  He was telling me to cast my burdens upon Him, and He in turn would help me cross the finish line so that I could rest.  I definitely need rest.  I look horrible!

With His help, I found the faith, hope, and strength to go the distance…even when I could not always see the finish line. I knew that I would be able to reach the prize–which had already been fulfilled by Him.  I knew that He would give me rest.

I have decided that my faith in Him should not be just wishful thinking, but having a true passion; a trusting confidence that His promise of grace is for me–despite my past secrets, my present idols, or my future mistakes.  Through faith, God’s grace gives me freedom to be me—broken and scarred.

So when did my faith become real?  Every time I step out the door and experience various seasons.  Just putting one foot in front of the other, and walking out the door.  Now that’s having real faith to me!

 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”  ~ Hebrews 11:1

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