Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Things You Don't See

The daily struggles.
The imperfections.
The insecurities.
The stress.
The worry.

As an outsider looking in on a Pastor's family, these are things you don't see. There are numerous struggles, imperfections, insecurities, stress, and worry. My husband pours his heart and soul into his calling, and it's hard.

But, there are other things that you don't see.

The daily triumphs.
The strength.
The stability.
The joy.
The excitement.

It's hard, but he pours his heart and soul into his calling. The daily triumphs, strength, stability, joy and excitement I see from him every day make me proud to be a Pastor's wife.

As an outsider, you may not see these things, but believe me, they're there.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Story

Sometimes, God speaks and it's unmistakable what it is He wants us to do. For me, that often means a little resistance (okay, maybe a lot). I've struggled with finding my voice, but once I did, I kinda have gotten louder and louder. I'm now less afraid of speaking out and sharing what God has laid on my heart. Some things just need to be said, and this is one of those things!

So, here we go...

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a podcast by Sheila Walsh. She was talking about her new book The Storm Inside, and the chaos women feel and how some of them have dealt with it. She talked about the various letters she had received from women who were heartbroken and desperate for answers. One women said, "My husband has left me and our three children. What do I tell them? They are heartbroken"

Another lady wrote, "My son is in prison. I did everything I knew to do. I raised him in the church. My heart is breaking."

Another one wrote, "My daughter's cancer has returned. She has gone through so much, and just when we thought she was clear, it's back. Why does God allow such heartbreak?"

And while I don't know who wrote those specific letters, I could name someone I know who is dealing with similar situations. You see that's the sad reality of sin. Through our own rebellion against God, our sin has brought an incredible amount of suffering into this world and it has spread everywhere and touched everything. We all could name someone who's going through heartbreak. Perhaps that name we think of would be our own. Perhaps we're the one who is heartbroken. That was what those letters did for me. Those letters reminded me of my own story of heartbreak and complete brokenness.

Now, I want to define two types of brokenness. First, there's brokenness by God, where God breaks you down and strips you of your strongholds to bring you into a closer walk with Him; like Peter. He denied Christ repeatedly, and God broke him of his fear, and ultimately brought him into greater usefulness than ever! So, there's brokenness by God, but then there's brokenness by you, where you break yourself, or allow others in your life to contribute to your brokenness; like me.

I was raised in a Christian home, and accepted Christ at a young age. I had a stable home life, with loving, supportive parents, and a wonderful (and sometimes annoying) younger sister. During my senior year of high school, I was in a dating relationship for a few short months, but for me, it felt like an eternity, because during that time I was the victim of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. I was told repeatedly that I wasn't worth anything, and that I wasn't good enough, or worth anyone's time. My abuser made it his mission to belittle me every chance he got. In total fear, I was forced to do things I didn't want to do. He stole from me my innocence. He stole from me my security. He stole from me my sense of worth. My abuser and his abuse led me to withdraw from my family and friends. I worked hard to hide any signs of abuse, and became an expert at masking my feelings. I didn't want anyone to know what was happening. I felt locked in a hellish prison. After all, he had promised even worse for me if someone found out. I experienced the longest and loneliest months of my life. As a result of what I suffered, I felt very insecure. I was scared and angry

For some of you, this website may be exactly what you were looking for. Maybe God led you here. Statistics tell us that 1 in 5 women will be the victim of sexual abuse at some point in their life. 1 in 5. That means some of you may have a very similar story to mine. For the rest of you, you probably know someone who has gone through this heartbreak. If you think you don't know of someone, you probably do, they just haven't been able to tell you about it yet.

If you are reading this, and you are still in that prison of fear, I want you to know that our God has come to set captives free. My prayer is that God will begin to show you the light of your escape. For some of you, you have escaped the abuser but you have not truly escaped the abuse. It's still there out of sight from everyone. Life has moved on, but you haven't moved on. It still has incredible power over your life.

The only hope I had was my salvation. That was the only thing I was certain of. I knew, without a doubt, that I was born again, and while my abuser may have taken many things from me, there was one thing he couldn't take: my salvation. I relied on Christ during those dark months, because honestly, I had nothing else to rely on. I often found myself down on my face before God, bearing my soul, overcome with desperation. I became entirely dependent on Christ. I knew that He cared for me!

More than 18 months after the abuse, in God's perfect timing, I began dating a friend from high school. It's a God-thing that we even started dating. I didn't trust anyone, and honestly I didn't think I had anything to offer anyone. So, I guess it's a good thing he didn't bother asking me out! He merely told me he was taking me out!

In 2003, I married my best friend, Daniel. In the years that followed, we moved, started seminary, welcomed twin boys into our lives, moved again, transferred to another seminary, got laid off from both of our jobs, moved, began our full time ministry, welcomed a beautiful baby girl, and moved again!

Life kept moving, as it tends to, and all the while, I felt trapped. I constantly wrestled with my past. All by myself. It had incredible power over my life! I was determined to keep my past a secret; to remain silent.

For me, being silenced began with the abuse; I lost my voice. For thirteen years, I was silent. Thirteen years of feeling broken. Thirteen years of blame. Thirteen years of fear. Thirteen years of shame.

Now, I want to take a moment to clarify something: there is a difference between shame and guilt. I never realized it until I heard Sheila Walsh talk about it. Guilt is when you've done something wrong, like when you see blue lights in your mirror and you know you were pushing the speed limit because you were running late for work or a hair appointment. Guilt is constructive and greatly used by God to bring us closer to Him. It is redemptive. Shame, however, is the feeling that you ARE something wrong. Shame pushes us away. It isolates us, which is where Satan wants us. It's no wonder why it's one of the most used weapons in Satan's attacks against us! So, I kept all of these things locked deep inside, until May of 2011 I felt God tugging at my heart...I knew that it was time to tell my closest friend. I was TERRIFIED! The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my best friend, my partner in life. Of course, I shouldn't have worried; Daniel's been wonderful. He has been right by my side; holding my hand, cheering me on, praying with me and for me. I can't imagine my life without Him! We sought the help of a wonderful counselor, and have been making great progress in healing.

God has taught me so much since I began my healing process. First, and foremost, I've finally accepted that it's not my fault. It's not my fault! It's not my fault! was the victim, and survived something horrible. The past happened. I can't change it. It took a terrible toll on my life. For me, healing began when I gave every broken piece of my heart and life to God. The longer I tried to hold on to the past and the broken pieces, the heavier those chains became. They began to strangle the life out of me. I only gained true freedom when I wholeheartedly gave it ALL to God, and let Him have control! If you don't surrender wholeheartedly to God, and allow Him to heal your brokenness, you limit what He can do through the gifts and talents He's given to you. When you give God all of the broken pieces of your life, He can do AMAZING things! And, the blessings begin to flow abundantly!

Let's take a look together at how God can turn your brokenness into abundant blessings!

First, and more important, you have to have a relationship with Him. Looking back, had I not had a relationship with Christ, I don't know what I would have done or where I would have ended up. Everyone needs salvation because we have all sinned. It's easy to point to my abuser and say he sinned. And, this is most definitely true, but, I'm just as much a sinner as my abuser. Romans 3:10-12, 23 says "There is no one righteous, no, not one." "For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." And, Romans 6:23 says that "the wages of sin is death". A wage is a payment. So, the payment for my sin, is my death. But, Jesus paid that price! Romans 5:8 tells me that "God proves His own love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". It reminds me of an old hymn. I'm sure you've heard it. "Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sing had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow" The only way that we can receive salvation and eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" - Romans 10:9-10, 13. Our salvation gives us a relationship with Him, and nothing that happens in your life, or anyone that comes into your life, can take that away from you! Ever! One of my FAVORITE verses says "For I am persuaded that not even death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor hostile powers, nor height or depth, or any other created things will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Isn't that fabulous?! There is hope! And that hope is found in Christ!

Once we have our relationship with Christ, we have a solid foundation on which we can build everything else on. We will find it incredibly difficult to truly repair and restore our lives from the past heartbreak if we don't first trust Christ with all our heart. It was in the darkest moments of my own life, when I felt the scorching pain of despair and when everything else in my life seemed to be lost, I grabbed a hold of my Savior with everything I had. While the abuse stripped me of my strength and shattered my will, with what little strength I did have, I reached for my Jesus and He was always right there!

Knowing and loving Christ allows us to then grow in our relationship with Him. The amazing thing about God is that He loves you just as you are but loves you too much to leave you just as you are. He is always growing us.

They say it's easy to love someone when everything is going well. It's easy to follow someone when life is good. It's during the challenges that our love is proven. Remember the story of Job? Job had a great life. With a great family, great house, great wealth, and great health; how could you not say life was good? In the first chapter of Job we see Satan accuse Job of only loving God because life was good.

"Then Satan answered the LORD, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." - Job 1:9-11

Throughout the remainder of the book of Job, his reliance on God is proven out. Job suffered incredible pain. Job faced unbelievable loss. Job had numerous questions that seemed to have no answers, but he continued to rely on God. His love was proven out in the trials of his life.

Just as the Bible tells us in Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." The only way God can make our paths straight is to understand that our is going to get crooked along with way. We will face difficulty. We will walk down the painful path of heartbreak, but we trust that God will see us through. He will never leave us, never forsake us. Trust in God at all times and in everything and He will make your paths straight.

I remember one time when my abuser took me out on a date, and we stopped at one of his friends' apartments. I was instructed to wait in the car, and after 20-30 minutes he returned...smelling of pot. He had gotten high and I was trapped in the car with him not knowing if I would make if home alive. I remember laying my head back on the seat, almost as if I were leaning back into God's loving arms, closing my eyes and praying. I immediately felt an incredible peace wash over me. I couldn't trust the person sitting next to me to get me home, but I could trust my Savior!

In order to truly heal from heartbreak, we must first of all have a real relationship with Him. Just being a member of a church doesn't give you that relationship. You must admit to God that you're a sinner and believe that He can save you. You must also learn to rely on Him, but in order to fully rely on God, you have to also have a clear realization of Him. You must understand what scripture tells us about God's character and His power. 

To have a clear reality of God's nature we must understand that God cares for us. Not in the kind of "southern politeness" kind of caring. You know what I'm talking about; where we go around blessing hearts! I mean the kind of caring that is undeniably powerful and unwavering!

He cares for you! You matter to Him! I Peter 5:7 tells us to "cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you." A lot of my memories of those months are vague, but some of them are crystal clear. I believe God allows those crystal clear memories for a reason. Sometimes I need a reminder of just how faithful and caring my Savior is. I remember one time when my abuser was on a tirade repeatedly telling me that I didn't matter to anyone, that no one cared about me. I was sitting there, with tears in my eyes, feeling absolutely worthless, when I heard the words "I care about you. I love you. You are not alone." It was as if someone whispered them in my heart. Even though is was just the two of us in the room, I knew whom the voice belonged to. I knew that my Defender was right there with me. I wasn't alone. He was there. He cared. He cared enough about me to reassure me in a time when I was so uncertain about so many things in my life. He cares for you in that very same way! Even if you had been the only one here on Earth, He still would have sent His Son to die for you!

Not only do we need to understand that God cares for us, but we also need to realize that He alone is in control. Jeremiah 29:11 says "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, not harm you, to give you a future and hope." At a point when I was beginning to sink into depression, a tragedy occurred in our family. In the middle of my senior year of high school, my cousin, who was also a senior in high school, was killed in a tragic car accident. Even though my family and I were hurting and grieving, God used that situation to provide me an escape from my abuser and the hellish prison I'd been living in. When you're in an abusive relationship with someone who is controlling and manipulative, it's not as easy as just saying "I want out" or "Please stop". Most times, the abuser in the relationship doesn't care what the other person has to say or what the other person wants. And, fear can cripple you to the point where you feel alone and hopeless.

Isaiah 43:2 - "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you." Even though I want through a horrific time in my life, God was with me every step of the way. I can stand here today, and honestly say that because of God's power and compassion, I was set free from my abuser and his abuse.

"From life's first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand."

It's often assumed that if we merely get out of whatever the tragedy or heartbreak is then we are free and the battle is over. For so many who have been down a road similar to the one I've traveled, we figure if we ever do get out of the abuse then things will be over and life will return to some state of normalcy. Our God has not come to just merely rescue us from our despair, He has come to restore us as well. In the book of Joel chapter 2, God speaks about what he will do for he nation of Israel when He restores them. He promises to bless them and to protect them. But, in verse 25, He also tells them that He will "restore to them the years that the swarming locust have eaten". Just as He does in our salvation, He not only forgives us but He works in us to remove the consequences of our sins, all the way to the day when in heaven we will stand before Him as His saved children, washed white as snow, free from sine, and standing in perfected bodies. No more tears, no more suffering, no more cancer, no more wars, no more rape, no more sin. God had to show me of my continuing need for him even after my abuser was gone.

You see, we must not only realize that He cares for us and that He is in control, but we must also learn to rest in Him. Exodus 14:14 says "The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still". The people following Moses were about to face many huge challenges. They would be tempted to try and take care of things their own way and in their own power. We have to be still. To be still means to rest. In order to rest we have to rely on Him and in order to rely we must know for sure that He cares and He is in control. So, we should rest in Him! He will fight for you! You just have to be still and REST in Him! just have to be still and REST in Him!

Our God is not a god who just sweeps things under the rug and pretends like it never happened. That's exactly the reason why Jesus went to the cross; because God can't just pretend like certain things didn't happen. I know; I tried to do that and it didn't work. I tried in my own power to "move on", to pull my life together and to make it work. I pushed myself, thinking that I could find a place where the hurt that still remained from my abuse would disappear. The problem is that on my own power I wasn't going to heal; I wasn't going to find rest. I was going to pile on needless blame and unreasonable shame to my already overwhelming pile of hurt. All along God knew what I needed. I needed to admit that I still needed Him. I needed to admit that there was still much work for Him to do in my life. I needed to admit that He defines who I am and no one else can. And, why not? The heart of my identity rests in HIS hands. I am neither made nor unmade by what others do to me. What others have done to me definitely marks me and shapes who I am, but it does not define me! God's love for me ultimately defines me. Therefore, I am determined not to allow the abuse to define me, control my life, or cause fear in my heart! My heart belongs to ChristI belong to Christ! Resting in God means that I confidently declare that my God triumphs over everything! His words are true! His works are powerful! His love is unending!

He tells us that we are created (Psalm 139:14), chosen (Deuteronomy 14:2), celebrated (Zephaniah 3:17), and cherished (Jeremiah 31:3). You may be in the middle of unspeakable heartache and unimaginable brokenness. 18 years ago I was in that place. I am here today as testimony that God can heal and that God can restore. Let me encourage you to look to your Savior for healing. He is in the business of healing brokenness and He specializes in taking the hurting and using them for His glory. God takes brokenness and turns it into blessing. Through God's strength and His unfailing love, you will find that place of rest. Safe in the arms of Christ, you will flourish to become all that He has created you to be.

Don't be afraid or ashamed to cry out to the God who "binds up our wounds" and heals our brokenness! He is waiting for you!

Before I post this, I'd like to pray for you.

Heavenly Father, I come to you in awe of your healing power. Thank you for your amazing works and unending love. I ask that your blessings be poured out on those who have come to this blog look for answers. Please, "bind up all our wounds" and "heal our brokenness". Amen