“For The Time Is Come…”

I have been vocal about sexual abuse in the Anabaptist church for over two years now.  Maybe you’re wondering why I don’t talk about abuse in the public-school system, the foster care system, or the Catholic Church.  Why do I focus so much on sexual abuse in the Anabaptist church?  Does abuse in other institutions not matter to me?  Am I trying to make the church look bad?

Contrary to what you may think, I love “my people.”  I love the Anabaptist church.  And that is why I will not stop talking about sexual abuse.  You may think I’m exaggerating by referring to sexual abuse as an “epidemic”. But Anabaptist counseling centers across the country tell me I’m not.  They put the stats even higher than the regular sexual abuse statistics, which say that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. (See those statistics here.)

The abuse that happens in other institutions and cultures does matter to me.  However, the biggest reason for my targeting of the Anabaptist church has to do with our commitment to follow the Word of God. We say we take the Bible literally and that we follow it.  But when it comes to sexual abuse, we have greatly misrepresented God and His heart.

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Photo credits and website

I fear we have separated the Bible and the Holy Spirit. To understand the Bible, we must have the Holy Spirit.  Because we shy away from the doctrine and work of the Holy Spirit, we are not able to identify the hypocrisy in the lives of perpetrators whom we called “brothers and sisters” in our church.  They look good on the outside, but on the inside, there is nothing but “dead man’s bones”.  Jesus said we will know if a person is right with God by their fruit.  But according to us, if someone obeys the church rules, they’re okay.

Our hearts can be full of sin and we can still “look good” on the outside.  “Looking good” does us no good if our heart is not right before God.  You see, “hypocrisy” is not saying one thing and doing something different.  The Greek meaning of the word “hypocrite” as Jesus used it, is actor.  An actor plays a part.  In other words, a hypocrite acts like a Christian, but the “Christian” part is only skin deep.  Hypocrites are super good actors.  They know how to create and maintain a “good name”.  They are smooth talkers who know all the right stuff to say in devotions and Sunday School.

But underneath the facade of godliness, is a heart full of deceit and evil.  And that façade has caught up with us.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ve heard about the abuse in the Catholic Church.  The PA Attorney General was instrumental in releasing a report from the Catholic Church’s own records that details the horrific abuse of over 1,000 children by 301 priests – and the whole epidemic was covered up by the church.

The Anabaptist church is next.  The amount of abuse and its cover-up by the church is far worse than the Catholic Church.  It is going to shake the entire Anabaptist community, and it should.  We have been good actors.  We’ve covered up abuse, because no one was watching – or so we thought.

But there was Someone watching.  He is watching. These are His words: “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.” Mark 4:22

All through the Bible, God promises the exposure of sin.  He sees it, and in His time, He exposes it. He told the children of Israel to be blameless, then added: “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.”

In Eph. 5:11, God comes down hard on people who know of evil, but choose to hide it.  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  In other words, we take part in the unfruitful works of darkness when we do not expose evil.

If we had any idea what God thinks of abuse, we would fall on our faces and beg for His mercy.  If we understood how God fights for the weak and the hurting, we would be shaking with fear.

Jesus is coming soon, and He is not coming for a beat up, unclean Bride.  The exposure of sexual abuse we are about to witness is nothing other than God cleansing His church of evil.  He is judging the house of God.  We must not fight it. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” 2 Peter 4:17

We must repent.  We must acknowledge our iniquity without excuse and without minimization.  Part of repentance includes accepting the consequences of our sin, even if it means going to jail.  What is a jail sentence compared to eternal Hell?  It’s nothing.  And by the way, going to jail for covering up abuse is not suffering for Christ.  It is God’s judgement for not following His Word. 

Don’t talk to me about the fall-out.  The fall-out happened when innocent children were overpowered and used for the unnatural, evil desires of the perpetrators.  The fall-out deepened when we, the church, chose not to get the civil authorities, also known as the “ministers of God” in Romans 13, involved in the punishment of evildoers.  By resisting their God-ordained authority to punish evil doers, we have resisted God.

No one, not even the Anabaptist church, is above the law of the civil government.   When we obstruct the justice of God, we will face that same judgement. If we do good, we have nothing to fear.  If we do evil, we will be afraid, for the sword is not carried in vain. (Romans 13:1-5)

Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 23-28: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

I can’t help but wonder if that is what Jesus would say to us today.  We deserve to be punished.  We deserve to be “brought low.”  We have sinned.

We can choose to fight God by fighting the civil authority He has set in place.  Or, we can cooperate with God by cooperating with them.   We can repent.  We can change our culture from being church authority based to being rooted on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  We can change our culture from an emphasis on “looking right” to “being right” with God.

But it starts with you. It starts with me.

May God open our blind eyes and clean our hard, dirty hearts.

 

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My God is Bigger

I read Psalm 94 the other morning in my devotions, and realized that I am not the only one who struggles with questions about how long until God will stop the evil and pain done by those who do not fear Him.  The Psalmist asked the same questions. I grabbed a pen and paper, and before long, there was a poem.  I sat down at the piano, and within minutes, it was a song.  I may make a music video sometime, but for now, I’ll post the lyrics.  This song reminds me that God is bigger.  With Him, evil cannot win.  Without Him, we can’t win.

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Sometimes it seems like evil wins,

I cry, “Oh Lord, how long?

There’s dying children everywhere

O God, this seems so wrong!

They wonder where You’re at

You are their only Hope

O Father, don’t you see

They don’t know how to cope?”

 

Chorus:  But God is bigger than the evil,

Bigger than the pain.

Bigger than my teardrops

Bigger than the shame.

And though I do not understand

Your timeline and Your plan,

I choose to trust Your heart.

I choose to trust Your hand.

 

Sometimes I wonder just how long

Until You will return.

To the bring the captives healing

And evil overturn.

I’m clinging to Your promise

That it’ll be made right.

By Your power, by Your Word

Through Jesus and His might.

 

Chorus: ‘Cause God is bigger than the evil,

Bigger than the pain.

Bigger than my teardrops.

Bigger than the shame.

And though I do not understand

Your timeline and Your plan,

I choose to trust Your heart.

I choose to trust Your hand.

 

 

Our Love Story

I remember my first impression of him quite vividly.

He was washing dishes in the kitchen at Mountain View Nursing Home.  He was a volunteer, as was I; only I was the “new kid”.  I wasn’t particularly drawn to him – quite the opposite, actually.  He had a great big beard, and as a Mennonite girl, beards were just kind of gross.

He wasn’t my type, either – this Ben guy – as I found out a few days later.  We were camping in the Back Forty.  The conversation around the fire that night revolved around the Bible and church.  And wow! Not only did he think “outside the box”, but boy – was he ever opinionated!

Months passed.  My opinion of Ben didn’t really change – at least I didn’t think so.  I didn’t see him as “husband material” for a looooonnnngg time.  I had long convinced myself that no good man would want me.  After all, I was just a Mennonite girl with a bunch of issues; He was a Beachy guy who was much wiser than his years.

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That explains all the “open mouth – insert foot” moments.

Somehow, we ended up on Night Duty together three times.  Anyone who has worked night shift knows that tongues get rather loose at odd hours.  One night while at the nurses station, we got on the subject of kissing.  Ben told us girls the joke about “going through the briar patch to get to the picnic.”  Without thinking, I blurted out.  “Disgusting! I don’t like briar patches!” Suddenly, I “got” the joke and realized what I had said.  But it was too late.  Everyone laughed and I hid my red face behind the paperwork I was doing.

On a different occasion, we had a discussion around the lunch table about when Jesus would come back.  I made the remark that there is no chance of me getting married, since my mom was sure Jesus would come back before she got married. “So where does that put me?” I half groaned.

Ben nearly snorted on his food.  “What makes you think that?  Jesus might not return for another thousand years!”

“But He could come back tomorrow!”  I argued.

“I’ll tell you what.  When you get married, I’m going to stand up at your open mic and say, ‘See Ann?  I told you!’”

To which I retorted, “What makes you think you’ll be invited to my wedding?”  (Later, he told me: “I thought to myself ‘If I have my way, I’ll be the groom at your wedding!’”)

He was the first guy I trusted.  I remember the night I excitedly told my best friend I had rode the elevator with Ben – all by myself.  It was a big deal!  I had never trusted a man that far.

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I saw how he cared for the residents.  Seeing a man show love to those who couldn’t give him anything in return made a huge impression on me.  He had a compassionate heart and my broken heart noticed that.

No, I didn’t “like” him, I told myself.  Not in that way.  I wasn’t his type.

But I did pray for a good wife for him.  I bet God laughed.  I didn’t know I was praying for myself.

Nearly 10 months after I walked in the door at Mountain View Nursing Home, Ben’s term of service was up and he was returning home.  I remember how I felt as I worked those last shifts with him.  I was going to miss him.  I’d never missed a guy before.  It felt…well, funny.

The sad day arrived.  He came up to the Home as I was feeding lunch to the residents. He slowly made his rounds to all the staff.  When I told him, “Good-bye”, I also mentioned that if he ever came back to visit with a big bushy beard and a shaved head (something he wanted to do) that I wouldn’t talk to him the entire weekend.  Not that I thought he’d care…

Ben did come back – quite often actually.  And he did so without a big bushy beard.  One night he dropped in just before curfew.   I made up a good excuse to go back to the mailroom “to say Hi!” It ended up being more than just a “Hi!” I was asked by one of the good friends who watched the whole thing play out: “That was so sweet of him to ask how everything is going for you.  Ann, are you sure he doesn’t like you?”

I dismissed her questions with a carefree “I’m sure!” For in my mind, there was no way I was good enough for him.

One night, my dormie caught me staring at a photo of the guys at MVNH.  “Ann! What are you doing?” she squeaked.

“Oh, I…well…I was just looking at these pictures,” I stammered around sheepishly.

“Come on, who were you really looking at?” she asked.

“Umm…Ben.  He’s got the kindest eyes in the whole world.”

A few months after Ben left, an older man whose wife was a resident approached me with a queer question: “Did Ben ask you out yet?”

“No,” I stammered, with a very confused look on my face.  Then I turned tail and fled to the bathroom.  I stood in front of the mirror and laughed.  Ben?  Me?   What a joke!

But it kept happening.  This dear old man kept asking me the same question every couple of weeks. And I kept giving him the same answer.

It was awkward when Ben came to visit.  Instead of being very carefree in relating to him as I was before, I began pulling away.  I was scared of commitment – scared to hope that there was even a chance he liked me.

It was around this time that I realized something – I didn’t just “like” Ben, I loved him.

I was terrified.

One part of me wanted him to ask me out, and the other part of me wanted to run far away.  God began nudging me with a question: “Are you going to trust me?”

I fought God’s voice for a couple of weeks.  I remember the day I surrendered to God’s will.  I was in the air on a plane, curled up by a widow seat.  I don’t remember the book I was reading, but I remember telling God, amidst tears, that I choose to trust Him.

Less than two weeks later, it happened.

It was my last night at MVNH.   I was nearly asleep when I got a text.  “New text from Ben Detweiler,” the screen read. I gasped.  He was asking to meet with me in the morning.  Suddenly, I was shaking.  I stared at the text for a full 7 minutes before I texted back, “Sure.  What time and where?”

I couldn’t imagine what he wanted.

Maybe he wanted to clear up all the rumors.  “Yes, I’m sure that’s what it is,” I decided.  But I couldn’t sleep.  And Ben didn’t text back.  (Little did I know, that he was asleep.  Yes, asleep!  I have no idea how anyone can fall asleep in seven minutes, let alone when the future of your life stands on the line!)

I jumped as my dormie’s phone crashed to the ground. Instantly, I bolted out of bed. My eyes were big and round as I shoved the perplexing text message into her sleepy face. “Rosemary, what in the world do you think he wants?”

“He’s going to ask you to date him!” was her quick reply. “Oh Ann, I told you he liked you!”

But I wasn’t convinced.

The hours went by.  One o’clock.

Two o’clock.

Three o’clock.

By this time, I was absolutely sure he didn’t like me.  Why else would he wait so long to text me back?  Finally, at 3:15 in the morning, my phone vibrated.  “Meet me in the Back Forty at 8.”

“Okay,” I texted back.  But I still couldn’t sleep.  And I was hungry.

So, at 4:30 in the morning, I got up and ate a bowl of cereal – and drank a few glasses of chocolate milk.

As soon as I thought my dad would be awake, I called him.  I told him about the texts.  I wanted to ask him what I should say if Ben were to ask me out…just in case.

“Should I tell him to call you?” I asked.

“Sure,” my dad answered.  “That’s fine.”

Eight o’clock found me walking back the trail to the Back Forty.  But Ben was no where to be seen.  I proceeded to sit down on the bench and wait for him.  Pretty soon I heard some movement in the brush and saw him come out into the clearing.  He’d taken the back way so no one would see him.  He sat down on the bench opposite of me, and proceeded to tell me what he wanted.

Yes, he’d heard the rumors.  And yes, it was true.  He wanted to start a relationship with me. He’d already talked to my dad.

My mouth dropped to the ground.  “But…but I called my dad this morning and he acted like he didn’t know a thing about why you’d be texting me!”

Then, I said what every good Mennonite girl says when a guy asks her out: “I’ll think about it and pray about it for a week.”

Only, it wasn’t a week.  Four days later, I called him up and told him I would love to be his girlfriend.

And the rest is history. 😉

 

How Much?

How much is a little girl worth?

The question hangs in the air.

I cannot help but wonder

How Christians can’t more care –

 

About the stories of abuse

We hear many a time.

I cannot stay in silence,

For doing so is a crime.

 

She tried to tell adults

But no one did believe,

That the man she said had hurt her

Could such evilness conceive.

 

The evil kept on happening,

And each time it got worse.

Till she didn’t know the difference

Between good and perverse.

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She did her best to protect herself,

Though her efforts were in vain.

Because no adults choose to see

And protect her from more pain.

 

But one day, she found Jesus.

It was hard to comprehend

What Jesus thinks about abuse

When abusers they did defend.

 

“How much am I worth?”

She sobbed into His shoulder.

He gently lifted her face to Him,

And this is what He told her:

 

“I am not like the people,

Who turned away their face

From the open wound in your soul –

Your innocence erased.”

 

“I do not blame or shame you,

It was not your fault.

There was nothing you could have done,

To stop the evil assault.”

 

“Rest here, my child, on My lap,

And let me fight for you.

I promise to bring healing,

And in my time, justice too.”

 

And so I ask, again, my friend:

How much is a little girl worth?

Will you be like my Jesus,

Or will more evil birth?

 

*This poem was written for all the little children and women who were not believed when they disclosed their abuse experience to someone who could have taken the steps to stop it from happening again.  My heart bleeds for you.  I am so sorry.  I pray that God would bring someone into your life to walk beside you and show you who Jesus really is.

 

A Jesus With Skin On

“Why can’t you get over it?”

It’s one of the most hurtful statements you and I can utter to a person who has experienced abuse.

There are other ways of saying the same thing that seem a little more spiritual.  “You just need to forgive.”  “That happened a long time ago, and you need to stop letting it bother you.”  “Just stop believing the lies.”  “When are you going to choose to be a victor instead of a victim?” Or “But I thought you already worked through that.”

If there’s one thing I wish people would understand about sexual abuse, it would be this:  Sexual abuse is physically, spiritually, and emotionally damaging.  It affects every aspect of a person’s life – without exception.  It is a traumatic event that literally alters one’s brain.  (Check out this article about trauma and brain development here.)

I am very blessed to have a husband that has never made me feel like I should “get over it”.  I could not ask for a more supportive church and family.  Without a doubt, I would not be as far in my healing journey if it weren’t for my husband, church, and family.  I am not writing this because I feel unsupported in my journey.  I am writing this for the many victims in the Anabaptist culture and beyond who do not have a strong support system like I do.

I wish that we as Anabaptists understood abuse and trauma better. We tend to force or pressure people to be “normal”, which only further victimizes them.  We push them to forgive before they are ready and then expect them to never utter anything about it ever again.

It’s crazy. It’s like expecting a person with a traumatic brain injury to get out of the hospital bed and walk, or telling someone with a broken bone that the pain is all in their head.

Do you want someone to “get over it?”  Do you want them to heal?  Do you want them to be “okay”?

It’s really pretty simple.

Be Jesus to them. Show them what unconditional love really looks like.  Unconditional love is never forceful or pushy.  It doesn’t demand forgiveness, though forgiveness is important.  Instead, unconditional love loves at all times and in every circumstance.  Jesus is the ultimate example of Unconditional Love – because He is love.

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Photo credit

Jesus understands abuse much better than you and I do.  He understands the effects and He cares.  I think we could learn a few things from Him.  I wish we’d do better at giving grace to abuse victims.  Jesus does – why don’t we?

Helping the wounded takes time. It takes sacrifice. It means getting dirty. Too often we are like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We walk around the bleeding, broken person lying in the ditch.

Sometimes the reason we don’t stop to help is not because we do not care, but rather, because we do not know how.

There are many abuse victims in our churches who are dying because no one stops to help them.  They don’t feel safe, protected, or cared for.  And then we wonder why they leave the church or suddenly want nothing to do with God.

If you know someone who has been abused, you have an amazing opportunity to show them what true love is. Validate their pain and their feelings. Be a good listener. Do some research on abuse to help you better understand them.*  Care about them and love them well.

Don’t compare their journey with someone else’s. And most of all, don’t try to fix them.

You can’t.

But Jesus can. So show them Jesus.

One of my survivor friends summed it up like this: “Sometimes all we need is a Jesus with skin on.”

 

 

*I highly recommend the book “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender.  It is not light reading, but it lays out the damage abuse does and, most importantly, offers hope.

Why I Value Modesty

There was a day, nearly eight years ago, that I came to a startling realization: I no longer cared about being modest.

I was tired of trying to camouflage my body. I was tired of trying to be Miss Invisible. I wondered what the point of modesty was because it certainly hadn’t provided protection.  No matter how plain I was dressed, there still were wandering eyes…and sometimes hands.  The only logical explanation I could come up with was that the female body was inheritantly evil, and therefore, needed to be covered.

I shudder now.  I was so close to throwing modesty out the window.  Honestly, it’s only the mercy of God that kept me from doing so.

Though I am not sure how I got the idea, I grew up thinking that modesty was to protect me from evil.  I thought that modesty was to, more or less, “keep men from lusting.”  If something bad happened to me, it was my fault – I must have dressed provocatively.

Thank God, I was wrong.

I began looking into what the Bible says about modesty and lust, and what I found unnerved me.  The verses that speak on modesty and sobriety say nothing about the need to do so because of a lustful eye.  On the contrary, when Jesus spoke about lust, He said “that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Funny how the clothing of the woman (or lack thereof) is not mentioned.

Why is that?

It’s because lust is a matter of the heart. “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  Mark 7:20-23

Because lust is a heart issue, my modesty does not solve a man’s lust problem.

The idea that modesty is the cure for lust degrades both men and women.  Think about it: it gives the connotation that men are sexual beasts who have no control over themselves.  That’s a very warped view of male sexuality.

Likewise, it portrays women as sexual objects, created for the pleasure of men and to be used at male discretion.  How perverse!  If the female body is the problem, why is the book of Song of Solomon in the Bible?

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Please hear me clearly.  Ladies, I am not suggesting that it’s okay for us to flaunt our bodies.  Immodesty is always wrong.

However, I am suggesting we take a step back and ask ourselves why modesty is important to us.

I value modesty because God clearly commands it – not because it protects me or because it keeps a man from lusting after my body.  I could wear a “tent” and there’d still be a few perverted-minded men who’d want what’s underneath.  And while I strive to be modest, I now understand that my modesty doesn’t cure a lustful heart.

You see, the value I place on modesty hasn’t changed.  But why I do it, has changed.

So, ask yourself: “Why is modesty important to me?”

Sometimes why you do what you do is just as important as what you do.

 

Not My Pain

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day.  It is etched deeply in my memory.

I wasn’t prepared for the grueling class periods when I signed up for a three week ladies healing group.  I wasn’t prepared for the incomprehensive amount of emotional pain and heartache that I was about to walk through – both in my own life and in walking through other’s pain.

I cannot be convinced that sexual abuse doesn’t affect a person – because it does.   It is the equivalent of emotional murder.  I wish I could somehow explain how it felt to listen to story after story of deep, excruciating pain.  The loss of innocence.  The horrible betrayal.  The utter powerlessness – to keep it from happening and to make it stop.  The ambivalence.  The shame.  The contempt.

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I wanted to run out of the room – away from it all.  Somewhere…anywhere.  I instinctively shielded my growing abdomen with my hands as I tried to protect my unborn child.

At break time, I found myself at the window.  It was a beautiful summer day, but I didn’t see that.  Tears blurred my vision.  I only felt the deep pain.  My whole body hurt.  Through my tears, I managed to talk to my baby: “It’s okay, child.  Mama will be alright.  It doesn’t feel safe right now, but it is.  I’ll protect you, little one.”

Sharing my own story of sexual abuse was harder than I had ever imagined.  Oh, I had talked about it before.  But this time was different – very different.

I cried as I told of the brutality and total powerlessness. I shared details that only a select few people knew. Deep sobs that I had bottled up inside of me spilled out and tears ran down my cheeks.  I found myself surrounded by the dear ladies in my class.  They cried with me.  It wasn’t my pain – it was our pain.

As the tears flowed from our eyes, I felt the presence of Jesus.  In my mind’s eye, I saw Him.  He was weeping with us – weeping for the little girls who’d been hurt so deeply.  Tears ran down His cheeks and fell to the ground.

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And then it hit me.  Our pain is His pain.  There is no pain or abuse that Jesus hasn’t experienced.  When He carried your pain and mine, our pain became His.  “He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows…” Isaiah 53:3-4

Dear hurting soul, Jesus understands your pain and He cares.  His tears fall with yours.  Because He makes your pain, His.

A Teaspoon of Honey and the Goodness of God

I am one of those people who’ve battled with questions such as this: If God is really good, then why does He let bad things happen to innocent?  Or to the righteous?

I went through a time in my life where I really questioned God’s goodness.  I questioned His love.

But what I was really asking was, “Where was God when I was a terrified little girl on the hard barn floor?  Where was He as I stared at the rafters, trying to distance myself from the man who towered over me?  Where was He in all the pain and confusion?”

Then one day, God began to help me process those questions in a unique way.

My husband came home from work to find his very emotional wife greet him at the door.  (Yes, I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened.)  His eyes were full of compassion, as always. He asked me what was wrong.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “where was God when that happened to me?”  He knew right away what I was talking about.  Back then, it was hard for me to talk about the rape.

He looked at me as he washed his hands in the sink.  I watched his face light up with sudden inspiration.

“Just a minute,” he said, walking into the kitchen.

I waited, wondering what in the world he was doing.

He soon returned, carefully balancing a spoon in his hand.

“Open your mouth,” he said.

“But what do you have on that spoon?” I questioned.  I pinched my lips tightly together.  I wasn’t going to try anything without knowing what it was. I figured it was probably vinegar or red pepper or something awful like that.

“Honey, open your mouth, please,” he said again.

I stubbornly obeyed.

“This is what God tastes like.”  He lifted the spoon to my mouth.

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PHOTO BY CATHY SCOLA VIA GETTY IMAGES

As soon as the honey hit my mouth, I began to cry.  A still, small voice inside of me said, “Ann, taste and see that I am good.  Blessed are those who trust in Me.”

Ben’s eyes were bright as he watched the Light dawn on me.

Then he quietly said, “You know what?  God is even sweeter than the honey you just tasted.  He is good, all of the time.  He is making something beautiful out of the ugly.  Remember, He loves you.”

I nodded as the tears trickled down my cheeks.

For a minute, all was silent.

“Sweetheart, where did you get that idea?” I asked, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

“What idea?  The honey on your tongue?”

“Yes.”

“At work today.  We were talking about Jewish traditions.  One of the ways that the Jews teach their children about the goodness of God and the sweetness of His Word is by giving them a teaspoon of honey on their tongue.”

I’d be lying if I’d say that this was the last time I ever struggled to believe that God is good.  I am so human.  Sometimes when things aren’t going well and life feels like it’s about to fall apart, I look up into my husband’s eyes and ask, “Ben, is God good?”

And without hesitation, he replies, “Yes, He is.  All the time.”

Though I have those times when I need to choose to believe the truth that God is good, I am beginning to feel it in my spirit.  To me, that is exciting.

Believing that God is good and choosing to trust Him go hand-in-hand; for you cannot trust God without a strong confidence and belief that He is good – no matter what.

I’m convinced that if we have a strong core belief in the goodness and sovereignty of God, we will be able to rest in that belief even when our lives “fall apart” overnight. When we wade through the question of “where was God when this happened” we will not become bitter because we have that assurance in our spirit that He is good.  When life leaves us feeling completely powerless, our faith will not be crushed.

You see, we don’t have to understand “why” when we believe that He is good all the time.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but if you’re like me, sometimes I just need a little reminder that God loves me and that He is good all the time – no matter what happens. And because He is good, I can trust His heart even when I don’t understand the “why”.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the man who trusts in him.” Ps. 34:8

Stripped of Control

Some things are impossible to forget.

I can still hear the sound of his boots on the wood as he raced up the stairs after me.  I can hear the door slam.  But the loud beats of my heart nearly stopped when he grabbed me and I looked into his eyes.

They were the eyes of evil.

There are very few words to describe the horror that followed.  I was stripped of all dignity and control.   I couldn’t get away.  I was trapped.

In the semi-darkness, I instinctively cried out to the only One I, in my little girl heart, believed could rescue me.  To this day, I’m not sure if the words were audible or not, but my spirit cried, “Help me, Jesus! Help me!”

As my body was being ravished and my spirit broken, I begged Jesus to save me.

But He didn’t come.

I was completely alone.  Alone with evil.

For years, I didn’t have any words for the terror I felt.  I just knew I was scared.  Very, very, very scared.  I lived in fear – fear that that terrible feeling of terror would eat me alive…next time.

Recently, I was able to name it.  Its name is Powerlessness.

In those horrific minutes as a little girl on the cold, hard floor, I experienced complete loss of control.  I could not get away.  I could not make it stop.  I could not even control my body.  I was completely powerless.

And, to top it all off, I felt abandoned by God.  Because He didn’t answer my prayer in the way I was expecting, it felt like He too, was powerless against that kind of evil.

I blamed myself for years.  I deceived myself into thinking that everything bad that happens is my fault.  I knew in my head that what happened to me as a little girl wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t seem to shake the blame and guilt I subjected myself to on a daily basis.

It got worse as the years went by.  I blamed myself for the wreck my family had when I was thirteen.  I blamed myself when the alarm clock failed to go off and my husband was late for work.  I blamed myself every time the children were disobedient.  I blamed myself for anything and everything.  I apologized frequently for the stupidest stuff.

Why?

Because if I could convince myself in powerless situations that “it is my fault”, I didn’t have to experience the awful feelings of terror that reminded me of the little girl at the hands of evil.  It was my self-defense against feeling powerless.

It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the reality of the scope of the powerlessness I faced as a child that I was able to truly believe in my heart that the abuse was not my fault.

Does Jesus understand powerlessness?  Does He know what it feel like to be stripped of control?

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Yes.  He chose to experience powerlessness.  He wouldn’t have had to subject Himself to the limitations of a human body and allow His creation to crucify Him on the cross.  He could have stepped off of that cross at any point.  But He didn’t.

He loved you and I too much to do that.

It is not wrong to feel powerless.  It’s part of being created.  After all, we are, in and of ourselves, powerless.

God is in control; not you, not me.  Do I understand why He sometimes allows evil things to happen?  No, I don’t.  I can’t – because I’m not God.

But if Jesus loved me enough to choose powerlessness over powerfulness, then I believe I can trust Him with my life.  And I can rest in the fact that He is good, even when I don’t understand His ways.

From Broken to Beautiful

Note: This article was written for the Winter Issue of Daughters of Promise (a magazine for Anabaptist women) and was published in December 2016.  Since the DOP Winter Issue 2016 is no longer available, I am sharing it here for those of you who’d like to read it.  The article is rather lengthy, but I hope it can be blessing to someone.  It contains a small part of my own story and though I feel quite vulnerable in publishing it here on my blog, it’s time to speak out and bless God for His continued healing in my life.  I am fully aware that part of my story contains a “taboo” subject in our conservative Anabaptist culture, hence the hestitation.  But I feel I’m stifling the glory of God by doing the “normal” thing and shutting up about the ugly stuff when there are so many hurting people who need to hear that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  I may share more in the future as the Spirit leads.  May God receive all the glory, for this isn’t really “my story” – it’s His story.  A story of redemptive beauty emerging from brokenness and pain.

 

Pain.

We are familiar with that word.  Most of us have experienced it at one time or another in our lives.  There are many kinds of pain – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional.  We talk about emotional pain like grief because we know what it’s like to lose someone close to us.

But I’d like to draw your attention to a different kind of pain.  Most of us know of people who’ve experienced it.  Some of us have experienced it first-hand.  But few people talk about it.  Few people know what to do with it. Most people don’t know how to find healing for themselves, or how to help someone else find healing. Sometimes, it isn’t even acknowledged as pain.

I’m talking about sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse is a full-blown epidemic in most Anabaptist communities across the globe.  The numbers of victims in our churches are not much different from the general population. According to statistics, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be abused by age eighteen. (These numbers are on the conservative side.  Most conservative counselors say the statistics are much higher in some communities.)

If you have experienced this kind of pain, you are not alone.  You are not crazy.  It was not your fault.  No matter what the voices in your head tell you, the truth is you are not trash. You are not ugly.  You are not worthless. You are not beyond hope.

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I once was a little girl who felt broken, ugly, worthless and dirty.  I felt like a rosebud that someone tried to pry open before it was time to bloom.  My innocent childhood was snatched away from me.  I wondered if I was normal.  I even asked my mom if I was a virgin.

Subconsciously, I knew something had happened to me.  But I had no memories of the abuse.  In fact, I remember very little of anything before I was ten years old.

When I was 21, I married a wonderful man who is better than my wildest dreams, Ben.  It was on our wedding night that I realized I had been raped years before.  It was physically impossible for me to have a sexual relationship.  I was devastated.  Hurt.  Here I was, a young bride who wanted to give everything to my husband, but I couldn’t.  My body was remembering the trauma, even though my mind had blocked the memories.

Ben and I contacted our premarital counselor who suggested that we see a doctor to make sure that I was physically healthy and able to have a sexual relationship.  A few days after our honeymoon, I was examined by a kind doctor. The invasiveness of the pelvic exam was like experiencing the rape all over again.  Everything inside of me screamed, “Stop!  Let me go! Why are you doing this?”   The pain was so unbearable I thought I would pass out. Then came the dreaded question, “Have you ever been raped?”  The doctor explained that I had vaginismus, which is when the body remembers trauma and causes muscles spasms to occur as a way to protect itself.

For nearly twelve weeks, I faithfully performed the exercises the doctor had prescribed.  I cried.  I prayed.  I was an emotional train wreck.  My husband never made me feel like I should just “brace up” or “get over it”.  One day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  Hmm, I mused. Jesus healed people instantly back then.  Maybe we should ask Him to heal me.

So I asked my dear husband if he thinks God cares about sex.

“Of course,” he replied.  “I think He does.”

“Do you think He cares enough to heal me?”  I asked timidly.

“Why don’t we ask Him?”

So we prayed.  It was just a simple prayer.  I didn’t “feel” any different, except I had peace.  But in that instant, God healed my vaginismus! It was gone!   (Thank you Jesus from the bottom of my heart!)

The next year was a difficult one for me.  Though I had experienced physical healing, emotionally my heart was an open wound.  I began to have flashbacks of the abuse.  My first flashback happened in a dingy cabin while we were camping with our church.

I had just laid down for a nap.  As I stared up at the rafters, I suddenly became a little girl again as I tried to distance myself from a man.  His eyes reminded me a vulture eyeing his prey.  I immediately curled myself into a fetal position and began to heave deep sobs that had never been released before.  I shook, moaned and writhed on the floor for a few minutes. My mind screamed with sheer horror at what had happened many years before.  The mental anguish was just as painful as the actual rape.  My husband held me as I wept.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.  I felt like I had been run over by a train.  In a way, I had.

Flashbacks are hard to describe. Usually something triggers them. Sometimes they are more of a body memory than an actual mental memory.  They leave you weak and vulnerable.  In those moments, I felt like a little girl who needed someone to protect me.  I wanted to hide.  At first, it was hard for me to realize that I was having a flashback, simply because I couldn’t “feel” anything.  But Ben learned to read my eyes.  He’d say, “Ann, are you okay?”  And I would burst into terrified tears.

“So,” I hear you asking, “how did you find healing?”

In some ways, the answer is simple. Jesus.  In other ways, the answer is complicated. Healing is a journey that takes time.  Sometimes years.

First of all, we have to acknowledge and accept what happened. This is an important step.  You simply cannot find healing for pain you refuse to acknowledge.   Childhood sexual abuse involves much more than “just” rape.  It includes inappropriate touching over and under clothes, the exposure of a child’s body, exposure to porn or adult nakedness, using force or trickery to make a child to perform sexual acts, inappropriate sexual comments made to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.

In my case, my mind had blocked those memories as a way to survive the horror.  They simply didn’t re-surface until I was at a safe place in my life.  If you suspect that you have repressed memories of abuse in your past, I would strongly encourage you to commit it to God.  He doesn’t hide things from us that we would be better off knowing.  If He thinks you are ready to deal with things, you will remember enough to work through what happened.

Not everyone blocks memories.  Maybe you remember everything, but you don’t want to deal with it.  It is hard to face the pain.  It hurts.  But you really can’t have true joy or peace by stuffing pain. Pushing away pain only works for so long.  Eventually, it will stick its ugly head up and scream for your attention until you choose to deal with it.  It doesn’t go away on its own.

It isn’t fun to face pain.  But let me tell you: It’s worth it.  It’s worth every tear.  It’s worth every flashback.  Please don’t fight it any longer.

Grieve. Grieving is another step in the healing process.  After you acknowledge the pain, you will likely be very emotional.  After all, your innocence was stolen from you.  In some ways, grieving your innocence is like grieving a loved one who walked away from God.  Innocence can never be returned after it is gone.

Everyone responds differently to grief.  Some people need to talk about what happened.  Others need to write or journal.  You will have days that you do more crying than smiling.  You will feel really good one minute and the next you will burst into tears.  And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying.

During those time of intense grief, bring your pain to Jesus.  Climb up onto His lap.  Rest your head against His shoulder.  Tell Him exactly how you feel.  He wants to carry your pain.  Let Him do that for you.  Spend time in His Word.  Mediate on it.  Talk audibly with God.  Ask Him hard questions.  Read good, wholesome books.  Take walks.  Find someone you can trust who is willing to listen to your heart anytime of the day or night.  Your heart is an open wound, so give yourself a lot of grace during this time.  Take care of yourself.  And don’t rush the process.  Take time to grieve.

Renounce the Lies.  Women who have experienced sexual abuse often face many lies that are deeply rooted in their soul due to the abuse they experienced as children. Some common lies are: “I’m worthless.”  “I’m ugly.”  “It’s my fault.”  “God doesn’t love me.”  And so on.  Identify the lies you are believing.

Once you have identified these lies, renounce them.  Use the Word of God to fight them. There is great Power in the Word! (Hebrews 4:12).  Stand in front of the mirror and speak Truth to yourself.  The devil cannot stand the Truth.  Share your struggle to believe truth with people who will stand and fight with you.  Write the Truth (opposite of the lie) on a paper and stick it on your closet door where you will see it every day.  Or write the lie on the bottom of your socks, and then “tramp on that lie” all day long.  Visuals like this have helped me to break the bondage of lies in my life.

And now for the most important step in healing from sexual abuse: Forgiveness.  I have no idea what comes to your mind when you here this word, but I’d like to explain what forgiveness means to me.

I’m not talking about forgetting what happened to you.  I’m not talking about giving the person who abused you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  I’m not talking about trusting the person who broke your trust.

It makes me sad to hear of churches and individuals pushing “forgiveness” on the victim in order to protect and hide the sin of the perpetrator.  That is not true forgiveness.  I’m sorry if that kind of emotional and spiritual abuse is part of your experience.  You probably want to scream when you hear this word, and I don’t blame you.  But please, keep reading.

True forgiveness is something that is impossible without Jesus.  In order to forgive, you need to realize your own sinfulness and accept God’s love and forgiveness for you.  Without this, it is totally impossible to truly forgive your perpetrator. When you realize that your sin is really no less sinful in Gods eyes than theirs, it makes it easier to choose forgiveness.

Forgiveness means that I accept what happened.  It means I choose to deal with the consequences of my abuser’s sin with a cheerful heart.  It’s saying, “Ok God, I choose to be okay with the flashbacks.  I can’t help what happened to me, but I can choose my reaction to it.”

Another aspect of forgiveness is taking responsibility for my reaction to the pain.  Because we are human, we respond to pain by becoming selfish and bitter.  Forgiveness means that we repent of bitterness.  It means that we choose to say “Yes, what he/she did was terrible, but my bitterness is hurting others too; so I choose to repent of it.”

Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.  You may need to forgive your perpetrator 100 times a day.  That’s fine.  When Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother?”, Jesus said, “Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21-35) Let me translate that in terms of working through sexual abuse.  Every time you think about what happened and you feel that familiar bitter spirit begin to rise within you, FORGIVE.  Don’t wait.  Do it right away.

If you struggle with flashbacks, forgive the minute the flashback is over.  You don’t even have to remember who it was that abused you.  You can still forgive them.  Do it every time you remember.  I will be honest with you: Forgiveness is the only way to deal with flashbacks. They are horrible experiences.  But I have found so much healing in forgiveness.  The prayer I often pray is as follows:

“Jesus, today I choose to forgive (name) for the pain he/she caused me when he/she (what they did to you).  I choose to forgive him/her and release him/her.  I don’t want to hold this against him/her any longer.  Please have mercy on him/her!  I will accept the consequences of his/her sin. Will you forgive me, Jesus, for being so focused on myself and bitter toward him/her?”

If you want to find healing, but feel powerless to choose to forgive, ask God to help you.  He doesn’t want to see you stuck in bitterness.  He is more than willing to give you the power you need to make that hard, but important, choice.

No, forgiveness is not easy.  But it is necessary if you want to find healing and peace.

And finally, don’t waste your pain by keeping silent about the healing that God is doing in your shattered heart.  Tell someone.  Look for opportunities to help someone else find healing from sexual abuse.  Don’t forget how it felt to be the little girl with a battered, bleeding heart.  There are so many people who need to hear about the redemption Jesus brings to broken little girls and boys.

I have asked God, “Why?  Why me?”  I think it’s okay to ask questions.  But don’t demand an answer.  Job asked God “why” too.  But God never answered his question.  It’s not that God didn’t care or didn’t hear.  Believe me, He does!  He cares about what happened to you.  But because His ways are so much higher than ours, our minds cannot always grasp the plans He has for us. (Is. 55:9)

So do I know why I was raped and abused? No.  But there’s one thing I am choosing to believe: God has a purpose for everything.  Even for a little girl who was brutally abused by men who professed to know God.

Has the healing journey been easy?  No.  Is it worth the pain?  YES.  A thousand times, yes.

Dear sister, if you’ve experienced this type of pain, please don’t try to stuff it in or pretend it’s not there.  There is hope, healing and redemption in Jesus Christ.  You don’t need to stay a victim to your past.  Remember, He loves you.  He wants to carry your pain.  He specializes in giving “beauty for ashes”. (Is 61:3) “…And with His stripes, we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

 

*statistics are from “11 Facts about Child Abuse” by dosomething.org.