Just a Season

It’s winter now.

The trees are bare.
Sunshine rare.
The Earth is cold
The wind bold.
No flowers, no leaves
No birds, no bees
All color has fled
The landscape dead.

It’s winter here too –
In my heart.

My tears fall down
To the ground.
I shiver. It’s cold.
The wind is bold.
I am so weak
My body speaks.
I hurt everywhere.
My heart bare.

But winter is a season.

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One day soon
The flowers shall bloom.
The sun will shine,
Buds on the vine.
Color will appear
On the cold sphere.
The birds will sing
For it will be Spring.

The winter in my heart –
It’s just a season.

One day soon,
I too, shall bloom.
I will shine,
New growth on my vine.
The crippling fear
Will disappear.
I shall sing
For it will be Spring.

He promised. And I believe.

In the scope of time,
Winter is fleeting
Yet in the grime,
It feels like a beating.
So I patiently wait
Like the sailors of late
Watching for Light
In the stormy night.

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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 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

Innocence and “The Talk”

“I just want to keep my children innocent as long as possible,” she said.

We all do.  What kind of parent doesn’t want to protect their children?  But judging by the number of sexually abused children in our circles, I wonder if we really know how.

In years gone by, we’ve been taught to keep our children “innocent” by refraining from telling them the facts of life until they are well into their teens – or right before they get married.  It’s called “The Talk”.  Has it worked?  Is innocence the ignorance of all things sexual?

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We live in a world where sex is boldly proclaimed, and brazenly advertised and sold on a daily basis.  Pornography is easily accessible, thanks to the internet on our cell phones and the magazines in the checkout lines.  You don’t have to drive far to see plenty of billboards that are worse than the pictures published in the first porn magazines.

On top of all the junk floating around “out there,” we have a huge problem within the church – sexual abuse.  More and more children are being victimized every year, not by people from “out there” but by family members and church members within our circles.

Parents, it’s time we dig our heads out of the sand.  Our children are being exposed to sexual things long before they hit their teens.  There are children as young as two who are being raped and abused.  Boys are being shown pornography before they turn ten.  We have girls growing up who don’t remember ever feeling innocent.  I wish I could say that the situations I just mentioned are few and far between, but they aren’t.  It’s becoming far too “normal”.

It’s time to admit that our strategy isn’t working.  Judging by the epidemic of abuse in Anabaptist communities today, it is not a stretch to say that keeping our children ignorant about the facts of life has actually “fed” the abuse cycle.

Innocence is not ignorance.  Innocence has more to do with how a child finds out about the facts of life than with how much they know.  A child does not lose their innocence when we as parents explain sex and puberty in a pure, undefiled manner as God intended sex to be.  On the flip side, when abuse occurs and the child is conditioned to believe that sex is something dirty and shameful, innocence is definitely lost.  Untold damage to their view of God and their view of sex happens when a child is abused, whereas the facts of life, simply told in a safe and loving environment, and in an age appropriate way produces phenomenally different results.

There is nothing a perpetrator likes more than an ignorant child who has no sexual knowledge.  Why?  Because the child can be taught anything and everything about sex – the perpetrator’s way.  Abuse can go on for years when sexual things are introduced in this way.  The sexual deviations become “normalized” in the child’s mind because there is nothing to compare it to.  Furthermore, without a healthy view of their bodies and sex, children often hide the abuse from parents and caregivers because they don’t know any better.  Ignorance gives the perpetrator power while healthy, pure, facts of life from parental figures gives that power to children by helping them to say “NO” and helping them to distinguish between good touch and bad touch. 

Countless abuse survivors will tell you that they were not taught about good touch and bad touch.  Their parents tried to keep them innocent by ignorance and it didn’t work.  When the abuse started, they were confused.  It didn’t feel right, but “Uncle Jim says it’s okay and that this is what love is” so they accepted it as normal behavior.  On the other hand, I’ve talked to moms who’ve been open with their children about sexual things; they’ve told them what to do in a bad situation and answered their questions about the facts of life.  And many times, it’s those kinds of conversations that have saved children from abuse.

I do not want my children to find out about sex and their bodies from anyone other than my husband and I.  And in order to do that, it means starting before they are two.  It means teaching them the proper names for their private body parts in normal everyday life.  It means answering their many questions about where babies come from and why mama’s belly is so big. (Yes, I’m currently carrying our third child.)  It means explaining life to them and keeping the lines of communication open with our children.  It means listening to them and hearing their hearts.  It means reminding them that when God made their bodies, He said “It is very good.”

We all want to protect our children’s innocence.  None of us want to find out that our child knows far more than we told them because of a pervert in our circle of family or friends.  In this day and age, it means having “talks” instead of “the talk”.  Because innocence is not ignorance.

Let’s step up to the plate, parents.  And may God help us to protect the “little ones” He has so graciously given us to love.

 

To My Dear Mother

Dear Mom,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  I wanted to get you a special card, or flowers, or something….anything to let you know how much you mean to me.  But honestly, flowers and cards really don’t express it well enough.  Since writing happens to be my gift, I decided that might be a better option.

Mom, thank you.  Thank you for carrying me for nine long months.  Thank you for laboring all day and birthing my little body.  Thank you for holding me in your arms and weeping as you thought about the responsibility of guiding my soul.  Thank you for all those sleepless nights, diaper changes, laundry, and baths.

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Thank you for singing to me, for sharing your love of music with me, and for taking me for piano lessons.  Thank you for letting me sing all the different parts while I “sang” soprano in my head.  Thank you for the good memories of reciting a Psalm before nap time, and for the afternoons on the porch swing eagerly waiting for Daddy to arrive home from work.

I remember one time when you had a picnic lunch with us under the pine trees.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to do that.  Thank you for giving me special care when I was sick.  Thank you for praying with me when I had nightmares.  Thank you for answering my many questions and listening to my many stories. Thank you for your patience with me.

Very faintly I remember that before I’d go to sleep, you and Dad would pray with me and the rest of the children.  Thank you.  Thank you for teaching me of Jesus by your word and example.  Thank you for your vibrant spirit and for showing me how to love my husband by the way you love Dad.

Mom, I’m so blessed to have you as my mom.  I admire how you mothered.  I want to memorize scripture with my children and pray with them.  I want to sing with them.  I want them to have memories of watching the road for their daddy to arrive home from work.  I want them to know without a shadow of doubt that “Mommy loves Daddy”, just like I knew when I was growing up.

I’ve taken you for granted so many times.  But I want to change that.  Now I’m the one with a toddler pulling at my skirt and a baby who needs nursed.  Now I have little voices who call me “Mommy.”  It’s my turn to deal with the messy diapers, mountains of dirty laundry and dishes, the fingerprints on the window panes, and the short nights.

And my desire is to do my part as a mama to plant seeds in my children’s hearts just like you did with me.  So that someday, they too will rise up and do the same for their children, for God’s glory alone.

Thank you Mom!  I’m so glad God choose you to be my mom.  May God bless you this Mother’s Day and always.

I love you,

Ann

*Written the day before Mother’s Day 2016

 

A Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in the Anabaptist Church – Part 2

Relating to Victims

This is Part 2 in a series of posts on a Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities.  Please take time to read Part 1 here.

So now that we have established a biblical response to the perpetrators of sexual abuse, let’s think about how we should be relating to the victims.

Statistics tell us that 20.5%* of the people in our churches are sexual abuse survivors.  If you have a church of 200 people, approximately 41 of those people are struggling to heal from sexual abuse.

That is over 1 in 5 church members.  Yet, we hear almost nothing about sexual abuse.  We don’t talk about “such things.”  Often, we don’t even know who the victims are or how to help them.  And sometimes, if we do know the victims, we shame them instead of believing them.  We betray their trust instead of helping them heal.

And then, we wonder why “some people” suddenly want nothing to do with church or God.  We wonder why there is rebellion among youth.  We wonder why people leave.

If we understood abuse, these things would suddenly make sense.

That’s why I will continue to speak up.  I will not be silent.  We need to start digging into this mess, because many lives are at stake.

Victims of sexual abuse are some of “least of these.”  They’ve been torn apart by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Not only have their hearts been ripped apart by “good” church members who’ve abused them, they’ve also been ripped apart by church members who believe the perpetrators.

I believe that the Anabaptist church has the potential to be a good place to heal from sexual abuse.  But first, we need admit that we have a problem.  We need to understand what sexual abuse does to a victim, and what we should be doing for that victim.

What the church needs to understand about the effects of sexual abuse:

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person spiritually.

When God created us, He made us sexual beings.  God designed the sexual relationship to be a beautiful picture of how He loves us, His bride.  He wanted it to be in the context of marriage only. But the enemy loves to distort that beautiful image.  His goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Sexual abuse does just that – it steals a person’s innocence, kills their spirit, and has the potential to completely destroy a person if not dealt with properly.  As a result, the victim’s view of God is severely damaged, particularly if the abuse happened by someone they trusted or someone who claims to be a Christian.  Sexual abuse opens the door for all kinds of spiritual bondage.  Countless lies and addictions stem from abuse.

Sexual abuse has the potential to turn a Christian into an atheist.  I believe that sexual abuse is one of the ways the devil is snatching the souls of our children. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle for their souls.  And we need to start fighting instead of pretending there isn’t a problem.

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  1. Sexual abuse affects a person emotionally.

When a person becomes a victim of sexual abuse, a part of them “dies” inside.  They may laugh a lot or be the class clown but if you were to see inside their heart, you’d be staring at a bloody mess.  Some victims “stuff the pain” as a way to survive.  It looks good on the outside, but sooner or later, it will come out.  They may hardly ever cry or show emotion.  Others cry all the time and have trouble functioning in daily life.  Either way, the abuse they experienced is affecting them, and they need help.

Anxiety and depression are very common among victims.  They fear everything and everyone.  They don’t trust anyone, even safe people.  They view themselves as dirty, ugly, and worthless.  They don’t think they are worth your time or love. They push love away because to them, love hurts.

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person physically.

It should be no surprise to us that emotional and spiritual problems sometimes affect people in physical ways.  This is very true in sexual abuse victims.

The constant fear and anxiety that victims live in sometimes produce unexplainable headaches, back aches, and stomach aches.  Bowel and bladder issues and frequent UTIs are common. Nightmares and vivid dreams of entrapment are part of life for many victims.

There is so much more that could be said about the effects of sexual abuse.  I only skimmed the surface to help us realize how it wrecks relationships in the lives of its victims – relationships with God, the church, their family and their friends.

So, what should the church’s response be to the victims of sexual abuse?

  1. Believe them instead of blaming them.

Besides helping a victim find healing in Jesus Christ, this is, hands down, the most important thing we must do for victims.

When a victim discloses sexual abuse, believe them.  I am horrified by some of the things that are said about victims in some of our Anabaptist churches.  “They are just making that up because they want attention. Besides, abuse doesn’t happen to Christians!”  Worse yet, sometimes similar statements are made to the victim’s face.

And then, to top it all off, we blame them. “Why didn’t you yell?” we ask the victim incredulously.  Or “You should’ve tried to fight!”  To a victim, these kinds of responses shout one thing: “It’s all your fault.”  The problem is, we don’t talk about abuse.  Therefore, we don’t teach people what to do in a bad situation.  How are they suppose to know what to do if we don’t talk about it?

Be assured of one thing:  Responses like the ones I mentioned above do serious damage to an already wounded heart, to the point of suicide in some cases.

“But people sometimes lie about sexual abuse, don’t they?” you ask.  Yes, it happens.  But it’s actually not as much as we think.  Most sources agree that the percentage of false allegations is around 2-8%** of reported abuse.  There are people who feel it’s much lower than that in our Anabaptist circles due to two things: (1.) The 2-8% was based on reported abuse; studies indicate that only 40% of rapes and abuse are reported.  Thus, the 2-8% is not a very accurate number. (2). Anabaptist people are taught from little up to be honest and tell the truth.  Therefore, the true number of false allegations in our churches is probably less than 2%.

Another reason why we struggle to believe victims is because their stories are vague and the details “change.”  Instead of writing them off as liars, we need to understand what trauma does to the brain.

All abuse is traumatic.  But the younger a child is when abuse happens, and the worse the abuse is, the more a victim will tend to disassociate from the experience.  They may not remember what happened to them for years.  They may remember a little but not many details.  They might know something happened, but have no idea who abused them.

Have you ever been in a traumatic car accident?  Do you remember all the details of the accident?  Do you remember the car coming toward you and the crashing sound of the metal?  In the case of a very bad car accident, a person sometimes doesn’t remember anything for a few hours, days, or weeks surrounding the accident.  It is much the same way with abuse.  Just because a person can’t tell you exactly where they were at, who abused them, the severity of the abuse, or how many times they were abused, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

There was a rather sickening study where a perpetrator filmed his abuse encounters with children.  The authorities confiscated the abuse videos and asked each of the victims to tell them what the perpetrator had done to them.  They were amazed at the response of these children.  The majority of them downplayed the severity of the abuse.

Often, when abuse allegations surface, the preachers or the child’s parents go to the perpetrator and ask them if they abused the victim.  Sometimes, the abuse is confessed. (I admire those people!) But too often, the perpetrator says, “No.  I would never do something like that!” And so, the matter is dropped.

Let me ask you this:  What else is the perpetrator supposed to say?  Folks, if he/she has the ability to somehow defy their conscience and abuse an innocent person, then they definitely can lie about it too.

I say all that to say this: When someone (child or adult) admits that they were abused, believe them.  There is a 2% chance or less that the allegations are false.  If you do have any qualms about believing a person’s story, seek the face of God and ask Him to bring the truth to light.

  1. Protect them.

After we believe them, we must do everything we can to protect them.  Remember, their world is no longer a safe place.  The incident must be reported. (See Romans 13:1-5; Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 2:13-15).

But protect them in little ways too.  People who’ve been victimized once walk around with a “target on their back”.  They often are victimized again.

I’ve seen far too many victims leaving the church because the church is not a safe place for them.  The perpetrator still sits in the pew, Sunday after Sunday.  Maybe he/she even teaches Sunday school.  Or maybe the perpetrator is one of the preachers.  At any rate, being in the presence of one’s abuser is not a “safe place” to a victim.

I know of no place that is more safe than the lap of Jesus Himself.  If we are going to be the hands and feet of Jesus, then church is going to have to be a safe place.

  1. Grieve with them.

Take time to grieve with the victim.  Grieving is hard.  No one should have to grieve alone.  A sexual abuse victim often grieves alone simply because abuse tends to be such a “hush hush” subject in our circles.

Grieving the loss of innocence is a little like grieving for a loved one who walked away from God.  Once it is gone, it’s gone forever.

Think about the things that you wish someone would do for you if you were grieving.  Maybe they just need a card or a journal, or a listening ear.  Maybe they need a few hours of silence at a coffee shop, or a weekend get-away.  There is so much we can do for people who are grieving.

      4. Love and affirm them.

Sexual abuse victims need someone to show them what true love looks like.  They need to be showered with affirmation.

They need to hear things such as “I believe you.” “What happened to you was not your fault.”  “You are loved.”  “You are clean and pure.”  “I will walk with you.”  “I will protect you.”  “I will do everything I can to help you heal.”  “You are brave and full of courage.”

When someone in church has a bad car accident or has an extensive surgery of some kind, we do very well at caring for their physical needs.  We take a meal, babysit their children, help them financially, visit them, etc.  We all “pitch in” and help them in their physical affliction.

How much more we should be doing this for sexual abuse victims.  Think about it: They may be “fine” physically, but emotionally they are bruised and broken. We need to be doing all we can to make their load easier.  We need to care for them and their families.  We need to love them well.

      5.  Help them find healing.

But how?  Is there hope?

YES!  A thousand times yes!

Jesus is the Master Healer. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:5)

In my own journey, I’ve found that forgiveness is the key to healing. (Read more about my journey here.)

Now please, I beg you to keep reading.  Please, victims, “don’t write me off” yet.  And the rest of you, please don’t “run away” with “forgiveness.”  Let me explain what I mean.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is not trust.  Forgiveness is not forcing the victim to “forgive” so that there are no legal consequences for the perpetrator.  Forgiveness is not “shutting the victim up” to protect a family, church, or business image.

That is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is making a conscious choice to be okay with the struggles I have today because the of the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to take responsibility for my reaction to the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to forgive every time I feel bitterness rising in my heart when I think about the abuse or the person who abused me.

That, brothers and sisters, is forgiveness.

Healing and forgiveness are so intertwined in the healing process that it is hard to separate them.  You cannot forgive without some measure of healing.  And yet, you cannot heal without forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand.

Though I am of the firm belief that healing comes when we forgive, I believe that every victim needs to make that decision for themselves: “Am I going to continue being a victim or am I going to let God make something beautiful out the ashes?”

God doesn’t force us to do anything.  He doesn’t force us forgive.  We shouldn’t force anyone else to forgive either.

       6.  Remember that healing is a journey. 

We tend to forget that.  Healing from sexual abuse takes time.  Years.  Sometimes even decades.  Some people may never fully recover.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t forgive or that they haven’t found true healing.

Some people never fully recover from car accidents either.  Does that mean they haven’t healed? No.

If you feel incompetent of leading someone to Jesus and helping them forgive, there are Biblical Christian counselors who lead people to Jesus every day in their offices.***

In conclusion, the consequences of doing little or nothing to help sexual abuse victims are huge.  Victims who haven’t dealt with their abuse often end up becoming perpetrators.  They sometimes become atheists.  They have a much higher chance of becoming prostitutes.  They are at risk for committing suicide.

Jesus has some sobering words for us in Mark 9 verse 42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

I can’t think of a better way to offend a child than to (1) sexually abuse them and (2) to refuse to believe and protect them.  It is serious stuff, brothers and sisters.  God does not deal kindly with those who hurt the innocent and vulnerable.

The church doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse – both on a perpetrator level and victim level.   I shudder when I think of what God must think of the stories I hear nearly every week about the church’s response to victims.

We, as the body of Christ, have a responsibility to help the lambs whose spirits have been murdered by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  After all, we are His hands and feet.

And if we truly know Jesus, we will reach out to sexual abuse victims. We will believe them.  We will love them.  We will care for their broken hearts and spirits.

May God give us wisdom and courage to relate to them the way He would.

 

*https://lmpgnetwork.wistia.com/medias/nu6djwfyob

**Statistics from http://www.nationalreview.com

***Freedom Hills Ministries (Ohio), Grace Haven Ministries (Indiana), LIFE Ministries (Pennsylvania), Door of Hope Ministries (North Carolina).

True Forgiveness

We hear a lot about forgiveness.  There are many books, articles, and quotes about what forgiveness is or isn’t.  I’m about to add my understanding of it to the big pile.  Some of the ideas out there about it are completely false, and I’d like to address some of those.

What Forgiveness Is

  1. Forgiveness is an outpouring of my Father’s forgiveness for me.

True Forgiveness happens only when you realize and accept God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy for yourself. You cannot forgive if you haven’t experienced His forgiveness.  If the only reason you are forgiving someone is because “God won’t forgive me if I don’t”, then it’s not forgiveness.  It’s selfishness.

  1. Forgiveness is pleading to God for mercy for myself and the person who hurt me.

When Jesus forgave you as He hung on the cross, He asked God to have mercy on you. When you realize how merciful God has been to you, you will want to extend His mercy to others.

  1. Forgiveness is willingly paying the consequences for the sin of the person who hurt me.

You need to accept responsibility for your reaction to the pain the person caused you.  Face it head on.  You are “paying” for it already – why not do so cheerfully and deliberately?  This is where the power that person had over you is lost.  When you choose to deal with the lies that developed because of the pain you experienced, you are “paying cheerfully” for what was done to you.

  1. Forgiveness is a choice that only I can make.

Forgiveness is not a feeling.  Choosing to forgive is choosing life.  Choosing bitterness is choosing death.

What Forgiveness is Not

  1. Forgiveness is not forgetting.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before – Forgive and Forget. The Bible never tells you to forgive and forget.  It does say that God forgets your sins when you confess them.  I’m not sure that forgetting is even possible in every situation.  What about the person who lives as a paralytic because of drunk driver?  He’s faced with his handicap every day. What about a girl who was raped? Or a family who lost a child because of a medical malpractice?

  1. Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.

When Jesus answered Peter’s question about how often to forgive his brother, Jesus’ implied reply was “every time.” I don’t think Jesus was talking about 490 different incidents.  Instead, He was saying that every time you are reminded of an incident, forgive right away.  It doesn’t matter whether that is ten times a day, or one hundred times a day.  Forgive.

  1. Forgiveness is not Trust.

Forgiveness is something you freely give to the person who hurt you, while trust is earned.

  1. Forgiveness is not possible without Jesus.

The world talks about forgiveness, but in reality it is a counterfeit for the real thing.   You cannot truly forgive if you haven’t met Jesus.  Without Him, it’s completely impossible.

But how?

If you are bound by bitterness, there is a way out!  You don’t have to live as a victim any longer!

The truth is Jesus loves you. He cares about you.  His arms are open for you today just as they were when He was hanging on the cross, asking His Father to forgive you!  He wants to redeem every nook and cranny of your life.  He’s been waiting for you for years!

You don’t have to feel fuzzy feelings toward the person who hurt you to forgive.  If you are having trouble even “wanting” to forgive, ask God to give you the “want to.”  Believe me, He will!

Then talk to Jesus.

“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 pay for his/her sin. Will you forgive me, Jesus, for being so focused on myself and bitter toward him/her?”

Freedom and Life is yours when you choose to forgive.  And to refuse is Eternal Death.  Refusing to forgive affects those around you too. It’s that serious.

Consider

It was one of those days. Everything was going wrong, I thought.  The children were both sick and fussy, the work was piling up, and I wasn’t feeling the best myself.

I had spent most of the night comforting my son in vain, while I prayed that he’d settle and sleep for a few hours.

I was exhausted, physically and emotionally.  It felt like God wasn’t really listening – He definitely wasn’t answering my prayer.  Feelings of anger and frustration boiled up inside of me.  God knew I needed my sleep too.  God knew I was half sick myself.  Why wasn’t He answering my prayer?

When life brings circumstances such as these, I naturally point fingers at God.  It’s almost like I take Him by the throat and shake him.  I get angry because He isn’t doing anything to “make it better”.

Ridiculous, you say.  And you’re right.  It is terrible.  After all, who am I to order God around?

As I thought about my attitude toward God and what steps I should take to actively change it, I came across a verse.

1Sa 12:24 Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.

The last part of the verse especially convicted me.

God has done so much for me in the past.  He has extended His mercy and love to me in so many ways.  But here I am – pointing my fingers at Him and accusing Him of not caring, not listening, not answering my prayer.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am where I am today.  I could be in a thousand different situations.  Literally.

How can I forget what I’ve been saved from?

A few years ago, as I was sitting in a counselor’s office with my husband-to-be, the counselor looked up from across his desk after hearing only a fraction of my story, and asked, “Why aren’t you a prostitute?”

I should be exactly opposite of who I am today. Statistically, with a history of abuse and self-destructive habits as I have, I should be a prostitute or a single mom with four kids to four different men.

If it wasn’t for the grace and mercy of God Almighty, that is who I would be today.

But I’m not.  Instead, I am married to an amazing man of God.  I love being his wife.  I enjoy being a mom to his children, (most days J, even though I’ll quickly admit that it’s the toughest responsibility God has handed me so far). I love the community and church we are a part of.

And slowly, God is reshaping my view of Him and myself.

After only a few minutes of considering God and the great things He has done in my life, I repented of the ungrateful spirit that was causing me to question the goodness and sovereignty of God.

When I really take time to consider my life, I can see His fingerprints all over it.

My friend, you have a unique story too.  God has a plan for you.  Not an evil plan, but a good plan.  Take heart.  Consider the great things God has done for you in the past.  And then trust Him for the future.

Remember that someday, whether it’s here or in Glory, you will look back and see His fingerprints in your life.