“If anyone causes one of these little ones –those who believe in me– to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” ~Mark 9:42
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~Arthur Golden
When I was four or five years old. My mom had me stand at the top of the stairs in our thousand square foot, split level house, and jump into her arms in an attempt to explain Faith to me. Faith that she’d catch me. Faith that there was a God who sent His son to die for me.
I’m sure her intentions were pure, but unfortunately the only thing I took away from the conversation that night was that there was this really scary place called Hell. And, if I didn’t say a special prayer to God, I was going to burn in the lake of fire for all eternity.
I remember inviting my friends to church at a very young age, thinking that if I could only get them to hear this magical prayer, recite it and really mean it, they’d earn their “get outta Hell free card” just like me.
I must have said the sinner’s prayer at least a dozen times growing up, hoping I’d eventually get it right. When God didn’t save me from the darkness that consumed my life or fit in the perfectly wrapped package I had created for Him, I began to question and doubt His goodness.
Don’t get me wrong, if anyone asked me if I believed in God, I’d tell them, “I have faith!” I believed there was a God. I believed in the power of God, but I never yielded to Christ. Without even realizing it, I had jumped on the treadmill of Jesus plus something else…
Growing up, I can remember being left alone often as a young child. My mother had struggles of her own which made her physically and emotionally unavailable most days of the week. On the weekend she spent most of her time at church practicing for the choir or cleaning up for service. My father worked 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. On weekends, he acted as the church treasurer and was an active member on the deacon board. As the eldest of four, a lot of the responsibility of managing my younger siblings unofficially fell on me.
I didn’t have many friends and looking back I realize now it was because my family led a double life. I learned not to speak of what happened in private, to smile even when things at home were tough. I often felt unloved and unsafe. I never felt good enough or that anyone could possibly understand or relate to what I was going through. I adapted and learned to be a chameleon in order to blend in and be accepted. I quickly realized that I couldn’t trust or rely on other people, especially those in a position of power over me. This caused me to feel even more isolated and alone.
I spent more hours in a church building than I did my own home. It wasn’t uncommon for families like mine to allow their children free reign of the church. We acted like we owned the place… I actually remember the pastor at the time scolding some of the parents, including my own, that would try and correct their kids who were running and laughing and playing, saying something along the lines of ,”The kids are just being kids, let them be.”
Unfortunately, as awesome as my childhood church seemed at the time, the gospel being preached was being watered down and the congregation started to believe all kinds of errors. The enemy used deception to pull members far from God.
Before I was old enough to write my name, I had been repeatedly sexually abused by a man that was very involved in this church. He not only abused me, but he abused my younger sister and some of the other girls who attended as well.
“ENDIT” movements like “NOMORE” and “LOVE146” hadn’t hit the scene yet, so most parents weren’t educated on the warning signs of predatory behavior or sexual abuse. When abusers started to raise up within the church, their behavior was covered over and victims were blamed in an attempt to protect the churches reputation and tithing income.
I can remember feeling embarrassed and scared to speak out. The few times I tried, I was shunned and ignored, or was told that no one would believe me because of sins from my past. I seemed to be a magnet for these types of individuals and was made to believe that I had somehow asked for the abuse with the way that I had dressed or behaved.
I would pray to God, BEGGING for His help, but I realize now I was more interested in the comfort or escape I thought He would provide for me. I wasn’t interested in surrendering myself to Him.
By the time I turned 18 my heart was completely hardened to the things of God and I left my childhood church completely. I began to look to the world for my identity.
In 2001 I met my husband, Derek. We were married two years later. On the outside looking in, I had what some would consider to be “the perfect life,” and I was working hard to maintain that image. We even started to attend a new church with our family. I tried not to let on that everything I was pursuing was only bringing temporary relief. On the inside, I was lacking REAL JOY and peace.
I can remember at my lowest points quoting Romans 9 and telling my husband things like, “The bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay. He creates vessels of Glory and vessels of wrath. I must be a vessel of wrath” and “I am no more than a Judas to God,” or “I guess God didn’t pick me.”
In October 2013, I totaled my car and shortly after was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (Lupus) and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I battled with insomnia, paranoia, dissociation and distorted thinking. My cognitive skills and memory was affected which ultimately led to loss of my job. Medical bills started pouring in and we struggled to make ends meet.
My heart was heavy and consumed with anger.
One evening in particular stands out to me. It was only a couple weeks after I totaled my car. I was so low I wanted to end my life. I waited until my husband and kids were sound asleep. I was just about to leave my bedroom to carry out my plans when my cell phone buzzed and lit up the room. It was my best friend from childhood messaging me via Facebook, out of the blue, simply to let me know that God had put it on her heart to reach out and pray for me. We hadn’t spoke often since we were kids, so she couldn’t possibly know how much God was using her in that moment to extend His grace and love to me.
In February 2014 I went and did a really crazy thing. I drove out and met face to face with one of the men that sexually abused me as a young child. I approached him and his wife and the long and the short of it is, I was tempted to kill him. I almost tried… As I was about to drive away, I thought about running him over with my truck. Thankfully God put another vehicle in my path and gave me a moment of clarity to realize He was giving me a way of escape, a backdoor out.
But the spiritual battle didn’t end there. In March 2014, Rob Morris with LOVE146 visited my church. He did a service on compassion and told stories of young children he worked with who were sexually abused and sold into slavery. His message completely broke me.
To make matters worse, just before Summer some individuals from the Media contacted me to dig into some of the repeat sexual abuse claims that were reported with my childhood church. While I chose not to speak with the reporters, their relentless efforts really opened up some old wounds. This ultimately led me into a downward spiral.
Fast forward six months to November. The pastor of my current church did a service on Acts 8. It was about a man named Simon the Magician. Simon had this false belief that he was going to be able to take the things of God and add them to his already great life. He believed the things of God, but he did not submit to them as his authority.
While listening to the sermon being preached, I realized that I had this hollow idea that God was going to give something to me because of all the horrible things I had gone through in life. I realized that I was just like Simon the Magician.
It wasn’t like there were magic things that happened at this point or a magic prayer that I said. I simply repented and believed. A lightbulb went on, and my heart was opened to The Explicit Gospel for the very first time in my life.
God opened my eyes. He opened my heart. He rescued me in that moment. Hebrews 6:19 finally made sense to me!
“For we have this HOPE that ANCHORS the SOUL, firm and secure.”
The next morning I woke up feeling joy and peace. I thanked God for giving me breath. I thanked God for the trials he brought me through and prayed for the wives of the men that abused me. I begged God to do whatever He needed to do in order to bring those men to repentance, so they could be released from the burdens of sin and spiritual death.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” ~John 3:16-17
All the awful things I experienced has taught me that everything in life can teach you a lesson. You just have to be willing to learn. And, when you stop thinking life is all about yourself, THAT is when God can start to use you. THAT is when you begin to experience REAL JOY.
I know my journey is far from over, but I can be confident of this…
“He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6
“Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and Sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:7-14
**RELATED POST: Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse