Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday intruder

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. An American holiday typically celebrated by gathering with one's extended family and feeling immensely thankful and joyful. At least that's what everyone says they are doing. And what I really wish I was doing...

The problem is that I get distracted by certain circumstances and allow them to suck part of the joy out of the gathering part of the day. The time when we're with extended family, but it's not mine.

It is very easy for me to prattle off an extensive list of all the things I'm thankful for. Truly, God has blessed me in ways I never imagined possible. Ways that I can scarcely put words to. He has given me new life here on earth, a husband and children, wonderful friends, a church family, financial stability, a fantastic community in which to live... and eternal life. I am deeply blessed and deeply grateful.

But the loneliness that comes with not being with my extended family on Thanksgiving is a heavy burden. It has lessened over the years, but the anguish rears it's ugly head at some point every year. It hit today.

I stumbled upon this a little while ago...

"Talk to God about whatever may be pressuring you and then commit the entire matter into His hands...Acquaint Him with it; yes, even burden Him with it, and you will have put the concerns and cares of the matter behind you. From that point forward, exercise quiet, sweet diligence in your work, recognizing your dependence on Him to carry the matter for you. Commit your cares and yourself with them, as one burden, to your God."
-Streams in the Desert

I am alone right now - for the first time since 5:55am. I am headed upstairs for some quiet time with my Heavenly Father. Let's see how I do at committing my cares and myself to Him this Thanksgiving. Sometimes I hand things over to Him and then take them back.

I am going to leave you with Psalm 37:5, but I encourage you to get out your Bible and meditate on all of Psalm 37. That's where I'm headed right now!

"Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him and He will help you."
Psalm 37:5

Good night, friends. And may you be blessed this Thanksgiving and always.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unit 6 Lesson 2, A Further Look at Shame

Webster's dictionary defines shame as "a painful emotion excited by a consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety; disgrace, dishonor." The Hebrew concept of disgrace includes the idea of being uncovered physically, particularly the genital area; it can also refer to having one's plans and expectations frustrated or disappointed. Both definitions apply to the effects of sexual abuse.

Any form of sexual molestation, rape or abuse transfers to the victim the disgrace of the abuser. Sexual abuse creates shame in the victim. Often when victims tell about their abuse, their listeners add to the feeling of shame because the listeners have distorted the ideas about abuse. They say things like: "Why didn't you do something?" "I knew someone had you before we got married!" "You coulda done something!" "It went on so long, you must have gotten something out of it." You need to protect yourself as much as possible from such responses. You may need to review Unit 1 which contains materials to help you educate listeners.

Shame is a natural response to feeling uncovered or exposed. During the abuse your body was probably uncovered, but there was also the uncovering of your mind. Your sense of innocence was destroyed and the trust was lost. Innocence and trust must be restored. Survivors of abuse are left with frustrated hopes and plans. Dreams for having a healthy relationship with a father, a mate, a mother, a brother, or a child have been demolished. The abuse leaves victims believing that they are insignificant, of no account, no good. As you become aware of and overcome shame messages, these messages will have less power over you.

In your journal, write the following statements three times.

I am significant.
I do count.
I am worthwhile.

This exercise may feel uncomfortable at first but eventually you will be able to feel significant, that you do count, and that you are worthwhile.

The Message of the Abuser

The deliverer of the first of these messages is the person who abused you who says, "What I want goes, and what is best for you is of no concern to me." These and all other messages that convey worthlessness are shame messages. You must begin the difficult work of identifying the shame messages from the persons who abused you and the person who aided them by ignoring or covering up their actions.

An adult female victim tells her story of abuse. "I was eight years old when the abuse stopped. I'm not sure when it started. It stopped because my mom and stepdad got a divorce. I never fought, I never did anything when he would hold me close to him. I never did anything when he touched me except freeze and hope it would be over soon. I just felt bad. From the way people looked at me, I was sure everyone knew, and it made me feel guilty and useless. It happened again later with my stepmother, when I was a teenager. She said she was putting medicine on me. I would look away, down at the floor, sighing in hopes that she would stop touching me.

"I didn't know how to stop it. I couldn't tell anyone about my stepmother; it was just too bad. I told a pastor about my stepdad. What a joke that pastor was. He said, "Don't you understand that your stepfather felt lonely and sad during the divorce and all he wanted was some affection?" Well, of course, I agreed. But after that, I felt even more shame than before. I never told anyone else, that is, until now. But I am 48 now, and there are a lot of wasted years. I wish I would have known to tell and to keep telling until I found someone who would listen and believe me."

The wisdom of God can remove the shame imposed by the abuse message. You can learn to speak God's Word about yourself, not the damaging words of the person who abused you.

Read what the apostle Paul wrote about God's message... "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." 1 Corinthians 2:6-7

What is the purpose God has intended for us according to this passage? God intends His secret wisdom -

To shame us
To makes us feel inadequate
For our good

Learn to believe and give thanks to God. He wants us to experience his goodness, not to expose our shame.

Psalm 139:14 says, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

How did the psalmist say you were made?

The psalmist says that you were fearfully and wonderfully made. Do not allow us or anyone else to tell you how you feel, but you can learn to challenge your own thinking and thus change your own feelings.

As your own decision to change your thoughts about yourself, write in your journal three times: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

God does not intend for you to feel ashamed!

In your journal, write any shame messages that the person or persons who abused you said to you.

For each shame message write a response that declares that these messages are not true!

Suzanne, a victim of date rape, was told by her date that he could tell by the way she was dressed that "she wanted it." He said, "You knew I thought that red dress was sexy." Suzanne had heard others say that he really like her red dress. She did want to look nice for their date, but she did not wear it to seduce him. Red went well with Suzanne's dark hair. When Allen turned down a dark side street, she told him she wanted to go home. She was in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and when he stopped, she was afraid to get out of the car and afraid to stay.

The Message from Your Own Body

A second area of shame has to do with feelings about your body or body parts. Many victims see themselves as fat and ugly. Some purposely get fat or take little care of themselves in order to ward off further abuse. Some focus on a particular body part that they hate. Some are consumed with self-hatred.

In your journal, describe your feelings about your body. Do you particularly feel repulsed by or ashamed of part(s) of your body?

Twelve-year-old Kimberly tells her mother that she hates her body, all except for her breasts. She likes starting to develop, but she feels bad about it for some reason. When Kimberly was raped, her breasts had not yet developed so her abuser did not touch that part of her. Because of this, Kimberly does not feel shame toward her breasts, but she still feels confused. In many victims, sexual abuse develops a self-hate toward their body parts. Some victims have to have certain or all parts of their bodies stimulated - even by their mates.

Verbal Message from Others

A third area of shame can occur even without physical sexual abuse having taken place. Children - and adults, too - can be shamed by statements like, "You can't do anything right," "You're stupid," or "You can't be my child." Being neglected also brings about shame. For example, if no one was ever home for you or cooked a meal for you, or acted as though they didn't want you around, you probably felt insignificant or worthless."

Jesus can transform this hate toward the body or toward the mind, as Pal points out in Romans 12:2.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [do not believe the message of shame, but rather God's wisdom]. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

This scripture helps us begin to understand that as Christ works healing, the abuse will no longer continue to haunt us.

Write a prayer, asking God to remove feelings of hatred toward your body and to replace them with realistic true feelings about yourself.

You might write something like: "Dear God, I am 40 pounds overweight. I accept that and know I need to change that. I will not feel shame about it anymore. I will stop putting myself down."

If the messages you are receiving produce shame and condemnation, it is a false message. God plans to restore you to the truth. Each memory, each thought, each negative message touched by God's restorative power overcomes the marring effects of sexual abuse. When you allow God to restore your soul from the effects of shame and guilt concerning your abuse, you can begin to embrace what God has already said: you are acceptable (Hebrews 10:14.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unit 6 Lesson 1, Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

It's been a while since I blogged a lesson. I have an hour or so before my son wakes up from his nap, so here goes...

Focal passage for this week: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

Memorize it, friends... You are not condemned or guilty. In Christ, there is freedom from the shame you carry! The shame and guilt that are not even yours in the first place!!

Every victim of sexual abuse needs to recover from the shame and the guilt that result from the experience. Shame is the feeling of humiliating disgrace of having been violated. Shame tells you that you are bad. Guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong. You may carry a false sense of guilt caused by the burden of knowing some great offense was committed and the belief that you must be responsible. In the process of recovery, victims must let go of the shame and recognize that both the responsibility and the guilt belong to the person who committed the offense.

Cathy described in a counseling session how ashamed she felt about her body. "It feels dirty. It is dirty! As soon as my Dad would get through with me, I would immediately take a shower, but I could still smell him, and I knew I had done something wrong. I felt bad. I felt guilty, as if someone were watching. I felt evil.

"Believe it or not, my pastor knew something wasn't right with me and my Dad. He turned us in. I mean, turned my Dad in. It stopped, but now it's ten years later and I still feel so much shame. I think I'll be okay and I'll get dressed up and ready to go out. Then suddenly a picture will flash in my mind of his sweaty body on top of mine, and I'll lose it. I'm totally devastated. I feel dirty and evil all over again. Sometimes I think that if I wouldn't have these flashbacks, I wouldn't feel so guilty. The truth is sometimes I feel ashamed for no reason. I feel guilty for just existing."

In your journal, describe the difference between guilt and shame.

Shame is about personhood. It is related to lie #2 in unit 3 - I must be a terrible person for him/her to do this to me! Guilt is about behavior. It is related to lie #1 in unit 3 - It is my fault! Remember John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." You are not a terrible person and the abuse was not your fault. THE ABUSE IS NOT A REFLECTION ON YOU. IT IS A REFLECTION ON THE ABUSER.

Shame invades both the mind and the body.

First let's look at shame as it appears in the lives of victims. This very painful emotion invades both the mind and body of the victim. It is planted in guilt, nourished by memories and watered by secrecy. "I know you tell me," Cathy continues, "that now that I no longer keep everything inside, I will get better. But it's been a secret for so long, I'm afraid to tell! Listen to me. (She was starting to whisper.) I'll try to tell you everything I can remember, I promise... but not today." Later Cathy does go on to tell her story, again and then again. First she discloses it in individual sessions and then in a sexual abuse support group. For Cathy, and for every victim of sexual abuse, telling the story is one of the most important and necessary events in achieving recovery.

Just like Cathy, you may begin to talk in a whisper as you speak about your experience of abuse. Choosing to tell someone about your abuse is perhaps the most difficult challenge of the entire recovery process. Many of you have been threatened emotionally and physically that you are never to tell a word about what has happened.

Many victims have been shamed into believing that if they tell, terrible things would happen to them or to someone close to them, perhaps their mother or sister. They had to hear such things as, "Everyone will know this is your fault," "Everyone will be mad at you," or "Mother will leave if she finds out." The threatening statements that some survivors have been led to believe go on and on.

Compare your feeling about talking about your abuse with Cathy's feeling. Complete the sentence: "When I talk about it, I..."

talk faster
hug a pillow
close my eyes
curl up in a ball

What were you told would happen if you shared your story? If you don't remember, describe how you feel about not remembering. What did you think would happen?

In my experience... My parents divorced 3 1/2 years after I told my mother of the abuse. She never believed me, but divorced my father because my "allegations" had destroyed the family. She took me to see a gynecologist when I was 11. The doctor confirmed a stretched hymen, but not a broken one (which would indicate intercourse, which had never happened). The doctor was unable to say for certain that I'd been sexually abused. Someone recommended counseling for me (I don't know who, but I was under the impression that it was court mandated). So I went for counseling at the county mental health office every week for the next year. After their divorce, my parents continued dating and my sister and I went to visit him often. I protested to my mother, but she insisted that I go on visits with him "to protect my sister". She still did not acknowledge that the abuse actually happened. She also told me that if I made any further "accusations" of abuse or told anyone about the unsupervised visits with my father, that the state would take me away and send me into foster care where I might be treated much worse. So, I went to counseling that year, and every year thereafter, and never once told of the ongoing abuse. I felt threatened into silence. Scared. Abandoned. Rejected. Helpless.

Back to the study guide... Talking about the abuse is difficult for all survivors. It may be more difficult for some than for others. Each survivor remembers as much as he or she needs to at each point along the recovery journey. Let God put each memory in its place and in its proper time. Remember to let yourself be "where you are". Seek to accept yourself as a person in process. You are growing and changing. Give yourself time. Comparing yourself in a negative way to others will hinder your recovery.

Assignment for the lesson:

Write your own paraphrase of Romans 8:1. What does this verse mean to you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Reader's email:
I just read your post about Tamar. I have always wondered why God allowed that to happen.

My response:
Many people wonder why God allows bad things to happen... I believe that it's not so much that He allows bad things to happen, but that He allows all people the freedom to choose what they're going to do with their lives. His desire more than anything is for us to love Him, and second to love one another. But it must be a choice, otherwise we're all just robots that He controls. With the ability to choose to love Him (and others), we have the ability to reject Him (and others). It is through the human's rejection that others are so frequently hurt.

My parents chose to reject God... and me. As a child, I prayed earnestly that God would make my parents stop abusing me. But MAKING them stop would have been controlling. He is not a God who wants to control us. He wants us to love him so deeply that we choose to obey and respect Him. If my parents had made that decision, they never would have laid an evil hand on me.

It is true that not one person who lived in my home cared about my safety and well-being. In fact, no one in my extended family cared either. However, God placed many loving and trustworthy people in my life over the years. While my parents sinned against Him and against me, the Lord still provided for my needs. And, time and again, I see the amazing glory that He brings from the abuse I endured. I absolutely do not believe that it was God's will for me to be abused (or for Tamar to be raped), but I know that He can bring some serious beauty from ashes.

I believe with all my heart that God wanted for my parents to love Him and to love me. I believe the bottom line is that God does not force His will onto us (my parents, Tamar's brother, etc.). I believe that His will was absolutely to answer each of my prayers but He allows us free will in order that we will choose to love Him. Choosing to love him is what leads to truly loving one another.

"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." Isaiah 61:3

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 5, A Biblical Example

God speaks the truth even when it is ugly. The Bible records examples of sexual abuse and family dysfunction. Amnon, one of King David's sons, sexually abused his half-sister Tamar. He pretended to be ill to lure Tamar into his room: "He took hold of her and said to her, 'Come, lie with me, my sister.' But she answered him, "Don't, my brother. Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing.' ... But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her." (2 Samuel 13:11-14)

Tamar reported the incident to one of her other brothers, Absalom. Here was Absalom's response: "Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman." 2 Samuel 13:20

It seems that the pattern was no different for a dysfunctional family in biblical times than for a family in the present. The problem for victims is also the same - when they remain silent, the become desolate. Discussing your abuse does not mean getting up in church or another public place and announcing to everyone that you have been sexually abused. It does mean that you need to tell your story in a safe, supportive environment.

Sometimes recognizing a safe place to tell your story can be very difficult. Take some time to write in your journal about the image or description of a safe, supportive environment for you.

You might have described a place where you can talk, cry, never run out of tissue and never be judged... You deserve a place of rest, peace and relationships to cushion the harsh reality of abuse.

When Samuel said that Tamar remained in her brother's house and was desolate, he was saying she was forlorn and lonely, without friends or hope. Abuse so often leaves the victim without deep friendships and without hope. Often the victim is forced into isolation, feeling friendless and in great despair.

Do you identify with Tamar? If you have felt isolated and in despair, describe your feelings in your journal.

Read the entire story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-20 in your Bible. (If you do not have a Bible, you can look the scripture up on After you have read the entire story, respond to the following learning activities based on the characters in the story.

What kind of attitude about himself and human sexuality do you see reflected in Amnon's frustration over the situation with Tamar? Note all that apply:
  • He was self-centered, only interested in what he could do to her.
  • He considered Tamar as an object, not as a person.
  • He was angry because he was used to getting his way.
  • His idea of sexuality had nothing to do with emotional intimacy or genuine love.
  • Other
You could have chosen any or all of the responses. Next Amnon followed the evil advice of his friend Jonadab. Amnon planned and prepared to rape Tamar. He pretended to be ill and asked David, who was his father and his half-sister Tamar's father, to send Tamar to care for him.

Read the following scripture:

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand." David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him." 2 Samuel 13:6-7

Not only did Amnon plan to rape Tamar, his father unknowingly but directly contributed to the rape. How do you think Tamar might have felt towards her father as a result?
  • Betrayed, "He set me up for this."
  • Angry, "This is his fault!"
  • Frightened, "I don't dare tell my father what happened."
  • Bewildered, "What can I do?"
  • Other
Journal about your feelings about David in the story.

Remember that Tamar was not objectively reading these words on paper. She was experiencing the hurt and shame of sexual abuse. Whether or not Davide understood the consequences of his actions, the fact is that he contributed to her sexual abuse, and he did nothing to correct the situation after the rape. Tamar certainly could have felt all of the feelings above and more.

Next notice in verse 15 that after the rape Amnon hated Tamar. He increased the violation by blaming her and sending her away. Still worse he called a servant - thereby assuring that others would blame her - and he had Tamar thrown out of the house.

Remember that you are not responsible for any part of the behavior of a person who abused you. Do not use this activity to excuse or to blame but simply to understand. Describe why you think Amnon suddenly hated Tamar.

We cannot know another person's thoughts or motivations but one explanation seems probable. Amnon knew that what he had done was wrong. Rather than accept responsibility for himself, he shifted the blame to Tamar.

Have you experienced someone treating you like Amnon treated Tamar - first sexually abusing you and then blaming you for the abuse. If yes, describe how it felt to be blamed.

The next injury for Tamar resulted after the rape. She went to her brother Absalom. Absalom's response was typical of many family members of sexual abuse victims. The messages that Absalom sent to his sister were: "Keep the secret. Don't let anybody know about the family trouble. Don't shame the family by talking about this."

"Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." 2 Samuel 13:20

Write what you would like to say to Tamar instead of the dysfunctional message she received from her family.

As survivors of sexual abuse ourselves, we would all like to tell her that she was not to blame and that she needed and deserved to talk about her feelings with safe people.

Spend a few minutes in prayer. If you can, thank God for providing a safe place for you to openly share your experiences. Thank Him for recording the story of Tamar in scripture so that you would know that you are not alone in the betrayal of sexual abuse Honestly share your feelings with God. He will not respond as many people do. He will not say, "Don't take it to heart." God will listen and will patiently walk with you toward healing.

Working through these family issues is painful and will probably continue to be so for a while. If you feel desolate, betrayed and alone, reach out to someone who can help you. Find a support group in your area, stay plugged in to this blog, and/or meet with a counselor - even when it seems more difficult to work toward healing than to stay away. You need the support, and God wants you to overcome this tragedy in your life. God intends for you to walk in joy and peace, free from guilt and condemnation.


Next week we will begin Unit 6 Lesson 1, Letting Go of Shame and Guilt. I continue to pray daily for each and every one of you. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your recovery. Many blessings to you. Enjoy the long holiday weekend!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A gift?

This post is about something I have struggled a great deal with since Friday. Realistically, I know that this is not that big of a deal and that what I am experiencing is very common for people from all walks of life, but I have found shame and failure in it. Primarily because I took a firm stand (with hands on my hips and an angry red face) years ago that I would be nothing like my mother (whom I believe suffers from mental illness and unresolved issues).

So... I saw a doctor last Friday for tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing and dizziness. I've had these "episodes" a few times a month for the last couple of years, but they've always subsided after 30 seconds or so. I was never concerned about them... But in the last couple of weeks they have come much more regularly and an episode on Friday lasted for 15 minutes. To rule out anything serious, I went straight to the doctor. After a perfect EKG and chest x-ray, the doctor gently delivered the news that it's possible that I'm suffering from panic attacks. "They can run in families" she says.

I was immediately brought to a place of shame and failure when I heard those words. I managed to remain stoic in her office, but I was crumbling inside. I've been on a mission for good mental health since I was a child!

It was so confusing too. I can honestly say that I could not be happier and there isn't anything going on that I am worried, anxious or stressed about. Why these panic attacks? The doctor explained that they can come from nowhere and be for no apparent reason; that people who are not depressed or stressed can get them. This news makes me feel out of control, and I do not like that feeling one bit.

I don't really know what to make of it all. If you'd have asked me a month ago, I could have given you a list of a few major things that were on my mind - school starting, my three year old possibly having cancer, having two of my friends lose a child, adjusting to my husband's new work schedule... But I wasn't having increased "episodes" when all that was going on. That would at least make some sense!

So, when I got home from the doctor's office I read about Panic Attacks on the Mayo Clinic website. There I read that people who were sexually abused have a higher tendency to suffer from panic attacks. I was furious to read that they could be linked to the abuse I suffered as a child. How could he take this away from me too? It made me angry to think that, after all the progress I've made in my recovery, these panic attacks could have something to do with the abuse. (But, possibly not - I don't think we'll ever know.)

As I have processed this over the last several days, my anxiety over the whole thing has decreased a great deal. I understand that, if these are indeed panic attacks, it doesn't mean that I will spiral out of control. It doesn't mean I'm going to start making a decisions that devastate the lives of everyone around me. I am not a ticking time bomb.

And even as I sit here and type, I am wondering about something I read on another blog. JMom writes about the bags God packs for us... She says that "Some things bring groans and others bring grins... but all are gifts from a loving Father." Is this a gift? I really like that idea... I'm a silver-lining kind of girl (after I get past the shock and horror), so I'm wondering right now how this could be a gift. Off the top of my head - maybe being humbled by my plan not "succeeding" (perfect, unfailing, always-on-the-top-of-my-game mental status) will grow my understanding and compassion for people with mental illness. Maybe it will grow my compassion for my own mother and bring another layer of healing. The possibilities are endless, as He is God and I'm just me...

'"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.' Isaiah 55:8

Rather than stay all bent out of shape over the situation, I am choosing to embrace this idea of it being a "gift from our Loving Father". I wonder how He'll use it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Long time no talk (to Mom)

When I looked at the date of my last post, I about fell over. I wish I could blog here every day or so, but time is just not in my favor right now. My husband is still working very long days, at least six days a week, and the kids are out of school and keeping me running. I look forward to a slower pace and a return to a more desirable "normal"... and a return to this blog and my friends here!

I was talking with my oldest son the other day about his favorite family activities that stand out in his memory. So many of the things he spouted off were things I never experienced myself as a child. I am so very happy that my children have so much more than I did, but there's still that slight pang of sadness over my lost childhood. As I thought about that for a few minutes, I began to wonder when I'd last spoken with my mother. It was before my birthday, before Mother's Day, before my wedding anniversary (I don't even think she knows when that is)... Honestly, I think it was Christmas. And that was a terrible discussion; the call ended badly. As it sunk in that I haven't spoken with my mother in six months, I began to feel sad and even a little guilty for "not trying hard enough".

I'm sharing this with you because I know this is an all-too-common experience for those of us who are estranged from abusive family members. It is natural - God-designed - that we would desire relationships with our families. What is not natural - not God-designed - is for family members to abuse children and for those children to grow up having to protect themselves from the very people who are supposed to love and protect them.

I do not imagine that I will ever "get over" the estrangement from my family. I will always miss the idea of them. I even miss them to a certain degree. However, one thing that I am NOT is guilty! That is Satan trying to lure me into something that is not true. I am not guilty. I am the innocent survivor of sexual abuse who has been left with no choice but to distance myself and my family to ensure our physical and emotional safety. It is sad that I only talk to my mother by phone a few times a year, and possibly see her once or twice a year. It is sad that as my children get older, they have more questions and put more of the pieces together. They are beginning to realize that my mother is not a safe person for us to be around. Part of me wants to shield my mother from this realization, but that is not my job. My job is, in fact, to do just the opposite. My job is to shield my children from dangerous situations, and that requires informing them that being alone with my mother could be dangerous. This absolutely was not God's design; rather it was my parents' decisions that led us here. As I tread these waters, I lean on Him to lead the way. As each question pops out of my children's mouths, God provides the words for me to answer them. As I mourn the loss of my earthly mother, I am deeply touched and grateful for the perfect and unending love of my Heavenly Father. I praise God for the salvation and restoration found only in Him.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 4, Believing the Truth

As you recover you may be surprised to find that some family members may also pursue recovery from their former behavior patterns. If this happens, you may for the first time be able to establish functional and loving relationships with them.

Even so, you need to allow God to become your closest family. You don't have to give up your biological family, but you need to place God at the center of your life. He is the one who will never let you down or abuse you. You an allow God to replace your feelings of unworthiness with His truth about your worthiness. Your hopelessness can be replaced with hope in Christ and your profound feelings of inadequacy with the adequacy found in Him.

Search for Significance explains four common false beliefs created and maintained in part by dysfunctional families. The victim of sexual abuse is almost certain to hold as truths these false beliefs. These false beliefs will create guilt, a false sense of responsibility, low self-worth, and a host of other issues for the victim.

One of these beliefs is: I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself. Whatever standards you have set are in part based on the messages you heard as you were growing up. The false belief blocks you from realizing that you already are fully pleasing to God. No matter how intense, perfect or successful you become, meeting falsely motivated standards will not bring you the peace you desire. The fact that you were sexually abused does not have to keep you from feeling good about yourself.

In your journal, describe at least one standard you have held that may be blocking your journey to recovery. As yourself, "What do I think I must do to be a good person?"

Jacque thought that she could never let anyone know she felt inadequate or afraid. Regardless of her accomplishments she never felt adequate because something always remained that she didn't know or understand. Her ability to admit she needed help blocked her recovery.

I must have others' approval is another of the false messages families transmit. This belief will lead you to become consumed with pleasing others at any cost. As a result, the fear of rejection or disapproval can overwhelm you. Even if others disapprove because you have chosen to talk about the abuse, you can feel good about yourself. You do not have to have their approval.

Have you ever experienced or feared the disapproval of friends or family members becuase of how you are choosing to recover?

If so, how are you reacting to them? Do you need to let go of the need to have their approval? What is their approval costing you?

Your recovery may require that you suffer the disapproval of some significant others. Some people will not understnad that you need to tell your secret so that you can heal.

The third negative message is: Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished. If someone else doesn't punish us, we will punish ourselves. This sense of unworthiness must be recognized for what it is - false shame and guilt.

Do you continue to hold to any feeling that you are unworthy, or deserve to be punished because of your abuse? If so, describe your feelings.

You may already have overcome this roadblock to recofvery. Romans 8:1-2 speaks powerfully to those of us who struggle with the feeling that we are unworthy and deserve to be punished.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2

As you read this scripture, journal the prhrases that you nee dot believe and accept about yourself.

Take a few minutes to pray; asking God to help you let go of the feeling of unworthiness. Write your prayer in your journal. Ask Him to help you believe that you will be free of this feeling of condemnation.

The last of the four false beliefs is: I am what I am; I cannot change; I am hopeless. The family in darkness places the victim in an environment that teaches helplessness.

Every survivor at times feels hopeless. How did you learn hopelessness from your family?

What gives you hope now?

Hope comes from many places. A support group, family and friends, a counselor - all of these can provide the hope that you need. Re-read what you have written in your journal so far... What have you learned and where have you grown? The greatest source of hope is God who sacrificed Himself for you and promised that he would never leave you.

To recap, the four false messages are:

1. I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.
2. I must have others' approval to feel good about myself.
3. Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished.
4. I am what I am; I cannot change; I am hopeless.

Describe in your jounal all the ways that these false messages have blocked your recovery in the past.

Recovery on your own:

Sometimes we must realize that our families will not join us in the recovery process. We may have to recover on our won with the help of a support system that we create.

Jean is the oldest of six children, very anxious, and an alcoholic. Her father started sexually abusing her when she was very young. By the time she was 10, they were having intercourse. She consistently made protests to her mother, bu ther mother only replied, "What can I do?" Jean's mother was jealous of her daughter and her husband. As Jean began to recognize her mother's jealously, she used it against both parents. By age 16, she couldn't stand the situation any longer, ran away, and never returned.

Jean's mother still resents her. She really doesn't try to have a relationship with Jean's father, with Jean, or with Jean's daughter. Jean's father, on the other hand, wants everything to be okay. He wants Jean to forget the past. Jean is working through recovery. Although it would be extremely helpful if her family would also enter recovery, Jean is beginning to realize that her dysfunctional mother and father are unwilling to do the same. She is accepting the fact that she must continue in recovery on her own. She can no longer look to them to change so that she will feel better.

If your family chooses not to pursue recovery from dysfunctional behavior, how does that affect your recovery?

If you family chooses not to pursue recovery - and many make that choice - you will need to find ways to seek support and strength from significant other people. You may need to establish emotional, psychological, and maybe even physical boundaries to protect yourself if your family is abusive.


I have found that dealing with family matters is generally pretty complicated. Our love for them, and desire to be loved by them, is natural. That is how God designed us. In my own life, I occasionally struggle with sadness and grief over the lost familial relationships. I also second guess myself sometimes; thinking, "Have I just not been merciful enough? Do I need to try one more time to establish a relationship?"

This lesson speaks into my life a great deal. I do not need their approval. I do not need their permission to talk about the abuse and to heal from it. It would be ideal if the entire family would seek recovery, but it is not required in order for ME to seek recovery.

My seeking recovery and advocating for victims of abuse, has come at a high price. Because of my decision to no longer live in fear, pain and isolation, I am estranged from pretty much my entire family. I have no paternal side, so the decision to risk losing my maternal side as well was a very difficult one. If I could have healthy relationships with them, I'd take them in a heart beat! But, as long as what is being offered is unhealthy and unsafe, I choose to keep my distance and break this cycle of dysfunction for myself, my husband and our children. This was not God's design at all - for families to be broken - but God's design cannot be lived out in situations of gross darkness. I would rather live in His righteousness and peace. After all, God truly is my Father; the family from which I will never be separated.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
Philippians 4:13

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land."
Psalm 68:5-6

Monday, April 20, 2009

Long time no talk...

I only have a few minutes before rushing off to the next activity, but I wanted to let you know that I think of you, this blog and this much needed ministry several times everyday. I wish that things were not so hectic and unpredictable for my family (rendering me unavailable to write as often as I'd like), but that is the season we are in right now. My husband is working more hours than we have ever worked before and I have picked up the responsibilities around the home and with the kids. We are very busy with sports, school, church, etc... We are so very grateful for God's provision in terms of my husband's job. At a time when many people are losing their jobs, my husband is staying very busy and getting paid for every minute of it. But we miss "normal" life and look forward to being able to get back to a slower pace, more time together and more time to serve the ministry that we love.

I continue to pray for you. As you wait (patiently, I hope) for the next blog entry, I encourage you to re-read some of the older lessons and allow God to continue growing you in those areas. I will write as often as possible. I so look forward to picking up where we left off!

Many blessings to you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 3, Dysfunctional Family Part 3

In this lesson you will examine more characteristics of a dysfunctional family. The purpose is not to assign blame or even to determine if your family was dysfunctional. The purpose is to understand how your past affects your recovery.

4. A dysfunctional family does not teach effective living skills to the children.

A healthy family provides an environment that allows children to grow according to their own developmental needs. Children then learn to love themselves and others and to trust that the world can be a friendly place. A child needs a fairly consistent and stable environment.

An example of the dysfunctional family is one that never stays the same. Some victims of sexual abuse report living in more than one family, perhaps first with mother and father and next with grandmother and grandfather. Cindy shares that in her childhood she attended 19 different schools, including five during her high school years.

"I lived with my mother, my grandmother, my mother and stepfathers, my sister's father, and with several other family systems. Each on presented different issues that I had to work through as a part of my recovery. I had to deal with emotional abuse, chaos, and the aftermath of my sexual abuse, all of which made me think that I was profoundly inadequate as a person, since I was unable to alter or control what was happening. The lesson I learned from all of this was that I could do nothing about my life. No matter what I tried to change, it didn't work. No matter what I did to bring order, chaos always resulted. I could not make sense out of chaos.

I carried the outside shame of moving so many times an the inside shame of sexual abuse. When I left for school in the morning, I didn't know if things would be the same when I got home. I trusted no one because if outsiders knew my story, my pain would be worse. I not only acted toward others as if I didn't care, I began to shut down so I wouldn't care. I would say to myself, "Only breathing matters, and I am breathing." But, of course, breathing is not all there is to living. Also, several of the people in my care were alcoholics, which added to my confusion and lowered my self-worth."

Each family system teaches us something very deep about ourselves, and that message is not always positive. The sexual abuse and the chaos in Cindy's family taught her that she was profoundly inadequate. But she also experienced positive learning. Her mother said again and again, "Don't do as I have done, I've done it all wrong. You can do it better."

Cindy says, "She taught me that I was smart, that I could do it. She taught me that a better way existed. She didn't know that better way, but she taught me that if I searched diligently enough, I could find that better way of living. She was right. I found it with God."

Appropriate touch: a living skill

Building a healthy self-image in a recovering sexual abuse victim requires daily reinforcement in terms that demonstrate that person's value. We all need positive statements and healthy physical contact. God created us to give and receive healthy physical love, such as hugging, holding hands, and kissing. Unfortunately sometimes in a dysfunctional family the only touches we may have experienced were bad touches. The result is extremely confusing.

If you wanted to be held but the only time you received physical attention was during abuse, you may have felt guilty. This is a double tragedy. However, you can begin to understand that you were not wrong for having basic human needs. God intended for you to have these needs met in a healthy manner.

In your journal, answer these questions...

What role did touch play in your family of origin?

Describe how you react when you are touched by someone now?

Touch has to do with personal power and control. If you were touched when you didn't want to be and not touched when you did, you may have a difficult time accepting touch. You may not even know what is appropriate or inappropriate touch. Survivors are often re-victimized because they are not aware that they can say no to touch.

5. A dysfunctional family squeezes the members into rigid, inappropriate roles.

Children in dysfunctional families develop survival roles. These role are either assigned by the family or unconsciously chosen by the child.

Some examples of survival roles include:

  • Scapegoat - usually blamed for the family problems
  • Hero - works hard to bring respect to the family name
  • Surrogate spouse - often takes the place of the emotionally absent spouse and becomes the child counselor for a troubled adult parent
  • Lost child - never gets in the way or causes trouble because this family already has enough problems
  • Surrogate parent - takes over responsibility of parenting tasks
  • Clown - avoids the pain by being the center of attention
In the list above, note any of the roles that would describe your behavior in your family. Your role may have changed over the years as the family changed.

What effect did your role(s) in the family have upon how you coped with sexual abuse?

Can you identify roles that other played? What was the effect of their role on your feelings and behavior?

How do you feel after identifying your family role/roles? (Sad, lonely, ashamed, angry, afraid, guilty, other?)

M.J. describes how her sister was assigned the role of surrogate mother. "All my life I would remember how my sister and I were best friends, how she was always there for me. I would remember how she cooked for me. She dressed me in the mornings for school. She loved me." M.J.'s sister was in the role of parental child.

Sometimes in situations like M.J.'s, the child develops a fantasy bond with the sibling that is the surrogate parent. "I couldn't understand why, now that we are adults, my sister has never come to see me. I was always the one who went to her house. I always called her on the phone.

It took me a long time, but I finally realized that it was all make-believe. This 'bonding' was a way I had learned to cope in my loneliness as a child. My mother had made my sister take care of me. I realize now that she didn't even want to. As my sister and I sat on the porch holding hands, I would fantasize that she loved me. This love, this relationship, was only in my mind; it never really existed. The reason she never called now was because she didn't want to. She never came to my house because she didn't want to."

You may need to seek God's wisdom to become aware of fantasy bonding. We urge you to do so, for this knowledge can set you on the path to have real relationships with these relatives. Even if they are not what you thought or even what you wanted, they will be authentic relationships that you can understand and predict. Your efforts may even lead to loving and intimate relationships, if your relatives are willing to consider honestly all the factors affecting your former situation.

Describe in detail any fantasy bonding you may have with family members.

Sometimes survivors of sexual abuse have difficulty letting go of the feeling of responsibility for the abuse. They cling to a fantasy bond to the abuser or another family member who could have protected them.

Have you continued to accept responsibility rather than face the truth that your bond to one or more family member is a fantasy? Describe your experience.

As you process what you have just read, continue to keep in mind what is written in Isaiah 54:4 "You will forget the shame of your youth." Recovery is hard work, but I promise you that replacing the shame is exactly what God can and will do in your life.

As you grieve the fractured relationships in your life, know that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18. That is such a life-giving verse for me.

I continue to pray for each of you daily.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 2, Dysfunctional Family Part 2

In this lesson we will study more characteristics of a dysfunctional family. As you better understand your family, you will better understand yourself and your reactions.

3. A dysfunctional family has either repressed emotions, explosive emotions, or both.

A healthy family both permits and models how to express emotions. Children learn how to identify and deal with their feelings. In a dysfunctional family certain or all emotions are forbidden. Many families transmit messages that say, "Don't express your feelings. Don't cry. Don't get upset. Don't get angry. Don't betray the family. Don't ever tell outsiders about the family secrets." These messages, as well as ones more directly stated toward you, affect your recovery. You may have been told that you are a failure, or shamed by any number of derogatory statements - all of these are characteristic of a family based in shame. You will be invited to focus on the issue of shame in detail in a later chapter. For the moment, however, evaluate how you learned to feel shame about your feelings and responses in your family.

As a child, did you learn any of these beliefs? Write which ones apply to your family... Good children honor their parents. My parents had their faults, but they loved me. If I say or think bad things about my family, I will betray them. If I say or think bad things about my family, will feel ashamed.

The first two beliefs are positive and healthy. The last two are sick rules that serve tomaintain the secrecy in a dysfunctional family system.

Describe how these beliefs affect your life and your recovery.

Survivors of sexual abuse are sometimes unable to express the feelings necessary for recovery because they learned in their family of origin that feelings were not acceptable. This is especially true if the feelings are negative and if the feelings concern a family member.

Each family member sends us messages about ourselves. The person who sexually abuses says, "You're worthless. You are no good and you are guilty." Sometimes parents send the same message, not by sexual abuse but by their words and attitudes. Maybe a sister told you that you were stupid. Possibly you had a grandfather who said you were special - a badly needed positive reinforcement. You can evaluate the messages that each person who supported and each person who abused gave you. Then you can make wise, godly and informed choices. You can choose to reject false messages!

How do you feel when you talk about the abuse? Scared, disloyal, relief, shame, guilt, other??

How have you responded to or compensated for the way your family expressed feelings?

Bill was taught that good children honor their parents. He did not understand that one way to honor a relationship is to make it real by being honest when situations are painful and difficult. As a result, he was afraid to talk about his abuse. Negative thoughts were bad things in his family so he felt guilty and shame-filled for having normal thoughts and emotions.

As you think about that, how would you like to respond now?

As you process this lesson, continue to pray for yourself and the others who are going through this study with us.

"You will forget the shame of your youth."
- Isaiah 54:4

Monday, March 23, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 1, The Dysfunctional Family Part 1

In all the groups I've led and every woman I've counseled, I have found that every family plays a huge role in one's recovery from sexual abuse. Even if you would not classify your family as "dysfunctional", please do not discount this lesson... Please read it carefully and ask God to clearly show you how your family has impacted your recovery in the past, how they are impacting you today and any changes you may need to make going forward. If you are a family member, please read this with a prayerful spirit, asking the Lord to reveal to you any missteps you've made, to give you the courage and humility to seek forgiveness from the survivor in your life (if necessary), and to show you the next right steps in order for you to lovingly offer support and encouragement as they continue their journey towards recovery. It can be very difficult for a survivor to talk to their family members about how they feel about them, so it is my hope and prayer that this lesson will help family members to understand what is running through the mind and heart of the survivor in their life.


Family issues have a tremendous affect on recovery from sexual abuse. In some families, parents or family members may be abusers, while others parents or family members are unaware that the abuse has occurred. In other families the abuse may occur outside the boundaries of the family system. The family may or may not know about the abuse, or may not realize that something has happened to the victim. Whatever your case, with God's help you can understand the role you family played in your sexual abuse and the role they can play in your recovery.

If the father abused an incest victim, the victim must also deal with anger toward the mother. A child molested by an uncle may feel unprotected by both parents. A victim of rape may feel she cannot disclose that fact to her family if the family is emotionally shut down and incapable of giving support. In families where the child is abused by a babysitter, the child, as we would expect, has been told to obey the sitter. Often this victim has a great deal of anger toward both parents; the child believes the parents must know what is happening and therefore they must approve of it.

Many reasons contribute to a family's inability to cope with sexual abuse. No families are perfect and most families lack the tools necessary to weather the storm that sexual abuse creates. How well they survivor the trauma will depend on how well the family has learned ways of functioning as a family. In recent years, counselors have identified the common characteristics of a dysfunctional family. A knowledge of these characteristics helps us to understand sexual abuse and to recover from it.

Dysfunctional family: A family in which some behavior such as alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, an absent father or mother, excessive anger, or verbal or physical abuse interferes with the ability of the family to do its job effectively.

In most families where sexual abuse occurs, the family clearly is dysfunctional. But this does not mean that all dysfunctional families are sexually abusive. The term dysfunctional is used to express the inability of family members to meet the God-given needs for nurture. These families are unable to communicate their feelings, both positive and negative, in a consistent and caring way. They are unable to respond to the needs of each family member.

Think about your family. In your journal, list all the primary members of the family. What does each individual represent to you? For example, who in your family represents comfort, expectations, abuse, peace, rescuing, neglect, betrayal, etc.? After writing what each individual represents to you, write down your feelings toward each person.

Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family:
  1. Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family's time, attention, and energy so that members learn to be overly-responsible toward needy people and irresponsible about themselves.
  2. A dysfunctional family promotes denial and secrecy.
  3. A dysfunctional family has either repressed emotions, explosive emotions or both.
  4. A dysfunctional family does not teach effective living skills to the children. Children do not learn to touch, feel or trust. They learn to expect rigidity and emotional or physical abandonment.
  5. A dysfunctional family squeezes the members into rigid, inappropriate roles.

As you think about these characteristics, we will begin discussing each one individually. You are encouraged to think about how each one relates to you and your sexual abuse experience.

1. Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family's time, attention and energy.

An emotionally needy family member may be one who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, or one who demonstrates other obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The energy and attention of the family is directed toward caring for the emotional needs of this family member. As a result, all of the family members become emotionally needy.

Families with addictive family members have an increased potential for sexual abuse. In a family where the focal person is an alcoholic, the unspoken rule in the family may be "Make Dad happy, then maybe he won't get drunk." In a family where there is a rage-aholic, the rule may be "Whatever you do, don't make Mom mad." In a dysfunctional family the family members operate according to these spoken and unspoken rules and not according to personal need.

Can you identify a member of your family who was emotionally needy? What affect did living in the family with this person have on you?

Did a relationship exist between this family member and the way your family dealt with the abuse? If so, describe that relationship.

2. A dysfunctional family promotes denial and secrecy

Gretchen describes many bizarre incidents of abuse by her babysitter. Sometimes she had to watch the sitter and her boyfriend have sex. Sometimes the babysitter would fondle Gretchen or would stick straws, pencils and other objects into her vagina or anus. She would tell Gretchen that she was bad and that she was ugly. Gretchen tried many times to tell her mom and dad about the abuse, but they were so busy with their own problems that they didn't seem to care or even pay attention to her. They scolded her for making a fuss about nothing.

Finally, Gretchen screamed and yelled the whole gruesome story. Both parents were shocked. They couldn't believe it. Gretchen had been very irritable, but they never dreamed what was happening while they were gone.

Although Gretchen's parents were supportive of her in general, the abuse had come at a very troubled time for the family. Once aware, however, the parents brought Gretchen to counseling and participated in family counseling as well as individual counseling. In counseling, Gretchen expressed her appropriate anger toward her parents. The parents accepted the responsibility for their seeming lack of interest, selection of the babysitter, and failure to recognize Gretchen's attempts to communicate.

Conflict is a normal part of healthy family living. Healthy families expect problems and have healthy ways of coping with them. Family members talk about issues even though someone may feel embarrassed or hurt. Family members take responsibility for their own behavior. Problems can be discussed and solutions found. In a dysfunctional family the "don't talk" rule keeps the victim of sexual abuse bound in silence, even if the crime is committed by a complete stranger.

Write in your journal about how you family solved problems when you were a child.

Families solve problems in many ways. Healthy families recognize that they have choices. If one method doesn't work, they try another. Unhealthy families often use the same dysfunctional methods over and over. Maybe your family refused to recognize problems. Often the rule is "don't rock the boat." Other dysfunctional families overreact to things so strongly that everyone is afraid to mention a problem or issue.

What effect has you family's method of responding to problems had on your abuse recovery?

Some dysfunctional families look perfectly normal on the surface. The father and mother do most of the things that parents should do. They keep and orderly house, a nice yard, food on the table and clothes in the closets. However, the family may still be dysfunctional because the parents are not emotionally present for their children.

Consider the example of Beatrice, a volunteer for a local rape crisis center. She became a victim herself. She was raped at knife point. The rape occurred one morning when Beatrice, after having breakfast with friends, returned to her apartment. Hearing a knock on her door, she peeked out and saw a man she knew, although not very well. She asked what he wanted. "I need to talk to someone," he said. One rule most crisis center teach is never to open the door under such circumstances. Unfortunately, Beatrice did open the door and was raped. Then she decided she didn't want to press charges.

When asked why she, of all people, didn't press charges, she replied that her parents told her it was her fault for opening the door and if she were to follow through on the charges, it would be an embarrassment for the family. She said it was just like when she tried to tell them about her grandfather. Her body was covered with bruises from the beating he gave her. All her parents could say was, "He didn't mean what he did," and, "What did you do to cause it?"

More of Cindy's story

Cindy shares that even when she was a very young child, she felt she could tell absolutely no one what was happening to her.

"Everyone around me seemed to have so many problems that I knew it would be useless to tell. Besides, I loved my perpetrator. When he would come home from work, I would run out to meet him. Caught in this impossible situation, I chose to keep the abuse to myself and hide from others. I never played with children in the neighborhood. To stay away from everyone seemed the safest choice. Trying to figure out if the people around me were "good" kept me too confused.

"I also remember always feeling sad, dirty, and completely alone. People frightened me. Once I lived in a place where th emothers in the neighborhood tried to be friendly and talk to me. I would run from them, wondering, "What do the want from me?" One in particular would leave me cookies, showing me from a distance that they were at her door, then going back inside her house. When I was sure she wasn't coming back outside, I would run as fast as I could to get them. I was so afraid and anxious, it seemed like miles down her walkway."

A dysfunctional family keeps the secret of sexual abuse. Other family members may or may not actually know about the abuse but everyone is aware that something is wrong. The family members work together to keep secret the fact that something is wrong, especially from non-family members. Those who are allowed access to the home are screened carefully. The family acts as though all is well and the visitor only sees the performance.

Was your family open to the outside world? Were you free to talk about your family to others?

How does this characteristic relate to your sexual abuse experience?

Many survivors keep their abuse a secret to protect the family from having to deal with the fact that the abuse is occurring. Sometimes they keep the secret because the victim fears that someone will get hurt physically or emotionally or that the family will not survive. The victim will endure the pain of the abuse rather than risk losing the family.

How and what did you do to protect the family?

The focal passage for this unit is from Isaiah 54:4, "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth."

As I close for today, I want to encourage you to cling to that scripture. What has happened to you is not your fault. You are not to blame. You did nothing to be ashamed of. You are not a disgrace. God is ready, willing and able to rescue you from this mess. Allow Him to do just that.

I am praying for you constantly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


As I was surfing around the Women of Faith website today, I stumbled across a letter someone had written about the conference they'd recently attended. Here's part of her letter: "Marilyn Meberg gave a wonderful talk that gave me chills. She talked about abandonment and that we were created to be connected. There is a disconnect when one is abandoned; a feeling of shame - “Wasn’t I good enough, why did ___ leave me?” She noted that those who have been severely abandoned, especially in childhood, have a need to control others. And an intense need to never talk about that which they are most ashamed of - that something must be wrong with them to cause the other person to abandon them, they must not be worth keeping. The strange thing is, it is only through recognizing those hidden hurts and working through the hurts that one can heal. A couple good verses that pertain to the subject were: Isaiah 41:9 and John 1:12-13."

"I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you." Isaiah 41:9

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12-13

As I read this, I thought of you and your recovery journey. I hope and pray everyday that you are encouraged to continue seeking Him and the wholeness that only He can provide.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 5, Help from Psalm 23

Another Hebrew word for restore is found in Psalm 23. This is perhaps the most familiar passage in all of Scripture to Christians and non-Christians alike. The Hebrew word for restore in verse three is used in a verb form that means "to cause someone or something to return and to restore someone or something to a former condition." This Scripture can be a powerful part of your restoration. God desires to cause you to return and to restore to you those things that sexual abuse has taken away.

Psalm 23

"1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, a]">[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

As you think about this scripture, take time to journal about how the Shepherd has ministered to you.

God does restore the soul, mind, feelings and emotions. Often survivors can't relate to God, and especially God the Father, during the early part of their recovery. Psalm 23 can help you to start a new relationship with God. The Shepherd will restore your heart, mind, and soul in spite of the scars that remain. Under Christ's lordship, even the scars can help you to become more compassionate, understanding, and resilient from having successfully survived such abuse.

Take a break right now and pray. Talk to God about how you feel about Him as Father. Share your feelings with Him about Psalm 23 - even if those feelings do not seem acceptable. Ask Him to lead you to restoration and healing.

More about restoration

The Hebrew word for restore found in Joel 2:25 means literally, "to make whole." God promised He would make the people in Joel's day whole after a devastating loss. He is still in the restoring business today. He can restore to you those things that betrayal has taken away. God will restore the time you have lost by making the time you have now more meaningful. Most survivors have had part or all of their childhood stolen. Often when victims survey the past, they cannot see anything that is good.

No human could give back what was taken from you. Only God can do that. If every person who abused you came and asked you for forgiveness, none could give you back the loss that you have experienced. You may feel better, but only God can give a life with meaning and purpose. He can make a beautiful mosaic of the broken pieces of your life.

In the book of Job, Job suffered devastating losses. He lost his wealth, his health, and he suffered the deaths of his children. At the end of the story, God restored Job. Job received far more than he possessed in the beginning. He regained his health, greater weather than before, he even had more children. But Job did not gain his dead children. Satan had caused their deaths, and they were not restored to Job - at least not then.

God can restore you in the same way that He restored Job. You can feel clean again. The love and grace of God can cleanse and replace the feelings of shame and filthiness, and the stain of abuse. Allow God to touch those areas where you need restoration. Life will not return to exactly the way things were before the abuse, but God can give you a life with meaning and purpose. You may even come to the place that you see that God has given you more than the abuse took away.

Does understanding God's process for restoration bring hope into your life? Take some time to journal about that.

I have written several different blog entries about the way God continues to heal and restore my life. Twenty-two years into recovery and I continue to be overwhelmed by his awesome power and concern for me! The authors of our workbook could not be more right when they say that the abusers can apologize and seek our forgiveness, but they cannot restore what they stole from us. Only God can do that. I was quite content to merely have a good amount of peace and happiness in my life, but apparently God was not satisfied with stopping there. He continues to surprise me by healing even the tiniest broken pieces of my life. Nothing gets by God and I'm thoroughly convinced that He will never stop his mighty work of healing me. It is overwhelming and totally humbling... Why does He care so much about every little detail? I believe the answer is because He loves his children.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 4, From Death to Life

Survivors of sexual abuse suffer a mental and emotional death as a result of the abuse. God created you to live in a wholeness of body and soul. Sexual abuse severely damages that ability. Your first need is to have your mind and emotions restored to life and health.

Now that you have started your restoration from sexual abuse, you can understand the biblical pattern of restoration. One of the Hebrew words for restoration means "to live" or to "be restored to life". Restoration from the abuse means to live, perhaps for the first time in your life!

In 2 Kings chapter 4, a Shunamite woman befriended the prophet Elisha, and she and her husband built a room for the prophet of God in their home. Elisha, wanting to do something to thank the woman, prayed that she would conceive a son. The Shunamite woman gave birth to a son the following year. Later in chapter 4, the son (a grown man) died, but God restored him to life. This story vividly demonstrates the principle of restoration. God gives life and even when circumstances cause death, God can restore life. Only God can do this!

God will restore

Sexual abuse causes its own kind of death. Your next step is to begin to risk and to believe that God will restore the life that has been stolen from you. The Shunamite woman appeared again in 2 Kings chapter 8... She had lost all her land holdings due to a famine. She appealed to the king, who had just learned from Elisha's servant that this is the woman whose son had been restored to life. The king then appointed an officer whom he commanded, "Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now" (2 Kings 8:6).

Through the king, God restored what the Shunamite woman had lost. Our caring God is in the restoration business! As you continue to pray, learn, and grow, God can restore you to a life of meaning, purpose and joy. Begin your appeal to the King, Jesus Christ, and allow Him to restore your life.

In your journal, list your dreams and desires that have died because of sexual abuse.

You might have written something along the lines of, "a sense of innocence, the ability to trust again, spontaneity"...

When I did this exercise a year ago, I wrote: "To have a close-knit family. For my kids to have loving relatives. To be able to trust family." As I think about those answers today, I realize that those are actually things I have to contribute to in order to realize them. My "close-knit family/loving relatives" consist of my in-laws (which I chose when I chose my husband) and our friends... And "to be able to trust family" goes back to my choices again -- have I chosen trustworthy people? In order to have these things restored to me, I had to make wise choices and I had to be willing to take a risk on them. I have done both of these things -- and I am overwhelmed by the way these dreams and desires have come true.

One thing that I did not write down as a lost dream or desire a year ago, but today recognize as one is.... I always wanted to be "acceptable" and "well-liked". I certainly wasn't around my house, so I assumed that I wasn't anywhere else either. In the last several months, God has really shown me that that is not true at all! As I have shared before, I have been reconnected with long-lost friends from my childhood and teen years... The memories they are sharing with me are completely repairing the image I have of myself from those days. I am still amazed at how this is even possible - but God is using these old friends to show me that I was never unacceptable or outcast by them.

Do you think the Shunamite woman ever asked "Why me?" or, "If only things could have been different"? Describe any thoughts like these that you may have had, including the circumstances when they occurred.

Your responses may indicate that you are beginning to let yourself feel some grief and loss about the consequences of the abuse. That is good recovery work! Keep it up.

In your journal write your feelings about the losses you have suffered due to sexual abuse.

Isaiah 42:16, "I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

God can be trusted, my friends. I continue to pray for you daily.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A renewed youth

I am in the process of putting my life's story into a book and in the last few days, I have been feeling like I need to write as fast as humanly possible... The reason? My memories are changing.

Social networking sites like Facebook and My Space are all the rage. Many of my friends are out there and they talk about it all the time. I was tempted, but I knew there were two reasons I did not want to go there. #1 - A part of me was afraid that no one from my past would even remember me and I'd feel rejected. But I know the truth - I know that I was never invisible and that my memories of the past were horribly clouded by my pained perspective. #2 - In the past I struggled with an overwhelming desire to reject people I was in relationship with before they could reject me. Deep down, when considering these social networking sites, I would think, "But, if I reconnect with an old boyfriend, will that tempt me to ditch my husband if I'm mad at him?" The honest truth is that I can never say that would never happen, but my husband and I take careful measures to ensure that our relationship is what it should be. The bottom line - I was choosing not to participate in this social networking stuff out of fear. As I thought about it, I decided that I wanted to make a conscious decision this time to overcome my fears.

God has honored that... I was blessed right away with renewed relationships with several people from my early childhood and teen years. Some I haven't seen in over twenty years. They have said the nicest things to me and have shared some of the most pleasant memories with me. I had forgotten so much of what they remembered. As I talk with them, they are reconstructing my past - giving me a fresh and pure perspective of innocence, joy, and youth. Those gaps in time that I do not remember at all are being filled now with bike races, days at the pool, slumber parties, birthday parties, Girl Scouts, crushes, camp and homemade pizza. As I discussed this with my friend today, I'd expressed my excitement over getting to finally experience this stuff. It was then that she said, "I'll bet you experienced it then too but just had too much going on at home to keep the fun memories fresh in your mind." I know that she is right. I did experience fun things as a child, but the pain of the abuse quickly diminished the good stuff. But the opposite is happening today... I am remembering all the good stuff and the bad memories are diminishing. It is a crazy, wonderful, amazing thing.

This is the third time I have gone through Shelter From the Storm in the last year. When I started leading groups a year ago I had a pretty good handle on things. However, I do not think I would be discovering this much profound healing if it wasn't for the study and the continued recovery efforts that I am making everyday. I want to encourage you to keep taking your journey into recovery. It is amazing the way God has been faithful to his word; "Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle." Psalm 103:4-5

I feel an urgency to write this book quickly. I fear that the youth I want to write about will be all but forgotten before I know it. But my story needs to be shared. I want to share it in its entirety so that other survivors will know that they are not alone. God has laid it on my heart to write it, so I know He will allow the memories, feelings and emotions to be real long enough for me to accomplish His work. But it is coming quickly.. a completely renewed youth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unit 4 Lesson 3, The Trouble with Denial

I've mentioned before that it took me a long time to realize the effects that sexual abuse has had on my life. I went to see counselors into my early 20's, but I insisted that the issue I was in for that day was just an issue, not an effect of something from the past. "He hit me because he's a jerk. But I keep coming back to the relationship because he is nicer to me than my parents are." It did not occur to me that I kept coming back to the relationship because the abuse I'd suffered as a child had left me with absolutely no self-worth. When my ex-husband and I started seeing a marriage counselor, I did not agree that my responses to my ex-husband had anything at all to do with what my parents had done to me. I merely had a problem with my ex-husband. "I am fine!" was what I said... and what I believed.

The problem is --- my relationship problems in my teens, early 20's and my first marriage had everything to do with how I'd responded to and coped with my childhood abuse. Without addressing those issues, I could not fix the mistakes I was making that brought on many doomed relationships and ruined others that actually had promise.

The Hebrew word used most often in the Bible for deny means, in its strictest sense, "to lie". If we apply that meaning, when victims deny the effects that sexual abuse has had on their life, they are LYING to themselves. Many sexual abuse victims will say they don't want to dig up the past... Or they might even quote Paul's statement from Philippians 3:13, "But for one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead..." This is a great verse, but it does not mean that we should deny our problems. In fact, Paul spoke more about his past than any other person in the Bible. In the earlier part of this same chapter of Philippians, Paul draws an effective comparison between his past and what he later gained as a true servant of God.

In an individual counseling session, a woman shared about the difficulties she was having in her sexual relationship with her husband. "It can't be my sexual abuse. Before we married, I loved having sex. We had it all the time. It's that I don't love him anymore. I really hate sex. In fact, that's how I know I don't love him anymore. No, I haven't thought about the sexual abuse. It doesn't affect me now. I got over that a long time ago."

Have you ever said anything like that, "It doesn't bother me anymore. I got over that a long time ago."?

In your journal, describe several ways that you have protected yourself through the use of denial.

The truth is, we cannot put ourselves, God or anyone else in a box and close the lid. It is possible that some people exist who have experienced very little problems after having been sexually abused, but those people are likely few and far between.

There is one primary reason for denial - most victims detach themselves from their feelings. Victims of violent rape and incest tend to shut off their emotions to survive the trauma. This is comparable to people who have suffered the shock of physical trauma but report that they didn't feel any pain. The body and mind have protective overload devices to be used in crisis. They are, however, intended for temporary use only. The longer they remain in place, the more damage they do.

Here is a poem that an incest survivor wrote about denial. As you read, make note of the denial she shows. How does her denial compare to yours?

I know I one was young, but I don't remember much
About my childhood times with toys, and dolls and such.

I remember Dad was angry, Mom was nervous and low keyed -
OUR family was quite healthy... that is, all of them, but me.

I got a lot of whippings, but they weren't all that bad.
I'm sure that I deserved them when I made my parents mad.

When mom was really tired, I would babysit -
I didn't mind at all - it was my job to help her out a bit.

I remember how she loved to go to bed and read -
And Dad would keep me up, in case there's something he would need.

Their patience would wear thin 'cause they had so much to do.
So I tried to keep things easy.... that was my job, I knew.

I remember when my Dad found his way into my bed -
I didn't like what happened.... but I couldn't tell, he said.

Confused, hurt and scared. I must have made him mad -
The whippings kept on coming... but... I guess they weren't that bad.

I don't remember much throughout my childhood years -
So often when I try... my eyes well up with tears.

I wish that I'd been better, when I was a little child...
Then instead of anger, my parents could have smiled.

The memories that I have seem to make me sad -
But... I was just a child... and I guess they're not that bad.

Throughout the entire poem the girl/woman was taking responsibility for her parents' behaviors. Then she denies her own pain in the refrain, "and I guess they're not that bad." How do you compare?

Dissociation is different than denial

A more complicated form of not remembering comes from dissociation. Victims sometimes store fragments in bits and pieces in order to protect themselves from the overwhelming experience produced by the compete recall of shattering events. A significant aspect of healing is to recall gradually the fragments and make appropriate connections. It is like putting a puzzle together. If this is your experience you can be free from the domination of unwanted feelings and behaviors caused by dissociated memories. You cannot simply decide to remember, because the process is mostly unconscious. However, in a safe environment, such as a support group or with a counselor, and with the direction of God, you can gradually put together the fragmented memories of reality. Once you know where the feelings and behaviors come from, you can work through the traumatic memories and deal directly with the hurt, anger, grief, helplessness and any other emotions.

It's time to heal

For most survivors it is impossible to just get over the effects of sexual abuse. Everything doesn't just go away because the abuse happened a long time ago. Your tendency to deny the effects of the abuse in your life affects not only you but also your spouse, children, friends, etc.

A favorite scripture of mine is John 10:10. "The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life and have it to the full." A very effective way of killing an destroying an individual is through sexual abuse. If you take the responsibility that belongs to the person who committed the abuse, you will be consumed with shame, anger, and destruction that are not yours to suffer. If you believe God has betrayed you, you will not seek Him. If you stay in denial, the enemy will have stolen the deepest peace and blessings that God has for you. They enemy will have stolen self-love and self-respect. Don't let that happen.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, the time has come for you to give responsibility to the perpetrator, accept your betrayal, come out of denial, and begin the process of dealing with very painful memories. The process of healing has many ups and downs, and proceeds at varying rates. If you were to remember all past events at once, then you might be overwhelmed, but to begin is important. If memories and feelings become too hurtful or tend to promote destructive behavior, seek professional help.

A final caution

Be careful not to use denial as a way to avoid the truth. Yes, Christians are supposed to forgive our enemies. Yes, God intends for us to be victorious. But forgiveness and victory do not arrive instantly. Wounds must be treated and they take time to heal. Healing from the effects of sexual abuse does not occur until the survivor begins to face the truth. Please do not deny the facts any longer or hide in false responsibility. Allow God to take you beyond betrayal to hope, peace and healing.