I read the book by Chanel Miller Know My Name last week. I highly recommend her incredibly vulnerable, honest, poignant writing. She writes of her experience of rape recovery through the gut-wrenching trial when she was known only as Emily Doe. She captures how this event claimed and reframed her entire life. And therein, I met myself. For years, although I admitted I was still in recovery from the acts wrought against me by my own perpetrator, I have also believed I was over it. I’d worked it through.
I remember the first night the revelation hit me I’d been abused.
Karen yelled and threw a small couch pillow. The pillow hit my shoulder and something snapped inside of me. I was no longer a 31-year-old pastor and husband, arguing with his wife of 9 years, the father of three daughters. Instead, I was a little boy.
Seven or younger, I was no longer standing in our living room, I was cowering on the floor of my treehouse behind the Hawkeye house I lived in as a kid. Somebody, a tall mustached man behind me was hitting me and seething through gritted teeth: Don’t. (Hit.) You. (Hit.) Ever. (Hit.) Tell. (Hit.) “You do and I will kill your dog…” I was crying and whining back,
“Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me. I won’t. I promise.”
Those words escaped my adult mouth there on our carpet by the rust-colored couch.
If you want to end an argument, this does it. But this was real. I was little and sobbing.
I felt a gentle hand on my back, and heard Karen saying, “What’s going on honey?” From her perspective, I had been hit with a couch pillow. But on the floor in our living room in San Jacinto, California, fear flooded me as I was being hurt and warned. As my sobbing stilled, I looked up at Karen, and said, “I, too, was sexually abused.” I stood shakily. I felt as if I had tripped and fallen headlong while running.
It had come to me in a thunderbolt revelation. We both knew Karen had been sexually abused. We didn’t know to what degree at this point in our marriage, however, Karen had begun counseling soon after we returned from our honeymoon.
In a moment on the floor in the living room I knew in a flash my abuse had begun the month I turned 5 and ended when I turned eight. The perpetrator was the associate pastor of my family’s church. His name was Sherwood.
A few months later in a counseling session with Joanie, a woman who was then working with Karen, I prayed through the memory from the treehouse which had erupted when I was hit by the pillow. Even while knowing the abuse had gone on for three years, I thought that one counseling time must have healed it.
Reading Chanel’s book reconnected me to the work of recovery. It underlined why it has taken so long, so many years of counseling sessions, so much prayer, so many tears to recover. How I must keep recovering from what was done against me. The actions of the perpetrator over the three years of abuse had ripped up my little-boy soul and left me in shreds. Every aspect of life and relationship was impacted.
Chanel reminded me, sexual abuse is a violation. It is a betrayal. It crushes the soul. For the little boy I was, it awakened sexual feelings too early. It caused shame to dive deep in my heart and self-rejection to take hold.
I could not just “get over it.” Instead, as Chanel discovered, I needed to go through it. In one of the most famous Psalms, the 23rd, the psalmist wrote,
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I’ll fear no evil for You are with me.”Psalm 23:3-4
The Lord is leading not around the dark, shadowy valleys of life and memory, even though we fear they might kill us, but He leads us through them.
This past week I needed to shift gears and change directions. While still pursuing work in mediation, I needed to shift my focus away from working with those in conflict living in homeowner associations and back to conflict within the church and Christian nonprofits. Although homeowner associations are replete with conflict, and mediation is needed, it will take time to help them see how to use mediation.
In the meantime, I needed to bring mediation to a place I already understood. This necessary shift felt like a failure to me, like the past year was awash, like I was starting over. In addition, I didn’t want to go back into the church. Depression swept over me. Sadness. Defeat. Shame. What would people think of me as I told of this decision. All those within the church who knew I was heading one direction, how would they respond? For five days, I was under the dark cloud.
Here I am 53 years after the abuse had ended, and still I can see it. I still encounter the hurt little boy within me, cowering before his abuser. The feelings of defeat and shame were overwhelming in those moments.
My good friend Mike asked, “So, what’s Jesus saying?”
“I’m not sure, I haven’t heard a thing,” I replied. But truth was, I hadn’t listened.
The next morning, I awoke hearing the Lord say:
Son, You have had days to mourn the lack of what you call success. Now, follow Me! Yes, I have called you to MY church. You have learned to listen and you shall heal. It makes a difference in troubled situations to have someone on the ground to listen and hear. You shall walk in and bring healing by bringing My healing presence. You are NOT dealing with your mom. Your mom, my beloved daughter, has reconciled with her parents, been reunited with her brothers, fought her demons and entered MY redemption. You are free, son. Stay free! You’ve tried on feelings which do not fit. Now, embrace the joy of my call on your life. EMBRACE JOY! I’ve given you time. There’s nothing to grieve.”
Jesus referred to “dealing with my mom.” St. Cyprian said “If God is our Father, the Church is our Mother.” For years, my own broken relationship with my mom impacted my relationship to the church.
But what Jesus spoke, these are my marching orders to embrace joy and walk forward. Part of recovery is to do this: To simply keep moving forward, to open the curtains, air out the room, face and walk through the pain. I can only do this by having the people God has placed in my life remind me. So, I sent the word God gave to Mike and Karen and said, “Remind me.” They already have had to do so.
What are you facing, friend? What are you fleeing from? What might it take to turn and walk through that dark thing? Let me know how I can pray for you.