Thursday, November 26, 2015

Even for That


Prologue: I knew I couldn’t be alone. The statistics on sexual abuse being what they are, in a congregation of several hundred I knew there were others. I still don’t know who most of them are, but I’m glad I can now stand with them to express gratitude for the safety we have found at Christ Church under Doug Wilson’s ministry.

*****

men: n., people who treat me like crap.

That’s the definition experience tried to teach me, starting with the father who made my childhood household a place of constant fear and the brother who used my body to experiment with his newfound sexual knowledge. A part of me believed it, but another part of me had read the right books (including the Bible), and knew that men weren’t meant to abuse, abandon, and neglect.

Through years of counseling in my 20s, the gaping wounds were stitched up. Eventually the constant suicidal thoughts, which had persisted daily for over a decade, became less frequent. (They’d eventually disappear.) I don’t remember most of those conversations except for a sharp disagreement about whether I needed to repent of anything. She insisted that the abuse was one hundred percent on his shoulders, which it was, but I knew that my younger self was hungry enough for affection to have been complicit. I could have stopped it. Eventually, I did, and I suffered the rejection I’d feared. Mine was certainly a much lesser sin, but I needed to confess it and be forgiven for it. Of course not every victim has anything to repent of, but some do, and if they refuse to do it, they will never be able to heal.

I didn’t quite get past the temptation to people-pleasing, though, and it occasionally got me into situations where I let myself become an emotional punching bag to a teacher or an employer or a church leader in exchange for a few scraps of what I thought was kindness. At the same time, it was still hard to be confident in Christ’s love for me. I went through dark periods of doubting my salvation altogether. I was a crazy mix of distrust and too much trust.

The worst of this happened with a church leader who seemed to be confused about what a shepherd’s staff was for. Things there went OK for me until he figured out what kind of sinner I was, and then he implemented his “The beatings will continue until morale improves” leadership style. I wasn’t the only one who felt those harsh, graceless blows, but I put up with it the longest, reasoning (not unlike a battered wife) that I must deserve it. I was pulled back under into shame, darkness, and despair. The old wounds were open and bleeding again. This man had the gospel right in theory, but the practice didn’t line up. The walk didn’t match the talk, but I believed for too long that the talk was the reality.

Finally, God delivered me from that situation, and, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself joining Christ Church not long after. Was this going to be an out of the frying pan, into the fire situation? The guy at the last church had, after all, supposedly agreed with Doug Wilson. (Of course he’d also supposedly agreed with Jesus…) But what if Doug’s critics were right about him? What if he were the worst sort of hypocrite, or what if his teaching was all just rotten at the core? I trusted Doug a lot, but would it be one more incidence of badly misplaced trust?

Things went well until, once again, my flaws and foibles began to show. Now, I worried, would I be in for it? I cringed, waiting for the blows, but they never fell. Doug and his wife, Nancy, and others in the congregation have shown me incredible patience, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. They’ve believed the best about me and for me rather than the worst. Like one of the ladies who shared here a couple of days ago, I’ve never had one-on-one counseling with Doug about my past abuse. But I have had many conversations with Nancy about many issues, and I know that Doug is standing right behind her, that her counsel is his counsel, too. I have received many blessings from both of them. They are in no way quick to crush a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Rather, they’ve come alongside to support that reed with gospel strength and breathe gospel oxygen onto that wick.

Doug doesn’t fit that definition I’ve long resisted. And, substantially because of God’s grace working through Doug, there are many other men in this community who don’t fit that definition—fathers who show me how our heavenly Father leads and provides, brothers who show me how our Brother Jesus cares and protects. I thank God for their faithfulness and for His. I have never felt so safe.

*****

Epilogue: This quote showed up in my Facebook feed yesterday, and it struck me how applicable it was to the stories we’re telling here:

“Some people are given more on this earth and some are given less. Some people spend their days in pain with bodies that keep the yearning front and center, that keep loss always in the mind’s eye. Widows. Orphans. The sick. The damaged (by birth or man). Know this: God has special promises for you, and He loves bringing triumphant resolutions to those who have tasted the deepest sorrows. And this: Gratitude is liberation….See the gifts. And if they seem sparse, start counting.” (N. D. Wilson, Death by Living)

This is a blog by women freed. I found that freedom, that liberation, when I learned to thank God for every part of my story. Even for the really ugly parts—for the pain, the damage, the deepest sorrows. Even for the abuse. Even for that.

I’m grateful for the beautiful parts, too—for the escape, the healing, the forgiveness received and extended, the cleansing from shame, the restoration to wholeness and beauty, the special promises, and the triumphant resolutions. And for the church where I keep being reminded of these things.