Monthly Archives: July 2014

A “Yes” is no good if a “No” is not possible. AKA: When fear looks like forgiveness.

So, I’ve got these neighbors…….

Short and sweet: We moved in a few days apart from one another. Things went well for the first six months; then downhill.

Regrettably, four years later, I find myself occasionally perusing the local MLS listings because the  strain has become very uncomfortable for me.  I love my house and everything about it from its distinct 1960’s flavor to the gorgeous river running through my backyard. But because I feel that my home and my yard and my surroundings should be a refuge and haven, and because it is occasionally anything but that, sometimes I imagine that I’d rather give up my little sweet spot in the heart of old Sartell than to live with so much constant provocation.

Naturally, I’ve found myself dissecting this little mess trying to figure out where I might have gone wrong. And honestly, it didn’t take long. I know exactly what I did. Well… what I didn’t do.

When we first moved in, there was a series of compromises that I made because, well, let’s face it, I abhor confrontation. So the times my girls got their hair and back packs pulled on the bus and the times that their olders teased and hurt the feelings of my youngers, I said nothing. I mean, I tried to coach my kids through it, telling them about boundaries and saying “no”, but I never dealt with the monkey directly.

It was all pretty subconscious when it was happening, but looking back, I can clearly see that I truly thought I was being “forgiving”. That I was “turning the other cheek”. And while some might say that that is what I was doing, the proof that I was not lies in the fact that I had an incredible amount of resentment built up… which is, ya know, sorta the opposite of forgiveness and turning the other cheek.

Mercy is not what drove me. It was fear. Fear of confrontation. Fear of neighbor tension. Fear of unrest with someone living so close to me. Fear of saying how I really felt because “What if they didn’t like what I said about how I felt?”

Ironically, the fears that muted my feelings have turned into self-fulfilling prophecies.

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A “yes” is no good if a “no” is not possible.

I remember the first time I heard that line. It took me a while to pull it apart.

A “yes” is no good if a “no” is not possible?
Hmm?
What does that mean?

It means that if I don’t speak up or face conflict or initiate needed confrontation because I am afraid, I have lost my “no”. And if I don’t have a real “no”, what good is a “yes”?

If “yes” is what I’m saying externally, but internally, there is a “no” being screamed at the top of my lungs, my “yes” is a lie. And the “yes” is not even mine to start with. If I can’t say “no”, then saying “yes” is merely cowardice.

So back when pig tails were being pulled on buses and when dogs were not staying in their yard and when their kids were using our backyard as though it were their own, I should have gone to the great lengths of establishing my “no”. Whether or not it made me scared and uncomfortable. Whether or not they liked what I had to say or actually cared about how their actions were making me feel.

And that doesn’t mean I needed to yell and scream. It just meant that I needed to face it and not hide from it.

A gentle but firm confrontation.
A clear boundary.
An honest and sincere “no”.

By the time I realized all of this and tried to establish a gentle but firm “no”, of course, the patterns of our relationship had already set themselves into place. Like the deep groves of a record that just keeps playing the same tune, sadly, now our predicament seems somewhat terminal.

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I once asked my psychologist Keith if I would need to spend the rest of my life establishing “no’s” wherever I went, because holy bleep, that sounded like a lot of work. Thankfully, he told me that the test for speaking up or not was actually quite simple.

Is it any skin off your back? Because if it is, then you should speak up. You need to establish your own “no”. But if it’s not, then you can overlook it in love.

Now, if I find myself silenced because of fear, I remind myself that perfect love casts out fear. And that if I truly love this person, that love has to outweigh the fear I have of confronting them or sharing with them how their actions truly make me feel.

True forgiveness is setting something free. Totally cancelling a valid debt. So, unless I’m doing that (aka, “it’s no skin off my back”), the only appropriate action is to be honest about what’s truly going on inside of me.

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And as an addendum, let me say that “skin off your back” situations really do come up in life. And they do not signify weakness or lack of “godliness”. They indicate that you are human. ‘Cause guess what? You are!

The Bible tells us to “be angry, but don’t sin.”

And that pretty much implies that our urge toward anger is not the real issue. After all, it was God who put those urges and feelings inside of us. They act as warnings and signals that action needs to be taken. No good comes from stifling those feelings. From stifling anger. Good happens when we hear the signal – anger rising up in us – and then we act. And then we speak up. And then we share how we really feel. And then we establish an honest, loving “no”.

I think we often get the horse before the carriage on this, thinking that somehow forgiveness comes before the anger. Or that the anger should not come at all. Or when it does, it’s something we’re supposed to “give back to God”… as if God wants it back! He gave us our emotions for a reason. And they are not things we can or should just hand away. Anger is the natural progression of being mistreated. Forgiveness is what comes after.  Forgiveness can’t really show up if the anger never took place… if the automatic response toward mistreatment is muted.

It rarely happens immediately, and no matter what the books on forgiveness say, it can never be accomplished through force. Sure, one can force themselves into the mental and emotional homework of continually bringing perspective to the situation. But real, true, through and through forgiveness happens only when it’s really ready to happen. When the offense is so thoroughly integrated and worked through that the emotional charge has left. Sometimes this can happen right away, but there is no shame when it takes twenty years.

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The good news about establishing your “no” is that when you have a real, honest “no” in place, it opens you up to be able to say “yes”. And THAT, my friends, is what “turning the other cheek” looks like. THAT is what forgiveness looks like.

I have the power to say “no”, but I am choosing, in my own right, to say “yes” instead.

A healthy person will hear your “no” and respect you for it.
Respect begets respect.

And when you meet someone who will truly not allow you to have your own “no”, walk away, baby. Walk away.
Ain’t no one got time fo’ dat.

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My letter to Bill Gothard. AKA: My story of my life in the cult.

I wrote this story in one sitting several months ago.  I have since not really known what to do with it.  It was with much greater agony than I could have ever expected that I birthed these words.  That original rough draft was saved and untouched.  No edits and re-edits and no final draft came about until today as I simply was not emotionally able to revisit it until now.

My friend Micah Murray has gracious chosen to run my story on his blog Redemption Pictures.  Like me, his is a similar story.  Raised in the same mess, God has sought after him and brought about healing and lessons learned that could never exist without such great difficulty.  I highly recommend his writings and hope that they bless you as they have me.

My hopes in sharing these things is not to tell a tale of sadness or to finally give air to things that have been suffocated and left for dead inside of me for decades.  Rather, it is to inform the world around me.  The mothers and fathers who still buy into the false teachings.  The sisters and brothers who still cannot see.  The children who would walk the same road that I did if some means of intervention are not done to ensure the full annihilation of this cult.

I also speak to list myself among the names of my friends who have gone before me and told their stories only to suffer greatly at the hands of our co cult-members who remain staunchly true to Bill Gothard and his damaging and extra-Biblical teachings.  If mud be flung on them, fling it on me as well.

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The best stories are the ones that start in the middle. The ones that walk into a scene right in the heart of a plot, and from there, pull out the brushstrokes from past and to future.

Like a flower mid-bloom, there is a narrative to be told from seed to wither.

I think the best starting point in this story is not the day of my true start – the day I was born – but rather the day when my house of cards finally fell.

I want to introduce you to my 32-year-old self.

The year is 2008. My husband of ten years has just left. My house is being foreclosed. My health is in total collapse. And my mind is showing significant signs of slipping.

No one knows because I do not tell them.

I feel that it is my fault.

The desire for death is so great that the only thing keeping me hanging on is the awareness that I am the only hope of my four children. If I die, they have no hope. No chance in this whole world.

I decide it’s time to leave. To move and start over. Not because I want to spread my wings and fly, but rather, I need a cave to crawl into and hide from the storm. You see, I have no umbrella. I have no coat. I have no protection.

This storm started a long time ago, but what was once a slow steady trickle, is now an all-out monsoon. If I don’t find a place to hide my battered and bleeding self, I will die.

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I can’t really remember the day I first met you. My sister had been asked to work for you and because we happened to live close, her involvement opened a door for the rest of us to be involved.

Naïve and wide eyed, being up close and personal with the man behind the Wisdom Booklets and the Red Notebooks was surreal. You see, our whole world had been shaped by you. My early memories were of being read stories from your books and being taught to think the way you thought Christians ought to think.   Oh, I’d been drinkin’ your Kool-Aid for quite some time.

Our first interactions were warm and friendly. You surprised me with your compliments and immediate interest in me. I’d not experienced that before. I’d never been someone’s favorite. Never the best friend, never the favored son or daughter, never the favorite cousin or niece or granddaughter.

I was quite young. Eleven or twelve if my memory is right.   Receiving your obvious favoritism was a breath of new air to me. And I liked it. I liked you. I felt safe with you. After all, you were the man who’d shaped my parents. You taught them the things they’d taught to me. And if I was good enough for you, then there was some worth in me. Even if others hadn’t seen it. It must be there if you saw it.

At first, our interactions were few. You’d hold my hands right in front of my mom and smile deeply and warmly at me. So much intensity was new to me, but how was I to know… maybe this is how it felt to be really loved by your daddy. To be adored. All I knew was that, compared to the world I lived in, this little slice of life was a welcome relief.

My family came to you with a deep cancer already metastasizing all through our body. Lies and secrets and abuse. Hurt and shame. A mother who’d lost hers as a little girl and a father who had a sad story to tell from his own childhood. These seeds grew up into a bumper crop of dysfunction. It wasn’t until I was in the second half of my thirties that I was able to unravel my pain far enough to find theirs. In hindsight, I wish you’d have looked for it too. Instead, you just drew us in closer and closer. You spun webs and you did tricks. You preyed on our brokenness. And we were never the wiser. Charmed by your magic and seduced by your power and influence, we ate the worm; hook, line, and sinker.

I believe it takes a special kind of person to be introduced to a bona fide cult and somehow miss all the warning signs. And that was the kind of people we were.

Hurting little sheep.
Scared since birth.
Desperately needing a shepherd.
Desperately needing a rescue.

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When I was about 11, I found myself in a really sad situation being taken advantage of by young boys who used my body to exploit their new sexual curiosity. You knew me well enough to understand the complexities of this situation beyond the black and white facts. You knew that I was not only totally uninformed about my own sexuality at that age, but you also knew that the abusive structure of my family life had already conditioned me to receiving any sort of “special attention” with little to no ability or training on how to say “no”. You knew that I was about as naïve as an 11 year old could be. You knew that I needed protection and guidance.

But rather than offering that, you exploited that situation. You asked me to tell you how it felt. To tell you if my body was aroused by their touches. You wanted vivid details. But you didn’t just want them once. Repeatedly for months, we had the same conversations. Alone. No parent sitting in. No accountability for you. No protection for me.

You violated me in your own way by demanding me to repeatedly talk about those graphic sexual acts with you. You taught me that there are no “victims” in sexual abuse; only people who have un-confessed sin in their life and are now receiving their own. You taught me to feel shame for my body’s sexual responses. You held me responsible for what they’d done to me, telling me that if I did not comply with our “counseling sessions”, you would have no choice but to take my situation to the local authorities. You coerced me. Though I did not fight it, there was nothing consensual about our talks. I did not want them. You knew this. And yet, time after time, you would put me through it once again.

And after each counseling session, you would have me kneel beside you next to the couch in your office. I can still see the stripes in the fabric and feel the tiredness of my knees and feet as we stayed in that awkward position for inordinately long periods of time. You told me to confess the sin of my body’s arousal to God and to rededicate my body to Him to use as a vessel of righteousness.

Our bodies would touch each other’s as we knelt there, so close that your legs pressed against mine. My hands in yours. Sometimes an arm around my waist or your ankle crossing over mine.

I wish I could say that these things registered correctly inside of me as inappropriateness, but they did not. The generational river I was born into had already carried me down the wrong path and the bells and whistles that should accompany that sort of misconduct simply were not in place.

You mingled just enough words of affirmation in your concoction of condemnation, guilt, and confusion to “hook” me.

I felt special.

I felt like the only one. After all, you did tell me that I was your favorite.

The secrecy of our exclusive relationship masqueraded as safety and concern. In a world that was very abrasive and unsafe, you seemed to create a shelter from the storm for me. You flattered me with compliments on my physical appearance. You fed me just the right food that I’d been starved of my whole life – being noticed and validated, being worthy of your time. In hindsight, I see that you were fully aware of each action you made. Like an epic game of chess, no move lacked calculation.

The inappropriate content of our conversations became more and more uncomfortable for me.   For a while, I became so uncomfortable that I even chose not to visit you anymore. But as all abused children do, I was quick to return to your style of safety.

We never spoke of those boys again. You never brought it up. I was relieved. I did not want to talk about it. But your affection toward me increased.

You would see me across the room when we arrived on Saturday night for staff dinner. You’d signal to me in a personal and private way that you wanted me to sit with you. And you always positioned me just directly across from you. You’d slide your feet out of your shoes and play footsies with me. You would use your feet to feel my calves and knees and feet all the while, smiling warmly and winking at me in those fractions of a second when no one was watching.

As an adult now – and especially as a parent of daughters – I have gone through tremendous sadness for my young self that there simply was not within me the red lights that should have been flashing. Something inside of me was not right and you were the one who impeded its growth even further.

On the one hand, you taught me to guard my heart and to not even think about boys much less speak to them or look them in the eye, but then you would take special liberties with me that, should any boy have done that, he would have experienced excommunication immediately.

Days turned to weeks and then months and then years. I wasn’t the pre-teen I was when we first met.   Soon I was old enough to go on daytrips with you or spend full days on the weekend in your office. Your affection increased. I sometimes felt “held” in your office as if I was not there for any other reason than your viewing and touching pleasure. I learned to become accustomed to long awkward hours of you holding my hands or rubbing the tops of my thighs as you sat inappropriately close to me on your couch.

The older I got, the more you controlled me. Starting with those talks in our earlier days, you had already set up private access to my what was going on inside of me emotionally and psychologically, but now, you wanted to control my physical appearance. You told me how to dress, how to fix my hair, how to smile, and how to fit the mold. You noticed that I needed orthodontics. You pointed out other staff girls who were prettier than I was and asked me to emulate their look. Yet, you taught me at the same time that my beauty was a danger to me and that attraction toward and from the opposite sex was a great undesirable. Looking back, I see lines that you drew for me that crossed over other lines that you drew for me. If one line conflicted with another line you wanted to draw, you just overstepped it as if it didn’t matter in the first place.

I continued to grow older, but for me, with age did not come wisdom. It was as though the deeper I was pulled into your game, I became all the more oblivious.

My life’s aim was to please you and to one day be an important part of your ministry.

I made all the necessary changes.
I obeyed all the rules.
I beat my heart into submission.

When something did not make sense, I followed anyway because everyone knew that if Bill Gothard said it was right, we followed whether or not it made sense.

The blow to my self-esteem from being held up to older, more attractive and more developed girls took its toll on me. Never was I more vulnerable to such a poison. Never was I more susceptible to a greater kick in the face than I was in those early days. Those days when you wielded the most powerful influence in my life. With direct words and intentions, you told me that I was not enough.

I have teenage daughters now, you know. And I know the kind of damage this sort of talk would have on them. What sort of toll it would take. I wish you would have told me that I should seek to be loved on the basis of nothing more than who I already am. I wish you had told me that if any man wanted me to conform to what he thought was beautiful and acceptable and correct, that I should hit the deck running. But instead, you planted the seeds, pushed them in deep, and watered them relentlessly.

By now, I was reaching the latter half of my teens. My family situation had gone from bad to crisis. You gave my mom and siblings permission to usurp my father’s “Umbrella of Authority” (a biblically unfounded idea in the first place, but you giving special permissions to avoid it brings, at best, skepticism). Our relationship was very close. I still assumed I was the only one. Other staff members had even seen it and commented, so I was lead to believe that our special little alliance was exclusive.

My mother and younger siblings needed a place to stay. She came to you. So you came to me. The housing you offered them swung on my obedience to your desires for me. I was caught in an emotional tug of war as I wrestled between feeling angry that I would need to be the determining factor for the rescue of my family who, mostly seemed to take me completely for granted, and the innate desire to protect them. It was all too much for someone so young.

At seventeen, I was pulled from school and employed by you full time in order to support my family. I never went back and graduated – a mistake I’ve regretted ever since. The mind games were in full swing at this point. With daily access to me, hardly a day passed without some sort of interaction with you. Sometimes you would give me rides alone in your big blue car, holding my hands an caressing them as a lover would, not as a man in his 60’s should regard a seventeen year old girl.

Other times, I would accompany you on road trips. During those trips, there was more physical affection. When I did something wrong at home, I was made to come confess it to you. And if that were not bad enough, you would often create scenarios of intense difficulty for me to face all in the name of “character development”. Twice, you had me fired. And after you decided that the humiliation of the firing had done its work (aka, “helped me make my heart right with God”), you would bring me back. I was forced to publicly apologize in front of hundreds of people for things I did not do.

When your mother was ill, you forced me to be her caretaker.   As a man whose days started in the dark and ended around midnight, being her caretaker meant mine did too. Being in your house was uncomfortable for me. I was hungry every day because no one had given thought to the fact that I would need food while I was there. Once, I complained about the fatigue of it all, and you said that I clearly needed things to fill my time. You had me launder your clothing. You even showed me how to fold your underwear and what drawer it belonged in in your bedroom – as if I had any business in that room in the first place. As proof of your improper display of affection for me, you showed me your bedroom music boxes and special trinkets from childhood.

You would often detain me for another hour upon your late home arrival just for “the pleasure of my company”. It was at this point that my relationship with you began its first, small, imperceptible shift. I was exhausted. I was tired. I did not want to care for your elderly mother. I did not want to be left in a strange house in LaGrange for 12-15 hour days alone. I did not want to be detained to give you my company when I was bone-tired. But you always reminded me of your graciousness toward my family and how the reason you were doing that was because of what I was doing for you.

These things became an incredible strain to me.   And because I was aware that I was doing them for my family against my will, I became angry with my family. I would fight with my mom, and when that happened, she would drag me back to you for accountability. Once, you “punished” me by taking me to the Northwoods for a whole month. You said that I needed to learn humility and that janitorial work might be the best way to accomplish that.

I lived with hundreds of boys that I was not allowed to speak to or look at and a small clique of girls who never showed any warmth to me. I had no phone access to call home. My hours were long and tiring. There was nothing to look forward to. I felt like I was in prison. Before that month at the Northwoods, I’d always felt like a little bird; able to fly around from here to there talking with people and smiling and laughing and feeling someone “normal” because of interacting with others who lived the same insane existence that I did. But when you locked me up at the Northwoods, it felt like torture. The depression was intense and relentless, but not a single person took notice of it or sought to give me aid.

To make matters worse, I was put through meetings with the wives of men in leadership. I was asked to share my personal ambitions, but when I did, I was shot down and told that those were things that men should be interested in, not a godly woman, and that this time alone with myself was just what I needed.

Boys made accusations that I would smile at them, and I was called a “Proverbs 7 Woman”.   I spent time in a staff member’s house watching their many children and doing their household chores, and then I was called ungrateful and shamed when the boys under their care would notice me. Even the girls I roomed with, all except one, refused to share any form of friendship with me as a refuge from my difficult situation.

I was made to put away the personal things like photos from home that I’d brought along because they were distracting me from what I was supposed to learn. I was put on forced fasts sometimes for full days at a time.

Hungry, tired, depressed, and broken, eventually you let me go home. The trip back was long. I was the only female in the van. I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone and none of them acknowledged my presence there. I ate my food at a table in Arby’s by myself in shame and loneliness as the boys and the male leadership sat feet away laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

I had long since learned how to suppress my feelings. I had learned that if I wanted to stay out of trouble, the best way for me to do that was to manage my natural responses to pain. Never was I more in charge than I was that day on that return trip. My insides were exploding in agony. The mental cruelty of that month had worn my soul down to the bone. But I showed no register of pain for the outside world to see. I recall very distinctly that my body involuntarily shook violently during the hours in the van on the trip home and was very grateful to be traveling in the dark when no one could take notice.

Only a week had passed upon my return when the tension at home returned. Accused of rebellion and laziness – during a period of life when I supported my non-working parent – I was sent back to you for discipline. You gave me two options: go to live with my father – the one you supported my mother to leave based on his years of abuse toward us – or to go Indianapolis and join the EQUIP program.

I went to Indianapolis kicking and screaming inwardly but without any outward show of pain whatsoever. I arrived to have my things dug through as though I were a common criminal. My clothing selections were deemed inappropriate and taken from me even though they were long skirts and modest blouses.  I was made to wear things chosen from the donations boxes that were ill-fitting and terribly outdated.

I was near a literal nervous breakdown but was not allowed even a moment alone during the day. Even trips to use the restroom required accompaniment. The only times I was allowed to be alone was in the shower. And even though my showers were timed and kept to a limit so that I was not alone a moment longer than was necessary for personal hygiene, oh how I wept during those precious minutes alone.

You told me that these situations were intentionally designed to break me. And break me they did. I didn’t even know to cry out to God to rescue me from that awful place because I was utterly confused about who God really was and what His true heart was toward me. Thanks to your teachings, grace was a distorted concept in my mind about something I initiated and responded to that lead me to righteousness, not something that was entirely God-initiated and had nothing at all to do with whether or not I was righteous in any way.

My time in Indianapolis lasted for nine months. I was forced many times to miss meals, sometimes for days at a time, when my heart was “not right before God”. I was locked into my room on more than one occasion and had all outside contact and food withheld from me until the leadership decided it was enough. I was interrogated by leadership on a regular basis, often taken into back rooms with only one member of leadership – usually of the opposite sex – and berated for hours. I was not allowed to cry or disagree. I was called a “whore”. I was treated with utter cruelty. I was isolated from the few friends I was able to gain. I worked 10-12 hour days of hard manual labor with no pay on a renovating crew where I hung drywall or molding or helped lay carpet or paint and hang wallpaper. I missed many meals because of my long work hours and was not allowed to find food when I was done working. I lost several dress sizes within just a few months of arriving and no one noticed that or called my treatment into account for my obvious physical distress.

I was subjected to room searches on a regular basis where my drawers and mattresses and closets were rifled through and things taken if they were not deemed “approved”. Everything of value had been confiscated from me. Letters from friends, pictures from home, even toiletries that I had purchased. My mail was routinely opened and read before being given to me – a federal offense. My friends were often interrogated about me. Some remained loyal to me while others gave in to the tremendous pressure from the leadership and gave false stories about me to gain their approval or to simply be removed from their interrogations. The results of those betrayals often cost me our weekly outing to the store or being allowed to go to church – the only two times in a week that we left the compound.

When you came to town, I would tell you of this all. And you refused to help. You did not intercede in any way. You reminded me of your help toward my family.   You wanted me to uphold my end.

I celebrated my twentieth birthday hidden in a room on the ninth floor and refusing to come out of hiding even to get meals because of the tremendous pressure and fear of interrogation from leadership.

When October came around, you were in town when my final week with your cult was upon me. Depression was apparent in my face and mannerisms. You saw me singing in choir and summoned me to your office. You said that you could tell from my downcast countenance that I had given ground over to Satan. The light in my eyes was gone. You blamed me and some supposed, hidden sin in my life rather than the blatant woeful treatment I’d been receiving. Once again, you held me responsible for the abuses of others.

The next day, you called me to your table after lunch for another meeting. You told me that the leadership had shed light on the situation. They’d told you that I was attracted a boy, but they could not figure out who it was. You asked if that was true. I did not attempt to withhold the truth from you. I told you immediately that it was true and who it was. I told you that we were obeying your rules of conduct and that our relationship had not gone past mere attraction and that it would not until we were older, had our parent’s blessing – as was standard IBLP law – and were no longer working at your facility.

We were both locked up immediately and left with no food or outside contact for days as you decided what to do with us.

I assume that you have never been held against your will in a locked room. It is a form of torture, you know. As is the withholding of food. These games of mental cruelty wreaked far greater damage in me than a hungry belly and a night of dark tears. They broke me. They ruined me. Nearly twenty years have come and gone since these days, but the bones you crushed, the heart you flogged, and the mind you broke back then still refuse to function correctly today. No amount of intervention, therapy, and medication in the world seem enough to turn back the clock and reverse the damage. I live with constant impairment.

What causes me the greatest grief as I look back now is that during that time, I knew so little of the God you supposedly taught me about that never once did it occur to me to turn to Him in my great agony. You taught me that it was my fault. That the things that were causing me distress were self-inflicted. You taught me about a God of works. Your words might have been different, but your doctrine and your treatment of me told me the real story. And if I’d failed you so greatly that I found myself locked up and mentally beaten as punishment, how dare I even utter the name of a Holy God whose hot displeasure must be burning against me?

I don’t need to tell you the end of the story because you already know it. You kicked me out. You gave me three hours. Three hours. Three hours to leave the only world I’d ever known.

If the constant attention of an abusive relationship is bad, the only thing worse was to be suddenly cast aside and put away. The rug I’d been standing on for so many years was precarious, shaky, and unreliable, but it was all that I’d known. It was familiar. Having that jerked out from under me when I was so frail and so shattered had the same affect on me as a sledgehammer would have on a delicate glass vase.   Pieces of me flew in all directions. Pieces that no one helped me re-gather and no one helped me re-assemble. Pieces that are still lost and broken.

But let me tell you what you do not know. What you cannot know. Let me tell you what it is like to be twenty years old and excommunicated from your entire existence.

At first, there is the depression.
The sleepless nights.
The inability to eat.
The continually greater realization of your broadening loneliness.
The confusion.
The panic.

Then comes the realization that you need to figure out how to live.

Who will help me shop for real clothes? I don’t even know how to figure out what pant size I might be because I haven’t been allowed to wear pants since I was ten.

Within a month of my dismissal and excommunication, my family was forced to leave the home you’d provided for them during my years of submission to you. I never asked them if they blamed me for it because the sharp screams of pain in my heart were simply too loud to care if others were angry with me. But I bore the guilt and blame in my heart just the same.

For eighteen months, I moved constantly. Depression was in full swing. Her ugly fingers stretched themselves over me and inside of me like a dark blanket that suffocated me.

I felt like a person being roasted alive and the only thing that seemed to lessen the burn was constant movement. South Dakota, Colorado, various locations in Illinois, and eventually Georgia.

All was black.

God was gone.
Everyone was gone.

I wanted so badly to have done the right thing, but even all the force I could muster would not allow me to return to you when you called for me just a few months after you sent me away.

Absolutely nothing about anything made sense. The Bible was gobbledy-gook.

I could not pray, and I felt like death itself was swarming around me.

I carried on this way for a year and a half with no assistance. With no intervention. With no follow up. I’d let you down and your punishment to me was full abandonment. And I suppose that would not be so bad in ordinary circumstances, but my circumstances were not ordinary. The concrete in my life was still wet when we met. For nearly ten years, you molded that concrete to be so unstable that, without you directing me and telling me how to think, dress, and act, there was no firm footing to be found. And then, once my concrete had hardened and could no longer be reshaped into a safe and solid surface, you threw me away. You left me to spend the rest of my life walking along on a path of brokenness. The scars of abuse do not fade with the years nor do their patterns and behaviors cease even with great amounts of intention. They cripple and maim. And they do not go away.

As time always does, her steady rhythm pounded on and took me from those places. Slowly but surely, little rays of life and light began poking through my depression, but not until after eighteen months of tremendous darkness had done its work on me. The loss had been staggering. It was like being forced to begin life anew at 21 years old with absolutely no tools in my shed to help me cope and live.

God’s gentle whispers began breaking through. The things He was telling me about Himself were so very different from what you’d told me about Him that I found it hard to even face or process. For long periods, I found that I could not even read the Bible because it had been translated to me so incorrectly in my childhood and early adulthood that its words acted like triggers for my severe emotional trauma.

You see, Mr. Gothard, to you, I might have just been one little girl who passed through your program at one point. I might have been just one set of feet to play footsies with and one set of legs to feel up or one set of hands to caress inappropriately or one little mind to mold incorrectly or play cruel games with. I might have been just one more girl who passed through ATI who was a pretty, blonde with a perky heart, a nice smile, and an outgoing personality. I might have just been one more to you. I imagine that I came into and out of your life with little to no long-term affect on you. But to God, the offenses from you toward me were very personal to Him. To Him, I was unique. I was the one He went after, leaving the “99” behind. To Him, those nights behind locked doors and that hungry belly and broken mind was utterly personal. And to me, the ripples that you started when you first began casting stones into my pond are still in motion. They have left me stunted. They have shaped me incorrectly. I am left with a lifelong limp and all the “physical therapy” in the world won’t fix me.

The bad news ends there.

The good news also starts there.

What you never told me was that God is attracted to brokenness. You never told me that grace is something He gives me – a furious love that I cannot deserve – even if my hair is wrong or my smile isn’t bright or my heart is dirty. You never told me that who I am – a child of God and someone who Jesus died for love of – is where my value lies, not how I am.

You never told me to say “no” to inappropriate touch. You never taught me to say “no” to abuse. You never told me that God’s intentions for me were better than to be locked up and intentionally broken – in hotel a room in Indianapolis or in the torture of my own fractured mind.

You never told me those things.

You should have.

But you didn’t.

But God did.

Like the shepherd that left the rest behind to seek out that one little sheep that lost its way, God has relentlessly hunted me my whole life. In the darkest moments, He was there, having pity on me and breathing His promises of redemption over me. Not just redemption from my sin nature and its consequences, but the redemption that occurs when wrongs of this life are flipped on their heads and made right by being used for good.

You say that you never meant to hurt me or any of the other girls that you abused, harassed, and molested. You say that you only meant to be fatherly. And you know what, I have no idea if you intentionally did the things to me that you did. I mean, how could I? That mystery – your true intentions – remains between God’s heart and yours alone. The intentions of a man’s heart are deep waters and only God can know them. They cannot be known otherwise. Only He can see and accurately judge the intentions of your heart. But I can judge your actions and tell you that they have been found guilty. I can tell you that the long-term damage you have caused myself and countless others is real and touchable and for some of us, permanent. You gave me – us – a limp. Something we can never fully recover from. You gave us homework that has spanned decades. You may not have meant to, or you may have. We simply cannot know. But the affects have been the same regardless. And you should be held accountable as such. Further, you should be disallowed in any way to ever have the opportunity to do it again.

The story of how grace – true grace, not your version of it – entered my life is the story of that limp you gave me. That brokenness. You see, you might have thrown me away, but the Lover of my Soul came and found me in that grave; laying there, broken and awaiting death. He pulled me out, stood me up, and brushed the death off of me. I stand now only because of a God whose truest heart is toward the little ones who are so broken that they have a hard time keeping their cheese from sliding off their crackers. I still fall over often – as most broken people do – but more than any other thing, I am filled with the awareness of this: I am someone that is desperately loved by Jesus. That is now my full identity. I am no longer a person who was/is broken or the girl who can’t stand. I might still experience those things, but who I am is a new story. I am someone who is desperately loved by Jesus.

Your offenses toward me are as far away from me as the ends of the seas are from each other.  They are forgiven and your debt completely cancelled.

Not because you deserve it; because you don’t.
Not because you have repaired your ways; because you haven’t.
Not because you have done any acts of restitution; because you won’t.

You are forgiven for no other reason than that God has forgiven me much, therefore, I am compelled to forgive you.

Your hideous actions on my life have been used for the utmost of good even though they were evil. I pray that God will reveal to your heart the things that only He can and that in so doing, you would experience true brokenness.

The sort of brokenness that comes from the tender hand of a loving Father.
The sort of brokenness that also brings about healing and true wholeness.

Your life shows a staggering lack of true relationship with God. A deep and abiding lost-ness.

My heart’s truest desire toward you that you would be found and made truly free.
That you would recognize and acknowledge your desperate sin and the great damage you have caused.

That you would own your need.

Because, truly, we are all in need.

Of saving, of redemption, and most of all, of forgiveness.

Most sincerely –
Heather E. Corcoran

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