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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24 Comments

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

  1. My eyes well with tears, throat choked with grief and a silent prayer thanking God for you; sharing your story; bringing freedom and unexpected mercies.
    Thank-you.

    • So many emotions as I read this. Heather, thank you for sharing this. It is a powerful story and a wonderful reminder that our Savior has already won the victory over sin and death and evil, and that in Him we win it as well! Thank the Lord for His great goodness to you and your family.

  2. I read this on Micah’s blog. I also grew up in the cult of ATI. I am thankful that my single-mom refused to allow me to go live at headquarters, though he was relentless in asking. She stood her ground and told him that it would never happen. According to ATI, she was not capable of leading our family, because God only works through men. Therefore, they needed to impart their authority and wisdom over us. Thank God she never listened to them!! I didn’t want to go live there, because of my own personal story of all forms of abuse. I seemed to have this sixth-sense about men. I can walk into a room full of men and instantly know who I can trust and who in some way or another is not trust worthy. Mostly I am thankful for it, however, I hated it for a long time. I grew up with people who drank the kool-aid Gothard served. That sixth sense kept me from trusting almost every man I grew up with(only 3 were trustworthy), now the truth has been revealed about them and it makes my heart sad for their families. My abuse was all pushed under the carpet. I was told the lies of “real” forgiveness over and over again. I was treated horribly and kids were not allowed to be friends with me, because of the things done to me. I was “diseased” and everyone was afraid of catching my illness. I grew up thinking there was something wrong me. That I could not make friends, because I was too dirty.

    In my heart I know this could not be what God was all about. The God I read about in my Bible, was not the same God I was taught. Leaving my church was so hard to do. I would leave and get sucked back in, believing that I needed these people, that I owed them something. I have been free for 6 years and it has been glorious!!! I have found the God that I had desperately longed for. I found a husband, a man, who loved me and was willing to wait with me to heal. Who has stood by me no matter how depressed I have gotten. Who has been patient and gently pulled me from the lies and poured truth over me, even when I would roll my eyes at him and tell him to stop. He would tell me that I would see it someday, I would see what everyone else sees in my. Someday I would see the truth and he was not going to stop telling me it. I have a church community that is fantastic. They have encouraged me to keep pushing forward and like my husband, continually pour truth over me.

    It makes me happy to read of other people who have been through ATI and are on the path of recovery and healing, instead of the bitter, angry end. My heart hurts for the abusers in my life. I pray regularly that they find wholeness and healing in the real God of Christianity.

  3. Thank you for telling your story. I particularly appreciated this image: “He pulled me out, stood me up, and brushed the death off of me.” May God continue to provide healing and courage by His grace.

  4. tanarhea

    Thank you so much for your honesty and vulnerability! My heart aches for what you have had to live through and I am so glad that in God pursuing you, you were open to Him. I am sure your words will help others to heal and find a way out.

  5. Heather,
    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story. You make a difference. You ARE enough.

  6. This leaves me breathless. It brings up so many painful memories of the rippling effect that ATI had in my mental forming… but I can also echo the trueness of God’s voice since then. There is still anger at those who have callously use others, as in your story…still the patterns born of “fakeness,” hurt, and condemnation that I am healing from, even two decades later… thank you for showing us the real you, in all your weakness. It is a beautiful thing to see.

  7. Nicole

    I’m a friend of a friend of yours, maybe several, and have been inspired by you since the days of theCrossings. Thank you for writing your whole story and including the present. I loved the line “…God is attracted to brokenness.” It will be life-changing for me.

  8. Marcie

    My dear Heather,

    My heart aches for what you have endured from those professing to be teaching about God. It was already married when I attended a conference in Portland sponsored by Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. I just looked and still have the book and workbook from 30+ years ago. I haven’t touched it since then but it is now in the trash. When I heard the news of the leader’s conduct…I was upset by yet another “leader” not practicing what he preached. Now I am furious after reading your story and learning more details about what that “mal-practice” really meant in one life and that being multiplied by countless other lives.

    My heart also rejoices that God is healing you and showing you His true self and your true self, His prized creation, in the process. I have not known such abuse but have listened to similar stories and have marveled at how powerful the touch of my God is upon brokenness and how He has brought His children through things that I can’t imagine surviving. And yet, you and my friends thrive as well.

    I am saddened to know that even after your departure and subsequent 18 months of darkness, that no one reached out to you. My guess is that a “Christian” or two crossed your path during that time. May God give me eyes to see and ears to hear.

    May God continue to hold you, heal you, and use your honesty and openness and vulnerability to help others heal and speak out and make us angry at injustice and abuse around us

    Thank you for being so brave..

  9. Jen

    Thank you. I have tried to think of what else to add, but I can’t put it into words. Just know I needed to read this, and thanks.

  10. Heather, you are amazing. The bravery you have shown in telling this story is astounding, and I applaud you for it. I am in tears, here in my living room, reading it (while glad that my wife and daughters aren’t around to see the mess I am right now).

    The forgiveness you wish for your abuser is amazing and can only be a work of God’s grace in your heart. I have only read of this man’s abuses and have not experienced anything like them personally, yet I can’t move away from thinking about millstones and ocean depths. The catalog of victims he has, and yet there are still apologists and yes-men doing his bidding! It’s absolutely infuriating.

    Also, knowing a few men of character married to women who have been through similar horrors, I regard your husband with as much awe and respect as I grant to you. Your shared heart work and life work is amazingly important, and your resilience is inspiring. May God bless both of you and your children.

  11. Sheryl Matters

    Heather, Bravo for telling your story. Tell it to the world. The world needs to know. Mr. Gothard should legally be locked up; he doesn’t need to hear your story; he already knows it; it only entertains him. You also haven’t done anything for which you need forgiveness. Leave the God talk out and simply tell exactly what happened. That is what you would do in a court of law, and he should be locked up. This is really, really important to get. It is so much more than inappropriate touching that was going on. The bullying that you endured is extensive.

    • Jayne Otterson

      I agree..Sheryl….leave the God talk out. Wow…this is an incredible story for all to read. Heather you have blown me away. May God give you beauty for all the ashes you have endured. You surely deserve it. I stand with you and will do all I can to expose false teachers…(wolves in sheeps clothing) who do much harm to many women and children in the Church.. Sadly but the men in the church are not doing their job to protect us from the wolves but this is a new day when women are finally speaking up and exposing the wolves/enemy. I rejoice in what God is doing to clean the temple from all who pervert it. My love and respect is yours Heather!!!

  12. Heather,
    I have read many of the stories of Bill Gothard’s victims at Recovering Grace over the past few months. I read your letter today and all I can say is WOW!!! The power of the pen. What a literary masterpiece. There were so many aspects of your letter that deserve commendation: the courage to confront your abuser; the boldness to expose his sins; the spiritual victory you are experiencing; but most of all the theology and spiritual wisdom you have demonstrated to your brothers and sisters in Christ. The way you expressed to Bill what he has done to you to leave you with a “life-long limp” while at the same time extending your willingness to forgive him for the pervert that he has been for many years is nothing short of miraculous. You told Bill the truth about the path of destruction he has left without spewing out the hate and venom he so justly deserves. If I were Bill Gothard and read your letter, I would advise my family to put me on suicide watch immediately.
    I am 63 years old. My family was a part of the first 100 families in the ATIA. I quickly learned what a fraud Bill Gothard is. Heather, be assured that Bill and his “yes men” not only intimidate and manipulate women; they perpetrate it on men as well. And guess what? It works. Bill and Gary Fraley tried their tactics on me in 1987 but things didn’t go as they planned. I called them out for the liars and religious hucksters they are and never looked back. Let me be clear about why little Billy boy has no inhibitions about molesting young girls: because some godly father has not been man enough to drive up to headquarters and stomp little Billy boy’s behind. When I think of all the women Bill has harmed, I truly want to have a “laying on of the hands” service.
    Heather, you say that all the abuse you suffered from your family and Bill has left you broken. I don’t believe a word of it. The wisdom, truth, grace and love with which you have spoken can only come from the heart and mind of one whom God has made whole.

  13. Sheryl Matters

    This story has been on my mind since I first read it yesterday. I am amazed at how educational it is for me and I can only imagine for countless others and should be for everyone who reads it.

    Heather really brought out well the theme that I see emerging, which is how Mr. Got-Hard was able to collect so many of the same kind of families, weak, without their own wills, people so ready to submit, and he was able to take their money at the same time. This is why parents didn’t protect their kids; they already weren’t in that mindset.

    I had close friends who spent decades in this organization and I can’t say what a relief it is for all of these stories to be coming out. We are no longer friends because I wasn’t good enough for them, and I could just never be a loyal follower of an organization that didn’t seem to have a legitimate reason for existence. And then I started hearing that the young adults going on trips to be trained for careers were really only paying money to do leg work for Got Hard, and not being trained for any career.

    These kinds of stories coming out are going to end up changing the face of religious organizations and the mark that they leave on our land, on our society, and our homes. We are no longer going to be willing to trust “leaders” on the basis of right sounding words. Perhaps we will even reorganize our lives to exclude such allegience to large organizations, especially ones built on the luxury of religion, which is becoming something we can no longer afford for many reasons. We need real education that empowers us to earn a living. Perhaps we will just go home and take care of our homes and build mutually respecting relationships in and around our homes.

  14. Karen

    Hi Heather,
    I left a reply to your courageous letter on Recovering Grace. But I want to make sure that you get my recommendation, so I will leave it again. Please contact Peter Pelullo at http://www.letgoletpeacecomein.org because he has a vision to stop Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) by getting adults to share their stories like you have done. I feel like you need a broader audience so that others can heal when they read your story. Peter Pellulo is working with John Hopkins School of Public Health and he has survivors like Sugar Ray Leonard as board members of the Foundation: Let Go Let Peace Come In. I also recommend Child Sex Abuse Attorneys of O’Donnell, Clark and Crew LLP at 503-306-0224. These attorneys have successfully sued the Catholic and Mormom churches, the Boy Scouts of America, and other youth organizations where children were subjected to horrors similar to yours. They have successfully sued these organizations long after the statues of limitations have expired. IBLP, Bill Gothard and possibly ATI need to be sued for allowing Bill Gothard to abuse his prey. All of us who love children and cherish our adult friends who were abused as children must do all that we can to get the word out about IBLP. Although I am not a member of ATI, some of my friends are and they just returned from the Sacramento conference where the lie that Bill Gothard is innocent and the women were making up the stories is being perpetuated. Trying to talk sense into my friends is very difficult. At this point, my greatest concern is to help those abused as children start the healing process. And you, Heather, are a beautiful example for many abused people to follow. The healing starts by getting your story out. Thank you. You are a leader in the Great Commission. Jesus came to heal the wounded lambs. God bless you. Remember, it was never your fault. Please google “Let Go Let Peace Come In Video” and watch it. The song, “It Never Was Your Fault” is written for survivors like you. You are forever in my prayers.
    Love,
    Karen

  15. 'Emee'

    Dear Heather,

    I found your letter via RG and wanted to thank you for your bravery, kindness, and truthfulness. You are a master wordsmith and I look forward to perusing the rest of your blog. I was also raised in ATI/A for most of my childhood, but did not personally experience Gothard’s depravity (except for his false teaching). The evil that was done to you in your formative years by so many people is despicable and should have been stopped by the adults who knew about it. My heart breaks for you and your continuing ‘limp,’ but I’m grateful God was able to bring good out of that horrendous experience. In fact, I’ve experienced some of that good–your letter reassured me that God can be trusted with my own story and it’s been wonderful to talk to Him regularly once again and hear His voice of love.

    Your word picture of “the little ones who are so broken that they have a hard time keeping their cheese from sliding off their crackers” really resonated with me; it’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one who’s felt that way. I’ll probably re-read the last bit of your letter quite frequently (starting with ‘God’s gentle whispers’) as I so often forget God’s unconditional love, which you’ve eloquently depicted.

    I avoided reading my Bible for many years for the same reasons you mentioned, but recently found succor in Ezekiel 33:10-20; 34:1-31. I’m glad that God’s chased me with loving kindness and recently surrounded me with grace-filled Christians (true shepherds) who speak truth to me.

    Thanks again for being willing to share publicly what God’s done in your life; the courage it took to do so is indescribable [especially by me, who posted this using a pseudonym!]

    You’ve truly returned kindness for evil; may God bless you and your family greatly and continue to whisper (perhaps even shout from the rooftops) His unchangeable love for you.

  16. Anitra

    Literally weeping. Thank you, Heather…

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  19. Oh my gosh! Just read this same story a few days ago from another blog: REcoveringGrace.com? HomeschoolersAnonymous? I don’t remember which.
    I’ve been thinking about your story all week and it’s surreal that a friend just linked me to your actual blog (through your No vs. Yes post).
    I’m waving my pom-poms and cheering you on from my home in Albuquerque. Bravo!

    THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!!

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  21. Penny

    Wow! All I can say is wow…Powerful, powerful words.
    Thank you for sharing, for lies cannot survive in the light.
    Love you sweet sister❤

  22. Margie

    WOW! Thank you for your willingness to share your life and experience. It is a powerful and honest story of how God hates sin, but also loves us and searches for us. The work of the Lord in your life to give you a heart of forgiveness after all you went through and still deal with, is truly a work of HIS grace. May the Lord continue to heal and bring much fruit out of your life.

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