Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”
That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.
The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.
My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.
That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.
I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.
Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.
When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.
If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.
I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”
There isn’t much that worship can’t soothe in my spirit, in the day to day. The key and the challenge is to be diligent in setting aside time for intentional worship in the chaos of this thing we call life, which can quickly feel more like a slow and painful death if we’re not careful. Especially for people in ministry, whether pastors or other ministries. There is something spiritually and emotionally draining about ministry, apart from taking time to refuel and ‘drinking deep’ from the well of God’s love, whether through worship music, meditation and prayer, or reading truth.
Hearing horrific stories of child rape, or watching adults weep or go into shock to the point of physically going pale and clammy, as they recall someone forcing themselves or some harsh object inside of them, tends to wear on the soul. In the past year I’ve heard so many of these tragedies it leaves my head reeling, and my heart aching…. though, in honesty, something of my ability to ‘feel’ was destroyed in childhood, so it is usually more of a ‘factual’ pain, than a feeling one. That is, until it is incorporated into art or music… there, and in God’s presence or Tim’s arms, I am able to feel pain. Rarely any other place. But back on track…
In recounting details with a local police officer regarding the third or fourth case involving forcing objects inside children or youth, the officer looked at me and said, “Yeah… what’s with that about forcing objects inside kids? That’s just crazy!” I couldn’t agree more. It’s insane, actually. And I realized when he asked, that this and molestation is the horror I listen to or deal with, in one form or another, almost daily. And when it gets too much, or hopefully before it does, I escape into a place of worship, filling my heart with a truth greater than the wickedness all around. If I didn’t do that, I would burn out relatively quickly.
And I’m not alone in the intentional battle against burnout. While painful to hear, I’ve listened to pastors confess the struggle that goes with their role. I’ve heard the admission that sometimes it seems atheists are more at peace with life than believers, and live to the fullest with greater kindness than those in the Body of Christ. I’ve listened as they told how difficult it is to be attacked or back-stabbed by their congregants. While that is not something I am familiar with, since I have no congregation, my imagination works well enough to know it would be hard; much harder than ‘distant’ attacks from those who oppose what I do, I imagine.
That is one of the things that has given me the courage to press forward in ministry, knowing the deep appreciation of clients. At least most of them, and most of the time. I’ve been very blessed with good outcomes in working with clients, walking them through to healing and developing longterm relationships. In five years of 1:1 ministry, most clients continue to keep in touch from time to time, letting me know how they are, and sharing struggles and victories from time to time. In fact, only one case has truly gone wrong, either due to sincere misunderstanding or blatant lies–and I am uncertain which–and it is the one case that made me realize how blessed I am that attacks are virtually never part of my life, with clients. (Attacks from strangers, or from ‘friends’ behind my back, and attacks on our ministry don’t bother me much any more. They’re par for the course.) Nonetheless, initially it is jolting to be thrown into a world of unfamiliar accusations and it can feel like God has let you get hung out to dry… Giving 12 hours in one day, and extra time and expense over a period of time, all pro bono, to the person who ends up stabbing you in the back is disheartening. And in that moment, questioning why I would continue, the thing that carries me through is the knowledge that God knows the truth… that God sees all our hearts–not only mine, not only theirs, but everyone of us… And, again, my heart is drawn to healing worship and I am refreshed.
In contrast with the ‘fatigue’ of fighting against the darkness so often covered up, a man spills his story without being confronted, and tells how as a teen he molested numerous children. We end the conversation and of his own accord, as I prepare to leave, he says he would like to talk to a police officer.
“Are you sure you want to do this? What if he has to charge you?” I ask, feeling a sense of duty to let him know the potential consequences, and to see if that changes his mind. “I thought about that before I said anything,” he continues. I tell him I will talk with an officer, and get a time set up and other details if that is what he wants. “If it takes making an example of me to stop this, then I am willing,” he says. And with that we part ways. A day later I have a time, and all the details of what this will look like. He responds with the admission that it looks pretty scary and overwhelming, and I tell him it is up to him. I don’t have enough information to do anything; it’s entirely up to him. He asks for a night to contemplate it.
The next morning, first thing, a text comes through saying he wants to proceed. And with that it’s a plan. As I type out the message to the officer, tears flow generously. I realize the man is not one of the ones who is a greatest threat to our community. He came forward of his own free will and asked for the police without so much as a hint of it from me. And through the tears, I worship a God who sees hearts and understands my struggle with knowing that many hide vicious crimes while a rare contrite soul exposes wickedness out of a desire for truth and freedom. And that one chooses to pay the price publicly, if that’s what it takes, to help end the epidemic.
Ah worship… it makes ‘right’ a world all wrong. It’s necessary to worship when the heavy stuff of life lands on us like a bucket load of bricks… or worse. It’s easy to worship when things are good. But when we sacrifice and are met with not so much as a passing thank you, but rather an attack, worship is critical. Drinking the toxic sludge of lies, rumours, manipulations and growing bitter quickly sucks the life out of us, so that we have nothing to give. And when the darkness hides in the crevices of Christian cloaks, it is worship that turns my heart back to my Heavenly Papa, and I am again lost in love, clothed in righteousness that is not mine.
So tonight I bask in the wonder of the ove of Jesus, who died to give me life… who died to give life for the one who comes back to say ‘thank you’… and for the one who manipulates and takes for granted sacrifices made on their behalf. He understands each of us with equal affection, and grants extravagant grace for our various struggles and burdens. And suddenly I realize that I have no enemies, only brothers and sister with pain, struggling through their story. And I pray that Jesus will meet each one in the place of their battle, and lift up the weary hearts and breathe life into us, every one, so that His purposes are fulfilled in us.
With confidence I move forward because Jesus didn’t stay trapped in a grave: Christ is Risen from the Dead, and that gives me hope for every one of us. Deep, eternal hope.
Yahweh, your God, is intimately present in your battle, as a mighty and victorious warrior, fighting for you! Having overthrown your enemy, He serenades you, singing over you with great delight, like a Papa mesmerized by His child! He (Based on: Zephaniah 3:17)
The battle is not mine, it is not yours. We are loved. We are fought for. We are accepted. And our Heavenly Papa–Abba–holds us in His arms and in His heart. He is not a far-away-never-present Papa; He is ‘over us’ watching, loving, laughing and finding joy in us.
He sees His creation; a child in His own image and likeness, not the brokenness that we feel. He sees us through the eyes of love, acceptance and grace. We are His; we belong… no longer misfits. In this we find our true identity, our freedom.
Take a moment to whisper a thank you to this amazing God, and spend a moment basking in the light of His infinite love. It is life-altering to experience the wonder of Him.
Your story matters. Your pain matters. And most importantly, “You matter.” In fact, you matter so much that you are worth more than the chains they have tried to put on you.
You are worth a ‘prison break’, to leave that bondage behind and move into a place of freedom, purpose and healthy personal identity. If you are struggling to find that freedom, find someone–anyone safe–who will walk you to that place. It awaits you.
And, whatever you do, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t be free.
Look at the word closely, and it becomes a place; a state of ‘being’. Much like kingdom. Kingdom is that which is in a state of being under the authority or ‘belonging’ to a king. Freedom is that which is in the state of being free.
And it can often feel much like that; and elusive placed which one must have a key, or a connection to enter. Currently I am traveling in the United States of America–hence the lack of consistency in posting, and it will be that way intil next Wednesday–and I needed a passport to get in; not to mention the security process. Had I tried to force my way in any other way – – especially with the state of our world right now– – It probably would not have gone so well for me.
As it was, things really couldn’t have gone better! The security process back in Ontario Canada, had three steps. As we neared the third and final security check, I observed something that I would define as freedom. A security guard, all decked out in his uniform, stood near the line singing the orders. “You don’t need your passport now, all you need is your boarding pass and a smile on your face…”
Over and over he sang, and as he sang the people walking through the line who could hear him, began to smile, and chuckle. I caught a young woman’s eyes just as she rounded the corner; they sparkled with delight. We exchanged a few words and shared a laugh. (And it wasn’t until I turned away that it struck me; she was Muslim.) Around me similar exchanges happened between strangers from many races and cultures, and gradually most of the line transformed from sullen and sober, to smiling and chatting amongst ourselves. It was 5:30am.
The security guard’s freedom inspired and influenced us, but his freedom was personal. He was confident to be himself; daring to be different than everyone else around. He stood out from the crowd, in hope and expression.
Freedom is like that. It stands out, offers hope and influences those around, but ultimately it is personal. It can seem like a land far, far away, to which there are no passports or visas. It can feel like an illusion, but if we push through – – much like all those security points to enter another country — there comes a moment when we find it, and realize it was there all along, waiting for us to discover and express it.
Freedom is a choice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. (Trust me,–anyone who sings to a passing audience of grouchy strangers–a few who really couldn’t bring themselves to be amused–at 5:30am, is choosing to rise above.) It isn’t about making the circumstances right, but about refusing to surrender to them. It doesn’t always look like singing; sometimes it looks like tears or even frustration. It looks mostly like a lack of pretentiousness and yet choosing hope even in pain, even in frustration.
Freedom is that inner state over which I am given authority. It is as my willingness to enter in, and it is as successful as my ability to be honest, and and as lasting as my honesty and humility in seeking help from someone else, if and when that is needed.
Ultimately it is about how free I am to function within my intended design, regardless of what life has done to rob me of that gift. That is freedom.
You are courageous; it isn’t easy facing painful memories. You are resilient; pursuing freedom takes time and determination. You will make it; those of us who have walked that hard road and fought those demons, believe in you.
You are not alone; many of us have suffered abuse, violence and the stripping of our souls…
Together we will heal. Together we will press forward. Together we will restore hope and wholeness to a generation of wounded children. Together we will be a Voice for the children of today, and pray for a better tomorrow.
The merchants sold things in the temple courtyard. There was no hidden crime, that we know of; they were right out there in the open, and obviously they thought what they did was fine. Even so, Jesus threw over tables, grabbed a whip and chased them out. The Pharisees made a host of man-made rules and imposed them on people as part of redemption, and Jesus called them hypocrites, a brood of vipers. He even declared them to be sons of hell. “You travel land and sea,” Jesus said, “to make one convert. And having done so, you make them twice the sons of hell that you are.”
Ouch. Definitely His outdoor voice, wouldn’t you say? And this isn’t the Old Testament God of wrath, talking here. This is Jesus, the gentle-hearted healer, speaking to those who defile the temple with ignored sin, those who defile God’s name by misrepresenting Him through external things, those who defile the temple by taking what is not theirs. That’s what thieves do; they take what is not theirs.
What would Jesus do with sexual abuse hidden in the ‘temple’? He would react. I know for certain He would not turn a blind eye, or shrug it off. The Gospels are full of Jesus’ response to sin, and the response of sinners to Jesus. When Zacchaeus encountered the Christ, he gave back 10-fold what he had taken. The impact Jesus had on him was not a, “thank God for grace so I can move on from my little mistake”… No, when Zac met Jesus, he was confronted by the wickedness of his own heart, and this stirred repentance in him. Repentance that included paying the consequences for his crime and acknowledging he had done great damage.
I am also confident that Jesus would not say the offender (or their family) is being persecuted for their faith, if such sin came to light and the world around was angry and called them hypocrites. My confidence comes from the Word of God, which clearly states that if our suffering is the result of wrongdoing (sin, criminal activity, gossip) then we are not to rejoice in it, and it is not being ‘reproached for the name of Christ’. Jesus would most definitely stand by the Word. Yes, he would extend forgiveness to the repentant, which I also promote… with boundaries to protect victims, and following the laws of the land. (Romans 13:1-5) I certainly can’t imagine He would run around saying, “This man/woman suffered dreadfully for my name’s sake”, when there is sin or criminal activity linked to the attacks. Fallout in the world around, as a result of those things is called consequences, and shames the name of Christ–even when/if it has been dealt with through repentance.
When I hear the cry ‘persecution’ associated with some of the recent ‘Christian sex scandals’, whether Gothard, Provencher, Duggars, or any other ‘Christian’ suffering ‘persecution’ after committing a crime, it makes me feel physically ill. It isn’t persecution. Does the world react differently to Christians being exposed in sex scandals or crimes? Yes. And they should. They have expectations of us, behaviours they hope for, and when our sins look just like their sins, they are bewildered, angry and call it hypocrisy. Sometimes it is hypocrisy, and sometimes it isn’t. But to the world it all looks the same.
Persecution, in terms of Christianity, is when someone suffers for the sake, cause or name of Christ. If I am bullied for dressing in a particular cultural fashion, it is not ‘suffering for the sake of Christ’. Christ didn’t ask me to dress a certain way. My church may have, or my parents, and it is perfectly fine for me to dress that ‘certain way’ associated with culture or personal preference, but that attire has nothing to do with the name of Christ, because my attire doesn’t represent Christ. My life, however, does represent Him or misrepresent Him, as the case may be. But, if I declare boldly the love and name and teachings of Christ, and I suffer for His name’s sake, that is Christian persecution.
So, as a Christian, if I commit(ted) a crime and it comes to light and collides with what I teach, and I am attacked, bashed or shamed because the crime came to light, it is not persecution. It is a consequence of sin. It is one of the reasons I chose early on to disclose my own past–the things I did and those done to me–so that the name of Christ would never be shamed because some hidden thing in my own life comes to light, and my past would not be used against me. And as part of my healing I shared every sin ever committed against me, and every sin I could remember ever committing, and have written about many of them. I desperately wanted to be free, and my greatest fear back then was that people would discover who I once was and use it to destroy me, or it would give Satan a foothold. (And now it’s out there in book form. Who would have thought it?!) But I will say this, if ever I get attacked by the world for what I disclose in my memoir, it will not be persecution. If I get attacked for presenting Christ and my faith in Him, that will be persecution.
That said, there is forgiveness for every sin and Jesus is more than enough, for my sins, for your sins and even the sins of celebrities. All sins are equal in needing grace, but all are not equal in consequence to us or others. We say sin doesn’t have ‘grades’, and then hold up homosexuality as ‘a sin unto death’ while brushing molestation under the proverbial rug. It would seem that Jesus might disagree with our grading system. There is only one sin for which He declares it would be better for the offender to be dead than to face the consequences, and it is the very one I see hidden most often in churches; sinning against a child or causing a child to sin. (And I deal with the fallout of ‘causing a child to sin’, and think often of this verse.) May God have mercy on our warped grading system, and open our blinded eyes to the impact of silence.
Children who survived abuse have long been overlooked, their pain gone unacknowledged. Let alone the devastating aftermath of sexual abuse. Many are later disciplined by their churches for struggles that are the direct result of being sinned against. All of this must change if the church–the Body of Christ–is ever to have a voice of hope or authority in the world. In Amos 5 God says He will turn away from every form of worship, if we don’t first love justice and righteousness. And there is no justice in turning a blind eye to victimization, while trying quickly to cover up the crimes through ‘forgiveness’. And there is no righteousness in that pretense. We, the church, have so much more to offer…
Victims need compassion–not pity; understanding, not ‘blaming’; and time and space to heal, not a mad dash to forgiveness and silence…. for the sake of image or any other wicked motivation. They need affirmation; to know they are not insane, even when they feel it. They need encouragement; to know they can make it. They need a listening ear, without judgement.
Victims need a church that does not overlook their trauma, but invites the Jesus who whispers to children in the night; “I am here. You will never be alone”.
I will share this interview with Boz Tchividjian, on the last of the ‘Forgotten Children’ posts, because it is worth watching. Boz is a man of great wisdom on the topic of sexual abuse. He is a Christian and a former prosecuting lawyer in child abuse cases, who speaks with insight, compassion and offers balance. If ever you find yourself wondering if something is ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘normal curiosity’, have a listen.
Coming up… A few thoughts on the Duggar daughter’s interview.
Psalms 85:10-11 10 Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. 11 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The past few days taught me some interesting things…
Firstly, I learned that it is wise to speak with gentleness, always. You never know when words will travel further than you imagined. Secondly, sometimes people–Christian and non-Christian–demand we either blindly support, or blatantly attack/reject people in situations like the Duggar family. (I blatantly reject/condemn molestation/crime, and I believe abusers should pay the consequences; from church and law.)
Thirdly, there are angry people–and God only knows what each one is angry about; no doubt they have painful stories–who will attack, very personally, anyone they see as out of line. They see what looks, to them, like a punching bag, and they swing. (Here I refer to both sides) The thing about anger, though, is that it is always a cover for a deeper emotion. (Helplessness, hopelessness, pain, rejection, betrayal, grief or any one of a host of other things.) To them I say, if swinging at me makes you feel better, have at it. Hopefully, with time the anger layer will strip away enough for you to begin to feel the deeper emotion and heal. My commitment is to try never to stoop to attacking you as a person, or your faith, identity or other tender struggles.
Fourthly, I learned (again) that I must be true to my heart before God. No matter what. I wrote my first blog from my heart, and made some statements based on faulty information, and the side of those who have their stones safely tucked in their pockets applauded and praised me. I was unwittingly dancing to their drums. The other side was a bit less happy with me. Most were not rude, but certainly they were riled up. And one was downright obnoxious. I’ve seen it enough, that it didn’t get under my skin; there’s usually some deep pain and personal bitterness, needing love and compassion. I heard the accusations and attacks, and tried to weed out the legitimate from the poison, and remain true to my heart before God, and acknowledge that I had some details wrong.
I posted the second blog to correct the glaring misinformation that influenced my statement about them ‘having done all they could do’. It seemed to me that making this correction was the right and Christian thing to do, because I was wrong; plain and simple. I want the public to trust that my first commitment is to the truth, as much as one can find truth in anything the media has touched. That means I need to be honest enough to say, “I was wrong.” As Christians, surely we can be humble enough to do that, can’t we? Isn’t that the only way to present Christ well? That, however, riled up some on the side of defending Duggars. Suddenly I was accused of losing all ‘grace’.
My question is, can we not walk in grace–with consequences–and acknowledge that things were not exactly as they appeared? I hope so. Where do truth and mercy meet, if not in our humanity? Where does righteousness kiss peace, if not in our lives? And when does truth ‘springing up from the earth’ ever meet with anything other than righteousness, when all truth is of God? I am convinced, beyond even a hint of doubt, that offering grace (not apart from consequences) in the reality of it all, brings healing and hope… When truth and mercy meet.
Having positioned myself between the two sides–feeling no need to destroy or defend, yet supporting consequences–I found a small group of people who acknowledge the crime, support consequences, yet walk in grace. These people feel no need to defend the ‘dark side’ of the situation. They feel no need to downplay the crime. And they felt no need to attack anyone. Having acknowledged that Josh committed a crime, they support consequences with grace, and pray for healing. Most intriguing is the fact that many of these individuals were sexual abuse victims who chose a path of ‘forgiveness with boundaries’, and consequences. Some, in fact, completely removed the abuser from their lives and are labeled ‘unforgiving’ by family or church. Even with deep personal wounds, they value grace. When it is obvious to me that they do not overlook crimes, and yet want to find a path of grace and forgiveness, their words have credibility. These people have a voice… a quiet one… but a voice that carries authority.
We scream, ’empower the victims’… ‘give back their voices’… and yet, when some speak out, they are attacked for not saying the ‘right things’. All victims will not agree. Some will want Josh Duggar hanged. Go ahead and say it. Some of us will cry out for something different; let us speak it too. Of all direct messages, comments and emails I received, where victims identified themselves as victims, the vast majority expressed thanks for acknowledging the crime, and yet extending grace. For some of us that is healing. Let us heal with grace and forgiveness for our offenders. If you need to arrange a pretend execution for your release, feel free to do so. Both sides have the privilege of being true to ourselves. And in the case at hand, the victims deserve that right too, to have their voices.
I pray we learn from this–individuals/churches/government–and live with purpose the life we’ve been given, protecting victims and promoting positive change going forward.
COMING UP: “Mandatory Reporting Laws” & Confidentiality of Juvenile records in various states and provinces.. You may be surprised what they are… I was!
Ultimately, world changers take every situation, and advocate for change where it is needed. For some it may mean encouraging states and provinces to take a good look at the laws, or the lack thereof. There are gaping holes to be filled.
Weighing in on the Duggar story is something I was not going to do. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is my decision in past public hype, to stay out of it. I tire quickly of it. And the whole thing, in most cases, is media driven poison that is detrimental to healing and hope. Therefore it doesn’t interest me, because healing and hope are my mission.
I work with abuse victims and I am an abuse victim, well, an overcomer now, but I was victimized many times. And I, like many of my clients, was violated by family members. I also have very close friends who were sexually molested by family members. And we do not all agree with bold statements being made on our behalf, about how victims feel with Josh Duggar. That’s actually the thing that tipped me ‘over the edge’ into writing about it, a bold statement on behalf of victims. And I, as a victim, do not support much of what I read and I’m hoping I can offer some hope and healing. Besides, I needed to sleep tonight, and writing is how I usually ‘clear my chest’.
Having been victimized and now working with victims, I occasionally end up in front of offenders when I support a victim who is confronting their abuser or alleged abuser, and I serve as mediator. Other times I work with the offenders who seek help for the crimes committed. (If victims are under 16, I report. If not, the voice has to be theirs, and they decide if they wish to report or not.) Sometimes my gizzard gets all in a tangle about the offender–whether a family member of the victim or not–even the ‘very young’ one, because there is an arrogant and unrepentant heart, usually exposed by denial and excuses. And sometimes they are ‘repentant’ when confronted, and then spend the rest of their lives finding ways to bully and blame the victim. These are dangerous offenders. There is nothing of their behaviour that makes me believe they wouldn’t offend again, and I’m all for dealing accordingly.
There are times, however, when the offender is repentant and humble, and their behaviours support repentance. They are broken, and make no excuses, wanting only for their victims to find help. I’ve worked with both, and the latter evoke something very different in my heart and spirit than the former.
In both cases there are consequences for both the victim and the offender. In both cases there are wounds and scars, guilt and shame, and always, always brokenness. Molestation is always damaging. That is the harsh reality of it, no matter the situation, the repentance, the brokenness. I do not downplay that.
However, that does not always mean that a family should be ripped apart and the victim and offender be kept apart for life. I do not believe in pushing the ‘forgive, forget and move on’ agenda to provide a quick cover up and push the consequence on the victim that way and make it the victim’s problem to ‘let it go’. That is wicked beyond wicked, and often does even more damage than the initial abuse, from what victims tell me. But I do believe in ‘forgiveness with boundaries’. I do believe that the offender should not be alone with the victim or other vulnerable (younger) children. It is on the part of wisdom to protect the children, and ensure there are no questionable or risky situations. That’s not genius; it’s the most basic of common sense. Unfortunately still missed by many.
Where the Duggar case goes south for me in a hurry, is the vehement judgement from people everywhere, considering that Josh has made no excuses for his sins and crimes. I was molested by a fifteen year old, and I have no desire to see him dragged through the legal system for what he did to me than I have to see Josh dragged through. My offender apologized and owned it. Unfortunately he did much worse to others over the same time, and refuses to this day to take ownership for those crimes, therefore I do not trust him at all. If those victims decided to take him to court, I’d be there to support them. I never trust an offender who does not own the wickedness of his/her crimes against another, and finds ways to put the crimes on the victim. That is deserving of punishment and legal justice.
I am not a ‘Duggar fan’. I’ve not watched them, even once, or followed their story. I do not care if their show ever airs again or not, on a personal level. It’s simply never interested me. But I do care about truth and justice, and justice and mercy, and I do have a problem with the media attacking Josh and the Duggars and the general public chiming in with no apparent compassion. And the reason for my feelings are multifaceted: 1. Josh was a minor. 2. Jesus changes lives. 3. Victims should have some input, or they simply become victimized again, and their voices are taken away… again. (And it makes me cross, to be honest, to see some of what is being said about ‘victims’ out there and how molestation destroys us for life. Also not true. I am not destroyed; I am empowered. So, if you’re not one, don’t decide for us. If you are one, decide for yourself.)
What Josh did was very wrong. He ‘owned’ that. He has made no excuses, that I’ve seen or heard. He has not blamed his victims. And he was a minor. Fourteen, my friends. Fourteen… That is incredibly young! In my home right now I have a thirteen year old, and he is very young. He has the advantage of talking openly with me and daddy about sex, but even so, he is very young.
Even where I was victimized, there is no way anyone will convince me that the fifteen year old who violated me fully understood, or understood at all, the consequences of his actions. I’m sure he knew what he did was wrong, but understanding what it was he did to me… not possible. So I forgive him, with boundaries.
When I see Christians throwing their rocks at Josh, it troubles me. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus died for all my sins. I believe that He transforms lives, and that people change. Even those who molested. If Jesus cannot do that, then He is neither God, nor the Messiah. Then Christianity is a farce. Either He can save and restore all, or He can save and restore none. There is no middle ground.
The popular belief of ‘once a molester, always molester’ is a tragic life sentence to put on anyone, and a slap in the face of God/Jesus. And I do not support it. I never have, and I never will. Admittedly I feel most hope for those who come forward on their own with their sins, repent, and ask for help. I also feel hope for those who are caught at a young age and are forced to get help. They have the advantage of not establishing life patterns. And the manipulative, lying ones… they’re not repentant or looking for change; I am not speaking of them.
But the notion that they are all molesters for life is not truth. I doubt we can begin to grasp the impact that kind of teaching has on people. So I will look every young offender in the eye, if they are repentant, and tell them I believe in them. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to believe they can overcome and are not sentenced to a life of crime. I want them to set a higher standard for themselves. And I want them to look to God, through Jesus, for that strength. I want them to understand consequences and comply with the laws of the land, because it is scriptural, but I want them to know they can be free, that they never have to do it again. So, yes, I am willing to swim upstream and speak against the tide of judgement, condemnation and hopelessness. Because I believe in God, and what He can do.
If I understand right, Duggars removed Josh from the home for a while. No doubt they were reeling in shock, uncertain what to do. They should have reported right away, true. And, yes, it took them a year, but Mr. Duggar turned his own son in for his crimes. That is unheard of. I work with sexual abuse almost daily. Even on weekends I get messages and emails. Never, in my five years of working closely with sexual abuse–or my twenty-five years of speaking openly about it and listening to stories–have I heard of a father turning in his own son. And as a young teen. Not until now. (Note and addition: In this paragraph, in particular I had some inaccurate information. I have addressed these things in a follow up Blog: “The Duggars; a Few Things… And a Secret of My Own” I have posted the link again, below.)
And if I think back fifteen years to when this happened, the topic was not open like it is today, which makes that reality doubly shocking. In many ways they acted ahead of their time, and from what I can find and read, seem to have done all that they knew to do, and more than most would have done. For that reason, along with what seems a humble and repentant heart in Josh, not to mention my faith in Jesus Christ, I cannot and will not join the crucifixion march. I am appalled at what I see and hear from Christians on this matter and I cannot help but wonder what we have done with Jesus, and what He would do with this situation. He looks very differently on the repentant heart that is open about sins than the hidden thing. (And if you’re going to cry ‘but they hid it’, let me remind you that they went to the police, and he was a minor protected by law from public exposure, if I understand correctly.)
I write this as someone who struggled through the confusion and aftermath of having a teenage boy rub himself all up against me, groping me, grabbing me and doing things to my body I never wanted done. Please don’t decide for those of us who were victimized, how we should heal and that all those who offended us at a young age should be marked for life. Some of us want them to get help and go on and live whole lives, if they are repentant. And please don’t tell me my Jesus isn’t big enough. I won’t buy into that lie. And I hope Josh doesn’t either.
And, for the sake of those who hold the hammer and nails for his crucifixion march, let me repeat, I do not believe in cheap forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness with healthy boundaries and protection, and for the victims to be empowered to heal. And I believe victims should not be forced to have a close relationship with their offenders, even if they are family members, and if the scars are so deep that psychological trauma results from being near the offenders, they should have the liberty to keep a safe distance. But all of us do not want that.
I will end with this; I am healed and whole. And as a healed and whole adult, I have a very healthy and mutually respectful relationship with several of the individuals who touched me inappropriately as young teens. I have forgiven all other offenders as well, but I do not feel safe around them, because they did not take ownership of their crimes, and I have no desire for a relationship. With my father I kept safe boundaries for myself and our children, even after he asked me to forgive him. It was my responsibility to do that, and take care of my family; those are consequences. He was my father, and should have protected me. As a father, and as an adult, he violated that trust. Still, I sat by his hospital bed in the last two years of his life, held his hands, and cried with him and told him I loved him. It was healing for both of us, and set me more free than I’ve ever been, and it gave back my voice (or ‘power’, as some say it).
So please don’t sentence teenagers to a life of crime with thoughtless judgement. If ever he offends as an adult, I’ll offer no defense. I’ll still not let you borrow my hammer and nails, but I will understand the outcry. Until then, I will thank God for His grace in my life, and do my best to extend it to others.
And please don’t rob us, as victims, of that deepest healing, where we reclaim our voice by offering forgiveness in a way that gives life to our spirits. I know most, if not all of my clients would echo this. I’ve not had many (if any) who did not want to extend forgiveness with boundaries they were comfortable with. And I’ve not had any clients who, when I finished working with them, were not healed, whole and confident adults who reclaimed their voices, yet offered forgiveness. That freedom is what Jesus came to offer, so I will boldly declare it, even if it means swimming up stream… alone… through a crowd.
Ps. For those who read how a teen rubbed himself against me and groped me, and presume I have no concept of ‘real’ victimization, I refer to that isolated case here b/c of the age comparison. Two things: that *is* real victimization, and I went through a lot more ‘hell’ than all that. In my book Between 2 Gods; a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community I tell of repeated molestation and later being raped in my teens. I understand abuse. And my first ‘passion’ is *always* compassion and care for victims. There is never excuse for molestation.
July 9 – 12 Pennsylvania:
I plan to be in Lancaster Pennsylvania, July 9 – 12. To receive updates on where I will be speaking, join our email list by sending your name and email address via my “Contact Trudy” page. I would love to meet you if you’re in the area!