Tuesday, November 15, 2016

No More Shame

Ten years ago, we started a support group ministry that serves women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Over time we expanded the ministry to serve those who have experienced other kinds of abuses, those struggling with dysfunctional and painful relationships, those trapped in the painful cycles of eating disordered thoughts and behaviors, and those struggling to manage their emotions. The women have ranged from age eighteen to 73. The women have come from all walks of life and from a variety of churches. Some are referred to us from counselors' offices and ministries that serve addicts and those rescued from sex trafficking. We've had women from different ethnic backgrounds and economic statuses. We have had some who are single, some who are married, and some who are divorced, and some who are moms and others who are longing to be. We've served those who could barely read and those with advanced degrees who work in various professions including teaching, nursing, counseling, journalists, and lawyers.

Though the women come from different backgrounds and experienced different kinds of abuse, they have a core of shame in common. A core that bubbles to the surface when they walk into our doors. For some their shame will manifest itself in downcast eyes, slumped shoulders, depression, and soft voices. For some shame will express through denial, passivity, and words that are dismissed with a shrug. For some shame will show as defiance, seeking offences anywhere and everywhere, and anger loudly projected on those closest to them. For some shame looks like strong, loud, angry voices that express contempt towards specific genders or people groups and for some it is contempt for self. For some shame looks like humor that attempts to silence serious discussions that could reveal their hearts or surface serious unspoken questions, sad memories, and painful feelings. For some shame looks like ambivalence with a draw to tell their story one day and a strong desire to run the next. For some shame looks like a body starved to the bone, for others a body cloaked in a protective abundance of curve-hiding fat. For some shame looks like baggy clothes and no makeup and for others it;s perfectly coiffed hair, perfectly manicured nails, face perfectly made up, and high-end, stylish clothing.

As they get comfortable and begin to share stories. they begin to talk the language of shame. It may come out in statements that assume blame for others's actions. Statements like: "It was my fault I was abused." "It was my fault that my Dad left when I was a baby." "It was my fault mom didn't help me." "It was my fault my mom suffered with depression." "It was my fault that my husband hit me." "It was my fault those hate-filled words were hurled at me." "It was my fault, I was raped." "It was my fault, my abuser went to jail." "If only I had been better, it might not have happened." "If only I had worn different clothes." "If only I hadn't gone to the store in the dark." "If only I hadn't burned his dinner." "It. Was. My. Fault." "If only I'd..."

Shame is also revealed in the words with which women describe themselves. Words many heard over and over as children, and some even into adulthood. Words they came to believe as a result of horrific trauma experienced at the hands of predators at the tender age their core beliefs about God, life, others, and themselves were being formed. Words they rarely speak aloud, yet, words they have assumed as their identity. Words that drive their actions, reactions, speech, their relationships, and their lack thereof. Words the Enemy continues to whisper until the day they walk into our groups. Words painful to hear, words painful to read, words painful to say aloud, and words painful to feel. Words that truly do not describe the beautiful women sitting across from our leaders--words like: unclean, dirty, defective, trashed, stupid, dumb, weak, slutty, unworthy, unlovable, unloved, cowardly, idiotic, confused, wrong, disgusting, failure, bad, nasty, horrible, ugly, overly dramatic, liar, victim, disappointment, weird, wrong, whore, freak, unneeded, unwanted, waste of space, undeserving, messed up, fat, mental, crazy, alone, humiliation, pathetic, repulsive, smelly, despicable, grotesque, bothersome, naughty, too broken, too needy, and not good enough. Words that they believe more strongly than they believe God's truth.

Even though the ladies come to our groups are believers, they struggle to trust Christ. It is not until they examine His trauma as the Sacrificial Lamb that they begin to trust Him more fully with their stories. As they begin to trust Him, they begin to examine what they believe about themselves in light of what God says in His Word. They come to understand they are fearfully and wonderfully made and the sin perpetrated is about the heart of the perpetrators, not them. They begin to grasp that in Christ they have been made clean, whole, and deserving. In Christ, they are made honorable, respectable, and reputable. In Christ they have gained the ability to be successful, relying on Him to guide them. They begin to understand that, to Christ, they are beloved, cherished, and adopted daughters. In Christ, they are empowered, victorious, courageous, and strong. They grasp that they have been reconciled, restored, and redeemed, and their healing begins as they rebuke lies and begin to live out of God's truth. They even begin to believe that because of Christ they are beautiful, virtuous, significant, and always desired. In Christ they are sane because the Holy Spirit has given them the mind of Christ and can silence the voice when they take their thoughts captive. As they take the truth of their stories and lay them at the feet of the traumatized Savior, they end group knowing they were heard, they were seen, and they were believed.

God has always loved and chosen broken women women--women whose stories were told in His Word--Stories like Sarah's, the two Tamar's, Rahab's, Abigail's, Ruth's, Bathsheba's, Esther's, the woman caught in adultery, and the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman who touched the hem of His garment, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene, All women who felt like outsiders, who were mistreated, rejected, and who suffered loss. Women who didn't handle life well, sinning to try to get their needs met. Women who felt invisible, unheard, and unappreciated. Women who believed the same stinking lies we did! Women who, like us, were adopted into His family, given access to His heart through His Word, who have received a new heritage with the saints that have gone before us.

I encourage you to take a listen to Natalie Grant's song Clean on iTunes: http://smarturl.it/BeOne or on her Facebook page. It was written after a friend of hers had shared the story of her abuse. The words are so appropriate for each one of us:

"Washed in the blood of your sacrifice
 Your blood flowed red and 
 Made me white
 My dirty rags are purified 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!