Buried in Shame: Not Mine to Sing “Jesus Loves Me”

With permission of the author, I am posting a piece of homework shared with me during our counseling together.

People say that “intent” matters. Perhaps.

In my experience, “effect” matters more.

See, we are unable to fully judge our own motives and intent. Oh, we can mature in our understanding, but the effect of that is usually seeing how tainted by narcissistic self-interest even the most basic of our motives can be.

I sit here daunted by the task of writing this letter.

How does one carefully and genuinely unhook the barbs of shame embedded in one’s soul without damaging the underlying tissue, the heart?

I’m wounded.

It’s as if over the past year someone has swung a blacklight over my brain and the studs of shame stand out stark and glowing.  Signposts advertising that sin and abuse have lived there, grown and become comfortable. Developing deep root systems; small rumbles here and there belying their depth.

Time after time I’ve patted out the ripples, smoothed over the glinting barbs. Both consciously and not I’ve smothered them down in the dark out of habit, out of self-deception, self-preservation. Time and nature habitually worked their magic in the grooves of my grey matter. Thought pathways, synapses firing so second nature so deceptively normal, you would have thought I was born this broken way. Imprinted on my identity. Worthless.

The thing about shoving down pain and burying barbs is that they don’t dissolve and disappear. They fester. They build pressure and like a dormant volcano they bide their time to erupt through the fissures.

Swinging wildly between extremes, I found myself displaying daily, illogical anger to no purpose. A vague discontentment and unease colored even my happiest days. My patterns of thought and response continually turned darker. Whispers of worthlessness, stupidity, pointlessness.  Emptiness.

I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. I sobbed. I pleaded. I self-medicated. I ignored. Most of all I practically thought myself to death. Shame shapeshifted from guilt to helplessness to hopelessness and then to apathy and deadness.

I’m writing this letter to disavow the shame I’ve taken in and owned as my own. This toxic shame is not mine to carry and so I begin to give it back to you. I’m shoving it all in a box and dropping it at your front door. At your failure to sign for this package I’m nailing it to that old rugged cross.

My earliest memories are tainted with inadequacy. I always failed to move you. Like waves breaking themselves over the seaside cliffs, I’ve broken myself against the walls around you. I’ve shattered myself trying to please you, interest you, captivate you.

You set yourself up as supreme ruler. You exercised such power over my day to day life and yet cared so little for my nurturing. It takes more than caring for a child’s physical needs to really love them. To see them and respect them as an individual.

I give you back the shame that seeped into me for being a girl, a child, a convert, a sexual being. I give you back the hours spent in lectures, tears ending in worry and insecurity. The nights spent crying myself to sleep- I give them to you. I give you back the inappropriate conversations, the weird sexual obsessions with pristine purity, the pressure to believe absolutely without doubts. I give you back the crushing weight to obey in mind, body and soul, to submit myself to ignore my instincts. I give back to you the shame of continually feeling like I couldn’t and wouldn’t add up. The sickness. The aches and pains of continually trying to fit a skin I wasn’t made for. I give you back the sideways glances, the harsh words and rebukes and outright glares. I give you back the haphazard criticisms and the resulting awkwardness.

You take back the shame of your overactive, sexual drive and obsessions you grew around your own barbs of shame and they have twisted your soul. You take back your unhealthy views of women and men, and smothering views of authority. You take back the shame and embarrassment that colored years of my life. Most of all you take back the shame you brought on me and yourself for invoking God’s name and sullying His words and intent. That millstone is tightening.

I will not carry this shame anymore. I cannot. It isn’t in my true nature and it is not who I am.

You see, I have a great Physician God. Yes, His words are sharp, yet they are life giving. They have done surgery on my brain and heart. His words are like a double-edged sword, able to separate soul from spirit. They do wound; but only to ultimately heal. They disinfect. They bring the dead to life. His words have rescued me from the pit.

Never in my life have I felt this way. My numbness is slowing receding and a tingling has started in my extremities. Until now I’ve never had the confidence to bask in my Father’s love; in the past, I’ve always looked for the catch, the trick, the reminder of my inferiority. I’m learning to bask and to feel at peace. Sometimes it feels like I’m learning an entirely new language. Exhilarating.

Let me tell you, coming back to life has not been easy; it doesn’t happen overnight. The work is long and slow. It takes time to rewire a brain and the embedded heart responses. It takes time to recognize and uncover shame in all its shapeshifting forms. I do have a soul helper and He is doing most of the heavy lifting. Mostly, my job is to rest in Him.

I’ve been created to be loved by God. I am worthy of His love despite my inadequacies; in spite of my sin and humanness. I know this because He has told me. He has created me anew in Christ Jesus and I am His masterpiece. He has good things planned for me and He has planted hope in my soul. Hope is tenacious. It clings and stretches and grows deep. It is almost frightening how I’ve wholly lashed myself to this Hope. It is the only path left to me. Now that I know my rightful place in this world, and I truly know it, down in my bones- I can now walk away from the lies. I can sing and praise without feeling like a fraud or like I don’t belong. Of course I belong: I’m a daughter of the King!

I can now sing with utter confidence the song forbidden as a child:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Hopefully, this served to gently confront you with the truth in a way that will draw you closer and help reconcile you to Him – either as the harm-er or the harmed.

Soli Deo Gloria

Not Your Usual Father’s Day Cheer

Overheard:

“Happy Father’s Day, I guess.”

There are many a meme on Facebook, many sermons from pulpits, innumerable blogs on the internet, and gazillions of cards stuffed into envelopes that will be sharing wonderfully affirming and loving words about fathers today.

And that is a wonderful thing…for many. Congratulations to all those with terrific dads – truy delighted for you, I am

But there are others among us who despise and detest Father’s Day. There are those among us whose memories of dear ol’ dad are a less than wonderful.

You see, for them, the word “dad” means “terrorist.” The memories of dad still cause deep feelings of shame, self-contempt, and of being “less than.”

Memories of words used as hatchets on a soul. Memories of hands (and feet) that were harsh and cruel instead of gentle and strong.

Memories of a mother or a sister treated more like an object most foul than a person to be cherished and loved.

There are memories so painful that the mental video causes the heart to cringe still today.

No apologies, no heart contrite over the evil inflicted, no repentance for the death of the relationship, no authentic remorse over abandoning the role of father as God intended it to be from the beginning.

Thank God, that isn’t the end of the story!

Praise God that He is a better father than even the best human father could possibly be!

Rejoice to the heavens that the Heavenly Father is personally invested in His beloved children, even when they are at their worst!

And place your deepest trust in the love of the One who intentionally and purposefully made you to fill a specific place in His plans and His Kingdom!

In God’s divine and infinite “beingness”, there is nothing unintentional, nothing insignificant, nothing unplanned for, and nothing unknown.

When I look back at the gross mistreatment my family and I suffered, I stand with Joseph in Egypt and proclaim, “You meant fully to do me evil; BUT GOD intended it for good!”

God has brought me out of that darkness, and He has poured deep healing and comfort into my life. As a result, He has used me almost daily to pour that same comfort and healing into the lives of multiple hundreds who have suffered as we did.

God did not cause what I suffered anymore than He caused you to lie the last time you did, or wronged the last person you wronged.

Instead, God knew what He had made me of, and He knew what He was going to need me for, and He knew that I had what it takes to get to the other side of the darkness and into the light.

And it is standing and reflecting the Light of the World that gives my life meaning.

So, for those who have cherished memories and learned important lessons and shared precious times with the fathers, I am delighted for you.

For those of us whose experience was otherwise, there is a Father in Heaven whose delight in each of us is as if we were each His favorite.

And that’s the kind of Father love that only God Himself is capable of.

Soli Deo Gloria

Blessed Father’s Day

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

(Reblogged from The Gospel Coalition Blog)

by Jared C. Wilson

 

(NOTE: This is the kind of thing I have been praying for – no, BEGGING for – to see happen in the church for a VERY long time. His word-picture about the 3 doors parallels what I have often said: “When it comes to abuse, there is no ‘Switzerland’ – you either side with the abuser or the abused; there is no third choice.”)

Jason Meyer, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, gave a powerful and important sermon this past Sunday.

In it, he defined things like “hyper-headship”:

Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.

Meyer also addressed the issue of domestic abuse, highlighting three lessons in particular they had learned:

  1. Not all abuse cases are the same, even though they may share certain things in common. If you have seen one abuse case, you have seen one abuse case.
  2. We need to distinguish between two types of marital sinfulness: normative sinfulness and abusive sinfulness.
  3. There are spectrums and varieties of domestic abuse. A good working definition of domestic abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends” (John Henderson).

Calling it a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment” for the church, Meyer read a statement from the elders about domestic abuse:

We, the council of elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church, are resolved to root out all forms of domestic abuse (mental, emotional, physical, and sexual) in our midst. This destructive way of relating to a spouse is a satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride. The shepherds of Bethlehem stand at the ready to protect the abused, call abusers to repentance, discipline the unrepentant, and hold up high the stunning picture of how much Christ loves his church.

The statement goes on to give information about whom to contact when abuse is occurring.

Meyer addressed abusers:

If you are an abuser, I call you right now to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The only hope is on the other side of repentance—getting out of denial so you can own your sin. That is the only hope because if you confess it as sin, there is a sacrifice for sin. There is no sacrifice for denial.

He addressed victims:

If you are being abused, the bulletin gives information on next steps. Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.

And he addressed children:

If you are a child and have seen one of your parents abuse the other, it is not right, and it is not your fault. You are not to blame. We want to get you help as well. You may think telling someone will tear your family apart, but it may be the only thing that can bring your family back together. If you are a child and you are being abused, let us help. Don’t walk this road alone. Tell someone. Please tell the children’s pastor or your youth pastor or a Sunday school worker.

He then closed with an address to men in particular:

Men of Bethlehem, let me address you. I will lay it on the line. At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take.

  • Door 1: side with the abusersm
  • Door 2: take no side, or
  • Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers.

If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide that just takes you to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

I would strongly encourage you to read the entire sermon, which contains careful definitions of the various kinds of abuse and various principles about abuse. You can listen to the audio here.

For some resources on abuse, see Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s resources:

See also:

To My Mom – on Mothers’ Day

Thank you for providing love, hope, and strengthiStock_000004460545XLarge

When there seemed no reason we should have them.

Thank you for bringing a sense of peace

To the turmoil that we lived in.

Thank you for finding ways

To turn morsels in to meals.

Thank you for singing me to sleep

When I was scared and sad.

Thank you for rescuing me

Even though it didn’t work.

Thank you for tenderly loving me

Through all of the twists my life has turned.

And thank you for being my mom

Not “just anyone” could do it.

Happy Mothers’ Day – May 11, 2014

Absence of Honor

Overheard:

“Even when I really, really wasn’t happy with my mother, I could never imagine ever speaking to her that way.”

When did it become not just “okay” but normal and acceptable for children to dishonor their parents?

I’m not talking about a simple LACK of honor . . . I am talking about the active DISHONORING of their parents by children – especially grown children – that has become so commonplace it is now normal.

I have been witnessing this phenomenon of the rampant disregard for and dishonoring of parents in our society for several years now and it was brought home this week while my wife and I were vacationing.

The above “Overheard” statement was made by the lady whose home we stayed in for most of our trip. She is a gentle, soft-spoken woman who has two grown children.

She lost her husband a couple of years ago and has been managing and growing the family business since that time. She has also been nurturing her daughter through her divorce from a man who was abusive.

As I was sitting at the breakfast bar listening to mothers talk about how their daughters have been relating to them in recent days, I could see how big a deal was to them. And how heartbreaking.

Both of them are very confused. And heartbroken. And they are not the only ones these days.

Many parents of grown children have the same heartbroken disbelief over how the children the love can be so quickly and easily dishonoring.

They simply cannot understand what it was they had done that could have caused their daughters to speak to them harshly, to be short and curt to them, to disregard their feelings as if they are a nuisance, and to rise up in angry belligerence when they disagree with them.

These two ladies were talking about how they – two women I respect and admire – were feeling as a result of how they were left feeling by recent interactions with their daughters – young women I also respect and admire.

And it got me thinking about how far we have come from God’s original, exquisite design.

The Bible admonishes children to do two things: first, when they are young, to obey their parents; second, when they are older, to honor their parents.

Both of these are given as commands, not suggestions, and in both instances it is to the children’s advantage that they do so.

It’s pretty easy to figure out what it means for child obey their parents. But, what does it mean for child to honor their parents?

Do you know what honor is, what the word means?

The Hebrew word underlying “honor” in the 5th Commandment proposes a heaviness, a weightiness, a relentlessness, and a richness, all in a long-lasting, continuing sense.

It implies a lifelong responsibility, thus it is used in the sense of honoring, glorifying, imposing, or being weighty.

In English, honor means “to give high regard, respect, and esteem to; give special recognition to; to bring or give respect or credit to; an outward token, sign or act that manifests high regard for.”

Two English words – respect and reverence — help bring into focus the implications of this commandment.

Respect means “to have deferential regard for; to treat with propriety and consideration; to regard as inviolable.” Reverence means “to show deferential respect.”

Honor has a far wider application than obey. Honor is expressed in courtesy, kindness, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, mercy, and generous, affectionate deeds.

Just as surely as God requires parents to care for, love, nourish, defend, support, and tenderly provide for their children their first moments of infancy, so children in their strength should reflect this back to their parents, even in their perceived “weakness.”

God has not provided a disqualifier for this command, the loopholes, no escape clauses. He does not say, “Children, honor your parents as long as they are worthy of honor.”

When a grown child speaks rudely, harshly, angrily, disrespectfully to their parents – no matter what justification they may believe they have – they are in fact dishonoring their parents.

And it’s not so much about the deeds were the words, but about the heart behind them. In God’s economy, dishonoring one’s parents is dishonoring God.

And, on top of that, it breaks the heart of the parent being treated so – especially a mom.

Mom’s are, for the most part, loving, caring, nurturing, self-sacrificial, lovingly devoted to, easily made proud of, and very often heard bragging about their children.

And even if the child is engaged in embarrassing, shameful behaviors, you won’t hear it from mom.

How is it, then, that a grown child could have such blatant disregard for heart and feelings of the one person in their life who has invested more in them than any 10 others?

And heaven forbid anyone were to come against that child — who do you think would be the first to come to that him and him child’s defense? Would it not be Mom?

To hear a grown child say that they are entitled to respect “too”, while it is true to a certain degree, they are not rise up against their parents and demand it from their parents.

To do so would require them to be dishonoring – and that is absolutely not okay with God.

Bottom line: Children — grown children — honor your parents in the Lord. This is your duty, your sacred obligation, and it is honoring and pleasing to God.

You may just find life turning out richer, better, and longer than even you feel entitled to.

Oh — and if you’ve been dishonoring and disrespectful to your parents — get on the phone and apologize. You never know when you will have waited too long and it will be too late.

Soli Deo Gloria

“How do I respond when a loved one says ‘I’m gay’?” – by Charlene Hios

Overheard:

“I’m gay.”

(This is reblogged from Messenger Insight)

How do I respond when a loved one says ‘I’m gay’?

by  Charlene E. Hios, Executive Director, Bridging The Gaps Ministries

In today’s age of gay rights, in a culture that is affirming of homosexuality, many of us may know someone who self-identifies as gay or lesbian. This person may be a neighbor, a co-worker or friend. The “new normal” has us living in a world in which homosexuality may hit close to home.

Many Christians now must ask, “How do I respond when a loved one says ‘I’m gay’?” How you respond when they disclose that they believe they are gay or lesbian makes a world of difference in your relationship with them going forward. This is especially true if they are your child.

First, remember this is not about you. It is about that person. The desire for your loved one is that they be reconciled to God from this sin. You can, and must, extend God’s love while holding to a position that homosexuality is sin. (It certainly is not the only sexual sin identified in the Bible, but it is indeed one of them.) They can be reconciled with God from this sin and others.

Whether the disclosure comes from a family member or friend, their admission of homosexuality hits you hard, especially as a Christian. Your initial reaction is likely to be one of shock, disbelief, anger, hurt and guilt. You have started the grieving process. No, your loved one has not died; yet, with the news of their homosexual identity, but you have experienced loss.

Immediately, you start thinking of the dreams you had for your child. You may even start thinking about what others will think. You will wonder if you will even be able to face your friends, your family and everyone at church. Then your anger toward your child or your loved one will surface. How can they do this to you? All of these thoughts have gone through your mind in a matter of moments. Your loved one is standing right there before you waiting for you to respond.

Turn away from your anger or you will push them away. Turn your love for them towards them. They need you to show them that you love them. Embrace them! Say to them that you recognize that this was not an easy thing for them to do. Share with them that you know it took a lot of courage and that you are thankful that they told you. You are not endorsing their homosexuality but you are affirming their courage, their love for you and your love for them.

Although it is hard to hear someone say “I’m gay,” recognize that it is better than hiding it in the darkness. Praise God that they have brought their homosexuality into the light. Your loved one may sound euphoric or say they are more joyful than ever. Understand that the reason for this joy is that they have brought this deep dark sinful secret out into the open. They may not see it this way, but it is something you can take comfort in. Let it give you hope.

One of the most important responses is to listen to your loved one. What was their thinking process on this matter? Ask them when did they first “feel” different. Keep away from the word “why.” Continue to listen to their answers. Do not get defensive. You are fact-finding. This is about you learning their experience. This is not about you telling them yours. You want to understand their process of rationalization. Do not say, “Why didn’t you tell us?” Ask, “What kept you from telling us?” There is a lot you will learn by asking these questions and others.

Never bring up the matter of homosexuality, allow them to bring it up, and they will. They may give you books to read that express their thoughts on homosexuality. Read them. This allows more needed discussion.

Do not argue, but always bring the discussion to God’s Word, especially Gen. 2:4-25 that reflects God’s intended design. Step back and let the Holy Spirit move. As your loved one shares their journey, you should not affirm their conclusion; however, you can confirm the journey. Tread lightly and be gentle. Intercede before God for them. Your loved one wants you in their journey; otherwise, they would not have told you about it. Ultimately your desire is for them (and yourself) to be restored into the image of Christ. This involves a true, lifelong transformation from sin to Christ-likeness. Even in this most difficult of circumstances, God is faithful to extend His grace through forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.

NoteCharlene Hios is the founder and director of Bridging The Gaps Ministries in San Francisco, Calif. She is a graduate of Golden Gate Seminary (GGBTS), and is studying for her Doctor of Ministry. A former lesbian who was washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11), Hios travels around the country speaking to churches sharing her testimony and speaking to how churches can minister compassionate truth telling and grace to a world impacted and affected by homosexuality.

Abuse Has No Switzerland

Overheard:

“There is no such thing as a bystander when it comes to abuse.”

The following is another excerpt from the book I am writing about my experiences being a Biblical counselor to abuse survivors:

Abuse Has No Switzerland

As I have mentioned many, many times in the past, “There is no such thing as a bystander when it comes to abuse!” Intentionally or unintentionally, we automatically side with either the victim or the offender. There is no neutral territory, no middle ground.

Abuse does not and cannot happen in a vacuum: it happens in relationships; it happens in families; ; it happens in churches; it happens in communities.

Evil people don’t look evil – they look just like everyone else. So, becoming aware of and sensitive to the warning signs of abuse and abusers is necessary if we are going to answer God’s call to rescue those caught in abuse.

Failing that, by default we provide aid and comfort to those who abuse because, wittingly or unwittingly, we ensure an environment where the abuser feels safe to carry out their evil against their victim(s).

There is a sense of desperation and hopelessness for many survivors that flows from the reality that most people around them do not recognize the signs and symptoms that indicate abuse is happening.

Ironically, despite such a large cross-section of the populace who have experienced or witnessed abuse, there is a veil of ignorance overshadowing the realm of abuse and oppression. It prevents these co-survivors from being aware that it is happening in the lives of others around them.

There are two main reasons for this that I have seen: First there is the self-denial and minimization that survivors engage in when considering their experiences. The abuse/oppression has been miscategorized as something else, or it has been minimized and declassified in their mind as abuse.

The second main reason co-survivors are unaware that abuse is happening in the lives of others is our human tendency to project our standards of behavior on to other people: “I can’t image (or, I would never think of) treating someone that way, so I can’t image someone actually being that evil to someone else.”

The result is that we call authoritarianism “a firm hand”, we call physical beatings “discipline”, we call verbal/emotional abuse “she was just angry and didn’t really mean anything by it”, and we call the isolating of victims “protecting them from the world”.

There are innumerable other ways we fall into this trap of corporate denial, but you get the idea.

The question is, then: How do we stop providing aid and comfort to this enemy?

First, we have to understand that it is never okay with God for one person to misuse or abuse another person!

Second, we have to commit to becoming better educated about the warning signs of potential abusers and the signs of ongoing abuse. Our hope is that this book will be a useful tool to help with that.

I cannot tell you how heartbreaking and traumatizing it is for someone who is experiencing abuse to have what is happening to them be ignored, overlooked, or – worse yet – discounted, minimized, denied.

Jennifer’s story is another example of how this happens in the church. Jennifer is a pastor’s wife. She grew up in an abusive and neglectful home. Her family of origin had stringent rules of behavior that allowed no margin for error. Violation of those rules met with such severe punishment that she still has scars on her back and on the backs of her upper thighs.

The punishment for violating the rules never took place in front of others – it was always reserved for when the family had withdrawn to the confines of the four walls of their home. So deceptive were the parents about the abuse the children were subjected to that they intentionally presented a false front to everyone around them.

In fact, the parents presented a calm and understanding face to the world at large when one of the children spilled something or allowed their voice to get too loud or used the wrong utensil to eat with. But this was only a front.

Jennifer describes one incident in particular when the family was at a church barbeque and picnic. She had been carrying a paper plate loaded with food toward the family table. Two other children who were running and playing collided with her and the plate of food got mashed food-side first into her little white dress.

She was horrified! Jennifer remembered her mother specifically telling her before they left the house not to get that dress dirty!

Terror-stricken and hyper-anxious about the severe beating she knew was coming, Jennifer wet herself. The shame she felt was overwhelming and she ran and hid inside the church – but not before she saw the dark look pass across her mother’s face.

The anxiety this little nine year-old girl experienced at that moment resided in the pit of her stomach clear up until she sat in my office at age 48.

The pastor’s wife found Jennifer cowering in one of the Sunday School rooms, having seen what had happened and having watched Jennifer run into the church. She felt bad for the little girl and her heart went out to her.

Sadly, however, this kindhearted, well-intentioned woman of God was convinced in her own mind that Jennifer’s reaction was due to embarrassment – not terror.

The pastor’s wife sat on the floor next to Jennifer, pulled the curled up, whimpering little girl on to her lap and began to gently rock her, gently trying to console her. She used reassuring words, declaring to Jennifer that everything was going to be all right, that there was nothing to be ashamed about, and nothing to worry about.

Jennifer wanted it to be so –so much so that she started to almost believe this kind and loving lady. When she weakly said, “My Momma’s gonna punish me real good,” the well-intentioned but uninformed woman failed to hear the firm resolve in the little girl’s tone.

Had she been better trained, her ear would have picked up the sureness with which that statement had been made and, perhaps, she would have pursued a line of questioning that would have cracked open the veil of deceit that concealed the long-term violence Jennifer and her siblings had been subjected to.

That was not the case, however, and the pastor’s wife eventually calmed the terrified little girl enough to coax her in to returning to the picnic area and rejoining the festivities. Jennifer’s mother gave no indication at all that she was in the least bit upset about the mess on Jennifer’s dress or that her daughter had shamed herself and her family by losing control of her bladder.

On the contrary: “Momma” was all smiles and laughter as if nothing had gone wrong at all.

Jennifer started to have hope, started to believe that the pastor’s wife had told her the truth and that this time, there would be no beating for breaking Momma’s rules.

She relaxed and started to run and play with the other children, even making light-hearted conversation with her mother a couple of times, gaining confidence in her hope because her mother was responding in-kind.

When the party broke up and the families gathered their things, Jennifer furtively cast glances at Momma, assessing her mood, searching for some sign that the feeling in the pit of her stomach could go away and never return.

The children laughed and compared stories about their adventures at the picnic, and the atmosphere in on the ride home was relaxed and easy — like a real family.

There was absolutely no sign that Momma was angry. In fact, Jennifer started to feel like maybe she had been forgiven! The stain on her dress was a reminder to her that Momma could not have forgotten the accident.

But, maybe Momma realized it wasn’t her fault. Maybe

The car was unloaded, their things were put away, and the children all headed upstairs to bathe and get ready for bed. The tight knot in Jennifer’s stomach began to release its grip.

She started to actually feel happy for the first time in — oh, she didn’t know how long!

“Jennifer?” she heard Momma say. “Get yourself up to my room.”

All of the anxiety-filled terror came rushing back with a vengeance, overtaking her little mind and heart so powerfully that she almost fainted. That meant the beating she had been falsely led to believe would not be forthcoming was about to be unleashed on her frail little body.

Of all the terror-filled moments of her life, she couldn’t remember one that was so intense.

She couldn’t feel her legs move as she climbed the long stairway to the second floor and moved to the large room her parents shared at the end of the hallway.

The only thought that kept racing through her mind was, “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod…” She couldn’t breathe through the fear.

To this day, the details of the beating she received that night are but few bright flashes of memory buried under an overriding sense of searing pain.

The violence and brutality that took place that night was a repeat of hundreds of other such incidents that would also be replayed hundreds upon hundreds of times more in the years to come, but with one marked difference – it seared her soul a little more with each stroke of the belt.

When the belt broke and the beating still continued, her mother continuing to wield the remaining piece at least to the point where Jennifer passed out, part of her mind mercifully escaped the scene, not recording the remained of the night in a part of her memory where she could recall it from.

School was out, so no one had reason to take notice that Jennifer was not around for over a week following the picnic. Her parents told the people at church that Jennifer was home “with a touch of a bug”, which was why she wasn’t with the family the following Sunday.

The other children did not let on that Jennifer had been laying on her stomach with cold compresses on her back and bottom since her last “discipline” session. No one was any the wiser.

Oh, and the pastor’s wife? She took them at their word — she had no reason not to, right?

She had no reason to believe that Jennifer’s statement, “My Momma’s gonna punish me real good,” was anything more than an frightened child’s overstatement.

She had no reason to think anything of the fact that none of the children in the family ever did anything that hinted of rebelliousness or mischievousness – they were just remarkably well behaved children.

The pastor’s wife had no reason to think there was anything untoward about a family with four school-age children where the girls were always pristinely dressed,  the boys were never scuffed or dirty, and the children were always, always, always obedient, compliant, and submissive in their demeanor to everyone. They never squabble or even tussled.

Good-hearted, well-intentioned people in the church who “Give folks the benefit of the doubt”,”Let’s not assume the worst about people”, “People are basically good”…these are nice ideas, but not founded in reality and not Biblically based.

Human beings are selfish and fallen, not “basically good”. Humans beings are scoundrels at heart and rebellious toward righteousness and justice.

God specifically warns us in His judgment oracle in Genesis 3 that men and women will tend toward selfish domination and overbearing approach to relationships – and we see it played out in the very next chapter when one brother beats to death (dare we say “physically abuses”?) the other.

We need to be better students of human nature – we need to study human nature from God’s perspective, not secularized psychology and sociology.

We, the Church, need to listen more attentively and be more prayerful about what we see and hear from those around us.

And we need to be more cognizant of the fact that, under the right set of circumstances, every one of us has the propensity to selfishly abuse others.

Only then can we stop believing that “it doesn’t happen here with our people.”

Only then can we stop pretending abuse isn’t happening.

And it is only then that we will start standing with and for the abused instead of with and for the abusers.