He lifted me out of my darkness
Bethany, child of the King
Editor’s Note: Bethany’s story is a bit different from most of our faith stories in that she shares how God rescued her from the internal shattering she experienced as a result of sustained severe abuse within her Adventist family of origin. We are running her story for two reasons. First, the outward cloak of a well-pressed religious garment sometimes doubles as a cover of the oppressive darkness lurking on the inside. This is true in Adventism as well as in other rigid or repressive religious systems. In our years of working with Adventists transitioning to Christianity, we have seen that variations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse including addictions, shady business dealings, neglect, food obsessions, emotional illness, and incest are all too common. These abuses frequently precipitate forms of dissociation or other self-destructive coping in the children who cannot defend themselves. Second, there is hope, and there is profound healing for the worst trauma when we submit our wounds to the Lord Jesus. He can restore the most shattered person—and Bethany’s story demonstrates this reality.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mothers womb…You know me inside and out. You know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day (Ps. 139:13-16).
My recovery from spiritual and sexual abuse has taught me many things about God. First, I have learned that He was there in the beginning, and I know that He will be there in the end.
I grew up in an Adventist home with my mother and three older brothers. When I was five years old my mother remarried, but my new stepfather as well as my two oldest brothers were addicted to both drugs and alcohol.
Those two brothers were a heartache in my mother’s life. From very young ages they were in and out of juvenile hall, then in jail, and finally in prison. Throughout my life one of those brothers was a constant assailant to both my third brother and me.
I knew from a young age that I could not speak, that I had been prohibited from talking about the person I wished to become. I was shame. I was the actual secret, hidden away in the depths of my darkened soul, empty and lost. With each touch of my mother’s hand and with the heaviness of my brother’s leg, the shame only grew.
Being in the grips of Adventism set the stage for a lifetime of horrifying spiritual abuse, bondage, and captivity. The lies I was fed on a regular basis through the readings of Ellen White and her interpretations of the Bible made it impossible for me to see the truth of Jesus.
I believed I was a bad child and that Satan could take control of me if I made a poor decision. I believed that our Father was just waiting to erase my name out of the Book of Life. In fact, when I was baptized into the Adventist church, I came up out of the water hearing voices—the same voices that constantly told me I was evil, that Jesus was going to leave me, and that I had demons in me. These lies stayed with me for years—until Jesus rescued me and set me free!
As a young child I was in the hospital. I was looking out the window, wishing I could jump to the ground—yet knowing I was trapped and could not escape physically. I could only escape emotionally and mentally, and thoughts of suicide were already part of my internal escape.
I developed many other ways to deal with abuse as well, including memory loss, depression, isolation, dissociation, emotional numbing, eating disorders, self-destructiveness, mental illness, and being invisible.
When I was 14 years old, my oldest brother was murdered. Our family was devastated. Time seemed to stop for all of us as we watched my mother sleep her days away with the help of prescription drugs—yet still insist that I keep her company at night.
My memory has failed to remind me of that year in detail, except that I know my soul was numb and dead. I longed to be loved, but I trusted no one. I rebelled at God, and I did not believe He loved me. I felt lost, forgotten, and empty.
Yet I have learned that during those times God’s eyes were upon me, always watching me. He was molding me, working out His plan for me. He was protecting me, keeping me alive.
Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you (1 Pet. 1:1,2).
I left for an Adventist boarding school at the age of 15 and entered an entirely different world. I had three years in which to do four years of schooling, and I had to work to pay for it. I was confused and scared, and with so many people around me, I became the “dissociation queen”! For me, high school consisted of memory loss, isolation, starvation, suicidal thoughts, fears, emotional numbing, believing I was invisible, and testing authority.
It was at this school that God sent a woman to mother me. Nothing I did would cause her to turn her back on me. I never really talked to her; I just sat on her couch. Yet she loved and talked to me. She knew I was in trouble.
God also sent teachers into my life to nurture and care for me—adults who loved me and did not abandon me. God sent keepers into my life when I needed them.
You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25).
I accomplished my four years of high school in three and headed off to college. It was either go to college or go back home, and I knew I didn’t want to go home. My mother was a constant presence in my life. She was the voice that called every day to see what I was doing, wearing, eating. She was someone from whom I believed I would never be free. I could always see her disapproving face, feel her touch, and hear her voice, even when I wasn’t talking to her. I felt responsible for her, yet I wanted to find a way to be free from her.
I continued my downward spiral of isolation, self-destruction, and dissociation, and at the age of 19 I married. Two years later we had our first child, triggering my rapid descent into a world of uncontrollable fears, rebellions, and emotional despair.
I’ve learned that God hears my prayers. He rescues; He redeems; He saves, and He heals from diseases. Moreover, He does not give me what I deserve.
I spent the next several years in therapy with assorted counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I sabotaged my relationships with them, confusing them. If I sensed the relationship was developing an emotional bond, I would break it off. I received several diagnoses over the years I was in therapy, including depression, borderline personality disorder, and dissociative identity disorder.
One day I was driving home from therapy, and out of utter desperation I asked God to intervene. I asked Him to take away the voices in my head. For as long as I could remember there had been noise and torment in my head. Dark, destructive voices told me to cut myself, to run. I was split into a puzzle, and I couldn’t think anymore. If God was really out there, if He really cared, then I needed Him to fix my brain, and I needed Him to do it quickly. I asked Him to do it within 24 hours, and if He was unable to make me whole, then I was checking out for good.
That night I went to bed, and I had a dream.
I was walking in a dark forest, all alone. I stumbled along, tripping on the thick roots that poked through the forest floor. As I approached the center of the woods, a bright light shone through the trees, and two large, strong hands came down and picked me up out of the darkness into the light.
When I awoke the next morning, I was different. The noise in my head was gone; the voices that once screamed at me were quiet. I felt I could think an entire thought on my own. I felt like I could see the world in color.
I started to believe that God must be real. I began to learn that God calls me, and He wants me to obey Him!
My life was better for me at this point, but not all better. I was still in bondage, still wandering. I was not dealing with my issues of abuse nor living in any trusting relationships. My husband was the only person I dared to trust at any level, and learning to trust him was a slow process.
I became curious to know God’s will and desires. I began seeking Him more and more, and I began to question Adventism. We were still attending a small Adventist church, and we were taking our children to Sabbath School. I decided that I would begin testing everything with the Word of God, not with Ellen White. Life took a new turn for me, and I became convicted to leave the Adventist church. As I searched Scripture, truths about the new covenant, true Sabbath rest, and God’s gift of eternal life began to open up to me. Even so, I was still unable to voice my deepest needs or to articulate the anguish within me. I told myself I would never tell anyone the story of my life. The lies in my life had cluttered my brain, and I was not yet willing to surrender my fear or my reputation to God.
I first realized God’s intention for me when I was at Women of Faith in Seattle. I went by myself for the weekend and was listening intently to one of the speakers when the thought that I would someday speak of God’s deliverance of me interrupted my concentration. Naturally, I argued; I didn’t like to be with people, and I had little to say! But the calling never left.
I have learned tha God’s calling and His gifts to me are irrevocable.
One day while we were on a vacation, several years after that momentous Women of Faith meeting, God finally convicted me that I was still not trusting either Him or His body.
I tried to rationalize away these convictions, but God began to reveal to me how deeply He is a God of mercy and grace. He wanted me to trust His promises and to obey His commands that I trust Him with my life. I needed to let Him show me the reality of my experience and trust that He would redeem it. Moreover, I needed to find someone besides my husband to start trusting. I was not to run, not to go “numb”—just tell my story to someone who would listen with a godly heart while I stayed emotionally present. This level of honesty and vulnerability was a tall order, but I had to stop running from myself and surrender my fear and control to Him.
I’ve learned that God is my counselor, that God forgives. I’ve learned that only God can judge me, and God wants me to fear only Him!
God brought a certain woman into my life when I finally decided to trust Him and tell my story to someone. I prayed for His leading, and we developed a relationship over time. Over a period of several weeks she heard my story, and God has taught me to stay emotionally present as I talk. It has been very hard work, but as I trust Him, He gives me courage and relieves my fear.
My battle was learning to look at what happened to me and not to “disappear”, pretending there was nothing for me to see and know. God has continually challenged me to draw back the curtains of my past and to speak about as much as I could remember—trusting that as I brought those things into the light, they would lose their power over me as He assured me that He was redeeming them and not condemning me.
At first when I would speak, my words would come out different from my thoughts. Often, I would feel paralyzed and would sit in silence. The confusion in my mind would be intense; I was fearful that if I started to tell my story, I might go crazy, or somehow I might die or get hurt. I might be judged and abandoned. I would have to work hard to stay present and not go numb.
God taught me to trust Him. My daily time with Him increased to hours of prayer and Bible study. It was only through committing myself to absorbing His word and trusting what I learned as He taught me His truth that I was able to overcome my paralyzing fear. God brought me comfort. He assured me He would fight for me, but mostly, He encouraged me to keep going and to trust His servant whom He had sent into my life. As His word spoke truth and reality to me, God’s faithfulness became real.
I slowly branched out and trusted others as I trusted God to keep me safe and be my strength, and He has blessed me with encouraging friends. He has been faithful.
I have learned that God is trustworthy. He always does what He says He’s going to do, and I’ve learned that I am chosen!
God continues molding me to serve Christ Jesus single-mindedly, revealing my past to me and restoring my memory. He provides strength and courage and helps me reach out to others. He has given me the desire to be part of His body. His Spirit dwells within me, and as I open myself to Him the fruit of his Spirit is replacing a self-centered lifestyle and revealing the idols that have bound me: pride, resentment, bitterness, and deceit.
God has forgiven me and leads me to His mercy seat every day. I can openly confess to Him and know that He has covered me in His blood. I can claim His promises and stand strong in who I am in Him. He is God, and He will keep every promise to me. When the enemy comes against me, I will remain clothed in Jesus Christ, my Armor of Light. He has won the battle!
The truth has uncovered the lies.
Sometimes the memories of the past flash back. Those moments are often confusing at first, but always I can learn from them. God has brought into my life many wise people, and I have learned to seek their counsel.
From my Father I have received the promise that He is the Strong Vine and I am a strong branch; I will not break off from Him.
I have learned that God hears me and cares about how I feel. He wants to restore me, heal me, comfort me. I am His child—loved, blessed, accepted, adopted, and redeemed! I have learned that I was once a sinner, but now I am a saint!
The Son has set me free, and I am free indeed (Gal. 5:1). My heart is pure before Him, and I praise the God of heaven! This is truth: freedom reigns, and even when times are difficult and the road is twisty, I am safe; Jesus is mine! †
Copyright 2011 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Casa Grande, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 27, 2011. Contact email: email@example.com
Bethany is a passionate lover of God and is free in His Spirit. She is a wife and mother, a forward-marching saint in Jesus, and a truth seeker. She is the facilitator of the Genesis Process Groups at her church, and through His grace and power she speaks into the lives of women. She is the facilitator of the Wounded Heart Class for abused women and is a writer and blogger. Visit her blog at: www.saythat--again.blogspot.com
April May June 2011
VOLUME 12, ISSUE 2
D E P A R T M E N T S
STORIES of Faith