Charlene S.

I experienced my first big loss when my parents divorced when I was about 4 years old. Life did not get any better as my new stepfather began to sexually abuse me and my two brothers and two sisters. Over the years I watched many times as he beat them but did not know until much later that he had also sexually abused them. For some reason he never beat me, which I think caused a lot of anger and jealously in my brothers and sisters as they believed I had escaped the sexual abuse also. Of course we never discussed any of this as children. It was the family secret. They did not fare very well as all four of them are alcoholics or abuse drugs and in general have lived a very hard life. Both my sisters were pregnant by fourteen and living pretty wild lives. Both my brothers are now in prison, serving very long terms for sexual abuse of their own stepchildren. After many failed attempts, one of my sisters killed herself on an overdose of Tylenol about six year ago. As I grew up I was determined to make different choices in my life. I set about early trying to make my life perfect by making the right choices and doing the right thing.

I spent most of my childhood taking care of everyone else’s needs. My older brother and sisters had long before gone to live with my real father but I could not leave my mother. I became the ultimate caretaker. I took care of my stepfather, nursed my mother who had been sick as long as I could remember, and tried to protect and raise my little brother. I spent many times physically covering him to keep him from getting beat. I did not know about the sexual abuse he had experienced, nor would I have understood it at that time. I knew very little about sex except what I had experienced as a little girl and that was very warped. The third big blow of my life came at 14, when my mom, the only person I felt loved me, died of a brain tumor. I was devastated and felt all-alone in my life. My focus for years had been taking care of my mother. During this time I shared about my sexual abuse for the first time with a couple of my friends. They told an ‘older’ sister who was more mature than us at a whopping 21. She called her pastor from the Baptist church to come over to her house to talk to me. I felt and really was so alone and didn’t know where to go or what to do. This pastor and his family played a very significant role in my life over the next years. He told me about someone that would never leave me or forsake me and would be with me forever no matter what. It was at that time that I put my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. Over the next years Jesus was the only one I knew that I could depend on as I struggled with life and how to continue living with someone I hated. It took me many years and lots of counseling to just begin to reach a point of forgiveness for my stepfather. I learned years later that he had sexually abused many, many kids over the years even after I had left home. He was a very sick man.

My mother had never taught me much about being a girl and I guess I did not care much to be one, for after all if I had been a boy, what had happened to me as a little girl would not have happened. Little did I know then how untrue that was. So I was a pretty homely tomboy who had spent so much time caring for my sick mother. I really did not have any friends. I did not know how to dress, wear makeup or how to fix my hair, and hardly knew how to talk to people. Because of a missing front tooth I would hide my mouth when I talked and was very reluctant to smile. I was very insecure and very unsure of myself. Yet in other ways I was a fighter, an over achiever, a survivor. I did well in school, was a master manipulator and could get what I wanted from my stepfather including a horse and other things I wanted. He had not touched me in a number of years as I began to learn how to protect myself and threaten him. I felt in control by that time and could do what I wanted. I learned very early that I had to control my circumstances in order to survive. I thought I had to do things well or even perfectly for teachers and others to like me. If I did the right thing and made the right decision I would receive praise and love, which I desperately craved. There are many stories of survival that I experienced over the next years but too many to go into. I left home at 17, the night I graduated from high school (the only one of us five kids), and moved to Dallas to start a new life. I lived in an apartment with a friend from back home and I got a job at a hamburger place, walking two blocks to work at 11:00 at night. I did not know it was one of the most dangerous areas in Dallas at that time. God watched over me and kept me safe. I made some friends but because of my insecurity I would latch on to someone, anyone who would love me or care for me. As I sucked them dry that relationship would usually end, which made me feel even worse about myself. I was lonely, extremely co-dependent, angry and still full of hate for my stepfather. I lived with a lot of shame and false guilt and could not believe that anyone could like me, much less love me. This affected every area of my life. It was a struggle to figure out how forgiveness fit in with my relationship with God and my stepfather. I attended Bible College for a year but ran out of money and was deep in debt. That summer I went to a Christian Youth Camp in the Palo Duro Canyon, close to Amarillo, TX. There is another long story there but for the first time I experienced people that seemed to like me and accept me. I loved that time and those next years in the summers at camp were a significant growth time in my life as I experienced God’s love through these people.

When I was about 20, back in Dallas I begin to go to counseling to look at and deal with my abuse, hate, shame and guilt. I guess that is when I begin to realize I was in recovery, and could do life different. That process has been going on now for 35 years and I am finding the healing will continue throughout my life. I guess it is a lifelong process as the ultimate goal is to become like Jesus. There are a couple of other significant things happened to me through the years. In 1972 I begin to attend a church that had just started a few months before. These people loved me and took me into their family. About the same time I started working at a company where I was scared to even look a customer in the eye, much less talk to them. I worked for a Christian couple that really believed in me and in what God could do in my life. I think they saw something I was not capable of seeing. They took me under their wing and loved me and mentored me in life as well as the business. Then they sold the company in 1975. God continually put people in my life to walk beside me and believe in me. The next year God dropped in my lap the opportunity to open up my own business. He connected me with the father of a friend who wanted to finance me and be a silent partner. He was a true silent partner as he helped me learn to make decisions and to believe in myself. It was truly a miracle. I was a single 25-year-old over-achieving female in a man’s world. He mentored me and taught me as I built the business into a prominent successful company and I bought out his shares of the business in 1987. Because of friends, and people loving me and believing in me, my confidence and security grew in all aspects of my life.

As God so often seemed to do, he dropped someone else in my life in 1987. This was a person that I had known at camp when I was 18-20 years old. I had loved horses and he was a wrangler that I was friends with, but he did not really know at that time I was a girl. I was his buddy that would ride horses and shoot guns with him and his brother. As he came back into my life, instead of him finding a scared, insecure tomboy wearing boots and jeans, he found a lady who God had changed and grown up tremendously. After just hanging out and being friends for about a year we begin to realize we had something pretty special. So in April of 1988 I married the love of my life. Although I did not know it until then, I had no doubt this is why I was still single at 37 waiting for this man to come back into my life 18 years later. I had never thought I would marry and was unsure from my past that I would be able to. He was my friend and loved me well, so it gave me a security I had never experienced. This enabled me to feel safe and trust him. Even though we had many ups and downs through our growing experiences over the years, we had a very good marriage.

Life was good. July of 2001, my husband and I were eating dinner and talking about how good life was at 50. He was serving as a missionary, a job he loved, my business was doing really well after 25 years, our marriage was great and we were attending a church we loved and felt like God was really using us. He was an elder at the church and I was on the finance committee and was the Women’s Ministry Director. I loved seeing God work in the lives of women and I could hardly believe that God was using ME in such a ministry as this. I FELT AND THOUGHT I WAS IN THE PRIME OF MY LIFE. God had changed me in so many ways and to be working in a ministry with women was far beyond what I would ever have imagined I would be doing. I would have loved to do this full time. I did not think I could want or ask for anything more in my life. Do you recall the verse in I Peter 5:8? ‘Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.’ Well he was definitely on the prowl and he did not like what was going on in my life and he put on a full force attack.

A few weeks after our dinner and talk I had a young lady ask me to mentor her. She was so much like I had been 20-30 years before and I thought maybe God could use me in her life to learn to be loved by Him as well as others. God had placed so many people in my life to love me and guide me and my heart’s desire was to be used of Him in the same way. I knew she was needy, but I thought I could help her and that I was now strong enough not to get into a rescue mode. In Beth Moore’s book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, she says, ‘God has a plan for our lives, but so does Satan. And Satan’s plan parallel’s God’s plan. Satan does not work haphazardly but carefully, methodically, weaving and spinning, and watching just for the right time. He draws out plans and executes them very carefully. He carefully sets traps for the express purpose of wreaking destruction in the lives of the saints.’ As I begin to mentor this person through the next months my heart and emotions began to get very confused. All of my co-dependency feelings began to overwhelm me as this person needed me and basically worshipped me. And I have to say it felt good. I liked it. I had never had anyone think so much of me and want to be with me so much. All the emotions, the feelings, the longings, of wanting and needing to be loved, all the things I missed and wanted from my mom and that I wanted to give to this person, as well as receive, got very blurred. The things I was feeling was very confusing to me. I knew they were not feelings I wanted to have but I could not get rid of them. I wanted to help her not destroy her. I was basically in denial. The lines got fuzzy as the little girl in me cried out in desperation fighting with the adult and sensible me. I talked to counselors and friends, trying to figure out what was going on with me. I did not think I was gay; I loved my husband, why were these emotions so overwhelming to me? Why could I just not walk away? Because of my extreme co-dependency in my younger days, so many of my friends had walked away and I just felt like I could not abandon this friend. I really cared for her. Paul says in Romans 7:15 ‘ ‘For what I am doing, I do not understand, for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate’. My biggest failure can be summed up in I Cor. 10:12 which says ‘Therefore let Him who thinks he stands, take heed that he does not fall’ and Proverbs 16:18 which says ‘Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling.’ I kept thinking and saying I was strong enough to handle these emotions. I can walk away; I can do the right thing. I know what I really want in life and this is not it. I have always been pretty black and white and have learned through my life to make hard decisions. You know what is right and you just do it.

What is so hard about that? Well it didn’t work this time. I was very weak and very needy, not a place I liked being. So one very sad weekend in October of 200l, the destruction that Satan had planned for me, overcame me and with full knowledge in my brain but not my senses, of the overwhelming consequences, I got into a physical/sexual relationship with this person.

Over the next few days of torment and hell I went to my pastor and confessed my sin and resigned my positions at church. The next day I told my husband. I could not believe what I had done. I had made a conscious choice to sin and the ripple effect on my husband, the other person, my church, my friends and most of all, my Lord and Savior was devastating to me. I was a leader in the church and I let the church and many people down that loved and respected me. I loved my husband and he was so good to me and trusted me so much and yet I hurt him tremendously. I really cared for this girl and with purity of heart desired God to use me to help her have a better life. I destroyed that and made her life worse. I let God down after He has blessed me so much in my life and brought me such a long way and was using me, which was the biggest desire of my heart. I had destroyed all that I had of my life, in the way I knew it at that time. I had everything going right for me. I could hardly bear to live with myself for what I had done and quite frankly did not want to live. The next weeks became a blur of slow motion in pain. I cannot even describe all the things that happened, the things said, the things misunderstood and the processes that we all went through. I felt like the most horrible person who had ever lived. The pain was excruciating continuously. This was not a sin committed against me like others in the past. This was a sin that I committed and was responsible for. I wanted desperately to kill myself and save everyone from the pain I was causing. Everyone was watching me like a hawk, which drove me nuts. I could not even take an aspirin by myself. One of my counselors, taking me at my word, made me promise her I would not hurt myself, which seemed to have worked, so I had to live with what I had done and caused. The alternative was to be hospitalized which scared me enough to keep my promise. But I went into a very deep black hole of depression for a number of months. Slowly, very slowly, God’s grace began reaching me. Early on as I cried in my husband’s arms one night sobbing, I said, ‘I promise I will never do anything like that again.’ He gently pushed me away a little and looked at me very softly and said ‘Don’t say that because you might ‘ but if you do I will be there then to walk beside you just like I will now.’ What a picture of grace he was to me as he loved me and did walk beside me every moment. In Philip Yancy’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace, he says that ‘there is NOTHING that you can do to make God love you any LESS, and there is NOTHING you can do to make God love you ANY MORE.’ What a freeing truth as that became very real to me as I read that book and realized that MY VERY sin is why Christ died on the cross for me so that I would NEVER have to be separated from my Father in heaven even though I had spent months feeling like I was separated from Him. The reality of what He did for me was pretty overwhelming as I realized that He did not see my sin, that I was clean and washed as white as snow. What an experience to know that I am clean after feeling like the biggest sinner in the world. Now let me say that it did not happen overnight and there are some times when the shame and guilt still overwhelm me years later, but I can hang on to that truth as fact. My sin affected everyone involved in my life, at work, at home, at church and all my friends.

In January of 2002, I went thru Barnabas, a ministry that offers you a second chance in life. I had already gone thru Barnabas 5 years before and now for the second time was able to go again and did a tremendous amount of work in a very safe place with a team of people that I knew loved me. It was a very hard time and process but one that probably saved my life. It helped me to understand why I had done what I did and gave me some tools with which to learn do things differently. It gave me a new set of glasses to look at myself and allow some long time healing to take place that had been covered up and protected. It helped me lower some walls so that I could reach that little girl deep inside me and love, accept and treasure her instead of detesting her for being weak and needy. I understood more of where some of those needs came from. I had never been willing to look at the fact that I really never had a mom to love me and take care of me. I had to be too strong. I was always taking care of her and everyone else. I never had a dad to love me. I didn’t even get to know my real father until my late 20’s. I needed and wanted to be loved. I understand now that for me to be weak is the time Christ can be strong in me. And when I am needy is again when I can depend on Christ to fill those needs. These are not descriptions that I like but this is exactly where He wants me to be. Weak and Needy. This helped me to experience a tremendous amount of healing during and after Barnabas.

One of the things I have struggled with over the last few years is some anger and bitterness towards the elders from my church. I had to leave my church and spent 3 years blaming them for having to leave. The first of February 2005 I attended a Walk Thru the Bible weekend seminar and at one point just a mention of Moses handing over the staff to Joshua so that he could take the people into the promise land, set my mind reeling.

I remembered that Moses had disobeyed God when God told him to ‘SPEAK to the rock and water would come out.’ But Moses for whatever reason thought he would do it his way and he STRUCK the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it. Do you ever think you need to do things your way? God told him because of his disobedience that he would not himself be able to enter the promise land. Wow! That was severe but Moses made a choice and that was the consequence God had for him. He still used Moses thru many years and blessed him mightily but still Moses would reap the consequences of his sin ‘ his disobedience. Something he had worked for all of his life and yet he would not be able to see the promise land. The Holy Spirit hit me over the head with a 2 8 with those thoughts. Though I had tried so hard and prayed for God to help me forgive the elders because I had to leave the church, I would find myself saying snide remarks that were very ungodly. It would frustrate me because I really wanted to forgive. That day I realized that I was blaming the elders for the consequences of my sin. The reality was it did not matter what they said, how they said it, or what they did, I am the one that chose to sin and the consequences that God had for me was that I needed to leave my church. For me that was really severe because that was my home, my family that I dearly loved and I felt like I had been cast out. There are a lot of things God could have done differently and caused to happen but he didn’t. I don’t feel like it was punishment but just the consequences of my own sin. Sin always has consequences. I knew God wanted me to know this and learn it. What a feeling as the scales of blame fell from my eyes and heart as I experienced real forgiveness, and love and yet sorrow for the things I had said over the last years about people that I truly loved. A week later I found out about a meeting the elders had on Sunday, the very next day after my encounter with God at Walk Thru the Bible. In that meeting they discussed my husband and me, and wanted to communicate to us that they felt like there was no reason that we would not be welcomed to come back to the church at any time. I could not believe the timing of God. The very next day after my big revelation, He lays on their hearts to discuss, decide and share with us that decision. I was overwhelmed at God’s goodness. In February 2005 I went to the elders meeting and sat down with these guys and very honestly told them some of the ways I had been hurt. But I also told them about my experience with Moses weeks before. I asked THEM to forgive ME for the things I had felt and said over the last years. With tears in their eyes they said they did forgive me and asked me to forgive them for some of the wrong ways they had handled things. It was an incredible sweet, tender and freeing time, I think for us all. They surrounded me, laid hands on me and each one prayed for me and God’s continued healing in my life. I felt like a heavy load had been lifted off of my shoulders. We do not feel that God has led us back to that church as He has put us in the body to serve at our current church for right now, but it was nice to know I could walk in the doors again if I wanted to.

Over the last years God has been more real to me than ever before. My relationship has been sweeter, closer and more heartfelt as I continue in my recovery process. I have spent the last one and a half years helping with Celebrate Recovery at our church, a program to help you work through your hurts, habits and hang-ups and do life differently. This has also been a huge healing factor in my life. I think I will always have this sin as a thorn in my flesh to remind me ‘I could, I would, I did’ fall flat on my face when I am not looking up and depending on God for my recovery instead of my own power. I am truly weak and needy and powerless to do what I want and need to do. I recently had a friend who told me, ‘I think THIS is the prime of your life, because of how much you are growing. Maybe so. I hope and pray that my best years are still coming. These last years have been hard but I can honestly say I would not trade them because they have made me a better person and a stronger Christian with a more humbled and tender heart. God has given me HOPE, like it says in Romans 5:3-5. ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’

God has recently given me a new challenge with the opportunity to learn to trust Him more. My husband, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November of 2004 and went through chemo, and then in May 2005 he had surgery to take out his bladder and rebuild a new one from his small intestines. It was a major surgery and changed our lives drastically over that time as we had to learn to trust God with something we were certainly powerless over. We could do nothing to change our circumstances. We were blessed with people praying for us all over the world. We didn’t know what all was in store for us but we did know that God has always been faithful to us both and we expected no less this time. It was definitely another opportunity to learn to trust God even more knowing that this is totally out of our hands and might not turn out like we wanted but was in the hands of our loving and faithful Heavenly Father. My husband is in remission now and feeling well and adjusting to using his new bladder. As God answered many prayers his surgery and recovery was so much easier than expected. It was hard though not to want to do something to fix this or to make him feel better during that time, as I watched him be very sick and suffer, but God is teaching me to BE instead of DO. That is a hard lesson to comprehend as I have spent most of my life making sure I DO, so that I will be loved, accepted and in control and I am sure that process will not go away until I see Jesus.

2 Cor. 1:3-5 says ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’

I want you to know, whether you realize or believe it, you have a story ‘ God’s story ‘ to share with others. I want to ask you to be willing to open your heart so God can use that story to encourage and comfort other people. Are you willing to be vulnerable so you can experience God using you in the lives of others? As I continue to heal, learn and grow I am slowly realizing that God CAN and IS still using me and given me a HOPE FOR MY FUTURE.

In closing. One of my favorite verses from the beginning of my recovery 35 years ago describes my life well:

‘I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and he set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God: Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.’
Psalm 40:1-3

That is the desire of my heart ‘ today and for the rest of my life.