“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt,
and the Lord your God brought you out…”
My grandfather sexually abused my mother as she grew up. He committed suicide in the county jail, leaving his family destitute. My widowed grandmother met a man with no room for children. Within a month, my mother turned seventeen, graduated, and married, and then her mother married and moved away.
My mother’s new husband was a sadist. My step-grandfather paid for a divorce lawyer and bought a trailer so that my mother could leave the marriage. Her husband kidnapped her, tied her up, beat her, and raped her over the course of a week. I was the product of that rape. My step-grandfather arranged for a physician friend to fix the problem.
My mother chose life. She met a man who pitied her and they married. My mother’s heart stopped during my delivery, entailing an emergency C-section. It was years before she would carry another child to term.
My parents drank. My earliest memories were marked with fear. Often mother would pass out and I would cry thinking she was dead. Dad would scream, “Shut up. She’s nothing but an old stumble drunk.”
I was beaten and berated. I longed for the man whom I thought was my dad to treat me like I was his. Perhaps if I was a girl it would be different. Later, when a brother and sister did arrive, I became responsible for them. My grandmothers called me, “Their little mother.” I tried to make myself worthy of love and respect.
On my twelfth birthday, I was given girl clothes. When the camera came out, I tried to hide the pretty pastel appliques. I put on the happy actor’s face. It would be all my fault if this day turned into a drunken melee. Within a year I was drinking every weekend, an angry rebel.
I expected people to fail and they did. I sorely wanted to be loved; however, no one’s love was ever enough. I was troubled by confused affections. I was on an endless treadmill of self-hatred. Job’s curse on the day that he was born was etched in my heart long before I ever read his words (Job 3:1-26). From a young age, I was overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts.
Years later, Jesus saved me! My sins were forgiven. They were removed, never to be dredged up. I was declared righteous. I belonged!
God’s gift of salvation was a wonder and a puzzle. It was so good to be loved by the One who knew my every thought and didn’t turn away. But why would He change so many things, just take them away, and leave so many other things undone? I attributed it to His sovereignty and to my weakness. If I tried a little harder, God would make them leave.
My parents came to Christ! “Old things have passed away…” In our family, the past was under the blood and therefore, not there. But it was. It was like living in a pitch-black cave inhabited by angry pit bulls. I could feel their hot breath and bared teeth against my skin. As long as I didn’t reach for a light, they wouldn’t attack. These unresolved issues were like bottomless pits to be filled in or avoided. I had learned patterns to compensate, but they left me responsive or unresponsive, and/or vulnerable to others.
I thought I had hit bottom before my conversion, but then I took up a sin that left me stunned and shamed, after all that Jesus had done for me. After pulling free, I made and kept a vow never to do it again.
When God called me to the ministry, I thought my past gave me the “get-out-of-ministry-free” card. God was relentless. How could I say, “No,” to Jesus? How could I say, “Yes,” when a bottomless pit lurked just under a thin veneer? In the end I said, “Yes,” by faith. Yet ministry was always on an edge: great joy to be used coupled with a great fear of the past erupting into the present. God didn’t remove the cursed old man from my heart. The interior dialogue of self-loathing never let up. Suicidal thoughts still assailed me.
I felt God was good to His other kids, but His grace only went so far with me. My prayer life was perfunctory, sporadic, and distant. My human relationships were guarded, passive, and unsatisfying. Heartfelt communication was difficult, although I was a wordsmith. I felt that I was a failure as a man, a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor.
God heard me! He brought my sin and issues to a head. It was His time for my personal Exodus. It was not the quiet, inward removal of unwanted desires, memories, and patterns, but a Red Sea moment. I had to admit my sins and my need to my wife and to others around me. There were no guarantees about the immediate future. I made the choice to bring my under-the-blood past into the light and to seek help with IBL.
God answered my prayers for liberation from a cruel taskmaster! Sin’s power has been abated. Sin’s allure is not overwhelming. I rejoice in the pain of His breaking and resetting lamed bones. I thank Him for His grace and strength to endure and to run with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I can state each of these blessings in the present and (recent) past tense. For God has and is:
- Rebuilding my identity in Christ through His truth.
- Reprogramming my interior dialogue to one based on biblical truth, not on wicked, sickening lies.
- Giving me courage to walk in His light and Word.
- Opening my eyes to see the limitations of sin, Satan, and self.
- Allowing my personal sin to be subdued and dissipate in the Light.
- Giving me rest, freed from the unwanted invasion of suicidal thoughts.
- Giving me internal freedom. I am not devastated by (most) others’ rejection.
- Showing me that forgiveness is a process (an attitude and posture) and not to be lived in a declared but never-resolved state of being under the blood.
- Giving me more good days in intimacy and prayer than not.
I am blessed to pray and read the Word with my wife and see God change our relationship. I rejoice because of improved family relationships.
I am thankful for God’s orchestration of men, events, and words, so that my wife and I could benefit from IBL. IBL helped me to put together what I knew about myself, my sin, and God’s provisions for my sanctification. They gave me simple tools to be used with fanatical obsession, tools that help me bridge the gap between my position in Christ and daily practice.
Thanks be to God!