From the husband:
Many of us come to Living Waters not realizing how our personal “walls” are torn down and burned. Where our boundaries have been compromised or destroyed, we usually respond in one of two ways.
First, we may live our lives without boundaries. Others are free to raid and rob our soul and the image of the true self that Jesus is trying to restore in us. At one point of my life I bowed to my former pastor’s every beck and call. I was willing to sacrifice my life and family on the altar of church service, whether Jesus was asking me or not.
Second, our solution may be to build hard, reinforced walls that keep everyone out. The problem is that we cut ourselves off from the good that could heal, nourish and meet our unmet needs. As I ran from intimacy and being fully known, I also cut myself off from the very thing my heart was longing for. I did protect myself from depths of pain and abandonment and neglect. I also shielded myself from experiencing the greater love, joy and peace that was being offered to me through my wife, Christ and His body.
It was only when I decided to stop running in fear and let others in to know my secrets that I faced the pain and finally experienced the unconditional, unfailing love I craved. Unfortunately though, I did not stop before other lives were hurt and violated.
My walls had been destroyed through many raids and attacks while growing up. At the age of seven my parents got divorced. After that I seldom saw my dad, much less experience the good of his masculinity. My mother was trying her best to make ends meet and provide for my younger sister and me. She was also busy trying to get her own needs met. I remember a lot of different men coming through our lives: I always asked the question subconsciously, “Will you be my daddy?”
We were always moving from place to place, from school to school. I never finished a year at the same elementary school. That impaired my ability to connect meaningfully with my peers. I always felt like the new kid, the fat kid, the dumb kid who was trying to catch up to the rest of the class. At the age of ten I joined a Boy Scout troop. Quite a few of the scout troop boys started spending weekend nights and playing games in the scout master’s basement. On one of these nights I was the only one that showed up.
At eleven years old, the walls protecting my innocence were burned down. My scout master, the one man in my life who gave me the attention, affection and affirmation I longed for, forced himself upon me. Not until Living Waters did I discover all he had stolen from me. For about three months I avoided going to Boy Scout meetings and the scout master’s house. I did not tell anyone what had happened. Eventually he came by with an invitation for ice cream, and reluctantly I went. Somehow I began to rationalize that sex was the price to pay to get the attention that you need. I continued to go back time and time again until I was nineteen.
Throughout my adolescence I also began having sex with friends from school, including other scouts. It was something we never talked about, that took place under cover of night. The next day I always had feelings of shame and guilt, but we just pretended like it never happened. Even though I had given my life to Christ at the age of sixteen and prayed the Lord to take away the struggles, they still persisted.
I somehow knew that nothing would change unless I left the town I was raised in. So I joined the army and found sexual sobriety for the first time during basic training. Even though I did find myself attracted to certain guys in my platoon, I feared being kicked out of the service. So I pressed into the Lord and even abstained from masturbation.
A couple years later I met my wife. We were in the same church, and I was running a church men’s home with her brother. We got married and I thought marriage would fix me. I never talked about my past. We assumed that old things had passed away and all things had been made new, so we just moved on. After a couple of years of marriage I started sneaking away to find pornography at the libraries and adult bookstores in town. Because of my fear of exposure and disease, I was not looking to hook up with anyone. I just wanted to fantasize. Someone once said that no fantasy is satisfied to stay in secret; it continually cries out for expression. My secret fantasy life led to me sexually violate my stepsons.
I was arrested. We lost our home and my wife and family separated from me. The secret was finally out. I could have lied and denied my horrible actions, but I decided to hide no more. I laid all cards on the table with a resolve to let them land where they may. I told my pastor, wife and family all the truth and cast myself upon the mercy of the Lord. For the first time I began to face my abuse and the consequences of my abusive actions.
From the wife:
Coming to terms with the violation of my sons was my greatest challenge. I had let my boys down by trusting this “godly man.” Because of the shock of this event and not realizing exactly what it all meant, it took me a while to come to grips with what had happened. Broken boundaries, what’s that? I felt like a fool for not seeing it coming. After being in counseling myself, I realized that I had at times seen red flags and even spoken up a few times, but then dismissed them not knowing quite what I was looking at.
One day my counselor made the statement: “There are many sex offenders hiding in church.” Her words exploded inside me, with my thoughts racing: “You’re talking about God’s church and how dare you say that!” With time I realized that there was some truth to her words and that God had allowed this woman to wake up Michael and I. He was using her to get my head out of the sand. Michael was so good at hiding that I could not tell the false Michael from the real one. Most of his false image was that “religious good boy.”
After having gone through Living Waters myself, and getting in touch with my voice which had been shut down for most of my life, I learned to speak up when I saw something I didn’t like. Yes, the Lord’s wonderful church is full of sex offenders, liars, cheaters and such. He is not surprised! Why are we? But He also sees His spotless bride, and He will continue to make her clean. I am so thankful for Living Waters. There I have been able to speak about the unspeakable and learn how to continually access the living waters of Christ for my own cleansing. He helps me in His mercy to forgive those who have trespassed against me.
After I had taken responsibility for the pain I had caused my family, I was able to surrender my self-blame and shame for having been sexually abused. I was not responsible for what the scout master did! I went through several stages of grieving: from acknowledgment, to anger, then grief over what was lost. After my first year of treatment, my wife and I started going to couples counseling and eventually, along with the kids’ counselor, started working toward family reunification.
Throughout the next three years, I was learning to raise my awareness level. One of the exercises that we participated in was a requirement to report any and all incidental contacts with minors or anything that could even be remotely reported as sexually deviant. Something as simple as a kid you walked past saying hi to you or accidentally bumping into a woman in an elevator. This discipline was designed to instill a hyperawareness, to teach us diligence and to build healthy boundaries. That helped. Yet only in Living Waters did I really begin to find healing.
In Living Waters I began to see how truly devastating abuse and sex-play with other guys really is. On one particular night I remember praying about my abuse and whether or not it really mattered to God. I asked the question, “If You are God and You love me then why did You allow my abuse to happen?” During small group prayer I began to have a vision of the night the abuse took place. I saw the room, the décor, the movie that was on the television in a vividness I had not experienced up until that point. The big difference was that across the room I saw Jesus standing, shaking his head no, while tears ran down his face.
After that night I understood how God gives us free will even when that will hurts others. During Living Waters, I healed to a place where I could forgive and release my scout master for what he had done. I also forgave my dad for his inability to meet my needs. And I found the grace to forgive myself for stealing the innocence of my stepsons and leaving lifelong wounds for them to contend with. Over the years I have had several conversations with my stepsons in which I apologized for my betrayal of them.
One of the things that I am so thankful for is that God gave me a second chance to try and heal the wounds that my ignorance and addiction had created. One of my sons told me that, because of the change and healing he has seen in his mother and I, he now has faith that Jesus can heal and make him whole.