Things To Hide: Deep, Dark Secrets

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. - Proverbs 28:13


The Husband

Halle was three months old when one of the “winds of the Holy Spirit” blew through Marble. The leadership told us that if we wanted to survive to the next level of the kingdom we had to confess ALL of our deepest, darkest sins and repent publicly. These prophetic winds came arbitrarily according to a word from the Lord through Anne Byrd. This one was impressed upon the congregation as a sort of “do or die” to make it as a chosen one. Leaders and laypeople alike were confessing on an almost nightly basis at community meetings of every variety of trespass. Common offenses were looking at pornography, a spirit of rejection (this was manifest in defensiveness when leadership confronted someone), a spirit of sloth (depression), and other garden-variety transgressions.

My husband came to me first to beg forgiveness before he brought his sin to bear in front of the community. He told me that had been having sexual relations with the horses he was training. This activity was on top of the 3-4 times each day that we were having sex. This was also in addition to the odd deposits of semen I would find in the car, or the dirty laundry, which I would come to understand later were from his compulsive masturbation. I had no idea what it was I was finding everywhere until he told me, masturbation was a term I had read in Dr. Dobson’s 1980s era sex-ed book called “Preparing for Adolescence,” but his vague description still left me in the dark.

It’s easy to imagine now that my my former husband's lack of impulse control was related to some undiagnosed addiction or other illness, but at the time, I had no frame of reference for any of it. My first response to his confession was grace. The first thing I said to him after he told me was that I was relieved it wasn’t another woman. Then, as I processed and asked questions, I felt the whole world going dark around me.

I had followed the rules. I had done things the right way. I had saved myself. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. How was I not enough?

The Aftermath

The trauma of those hours and days are more fresh in my mind than the birth of any of my children. That was the time of my birth. It was the moment that I became aware of darkness and evil. My eyes were suddenly open to the possibility that I had not been granted the desires of my heart. I had been robbed. It was the first time that I questioned my marriage as God’s will.

My husband and I went to our cell group leaders. Mark and Angela Black were understandably shocked. I just remember Angela smiling. Smiling awkwardly. Smiling always. I remember sitting there with a tiny baby in my arms and my heart in a thousand pieces as she smiled. They said they’d have to get counsel about it and get back to us. Later we got a call saying that we were being moved to Steve and Cheryl Melzer’s cell group and they’d help us walk through it. I guess I was relieved. Maybe I thought there would be an end to the pain. A solution. I was wrong.

Steve and Cheryl were pragmatic about our problem. The message to me was consistent: this is what God wants for you for some reason. It is part of your process. Honor your husband. Get out of this whatever you need to. Leadership decided that my husband could not confess his sin publicly in front of the community like the rest of us. It was too much. Too sordid. I was told to not tell my friends or family as to not disillusion them. So no one knew.

I remember explaining to Cheryl the deep sense of betrayal and injustice I felt, and asking for help. She asked me what would help to ease the pain, pointing out that there was no feasible resolution. Separation wasn’t an option that was ever discussed. I do believe Cheryl felt empathy toward me. I think she wanted to help, and her experience in the outside world taught me something about cynicism and the fallacy of fairy tales.

Leaders at Marble came from many different backgrounds and operated out of many different motivations. Steve and Cheryl labored under what I believe is misplaced loyalty to the Byrds but were honest seekers of truth and redemption. I do not believe the same about other leaders. I saw many who were motivated by greed and power and a sense of self-importance in their Kingdom of God fantasies.

At some point, some late night, I packed Halle up and drove to my parents house and asked to stay there. I wasn’t allowed to tell them what the issue was. I just felt like I couldn’t be there with him. My dad said if I stayed with them, if I left the covering of my husband’s home for any length of time, I needed to submit to him and I would be treated as one of the kids. I would have a chore list and would not be treated as an adult. He didn’t know. They had no idea what I was facing at home, and the 'sanctity of marriage' is something that my parents value highly. I gathered Halle up and I slept in the car that night. Grimace, the car that had broken down repeatedly and betrayed me in some of the worst moments of our honeymoon had become my only safe place.

Finally, leadership arranged a meeting with our parents and the other Core Group leaders of the church. my husband’s parents, my parents, Rick and Vicki Johnson, Jim and Ronnie Buck, Steve and Cheryl Melzer, Anne and Barry Byrd, Steve and Toni Parker. Troy and Dannie Hopkins were there as well, which struck me as odd since Troy was very new to the community and in my mind they didn’t represent the mature leadership that I expected at this meeting.

Later, my father-in-law would tell me that when my husband made his confession to that group, he thought that he heard his son say that he had had sex with a whore, not a horse. Or maybe, he said, that’s what he wanted to hear. It wasn’t until later that Paul found out what his son actually said that day. 

The Process

I think nobody knew how to deal with the issues my husband had. I think I was an emotional, hormonal, teenage wreck, and no one knew how to deal with me. I do know that at that meeting, and every one before it and after, I was told by every leader I talked to that that was WHAT GOD WANTED FOR ME. The message was consistent and repeated. For some reason, for some future plan, he wanted me to go through this pain.

I understand now that they were wrong. I know that they were as capable of failure as I was, or my husband, or any of us. I know that God doesn’t appoint leaders who don’t make mistakes (if he appoints any at all) and I refuse to believe that God wants any of us to live in pain, day after day, without end, without empathy, without comfort. This is why there are laws, commandments, for restoration and healing. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, that there is purpose in everything, but I believe that abusers should be called into accounting for the harm they have caused others, and no church should shelter them from consequence.

After the deep betrayal that I experienced from my the man that I married, who was supposed to be my god-ordained authority and protector, the injustice propagated by the leaders at Marble, these self-proclaimed ministers of God’s will in my life is one of the more egregious violations by leadership at Marble.

I was not the only victim of this ambivalence toward abuse. There were many more cases of individuals who suffered worse abuse than I did and saw their violators go happily about the community, protected by leaders who enjoyed the power they wielded over them. I also know that this enablement of abusers isn't a unique story to Marble. Many churches have sheltered perpetrators in the name of biblical redemption while victims are left floundering for healing. My hope in sharing these stories is that other victims can reach out and find the healing they were denied, as I am doing now.

My panic attacks had devolved into a dark deadening of my soul. I remember sitting in the corner of my bed. Rocking. Just rocking. Staring at the wall while Halle kicked in her crib next to me. I started to become paranoid about getting pregnant again. I was terrified of the physical process knowing I couldn’t use birth control. I couldn’t stop my husbands’s advances. Especially now that I lived with the constant fear that if I couldn’t meet his needs he would take them elsewhere.

I lived my days in terror and my nights in pain. I talked to a few of the women in leadership and found little to no empathy or support until Jeanne Ochs heard me talking about my terror of another pregnancy. She looked me dead in the eye and said “Livia, you are NOT a broodmare. God did not give you that body and the brain you have to just crank out babies. Go find some form of birth control.” I cried tears of relief and made an appointment with the midwife - the one who had held us accountable for our fornication - to be fitted for a diaphragm. Shortly after that appointment, I found out that I was already pregnant with MacKenzie.

2 comments:

  1. You are such a powerful writer. What you are sharing is so important and takes so much courage; I can't stop reading your words. The people in your life failed you so deeply on every level, and I hope with all my heart you are finding peace and comfort now. You deserve every happiness and I am so impressed with your profound fortitude and character.

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  2. I'm so sorry about your horse fucking ex

    ReplyDelete

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