In episode two of Overcome With Auntie Anne, I began sharing my personal story of struggle by talking about the death of my young daughter. If you missed it, I encourage you to go back and listen or read the show notes.
This week, I continue sharing and recounting the abuse I experienced after her death and the freedom I eventually found. Listen to the podcast to hear it in my own words, or keep reading below for an overview.
The beginning of abuse
The first time I visited with my pastor, I shared about the hurt and pain I was experiencing because of my daughter’s death, but I also talked about the distance my husband Jonas and I experienced. We were having a hard time connecting and were essentially living in a silent relationship.
The pastor said that Jonas and I would never be able to connect again because of the tragedy. But, he said, he could be what I needed. By the end of the session, I was feeling confused about everything.
In my mind, “meeting my needs” meant getting together, talking, and sharing. But at the end of the session, the pastor walked me to his office door, gave me a long and close hug, and then kissed me.
In the church I was involved with, hugging and saying, “I love you” were normal parts of church life. But this was different, and I was immediately uncomfortable and wanted to break loose from his grip. But, before I left, the pastor told me that I couldn’t tell anyone about this because no one would believe me.
I felt so ashamed about what happened, even though it wasn’t my fault. And that shame kept me silent because even if I did speak out, I didn’t know how I would describe it. At that moment, I became paralyzed emotionally and knew that something had changed within me. This pastor friend, whom I had once trusted, became a force of evil in my life, and I felt like I had no choice but to remain silent.
The progression of abuse
This first session with my pastor, and the subsequent abuse I began to experience, led me into a state of confusion. On the one hand, I met with the pastor weekly and felt heard and understood regarding the pain I was experiencing. On the other hand, he was getting more aggressive. He continued to sow the lie that things with Jonas would never get better and that he was the only man that could meet my needs. This pastor was setting me up to be completely dependent on him.
As a young, pregnant mommy in a silent marriage, I was beginning to doubt that I would be with Jonas forever. This pastor fed into that by talking about how bad his wife was and saying that he and I could run off together one day and get married. Having come to the point where I was completely dependent on this man for my emotional wellbeing, I reluctantly obliged his invitation to meet at a hotel room. I had no idea what would happen, but what did happen left me scared to death.
This trusted pastor friend raped me, then got up and left, leaving me alone in a dingy hotel room with fear and shame as my companions.
Keeping the secret
For seven years, this abusive relationship continued. And just like with the death of my daughter, I started to pretend again. The pastor continued forcing me to keep the secret by reinforcing the lie that no one would believe me if I told them. And he said it was all okay because he was my spiritual leader.
Deep down, though, I knew it wasn’t okay. If it was, why keep it a secret? But I didn’t believe I could ever have a healthy marriage with Jonas again and felt my pastor was the only person I could run towards. The only times I felt okay was when I was with him, and yet, at the same time, I wanted to run away as fast as I could. But I couldn’t. So I did what I had always done--I built up a wall and reverted into myself.
Jonas and I, along with my two sisters and their husbands, eventually followed our pastor friend to Texas to plant a church. And through it all, I continued to pretend and perform. I played the part of the good housewife, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. But deep down, I didn’t feel like a good mom or a good wife because of what the pastor was doing to me. That was always on my mind, and because of that, I became emotionally absent from my family.
My relationships with my sisters became estranged during this time as well. I lived in a different town than they did, and even though we sang together on Sunday mornings, we lost the connection we once had. All over again, I felt the pain of rejection like I’d experienced as a child.
It was during these times that I simply existed. I didn’t feel I could go backward and didn’t feel like I could move forward. I was stuck with no way out, and it was all because of what this pastor was doing to me.
Eventually, I began to see the abuse I was experiencing as what it was--evil and full of darkness. But, unbeknownst to me at the time, I wasn’t the only one this pastor was abusing and deceiving. It turns out the perpetrator was a force of evil in the community, abusing many women and children in the church and getting away with all of it.
I started to suspect his involvement with other women and eventually confronted him. But as with any perpetrator, he used that to keep me in bondage, telling me I had a big mouth, that he never did trust me in the first place, and that I had no facts to prove it. He began to threaten me subtly, saying that if I ever said anything, he’d haunt me for the first of my life. I was stuck once again.
But my saving came in the form of my sister. After six years of no connection, my sister invited me to her home to have coffee. While we were together, she shared with me that she, too, had been abused by our pastor but found the courage to end it and walked away. For me, this was the encouragement I needed. If my sister could walk away and be fine, then maybe I could too.
Over six months, my sister became my lifeline, and eventually, my fear turned into anger at what this man was doing. Emboldened by my anger, I confronted him over coffee and told him, “I’m done,” and that this was the last time we were ever going to get together.
He, of course, said I’d never make it without him and that if I did leave, he’d haunt me for the rest of my life. And then he played the money card, saying he had lots of money and he and I could run away together. But I laughed and said there’s no way I’m going with him, that I’m done, and that he’ll never see me again. So then I left the restaurant shaking like a leaf but knew deep down that I had finally won the battle.
The beginning of freedom
It took me six months after leaving the pastor to tell Jonas about what happened. I didn’t know how he’d respond but was afraid my worst fears would come to reality and that he’d leave me. But I finally found the courage and one day went to his shop. Standing there, I asked if he’d heard about what was happening at the church with our pastor (more about what he was doing began to come out). Jonas said he had, and all I could say was that I was one of those women and that I’m sorry and I’m a sorry person.
I left, having no idea how Jonas would react. Later that night, he came home, and what he said changed my life. If I needed to leave, Jonas said to tell him rather than just leave a note on the dresser and walk away. If I need to leave, he wants to help me find a place to live. And he said that if I leave, I should take the girls with me because they need their mommy.
For me, someone who, at this point, didn’t believe in myself, didn’t have any self-respect and self-esteem and viewed myself as unloveable and unforgivable, this moment changed my life. For my husband, who had just gotten this devastating news, to say that he wants to take care of me, and more than that, believes that I’m good enough to continue being the mommy of our girls--this was the first time in seven years that I began to feel a little hope. Hope that Jonas and I will be fine. Hope that life would okay. Hope that my past wouldn’t define me.
And it was all because I chose to confess and tell my story.
It takes time
It wasn’t until 15 years later, with the help of a therapist, that I finally realized and admitted that all that happened wasn’t my fault. And it took another 15 years after that for me to admit I was raped.
Sharing our stories isn’t easy. And the outcome may not be what we expect. But, it will break something within us, release us from the bondage that our past is holding us in, and bring us into freedom.
And that’s not the end of the story. Jonas and I have been happily married for 53 years and remain best friends. We have two wonderful daughters on earth and one in heaven and blessed with four grandchildren.
After our darkest days, we went on to create the world’s largest international pretzel franchise without an education, business plan, or money. And while that outcome doesn’t mirror everyone’s story, it all started with the freedom one small confession brought, one small part of my story being shared that eventually led to my overcoming.