The thing I know about trauma- is it comes in many forms. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the impact of trauma from peacemaking work on the seemingly intractable conflict in the middle east. I’ve also seen it’s damaging effects when left undealt with. The long-term impact of pain and trauma going unnamed, or when experienced undealt with, will always be detrimental in ways we can’t imagine.
When I shared my experiences with the leadership of Willow, I thought I was in a pretty good place. Having navigated the layers of implications stemming from Bill’s abuse, I thought I was on a good path to healing. I naively thought the truth would be welcomed and responded to. I did months of counseling to reconcile the layers of complexities with his role as my boss and mentor and pastor. I went through my own process of deconstruction, came close to some serious self-destruction along that path, and eventually made it to a place of acceptance.
I had to wade through devastation on so many levels: what this meant for God’s Kingdom, what it meant for willow, for Bill and for his family. For his influence on the global church. The values Bill shaped have impacted most of our churches in more ways than one, including empowerment of women in leadership. Bill has had a profound impact on my life personally- not just as a leader in the church but as my pastor, my boss, my mentor, my friend. I’ve been shaped by people who’ve been shaped by him. However, he was also inappropriate with me- on multiple occasions. Despite what I was told by an investigator about the inability for those two realities to coexist, they do.
I cried until I couldn’t breathe, the day the scales fell from my eyes. The afternoon it all sank in- I was driving and had to pull over because I couldn’t catch my breath. I knew several times that things were “off” but it wasn’t until I did my inventory work with a counselor that I could articulate how badly. It was heartbreaking as I read the stories of other women come out with very similar patterns. I was grieved at the gravity of Bill’s intentions- of the cumulative behavior I experienced and reported as it was confirmed in the stories we read. I spent many hours in counseling, reading and journaling to work through my experiences and their implications. I wrestled through the symptoms and patterns of power abuse, and because of the nature of his role and the sexual harassment- spiritual abuse. Not just what I experienced but what the organization perpetuated. It’s all so difficult to accept.
I had no idea of the trauma I would endure after speaking up. It’s added more layers for me- for all of us as more stories surfaced. It was compounded as we’ve seen how they were responded to, the multiple narratives and attempts to spin things. It’s difficult to see through the fog when it’s dark out. I hope as our eyes begin to adjust to the light that is breaking in, we’ll be ready to see things more clearly. I’m working on the words to share my own story in a graciously disruptive, not destructive way. I’m not sure we can handle the weight of more stories at this moment. If we’re going to shine the flood lights that are needed, we should be prepared to name what we see. If we’re not, we may be tempted to just say “everyone falls short of the glory of God” and move on. I don’t mean that to be trite because it is absolutely true. But we need to look deeper so we don’t miss naming the root issues here. It’s necessary to gain the resolve to deal with them. I’m hopeful now that the leaders at willow are committed to this.
Whether we realize it or not, I think that trauma is where most of us are right now. Trauma as the truth of Bill’s abuse sinks in. The realities that there are likely more stories and for many of us the gut-wrenching revelations about the organization’s complicity are hard to swallow. We have experienced trauma at the hands of leaders we love, at a church we love and where most of us have experienced life altering transformation. I’ve learned, when you are disappointed or hurt by the church, it becomes difficult to separate your feelings of disappointment from God himself. The church is meant to be the body of Christ, His extension of Jesus to a hurting world.
So many went quickly to the defense of Bill and the church, on social media and in their circles. The narrative the church presented was somewhat believable, and more palatable than the truth of the stories we brought forth. I have friends who said they feel stupid for not only believing it but for defending it. I had former colleagues at willow drive to my city to “set me straight” because of what they were told about me. While my name was kept out of the public unraveling of this story, it was not kept out of circles around Willow. These former colleagues apologized for the names they were calling me on their way to meet with me. As painful as that experience was, I have to believe there is something well-meaning at the core of it. These guys were trying to defend their church, their beloved leader, maybe in some subtle way God. Now that we’ve heard the narratives were deceiving, our confusion is real. But I want to believe at the core of all of this- those on stage at that family meeting and all involved in the processes preceding it were trying to defend their church. Sadly, in a terribly misguided way.
This is not just superficial damage, the wounds are deep. It will require a bit of a taking a part, before it can be put back together. Not just for the church but within our faith, and how we understand God. For now, as the shock wears off I think we need to allow ourselves to feel the weight of what we need to feel. In my experience that’s been a wide range: fear, anger, sadness, rage, numb. A friend just told me they feel like someone they love died. If I’ve learned anything in this season it’s that God meets us in our pain.
I have heard him speak to me and experienced His presence more in my pain than in any other season of my life. What I know about pain is that we either transform it or we’re transformed by it. Either way, we’re stuck with who we become through it. If it isn’t dealt with, it will rear it’s ugly consequences in disastrous ways, most likely inflicting our own unprocessed pain on those we love most. If you’re feeling anger or grief- you’re not weak, you’re not crazy, you’re not stuck and if you’re not heartbroken, you’re not paying attention. I believe today more than ever that God’s business is restoration. He wants to rebuild what has been broken if you’ll let him.
“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” Psalm 34:18