The spouses of pastors often find themselves in a more isolated world of pain than the pastors themselves. Thus, the need for CPR (Celebrate Pastors in Recovery) for spouses is just as great. If you are interested in helping to start CPR for spouses of pastors in your area, please complete this survey that will let us know of your interest.
My wife, Julie, recognized the need for recovery in her own life and courageously chose not to wait for a spouse group to come available at the time, but travelled the 12-step journey with a group of women connected to our church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry. I asked her for permission to share her testimony with you and she graciously agreed. I trust it will bless and encourage you as it has others.
Hi. I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with being an adult child of family dysfunction. My name is Julie.
As long as I can remember, my family went to church. My uncle was the pastor, my father was a deacon, and my mother was the Sunday school secretary of our small neighborhood church. I loved church so much; I would pretend and play “church” just like I would play “school” or “dolls.” Church attendance was an activity I never questioned. We were there whenever the doors were open. I’m thankful for the opportunities I had as a child learning truths from the Bible that my aunt taught me in Sunday school. My interest and love for music was encouraged and nurtured in my church. Even though it was small, my church was an extended family that loved me very much.
At home, though, we lived out secrets that were never mentioned at church. On one side of the coin was a family who were founders and pillars of a church and on the other side were secrets of verbal abuse, affairs, sexual abuse, lies, alcohol, and drug abuse.
Growing up, I never would have labeled my family as dysfunctional. I knew deep down that our family had issues, but how does a person know what is or isn’t normal when dysfunction is all she’s ever known? We were who we were! Don’t get me wrong. There were some happy times; we had fun family times on the lake water-skiing and fishing; through the years, relatives from out of town would often visit and stay with us in our home; my mother daily prepared a delicious home-cooked meal for us and mother and daddy were my biggest supporters in my piano lessons. In fact, my dad would lie on the couch and listen to me play the piano for hours! But as I have discovered in recovery, we were a poster family of dysfunction.
I pretty much did everything I could to keep anyone at school from knowing much about my home. I was evasive. I didn’t want friends to come over to my house because I would never know when my father would be yelling at my mother, criticizing her, or belittling her. When he wasn’t doing that he was usually quiet. Embarrassingly quiet. My mother would hardly ever respond back to my father and when she did, Daddy would reprimand her as if she were a child.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom, pretty much sacrificing her personality and identity. She seemed to deny herself hobbies and friendships. She still made sure, though, she did not deny herself getting her hair done every Friday at 11 a.m.! During the week, between her beauty shop appointments, mother would wrap her hair up in toilet paper to protect her teased hair. She had such a fun personality under all her toilet paper. I remember, though, even as a little girl being terribly frustrated at mother. I felt she could be so much more than what she was. She was bright, beautiful, and fun loving, yet she seemed so suppressed or locked up.
I recall a time I was in the car with my mother when we had been doing errands. We were near my father’s workplace. We passed by my father’s truck. He was driving, and sitting right next to him under his arm was another woman. My mother didn’t say a single word. She kept driving. I didn’t say anything, either. There was another day around that same time period when I was with my mother and she drove by a house where my father’s truck was parked. Even at a young age, I knew that my dad should not have been at that house. I was so sad because I could tell my mother was heartbroken. I recollect another memory in my father’s upholstery shop, which was in the basement of our home. I loved hanging around him and making pillows on his sewing machine. I opened the shop’s basement door and obviously surprised my dad and his “female helper.” To my knowledge, there was never any confrontation on the issue of my father’s obvious problem with affairs. It was a mute subject. It was one of many secrets our family swept under the rug.
My parents weren’t the only ones to keep secrets. I learned early that keeping secrets was the way we functioned. One of my secrets was that a boy who lived one block from our house sexually abused me as a child. He was my brother’s friend. When the neighborhood boys would play ball or army he would stay behind and visit with me. Of course, I loved the attention. I was only 7 years old. The boy was in junior high school and it was fun to be included. There was a neighborhood tree house that had been built across the street from our home. We would meet alone in the tree house when all the other kids were away playing. He would show me pictures from magazines and books that young innocent eyes should never have been exposed to. He introduced me to situations I wasn’t prepared or able to handle at a young age. He would assure me it was all right. By never telling my parents about what happened in the tree house, I set myself up for a lifetime of lying and avoidance of truth.
I have two older brothers. Paul, who is now deceased, and Steve. Paul was our “Bubba.” We called him that with much love, admiration, and endearment. He was very charismatic, fun loving and a leader who carried more responsibility for his family than he probably should have. I’m sure he knew the secrets, too. As I reflect on the past, I believe Bubba tried to smooth over many rough times by talking to my mother on the phone when my father was stoic and cold or angry and volatile toward her. Bubba was the one that would provide a peaceful place by encouraging me to have my friends over to his and my sister-in-law’s home because he knew the chaos of yelling either by my dad toward my mom, or by Steve toward my mom. He and my sister-in-law would be the ones to attend most of my extra-curricular school activities. I remember my friends would think that they were my parents. There were times I wish I had lived with them instead of my own home. Bubba would also bale Steve out of many situations so mother and daddy wouldn’t be bothered or get upset with “who knows what all” Steve was involved with.
Steve was someone who could have possibly benefitted from adolescent counseling or therapy, but it just wasn’t the thing to do in the sixties and early seventies. Honestly, even if it was, I believe my parents would have been too prideful to pursue help of that nature. Remember . . . our family kept secrets. Steve was not one to engage with others socially. He was a loner. I believe he probably had a low self-esteem as a child and adolescent. Steve fulfilled his deep, deep void of loneliness with alcohol, drugs, and pornography. My parents never held him accountable to much of anything. It was as if they had their heads buried in the ground unable to face the truth that Steve needed help. The sad story is that Steve is now a 58-year-old homeless man who is still addicted to drugs, alcohol, and pornography – searching for something or someone to fill his void.
When my husband, Hess, began to talk about a ministry called Celebrate Recovery, I wondered if this might be something God could use to help my brother, Steve. When I heard the life-transforming testimonies given by people involved with Celebrate Recovery, it gave me hope for him.
So I began my first Celebrate Recovery step study in 2008, thinking it would give me the tools to deal with my brother. However, I did not complete my first step study. Guess when I quit? If you said during the fourth step, you are correct! When we got to the personal inventory part, it was too personal! Of course, after quitting I was ashamed and felt really unspiritual because I, the pastor’s wife, could not finish a step study. I was also prideful, blaming the reasons for not completing the study on my busy schedule filled with commitments I had convinced myself were more important than a step study. Instead of getting real I was staying busy.
I started another step study in September 2010, and knew without a doubt that after the first lesson, the Celebrate Recovery step study was for me. My brother Steve’s issues were out in the open and obvious to everyone. But my issues were hidden. Secrets buried for many, many years. I realized after the first lesson (the second time around) that I had been living in denial for a long, long time. I realized I needed recovery from habits that were embarrassing and shameful. I needed healing from hurts that I had been stuffing way deep down inside. My hang-ups were forming all around me and I was getting to the point that I was becoming irreversibly hardened to the idea of God ever being able to change me for his purpose. After the first lesson in September 2010, my prayer to God was, “Okay, God. It is now or never. I can’t wear my mask of ‘pastor’s wife’ anymore. This is the raw me. I’m going to be honest. I choose to be transparent. I know honesty is the only way we are going to get anywhere. I don’t want this to be like all the other Bible studies, conferences, or trainings I’ve gone to in the past. I want this to work. If it doesn’t, I think I’m done.”
In the first lesson of the step study it says that we are “as sick as our secrets.” I grew up in a family with many secrets and I learned in childhood and adolescence how to keep my own. These secrets included misusing alcohol during high school. Alcohol was readily available among my friends. I also discovered I could order alcohol in certain restaurants without being carded. And with my impulsive nature, I had no boundaries as far as knowing when to stop drinking. I was involved in wrong relationships and I found myself lying to anyone and everyone to cover up my impulsive and compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, I carried these damaging habits into adult life as well. Where it has been most damaging has been in my marriage. I would often lie or be evasive with Hess, particularly in relationship to our money. I also chose to be isolated from others because I feared anyone knowing that I had struggles. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was not perfect, which is so prideful. I thought I could not allow anyone, including my family, know how sick I was because of my secrets. So, I wore a mask at church, work, and at home . . . a mask of a person that was nonchalant and happy-go-lucky. At times, though, I could not maintain that mask, especially at home. I would often erupt in unexplained anger and rage with Hess and the girls. My daughters would sometimes refer to me as the “Incredible Hulk” although there was nothing incredible about it.
I thought I was successful at wearing a mask. I thought I was getting away with living a lie. I really didn’t think anyone knew but they did. Most of all my family. My denial of who I was and what I had experienced had kept me in the dark for many years. My life was a type of a tornado on the inside just waiting to spew out. In God’s Word it says: “They cried to the Lord in their troubles, and he rescued them! He led them from the darkness and shadow of death and snapped their chains” (Psalm 107: 13-14 TLB). When I began my step study in 2010, I literally cried out to the Lord and he was faithful to rescue me! He was the only one who could snap the chains of secrets that had been built up in me for years. I realized that I was not God, and I admitted to him that I was powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong things. I admitted that my life was unmanageable even though I was in church whenever the doors were open.
Working through the 12 steps and eight principles of Celebrate Recovery has been the tool God continues to use to break the cycle of the insanity created in a life once filled with lies and secrets. God is literally giving me the “serenity to accept the things that I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.” I’m so grateful to him for not giving up on me.
Now when I go to church, I’m not wearing a mask. I am soaking up every sermon preached, every Scripture read, every testimony shared, every song that is sung and every bit of fellowship and communication shared with others. I know how fortunate I am to be part of a community of people who are choosing to live out God’s purpose. I make sure I share any potential secrets and confess them either with my sponsor, an accountability girlfriend, my husband, or with one (or all) of my daughters.
God didn’t give up on me and I need to tell you, he did not give up on my father, either. In 1980, when my father was almost 60 years old, he committed his whole life to Jesus Christ. The same man who was filled with anger and selfishness for so many years became a sincere and faithful worshiper of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m so thankful God allowed me to experience the joy of watching my dad grow in his relationship with Jesus before he passed away. As difficult as it is at times, I still have hope for my brother, Steve. I know the Lord wants to meet Steve where he is. I know only God has the power to heal him.
I don’t want to pick the mask back up again. I want to be exactly who God has created me to be. As the apostle Paul says, “Dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing; Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven” (Philippians 3:13-14 TLB).
Editor’s note: If you struggle with temptation in the area of sexuality or pornography, we encourage you to reach out to Celebrate Recovery to find a recovery ministry in your area, and consider getting additional help from online sources.