Anyone who’s taken our classes knows a bit of Leren’s story. She freely shares the frustration and disappointment of not connecting with God, even after years of involvement in Immanuel Prayer. The story she tells in the Immanuel Lifestyle class begins around 2006. It’s been a decade of slow and steady progress, learning God’s truth, noticing the feelings and memories of abuse that she wanted to ignore, growing her capacity. (If you haven't heard it, you can listen to Leren's original story here.) In the summer of 2016, she told this new installment of her story to our Chicago Immanuel community so we could celebrate this milestone with her. Now she wants to share it publicly. For everyone who has followed Leren’s journey, everyone who struggles with disconnection, and everyone who loves to hear how God is at work – this story is for you.
Dreams, memories, words, and songs bombarded my mind as I lay in bed. I kept trying to get comfortable, to relax. But I hardly slept all night. The fragmented thoughts kept coming, and my anxiety kept rising. Was I going crazy?
My husband John, waking in the morning, assured me I was not. “Just let it come,” he encouraged me, “something inside needs to come out.”
With John there, the thoughts became less scattered. Abuse memories began to surface. I could hear my own voice, tiny and scared like a child’s: “I don’t want to….”
John had tried to help me sleep the night before by building a dark “fort” over our bed. Now it was a sanctuary – our sanctuary. He reminded me, “These memories need to come sometime. You’re safe here. And you’re in charge. It’s your choice.”
I think the memories were triggered by fear of losing my twin brother, Mark, who had been rushed to the emergency room a few days before and was still laboring to breathe. My parents had both passed away within the last five years, as had John’s sister Sue. I was sure my family and I couldn’t handle one more loss. I had been begging God to let Mark live.
As John encouraged me to allow the abuse memories to come up, I remembered another painful experience. But this one was mixed with joy: the birth of our daughter Katie. I was partway through labor when she got stuck. The nurse made me roll onto my side, and I breathed through my contractions. Oh the relief and joy when my precious girl arrived!
With my appreciation for Katie giving me strength, I was able to let the abuse memories begin to come forward. I remembered the healing prayer session when I first recalled the abuse. A picture of my abuser came to mind. “NO!” I said out loud to John, “I don’t want to go there.”
He gently nudged me forward: “You need to. It’ll be okay.”
“It’s not safe!” I was certain.
John tried to reassure me of my safety. “I have a baseball bat in the closet.”
“To bash his head in?” A part of me really felt like doing that.
“Yes.” John understood.
I still didn’t want to see him. I opened my eyes and saw the wooden frame John used to prop up the blankets for our fort. It was as if it formed a cross there in the darkness. Darkness like when God turned his back on Jesus. Like when the earth shook and the temple curtain tore. I closed my eyes again and saw a dark hallway. It wasn’t an abuse memory. Light began to appear at the other end. Heaven. I saw my parents and John’s sister Sue. I began to sense that they were okay. I began to feel peace.
But not totally. I withdrew a little. I still didn’t want Mark to be there. I was certain his loss would be unbearable. I didn’t trust God at all, and I said so. Then an inkling of a thought came: Sue, Mom, Dad – they were okay. Maybe Mark would be okay, too, even if he didn’t live. Maybe I would be okay.
The relief brought another memory: Christmas Eve, right after Katie’s birth. My extended family sat in our pew, Mom holding Katie. My daughter’s tiny face brought into reality the gift of another baby 2000 years ago. The sense of wonder was palpable. Everyone in church was moved – not just our pew full of family, but all who were present. Mom was so proud.
As I remembered the scene, it suddenly hit me: Mom hadn’t just been proud of Katie in that moment. She had been proud of me. Me! I had never realized it before. My last bit of resistance fell apart, and I sobbed with relief, trying to take it all in. She loved me. She was proud of me. She felt the same way about me that I felt about my precious little girl. Everything was going to be okay.
I felt the remaining tension in my body relax. The tears stopped. I opened my eyes and looked at John, astonished. As he looked back at me, I saw the sparkle in his eyes – or was it a tear? I couldn’t keep the awe out of my voice as I verbalized what we both knew, “God was here, John. God was here!”
“Yes,” John smiled. “I know.”
The four months since this encounter with God have not been easy. They have been emotionally and relationally intense. But Leren has experienced an increased capacity to let the trauma memories come up and to allow others (and God!) to be with her in the pain. She has been shedding shame and self-hatred. She has become more open to physical touch. She is able to be present to others’ trauma in redemptive ways. And God continues to carry on his work of bringing forth her true self. Thank you, Lord.