January 5, 2019 ~ My story is brief and true.
“Expose the level of their hypocrisy…now forgive them for it. That is justice. There is no revenge.”
Those words have haunted me for years now. In the wake of the MeToo Movement, and the Catholic sex abuse scandal, I am left broken and discarded. Having told my story to both church officials and friends, I am ignored. Working as a volunteer, I have no human resources department to assist me. So I’m writing it for all to read.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. It is both personal and communal. Many have suffered alongside me. The sexual harassment and abuse I have experienced was at the hands of church leaders. Those who are supposedly free from such selfishness. I am learning of more deceit everyday. Ignorance and culpability drive this train. I am but one of many passengers who were injured. There are thousands.
Since submitting my complaint to the Christian Reformed Church in November of 2017, I have yet to receive a single word from the establishment. Nothing. Did they address the issue?
I am learning how I had deluded myself into thinking I had forgiven my past. Forgiven all the injuries and injustices I had endured, but time is showing me otherwise. Time and patience are moulding me into to my purest form.
The process of enlightenment. It is extremely painful. Practicing being patient, tolerant, kind, and generous keep me joyful in the midst of seeing a sea of ugliness. Staying positive and grateful allow me to remain thoughtful and considerate of others.
Most people take advantage of my kindness. I am well aware, but I would rather be considered a pushover than a hammer, any day of the week.
Think of me as weak if you must, but I know my strength resides within myself. Your opinion of me really does not matter. I am who I am, and in the end, I am all I can account for. I know I have and am continuing to do the next sincere action. How do I know? I haven’t had to drink over my turmoil. Many moons ago I would have. I would have drank to wash Herald away. Only Herald never goes away. He is protected by Church. Who is Herald? Read on.
I am learning to forgive like Christ forgave. A forgiveness that surpasses time. A daily shedding of anger and fear left behind by uncaring self absorbed hands, just like Herald’s.
Life is showing me trauma has a way of either bringing people together or pulling them apart. I hope my story shows love is stronger than selfishness. My abusers are selfish, self-seeking ego driven men and women of faith. Their sick and callous behavior is out of my control. I am powerless over how my story is received, I just need to tell anyone who cares to read on.
I have nothing left to hide, nor hide from. I am free to speak my truth. My truth is the Christian Church abused me all my life. Turn the other cheek, I was told again and again. Catholics and Protestants alike. Both as an adult woman and child, church violated my sanctity. Sexually, emotionally, mentally and yes spiritually people I thought were trustworthy marginalized my need to be heard.
Still, the wrongdoing goes unaddressed and ignored. Those claiming authenticity hide behind lawyers and insurance companies, fearing financial retribution. Which only enables the abuse to continue.
Organized cover-up of pastoral crimes. Those claiming to lead wholesome lives live a lie. Forgiving church conspiracy? It is nearly impossible, but with God’s help and Christ’s Mercy? All things are possible.
Refinement, mystics like to call it. Whatever you want to term it, it’s emotionally painful, but that’s life, and I know it well. I know the pain of shedding light on shame and guilt, fear and remorse. I also know the rewards of letting old wounds heal after they have been ripped open time and again.
I find I must remain loving even when the world around me tells me not to. Love frightens people somehow. Maybe they don’t recognize it. I have found people are jealous of love. Others think I have a secret. I don’t. I’m what you might call the eternal optimist. I never loose hope for better days. On my worst days, I remind myself that my flexibility is a strength. Everyday I rely on goodness to guide me. I am doing the next kind thing, the result is out of my hands.
I move slowly these days, my wounds are sore both mentally and physically. They have been ripped open time and again by callous hands. I’m learning to focus on the light in the dark. I must concentrate on the silver lining. Gratitude is one of my many keys to happiness.
Living my truth is another. Some people still want to silence my screams. They always have. My tale is one of joy and sorrow.
Strength and resilience build better women, and I am one of them. Broken and marginalized, I remain loving.
My story starts here ~
“Forgiveness is all there is, Mary”, Bumpy said in exasperation.
I questioned forgiveness vesus accountability. Still do. Always have. Weighed the two. They are not even.
Bumpy knew forgiveness intimately, as do I. Justice, however, is something unknown to both of us. We have only known grace and forgiveness. A grace that transcends tragedy. Turning the cheek as some say.
“Now is the time for forgiveness” ~
This quote I know well. I should. I heard it enough growing up. What I learned is forgiveness is both tolerant and understanding. Being forgiving also brings forgiveness. When I am kind, people tend to be kind back. Not all, but most. Kindness has brought me many blessings.
I have been practicing forgiving all my life. Yet, after telling part of my story publicly, somehow the universe seemed to fold onto itself. The unthinkable happened. The truth came out.
Not my truth, but the true nature of the crime. Theological hypocrisy, laced with ego and lust, infested the Church from tip to stern.
I recently learned the Church has been betraying me for years. The totality of the conspiracy has left me conflicted and overwhelmed with life and love. I am angry at myself for my gullibility, and at my friends for disappointing me.
“Trust in others is so fragile. Especially in an already broken person.” I cried on Dan’s shoulder once, “and now my trust in others is shattered. I know I need to forgive the situation, it just is so painful.”
“Mary, you are stronger than you know. You will get through this”, was Dan’s tender reply.
I am is so broken hearted these days, it worries Dan. I’m barely functional. Still, I count my blessings. I am so in love with him. He is kind, gentle and wise. We met young, and he was such a saving grace. Still is, Dan is always top on my gratitude list. Next to faith. Somehow, putting myself in the hands of God has saved me time and again. Not physically, but spiritually. My heart remains open and my mind is a sponge.
Gratitude and grace keep me open and kind. I like to say I’m an ex-career hungry, middle-aged mom, wife, and best friend. I quit my job happily long ago. I was done with competition. I wanted babies. Moreover, I wanted Dan’s babies.
What I didn’t know is how hard mothering would be. Especially from one broken mother to another. My loving husband knows all about me and is incredibly patient. He remains confident in my ability to rise above these circumstances. He gives me time to heal and learn, as he himself learns.
It seems children retrace your own childhood in a way, and my childhood was tramatic. My parents were two broken healers. They both, together, shattered their love and healed each other. They showed me the way to transformation is through honesty and patience. I miss them often and cherish the wisdom they impart to me.
Being the youngest of 8 children, I never received much attention. I learned to stay quiet and not complain. Otherwise, I’d get a beating. Fly under the radar, don’t ask for help and don’t get caught. These were the rules to live by growing up.
The reality was, I needed concrete guidance and my parents were too broken to give it. However, I have 4 brothers and 3 sisters in my life to help me along the way. I learned early to consider both their worldly knowledge and their tenderness when judging others.
What family teaches me is the importance of open, honest communication. Open discussion of the things people don’t want to hear about, talk about, or own, must be shared for love to grow.
People are born to forgive I believe. I have to. My story is one of forgiveness. Forgiveness of neglect, abuse, harassment and confusion. Both done to me, as I did to myself. I learned trauma has a way of returning. Sometimes slowly, but on the day in question? A slap in the face.
“Trauma returns to either kill you or build you”, I say. I learned this having to hide under the pew during mass when I couldn’t look at the altar. I’d hide under the pew and pray, “take me away.” Eventually I did get taken away, but it took decades.
I believe in letting things go, but my past has been resurfacing. Not that I want to confront it. I would rather have stayed home. Months prior my friends invited me to share part of my story. Since then people seemed to be testing my integrity.
Looking back, everything started falling apart mentally. Little rumours started about me and people started whispering. The conspiracy was ignited. Again. To my demise. What conspiracy? Church leaders using my story and prayers to promote themselves.
It all started in the September of 2015, when someone thrust a note into my pocket at church. I didn’t see who, but nonetheless there it was.
Crumpled and torn the note read ~
“How I long to make you cry.”
When I read it, not knowing who wrote it, or why they gave it to me, disturbs me. Later, I burnt it, I can’t stand the sediment. Who longs to make someone cry?
Some church people, they are so strange, I can’t help but think, remembering that morning. Church was crowded and joyful that day, making the note all the more confusing.
It had been months after sharing my story, and I was still reeling from the aftermath. Men at my regular AA groups were angry with me. Confused, I thought maybe people misunderstood my experience.
” How can they be angry at my story? It’s my story, not theirs.” I told Paula once. Paula couldn’t answer either.
“I thought we were friends” is all I can think. “Why is everyone so angry with me telling my story?”
I am mystified by my community’s response. People are angry. They should be angry. Angry at the injustice of it all, but why did they take it out on me?
I want to curl up and die at times. Instead I remember: Mental health is so fragile in an already fragile person. Be gentle with yourself. My second thought is normally the graceful one.
Practicing daily living skills of prayer and meditation, contemplation and charity, saves my butt. Without God’s grace and my family, I would be drunk right now.
Every morning I plead: Lord relieve me of the bondage of self. Be with me today~
On this particular morning, I was getting together with my bestie Paula. Since Bumpy’s death, Paula has been a tremendous source of comfort and joy for me. She is one of the strongest women I know. Her story is amazing.
Pushing aside my need for sleep, I force myself to change out of my robe. I have been in it for two days. Grabbing the first shirt I find, I sniff, not bad. I glance in the mirror, making sure it’s presentable. I am a mess and has been ever since loosing my sponsor. Loosing Bumpy weights heavy on my heart. Everything is an effort it seems. Struggling to take care of myself, I considered putting off my lunch date with Paula.
I need to go, I know how dangerous isolation is. I need to go just to get out of the house and see Paula. Paula will help me laugh, I say to myself.
Managing to brush my teeth and comb my hair, I get out the door on time. Buddy’s Dinner is a short drive from my house. On the way, I’m filled with apprehension. My heart is broken. I can’t stand grief. It tears your world wide open. It makes you question existence. I have grieved for so many loves gone by, that I know time will heal my sorrow, but for now I’m hurting.
I’m not doing well, I need a meeting bad. I wish I still felt safe at meetings. I remember thinking.
The parking lot was full, so I parked around back. Collecting my thoughts, and said a quick prayer ~
“God help me get through this lunch. My heart is broken…. help me eat and help me not cry. Thy will, not mine, be done. I Love You ~Amen”
I pause often now. Every time memories of Bumpy’s final day surface, I still feel torn between anger and sorrow. One lovely autumn afternoon, I received a voicemail from Christian, informing me of Bumpy’s death.
A voicemail! We had known each other for 10 years. Bumpy knew all of my struggles and successes. I still haven’t found my footing after loosing Bumpy suddenly in a car accident, and I certainly haven’t forgiven Christian for his callous behavior.
I have been forcing myself to participate in life ever since. Simple tasks seem insurmountable. Depression is a bear, and loosing my spiritual mentor put me dangerously close to drinking again. I needed an AA meeting, but after being harassed by Christian’s friends, I felt unwelcome and unsafe.
Unwelcome is a familiar feeling to me. I have known it all my life. Never quite fitting in, I was what one would call a social butterfly. Floating from group to group, contributing what I could. Making connections is a gift, one I cherish. I think it’s because I don’t share myself easily…at least don’t prefer to, I normally keep my opinion to myself. I did I say until the day I suffered my bipolar break, or at least the day it was made permanent. By my ‘friends’. Men in charge of Church. Dangerous and oh so deadly.
I drank to wash Church away. Herald and Church and theology. Glug, glug, glug. Ahhhh. All gone. Since having found AA, I finally felt like i belonged. A bunch of sober drunks talking about God. Heavenly. I followed the suggestions, got a sponsor and a home group and shared what had been so freely given.
I had been a pivotal force within my home group and local community. Had, being the operative word. Had been, until the local men’s group decided I was too influential. The men started subtly harassing me in meetings, being overly assertive and intimidating. Others would pretend crying and mock me.
“Much more so than normal, and directed at me,” I told Paula once. Poor Paula didn’t understand. She couldn’t. She wasn’t harassed.
Confused, depressed and distraught I keep saying the bless the bastard prayer. So appropriate, you wouldn’t believe. I have been saying it for Bumpy’s ex-husband Christian.
Christian was a real piece of work. Bumpy and he had been divorced for years, but when Bumpy died, Christian came sniffing around the kids again. Bumpy came from money, old and lots of it.
Bumpy’s kids were from her first marriage and they were the reason she and Christian divorced. Christian was demeaning, arrogant and belligerent after drinking.
Christian is a golden slipper as AAers say. He will be sober for a few years and slip, sober up, and slip. It really is hard to witness. Almost as hard to witness as go through. Poor bastard.
Bumpy was blessed. “ Faith family, friends” she would say, “I can’t be a mom if I’m drunk. My first job is to wake up sober and go to bed sober. Without that, I have nothing left.”
Enough memories for now, I need to be present. Taking a deep breath, i climb out of the minivan and head into Buddy’s Dinner.
Buddy’s is always crowded and there is normally a wait. I secretly hope Paula won’t show, that way I can go back to bed.
Approaching the entrance, a groan slips out upon seeing the line at the hostess stand.
‘I want to go home,’ i think.
Pausing to allow my eyes time to adjust to the light, I scan the crowded dinner, looking for Paula. Suddenly I hear my name.
“Mary! Over here”, Steve says, waving.
I wave back and keep walking, hoping Steve will take the hint. But Steve shouts louder…”Mary! over here!”
I walk over, stating plainly: “I’m meeting Paula for lunch.”
“Well, how are you?”, Steve asks politely.
“Honestly? Not good” , I confessed.
“Sit down, what’s going on?”, Steve suggests as his booth mate coughs, subtly interjecting…”it’s crowded would you care to join us?”
No I thought, but instead says, “how about I join you until Paula arrives.”
“Sounds good, let’s catch up. What’s new?” Steve says in all sincerity.
I look at Steve and bursts out crying. “Don’t you know about Bumpy?”
Steve forgot. Given the look of horror on his face, he had no idea of the depths of my grief. I choke back my tears and say my apologies..
“I’m sorry, I’m still a mess,” I croak.
“I can see that,” Steve says gently, handing me a napkin.
“Thanks, who is this?” Mary grins bashfully at the stranger.
“This is Herald”, Steve replies, “He’s part of my men’s group at church.” I know Steve from my local church, New England Chapel. I does not recognize Herald.
I size him up, thinking ‘ I don’t trust Steve as far as I can spit, I really don’t care what Herald has to say.‘
Herald smiles and says, “we all need to cry at times my dear, don’t worry.”
Laughing I say “I’m not worried, I’m broken.”
Herald says, “we all are broken.”
“I know”, i gulp for air. I can’t quite breathe.
Then Herald suddenly asks “do you believe in scripture?”
“Why yes, Herald, I do”, I answer suprised by the question. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Herald starts sketching. Talking openly as he is drawning on his napkin. “some people believe the church and it’s bride are similar to a husband and wife relationship. The pastor sows the seed, the bride receives.” Herald sketches seed being discharged.
“Receives what?”, I ask confused by Herald’s topic of conversation and mortified by his sketch.
“The seed,” Herald responds leering at his sketch. He slowly takes his eyes from the sketch to look at Mary. “The man sows the seed”, he states sternly. Pointing to his sketch.
My mind is swirling. I feel sick. This moment is déjà vu. I have been here before.
“I have had this conversation before, Herald,” I spit out bitterly. “I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now”.
I am now infuriated. My PTSD is spiked. I want to scream and yell. I wants to smack Herald. It takes every tool I have to pause.
“We all carry the seed!” I shout.
As I raise my voice, Steve squirms and whispers, “I need to get back to work. You two good?” Before I can answer, Steve is gone.
Still in shock, I stay. Trying to gain my sense of presence. Suddenly Herald reaches across the table, grabs my hand unexpectedly and whispers in my ear: “no one hugs a pastor, not for one minute or one second.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You heard me,” Herald says.
Sitting in shock Im not sure what Herald really wants. Is he threatening me? It certainly feels that way.
“What do you mean Herald?,” I asked angrily.
Before Herald can answer, Paula appears.
“Sorry I’m late, it’s so crowded I didn’t see you.” Paula plops down smiling.
I sit in a sea of confusion. What is going on? Is Herald threatening me? What does he mean? Why would he say that? I hug pastors, am I wrong?
Did I ask for it?… is all Mary can think.
“I need to go now,” I mumble. ” I feel nauseous.” Paula looks at me dumbfounded and disappointed. “What’s wrong?” she asks.
My mind is racing and she is not sure exactly what’s happening. She has only one thought: ‘get away from Herald‘. Every fiber of my being wants to run out of Buddy’s Dinner.
In a fog I say my goodbyes and run for the door. Once inside the minivan I start shaking and vomiting. I am 10 years old …again.
…You asked for it
It is the core issue for little Miss Mary Smith. Ever since childhood Mary’s inquisitive mind led her to explore and question authority.
Authority figures liked Mary. She was bright and bubbly and full of sunshine, until one day Johnny from the altar decided to teach Mary anatomy. Problem was Mary was 4 years old and Johnny was 18 years old. Mary didn’t understand, but Johnny taught her all about the tingle.
“The tingle you feel. That’s God’s way of telling you this is good. We are meant to be.” Johnny would say. Mary didn’t agree. All she felt was frightened and alone.
That’s how Herald left her feeling. Frightened and alone. Did I ask for it?
Grateful i hadn’t eaten, I quickly rinse my mouth and clean my car. Slowly, I drive home.
Dan isn’t home yet, it’ll give me time to pull myself together. Now I was definitely going to bed. First a shower, then a quick nap. I feel awful.
While I showered all i could think of was that asshole Herald. He freaked me out to the point of a flashback. I was having trouble staying focused. What was that all about?
What pastors have I hugged?
Only those who have worked at or been employed by New England Chapel. The word pastor seared into my brain.
Why would a pastor send me such a message. What did I do? What pastors do I know?
That’s all of them. Pastors at New England Chapel. Yes I have hugged all of them, except one: Brian. Interesting.
My head is swirling, my heart is pounding and all I could do was cry. What was going on?
Herald’s insult was a slap so hard it knocked me back to yesteryear. I felt as if I was going to suffocate or implode. Everything came rushing back at once.
All those priests, ministers, coaches, teachers, nuns, parishioners, and yes, congregations, I have forgiven? Are you kidding me?
No one hugs a pastor…ringing in my ears
Never again, Mary thinks.
I crawl into bed, just a quick nap before Sammie and Luke get home from school.
Recovery is accepting reality as it is. I don’t know who Herald is or why he would assault me that way. These tears burn. My eyes feel like they are on fire.
I don’t think I did anything wrong, I tell myself between breaths. Finally the cortisol kicks in and I am asleep.
“Mom! Wake up, it’s 3 o’clock and I have therapy,” Sammie whispers gently in Mary’s ear. Mary struggles to open her eyes, they still burn.
Sammie is Mary’s joy. The sweetest thing you will ever meet. Both Sammie and Luke keep me joyful. Such a handful, always have been, but they keep me young and flexible.
I thank God everyday for the joy i discovered in being a Mom. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever known, but to have a child is a gift I cherish.
For years I questioned God’s purpose for all my suffering. What I learned is suffering is not accepting reality as it is.
What I know is God simply wants me to be present. He also wants my story known.
The question remains ~
Who do you work for?
Was Herald threatening me? Is that the reality of that afternoon?
This much I learned, my friends in my home group? They were very few. Only My Dove Paula stood true. Although, she doesn’t understand how deeply those pastors harmed me. Yes, harmed me. Socially, mentally, emotionally, employability. You did that by sending Herald.
I hug pastors. Am I wrong?
Hurt people hurt people
But a hug?
I followed the process
It took Mary a year to recover from Herald’s slap. When she did, she contacted Chris Mitchell. Chris denies knowing anything. Claims he’s innocent. He knew nothing. All while he was Pastor. Moreover, he tells others he did nothing wrong. It’s all in Mary’s mind. She imagined it. You are a coward Chris. You know it, Mary knows it, now put it in writing my friends. In writing. How I drove Mary McWilliams insane by the founders of New England Chapel. That would be lovely.
Do people have that much power over another?
Yes. You, Chris’s little groupies, all harassed me into a nervous breakdown, thereby causing a bipolar break. You sexually harassed a rape survivor and denied it. You crushed my Spirit. The founders of New England Chapel did that to me by sending Herald with his scumy little message and his filthy drawing.
Bonnie Nicholas you may be a survivor, but you are no leader. Step down Bonnie and let a real survivor direct healing. One that actually brings people together and not tear them apart.
Hey Chris Mitchell. The process is broken. You know it, I know it. Be a man.
My revenge? Honesty…this is a work in writing the events are real. The people are real. The feeling were real. The aftermath is real. My reality? I live with bipolar disease now. Induced by New England Chapel.
I want the world to know, you Chris and Cindi Mitchell and the Christian Reformed Church, wronged me for the last time. Adios amigos. Freaking cowards… and no Christian is a coward.
I loved you once but you rejected me. You are hypocrites New England Chapel. I continue to pray for you and your loved ones. Why? Love never dies, it only transfers. I hope your loved ones are blossoming beautifully. Especially, my slugger. Who? My mantle, my picture of glory, my survivor extraordinaire. I hope you are doing awesome.
That’s it for now… TTYL…read on
It is now January 10, 2019 and Mary has yet to hear from the Christian Reformed Church regarding any action taken on my behalf. Typical. Some church. Some freakish nightmare. My advice? Stay very far from hierarchical religion. Go congregational. But know this, be accountable to your fellows. Don’t bully them. I was pushed out of every support group I had. All because Chris Mitchell protects Herald the horrible Sketcher.
January 12, 2019
Thank you Bonnie for your honesty. It was good to hear from you.
I woke up this morning with grateful eyes. Presently, I am blessed to have a great guy. Mine understands, and says kick their ass or let it go, do what you need to do ~ I love you. I am blessed.
As for Church? I wait for what can’t be said. So write it little boy blue. Write it soon.
PS my family saves me, both then and now. It was church who stole everything.
I turned my childhood abuse story into the Archdiocese of Boston (John Tobin, Phil Casey, and Bucky Gill…all protected by Church). They know specifics. It’s the adult story I struggle with. How can some men be so cruel and cowardly at the same time?
I put it in God’s hands, what will be