Whew, I am way too busy and feeling a little overwhelmed. Pray for me. We have a huge webinar today, one at noon ET and one at 7:30. It’s not too late to sign up. Click here to register. Our CONQUER Membership will open today and if you’ve always wondered what it might be like to join, I’ve invited one of our CONQUER sisters to share with you her experience in this amazing fellowship of women.
Becoming a Heroine: The CONQUER Community
Written by: Rochelle Sadie
I recently attended a concert with some of the women whom I have met in Leslie Vernick’s CONQUER group. We call ourselves the “Conquer Sister’s: Minnesota Chapter.” This was a special night we spent together and a gift from the Lord. Spending the evening with these women from the CONQUER group reminded me of all the women in my circle who have kept me safe. They show me my value and always point me back to the One who can ease my pain and heal my wounds. They are my community.
My journey didn’t always have a healthy community. In fact, I have been very wounded by the Christian Community. At the beginning of my story, the church was an unsafe place, filled with controlling and judgmental behavior from others and I learned to hide my struggles in life very quickly! I was taught to protect the family image at all costs and project a picture of perfection. There was extra pressure to live in this way as I was raised in a Pastor’s home. I was told repeatedly that Pastor’s kids must behave above reproach. It was assumed that Pastor’s kids don’t struggle – I wasn’t allowed to be dysfunctional or have my own brokenness. Over time, I learned that church is a place where we hide from God and the community.
In adulthood, the message of hiding from God and community was compounded when I was told not to speak of my husband’s sexual addiction. So, while participating in a church “community” I was hiding a deep, dark secret that was growing in my home. My marriage was abusive, and my marriage was plagued by a man’s sexual addiction. I had no resources, no help, no information, and no one to talk to. I struggled to keep the façade and protect the family image. Consequently, I spent the next 8 years of my marriage and my adult life in the church yet drowning in complete isolation.
Over the years, my PTSD symptoms and avoidance from betrayal and early childhood trauma got worse – I struggled with anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, binging, and purging my own risky sexual deviance and the list goes on… I lived my life on a deserted island trying to “keep it all together” but getting further and further away from God and others. I was completely isolated. Maybe you can relate? I could be in a room full of people yet feel utterly and completely alone. I was lonely in my marriage and my life.
It wasn’t until years later that I was introduced to Leslie Vernick. I began reading Leslie’s online articles and finding answers to the questions I had been asking for over a decade. As I continued to follow Leslie’s ministry, I found out about her CONQUER group for women. I was desperate for MORE truth, more answers, and more support. I joined immediately and found validation and affirmation right away!
After years of spiritual abuse and legalistic training that distorted my belief about who God is; Leslie was able to explain scripture in such a way that the protective walls I had built up around my heart began to tumble down. God’s word had been so distorted in my mind but Leslie has helped me to read the Bible with a whole new lens. I finally found the TRUTH I had been searching for all these years. Verses that were used to keep me trapped in an abusive marriage were now the verses that SET ME FREE! Truth prevailed!
As I worked thru the empowering concepts that CONQUER teaches, I felt as though the lights were being turned on and everything started making sense. Hearing other women’s stories on the monthly phone calls helped me to know I’m not alone. Leslie’s videos and handouts helped me to internalize the information at a faster rate. It was also comforting to see Leslie teach about really difficult topics like abuse, divorce, and boundaries. The videos made me feel like I was in the safety of her counseling office. I felt like she was unmasking the secrets that kept me trapped all those years. I wasn’t crazy!
Adding CONQUER to my community helped me experience empathy and compassion. I finally realized what it means to have a SAFE and healthy community and the more I experienced community, the more I experienced God!
I have learned along my journey that being in community is THE most influential piece of becoming the Heroine of my story. Living in community with God and others means I will be shown my value.
When I know my value, I turn from being a victim of my story – to an OWNER (the heroine) of my story. I will begin to RESPOND to circumstances, rather than REACT to circumstances. I will USE my VOICE, rather than LOSE my voice. I will make EMPOWERED choices, rather than being paralyzed by fear. Click To Tweet
When I am in community with God and others I can…
1. Experience safety
2. Experience accountability
3. Experience Jesus
Experience Safety – When I am in a community, safe people can sit with me in my pain and struggle. My community comes alongside me and “resides (dwells) with me there.”
Are you familiar with the story of Lazarus? When Jesus found out his dear friend had died – he wept and experienced profound sorrow and emotion in front of his community. He empathized with the loss Mary and Martha both experienced for their brother. Upon raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told the community to “Unwrap him and let him go!” NLT John 11:44
v. 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”
v. 44 “And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
This story provides a profound visual for me because I have experienced community in this same way. I have seen my community experience profound sorrow on behalf of my losses (just like Jesus wept for the girls’ loss) – my community gathers around me to unwrap the graveclothes that I have been wearing for the past 33 years. My graveclothes represent my wounds from childhood, the distorted beliefs I struggle to untangle, the spiritual DEATH I experienced from living in decades of isolation and the DEEP pain of betrayal trauma.
As I have exposed my graveclothes to a safe community of women I have seen the results in my behavior and my inner narrative: The women in my community have formed a circle around my grave clothed body and one by one they have walked to the center of the circle where I stand and have taken one piece of cloth off at a time. Sometimes it hurts, like ripping off a bandage from an almost healed wound – sometimes that wound re-opens as the air and light begin to expose the new flesh. These women have stripped off the shame, survival, and isolation and have clothed me with empathy, unconditional love, and healthy relational intimacy. When my friend sits and cries with me over the loss of my marriage and family – she dwells with me. When another friend allows me to say “no” and practice boundaries with her – she dwells with me.
My dear sister, do you have a safe community unwrapping your graveclothes and dwelling with you?
Experience Accountability – A part of the process of stripping the graveclothes includes exposing myself to my community. Allowing them to see that some of these graveclothes are due to MY unhealthy choices, fueled by my distorted beliefs. This might be the scariest part of living in a community. If I choose to “expose” the graveclothes that are from my own doing – I must be willing to face this haunting lie: “but if people only knew who I really am…” It is in this place I must open myself up to receive grace and truth from my safe people – exposure to community is what God desires:
“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are spiritual should GENTLY and HUMBLY help that person back onto the right path… Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” NLT Galatians 6: 1-2
Early on in my journey for post-traumatic growth, I realized that I found more freedom every time I “exposed” my struggle. For example, I may be stuck in a loop of shame that causes me to feel anxious, trapped, and helpless. OR, I could be dealing with my own relapses; for example, trying to rescue, fix, or control others, or escape behaviors. When I expose these things– I am exposing it to the light, and it will have less power over me.
I love this quote by Francis Frangipane:
“Do not hide your darkness; expose it… for as long as darkness remains in darkness, it rules you. But when you bring darkness out into the light, it becomes light. When you take your secret sins and boldly come unto the throne of God’s grace and confess them, He cleanses you from all unrighteousness.”
It is important to confess in the community. When we experience exposure to the community, we engage in vulnerability; the opening of ourselves in order to receive cleansing from the Lord – THROUGH THE COMMUNITY. We will experience what grace and unconditional love FEEL like. Transformation cannot happen without vulnerability. My greatest points of healing have come from exposing the graveclothes that keep me trapped in victim mentality and shame. Then, allowing myself to be vulnerable and open to the grace and truth that the women in my community provide for me. They hold me accountable and help me to live my best, healthy life.
My dear sister, do you have a community that will receive your graveclothes with grace and truth? Will they hold you accountable in a loving way without condemnation and shame?
Experience Jesus – This by far is the sweetest most intimate part about living in a community. Jesus shows up IN COMMUNITY! Jesus shows up when my mentor lovingly confronts me in addition to telling me I’m loved. Jesus shows up when my friend reminds me that I am chosen, holy, and redeemed.
For those of us who have experienced a tremendous amount of spiritual abuse and rigid rules – it is hard for us to experience God as a loving Heavenly Father. We need our community to be the hands and feet of Jesus and show us what it is like to be valued and loved by Him- to experience the empathy He provides. Jesus is not condemning, punishing, or distant. Jesus is the embodiment of EMPATHY; close by and emotionally available for each of us.
Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” NLT John 14:10
Inside the CONQUER community, you will experience the love Jesus has for you thru another human’s words and deeds. We can be wounded in community, but we are also HEALED by the community. The very thing that the enemy used to try to STEAL your value is THE VERY thing that can be used to RESTORE your value.
In David’s struggle with trauma and depression, he cried out: “If only one person would show some pity; if only ONE would turn and comfort me…” Psalm 69:20
My dear sister, a safe community can be the answer to this cry. I know it is hard work to face your reality and make the necessary changes for your physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. With the help of CONQUER, I learned how-to walk-in core strength. I became an OWNER of my story. Now, I RESPOND to life’s events rather than REACT to fight or flight. I can steward myself, take responsibility for what I need – I have the freedom and authority to make wise decisions that support my mental, spiritual, emotional and physical safety. I have a voice! In fact, I found out my voice is loud! I am now using my voice to share my story and help other women who have experienced the devastating effects of their husband’s sexual addiction.
As Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
After years of abuse – I am finally free. Sister, you can be free too! Be brave and expose your graveclothes to the CONQUER community. You will be met with safety, empathy, truth, grace, and love. The CONQUER community can dwell with you! It will help untangle the distorted beliefs – making you wise and healthy.
Sister, will you allow the women of CONQUER to circle around you – remove your graveclothes and be the embodiment of Jesus?
God has an answer for your struggle, one that He will provide THRU A SAFE community:
You are not alone
Love, Rochelle Sadie
P.S. I can’t wait to meet you – I’ll be waiting in the CONQUER group!
Friends, do you have a place for community, accountability, and “seeing” Jesus in greater clarity?
If you would like to join CONQUER, click here.
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What incredible imagery. Beautiful and hope-filled. Thank you for articulating the necessity for an on-going safe and loving community. I am so grateful to God for the community of women He brought me to, now 6 years ago. I am also so very grateful for Leslie’s ministry.
Our God is an awesome God. In deed.
Rochelle,Thank you for your beautiful post.It is full of truth and wisdom.Grateful to hear how God met you and carried you to safety. I am surrounded by Christian sisters who provide community: my 2 sibling sisters and several dear friends.We laugh( so hard I’ve literally gone #1 without benefit of bathroom😄) and we weep and everything in between.It is precious to be known and loved. This community of bloggers is also special as we navigate our lives through difficult circumstances.I thank God for directing me to this safe place and for Leslie’s leadership.It is encouraging to hear that more and more pastors are recognizing the evils of abuse in all its various and insidious forms. Praying for continued strength for Leslie to educate more church leadership and for their openness to learn.
I signed up for the webinar but haven’t received a link to watch it. How do I watch it?
Have you paid the fee? I think that is required before you receive the link.
The author above mentioned 2 years of spiritual abuse. I’m just getting out of a church where I’ve experienced 4 years of pastoral abuse. I’m really nervous that it will happen again in another new church. Anybody have good tools/ questions that I should be asking about a new pastor/church? Like things that will be “tests” for a non-abusive community?
Today’s Crying out for justice blog has the answer to that question.
can you be more specific where I might find this blog? I’m searching, but there are some different sites that come up. (none have this as today’s topic) Thanks!
It’s toward the end of their talk, in the q& a part.
Sunny, ask if the leadership has accountability partners and how frequently they meet with the partners. Be sure is an organizational structure with elders and deacons. Ask about the role of women in the church. Review the church’s budget. Be sure no one serves in the same position for too long, rotating every few years is wise. No one should have an “in” to a certain volunteer position, look for favors or favorites. Don’t forget to do the obvious and Google names and look for criminal records from previously held positions.
Autumn- Thank you SO MUCH. Those are good questions and will help me evaluate a potential new church. Really appreciatedon’t!
Sunny, this year two of our Pastors were released from their contracts. Our youth pastor was having an affair with another staff member. Then months later our senior Pastor came forward with an addiction issue that needed inpatient treatment and confessed to multiple affairs. This from a church that seats 2,000 people a weekend over three services.
What I have learned from this and other church related leadership catastrophes is to not elevate a leader to a greater level of respect than anyone else. They are every bit the sinner we are. Don’t give them the power or authority that belongs to God. Just because they prepare sermons and study God’s word doesn’t make them fool proof.
Autumn, your advice was spot on. According to the word in the New Testament, those who serve are really slaves….servants to the flock. Foot washers. And they shouldn’t be elevated above any of the members…..in fact, as shepherds who are supposed to feed the sheep and wash their feet, they are humble and righteous. If you take time to watch and pray for discernment when you visit a place, the Lord will give you a sense of the situation in that place. What is the atmosphere like? Is there genuine love and care there? And by the way, you don’t have to sign any papers to become a member….that is not scriptural. A true church is inclusive of all believers. I pray that the Lord will bring all of the dear sisters and brothers here into vital and godly fellowship where you can heal and grow.
When I joined a group counseling session with Leslie I felt a never got to speak. I heard other people’s stories and I felt for their struggle. It seemed that certain people dominated the sessions. Things may have changed since I participated years ago. There was a ridiculous lesson about how art work makes you feel. It was a trial assignment I think. However, what I would like to say is that although the group counseling was not beneficial to me, it seems it was helpful to others.
Something I did benefit from was the reference to this blog. Reading others comforts and struggles has been better than the Facebook enhanced group sessions for me. As a person who tries to remain anonymous on line, the need to join Facebook had terrible results, as even with a fake name, invites occurred from unsafe people.
Having said all this, the Conquer group might be exactly what some people need. We are all in different stages and phases of this destructive or difficult journey. I applaud Leslie and her team for taking a stand and attempting to reach as many people as possible. I am encouraged by the work she and her team are doing to educate church leaders about the risks and realities of abuse among the Christian community.