A Place to Belong

with Lisa Troyer | April 12, 2013

What secrets in your past are you keeping in the closet? Author Lisa Troyer spent many years trying to run away from her past, which included sexual abuse delivered at the hands of a former high school teacher. But no matter how she tried, she couldn’t outrun it, or the shame, guilt and depression that came with the memories. Lisa recalls the watershed moment when she finally found the freedom to admit her abuse to herself and others.

What secrets in your past are you keeping in the closet? Author Lisa Troyer spent many years trying to run away from her past, which included sexual abuse delivered at the hands of a former high school teacher. But no matter how she tried, she couldn’t outrun it, or the shame, guilt and depression that came with the memories. Lisa recalls the watershed moment when she finally found the freedom to admit her abuse to herself and others.

A Place to Belong

With Lisa Troyer
|
April 12, 2013
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  During her high school years, Lisa Troyer remembers the inappropriate and unwanted advances she experienced from one of her teachers.

Lisa:  What it really did to me was it made it very difficult for me to find healthy dating interests with boys my own age. I mean, when you are a teenager—and you have somebody, who is twice your age, treating you like you are an adult—then how does one of your peers even have a chance?

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Lisa Troyer joins us today to share her story about how she resisted and stayed away from the unwanted advances of a high school teacher, for years. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was thinking about the story we’re going to hear today. I was, actually, thinking back to a book you wrote, many years ago. You and Barbara wrote a book about marriage called Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem. One of the themes you addressed in that book had something to do with the attic. Do you remember it?

Dennis:  Yes. Secrets in the attic. Yes. Bringing things out of the attic and beginning to deal with them, as a couple. I think that’s very important for a marriage that is going to go deep and have the kind of intimacy that God called us to. He did say, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one.”

And then, there’s the promise of being naked and unashamed. That’s not talking about just having no clothes on. It’s talking about somebody really knowing you and the issues you’ve dealt with in the past—the secrets from the past—those hidden things that we do bring into marriage.

Bob:  I’m just curious. Would you tell a couple that nothing from the past should be off-limits to one another?

Dennis:  Generally, yes. I think the nature of marriage is for two people to be known. If you’re hiding something, it has you. You’re not free. There’s no other relationship on the planet, I don’t think, that’s as safe as one that’s been established like the marriage covenant. I see our guest today, Lisa Troyer, nodding her head. You agree; right, Lisa?

Lisa:  Yea and amen. [Laughter]

Dennis:  Welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Lisa:  Thank you.

Dennis:  She has written a book called A Place to Belong. She is a recording artist, a speaker—she also leads a ministry called Circle of Friends, which is a ministry to women—really, all about finding places of safety. We all have issues; right Lisa?

Lisa:  Absolutely. There’s not one of us that has not had to walk through a valley.

Dennis:  And you had your own valley, from which you’ve come from; right?

Lisa:  Yes. I look from the mountain top, and observe that valley, and thank God that I’m not there anymore. But I’m thankful that He’s given me maybe that 30,000-foot view. That’s the thing that—when we do have issues, when we go through those valleys, and God delivers us out of the valley to the mountain—what He teaches us through those times is not just for our benefit, but we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and be used as an example.

Bob:  You spent a lot of years with a lot of your attic sealed off—and not sharing it with anybody. I think that’s the default position for many of us. We don’t want to open up the musty side of life and say, “Here’s who I really am,” because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected or because we’re afraid we’ll be too ashamed.

Dennis:  Yes, even in marriage. Bob, as you asked earlier—that should be a safe relationship—but a lot of folks bring these secrets into a marriage, and their spouse has no way of knowing what’s stuck away in the attic.

Bob:  And some of the dark stuff in your attic—I guess, kind of the first life-defining dark moment, for you, happened when you were a freshman in high school?

Lisa:  Yes; yes. There was a teacher that I knew was one that paid inappropriate attention to other girls. When that started to happen to me, I really turned that inward to the degree that I did not want anyone to really know about anything because the girls—that had been revealed to have been involved with him—their reputations were ruined.

Bob:  This teacher would smile at you, put his hand on your shoulder—what kinds of things would he do?

Lisa:  Those things—flirtatious conversation.

Bob:  Not in front of the class, I presume—

Lisa:  No.

Bob:  —this was private, when he’s got your ear, for a moment. He’d say something flirty.

Lisa:  Yes. When walking around the classroom—stand very close.

Dennis:  The interesting thing was—the kids knew it, in school?

Lisa:  Yes, his reputation preceded him.

Dennis:  But no one turned him in.

Lisa:  He had been caught, actually, in a relationship with a student; but because of politics—maybe would be the way to term it—the only consequence was just having some extracurricular activities withdrawn from him, for a certain period of time.

Dennis:  So you’re a mom of a son and a daughter. Your daughter is how old?

Lisa:  Jillian is 16.

Dennis:  How has Mom addressed this subject or, at least, engaged your daughter to do your best job of protecting her?

Lisa:  My husband, Bob, and I have been completely honest with Jillian—what I encountered. It came to the point of sharing details that I didn’t ever think that I would share with her because, through Circle of Friends Ministries, we had sponsored a mother/daughter evening—where we had a police officer, who was helping us instruct our daughters about internet predators.

Jillian had then confessed to her dad and me that there was somebody that was trying to engage her online. That would have been when she was in the seventh grade, I believe. It really shook me. So, Bob and I sat down with Jillian; and we told her the story. All of us cried. I let my husband explain because I didn’t want it to be over-emotional. My husband is a very tender-hearted man, but he’s not an over-emotional man. When his daughter saw him cry, while he shared about what happened to me, then it really struck a chord with her. We didn’t have to give inappropriate information to her, but her awareness was made very complete in that timeframe.

Our son, Christian, is 12. He is not aware, at this point in time, of that circumstance. I don’t know that it will ever be necessary that he is, but Jillian is fully aware.

Bob:  The impact of what you experienced—the unwanted attention of a teacher—the impact of that on your soul—on your emotional makeup, as a young woman—it was corrosive.

Lisa:  Yes.

Bob:  What happened?

Lisa:  The thing that comes to mind, first, is guilt and shame because I had accepted Christ when I was in second grade. I was born again, and I knew it wasn’t right. But what it really did to me was it made it very difficult for me to find healthy dating interests with boys my own age. I mean, when you are a teenager—and you have somebody, that’s twice your age, treating you like you are an adult—then how does one of your peers even have a chance?

Dennis:  How long did it continue?

Lisa:  Until the day that I graduated from high school.

Dennis:  All the way through. I’m looking at you—answering these questions—and even going back—what? —now, close to three decades—you still feel the impact that that evil did to your soul.

Lisa:  Yes, because it’s not anything that a child should ever have to encounter.

Dennis:  One of the most frequent responses that we have, as human beings, when we hear a story like this is, “Where was God when this was occurring?” How have you processed that?

Lisa:  I never felt like God wasn’t with me. For me, the way that that manifested itself is that—even though I did not make good dating choices—it was the presence of God and the witness of the Holy Spirit that kept me from embracing the advances that the adult was making. I wasn’t a very mature Christian at the time; but I did know the truth of, “You don’t commit adultery.”

Bob:  You did experience depression—had an ulcer in high school?

Lisa:  Yes.

Bob:  Thoughts of suicide?

Lisa:  Frequently, yes.

Bob:  And never told anybody about what was—did you connect the two? Did you realize what you were experiencing was tied to what was going on?

Lisa:  I really don’t think that I did to the degree that was helpful—where I would address the issue—especially, when I went to college. I would find the temptation to see if I could entreat somebody—to get a guy interested in me. As I grew older, I realized that that was a control issue, and that I was doing to them what was being done to me.

There was one situation where I just thought: “Well, this guy is interested in me. Let’s see if I can control the situation.” I did. It got to the point where he just assumed that we were going to get married. It was like I didn’t have any intention of marrying him.

Dennis:  The black widow—seducing the male into the web—

Lisa: Yes, yes; you’re right.

Dennis:  —and being in control. You did go on to meet Bob, who eventually became your husband. Not Bob Lepine, by the way, just in case our listeners are wondering.

Lisa:  No, even though we do have a common interest in music, Dennis.

Dennis:  Yes. But you entered into your marriage with Bob, without him knowing this.

Lisa:  Yes, I had alluded a little bit because he knew who the person was. We went to the same high school, even though we didn’t date each other, at that point in time, because he’s two years older than me. But as we got further into our relationship, there were times when I would go through some really severe depression. I would just think to myself, “I wish he would just leave because I don’t know how to be different.”

I knew it was unfair to him. Most guys would have left, but he didn’t. He knew that things had happened, but I had never characterized myself to him as an abuse victim. I minimized it very much, saying, “Oh, well, you know, I was just one of the girls that got flirted with.” I justified, in my mind, because I did not take the relationship to its ultimate conclusion—that it really wasn’t like what it was.

Well, after our son Christian was born in 2000, I had just an incredibly difficult post- partum episode. I think, at that point in time—biologically, emotionally—I just didn’t really have anything left. I began the process of being treated for the post-partum depression with medication. Then, I put myself in counseling. My friend—her name was Faith Jones—she was my counselor for a short period of time. God just used her in an amazing way. She said, “Lisa, if a woman came to you, what would you tell her if she had shared with you what you’ve just shared with me?” I said, “Well, I’d tell her that she’s been sexually-abused.”

It was just like, in that moment, it was like, “Yes, that really is what happened!” That day, our daughter, Jillian, was in Park District soccer. I went to her game and sat with Bob. He said, “What happened today?” I was like, “I had my appointment with Faith. I went to the office, and….” He said, “Did you get a haircut?” I was like, “No!” He said, “Well, you look different.” You know what? I finally admitted that I was abused. It was just like, from that point on, I was different.

Bob:  When you pull things like that out of the attic—out of the closet—open them up to the light—like I said, it’s scary. In your case, it was almost like an epiphany—not like fear and trepidation—but a revelation of the reality. But there is a liberation that comes with that—that I don’t think people understand. They don’t understand the bondage they’re under as they keep this stuff bottled up. They don’t understand the reality of the liberation. They’re afraid of what’s on the other side. It’s freedom; isn’t it?

Dennis:  The real fear here is that, “If I share this, I’m not going to be loved.”

Bob:  “I’ll be rejected;” yes.

Dennis:  “That if you really did know me, as my husband,” in your case, “you’re not going to love me, accept me, and want me as your partner in life.”

Lisa:  Yes. I didn’t realize how guilty I felt. I think a lot of that stems from the fact—and I think if you talk to anybody who has had any level of any sexual inappropriateness—whether it’s full-blown abuse or even harassment at work—there’s an element—I mean, it is spiritual—that spirit of shame and condemnation.

Every opportunity the enemy has to remind you that this happened and that: “There must be something about you that caused this. There must be some vibe you’re giving off that invites this,”—that’s such a lie from the pit of hell. That’s the thing, I think, that tortures people who have had abuse perpetrated upon them.

Dennis:  So, there you were—sitting on the bleachers, at a soccer game, with your husband. He recognizes something new and afresh is occurring in your soul, that’s showing up on your face. How afraid were you, at that point, to finally tell him?

Lisa:  I wasn’t.

Dennis:  You were ready.

Lisa:  Yes. See—the thing about it is—it is like he knew that there was interaction—but I always characterized it as, “This guy is just a jerk, and everybody knew he was a jerk.”

Bob:  That creepy teacher; right?

Lisa:  Yes. Yes. But as far as owning any of it—for me, the biggest challenge was surrendering my thought life. I’m very, very thankful that, as far as intimacy issues and stuff like that, it did not impact my marriage in a negative way—just because Bob’s such a great guy! That’s all I can say. He’s just—what you see is what you get. He’s very honorable.

Dennis:  So when you told him, how did he respond? What did he say?

Lisa:  He was glad that the issue was addressed. He was glad that that thing that was eating at me had been put under the microscope and identified. He was thankful. He never made me feel like I was weak. He never made me feel condemned. I never, ever felt judged by him—ever. He really, truly has been Jesus, with skin on, to me. When you talk about, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church,” my husband has walked in obedience to that command.

Bob:  There was a point, years later, where you got the news that this teacher had been found out—that something had happened that had exposed him; right?

Lisa:  Right. I remember where I was at! I was with three other dear ladies. We were sitting in the hotel room in Toronto. It was brought up, “Oh! Did you know that So-and-so was dismissed because of having made inappropriate advances toward another teacher?” All of a sudden, I felt relieved; but then, I did kind of feel guilty because I thought, “I wonder how many other people would have been spared, if a couple of decades ago, I had” —

Bob:  —“spoken up.”

Lisa:  Yes. So, the person was dismissed from the educational system, thankfully; but it took decades.

Dennis:  Lisa, I have to believe that a part of the safety you had to feel—at the point you were able to openly share with your husband, Bob, what had happened—was tied to the event of losing a baby—a miscarriage—and of, ultimately, kind of turning against yourself, as a younger lady—where you basically told him: “I’m such a mess! You just need to leave me, and get on with life, and not mess with me anymore.” I really found this story to be incredibly powerful—especially hearing how he responded—because how he responded to you, at that point, really did give you the safety, later on, to know, “My husband is for me.”

Lisa:  Yes; and that revelation of: “I won’t leave you. I won’t forsake you.” Now, I mean—granted, he’d be the first one to tell you each and every fault that he has—but you know what? —has come to me—and other women will say this, too—they are almost taken back by how loyal he is to me. He just loves me! To be so loved in this life—sometimes, I feel like, “Lord, why can’t every woman have what I have?”

But that’s one of the things, too, that—as we minister to the women in the community through Circle of Friends—if we can give them a safe place to share—maybe the wall that they’ve built up with their husband, that they don’t even realize that they have—

Dennis:  Right.

Lisa:  --and here’s this guy, trying to figure out: “Why doesn’t my wife want to talk to me? Why doesn’t she want to have physical intimacy? Why does she not take my compliments?”

Bob:  “Why does she shut me out?”

Lisa:  Yes, “Why does she shut me out?” Well, if we can give that lady a place to belong, and if there are root issues that we can help her move through—and we’re not counselors—but we do have a wonderful referral system. But if you get ladies in the Word, and we go through those steps of understanding that there is acceptance—then we can be authentic, and we can affirm one another because we were built for community. We were built to find that place to belong, in a circle of friends.

Dennis:  As you’ve talked about, it took the safety of a relationship with a friend—a counselor—but nonetheless, a person who became a friend—to give you that safety and, ultimately, deal with what had taken place in your past—and to free you from the condemnation and the shame you felt because of four years of abuse of a high school teacher.

As you were talking, I couldn’t help but think of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There are those listeners, who are hearing us right now, who may be enslaved to condemnation—their own—perhaps listening to the enemy’s voice, who does condemn us—who does speak lies into our soul. But we find that liberating love. Sometimes, we find it—first, just directly with God. We experience His cleansing and forgiveness—but sometimes, it takes another person to be, as you described, Lisa, somebody who was Jesus, who had skin on—like your husband, Bob.

I just appreciate you sharing your story and giving some hope to women—who may be victims, as well—and who need to let the secret out, and bring it out of the attic, and allow the light to shine on it.

Bob:  You read Romans 8:1. It says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It goes on to say that, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will set you free.” “It was for freedom that Christ set us free,”—Galatians 5 says. God wants us to not be bound up by—to not be controlled by—our own sin or by ways in which we’ve been sinned against, in our lives.

I know one of the things that God has used in your life, Lisa, has been a community of women, who have gathered together, where you have fostered relationships. There has been transparency, and authenticity, and accountability. You talk about the Circle of Friends that you’ve formed. In fact, you write about it in the book you’ve written called A Place to Belong. We have copies of that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. We want to encourage our listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of Lisa Troyer’s book, A Place to Belong. It’s all about how women can cultivate this kind of authentic relationship with other women and about how important it is for that to happen, in a woman’s life.

We also have resources, at FamilyLifeToday.com, for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse—whether it was the kind of abuse that Lisa experienced or something that was even more profound than that. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information on other resources we have available. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

Now, before we wrap up here today, I want to say a word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today,financially. We are listener-supported. It’s those folks who—either, regularly, get in touch with us to offer a contribution to support this ministry or those of you who will from, time to time, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation. We appreciate that financial support. You guys make this program possible.

This week, we would like to say, “Thank you,” for any financial support you can provide by sending you an audio CD with a conversation we had with Dr. Ed Welch. Dr. Welch is with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. We talked with him about the whole issue of addictions, and what it is that causes us to gravitate toward addictive behaviors in our lives, and how we can be free from those kinds of addictions. We’d love to send you the CD as our way of saying, “Thank you for your support of the ministry,” this week. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation. You can request the CD. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone and simply ask for the CD on addictions. When you do that, we’re happy to send it out to you. We very much appreciate your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk with Bob and Kerrie Wood about their involvement with the ministry of Celebrate Recovery. We’re going to hear their own story of recovery. We’re going to talk about a movie that is being released next week, called Home Run—a movie that talks about alcoholism and redemption. I hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next week for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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