Healing from Abuse
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Bill and Pamela Ronzheimer talk about the journey they took to find healing for their marriage as they dealt with Pamela’s past sexual abuse. They share why they’d never go back to the marriage they had before.
Healing from Abuse
Bob: When a man and woman marry, the two become one; and that means that, in some way, the traumas of our past become a part of our shared experience as a couple. That’s what Bill Ronzheimer experienced when his wife shared with him about her childhood sexual abuse, and they began a process that led to a deep healing in both of their lives. Bill says that can be a reality for any couple.
Bill: God is going to take you on a journey. You’re going to learn more about your wife than you ever knew; but more importantly, you’re going to learn more about yourself and more about God than you ever knew before. He’s going to teach you some things that He would never be able to teach you otherwise. He’s going to test you; but out of this, He’s going to develop something that can be really rich for your marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Sometimes there are events from our past that we’d rather just ignore: wall them off and try to forget about them. Bill Ronzheimer says, when you go down a painful path, you’ll find it leads to deep joy. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve been talking this week about a tragic and maybe a hidden story—
Dave: Very important to talk about.
Bob: —the issue of sexual abuse. You were saying you feel like the enemy is at work trying to keep this in the dark.
Ann: I do. I get pretty passionate when I hear stories—even when my sister brought her abuse out and shared it with my mom and my grandmother, their response—and they didn’t know/they didn’t know how to respond—but their response was a shaming response of, “Well, you better not do this again.”
Ann: In other words, saying it was her fault.
When I shared my story for the first time publicly, a woman came up to me and she said, “You glorified Satan today.” I thought: “That’s the last thing I want to do! I want to bring this to the light so people can be set free!” Then I was plagued with: “Did I glorify Satan? Should I not have shared my story?” I do think that Satan is on the warpath to keep this in the darkness, because he can work in the darkness.
Bob: Well, we’re trying to bring it appropriately to the light as we’re talking about it this week, and we have some friends who are helping us. Bill and Pamela Ronzheimer are joining us again. Welcome back, guys.
Bill: Thank you; great to be here again.
Pamela: Thank you.
Bob: This is a part of your story that you have brought to the light, and we’ve shared this week how you experienced sexual abuse when you were in elementary school at the hands of a [principal]. You shared it with your parents and with friends, but they didn’t know what to do with that. You thought, “Okay, I just will keep it compartmentalized,”—never told your boyfriend, who became your husband.
Bob: It was ten years into your marriage—and Bill, you’re a pastor; you have two kids—ten years into your marriage and this comes out at a pastor’s retreat. You still weren’t sure what to do with that or how to process it. Eight years later, you’re starting to have an emotional breakdown, Pamela. You wind up in the psych ward of a hospital. Clearly, this scar/this—and as you said earlier, it’s not really a scar; it’s an infection that’s still in your soul—this is when it begins to be dealt with.
Bill, you said you were starting to realize, “She’s not the only one who has stuff that needs to be dealt with.”
Bob: God’s starting to take you to the woodshed and say, “We have some issues here that you—as a pastor, as a husband, as a follower of Christ—things you need to repent of/things you need to address.”
Bill: Yes; you know, we all know how, in marriage, there’s a complimentary relationship between husband and wife. Well, our dysfunctions can be complimentary as well. For areas, where life is a bit distorted—for Pamela, for example, in what sexuality is because of having been abused—well, my life was distorted as well in many of my perceptions of: what it is to be the head of the home; what it is to be pure. In regard to human sexuality, there was distortion that was there for me; so, right, God needed to work in my life. I was enjoying being king. [Laughter]
Pamela: And I was his little queen.
Bob: And all of a sudden, the queen’s coming in and saying, “We have some things to talk about,” and you’re going, “Wait! What’s happening?”
Bill: She didn’t even need to say that. I tell you—by this time, the Holy Spirit is shouting at me. God has a way of just grabbing our lives; and He may be shaking us, but He’s doing it with pretty loving arms.
Bob: Pamela, we talked about the fact that the healing from this was a matter of years of counseling and therapy. Why does it take years?
Pamela: Yes; because our psyche is so damaged. As physicians, in the last ten years have been able to map brain activity, that explains a lot of why it takes so long.
For me, I would say, by the end of four years, I was teaching a women’s study again/doing some things. I would go two or three years, feeling really good, and then—I looked at my life sort of like an onion; God would peel back that crusty, crinkly stuff of pain, and then I would feel really better; I would think, “Oh, good, the healing is complete,”—then, in His love, He would just peel back a little more; and it would hurt, and it would be hard, and it would trigger.
When we talked about that first 18 years being our normal marriage, oh my goodness; it’s so much better now. During that interim time from—we look at life as “before 1991” and “after 1991”—there was a period after 1991, where our intimacy was completely destroyed. Everything that had been joyful for me suddenly became disgusting; my own body became disgusting, similar to when I had been a little girl.
I really do believe that Satan used people that blamed me for the problem to just further embed lies that had already begun with the abuse. Then—as I was able to just say: “Well, now, I know what truth really is; God’s Word is true,”—Satan’s voice got quieter and quieter. Now, he’s like background noise. I would just encourage you, if you are like me, the fight is so worth it. There is never a day, where I think, “Oh, I would have been better not to fight.” It’s a joy to live now.
Dave: Yet, when you were in that fight—and really, it was both—it was a oneness fight together, right?
Pamela: It was.
Dave: I’m thinking: “Bill, you’re a pastor. Pamela, you’re at home; you’re struggling/your panic attacks—I mean, you just described all of that.” I’m thinking: “How did you [Bill] do ministry? Where was your walk with God during that, where you were able to overflow that to your congregation?” I’m thinking: “Man, I’m a pastor; I’d be like, ‘I’m either not going to do this,’ or ‘The congregation’s going to know what’s going on in my home.’” There’s that balance.
Pamela: They did know, and they did love us. That was part of the healing.
Bill: It was a turning point for our church, as well; because, as God broke me, finally I could become transparent. I was transparent with the congregation; Pamela was obviously transparent with the congregation. Our church changed. All along this time, it had been growing in numbers; but now it started growing in depth.
As far as: “How did I make it through those years?”—I don’t know, but I do know that God’s faithfulness kept us going. There were times—and we’ve used this phrase—I felt like “I was holding onto God by a thread, but He was holding onto us with strong arms during that whole time.” As Pamela said, the church was loving us and praying us through this.
Bob: What would you say—I mean, we’ve talked about the breakthrough moment at
18 years—and yet, you said, after that, there was still work being done. Can you say you go to a point, where you said, “I feel like the onion’s been peeled”; or is it still an ongoing process in your life today?
Pamela: I’d say that the onion has been peeled. The core is not a stinky little bulb of an onion [Laughter]; instead, I see it as a diamond. When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see the stinky onion anymore; I see a hard diamond, because of the cross.
Ann: I think that’s so beautiful. I think it’s very typical, because I experienced the same thing; in that I thought: “Oh, I’m healed! I’m good!” Then I would be triggered by something or someone else’s story, and then it would all resurface; and I’m thinking, “What is happening?!”
I began to realize: “Oh, that’s part of the healing. Isn’t God gracious to not dump it all on me at once?”—because I couldn’t handle it.
Bill: You know, we’re talking here about process and the surprise at how long the process is. For years, I was praying for God’s instantaneous healing.
One time—this takes me back in years—Leadership Journal was actually a published journal at that time. There was an article by Archibald Hart, in which he said God sometimes/oftentimes uses the process; because He builds more faith into us through the process than He does by granting us the instantaneous healing.
I thought it would be a win-win if it was instantaneous: “Look, God; the church would know what You’ve done; that would be a win for You. And then I get to return to my normal controlling life, and that’d be a win!” [Laughter] God had better ideas.
It makes me think of the blind man, in Mark, Chapter 8, that’s brought to Jesus. Jesus takes him aside, away from the crowd—which is what He had to do with me; He had to take me into some isolation to break me—and then the text says that “Jesus spit into his eyes”—I find that really humorous—and then asks him, “Can you see?” I want to say, “Jesus, just a minute; let me get this spit out of my eyes, and we’ll find out!” Then he [blind man] said: “I see, but these people are looking like they’re trees walking around. I’m not seeing perfectly.” Then Jesus touched his eyes, and He could see fully.
I learned from that that God doesn’t answer prayer the way we would expect. Who would have ever—that man would have never expected that Jesus, in the process of healing, would have used spit. [Laughter]There are a lot of things in our lives, like, “Wow, God, I didn’t expect that.”
But another thing about God is that His work of process is for the purpose of perfecting His healing. It may seem alarming when Pamela speaks of years and years of counseling, and it was alarming to me. I thought/I can’t tell you how many times her counselor said to me to be patient; it just irritated me so much. But the whole time, God was perfecting His work that He knew He needed to do in us.
Bob: You guys have a ministry now to couples, who are going through this: Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. We have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com for those who would like more information about what you’re doing.
Pamela, if you were sitting down with a young woman, who just said: “I’ve never shared this with anybody, but this was a part of my past,” and “I’ve been scared to bring it up, but I heard you talking about it on the radio,” and you had the first three minutes with her to tell her what she needs to know, what would you tell her?
Pamela: There is hope that this is not the end of life—to have to feel the pain again—and that it’s really important to find someone, who is qualified in listening to trauma/someone that knows what to do to help you unwrap your story slowly enough that it doesn’t consume you and burn you.
Find a couple of people, who can pray for you. I had a few women that I talked to and I just said: “I will not survive this without prayer. Right now I cannot put two words together, so will you be my prayer warriors?” They were.
In the ministry that we have, Bill works with the husbands; and I am the one who has the privilege of being the prayer person. I pray for the wives while he’s speaking with the husbands.
Bob: Bill, if you had your first three minutes with the husband, who has just learned his wife’s been abused, and he’s thinking, “I want to help her, sure; so what do we do?”
Bill: I can’t tell him that it’s going to take as long as God did for us. Every story is unique. But I would say:
God is going to take you on a journey. You’re going to learn more about your wife than you ever knew; but more importantly, you’re going to learn more about yourself and more about God than you ever knew before. He’s going to teach you some things that He would never be able to teach otherwise. He’s going to test you; but out of this, He’s going to develop something that can be really rich for your marriage.
You will understand what it is to be in your wife’s shoes if you’re willing to enter into this journey, as well as remembering, making sure you keep in mind what it is to be in your shoes. You need to do some self-care; you need to have some self-awareness to know where God wants to develop you. Know what it is to be in your shoes, but learn what it is to be in your wife’s shoes.
Ann: Pamela, share with us: “How did Bill’s journey help you in your healing?”
Pamela: I suddenly trusted a man, and I had never respected or trusted a man. I wanted to respect him as my husband; but underneath it all, I really held little respect for men. I thought I was smarter than they were; I could do anything a man could do and probably do it better.
Then, as I watched Bill grow—and as he was willing to go to school to learn what it was like for other men to be living with a woman who’d been abused—his understanding of me and love for me was so great and overflowing.
Ann: —and was different?
Pamela: Oh, totally different. He likes me to tell my stories of imagining things: how music has color to me; how I love to picture a beautiful sunset, and how I would paint it. Now, he sees that as the heart of me. That was one of the bigger changes.
Just his tenderness when he would put me first—it wasn’t, “I’m putting you first, because you’ve been such a battle-axe today; it’s the only way to survive,”—there’s just a complete heart difference.
As my heart was completely rebuilt, Bill’s heart was rebuilt; so we are not the same people. I have to say, though, there are days where—like yesterday—I wounded Bill; and I wounded him deeply. I told him, “I am sorry that that anger, that I was feeling really at my abuser, and I imposed it onto you again; and I’m sorry. I know I wounded you.” And he forgave me.
Those things do happen, but not with regularity. We have words to use now. We’ve had a counselor that has really helped us to really ask the right questions, and the Holy Spirit is the best.
Dave: Bill, what would you say—because I’ve heard you both say you would not want the marriage you used to have—and I’ve heard Pamela explain what she means. What would you say? I’m that husband, too; and I want to know how you would articulate the marriage you now have. Why is it better?
Bill: Because—I hope I’m saying this in the right way—it’s better because of what God has done in me. Perhaps the first thought of a listener would be, “Well, hey; Pamela’s healed now; it has to be better.”
Well, yes; but it would be worse if the changes hadn’t occurred in me. I can appreciate those artistic things about Pamela; that’s what makes our marriage better; whereas, before, it was all about me. Husbands, who are married to survivors, one thing that we need to get over—we too often think about how we are affected by what’s going on with our wives—I had to stop that and think, “My goodness, I need to think of how Pamela’s been affected by that abuse, not by how this affects me.”
We need to grow as individuals, as well, to realize that those times that we’re yelled at—yes, it was wounding the other day, but I realize what my counselor told me: “This affects me, but it’s not about me.” I have to remind myself that there’s a battle going on, and that little girl is still hurting in Pamela towards that abuser. I happened to be in the way at that moment; but I need to grow up and be able to—in the same way that God just embraces us in the midst of our craziness—I need to embrace Pamela in the midst of some of that craziness that’s still there.
I want to share something here that—I’m going to list some words that would depict human experiences. For those, who are listening, whether you are the spouse of a survivor or a survivor, I just want you to think about these words. You are familiar with them.
The first word/the first experience is “aloneness.” I mean, that, for sure, depicts the survivor; and it speaks to the spouse, too, feeling so alone: “Who would ever understand what I’m going through?”
Another word would be “shame.”
Another one “helplessness”: “How am I going to get the right help?”
Another one is “loss”: “I’ve lost so much.”
Another one would be “abandonment.”
Or “the silence of God.” That, for sure: “God, where are You?!”—the silence of God.
Every one of those experiences describes the experience of Christ when He was on the cross. You know, we emphasize empathy. Empathy is knowing what it is to be in your shoes, while simultaneously, knowing what it is to be in our own shoes. That’s what Jesus did; that’s what God did. In Christ, He empathized with us; in fact, He got into our shoes in Christ, who became man, without losing who He was in His shoes: God-man. Christ continued to be God as He walked among us.
It is so reassuring to come back to those truths. I may yell out to God, or I may not even have the words to cry out to God; but to know that, whether it’s survivor or spouse, where we are in the moment, God in Christ has already been there; and He came through it victoriously.
Bob: That’s the right place to land this conversation—is to remember that we have a High Priest, who is sympathetic, who knows our frailties, who has experienced this, and who’s victorious; and who offers us freedom and hope and liberation.
Dave: I mean, that’s the thing that just jumps off of you two, as a couple, is joy—
Ann: I was going to say that; yes.
Dave: —that is impossible in this situation without Christ.
Bob: Thank you for sharing your story.
Pamela: Thank you.
Bob: Thanks for writing your book. I think any husband, whose wife has experienced sexual abuse of any kind, this is a book that he ought to read as a gift to her and a gift to himself. It’s not just about how you can be a better husband, but it’s about how you can confront—as you’ve shared with us, Bill—some of your own issues here.
We have copies of the book Bill has written called Help! My Wife Is a Survivor of Sexual Abuse. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the number to call to get a copy of the book, Help! My Wife Is a Survivor of a Sexual Abuse, is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One of my favorite Scriptures is from the Book of Isaiah, where Isaiah is talking about the coming of the Messiah. He says He’ll exchange beauty for ashes. I think what we’ve talked about today is just an illustration of how God can bring beauty out of horrible circumstances and situations. The word for that is redemption; God can redeem what has been broken, or destroyed, or injured, or marred.
Here, at FamilyLife Today, we want to be a part of God’s redeeming work in the lives of husbands and wives and families all around the world. We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families and to see God bring beauty out of the ashes of broken relationships.
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Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about the popular notion that the church in the United States is on the decline. Glenn Stanton says there is some truth to that, but maybe not as much as you might think. We’ll talk about the myth of the dying church tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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