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Now We Are Free

April 12, 2017

 

This may be an unfair assumption, but many people are probably only reading this post to hear about my experiences with Luke Hartman. My story is so much bigger than him though, and writing this post has involved revisiting some of the hardest moments of my life. Please don’t cheapen that long and painful process by skimming to the “gossip.” My story may be long, but grab some caffeinated coffee, maybe a cookie or two, and keep in mind, however long it takes you to read this, it took literally hundreds more hours and tears for me to write.

 

I’ve heard rumors that ‘the truth will set you free’.… I suppose I’m about to find out. But by the grace of God, just as my story did not end with Luke Hartman, it sure as hell did not begin with him either.

 

 

My story begins with laughter; with parents who put unimaginable time and energy into creating a haven of safety, love, and happiness for my sister and me. My sister loved me fiercely (despite her slipping soap into one of my drinks to teach my seven-year-old self a “lesson on manners”) and that fierceness is at present, an understatement – I have no truer friend in the world.

 

I grew up on a safe street surrounded by close friends and we thrived in our world of imaginary adventures. Was there ever a moment when the pavement on our cul-de-sac wasn’t covered in elaborate chalk castles and chalk markets (or my attempts at chalk dogs that resembled scary chalk mole rats)? In my mind, no. I look back on my childhood and see a kaleidoscope of color and beauty. The stage for the rest of my life was built out of love and heading into middle school, I was set up perfectly by everyone who raised me to flourish into a young girl who could conquer the world with kindness, compassion, and creativity.

 

The problem is that every person on earth possesses metaphorical matches. Take such great care, my friends. We all hold the gift to bring a flicker of light into someone’s darkness. We also hold the power to burn and destroy someone’s world. Parents (not to scare the heck out of you) but there’s a possibility that all your hard work and that elaborate stage you set up for your child to succeed can be burnt to the ground by those matches, despite your best efforts. My family deserves a standing ovation for showing up time and time again to pull me out of my rubble and ashes, wrap me in their love and promise, “we’ll rebuild this thing together.”

 

The first match that set my world on fire was struck in sixth grade when I was quickly labeled as “ugly” by many of my classmates. My red hair and pale skin became a constant source of ridicule. I was then confused but quite frankly relieved when a boy in my class asked me to be his girlfriend. I figured, “Okay, I can live without being all that and a bag of chips –  I’ll just be the chips. Heck, even one chip. That’s fine. I’ve got this.”

 

That boy told me he loved me and his acceptance balanced out the mockery. Then an entire room of our peers zeroed in on us holding hands one day and decided to convince this boy to break up with me in front of everyone. They laughed at him for dating someone who wasn’t “pretty” or “popular” enough for him. They called him blind and stupid; they called me boring and said “she’s not even that skinny.” This boy who “loved me” let go of my hand and listened intently as his friends suggested girls who were a “better option” than me.

 

The next day I walked past him kissing his skinny, tan, gorgeous ‘better option.’ I felt something so much worse than feeling ugly; I felt unlovable. I should look back and think that was just sixth grade, it was all so silly! But I can’t. That moment triggered my habit of squinting when I looked in the mirror so I could blur out my flaws. I began to have trouble looking people in the eye because my mind would wonder which part of me they were deciding they hated most. I also began to struggle with such a bizarre assortment of eating disorders that no one could have ever picked up on the fact that I actually had one.

 

I was further confused and frightened when an eighth grader exposed me to pornographic material several times at school and then continually offered to pay little sixth grade me for sex. In fact, I began to realize that the only genuine interest and attention I received from boys was from those simply keen enough of sight to notice (and inappropriately comment) on my growing breasts.

 

I know I had some good friends and good memories from middle school, but I can’t remember them. What I do remember is a much older boy exposing himself to me. I couldn’t understand why ninety percent of boys found me repulsive and the remaining ten percent felt this strange need to expose themselves to me in some sexual way. I remember feeling that every conversation being whispered was about me. I remember that no one stood up for me when I was backhanded across the face by a boy twice my size while trying to defend one of my friends on the bus.

 

Then, as a young adolescent, I was sexually assaulted by a group of boys in the back of a van. These boys were not ski-masked hooligans who drove me into some shady alleyway. They were “well-behaved Mennonite boys” from good old Mennonite families and we were in a setting that was supposed to be safe.

 

The humiliation and trauma of that experience changed me. In the following months I was taunted by some of those involved for my “inadequacy” during the assault with comments such as “you can’t even get a guy hard.” I was hurt and exhausted from being bullied, devalued, and to some extent or another sexually harassed by many of my peers. I felt like I was in a constant state of hurt, anger, loneliness and embarrassment that I couldn’t process or understand. I hid it well, because as a teenager the only thing more embarrassing than being mistreated is acknowledging that it’s happening (even to your closest friends).

 

After a while that devastating level of hurt became normal to me and then, once it was normal, I didn’t even realize it was pain anymore. It just – was. Like breathing.

 

The first time I remember meeting Luke Hartman was in Sunday School when I was 15. He was my Sunday School teacher and in his mid 30’s. My family often arrived at church early, so I typically had about 15-20 minutes alone in the classroom with him each Sunday before everyone else arrived.

 

Church – an establishment that far too often tries to pound the importance of sexual purity into your brain with a Thor-like hammer of holiness – leaves those of us who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma with nothing more than a detrimental migraine. Once through church doors, I couldn’t hide my pain well enough to prevent my early Sunday morning conversations with Luke from erring on the heavy side. He was so open with us in Sunday school about the bullshit of the world that I felt I could be honest back. We discussed church hypocrisy, world hypocrisy…hatefulness, loneliness – all the weapons the world has to use against you. He never judged my comments or the dark, sarcastic humor I had developed. He listened and he empathized. From those short conversations, I grew to trust and respect him more than any other adult in my life. He felt like a safe and nonjudgmental presence in my otherwise dark and frightening little world.

 

In Sunday School, Luke asked us to write down our struggles on a piece of paper. I wrote down “I’m having sex with my boyfriend and I don’t feel guilty about it. I could use someone to talk to if you would be open to that.”

 

I had thought long and hard about talking to Luke, and believed if I confided in him he would never use my confessions against me and he would never judge me. Luke emailed me immediately following church. He said something along the lines of “Lauren, I’m sorry, it would be inappropriate for us to have that discussion.” That’s all the email said, but I took away from it that if seemingly nonjudgmental Luke was reprimanding me for inappropriateness then it must truly be inappropriate to have that discussion at all. I felt embarrassed and confused and I never attempted to discuss sex in a healthy way again. I also never shook that feeling of being outside looking in on a world that I just didn’t understand or fit into.

 

I recently found out I was wrong in my belief that Luke would never use my vulnerability against me. I learned he kept that note of mine from Sunday school for 11 years and just one short year ago he showed it to others in church leadership in an attempt to prove that I had been the one who “seduced him” and was sexually immoral. I was 15 when I wrote that note and it was one of the first and only times I allowed myself to be open and honest and reach out for help, all on my own. No words exist to describe the grief and betrayal I felt when I realized he had tried to demonize that remaining innocent and trusting part of my soul. I felt helpless and have spent the past year struggling to accept the fact that at no point – ever – was my trust in Luke sacred or safe.    

 

Soon after I turned 18, he contacted me and offered to take me to Wendy’s. We met and initially Luke painted the exact picture of his life that I had gone into our meeting expecting; white picket fences, fantastic opportunities, a wonderful life, a wonderful family…all the fun Mennonite topics. I smiled, laughed along and pretended I was doing great as well, instead of expressing to him the truth – that the girl sitting across from him was ruined from hurt and on the verge of total self-destruction. Then, towards the end of our conversation, he confessed to me an extremely private, personal story about himself. I don’t know what lesson he hoped I might gain from his story, but I walked away feeling honored he’d chosen to confide in me. I felt a flood of relief that it was clearly okay and safe for us to go beyond pleasantries again like we had when he taught my Sunday school class, and I fell immediately back into trusting him.

 

We did not meet again for another year or so. I was trying to cope with my disastrous downward spiral. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had never recovered from that early sexual assault in the van. I had also never recovered from the deep wounds left by bullies and harassers who left me feeling emotionally isolated from everything and everyone.

 

So I surrounded myself with friends who gave me free access to methods of ‘coping’ without actually having to cope. Alcohol and painkillers were so much easier than remembering situations that caused me so much mental harm. I was weary – and I followed the path of least resistance. That path (the path of post traumatic stress disorder) led me further and further away from my friends and family who truly DID love me. That road had already destroyed most of my relationships with them in high school but I had very little energy left and lacked the courage to turn back and choose a different route. So I continued on.

 

Then at 19 I was raped – by someone I had trusted – by one of the last people remaining who had made me feel sheltered and protected. I went home, collapsed on the floor and screamed at God to just end it. It was the first time I’d talked to God in years and I was begging him to kill me. He did not, obviously, so I simply curled up on the floor and spent the night sobbing into the fur of my fluffy white husky. I gave up on caring about myself that night.

 

It was hard to wake up but even harder to fall asleep. I experienced a few terrifying hallucinations due to phases of insomnia. I often forgot to eat and it took actual effort to breathe. It’s almost (but not really) humorous that I don’t even remember attending radiology school; but I do remember, at certain times, focusing on every breath I was taking. It was like my body was in survival mode, taking  me back to basics.

 

I tried to tell my boyfriend at the time that I had been raped but he ended up punching a hole in the wall and accusing me of cheating on him. So I gave up on him as well. I used sex to cope and allowed myself to be used for sex. I drank and popped painkillers like tic tacs provided by friends I can hardly remember now. I’m grateful to still be here. Most of my friends were the kind of “friends” who would splash some cold water on your face and smack you a bit when it appeared you may have accidentally overdosed, but never once think to call 911.

 

When it was necessary (and around those who mattered to me) I learned to act fine and funny, but I left those encounters feeling exhausted. Around those who provided me with my various forms of “coping,” well it didn’t really matter much how I acted around them, did it? I knew at some point I would lose my battle against myself, but I pictured the looks on my family’s faces if they’d have to endure the news that I’d committed suicide, and the thought of causing them so much pain stopped me in my tracks many times. Cheers (if you happen to have a glass of champagne handy) to a childhood so happy that I still had just enough hope left in my reserves to carry on – for them.

 

One night, one of my truly best friends at that time was back in town and he reminded me that I was special to him – so at the risk of having another hole punched in my wall, I told him I was raped. No one could have responded better. He encouraged me to go to the police but I was exhausted, suicidal, and far too frightened of what that process may ultimately involve. He asked me who I trusted in the church and insisted I needed to go to that person and get help immediately. I told him Luke Hartman was the only adult I would ever trust with that information, but I knew back in high school Luke had told me it was inappropriate for us to discuss sex. My friend said “Tell him it’s important. He can help you figure out who to talk to.”

 

I emailed Luke and told him I was struggling and needed to talk. He had us meet a few days later in his office at Skyline Middle School, but the suit and tie setting combined with the sounds of kids laughing on the other side of that closed door didn’t feel like the right moment to discuss rape. I simply repeated to him that I was going through a hard time. He kept bringing the conversation around to my boyfriend. He asked me if I had ever cheated on him. We talked for a long time but never got around to the conversation I needed to have, so I asked him if we could meet again soon. He said yes and came in to give me a hug. I stepped to the side and gave him a side hug.

 

When I got home there was an email from Luke saying how great it was to see me. He made fun of me for the “camper side hug.” He mentioned how beautiful I’d gotten and how much I’d grown up. He asked how old I was. We continued emails back and forth. They steadily became more and more sexually charged, although I truly don’t remember how that progression happened.

 

We very soon ran into each other at a basketball game. Luke was sitting behind me and I got a text from him that told me to turn around. We made eye contact and that was that. He emailed me after the game saying what he was feeling was so wrong but he couldn’t help it because we had such an undeniable energy between us. At the time I had to agree and the sudden flood of affection from one of the last people on earth that had the ability to make me feel safe became one of the only barriers between me staying alive and me giving up.

 

Within a month, he had gotten a hotel room somewhere along 81 and asked me to meet him there. Soon after we had sex the first time, I confided in him that I had been raped. He told me that he wished he knew who had done that to me so he could kill them. He comforted me and reassured me of the safety I’d always have in him.

 

It was reported to me that when Luke was confronted, he claimed our relationship lasted for only three months. That is wildly inaccurate. In reality the relationship  lasted for over a year. Looking back, I feel sad and embarrassed that I wasn’t healthy enough to believe Luke was using me. He had a secret email account, the only one I was allowed to use to email him. I was under strict instructions to delete every email and text he sent to me. I honored those requests. At the end of each phone conversation, he reminded me to delete my call history. He had me in his phone under a fake name and he told me to send him vague, innocent texts of greeting when I wanted to talk. If anyone was present, he would shoot back an “N” (for no) which meant that I could not text him again until he first texted me. If he sent back a “Y” (for yes), then I could call him. It makes me so sad and disgusted at myself to think of all the ‘toasts’ we did to him (and me) lying his ass out of trouble time and time again. However, he poured love and affection on me so I always followed his advice on how to keep us a secret, because in my mind those were temporary measures that had to be taken until he finally left his wife for me. That’s where he assured me we were headed, even though he acknowledged that the process would take a few years and that we’d have to pretend we started dating after his divorce was finalized to keep it from looking bad.

 

We saw each other roughly 3 – 5 times per week. When we weren’t together physically we were talking on the phone or texting. In church he would text me from across the room about how hot I looked and what we should do together. He even took me on a business trip to Pennsylvania with him so we could spend an entire weekend alone.

 

Luke had neck pain and was receiving painkillers for it. Due to my painkiller addiction, I’d ask him for some occasionally and he’d happily oblige. When he ran out he would try to get more because “he’d do anything for me.” We’d drink bourbon together and in my little corner of the world where I had addictive substances and Luke Hartman to depend on, I felt numb – and when I was 20, numb was the closest thing I had to happiness – numb felt like an escape. Numb felt safe.

 

Then I was invited to meet one of his close friends. Luke encouraged me to go and I was excited – Good Lord, SO excited, because being acknowledged by one of his friends made everything feel so real finally. His friend sat me down in his office and essentially said, “Luke knows that I am meeting with you, but not what I am saying to you. I see why he brags about you all the time, but you are so young and you deserve better than this. Luke is not going to leave his wife and based on my conversations with him, it seems you are under the impression that he will. Do you want this to be your life?” I felt sick following that conversation but decided his friend must not fully comprehend how serious we were about each other.

 

A day came where Luke mentioned he was in possession of a gun. I never saw it, I only know that the same friend who warned me away from him showed up on one of our dates to convince Luke to hand the gun over to him. He seemed concerned and I felt unnerved by his determination to get this gun away. I do not know what happened with the gun or if it even existed – I only heard about it’s existence. But in my mind, from that point on, Luke was in possession of a gun.

 

He began to trust me with a lot of information about himself. He said that because we were going to get married eventually he needed to be honest with me. He told me how many times he had cheated on his wife. He gave me details about many of those occurrences. He gave me an estimate of how many times he’d paid for prostitution and told me specific and troubling details about some of those encounters as well. He cried as he recalled certain stories. He provided me with detailed information on many aspects his life; information that should have been discussed with a therapist – not with me. At the time though, I thought I loved him even more for his honesty.  Now years later, when I heard that he walked away from a solicitation of prostitution charge on a mere technicality, I felt defeated, and scared of his ability to manipulate the truth.

 

Luke also admitted to me that he spent most of our time at Wendy’s (when I was 18) hoping I’d invite him back to my new apartment I’d mentioned at the time. He also told me that he loved the tight white pants I wore to church when he first met me (when I was 15) and that he would always wonder what I was wearing underneath. I was in no way aware that he viewed me sexually at either of those points in my life, but there you have it.

 

I started to get annoyed because it seemed all he wanted from me was sex. At one point I realized he’d been keeping score of how many times we’d had sex. I went along with him out of town for his dissertation meeting, and he wanted to have sex in the car before going inside. I told him I was getting frustrated because it felt like sex was his only priority. He laughed and said I was silly, that of course sex wasn’t the most important thing to him. He pointed out all the other things we did together that weren’t sexual. He then went to go inside for his meeting and told me to wander around campus until he was done. He winked and said, “Don’t worry – we’ll finish this later.”

 

Waiting for Luke to leave his marriage was killing me. I went home crying after our evenings of sneaking out together because I knew he was going home to someone else. I did not believe I could live without him. His seemingly intense devotion to me was the only thing masking all the pain I had festering just under the surface. But I couldn’t stay on the side any longer. So I gave Luke an ultimatum. And he didn’t choose me.

 

I was devastated and desperately wanted to unwrap myself from around Luke’s finger, but my gosh darn broken malfunctioning soul, brain and heart thought I loved him so painfully much. Luke continued to give my heart just enough hope to hold on to him. He would ask me to meet him so we could talk things over. We’d meet. Talking more often than not led to sex. Sex typically led to me hating myself and I’d go home feeling nothing but guilt and anxiety. I don’t know how long this went on. It felt like forever, but one minute can feel like a lifetime when you’re hurting.

 

I tried to say goodbye and move on. Some days were more successful than others, but Luke seemed to sense me pulling away. He became frustrated and angry when discussing the “walls I was putting up.” I’m sure I furthered his frustration by reminding him those walls were created by his decision to refuse to make an actual decision regarding me.

 

One day two guys from Eastern Mennonite University were giving me a ride to campus when Luke began texting that he could see me in a car with shirtless guys (we had been swimming). I looked back and saw him following behind us in his vehicle. I texted him to leave me alone. His car turned and disappeared, so I didn’t worry about him further. Once we arrived at campus, he immediately began texting me again, accusing me of wanting to fuck both the guys I was with. I called him and he told me I was a slut and a bitch and that I might as well “go fuck everyone inside.” He told me “all those guys want to do is fuck you.” I cried and yelled at him that he had no right to my life anymore. He said, “Do you even know what I can do to you? I can see you right now, and you can’t even see me!” He described what I was wearing and told me what I was doing as I began to scan the area for a glimpse of him. He laughed and told me to look all I wanted, I’d never see him. I told him he was scaring me and that I was going to call the police. He very calmly replied, “Do it. See if they get here in time.” I hung up on him, went back inside, and slid down onto the floor behind my friends’ couch shaking. They asked if I was okay. I kept repeating “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” But clearly I wasn’t. Someone who is fine doesn’t jump at every noise for the rest of the night and use jello shots to forget she has a reason to be afraid.

 

Luke apologized to me in the next few days, but the damage was done. I suddenly realized that Luke could hurt me and that he possibly wanted to. I also believed he could turn the world against me. I knew him as someone who always got what he wanted. He was so well respected and seemed to know everyone. Everyone loved him. Everyone trusted him. Hell, that’s exactly how I had felt about him. He also liked to casually mention his connections to important, influential people (including policemen) and he made it clear quite a few times that someone close to him is a former gang hit man who would do anything for him. I also never forgot he had claimed to have a gun.

 

Realizing I was afraid of Luke stripped back that pseudo layer of protection I had depended on to survive for the previous 2 years. In fact, it stripped me down to nothing. There’s no pretty or poetic way to describe where that feeling of ‘nothing’ left me. I was ready to die and I made a plan to do so. God had other plans however, and he shoved my future husband into my life.

 

Luke was watching me the moment I met TC. I had just moved into a new place. I had no money, the only thing in my fridge was a frozen pizza and my oven was broken. There were no other girls in the building and TC was one of the only boys who hadn’t tried to hit on me since I’d moved in, so I went to his apartment and asked if I could borrow his oven. He smiled and said, “Sure, but I’m heading to get pizza with my friends if you’d like to come along.” I told him I was too poor but thanked him for the offer. He replied, “My treat.”

 

That night TC somehow broke through my years and layers of fake okay-ness and I remembered, for the first time in a long time, how pure and healing it is to genuinely laugh. TC and I couldn’t get enough of our conversation (a non-stop laughter fest) and following dinner with his friends, the two of us ended up talking in the parking lot for a few more hours. During that conversation we discovered that we had something so much more important in common than our sense of humor; we were both truly, deeply hurting.

 

As we said goodnight and I went to head to my room, TC stopped me and said, “I want to spend a lot more time with you.” So simple – but that comment saved my life.

 

As I headed to my room, Luke called me. I picked up my phone to a bombardment of questions and accusations. “Who was that guy?” “You like him, don’t you?” “You’re going to have sex with him, aren’t you? I can tell by the way you were looking at each other.” “Hope you had fun on your date tonight.” “Have fun fucking your entire building full of boys.” I screamed into the phone at Luke as I realized that he had been watching me that entire evening. I told him he was scaring me, he needed to back off and leave me alone. I reminded him he’d had me completely wrapped around his finger for over a year and he was the one who shook me off.

 

The next evening, TC took me into a nearby parking lot to teach me how to skateboard (or as I like to call it: screaming on a board on wheels). We spent all evening together; talking, joking, and screaming on a board on wheels.

 

When we finally said goodnight and parted ways to our separate rooms, I glanced down at my phone and realized I had countless missed calls and texts from Luke. He began to call again and I answered to tell him to leave me alone. He started yelling and described to me every single thing I had done that night with TC. He had very clearly been watching me all evening and even repeated parts of my conversations with TC that he would’ve had to be terrifyingly close to overhear. Luke said “I’m outside right now. Just go fuck every guy in that house. I know everything you did tonight. I know you’re going to sleep with that guy. Fuck you. Fuck him. You’re a slut. You have no idea what I’m going to do. You have no idea what I can do to you. I thought you loved me.” He said, “You’d better pray I don’t come inside.” He told me that no one else was going to have me. I yelled at him that I was going to call the police. He kept repeating “Are you kidding? They can’t protect you!” He would laugh, then he would scream, then he would cry. He threatened to kill himself — he said no one could save me and no one could save him.

 

TC heard the commotion and came downstairs to check on me so I hung up the phone, but I was shaking uncontrollably and could barely speak. He watched as my phone continued to ring and read some of the messages being sent to me. I stuttered out a brief enough explanation for him to realize the severity of the situation. He took me to his apartment, locked the door, put a blanket around me, settled down by the door with a baseball bat, and promised he wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. Looking back we both know we should have called the police, but at the time I was under the impression that all cops in the world were Luke’s drinking buddies and I somehow convinced TC that calling them wasn’t necessary. I also thought no one would believe me and I felt indescribably ashamed.

I didn’t hear from Luke for a few days, but he soon called, apologized and told me that watching another boy fall in love with me had pushed him over the edge. He insisted that if I had hung in there for even two more weeks before giving him an ultimatum on our relationship, his answer would’ve been the opposite and we would be together. I told Luke how badly he had scared me and that we couldn’t talk for awhile. He told me he understood.

 

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. I jumped at every sound and shadow. I soon decided to call Luke to get a feel for whether he was following me or not. After we spoke, the comfort I felt in knowing how he was doing (mentally) gave me the smallest feeling of power back. I decided I had to stay in touch with him, that way I’d at least see it coming if he got it in his head to murder me. I told him plainly we could only go forward as friends. He agreed.

 

TC and I started dating and Luke checked in occasionally to “make sure he was treating me well.” Luke also occasionally dropped by my building and gave me money to “help me get by.” He told me he was happy we could at the very least be good friends.

 

TC and I got married 7 months after meeting each other. Six months later we had a baby. Yes, that math is accurate. Having a baby, it turns out, is tough. So is postpartum depression. So is being poor! I told Luke we were trying to find jobs and he offered to help TC get a substitute teaching position so we’d have money coming in. TC (not knowing that Luke was the one who’d threatened me in the past) went to him for guidance on the teaching position and Luke offered him financial assistance. He was by this time a vice president at Eastern Mennonite University. TC accepted, but not wanting to overload my ‘postpartum-ed’ mind with our financial struggles, he asked Luke not to tell me we were having so much trouble. Within half an hour of that request, Luke called me and said “Hey, don’t worry about paying me back.” I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “TC just came by here to get money from me. He didn’t tell you?”

 

I’d wait for TC to tell me about the money but due to his misguided good intentions, he didn’t. So I stewed in anger and distrust until that same sequence of events occurred one too many times over the next few months. I then blew up at TC until I realized his intentions truly were an attempt to look out for my well being. He explained that he had asked Luke not to burden me and didn’t understand why he had called each time and phrased their interactions in such a way to me. I decided it was time to tell him my entire history with Luke.

 

TC never spoke to him again.

 

Despite my anger toward Luke for what appeared to be an attempt to manipulate distrust into my marriage, his actions confirmed to me the necessity to continue following the “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” mantra. We went through varying phases in how often we communicated, but rarely did 3 months go by without one of us reaching out to the other.

 

The problem with pretending to be someone’s friend is how easily they can become a friend. I spent the next 4 years maneuvering the nearly invisible line between the version of Luke I believed to be my enemy and the version of Luke I believed to be my friend. There were really hard times in my marriage where I took my eyes off Luke the enemy. We never met in person, but I reached out to Luke the friend for a verbal fraction of the comfort and confidence I thought I’d found through him years before. He was always ready to shower me with praise and kind (although occasionally inappropriate) comments and at times, I let his words get into my head.

 

Then Luke made a comment my brain wasn’t ready to handle. He said, “I promise the day is going to come where your husband cheats on you, and on that day you are going to wish you chose me instead.” Dear readers, my biggest fear is that I’m not worthy of love and the horrific thought that I’ll be cheated on…chosen over…has a tendency to consume my mind. I can’t describe how much harm Luke’s small little sentence has done to me since then.

 

I needed Luke out of my life. I told him I was changing my phone number. I didn’t want to call him anymore. I didn’t want him to call me anymore. I didn’t want the exhaustion of trying to be friends anymore. It was such a damn burden to navigate between appeasing him enough to keep him from going crazy on me again and trying to keep healthy boundaries between us. I begged him to let me go. I told him not to contact me anymore. I said “This is goodbye for us.” He acknowledged that he understood and I changed my phone number the next day.

 

I was walking into work one day when Luke drove up, rolled down his car window and yelled “Hey!” I shook my head and walked inside. I hid in a corner and stayed there shivering and trying not to cry until his car had left. He immediately sent an email saying how great it was to see me and how good I looked. He reminisced about our past and special energy. I did not respond to him. Over the next few months he continued to drive by my workplace, which was one road over from the street he lived on. He’d speed into the cul-de-sac, slow down and stare at the house I worked in as he drove by, then speed away. He sometimes did this as late as 11:00 at night. He used a few different vehicles so I soon felt frightened each time a car turned up the street. My shift ended at midnight and I worked in a dimly lit neighborhood setting so I started asking my co-worker who took over for me each night to walk me to my car. I even did thorough searches of my car (including the trunk) before getting inside to ensure no one was there.

 

Then Luke left me $20 and a note under my windshield wiper while I was at work. His boldness (parking, jumping out of his car in broad daylight and leaving me those items in full view of the street he lived on) was too much for me. I saw his actions escalating and I decided it was time to get help in case his persistence turned angry or violent again.

 

I met with Dawn Monger (a friend of mine and a pastor at Lindale Mennonite Church) in August 2014 – a few days after Luke left the note and $20 on my car. My sister went along with me and I asked Dawn to bring one other person she trusted so she wouldn’t have to process my story alone. I didn’t go to them for moral reasons. I didn’t go to them to get Luke in trouble. I was simply scared of him. I just wanted him to leave me alone. I told Dawn everything and Dawn passed the details of my entire story with Luke on to Duane Yoder (the lead pastor at Lindale) and the Elders. Then (with TC on one side and my sister on the other) I sat down with my parents and broke down crying with fear and shame as I told them my entire story. They hugged me, cried with me, and more important than anything else – they believed me.

 

Luke has not contacted me since August 2014, after Duane supposedly dealt with my safety by threatening Luke to stay away from me…but I want to be clear on something; it has been far longer than that since Duane Yoder has reached out to me. He has not once walked with me through this process. In fact, according to the one church leader who did support me – it’s been quite the opposite. The past year and a half have been an eye-opening lesson for me on Church politics; a hard lesson that often left me feeling betrayed and re-victimized. I cannot remain a part of Lindale Mennonite Church in it’s current state. Lindale is full of incredible people who love and care about each other so profoundly. Our small group from Lindale helped raise me and I’ve known genuine compassion and love from them. They aren’t church, they are family. It is not because of the congregation that I need to detach. Predators, abusers…they swing hard against their victims. Once I’m brave enough to embrace another church again, I expect and deserve leadership that swings back even harder. Secrecy, silence, passivity; those protect the perpetrator, not the victim. I have not been protected, the congregation has not been protected, and the community has not been protected. I (and my story) have been hit back and forth like a ping pong ball between one powerful church leader who wanted to protect Luke, and one powerful (but silenced) church leader who wanted to protect me.

 

Game over – I’m done.

 

I don’t want (or need) to be a part of any church right now. I want to be a part of the truth. God, for once, the truth. I want to empower anyone who has been abused by any aspect of this world. I want to stop hurting. Most importantly, I want to be a part of what God has in mind for me. I’ve prayed hard and no offense to the church, but God’s plan for me does not depend on my attendance in the pews. I don’t need the church to heal; I need faith. Lindale’s inadequate response to my abuse is part of the reason I’ve lost faith – but not in God, simply in the church – and this is an ongoing process. I’m thankful to have SNAP* to lean on and blessed that God has inspired other fierce advocates to surround me who are willing to fight for me in the church setting as I step back to heal. As much as I want to be healthy, I’m not there yet.

 

For the longest time I have insisted to my inner circle that all my past trauma (including the portion of my story that involves Luke Hartman) feels as though it happened to another person. I suppose to some extent that is true – I am a profoundly different person today than I was then. But I realize now that the moment I attempted to separate the girl I was then from the girl I am now,I made a huge mistake. I essentially tore my soul into pieces and forced the girl I was into the darkest corner of my mind in a disastrous attempt (and failure) to leave her and the pain she’d experienced behind. But that girl is not apart from me; she is simply Younger Me. And because of my decision to let go of her hand instead of embracing her, she has continued suffering all along, all alone.

 

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s book “Carry On, Warrior,” she writes:

 

“Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is tough as nails. It’s having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day, offering it back to the same world that just tore it up. It’s running toward pain and grief and brokenness instead of away from it.”

Younger Me, I desperately want to go back in time and hold you, cry with you, and promise you that although the road will be hard as hell, real love is here and you will never, ever be alone. I am not ashamed of you or your actions. In fact, I thank you. Thank you for fighting. Thank you for surviving. You deserve very real love.

 

I was petrified to attach my name to this story – I AM petrified to attach my name to this story – but I’m willing to risk any amount of backlash for the sake of embracing my Younger Me who was willing to tough through a hell of a lot more to get me right here – right now.

 

My name is Lauren Shifflett and the only difference between me now and Younger Me is that Younger Me was known as Lauren Benner. We’re no longer “we”, we are “me”.

 

To my tireless, loyal, unconditional, fierce support system: You have shown real, true, honest, holy, hopeful love to me. Don’t be scared for me. Today, right now, our angels are dancing. 🙂

 

To anyone who wants to send me a personal message, please don’t hesitate to send an email to barbra.graber@yahoo.com. Barbra is my wonderful SNAP Survivors Network advocate and she will ensure that your e-mails are forwarded to me and held in confidence. I would be so honored and humbled to hear your own words and stories.

 

 

[107 previous comments]

 

FAITH TROYER WYSE says:

Apr 12, 2016

I hope you always continue to believe in yourself. This is a powerful story.

 

 

LISA SCHIRCH says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you Lauren for sharing your story. You’ve taken great care to be honest, sensitive and self-reflective and I want to affirm your humanity and dignity as you take this step. Your story points to so much harm – from what happened to you in the back of the bus from Mennonite young men, to what happened with Luke, to the secrets and burdens that Luke carries that need healing, and to the harm done to you by church processes that allowed Luke to continue in his role. These secrets benefit no one – and they prevent the healing that needs to happen for all involved.

 

 

KAREN says:

Apr 12, 2016

You are so brave. I believe you. You will never be alone again. My heart aches for your little Lauren, for all the little girls and boys, for my Missy, who hold these deep pains. You are brave, I believe you, and you will never be alone again.

 

 

EMILY NORTH says:

Apr 12, 2016

Your story is sacred, Lauren. I hope and pray for your continued healing.

 

 

QUEENA MAST says:

Apr 17, 2016

Sacred, yes, that is just the word.

 

 

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Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story. It is a witness to the power of truth to heal individuals and communities. Your courage is awesome. I pray for your continuing safety.

 

 

MARY JANE HERSHEY says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, I am touched by your expressive writing, by your openness, by the quality of your truthfulness. I value you as a beloved daughter, a unique and lovely person. Blessings to you, TC and your beautiful daughter.

 

 

QUEERMENNO says:

Apr 12, 2016

I believe you, and anyone who has knowledge about how sexual violence and abuse work will recognize the patterns and behaviors you’ve described here.

I am so sorry you went through this. It is soul-crushing to live in that kind of terror, and for so long.

I know shame can creep in for survivors. You did every single thing that you needed to in order to survive at any given point.

You are incredible. And your story is so similar to so many I have heard from so so many other Mennonite survivors. Your courage and strength speak many of our truths.

So much love,
J

 

SHIRLEY HERSHEY SHOWALTER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, your courage to tell this story breaks my heart wide open. These powerful words and images are making the world and the church safer for others. Bless you, beautiful sister. And bless Barb and SNAP.

 

 

DORIS PYE says:

Apr 12, 2016

I have no words that would be adequate to express my admiration and gratitude to you for sharing this story….so I will just say THANK YOU!

 

 

ANGELA MICHAEL says:

Apr 12, 2016

Dear Lauren, you are incredibly strong and very brave. Your family can be very proud of you, I am, and we have never met! Thank you for shouting truth from the Mountain top! No one is immune, people need to believe victims, mandated reporters must be held accountable. Mennonite Churches, take heed!

 

GERRI STOWMAN says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren. If this type of abuse had occurred in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas and several other states, it could be prosecuted as criminal sexual assault, which carries a mandatory prison sentence. Is anyone in Virginia working on this type of legislation? Predators need to be stopped.

 

 

DEE ANN MILLER says:

May 20, 2016

Gerri,

Old friend of yours, Dee Ann Miller, is trying to find you. I’m working on a new project related to this site and the movie Spotlight. Would love to touch base with you again. Please contact me thru takecourage.org

 

 

ANN YODER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Dear Lauren, your astounding & risky courage to tell is breaking the back of this evil in a community ostensibly known for promoting peace& justice. I watched you grow as a child at Lindale Mennonite Church, nurtured by the best of parents, a beautiful family making music together. That you and your family have sustained and are surviving this soul-shattering violation of trust is a tribute to the quality & depth of your deepest strengths. “O Healing River, send down your waters and wash the blood from off the sand.”

 

 

FRANK LOSTAUNAU says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank You for telling your moving story. As a Survivor, I’m especially grateful when other Survivors speak Truth to Power!

Keep taking good care of yourself and your loved ones and I’ll do the same.
VIVA Lauran! GORA!(VIVA!)

signed,

chili talirunili, mini smooth doxie, werl champ
pudlo pudlat, mini wirehair doxie, news reporter
frank lostaunau, Snapster
HOORAY!

 

 

PAUL YODER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, I’m so saddened that your pastor has not been in your corner. The courage it took for you to write your story shows courageous effort. My support goes to you and your family.

 

 

FRANK LOSTAUNAU says:

Apr 12, 2016

Correction: VIVA LAUREN! GORA!(VIVA!)

 

 

BEVERLY LAPP says:

Apr 12, 2016

I believe you. Thank you for your courage. May you experience epic support in the path forward.

 

 

RACHEL HALDER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren. Thank you so much for sharing this story with Our Stories Untold. This is exactly the kind of sharing I envisioned when I began Our Stories Untold. The pain you have carried no longer needs to be carried alone. Now a whole community of supporters–both victims, survivors, thrivers, and advocates–can carry the pain of the story with you. You speak such deep truth. Though this is your story, I relate to many levels of it through my own experiences and I feel my own healing happening through witnessing your truth telling. Thank you for your badass courageousness in making the move to post this story on this blog. I feel so honored that your words exist in this space. So much love to you.

 

 

JAMES HENDERSON says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren. I wish I had some word of wisdom for you, but I don’t. I agree with others that you are INCREDIBLY brave and I’m glad you found the strength to tell your story. Stories like yours need to be told. I wish for you continued strength and hope you don’t suffer any abuse from church “leaders” or church politics, as I’m sure you’ve already suffered enough from both of those things.

 

 

BEX says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, thank you for sharing your story with us. I believe you and you are not alone in this. You are courageous, powerful and so very strong. Love and light to you always.

 

 

TRACY WIDEMAN says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you so much, Lauren. I have no adequate words, but what you have shared gives me courage.

 

 

JOANNA says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren–thank you for sharing the truth with us. I am inspired by your strength and courage. I hope that you know that are so many of us out here believing and supporting—you even from afar. I hope you find a sense of peace and the freedom you’ve been seeking in sharing your story and knowing you’ll never be alone in it again.

 

 

JENNY says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, your courage, strength, determination to shine light in dark places and pursue healing are so evident in this honest and vulnerable piece. Thank you so much for sharing. I will hold your story with you. May you feel loved and supported and know you are not alone.

 

 

CAROL PENNER says:

Apr 12, 2016

My heart breaks for you, I am sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing not just what one person did to you, but the web of abuse that happens to young girls too; its bigger than one person’s sin, it’s a whole culture. Blessings on your healing journey, and that you will feel the strength of the many people who love and support you. And I am praying for justice and accountability for those who hurt you.

 

 

JOEL MILLER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren – I’m a male Mennonite pastor and a father of three young daughters. Your writing will have a lasting impression on how I live out pastorhood and fatherhood. Thank you for the courage to tell your story and your soul-journey through all of this. I’m grateful for the loving people who are surrounding you, and I’m grateful you chose to speak publicly.

 

LINDA PEACHEY says:

Apr 12, 2016

Dear Lauren, thank you for being so brave and so vulnerable, and for sharing your story so thoughtfully and carefully. May you continue to find love and support.

 

 

ADDIE LIECHTY says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for bravely telling your story. i am deeply sorry for your pain and also deeply grateful for the words that you wrote. No one benefits when the truth is not being shared. I agree with J. Yoder that the behaviors of Luke are very consistent with a personality disorder prone to exploitation and abuse. This is what he does and will likely continue doing unless he has some serious consequences and healing. It is not your job to hold him to that, but I do hope that we as a church organization and larger society learn that victims voices must be prioritized and perpetrators are often master manipulators. Your narrative really calls us to all wake up. Thank You! The recovery is long, but it is wonderful to see the ways you have freed yourself and become loving to the one who suffered so much. It gives everyone hope. Holding you in thoughts and gratitude from California.

 

 

STEPHANIE KREHBIEL says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you, Lauren. In the short time that your story has been up you have already made a huge difference in people’s lives. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I want to second what QueerMenno said: you did everything you needed to do to survive. Your courage is a gift.

 

 

RACHEL says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you so much for daring greatly to share your story. Such powerful light. As the Church, we have so long to go. But we need to hear these stories–to know the truth. I trust that stories shared together enables us to begin that journey toward wholeness.

 

 

TIM LENNON says:

Apr 12, 2016

I honor your courage in stepping forward and telling your story. This may provide leadership to those many victims who suffer alone and in the dark.

Best wishes on your journey ahead.

 

 

MELISSA HEISE says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story. The words from Mr. Fred Rogers’ song, “The Truth Will Make Me Free”, came to mind as I read the truth that you shared. “I’m learning to know the truth. I’m learning to tell the truth. Discovering truth will make me free.” We in the church need to know the truth by listening to victims’ voices and walking with them on the journey toward healing. Thank you for using your voice. Blessings to you as you continue your journey with the many who are willing to walk beside you. May you feel God’s love through the many prayers for you.

 

 

CHASKA YODER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, I looked up the meaning of your name today and came across the English definition: feirce…how appropriate for the way you’ve fought for life through all these layers of pain and betrayal, how appropriate for the way you’re choosing to be public with all of this. Your courage is astounding and your truth telling is so necessary for the others still finding their voice.

You are feircly and deeply loved by me (and let’s be honest, there’s at least a whole clan of Eshlemans feeling the same). As I think about you, I long for deep, deep rest for your body and soul and a renewal of the joy that you once experienced in simpler times.

We love you, you beautiful woman. Behind you 100%.

 

 

LISA ROSE MARTIN says:

Apr 12, 2016

Dear Lauren,
I hope your story can help the church change to help victims of abuse in the way you were not helped. Your have dealt with so much for so long that it is unconscionable that you would be ignored. I have never met you but reading your story makes me feel proud of you for the courage to speak your truth and to accept yourself, all yourself, even after all the pain you have endured. Blessings and peace to you; I wish you a life filled with people who support you fully and that you can support in return.

 

 

SARAH BIXLER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, thank you for offering your story to so many known and unknown people here in this blog. I weep over the ways you were victimized, especially by those you trusted in the church, and I marvel at your courage and resiliency. You are precious deep down to the depths of your being.

 

 

DEB LEAP says:

Apr 12, 2016

Oh, Lauren, your truth is horrifically painful and I am so grateful you can share it and what it has meant to you. Your take on it shows the strength you have within you, hard as that can be to accept. Strength is HARD. Sending love to you and your family and smoother times in the future.

 

 

MATTHEW NYCE says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you so much, Lauren, for sharing your story. I’m a seminary student at EMS, I’ve been shocked by this whole coverup coming out, and by studying John Howard Yoder and his behavior towards women. There’s something very wrong with a culture that allows these incidents to go unspoken. Thank you for your part in bringing this to light, God bless, and God help us… this has to stop.

 

 

JUDY JONES says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you Lauren, for sharing your painful story..

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

 

 

RON STOLTZFUS says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you Lauren. Bless you for your courage to share your story. Your story is painful but you will survive. Blessings as you move forward in your journey.

 

 

BONNIE PRICE LOFTON says:

Apr 12, 2016

Kudos to you, Lauren. For speaking up. For shining light on the sociopathic behavior of someone I knew passingly well when I worked at EMU. [A few years ago, I wrote a protest letter to EMU’s president regarding Luke’s vicious role — I probably described it as “unprofessional” — in an unwarranted firing of someone in his department. Luke’s distorted version of the firing was believed. My letter was shrugged off. Luke has a smooth tongue and charismatic personality. He’s incredibly persuasive. But, with you and others speaking up, Luke has proven not to be unstoppable, thankfully.] And kudos to “TC” and to your family. One thing that struck me in your account was your treatment in late elementary school and middle school. What can we do to stop such horrible things from happening in our schools? (I know there’s anti-bullying efforts, but obviously these are not sufficient to address the torture that some students are inflicting on others.)

 

 

DEBBIE RHODES says:

Apr 12, 2016

May God in heaven heal your heart, soul, body, and mind. I am horrified. Absolutely horrified. Not only were you assaulted once, but twice, and then used by a sexual predator. I am so angry. As a mom, I am so angry. As a Lindale member…I am angry and horrified. Yet…here you are. You are surviving. You are, or will thrive. Bless your parents and support group. We LOVE our children. Period. And now you will have me praying for you and yours forever. Your story is brave. Stay strong. Let God lead. He has never let go of you. Prayers
Ms. Debbie

 

 

JILL BAKER says:

Apr 12, 2016

You are so brave. Thank you for telling your story so beautifully.

 

 

E says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for sharing your story. It took a lot of courage to be so open and vulnerable about your experiences.

 

 

SHIRLEY KIRKWOOD says:

Apr 12, 2016

I cannot imagine the struggle it was to remember and record your history. You have to be a very strong and courageous person. I wish you healing and wholeness – and you have much to give to others because of all your experiences. Isn’t is amazing how we learn some things – in the hardest possible ways?

 

 

HILARY JEROME SCARSELLA says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, I am broken-hearted for all the violence in so many forms that you have had to survive. You have cultivated such courage in your own body and mind. In sending your story into the world you are literally speaking courage into being in the rest of us, helping it gain strength and voice in so many who struggle to believe they have the power to speak up and help bring this violence to an end. You have my respect and love and support and you have heaps and heaps of my gratitude.

 

 

CHARLESTINSLEY says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren,

Thank you for your vulnerability and boldness in sharing your story. I am a student at EMS and my theological focus is on domestic violence, abuse, and assault in its many forms. I am very sorry this has occurred in your life and I am ever more aware of the cover ups, the “we can’t talk about it” nonsense, the enabling, and the peddling of theology that encourages this behavior. I want you to know that you’re not alone and I am passionately challenging the unfortunate realities you have shined a light on.

I pray for your healing to come and for the journey to become lighter. I pray for justice to be administered and for accountability to reign. Thank you for shining a light that was undoubtedly hard for you to shine.

Know that you are loved and adored and cherished by God. You’re not in this journey alone!

 

 

RACHEL GOOSSEN says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren, your story has so much pain, due to others inflicting cruelty and abuse and deception. I’m so thankful for the support you received from TC and your family, from Barbra and others in SNAP. You are courageous and articulate in shedding light on all this hurt; may you feel a continuous outpouring of support now and going forward.

 

 

MARY-ANN SHISLER says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for telling your story. My heart aches for you and all those who have experienced the hurt and intense confusion of dealing with abuse from a trusted, “respected” leader; and the passive affirmation of that abuse by other church leaders who refused to deal with the “Lukes” or support the abused. It seems you have moved from a victim to a strong survivor. May your courage inspire other victims to seek counseling to get the help they need.

 

 

DARRIN SNYDER BELOUSEK says:

Apr 12, 2016

Lauren: Any words of mine will seem small and ring hollow after all this, so I will quote one sentence of yours that stood out to me: “Most importantly, I want to be a part of what God has in mind for me.” Keep praying, and I will pray with you, that you will know what that is. Thank you, and God bless.

 

 

R says:

Apr 12, 2016

Thank you for being so strong and brave to share your story. I’m moved to tears by your story but believe nothing but greatness will find you. Stay strong and know you are powerful. With peace and love I wish you the best.

 

 

JOHN GINGRICH says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren, I repeat what so many others have said. Your story breaks our hearts and makes us angry at the same time. You have given all who suffer like you a great gift by your courage in exposing the evil done to you. The story changes us. I pray continued healing for your wounds in spite of the scars. You have become strong in the broken places and I can only thank you for using that strength to help us see.

 

 

LOUISE YODER says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren, I weep for you, for the pain and despair that are part of your story. I weep for your parents and sister, for TC and your little sweetie. May all of your/our tears be deeply cleansing and healing. I weep with so much gratitude that you are alive and are a strong woman. You have been through a difficult and painful labor and delivery and survived! May there now be joy and new life for you on this side!

Love you so much!

 

 

STEPHEN KRISS says:

Apr 13, 2016

I am deeply disturbed. Thank you Lauren for your courage. I am grateful for the community of persons who are supporting you. I am troubled by those systems that seemed to have failed. May there be light, hope, strength for the path ahead.

 

 

MELODIE DAVIS says:

Apr 13, 2016

I have thought of this tragedy and outrage almost constantly since I read it yesterday. Prayers, kudos and admiration are coming your way, along with prayers for the family of Luke. You are, as everyone has stated, incredibly brave. It may not be easy going forward but it looks like you have support in good places. Blessings to you.

 

 

THEDA GOOD says:

Apr 13, 2016

Thank you Lauren for your courage and tenacious spirit. May you find healing in the light of truth and story telling. I hold your pain praying you find wholeness of spirit, soul and body. I am grateful for your life!

 

 

DEB BERGEN says:

Apr 13, 2016

Can we ever even say it as much as you heard the cruel lies? So I add my drop to the waters attacking the blood on the sand. We know this public writing is no less than you wringing even more grace and life out of the stones put in your way, a gift to us that drained energy and time from your other healing work. I am grateful to All That Is Divine for your dedication to doing what you had to do to get through, even when up to your eyeballs in shit. I weep for the child’s gifts that were lost, the energy of the adolescent, the wisdom of the young woman – truly we all lose a piece of what is beautiful in our world when these things happen. May Life bless the courage and irrepressible capacity to love that you have shown, may you be shielded from ANY further shit from the church, and may the rest of us remember your story as we work on the institution.

 

 

GABRIEL BRUNK says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren, I thank God for your incredible strength and personal fortitude. You are and always have been beautiful, inside and out. While all of us have parts of our past we are not proud of and would rather not recall, no one – NO ONE – should have to go through the years you were put through. You deserve all the affirmation, love, and support you will receive by writing this article. Bringing the darkest, most terrifying depths of your soul to light must have taken more pain and anguish than any of us can truly imagine. The truth will set you free. I – as well as everyone here – am praying for your steady healing.

“He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains.” Psalm 107:14

 

 

DAYNA OLSON-GETTY says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren, thank you for your fierce courage. Your truth-telling is already sending ripples of hope and conviction and repentance through our churches. May we live in ways that are worthy of the courageous and holy story you have entrusted to us.

 

 

PASTOR MARLA says:

Apr 13, 2016

You are a hero. I have only heard a story such as this in confidentiality in my office at my church. Thank you for being so brave as to share this. I am so thankful that you made it through alive, that you have survived, and now you must thrive. I hope all the lies that you believed or still believe about yourself get healed by the truth and love of Jesus Christ. He has such amazing love for you and words of truth to destroy those lies. His truth shared to your heart personally. I will pray for healing and restoration and a peace that passes understanding that leads to joy and laughter and love.

 

 

JOANNE HESS SIEGRIST says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren Benner Shifflett – Thanks for “laying all on the table” as most folks are 1st graders with abuse issues. After your expansive, detailed painful 9 page story and the 54 related comments, I hope these next lines are helpful.

Because of your bravery I pray folks begin to learn how read between the lines… to develop prudent judgment beyond charisma charm… to recognize double faces/double talk… to actively provide safe places for caring Christian counter culture to be truly known and felt.

Good News – Here in PA this team is diligently working on similar efforts with North Star Initiative.http://lancasteronline.com/religion/north-star-initiative-formed-to-fight-sex-trafficking/article_b286d487-df1d-5591-9f8e-182d407268e2.html.

Personally I will host the North Star founder as part of 21 different workshop leaders coming to a Women’s Regional Assembly on Sa Nov. 12, 2016, 8 am – 12 noon. All are welcome. 717-656-7878, office@stumptownmc.org, http://stumptownmc.org/get-connected/wra/

 

 

TRAVIS says:

Apr 13, 2016

Thank you for your willingness to share. We as the church must be willing to help those that are hurt, sick, in need. Thank you.

 

 

SUSAN LANDES BECK says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren, you are so courageous–I can only imagine how difficult this was to write and share in this community. I am angry at the young men who assaulted you in the back of the van. I hope you have or will also have courage to share their names with someone you trust. I am so so very sorry there was no safe person in your church you could go to talk about the assaults that happened to you, and when you did, you were sexually abused by Luke. Thank you for exposing Luke’s predatory, manipulative, bullying, controlling, secretive, and violent behavior. I hope there are many many lessons learned by the Mennonite church and EMU and that any involved in hurting Lauren or any other victim of Luke make necessary reparations. Many young women (and a few young men) have experienced sexual abuse (often by church members, family, or friends) by the teenage years. The church’s tepid teachings on sexuality based in fear and in purity further isolate and shame our young persons and create further secrecy. I am having my two teenage daughters read your story, Lauren. We are sitting here in the kitchen discussing this right now. I am also sharing the stories of many other men I have known in positional power who have abused women. Amazed and grateful and courageous are not strong enough words to express how I feel about you, Lauren. I have heard so many many stories of survivors (I am a counselor), and survivors of sexual abuse specifically in the church, and I know that your story will give others courage to share and heal. Power and healing to you and your family.

 

 

JESS KRAYBILL says:

Apr 13, 2016

Wow. WOW. There are no words – thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve written a million comments here and have deleted them all, because anything I could say seems so inadequate in the face of such tremendous courage and strength. This world needs you in it; thank you for being so real.

 

 

KIRSTEN BEACHY says:

Apr 13, 2016

Thank you. I believe you. May your words embolden others who are ready to bring their stories into the light. May the continuing response here and elsewhere assure them that they will be heard and believed.

 

 

KEITH MORRIS says:

Apr 13, 2016

Lauren I am so sorry for all the trauma you have had to endure. I am also so very proud of you for having the courage to share your pain with us, using your name and for naming those who have hurt you. I like you have not been able to attend a formal church due to leadership miss handling of my abuse. I pray you can find peace in your faith journey.

 

 

SELMA MATHIAS FERRIS says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren Benner Shifflet, so many people tried to silence you, but they failed and their lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, you were not only betrayed by your perpetrators, but by the institutions that should have protected you — it is time the blame and shame are placed where it is deserved. Your story is an inspiration; not only as a tale of surviving, but thriving . . . by sharing your story you have brought hope to others who have experienced abuse by a sexual predator(s). Thank you for your courage. God bless you!

 

 

KATHARINE SNEARY-BEACHY says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren, I wish you and your family the best. It so hurts when people we trust fail us. With the innocence of childhood gone and the struggles to understand and define oneself amidst all the conflicting barrage of experiences is a monumentous journey. Stay strong. Know Love. Many people are rooting for you!! It is time for we as a church and as a community to be a part of the solution as we are part of the problem as well. I’m sorry for all that you’ve gone through and for the hurt and abuse people have caused you. You are God’s blessed creation, even when you don’t feel like it or experience it.

 

 

MYRON S AUGSBURGER says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren, I am so sorry for what you have been through, my eyes are wet as I read your very personal notes. And I am so embarrassed and angry for the way these persons ‘used’ you and called it love. As a minister, I am very sorry for the failure of some of our Mennonite community to live with integrity and to share in genuine compassion. Words are not enough to express my feeling, nor my respect for your willingness to share so honestly and candidly, but in your sharing I join the many who are with you in prayerful support and love. I will pray for the healing of the Holy Spirit in his inner dynamic.

 

 

MICHELLE STRITE says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren, thank you so much for telling your painful story. My family and I attended Lindale many years ago (we moved in December, 2000) and remember your family. I have no words other than I’m sorry you had to go through such tragic and unspeakable events. God has a way of turning bad circumstances into good and sharing your story is going to help so many others. Many blessings to you, TC, your daughter and your extended family. You will continue to be in my prayers.

 

 

MARCI MYERS says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren, as I read through your letter and all of the responses, my eyes can hardly see my computer screen. Tears are streaming down my face and my heart is broken. I don’t have adequate words to describe just how proud I am of you for telling your story. You are an amazing person. You have been like a daughter to me through the years and I wish that somehow I could take all the hurt and pain away. My hope for you is that this is the beginning of the healing process and that your story will help others to find the courage to tell their stories, too. I love you and will support you in any way that I can..❤️

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Apr 14, 2016

Lauren:
You broke your story wide open and shattered any manipulated personas Luke Hartman might continue to portray! Shame on anyone who would continue to be swayed by the masks he wears. Shame on anyone in church leadership who minimized, covered up or in any way allowed this man to continue to have access to someone like you. I am so sorry you got trapped in the clutches of such a dangerous man and perpetrator of such evil acts. Reading through your story, one horrific event after another, I was aware of moving through searing, aching pain and feeling punched in the gut several times over. I honor your honesty. I honor your treacherous journey through inhumane treatment, terror and abuse. I honor your ability to expose and unleash the secret that burdened you for so long. By giving voice to the ugly and hideous truth, you have indeed set yourself free.

 

 

MARSHA MAINES says:

Apr 15, 2016

I think you are an amazing woman whom God, the Creator planted his holy SPIRIT inside of – has been gifted with WISDOM. Your ability to let your inner light SHINE – through all the pain – is part of the Human Experience. All we experience – be it good or bad – is simply that – an Experience. Its your ability to STAND and SHARE that makes you whole, because it permits you to BOND with other human beings. Human being that are the WE in ME and the fullness of the I AM. Bless you for sharing, by doing so, LOVE is replicated in providing the HOPE that so many others seek.

 

 

LEIGH says:

Apr 15, 2016

You are a strong, brave woman. And an excellent writer. Thank you for sharing your story and bringing the truth to light. I pray blessings to you and your family.

 

 

MARSHA MAINES says:

Apr 15, 2016

OH – and – than you for Providing Your TESTIMONY.
May I recommend taking the time to Hear HER story.
Releasing the pain- like a conduit – brings such JOY to your spirit.
I think you will find additional hope and Healing in This Testimony.
http://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame

 

 

ELLEN SWANSON says:

Apr 15, 2016

I see the power-over modus operandi of the perpetrator, conscious or unconscious. It is an insidious creeping. I see you, Lauren, doing the best you could with the consciousness you had at the time. You tried to make sense of what was happening in your world of being belittled and abused and bullied in school and church events and the desperation we feel for approval and support when that is our lived experience. That desperation affects our tolerance for how we are treated. I lived that also. I’m walking with you, loving you, and sharing well-earned peace with you.

 

 

CONRAD ERB says:

Apr 15, 2016Thank you for no longer being silent.

We need more leaders who stand with victims, and don’t protect abusers.

 

 

SARAH CONRAD YODER says:

Apr 15, 2016

I am so very sorry. You are worthy. You are loved, and supported. I will be remembering your story, your braveness, and I care.

 

 

AMBER DAVIS says:

Apr 15, 2016

You deserve all the love and support that you need. I believe you, and am in awe of you and others like you. Those who would deny the truth of what you’ve written here, as well as all those who tried to minimize the harm you’ve suffered and shield the perpetrator from the consequences of his actions, need to take a long look at themselves before making judgments about you.
Hartman, as others have said here, sounds like he has a psychopathic personality, and there’s no known way to cure predators like him.The best thing, short of removing them from society, is exposing them for who they really are. It takes tremendous courage to do so, especially in a public forum. You’ve freed yourself, and your words have the power to free others.
Continue to take care of yourself, and all the best to you and yours.

 

 

JANICE GREENLEAF says:

Apr 16, 2016

Lauren,
Your strength, courage, and bravery for shedding light into this darkness has been deeply etched in so many people’s hearts. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Prayers and blessings on this continued journey for you, TC, your daughter, and your family.

 

 

HEIKI-LARA NYCE says:

Apr 17, 2016

I believe you, and I am grateful that you are willing to share your story. Your strength blows me away. Thank you for letting others who have experienced sexual abuse in and outside of the church that they are not alone.

 

 

ANNE LOVE says:

Apr 17, 2016

Words are inadequate. Only profound aching in my heart and tear-stained cheeks. I read ever word, not for the “gossip” but to embrace your truth. My thoughts and prayers are for your incredible ability to hope, to stand, to speak, to overcome, and to embrace your younger self as you move further into healing.

 

 

TLES HEAD ON AND STOP LIVING IN FE says:

Apr 18, 2016

I thank God for your life. Thanks a lot for sharing. You do not know how you’ve touched my heart..I am excited that strong people like you exist which encourages me to take battles head on and stop living in fear.

 

 

ANNA GROFF says:

Apr 18, 2016

My eyes are opened in a new way to how the church silences and re-victimizes victims/survivors such as yourself. Thank you for sharing your powerful story with everyone. The ripple effect has and will continue to be incredible. I’m blown away and inspired by your courage. I’m grateful you have support surrounding you at this difficult time.

 

 

MARY HERSHBERGER says:

Apr 18, 2016

Lauren, I am deeply touched by your story. And also filled with respect for your “Younger Me” because through all the hardship and grief of those difficult years you were developing resilience and creating good relationships that would ultimately see you through. Deciding to share your story had to be a hard decision but I hope that decision is one that you will always be proud of. Telling your story does a lot of things and one of them is that it becomes a powerful prod to push our slow-moving consciences and communities into creating the necessary norms and structures that will empower people from an early age to identify and report such terrible behavior (including your harassment from boys at your school and church) with no more fear of judgement or recrimination than if they reported a robbery or murder.

 

 

HANNAH says:

Apr 18, 2016

Thank you for your fierce devotion to the truth. I’m a member of your community and cannot express the importance of your actions. I am so grateful to you for showing our community the true nature of what abuse looks like within a church. You are not alone.

 

 

JIM CLEMENS says:

Apr 18, 2016

Lauren, thank you for writing this. I hardly know what to say, but I want to add my voice and support to you.

 

COMEDY (AND TRAGEDY) IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE | REGINA WENGER: PASTOR, TEACHER, HISTORIAN says:

Apr 19, 2016

[…] of Lauren, good friend’s sister, who is a survivor of sexual assault and an abuse victim.  Reading her story (Trigger and Language Warning) , I was brought to tears and to my knees by her pain and bravery […]

 

 

DAVID B MILLER says:

Apr 21, 2016

Lauren – thank you for your courage in speaking out. You have experienced harm and wrong-doing that no one should face, but sadly is too common. May you know further healing and strength. Your courage is a summons to us to break through the denial and silencing, to act justly and address the attitudes that fund and hide such actions.

 

GOOD INTENTIONS AREN'T ENOUGH- HOW CHURCH AUTHORITIES SLID MY SISTER'S SEXUAL ABUSE UNDER THE RUG - OUR STORIES UNTOLD says:

Apr 21, 2016

[…] of the fantasy.” He tried to use a note Lauren had entrusted to him during Sunday School class when she was 15 years old  to prove that she was “sexually […]

 

 

PAM REESE COMER says:

Apr 22, 2016

Lauren,
I believe you. I wish I could tell you that in person. Instead I will tell you again, I believe you. You are believed.

 

 

MARILYNN says:

Apr 22, 2016

Thanks for sharing your story. It is so sad that cover ups are still occurring…..

 

 

ARDIE GOERING says:

Apr 22, 2016

Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your story. It is heartbreaking to read but the truth matters. How wonderful to see the photograph of you and your daughter. My prayers are with you.

 

 

KATE SWARTLEY says:

Apr 25, 2016

Thank you so much for sharing. You will never know how many people you are helping by coming forward. You are amazing!

 

 

BRENT SPRUNGER says:

Apr 26, 2016

I believe you. I can only hope you feel the incredible love and support that is available to you. I am so sorry that you have experienced such abuse by anyone, let alone at the hands of those you trusted. Accountability in the church is all too often simply disguised damage control. Your sharing, and the open sharing of the many others who have experienced abuse will clear the way to true accountability. Bless you.

 

 

MERIBETH KRAYBILL says:

Apr 26, 2016

I, too, believe you, Lauren. Our community has failed you. We all need to look deep in our souls, individually and collectively, to prevent such pain and damage from ever happening. Thank you for your courageous act to encourage healthy and healing communities so others don’t have to suffer like you.

 

 

MOLLY HOSTETLER says:

Apr 29, 2016

I am profoundly saddened reading this, and amazed at Lauren’s courage! I am also shocked that a big church like this and a University apparently did not have a child protection policy in place which stresses not trying to determine if a report of abuse is true or not, but immediately reporting to authorities for that decision. Teachers and clergy are mandated to report.

 

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Apr 29, 2016

Thank you Molly. Unbelievably, in Virginia, members of clergy are not mandated reporters. They have been rendered “exempt”–This is another cause for someone with some energy to take it on who lives in Virginia. Likely a Catholic organization worked to get that exemption, but I don’t know the particulars. Would someone care to take this important political cause on? It is incomprehensible that organizations and positions of power that have been proven magnets for sex offenders are exempt from reporting what they see, suspect or know to be occurring in their congregations and parishes. If I were a clergy sex abuser, I’d look for a job in Virginia, wouldn’t you?

 

 

MOLLY HOSTETLER says:

Apr 30, 2016

MCUSA has a web site Dovenest.net for info on setting up child protection program.
My church Midway Mennonite, Columbiana,OH, just went through this process. It gives protection for those involved with children against false accusations as well as protection for potential victims. The process is very educational and makes you aware that wether mandated or not, we all should be reporters. Legally the church is in a much better standing if something does occur.
Hope someone in VA is inspired to champaign for change in laws to include Pastors as mandated reporters. Molly

 

 

JAIME MILLER says:

May 2, 2016

Lauren, your story is a light in the darkness. Your process of personal transformation gives me hope beyond words. I assure you that your story has been heard, by me and many others within my church, and is changing the way we work with youth, our policies, how we treat each other. I think that it will change the hearts and minds of many. Thank you for your courage and strength!

 

 

GRETA KREIDER says:

May 4, 2016

Thank you, Lauren. I believe you! Now that I know your story, I will act on your behalf. I also believe your sister and what she has shared in her post. I am so grateful for your honesty and for all who have supported you.

 

 

BEV STERK says:

May 28, 2016

Bless your heart, Lauren… You are precious, priceless and beautiful to Your Creator. You are of great worth to Him, simply because of who you are, created in His image.

I thank God that these stories like yours are coming into the light… I thank God for giving you the courage to do so… that is of His Spirit!

I have been an advocate for several women in abusive situations and the ungodly response by the Church to cover up and silence those harmed in these situations has been appalling (let alone the original incidents that happened that triggered the worse than “inadequate” response)…

similar to you, it is not my faith in God that has failed, it is my trust in the institutional church and the leaders that has failed. I believe He helped me differentiate between His organic Church (His holy people) and the institutional Church (many traditions of man) because I was so concerned about dishonoring the Kingdom Church, His Bride…

this distinction helped me to speak out more boldly speak against the abuses and ungodly conduct going on in the institutional Church, because His Bride is meant to be pure and holy, without spot or wrinkle… and He is using your story to help His Bride be ready (Rev 19:7-9)

 

EMBODIED, EMBEDDED KNOWING: A FAREWELL TO OUR STORIES UNTOLD - OUR STORIES UNTOLD says:

Jun 2, 2016

[…] They always have a choice, even if that choice exists in a very oppressed state—for example, Lauren Shifflett chose to tell her story of Luke Hartman when she realized it was her last chance to reclaim herself in a crime unacknowledged. There is […]

 

 

DR. DWIGHT KREHBIEL'S LETTER TO PATTY SHELLEY: A RESPONSE TO OUR CALL TO ACTION - OUR STORIES UNTOLD says:

Jul 15, 2016

[…] on the blog Our Stories Untold (OSU), with which you are probably familiar. The story at OSU of Lauren Shifflett’s abuse by Luke Hartman is heart-wrenching and all the more so because of the evidence that he was at best passively […]

 

 

WE CAN DO BETTER: HOW MY REPORT OF RAPE AT A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL MADE THINGS WORSE - OUR STORIES UNTOLD says:

Jul 25, 2016

[…] about Eastern Mennonite University’s response to the issues concerning Luke Hartman, particularly from survivor Lauren Shifflett, I feel like I have to offer my voice and my story. This story does not include Luke Hartman but it […]

 

 

RUTH ROTH says:

Aug 9, 2016

My heart is overwhelmed with sadness for you and your family and anger at the church/conference/college who swept you under their male-dominated, pious carpet. Thank-you for sharing your pain. You are a strong woman, a survivor! Praying for continued healing for you.

 

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