"Would you like to hear the boy's statement?" my counselor asked not too long after the charges had been filed.
I said yes, and that answer changed my life.
What she read turned the charges into realities that I couldn't hide from. Realities that my husband could no longer say were "no big deal." The charges were a huge deal—two felony counts of child molestation.
The Truth Comes Out
The irrefutable truth started to reveal itself two weeks before that conversation with my counselor. I was teaching Sunday school, when my husband, Tom—a Bible teacher and deacon—was confronted by a suspicious mother who claimed that Tom had inappropriately touched one of the boys in our home fellowship.
That night the pastor came to our house to tell Tom he'd have to make an official incident report.
"Don't do this. You'll ruin my family," Tom pleaded.
I was in the other room trying not to listen, trying not to hear, trying not to know. But after our pastor left I asked Tom, "Did you do it?" I couldn't say, "Did you touch him?" or worse yet, "Did you fondle him?"
"Yes, but he was the one who came on to me," he answered.
I was stunned.
My Unwitting Action
I was already in counseling for problems with depression, so during my appointment with my counselor, I told her about Tom's confession. "I'm going to have to report this," she said. "I'm a mandatory reporter according to law."
I was horrified. I'd unwittingly betrayed my husband. How could I have done this? I loved him. The pain was overwhelming; my words had backfired.
When Tom found out, he called our friends Bill and Lynn who persuaded him to let me go home with them for a few days so I could regain my wits. Within the week, Bill and the pastor took Tom to the police station so he could turn himself in.
During my next appointment my counselor secured the child's official police statement and read it to me. I asked her to reread it. Then I had to read it for myself. I couldn't believe it was true, but it was. The boy wouldn't lie, and I knew it. This spiritual man I loved and respected was leading a double life. My husband had somehow become evil.
I knew I couldn't go back home. I couldn't see him. I couldn't be in the house with him, in a room with him, or share a bed with him. The core of my being was convulsing. Instead of going home I stayed with Bill and Lynn.
When I went to bed that night, I couldn't sleep. I got out of bed, fell to the floor shaking, sobbing, and curled into a fetal position. Helpless. Alone. Suffocating in ever intensifying darkness. Lynn found me and tried to console me. But finally she took me to the hospital. I had broken down.
That night someone came in periodically to give me sedatives. The drugs offered little consolation. Instead it came when God used a Christian nurse on the graveyard shift. She came to within inches of my face and softly sang, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound …"
My Lord had not left me. The nurse asked if I'd like to hear it again, and I nodded. She sang the words again. My spirit must have quieted because I finally fell asleep and didn't wake until the following morning.
I didn't even know how to pray or who exactly to pray for. There was the victim, his family, the people in the church, my own child, my parents, and friends. The ripples from this sin seemed endless. For months after, I could only pray, "God, just take care of it," or sometimes as little as, "God, you know."
During this time God gave me Exodus 14:13: "Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today." So with no other choice, I stood still and watched God change my life.
Within the week Tom's name was plastered across the newspaper along with the charges and our address.
Our daughter, Ann, was a junior in high school when our personal life forcibly became public. Her reaction wasn't obvious at first but over the next year her studies suffered. Fortunately, she had good friends who stood behind her and several of her teachers gave her extra-credit opportunities to see that she graduated.
Just before the publicity hit, my daughter asked, "Why doesn't Dad teach a Bible study anymore?"
I stuttered and stopped. What could I say? He'd taught Bible studies her whole life, but now the elders had removed him from leadership.
"Come on, Mom. You've got to tell me."
I finally got the words out. "Your Dad molested a boy. One of the Bible study kids."
"No way. He hates gays." But slowly she started to put together old memories. "Was that why he always took the Carson boys places but never took me?" Then she shut down. "No way," she said again. The dilemma became that either her dad had really done this or her mother was lying. Our family fallout had begun.
When we got home Ann went to her room while I convinced Tom to talk to her. When I asked him how it went, he said, "I told her I was molested as a child and she understands."
She understands? Tom was portraying himself as a victim, not a criminal. He was using his past to excuse the present and he wanted his daughter to see things his way. Horrifying as it was, he'd already twisted me into doing the same thing. My very reality had been infected. My mind had to be recreated one thought at a time (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Telling My Family
Shortly after I learned the truth, I saw the boy and his family. I watched this 10-year-old victim and wondered what was going on in his soul.
For the next few months I continued with counseling, and although things weren't fixed, I was beginning to see with more clarity. Tom was officially charged and given a court date.
I took a class at a university that required me to be away from home for six weeks. Without his poor me, puppy eyes in front of me daily, his ability to manipulate me was broken. But when Tom picked me up after my stint in college, my stomach tightened. How could I go home? How could I walk back into an emotional prison? I prayed that God would help me.
Then God impressed on me a second verse: "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32). I was ready for my next step toward wholeness. It was time to tell my family what was going on. I'd delayed this for months because I knew that once I did, I was divorced. No one in my family would back any other decision. Staying married to a child molester was out of the question.
I decided to call my sister Pat. She was the one closest to me and she'd be the easiest one to tell. When she answered, I forced out my words, "Tom has molested a boy in church."
There was a brief silence. Then she answered, "Really? No. This is bad. Really bad."
The secret was out. My sister knew. There was no going back. Tom's sin and my pain were splattering all over the place.
The next day my sister called back with another problem I hadn't thought of. "Do you realize that as long as you're married you're financially liable for his actions?"
She was right. If the boy sued Tom or if any other boys from the past came forward to sue him, as long as my finances were together with his, lawyer fees, financial settlements, and any other court costs would be mine as well. My financial future—as well as my daughter's—was at stake.
The problem was getting worse. My marriage was gone. My family was gone. My finances could all potentially be gone. Divorce was mandatory.
"I want to tell Rick," Pat continued. Rick, our older brother, happened to be visiting our parents. Although Pat respected me enough to ask my permission, I wasn't ready to give it. Yet having Rick there was a godsend. It would relieve me from having to tell them over the phone. So by that night I gave Pat my consent and the family avalanche continued. I've often wondered how they took the news and regretted what I'd done to them. But even through all this pain I was still deeply concerned for Tom.
I thought of the Scripture, "It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin" (Luke 17:2). Tom had done something terrible. Would he ever see that fact? I saw it and agonized over the terror of it. I knew in the end I would be fine, but I didn't know if he was even going to heaven. While I knew I needed to let him go, I didn't want to. I felt so helpless. I wanted to be there for him, but there was nothing I could do.
In my mind I saw my hand let go of his, and as I did he began to fall into an endless pit of compressing darkness. I knew what I had to do. I had inadvertently become Tom's safety net. He had used me, his friends, the church, and his Bible knowledge. My daughter felt he used her in order to look like an upstanding Christian family man. It was time for him to be stripped of all pretenses. God was going to deal with both of us, but he was going to deal with us separately.
That weekend Tom went to a Promise Keepers conference. While he was away my sister and brother-in-law drove the 200 miles to my house. She made an appointment with a local lawyer and by the time Tom came home three days later, my sister and I had started the divorce proceedings. Tom arrived at the house to find his brother-in-law barring his entrance. He handed Tom the legal document that forbade his entrance into his own house.
For the next few weeks my family helped me untangle my finances from Tom's grasp. We always seemed to be a step ahead of him. At one point even my non-Christian sister remarked, "It's almost like someone is looking out for you." She was right of course. Someone was.
I continued my counseling appointments and remained in our church for months. After all, my good friends were there. But finally I needed to leave that church. I just couldn't handle seeing the boy and his family week after week.
In my new church I was free to be myself and to talk or not talk about what had happened. The faces of boys Tom had befriended in the past haunted me. Did he do anything to them? Should I have intervened? I had intuitions back then but I'd ignored them. Although my counselor and my friends told me repeatedly that any possible molestations weren't my fault, guilt continued to strangle my soul. Finally, in a Bible study I broke down again. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone," I cried over and over. One of my new friends held me as I released my pain.
More freedom came through tears and time. Tom had played me like everyone else. I was a victim of his abuse as well. God sealed the issue when I looked at my baby picture and thought of myself as being that child. Tom had molested that baby. He had abused me.
Justice is slow and Tom's trial date was put off twice. Standing next to his lawyer at his trial hearing, he no longer looked like a snarling trapped animal but rather like a pitiful de-clawed cat. Eventually after a plea bargain, Tom was sentenced to three years in the federal penitentiary. He ended up going to jail the same day our daughter graduated from high school.
Finding Our New Way
I had no contact with Tom during his years of incarceration. A friend went to visit him and returned with a request from Tom for photos of Ann and me. I didn't want to be part of his cover any more. I wouldn't be used. Not in public. Not in private. Not even in jail. So I gave our friend a photo and said, "Tell him he can have this picture of Ann because he's still her father, but he cannot have one of me because I am not his wife."
After spending so many years bending to Tom's will, my actions felt harsh and abrupt, but I knew I needed to stick to the truth and demolish illusion. God had given me "the truth will set you free," and I stayed with it.
When Tom's release date came, I wasn't ready. We met accidently in a store and I didn't recognize him right away. Jail had aged him. He had a phone receiver in his ear and handed me a business card. I realized he hadn't really changed. He still saw himself as an important man.
"This was the best time for me to go to jail," he said. "Ann was nearly grown and I was ready to go. I'd been afraid of this happening my whole life, but when I went I was ready. The worst thing is that Ann has lost respect for me and I can't get it back."
What was he saying? That God had waited until Tom's chosen moment to send him to jail? What about Ann? Tom's concern was how she felt about him. He never brought up that he had hurt her. Before Tom went to jail everything was about him. Now that he was out everything still was.
"How would you like to get something to eat so we can talk some more?" he asked.
"I don't think so."
"Are you sure?" He was pressing.
"No. Not now," I said.
I'd made so much progress. His haunting stare looked so kind, so harmless. All he wanted was to have a bite to eat. What harm was there in that? But I was uneasy. I wasn't ready. Would I ever be? Was I supposed to be?
I went home and thought and prayed. If I were a forgiving Christian shouldn't we be friends? We had so much history. How could I turn him away? But I knew dealing with him too much would send me into a tailspin of confusion, deception, and depression, which I could not emotionally afford.
In time I heard Tom had a store just out of town and I decided to look for it. When I entered, his whole countenance brightened. He took me out to lunch and we talked and talked, mostly about our daughter, but we also laughed about various things in our past. At last I was somewhat comfortable with him. I still wouldn't go to his house or let him come to mine. I felt strongly that my space was sacred and must remain my own. I needed to meet on neutral ground to feel comfortable. My lawyer wrote Tom a letter while he was in jail that he was not to contact me, so I have kept it that way. I want to keep control of when I see him and where. I have forgiven him, but he isn't to have any say in my future.
Recently I remarried. Dating again felt awkward and trusting anyone again was difficult. After all, the first time around I did everything right. I'd married a Christian man.
My daughter didn't speak to her father for many years. Last Thanksgiving after visiting me, she went to see him, which was an answer to my prayers. For her own peace of mind I wanted her to have a relationship with her dad.
God is still working with Tom, Ann, and me. That's enough.
Linda Williams is a pseudonym. Linda is now remarried and resides in Oregon.