Rising from the Ashes of Abuse: Christine Caine & Jennifer Clinger
Christine Caine is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her story of healing came over many years as she lived in faith to recover from sexual abuse that happened in her childhood. Her latest book, a 365-Day devotional called, “Unshakeable,” provides daily reminders that even in an unstable world, God always stands firm. Jennifer Clinger is a graduate of Thistle Farms, a social justice enterprise. Jennifer describes how she gave up on life after being a victim of abuse and tragedy, and traded herself on the street to support the drug habit that numbed her pain. After years of unsuccessfully trying to fill the void in her life, she realized even when her heart became hard toward God, He never turned away from her.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling podcast. Today, we speak with Christine Caine who is a writer, speaker, and activist. Christine grew up in Sydney, Australia, as the daughter of Greek immigrants. Although close to her nuclear family, she became the victim of abuse from members of her extended family when she was very young. Christine shares how she struggled with what happened to her and how her faith helped her overcome the shame and worthlessness she felt for so many years.
Rising from the Ashes of Abuse: Christine Caine & Jennifer Clinger – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 68
Christine Caine: When you start being abused, you think what is happening to you is wrong. I think as it continues, over a sustained period of time, you begin to think there’s something wrong with you and that’s why it’s happening. I think, to be honest, I grew up most of my life…I think I wrote this when I wrote the book Unashamed. I wrote this to say I could not remember a time in my life where I did not know shame. Where I did not think, “There is something wrong with me.”
Now, of course, the abuse was a big part of that but I think also being a Greek girl in Australia was a huge part of that. I wasn’t like all of the other kids at school. I was very sporty. I loved academics. I think I didn’t fit the typical Greek girl mold. I didn’t want to play with Barbie dolls. I didn’t want to do ballet. I remember just growing up where my mom would always say, “Christine, why can’t you be like all the other girls? Why can’t you just be a normal girl?” The kids at school would say, “why is your lunch…why does it smell different to ours? Why is it feta cheese, and garlic, and olives, and it’s not Vegemite sandwiches? You know why can’t you be like us?”
Then with abuse, I think it just perpetuates something to your core. The word abuse means: “To use an object for which it was never designed.” For many, many years, well over a decade of my life, I was used for a purpose for which God never designed me. If you had a known me back then, I was just full of shame, full of guilt, no doubt about that; full of condemnation. I was very angry. I was a really angry, angry girl. Full of bitterness, and unforgiveness, and powerlessness. So I think in that, I developed a very, very tough exterior, became very performance driven. I was looking for my value, and my significance, and my security, in the things that I did, and the things that I achieved; not in who I was.
A Work Of Restoration: A New Identity In Christ
Then, when I came to faith, and really became a fully devoted follower of Jesus when I was about twenty-one. There was a lot of work that needed to be done in my soul realm. My spirit was born again, but my soul was a mess. I think a lot of times we don’t talk about that. I think a lot of the challenge we have as Christians, is that we just think once we are born again, everything is made right now. The truth is, I’m heaven bound, there’s no issue about that. But my soul was so wounded, it was so damaged, especially because of the abuse, that it took me many, many years of work to really, really see my soul begin to be healed; and for me to renew my mind. That’s where a lot of the damage was done.
So I have to be really vigilant about guarding my mind, and my heart to stay strong in my new identity in Christ.
For me to renew my mind, to work out what my identity was in Christ, not in what had happened to me. It was a very big process in my life to make what Jesus did for me bigger than what those men did to me, bigger than what those kids said about me, and bigger than what my mother’s expectations were of me. It sounds like an easy thing, but it really isn’t when there’s been a lot of damage and brokenness in your past. I’m 51 now, and by the grace of God I get to rescue the victims of human trafficking around the world and help empower women around the world. But the truth is, that it is a daily decision to continue to work, to walk forward in wholeness, and continue to allow the Holy Spirit to do a deep work of restoration in me. I am only ever one thought away from slipping back to where I was. So I have to be really vigilant about guiding my mind, and my heart to stay strong in my new identity in Christ.
I travel so much and meet women and men everywhere all over the world and I’ve discovered culture doesn’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. There are so many people that are limping; walking around with a limp that have been followers of Jesus for a really long time, but are still not walking in victory. In my experience, I have found that the degree to which you are willing to embrace the pain of recovery is the degree to which you will recover. People often say to me, “Chris, how have you made it? How have you gotten to the other side? By God’s grace, your life is flourishing, your marriage is flourishing, your children are flourishing, and you’re able to now; not only did God rescue you, but God is using you now to rescue others. How have you walked in that victory?” The truth is; it’s a daily choice to continue to embrace the pain of recovery. Often the pain of the injury, less than the pain of the recovery.
Embracing The Pain Of Recovery
You’ve got to be willing to embrace the pain of recovery. In the short term, it always feels better to either numb the pain, deny the pain, medicate the pain, avoid the pain. At the end of the day, the pain will destroy you if you don’t overcome the pain. Often it takes more pain in the short term to have long-term freedom.
I think sometimes when we talk about long-term healing, we’re just not willing to embrace the short-term pain that goes with it, or we neglect to tell people that there is a pain involved with recovery. You break a leg, sometimes, you’ve got to re-break the bone to set it right. I think sometimes that’s what happens when we have a damage done to our soul or our mind. Sometimes you have to reset it, and the pain of resetting is deep, deep, deep, deep.
You never know what you believe until trials come. I think what is in you will come out of you. All the storms, and trials, and shocking news do is; they simply reveal what is already in you.
That’s why it’s so important that Christians really deal with their inner world. I think the degree to which there is a disparity between your inner world and your outer world is the degree to which your world will collapse. I think that’s why Jesus said to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” It’s not just a spiritual thing, we have to work on the inside. Christianity really only ultimately works inside out not outside in: It’s not a behavior modification. It’s a heart transformation.
Why Do I Need Jesus?
I’ve been born again, so I can focus on that fact. I can focus on who I am in Christ and the fact that I have available to me, every spiritual blessing in God. I can walk in the fullness of God’s love, and grace; and His love, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and gentleness, and longsuffering.
As I focus more on who I am in Christ, I become more like who I am in Christ. You become more like who you actually already are spiritually. Out of that, you can gain strength. So rather than my life being spent living as a victim, it can be spent living in victory and then helping others through the pain and through the storms that inevitably hit all of our lives. Jesus said, “You will have trials in this life.” It is part of living in a fallen world. I think we look for perfect scenarios here rather than understanding we’ve got a perfect Savior. If I didn’t need saving, if my life wasn’t a mess, then why would I need Jesus?
A lot of it is where we choose to focus. I love to live my Christian life fighting the Christian good fight of faith from a place of victory, rather than fighting for a victory. I think sometimes we get so fixated with just bringing everything to the foot of the cross, which we should. But Jesus also, three days later, rose again from the dead. So I like to view my Christianity from the lens of an empty tomb as much as I do a crucified Savior on a cross. I think that is what has helped me through that period of my life.
Jesus Can Heal Every Place That You Hurt
I was flabbergasted at how many people, I mean, you’ve got to go back 20 years ago when I’m talking about things like abuse. Probably 25 years ago, when in Australia at that time, people were not openly talking about that kind of stuff, and talking about their faith in relation to Jesus coming in to heal those broken places in your soul. I just found people were so grateful that I was open, that I was bringing something out of darkness into the light to allow the healing power of Jesus to touch that. I think back in those days there was no Internet, that’s how old I am, I would get letters, and you know our mailbox would be full.
That’s why I love writing because books can go where I can’t go. Even nowadays, we obviously have digital technology, and the Internet and blogs. You’ve got to understand when I started in ministry, none of that existed. So I could see then the power of writing. People would write to me from all over the world, where my books had gone, to tell me how much it had helped them. I made a decision way back then, I think I wrote my first book 20 something years ago now and called it, “An Issue of The Heart.” That’s when I started to decide that I was going to be as transparent as I could be, that would still help people; not devastate people, or shock people, and give people clues on how to overcome pain and adversity in their life, and let them know that there is a Jesus that can heal every place that they hurt.
I wanted trafficked victims to be able to go through a study and understand everything and actually have access to the same Jesus that I do; knowing that He could heal them.
What I realized then was: I’m an English major, so I read extensively. I realized that I couldn’t write the kind of book that I personally like to read. I needed to write books that were practical, that was very easy to understand, and that would help every person at every level of education. A lot of the hurting women that I wanted to help; some of them in some countries have not even finished school, haven’t even had access to a lot of education opportunities. So I wanted to write resources that would help every woman at every stage. I realized that the biggest effort I would need to apply to my writing was to make it so understandable, that a woman in Africa, a woman in the Ukraine…I have 21 offices in 12 countries around the world. I wanted a Roma gypsy in Bulgaria, who I know many of them have been so abused, and so hurt, and so violated or trafficked. I wanted trafficked victims to be able to go through a study and understand everything and actually have access to the same Jesus that I do; knowing that He could heal them. I didn’t want education, or language, or concepts, to keep us separated because pain is pain in every language. Pain is pain in every heart. I wanted to find a way to simplify complex concepts so that Jesus could touch and heal the pain of every woman.
The Universal Language Of Pain
I was walking through an airport in Greece to speak at a women’s conference, and I saw all of these posters of these young women and children. I went on to find out that these were the alleged victims of human trafficking. The posters, I read Greek, and so the posters all said, “Missing, missing, missing, missing” and I was just devastated. This was now just over a decade ago that human trafficking, slavery, still existed in our lifetime. I had no idea. I thought we had abolished slavery. There was the Emancipation Proclamation Act. There was the Abolition of Slavery Act. I didn’t even think it really existed. As I did more research, I was just absolutely stunned to find out there were more slaves on the earth today than ever before in the history of humanity and I was not okay with that. I was like, “This will not be our legacy as the church. This will not be what I’m going to leave as my imprint as when people look back and go, ‘what were the Christians doing in the 21st century? What was the church doing, because how could there be more slaves on the earth then?’”
I didn’t even know what I could do. I didn’t know anything about the issue of trafficking. I wasn’t educated in any of that kind of stuff. My degrees are in English and Economic History, so basically I can read Golden Books and count to ten. So I felt very uninformed. I felt very inadequate, but I knew I had a mouth. So I just began everywhere. I was speaking at conferences, and I began to just talk about this. Through a series of events, we started what is now A21. I knew that there was one person that we could help. That’s really what it came down to. I met a lawyer and we started something in Greece, well that was 10 years ago, and so now we’re in 12 countries around the world. Thousands of victims have been rescued. We work exclusively with certified victims of human trafficking.
We have extensive school programs helping to educate a whole generation that a body is not a commodity to be bought and sold, but bodies are created in the image of God. Every human being has a God-given destiny and purpose on the inside of them, and we should honor the image of God in everyone, not abuse, and use, and traffic, and buy and sell human beings for money.
It’s about empowering everyday people to make a difference because we can’t do everything, but all of us can do something, we really believe, one step at a time. We can help to abolish slavery everywhere forever, but it’s going to take all of us playing our part; all of us showing up and enabling everyone to feel like they’re contributing in some way. Otherwise, if all we just do is talk about the problem, oftentimes you can paralyze and cripple people with fear, and just being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. This is one simple way; one step at a time that everybody can help to make a difference.
When there has been abuse, or abandonment, or rejection, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, if you’re seventy, or if you’re seven. The language of pain is the same for everybody.
Grounded In The Word Of God
Narrator: Christine is committed to helping others find their identity and worth in Christ. She has found strength and encouragement in devotionals and discovered Jesus Calling when her two daughters were reading it. Moved to write a devotional herself, after spending time in Hebrews, she was inspired to create a new 365-day devotional for finding unwavering strength in God’s Word called, “Unshakeable.” She encourages people that in an ever-shifting and changing world, we can always trust God and look to our ever-present, never changing, unshakeable God.
Christine: I travel 300 days a year across every continent, I’m in a different time zone every other day. I’m doing everything from my A21 work speaking to U.N. Departments to doing church conferences, to speaking in schools, to speaking at women’s…you know whatever it is that I do. Everything is changing in my life, so the only consistency across time zones, across languages, and across continents is that I get up every day and I get into the Word of God. That just keeps me grounded and consistent and I don’t know where I would be without a strong devotional life. So I love devotionals for that reason because I think they can just help people. You can help spark something between someone and God.
Sarah will always be beloved in my heart because anyone that can switch your kids on to the Word of God will forever have a special place in my heart.
Here I am; a mother to a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old. It was through actually through both my daughters and their school; my kids go to Christian school. They just loved Sarah’s work, so that introduced me to it. Let me just say: There is no greater way into a mother’s heart than through her kids. So Sarah will always, even though I’ve never met her yet, Sarah will always be beloved in my heart because anyone that can switch your kids on to the Word of God will forever have a special place in my heart.
I was stuck in the book of Hebrews all of last year. I really didn’t know why, except looking at what has happened throughout 2017, I’m like, “Wow, no wonder the Lord had me really, really focused in on that book of the Bible.” In there it says, “Only those things that can be shaken will be shaken so that those things that cannot be shaken shall remain,” which is ultimately only the kingdom of God that cannot be shaken. Jesus said, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, the Living God.”
Fixing Our Eyes On Jesus
I’m looking at what has been shaken on every continent. Not just here in North America but everywhere. The economic instability. the political instability, the environmental instability. Just look at what’s happened here with storms, and hurricanes, and wars, and rumors of wars, and the pain, and the division, and the friction. Believers have been mixed up in the middle of all of that. So for me, this resource, this devotional, at this time in history, it is so crucial because, every day for 365 days, every devotional is hand-selected. Everything that I wrote, short and sweet because, I know that people are in our 140-character world, people are not spending endless amounts of times reading. I want it to be short and sweet because it’s more likely that someone is going to pick up a devotional that’s got something that is hope-filled, faith-filled, life-giving, inspirational and still challenging. That’s what I hope to achieve out of all of that, and 365 Scriptures that just root us, ground us, and anchor us in an unshakable God.
I don’t know that we’ve ever needed it more than now; that ability to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Understanding that although everything is being shaken– economically, politically, socially, morally, environmentally– that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is not freaking out over everything that’s going on on the earth. He is still sovereign, He’s still in control. He still is good, He still does good, He still will work all things together for our good, and for His glory. Christian believers in this day and in this hour, our greatest testimony to a world that is full of fear, and instability, and division, and conflict, and hatred, is that we would show ourselves to be rooted and grounded in love; that we’ve built our faith on the Rock that is Jesus, not on shifting sand.
I think just because the whole world’s going cray-cray, we don’t need to. I think that’s why this devotional will be so crucial at this time. Every day before you get on Twitter, before you get on social media, before you get caught up in all the vitriol, and the negativity, and the shouting, and the screaming, and the gossip, and the slander, and the lies; root and ground yourself in the Word of God. Reorient your spirit, realign it to come into alignment with the truth of the Word of God, because we need to be speaking hope, and faith, and love, in the midst of our crazy world right now.
Narrator: To find out more about Christine Caine’s new 365 Devotional “Unshakeable: 365 Devotions for Finding Unwavering Strength in God’s Word,” please visit ChristineCaine.com.
Stay tuned for another touching story of faith, right after this brief message from Lifeway Christian Stores.
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Jennifer Clinger: Healing At Thistle Farms
Narrator: Welcome back to the second half of the Jesus Calling podcast. Our next guest is a graduate of Thistle Farms, a social justice enterprise, which welcomes women who are survivors of trafficking, violence, and addiction. Jennifer Clinger’s abuse began at an early age. Her pain and trauma led to addictions in her childhood which became worse as she grew older. As she began to give up on life, she found herself on the streets, subject to trafficking, prostitution, and violence. Jennifer describes how she turned from God, but realized, even in her darkest moments, He had never turned from her. Listen as she shares how she found hope to begin again through the love of Christ and the love of her community at Thistle Farms.
Jennifer Clinger: My name is Jennifer Clinger. I work at Thistle Farms social justice enterprise.
I’m from Dayton, Ohio and at a very, very young age I experienced physical and sexual abuse. I have 11 siblings. I’m the baby of 12. My father did suffer post-traumatic stress from World War II and the Korean War. He was an alcoholic, the physical abuse. I had an uncle who would take me in dark closets and sexually abuse me.
I was not physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually mature enough to deal with those traumas. They were a shock to me and I didn’t cope well because I was a child. I became withdrawn. Then at the age of 12, I was introduced to marijuana. It was a great coping tool. I just didn’t know how else to deal with what I was dealing with. It made me defiant, it made me unruly; I would not listen to my parents.
Leaving Home: Shame, Pain, And Guilt
I decided I no longer needed a home. You know, just a young stupid child who still had some big hopes and dreams thinking, “I can set out, go to California and become a movie star. I’m just going to hitchhike to California.”
I get on 70 West and north of Dayton, Ohio, I became an immediate target for human traffickers, pedophiles, child pornographers. We, as young children, are targets. They look for the runaways. They fed me full of drugs, and made promises to me, and passed me around, and put me with other children and filmed it; which was causing more trauma in my life.
I was not broken yet. I would want to go home to be with my mom. But then there was a lot of shame, a lot of pain. A lot of guilt. I was afraid I was a big disappointment to her. So I was staying out on the streets, wanting to go home, and when I was home, I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be on the streets: I was never comfortable in my skin. Always running from something to something; looking for something outside of me to fill this void inside of me.
Before I was 16 I was basically a full blown addicted loose woman trapped in a child’s body.
Facing Trauma With God
I met a man. He was a rock guitar player and he had a business of his own. Within four months I found out I was pregnant. I turned 17 and I married that man. He had lots of affairs and that didn’t really matter to me. I had my son, I had a husband who took care of me. I had a roof over my head. I was able, or so I thought, to push those prior traumas down and act as if they’d never happened.
At the age of 19, I got pregnant again. And in my fifth month of pregnancy my son, Kevin twisted in a way where there was a slight tear between the umbilical cord and the uterine wall. I was put on bed rest. Every time I’d move there would be a loss of blood—a major loss of blood. He was growing weaker. I would pray, “God let me and my son make it through this.”
It was such a darkness and an indescribable hopelessness and brokenness. It was a separation from God because I had hardened my heart. All my life I kept waiting on Him, but He was waiting on me because that’s when the turnaround happened.
I had an iron deficiency. I made it to full term. When I went into labor, and they rushed me to the hospital. They strapped the fetal monitor around me and I heard Kevin’s heartbeat. It was faint, but I heard it. I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to make it.” He was coming so fast that they had no time to take him as a cesarean section; and with natural childbirth, he was far too weak for a vaginal delivery and his heartbeat stopped.
I was 19-years-old and a victim of child sexual and physical abuse, human trafficking, a husband who had affairs and, a second son dying at the age of 19.
I didn’t hold him when they came to say goodbye. I did not go to his memorial service. I did not grieve him. My heart went hard. At the age of 19, it’s like, “I have had enough. I am not doing this anymore. It is time for me.” And all my experience, because I had only finished the eighth grade, told me that this is how men are, you might as well sell it.
Darkness, Hopelessness, Brokenness
I hear the founder of the Thistle Farms, ‘Becca Stevens. One time she said something, it was so profound, it was like, “If prostitution was the choice, what were the options?” It was the only option for me with no education, no work history. This is what life taught me. The billion-dollar sex industry told me that it’s okay to do this. Every time I sold myself, or put a drug in me; it just sent me deeper, into a darker darkness. I ended up 20 years on the streets. I.V. heroin. Several failed suicide attempts. Psych wards. Institutions. Cold, bitter Ohio winters. The rapes, the overdoses.
I’m looking back, and I’m like, “God, You had to be there. When I didn’t feel you. I knew. I see it now. You were there.” There were some instances. In no humanely way could I have possibly survived it. I’m still standing, by the grace of God.
It was such a darkness and an indescribable hopelessness and brokenness. It was a separation from God because I had hardened my heart. All my life I kept waiting on Him, but He was waiting on me because that’s when the turnaround happened.
When I turned to God and fell on my knees; surrendering to Him completely, I felt a shift in my heart. Now I didn’t exactly know what that was going to be. I was afraid of leaving that lifestyle, because that’s all I’d ever known.
Turning To God: Getting Your Life Back
I was always full of so much fear; fear of leaving that life, fear of staying in that life. Like I said, I was always looking for something outside of me. But when I turned to God, I felt a shift inside of me, and that’s when the healing really started. That’s when I found Magdalene and Thistle Farms. And it has not been an easy walk. I could not have done it without this community.
The way I see it is that God gave me a great birthday present; He gave me my life back.
Magdalene is a part of Thistle Farms. It’s a two-year sanctuary where they love women lavishly. It is only a myth that women from the streets can’t heal. It is trauma-informed care. It is housing first. It’s a two-year sanctuary where they pay for everything; where you can focus on healing.
It’s horrifying to look back on that. I understand why that child got high. It is a hard pill to swallow, those things happening. You know, I can feel them. The feelings I felt when I was a child at 52-years-old right now.
I can cope differently today, because of this community at Thistle Farms. Because of this spiritual practice of reading Jesus Calling for the first three years, and then I got Jesus Always. It is a daily practice. It’s a daily walk. I cope differently with these trauma experiences than I once had.
The Pure Love Of Jesus
Jesus is pure love. Thistle Farms is, “Love Heals.” This daily meditation is all about love, and transformation, and resurrection. Love is the only thing that can pierce a hard heart. I have finally never felt so alive. I feel innocent for the first time in my life since I was a child. Inside, I have been washed.
I love this part in Jesus Always on July 8th. It’s just this right here:
“When you wallow in the past or worry about the future, your awareness of Me grows dim. But the more you trust Me, the more fully you can live in the present where My presence awaits you always. Speak to Me frequently, ‘I trust you, Jesus. I love you, O Lord my strength.’”
I have to keep my eyes and my heart open because God’s plans are much bigger than our plans. That doesn’t always make sense, but if you keep the faith, and, “I trust you, Jesus.” If you just keep trusting Him, it will all come to light. I see my trauma, not as a weakness, I see it as a strength.
When I am having these difficult moments, this book tells me just to whisper in my head, “I trust you, Jesus. I love you, oh Lord, my strength.”
We can’t shut it down. We have to lean. We have to use daily practices, and we have to get through it together as a community. When we all come together when I am weak, they are strong. When they are weak, I am strong or vice versa, or maybe there are times when we are all weak together. And we can heal together. It is doable when we come together.
Narrator: Jennifer has gone on to inspire many others with her story and now serves the community of Thistle Farms in their hospitality and customer services departments. To find out more about Magdalene and Thistle Farms, please visit ThistleFarms.com.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we visit with Country music phenomenon Aaron Watson. Aaron grew up in Amarillo, Texas, and started chasing his dream of becoming a country singer/songwriter while still in college. With perseverance, a work ethic instilled in him by his father, and the grace of God, Aaron has seen his career come to life over the last 18 years. Aaron shares about how he leans on God to make it through the tough times.
Aaron Watson: The world needs to know that like even in their suffering and their loss that God’s still there with them. People need to know that bad things are going to happen and that’s the world that we live in. But we have hope in Jesus, and that’s what gets us through the hard times.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments, so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.