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I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith

I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith

by Lecrae Moore


Learn More | Meet Lecrae Moore

Chapter 1

“Childhood Trauma”

At the end of Unashamed, I had arrived. Well, not really, but that’s probably what some people believed when they read it. It’s easy to hear the story of that period of my life and believe that I reached the pinnacle of my life and career. Sure I had experienced life difficulties during my childhood and stared down the reality of abuse. I had encountered critics and detractors from my attempts to adjust who I was reaching with my artistry.

I had answered questions about my ministry authenticity and legitimacy, or so I thought. My songs were being played on mainstream radio stations. I had connections in the very spheres I felt I had been called to. I had won countless awards, peaking with a coveted Grammy. I had it all right?

That’s how it looked from the outside. By all accounts, I was doing well, at the top of my game and ready to reach new heights. But something was happening. An uncomfortable shift was taking place in my life and threatened to derail all the greatness I had achieved. All the awards and accolades can’t hide the weaknesses of the heart.

It’s easy for people to believe the myth that celebrity means healthy. In our time, there are many examples that contradict that myth. Celebrities, comedians, artists, politicians, and tastemakers have all fallen to an inner turmoil and darkness that they couldn’t overcome.

Part of the difficulty of being a public figure is people not recognizing your humanity. Career achievement didn’t protect Heath Ledger from the pain. Money and fame didn’t insulate Robin Williams or Anthony Bourdain. It didn’t protect Kate Spade or Don Cornelius. I read about these stories and realized that there was something wrong with me too.

On the inside there was deep turmoil brewing in my soul, a restlessness that’s hard to describe. I pushed it away for days, then weeks, then months and years. I suppressed my feelings of pain and anguish because I was convinced I couldn’t be vulnerable, or maybe it was because I convinced myself of lies that would soon unravel right in front of me. Whatever it was, a wall was quickly approaching, and I wouldn’t be able to dodge it.

What makes a person healthy? What is the true root of being whole and complete as a human being? Some would say that it’s all found in the way that someone expresses their belief in theology. Others would argue that health is a product of our physical conditioning and discipline. Experts in other fields might say that it’s how closely we’ve achieve our goals and lived in our purpose.

I thought I had all that. I believed that my theology and methodology were correct and above heresy. I believed I had enough discipline to last a lifetime and I already achieved countless goals I had set for myself. So what was missing? I still wasn’t healthy.

My soul was deeply disturbed. I slowly began to realize that I was facing something that I had failed to address with the right amount of fervor. I was dealing with trauma. In all my years of learning about theology, church, and the Bible, I hadn’t heard anything about trauma or its affect on the human body, even though countless Biblical characters clearly struggled with melancholy or depression. Elijah, David, and even Jesus wrestled with inner pain that drove them to your knees.

Recently, I read this book called The Body Keeps the Score. In it, Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk wrote about this reality by saying, “The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable.” That’s exactly how I felt. “As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.” I felt like I was at war with myself too.

I was drowning in the middle of chaos.

A few years ago, at the height of my career and the peak of my influence, I looked at my life and saw nothing but chaos. I was careful not to overreact from where I was at that moment. Sometimes, we have seasons of struggle or momentary lapses in judgement that shift our life from happy and whole to complicated and stressed. Those seasons weren’t unusual for me. Everyone has them. But my assessment of chaos had little to do with a season of life. My chaos began long before I identified it, like a virus slowly infecting every area of my life. I was caught up in a cycle of self-destruction that threatened to sabotage everything I worked hard to create.

My chaos wasn’t just the presence of difficult circumstances or “trials” that we talk about in church services. My life was a wreck. I was a sickly mashup of addiction and selfmedication. The love for my family that had been vibrant and passionate was now inconsistent at best. At first, I felt “off”, then I had a few episodes of problematic behavior, but that quickly sunk into spiral of chaos that I never thought I would escape from.

But I’m “Lecrae”. I’m the one that thousands of people look to for guidance. They see me as a leader of a movement. Sure, I can have “struggles” (whatever that means in our Christian celebrity spaces). I could even have “trials”. That would make for inspiring lyrics on a new album and a provocative press tour. But chaos? I can’t have a life filled with chaos. I can’t. On the inside, I was terrified that people would find out that I was a fraud, someone who was just as flawed and human as they are.

Another part of me was just lost…I fluctuated between caring deeply what everyone would think of me to refusing to care at all. In those moments, I didn’t even care what people or fans thought, I just wanted to be free from the pain that I was trapped in. I was hurting and needed someone to show me the way out.

In the middle of all this pain, I realized that I didn’t have the right “Christian” response to find the escape from my trial. This was probably the most haunting, hopeless part of my journey. Sure, there were some obvious answers that you always hear from fellow believers: “Just pray about it! Let go and let God! Well maybe you can just worship God more and read your Bible!” All that good advice wasn’t reaching my soul. Something was missing.

Even beyond the deep theology, I had no answers for how to escape and find healing. I didn’t have a collection of Bible verses that would help me understand exactly what was happening or how I could be experience true freedom. I felt stuck.

Talking to my friends and walking through my chaos led me to realize that many Christians operate in a functional state of chaotic living that has them bound and trapped in unhealthy patterns and habits without addressing deep root issues. We come to church every weekend and realize that a service is just a balm for the week, not a solution that gets to the root of our problems.

Most of the theology I learned were missing the right categories for handling trauma in a healthy way. This theology only interacted with trauma when it was time to redeem it for the glory of God, but how do I live as a healthy human being? How do I handle trauma in a way that actually closes the loop of chaos in my life? How do I maintain honesty even when Christians cannot seem to handle the weight of my authenticity?

How is my traumatic history affecting and infecting what I do even as a grown man?How could I claim to be a follower of Jesus and an artist who represents Him if my life was so broken?

The Christian response to pain is often characterized by three different approaches. Some Christians want to minimize pain. They try to pass over it quickly and move onto other concerns that would be worth their time. You know how when people ask you “How are you doing?” but you know don’t want to hear the real answer. “I’m depressed actually” would stun them into silence.

Christians have a disturbing habit of minimizing pain and making it seem less important than other concerns that we should be focusing on. There are entire movements of the Church dedicated to thinking positively about all of life and refusing to sit in the pain for any length of time. But if I minimize my pain, how can I get past it? If I dismiss my suffering, how can it be redeemed?

Other Christians seek to over-spiritualize pain. If God is good, what purpose is there in even meditating on pain? The take Scriptures like “Be anxious for nothing” as proof that we’re not even supposed to acknowledge the presence of anxiety and the roots of our trauma. After all, if we just “keep our minds on things above” the realities of life won’t even phase us, even if they are difficult. So they say.

They boldly proclaim cliches like “God is going to work everything out for our good anyway, and “Remember this body is going to fade away anyway.” In the end none of this stuff will matter so what purpose is there in even worrying deeply about this. Just quote scriptures and remember who you are in Christ, right? How can I remember who I am in Christ if I don’t have the pathway to figure out who I am?

Another group of Christians seek to memorialize pain. They construct entire theologies that are rooted not in addressing pain but in obsessing about its reality. They believe that it is the only theological matter that needs to be addressed and fixated to study. Even though I know firsthand that pain is real and was manifesting itself in my life, to sit in that pain without resolution is just making the pain that much greater.

Is there any hope for me? Is there any pathway for me to keep my faith in Jesus and be healthy? I was wrestling with these questions, and I wasn’t winning.

****

My chaos was eroding any signs of the healthy me. I learned to recognize myself in my flawed state and treat it as my default setting. I was coping with any number of addictions that I couldn’t find my way free from. I knew it was wrong, but I was in pain. When I wanted to feel numb to all the anguish, I couldn’t put down the bottle. I was drinking every night just to disengage from the depressive state. I wanted to mute my anxiety, to push it down as far as possible. It’s one thing to have a few drinks, but I couldn’t stop there. I went from functioning buzzed to getting full-blown drunk with frightening ease. When the depression was at its height, I would drink incessantly, not even worrying about what the consequences would be.

When alcohol wouldn’t work, I turned to pills. The pills were supposed to help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. They were designed to make me feel better, but that wasn’t working. I was popping the pills like candy, thinking they would stop the internal conflict in my mind. I would have bursts of hedonism, temporarily giving myself to all the forbidden fruits of my platform. At times, there was a mixture of the pills and the alcohol, which led to a severe lack of judgement and numbness.

These were just the tip of the iceberg. My family and friends could see the dark cloud emerging over my head that hovered over my soul for years. A cloud of chaos.

Where does chaos come from? In some instances, we are confronted with the consequences of our own chaotic decisions. We love to follow our own way and that inevitably gets us into trouble. In other cases, the only explanation for our chaotic situation is the broken nature of the world that we live in. Sometimes, circumstances happen outside our control or understanding. But most of us regularly fail to acknowledge the third source of chaos: the sins of others.

When I realized I was in the midst of my free-fall, I knew that some of my own decisions created the foundation for the chaos in my life. That part was obvious. I was taught early in my walk with Jesus to examine yourself first and see all the ways that your decisions were the cause of your situation. I tried that introspection but couldn’t get to the root of why I wanted to do any of those things. I had everything that I thought I wanted: the acceptance of others, fame, success, family, etc. Why would I want to sabotage my reality? As a “self-made” man, I had to come to grips with how the sins of others had created decades of trauma that placed me in the pathway to chaos.

I don’t mean that I played no part in my chaos or that others are the sole reason why I made a mess of my life. I’ve never been one to blame others for the things I can control. I only mean that I didn’t understand how the context of my past led me to the choices of my present. I didn’t understand how much I was a product of the conditioning of my environment. I was challenged by specialists and friends to interrogate my past, to take a more honest look at my childhood. It took me back to a dark place, a place I thought I overcame.

****

I remember how I felt immediately after she abused me. My body felt numb. Shallow breaths echoed throughout the pitch-black room as I sat on my bed looking down in shame. I kept glancing back and forth, as though I could find my innocence in the darkness. “What just happened?...Should I tell anyone? No one will ever believe this.” No one. I laid down as an attempt to process the rapid firing of all my senses. “Why did she do that? What is this feeling?” This was only the beginning. I was violated by a relative, someone who was assigned to care for me while my mother was away. I was taken advantage of and then bullied into silence. Something in the back of my head told me this was a twisted, wicked abuse of my humanity. It felt dirty. But I couldn’t tell anyone. “No one would believe me.” There was no father to vent to, no safe space where I could speak freely about this evil.

It wasn’t a one-time experience, not a random blip in my life story. I was repeatedly forced into this sexual activity long before I understood how it would affect my future. Obviously, my sense of what intimacy was more twisted than it should have been. I lashed out with outbursts of anger, distrust, depression. These were my way of dealing with deep inner pain that was suffocating me from the inside out. The depth of chaos that it created has only recently become clear to me. I had to full face it to realize that my body and my mind were still taking me back to those moments, even as an adult.

For years, I kept these experiences firmly in the past. “Yea it happened...but it doesn’t bother me.” Part of my strategy was trying to hide from the pain of abuse, but another part of me was avoiding talking about something that I didn’t have the categories to address. How could I address it? I treated my pain like it could be locked tightly in a box or hidden deep in the closet of my soul. “It doesn’t bother me.” I would say to people who knew. But it affected me more than it bothered me, creating decades of unresolved trauma, causing a ripple affect of chaos below the surface. I could only hide it for so long.

Growing up, if you experienced sexual assault, that was seen as a joke for our “boys”, a badge of honor that we would share to prove our manhood. “Look what I’ve done.” It’s not really shameful to be molested by a woman in our culture. In a sexist world, these were bragging rights for young men to share in private moments. But I knew it was wrong, and something told me I should have figured out a way to make it stop.

This internal judgment of blaming myself for not stopping the abuse kept me silent about how it affected me. It literally kept me from pursuing the healing that I desperately needed, because part of me blamed me for what happened. I remember hearing Dr. Christena Edmondson say, “Dysfunction, sin and trauma thrive in darkness, silence and minimization.” I kept my pain hidden and minimized because I blamed myself, and the trauma ran wild.

To some, this will be a confusing revelation. After all, I’ve spoken about my sexual abuse before, sharing my heart out in various formats like music and interview segments. The most famous example of this was the song “Good, Bad, Ugly.” This was the first time I revealed my abuse in detail. I even shared more thoughts in my first book i>Unashamed. Each time that I gave the circumstances surrounding my molestation, I was applauded for being vulnerable. In the case of the song, I was transparent for three minutes and twenty-nine seconds. “Wow, Lecrae is brave! A true leader!”

It is true that a survivor sharing their story is a powerful moment of freedom that they are not required to share. Most people can’t comprehend how significant it is when survivors share their stories, especially Black men. “Wow, look what you shared.” But my vulnerability was hollow. I only shared what happened because I assumed they would be liberating for my audience. Even sharing my story was for the benefit of others rather than my own personal healing.

Healing. For years, I never even knew what that felt like. I was a public figure, a professional artist, a record label owner, a husband, a father, the leader of a movement, and I didn’t know what it felt like to walk in healing. The message of the Gospel is that God is in the process of healing our brokenness, redeeming our scars. And I believed it and walked like it was already realized. “I’m healed!” On the outside, I was looked up to because I was an example of strength. I accomplished most of my goals at such a young age. I was on national television with the highest awards and notoriety. Internally, I was broken, the kind of brokenness that slowly unravels rather than shattering in an instant. Most of my fans didn’t know. Only the closest friends and family members got a front row seat to my selfdestruction. I was perpetuating a cycle of numbness to hide the weight of my trauma.

I realized that I didn’t fully understand the consequence of what she took from me. When speaking with survivors, most people focus on the action of abuse but not how we should live with the pain and shame. People who are unaffected by abuse have never had to think about having to function at a high level even while they’re hurting or triggered.

Experts always say a child should develop natural coping skills, but there was nothing I could do to cope with this. In the aftermath of my molestation, I felt all of my emotions at the same time. Anger, rage, confusion, sadness, and betrayal rushed to my soul. They almost overwhelmed me. But I took that nuclear emotional mix and pushed it right into my soul’s closet. Even after I shared my story, I never really dealt with the trauma.

People know how to give sympathy for the act of abuse or violation. But they don’t consider that most of us have to stay in the vicinity of our abuser. In one way or another, we are regularly reminded by the smell of their breath, their body odor, their laugh. We often despise their freedom to laugh or their ability to live normal lives while we scream inside.

Before the song, I never talked about my sexual violation with any detail. Thirty years after the incident, when the song came out, I was applauded. But again, it wasn’t for me. It was liberating for my audience. I just felt like it was nothing but that it would be something that would liberate others. When I spoke about my own pain, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement had not exploded onto the scene of popular culture yet. When these viral movements entered the public sphere, I looked at the uncovering of powerful people’s sexual abuse and felt a sense of connection. I couldn’t identify with the pain women feel in our misogynistic culture. I couldn’t identify with the daily calculations that they are forced to make in a society that routinely disregards their personhood (a culture men regularly participate in). But I could identify with the circumstances surrounding my abuse. I was a child. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to do.

The sexual abuse was enough to create ripple effects of brokenness that I am still working to unravel. I also had to confront the pain of my physical abuse.

I knew instinctively that I should run. With every step, my heart raced faster. I knew this wasn’t a normal chase. I had mouthed off to my mother’s boyfriend, again. And he was over it. Black children know when adults are over it. They know when the circumstances have escalated. And as I ran, I knew I was in trouble. I’m not sure how I ended up on floor. Maybe I tripped down the stairs. Maybe in a fit of rage, he pushed me down. But the wind was knocked out of me long before my back met the carpet. And then, he was on top of me. His punches were relentless, an avalanche of fury. I couldn’t believe it was happening. "Mom...MOM HELP!” My thoughts transitioned into desperate screams. “I’m going to die right here.”

My mother’s soft touch felt like sandpaper when she rubbed my scars. “I’m so sorry, baby.” I sat in a whimper as her hands massaged my bruised face. “How could you let him do this to me?!” That’s what I wanted to cry out, to slap her arm away and let out a scream. I felt especially deserted because I knew she loved me more than anyone else. More than my deadbeat father, more than the relative who sacrificed my childhood in favor of her sexual needs, more than people who liked my little rhymes at the lunch tables. She loved me, but she didn’t stop him.

I felt like my rights had been violated. Nobody said or did anything to prevent it. Does anyone really care? “This isn’t fair!” These days, I always perk up when my kids tell me “This isn’t fair!” I want to process that with them because, while I know that life isn’t fair, I don’t want them to ever feel like I did at their ages. Like they have no rights, no voice to appeal to those in power. That’s how every adult articulated their authority. “What rights do you got, huh? You pay bills around here? You’re just a kid. Shut your mouth!” In many ways, I saw Black parents mirror the message America spat to them. “Do you pay taxes? Are you a healthy contributor to society? Are you incarcerated? What rights do you have??” The trauma of systemic racism reached down through history to bring trauma to my door.

That wasn’t the only physical abuse incident I experienced either. Tempers would flare. Windows would break. Bodies would hit the floor. More than once I gripped the handle of the knife that sat under my bed to and stared at the door waiting for hell to burst into my room.

After he beat me, my mom separated from him for six months. And in that time I was excited for it to be just us. In a weird way, there was safety in our isolation. But half a year later, he showed up with a video game system and some weak words of apology. He complied, of course, to stay with her. My mom asked me me if he could come back. What am I supposed to say to that? I’m a kid. A ten year old shouldn’t make that call. Even if I don’t want it, I wanted her to be happy. I just wanted to get out. I lived on egg shells and plotted vengeance.

I tell these stories because they are essential to understanding the personal chaos I would face as a grown man. I experienced physical emotional and sexual abuse all before the age of 10. I have spoken about them before but now, my understanding of their effect is different. I’ve been in pain, trauma, chaos. Silently wrestling with myself As a Black man in America, it’s an act of resistance to express this. A silent scream lurked in the back of my throat for decades. In the midst of all the shows, the press appearances, the events, I was screaming, just not loud enough for anyone to hear me. I’m only beginning to understand the weight of all this years later. I grew up in an era where people would scoff at claims of “child abuse.” “You want to know about child abuse? I was hit with a broomstick or an extension cord when my parents were mad at me!” There was a sense in which we were all hurting, all in need of therapy and recovery from the generational trauma we passed down to our families.

The sexual abuse was tucked away because I didn’t believe it affected me. It wasn’t until I had my own kids that I realized the extent of that violation. If that happened to my son, I would be enraged. It put me in a world that I didn’t have to be in, one that I couldn’t prevent. But at the time, I was more upset about the physical abuse because it seemed so clearly wrong to be beaten by a grown adult. I would lash out, scream, goof off in school, ignore authority, all as a result of not being heard and seen. I responded out of trauma and never received healing. I lashed out in anger and fury, because I knew it didn’t matter. My goal at 18 was to go on a bank-robbing spree with my best friend, because what does it matter? There’s no justice in the world. What else is there to do?

I’ve never talked about my abuse for fear of bringing shame to those individuals. I don’t hold what they’ve done to me over their heads. I don’t look at them as horrendous people. I look at them as broken people who function in their brokenness. The person who sexually abused me is incarcerated now, and I never considered that she had a problem that people needed to work with her through. I never considered that she may have had a scar in her past that she was healing from. I don’t know her history and what introduced that into her life. But I can’t help but wonder who I would be sexually and relationally if that never happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve felt angry and bitter at them at different times. I feel upset even when I think about what could have been. But my understanding of humanity is that we all make terrible decisions that hurt people, and those decisions are not outside of God’s redemptive and restorative work. Anyone an be redeemed. There can be grace even for people who commit these heinous acts that we believe are despicable. My frustration was the lack of consequences. I felt like they got away with it, like I was left to pick up the broken pieces that they had left behind.

Years later, as an adult, I started to feel...off. I wasn’t off in the sense of needing more rest and vacation days. I wasn’t off in the sense of needing to have more community, though it seemed like we were all in pain at this point. I felt a constant, annoying hum of anxiety. I felt like the world could cave in on me at any moment. And this was no time to have a breakdown. I was under pressure to complete albums, run a company, speak on behalf of the marginalized, love my family well, be a good friend. “Look at how many people are depending on you?” I would say to myself in quiet moments.

The more I ignored the hum, the more I started to feel more tangible consequences. I was drinking but not casually. I would drink a bottle of alcohol on a good night. Raiding the mini-bar was a common practice as soon as I arrived in my hotel. “What is wrong with me?” I was numbing myself, drinking to go to sleep and drinking to get back up in the morning. I knew there was a problem so I went to see a professional. Surely, this would help. He listened while I waited for advice. Then he prescribed pills. Pills. I knew I wasn’t supposed to pop those pills like candy, but I couldn’t stop. They made me feel good. I had at least moments of clarity with them. I couldn’t shake this question: “Am I addicted?”

Recently, I picked up a book by a social psychologist called The Body Keeps the Score. It revolutionized the way that I viewed my past and my trauma responses from my childhood. The author talks about the way we ignore and fail to process our trauma and the consequences of hiding what is lurking underneath the surface. He writes:

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

The emotional wounds that I experience as a kid are easily rationalized away. “Well that was a long time ago. It doesn’t bother me” But I’m learning that my body doesn’t have a timer. There’s no timeline that it can place things into. My body does’n’t have categories to handle it. That trauma happened, and now it’s stored in a places I can’t hide from. While I’m trying to rationalize it, the heart and soul are saying, “We don’t know how to deal with this.” It’s stored in me. These events robbed me of normalcy, of coping mechanisms, of innocence. as an adult I’m frustrated because that trauma I experienced robbed me of things, and there’s a direct line of chaos to my present.

I discovered what it meant to have “little kid trauma” that is experienced with a little kid’s mind. In some ways, that’s God’s form of protection for your mind, but it’s also another form of abuse. Because after your abuse, your 10 year old self just thinks “Why couldn’t I fight back? I should’ve been able to get out of this. ” I should have stopped this. My kid brain tells me that I should have prevented it, while my adult brain can process the trauma and the realities of it. I didn’t have the processing skills and categories to know that there would be gaps in my family life, gaps in my marriage, gaps in my manhood. I didn’t know what it meant to have my son run up to me and says “Daddy!” with hope and love in his eyes. I didn’t know what that felt like. I was just trying to survive.

When your house needs repairs, you call a plumber, an electrician, or some other type of specialist. When your suit has a defect, you call a tailor to fix the issue. When your life has a hole, who do you call? Who are you planning to lean on when someone who we love dies or we lose a relationship that we felt would last forever?

Christians are not taught to value the specialists in the Church, those people who are gifted in other disciplines outside of theology. I realized early on in my journey out of chaos that what I needed most was a therapist, not a theologian. I already understood the depths of doctrine and certain concepts that people devoted their lives to studying. Yet, what I needed was someone who could interpret my life and make sense of why I was walking through chaos without hope of escaping the tunnel.

What people tend to do is create a tentpole, a marker to understand their story. When chaotic things happen, we need a narrative that helps us make sense of everything so we can put them into context. Every night, our brain is reconciling our narratives. The narrative that brought hell to me haunted me in the night. In the midst of all the success and achievement, all I could hear is “This is who you are.” It would take years before I could identify it, and years until I could actually deal with it. But I began a dangerous pattern of self-destruction. It threatened my marriage, my platform, my very life. It spun me into a tailspin of chaos.

They told me to pray, to cry out to God, that He was somewhere listening. I couldn’t hear Him, and maybe I didn’t want to...I just had these bottles, these pills, this self-sabotage, this trauma. I feebly opened up my Notes app and tapped out a summary of my life...

“So...I’m a mess..."


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