Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Transformed: Overcoming My Dark Past (Part 2)

Transformed: Overcoming My Dark Past (Part 2)

Marilyn Williams describes how her life has been affected by the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and how God has helped her find emotional healing, restoration and peace.


John: Last time on “Focus on the Family,” Marilyn Williams explained how she tried to escape an abusive home life as a high school senior.


Marilyn: I was a straight-A student. I was president. I was speech team champion. I was on the swim team. I mean, I was involved in school, as involved as you could be, because I didn’t want to be at home. And the only way I could get out of home is say that I had a school event, ’cause my phone was ‘taped’ [i.e. tapped] and my mileage was … was tracked and my father followed me everywhere. So, I was doing everything on the outside to try and survive and be good and be normal, but I was crumbling on the inside.

End of Recap

John: You’ll hear how Marilyn found healing as she continues her story on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, as we get back into Marilyn’s story, let me again warn parents, which is something we like to do, that the material um … will not be suitable for younger children. But you need to catch it when you can. Listen to it on a download or your SmartPhone. This is one worth pursuing, so if you can’t hold on with us, catch us later.

John: Yeah, you can find details about downloads or the CD at .

Jim: Marilyn grew up in a family that practiced group incest. Right there it should grab you. What?! That is unbelievable. And as a result of that trauma, she developed multiple personalities that helped her compartmentalize those frightening aspects of her life. It’s amazing that we have that mechanism of protection.

She got married at 18, which got her out of her parents’ home, which must have felt like a breath of fresh air for her. But the problems didn’t end there. They were just under the surface. And after Marilyn became a Christian, it was time for her to become a new creation in Christ and with all of her background, John, that can be really tough, because all that stuff begins to surface. You’re going to hear that aspect of her story today, followed by some insight from our own director of counseling here at Focus on the Family, Jared Pingleton, who will be with us in studio.

John: Well, let’s go ahead and continue with the presentation from Marilyn Williams on today’s “Focus on the Family.


Marilyn: And even though I was still trying to hold it together on the inside, God said, “Marilyn, we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some work to do.” And God wanted to get to those deep places of my heart. And so, the frustrating thing for me in my walk with God is, as I committed myself to Him, I began to unravel. I began to fall apart more and more.

And what I realized He was doing, is He waited until I was married to a wonderful man, who also gave his heart to Christ. We were in a good church. We had good friends around us. And He said, “Okay, now’s the time. We can clean out that closet now.” But see, I was frustrated, because I said, “God.” I said, “I looked a lot better and I was a lot stronger at least on the outside, before I knew You.” (Laughter) And now that I’ve come to You, I’m a real mess!”

Because you know what? He took away all my defenses, ’cause He’s jealous. See, God is a jealous God. When I came to Him that night, He would not allow me to continue in my coping mechanisms. Because He … He wants to get to our heart. And so, when I came to Him, He began to strip all of my defenses and I’m telling you, I felt like someone came up to me and these were my crutches that I had learned to walk with all my entire life and I felt like God came and pulled them out from under me and I was flat on my face. And as a result, I was depressed. I had been bulimic for 12 years. I was a “rageaholic” with my children. I was critical and controlling with my husband. I was suicidal. My self-hatred was just building and blaring and the social phobia and the chronic illness.

It was a miracle I was still alive. And all this was bubbling up to the surface because God was taking away the defenses. And He was saying, “Marilyn, I love you. It doesn’t matter what a mess you are. Stop trying to pretend. Let’s just deal with it.” And that was scary, but I remember my aunt said to me one time. She said, “You know,” she said, “You know when you go to clean out a closet, you know how it gets worse before it gets better?” (Laughter) That’s kinda what God’s doing (Laughter), is He’s cleanin’ out your closet. And it’s gonna get really messy and you’re gonna think, “Why in the world did I ever start this project?” ‘Cause my house was nice and clean before I did. (Laughter) Right?

That’s exactly what God did. He waited till everything was in place, the house was clean, everything was ready and He said, “We’re gonna get to that closet, ’cause I’m really concerned about all the stuff you’re stuffing in there and that you closed the door, so that no one else can see.” But you know what? He said, “Marilyn, I’m concerned about you, because you know it’s there and it’s really driving you. It’s destroying you.”

And so, He began to do a healing process in my life, a journey of healing. And then I call it “my desert time.” And at that time, my test of obedience, my challenge with God was to walk with Him when I didn’t understand what He was doing. And my healing process was long and hard and I put myself into counseling, because I was raging on my children and I was afraid of that. I was afraid of what I might do next.

And it broke my heart every time that I was hard on my daughter. And I don’t know why God gave me such a strong-willed daughter, but He did (Laughter), probably to handle me. And it wasn’t a good combination, ’cause I was a volcano and she was a strong will.

And I put myself into counseling and I began this healing process that went over about 12 years. And during that time, the intense time, at age 24, I had a nervous breakdown and I was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. And every fear about that there was something wrong with me, every fear I had about myself, every hatred that I had about myself, everything that I didn’t like about myself was confirmed in this diagnosis.

And you want to talk about a scary diagnosis, to not know who you are and to who you think you were, you’re not. And I began to lose touch with reality. The past was being confused with the present. And multiple personality disorder has been renamed, dissociative disorder. You know how you’re drivin’ around the road and you’re driving and you pass a freeway exit you didn’t even know you did, ’cause your mind was so deep in thought somewhere else? You just dissociated. Hello, you’re all multiple personality disorder now. (Laughter) Yeah. You’re just like me.

But my continuum was a little more extreme and that was because I had a trauma that had come into my life at a very young age. And I look back at it as a gift, that if God hadn’t given me that gift to dissociate to that degree during that kind of trauma, because that group with those men, that was intense sexual abuse and violence. And if I was not able to dissociate, there are still things that I can’t remember, that you know what? Praise God, it’s a good thing, right? So, it’s just on a continuum. It’s a dissociative kind of disorder.

But what happened when it all came to the surface is, I began to confuse the past with the present. And when I would dissociate, I would regress into a little girl. And sometimes I wouldn’t even recognize my husband when he came home. And I was afraid and I thought that things were gonna happen if I went outside, ’cause it was dark and nothing was really gonna happen, but I couldn’t separate. The past had become so near to me and I was having body memories and flashbacks.

When I had a body memory, if I had a flashback about something that happened to me, I would literally find a bruise on my leg right where I remembered something happening to me. My body remembered. And we went through this intensely for about two or three years, where my husband carried me to bed every single night, every single night.

And you know what else my husband did? He introduced every single part of me to Jesus. Every single part of me had to be told, “You’re safe now. It’s okay.” Because when I was growin’ up, there was no safe place. There was no safe place. And so, we went through this healing process and it was long and it was confusing and it was scary and we didn’t really know what we were doing and we didn’t have that much money. But boy, we had to lean on some counselors, ’cause this was in over our heads.

But God was in the midst of it. And I was fortunate. I had co-consciousness, so I never lost big tracks of time where I didn’t have total, you know, some sense of control. I was just very traumatized when I would go into a state like that.

And so, we went through this healing process and God surrounded me with love and I began to just dive into Him. And my next challenge with God was, not only to submit myself to Him, not understanding what He was trying to do in my life, ’cause I couldn’t see the safety net that He put there. But my next challenge was to lean on Him with everything I had. I mean, I had to depend on Him just to get out of bed. I had to read about five Psalms before I could get myself out of bed, just to function. At the end of the day, I was just about comatose from trying to function like that. And that’s why my husband had to carry me to bed every single night. But God sustained.

And pretty soon, you know what? That healing started absorbing. And I started getting stronger. And I started craving this new identity that God was building from the inside out. And I started acknowledging who I was in Christ, not who the world told me I should be and not what the world had done to me, but who I really am in God. That’s what I started doing. I started craving that more and more.

And one day I cried out to Him and I said, “You know, Lord,” I said, “I’m done. You know what? I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of what happened to me. In fact, I finally am at the point where I don’t care who did what to me.” It’s very true. And that’s a good sign when you get to that point.

Now it’s a process to get there. There’s no way you can do that overnight. But God had strengthened me and healed me to the point where I was ready to forgive and I was ready to move on. And I didn’t want my life to be about my past anymore. And so, I prayed this prayer one morning in my prayer time. I said, “Lord, Your Word tells me that You are enough for me, that I can rely on You for everything. Well, I’m committing myself to do just that, not just for forgiveness for my own sins, but for deliverance from the sins done against me. You tell me that when I gave You my heart by committing my life to Your Son, Jesus Christ, that Your Spirit would then take up residency in me and I will be truly transformed from the inside out.”

“Well, Lord, I am ready to not only accept that You can forgive my sin and get me home with You in heaven forever, but that Your Spirit can also make me a new person from the inside out, a new creation, an extreme makeover from the old to a new. I’m ready to let it all go, Lord. I’m sick of my shame and past identity creeping into my life every day. I hate everything about my shame and I’m ready to find my identity in You.” (Applause) Amen. (Applause)

And so, I continued to cry out, “Lord, Your Word tells me that I don’t need old coping mechanisms anymore, that I don’t have to hold up an image anymore, that I’m not only acceptable as I am because of the work You did on the cross, but because also I believe, Lord, that You can make me a new creation. And that just as You were there for me then to help get me through, You are here in me, because I have asked You to come in my heart. And as a result, You have. And because of that, You can transform me now.

And I went to my fireplace and I said, “Lord,” I said, “You’re on.” I said, “I do not want my old identity any more. I don’t want my kids knowing that their mother’s a multiple all their lives and I don’t want them introducing their new spouse to their multiple mother, ’cause they’ll probably never get married then.” (Laughter) So … (Laughter) Yeah. You see, Grandma, the multiple. It’s just not workin’ for me, so … (Laughter)

So, I said, “Lord,” I said, “I’m on.” I said, “You’re on.” I said, “I am going to take You for Your Word and I’m ready to let it go.” And He led me into this exercise that I believe helped me so much to do that. And I went to the fireplace. I turned on some Christian music and I knelt down and I grabbed some index card[s] and some matches and I wrote down one by one, each name of each alter personality.

Now the counselors name them, ’cause it helps them keep track of ’em, all right. (Laughter) It doesn’t really do me any good to know their names, because it’s all me, but you know, it helps them to keep track of ’em. (Laughter) So (Laughter), I created some pretty cool names for my counselors.

So, one of my alter personality, my biggest part of me, probably my daughter remembers is Terra. And I wrote on the card and I felt like God said to me, “Marilyn, write on one side why I gave you Terra in the first place. What did she do for you?” And so I wrote down. I said, “Well, Terra took the abuse for me so that I could go to school the next day and learn my ABCs.” And when I went into Terra, I was like 3 or 4. So, she took that kind of abuse. And I named her Terra, because when I would go into her, I was terrified, absolutely terrified of anything that moved. But she took it for me, so that I could function.

And so, then on the other side, he said, “Marilyn, now …” and this is just all in my mind, as He’s walkin’ me through, just these ideas coming to me. He said, “Now I want you to write why you don’t need Terra anymore.” And I thought to myself, “Well, now that I have Jesus in my heart and Jesus says that when I commit my life to Him, He gives me His spirit to live inside me, to transform me from the inside out, now Your perfect love casts all fear. I don’t need Terra any more. Terra helped me survive, ’cause I didn’t know Jesus yet. I didn’t have Him in my heart. Terra was a gift from God, but Terra’s a crutch. I don’t need that.”

And so, I wrote all this on both sides and I lit it on fire and I put it in the fireplace and I said, “Lord, I vow … I vow to lean on You instead of Terra when I’m afraid. I vow to lean on Your perfect love to get me through when I start to feel afraid.”

And my other one that I did … I’ll just you an example of two. I’m not gonna say how many I had. I never got into the counting thing (Laughter), ’cause a lot of people are …”How many did you have?” It was like, no, I didn’t do that. So (Laughter) another one I had was Joy. Joy helped me be a child. Joy was the part of me that was innocent and free, no matter what was happening to me.

And then, the other side I wrote, “Oh, but I don’t need Joy anymore, because “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” And I put that in the fireplace, too.

And what I began to do is, instead of leaning on me, instead of leaning on my coping mechanisms, I began to lean on His Word. And I began to grab ahold of it by faith. And I began to trust it, as real and true and alive and that it can truly transform me, not just change me, not just give me a new paint job, not just give me new hair, but it can truly make me a new creation. And ladies, I did this over and over with my different parts and I am happy to say that it has been seven years since I have dissociated. (Applause) Praise be to the glory of God. (Applause) Amen! (Applause)

Now you may be asking, how does this relate to you? Well, I want you to know the brokenness, my brokenness is no different than your brokenness. It might take a different form. Your brokenness might be drinking. Your brokenness might be promiscuity. Your brokenness might be overeating. Your brokenness might be unforgiveness, might be rage, might be bitterness, might be overspending.

But ladies, anything we lean on to heal our brokenness outside of Christ will cripple us. And the reason that is, is that everything will disappoint us but God. God is the only One that will not disappoint, because everything else is temporal. Everything else is human and there’s no way it can be there for you and change you from the inside out. But only God can truly transform us deep down, all the way through and transform us and give us an extreme makeover.


John: And that’s the conclusion of this two-part message from Marilyn Williams, who overcame a sexually abusive past and the lingering effects that it produced in her life.

Jim: Oh, John, man, I so appreciate Marilyn’s willingness to share so openly. That’s tough to talk about these kinds of things that have gone on. It … it’s really admirable. And you know what? The good news, one, you can hear that conviction in her voice. She knows.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: She has really become transformed in Christ and that’s great. She’s gone back to college. She’s received advanced degrees, including a Master’s of Divinity.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And in fact, she’s using that gift to serve others at Oak Hills Covenant Church in Vista, California. Marilyn’s story brought up a lot of issues that we wanted to clarify. We don’t want her powerful testimony to be lost in some of the questions that people may have. So, we’ve asked our director of counseling services, Dr, Jared Pingleton, to come into the study and give us some insights in this regard. And Jared, let me start by thanking you for all the work you and your team do here at Focus.

Jared: It’s our pleasure to serve.

Jim: Hey, let me ask you about her situation. I know a little bit about resilience theory. About 10 to 12 percent of people will go through difficulty and terrible trauma and come out of it. I think that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, to be honest with you. But does she fit that category? And talk about what she was dealing with.

Jared: Absolutely, Jim. Her story is tragic and yet, she is triumphant now through the redemption of the Holy Spirit and the hard work that she did to heal. We know that about 1 out of 3 girls, 1 out of 4 to 5 boys will be sexually molested in this country before age 18. We know that about 1 out of 5 adult women will be sexually molested, as well.

And we see that what happens under severe trauma, particularly when it’s prolonged, like in her case, where there was just this ongoing horrible tragic situation, we see that, that affects the brain in many significant ways. It precludes brain development from happening in normal kinds of progressive ways. And post-traumatic stress disorder is a diagnostic category we use to call that out or understand that.

What happens is, it’s very complex, but the brain kind of like a circuit breaker in a house, when it’s under too much stress, it just kinda shuts down and that’s a good thing, because in a house obviously, when we have too much circuitry overloaded, there would be an explosion and a fire. And in the human soul, there is a similar way that if it’s overwhelming, the trauma and it’s prolonged, we aren’t able to handle it.

Jim: Jared, let me make this point, because again, so many of us in the Christian community, we stumble sometimes with what science shows us.

Jared: Sure.

Jim: But it’s all God-oriented.

Jared: It really it.

Jim: I mean, God has created these mechanisms in us as biological people. And He’s put those mechanisms there for a purpose. And when a child particularly, like in Marilyn’s case, is overloaded like you said, I find it amazing that God has put this kind of protection mechanism in place. Not everyone will do well coming through that–

Jared: Right.

Jim: –very difficult trauma. [In] Marilyn’s case, it ended well and she’s on a great path. But talk to that person, this may have surfaced some tough issues for them today.

Jared: Absolutely.

Jim: What should they do?

Jared: Well, it takes an incredible amount of courage and strength for a person such as Marilyn to face her pain and work through it. And to that person that is suffering, I want them to know that God’s a Redeemer. He is a restorer of broken walls. And what the adversary intended for evil, God can transform for good.

We see in Romans 12:1 and 2, Ephesians 4:23 and 4 and Colossians 3:10, a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive grace, wherein the Greek word used there, metamorphoo, we get into English, “metamorphosis.” There’s this process of God’s incredible miraculous healing power potentiated. And in all three of those examples, the Apostle Paul is challenging us to grow into this new self that God designed and created and ordained for us to have.

And yet, when the adversary steals, kills and destroys, which is his job description in cases like Marilyn’s and others, it’s tragic the trauma that happens. And I want to encourage that person that’s suffering, that there is hope. There is help. There is healing in Christ.

Jim: Jared, that can be a hard step and maybe some people have been in that process for some time, maybe weeks, months or maybe even years. How do they find that renewed hope when you take two steps forward and one step backward? And it may not be personality disorder. It could be alcoholism.

Jared: Yes.

Jim: It could be addiction to gambling. It could be abuse of a different sort. How does a human being cope with the metamorphosis process that you’re describing?

Jared: Excellent question. The first thing is, we need support. That’s what the body of Christ is about. And we need people with differing gifts. That’s what, I think, professional counseling can be about, where we need other people. We really can’t do these kinds of things well on our own. It’s very difficult for us to perform open-heart surgery on ourselves. It’s very difficult, as well, to heal the heart of invisible wounds without outside assistance.

John: Dr. Pingleton, going back to Marilyn’s story, she said that in addition to having issues with rage and bulimia, she was diagnosed with multiple personalities. And I think the term that is used now in the professional community is something along the lines of “disassociative identity disorder” or something like that. Some would say that that’s demon possession in reality, uh … something obviously from the enemy. How do you respond to that? What do you say to that?

Jared: It’s a great question, John, because I think it is very confusing to people. And to me, there’s actually a very simple distinction that can clearly help us understand the difference. Demon possession is an evil-intended destruction of the person. Whereas, dissociation is a subconscious mechanism that God placed within us to be able to cope with and handle the stress. And so, therefore it’s not just adaptive, but it’s intended for the preservation of the person.

And what people need to understand that are struggling with these issues is, it’s good to reach out and to get help from a trained qualified Christian counselor or clinician for healing.

Jim: That’s the point and I think so often many of us will get stuck in our trauma and we don’t keep moving forward.

Jared: Right.

Jim: The Lord wants you to move forward. He wants you to feel joy and peace. And that is a process, because you have a lot of things you have to deal with and to do that with people who are trained, people that know the Lord is the best place in the world to get that kind of help.

And Jared, I want to re-emphasize here the fact that Focus on the Family and your team’s great work here, we’re here to help. We have counselors here on staff, trained caring professionals who are willing to spend time with you on the phone, to talk with you, to give you an initial direction and guidance on how to cope with these things that perhaps have affected your life.

And we want to be there for you and I would encourage you to call our counseling department. Don’t put it off. That’s the kind of decision that if you wait, you won’t do it. And yet, it’s the kind of help that I think will be very important in your healing process. So, call us. Don’t be ashamed of whatever it is that’s troubling you. We have heard most everything and we can handle it, believe me.

Jared: Yes.

Jim: And Jared again, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being with us and thank you for your perspective today.

Jared: You’re very welcome, Jim and I just hope that folks like Marilyn or people that have been inspired by her story, can encourage themselves and encourage others to get the help they need.

Jim: This show has really emphasized, John, the need for solid biblical-based counseling and that’s what we provide here at Focus on the Family. But not just here in our building; we’ve developed a network of like-minded counselors, both in the United States and Canada. So, if Marilyn’s story has brought a pain from your past to the surface, I’d like you to call us. Let us be there for you. You don’t have to suffer in silence. We have caring counselors who will spend time with you on the phone and then help refer you to someone in your area that you can follow up with. And believe me, we count it a privilege to do that and to be there for you.

And if I could be so bold, we need your help. We kinda dropped off in the spring and the early summer and in order to be in that gap, to stand and deliver the services that we just talked about, we need to hear from you. If you believe in the ministry of Focus on the Family, if you believe in the family, we need you to be a part of the solution. And I hope you’ll consider joining the Friends of the Family program. That is a way that evens out the support here at Focus. Jean and I support Focus in that way.

It’s a monthly contribution that the ministry can count on and budget around to know just how many people we’ll be able to help. If you can do that, it would be such a big help to us. And it doesn’t need to be a large gift; 20, $30 really goes a long way each and every month to help a family.

And John, we did a little research. We found out that $30 is what it takes to help one family in crisis. And I hope you will do that. Stand in the gap for someone and allow the Lord to use you to heal their marriage and to heal their family. You may not see it directly in this life, but I think the Lord’ll show you how you did exactly that on the other side when you were with them. And who knows, maybe He’ll let us meet those people that together we have helped. Join Friends of the Family today.

John: Yeah and I like that, Jim, the idea that one day perhaps we’ll be able to meet the people that have been touched by our participation in what God’s doing. If you’d like to be a part of Friends of the Family, call us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459 or you can donate online at

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time, when we’ll once again, offer trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.

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