My Secret’s Out {The Grove: Shame}

Shame will do that to you.  Shame will keep you quiet.  

“How was your summer?” she asks.

“Oh, it was good, busy.”

Shame will have you keeping secrets you never intended to keep.

It will have you hiding your struggles, even while you encourage others to share theirs.

You all know I’ve intentionally set the tone of vulnerability and openness here at Velvet Ashes, firmly believing that real community only comes when we peel off our masks, the masks that attempt to convince people we’ve got it all together.

And yet…

Despite all of this, I still did it.  I stayed quiet about the fact that we spent this past summer going through intensive, professional counseling.

There…  Secret’s out.

I never intended for it to be a secret.  I alluded to our struggles.  But I held back from sharing the full extent.

I wasn’t ready to admit to everyone that we were not okay, that the past year of transition and medical issues and too much on our plates had all piled up to a heavy weight.

That my family and I were starting to crack under this weight.

The warning signs were flashing.  Burnout was right around the corner.

All too often an overwhelming angst would clutch me and say, “You are not okay.”

Shame will do that to you.  Shame will tell you that you should be better than this.  

You should be able to handle this, and why can’t you?

The past year was an odd dichotomy.  On the one hand, it was an incredibly fulfilling time.  I birthed Velvet Ashes alongside our amazing team and saw women being touched and reached around the globe.  It was a vision growing beyond what I had ever dreamed, and God’s fingerprints were all over it.  It felt like a culmination of my passions and gifts, giving that deep “you were made for this” feeling.

On the other hand, I was struggling to figure out life overseas all over again, navigating new territory, trying to meet the needs of my family.  That wasn’t nearly so fulfilling, as it kept dangling all my inadequacies before me.

I tried to keep all my plates spinning, all the plates we had in our life in China before – kids, home, team, students, locals, supporters.  But life now also held homeschooling my kids and Velvet Ashes.  Two major time and energy commitments.

But I could do it all, I told myself.

Shame will do that to you.  Shame will tell you to just keep going like you are, because what will happen if you don’t?    

So I stayed up late and woke up weary.

All the while my husband was navigating his way through increased roles and responsibilities.  We didn’t have much left to give each other.

Then the New Year came with a series of medical issues that left us reeling.  As summer approached we were trying to figure out whether we’d even be able to stay overseas or not.  We were eventually able to get the help we needed medically, but the whole process left us more than worn out.

Burnout’s warning lights were flashing faster.  More often than I cared to admit, that overwhelming angst would grip me, saying “I am not okay…We are not okay.”

So we decided to go to Link Care* in Fresno, California and go through their Restoration and Personal Growth Program.

It may be one of the best things we’ve ever done.

It was a time to peel back the layers of myself to see what’s really there and what defines me.

It was a time to peel back through all the layers of our marriage.  To root out the gunky build up.  To find and set fresh patterns.

It was a time to stop running and to instead be still and found by Jesus.

Shame is like that.  Shame fades dim when you listen to His voice.  

I left Link Care feeling very raw.  Like my soul had just been bared and all it’s junk tossed up on the table.  I didn’t want to leave.  I didn’t want to leave the counselors that were pouring into us.  I didn’t want to say goodbye to the other women in the program that I had bonded and shared tears with.

We’d have stayed longer if we could.

But we left that place with new understanding.  With parts of our souls revived.

There was a part of me though that was scared we’d get back in the thick of life and find ourselves right back on the brink of burnout.  Perhaps that’s why I hesitated to open up about our story, why I kept quiet about what we did this summer.  I wanted there to be a “happily ever after” at the end of this story.  I was holding my breath to see what our ending would be.

So what is our ending?

Well, it’s not really an ending at all; we are living in the middle of our story.  And it certainly isn’t all “happily.”

Healing is rarely picturesque.  More often than not, it is messy and slow.

There have been days in the months since our time at Link Care when my toes have brushed up against that brink of burnout again, when old patterns have reared their ugly heads, when the angst starts to rise back up in my heart.

But it’s different than before.  This time we have new tools in place.  Commitments to circle back to.

And somehow, in the ebb and flow of good moments and bad, change has been happening.

My angst has lessened its frequency and intensity.

Shame is like that.  Shame begins to loosen its grip when you begin to believe you are enough, right now, just as you are.

When shame fades, joy peers through.

I’m learning to embrace my limits rather than fight them.  I’ve set down some plates.

My husband and I are enjoying an intimacy deeper than we’ve ever known.

He just was away for the weekend.  He texted me Saturday asking, “How’s your morning?”

I responded by listing out all the issues of the morning.  You know, the stuff of kids and life and overseas living, the wet beds, the busted lips, the mold inside, the pollution outside.  I ended by saying…

And yet…and yet right now my heart is good.  I’m humming with hope, in the new spark of our marriage, in the grace I’m giving myself in mothering, and in the freedom of finding a lighter way to live.”


So… am I alone in this struggle with shame?

It’s your turn now to share your story…


This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions.

*Disclaimer – Link Care is not sponsoring or endorsing this post.

Photo Credit : Unsplash


  1. Elizabeth October 30, 2014

    You are not alone, Danielle. I relate to so much of your story here. Feeling fulfilled in some areas, yet inadequate in others. I, too, pour my heart into my writing, but there are times when I let it take precedence over other things. And it’s hard to fit everybody’s homeschool lessons into each day. So I end up feeling very stretched much of the time. And that whole “healing is slow and messy,” yes, there’s that too. You know a bit about my counseling story now, and though it was a watershed event, there are always little pieces to pick up later, more junk to clean out, it’s just that we know better how to do it now.

    And I’m happy to hear Link Care was refreshing and life-changing for you. I’ve heard the same from others. 🙂

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Thanks, Elizabeth.  It’s nice to know I’m not alone.  Yeah, you’re right, its both those watershed moments and also the picking up of pieces.  I’m really looking forward to having your story shared here next week!

  2. Jenn October 30, 2014

    Danielle, thank you for having the courage to share this. It did take courage. You ARE courageous. Also, you and your husband are not alone. I also spent 2 1/2 months at Link Care. I left the field in crisis mode and went there immediately. Without those two and a half months of walking through my hard stuff, I would never be able to return to ministry in any capacity again…but I also would just not be okay in general. If nothing else, your story will offer HOPE to singles and couples that are in desperate need of what Link Care has to offer and they will hear maybe for the first time that it exists. That there is help and that it is okay to seek it out. It’s healthy and so very honoring to the Father to dedicate time to simply heal as our hearts can become alive in Him again.

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      “It’s healthy and so very honoring to the Father to dedicate time to simply heal as our hearts can become alive in Him again.”

      Yes!  This is true.  So glad to hear that your time at Link Care was also so good.  I’m so grateful for what they do.  Thank you for your encouraging words.

  3. Shelly October 30, 2014

    Danielle, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your summer story.  Your statements about shame (and all the articles this week) give me something to think about as I enter a short week of debriefing and renewal here in Colorado.

    I struggle to pinpoint my areas of shame. Is it avoidance? Or is it myopia – I’m too close to me to see it and name it? Maybe this coming week, or a time yet to come while on furlough, will bring light. I’m asking for a tender heart and the grace to throw off my need for control.

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      So glad to hear that you’re doing debriefing and renewal.  Another amazing program!  May it be a blessed time.  Tenderness and grace, I think these are the keys for change.

  4. Casey October 31, 2014

    Danielle, What a beautiful, honest, and open post! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Thanks, Casey.  It’s the hard kind of good.  Or the good kind of hard.  🙂

  5. Wendy October 31, 2014

    Danielle, thank you so much for this post!

    My husband and I have been living/ serving in Nepal for almost a year and a half now, and just like you mentioned, the dichotemy is ever present. I have had some of the most fulfilling, “this is exactly where I’m meant to be” times, but also just going to the store, trying to read the signs or communicate with people in Nepali, can be exhausting, much less everything else that needs to be done in a day.

    We found ourselves having nothing left for each other, and even worse, actually turning against each other. Although we did allude to few people close to us about some of our struggles, the shame and fear of admiting that there was something terribly wrong, that we were “falling apart” kept us from sharing too much, from being vulnerable or seeking help sooner.

    We searched online for articles or blogs that talked about these kind of struggles, to let us know we weren’t alone, that other people living and working overseas had been through similar situations and had gotten through them, but we only found one or two posts that touhed on it, but never got too vulnerable, which only deepened our shame and kept us from getting the help we desperately needed for many months.


    Thankfully, we did tell our Pastor back in the States some of our difficulties, and at his urging/ insistance, we did end up seeking help for several weeks at Cornerstone Counseling in Chiang Mai, Thailand just a few months ago, which I highly recommend to anyone considering it.

    When we came back from Cornerstone we wanted to tell those who did know a little about our struggles to know how much we had learned and how much better we were. Still, we had fears of getting back into daily life, and weren’t so sure ourselves how lasting the changes and new knowledge would be.

    And there have been struggles since we returned… all is not “happily ever after”, because as you said, healing is hard, but we have some new tools in place when things get rough, we are closer and more vulnerable with each other than we ever have been, and we are also making sure that we carve out time to work on our marriage, reminding ourselves that our marriage is a core part of our ministry, a reflection of God to others.

    Beyond the struggles though, what you did, stepping out of the shame, being vulnerable and authentic, letting others know that they are not alone and that shame is a lie Satan uses to keep us in bondage, that is where the beauty in all of this lies. As we start to speak out more about things like this, it frees others to speak out, seek help and know they (we) are not alone.


    1. Patty Stallings October 31, 2014

      Wendy, thank you for adding your story.  I want to echo your last paragraph for both you and Danielle.  As Jenn mentioned in an earlier comment, it takes courage to open up the hard places for others to see.  And when we do, others are freed up to do the same.

      1. Wendy October 31, 2014

        Thank you, Patty!

    2. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Wendy, that is my hope and prayer.  That someone will find this post when they need it most and realize that they are not alone.  Because yes, the evil one shames us into believing we are alone, and that’s a downward spiral right there.

      I can’t thank you enough for joining me and sharing your story here too.  I’ve heard wonderful things about Cornerstone in Chiang Mai, (and about The Well there too).  So glad you took the time to go.  And we’re right there with you in carving out time for marriage.  We’ve let that priority slide in the past, and now we’ve realized too that without that priority, life and work begin to unravel. Thank you again for sharing.  We are not alone.

  6. LeAnn October 31, 2014

    Much appreciate you sharing authentically a slice of your real life. It’s the side of human existence and especially that part which is struggling to stand up to the stress of cross-cultural living that we don’t often talk about with one another. Father, have mercy, and walk more of us out of the shadows, into the Light of real relationship.

    1. Wendy October 31, 2014

      “the Light of real relationship”…  I love that LeAnn, that’s exactly right.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement!

    2. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Yes, we don’t talk about it often enough.  Out of the shadows and into the Light… Amen.

  7. Laura October 31, 2014

    Danielle, thank you for your courage in sharing today.

  8. Patty Stallings October 31, 2014

    I just love your heart so much, Danielle.  I want to be like you when I grow up!

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Patty, I’ve wanted to be like YOU since the day I met you. 🙂

  9. Ruth October 31, 2014

    Danielle, thank you for sharing so honestly!  It’s always so helpful when we are able to lay aside those barriers and wanting to look like we have it all together.  I have been really feeling the weight of so many expectations lately – my own expectations for personal perfection and the real and perceived expectations of others.  I truly expect myself to be able to be totally awesome in, you know, every area of life.  If I think rationally about it I know this is not realistic, but subconscious voices don’t really deal in rational.

    I also realize I keep comparing what I do now to what I did when I first came to China as a single, and in my pre-child days, and consequently feel like I am doing *nothing*.  Aside from really stepping it up in the laundry segment of life.  Of course I forget that not only did I not have a husband or children and all the responsibilities and demands that adds, I was also in terrible physical and emotional shape.  Anxious, depressed, and running full-speed toward total burnout.  I am in such a better place right now – which is why I am even still here 9 years later – but it is so hard to “believe you are enough, right now, just as you are.”

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Ruth, it really does come down to expectations, doesn’t it?  I’m reading a book right now called “Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission” and I think it’s changing my life.  We’re actually going to be doing this book for book club in the spring (Amy, am I aloud to let that cat out of the bag??) and I cannot wait to go through it with you all.

      One line that I had in my notes but somehow it didn’t make it into the post was this:

      “Shame is like that.  Shame keeps you from seeing yourself as God sees you – complete.”

      I think we (I) have this idea that God is always wanting something more from me.  If we could only catch a glimpse of what he sees when he looks at each one of us, it would change everything.

      1. Ruth November 1, 2014

        I might have to pre-read that book!  It sounds so applicable right now.

      2. Beth Everett November 4, 2014

        Danielle, I just finished reading that book and I so appreciated it! I’ve been recommending it to several people! Excited to know there will be a time in the future to discuss it!

  10. Amy Young October 31, 2014

    This is one to come back to again and again. You know I’m a big fan of Link Care and Alongside (in Michigan, in the US) and other places. If only people could open up more about their experiences, there are more on the field who had done counseling than we realize. But I also get why some might not be able to share — in my Connection Group this week we talked about the stigma that can still be associated with counseling and how not everyone is safe to share with (one gal had been burnt quite badly by sharing she’d been in counseling). Danielle, I’m thankful to work with you :).

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 31, 2014

      Well, here’s hoping that this is a small step towards busting that stigma.  Yes, if there was no shame associated with going to these places, just think how many more people could find healing!

      And I hope you know how mutual that thankfulness is!  🙂

  11. Jennifer October 31, 2014

    Danielle, Thank you!

    I have been learning many things walking through challenging times, but one which has really stood out to me in the last couple of weeks, has been confirmation that simply being prepared to do two things can make a big difference. One has been being prepared to stop and simply refuse to take on incorrect things which other people try to put upon me, whether it is perceptions about me, or misunderstandings, or anything else which simply is not helpful. It might be initially very challenging to openly not accept it, not to do everything possible to “keep the peace” at all cost but to in contrast hold fast to what God is making clear to me and to walk in what God is doing even if it clashes in some way with the expectations, or misconceptions of others.  The second is how important even small steps of being vulnerable and open with others can be. Saying I am not ok… Pray for me… even when for some reason or other it is not appropriate to specifically explain just why… can powerfully break the hold that … “I cannot speak of it” can have. I am learning not to be afraid to take small steps and simply to wait for God’s timing on things I would love to happen right now.

  12. A November 1, 2014

    I write this post anonymously not because I don’t want you all to know who I am.  But because I have realized over the years of sharing my story that there is wisdom in being cautious about who hears and who holds your story.  Some people just won’t be able to handle it well and with grace.  My mother is such a one, and I keep my name concealed in the (probably unlikely, but I still want to be cautious) event that she should ever come across this website and this post.  Some of you will read my words and know exactly who I am because you have been a part of this story.  Others of you may read these words and feel like you could have written much of the shame pieces yourself.  It is for you, and for the hope that exists for you, that I write.  I don’t have a blog to link up, so please bear with the length of this comment.

    This particular story begins when I was 8 and experienced some sexual abuse, though I hesitate now to call it that seeing as how my “abuser” was only a few years older than I was and really had no idea of the damage and scope of what he was doing.  But the foothold for the enemy was given and boy did he ever take hold of it.  Those few experiences became the identity that I took on.  No, not “sexual abuse victim,” but “DIRTY.”  Out of those experiences came struggles with masturbation and sexual fantasy, which only furthered my intense self-hatred and the weight of shame that I carried on my shoulders.  As much as I was able to, I hid myself – inside and out.  I didn’t speak of my past or my struggles.  I covered my body with clothes that didn’t fit me.  I begged God for forgiveness for my dirtiness, but never felt like I received it.  When I was about 13, my mom told me that if I continued to wear the clothes that I did, then people were going to think I was gay and “what would that do for my Christian witness?!”  And the enemy drove in the shame even deeper.  Lies of “I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness or love,” “I am a mistake,” “I am so dirty and worthless that I can never be made clean” drove me even further into darkness and further into making sure nobody ever found out my secrets.  If they did, they’d run screaming in the opposite direction.  Because obviously there was no other way that anyone could see me than the way that I saw myself.  And according to what I heard underneath my mom’s words, God didn’t think much of me either.

    For the sake of time, since the previous paragraph is only part of the story, I’ll fast forward though there’s much more I could say both about the topic and about how God began to redeem my story.  I moved overseas a few years ago and towards the end of my first semester, I started to realize that I was attracted to one of my teammates.  I was on a team with all women.  You do the math.  I was confused for a while as to whether or not I was gay.  My mom’s words to me as a 13-year-old came back to haunt me and my shame magnified, even as there were many moments of enjoyment/pleasure in spending time with and being near to this woman.  [Dan Allender has a fantastic chapter on this idea of ‘ambivalence’ – pleasure and shame mixed together – in his book “The Wounded Heart”].  If I WAS gay, would God still accept me?  What would other people think?

    Before moving overseas, I had been part of an amazing community of believers who strongly believed in walking through the good and the hard in each others’ lives together.  I learned there what it means to be vulnerable and interdependent; what it means to let things into the light so they are better positioned to be touched by the Wounded Healer.  I knew this attraction was too big for me to carry and knew that I couldn’t leave it in the dark no matter how much shame I felt about it.  So I sent a truth-telling email to close to 20 of the people who knew my heart the best, many of whom were some of my biggest prayer and financial supporters.  I also told two people within my organization who very easily could have sent me home.  And I began to meet with one of those every week to talk about what was going on.  And fairly early into my second semester, the Lord invited me to open up to my teammates about what was happening…including the one I was attracted to.  I received an outpouring of grace, encouragement and prayer from all of these individuals.  ALL of them.  Yes, even the woman who heard me say, “I’m attracted to you.”  I realize this is not everyone’s experience when it comes to sharing things that bring shame because, again, not everyone can (or knows how) to handle our stories the way God handles them.  And because of this I was all the more grateful to the Lord for these heart-of-Jesus friends.

    Throughout the rest of the year there were some boundaries put into place in the midst of that relationship with my teammate.  I continued to remain as honest as I could be with my friends back home and with the woman I was meeting with weekly.  After getting some intense counseling during the summer I was home, I came back to the same team for my second year to have the Lord reveal to me that the attraction was coming out of a mom-wound in my life (another part of the story that I don’t have time to expand upon).  That second year didn’t get any easier.  In fact, in many ways it got harder.  I came face to face with some of the ugliness of my own sin as I continued to follow the desires of my flesh instead of my redeemed-by-God heart.  The attraction to my one teammate remained, though I started to learn what it meant to be more gracious with myself in the midst of it (knowing that there was nothing I could do to ‘get rid of’ those feelings) instead of constantly condemning myself.  I waffled between grace and shame, though still far more towards the shame side.  Many days felt like I was sitting under a black cloud and that I would never “be any better.”  Those thoughts and feelings continued even after I finally returned home at the end of my second year.  But with continued counseling and several really gracious conversations with the Lord, the shame, which was largely due to believing that I was a horrible person because I continued to sin (instead of a woman forgiven and loved by God), began to loosen its grip.

    There are so many facets of this story that I could share here – the lessons learned, the God I experienced, the redemption that came, the continued struggles, etc, but this comment would be even more ridiculously long!  But in light of what I’ve shared here and for those of you who may have similar stories and struggles as mine, there are just a few things I want to say to close.

    1. We fight against a ruthless enemy whose desire is to keep us isolated and to kill our souls.  I honestly believe that shame is one of his most effective and most often used weapons.  ESPECIALLY as it relates to our sexual nature.  He is cloaked in darkness and fights to keep us there.  If you have a difficult sexual history or sexual present and feel like you’re sitting under the weight of shame, please, please for the sake of your soul let it out into the light.  Ask the Father to give you courage to speak and wisdom to know who can hold your story like He does.  Please believe me when I say that it’s so much harder and life-taking to live hidden in the darkness than it is to face the shame and tell your story.  But know too that it’s not the act of vulnerability that gets rid of shame.  Being vulnerable certainly puts you in a position to experience release from shame.  But God is the only one who can take it away.  And He wants to.  Ask Him, desperately even, for help.

    2. I have found that mere cerebral exercises in reciting to yourself what is true about God and what is true about you more than likely isn’t going to bring true release from shame.  But an experience of God can launch us into a different realm of belief.  I don’t even think it’s about “finally being better,” which was what I was so addicted to, or your life “not being as messy.”  Instead, there comes an invitation from the Lover and Creator of your heart to let Him love you right where you are, even right in the center of your shame, guilt, sin, struggle.  And will you let me go so far as to even say letting him enjoy you right where you are?  Like a husband enjoys his bride.  I think that – being enjoyed – can be a very difficult thing for many women to live into, especially women who have a hard sexual history.  But having the God of the universe speak the truth of His enjoyment of you when you are feeling very much unlovely and even dirty is life and belief-altering.

    3. One of my spiritual mentors in college, the one who first heard my story and held it with grace, gave me a different interpretation of Hebrews 12:2: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  She used to say, “this verse says that Jesus shamed the Shamer.”  Think about the beautiful reality of that.  Jesus, for love of us and His Father’s glory, heaped shame upon shame on the head of the one who fights so hard to throw shame upon us.  His is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 1, 2014

      A, we hold your story tenderly.  Thank you for sharing, for baring your struggles.  It is beautiful to see the grace and light that shines from your story.  I pray your story will reach all the eyes that need to see it.  And I pray that deep down to your core, you would know how much He enjoys YOU.

    2. Patty Stallings November 2, 2014

      A, thank you for choosing to tell your story of struggle and rich redemption here at Velvet Ashes.  Your courage and honesty in addressing woundedness and healing touches me deeply.  May the fruit be freedom, hope, and courage for many as they read your story and know their God is in the midst of their struggles.

    3. Brittany November 4, 2014

      Thank you for sharing such a raw and vulnerable experience.  Rejoicing with you at the way God has poured His grace over you, delighted in you, and continues to do His work of sanctification in you.

      1. Amy Young November 6, 2014

        Amen and Amen. Here’s to grace and sanctification.

  13. Kristi November 2, 2014

    Danielle, I really would like to make more time to comment at length.  Shame is such a powerful enemy.  I try to cover up all personality flaws and lack of knowledge because I’m shamed.  I feel like I should have “arrived” somehow.  Thank you for sharing and reminding me that His blood covers my shame.

  14. Kristi November 2, 2014


    I look in the mirror
    I see the cracks
    Big and
    Marring my appearance

    I turn away
    Crying tears
    Big and
    Revealing my Shame

    I scratch and I dig
    Smearing the mud of
    Doing and
    Working to cover my Shame

    I paint a smile
    On the hardened mask
    Bright and
    Trying to appear whole

    Thunder rolls in the distance
    A storm approaches
    Fierce and
    Threatening my “calm”

    I run, hide, scream,
    Seeking shelter
    Warm and
    To comfort my soul

    Pelting my face
    The rain undoes my efforts
    Washing and
    The cracks once again

    My “mighty” mask
    Becomes a muddy puddle
    Cold and
    At my feet

    Your Spirit breathes
    And the sun returns
    Challenging and
    The storm away

    Your glory fills
    Me from the inside out
    Healing and
    Your image in me

    Your love covers
    The shame of my shame
    Light and

    Now shine through my cracks

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 3, 2014

      Yes, heal and restore your image in us, Father.  Fill us from the inside out with your glory that chases all shame away.

      Thank you, Kristi.

  15. Brittany November 4, 2014

    Can I just say, “thank you”?  I have struggled the past couple of months with having anything to say, but I’m here reading, and gleaning, finding hope and being reminded of Truth.  So while I don’t have much to say, I’m still here and appreciating this vulnerability.  Thank you.

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