Dale Johnson: Today, I am delighted to have Camille Cates join us on the podcast. She is the assistant director of Healing Hearts Ministry. You’re going to hear a little bit more about that ministry, but before we get to talking about the ministry, Camille, welcome to the podcast. We’re looking forward to having you share today.
Camille Cates: Thanks for having me, Dale.
Dale Johnson: Today, what I want to do is to have Camille share a little bit about her testimony, and I want this to be an encouragement to our members in a couple of different directions. Sometimes as counselors, we see situations that we find are simple biblical solutions, easy things to work through. Then there are often times where we encounter difficulty, deep struggle, deep tragedy even. Sometimes we wonder, “Lord, how in the world can we minister?” And sometimes we’re afraid that maybe the Word of God isn’t powerful enough to help in situations like this. I want Camille to be able to share with you today a piece of her story so that we can be encouraged about the beauty of God’s Word and the deep hope that we can find in His Word. Camille, welcome, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about your story.
Camille Cates: My story begins, I was a church-raised kid, I grew up in the church, heard a lot about the Bible and Bible stories, people from the Bible, but I would say I didn’t have a whole lot of application growing up. I did come to know the Lord at age 12 at a youth camp. But when I went back home, I just didn’t have the discipleship. I was lacking the discipleship at home. By the time I got into high school, something that I had really struggled with, now I see as idolatry, then I just saw as guys that I thought were interesting and wanted a relationship so badly. I began dating and I actually became sexually active at the age of 15. Before long, I became pregnant at 16, almost 17 years old.
I remember my mom coming to me and asking me if I wanted to have an abortion, which shocked me as a Christian teen. I knew that I shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage. I knew that was wrong, but I knew abortion was also wrong and in my heart and mind I wasn’t going to cross that line. So, I told my mom, “No, I want to keep this as my baby. I want to keep my baby.” My parents were so gracious and loving and said, “We’ll support you.” And they did faithfully, but my heart hadn’t changed at all during that time. Again, I was lacking in discipleship at that point of crisis.
So, I just kept doing life. I had my daughter, and that relationship did not work out. It was just my daughter, me, and my parents helping me, and I was still looking for a relationship. That’s what I thought was the answer and what I needed, what I wanted, and chased after. I found another relationship, got into that relationship, quickly became sexually active, and quickly became pregnant again.
Looking back, it’s always interesting to see our view of God and His Word. We’re tempted to change that based on our changing circumstances. I love now knowing God’s Word, that His Word is unchanging. He is unchanging, His character is unchanging, but I didn’t understand that at that point. I began to question and think about an abortion. In the course of events, I never really came to that decision. The boyfriend and I stayed together. We became engaged and thought that we might get married. I didn’t know what we would do at that point with the unexpected pregnancy.
One night, he was watching my daughter for me and I was at work. My mom came up to my work and said, “You’ve got to come to the hospital. Something’s happened to Lauren (my daughter).” Through the course of the evening, we found out that he had sexually assaulted and shaken her to death, and I was still pregnant with his baby. My parents had known about the pregnancy. Before we had even left the hospital, they were pressuring me to have an abortion. With my world wrought through tragedy, because I didn’t have the solid ground in God’s Word and who He was in the midst of my tragedy, I made the decision to have an abortion four days after we buried my daughter.
A lot of people talk about the downward spiral and that’s how my life went, dealing with the pain and the hurt in my own sin, and being sinned against, and it was just all a big mess. I did what I knew to do at that time and got involved in more relationships. Because of the depth of the tragedy, I think I opened myself up to even more depraved things than I had participated in before. I kind of lived with the motto: whatever with whoever whenever. I see a lot of that in our culture today and my heart goes out because I know people are reeling from sin, their own sin, and sin done against them.
The Lord in His kindness helped me to become sick of my own sin at one point and brought me back to my hometown and brought a young man into my life. He had graduated from seminary and was headed into youth ministry as a youth pastor. He graciously shared with me at one point that he knew about my abortion. I didn’t think he knew, and he said, “Camille, I love you in spite of your abortion and I want to be with you anyway.” It freaked me out a little bit, and I was just like, “Okay, well I have to go,” and I left.
The Lord in His Word and the truth of the Gospel came back to me so clearly that night because I saw an example of it. That the Lord knows that we’re sinners, depraved as can be, but He loves us, and He sent his Son because He wants to be with us anyway. That was a turning point in my life where I didn’t want the idolatry of relationships anymore. I knew I needed to re-engage with my relationship with Christ. I had a godly man that was pursuing me, whom I married, and he began to disciple me and I grew. Being in youth ministry we’re exposed to a lot of good teaching, so I grew.
But I still have this abortion and my past. Sometimes when we as counselors are dealing with marriage cases where it’s communication, or finances, or they’re just not loving one another well, we do a disservice to our counselees when we don’t ask the good questions. “Do you have an abortion in your past? Do you have sexual abuse in your past?” Because those are deep hurts and sin. There’s a lot of shame and condemnation that covers over those things. That’s really sometimes at the root. If we would help our counselees get to God’s Word and the healing offered there, we would find that they would then learn God’s Word teaches also about how to love well in my marriage and how to communicate in a Christ-like way.
A lot of times, we have really great Christian leaders in our churches that are trying to run with a spiritual limp because of their past. My abortion was rocking my marriage. It just seemed to dominate my desire to have a child, and then I lived under a common fear for a lot of post-abortive men and women—that God was going to punish me and not let me have children again. That is not what we see from His Word. We know that sometimes, that is a natural consequence. As a ministry with Healing Hearts, we talk in our Bible study about how there are natural consequences, but Christ takes our punishment on the cross when we put our hope and our faith in Him to cover all our sins.
God graciously brought me to Healing Hearts in 1998 and I went through their post-abortion study for women called Binding up the Brokenhearted. It is so gospel-centered and Scripture rich that the Word of God transformed every area of my life, not just my abortion. I found some hope and some healing for my marriage as well. Being through that study, I loved God’s Word. I believe it’s Psalm 107:20 that says, “He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from all of their destructions,” and that was true when I got finished with the Bible study. It gave me a hunger and a thirst for God’s Word. I began to say, “What else does this book have in it?” Because it does hold everything we need for life and godliness. That’s when I came on board and started serving with the ministry back in 1998-99. I’m thankful that God has used that and used His Word continually in my life. It’s the key for how to live a godly life and be conformed to Christ’s image.
Dale Johnson: As I listen to you tell your story, it’s constantly convincing me that the Bible, in every word that it says, is absolutely true. If you look at the beginning of your life, and we all experienced this when we disobey what God says, the consequences are monumental. Not just in actions and deeds, but also in emotions, in the baggage that we carry from all of those experiences. The Scriptures warned us in those ways, and it proves true even in our own sin.
But as we turn the corner in the Lord through His Spirit, and His Word begins to work in our hearts, it begins to prove true even more that it’s more powerful in overcoming all of that difficulty in the tragedy that we experience in life. What Jesus says is true, that He has given us His Word to overcome the things in the world and He that is in us is greater than he that’s in the world. As I hear your testimony, I’m just super encouraged about the ministry of the Word and the work of the Spirit and what He can do in the hearts and lives of people who are broken.
You mention one of the things for us to look for as counselors is we have a lot of people—especially as we know our statistics are growing relative to sexual abuse and physical abuse and post-abortive care—as we see those numbers increase, more and more of our counselees are going to have that issue or one of those issues in their past. What are some of the typical things as people try to push those experiences down, or forget those experiences, or move beyond, what are the ways that you see that baggage in people? The experiences that they have, or the actions that they do, or things that they say that counselors can be looking for to help people work through.
Camille Cates: For a lot of people, anger and fear are the two big ones. Really walking through when you’ve been sinned against, there is such a thing as righteous anger. I think we don’t talk about it a lot or enough. Our Bible studies really help counselees discern, “Do I have righteous anger? Am I angry over what God would be angry over? Is it okay to grieve that I’ve been sinned against grievously?” But then be taught how not to sin in their anger. Otherwise, they’re just walking around with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts and they don’t know sometimes why or how to deal with it. Sometimes we can just say, “It’s a sin to be angry.” Well, that’s not necessarily what the Bible says. It says we can sin in our anger, but anger in and of itself, if it’s righteous, is not sin. If it’s self-centered, then yes. Really helping your counselee discern that. If you see that they’re —they’re angry in their marriage, they’re angry in their parenting—they might have an abortion or sexual abuse in their past.
Fear is the other. It’s indicative that there might be something that somebody is struggling with. Sometimes anxiety and depression, those kinds of symptoms of the heart come out. So, making sure that, as counselors, we’re asking those good questions and giving them the good framework from God’s Word about His design for sexuality. Again, we should grieve that it’s broken if we’ve been sinned against in that way. It’s okay to grieve that. If we’ve sinned against others in that way, there’s hope through Christ. We can confess, we can repent, we can receive God’s forgiveness.
One way that we talk about in our studies that is a common worldly way of dealing with sin is self-forgiveness. That’s just not biblical, and it seems like every post-abortive man or woman that we minister to at the beginning of our counseling time with them, we hear them say, “I just can’t forgive myself.” We know that we’re going to go to God’s Word and say, “Yeah, you can’t forgive yourself. It’s not biblical. Are you really receiving Christ’s forgiveness?” Sometimes there’s pride, the pride of self-righteousness. “I’ve messed up, now I have to clean myself up,” which is a lie those counselees are hanging onto. We need to help them see that Christ is the only one who can redeem and renew and restore. We’ve got to put our hope in what His finished work on the cross has done for us.
Dale Johnson: Right, that is exactly the issue we’re talking about, self-forgiveness. It’s an issue of unbelief. The Scriptures never require us to do that. It doesn’t call us to do that, in part, because we don’t have the ability nor power to do that. This is God’s work that He does in us through Christ, and He’s just asking us to believe in the work of Christ. That’s a great point and several healthy symptoms I think we can look through. What I want to do now if we can, the last part that we have together, is tell us a little bit about Healing Hearts Ministries and some of the resources that you guys offer that ministered to you and that I know will be helpful in ministry to others.
Camille Cates: Even though we started out as a post-abortion trauma ministry 30 years ago, God has broadened our discipleship materials since then. We do offer a post-abortion study for men and one for women. We also offer a study for women that we use to help counsel on issues like sexual abuse and domestic violence, different issues of the heart, and that’s called the Hem of His Garment. All of our adult resources can be found at our website healinghearts.org under the Get Help Now tab. You can either find a trained leader in your area to work with you through that study one-on-one, or you can sign up and we actually offer the Bible study online with what we call an e-counselor that we’ll pair up with you to walk with you through this study.
We also have some youth resources. Our teenagers need these answers from the beginning. They’re struggling with the same issues at 13, 15, 19. So we have some new youth resources we’d love for people to check out.
Dale Johnson: Camille we’re so grateful that you’re with Healing Hearts and the work that you guys do. I’m so thankful to hear even more about this ministry and your connection to the local church and your desire to invigorate and equip the local church to do this very important work of the ministry, to work with those who are broken, and to demonstrate that God’s Word is helpful even in the most difficult of situations. Thank you for being with us.
Camille Cates: Thank you, Dale.