I had the privilege of working with Rosanne Henry, MA, last year, cult recovery specialist. The similarities between abusive marriages and cults are striking. I took one of her lists of questions to ask (before joining a community) and modified it to better suit Christendom. Once posted on social media, I have had a handful of people ask for a copy so we decided to post it here.
We highly suggest that people ask themselves and others these questions before joining a church. In Christ, there is freedom. In Christ, there is love. In Christ there is justice and there is the Body — One Body. There are no cults in Christ. No control in Christ. No narcissism in Chris. If any of the answers to the below questions are shady or unclear, don’t attend. We hope you will watch for red flags. Love, Megan
What credentials does this pastor/leader/elder possess that qualifies him/her to give this instruction?
How does the pastor/leader/elder maintain his/her authority in the group or in relationships? Does he/she claim to be the only person that gives this instruction? Is his word the final word on decisions? Does he base decisions upon his preferences?
Can you challenge the pastor/leader/elder’s instruction? Can you question his/her advice? What happens if you disagree with the leader?
Who does your pastor/elder/leader report to? If you were to complain about the leader, to whom would you go? Is there a system of checks and balances within his/her line of authority?
Within the church, who makes the rules? Who can change the rules? How often does this happen? What happens when someone breaks the rules?
What will you be expected to “give up” or “sacrifice” to be a part of this community? Ask this question in advance and be as specific as possible.
Are parishioners free to leave this congregation? What happens to those who leave? Is it punitive for them to leave? Do they become “outsiders”?
How does the leader talk about people who have left the group? Is contact with them allowed, discouraged or forbidden?
What attitudes does the leader/pastor/elder have toward maintaining relationships with friends, family, and others outside the group? Do they take issue with other people in the congregation remaining friends with those who are discarded or who have left?
What is the leader/pastor/elder’s attitude toward people outside the group in general? Are you encouraged to be compassionate and understanding, or judgmental and elite?
Are secrets being kept from you? Are doors locked, access to telephones limited, or is information restricted in any way? Are you banned from returning or communicating with others?”
We have been having mini-discussions on our private mama page regarding PTSD and C-PTSD, including their similarities and differences. We also touch on General Anxiety Disorder, as most of us experience a form of anxiety in one way or another. One of the most striking differences and helpful delineations between GAD and PTSD (from my understanding) is that when a person gets anxious, they are often anxious over what might happen. But people with PTSD and C-PTSD are not afraid of what might happen. It has already happened and they know it is possible and can happen again. That is the fear. It’s occurred — the worst nightmares — and we know it is possible for it to occur again.
I have a lot of fear over my loved ones dying in a car accident because both of my parents were instantly killed in a car accident over 20 years ago. If one of my family members is late, I panic until I hear something from someone. Early on in our marriage, David wanted to comfort me by telling me that his dying in a car accident would never happen. I mean, what are the odds? And I would say, “But, it DID happen. What were the odds that both my parents would die?” I could not shake that feeling that the odds were surely against me that my parents would both die in an accident and yet it happened. It could happen again. My fear is over something that I know can happen because it already did. That is PTSD.
And, as Christians, we spend a lot of time counter-acting general anxiety, trusting in God each day and reminding ourselves of the verses that bring us peace and comfort. However, I believe we still short-change ourselves. I think Jesus went even deeper than that. I think there is help for people with PTSD in Scripture, as well. Because He knew and knows that our trauma is not just instantly fixed by an encouraging word. How do I know this? Because Jesus faced extreme betrayal, physical and psychological trauma and abandonment. We can identity with His suffering, which is stronger than just words. He gets it. And we can go to Him. And I hope that you do, knowing that He can sympathize with our psychological pain.
In the meantime, I feel compelled to remind those of our readers who suffer from repeated injury to the mind, body and soul and who are now free that things have changed. If you have left abuse behind you and still suffer the effects of abuse, there is no shame in that. But, because it is so easy to follow those old pathways of behavior and thinking, I would love for you to start to let these words sink in:
You are no longer on trial. Yes, I know that you were . . . some of you still are in battles over divorce and custody. I understand that. For some of us, we felt like we were on trial for years, as people investigated our stories and held smear campaigns against us. But, in all other areas of life, you are not on trial. If someone accuses you of something, you are not on trial. That is simply their accusation. If you have a job interview, you are not on trial. It is just a job interview and they would be lucky to have you (and they probably know that). When going to a new church, you are not on trial. You are the one deciding whether or not to attend there. Sister, you have so much more power than you might think.
Everyone is NOT your authority figure. I know that, forever and a day, it felt like every man in the world was your authority because of faulty theology and controlling churches. That is not actually the case. You are equal to every man out there. I mean, you might have a boss in the workplace who is male. In that case, he is your boss. But he is also blessed to have the likes of you (and he hopefully know that — if not, look for something where you feel appreciated). So, strong child of God, hold your head up high and look those men in the eye and do your gifted thing.
You have choices. You don’t have to stay with the first therapist you visit. He/she is not your authority. You can choose your child’s therapist. You can choose an attorney. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, move on. You do not have to stay with them. I know that you felt you had to stay with your abuser but not so, anymore. You can walk away. You can remove that person from social media. You can change friend groups or switch churches if you feel unsafe. You do not have to return that email and you no longer have to defend yourself. Sometimes, that is a distraction from the plan God has for you.
Beautiful child of God, Jesus paid a very high price for your freedom. We hold ourselves back because that is what we are used to. We don’t have to hold ourselves back. It is a brave, new world out there that is very different from the oppressive situations in which you had found yourself. In fact, that oppressive situation is a teeny, tiny speck on a very large map. Normal, healthy people don’t accuse at every turn, they don’t crazy-make, they aren’t passive-aggressive and they do not make you feel like you are being questioned all the time. And, if they are and do, leave!
You’ve got this. God has given you wisdom and a sound mind. You can have your sanity back — I promise you that! Claim that. You are powerful within because of Jesus in you. Go with that. And put that old stuff behind, as best as you can. You are so worth making that effort. And there are so many people who need your healthy love and advocacy. El Roi, the God who sees, adores you. He loves you and He has a plan that involved your strength and His. Trust Him in this.
Megan Cox is a Pastoral Counselor and Executive Director of Give Her Wings. She holds an MAR and is certified in crisis response with the AACC. She has also recently completed her CPE Unit 1 training.
The following article is written by one of our readers. After we learned that she had been counseled by the father of Douglas Wilson, we asked her if she would tell of that experience here. As you will see, just about every misapplication of Scripture to a case of abuse is illustrated right here by a man who was a pastor. This is an important testimony, as it raises awareness of what happens to an abused woman in isolation and why we want to help her find freedom and truth in Christ.
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Jim Wilson is, in a way, a front-runner of Biblical or Nouthetic counseling. Jim (now in his 80’s) and late wife, Bessie, birthed Doug Wilson, the hyper-controversial theologian, pastor and writer of many books, most notably, books on marriage. Doug is also a master debater. I first met Jim when I was three. He led my father and my grandfather to Christ. This post is a difficult post because Jim had a tremendous impact on my life and family. There are things I learned from him that I carry around to this day. There are also things I learned from him that haunt me and make me sick to think about.
I first called him when I tried to leave my abusive marriage for the first time. I had been married for nine years. Because of Jim (and a few others – but mostly Jim) I stayed in my marriage two more agonizing years as things disintegrated badly. Jim was well aware of what my ex-husband was doing to me. The first thing I remember about Jim is that he assumed I was the problem immediately. I believe it took 6-8 months (and a lot of my husband “leaking” his abuse to Jim) for Jim to realize that Dan was “not a nice man”. But, even then, he convinced me to repent of my bitterness . . . or anger . . . or whatever sin of which I was guilty – and threw me back in. This probably happened two dozen times.
I think the most striking, over-arching memory I have of Mr. Wilson, is a pure lack of compassion. I remember crying into the phone (sobbing, rather) and saying, “Dan doesn’t love me. He doesn’t even know how.” To which Mr. Wilson replied, “Well, you don’t have to make it hard for him.” Other times, he would say that I must respect my husband. And, if I didn’t, I was in sin. Considering the fact that my husband was abusive, neglectful and a pornographer, I had a difficult time respecting him. This was held over my head time and time again. It was ALWAYS MY bitterness or MY anger or MY hurt and I was made to feel selfish . . . . I don’t know how many times 1 Peter chapter 3 was read to me . . . along with other Scriptures about how we are not to divorce. My husband would corner me, beat me down emotionally for hours, or physically abuse me. Three out of four times, I was “godly” – meaning, I would take it. I would not respond. That fourth time, I would break down, or cry, or yell back (never a good decision; only made things worse). Whenever that fourth time happened, I was condemned by both my husband and Jim. I have NEVER had any sort of darkness, confusion or break-downs since I left my ex-husband over a year ago.
To his credit, Mr. Wilson eventually saw that Dan was abusive. He then decided that Dan was not saved and he led him to the Lord six times (no exaggeration here – literally, Dan “got saved” six times and, even, re-baptized). Each time, Dan would be sweet for a few days but then could not keep up the facade. My hope was dashed over and over as I tried to pick up and move forward again.
There were two horrible times where I would go into a very dark emotional coma . . . where I was paralyzed with hopelessness and a complete misunderstanding of God’s will for my life. Dan was abusive and confusing and I simply could not press on anymore. According to Jim, this was my lot. With no parents or family who loved me, I was destined to be an unloved abused woman for the rest of my life. And God was good with this (so I thought). During these “comas”, Jim would encourage me to confess my sin . . . . after all, it was my sin that put me in those very dark places.
I spent hours searching the blogs of the Wilson family . . . I looked at a blog called “Femina” – Doug’s wife, Nancy wrote it. I asked for her help. I saw that other women did, too. So, Nancy wrote a blog called “A Respectful Wife”. It was there that I began to recognize the merciless philosophy of this family. Nancy wrote these words regarding women who simply cannot respect their husbands. And I quote: “Now some women will say, ‘I refuse to do that. My husband is not worthy of such treatment.’ Then why did you marry him?” It doesn’t work like that, Nancy. Abusive men are manipulators. Where, oh where, is a heart of compassion?
Here is a sample of a note Jim Wilson sent me after I left my husband. I tried with Jim . . . I really did. I thought he was helping me . . . thought he COULD help me. . . . Here is his note and my response:
Dear _______ ,
I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about you and praying for you. You know that for years I have been on Dan’s case weekly and sometimes daily. I am well aware of how he has treated you and how you have responded to this treatment. You have been very vocal about it. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” You have been telling everyone of what is in your heart. You have been more conscious of what has been done to you than you have been conscious of what you have been doing to yourself. You do not seem to be aware that you are telling people more about yourself than you think. I think you have a sensitive conscience. You must be very unhappy. Here are a few pieces of scripture as I think of them.
Love is not easily angered: “It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered” (I Corinthians 13:5).
Love does not keep a record of wrongs: “It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
“’In your anger do not sin’, Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-7).
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31).
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’…This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:21-22,35).
Forgiveness is not related to the other person repenting. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
We have talked about I Peter 3. It is really about I Peter 2:21, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” It is being like Jesus. It is not by keeping quiet, but having a “meek and quiet spirit.” For all I know, you may have kept quiet. But, since I have known you, you have not had a meek and quiet spirit. You have shared your spirit with me many times. You have wanted me to speak to Dan many times and it may be having an effect through the Spirit of God. Your joy has to do with you, not with Dan.
You know I love you and the kids. I would love to see you.
With Love in Christ,
Your Substitute Grandfather
Dear Jim , I have ascertained that a true grandfather-like figure would have sought my protection and made moves for the kids’ and my safety. I went to you first. I was looking for help, wisdom, protection and comfort. I could not find that with you. You kept me with Dan, despite how you knew he was treating me. Since you insist on pursuing me to bring me back to oppression, I have determined that your voice is no longer valid and I desire that you leave me alone. I am uncomfortable with your pursuits. Please do not contact the kids or me again. Thank you, _________
Indeed, Jim Wilson has not been a gentleman – he has not left me alone. I have moved four times in the past year (out of financial duress) and he has found my address every time. He still sends me letters, books, sermons. I cannot seem to get away from the man. I believe that, at the end, Jim Wilson would have taken the kids and me in . . . . but he would have insisted on reconciliation with a monster of a man . . . . and NEVER would have allowed for divorce or any child custody hearings.
If I could sum up the Wilson philosophy in one sentence, it would be: “Thorough Wilsonian theology; zero mercy and zero compassion.” This is not how Christ was. This is not how Christ is. Praising Him that, despite my lack of discernment when it came to counsel, God still found a way to rescue the children and me. Because He is, after all, the greatest Deliverer we could ever know.
The first time my ex husband physically hurt me, I felt relief.
Now, I could maybe tell someone that I had suffered PHYSICAL abuse and, often, people are more affected by physical abuse than emotional, spiritual, mental or sexual abuse. One woman said, “I knew he was difficult to live with but I had NO IDEA he was hurting you PHYSICALLY.” It was like I now had permission to leave — because there were visible bruises. I have heard many women who left horrid, hell-like marriages, having survived heinous acts of manipulation and mental suffering say this: “I wish he had pushed me down the stairs.” A friend, in fact, recently wrote a blog about this very thing. If there was “evidence” . . . if her ex had put her in the hospital . . . maybe people would not make her the bad guy for finally having the courage to run away from the darkness that was her marriage.
In CS Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, no one believes Lucy when she tells them she has found an entire new country through the back of the wardrobe. Perplexed, the other 3 children go to the professor about Lucy. After all, Lucy has always been honest. She has never displayed acts of manipulation or craziness. The children cannot understand why Lucy will not recant. They are stunned when the Professor asks them, “How do you know that your sister’s story is not true?” He then explains that there are only three logical possibilities: either Lucy is lying, she has gone mad, or she is telling the truth. Lucy was never a liar nor had she gone mad. Not only that, but the Professor asks them which one of the two children (Edmund or Lucy) was most likely to tell the truth. Lucy is more likely to tell the truth. A new perspective had developed.
This perspective is what is sadly missing in the lives of so many people surrounding abused women. I am at a loss as to why a perfectly sane, honest woman is allofasudden a liar when it comes to the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her husband — behind closed doors — LISTEN — where no one else lives. I see this all the time now. A woman is respected, honored, looked up to by so many people in the church. . . until she admits to someone that her personal home life is a living hell. NOW, she is doubted, questioned and treated like she is a squeaky, high-pitched crazy woman who is crying wolf. Where did this come from?!
Friends . . . most of the women I know who have bravely left a man who was killing them on the inside emotionally and mentally are intelligent and loving human beings. Look at their track record. Look at their character. These women have had vibrant, living and active relationships with Christ for as long as you have known them. Why would you doubt them now, when they need you the most? Yes, their lives have not been easy and their pasts may be marked by strange behavior, covering and hidden pain . . . but that RIGHT THERE should be the indication that something was very wrong in their private lives and, not only that, that they are dealing with it alone. She was trying to honor her husband all those years; trying to respect him. She might have been threatened by him. Maybe he questioned her every time she got home (“Who did you talk to?” “What did you tell them?!”). She had a reason for not telling you earlier.
If a woman seems to suddenly leave a spouse, has the courage to admit what was going on, or runs for safety, don’t take it upon yourself to decide to judge her. You did not walk in her shoes; you weren’t there. You have no right to make any decisions about what her life was like. Look at who she has been all this time. Did she walk with the Lord? Was she trying to follow Him? Does she love her children? Has she loved YOU? Believe her. I would much rather err on the side of loving belief of a sister than make the unconscionable decision to shun or abandon her in her darkest hour.
With Respect, Megan
Megan Cox is a Pastoral Counselor and Executive Director of Give Her Wings. She holds an MAR and is certified in crisis response with the AACC.
And you all came through, above and beyond. We couldn’t believe it as we watched donation after donation come in for Valour (read the story here). Friends, we needed $3000 for our two extra mamas in February. Moreover, I just so happened to mention our Valentine’s gifts (that are lovely and I cannot wait for you to see them!). After I sent the last newsletter, I got on my knees and prayed. Every day, I give Give Her Wings over to Jesus. I pray for our entire board, staff and team. And then I pray for our mamas . . . I go to Jesus on their behalf and I just beg Him for mercy. I ask Him to see my sisters — to see them. I remind Him that He is the God Who Sees (El Roi). I believe that He is moved by the prayers of His people and that He loves to work through them. All day, we watched the donations come in. My heart soared. I knew and understood and was reminded just how much God loves our mamas and loves what we do.
Dear ones, you contributed $3755.00 total.
This morning, as I thanked God for His provision, I was reminded of Psalm 23 . . . “God leads me beside still waters and leads me into green pastures. He restores my soul. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid. For He will provide a feasting table for me in the presence of my enemies.”
Valour has been surrounded by an enemy who truly hates her, who wants to destroy her. And through Jesus, through your donations and through Give Her Wings, God has provided a feast for her . . . just waiting for her to partake of His goodness. As a result, I believe she will begin to trust Him more. Because of her precious friends nearby (whom we love and trust) and the army of Give Her Wings behind her and YOUR participation, I trust God with her life. He has her. And you helped. We don’t know how to thank you. Our words not adequate for the hope you have given our newest mama. But, nevertheless . . .
Thank you. From my heart, from the hearts of our team members, from our two newest mamas and ALL of our mamas. Thank you. Our ministry is dependent on your giving. May God bless you, ten-fold, for your boldness and faith and generosity.
With So Much Love,
Megan and the Team of Give Her Wings
Did You Know We Have Crazy Accountability for Our Organization?
If you ever want to see any of our 990 statements, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will gladly provide you with it. I’m actually pretty proud of how hard we work to keep everything on the up and up. Just for your peace of mind, we have a trained QB expert (Naomi) who is on staff with us but who also works for a CPA (Crystal Huish, who specializes in non profits). Crystal will often also help us with our financials, as well. Further, we are accountable to The Foundation Group, whom we hire to do our 990’s and Charitable Solicitations. Even more importantly to us, we are accountable to a higher standard, as we are a Christian organization who aspires to do everything with integrity before God.
But, we couldn’t look away. Last week, we received a call from one of our friends from a trusted sister-ministry, describing the horrific abuse her neighbor was suffering. “Valour” has two small children and is pregnant with her third, to her abusive partner’s building anger. We have chosen this name for her because she is in a battle and, though very afraid, she is showing tremendous courage. Valour has suffered abhorrent financial, physical, mental and sexual abuse for years. She was isolated with no transportation. He did horrible things to her, careful that there were no obvious signs of abuse for outsiders to notice. He was “smart” about how he abused her. I wish I could go into detail but it is all too horrific and triggering. She is not a person to him . . . she is not a human. She is something to be used and thrown away — every single day.
An early morning text let us know, last week, that she was in danger and things were escalating. I called Valour, well-aware of the fact that we already went over budget by taking a February mama. Normally, we run our Valentine’s Day campaign and, since it is a short month, we don’t take any financial mamas. Now, we have taken two. I could not ignore the desperation in Valour”s voice. I could not turn away from the fact that her heart was turning toward God again. I heard the fear in her tone and I understood it so well. My heart broke and I thought about her that entire day. I wept so many times. And I was afraid to propose it all to the board because I had already pushed our finances so far. I prepped them the day before and received nothing but loving responses and assurances of prayer. I told them that I believe — firmly believe — that God loves what our ministry does and that He will provide.
The next day, we found out she had fled and gone to a hotel. She never looked back. Her itty bitty girl had already packed her tiny backpack herself, ready to be free. They could not take anymore. They were ready and they left.
I made my proposal to the board that we help her get an apartment. They voted her in within seconds, unanimously. My heart soared. I know it is a lot to ask. I know. We are taking a step of faith and trusting that God will provide the funds we need as we decide to walk alongside Valour and her three babies throughout what will surely be a very difficult road.
I prayed with her over the phone. She wept. She was free. We helped her with information to obtain a DVPO. She is safe. She finally feels safe. She is also being helped by dear friends whom we trust. They are bravely caring for her and helping with her children and the cost of the hotel until they secure an apartment.
We need your help. We are getting ready to run our campaign for Valentine’s Day. We had already purchased the gifts for our mamas without knowing we would need an extra $3000 for two February mamas. I know not what to do except to plead on behalf of this precious mama, who has risked her life to break the cycle of abuse and give her children a chance.
I will never forget her words to me, “I just want to have a home where my children are safe.”
I’m only asking you to pray. To see if God leads you to give. If so, please donate here. We are a 501(c)3 and all donations are tax deductible. As you know, I would do anything for our mamas. Please join me in being a passionate ambassador for Christ in this woman’s life. She will never, ever forget it.
Megan got to Meet “Always”, Our February Mama . . . . I wish I could take a picture of the beautiful mama I had the privilege of vetting today. We do all we can to protect their identities so, sadly, we just have a picture of me, as I was getting ready to drive to a different part of the state to meet “Always”.
Our final step in vetting is a face-to-face meeting. So, we had lunch and talked . . . and talked and talked. Always has been divorced for 1.5 years and has 50/50 custody of her children. Half of the time, they are with their abuser. They are pre-school age and the oldest has some extreme special needs, requiring constant care. Somehow, though, Always has managed to get a part-time job on the weekend. She has two job interviews tomorrow. She is a perfect candidate for Give Her Wings, as we work to be a buffer or stepping stone for women who have left abuse and need to stay OUT of abuse. The number one reason women return is for financial reasons. With the $1500 toward Always’ bills, she can press on, which she has already so perseveringly done.
Three children. . . . no support. I was so honored to meet this brave woman today. I almost wept when I saw what a good mother she is and how hard she works. But, I honestly did cry when she told me the story about how she had a breakdown, due to the wicked mental, spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse she suffered. She had to go to the hospital for a few days to heal and get away. But, during that time, her ex husband packed all of her things up, took their three itty bitties and moved halfway across the country to his parent’s house. When she was discharged, their home was empty. She was completely alone. Her guilt over feeling like a bad mother and having “abandoned” her children, due to the abuse-driven breakdown was overwhelming. I really believe, whole-heartedly, that he wanted to completely destroy her.
Miraculously, Always was able to come to her children and fight for custody. Something in her compelled her to keep fighting. And, even though she is God’s warrior-princess, she exudes gentleness. She shone with the fruits of the Spirit as she explained to me how her faith is ten times greater than it ever was before . . . how she is dependent upon God for her daily bread, trusting Him every single day. I saw Him in her. It was beautiful.
She said that every night, now, she goes to each of her babies and hugs and kisses them and says, “What’s the truth?” and they say, “Mommy is always coming back for me.” She said she has always “felt like trash” and no one has wanted to help her before. OH, my heart. If she only knew what I see. If she only knew that I see a glorious creature, created in God’s image and beloved by Him. If she only knew how honored we all feel to be able to help one of God’s girls. I learned so much from her today. I will never be the same.
She is always coming back for her children. Just like Jesus is always coming back for us.
If you feel so inclined to give, click here. What this money will do for “Always” will change her life. What we do is life-changing. And because we continue to give this ministry to God over and over and each day, He shows favor on us.
Thank you, for those of you who already support us. Be blessed knowing how you are helping God’s daughters. And, of course, by helping mamas, we are helping their babies.
HUGE THANK YOU TO Mary DeMuth!!We would like to thank Mary DeMuth (author extraordinnaire), of Restory, and one of my personal heroes for donating over 100 copies of her book, Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing After Sexual Abuse. Wow!!! We had the joy of being able to send one to each of our team members and ALL of our mamas! Mary, thank you for who you are and all you do. What a gift to ALL of us! Please check out Mary’s resources. She is incredibly generous and has written many, many books about surviving the tough stuff.
Megan is the Founder of Give Her Wings, has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling and is certified in Crisis Response with the AACC. She has also written the book Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.
After witnessing yet another Christian leader who is “too famous” to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the “little people”, who are women who were abused in the most conservative of churches, I realized, today, that I would never ever be able to get them to see our point of view. Its frustrating. But, when you feel you have done all you can, and still they don’t listen, acceptance brings peace. They are not going to listen. And I might just need to stop trying.
I found out, this week, that a man who knows nothing about abuse is going to write a book, commissioned by a publisher (Lifeway?), about abuse. This man has ignored my pleas for years. Its painful to see that. Once I stopped crying, I prayed. I prayed for this man. I prayed his book will not do more harm than good. I prayed God could use it. Like Paul, I want to believe that God can use anyone — no matter how unqualified — to speak truth. I hope this is the case. God also spoke to me. He said to forgive him and others (this is a big deal for me) and I decided to write myself a letter. Forgiveness has been a painful, yet beautiful, process for me over the years. And something I have had to do over and over. What I have written below is what I wish I could have heard all these past seven years. I’m going to stop wishing for that, although it would bring tremendous healing to my heart and countless others. Its just not going to happen.
I’m going to write a letter to myself and then give all of this to Jesus, knowing that He knows; He cares; He sees; He is just. Tears are running down my face, right now, as I write this. It is so hard. Its so hard, friends.
So, here goes . . . .
*Disclaimer: There have been two Christian, leading men, in my life, who apologized to me, personally. Gary Thomas apologized to me when I told him how my ex husband and others had used his premise of “marriage is to make you holy, not happy” against me. Danny Akin apologized to me for how my ex used his book “God and Sex” to sexually abuse me. This brought healing to my soul. I admire them for their humility.
We know what we did to you. You came to our seminary, looking for Jesus and trying to be a good wife so that your husband could pursue his “calling” of being a missionary. You gave up a successful career (you were a concert pianist!) because you loved Jesus and believed that your husband was “specially called”. We affirmed that. You never felt that anointing, you only felt love for God and wanted to know Him more. You were kind of just a “regular Christian”. We understand, now, that God lives in everyone. Everyone who wants Him to! You had lost your parents in a car accident a few years earlier and you were searching for meaning and truth. You embraced theology and doctrine and graduated with three babies, one on the way, and straight ‘A’s (a B in Church History — we’ve all been there). It took you six years. It took you six years because we were indoctrinating you on how you would not be a fulfilled or purposeful woman unless you abandoned birth control and homeschooled. And yet you pressed on. When you were graduated, we didn’t acknowledge you at your church, where you had served for several years. We gloried in the graduation of the men. But we were silent about you. In fact, most of us didn’t know you were studying. You felt we would judge you for doing something outside of motherhood. We see that now.
We also recently discovered that the man you sat by in church for 11+ years was abusing you in every way possible. He was also a porn addict. When you spoke about it, and took that risk only a few times, we judged you harshly. We told you you were not giving him enough sex and were not submissive enough. We told you that it is “every man’s problem” and you should show compassion. We are sorry. We are sorry that we made you the bearer of his sin. We are sorry that we held you responsible for an addiction he has had since he was eleven years old. That was wrong.You were quiet and alone. Your husband was telling you you deserved it and it kind of looked like we thought that, too. We unknowingly aided in the total destruction of your esteem.
He told you that if you told anyone, you would ruin his ministry, as appointed to him by God. We affirmed that many times. Your livelihood and that of your children was completely dependent upon your silence and masked cheerfulness, while he worked as a pastor. We put you in a lonely prison.
When you finally left, we started harassing you. It wasn’t even a matter of withdrawing. We were aggressive. We made fun of you on social media, when we were not calling you out. We didn’t listen and we didn’t believe you. Because you were on your own with four children, your main concern was supporting them. We didn’t help you; we told you to obey God and go back. We made you believe, for a little while, that God wants you to be abused . . . that you were in the wrong . . . that you were deserving. If we acknowledged the abuse, we coupled that with how we all pay the price for our “poor decisions” so you still had to go back. We wouldn’t recognize his charm during dating. We didn’t recognize your vulnerability. We didn’t see that a person could actually fool people and pretend to be godly — until the wedding night. We cannot imagine the horror you have suffered. We caused you tremendous psychological pain as we would not help you (only condemn you) and you had to look for other resources outside of our church in places you had been taught, by us, were not of God.
We can see that picture of you now when you left. You had no transportation and you pushed a stroller to our church on a busy street with a toddler on your back and two small children holding on to each side of the stroller. You were so afraid for their safety but wanted to get to church. When you got there, all four children clung to your skirt. All of you sweating from the journey. Everyone was afraid. All five of you cried during the hymns. Our pastor went to you and lovingly convinced you you could trust him. You walked home, having some hope. When he came to visit, he said that he wanted to get your husband on Skype and tell him to “come and get his wife.” You became terrified and asked him to leave. After that, you couldn’t trust. And we don’t blame you. We did that.
You and your children could not go to church for two years. You huddled on your tiny kitchen floor every Sunday, drinking hot cocoa and teaching your children bible stories. That was our fault. We take responsibility for it.
You couldn’t get a job because you had gone to a seminary from a denomination where women are not hired as pastors (except as “children’s ministers” or something along those lines). We teach that. Your degree was in counseling but you were not licensed, as we didn’t do that. You had no recourse. And other churches did not want someone who went to an SBC seminary. You had been a homeschooling mom or stay-at-home mom for 12 years. Your resume wasn’t stellar, by any means. We took away your options. We made you dependent on your abusive husband who only sent money when he felt you might come back to him. We didn’t get it because, as men, we were always able to be pastors. We didn’t think about how much we were hurting you by putting you a box and stamping it with the words “God’s will”.
After that, he stopped sending you any money (it was only about $6000 total over the course of a year), once he realized you would not leave the country, again, and put yourself in forever-isolation. For three years, he justified not paying child support. And we supported him. We kind of saw him as a victim for a long time. We don’t, anymore. But, that probably doesn’t assuage your pain. We are starting to understand. But it is just the tip of the iceberg.
You had to leave the church you had loved because you were constantly judged for leaving an abusive marriage. Somehow, others knew better than you what happened in your own home than you did. That was pretty crazy of us.
The fact that you clung to Jesus, still, despite all that His people did to you — passively and aggressively — is miraculous. We think we know still . . . we still think that we have a corner on truth. But, we’re starting to look bad for it, so we’re jumping on the band-wagon and writing books and holding conferences about abuse. But, you’re still not invited. We’re not sure why . . . maybe you remind us of what we did. And we can’t handle it or admit it, yet. You’ve always been uninvited because you don’t fit our cookie-cutter, Christian woman thingie we have going on. We don’t listen to you, which is unkind. We admit it. When we look at you, we see what we did and we can’t take it. Our consciences would be overwhelmed. Because it isn’t just you . . . its thousands of women that we silenced. And we are deeply grieved.
We are so glad that a godly man came into your life, adopted your children into his heart and proudly gave them his name (of whom you won sole custody of — yes, we see you fought that battle alone, as well, in the midst of our persecuting you) and now adores and provides for you all. He is a hero to us. David helps you run your non profit and, as a result, hundreds of women have seen that there are good men out there — men who care. And that’s been going on for seven years now.
Sometimes, it is best to start over. Instead of covering up or doing some mild form of damage control. Sometimes, its best to say something like, “Wow. We really really screwed up big-time bad. Before God, we silenced 50% of His children when we shouldn’t have. We let His daughters and His children (little ones) be abused and kept sending them back into abuse. We fed them to the lions in God’s name. God, have mercy on us. What can we do now? What is wrong with this? What have we done?!” And you do it in a big way. That’s what God’s people do sometimes, through space-time history. They do a big, giant repentance. Instead of just seeing “a little bit of sin”, God’s people have, in the past, seen giant lifestyles of sin and torn their clothes. What little bit of “woman stuff” we are doing now must feel to you and to others like a greater wound. We’re still leaving all of you out — you who have faithfully and painfully ministered to the abused for years and years now; you who lived in poverty for years yet still ran a non profit for women ignored or, worse, attacked by US (without pay) and helped hundreds of women be helped by the Church, when we refused to help them or listen to them.
Megan, we humbly repent of this. We see it now. We see what countless others have done because we failed, as a people. We acknowledge you. We see that we were just too famous to acknowledge you before. But, now, we acknowledge you and your pain, and that of your children. We also acknowledge ______ and ______ and ______ and so on . . . . We were tone-deaf. We had Marie-Antionette syndrome while we cozily and comfortably preached from our pulpits.
We are sorry. Please forgive us.
All the churches that persecuted me,
All the christian family members who persecuted me,
All the friends who persecuted me,
The seminary that knew my husband was abusing me and shut me down,
The church that said I was anti-God because I wanted to help women who were destitute
All the church leaders who ignored my emails,
The people who showed up on my doorstep to tell me to return to my abuser,
The pastors who called me to try to get me to go back,
And those who ignored facebook posts and tweets about what was happening on their watch.
I remember being so hurt and angry when so many of my friends and family “ghosted” me after I came back to the states with my four beautiful babies. It seemed as though I had four categories of people, in my life:
Those who felt they were doing God’s will by trying to get me to go back to my abusive husband. (danger! danger!)
Those who completely abandoned me or withdrew
Those who persecuted me through emails, phone calls and gossip, anywhere and everywhere on the spectrum from mild concern to harsh, public criticism.
Those (and there were exactly two people in category number 4 for me) who were telling me that I was doing the right thing and that I would eventually get through this nightmare.
Category number two was, perhaps, the most painful. There were people who knew me — I mean really knew me — who simply stopped talking to me . . . people who did not want to even see my face . . . people who moved forward with life and wanted nothing to do with my amazing children and myself. It was terrible-lonely. And I would not wish it upon my greatest enemies. In fact, I have finally reached a point where I am happy for all of the people for whom that did not happen — my own family, my own church, my ex husband and his family. I felt like they bonded over their avoidance of me. But, they had each other and I am glad. Because even for all they put me through, I would never want them to be as alone as I felt during those first few years.
I don’t know how many times one of our mamas has shared a similar experience. Losing the trust of your family, your core family, and having them choose not to believe you and your own experience and what happened in your own home makes the mind want to break. There is no other way for me to describe it. And then taking away the friends of the victim removes that last layer of healthy security that each person needs. None of it makes sense. There is a definite cognitive dissonance surrounding the fact that you had friends and support and . . . then you did not. There was no way for me to wrap my mind around this phenomenon. And it happens all the time. Emotional abandonment. So many of our mamas face this. It hurts me to even think about it.
Since being free for seven years now, I have spent a lot of time in prayer, in every book I could get my hands on, in therapy and ministering to our mamas. I have heard from those friends who withdrew from me now. Many, many of them. It is as though they look at my life and think, “Oh. She’s moved on and she is a normal person with a normal family and a normal life. She doesn’t seem to be like the monster-sinner-narcissist-unbeliever (fill in your own ugliness) she was described to be! Huh.” It has been so strange. But, in talking with some of these people, I have discovered that my “rotten first draft” of what I believed they were thinking (term adapted from Anne Lamont . . . only she doesn’t say “rotten”) was that everyone was abusive because that was what I was used to. Everything was my fault; I caused all the pain; I was someone to stay away from. But, that was not what everyone was thinking. The truth revealed itself, once I had revised my draft several times and spoken to many people who had originally kept their distance. And I have some clarity. So, here it is:
Yes, there are people out there who really and truly believe that it is their job to get you to go back to your abusive spouse. They believe this — and stand on it as God’s solid truth. They believe they are doing a good thing. And they will even try to “love you” right back into abuse, unwittingly. They don’t get it. That’s OK.
Yes, there are people who really and truly want to hurt you. They never liked you, in the first place, or you hurt them in some way (in the past) and they see this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of hating you. Its awful. Its sinful. It is anti-Jesus. And crazy-unhealthy. These people are not your friends. They are unhealthy and they need therapy. Avoidance is key here.
However, there are people who withdrew from you for other reasons:
They don’t know how to handle your heavy stuff. And they just don’t have the bandwidth! They have families, they have jobs . . . and we all get really messy sometimes. I know I do! It hurts because when a victim of abuse leaves her abuser, she lacks the emotional, physical and spiritual tools she needs to land on her feet. She is looking around and people she thought she could trust just step away. They don’t know what to do, either. We can’t blame them for that. They simply don’t have it in them. It still hurts.
They may have been told so much drama and gossip by others that they just don’t want to be a part of it. They step away from you AND they also step away from those who are stirring up the drama. For them, their mantra is “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
They are afraid. They don’t want to be ostracized like you have been. David and I have people, in our lives right now this very minute, who found that it was emotionally easier to take the side of the abuser than to find themselves in the mud and the minority with us. They don’t want the same thing to happen to THEM that happened to YOU. They cannot carry on a friendship with you AND the abuser at the same time . . . and they are much more afraid of the abuser than they are you. Because you won’t smear them; you won’t hurt them; you won’t try to destroy them. But they have seen what happens when you cross the abuser . . . and they don’t want to go through that. So, it is a loss.
In fact, it is all a loss. While I can understand the reasoning and have all the compassion in the world for those who withdrew from us when we needed it most, it was still a loss for us. And it had to be grieved. But, here’s the good news: There are golden people, in your midst, who do not think that your story is too awful, too heavy or too burdensome. They are out there! I know that I don’t think that your story is too much. I know that Give Her Wings doesn’t. I know there are more than a few folks who can take it and help to a certain extent. But, I know that Jesus never, ever ever ever thinks that your story is too heavy a burden to hear. And He will never abandon you. The rest of us . . . we’re human. But He . . . He is the Master Counselor, the God who Sees, the Provider of everything. He is there, sister. He is there. And it is our joy, as a ministry, to be used by Him where and when we can. And we do! And nothing makes me happier.
So, we can find some healing in knowing that not all is for spite. But, some of it is . . . and I am sad for those people. Because they are missing out on YOU. They don’t get to take this journey with you and your family and grow with you and learn from you and be blessed when you rise up again. It is your loss, I know. But, really . . . it is their loss.
Find the golden people.
Megan Cox is the Founder of Give Her Wings, Inc., and has written “Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.” She has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling and is certified in crisis response with the AACC.
Hearing about (and seeing photos of) our mamas and their families receiving their Christmas packages to which so many of you contributed. The smiles on their faces have brought bubbling-over, fizzy joy to our team! It is so FUN to give! And all 50+ mamas we are currently serving have been so grateful! One mama told us that she always dreads the mail (bills, bills, bills, people!). So, receiving gifts in the mail is an incredible treat!
Its Advent . . . and a lot of us are celebrating the expectancy of Christ coming to walk this earth, put on human-ness and show us how to love, all-the-while reconciling us to Him. For us to be able to give to our mamas, this month, we are telling them that they are part of this celebration . . . that they are worthy . . . that they are loved. Christmas is coming! Jesus is coming! God with us and God with them!
In the meantime, we are also celebrating the donations that are being matched by Leslie Vernick. Wow! Looking to the future can be stressful for a small non-profit but when financial resources are met, like we hope for this month, we can concentrate on ministering to and helping our mamas. For the entire month, Leslie is matching each monetary, tax-deductible gift given to Give Her Wings. So far, we have been given close to $2000. We are overjoyed!
In the meantime, and if you can believe it, we are still helping mamas. We are busy doing some real ministry, friends. Women and families are being vetted . . . board meetings continue and bills are being paid to help single women who have left abusive marriages survive this incredible, life-altering and crushing escape. I look back, sometimes, over the past seven years and I honestly can say I don’t know how I did it. That is why I started Give Her Wings. I wanted to do for others what I did not have. But, even the emotional turmoil was enough to break any one of us. When feelings of abandonment and judgment from my church, my family, his family and my seminary piled on . . . when my children had great physical and emotional needs . . . my mind felt like it was cracking (and I can describe it no other way). I distinctly remember asking God to fill in those cracks with His healing oil of anointing. My needs were so great, I would not have known where to begin. I was crumbling under financial strain and insecurity, I was physically working hard and caring for my children, I was terrified of the future and I was still being abused. I could not find my footing.
Now and then, when someone did something kind for me, my entire world would change that day. One day without worrying gave me a minute to talk to God about the confusion I felt was threatening to destroy my faith. When my physical needs were met, I had time and wherewithal to read Scripture and listen to Jesus . . . to think about returning to church (or not) and to let others speak into my life.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40 NLT
When Give Her Wings meets the physical needs of these amazing women, we help to save their faith. When we are hungry, stressed, emotionally burdened, dealing with PTSD and our minds and hearts are shattered . . . . how does one climb out of that? One way is through our organization. I talk to so many mamas, almost every day, who need a dose of encouragement . . . who need to know that Jesus loves them . . . who need to know that their next bill could be paid . . . who need to know that we care about them and about their children. What a long way this goes. When you give to Give Her Wings, you free us up from fund-raising so we can get to the good stuff. And, this month, with Leslie’s generosity, your $10 gift will be $20. Your $250 will be $500. Your $1000 will be $2000. Every bit helps and every bit counts.