Don’t Do to Yourself What He Did to You

Art Credit: Megan Cox “LionHeart”

I do believe that successful lives are lived on the brink of counter-intuitiveness, standing on the middle of a tall, open and narrow platform, all vulnerable-like, pushing away expectations, narrowing down what is important, doing exactly what you do not feel like doing and facing (indeed, even embracing) affliction, rather than shoving it back. Our nature, in this current, time-space narrative, is to be comfortable. Happiness somehow equals comfort and we are all a little guilty of this.  We want to avoid pain, not see it as a growing experience. That is counter-intuitive. We want to stick with “what we know”, not venture into something that challenges the thinking we grew up with. That would be counter-intuitive. We want to stay in the boat — not walk on the water. That would be counter-intuitive. And yet, Jesus has always been the Great Challenger. He was, when He walked this earth, and He continues to be. I’m so super-OK with that. I am finally learning to be comfortable with confrontation and stop evading; to buck the systems; to stand up to the stereotypes and simply be myself. I am willing to ask hard questions, if need be. But, it wasn’t always that way.

One of the most heart-breaking dynamics for us to watch, in ministering to former targets of abuse, is how often these precious women continue to hurt themselves long after they have left their abusers. It is natural, normal and very much what they are used to. I wonder if they even know they are doing it. The call, on their lives (and our call in exhorting them) is to press out of those pockets of abuse, in their minds. They are physically out, but not completely free. Some of our mamas are so steeped in the paradigm of abuse, that they carry on with it, themselves, because it is what they know. Here are some ways in which these precious ladies do this:

  1. Isolation. Oh, do I get this one. It is so much easier to hide away. Become an introvert. Do not let anyone hurt me, anymore. The belief is that the best way to protect oneself is to keep people as far away as possible. Yes. It will protect, in some ways. And, I believe it is necessary, for a time. Many have often heard me say that I wish I could give each of our mamas one year of healing, without pressure of finances, working, raising children alone and trauma-induced panic. I understand. But, for how long? Will you allow yourself to stay this way? When do you decide to struggle out of the cocoon and get real, life-changing healing? Being alone with your thoughts can be a dark place. After a while, everyone becomes dangerous. Your home was not a safe place, with him, and now your home is not a safe place . . . not really. Not with darkness looming. Not when people cannot fill it up with joy and laughter and peace. Now, look. He isolated you; you are isolating yourself.  One of the bravest things, in the world, that you can do is step out. Take a little leap . . . a small step. Test the people around you. Most of them are not abusive. Most of them are just like you and me . . . . just looking for relationships and love and health. I know you are scared. I know. But, move toward that fear. Don’t let him have this part of your life.
  2. Paralyzation. Similar to isolation, this is when we become paralyzed to relationships. Everything is dangerous and nothing feels safe. Everything is interpreted to mean something else. What if they mean to hurt me? What if they mean thus-and-such behind their words? The best thing for me to do is to stay stuck. And, once again, that stuckness that your abuser wanted for you? You are now doing his job for him (this makes me want to cry).
  3. Self-Harm. I realize that this is a complicated issue. Self-harm comes in so many forms and for so many different reasons. But, he is no longer there to hurt you. But, each time you hurt yourself, you are doing it for him. You are doing what he wanted to do to you. Oh, my dear sister . . . wouldn’t you rather get healing and FIGHT to stop the self-harm than to allow him this victory? This is not to put false guilt on anyone. We have all done things that we wish we had not and we have no choice but to learn, put it behind us and try again. There IS help for self-harm. But, only you can take the step to move forward and get the help that you need. You deserve it. After all you have been through.
  4. Loss of Identity. Abusers see other people as extensions of themselves — not as actual people. I understand that deep, dark feeling of being invisible and used. Abusers are users and takers — it is what they do. So, if I allow other people to see me as simply an accessory or as someone who is to be used (even “for the kingdom”), then I have stepped right back into that place my ex-abuser wanted me to live. I cannot give into this. I have to fight, every day, to keep my identity as Megan, beloved child of God. I will not and would not allow my abuser to have the satisfaction of believing that I had, somehow, “fallen in line”. No way; no how.
  5. Allowing the Drama In. No more drama for this mama. Abusers thrive (seriously, they live and breathe) on getting a reaction out of you. A control drama, as coined by James Redfield in his book, “The Celestine Prophecy,” is played by a person who is feeling low on power or energy, to manipulate and steal the energy of another. Control dramas are unconscious strategies all people use to gain power or energy from another person and to essentially, “get their way with others.” They get their way with others by making them pay attention to us and then elicit a certain reaction from them to make themselves feel fulfilled. The positive feelings they gain are won at the expense of the other person and this often causes imbalance and drama in interpersonal relationships. But, again, it is the “normal world” for the former victim of abuse. This has to be de-toxed out. Again, therapy will help with this. Intentional effort. Grit.

It IS a fight. It is a daily fight, for all of us. But, I would rather fight, with everything in me, to grow up and out, than to do to myself what he did to me. I have made a covenant, with myself and with God, to take specific steps to keep the drama out of my life, to keep from isolating and to keep myself growing and embracing affliction. I am actually happier, as I do these things. Avoiding pain will get us nowhere . . . pain is everywhere, especially in the recesses of the dark sides of ourselves that everyone has.

Will you fight? Will you decide, today, to find a way to stop doing these things? Explore options? Get counseling? Reach out to someone? Take a step to trust someone? I don’t want this life for you . . . it is time for a new life. Make a decision beyond the brave decision you made to leave, in the first place. Did you know it was only the first in a long line of decisions for your health?  Make a decision to climb out of the dark world he left you in, as well. Make a decision that he cannot influence you, anymore, in these ways. Make a decision to take care of yourself, so you can be the you that God means for you to be.

Be empowered in all the right ways. Get the ex’s influence out of your life for good. Start today. If you have any questions about steps to take to do this, please ask us. We have trusted resources that can help (like Leslie Vernick’s Conquer Groups and others). Or, you can reach out to us. But, by all means, stop doing to yourself what he did to you. 

Be lion-hearted; Get healing. Be the opposite of the cowardly abuser. You are the brave one, here. You are the courageous one. You are the one who can take steps to freedom and gain your wings.

Love,

Megan

 

Our October Mama’s Story — “Safe in His Arms”

One of our October mamas was kind enough to write out her story. We like to share these precious broken-and-beautiful stories, now and then, to help our constituents understand more about what “our mamas” are facing. It will hurt you heart . . . but please read  the story of our October mama — “Safe in His Arms” —  below.

When I met him, I was divorced for nearly 2 years and had 2 small children.  Things seem to be leveling out in my life and I was getting used to this new “normal” of being a single mom of 2 kiddos.  I had reconnected with a local church in my community through a divorce class they offered for a semester and was glad to be a part of the church family.  It was through this church that I met him.  He was a leader, in our church.  He seemed like a good, Christian man with a big heart.  He acted like he loved my children, especially my son, who has special needs.  We somehow ended up a couple without it ever being said.  I was pressured by him into sleeping with him, which I found odd coming from a Christian man, and then when I did, he’d essentially blame me for it and for allowing him to “slip” and that I “needed to connect with Christian women in the church.”  I felt dirty and disgusting.  I would push away his advances when we hung out, but it would happen again and again.  Then, I was shamed again and again by him.  I prayed.  I read scripture.  I took notes while reading the Bible.  I journaled about how awful I was to cause him to slip into sin.

He then started controlling who I talked to.  I wasn’t allowed to have any male friends.  I was to make more of an effort to hang out with Christian women (which in his book did not include Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and so on…he said those aren’t Christians).  I complied.  I wanted to be a good Christian woman.  

Things changed as soon as we got married.  He moved into my home and when I came home after the first day back at work, he had completely “redecorated” my home.  He replaced all the stuff on the bedroom walls with his posters and pictures, changed our bedding to be to his liking, even took my things on the dresser and put them away.  Again, I wanted to be a good submissive wife and I laughed it off.  Surely, this was just him trying to be more comfortable in our home.  I noticed he drank a lot, something I didn’t notice before because he didn’t live with me before we got married.  He’d come over for dinner, hang out for a bit and then go back home.  He also smoked pot and pressured me to do it also.  I did it twice and told him never again.  He promised he wouldn’t either.  He lied.  I found out I was pregnant within a few months of our marriage.  For some reason, I was afraid to tell him (I found out when he was at work or was supposed to be at work).  When he got home that night, drunk and high, I told him and he said, “Are you sure it’s mine?”  I was floored.  I cried.  He said the next day he was joking, but that look in his eyes told me it was no joke.  That’s the first time I truly saw Satan in his eyes.

My first pregnancy with him was terrible.  He would drink starting at noon or so and be drunk by the time I got home.  He would berate me and verbally abuse me, sometimes when my 2 older kids were also home.  He was abusive (verbally and emotionally, physically) with my son.  I recorded him a few times when he was yelling at me and calling me every name in the book while I cowered in a corner, super pregnant, so he could hear himself.  He called me the “enemy” in his home.  Many times he told me to get the f out of his house and take my kids with me.  I spent several nights in hotels during that pregnancy.  He would then apologize and then we would restart the cycle.  I have no family near and his parents enabled his behavior.  I turned for help to them, but it was pointless.  His mother said he was the head of the household and that this didn’t sound like him, essentially saying I was lying.

A month prior to giving birth, he unleashed the worst of his verbal assaults on me.  It sent me into preterm labor and the doctors were able to stop it.  I knew I needed to get out.  This would be the first time I left him.  He knew I had reached out to our local DV shelter before this point by looking at phone records and then yelling at me about it, so I knew I couldn’t call them safely from my phone.  My friends took us in.  I ended up returning to him when he promised he would get help.  This was the cycle — the cycle that would happen for 2 more years before I left for good.

After the birth of our first child, he didn’t change his ways.  He seemed to drink even more, and I found out he was gambling (I didn’t know the extent of how bad the gambling was and how much he lost until a few days before I left him for good).  I had no access to finances at all.  He even proposed giving me an allowance (mind you, I work full time while he “worked from home”).  Having a child didn’t change him.  He was no help with her at all — often too drunk/hungover to help.  He would pass out on the couch or in bed.  There were times he stumbled into bed and missed the bed and hit the floor.  He urinated in the bed with our child and me in it.  At one point during this period, I suspected he was doing drugs again in the garage and when I went into the garage, I was overcome with the smell of marijuana.  I looked throughout the garage and found a huge bag of pot and  a six-pack of beer.  I brought them into the house and he got mad that I didn’t trust him instead of apologizing for doing these things.  

Every time the cycle got the explosion, it was always followed with signing up for classes, major apologies, love bombing, the whole works.  I kept praying to God that he would change.  I would pray that he could see what he was doing was wrong and hurting our family.  A year after the 1st time I left him, he got physically abusive.  He was under the influence and I didn’t want him holding our child in this state.  I needed to nurse her and he went to lay in bed with her while being buzzed.  I tried grabbing her from him and he shoved me into a dresser so hard, I bruised my arm, scratched my back and knocked the T.V. over.  My older kids were home.  He took my cell phone.  He kicked us out of the house.  

We would repeat these cycles for another year before I left for the last time, in January, of this year. I left on a cold Friday morning, pregnant with 3 small children, and a dufflebag of clothing hiding in the trunk of my car.  He had no idea I was leaving and I acted like it was another day of daycare, school and work.  Since then, he’s stepped up abuse and nightmare.

 I have since been forced to obtain a protective order.  I am the sole provider for my family and am drowning.

But, when I think of what I left, where I am now, with all of its difficulties, is beyond better.  God will provide and he has shown this in many ways, most recently through Give Her Wings.  I keep having faith that the truth will come to light and little by little it truly has been.  I know God sees all and I know that he is caring for my babies and me.  The divorce still isn’t final but I have hope. 

Thank you to those of you who donate to Give Her Wings. I cannot tell you how much it has encouraged my children and myself. Please know that this is a worthy and integrous cause. They have already been able to help me with so much. In the meantime, please pray for us. We need it all.

Love,

“Safe in His Arms”

 

 

 

How I Met My David — Q&A Number 3

We reached out to our constituents and asked them to ask us questions for a blog post series. Some of the women wanted to know how to better educate their churches on abuse or what to do about a particularly painful situation. To my surprise, the most common question I received was, “How did you meet your husband?” (giggles!) At first, I kind of felt like it was a little bit invasive, but because I am currently reading the latest Brene Brown book, I decided I would oblige. So, here is my personal account of how I met David, the man of my dreams.

I was working really hard to keep my kiddos and myself going. I was afraid; I was shaking in my little boots; I was more alone than I have ever felt. I felt dejected, rejected, a little bit crazy, not myself and desperate for so much . . . for time alone just to pray, to feel like I belonged somewhere or to someone, for a sense of security and safety for myself and my children and so much more. My ex sent money a few times, which helped us. There was not a promise of more and, after that, it became a matter of “starving us out”: Come home and you can have money for the kids. (It wasn’t for another three years after that that we were able to obtain child support.) Ya’ll. I did not have time for “alone time”. I did manage to get up an hour before the kids and have a long, silent-sob quiet time in the bathroom with Jesus (only room in the house with a door). After that, it was very hard work. I was too afraid for my kids not to work hard. They were small. I had to be a busy mama and a working mama but, what was hardest, were the gnawing fears in the back of my mind . . . fears that almost broke me.

What will I do? When I move out of temporary housing, where will we go? Why won’t my family show compassion? Why am I being judged so harshly? Will the children grow up with their mother scorned by her entire family? How will that affect them? Will I ever have money to secure custody of my kids? Am I wrong for wanting them to be safe and loved and free from the abuse? Can I provide that for them on my own?

I always wish that I could give our mamas one year off after the finally take the bravest step, in the world, in leaving an abusive situation. Instead, they all have to jump into the unknown territory of having to be the main provider, when all they have known is being a wife and mother. The stress of the situation and their own pain and their children’s pain stretches their hearts to fracturing. I get that. We were really in poverty. People would leave canned goods on our doorstep. Someone dropped off bags of old clothes. I could not believe I was living that way.

Much-Afraid with Sorrow and Suffering

I honestly didn’t think I would ever remarry. Who would want to “take on” a woman and her four small children? I knew, when I left, that I would probably be alone for the rest of my life.

I guess God had other plans.

I was working on taking a third job as a church pianist. I had worked for David fifteen years ago, when he was a pastor and I was a pianist. I knew we were friends on Facebook. So, I wrote him and asked for a reference, of which he was happy to give. I believe that, a few weeks later, David re-thought about my message to him, wondering what I was doing in Nebraska when he had heard that my family and I had moved to Europe. And why was I working? David decided to re-visit our conversation and he asked me if I was alright. I told him I wasn’t. He asked if we could talk. I made a decision to be completely honest with David, as I knew I could trust him.  The rest is pretty much history. We talked on the phone once a week . . . then every night . . . and then, David came and got all of us, put us on a plane and brought us home — to him.

The day David picked us up from Nebraska. We will never forget it. March 13, 2012.

David wanted more children. He loved them, the first time he laid eyes on them. David was my Boaz. But, he would tell you that I was his Ruth. Those who truly know and love me (as in, have allowed me to be truly known and seen), know my character. Not perfection, please, but character.

“May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” —Ruth 3:10–11

David had known me before. Not super-well, but he would tell anyone who asked, “I saw Megan as a good wife to her husband, years ago. She was respectful and kind.” My testimony, as a good wife to my ex-husband (as an act of worship to God — not because he brought that out in me, by any means), was what David never forgot. And what he saw was a woman working hard for meager return. He did not see me as the desperate woman I felt I was because he had known me before. He knew that this place-of-my-heart was temporary.  He trusted in my solid-faith, which did not feel so solid, but it was there.

David rescued me. He would tell you I rescued him, as well. We rescued each other. Neither one of us wanted to be alone, anymore. We wanted to pour into a marriage (a second chance) that would honor and glorify God and teach our collective children what a beautiful marriage could look like.

We are so thankful for each other. And, oh, to have a marriage free from “roles”, from being held hostage, from loneliness, from pain and suffering every. single. day. To just love each other and want the best for each other. To grow together. To fall together; to get back up together. To give freedom and to meet felt needs and have someone be thankful for that.

I love my David. I want every woman to have a David. I waited so long for him. And my heart is full. And that’s our story.

The Cox Family, 2017 Credit: Shine Images Photography

And . . . just for fun . . . .

We’re pretty normal. 🙂 Credit: Shine Images Photography

When My Isolation Bubble Popped and I Watched It Happen

Since undergoing EMDR therapy (highly recommended for those who have experienced trauma), I would say that my triggers are about 75% relieved. This percentage was, most definitely, put to the test this past weekend when I went to visit my two closest friends in Wake Forest, NC. This is my old stomping ground. Wake Forest is the home of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was there where I was more secluded than any time, in my life. It was there where I had all four of my babies, home schooled and had very little outside influence welcomed into my home, besides our church, because there is so much “evil in the world’ (sarcasm). It was there where I learned that women were (basically) created to please men, have babies and have a “quiet and gentle spirit” (more sarcasm).  It was there where I lived in the isolated bubble of a miserable existence. . . . where I used to cry, literally in the closet, believing that I was worthless . . . where I used to cry out to God with questions like, “Is this all I was created for? To be used? Do you even like women, God?”

I often equate all of this awful with the seminary and the Southern Baptist denomination. And, yes, I saw awful there — IN ABUNDANCE. And mamas who come to our ministry for help experience the awful. But, I know that not everyone there believes these lies. Surely, they don’t. I know my two besties don’t. At the time, though (and for so long), I thought that the seminary had a corner on God and that I was living amongst the people who had it right. We were arrogant. We knew, people. We knew and no one else did. And part of what we knew was that it is OK for a woman to be abused in every way, and the church would practically endorse that.

You can imagine how I felt being all over the places where I felt so crushed.

But, it wasn’t the place that crushed me. It wasn’t the doctrine (skewed though some of it is — let’s be honest — we are all NEVER ALL OF THE TIME RIGHT ABOUT DOCTRINE). It wasn’t the young pastor-to-be boys who relished the idea of being “specially called”. They weren’t the ones. It was the bubble in which I lived. And, when you are being abused or neglected at home, I think you kind of believe that it is normal and that other people think you should be abused and neglected, as well. And we cannot look people in the eye. But, this is one of the greatest lies in the world of abuse — the lie that says, “I must deserve it. And he says everyone else thinks I deserve it. So, I cannot get close to anyone. Not really. It will only reinforce what I deserve. And I cannot manage that right now.”

We walked into the Summit Church in Raleigh and that same, old sickening feeling came over me . . . the mild nausea associated with Southern Baptists. The preacher was a young man I had never seen. It goes without saying that I had a slightly bad attitude. I wondered, “Would this church have responded to me the same way my church did when I took my children and fled an abusive man? Would they insist that I stay in the marriage? Would they have made me feel smaller, telling me that God wanted me to be abused for the rest of my life?” But, I love my friends and this church is important to them so, there I was.

The young man preaching, decked out in super-cool clothes and an even superer-cooler beard started talking about Joseph. And, all of a sudden, it was all I could do to hold back tears (which I released, relentlessly, later with my friend Anna). It was good. It was not oppressive. This young man spoke about being stripped of everything you thought you were . . . a son, a brother, a young man full of hope (a daughter, a sister, a young mother full of hope). He spoke about being stripped of dignity . . . and then being given a new name and being given all of the dignity back and more. He said things like, “The brothers weren’t the ones who sent Joseph away . . . God was. And He did so for a purpose.” Ya’ll. How could I have given certain people, in my life, so much power as to think they were responsible for my banishment? Whoa. They didn’t do it. God did this. Why? I don’t know all of the reasons. But, I DO know that, if I hadn’t left my abusive marriage and if my family of origin did not judge me so harshly and if the church I had been attending hadn’t been so gossipy and hurtful, I would not be here, directing Give Her Wings, which impacts thousands of hurting mothers and provides for so many of them to be able to pay bills and get on their feet. That’s why.  This sermon was tailor-made for me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

We went to the Mexican restaurant I had visited so frequently while being married to an abusive man. And I looked around, as I sipped my margarita (that would have been scandalous years ago), and realized that these people are not abusive people. They are just people. My isolation bubble kept me from seeing these people . . . . people who simply need to be loved; people who may be hurting; people who may not be hurting; just normal, run-of-the-mill, extraordinary created-in-God’s-image people. They did not do to me what had been done to me, so many years earlier. And it no longer felt that way, either.

And more . . . the mall in which I used to push my babies around . . . the corner ice-cream shop, the pathways I used to take when I ran . . . they are just places. Just places.

My isolation bubble has popped and I can see outside of my painful situation, more than ever. This may have been a final stage of my healing and I am so grateful for it! So, come on . . . come at me with your bad theology. I’m not crippled by it, anymore. I am here to tell you that there is a better way, a freer way, the way in which Jesus said He wanted to pave to show us how to love and forgive our sins and make us these awesome, funky, original creations that He just adores. I won’t shy away. I hear stuff and it hurts my heart . . . but it no longer affects me. And that is huge.

Are you still triggered by certain places? I would love to hear about it. What about theology? Do you get edgy when people throw out those words that used to keep you shackled? Has your isolation bubble popped, yet?  I would love to hear from you. And, if the bubble hasn’t popped, yet, and you are isolated, all the more reason to reach out. We can help you with that! Jesus is allllll about relationships — good ones — not ones where someone has “authority” or the “upper hand” in your life. We will be your mutual, messy friends.

Warmly and Set Freely,

Megan

My book, my painting. MDC

How Do I Educate Church Leaders About Abuse? — A Guest Post by Cindy Burrell

Thank you, Cindy, for tackling this excellent question from one of our constituents!

Cindy Burrell is the owner of Hurtbylove.com, a web-based ministry for women in abusive relationships.  She is also the author of “Why Is He So Mean to Me?” and her newest book, “An Extraordinary Ordinary Life:  A Testimony of God’s Faithfulness.”

A former abuse victim wrote to say: “I would be interested in how to go back and educate my ex-church leaders on abuse so they can hopefully help other women that may have this issue. There was just a lot of ignorance on their part.”

As I am sure you know, dear writer, you are not alone.  Many abuse victims have been guilted, shamed and shunned by those within the Christian community as they have traversed the long road to recovery from abuse.  I appreciate the courage it takes to consider educating the well-meaning – but ignorant – leaders within the contemporary church.

What are some of the primary suppositions to which most pastors and Christian counselors often adhere when dealing with abuse in marriage?  They may look something like this:

  1. The abuser has a good heart.  He must be responding out of hurt rather than selfishness. We must presume he wants to do the right thing.
  2. By exhibiting a gentle, quiet spirit and through her prayer and faithfulness, the abuse victim holds the power by her example to change her abuser.
  3. Couples counseling will improve communication, create accountability and facilitate positive change.
  4. God hates divorce, so it must be avoided at all costs, even if abuse has poisoned the relationship.

“The abuser has a good heart.”  If that is so, that truth should be evident in his attitudes and actions, and if not, then he is a danger to his wife and children, and their physical and emotional safety should take priority.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.”  (Matthew 12:33)

“An abuse victim holds the power to change her abuser.”

“In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,

as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”  Peter 3:1-2

Commentary authorities agree that the husband described here is not a believer, nor is there any reason to believe that he is an abuser, so this Scripture does not apply to an abusive situation.    Furthermore, wicked pretenders are not necessarily swayed by prayer, kindness and gentleness; in fact, they are empowered by it.  The truth is that none of us inherently has any power over others’ behaviors.  But we have a responsibility to assess the gravity of those behaviors and determine whether our spouses are seeking to live in the light of God’s love or not.

“By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”  I John 3:10

Couples counseling will improve communication and facilitate change.

Couples counseling is the wrong approach when abuse has permeated the relationship.  It provides abusers with a forum from which to sell their twisted version of truth using a combination of diminishment and lying.  A couples counseling setting rarely identifies the abuser for what he is, but rather the process will almost always insist upon some form of compromise, placing an expectation on the victim that she should give more rather than reclaiming what has been lost, while the abuser is expected to give some as a sign of his “effort.”  It often urges the victim to remain in the household so that the couple can work on their relationship in the interest of “saving the marriage.”  This is backwards.  Emotional and personal safety should always be the highest priority.

Furthermore, when dealing with abuse, only individual counseling should be considered.  With a counselor who understands the abuse dynamic, this provides the victim with the freedom to speak her truth without fear and receive the emotional support she needs.  If the abuser wishes to seek help for his failings, he should, but on his own volition.  Most often the abuser will only participate in couples counseling to shore up his image and sell his version of truth.  In a one-on-one counseling setting, an abuser will virtually always lose interest or deem the process unhelpful.  He may try to put on a good show for a while, but in most cases he will become impatient before long because he likes things the way they are and has no genuine desire to change.

We can see clear warnings regarding this type of person in the book of Jude, the one-chapter book written by Jesus’ half-brother that is loaded with powerful truth.  Jude wrote:

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.  For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (v. 3-4)

Contending for the faith (and marriage) requires a willingness to see those who have infiltrated the church – pretenders and liars who exploit the grace of God to facilitate their “licentiousness.”  Their very lifestyles deny the lordship of Jesus.  These are not hurting, misunderstood individuals, but Jude describes them as…

“…men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” (v. 12-13)

This is a powerful description of self-serving, worthless people who stealthily carry out their agenda of wickedness within the body of Christ, yet many pastors and Christian counselors refuse to see these people for who they are.  They are showmen, liars and pretenders who know exactly what they are doing and appreciate the opportunity to hide themselves among genuine, God-fearing people.

And, finally…

God hates divorce, so every effort must be taken to save the marriage.

The church’s ultimate trump card in the marriage counseling battle is the doctrinal teaching that God hates divorce, which has become the primary motivating force from which most Christian counselors operate.  This premise compels most marriage counselors to pursue every means possible to “save the marriage.”  It is long past time to dispense with the notion that God hates divorce, for divorce was provided in the Mosaic law for legitimate cause.  This aspect of the law has never been amended, not even by Jesus.

Deuteronomy 24 identifies the process.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife…” Deuteronomy 24:1-2

Therein are the three aspects of a lawful divorce: 1) legitimate cause, 2) the provision of a writ, which released both parties to marry, and 3) permanent separation which is translated as “sending away” or “putting away.”  The Hebrew word is “shalach.”) 

Take this understanding to the book of Malachi, from which the “God hates divorce,” doctrine is quipped.

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  For I hate putting away (“shalach”), says the Lord, the God of Israel, and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:13-14, 15b-16)

The prophet conveys God’s anger toward men who were “putting away” their wives.  These were not legitimate divorces.  These women were being “put away” without cause, without provision, and without a writ so the men could take other wives – and idol-worshippers at that (“the daughter(s) of a foreign god” [v. 11]).  Without a writ, these women were not free to marry, and the men were committing polygamy. (Malachi 2:15b-16)

That’s the truth.  God does not hate divorce, but the act of “putting away.”  God did not change the lawful directive on divorce.  These men were dishonoring it by abandoning their innocent wives for their own selfish purposes.  God was actually defending women.

“Divorce” in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the term for “putting away” in the Greek is “apoluo.” This is the same word the Pharisees used when they tested Jesus, asking (paraphrase), “Is it acceptable for us to “put away” our wives for any cause at all?”  Jesus responded by asking, “What does the law say?” to which they responded (paraphrase): “That we are permitted to give our wives a writ of divorce and send them away.”  

It seems that “putting away” wives, presumably to take other wives, was a common cultural practice.  Yet Jesus essentially tells them that their hearts are wrong and they are dishonoring marriage and their wives.  Furthermore, He says that the man who put away his wife caused her to commit adultery.  Why?  Because she was still married, but she needed material help and may have been compelled to marry even if she was legally bound to her husband.  The responsibility for this moral failing was laid at the feet of the Pharisaical offenders. (Matthew 5:32)

Finally, let us be reminded of the sanctity of marriage. The Apostle Paul provides us with the godly marriage model.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.  So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”  Ephesians 5: 22-30

There is no room for abuse here, but rather a call to beautifully balanced mutual love, respect, nourishment and cherishing that is a reflection of the love relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

These are just a handful of the issues that the contemporary church and many pastors and Christian counselors often fail to understand.

In closing, I offer a quote by Valerie Jacobsen:

““Taking marriage seriously” means taking the vows seriously and having real consequences for breaking them.

“The idealists and perfectionists who are trying to turn “marriage” into a protected space for all manner of evil are not “taking marriage seriously” in any biblical sense.”

 My hope, dear inquirer, is that this information provides a foundation of truth upon which to build and share.  However, we must recognize that those who are heavily invested in these commonly espoused principles may not be open to anything that threatens their belief system or requires them to change the way they address people in unhealthy marriages.  It is not always easy to reveal to well-meaning people that they are unwittingly“…teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”  Matthew 15:8

Additional resources and reading recommendations:

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities” by David Instone-Brewer

“A Redemptive Look at Three of the Most

Commonly Misappropriated Scriptures on the Subject of Divorce” a three-part series of articles by Cindy Burrell

“God Is My Witness:  Making a Case for Biblical Divorce” by Cindy Burrell

 

 

 

Question 2 in Series: How Do I Overcome This Sadness?

I’m a survivor. I made it out of the marriage after 12 yrs of craziness. I dont even know how to tell that story because it is just so surreal and others seem to have a hard time understanding the complexity of dealing with someone like my ex. I’m exhausted and incredibly sad looking back at 12 yrs of my life that I spent existing for him and everything he needed and wanted. I did TIR, support groups, therapy , meditation but the sadness just stayed. How do I overcome this sentiment that sucks the life and joy out of me and prevents me from moving on and forward ? It has been two years since I left.

I really believe I do understand you, my sister. I left my marriage after 11 years and was divorced after 12. All of it was awful. Awful. And I suffered the same realization that I was alone in understanding just how complex it all was.

Lilly Hope Lucario writes:

Survivors often feel so little connection and trust with people, they remain in a terrible state of aloneness, even when surrounded by people. I described it once as having a glass wall between myself and other people. I can see them, but I cannot connect with them.

Another issue that increases this aloneness is feeling different to other people. Feeling damaged, broken and unable to be like other people can haunt a survivor, increasing the loneliness.

Even to this day, after all these years, I will read something that opens my eyes (even further) to how much hate I felt from my ex husband . . . just how much he used me . . . just how far down he wanted to push me. And, for me, it took several years just to understand all of this.

I wish I could give you a “magic answer” and tell you that things will get better “if you only . . . ” but it is so different for everyone. I CAN tell you that things WILL eventually get better. This pervasive sadness is part of the scarring of your soul. I think that, when we go through trauma, there is always a little bit of sadness, even after years and years. I can be at a party and enjoying myself and then, out of nowhere, comes a sadness I cannot explain . . . and I just want to go home. I have always been this way, though — at least, since my parents died when I was 24. I have been adorned with beautiful “flaws” through emotional trauma. But, that is OK. So was Jesus.

I can also tell you that isolation is a killer. Your ex isolated you and we, as survivors, feel compelled to isolate ourselves. This is one of the worst things we can do to ourselves. This is something we must fight in order to take care of our personhood.

My husband (David, not abusive) told me that he believed it would take me half the time I was with my ex to fully heal (this is not prescriptive). That seemed like forever. But, he was right. It has been six years, as of August 13th of this year, and I finally feel whole. That is not to say that I do not have scars. But, I have chosen to embrace those scars and see the as part of my wholeness. They are a part of me now. I am, only now, weaning off of my anxiety-depressive medications that I took to bring me through the process of trauma therapy and EMDR (which took me five years to get to). I won’t ever be the same and I have come to grips with it. Still, though . . .

Sometimes, I find my hands all tensed up and gripped in fists . . .

Sometimes, someone says something and it triggers me and I start to sweat and my face gets hot . .

Sometimes, I avoid certain situations (although I’m working on this) . . .

Sometimes, I still have nightmares . . .

Sometimes, I still have to use weighted blankets or pillows to sleep.

At the same time, I now have compassion that I never dreamed of . . . 

I know how to love deeply and fiercely . . .

I have a spirit of empathy that sees the hurt that a lot of other people do not know how to see . . .

I am a better counselor . . .

I have been refined by Jesus . . .

I help other women who have gone through the same pain . . .

I am able to help my children . . .

I am able to express my emotion through art  . . .

In a way, the sadness is beautiful. It keeps a fire, in my belly, to help others. And it reflects a part of Jesus that only He understands. He and I get it. He was there when I went through the pain of abuse, abandonment and being “shunned” by my very own people. He was there when every word of gossip was spoken. He was there every time my ex husband shamed me or made me feel dirty. I am not alone in this. And neither are you. 

I believe He rescues His people for a purpose but I also believe that it hurts. We live in a dialectic personhood. We have our joys and our sadnesses and that is not a bad thing altogether. It is only bad if we are swallowed up by the sadness and do not see the hope that we have, as Believers, that He is working in us, through us and on us. My friend, He is doing this for you.

My prayer for you, today, is that you see that hope. It is there. Jesus never promised that our lives would be flawless. In fact, I would argue that he promised they would have affliction. I believe Him. I also believe in His ability to heal and to make beauty from ashes. He can and will do this for you. It sounds as though there is so much discovery of YOU to do. What makes you joyful? What brings you pleasure? What do you enjoy? Who are you now, aside from him? Who is the girl that he tried to ruin but couldn’t ruin? Do not give up, yet. And please take care of yourself. You are His precious girl. Take time to heal.

Love,

Megan

How Do You Know When it is Time to Leave Abuse? — Thoughts by Megan

Question for Megan: So, I’m waiting for the Lord to provide a bit more emotional support, etc. from my new church and I believe “my gut” will tell me when it’s time to leave the marriage for good. Were you confident when you left your ex husband? How did you know that the time was right?

No, I was not that confident when I left my first husband. I was shaking in my little boots. I was with him for 11 years and I never had any emotional/financial/family support for leaving him. A few family members offered for us to stay with them — but I knew that it was only for a time. Those family members would eventually expect me to go back to my abuser (insist on it, even). Except for Give Her Wings team member, Adam, I was alone in my suffering. And Adam couldn’t help me much, during that time, because he was dealing with his own life issues, like we so-often are. What finally happened was that I HAD to leave. I watched my ex-husband hold one of my children upside down by his ankles and shake him out of anger. That incident came upon the heels of my realizing that my children and I all had bruises on our upper arms from his grabbing. And that it was, indeed, abuse. The abuse was getting worse and nothing . . . . nothing would help him. We had tried three years of counseling. Our pastor was involved in my ex’s every-day life. People knew and were trying to help. He probably felt cornered. And he never did well when he felt cornered. 

My child was being destroyed. And I felt like the rest of the the children were not far behind.

When I left, I thought that God would no longer be with me. But that’s how bad things had gotten… My thinking was that I could at least save my children but that I would go to hell. That’s how brainwashed I was, spiritually.

At the same time, I didn’t see that I had a choice and I felt like surely God would have mercy on that. Surely (tears just thinking about that time period).

But I have seen many many many women who simply received peace from the Lord and knew it was time to go, even when they had no idea what future they were facing. It was an act of faith and an act of trust. I had a sort of an “its OK to let go” peace ONLY as we got on the airplane to leave for good. It was like we were being whisked away on Aslan’s breath . . . it was a strange peace that, even though I did not know what we would be facing, it was going to be OK, in the end.

And it wasn’t easy. It is never easy. But we rescue our children, and that is beautiful and, I believe, God honors that.

Now, looking back, there never would’ve been a perfect scenario where I felt confident in leaving. I just did not have people around me who loved the kids and me enough to forego their own legalistic ways of thinking and desire for us to be safe and helped. I don’t blame them . . . they just cannot see beyond their paradigm. I get it.

At the same time, I wish, now, that I had left much earlier. I wish I had not waited for things to get quite that bad. I wish that I had not waited for some sort of a sign. I wish I had not believed that, if people saw the abuse, they would care more. They didn’t. They still held on tightly to their ideas of marriage being more important than life itself.

I think one of the hardest things for Christian women is making the decision to go. It’s so incredibly agonizing. We are waiting for an act of God and we don’t always get one! I have never met one truly, God-fearing, God-loving woman who simply left because “it was easier”. If you love Jesus, leaving a marriage is not the “easy way out”! Heavens, no! 

Sometimes, we just have to look at our children, look at the devastation, and look at the possible devastation in the future and make a decision and do it.

I mean, your children will need help, regardless. My choice was thus: Would I rather they grew up with a harsh father who would probably never get help (because, deep down, I think he thought he was “just fine”) and then be an adult who realizes, somewhere in his/her mid-20’s that things are not “right” and then watching him/her go through ten years of therapy due to his entire childhood? Or, would I get them out then and now and help them, as children, to overcome so they could grow into healthy adults with an intact version of their Heavenly Father and give them a chance for a healthy childhood? I know . . . I know, I know, I know that unraveling the views of an unhealthy and unloving father to show an adult child that “God is not like that” is much MUCH more intricately complicated and difficult than no father at all . . . but for the gracious example of Yahweh. I knew this. That was my tipping point. That was what saved us. In the end, of course, I remarried a wonderful father and example for my children and I consider myself truly deeply blessed. But, I did not know that would happen, at the time. And I was willing to go to save my babies, even if I would struggle as a single mom of four for the rest of my life. There is a certain amount of responsibility that we have, as mothers, to protect our children — however that looks. And I am not one to shirk that responsibility, no matter how hard, no matter who is involved. Family, church-friends . . . I did not care. Setting boundaries was an easy decision when it came to my little lambs. 

Of course, God was with me. Because, ” . . . . even in the valley of the shadow of death . . . “, He is there. No matter what decisions we make, He is ever-loving, ever-merciful, ever-mindful of our situations. Making the “wrong” decision in your eyes and/or in someone else’s eyes does not stop God’s grace from flowing, in your life. But, I am here to tell you that protecting yourself and your children is never a wrong decision. God wants you to be protected. He is your Father.

Love,
Megan

What “No Contact” REALLY Means

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a proponent of going “no contact” with a person (or a people group) who are causing duress toward a target or former target of abuse. But, why is this necessary? My reasoning is two-fold:

First, many survivors suffer from PTSD or C-PTSD. One of “our” mamas recently asked me if I believe a person can “really heal” from PTSD. I responded in the affirmative with one condition: that the sufferer of PTSD symptoms is completely removed from the stress-inducing relationships and environment. This means no-contact. (Disclaimer: I realize that not all sufferers can be removed from abusive behavior. In this case, we recommend low-contact and a complete removal of the physical living space of the abuser. There is still much hope for the person going low-contact to heal. That will be a different blog post, although I believe this current blog post will still be helpful.) We are grateful to our friends over at Beauty After Bruises for their incredibly researched  post on C-PTSD and PTSD. The authors explain, in-depth, the many symptoms associated with the disorders and why it is necessary to receive prolonged therapy and help:

Healing and recovery: PTSD can be rehabilitated in as little as mere months, or a couple of years for others. C-PTSD can take even longer than that just to be diagnosed; the recovery that then follows can take several years. Comorbid conditions also challenge the healing from C-PTSD and may need attention first before resolving the underlying trauma (though, good treatment targets both simultaneously). due to the way prolonged, intensive trauma wraps itself around a person’s entire self-concept — and processing one memory often pulls forth 20 others just like it — untangling these things can be incredibly difficult and unsafe to try at an accelerated page.

How can one experience healing when she is constantly being jabbed by those inflicting trauma upon her — even “now and then”? This person could be a boss, a spouse, a family member, a friend or (sadly), even a church body. A former victim must separate herself from any and all triggers. Simply put, a wound cannot heal if it is not protected, at first, or the scab is removed over and over.

Second, those who are diagnosed with extreme disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, will be constantly looking for their “supply. Former victims of abuse must stand firm and not allow themselves to be used in such a way. We are children of God! Redeemed and set apart. We no longer subject ourselves to being “supply”. That is beneath us. A person with NPD will always be on the look-out for the opportunity to “stick it to ya'” and get a response. They crave drama. Oh, beloved ones . . . do not give in. You are too precious for that. (Note: not every person who causes a panic-reaction or trigger in us has a disorder. If you have a history of unhealth with said person, it may be a matter of habitual stress, induced by this person. The person may not even realize it. Even so, there simply has to be sweeping and broad space between you and this person.)

In order to be free of this “abnormal normal” to which we have adjusted, we MUST do all we can to become free and go “no contact”. Many believe that no contact simply means not talking to the person. There is much more to it than that. Here is my list of fundamental ways to go no contact with a person who is causing triggering responses:

  1. Do not answer their calls. In fact, block their calls. This is an easy thing to do on an i-Phone. For flip phones, it can be done simply by calling the provider. If you need more information on this, go here.
  2. Block their texts. Again, an easy thing to do on your phone. It is a matter of navigating toward “settings” and going from there.
  3. Do not “peek” at their Facebook pages or their blog posts. This can easily cause a panic attack, as this angst-causing person may not even realize how hurtful they are being, for whatever reason OR they may know exactly how to passive-aggressively cause hurt, without being obvious to the rest of the world. It should be said that, often, bystanders know . . . . they see it. You are not being isolated in their hateful posts or their blog posts. If you need to fully comprehend this for sure, print it off and show it to a wise friend or a therapist. Watch their reaction. It will not take long for you to see that the issue is not YOU. (As an aside, this was the hardest thing for me to do. I hoped and dreamed that there would be change in those who hurt me so deeply. We want that. As believers, we hope for restoration and restitution. I wanted to see evidence of this. Eventually, I stopped “peeking” and I found peace.)
  4. Ask mutual family and friends to stop conveying information about this hurtful person to you. Family and friends may be well-intentioned, believing that they are trying to be peace-makers. They, most likely, do not understand (or want to understand) the painful infliction this/these  person/persons have poured out upon you for so many years. Regardless, it has to stop. We have information about how to write gracious notes to people or casual conversation, asking them to stop here. I have, personally, found that most people respond incredibly graciously. Again, others have seen and do see much more than we realize. They simply do not always verbalize it.
  5. Block their emails.
  6. If necessary, remove mutual friends from social media, either for a time or permanently. If you feel an explanation is necessary, so be it. Do not go into lengthy explanations where the other person will feel the need to converse. Again, reference our post, above, on healthy boundaries.
  7. Do not go visit places where the angst-causing-person frequents. Find other fun and healing things to do.
  8. Keep a diary. Use it to write down what you are feeling and maybe what you would like to say to former abusers. In the cold light of day, this new, stronger you may actually decide that you no longer want a reconcillation and that the world has a lot more to offer you!
  9. Protect yourself emotionally. If you are pining, replace any “free time” with new pursuits, more pointedly, activities that bring you healing and occupy your mind. Therapy (especially for those diagnosed with C- or PTSD), art (my personal favorite!), music, new and healthy friendships, support groups in person and online (we absolutely love Leslie Vernick’s Conquer group, as well as Natalie Hebranson’s!), writing, prayer, nutrition, etc. Listen, it is important to be no-contact physically, but we would, eventually, love for you to go “no-contact”, in your mind. This is the greatest victory . . . and we believe in you!
  10. Surround yourself with new people. If you try to go “no contact” in a vacuum, chances are that you will go back to your old habits. I know it is difficult. I know it is new. But, it is vital to find healthy relationships that do not look anything like what your old crew looked like. It is counter-intuitive but surprisingly possible. These new people are kind, caring, non-judgmental, they do not gossip, they do not put you down. You do not walk away from these people feeling “less than a person”. In short, they are those who look like Jesus . . . or who try to. They love much. Believe me when I say that you need a new tribe. It will make all the difference.

Finally, this process will not be easy. Take it one day at a time and celebrate that one day. Then, celebrate three days. Celebrate a week. At thirty, days, you have passed a great milestone. You are actually rewiring neural pathways in your brain and creating new ones! Celebrate that! Then, it will be ninety days . . . soon, a year. You are becoming a different person now — one that those who use to victimize you would never even recognize. You no longer allow people to victimize you. You slowly become an expert at setting boundaries and you are no longer drawn toward abusive people and they are no longer interested in you. They have moved on, as well. You are no longer a victim.

(On the flip-side, this is why I no longer concern myself with another person’s avoidance of me, if it happens. Who knows that that person is facing? Maybe I remind them of someone who has hurt them deeply. Maybe something in me causes them to struggle. Who knows?)

You know, sometimes, I don’t even think that abusive people know what they are doing — to the full extent. Sometimes, they do. They are simply evil. Other times, they have just become so used to scapegoating you that they do not recognize how much pain it has caused you over the years. It is their way of life. But, that doesn’t mean that you should ever accept it. God has a a purpose for you and for me and we never, ever get to invest that purpose in a person who simply uses you to prop themselves up ever again. You are too beloved, too precious, too important to Jesus. 

Love,

Megan

Despair

Second August Mama — “Daisy”

We are so thankful to Teresa Costantino-McKeever and her fabulous husband, Mark . Teresa made a great big trek to visit with our newest mama, “Daisy” .  It was above and beyond! Teresa and team-member (Lori) discovered that this sweet mama has been living in a shelter and is now temporarily living with a friend. She has five beautiful children but has, sadly, lost custody of them. She is devastated. So many abusive men have the financial resources to hire expensive, bull-dog attorneys and “our” mamas are left with so little. I cannot imagine losing my children. This precious lady is more than heart-broken.

“Daisy” did not know that she was being abused early on in the marriage. She learned later that his financial and emotional control of her life was abuse. He became physically abusive towards the end of the marriage and she made the agonizing decision to leave him.
Daisy works 30 hours per week at a job which pays $9 per hour. She pays $750 per month to her ex for child support (awful). Her greatest need, according to her, is paying for the psych evaluation that she needs in order to hopefully regain custody of her children and be able to see them more. She desperately wants her children back! This precious lady is also having car troubles and we are hoping to be able to help with that. “Daisy” has no family support, due to a strict and legalistic upbringing. She has been described as a very smart, confident, and hardworking woman. We are so excited to be able to help her! Please pray for “Daisy” as she presses forward. We want, so badly, to minister to her. By the way, we love her name! It shows a sunny and hopeful disposition, even in the midst of incredible trials. Please join us in praying for this amazing lady. Pray, especially, for her heart as she is missing her babies.
Love,
Megan and the Team of Give Her Wings

I’m Still Here: On Leaving Abuse and Being Ignored in the Grocery Store

 

A Letter to Christian Women From a Domestic Abuse Survivor

Do you remember me?

We knew each other a few years ago; but just now, on a crisp Wednesday morning near the carts in the grocery store, you looked right at me and kept walking–as if I were a complete stranger.

Now we’ve all been there. We’re distracted, texting someone, deep in thought–it happens. I’m sure I’ve done it. And if it were just an occasional occurrence, it would be easy to shrug off.

But this is my new reality as an evangelical Christian woman who has left her abusive husband.

Be it the grocery store, a women’s Bible study, a school event, a restaurant or the playground, I now face this all over my city. Christians I once knew continually pretend they don’t know me.

I know this can surprise me at any time (and render me breathless and shaky), so I try to prepare myself for this phenomenon before I go places. Before I get out of my car, I pray for strength: I recount to myself how I never wanted to be divorced, how I never would have chosen to break up my family, how I did everything I could to preserve a safe home, how I chose to walk away because I believed God was calling me to protect my children’s bodies and hearts, as well as my own.

I left because it seemed, actually, the most God-honoring thing to do.

He who did not condemn David for escaping into the wilderness to preserve his life; He who tells us, “The prudent sees danger and takes refuge”– surely He cares for the safety and sanity of a mother with her young children? But even two years later, Christian women in my community continue to shun me.

I feel almost like I’ve died; as if my life has ended, and yet somehow I’m still here, a ghost–lingering around the city while former friends look through me, not seeing I’m here. Only this death was a death without a funeral, some kind of unspoken understanding that I am no longer worthy of a hello, a wave, or a phone call.

So, friend at the grocery store, please know this: I’m still His. We are still (I think) in the same camp.

In fact, God had to drag me kicking and screaming out of the marriage: I was terrified that to leave would be sinful, and terrified that I would lose everything and everyone. I had to finally come to grips with the fact that if I stayed, I would be complicit in further damage to our children, further damage to my health, and further damage to the true gospel of Jesus Christ in front of a world that desperately needs Him.

It might have appeared to you that everything was normal and fine until one day I just “snapped” and left my marriage. But if you look more closely into your memories of me, if you dig a bit, maybe you’ll remember the signs.

Remember that time I suddenly dropped a massive amount of weight? Or when I started sobbing every Sunday at church? And stopped talking much? Or when I had to start sitting down all the time or holding onto things because I couldn’t stand much anymore? That’s when I was seeing my little ones hurt; when I was being threatened; when I was wishing for death.

That’s when I was also coming to grips with the fact that God does not condone abuse. I believed God was calling me to leave, but knew that leaving would come with some larger-than-life trade-offs.

I was afraid people wouldn’t believe me. I was afraid of having a scarlet letter.

So, please. Next time a woman from your church or Bible study or other Christian circle suddenly “disappears,” and you hear rumors of divorce — don’t treat her like she’s invisible when you run into her. You have no idea what, perhaps, she and her children have been through. Maybe she and her kids need clothes, or warmer comforters. Maybe she skipped a meal to stretch her grocery budget this week.  Maybe she had to call the authorities again about more bruises found on her kids when they returned to her. Maybe no one has hugged her in a long time. Maybe she still starts shaking sometimes, and a warm hug and “hello” from you could go a long way.

Because even though we know God sees us, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it; and when you ignore us, it feels like God Himself has passed us by. But when you embrace us, it’s a tangible reminder that He sees us, knows us, and accepts us.

Do you remember me? I’m still here.

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