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.

Our PRECIOUS August Mama — “Ruth”

We have two mamas that have recently been vetting and we LOVE them. One in the northeast and one, right here in Colorado. Meeting these ladies is an incredible experience. Not only do they (and their precious little ones) remind us of why we do what we do every day, but these ladies are incredible people. Their strength, in leaving, astounds us! It is so hard for them, right now. So, so hard. And yet they are determined. And that is powerful. They are powerful. Here is one story. We are still vetting the second mama :

Ruth: “Ruth” chose her name because she has always loved the story of Ruth. She also remembers watching the movie at her grandparents house on VHS growing up (remember that? Totes awesome). Her grandparents have always been a haven for Ruth, as she grew up in a broken family. Ruth married a military officer (financially, emotionally and physically abusive) so she got to experience the “good-ole-boys-abuse-your-wife-but-get-off-the-hook-club that we see so often in the military (sarcasm). Adam (team member) and I got to visit with her and we were both struck by her incredible fortitude. Ruth is a young woman with a two-year-old toddler. She has recently found a place and will be moving in soon. We will get to help provide her first-month’s rent and we could not be more happy to do so! And, because of your giving, Ruth will have a place to land! Please continue praying for her, as she is fighting to uphold a restraining order and keep her child support.

As always, if you would like to donate to Give Her Wings, please go here. We not only offer valuable monetary support (all tax-deductible) but we spend an incredible amount of time ministering to these precious ladies and meeting where they are, doing all we can to show them Christ’s love.
Love,
Megan
 

Jesus Restores the Dignity of Women

When you work with and speak with former victims of abuse on a regular basis, it can be easy to become disheartened. Team member, Michelle, once asked me how I am able to “put away” the pain I experience along with these precious ladies and move forward. I really don’t know. Most of the time, I am able to (somehow) compartmentalize. Maybe I’m just getting older and my memory is fading. It is probably a gift from God. Sometimes, however, I am deeply affected and I have to step back. Still other times, I am struggling (myself) because I have a past laced with suffering and I have those dark moments I must conquer, as well. These are few and far between. However, I recently wrestled through my own rough couple of days.

Someone said something (actually, several somethings) that reminded me, very much, of my old life (hey — triggers are real, my people). It was incredibly painful for me, emotionally. And, for a few days, I did not know how to face God on it. All of the hopelessness from my former marriage came flooding back. There I was, once again angry at God because I felt betrayed. I felt as though women were God’s “after-thought”. I felt as though I was here only to serve my husband. I was angry at religion . . . angry at men, in general, and QUITE angry with God. I do not ever want to serve or worship a God who would knowingly allow women to be abused. I mean, didn’t He know this would happen? Didn’t He know that even His own people would take Scripture and twist it around in such an ugly way and then take that twisted ugliness and bondage up God’s precious women-jewels? How could I even look God’s way?

In tears, I verbally vomited on my husband, David, over it all. I said, “Why didn’t Jesus say something that would set women free when He walked this earth? He knew that it was happening . . . He knew that it would happen . . . and He knew that it would be done in His name?!” My tears were literally choking me out. I had so much more to say but I could not get the words out. Oh, my kind husband. He said many good things, that day. And he loved me through it. But, what stuck out the most was David’s insistence that Jesus did pa-lenty about it when He walked this earth, restoring the dignity of women, slaves and all tribes of people. We just choose not to see it, as a whole, for powerish reasons. We miss it, because we are furthering our agenda instead of God’s. We’re broken. We mess things up. Further, David said this:

Jesus worked with where the people were, at the time. He always accepts us where we are and takes us further. Just like when Philip was ministering to the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian knew a Scripture in Isaiah and quoted it. Acts 8:35 says ‘then Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.’ Philip led the man from where he was to the place God wanted him to be.  Jesus starts where we are and he ministers to us from that point… He doesn’t expect us to be something that we aren’t… But he leads us from where we are to where he wants us to go.

I had never thought of that. I have, many-a-time, shaken my ridiculous little fist at God, asking why He did not do more when He had the chance. But, God did more than we ever realize. It only takes a little bit of digging to see where women were, in the beginning of the Gospels, to where they were by the book of Acts. Amazing women. Prophetesses, evangelists, sellers of purple. By Galatians, there was neither Jew nor Greek nor male nor female . . . all because of Jesus. All because of the things Jesus said and did when He walked this earth. All because of His sacrifice. 

That was all I needed to get my heart back where it needed to be.

So, here I am, trying to encourage and remind my sisters that, yes, we, as the Church, are a great big mess. Yes, we don’t get it, a lot of the time. Yes, we are not where we should be. But, please, do not let that stop you. Ladies, you are precious. Look at how Jesus changed the world for you and for me! And look at the possibilities of what you can do for Him, for His people, for your families, for your friends . . . you have this gem-filled-oyster-of-a-world that Jesus gives for you and me to love! And you have amazing skills and gifts and brains and hearts. Do not ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now, get out there . . . and accept where they are and lead them to Jesus. 

Love,

Megan

Our Two July Mamas — “Junia” and “Held by Jesus”

We are so grateful to the family of God for their continued support of our ministry! Because of your donations, we have been able to pay bills for these two precious ladies in the amount of $3000! (see below) You gave them hope and you gave them joy and you helped remind them that they are not alone because the Bride of Christ really does love them. 

Here are the two powerful stories of our two July mamas:

“Junia” chose her name because discovering a dynamic woman in Scripture was life changing for her and for her daughter. Having lived in oppression for so long, it was a cool drink of water for their souls to discover this amazing lady in the Word of God. Junia said to us,

Early in the separation process, my oldest daughter and I happened to read in the that the usual translation of the apostle “Junius” in the Bible is actually incorrect, and should be Junia. That was huge for us, and felt like a stepping stone away from feeling like we were trapped in a religion where women were second-class citizens, and not truly full children of God. For me, that was the first step towards rethinking a lot of what I’d been taught and finding my way back to God for myself. I’m still on that path now.
Wow! Oh, YES YOU ARE A FULL-FLEDGED CHILD OF GOD, dear lady! And He cares about you so much, that He sent Give Her Wings to tell you so!
Junia has 3 children, all of them high-needs. When our ambassador, Bethany Shields, went to meet with her, she found that Junia’s rent is very reasonable but the stress level, in their home, is too much to allow for Junia to work full-time. Bethany also discovered that Junia has been alienated from her church home, as her ex husband still attends there. (Sidebar: We hear about this al the time. And it saddens us, deeply) Junia has much to sort through and we want to help her with this! After spiritual and emotional abuse for decades, there is bound to be some deep pain and scarring. But, we were so happy to be able to pay her July rent and some car repairs to help Junia press through. Please continue to pray for these precious lady and her three little lambs. And pray for us, as we minister to these brave folks!

Held by Jesus” has one of the sweetest dispositions any of us have ever encountered! Teammate Lori and ambassador Millie Wilhelmson spoke incredibly highly of her character! We were so happy to be able to help Held and her eight children (yes, you read that right!). Held was married to an abusive man for 27 years and has recently escaped. She suffered psychological, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse at the hands of the one who was supposed to love her and protect her. Held did go to the church for help and they stepped in to provide counseling. After another physical injury from him, Held went to get a protection order. The church found out and asked her to drop it and continue counseling. She did as they asked. His issue with pornography and alcohol abuse continued, with him getting two DUI’s. After counseling failed, the church backed off and, naturally, the abuse resumed.

After Held suffered a more severe injury, she was able to get a court order and she has been released from the horror that was her marriage. Held is in the very early stages of leaving so she needs tremendous support. We want to give that support!
We have been tremendously blessed to be able to pay for her electric bill and other utilities to keep her household running this month. Please continue to pray for us and for her as we discover how we can best minister to her.
As always, your donations are making a life-altering difference in the lives of “our” mamas and their babies! If you would like to sign up to be an angel, please go here. If you would like to check our our July House-warming party, please go here. We need all of your help!
Love,
The Team of Give Her Wings (David, Megan, Carrie, Tammy, Laura, Bekah, Michelle, Lori, Adam, Audrey & Chuck)
Artwork Credit: “Aspens” by Megan D Cox

Parenting with PTSD — When Your Children Trigger You

As promised, I have spent a lot of time thinking about being triggered, as a parent. When I posed the question (on our Facebook page) about whether or not other moms are triggered when they sense similarities between their child and his/her abusive father, I could not believe the tremendous response! Right away, I knew I had to do some research. It makes sense that mothers who have been traumatized by an abusive husband would struggle, as they look into the eyes of the child who has . . . his eyes. However, I don’t believe many former targets of abuse are warned of that phenomenon. And they certainly are not equipped to cope with suffering PTSD and raising their children all at once.

Survivors process things differently. So many normal situations, in life, become venues of panic, fear and intensity for a person suffering with PTSD. My ex husband used to come home and “dump” (for lack of a better term) on me, after work or seminary, every single day. He would fill me with insecurity, as he wondered aloud if he would be able to keep his job or we would be able to make ends meet. He would tell me things that kept me on edge and fearful. When he was a pastor, he would tell me all the bad things people were saying about me (Megan) and how I seemed to be failing, as a pastor’s wife (I found out, years later, that none of this was true). He kept me isolated in a miserable existence and left alone to question myself (and our place) in this awful, awful world that he created.

As a result of years of these kinds of repeated experiences with my ex husband, when my children were smaller and would come home from school and tell me about their day, I was filled with panic. It was disproportionate to what was happening. But, my heart would race as I would listen and my voice would get high-pitched and I would be filled with terror (I am sure that my response was very strange to my children). I was, somehow, relating what my ex husband would do to me with the normal, every day child-talks about school days. It did not make sense. But, triggers rarely do.

It is important to insert a caveat, at this point. Sometimes, your child really does emulate abusive behavior. If this happens, it needs to be pointed out and dealt with in a great big way. Children do not get to display abusive behavior. Help them to wrestle through it and remind them that they can break cycles, as well. The truth is, your children will remind you of their biological father. But, that does not mean they are going to grow up to be abusers. They have a chance, because of you, mama. You are fighting the good fight of helping your children turn to Christ and become amazing and responsible people. They do not have to be like your ex husband.

The thing about triggers is that they seem uncontrollable, at the time. Hindsight is always fabulous. But, the reason triggers are called “triggers” is that there is a knee-jerk and helpless reaction that occurs — and quickly. I believe, however, there are ways to feel a bit less helpless and a bit more controlled, when it comes to triggers. I want this for you! Understanding what triggers are and why they occur has allowed me to parent in a break-the-cycle fashion. It has allowed me to use the triggers to assist in my recovery, and no longer hinder it. Here are my findings (as modified from author Elizabeth Corey):

  1. We need to understand the triggers as they are happening. It is alright if it is mid-crazy. Stop. Take a moment and back away. Do not be frustrated if it takes several times of stopping, mid-melt-down, until things “click”. It is also OK for you to have the melt-down and realize what happened later. Each time you connect the dots, you are actually creating new neural pathways in your mind to begin the process of changing your thinking. If you need to explain and apologize to your child, do so. I believe it is always valuable for a child to see his or her parent taking responsibility and revealing the intent to change.
  2. We must work to stay in the present. A very large part of being able to cope, with PTSD, is mastering the art of staying grounded. Triggers have to do with the past and not the present. In the moment, stop and look around. What is happening, this very second? Where am I? Look around you and begin naming what you see. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Touch your face. Find yourself in the here and now and remember that what is happening, right this second, is not what happened years ago when you were being abused. Take deep breaths. And repeat your “anchor thoughts” to yourself. It is OK to walk away, get yourself grounded, and then return to the child to work things out. Your child will respect your desire to control yourself. Remember this always: Your child is not your abuser. Your child needs mama to love him/her. It is your calling.
  3. We must take steps to understand our reactions. This is the tough stuff. If you have found yourself panicking and struggling and triggered, take some time to try to understand where the trigger response came from. Keep a journal and write these things down. Go to therapy. Figure it out. Challenge your own thinking. For me, I can say that what my ex husband did to me was wrong . . . but my children talking about their day is perfectly normal and is not wrong. I love what Elizabeth Corey writes on her website (BeatingTrauma.com):

This awareness work is hard.  There will be painful emotions to be processed. (I recommend a therapeutic relationship to help with the coping.)  There will be physical reactions, too.  It takes a level of commitment that rivals our commitment to our children.  But that is just the point.  It is the commitment to our children, to bringing them up in a different world with different beliefs that motivates us to do this work.

It is so important for us to crush our Goliath’s so our children do not have to. This is hard work. I know this. It seems to take every ounce of energy to raise our children and then we are expected to deal with our own emotional trauma, as well. But, I do believe it can be done. It will be a difficult balance. I know you don’t have time, mama. I know that you are just trying to make ends meet. But, I also know that you can take snippets, here and there, to observe your feelings, emotions and reactions until things get better and you can obtain more therapeutic help. My children were worth it for me to go to EMDR (one of the many ways therapists can aid PTSD-sufferers) to help heal my PTSD and learn skills to cope. And you and your children are worth it, as well. I would welcome more ideas and thoughts about this topic, as I am just now exploring it, myself. For now, please click here for a great resource page recommended by “Trigger Points Anthology”.

Love,

Megan

 

 

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