At the end of myself…at the feet of Jesus

Matthew 25: 40, And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.


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Church, Will You Not Care?

There are many like me, women whose men have, through their abuse, torn the very fabric of their lives to shreds. There’s no organic wholeness to our lives, just a grasping terror due to trying desperately to hold on. There’s no plan for the future, no stability to plan one, just a prayer to make it through this one minute. Over and over again, this one minute lived takes us places we’re both afraid to face and hungry to embrace. Maybe it will bring the change, the hopeful future, we long for. More likely, it will bring more of the same deadness, full of fear and confusion, that has haunted our lives for years.

This is the life of an abused woman. As fear grows, hope diminishes until she is afraid to hope. Too much disappointment is a destroyer, a killer of dreams. As the blows from her husband intensify, be they verbal or physical, she retreats further inside herself, afraid even to look up lest she make him angry. It’s no different if the abused wife is a Christian. The life she lives, she lives alone. Afraid both of the consequences she’ll face at home for reaching out to others and of others reactions should they find out the secrets of her life, she hunkers down and cries out at the foot of the cross.

Does God see her? Does He care for her pain, for the pain of her children? Does He want her to stay? Will He enable her to leave? How can she provide for them? How can she protect her babies? How can she make it through another minute, let alone another day? Thoughts and prayers, hope and fears, bump against one another during the crawling fearful minutes of her day. In the late night hours they mix and mingle, twisting crazily into one another, giving her yet another night of fitful sleep and terror-filled dreams.

You wouldn’t know by the responses of the church that God cares. They are more willing to ignore such a woman than to get involved. Time and time again, an abused woman’s story is told; time and again, her story is ignored or disbelieved by those who claim the name of Christ. Refusal to listen, to help, to get involved crosses all denominational lines. If advice is given, it’s usually bad. “Go back home, serve him, keep praying and know that you are suffering for Christ” seems to be the most widely used piece of junk advice Christians have to offer. Junk because in that one sentence, they are both linking Christ to her abuse and excusing themselves from having to extend any effort to help her.

But her pain remains. The tears keep on falling. And, for now as in the past, most churches keeps right on failing abused women and their children.

Church, do you see our tears? Do you not care for our wounded hearts? We are mourning, will you not embrace us? Will you not care? Do you not remember that the same God who told you to rejoice with those who rejoice also said to weep with those who weep? We are weeping, we wives of men who abuse and misuse us, will you not join us? Will you not weep with us? Will you not weep for our children? Will you not be Jesus’s hands to us, gently wiping away our tears? We are your daughters, your sisters, your friends. One in four women, women you know, are weeping, reeling from the pain caused by their man. Will you not help us?


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The Church and Single Moms

I was raised by a single Mom. Not single by choice but rather by necessity due to my Dad’s abuse, Mama struggled alone to be our provider and to fill in for the Dad who was incapable of loving either of us. It was hard. Her own health wasn’t good, yet no matter how poorly she felt, she worked on for bills had to be paid. My health wasn’t good, either, and I spent my childhood in and out of hospitals. For many years, we practically lived in doctor’s offices. My doctors gave up on my living long enough to make it out of childhood. I don’t think Mama ever did. Fortunately, the doctors were wrong. I survived. Through it all Mama tried. She supported us for many years through her sewing. A gifted seamstress who could make anything from wedding gowns to men’s suits, Mama was bent over her sewing machine from sunup until long after I was in bed. Often she didn’t stop until after midnight. The next morning, she was up and going again.

I am writing this because my mother was a single Mom and because, while the church sometimes stepped up and did all that they could do, they often didn’t. I’m grateful for all that those who loved God and loved us did for us. For their prayers, their kindness, their love. I’m especially grateful that they stepped up and helped her escape her abusive marriage. But we were still often alone. My mother still had no one to turn to for counsel most of the time. No one to help her navigate the rough waters threatening to overwhelm us both. She was still lonely. She was still alone. Because she was alone, her fears often overwhelmed her and then poured out on me.

I often write for abused women since my mother knew abuse and since it’s reared its ugly head in my own family too. Some of the issues that abused women face and those faced by single Moms overlap. Some of the suggestions I will be putting forth over the next several days could be effectively applied to abused women/mothers or married-wives-single-Moms (it is just what it sounds like, a married wife whose husband either refused to or is unable to step up to the plate as Dad).

I’ve never been a single Mom myself but as the daughter of a single Mom, I do have a birds-eye view of single Mom life. I know the pain Mama felt at being the odd-woman-out. In a world of couples, she was alone. Consequently, we were rarely invited out. Couples simply didn’t know what to do with us. It’s a complaint I’ve heard from other single Moms. The only person, outside of family, who ever invited us anywhere was the one other single Mom in our church. She herself knew the trials my mother was going through since she herself was going through them also. For many years, they watched each others back and shored each other up. It was nice having someone who understood, who didn’t stumble over asking me where my Daddy was or worry because there was no man for Mama to round out the seating arrangements at suppertime. In a world of couples, they were two lonely women doing the best that they could.

Loneliness is one of the main problems facing single Moms. Along with the myriad other problems such as exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, coping with depression, fear, confusion, wondering if they are messing up, being sure they are messing up, desperation and, quite often, poverty. The problems meant for two must be solved by one. And it’s hard.

The main thing that single Moms need from the church is for truth to be preached, unwatered down and non-sugar coated, and then lived out. Through truth proclaimed and lived, the Moms will get the spiritual succor they need to grow, to know the Lord and to depend on Him and they’ll also get the support from fellow Christians that they need. Truth lived out can’t help but help those who need it most. Single Moms definitely fall within that group.

Over the next few days, I’ll be writing more about the church and single Moms. Once truth is lived out, sometimes ideas are needed as to how it might best be applied. That’s what we’ll tackle next.

 

Soli Deo gloria!

 


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No One Deserves Abuse

Abusive husbands (or abusive wives) condition their spouses to accept responsibility for their abuse of them. “If you didn’t do this….” or “If only you didn’t say that….” or “If you hadn’t said it that way. You don’t know how you sounded….” or “It’s your fault for…. You make me so angry.” When the wife (or the husband) “owns up to it” they are “rewarded” with peace for a time (most likely a very short time).

This hard-won “peace” isn’t really peace at all and will go away more rapidly than anyone outside of the abuse could even begin to imagine.

If this describes you and your relationship with your spouse, please understand a few things:

The way he is acting isn’t right. His behavior is sin. He is the one to blame…not you.

God isn’t on the side of your abuser no matter how many times he has told you that He is.

Your abuser may use Scripture to justify their behavior, their abuse of you, but he is twisting it. His interpretation of the verses he uses are false and will not stand up in light of good exegesis (interpretation of the text).

It isn’t your fault your husband verbally, emotionally, financially, sexually or physically abused you. You didn’t make him do it, no matter how many times or ways he tells you that you did. You don’t deserve it no matter how often he tells you that you do.

Your husband has no right to punish you. He has no right to spank you, ground you, hit you, limit your freedom, yell at you, humiliate you.

You are deserving of your husbands love, care and respect.

You are responsible only for your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions and responses. Your husband is responsible for his.

God’s Word is truth. God’s truth is that what your spouse is doing is wrong.

Your husband will only change when he comes to God in repentance. Nothing outside of God can completely change him or free him from the sinner that he is and the sin that he commits.

God can change you when you come to Him in repentance (for we all are sinners). When He changes you, He will point you in a new, and freeing, direction. He will make you free in Christ.

No matter who you are, you did not ever and will not ever deserve abuse, anger, silence or to be attacked from those who claim to love her.

You can learn to see yourself in a new way. You can have freedom from abuse when you understand that the abuse, no matter what kind or how severe (even if you don’t see it as severe, it is), is sin. He is the one sinning. You are the one being sinned against.

There is help available. Please, please reach for it…today.


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When Women Walk Alone, Part 2

James 1: 27, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

One of my earliest memories is one I wish I could forget. I was maybe three years old. My Mama, my Daddy and I were sitting and having breakfast when my father, for some reason known only to him, exploded. Slamming the table, he jumped up wielding his fist as a weapon in front of him. Cursing Mama, threatening to knock her **** teeth down her throat, he was a terrifying figure indeed. My mother, who’d been abused by him for years at this point, continued to sit. I don’t know if she spoke or not but I do know that I did. I also jumped to my feet and screaming as loud as a three year old can, I came between the Mama I loved more than life and the father I both loved and feared. With all the force I could muster, I screamed, “Don’t you hurt my Mama!”. I probably said something else. I don’t remember. I don’t remember much after that point except that my father, stunned to silence, looked at me, looked at her and then quietly walked out of the room.

He didn’t walk out of our lives. We walked out of his. We’d already run from him on a number of occasions and soon we were running again. He who both threatened violence and carried it out, was threatening my mother that he would “kill you and take the girl” if we didn’t come back to him. We did go back. Then we’d leave again. Finally after she was marked with burns, bruises and broken bones and my spirit was crushed to the point I was “blanking out” and walking into walls and had been prescribed phenobarbital, we left for good.

We headed home, to Tallassee AL. My mother had been born and raised there. There she’d married at 20, had given birth to twins who then, like her marriage, died. It was the early 1940’s and there was no known cause of the twins death; her marriage died at the hands of WW2. A long separation following intense grief led her husband into the arms of another woman. But Tallassee was still home. Her brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins were there. There, for the first time, we joined a church.

We’d gone to church before but we’d never settled. Either because we were nearly constantly on the run or because of the pervasive fear and stress in our lives, we couldn’t, didn’t, attend regularly. But in Tallassee we did. It became the bedrock of my existence. With joy, I memorized the names of the books of the Bible, learned songs of praise that I repeated loudly and off-key and heard ancient stories that filled my imagination. I learned who Jesus was and, when I learned of the crucifixion, I had my heart broken all over again. But not for long. Finally I’d found my best Friend. It wasn’t for several years that I realized that our little family, my mother and myself, were missing out on something that almost every other family there had: fellowship outside of church as well as inside.

My mother was a woman alone. In a world of couples, she didn’t fit in. In a world where children had two parents, I didn’t fit in. So when friends invited friends over, she and I were never invited. When groups assembled, we were sometimes included and from time to time, I’d be invited to play somewhere. But it wasn’t until there was another single Mama in the church, that my mother and I got invited anywhere, just she and I.

My mother felt that loss, felt the exclusion, like an open sore. She used to talk about wishing we’d been invited to this or to that. It just didn’t happen. It hurt. And I think it helped to lead to her later extreme emotional breakdown. Which led to more pain for both of us.

My mother was a widow. Though she divorced my father when I was five, he was dead from alcoholism two years later. Even when alive, he’d never been a husband or a father; now there was no hope he ever would be. I was officially a half-orphan. But few thought on us. Few offered words of comfort or friendship. We had a very hard time financially as both she and I had some pretty severe health issues. She worked as long as she could; when her health forced her home, she started sewing for a living. No one could sew like my Mama. To this day, I’ve never seen her equal. Still we often did without, frequently we had to make do. Meals were small and sometimes she just didn’t eat. I thought then she had a small appetite. I realized later she was saving more for me. Eventually, due to a special government program, she bought a house; later, when my medical bills mounted and threatened to sink us, she sold that house and we moved in with first with this family, then that, then another, and another, as she became a live-in aide to the elderly and infirm. We struggled and nearly sunk every single step of the way.

I don’t think that the church has to step up and do everything in every single case where there is need. Struggle has its point and purposes. Struggling can make a Mom more dependent upon Jesus and that’s a good thing indeed. And if family members can help them out, they ought to. In our case, they wouldn’t. But I do know that Jesus said that Christians are to care for widows and for orphans. Sometimes we do. And sometimes we don’t.

It hurts to be a woman alone. It’s hard to raise a child with two parents; even harder with one (or when one just refuses to act as a parent). There’s things a local church can do to make life a little simpler, a little less of a struggle, for a single Mom and her children. You can offer help financially. You can pray. You can take meals. Offer to babysit while she does errands. Babysit if she is sick and needs to rest. Invite her and her children into your home. Whatever you do, treat her with dignity. Treat her children with dignity. They are already walking a long, hard and lonely road. You are blessed if you are in a situation where you can alleviate some of her pain, fear or stress. Surely there’s something you can do, something the church as a whole might be able to do. Start with praying for her and her children. Then think, put yourself in her situation. What would you hope someone might do? Might say? Might offer? Then step out and be a blessing. God will bless you for it.

 


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Not Defined By Abuse

I’m so much more than a women who has been trapped in an abusive situation. I’m a Southerner, a Mama (of quite a few actually), a homeschooler, a blogger, a writer, a pet owner…among many other possible descriptions. Most of all I’m a daughter of the Lord. Many terms can be used to describe me. That’s great because, though I’ve been affected by abuse, I don’t want to be defined by it. I imagine that most women (or men) who have suffered through an abusive relationship don’t want to be defined by it. Yet, often, that’s what ends up happening–at least in the eyes of others.

“Oh, that’s Alice. Did you know her husband abused her?”

“Her name is Pam. Her ex-husband used to refuse to let her leave the house without his permission.”

“That’s Mark. His ex- was verbally abusive, I hear. Sad, him being a man and all.”

That’s not who we are. We don’t want to spend our whole life being thought of as someone who lived through abuse. We want to be thought of as Alice…painter of beautiful pictures. Pam…cook extraordinaire. Or, in the case of guys, Mark…master carpenter. Possibly we wish to be thought of as a women with a lovely laugh, a great friend, a funny guy, serious, kind, generous. Anything except as “Abused”. It’s a stigma we don’t deserve. Oh, yes, it happened to us but no way is it going to define us.

It’s not easy getting free. It’s so hard coming to an understanding of what has happened to you. Getting to the point of knowing and then of confessing “I’ve been abused”–it’s so hard. So hard. It’s embarrassing. It feels shameful (though the shame ought to be on the one who did the abusing). It’s spirit killing. We don’t need to be reminded of it our whole lives. We are so much more than “abused”. We are daughters. Sons. Mothers. Fathers. Cooks. Readers. Students. Children of God.

Yeah. Yeah, we are. And it feels really great to say it.


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Prepared to Counsel?

It’s a long scary road for a woman to get to the place where she can admit she is abused. It’s can be an even longer one figuring out what to do next. Should she tell her family? Confide in friends? Disclose it to the church? For many women there is no choice. They will tell no one because they are too afraid of their abuser’s reaction should he find out she’s exposed his abuse or they simply have no one to tell. Others fear the reactions of the ones they might confide in. Sadly those that get up the courage to tell the truth, they often end up having more abuse heaped on them by those they have confided in.

Typical reactions from Christians first learning of a case of domestic abuse often include the following:

“Go home and love that man. If you show him love first, he’ll love you back.”

“Go home and forgive him. Show him that you’ve forgiven him by going out of the way to show him you have. He’ll be so humbled by receiving your forgiveness, he’ll repent.”

“Go home and submit to your husband. Non-submission is the root of your problem. If you weren’t rebellious towards him, your husband wouldn’t feel like he had to show you who’s the boss.”

“Go home and give that man the best sex he’s ever had. He’ll forget about being angry.”

“Go home and pray for your husband and then submit to whatever God sees fit for you to endure.”

Or abused wives are told…

“He’s got anger issues. Pray for him and be patient with him.”

“He’s just stressed. When things get better, he’ll stop.”

“Seek couple’s counseling. Each story has two sides.”

Sorry, folks, but this kind of advice is nothing short of dangerous garbage. If a man is an abuser, he’s an abuser. He doesn’t have anger issues. He isn’t sexually starved. He isn’t wanting more love. He wants to control his wife and nothing short of that will satisfy him.

The church at large, oblivious to the ways of an abuser, is making things worse for abused wives than it already is. By jumping into the discussion without taking the time to figure out what is really going on, church officials, Christian counselors and Christians in general, are creating dangerous conditions for abused women. If a woman comes to you with a story of abuse, the first thing you need to do is believe her; the second thing you need to do for her is pray with her and provide her with safety; the third thing you need to do is brush up on domestic abuse. It’s real. It’s dangerous. And it’s sometimes deadly.

If you don’t understand abuse, get a good book on it and study up. There’s some recommended on this blog and on our other blog, A Cry For Justice @ http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/ . One day you’ll most likely come face to face with an abused woman who is crying out for someone to believe her, for someone to help her. That person just might be you.


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A Peek Inside My Heart

When it comes to abuse, it’s very difficult for me to share my heart. I can state the facts all day long as long as I can remain somewhat distanced from it all; what happened to me, what happened to them. What abuse is. That’s easy: black and white, cut and dry. Abuse is sin and sin is wrong. Case closed.

Or maybe not so closed.

See, all that black and white is easy to discuss when you’re only talking facts: even saying this happened to me is easy as long as it’s from a distance, as long as my heart can stay divorced from it. But it doesn’t want to. Not anymore. Abuse has affected me; at times it’s threatened to destroy me. It affects my children. My family history is full of stories of abuse. I’m rather sick and tired of it. My heart has finally gotten brave enough to let me share peeks inside it without worrying about what others are going to think so I’m going to do just that. So no more distancing myself.

It’s time to jump into the fray and join the discussion. Not only about abuse but about feelings about being abused. One of the things I’ve found to be true in my dealings with abusive people is they never want you to feel, they certainly never want you to tell the truth about what you feel. It’s time to feel anyway. It’s time to tell the truth anyway.

So I’m going to start doing that and open up this perhaps one-sided conversation. This is what I’m feeling; these things are my truth:

I’m tired of being one of “those” families, the ones other “good Christian” families look down on, the ones pastors want nothing to do with. I don’t deserve that distinction. My children don’t deserve such distinction, either. We’re only one of “those” families because of the actions of some very cruel, very selfish, very non-Christlike people who have passed it all on from one person to another without ever stopping to think what they’re doing. My parents didn’t think. Folks behind them didn’t either. Folks on my husband’s side didn’t think. It’s for sure my husband never thought. Still isn’t thinking for that matter.

I’m tired of feeling “less than” because someone in the church can’t quite grasp that I haven’t done anything to deserve being mistreated. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder wondering what some “good Christian” man or woman is going to think of me or of my children because we aren’t quite like them. No, we’re not and, what’s more, we’ll probably never be. I’m thinking that, abuse aside, not being like them may be a good thing, considering how some “good Christian” folks I know act.

I’m tired of pastors who tell abused women to “submit more”, “pray more”, “show more respect”, “love him more”, “fix his favorite dinner” yada, yada, yada. As if we haven’t thought of all of this and tried all of this only to have it all fail. I’m here to shout from the rooftops that I have done all of this and more (far, far more than most of you can imagine–unless you’re a woman in my shoes and then you know all too well) and it didn’t make a dimes worth of difference. Didn’t make a penny’s worth of difference actually. It did give the hubby more reason to walk on me. I’m thinking he thought he had my approval.

Also, and this is really important, I don’t want to be thought of as a victim of abuse; I’d rather be thought of as a survivor. A thriver, even. 🙂

More important than anything is this: I may have been raised in abuse, may have married an abuser but this doesn’t define me. I am more than an abused woman. More than a survivor or thriver, even. I am the proud mother of nine beautiful children. I am a lover of words, of beautiful music, of creativity. A pretty good cook. A sometimes crazy woman who actually loves housework–as long as it is accompanied by the sounds of children’s laughter, much prayer or really good music. Oh, and this: I can’t turn away a stray (I’m pretty sure animals know this). Best of all, though, and the thing that actually defines me is this: I’m a child of God; a daughter who is undeserving of God’s tender grace and mercy but oh-so glad to be blessed by it.

I’m tired. But I’m here and I’m fighting. Against being labeled by “good Christian” folks who don’t have a clue what I and others like me have gone through, against false accusations–by husbands, by family, by the church–that have far too often fallen on me and my sisters by folks who have no clue what they are talking about. Against passing this madness on to the next generation. Against abuse in all it’s forms. In all it’s evil. So, to that end, I’m here to share my heart, my story, the truth about what we’ve endured and who we are and I’m going to listen as others do the same.