Enabling Abuse Within the Church

It literally makes me want to vomit when I hear of what men are allowed to get away with while hiding behind the curtain of ministry, or being the “good-ole-boy” in the church. One Christian woman told me she was even threatened with being killed by her so-called Christian husband! And he was the fun-loving great guy everybody loved on the outside.

First of all, let me state one important fact as I begin this blog post. I am trying to raise awareness of the fact that abuse occurs in marriages within the church. I love the church with all my heart. It is my life. It is my heritage. It is the body of Christ. And I can’t even express my love and deep need and desire for the word of God. It is my breath, and I will carry its infallible  precepts to my death. That precious Word depicts the sanctity of marriage. But the church and marriages are made up of imperfect humans, and humans make mistakes. I will live and die for the church of my Lord. But that does not mean that in the effort to be what God would have the church to be, that there have not been some errors in recognizing and dealing with hearts that are being destroyed by abuse. Someone said recently, “I’ve been in the church for years, and have never known of any abuse that went on.” MY. POINT. EXACTLY. People aren’t aware abuse goes on within the confines of the church, and because of our preconceived notions, and because of the doom we procure on anyone who would leave an abusive marriage, victims suffer in silence. They believe there is no other option and certainly no way out if they want any sort of relationship with God. The word of God has been used to make them fear God’s retribution for a situation over which they may have no control.

In preparing to author this blog, I have not only processed my own experience with abuse, but also have listened to other women in abusive situations. Many have opened up to me because they found someone to whom they could relate, and could share the dark secrets they have held for so long. The thing is, if you are in ministry or if your family members are pillars in the church, and you are experiencing abuse, it compounds the insanity of  the problem into a realm almost unimaginable. It literally makes me want to vomit when I hear of what men are allowed to get away with while hiding behind the curtain of ministry, or being the “good-ole-boy” in the church. One Christian woman told me she was even threatened with being killed by her so-called Christian husband! And he was the fun-loving great guy everybody loved on the outside. Someone, somewhere has got to be a voice and try to expose this evil and offer hope of some sort. And so, I write from my own experience. Someone who has lived it. It’s more difficult than you can imagine to write these posts. But I’m hoping to shed some light and to help people see the facts that perhaps things are not always as they seem.

I have recently been in contact with a woman, whom I have never met, who reached out to me when she heard I was composing this blog. Her story went something like this: She married a minister when she was quite young. He also happened to work in law enforcement. The abuse started early in their marriage–control, manipulation, explosive rage, narcissism. And in this instance, he would actually beat her.  When the children came along, they also witnessed the abuse and suffered the tyrannical rule of their father. Of course, she suffered many years in silence. Nearly 30, as I recall. Finally, when she had taken all she could, she decided she had to leave. Do you know what the church with whom she was affiliated did? They made HER out to be the guilty one. They ostracized and “disfellowshipped” HER because she left the marriage. And in true course of mind control and manipulation, none of her children will have anything to do with her because they have been convinced by their father that SHE is in the wrong. They are in fear of the scriptures and of their father. Her husband has never been called to repentance. So, in essence, that particular church has become an enabler. And sadly, this woman basically told me that in her own eyes, she has no hope and is going to hell. And that is the mindset that plagues so many. It has to stop. It has to.

Because of positons like this held by the church, abuse victims suffer in silence trying to cope the best they can–especially those in ministry. There is some sort of inexplicable shame associated with their situation. And they die. I don’t necessarily mean die physically, (although that is a possibility) but they just become numb and start to simply find coping mechanisms to survive. And they lose basically every ounce of their identity in trying to stay ahead of the insanity. Those tactics are temporary, and many break or end up in horrible mental and spiritual anguish because they have nowhere to turn. The loneliness is overwhelming. They can’t reveal the crack in the armor because it will cost them their livelihood and/or their reputation, and the retribution will be horrendous. I am afraid the church has seen the horrific results when a victim finally breaks–even in the national media–and the church was not spared the fall-out.

I’m sure we all remember the story of Mary Winkler, who shot her minister husband after experiencing horrible abuse at his hands. I, in no way will attempt to comment on the justice or injustices of the situation or the judgement or sentencing. That was in the hands of a jury who heard it all, and even more so, in the hands of an Almighty righteous judge and Heavenly father who saw every second of every day for all of those years and throughout the trial. But here is what I will say: people tried to convince the world that Mary was making up the abuse, and that it was not founded or “documented.” I will tell you this. I experienced EVERY ONE of the scenarios Mary said she experienced, and more. Thirty years of it. And it was NEVER documented–until this blog. It was never even spoken of. For reasons beyond my explanation–except for fear and co-dependency traits that develop from abuse–you never speak of it. It is a hushed subject. You can’t breathe a word to anyone–especially to the authorities. And I even experienced or witnessed situations that were technically a crime. Do you think for a moment I would share that with anyone–especially with anyone in the church?? And so, because of the condemnation and the desperate feeling of being trapped, you suffer alone–telling no one.

Unfortunately, the church, at least in some of the circles I have seen, has not always been a safe place to be vulnerable and to show weakness or share secret pain. The stigma seems worse than the abuse, and the victims swirl in a cesspool of unfounded guilt and fear and shame, and do their best to fix it on their own. But, sadly, in most cases it is way past being fixable.  A huge culprit is the legalistic view of God and his Word. I know there are absolutes and standards that are written for us to try to attain. Believe me, I believe marriage is for a lifetime, with God as the center. But God simply did not address each and every scenario. Even up to the time I left just 6 years prior to the date of this post, I visited a church where I had attended when I was still married to my ex-husband. One of the first things one of the leaders said to me was, “You know you have to go back to him.” He had not asked one tiny detail about my situation. He had no clue of my broken mental, emotional or spiritual state at that time. Not a shred of my story did he know, nor did he ask. He offered no comfort, no understanding. Just that one simple statement: “You have to go back.” It was a statement that left me feeling like I was hanging on a tightrope between Heaven and Hell depending on my decision to go back.

And there you have it. The reason I and so many others suffer in silence. There is no way out. None. And believe me, there is no easy answer. But there can be victory in the grace and mercy of Jesus when hearts are yielded to him. Unfortunately, many times the church has left people hopeless because they supposedly knew the answers to the most mangled situations. So, in their quest to make sure to not cross any grey lines with God, they have enabled (perhaps unknowingly) horrific sin–sometimes in the lives of their own leaders.

I don’t claim to know all the answers. No one does, except God. But there has to be a spirit of grace somewhere. That much I do know. And praise the Lord, that grace is becoming more evident in the churches through the years. But 35 years ago, at least in the circles I was in, it was not that way.

I also believe part of the problem is that people are just not aware of what abuse looks like. They are living their own quiet lives and they don’t see it. So please, be on the lookout for abuse occurring in the church.  Be aware of signs or occurrences that you question. If things look odd or bewildering, check it out. If you wonder if a situation is abusive, it probably is. Ask questions. Even if those whom you question are in leadership roles, ask anyway.  I am fully aware that those questions will probably always be answered with some sort of  response to evade the question. Perhaps they will even take offense. I know that would have been my response–evasive and offended. But there is always at least a chance that they will accept the invitation to be vulnerable and share, and it will be in the back of their mind that someone cared enough to ask. Don’t suppose that all is well. And don’t be afraid to call out the perceived offenders. In most cases, their pride and narcissist personality will not allow them to recognize their deep problem, but at least they will know they are on the radar of suspicion.

I can’t tell you how many people came out of the woodwork when I got out of my situation to tell me they had “wondered” about things they had observed. They watched me humbly “obey” commands, or they saw me exploited as some sort of trophy wife, and never mentioned their concerns. Of course, it was not out of lack of care, but rather probably trying to not make me feel uncomfortable or invaded. But if you question what you are witnessing in public, you can imagine what is going on in private. And you would be shocked. So be invasive. Be intrusive. Ask questions. Express your concerns. Go to the victims or the perpetrators in love. Jesus instructed us in the church to do that very thing (Matthew 18:15). And James says this kind of love covers a multitude of sins  (James 5:20). Would it have changed my situation? I really don’t know. But I would not have been so alone.

The victims need you. Be there for them. Care for them. Give them a safe place to land, and a sure place to stand. I came across this article after I had already begun this post, and then a friend of mine sent it to me. It tells the story from a pastor’s point of view of some stories he heard from women in the church who were in abusive marriages. It is well worth the read.

All I’m trying to say is this: Be quick to extend a helping hand and a listening ear. Be quick to extend grace and not judgement.  And above, all, be quick to extend love,  for love covers of multitude of sins.

Provision

“When I first sought refuge at my parent’s home in Texas, I was sick. Very, very sick. In fact, I didn’t know how sick I was until the light began to emerge out of the darkness of my soul. I began to realize for the first time the true depth of the madness I had endured for all those years.”

To say that I was terrified when I left my abusive marriage is an understatement. But I knew it was time. I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I AM NOT an advocate for divorce. It’s a shattering and horrific experience. And it’s not God’s perfect plan. However, I am an advocate for finding release from being a victim. And sometimes getting out and leaving is the only option if one wants to save their sanity, their emotional well-being, and perhaps their life. Unfortunately, that was the choice I was forced to make. But making that choice only came out of desperation for peace. And though I did everything I knew to stay, my ultimate decision to leave has set me on a path of a ministry of I could have never dreamed.

When I first sought refuge at my parent’s home in Texas, I was sick. Very, very sick. In fact, I didn’t know how sick I was until the light began to emerge out of the darkness of my soul. I began to realize for the first time the true depth of the madness I had endured for all those years. I began sharing some of the details with my family, and just voicing those details was enlightening, to say the least. As I opened up, others around me began sharing about things they had witnessed. The details are sordid, and to this day, no one but me knows the hideous nature of it all. There are details I just don’t know that I could voice. Some things are just better left unsaid, I suppose.

As I began to become “conscious” after having lived in a fog for so long, I went through a sort of physical and emotional “detoxing” as it were.  Even a text on my phone from my ex-husband would cause issues with extreme diarrhea, I would become nauseous, I became plagued with flu-like symptoms, and I would have to go to bed for hours. I was a mess, indeed. Sleep was perhaps one of the greatest gifts God provided for me during that time. It was the first time since I was 18 years old, that I truly slept peacefully. I was “safe” for the first time in years, and my body drank in the hours of peaceful sleep. And it was deeply healing. But I had to sleep with the lamp on next to the bed. The darkness was just too smothering to endure. And there were still many nights I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, having had nightmares about my ex-husband and all I had witnessed. Those nightmares lasted literally for years. These days those bad dreams are rare, but they still come from time to time. And they are still frightening, and horrifically sad. And I call on the name of Jesus to release me from the oppressive feelings of darkness.

As those day turned into months, I slowly began to feel life emerging from within. I felt the healing and the great weight lifted from my soul, and I began to look with anticipation at the road ahead. Don’t get me wrong, there were still days of extreme oppression when I would guilt myself into believing I needed to go back. It’s hard to break free of those feelings. But as soon as I would convince myself I was going back, God would THROW open a door in my path that would not only make His plan clear, but would also take me further away from the notion of returning to my former life. And with no hesitation, I would walk through them.

I had no skills. No qualities that in the eyes of the world would tempt any employer to give me a job. I would get dressed up and go to places that were hiring with no resume and no experience. I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. It took me stepping WAY out of my comfort zone to go to those places empty-handed and with nothing to offer. And, of course, I would never hear from them. But God is greater than all of that, and He had a plan. And it was more than I could imagine. And now, I will tell you the story.

In my attempt to try to find a job, along came a girl named Macey. I had known her many years prior when she was in college and was a leasing professional in the apartment industry. Well, it “just so happened” that now she was Vice President of her own property management company. God’s timing is incredible. One day after visiting an apartment community in Texas I thought to myself, “I could do this. I could show and lease apartments.” So, Macey came to mind, and I called her. Within a few weeks of our first visit on the phone, Macey contacted me with news she had an opening at one of her beautiful apartment communities in Nashville! And out of her precious heart, she provided me with an almost brand new luxury apartment and a job at the same community so that I could support myself.  So, on August 8th of that year, at the age of nearly 48 years old, I began the first career of my life at Nickel Plate Properties. I moved to a city where I knew no one, and had no clue what this new world would look like.

The corporate world was all so new and foreign to me. I didn’t even know what business professional dress was. I mean, I thought I looked pretty cute, but it wasn’t business professional policy, so I found out. But sweet Macey, in her extravagant love, took me shopping and showered me with business suits and shirts and business professional attire. The transformation was beginning to take place.

I also was to find out that corporate and administrative duties were not my strong suit, by any stretch of the imagination. Some days, my manager would shake her head, sort of in disbelief and sort of in pity for my utterly lost and bewildered plight. And believe it or not, the second day on the job I accidentally set the clubhouse pool table on fire! Yes, you read that right. On fire. That is a story in itself, but suffice to say that no one could have had a more incredibly bad second day, and yet I survived and didn’t get fired. It was a rough start. But everyone was so patient and so helpful as I learned, and slowly I began to catch on. I began leasing apartments right and left and began learning about Fair Housing laws and about computer operating systems, and resident interaction, and so on. Slowly I began to get the hang of it all. And just when I thought I might be beginning to understand what I was doing, I was asked to do something I had never heard of before.

My manager at the time said to me one day, “Michele, I need you to go out marketing.” I was absolutely clueless. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. In my mind, marketing was a shopping cart filled with diapers and cabbage and bread and milk. What in the world did this word mean in the corporate world? She tried her best to explain, but the most I got out of it was I should take flyers about our apartment homes out to the community. So, that is precisely what I did. I took them to businesses; I put them on windshields of cars in parking lots; I even gave one to a man knelt down changing his tire and to two emergency medical responders taking a break in their medical van. I laugh about all that, now. Because the story doesn’t end there.

After living in Nashville for a couple of months, Macey moved me to another property in the Knoxville, Tennessee area. I began learning about marketing, and about networking, and chambers of commerce, and resident relation events, and community involvement events, and how cross-marketing works, and referral groups, and everything in between.  And I knew I had found it–my niche in this big corporate world that had been so foreign to me. You should have seen my reaction the first time someone asked me to join a networking group. I avoided it like the plague because I was so clueless it sounded like a cult of some sort. But you should see me now, my friend. There aren’t many networking groups in this city that I have not either visited or attended regularly. And in just over a year from my start date at Nickel Plate, Macey promoted me to Corporate Marketing Executive in her company. And I am still doing that to this day, and life is good.

And as this story continues to unfold, I am astounded. I am astounded by the provision of a mighty God who never let me go. I am astounded how God used a girl named Macey to save my life. Who would have known that when our paths crossed so many years earlier, that God would use her in such an extraordinary way? And I more indebted to her than I can put into words. I am astounded by a path God provided for me that, at this moment, I don’t know I can fully comprehend it. I am astounded at the precious husband I have that provides for me and takes care of me and listens to me and helps me chase my dreams. And I am astounded that as Jesus began to break the chains that bound me, that I have been able to put to paper, as it were, words about my experience with abuse and my path to victory so that I can light the way for other women who are bound in the chains of Satan. And now I can tell a story that that can help set them free. A  story of pain. But more than that, a story of redemption and freedom. And as I hear so very many stories from those women, I am astounded at the ministry God is creating for me. And I want to shout it to the world. And I want to speak across this country and the world about the magnificent God that relentlessly chases us and won’t leave us in despair.

And I think back to the broken woman in the hotel room without hope and without a clue and how God would some day use her story, and I am astounded. I am astounded every day. And I am here to tell you, He sees you, and you are not alone. And though it may seem against all odds, all you need do is listen and be ready to radically obey. Step into the power of His Kingdom, and there you will find glory unimaginable.

” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah29:11

 

 

 

A Time to Leave–Part 2

As I sit here in this moment to write, I think back to the night when I knew I had to leave the insanity, and it all comes flooding back. All the feelings of despair, all the overwhelming thoughts of inferiority, all the destructive lies of Satan that had guided my thinking for all those years. What were people going to think? What repercussions am I going to suffer for this decision? How is God going to provide for my needs? How could God ever use this broken vessel for any purpose of his?  You can’t know the depth of torment and confusion and pitiful agony one feels in that moment–unless you have lived it. And unfortunately, I am finding many that know it–especially in the church. And it is so very, very sad.

Even breathing at that moment seemed a deliberate task. The darkness consumed me. I felt used up, spit out, good for nothing and useless. But more than anything, I felt broken. And I was broken. Broken beyond repair, so I thought. I had to find rest for a while. Just a moment of peace, for if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure where this would all end up. Literally, I knew mental and emotional breakdown was eminent if I didn’t find some quiet.  I knew I was in a crucial and dangerous moment. 30 years is a long time to live inside a tortured mindset filled with abuse and cruelty and insanity. I had pushed beyond what most could have. But now, even as strong as I had been in the past, every ounce of me was gone–even the will to continue living or the thought to even care. I had been having physical signs of  tremendous stress in the weeks prior. I had already experienced the horrific night when he had chased me in the vehicle nearly killing us both. I wrote about that in an earlier post. I was disoriented all the time. I was having numbness throughout my arms and hands. I experienced stages of panic attacks. All signs of tortuous stress and even physical manifestations of heart issues. So this night I was at the breaking point.

But suddenly, a set of arms wrapped around me, as I lay crumpled and shattered.  They were arms of strength and comfort.  They were the arms of my son. He gently whispered, “It’s going to be ok, Mama.” He had seen so much of the abuse and insanity in his life, as both of my sons had. It crushes my heart when I think of it. And God had some repair work to do on them, also. But in that moment, my 20-year-old little boy (in my eyes) became a man. There was an exchange of roles. He became the comforter and the super-hero, and I was the wounded, broken little girl in need of restoration and repair. And he never left my side, in a matter of speaking, over the next several months as I sought to bring some sense of sanity back to my life. And only God knows the strength I gained from both of my sons during those days.

All I could think of in that moment was that I needed to get to a place of safety and peace. I needed to think. I needed to rest. I needed to heal. I had to leave. I didn’t know how or for how long, or what the future held or how on earth I was going to function or provide for myself. But I had to get away. I made plans to get to my parents’ house in Texas.  But of course first, I had to deal with HIM. It’s a long story, so I will just give a very condensed version.

My son and I met my husband at a Taco Bell, where I told him I couldn’t go on like this, and that I had to do something about it. I don’t know if I would have had the strength or courage to say the things I did, were it not for having my son with me. If you are in that situation, find someone you trust to be with you. Having a support system there makes all the difference.

As I began sharing my heart with my ex-husband, he, of course, interrupted and interjected his own reasons and excuses and story–a story that went on for hours. A story of his valiant attempts to be God’s servant, and how he had struggled and “given up” so much in his gallant effort to be the bearer of God’s message. You would have thought it was the story of the making of a prophet–a knight in shining armor sent to this world, stripped of all of his glory to shed light on the path to God, and be a beacon for those who were so lost. You would have thought he was the only one who had ever experienced it. That he was God’s answer to creation for the plight of human frailty. I guess he wanted me to say, “Ok, I understand. So that’s the reason. Well, in that case, all is forgiven and everything is ok. Let’s go home.” But I was long past his stories.

It was a story I had heard many, many times. He should have protected me in the castle while he was out fighting the dragon, he said. He actually said that. He said, that he “could have had a harem,” but he gave it all up for Jesus. He actually said that. And I could go on and on. And he did go on and on. I’m not sure that me or my son said three more sentences in those hours that followed. I just remember sitting huddled in a Taco Bell seat with my head in my hands and watching huge tears plop on the floor at my feet. That’s all I could do. That is all I had left.

When the night finally ended, I informed my husband that my son and I were going to a hotel. He insisted he wanted to come with us, but I refused. I was finding strength to stand my ground. As I was getting into the car to leave, he leaned into car and helped me buckle my seat belt. Manipulation tactic. I thought I would vomit.

I can’t describe what enduring those few hours did to me. Just making the decision to talk to him was life-altering. And the hours of words and words and more words that followed seemed to be an emotional trainwreck. When I finally got to the hotel later that night, I fell into the bed and curled into a fetal position. Heaven and earth were at war at that moment. My whole universe was shifting and it was cataclysmic. It was as though I could hear the demons of Hell shrieking with delight and the angels of Heaven thundering their war cry. And I was the hostage in the fray. Hostage to my past. To my present. To my future. All so uncertain. All so utterly disoriented  and mixed up. I felt I was going crazy. My tortured mind was reeling with clamor. I was standing at the edge of a great chasm, screaming for help. I wanted it to stop. Please make it stop.

That’s when I felt God’s arms through the arms of my son, and heard God’s voice through my son’s words,”It’s going to be ok.” And I found a shred of strength.

I don’t remember the rest of that night. I don’t know if I slept. But I do know that somewhere deep inside I felt strength to carry on and to pursue this course seeking peace. I called my husband the next day, and asked him to leave the house. I had to get my belongings and I wanted him to be gone. Surprisingly, he agreed. I think he knew. He knew I was serious and determined. He knew I was on a mission. He had never seen me emphatic about a decision before, and I think it stunned him.

My son and I went to my house and filled the back of a Suburban with our belongings. He was going with me. He wasn’t going to let me be alone in this. He was out of college for the summer, and he put all his other summer plans aside and went with me to Texas to my parents’ house. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not had a place to go. My parents were angels on earth during that time. And their home was a place I could find healing and peace for the moment. And though this whole thing was far from over and had only begun, I had made a step. One step. A step that for all the tears and struggle and weakness, it was a step that would shape a new course for my future. I had no idea what lay ahead. I just knew I was going. I didn’t know for how long, but I was going. I didn’t know, nor did I care, what the next day or weeks or months held. I just knew I had to go. No plan. No answers. I just had to go.

And on that day, I began a long journey. A long journey to Texas to find peace, and a long journey of life to find myself. And though it has not been an easy one, I know now, God had an incredible plan. A plan to make me victorious. To make me a warrior. To help me to find my voice, so that I, in turn, could help other women find theirs. His incredible plan of provision for me is astounding. I will share that in my next post. Soon, my friends. In the meantime, press on toward the heavenly prize. And know that no power on earth can hold you captive if you seek freedom through Jesus. Hold on to to that thought. It will carry you through.

 

 

 

A Time to Leave–Part 1

A few short years ago, I lay in a crumpled mass in a hotel room completely broken by life and by abuse. Overwhelmed and consumed by darkness, I had no idea what the next day or months or years or even the next moment held for me. No clue what direction to follow. What I did know, is that no matter how dark that moment, and as lost as I felt, I knew God was holding me. I think I had cried every tear left in my body, and I knew I had not one ounce of strength left. I was sick in every way. All I knew is that I could no longer stay in the abusive marriage where I had been for the last 30 years. I was terrified.  But it was time to leave. For certain. I knew for sure this time. It was direct from God, and I knew it. No question. I could do it in faith. Although I had attempted it once before.

Incredibly, so desperate for relief, I had implemented a plan about a year and a half prior. And it was a good one, so I thought. I had slowly been sorting and storing my belongings away discreetly in the garage so that when the right moment came, I would be able to load them quickly into a vehicle and make my escape. I had set up two jobs in Arizona with a friend I had known since elementary school who owned a restaurant and a finance company.  I had no vehicle, so I made plans to rent a car to get me to Arizona, and then use the bus system, or a bicycle if I had to, until I could do better. Former necessities I now considered luxuries. I could do without. I wanted out.

I had a place to stay with a friend on a short-term basis until I could get on my feet. Christmas money was now my tiny lifeline in a secret bank account–around $200. It was all planned. And the scheduled date for my departure from this life of torment was approaching. Why I scheduled a “leaving date”, I have no clue. To be in control of my choices for once, I suppose.

On the day before I was scheduled to leave, I began putting my plan into action. Obtaining the rental car had to be done secretively with no one’s knowledge. The town in which we lived had no rental car establishment. No problem. I would find a way to get to the next town. I had checked the bus schedule that would get me to the town 30 miles away, where I could get a car at the airport. Very early that morning before daylight, and before my husband got out of bed, I snuck out a window in the bedroom on the other end of the house from his bedroom. He was used to me getting up extremely early, and he slept extremely late most days, so this was my chance. I walked to the nearby bus stop and boarded the bus for my destination.

I was horribly anxious and a bit fearful on the bus ride, but I pressed on with my plan. This was my way out, and I was going to take it. When I got to the airport, the fear began taking over, and I began having second thoughts. But I was determined. I felt I had to follow through. I was desperate for relief.

In spite of any fear, I rented my car, and drove the 30 miles back home–parking away from the house so as not to alert my husband’s suspicions. I crawled back into the house through the window, my husband still asleep in the other room. And now I was ready. When he left the house that day, I would load my belongings and leave in the middle of the night. Less than 24 hours, and my misery would be over.

A perfect scenario. Just like a movie. But suddenly my heart began to change. What would this do to my children? What would this do to the church? Who would I hurt in this process? Questions began swirling in my head.  I don’t know if it was fear. I don’t know if it was compassion for other’s feelings. I don’t know if it was conviction of the Spirit. Maybe it was guilt, or self-condemnation. Perhaps it was the control he had on my mind. Maybe it was timing. Perhaps it was a combination of all of it. But my heart changed, almost in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t leave. Not this way.

I rose long before dawn again the next morning and drove the rental car back to the airport, rode the bus home, and climbed back into the window before most people were even awake. I was sad and disappointed. But more than anything, I felt empowered. I had now MADE THE CHOICE to stay. No one had forced me into it. There was something about that thought that gave me strength and hope for what was to come.

I began making intentional efforts to be a better wife; to show affection to my husband, though it made me nauseous; to make every effort to make ME better for him; to be a better minister; to be a better friend; to be more spiritual; and to try to make this marriage work as far as it depended on me. It took everything I had to exert what little strength I had left. I was determined to go the distance. But, of course, things didn’t change, and 18 months later, the decision to leave was staring me in the face again, but I knew this time was for sure.

I know now there was a purpose for the whole window escape experience. God always has a purpose, doesn’t he?  I can look back and be grateful for the lesson. He was weaving His divine plan into my life. I realize now that when the true and God-ordained timing for my departure became evident, that because of this experience, I knew I had left nothing off the table. All my cards were played. I had given it my all. Every option had been exhausted, and now there would be no regrets for the choice I was forced to make.

And so, I left. Not when I climbed out a window. Not when I had $200 in my pocket and a 2 day rental car. Not in secret. I left in broad daylight. Out in the open where everyone, including my ex-husband could see. And God moved mountains, and calmed tempests, and parted the Heavens, as it were, to clear the way.

And He will do the same for you. No matter what circumstance in life you are trying to escape–abuse, sexual sin, addiction, depression, or whatever may be holding you imprisoned–there is an escape for you. Find it. Freedom is there for the taking. Jesus breaks chains. His kingdom isn’t constructed of misery and darkness, but of joy and peace and confidence that he will deliver. Fear is agreement with Satan. Jesus dispels fear.

The next time I blog, it will be about the amazing and incredible plan and provision of God for my life when I decided to stare fear in the face and get out. I am still astounded today as I think of where he has brought me. I will take you on that journey soon. Perhaps you need it. Maybe you will see that the spirit of fear is a chump, and that through Jesus, there is deep inside you the strength to change things. You just need a little nudge and a thimble of hope and a grain of faith–the kind that moves mountains. And they will move. Trust me, they will move.

Sexual Favors

This will be perhaps one of the most difficult posts I will write on this blog. For anyone who knows me, they know this subject matter is not one I have ever been comfortable discussing. I have been impressed for weeks, perhaps months, to write about this. But I have been running. Hiding. Making feeble attempts lately to write about other subjects–rough drafts that no one has read that I will probably scrap because they were not written in the power of God. I  have prayed that my words will be led of the Spirit, and not of my own procuring. But for the past few weeks, in my attempts to avoid certain subjects, I have been oppressed and just generally not productive. Like Jonah running from God and ending up in the belly of a fish. God doesn’t bless what he doesn’t initiate. So here goes.

There are forms of sexual abuse that occur in marriage. There, I said it. No one wants to talk about that. And perhaps theologians will beg to differ. Oh believe me, I know the Bible verse about our bodies not being our own, and that they belong to our spouse. Yep, I know that one REALLY well. Unfortunately, it was twisted to impose guilt and pressure.  And if it wasn’t scripture, there were plenty of other psychological games that pressured me. Guilt was a big one. He played on my sympathy for his plight. He played on the fact that he was “so spiritual,” and his pressures were so great in the ministry, he had greater “needs.” After all, he said, he had sacrificed and given up so much and waited a long time for me. So he “deserved” me. I was an object–a neat little box tied up with a bow. A token of God’s appreciation for his sacrifice and hardships. So whatever the man bade me, I complied–with no thought for my own feelings of being exploited.

The fact is, when I married after just turning 18 years old, I was extremely naïve, and I guess you would say “innocent.” Some things were not even on my radar. I needed to grow up. I get that. I get exploration. I get spicing things up. But when exploration, takes on a form of sexual favors rendered through pressure, intimidation, knowledge of consequences, etc. (I think I may vomit about now), it ceases to be exploration and becomes twisted and sick. This is so hard. I can’t believe I’m writing these things. But I will press on to make my point.

Pornography is a huge enemy of the sanctity of sex in marriage in general, but especially in Christian marriage. We all know that. I believe it creates a stronghold of the enemy, and that demonic influence creeps in, and the true realities of godly sexual joys are skewed. And in my former marriage, it was a never-ending battle with evil, and with sick fantasy.

So to compete, I became a porn queen in essence, trying to be what those women were. But there was no competing with that. Because it’s a lie from Hell. It’s a distorted, twisted, sick notion of sexuality that does not exist in the real world. And attempts to be that will ever be enough. So that’s what I felt. Not enough.

In my mind, I was too fat, too skinny, too fair, too wrinkled, not busty enough, my stomach pooched, I had spider veins on my legs,  my hair wasn’t right, my dress wasn’t right, my nails weren’t right, my make-up wasn’t right, and the list goes on. Imperfection can never compete with a jaded view of perfection. So it creates an unattainable standard, and you drive yourself mad trying to reach it. You lose the sense of the “normal” beauty of sex, and you are constantly attempting to push the limits. Things become bizarre and twisted and unnatural. Beauty is traded for a lie. And it never satisfies, because you just can’t do enough to please. And the price you pay gets higher and higher. It’s horrible. It’s dark. And it’s ugly. Proverbs says a beautiful woman who shows no discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout. Let that one sink in. Ladies, you want to look like that? That’s what you are aspiring for. Changes the picture a bit, doesn’t it?

There were those days when things were normal, and things were right. But then there were those days, where I had to “perform.” I will spare you the details. I will spare me recalling the details. But I will say this. During those times, I was coerced; I was manipulated; I was pressured; I suffered consequences for not complying; I was negotiated with; I was browbeat with scripture; I was brainwashed. The mind and the heart are such funny things. Almost inexplicable. Guard them. Guard them with all your might. It’s incredible what can be done when you are in robot mode. I don’t wish it on anyone.

And the first moment you give in, the first moment you lower your standards and submit to this ludicrous insanity, you are changed forever. And you find it was all just a pit. Just a trap. Quicksand. A swirling cesspool of lies. And I am screaming to anyone who will listen, “DON’T DO IT!”  Don’t fall for it. Get away. Get out! There is no consequence for which is worth trading in your moral compass and compromising your beautiful spirit. The book of Proverbs says you are worth more. You are worth more than rubies. And never, ever let anyone tell you or treat you differently. A ruby is not going to be found in the pig sty. It’s not going to be found in the dark places on the screen, on the internet, in the strip clubs. It’s going to be found in the woman of noble character and pure heart. Be a ruby in the midst of the filth. You are lovely, sweet friend.

So where is the diamond in all of this? Where is the light in the darkness, or the hope in despair? Here it is: Jesus is a chain-breaker. He sets prisoners free. He demolishes strongholds. He pronounces royalty on the peasant. He seats us with Him in the Heavenly realms–far above all demonic power or dominion. He holds treasure in store for you, both in this life and for eternity. And he lavishes upon us the riches of His grace. Psalms 103 says God “redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion. Wear that crown with honor. Redemption from the pit–that’s where the hope lies. That’s where the light is. That is the diamond.

And I am a ruby.

 

 

 

 

A Glimpse into Abuse

As I sit here ready to write a new post on this blog, I know what I must write, and my reaction surprises me. Even now, as I think about the memories, and struggle how to translate them into words that make sense, I tremble and feel my heart racing and pounding out of my chest. But I have to do this. Because abuse comes in many forms, and I feel a burning responsibility to let other people know that they are not crazy. They are not making things up and blowing things out of proportion. I have to let them know they either need to get help or get out if things are beyond help. And unfortunately, many times they are.  Most abusers most likely have narcissist personality traits, and in that case, will make it almost impossible to see their faults or the core reason for them. Abusers struggle with immense pride and entitlement, making it difficult to realize they need to get help and change. They can be profusely sorry for “incidents,” but still never fully change and they repeat the same patterns because they refuse to accept and admit what and who they truly are. It is even more difficult with abusers who claim to be Christians because they believe they are sincere in their faith, and use scripture to manipulate even their own minds to make themselves faithful, God-fearing, scripture wielding “prophets,” of sorts. So that adds another layer of insanity.

I know people often wonder, “Why didn’t you leave long before you did? Why did you stay and continue suffering?” And, to be honest, I’m not sure I fully have the answer to that. I mean, I think I know the answer, but to translate it into words that make sense to you is another story. It is the whole Stockholm syndrome thing, and the most literal form of brain washing. It begins with the charm and the extravagant gifts and profuse compliments. Then it slowly changes to actions that create extreme fear and a constant instability. Then it morphs into the abuser creating the idea in your head that he is the only person in your life without huge “issues.” Everyone else is less dependable, less grandiose, and in my case, far less godly and spiritual. And slowly your view changes, and you become captive in every sense of the word, and you are completely dependent upon the one who is doing the most harm to you. It’s a sick scenario, isn’t it? And I was the sickest of any of his victims, and unfortunately there are many.

So here’s the thing. He NEVER hit me. Perhaps that is why I couldn’t differentiate that I was a victim of abuse. I mean society as a whole is extremely aware of physical abuse and domestic violence. And there are physical scars and bruises that indicate that. But believe me, there are bruises and scars that can’t be seen with the physical eye. There was a movie I saw many years ago called, “The Burning Bed.” It was a very intense and realistic movie about abuse. And though I didn’t fully recognize that I was in an abusive marriage at the time, it always nagged at me that, for some reason, I knew how the victim in the movie felt. That troubled me for years, and I still didn’t “get it.”  Many people say that mental abuse is as bad as physical abuse. But I don’t know. And though I did suffer some physical abuse, he never punched me. So, I don’t know what that feels like. But here’s what I do know. What I experienced made me horribly afraid, made me extremely depressed at times, and made me feel like I was nothing.

So here is a general overview of some things I did experience. Some I will go into more detail in future posts. This is just some insight into how sick I was, and even more disturbing, how sick he was.

So here was my life: I saw him punch windshields out of vehicles; I saw him tear doors off of hinges; I saw him punch holes in walls; I saw him throw whole pieces of furniture across the room; I saw him purposely destroy items that were meaningful to me, making sure to do it methodically in my face as I watched; I dutifully cleaned up the messes after those rages, picking up broken pieces of glass or resituating furniture or discarding now useless items; I stood there as I was inflicted with cuts and bruises from flying glass or heavy objects that had been hurled through the air in rage; I sat paralyzed with fear as he drove like a maniac throwing hubcaps off the car, while I gripped the door handle and hung on for dear life; I saw him punch himself in the face until his cheeks were swollen or his lip was bleeding; I saw him scream and shriek in rage until he stripped his vocal chords, I saw him slobber and spit like an animal until my face was covered in his saliva; I watched him abuse and berate my son physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually from the time he was an infant; I heard him threaten unspeakable things; I heard him threaten to do harm physically to loved ones; I listened to him speak condescendingly about others, making certain to point out their faults, in an effort to change my view of them and taint my love for them; I heard him use the most vile language during his rage to get a reaction out of me; I watched him leave for days or a week at a time, with me having no knowledge of his whereabouts and I asked no questions upon his return; I sat in disbelief as he locked me in a room;  I sat without reaction as he yanked me into a car, tearing the dress I was wearing; I felt his hands grab and bruise my face in rage, and squeeze my arm so tightly I could almost feel his fingers touch bone; I said nothing when he would shove me to the ground or onto a piece of furniture; I sat in fear in a hotel room where he would not let me out and would not let me contact anyone, while everyone was frantic as to my whereabouts; I sat for long periods of time–hours upon hours–in a room with nothing to eat because I feared if I left the room, the rage would start again; I endured his lust of other women, both real and on-screen; I sat quietly as he would exploit me to other people-especially men–boasting about me as if I were some trophy wife; I watched him charm and manipulate women (especially young ones) because it boosted his ego;  I followed him quietly in shame when he would suddenly leave a church ministry position because he did not get his way or because his weird character traits were “found out,” and he would leave elders and souls and members hurt and angry and dumbfounded; I quietly submitted without question as he bombarded my mind with his beliefs about God and scripture–especially those “key verses” about my submission as a woman… And the list could continue on and on. Believe me, this is only a glimpse.

So there you have it. A small nutshell glance into my world as I knew it. So, why didn’t I leave years ago, you ask? Still can’t explain that. But when you live in horrific circumstances, you become what you need to be to survive. And I became his robot, his puppet, and most of all, his victim. And I was affected in every way–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I became everything I needed to be able to live in the insanity. I became his trophy. I became his whore (at least that is what I felt like). I became his secretary. I became his accountant.I became his maid. I became his cook. I became his servant. I became his PR person. I became his negotiator. I became his stability. I became his psychologist (which was a feat considering I needed one myself). I became. I became. I became. And every time I became more of what he expected or needed, I lost more and more of me, just doing what had to be done. But eventually, it all catches up. And there you are, being all of these things, and having no clue who you are and no recognition of who you once were. And then one day, you either break, or you find that one shred of strength left hidden within, and you get out. But only those who have lived it know what that takes. It’s incomprehensible.

But, through the power of God I did it. And I praise Him every day. Most days I am healed and strong and determined. But even now, all these years later, there are those moments. Those moments that Satan wants me to feel weak, and useless, and “less than.” And that is when I know there is an unseen force of the Divine that commands the darkness to depart and the demons to flee.

And so, here I sit on this snowy day in front of a crackling fire feeling complete peace and overwhelming gratitude that His hand has had led me to this place in my life. I’m not gonna lie, there were times when writing this post that I felt faint and could hardly breathe and found myself sobbing breathlessly. But even more than that, I felt the power of God to continue. With each word, the determination grew stronger. For I know there is a purpose for what I went through and for what I write. If it helps one person to feel there is a place to connect, a place of understanding, a place of realization, a place to find courage to do what must be done, then it is worth it. I know where Jesus is leading me and I am certain of my purpose in the years or months or days or hours I have left on this earth.  By His grace, and in spite of opposition, I will fulfill it. Job 36:15 says, “But those who suffer, he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” God has spoken to me. God has delivered me. And now, by his grace, I will proclaim that deliverance through Jesus to any who feel in bondage and in darkness. And the name of Jesus will forever be on my lips until I take my last breath. For He is all-powerful. He is the deliverer. He is the bondage breaker. He is the destroyer of strongholds. He is the One who sees, and knows and understands. And He is the one I answer to for my choices, for my life, and for what He has called me to do. Pray for me. For I know I am on a difficult journey. But I know the blessing will far exceed the struggle. And, for this, he has prepared me. Praise the Lord.

Hiding

In the overwhelming times in my life, when the darkness began to sink in, my only solace was God. At times I felt so alone, like a wanderer searching for a home. Looking back, I know now, a journey lay before me with many twists and turns which would set my feet upon a path of finding strength, resilience, and a quest for my purpose.  Having been taught about Jesus all my life, I had lived close to what I thought a Christian girl should. Do this, don’t do that. But there was more, much more I was to learn, and that process would shape me and mold me and create in me a realization of the manifest presence of God in my life on this earth. God was near–nearer than I perhaps even realized. He was my survival.

In the early days of my past marriage, there was a moment in time so significant it would forge a pattern for the rest of my life. I was only 18 or 19 years old, but was already emotionally and mentally exhausted with life. I had lived a life-time in the short period I had been married. Abusive relationships consist of a constant whirling circle of strategic planning of what to say or not to say, how to smile or not to smile, how to think, or not to think, and so on. It wears the mind and body very thin–so much so that some don’t ever recover. Compare it to walking on a tightrope, hoping to not teeter one way or another. Then, when you do falter, you crash and burn in the aftermath of consequences. This particular day had been one of those “bad days”–the rage, the torment, the mind games. So I walked just to gather myself and find peace. I was desperate to hide, and I needed to escape for a while.

In the distance, almost beckoning me to come close, I felt drawn to a row of brush along the edge of a field. I crawled in an opening of one particularly large bush, seeking shelter from the chaos. And then, it began to rain.

I sat in that pitiful shelter of leaves, feeling cheated by life–all my dreams and my spirit crushed by the weight of it all. I specifically remember how the rain sounded, plopping on the leaves around me. In the distance, I could hear the traffic from the nearby street and somehow it made me sad. The world was such a big place with so many people, and yet I was so alone and so afraid. The smell of dirt and decaying leaves mixed with the scent of rain was almost comforting to me somehow. Perhaps it reminded me of happy times and childhood joys. I felt dark inside, and overwhelmed, knowing the bleak future before me. Living in constant darkness wreaks havoc with the mind and spirit, and you can’t know the strength and energy it takes to pull yourself out each time and try to function normally until the next moment of insanity comes around again.

Looking back, I know God led me to that dome of leaves and sticks and branches and mud for a reason. It would reveal to me a moment of strength that would carry me through for years to come. God called Moses to a bush to commission him to a purpose that would change the course of history and a whole nation of people. I unknowingly had a purpose to fulfill that would be years in the making, but this one moment in time would begin preparing me for that purpose.

Something radical happened to me that day in that canopy of brush. In that moment of solace and quiet, I sat there defeated by the darkness, and began to sob. And then, out of nowhere, a sudden flood of peace washed over me, and strength inexplicably welled up within me. Though I could see no one, I knew someone was in that bush with me. I heard a voice in my heart say to me, “You are not alone. I will be with you.” And with that, I knew it was time to leave my sanctuary of leaves and go forward and face whatever may come. God had overcome the darkness, and had made His presence known to me, and now I was armed for the fight.

My whole being changed in an instant. It was a divine intervention that would carry me through the darkest of days that would follow. Transformed from a scared and lost and lonely little girl, I burst out of that bush a warrior. I had crawled in like a scampering whimpering child, and emerged brave and fierce and determined. And though it did not change my circumstances at that time, it changed me. I was now prepared for what the next 30 years would bring, and though there would be many more tears and many more horrific moments of darkness, the transformation that took place in me that day would see me through many years of pain. It would be a monument for me, a lesson of God’s ever present strength, His nearness and His love. When you experience a moment like that, you remember it, and it forges a path of victory for the battles to come.

God is never far away, dear friend. No matter how dark or how hopeless you feel, never give in. Never give up the fight. Search for that tiny molecule of strength God has placed within you and claim it. Those moments of overcoming are where God creates a hero out of the weakest being, and where he fashions a warrior out of the fearful. And who knows but that you may be the one spark of hope for someone looking on who needs your example, and you may make the eternal difference in their lives. Stay strong. Stand your ground. Keep the faith. You will be so glad you did.

 

Extremities

In my world, as I knew it in years past, life was full of polar extremities. That was my normal, and it was a mixed up mangled chasm of questions and constantly changing boundaries and standards. Abuse is like that. It is a form of control. I never knew from day to day, or sometimes from moment to moment, what would be next. In turn, the insecurities ran rampant, anxieties mounted, and fear became very familiar to me.  Of course, I know now, I did not have to feel or believe or live that way. God is much bigger than that. But, although I had a relationship with God, I know Him infinitely deeper now. He could have dispelled all of those obstacles. But unfortunately, my view of God had now become formulated by abuse and was heavily influenced by my relationship with my husband. My relationship with God was largely performance based. In my mind, if I did not perform a certain way–even in the smallest things–his relationship with me changed, the standards moved, and I might be in danger of my salvation teetering on a very thin tether. So that mindset influenced all of my thinking.

I wanted so much to be right with God. In keeping with that, I felt I had to do everything “right,” or else. I had begun a relationship with Jesus and been baptized as a young girl. I was committed to my relationship with God and tried to live as He would have me to.  After meeting my husband, however, and so much of my thought processes being reformulated by him, I began doubting my salvation. After all, in a legalistic mindset of God, you must make certain all your t’s are crossed and your i’s dotted. Suddenly, when that doubt came to light, my husband became the dictator of exactly what I must do about the situation. It was very early in our marriage, and it’s a long story, and the process went on for weeks.

He had made statements in that process that suggested to me that my problem in this matter could very well be the trust I had put in my parents and in my family and their teachings. My heritage, if you will, was faulty, and my family was “sinful” and “less spiritual” than he. Of course, that was his view of everyone that did not conform to his way of thinking. He had made it very clear since being married to him that I had left my parents and needed to cling to him. The principle is true, but his application was not. I know now, that is another form of abuse–to alienate you from family and others close to you. So now, I was very vulnerable, and in a dilemma about my relationship with God. Now he could use it to further convince me that my family had steered me incorrectly in regard to that subject.

I was in agony during those weeks, wondering what I had done wrong to put my salvation in jeopardy. Of course, Satan capitalized on my frame of mind, and turned the whole thing into an opportunity to cause me extreme fear, anxiety, and doubt. I look back now, and I am shocked at the pitiful state I was in, and the thoughts that went through my head . And sadly, to make sure I got everything “correct,” I was baptized FOUR times in those few weeks, in an insanely misguided effort to please God. I’m surprised I didn’t drive myself mad. Isn’t it tragic to picture a loving God in such a twisted fashion? I am only worthy of his love if I am good enough or do things “right enough,” according to that way of thinking. So very sad. But I was so young and had been so infiltrated by an urgency to conform to anything my husband said was true. I was a classic victim.

During those weeks, I had a mysterious illness come upon me and had to be rushed to the doctor. My husband insinuated that this illness was a consequence and a warning from God that I had better get this whole thing right–which only increased my anxiety. Later, we had a trip scheduled to be with my parents and grandparents at Thanksgiving, but he cancelled it in order to force me into some sort of resolve. It seemed as if it was almost a “punishment” or restriction that he placed upon me for struggling the way that I was.

Unfortunately, my thinking had already been completely altered by things I had witnessed about “extreme measures” one takes to prove their loyalty and commitment to God.  So I was in utter confusion. You can’t know what abuse does to the mind until you have lived it. And the influence causes your thinking to be very skewed, to say the least. Extreme measures were a regular way of life for me, so to process it all, I submitted in every way. So the extreme measures don’t seem so extreme anymore. And slowly, you lose your sense of reality and what is normal.

One particular time, my husband had been gone for the day, which he did often, with no accounting for his whereabouts. When he finally did return home, he began telling me a story that was so bizarre in nature, to this day it blows my mind.  We lived in Memphis, Tennessee at the time, and it was very early in our marriage. I was about 19 years old. When he left that day, I knew not to inquire about his intentions. It was a pretty regular occurrence for him to leave like that. And I knew from experience that if I asked about it, his response would be extremely vague or extremely angry. So I would just let him go, and I would be left wondering.

This particular day, when he came home, things were weird. You could feel something was just “off.” Later that evening, he was changing his clothes. When he took his shirt off, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. His back was completely covered in horrible welts and deep bruises that reached from shoulder to shoulder and neck to waist. It was horrific. It was almost bloody. When I urgently inquired what had happened, his answer shocked and sickened me.

He explained to me that he had given in to a sin–a particular sin that plagued him. So, to show his complete penance, he decided he needed some sort of consequence.  He began walking through an alley in a less-than-desirable part of Memphis, and came across a man sitting in the alley. When he saw the man, he made a bizarre “deal” with him. My husband would pay the man $20 if the man would beat him as hard as he could with a belt!  Of course, the man refused at first, but my husband coerced him into doing it. Apparently, the man was not beating him hard enough, and my husband insisted that he beat him harder. He explained to me that it took some insisting to make this ordeal happen. Believe me, it looked like some sort of massacre had occurred. But the poor gentleman got $20 out of the deal. I was so stunned, I was speechless. It took me a while to recover from that one, I can tell you. How do you wrap your mind around something like that? And I had a constant reminder of it for days to follow every time I looked at his back.

I realize now, that delusional act of insanity was for “my benefit.” I mean, how could I ever question him about his sincerity if he would go to that length to prove his “commitment” and  remorse for sin? It played on many of my emotions and thought processes. I felt sympathy. I felt anger. I felt sadness. I felt overwhelmed. I felt sick. I felt fear. I felt defeat. But most of all, I felt alone and trapped. Without a doubt, I could NEVER tell anyone. How can you explain to someone your husband paid a stranger in an alley to beat him? And if he will go to these lengths in this situation, what lengths would he go to in other circumstances?…….And there you have it. That, my friends, is a classic case of just one instance that develops in a victim a phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome. I will go into further detail of that another time.

And of course, that experience shaped my thinking and my beliefs about the kind of remorse and sacrifice God required from his children. So that is why, a couple of years later, I went through extreme torment about my salvation and about my relationship with God. It’s one thing to develop a relationship of commitment out of the deepest love. It’s another to live that life out of extreme fear and the constant reminder that you can’t measure up to this God of Justice, who is waiting to deal out retribution for the smallest infraction of the “rules” and legal system of obedience.

But my God is not like that, my friends. Don’t let ANYONE ever tell you he is. In the 30 years since that time, God has shown me his incredible grace and love. Yes, he is a just and perfect God, but when he reveals to you his immense grace, his incomprehensible love, his unfathomable mercy, his divine presence in your life, his precious voice, his gift of His Spirit to lead and guide you, his divine power to quiet all the demons of hell, his peace–then you can’t help but fall in love with him. When you realize all of this, you will stumble over yourself to run to him and to serve him. And when you do sin, you are covered with the blood of Jesus, and you will desire to repent with all your heart.  In your relationship with Him, you will be full and ever satisfied, yet always hungering for more of him. You will be asking, “What can I do for you today, and what will please you most?” But that response will be out of love for your perfect Father, and not the pathetic attempts to measure up to an impossible standard. I am ashamed that in the past, I put God in a box and put limits on his power and grace. But every day I learn more about Him, and I am constantly in awe.

If you don’t know this God, search for him, sweet friends. Cry out to him from the darkness, and He is there. Reach out to him, and his hand is there, steady and strong to pull you out of the waves of despair. When his divine nature collides with our frail and pathetic humanity, a transformation takes places that makes all the foundations of Heaven quake with the thunder of praise. There is a transaction exchanging feeble for mighty, and the life you once knew transforms into glory. The enemy loses his grip on you, and now you are truly free. Jesus carried the load of our sin on the cross, and in that act, we have an incredible story of redemption and victory. That is where the strength lies to face the battle, and where hope resides in the heart,promising unimaginable things to come.

And the journey is incredible!

 

 

 

 

 

Warning Signs

I am blessed to live a peaceful, tranquil and beautiful life. I guess you would say I live on the mountaintop. But no mountaintop is possible without first experiencing the valley. We all have valleys. I had to endure my valley for a very long time. But the one thing I learned: God is ever faithful, even when we can’t feel him or hear him. He’s there. But I also feel impressed that he wants to use my experience in the valley for a purpose. I was a victim of abuse, and just maybe I can share something with others that will deter them from choosing the same course. I want to share with you about the warning signs to look for, whether for yourself or for someone else.

The early warning signs of abuse are very subtle, and may be hard to detect at first, especially when you are  unaware or uneducated on the subject. Girls, please listen to me. If you are in a relationship that you seriously question in any way, take it from me–GET OUT NOW! RUN! Run as fast as you can, and never look back. I can’t tell you how many warning signs I saw, and how strange I felt trying to justify the completely weird traits I witnessed in the early stages of our relationship. And they were only to become increasingly bizarre. Believe me, as tenacious as you may be in “fixing” relationships or “fixing” broken people, you can’t imagine how painful it can be, and unfortunately, more than likely, you will fail. You can’t fix people. Leave that to Jesus. That’s his job.  Make certain you do not base a relationship on fixing another person.

As a young girl, I lived in my own world, my bubble, where life seemed untouched by anything truly painful or dark. It never occurred to me what pain others around me might be experiencing. In turn then, being a hopeless romantic, my dreams of what marriage would be for me were days of sunshine and laughter and nights listening to music nestled by the fire.  Of course, I know now no marriage is like that. But never did I imagine what mine was to be. My reality not only expelled any unrealistic notions, but it brought me face to face with darkness in a way I never knew existed in my circle of life– a horrible and frightening reality ushering in pain and regret, polar opposite of what I had imagined as a girl.

Oh yes. There were warning signs, apparently so obvious that even my friends picked up on them. One particular friend begged me on more than one occasion not to marry this man, and even tried to convince other people around me that things were not what they should be. I guess you could say I knew things were not normal. I had seen bizarre behavior that concerned me. But, as was my pattern, I only wanted to see the good. I wanted to believe that I could fix it. A love-conquers-all mentality. But even the best intentions can come to ruin.

In the beginning, I guess I should have known that it was really odd for a 28 year old man to be pursuing a 16 year old high school girl. But at that age, it’s kind of validating and even somewhat thrilling that any man that age would be interested in you. That’s not to say that there are not genuine loving relationships that share that age difference. But the age difference, combined with all the other odd traits that I saw, should have been my first warning sign. Our age difference benefited him. He knew he would have the upper hand. It was part of the “grooming” stage. He could make me into what he wanted me to be. He said I had been reserved just for him. I was his, he said. After all, he said, there was 10 years age difference between Abraham and Sarah, and she submitted to him, “calling him Lord”. And yes, he actually said that to me, and I was to be reminded of that “very important” bible verse many times in the years that followed. The manipulating of my mind with scripture had already begun.

He had only seen me twice before asking me to marry him. That is the definition of odd in every sense, but still I didn’t catch on. His reason for marrying me, according to his own words, was for sexual outlet.  It sickens me to write that. He didn’t say  he wanted to marry me because of grand dreams of creating a beautiful relationship serving the Lord together, and because he couldn’t live without me. It wasn’t so that he could spend the rest of his days showing me how much I meant to him. Our marriage served his needs. And it was upon that basis he married me. After all, as he referenced from scripture, “It’s better to marry than to burn with passion”.   Warning sign. And apparently, I was the privileged one. I mean I was lucky enough to be the one he chose after he has passed by so many others. In his words, “he could have had a harem.”. But he gave it all up for me and for the Lord.

Looking back, I remember instances that indicated that he would be in control. Early in our engagement, he told me I was getting “chunky”, and let me know I needed to watch that. He told me not to highlight my hair because he liked things “natural.” He created a huge scene because I slept with a little poodle dog that I loved–which I had done my whole life. He violently shook the “germs” out of the blanket, because his future wife was going to be “clean.” Even though it would be many months before we married, I was not to do it, beginning at that moment. No question. Warning signs. Those indicators of control were only to increase as time went on. You wouldn’t believe the maniacal scene that would be displayed in later years because I ordered a cappuccino. People are addicted to coffee and he was not going to have me partaking. Suffice to say, me and the whole car were wearing that cappuccino.  I don’t give these examples to be petty. I share them to shed light on surface circumstances and actions that could be indicative of deep problems.

He could be so smooth and convincing, and so spiritual and loving when he wanted me to believe what he was saying was true. It was straight from the mouth of God, or that was what he wanted me to think. The use of scripture to get what you want out of a person is one of the most devious forms of manipulation and abuse. After all, God has the final word, doesn’t he? So, if God says it, and it’s quoted in the right setting, it gets you right where the abuser needs you to be. You submit out of a sincere but misguided obedience to God, and slowly this person standing in front of you becomes your “god” of sorts. Now he is the one who formulates your belief system and any variance from what he dictates brings great retribution.

I witnessed severe anger issues early on in the relationship, and suffered explosive consequences for any infraction of the rules or question of his decisions or actions. It’s another form of mind control. You fear the outcome, so to side step any chance of his anger, you do what he bids. You walk on egg shells, or you drive yourself to the edge of madness trying to stay ahead of the game. You learn to live and act every moment as he bids, to avoid conflict. And then when you do falter, you do and say almost anything to diffuse the situation. You become a robot. You are defined by fear. Answering every command with obedience, no matter how bizarre in nature, you slowly lose who you are. You gradually slip away and fade into black. And his purpose is complete. He has utter control and has no fear of any sort of backlash for any decision, any self-serving purpose, any plan of action he may choose to implement.

This happened to me early on in our engagement. I lovingly tried to talk to him about concerns I had with our relationship. Believe me, I learned quickly, you question nothing. It was the first time I had tested the waters with interjecting an opinion. All of a sudden, I saw his face begin to grimace in anger, his voice became louder and louder, until he was yelling so loud I was afraid people around would hear him, even though we were standing in a parking lot next to a busy interstate. Suddenly, he exploded and forcefully punched the top of my vehicle and stormed off. I was so stunned by what I had just witnessed, I threw my engagement ring in the floor of the vehicle and sped away. The strange thing was, at that moment, I felt almost relieved. I had a legitimate reason to get out of the engagement. And that was my intention. But then the cycle continued.

Abusers know just what to say and do to get you to trust them again. They go out of their way, showering you with extravagant gifts, profuse apologies, promises that it will never happen again, and sharing bright and shining dreams for the future. And you are once again sucked in. This was the first time I had witnessed “violence” from him, but it was also only about the 5th time we had seen each other. It scared me. I had already seen signs of “weird” character traits. But this outburst was real and it was explosive. He knew he had messed up. He took me to a park and began crying and claiming he believed it would never happen again. He played on my sympathy. I still wasn’t convinced. So that night at church he went forward and asked for prayer and forgiveness publicly. This time he played on my spiritual nature, and there was also now a “pressure” to accept him back. Now there were on-lookers that saw his contrite apology and I felt they were waiting to see how I would respond. I felt as if he had rallied a force, I guess you would say–God and the church. I was only 17 years old. So the pressure and manipulation was very effective. I remember the moment later that night when I reached out and touched him to let him know it was okay. It almost makes me want to gag now. I had no idea what I was dealing with, and I trusted that it would never happen again. Life would be all I had dreamed it would be. But that notion would be shattered hundreds of times over and over in the days and months and years to come.

That pattern would continue throughout the course of 30 years and only become worse and more maniacal until he had complete control of all of me. Only now do I see how truly sick I became over the years. Sick in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

But I serve a great God. A God of healing, hope and recovery. Jesus is the Great Physician. He can restore the mind, renew the body and the Spirit, creating a whole person again. He can deliver from the chains of abuse, of addiction, of depression, of anger, of unforgiveness–of anything that keeps us from being all we can be. We just have to be ready to listen, and open to His power. We have to recognize our need for restoration, and confess and release our decisions that may have put us in spiritual bondage. Some things are forced upon us. Some we open the doors for. When we take responsibility for listening to lies of Satan, and lay it all at the feet of Jesus, a whole new perspective opens for us. Take hold of Jesus, my friend. He is there…waiting. He will change you, and your life will never be the same.

 

 

 

 

Broken

Everyone has their breaking point, I suppose. Mine came one particularly cold night in the Spring of 2012, and I stood there shivering violently, trying to grasp what had just transpired. Dazed and hurling in confusion, realizations were coming clear to me that I had not dared to give heed to before. I was on a threshold, stepping out of a fog that I had lived in for so long, and the consummate conclusion was disturbing. But it was to lead me on a journey into realizing the power and provision of a mighty God.

The evening had begun as any other–nothing out of the ordinary. But as the pattern always goes in abusive situations, that ordinary evening changed traumatically. Here is the ever-present scenario:  A conversation becomes bizarre in nature, then manipulative, then controlling, then explosive, and then you find yourself swirling in confusion, utter torment, and most of all, fear. Your mind is tortured with choices of how to respond, what to say or what not to say, thinking of ways to dismantle the situation–knowing the end result will always be the same–you will be at fault no matter what. You will be left reeling with guilt because, as is always the case, it’s your fault. You will pay the consequences and will spend the next hours or days or months walking on eggshells and groveling for forgiveness, and hoping for some shred of approval indicating that you finally stand in good graces again. And the relief brings such euphoria and gratefulness, and you are once again feeling the sunlight on your face, trying to bask in the moment, before it will all begin again. And you wonder what will trigger the next round, but you can’t think about that now, because, for now, all is well, and you can breathe for a moment.  It’s the cycle, you know. And that cycle is the only constant in your life.

Prior to this particular night, some realizations had been coming to me that my situation was not normal and that things were not okay in my life and in my marriage. Something was wrong. It had taken me almost 30 years to admit that. But because of that tiny indication, I had found my voice (or at least partially found it) at last, and a shred of courage. So I decided this night, I was not going to stand there and “take it.” I was going to get away for a while. I did not know where, but I needed time–if only a few hours– to think. Surprising myself, I bravely got into the vehicle and sped away.

With no particular place in mind, I drove through my neighborhood, thinking I had escaped. After I had gone a few blocks, I looked in the rearview mirror and I saw headlights. It was the middle of the night, and in a small town there was little to no traffic, so odds were, it would be him. And it was. Suddenly he began increasing his speed, so I increased mine. Something in me rose up and I determined this time I was not going to buckle.

Finally, I entered the highway with no hindrances in my path, and I began to flee. He continued to pursue me, and tried to maneuver up to the driver’s side of my vehicle. His tire got caught in the gravel on the shoulder, and he lost control. Swerving violently back and forth across the road, his vehicle flipped on it’s side, skidding down the highway and spraying sparks like fireworks in the night sky. I watched from my rearview mirror in horror as it all unfolded before me. When it was all over, his vehicle came to a halt on the shoulder of the road in a crumpled mass, the wheels still spinning like tops on a spindle. Of course, as was always my tortured mindset, my immediate thought was that this was all my fault. The ramification of that was overwhelming, for at that moment, I didn’t know the outcome. I thought he was dead.

I turned around and drove back to the scene whimpering pitifully, asking God to not let him be dead. I stepped out of my vehicle, and into what felt like an out of body experience. Suddenly, I began trembling violently and became intensely aware of the cold and the horrific scene before me. It was eerily silent, except for the whirring sound of the spinning tires. But something kept me mentally stable enough to approach his crumpled vehicle to assess the situation.

Was he dead? Was he horrifically injured? What would I find? Would he be dismembered or wounded beyond recognition? There was no sign of life, and the reality of that thought sent me into shock. But as was always my habit, I had to keep going. I could see that he was pressed against the driver’s side door, which was now lying the ground. Still no response from him, as he lay there lifelessly. I know now that was a shock tactic demonstrated for my benefit. I could see he was bleeding, but I couldn’t tell from where. I began pounding on the broken windshield screaming his name and shouting, “Are you Ok??!!!! Are you ok?!!!!” I was begging for a response. Finally he began to move, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Are you going to leave me, baby? Please don’t leave me! I love you! I love Jesus! Are you going to leave me?”  Those rants continued over and over. They were the rants of a madman–manipulative and mind-controlling–even in the face of what could have been death.

And suddenly, for the first time in 30 years, I felt something break inside of me. He had finally broken me, and I knew it. The trembling now became a convulsing of sorts within my body. As though someone or something had flipped a light switch on in a dark room, the realization came to me that I had been living with insanity for all those years. I looked up at the moon and begged God to see me, to help me, to give me direction. It was a split-second of time, but a lifetime of questions and scenarios was all summed up in one question. “God, do you see?” And for perhaps the first time in my life, or at least the first time I was aware of it, I believe God spoke to my heart and said, “I have seen enough. This is it.” I had no idea what that meant, or where it would lead. But I knew at that moment, God picked me up into his arms and assured me he had this. And in my brokenness, I trusted him, and rested in that fact. I wept and allowed myself to admit, “I can’t do this anymore.”

After much resistance and not without long argument, my husband went to the emergency room in an ambulance. Believe me, the police on the scene had to exercise authority to make it happen. I watched as they loaded him onto the gurney and into the ambulance. I was still sitting there on the side of the highway shivering and convulsing. Knowing I was in shock, the emergency workers began asking simple questions to see about my mental state. What is your name? How old are you? Where do you live? Do you know what day it is? And then, from one of the policemen came a question that haunted me: “Was there any domestic abuse involved in this crash?” Of course, I insisted emphatically there was not. There was a voice inside me that doubted my answer. Why did he ask that?

And, suddenly, it began to unfold before me. All the hiding, all the covering, all the enabling had led me to this, and I began to imagine what they would think of all that had just happened and all that had been happening for the past 30 years. And it struck me what this stranger’s perception of my life would be, and I became aware that I had been hiding a very dark secret. Only now would I truly admit it to myself. My sons and I were victims of abuse. It seemed as though lights began to flash in my mind, and realizations were becoming plain, and past dramatic experiences were coming to light, like awakening from a dream-like state. I am nauseated and trembling even writing about it. But that moment would mark the beginning of a long quest for relief and recovery.

The night was only to become more bizarre. Upon my entrance into the emergency room, he was standing in his hospital gown, his arm bandaged from the wound he had sustained in the wreck. He looked at me and said one of the most bizarre things I had ever heard him say: “I just realized we never got to dance together.” And he hugged me close and began swaying back and forth. The room began to spin, and I became weak. I felt faint and thought I would vomit. He wanted to keep me in his spell.  But instead, that moment made me realize his level of insanity, and how very sick my mind had become. He climbed back into bed and I stood there helplessly whimpering, tears streaming down my face, broken in every way, and for the moment, no help in sight. And then he looked at me and said something, I can’t remember what. But it was some sort of manipulative, passive-aggressive statement said in a very sweet tone. Something that my mind translated, “It’s ok. We know this is your fault, but I’m going to be fine.”

The days that followed were to play out into many other scenarios, too numerous to detail. Thank God, the only physical injury my husband sustained was to his arm and was healed a short time later. And me? Well, in my state of disrepair God was to bring about miraculous healing and freedom. The days ahead were a process and it was not a swift delivery, but He sustained me long enough to eventually permanently remove me from the situation.

I am in a beautiful place in my life now, with a new husband, and I am in awe every day. But that night marked the beginning of an incredible journey of faith for me, which I had never imagined possible, and led me into the deepest places of trust in God’s leading and in His direct guidance.

God has taught me eternal lessons about His grace and mercy. I have re-discovered Him in ways I never dreamed. I have learned of His personal interaction in my life–that He speaks and is waiting for me to listen. I have learned, more than ever, that He is a God of love, and that He has a deep purpose for me–a purpose which I am on a quest to fulfill. I have learned that he can take brokenness and make it whole. He can take ugliness and make it beauty. He can take weakness and make it strength. He can create a victor out of a victim.

Perhaps you or someone in your life is living in constant fear and the despair of abuse. I am here to proclaim to you there is hope. There is healing. You don’t have to stay broken. You can live life fully and immeasurably. You can find joy in the pain, and come out of the dark. You can proclaim mighty victories and discover incredible treasures hidden beneath the rubble. God sees you. Defeat is not His will for you. Find his deliverance and his peace. Wield the sword of His word, and in the name of Jesus, defeat the powers of darkness, break the strongholds of evil, and go forward into the battle. Don’t listen to the lies any longer. God will not leave your side. Victory is yours. You are more than conquerors because of an old rugged cross and a glorious empty tomb. Claim that victory and behold what wonders He has in store for you. I promise you, they are beyond compare.

And pray for me, please, my friend. Pray for open doors in my life for ministry, and for being a voice and an advocate for women in dark places in life. Pray that I will recognize those doors and will be brave enough to walk through them. Pray for strength to allow Him to fulfill His plan for me, and for courage to do what He bids. And most of all, pray that all my life and breath are filled with His sweet presence and His beautiful Spirit, and that I will be bold and courageous until my time here is finished. And then, some day, when I see His face, I will fall on my knees in His presence and He will say to me, “Well done, my daughter.” And that will be the sweetest words to me ever uttered.