Robes of Survivors…….Part 2

How can the church help? Like I said in Part 1, this is a difficult area. Abuse is ugly in any form and many turn a blind eye because they don’t know what to do, and are just plain clueless about abuse and have very definite, albeit wrong views, on the subject. I do believe there are good people in every church who see other members trapped, suffering, unable to break free, want to help, but do not know how. The one thing we need to remember is that the abused need to make the decision to leave, and they must lead the way out. Any other way often times is dangerous, if not deadly.

I was surprised to find out just how many people suspected there was abuse going on and had never said anything. At one point I was having some health issues and went to our family doctor. I sat in his office describing my symptoms and then he said, “What’s really going on?” Blew me away. I stammered for a bit, then the floodgates opened. For the next 90 min we talked and in the end he said, “if you don’t get away, he will kill you.” Doc said that he had never liked nor trusted my ex, and that he knew the ex was abusive just by the way he acted and talked. He walked me to my car and told me I could come in and use the computer for whatever I needed. He also gave me the names of a couple of good out of town lawyers and his calling card to call when I was ready.

Enter the church. A well-meaning woman from the church visited me at work one day and said a few of them suspected abuse was going on in our home. She talked, I listened. She said that the church was willing to help us get away by providing a place to live, a car, and some money to get us started. I agreed to think about it. Long story short, after several conversations I decided to take them up on their offer. The woman and I talked again; she told me the pastor had commented, “There are lots of men in the church who are controlling”, and “they had decided to help someone else.” First of all, abusive people are more than “controlling” and secondly, excusing other men for being controlling is concerning.

Two different responses. Which was more valuable? Who did I perceive was more in tune with our situation? The answer is obvious, but I don’t blame the church. Abuse is an ugly subject and few people want to involve themselves. I totally get that, but the reality is if someone doesn’t step up to intervene, to support, to encourage those in abusive relationships, people are damaged, stripped of their humanity, and often killed. We have all heard the stories on the news; we shake our heads and many ask why the women stayed. To hear someone make that statement about anyone in an abusive relationship pierces me to the core of my being. Please never say, “if it were me I would have left”.  Walk a mile in another’s shoes before hurtful words pass your lips.

Where was my family, one might ask? Most abusers will isolate their victims from family, friends, any support people who might try to help, or in their minds – interfere. My family was hundreds of miles away and did try to keep in touch, send letters, gifts for the kids, contact me at work, and all efforts were thwarted. I wasn’t aware of many of the letters or gifts because they were sent back by the ex before I saw them. Any contacts at work my family made were short conversations with me assuring them I was ok, not to worry, or I was rude to keep them at bay. For us, any interference perceived or otherwise, only served to intensify an already bad situation.

So what can the church do? Committees can be formed, made up of those who have been trained in helping abused families get away from their abusers. Training is essential. Only people who are committed and willing to step outside the comfort zone of the church need apply. Abused families need to know that they are supported, they won’t be judged, there is safety, they need to find hope again.

Supporting the abused involves listening, providing information on Safe Houses and legal services that help women to get out of abusive relationships, and following through on whatever offers have been made. Ensure a code word has been established that she will text to a designated person(s) in the event a situation becomes dangerous and the police need to be called. Help pack an escape bag should it be needed.

It is important the abused lead the way out. They are the experts on their family dynamics, the danger that is involved. Many are not ready to leave when first approached. The crushed of spirit are fearful, believe they are incapable of living without the abuser, and most have no resources available to them whatsoever making it doubly hard as women fear not being able to care for their children. Patient support of others is essential to encourage but not push, understand as much as is possible for those unfamiliar with abuse. Don’t criticize, offer advice or try to play amateur psychologist.

I had begun to think that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, until the church snuffed out the the light. You see, I had prayed for years for the ex to change, begged God to change his heart, open his eyes to what he was doing to his kids, and me. Our relationship had not started like the bad dream we were living; typical in many abusive relationships. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep; it seemed the more I prayed, the worse our situation became. And, as the years went by I died a little bit more inside, I no longer had any self esteem, self worth, and had been convinced that I was worthless, was made to believe that I caused the abuse.

Was I mad at God? Not at first; I believed if I could just be a better wife we wouldn’t be in this situation. The church perpetuates that mindset. The whole submission thing is so often misconstrued and then used by men to justify their abuse. I don’t claim to have the answer to solving that problem, maybe there is no good answer. As time passed I did get angry with God. My kids did not ask to be born, and surely didn’t ask to be saddled with an abusive father. Everyday I struggle with the guilt of what my kids went through. I will die with that guilt.

A word about Protection From Abuse orders and the police: I can only speak from my experience, but they are a piece of paper. I had a PFA; my ex was not to be on the property. One night he came to get some things and it was necessary the police be called. They came, did their interviews and asked him to leave. An officer asked me for the order and told me he was taking it down to the station to “verify” it and would call me to come pick it up as soon as that was done. I really don’t know what there was to “verify”, it was a court document. The encounter with the officer left me cold, and feeling victimized one more time. I was called and told to come pick it up. After I got home the officer came back and wanted to talk to me. He was rude, full of himself, and I broke down. One of my daughters took him outside and confronted him, telling him we were the victims and his treatment of us was unnecessary. She stood her ground and I was very proud of her. I am certain not all officers are like that; what that taught me was ignorance abounds, even in professions supposedly trained in the area of domestic abuse

Abuse changes people. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is common and its effects are lifelong. We have trust issues, in many cases our hearts have hardened.; and yet I am very sensitive and drawn to the vulnerable, the downtrodden, the hurting among us. It is possible to find happiness again, and I have. God is good. I am grateful for the lessons learned. I have found my voice again.

If you know of someone, a family who is in the throes of abuse, or you suspect abuse in the lives of loved ones, please be sensitive to what you say. Check biases at the door before trying to offer help. Get educated, be supportive and patient. If you are in church leadership consider starting a committee to address domestic abuse in your church. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me by commenting and I will get back with you. If you are in an abusive relationship, there is hope and help out there. God does care, and so do I; there is a robe waiting for you to exchange for the clothes of the victim you are wearing right now……..

 

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Robes of Survivors……

Am finally caught up on The Walking Dead so that I can start season 7 up to speed. This isn’t another post about the show….really! The reality is though, TWD is about relationships, and I am fascinated by people and relationships. The zombies are quite incidental.

In one of the episodes from season 6, the main characters are living inside the walls of a community; relatively safe, in nice homes with all the amenities, life is seemingly “normal” (whatever that is), and the ugliness of the outside world rages on outside the walls that they have erected.

The church is a lot like that community; at least that has been my experience. One of the characters commented that the life they had inside the walls was not real, that they were burying their heads in the sand. Pretty much. They were ignoring the ugliness outside the walls; choosing not to deal with what lay beyond. Yes, they could make the case for a moment of respite, but at some point they would turn their backs altogether on the life they had known outside the walls; forget where they had come from, thereby forgetting those still outside the walls.

The walls the church has erected keep them safe from the ugliness of the world, and sometimes rightfully so. But if the church is to be a place for the sick to come and get well, as many advertise, or a haven for the tired, the bedraggled, and the abused, the leadership and elders also need to deal with the issues once the hurt are inside the walls, the issues that brought them to the doors of the church in the first place, and not bury their heads in the sand.

Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step program many churches participate in and I applaud their mission and efforts to reach out to those struggling with addictions. Their ministry has helped remove some of the stigma associated with addictions and given a place for many of their participants to find hope, rest, and a chance at a better life. Celebrate Recovery shines the light on the issues holding good people hostage and helps them shed the clothing of victims in exchange for the robes of a survivor.

Domestic Abuse is one such issue I would like to see the church gather around, too. Having come from the shadows of abuse, this issue has special meaning for my family and me. I realize that domestic abuse is a dangerous area for the untrained to venture into, but with education and assistance available, domestic abuse can be brought into the light for its hostages to exchange their clothing of victims for those of survivors.

What many don’t realize is that within the walls of the church there are many silent victims held hostage by their abusers. Even more concerning is that the very people who many look up to in church leadership are the abusers in their families.

I was fortunate enough to finally find my voice and leave with my kids, and it was one of my daughters who gave me the courage. It wasn’t easy, and it rarely is for any survivors of abusive relationships. Since leaving the marriage and beginning the healing process, I have had the opportunity to talk with several women still trapped in abusive relationships, or those new to life on the other side of abuse. Most of those women are members of a church, some quite involved in church life, and still others are wives of pastors or church leadership. Like me, these women and their children live dual lives; the lives lived with the abuser, and their lives in the public eye and within the walls of the church. Families in abusive situations are some of the best actors around, and rightfully so; often their very lives depend upon their ability to keep the abuse secret.

Abuse comes in many forms. Physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. Abusers strip their victims of their self esteem, self worth, instill self doubt, fear, dependency, and crush their spirits. Until you have lived it, please don’t judge those struggling within the nightmare.

I have found that many otherwise highly intelligent, strong, wise and independent women fall victim to abusive partners, and I was no different. You see, abusers find their purpose and strength in destroying the spirits of the abused. Often, these women (and men) stay in the beginning because they are fiercely loyal, want to believe the best of others, have convinced themselves that the abusers don’t want to abuse, and that deep down the abusers are good people struggling with their own demons. As the abuse continues, over time learned helplessness sets in (when people, or animals feel helpless to avoid painful situations and become unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters because previous experience has shown them that they have no control in the situation, even when escape is a possibility). Abusers are adept at turning any situation or argument around to make the victims feel as if the whole thing is their fault. The victims end up apologizing, doing penance, as it were, for “sins” committed.

I have been known to say that I believe abusers are working from a secret handbook as the stories I hear women tell follow a similar pattern. I know women who have been beaten, had guns held to their heads, some shot, nearly choked to death, threatened, have watched their children being beaten and abused in front of them and being helpless to intervene, and forced to do unspeakable things as part of their “punishment”. Part of my story can be found within the words of that last sentence.

All are psychologically and emotionally abused, their spirits so damaged they become little more than a shell of the precious and unique creation they once were.  Many abusers tell their victims we are the cause of the abuse, we have pushed them to their acts of violence, convincing us, brainwashing us, into believing if we could just be better people, if we would just “obey”, the abuse would stop. And yet, no matter what victims do, no matter how hard we try we cannot be “good” enough to make them stop. I am here to tell you I believe there is nothing short of a miracle that will make the abusers stop.

How does abuse happen to people who otherwise would not tolerate the treatment they have suffered at the hands of their abusers? Little by little. Abusers begin to chip away at the spirits of their victims; psychological abuse results in their victims questioning their self-worth, diminishing their self-esteem until their victims are convinced they are unable to live without the abusers, will be rejected by everyone else but the abusers, and most are systematically isolated from family, friends, any support system that may suspect what is happening in secret.

Physical abuse is common, but not always the predominant abuse. Many who don’t know much about domestic abuse visualize the battered and bruised woman. All forms of abuse are damaging, and I, for one, would rather be hit and get it over with; the wounds of psychological, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse often times penetrate much deeper, are more devastating, and their effects last a lifetime regardless of any amount of healing. Most, if not all victims, come away with some degree of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

The signs are there; victimization by domestic abusers is not entirely invisible, but many don’t know what to do, how to intervene, and the whole subject so uncomfortable, many choose to look the other way believing they wouldn’t fall victim; believe victims are weak, must like it otherwise they would leave. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I mourn for those who have died at the hands of their abusers; I believe God weeps and holds each thru the horrors they endure, and will hold each one close to His heart throughout eternity.  Many of us do get the chance to leave, to reunite with family, to learn to trust again, find our voice, to exchange the clothes of victims for the robes of survivors. What can the church do? Next week we will look at the possibilities……….

 

Snuggle in….

The world is a tough place to be. Mass killings here and abroad, currently a bitter election that is fraught with lies, deceit, and accusations, children taking weapons to school and killing those who have bullied them and anyone else who gets in their way, children killing parents, and parents killing children, workplace violence, you name it, we have experienced it many times over in the last few years. Driving to or from work daily can be brutal; people honk, get impatient and flip others off with little provocation, or angrily shake fists at drivers who, in their estimation, are going too slow.

We prefer to communicate through email, text, Twitter, Facebook, or SnapChat instead of picking up the telephone and sharing a part of our lives, or thoughts and ideas with another. And I am no different in that respect. Our preference for communication has made us more callous; it’s easier to filet someone with words thru a text or email, and that in turn hardens our hearts even more. Our world is less friendly, less kind, less forgiving, less loving.

So, what do we do in such a world to find acceptance, peace, safe harbor? We snuggle into family, the one place in the world that should be a sanctuary for us when the world gets too harsh.

Is your family a sanctuary of love and peace? If you’re like many, probably not. Marriage is difficult, parent-child relationships are often strained for a variety of reasons. As people have moved away from God, we have moved away from each other, too. And that’s sad. When we are wounded by the world, we need to be able to find that safe, soft place to land, a place where we are cared for, where we can lick our wounds, heal, and recoup our energy.

Whether you are a church-goer, believer, agnostic or atheist, one has to admit that there is some pretty awesome wisdom found within the scriptures.  If you have been to a wedding chances are the “Love” chapter was read at some point; I Cor 13:4-7. The “love is patient, love is kind,,,” one. Love doesn’t brag, doesn’t keep a tally of another’s wrongs, it’s not jealous, does not provoke, rejoices in the truth, etc. How about Hebrews 10:4, “…provoke one another to love and good deeds”. Wow what if families, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, parents and children actually practiced these?? That would solve several problems with family communication and unity just by applying those principles!

Going deeper: Ephesians 4:26-27, “do not let the sun go down on your anger”, and Ephesians 4:29, “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Hashing out our differences before letting grudges and bitterness take root would certainly mend a lot of broken people. And speaking only words that lifted up another; the possibilities are endless.

Now, let’s try on Philippians 2:3-4 for size, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That concept alone would revolutionize the world as we know it.

Change begins with one person; me, you. Change for the better, unfortunately takes a lot longer to happen than change for the worse, but it’s still possible. Speaking words to build others up, putting others before self, and being patient with one another requires an effort on our part; an effort to think before we speak, checking our thought life, changing our priorities, and purposing in our hearts to work toward reconciliation instead of flinging words at one another like sharpened darts.

For many of us unlearning negativity would take some hard work. It is so much easier to speak words in anger and bitterness than to stop and think before speaking to be certain the words spoken build up instead of tear down. Many of us were taught from childhood hurtful communication by our parents. I have heard far too many parents yell, berate, and belittle their children without thought as to the long term effects of words spoken in haste, in anger, and out of frustration. How many times have I mourned over the words I have spoken to my children and others I love? I wish I could take back every hurtful word I have ever spoken, but that’s just not how it works.

The good news is that as long as we draw breath we have the opportunity to change our thoughts, our speech, how we relate to one another. It’s our choice. We can overcome evil with good, mend the brokenness in our families and make our families that sanctuary of peace; a place to snuggle in.

Dedicated to my family…..the place I need to snuggle in

 

What if……

Prayer, what does it mean to you? How do you approach God in prayer? Do you wait until your back is up against the wall and you need help this minute, or do you make a habit of daily prayer? Are your prayers lifted up in praise and worship of the Creator, or is it a time to hand Him your wish list? A combination?

People pray for many reasons and in many ways. Is there a right way to pray? In my opinion, no. Whatever way we choose to approach God is part of our journey, our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, our prayer journey will change and deepen.

The Hebrew word for prayer is “tefillah”; it means to judge oneself. In Western Christianity our word “prayer” is derived from the Latin word meaning “to beg”. Very different, wouldn’t you say? The Jews pray 3 times a day and their prayers bear different approaches to God.

I have studied Judaism and have a deep appreciation for the “roots”, if you will, of our journey with God. Study has changed the way that I look at scripture, interpretations, and deepened my understanding. And yet, I have only scratched the surface.

Like this prayer thing; I have spent the better part of my week meditating on the differences in our definitions, and my approach to God when I pray. Tefillah; examining oneself before God. The very essence of examining self is to be honest, open, and vulnerable. That can be very difficult; what do I see in myself that is not pleasing to God and what am I going to do about it? If I am honest with myself I see qualities that I don’t like, that need to be changed. Selfishness, for one. Without the magnifying glass of tefillah I can fool myself into believing that I am generous, but the reality is that I’m not; at least not as generous as I would like to be with those outside my circle of family and friends, and even then I find myself lacking.

Tefillah is humbling. I don’t want to be humbled, do you? I want to feel like I have “got it all together”, but again in the light of self examination I have to admit failure in the presence of God’s perfection.

At times, self examination has the ability to break us; to reveal those moments when we have hurt another of His Creation. The realization that we have hurt another person should pierce the core of our being. Careless words wielded like weapons at others for the sole purpose of inflicting pain should drop us to our knees and lead to brokenness.

But God doesn’t leave us there on our knees. One of His attributes and gifts to us is mercy. In His mercy He wraps His loving arms around us, holding us to His breast to comfort us in our moment of pain. That alone is humbling; to know that a Holy God, perfect in all His ways and desiring relationship with us, will comfort us like a father comforting a child.

The subject of prayer from the Hebrew perspective is complex at best. The Hebrew approach to God is with reverence, awe and familiarity. Reverence and familiarity are polar opposites, and yet we can experience both; He is a Holy God, and we are but a speck in a vast universe. Still, He desires a close relationship with each of us.

The pious Jews sometimes prepare for hours before going to God in prayer. Their motives for what they are asking for are examined before bringing them to God. That kind of blows me away! The idea here is not to bring the “laundry list” of needs and desires, but to understand why I want the things I am asking for, and how those things will better the world; in other words what contribution is that thing that I am asking for going to make in the grander scheme of life? Rather takes the selfishness out of prayer, don’t you think?

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to bring our needs and desires to Him. He knows we have needs and desires; it is the approach that needs to be considered, the attitude, the reasons. Realizing that when God gives to us that we are receiving a gift rather than we are deserving of the answer to prayer. Believing I am entitled to whatever desire I bring to God is a selfish mindset. “I want what I want when I want it” without thought to how my desire affects the world at large is childish, self-centered. And if I don’t receive the answer I want? What will my response be then? To sulk, pout, turn my back on God, shake my fist in anger?

Our relationship with God is a journey, our own personal journey, unique to each of us. Just as parents have a unique relationship with each of their children, so it is with God. Our prayer life is unique to each of us as well. How many times do we pray out of obligation without a thought as to what we are praying for and why? Before a meal, in church, when we want something, when a friend asks us to pray for a need, to name a few? What if we adopted the attitude and mindset of the Hebrew definition of prayer instead of the Latin “to beg” we are most familiar with? What if before the next prayer you pray, you figure out why you want that prayer answered, and how that will answer will better our world? What if………?