Grace for those who Blow It

I get so much encouragement from the story of King David—up till the very end of his life. The fact that God called him a man after his own heart is what I find most encouraging. David blew it again and again. In 1 Kings chapter 1 we find that his parenting left something to be desired, but God still delivered him out of every trouble. This is not to say there were not consequences for his mistakes, but it is to say that God is gracious beyond what we deserve. He even takes delight in his flawed children. David continually turned towards the Lord for help when he messed up. Check out these passages below. David’s son Adonijah had set himself up as king against David’s wishes. He had the backing of Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Zadok. In his weakened state, it may have seemed impossible for David to overcome those odds, but he called on the One who had delivered him from every trouble!

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” …

The king then took an oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel…” (1 Ki. 1:5-6, 29-30a)

From David’s life I get the feeling that the Lord would prefer an honest, repentant heart who messes up a lot than a proud, hypocritical and judgmental heart. David is my hero, because I can relate so much to him. He ran from an abuser for years, and learned to cling to God. Perhaps his personality was a lot like mine in that he didn’t like to confront anyone—we do tend to be the ones who are targeted by abusers. We are also the ones who might fail to rebuke our children like we should, or allow fear of what people might do control us occasionally.

Still, our troubles send us to our knees, and we know where our help comes from. If you’ve ever found yourself in a position of complete desperation with no place to turn (except to God) you can understand David. When every human resource fails us, we have an amazing opportunity to prove Him faithful. In his early years, David’s brothers scorned him, his father-in-law the king tried to kill him, and he lost his wife. Yet, in Psalms we get a beautiful picture of how these trials drove him to God. In Psalm 42 he  compared his desire for God to an unquenchable thirst. Once we drink deeply from the goodness of God, we can never doubt him again– not even when we blow it. Hallelujah!

Lord, we are so grateful for your amazing grace that could even call someone who messed up a lot a man after your own heart. We pray that regardless of our flaws and mistakes we will be people after your heart. We pray for grace and mercy to cover the mistakes we have made. Father, redeem it all, so at the end of our lives we can say you “delivered [us] from all [our] troubles.” We love you Lord. Amen. 

Where Faith & Depression Meet

The first time I met with “Jennifer” she told me she was struggling with severe depression. As usual, I spent our first counseling session gathering information about her past, and wasn’t surprised to learn that she had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older cousin from the time she was 8-years-old until she was 13. When the secret finally came out, her mother told her not to say anything to anyone, but just to avoid being alone with her cousin. She wasn’t even sure if her mom spoke to her cousin’s parents, and somehow she was made to feel responsible for what happened.

For years Jennifer carried the shame of what happened to her. She grew up and married, but he turned out to be physically abusive, and by the time her son was 5 she was divorced. As her marriage was falling apart, a friend invited her to church. Within months of visiting the church, Jennifer fell in love with the One who suffered and died in order to redeem her soul. Her life was changed, and she felt peace like none she had ever known. Yet, five years later she was meeting with me because of depression.

As a survivor of abuse I could relate to Jennifer’s struggle. Getting out of the abuse was much easier than getting the abuse out of my head. It had warped my thinking, and caused me to believe lies about God and about myself. I found myself consumed with negative thoughts, and the more I thought about things, the more depressed I became. I wondered why God allowed the abuse to happen, and felt that my experiences had damaged me for life. It seemed as though I was engulfed in darkness, and suicidal thoughts plagued me. If  not for my children, I’m not sure I would be here today. But that wasn’t the end of the story for me. Misery drove me to scripture. Between my own private bible study, and a few solid group studies, I became determined to “cast down” the negative thoughts that overwhelmed me (2 Co. 10:5). I often tell people God brought me through an intensive period of supernatural cognitive behavioral therapy that eventually set me free.

Jennifer was looking for freedom from depression too, but when I asked her about her thought life, she just looked at me and said, “I really don’t think about anything.” That is the day I came up with the idea of keeping a “thought journal.” I asked Jennifer to set a timer to go off several times a day (especially those times when she was feeling depressed), and to write down what she was thinking about during those times. The idea was to write out any negative beliefs that were fueling the depression, and then to find scriptures to counter them. When I met with Jennifer a week later, I asked about her journal. She told me that the timer had worked, because she realized that she was constantly thinking discouraging thoughts. Even though she had been out of abusive relationships for years, her abusers still had power over her. Deep below the surface she felt she was unworthy of God’s love. Even worse, she doubted it altogether.

The solution for Jennifer, and for anyone struggling with negative emotions, is to identify beliefs that are contrary to God’s truth. I often tell ladies in our support group to print out specific passages of scripture, and to say them out loud any time the destructive thoughts come. I also believe that singing along with praise music is powerful, because it makes God bigger than our problems. In his presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11), and depression will have to flee. I used to imagine myself being held by the Mighty Warrior as he quieted me with his love and rejoiced over me with singing (Zep. 3:17). There is nothing more healing than being in his presence. Those who make the effort to find him in the midst of their pain will not be disappointed. He gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Is. 61:3). 

God is a healer! I have never seen him fail to restore those who have tenaciously determined to believe his truth. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a powerful one. Nothing gives me greater joy than to watch the faces of God’s precious children learning to embrace the freedom he offers. If you are plagued by depression or anxiety, please know that he offers “liberty for the captives” (Lk. 4:18), even as you learn to “take every thought captive” to his truth (2 Co. 10:5). Identifying false beliefs about God and about yourself, and replacing those thoughts with his promises will heal your broken heart. Ultimately, his peace, that surpasses human comprehension, will protect your mind from worry and your heart from despair (Phil. 4:7).

 

If you read this article, and are wondering where to begin, please contact me  for a list of helpful scriptures.

When the Abused Become Abusive

One of my passions in life is to help victims of domestic violence heal from abuse. In the twenty years I’ve been doing this work, I have seen some amazing transformations. God specializes in turning ashes to beauty, and I often tell people that those who have come through and overcome the traumas of abuse are some of the most remarkable people you’ll ever meet. They have a depth of character and faith that is unparalleled by most in this world.

But sadly, I have also seen many victims who have never healed. The vast majority of these individuals manifested symptoms like anxiety and depression, but recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my work. Lately I’ve had several encounters with former victims who have become abusive themselves.* Scripture warns us, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (Pr. 22:24-25). After living with abuse for 23 years, I know this was true for me. One day, about a year after leaving my ex, my children were misbehaving on a trip. When they didn’t straighten up after a first and second warning, I lost it. I slammed on the brakes, pulled over, and yelled at them with the harshest words I could find. The shock in their eyes said it all. They were used to seeing their dad that way, but I usually held it together better than that. As I pulled back onto the road, I felt a familiar tug on my heart. The Spirit of God within was so grieved, I finally pulled back over and apologized to my daughters for acting that way. I told them that we had all learned to be angry, but promised I would do everything in my power to unlearn and overcome it.

In the years that followed, God set me free from my anger. I learned to place my strong emotions in His loving hands, and trust His goodness so that I didn’t need to fret about the people who hurt me along the way. I learned to forgive, and leave justice in His hands. Unfortunately, some people who have experienced abuse never learn these lessons. Statistics show that children who grow up with abuse are more likely to become abusive, and the same is often true of adults coming out of abusive relationships. When people hurt us, it is natural to put up walls and try to protect ourselves. The problem is that those walls very often turn into self-made prisons. We grasp for control to ensure nobody will ever hurt us that way again, and usually the outcome is that we end up hurting others. We become quick to judge and slow to listen. We even assume evil motives in people who are genuinely on our side.

This is what I’ve been seeing in ministry lately. One lady we tried to help soon began to blame us for all of her problems. She wanted to dictate exactly how we helped her, and when we were unable to comply, she lashed out saying we were the cause of all of her troubles. The thing is that she had all of those problems before we even met her. She also had a trail of broken relationships, and had alienated nearly every friend and family member. We tried to help, but eventually realized that no matter what we did, it would never be enough. She would never be able to believe that our actions weren’t laden with selfish motives. The more comfortable she became with me, the more verbally abusive she became, and finally I was forced to cut ties altogether. As much as I wanted to help that dear woman, I couldn’t. The very act of trying ended up hurting me. This is probably the hardest part of working with victims.

Many victims who fail to heal end up repeating the same abusive patterns that caused them harm. It may not become physically abusive, but they are masters at stirring up misery. They come across as self-righteous, and critical of those who don’t agree with them. They twist your words to fit their own self-seeking agendas. Victim /abusers don’t have ears to hear. They only hear what they already believe, based on their past experiences. When you try to reason with them, it only ends up hurting you. Filled with self-pity, they use guilt to control you. They are easily offended, and assume evil motives on your part. Basically, their actions are the exact opposite of God’s description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7. Rather than giving their hurts to God, and applying His truths for healing, these wounded abusers simply continue to give power to their abusers by carrying on their traditions.

 

 

*Note: Many abusers accuse their victims of being abusive, and often counselors wrongly believe that abuse is provoked. This article is not referring to situations like that. Those who counsel these situations must learn the dynamics of domestic violence in order to be able to discern truly abusive patterns.

Caught in a Deadly Cycle

Guest blogpost by “Stephanie.”

I am 22 years old. I am going through a divorce from my first abusive marriage when I meet my second abuser. I have no clue what the next few years will be like. My mother is dying from cancer. My father has lost his job, and it’s all my parents can do to live off unemployment and pay the nearly $1 million in cancer bills for my mom’s care. I feel scared, worried, and very uncertain of the future. Mark comes into my life, and I feel like he brings stability in a time when I’m very vulnerable. He is quite a bit older than I am, and he works with me. He definitely knows all the right things to say, and in no time at all, he has swept me off my feet. Flowers, sweet notes, and he even programs my computer at work to have sweet messages pop up when I log in to my computer, as he is the software developer for the company I work for. This is it, I think. I have found the one! Within a year and a half, we get married.

It doesn’t take long for me to realize that Mark is a very jealous person. He bites and pinches me, saying that it’s just a joke, telling me he’s leaving his mark on me so people will know that I am his. The bites and pinches leave bruises, and people start asking me why my arms have black and blue marks all over them. My mother has since passed away, and, being adopted, I reach out to try and find the birth mother who gave me up.  It was my mom’s dying wish for me to find her since she knew that she wouldn’t be here for me. When I do find her, we have many phone conversations trying to catch up for the years lost. Mark gets very jealous, and he starts counting the minutes I spent on the phone with her, even though those minutes were spent on my 45 minute commute home from work and it doesn’t cost anything extra.  He also begins to count the number of text messages I send to her and other people, and compares the number of text messages on our phone bill to the number in my cell phone. He goes through my phone regularly, and when he notices the number of text does not match the number on the phone bill, he interrogates me. He has a drinking problem and it is very evident. Whenever I get home in the evenings, he is always drinking. He works five minutes from our home, and I work 45 minutes away, but he tells me that because his job is more stressful and because he brings in a higher income, the bulk of the cleaning and maintaining the house should belong to me.  I should be very grateful for him providing a six-figure income, he says. He goes behind me and wipes his finger on the furniture looking for dust and inspecting my work, after I clean, almost always telling me I need to do better. His punishment of choice when I do something he doesn’t like is the silent treatment.
He sits away from me and refuses to show any affection or love, and won’t communicate, but rather, sits there staring off into space. I feel like nothing I do is ever good enough and trying to win his affection is the hardest thing I have ever done. There are no more flowers or kind notes or sweet words from when we were dating. No, it’s like pouring water down a rat hole trying to make this man happy. It’s a never ending struggle. Being a people pleaser, I try to keep the house spotless, but there are many nights I’m tired from driving 45 minutes each way to work, and I’m also expected to cook dinner most nights.  One of his rules is that there must be two vegetables cooked with every meal.  This is something, he says, his first wife would not do. He always talks about how fat and lazy she was and how terrible of a person she was. I later find out that none of this is true, as I talk to her myself. She is a cute, bubbly, very happy girl who has a lot to offer, and he tore her down.  He monitors how long I walk the dogs, and tells me it needs to be at least 2 miles a day. It’s never his responsibility though, it’s always put on me. He often spends time upstairs locked in the spare bedroom playing video games.  Eventually, I start finding evidence of pornography he has viewed, although he denies it and tells me it must have accidentally downloaded. I know better.  He tells his parents that I accused him of viewing pornography, and his father called me on the phone, telling me I need to apologize to him, that he would never do something like that, and then begins to blame me, saying I must’ve been the one that looked up those videos.  Over our marriage, I have noticed his father is very controlling and dominating over his mother, and his mother suffers from severe depression, and I think that is the main reason why.  The pornography makes me feel like I’m not good enough, as he must want to look at other women for fulfillment.
 When he drinks, Mark gets more and more belligerent and angry. And he drinks very frequently. One night, he starts verbally slamming my birth mother and telling me that eventually, I may have to choose between him and her.  His parents back him up on this, telling me that I may have to choose between him and my biological family. I try to stand up to him for once, and I tell him that if he’s going to be like that, maybe I need to leave for a while to sort things out. This is when he jumps out of his chair, lunges towards me, grabs my shoulders, and slams me up against one of the square columns in our big, beautiful, very expensive house. My spine hits the corner of the column as he shoves me against it and I can’t move. I am terrified as the wood digs into my back and spine and he grabs my arms with every bit of strength he can.  I finally manage to wiggle out of his grip, but he grabs me with both arms and is squeezing me so hard and in such an angry rage that he is shaking. I begin to suffocate, as he has my mouth and nose sealed off.  Finally, he lets me go, and I am hyperventilating and walking in circles. He tells me that I’m doing it for attention. I truly can’t help it, how I wish he would see that. He tells me that if I tell anyone anything about that night, he will divorce me. Not wanting to be alone, not wanting another failed marriage, I don’t tell anyone. The next morning, I wake up and go into the bathroom and see my body is covered in bruises.  It is almost summer, so I have to wear long sleeves to work to hide it. This isn’t what a marriage is supposed to be, is it? How could I have made the same mistake twice?  All I ever wanted was to be loved. I know that I have a lot to offer a partner. My parents taught me how to be a loving person, and although I’m not perfect, I want a happy marriage and to be in love and share my life with someone who loves me back. And, if I leave this one, who would possibly ever want me? Especially with me only being in my 20s.  What’s more, who would believe me anyway? He seems like the nicest guy you would ever meet to anyone who doesn’t live at home with us. He holds doors for old ladies, knows everything right to say, and seems very mild-mannered. No one knows the violence I live with at home.  I keep asking myself why he hurt me like he did. After all, when we first started dating, he actually had tears in his eyes when he told me he couldn’t believe the things my first husband did to me, and how he would never lay a hand on me. And now look at what has happened.  Shortly after this incident, Mark tells me he wants to buy a handgun. I keep wondering why he wants a gun, as he has never had one before. It frightens me.
 Not long after this incident, I finally get the courage to leave. Mark tells me that I need to pay him thousands of dollars, even though he has over $100,000 of his own in the bank. His reasoning is that there was a short time in the marriage when I did not work, and I need to reimburse him for, as he puts it, taking care of me. Not wanting to argue, I write him a check for the amount he asks, emptying my savings in the process. His parents hate me, and by this point, he has told everyone that I cheated on him, which I did not. He has made up things about me and made me feel so humiliated. I just want to crawl into a hole and die.
 I’m 26 years old, and I have left my second abusive relationship. I don’t know it yet, but this is not the last abuser to come into my life.
Thanks to my dear friend “Stephanie” for sharing her story.  I’ve know her since her first abusive marriage was ending, and have seen the devastating effects of domestic violence on her life. But I also stand amazed at her resilient spirit. Please pray for her continued healing and restoration. 

When Praying Makes Things… Worse?

Have you ever prayed fervently for a situation to change, only to find matters getting worse? I know I have. I have seen it many times in my years of working with victims of domestic violence. In these situations, things often escalate to unbearable in spite of ardent prayers and abundant effort. It sometimes seems as if God doesn’t see or care about our struggles. After all, if He was on our side, wouldn’t circumstances improve? However, if scripture is to be our guide, we need to look at how He worked with His people there to see if that expectation is valid.

This morning as I was reading in Exodus, I found the story of the Israelites’ plight after Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh to let the people go and worship. According this passage, God had heard the cries of the Israelites, and sent Moses to plead on their behalf. However, instead of helping the situation, it hurt! Pharaoh severely cut the supplies needed for their work. The situation seemed hopeless all around, and even Moses became discouraged.

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the LORD look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex. 5:19-23-emphasis added.)

The story could’ve have ended right there, but Moses took his confusion and complaints to the Lord. Even more significant, he continued to obey God in spite of negative circumstances. Moses was full of doubt about his own abilities, and he was discouraged about the Israelites anger towards him, but he still continued to follow God’s path. We all know the outcome. God used his obedience to bring about a miraculous deliverance—just when things seemed impossible. In the end, terrible oppression made liberation seem even more incredible.

When I think of my own story of escaping abuse, I can see His hand in every painful experience. All I knew to do was cling to Him, because everything else had failed me— from the courts to the church. Even people who loved me and wanted to help had no clue how to do it. In the long run, the overwhelmingly impossible nature of the situation made me desperate for Him. I spent long hours in prayer and scripture, and even came up with a database of passages that were particularly helpful.[1] I made a decision to believe His promises, because nothing else was working. All I could do was hold on to Him for dear life, and He was faithful. Circumstances did not improve in the beginning. In fact, they became worse, but in the end my faith in Him became stronger than it had ever been and He delivered me. I often tell people that even though I would have never chosen to suffer like I did, I am grateful for it, because it drove me to Him. My relationship with Him became my anchor, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

If you think that circumstances are a measure of God’s care, or lack thereof, you are missing a beautiful opportunity to allow Him to redeem your story. God is not a magic genie who snaps His fingers and makes everything suddenly all right. He also will not force anyone to follow His ways, but He will use your pain for good. Please understand, I am not saying you should stay in a harmful situation. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people fleeing danger. Instead, I am saying, cling to the One who loves you most, and you will not be disappointed. He will use your trials to grow you and your faith. I’ve worked with survivors of domestic abuse for over 20 years, and those who have held onto Him have simply amazed me. I have never met more amazing people than those who have proven Him faithful in the midst of great suffering.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to become an amazing example of His redemption, I encourage you to go to scripture. God specializes in using reluctant and under qualified people for His purposes. He not only wants to redeem your situation, but if you let Him, He will use you to help others who will face the same battles you’ve faced (2 Cor. 1:4). Take your doubts and struggles to Him, and determine to hold on to His promises. Just keep walking in His direction, and don’t let people or circumstances warp your view of Him. He will deliver you in due time, and in the process you will develop faith that is unshakeable.

[1] If you’d like a copy of this scriptural database, please email me at info@calledtopeace.org.

Lies Victims Believe

How Things Our Abusers Told Us Keep Us from Answering God’s Call

Working with people who have suffered domestic abuse can be the most rewarding and frustrating job in the world. It’s rewarding, because many of the survivors I work with develop a depth of faith that most Christians can’t even imagine. They face impossible situations and tremendous loss. Many lose nearly all their worldly possessions and face sudden financial ruin. They are often stalked and in imminent danger. Some even lose custody of their children, because their abusers are able to afford expensive attorneys, and they have no choice but to go to court without representation.

I could go on and on telling stories of injustice and intense suffering, but the point is that in extremely trying times, my dear friends learn to hold on to God in a way that is simply incredible. They probably don’t know it, but as I sit and listen to their stories in counseling sessions and support groups, I am in awe. I’m in awe of God’s faithfulness and their ability to rise above the pain, even when everything, and everyone on earth, has failed them. It is simply incredible to watch God turn ashes into beauty, and that’s what helps me maintain motivation to continue doing a work that can be exceptionally difficult.

I wish I could say that all the folks I work with “get it”—that they suddenly have an epiphany and learn to cling to God and prove Him faithful, but that’s simply not the case. Many let their pain become their identity, and they stay emotionally crippled for life. It’s so hard to watch these precious souls struggle. Sadly, they are alienated from the very One who can bring healing, because their image of Him has been warped by abusive people who portrayed Him as harsh and demanding, rather than gracious and merciful. All we can do is show them His love, and pray that someday they will come to realize the truth. However, many remain victims and never move on.

Believing lies about God can keep folks in the victim mode, but there are other lies that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Even some of my friends with extraordinary faith in God never seem to get past believing destructive lies about themselves. So many times when I reach out to survivors to help with our ministry I see an all-too-familiar hesitation to help. It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they don’t have the heart for it. It’s because they don’t think they’re worthy. They seem to think they’re too broken, and they need to get their own lives together before they can possibly think of helping others.

There’s a familiar pain in their expressions that tells me they’re still believing the lies their abusers told them. “There’s no way you could ever do this.” “Do you really think anyone cares to hear anything you have to say?” “You’ll make a fool of yourself when they find out who you really are.” Almost every time I see it, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you realize how incredible you are?! You’ve beaten all the odds, and come out shining like gold. You’re an amazing woman of faith! The world needs your voice.” But for these folks, it’s easier to believe truths about God than about themselves. Until they do they’re missing His best for their lives, and opportunities to bring Him glory.

Have you ever been told you have nothing to offer? Has someone made you doubt the incredible gifts God has given you? Is buried shame still controlling your decisions? If so, I implore you to reject the lies. Perhaps a flawed and insecure person has caused you to doubt your calling and your identity as His child, but the Perfect One is still calling. He still wants to use you, and He sees you as worthy (1 John 3:1, Eph. 2:4-7). He doesn’t want you to wait until you think you’ve got it all together, because if you do, you may never find His purpose for your life. He delights in using broken people for His purposes, but you have to choose to believe Him above the lies of a deceiver. The Truth will set you free, and when you receive it, you will be His instrument to help others find that same freedom.

Missing God’s Best

As a counselor, I’ve learned that many counseling issues are worship issues.

JoyfulSurrender.com

For years I lived in a state of divided worship. My main goal in life was to secure God’s blessing on my agenda. Sure, I loved him, but I’m afraid I loved myself more. Worship was all about me, and what I could get from him, rather than surrendering myself to him. Funny thing is that my agenda kept me in complete bondage, because idolatry leads us to a state of total fear. When we direct our worship to anything other than him, our peace and joy are totally dependent on the temporary circumstances we desire. We constantly fear losing the objects of our affection, and that fear controls our actions. True freedom is only found in true worship. When we surrender all to God, we have nothing to fear. He is never changing and eternal. He is all loving, and has a good plan for us, so when we…

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Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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