All posts by Joy Forrest

Joy Forrest is an experienced bible study teacher, writer and speaker. She has spoken in many venues: from women's bible studies and retreats, to prisons, radio and television. As former Community Educator of a domestic violence shelter, Joy is equipped to speak to serious issues like physical and emotional abuse, but her message is relevant to women from all walks of life. Believing that too many fail to walk in the abundant life God offers His children, she focuses her lessons on practical steps to victory. Joy's passion is to help women overcome thoughts, choices, and strongholds that prevent them from realizing God’s best for their lives. Joy holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has served in the counseling ministry of 2 local churches since 2004. She helped establish Called to Peace Ministries in 2015 to help families transitioning out of crises such as domestic violence. She and her husband Nathan ("Rusty") have 5 grown children, 10 grandchildren. Visit www.joyfulsurrender.com for more information.

Surviving Domestic Abuse is Like Being a Refugee

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Surviving domestic abuse is like being a refugee.  You miss your home, but know the danger is too great to ever go back.  It’s the hardest choice I ever had to make.  I knew fleeing my homeland was a one-way trip.  Any chance of the turmoil within the country being restored and the terrorist miraculously transforming into a loving husband would be lost.  I knew in my heart there was no reason to stay because the home I’d built with my husband, expecting to grow old there, was now a daily battlefield.  The house even bore scars to bear witness.  Like a refugee, I sought help.  First from my church, who assured me if I prayed enough and dodged enough bullets in the meantime, that the terrorist I was living with would surely improve slowly over time, if only my faith were strong enough.  The responsibility of the terrorist changing was placed on me.  

After all, the terrorist had spoken with the church and convinced them I was irrational.  It made sense even to me.  I would mention something he said and he would adamantly deny he ever said that, getting angry if I insisted my memory was fine.  Eventually I took to writing things down because I stopped trusting my own memory, but even with it written down, he would still say I was mistaken. By that, I mean speaking to me in such a derogatory manner that I– and the children listening– would be sure to know just how stupid I was.  I prayed— a lot.  My pastor even told me that if things weren’t getting better, that it was basically an indication I wasn’t praying hard enough or wasn’t being true enough to the faith I claimed.  Heartbroken by the home I only recognized as a prison, and once again by the pastor who couldn’t see how bad it truly was, I was blessed to find Called to Peace Ministries.

Before I joined the support group, I already knew a lot jargon about how the terrorism manifested.  Previous research had helped me identify many of the behaviors like gaslighting, emotional manipulation, and veiled threats. What became more clear to me is how I had been attempting to control the severity by working hard to manage my abuser’s emotions. Called to Peace showed me how I’d allowed my terrorist to become my lord by filtering all my thoughts through what he would want instead of asking what would please God most.  I would distract the kids from annoying him, make his favorite meal, or give him sex in hopes he would be happier and therefore our shattered house might temporarily be a little safer— because it was always temporary. The temporary changes were always the most difficult as it perpetuated a cycle of hope followed by more heartbreak. Setting some healthy boundaries and learning to respond appropriately were invaluable tools.  I was learning how to let God have the control instead of thinking I could manipulate my living conditions into something safer on my own.  

I made the same mistake again, however, only this time I set my pastor on the Lord’s throne.  I invested a lot of time and energy reasoning with the pastor because I knew he could be my biggest support if he would hold my abuser accountable.  Joy advocated for me, trying to help the pastor see the patterns of abuse.  I thought he was going to hold my terrorist accountable and agreed to counseling.  Instead, he gave us communication exercises.  Sit with your terrorist and have uninterrupted time to talk about your day.  So then the terrorist would get mad if I didn’t want to share anything, and used that to show the pastor I wasn’t really trying.  Poor heartbroken abuser with the bitter wife. Think about the kids.

Yeah, let’s talk about the kids, because it was like watching a train wreck you can’t stop.  You try watching them cower under beds, hide in closets, or even start to act like miniature little abusive versions of the man they called father, repeating his irrational arguments against you.  Overhear the campaign made against you by this terrorist hiding in plain sight, telling your kids that Mom can’t do anything right, and much more.  Try having them beg you with tears running down their faces to live somewhere without the monster that was living amongst us.  I could see it was getting worse.  Things were escalating.  I couldn’t protect them anymore.  I had to escape, for their sakes.

I knew it would be dangerous, even with my safety plan in place.  There would be no going back.  I had to hope that a judge would grant me protection, but if not, risk being homeless with my kids.  On that note, when it is bad enough that a mother will risk homelessness, stop yourself before you ask her if she tried hard enough to make it work.  No woman wants to be a refugee.  No woman wants her marriage to end and to let go of the dream that one day he might change.  It’s not the easy way out.  It’s the only way out.  Ask her if she is safe.  Connect her with a resource like Called to Peace.  This might be a good time to point out a woman’s risk of homicide increases exponentially when she tries to escape or shortly thereafter.  As it turns out, a judge granted us temporary asylum, but it wasn’t accompanied by a sense of safety.  

We returned to the same place we’d lived with the terrorist for years– him having been removed– and thus started a new level of hypervigilance I didn’t know existed.  Before, the daily barrages were expected, and their terrifying source was easily identifiable as he stomped through the house.  Afterwards, every sound outside, every sound inside, every car’s headlights driving past, every time a child woke up from a nightmare crying– my body was on high alert, constantly watching, barely sleeping.  I shut all the blinds, barricaded the doors, and checked the perimeter every time before opening the door to the outside world.  I visited different stores than usual and took different routes.  It has a name: Complex-PTSD.  Years of living under the terrorist’s reign left their mark.  My body was on defense mode, ready to protect myself or my children.  Insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, flashbacks.  

During this time, we had court hearings where the terrorist put on his church clothes and started having visitation.  I lost friends who thought I was making it up, who then felt sorry for the terrorist.  In reality, I had made up a story so convincing- I had made up this story of redemption through the years, how the terrorist was always showing a glimmer of hope, or how the terrorist was just troubled because of his own poor upbringing, or how he was such an excellent provider he didn’t have the energy for church.  Amazingly now he was incredibly dedicated to church attendance.  I found it ironic that people were willing to believe the lies I’d invented but not the awful truth I’d hidden over the years.  I was isolated and marveled as I watched the terrorist waltz in and take over the friendships I thought I had.  I remember being envious of a friend sharing about her husband’s cancer diagnosis because that was a respectable, allowable prayer request and I wanted to be surrounded with support like she was.  Instead, my prayer requests stayed silent because sharing them in that atmosphere usually had me labeled gossipy or bitter.  One time at church I made the mistake of talking about how overwhelming it all was and my “friend” said, “You had to know it was going to be difficult.”  I had “friends” be offended I hadn’t reached out to them.  I had a “friend” tell me I was ruining my children’s lives and should call up that terrorist and not give up “so easily.”  Many weren’t interested in taking “sides,” which is another way of taking the abuser’s side.  At the risk of being labeled bitter- a favorite label of the “righteous,” I could go on about the heart-wrenching judgment and isolation I experienced with my church, but I won’t.  

I’ll talk about the blessing of isolation and losing my community instead.  How else do you ask for prayer that your terrorist lessens the continued child abuse?  I don’t blame people for not being able to comprehend the depths of my despair.  Rather, I’m grateful that at Called to Peace, I had a safe place to share those requests where everyone understands and there’s no judgment.  They stayed a constant support in my life, as I struggled and grieved as I lost friends and church community.  When my church failed to protect me, I learned so personally that God still would.  When attending the service felt like an exercise in worshipping rightly as I felt watched by the leadership and the friends I’d lost, I learned worshipping God was more than simply being surrounded by your friends while singing wonderful music.  When listening to the same pastor preach about the sinfulness of abuse after he’d been unwilling to identify the terrorist as nothing more than a wayward sheep, I learned I couldn’t rely on any one person to be God’s authority for me other than Jesus himself.  I released the desire for my pastor’s approval or my friends’ acceptance.  


I sought the Lord instead and found him more satisfying and healing than I ever thought possible.  I put the Lord on the throne and started asking him what would bring glory to him.  Not how I could serve my church, not how I could present my case to reluctant friends, not how I could improve my isolation in my present situation by getting a better response from the church.  Then, I did something that could only be described as reckless and ungodly.  I attended a different church’s worship service, secretly.  It was as if I had been walking through the desert and had stumbled upon an oasis.  The first Sunday there, I wept in that church, because I was free to worship.  Complete healing will take a long time- it’s to be expected when the abuse has taken a long time, but even with the turmoil of the courts and church, my worship can be free.  I don’t know what all my future holds, but I see domestic abuse advocacy as part of it. I want to help others as Joy has helped me and is still helping mealong the way.  I want them to know they can be free.  Free Indeed!

Finding Gratitude

This is a beautiful reminder from my friend Terri that circumstances do not determine our joy.

Diary of a Quadriplegic

Lately I’ve been thinking about all I have to be grateful for, even as I sit in this wheelchair. When I think about what my life was like before this injury occurred, I am even more thankful for my current circumstances. This paralysis has given me a chance to finally live authentically, a chance to have a truly meaningful relationship with God, and an opportunity to have deep and abiding relationships with others.

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A Look at What Called to Peace Ministries Accomplished in 2018!

I wanted to post an update on what our ministry accomplished in 2018. Be sure to check out our website and sign up for our newsletters if you aren’t already subscribed. We are so grateful for those of you who have a heart to help the oppressed and abused. Blessings, Joy

We are so grateful to each one of you who has supported CTPM us through your prayers, volunteer time and donations in 2018! Without you, our reach would have been far shorter, but because of individuals like you, this ministry grew exponentially last year. As you may remember we did not start our outreach efforts and support groups until March of 2017, but by the end of the year, 283 people had reached out to us for some type of help. From that number, we were able to provide direct assistance to 170 survivors and their children. This past year we received requests for help from 899 people and provided direct assistance to 475 individuals! 

While most who reached out to us were survivors of domestic abuse, 153 of those requests came from people helpers, and a dozen requests for help came from individuals who admitted to using abuse and control in their homes. Many of the requests received simply resulted in referrals to other agencies. However, we were able to provide individual counseling and advocacy to over 170 people (compared to 60 in 2017), emergency fund relief for 23 individuals, and direct consultation with 52 people helpers (counselors, pastors, and concerned friends or family members). Approximately 150 women participated in our online support group, and 70+ participated in our three local support groups.

Education is so important to us at CTPM because we know that a lack of knowledge in so many places (courts, churches, social service agencies, etc.) simply allows domestic violence to flourish. In 2018, we were able to provide education to about 600 people locally through our spring and fall conferences and speaking engagements in churches, seminaries and other venues. In addition, our online videos, podcasts and radio appearances reached thousands across the US, Great Britain and Australia. 
 

On a local level we were blessed to have nearly 50 volunteers provide hundreds of hours of support to our clients in 2018. In addition to helping with our two conferences, these volunteers accompanied clients to court, provided them with childcare, assisted them in moving, helped with minor household repairs, bought Christmas gifts for their children, helped them with transportation and offered multiple hours of moral support. 
 

In the midst of our very busy year, several new things happened. 1. We began a church advocacy program to help church leaders more effectively deal with domestic abuse cases in their congregations. 2. We had our first interns from Southeastern Baptist Seminary. 3. We introduced a new logo and new website. 4.Called to Peace: A Survivor Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse was published and has sold hundreds of copies throughout the nation and overseas. 5. We hired Priscilla Arthur as our part time Development Coordinator. 6. We partnered with House of Peace Publications to offer a faith-based advocacy training program. By the end of the year, over 90 people had requested more information on the courses. 7. We helped advocates in West Virginia and Indiana start support groups using our curriculum that will be published this coming May. 8. We enlisted the help of 12 local church leaders, including Dr. Danny Akin. president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, to help promote domestic violence awareness month and our fall conference.

We are so thankful that you have chosen to partner with us to make our mission of providing life-changing care to victims of domestic abuse possible!Last year was only our second full year as a nonprofit, and honestly, we got too busy to even think about fundraising! Yet, you faithfully answered our online appeals. Your giving helped us bring in enough to meet our basic needs and to increase the limit on available emergency funds. Still, the needs are almost always beyond our ability to provide, and many times victims of abuse return to abusive marriages because of a lack of financial resources. At some point in the future, we would love to be able to provide transitional housing to help prevent this sort of scenario. We ask that you keep this concern, and the many others our clients face, in your prayers. We also ask that you continue to make those who are oppressed and abused a priority in your charitable giving by continuing to donate to CTPM.

Sacred Cows in the Church: Honoring Marriages over Lives

At least once a week we hear from abuse victims who tell us how their churches turned on them when they reached out for help for an abusive marriage. Today I got a particularly sad one in which the pastor told the victim that her actions were provoking her husband’s abuse. There is never an excuse for domestic abuse, and the effects of trauma on victims and their children can last a lifetime. Responses like these simply reinforce the abuse and lead victims to believe that their marriages are more important than their lives.

JoyfulSurrender.com

Recently our ministry hosted a conference on domestic violence in the church. We promoted it to pastors and church counselors, but the majority of participants turned out to be former and current victims of abuse. As participants introduced themselves, I heard an all too familiar story. Several mentioned surviving abuse only to find themselves being hurt again by their churches.

One dear lady said she left the church altogether after she reported the abuse and separated from her abuser. Her husband was in leadership at the church, and the other leaders believed his story over hers– even when she provided proof and got a protective order. Rather than finding help when she mustered up enough courage to reach out for help, she received blame. According to the church, she was desecrating the holy institution of marriage by separating from her husband, and there was no way she could convince them…

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A Promise of Peace on Earth?

I’m sharing the recent newsletter I sent with our Christmas newsletter from Called to Peace Ministries. If you aren’t on the mailing list, be sure to visit http://www.calledtopeace.org to sign up.

These days, I find myself saying Merry Christmas a whole lot less– not because I find the idea of Christmas offensive, but because day in and day out I work with people whose Christmases will be anything but merry. Some will face the day without their children for the first time. Others will spend it overwhelmed by threats from their estranged spouses, while others will endure constant belittling and ridicule from their current spouses or partners. We have a private group on Facebook just for mothers who have been estranged from their children by an abusive co-parent. I’ve walked alongside many of these women for months and even years. The power of manipulation and mind-games to completely alienate a child from a loving parent never ceases to astound me.

Abusers are exceptionally skilled in continuing to manipulate and abuse, even after their victims leave. From the courts to counselors and therapists, and even in our churches, they are masters at discrediting their victims. There are very few places for victims of abuse to turn for help, because there is such a lack of knowledge when it comes to domestic abuse. Every week we hear heartbreaking stories from survivors of abuse who have come to blame themselves for the cruelty they’ve endured. They come to us wondering if they are the problem or if God is mad at them. Both they and their children have a very warped view of God. They are plagued with anxiety and fear. Yet, when Jesus came to earth the angels cried, “Peace on Earth, Good will toward men.”

I sometimes can’t help but contemplate this passage. Where is the peace they promised? It seems that Jesus’ coming has done nothing to change the violent nature of this world. It can be very disheartening sometimes. How could a small baby born in a cave in the hills of Judea ever really make a difference? In his brief life on earth, he spoke of loving and caring for people more than traditions, but that only led to a great miscarriage of justice. Like many of our clients, he was mocked, beaten and falsely accused.Ultimately, his life was ended through acts of unimaginable cruelty. And yet, he came to bring peace on earth? Even after his miraculous resurrection, his followers faced unjust imprisonment, abuse and deathPeace on earth? Really?

It can all be very disheartening, but Jesus warned that his peace does not fit the world’s definition of peace (John 14:27). Most of us simply define it as a lack of trouble or strife, but that is not how he defines it. Instead he gives us a picture of comfort and calm in the midst of the storms of life (John 16:33). We see it firsthand with our clients. When they are able to connect with God in the worst of circumstances, something beautiful happens. We see them developing an unshakeable faith that rests in his goodness in spite of hardship and suffering. They come to learn that HE IS OUR PEACE (Ephesians 2:14)– even when everything and everyone else fails. However, getting to this point usually requires connecting them with truth to help untwist their warped view of God. 

So much of what we do at CTPM involves countering lies that our clients have come to believe. How can you entrust your life to a God who seems distant and cruel? What sort of hope can you find in a God who cares more about your broken marriage than your life? How can you trust scripture when it’s been used as a weapon to keep you oppressed? These are all questions we have to tackle head on nearly every day. Truth really does set us free, and the most important truth is that God is loving and good.

We’re so grateful for those of you who support Called to Peace Ministries! Because of you, we are able to share  God’s goodness and truth with those who are downtrodden and hopeless. There is nothing more wonderful than watching these precious souls walking away from bondage and into the peace that surpassses human comprehension (Philippians 4:7).  Thank you for the part you’ve played in this ministry, whether it has been through prayers, financial donations or volunteering.

We are so very grateful for each one of you, and pray that even if your Christmas isn’t merry, it will be filled with his amazing peace! 

Love,

Joy 🌟

It’s not to late to sign up for our advocacy course!

If you missed the free info sessions on our upcoming advocacy course, you can click here to watch a replay of the sessions. Better yet, you can sign up to join us beginning January 8th by clicking here. Our goal is to build a national network of faith-based advocates to help churches better respond to these difficult situations.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

Your donation matched through 12/31!

Each year CTPM reaches hundreds of people with support groups, counseling and practical assistance, but we’re growing so fast we can barely keep up! Sadly, our limited resources often fall far short of meeting the needs we see. We have a donor who wants to help remedy that situation who will be matching donations up to $1000 between now and December 31st. If you believe in our cause, please visit our website to give now!

When Anger Takes Over

Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse. Whether you’ve been through an abusive relationship or not, life is often unfair and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with anger, but God offers a way out. My prayer is that the words in this chapter will help you connect to His freeing truth.

Anger

In my years of counseling victims of domestic violence, I have met some pretty angry people, and in many cases, their stories have angered me as well. Domestic violence can be unimaginably cruel, and it is difficult to hear the accounts without feeling upset about the injustice of it all. Quite often, victims are not only injured by their spouses, but they find very little support when they reach out for help. The judicial system frequently favors perpetrators, who tend to have greater financial resources, and often seem much more composed in court. Even churches can make matters worse for victims when they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse or interpret scriptures on marital roles harshly. For victims, insult is added to injury on a regular basis.

Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “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.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

Becoming upset over violence and injustice is not only understandable, but it is also normal. Ephesians 4:26-27 seems to imply that anger is common but warns “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The problem isn’t becoming angry as much as it is failing deal with it quickly. When we stay angry and allow it to control us, we are headed for trouble. It seems that unresolved anger opens our lives to Satan’s destructive schemes (Eph. 4:26-27).

There was a time when I became so angry, I began to suffer physical symptoms. Even worse, I found myself snapping at my children for the littlest things. Rather than being able to offer them the love and support they needed to get through the devastating events they were experiencing, I found myself so consumed with anger that I had nothing left to give. The problem with maintaining anger is that you can’t simply contain it to one area of your life. It spills out onto others and “defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). It is like a poison that damages every relationship in your life, including the most important one of all—your relationship with God. During this period, I found myself feeling as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling. Although I continued to reach out to God, resentment controlled me rather than his Spirit, which left me very isolated from my Helper. I needed to learn how to handle my anger biblically.

Divine vs. Human Anger

Scripture clearly tells us there are things that anger God, and we are created in His image as emotional beings. God’s wrath is provoked by sin, and He hates violence. In Genesis, God told Noah “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (6:13). It was enough to cause God to want to destroy His own creation, so it is certainly understandable when we get upset about it. Even the second part of Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce” indicates He also hates it when a husband deals violently and unfaithfully with his spouse. The Bible is filled with passages proclaiming our Creator’s hatred of injustice and unfaithfulness. As His children, we should naturally hate the evil that he hates. Our problem is that we usually carry it a little too far. Rather than turning the situation over to God, and leaving justice in His hands, we try to control it.

In reality, much human anger reveals a lack of trust in God. We may be questioning why He has allowed bad things to happen in our lives, and if He really cares. In our minds, we profess that He is good, but in our hearts, we doubt it. We know that His Word commands us to forgive, but we believe that forgiving is like giving a stamp of approval to the abuse. Thoughts like this unconsciously charge God with injustice. When we see our offenders “getting away” with sin, we want to take matters into our own hands, because it seems as though God is sitting back doing nothing. I know that’s how I felt, and I became so miserable that life was not worth living. Over time, God graciously intervened, but it was not an overnight event. It was a process that required me to take some very specific steps.

Face the Truth

People who live with abuse live with lies, and I was certainly no exception. I told myself that my husband couldn’t help it when he blew up, and that he was simply a product of his environment growing up. I tried to hide our violent episodes from everyone to the point that I almost seemed to hide them from myself. For over two decades I went to great lengths to avoid the truth; until one day I could avoid it no longer and found myself angrier than I had ever been. I was worn down by months of constant offenses. Doug had been calling and threatening me 15-20 times a day. I was afraid not to answer, because I felt if he didn’t get me on the phone, he would come out and make good on the threats. Normally, I would just hold the phone away from my ear and let him rant, because I learned that saying anything just made matters worse. On one particular call I heard the screaming stop and put my ear up to the phone just in time to hear him quietly threaten suicide. He slammed down the phone, and that was that. He had made similar threats in the past, but had never followed through, and usually started harassing me again within hours. However, this time I heard nothing for two whole days, and became concerned about him. I drove past his house both days and noticed that his car had not moved. On the third day I decided to take my key to our former home and go check on him. I was scared to death to go in but was so worried that I did it anyway. He was not downstairs, so I tiptoed upstairs and saw him lying deathly still on his bed. He looked extra pale, so I went up and nudged him. As soon as I did he woke up cursing at me, and I ran out as quickly as I could.

Within a few hours I got a call from the county sheriff’s department saying that Doug had come in— and charged me with criminal trespassing. They had a warrant for my arrest, and he urged me to come turn myself in. I was released on my own recognizance, but I was furious! How dare he have me charged as a criminal when I was merely concerned for his well-being? Foolishly, I decided to call and let him know just how awful his action had been, but the conversation only left me more upset. I told him he was the one who needed to be arrested for violence against me, but he said he had only hit me one time in the entire history of our relationship. He basically denied being abusive, and I couldn’t believe his nerve! My response was pure rage. By this point I was learning to turn my strong emotions over to God, so I started writing in my journal, telling Him about all the horrendous things Doug had done over the years.

As I was banging out complaints on my computer keyboard, my friend Karen happened to call to check on me. I told her about my earlier conversation with Doug, and the already lengthy list of offenses I was compiling. Much to my surprise, Karen said “Don’t forget the time he tore up the house, because he was mad at the cat.” I was confused, because I didn’t remember it at all. After she reminded me that they had provided housing, and how it had been resolved, I remembered. The odd thing was that it had only happened 12 months earlier! I was amazed that I could forget it so soon, but I believe that I had gone to such great lengths to hide it I had almost convinced myself it didn’t happen. For the most part, those of us who have been abused remember the abuse. I surely remembered the most traumatic incidents, but sometimes we lie about it so much that we begin to believe our own lies. I’ve met women who have casually told me that they had no problem forgiving their abusive spouses, but they could barely talk about what happened. Some who did open up were still making excuses or denying the severity of the abuse. That is burying anger, not dealing with it.

Entrust it to Him

After admitting the truth, we must put it in His hands. A great deal of healing happened in me the day I finally faced the truth and conceded just how horrible things had been. Let me clarify. I do not think I was healed simply because I finally told myself the truth. That was only part of it. The reason I found healing was that I was pouring out my hurts to God and committing them to Him. The truth was too overwhelming for me to handle on my own, but I knew my heart was safe with Him. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to pour out our hearts to God, and that is what I did on that day. When you face constant offenses, it will often require you to surrender your anger again and again, but it will guard your soul. Commit the offenses you have suffered to Him. It is the only way to avoid carrying them yourself, and He is far better equipped to handle them. Each night when you lay your head on your pillow, drop those heavy burdens at His feet and trust Him to fight your battles.

Choose to Forgive

For many of us, forgiving our abusers can be the toughest battle we face in the recovery process, but it is a necessary step in overcoming the anger that comes from abuse. Although it may seem that facing the truth about the hurts I had experienced would have made it harder to forgive, it actually helped, because I realized it was too big for me to handle alone. I knew I could not face the pain without God’s help. I also knew His Word commanded me to forgive, but I needed a lot of help in working through it. At the height of my anger, our ladies’ Bible study decided to work through Kay Arthur’s Lord, Heal My Hurts. When I picked up the book, I noticed a chapter in the Table of Contents entitled “How Can I Forgive?” It was the very question I had been asking myself, and this wonderful Bible study helped me figure it out. When I was able to forgive, it was as if a thousand-pound burden had been taken off my shoulders.

There were a few common misconceptions I had to overcome in order to truly forgive, and I’ve seen many other survivors struggle with them as well. As a child, I was taught to forgive and forget. When my siblings and I asked for forgiveness, we were taught to respond with, “That’s ok. I forgive you.” Then, we were expected to hug and make up. Basically, that formed my view of how the process should look, but it was a very flawed perspective, because it caused me to believe that forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. I also thought forgiving meant I simply had to minimize or dismiss the offenses as though they had never happened. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Biblical forgiveness is placing the offender in God’s hands and leaving justice to Him. It is letting go of our own need for vengeance; but it definitely is not dismissing the hurt as though it wasn’t that bad or that it never happened. Romans 12:17-21 gives us instructions on dealing with those who harm us. Romans 12: 17-19 instructs us not to repay evil with evil and not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath.

We must trust that He will handle the situation in His time and with perfect justice. Also, we need to refuse to stoop to our abusers’ level by taking revenge. Usually when we refuse to let go of our anger and desire for retaliation, it is because we don’t trust that His way of dealing with it is better than ours. We will never find peace until we realize He always has our best interest at heart, and He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). Regardless of how things may look in the present, there will come a day when your abuser will have to bow before Him, perhaps in great fear and trembling, and confess that He is Lord (Ph. 2:10-11). We need to trust Him to make all things right in due time.

Resolve to Believe Him

Letting go of anger and believing God is definitely a choice, and not a simple process. For me it was hard work! It meant learning how to choose His truth over my feelings, and trust that He cared deeply for me— even when it didn’t feel that way. One day a phrase from Isaiah 50:7 spoke to me. This prophecy about Jesus predicted that he would set his face “like flint” to accomplish the Father’s plan.  There was something about His determination in this verse that resonated in me because I knew that my outcome would be tied to my decision to believe Him. I decided that I would resolve to believe, no matter what happened or how I felt. I pray that as you read this, you will decide to do the same. To overcome anger, and its damaging consequences in your life, you must determine to do it God’s way rather than your own.

The Process

Dealing with anger His way requires taking several steps. It means being honest with yourself, and no longer minimizing or making excuses for the abuse. In order to truly heal, you must face and give the full weight of the burden to God. Commit your anger to God quickly, and do not let it fester. Let Him fight your battles. Sure, there may be actions you will need to take to protect yourself and your children, but you won’t have to try and control things or force your version of justice anymore. Choose to forgive your abuser, recognizing that it will set you free, and leave justice in God’s hands. Correct any thinking that is contrary to God’s truth and believe that God will redeem your sorrows. Remember that He is for you, and that even though He will not violate the free will of your abuser, He is sovereign, and He wants to use your trials for good. Finally, seek scriptures that provide instructions on wisely dealing with anger, and choose to apply them. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book for a list.

 

*Note: I do believe there comes a time in the healing process when staying angry can actually help us move forward. We have to become justifiably angry at the sin we’ve endured so that we will no longer make excuses for it or continue to subject ourselves to it. The problem comes when we allow the anger to control us rather than giving God control.

“I felt so damaged & broken hearted”

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the second in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily.

Looking back over the past 5 years I can see many things that I wished I had responded to differently.  I experienced the first physical attack when I was 6 months pregnant. I was horrified and frightened, and my husband was taken away by ambulance due to a “drug reaction” that they said caused the physical violence.  I believed the doctors and  believed his lies. He convinced me to believe that he would never do anything to harm me or our baby again.

The second brutal attack happened when the baby was 3 months old.  He attempted to kill me in a rage.  Once again, the psychologist reiterated that it was a combination of medications he was taking, and after detoxing from these prescriptions he was “fine.”  However, this attack resulted in a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS).  This time was different. We were investigated, but the case was closed. After a 4-month separation I gave into his pressure and allowed him to move back home.  The abuse began again soon after, but this time he would remind that CPS would take our baby if I called the law during altercations. So, I endured and kept my mouth shut– until I reached the end.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided that, even if it resulted in CPS taking away my baby, the so be it.  I knew I would get her back because I was a good mom, so I put it in the Lord’s hands.

Some of the challenges I faced coming out of an abusive relationship were:

  1. I struggled with trusting myself to make decisions.
  2. I isolated myself and realized I had become afraid to commit to outings with friends and family.
  3. I thought God had abandoned me when I had abandoned Him.
  4. The sheriff’s department got tired of responding to my calls, and said coming out so often was nonsense.  They suggested that if we couldn’t get along together we needed to separate.
  5. When I finally reached the end of my rope, I almost got arrested for my rage when I was told I should pack up my kids and leave the house since he refused to go.  Meanwhile, he sat there smirking at me saying “honey, you need to calm down.”
  6. It takes a long time to heal from the mind from abuse, and it does not take much for me to find my thoughts returning to the negative beliefs I had when I was with him– things like “I am less of a person.” This still happens, even after 18 months of “detoxing” from him.
  7. Not everyone understands domestic violence.  People are quick to say “I would never accept that behavior,” but they have never experienced the subtle mind games they play. They keep you so confused you don’t even realize what is happening until after you’ve been sucked in.  I kept making excuses for him, thinking he was not that smart to know what he was doing, but I finally learned he chose his behavior.

I’ve been free of him for 18 months now, and I am so happy I made that final call.  I had to allow myself to see that he wouldn’t ever change.  I had endured his abuse, sarcastic comments from deputies who came out, and belittlement from a judge when I asked for the final (3rd or 4th) protective order. I felt so damaged & broken hearted. Every night I sat awake crying– terrified of each noise I heard, and longing for security.  That is when I Googled Christian support groups for domestic violence and found a video of Joy discussing the purpose of Called to Peace.  Called to Peace restored my faith, gave me hope and allowed me to see my feelings were normal for victims of abuse.  I wasn’t crazy!   I thank God for showing me Called to Peace and helping begin the healing process.