Meet Ruby: Pastor’s Wife & Survivor

Guest post by Lauren Rose

Meet Ruby! Before marriage, she pursued her master’s in Christian studies while on staff at a large church. “Life was good, and I had realized my purpose was to encourage and build up the next generation,” she exclaimed confidently.

When Ruby first met her husband, he seemed ideal, lined up with her future visions and goals, and he was in seminary. They had a long-distance relationship for a year before getting married. There were a few red flags, but she dismissed them because “he seemed to be repentant and was overcoming trauma issues along with deep insecurities from critical and neglectful family members.”

During their dating life, he was a smooth talker and often quoted Scripture. If he snapped, he quickly corrected himself. On the day they were married, as they drove away from the church, the mask came off, and he grabbed her arm and pulled her in the limousine from waving goodbye to family and church friends, harshly commanding, “Get away from there!” The remaining evening was tense. Ruby was shocked at the coming events. On the honeymoon, he became melodramatic, and there was a complete personality change. “I knew something was off that first week; he went from adoring me to criticizing everything about me,” Ruby recalls.

At first, Ruby continued to make the same excuses she did while dating. She saw his shortcomings stemming from a dysfunctional childhood and did not think he was capable of “loving” the way God calls us to because he never experienced that type of love growing up. At the same time, he was in ministry and there was a profound contradiction between living in the flesh and the spirit.

The first five years were the most difficult as she was trying to understand what was going on. Exhausted from doing 99% of the parenting, confused, she slowly began reaching out for help after multiple violent episodes around the kids. Still, she was “very concerned about being a good Christian wife and honoring and protecting her husband.” The professional counselor affirmed this was not healthy, but the two pastors she reached out to at this time just encouraged her to love and serve harder. “I wanted to be a godly wife, so I kept clinging to the Bible and prayed for miracles,” Ruby interjects.

When approached by pastors or counselors about Ruby’s concerns, he would play along at first, act humble, and share how he had not been kind. He’d often share how Ruby deserved much better and how sorry he was. He would cry, use beautiful poetic words, and often connected positively with the other pastors. They concluded, “He’s a man’s man; I like him.”

Additionally, her husband abused substances. Coming home from work, he would go straight to the bottle, abuse pain killers and other drugs. Once after her husband let his guard down and a pastor saw his true colors, he responded with, “Your husband needs psychological help! You need to cater to his needs and act like you have a special needs child, similar to if you had a Down Syndrome child. Moreover, you need to stop everything and cater to your husband.” Bewildered, Ruby thought, “I’ve ALREADY TRIED ALL OF THAT, and it enabled his SIN!”

After nine years of marriage counseling, Ruby’s health started deteriorating, having debilitating migraines from the stress of living in abuse. Ruby added, “It was as if God allowed my health to start failing to show me that ‘I’m not meant to hold all of this together.’ It was my failing health, in addition to my children’s fears and anxieties whenever I left them with their dad, which lead me to seek refuge from my marriage. However, I was still focused on reconciliation!”

After three years of trying hard to bring healing and reconciliation, and battling harsh treatment, deception, and unfaithfulness on his part, God closed those doors! In these three years, Ruby met Joy with Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM). “Our first conversation felt like she understood my situation, and I didn’t have to say much. My story was ‘textbook’ to so many others. She validated my feelings and connected me to valuable resources that would ultimately bring freedom and deliverance from oppression.” Finally, as Ruby laid the relationship down to God, accepting that it might not work out because of her husband’s continued rejection of their marital covenant, she began to heal.

Out of all the Christian support, churches, seminary, and friends, CTPM was the most supportive, helpful, and life-giving. “I received non-judgmental and practical support. I was welcomed and valued as one deeply loved by God. I wasn’t viewed as part of the problem, but rather as someone who had been deeply wronged,” Ruby shares gratefully.

“Today, I’m free in Christ and so thankful for His lovegrace, and mercy. Life is still often hard and harder, but I’ve been delivered from deep oppression. I learned that God’s design for marriage is to reflect His love and peace. When one person acts in opposition to God’s design, how does that relationship display Christ and the Church? It doesn’t! God’s design for marriage is beautiful, each submitting to Christ and loving the other out of reverence of the LORD to build up His Kingdom.”

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The day my world came crashing down

Guest Post by Sage Sparrow

I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and I remember the day my world as I knew it came crashing down around me.  I got a phone call from an elder at my church hours before I was planning to help lead a children’s program.  

Don’t come, not for this, not for choir, not for holding babies in the nursery, not for anything. 

I broke down in ugly tears.  Only a few weeks prior, I had left my abusive husband.  More than a decade of all kinds of abuse directed toward the children and me.  This was enough to disqualify me from church service.  It’s for your healing was the excuse I heard.  I can only imagine how healing it would have been an hour a week to see the faces of the preschool children light up as they played or talked about Jesus.  Instead, I sat in the lobby while my own children attended their groups.  I can only imagine how healing it would have been to have been surrounded by a choir who had sung with me for over a decade.  Instead I sat in the congregation as a well-known singer.  I heard more than once, “Choir not paying you enough?”  I can only imagine how healing it would have been to rock a baby to sleep in the nursery.  Instead, I listened to a sermon calling people to serve and how they always needed more childcare workers. 

Each Sunday became an exercise in pain management.  Passing choir members in the hall who “don’t know why you’ve suddenly “quit” the choir.”  Passing elders and wondering how they could equate isolation with healing.  Passing former “friends” who didn’t believe me.  Avoiding my abuser (because he’s still there too).  Trying to go into worship with all of these people and listen to the pastor preach against abuse so eloquently, while not being able to recognize it when my husband strode into his office with a charming smile and introduced himself as “victim of an unloving wife.”

Months went by and there was no indication of reinstatement to church life.  Meanwhile my abuser had told the church he wanted to reconcile, claiming he had been forced into legal action because of me.  I offered to show them the court documents to prove which one of us had filed to start the divorce (him). I attempted to explain to the church how this was a lie as he was making false allegations against me with CPS (Child Protective Services) with the intent to win sole custody and make me homeless in the process.  

Shrug.  We’re still praying for you and for your marriage to be restored. We can only believe what he tells us, even if his actions seem contrary.  Maybe you can serve again when all this is over. 

Half a year of this torture had passed with at least another half year before “all this” could have been considered over.  In secrecy and desperation, I attended a different church’s service.  I found healing there.  Compassion, prayer, genuine worship, acceptance. 

If you are a survivor reading this and you are in a church where you feel shamed, anxious, cast aside, isolated, and treated as anything less than a believable, lovable, beautiful woman who is more than welcome to worship, I submit to you that you haven’t found your church yet.  Church is the way God set up for his children to come together as a family to worship and fellowship.  Jesus went after the rejected, despised, and the unloved.  His heart is for the oppressed.

“The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.”
Psalm 9:9-10

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Psalm 147:3

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18

“But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners.”
Psalm 146:5-7 

“Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”
Proverbs 31:9 

When an email breaks your heart

I rarely watch the news. I’m sure lately it’s filled up with COVID-19 news and politics. I just don’t have time for that because there’s enough going on in my little part of the world. Every day, I receive e-mails here at Called to Peace and sometimes they just stop you in your tracks. There are days I just have to take a minute before responding because this is the news no one sees. The news that’s real and raw, a hidden, heartbreaking epidemic. Would you like to hear some of what I see every day? (edited for privacy)

“Do you offer any advice on how to be successfully and safely homeless?”

“I’m waiting to be accepted into a shelter, have no family, and my former church sided with my husband and won’t let me come back. Can you help?”

“I feel like I’m going crazy. I’ve watched my friends pull away and been removed from ministry and learned it’s because he’s been spreading horrible rumors about me. I’ve tried to get help from the church and even a professional but no one believes me because ‘he’s so nice.’ I feel like I’m all alone. Can you help?”

“I am writing to you in the midst of a very difficult situation, as I had to leave my house with my little ones. The judge granted me a protective order, but not permission to live in the house, and so now we need a place to live. My husband already violated the DVPO and isn’t required to pay support. He doesn’t know where we are right now, but I am so afraid for my life. Can you help?”

“My husband and I are both in counseling at the church separately. His counselor thinks he’s doing great; he doesn’t understand what’s going on. I’m risking being kicked out of the church by separating but the worst thing is he’s got the kids believing he’s innocent and I’m breaking up the family. Can you help?”

These are only some of the e-mails from just one week. Just one week. If you are someone who could write an e-mail like this, I’d like to encourage you to contact us. In the meantime, let me respond to you the same way I did to these e-mails:

I am so glad you reached out. This is so heartbreaking to hear. I am so sorry this is happening to you. No one deserves to go through what you’re going through. You’re not crazy. Let me connect you with an advocate to help you navigate this difficult situation. We have support groups as well where you can meet other women going through similar situations. You are not alone.

Blessings,
Naomi Jubilee
Called to Peace Ministries”

We Don’t Know What to Do…

I don’t know about you, but all the craziness that’s come in 2020 has tempted me to worry a lot. I keep wondering what I can do to change things, but feel completely powerless to do so. It seems like nothing I could do would make a bit of difference. I’d be completely overwhelmed, except for the fact that I’ve been in impossible situations like this before, and those times taught me to cling to the God of the impossible. He has shown up for me in miraculous ways on multiple occasions.

I love this story from 2 Chronicles 20. Basically, God’s people were surrounded by a vast army that was too powerful for them. The king stood up and prayed this “we don’t know what to do” prayer. He confessed his powerlessness, and then proclaimed that their only hope was in God. As the people stood before the Lord and waited, the Spirit of God moved on a prophet who proclaimed, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (20:15). On hearing this word the people bowed down in worship— they began to praise Him “with a very loud voice” (20:19). This praise continued as they went into battle the next morning. Scripture says, “When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies]..so they were routed” (20:22). Not one enemy escaped while the people of Israel did nothing but praise.

I’ve been feeling particularly powerless lately. Can you relate? I’ve wanted to fix it, to find some magic bullet, to post some wise words on social media that will make people to come to their senses, but I know it would be futile. However, there’s one thing I know to be true. It isn’t futile to set my eyes on God, to proclaim my utter dependence on Him and to make Him bigger than the multitude of problems I face— and that we face as a nation. I believe the outcome would have been far different for the people of Israel if they’d taken matters in their own hands. In fact, scripture is filled with examples of that happening. And I believe our outcome now depends on making a choice to invite Him to come and take over and to drop our prideful desire to control things.

Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of his people. He shows up when we put our hope in him and elevate him above the obstacles we face, and our own flimsy, pride-laden solutions. Right now you may be at a crossroads. I know our country is at one, and we must make a decision. God’s people can act like the world by seeking to control the situation, or we can confess just how weak and powerless we are. Rather than trying to control things, we can invite the One who perfects his strength in our weakness to take over (2 Cor. 12:9). He is our only hope. Will you join me in praying that He will come and help us now?

Mighty God, things are spinning out of control! It’s really scary right now and we don’t know what to do! All our efforts have amounted to nothing, and without you we are sunk! But we choose not to allow circumstances to define or control us. Rather, we choose to shift our attention to you to give you all the glory and praise. You are worthy and you weave all things together for your good purposes (and for ours) as we seek you first (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:28-29). We need you desperately!

Father, I confess that I’ve been seeking answers more than you. I’ve been making the problems bigger than you, and I’ve been acting like I actually have the power to do something about them. Without you, I can do nothing. I have no power Lord— only You do and I ask You to take over. I relinquish any desire to fix or control it. Only you God can save me. Only you can save this nation. We praise you because of who you are. We worship you, because you are worthy. You are far more worthy to take up space in our minds than all the strife and trouble we are seeing. We praise you because nothing is impossible for you! We praise you because you cared enough about this broken world to come down and be broken on our behalf. Thank you! Come and inhabit our praises Lord and route our enemies and we look to you. Amen

Note: Since someone asked this does not mean we sit back and do nothing, or that we don’t vote. It simply means our first course of action is to look to him and allow him to direct us (notice the Israelites still marched out to battle). It means we make him bigger than all the problems and trust him whatever happens. We don’t have to live in fear. Genuine faith is accompanied by action.

The Real Pandemic: Domestic Abuse During COVID-19

Guest Post by Naomi Jubilee, Administrative Assistant, Called to Peace Ministries

If you’ve seen the news, you probably haven’t heard about the sharp increase in domestic abuse. The news is mostly focused on COVID-19 case numbers, stay at home timelines, and whether or not we have to wear a mask. “New estimates from the United Nations Population Fund suggest that three months of quarantine will result in a 20 percent rise in IPV throughout the world. In total, the report predicts at least 15 million additional cases of IPV will occur as a result of COVID- 19 lockdowns.”* What happens when the abuser works from home? What happens when a domestic abuse victim can’t just get out of the house because he’s raging? What happens when schools are closed and the children are all home as well?
At first, a lot of quiet. Part of my work for Called to Peace is helping moderate a large, online support group for domestic abuse victims/survivors. When the stay at home orders started in our state, the conversations stopped. The women still living with their abusers were now more monitored. How do you safely check on someone you know is living in an abusive home? You have to wait, hoping they are truly safe. Texting them at the wrong time could be even more dangerous.

Next, a lot of similar stories. The current victims are still mostly silent, but it’s the single mom survivors who are talking. “My abuser won’t bring the children back to me because of my job; he says I’m probably exposed.”

“My abuser won’t bring the children back to me because he’s been taking them everywhere and one of his family members tested positive, so he says he needs to quarantine the children with him.”

“My abuser should be in jail for violating the protective order but the courts are closed.”

“My children came home with bruises, but child protective services refused to investigate fully because of COVID-19 and dismissed the case as not having enough evidence.”

I only wish I was making up these stories.

Then there’s the financial component. Many survivors have lost jobs and taken temporary jobs at grocery stores or are still out of work. Some of their abusers have lost jobs and decided not to pay them child support. Some were excited at the prospect of a stimulus check to recoup their losses. A great number have watched this money be deposited into a joint account and withdrawn by their separated or divorced spouses. All we can hope is that they get some of it, eventually. Legal actions to claim their portion would cost more than the money they would get.

As the lockdown becomes extended, victims find new ways to communicate carefully. Some are actively working to get out, but there’s nowhere to go. So many are reaching out for advocacy because it’s hard enough making a safety plan in normal times. Random people on social media are posting for people to message them to buy fake beauty supplies as a sign they need help. The trouble with that tactic is the abusers are reading those posts too.

How can you help? Check on your friends, especially the quiet ones, even the ones you think have amazing husbands. Abusers are incredibly good actors in public and victims are incredibly good at hiding the abuse. Invite your friends out for socially-distanced coffee or a walk where they can talk freely. Let them use your phone to talk on thehotline.org where their abuser can’t track their history
so they can make a safety plan.* Pray for them.

“Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”
Proverbs 31:9

Called to Peace Ministries has support groups and advocates who are trained to help women in domestic abuse situations. E-mail us at info@calledtopeace.org for more information.

*https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-sense-chaos/202005/why-the-increase-in-domestic-violence-during-covid-19
*https://www.focusministries1.org/SafetyPlan.pdf

Meet Pearl

A Survivor’s Journey from Patriarchy & Abuse to Freedom in Christ

Pearl was introduced to a very conservative homeschooling community in her late teens, where courtship and preparing for their highest calling; as a wife and mother were profoundly encouraged. She married under the courtship system. The abuse began very quickly after marriage; it was more subtle the first month. Pearl’s husband controlled all evening activities, who her friends were, and evening phone calls were forbidden so that she was available to meet his needs. She thought this was what marriage was to look like and followed blindly. Then, for the first time after a month of marriage, Pearl stood up for herself. When she kindly said no to a request, he called her a vile name and threatened to spank her because “she was a defiant and rebellious wife.” As time went on, the threats continued – she was so confused, and something felt so wrong in her marriage!

According to her husband and his reading of submission verses to her – everything was her fault. She began to read books on submission, one of them being, Created to Be His Helpmeet. It taught her that if she could do all the right things, adore/reverence, and make her husband’s life easy, the abuse would stop. She decided to follow the book’s advice, but the more submission she gave him, the more he demanded, and the more he exerted control. Nothing was working. Once, she adjusted the AC by two degrees to save money. When he noticed she had touched the AC, he came in screaming and yelling at her loudly about being an unsubmissive wife. He wouldn’t stop yelling, so she ran into a room and closed the door, but he busted open the door and accused her again of being a rebellious wife for locking the door. “How dare you be so unsubmissive?” he would exclaim. The yelling, name-calling, and verbal berating continued. Pearl knew the drill at
this point— this wasn’t the first time it had happened. He wanted to watch her break. He knew when she would break, and then he would stop – only after there was complete fear in her eyes, she was weeping uncontrollably and rendering submission to whatever he wanted.

Pearl tried bringing marriage counselors and mentors in to help with their marriage issues, stating, “My husband has a little anger problem but wants help.” Her husband would eventually refuse help from these mentors, saying he already knew how to be a good husband. Pearl continued to seek counsel. During her time in counseling, she began to recognize that she was in an abusive marriage. However, she didn’t believe divorce was an option and decided to fight for her marriage. They met with a marriage counselor, who mapped out a complete plan to heal their marriage and family. The program required sacrifice and commitment in her husband’s part; but he got upset and refused.

He also threatened to cut off the remaining social connections and any additional provision if she continued to attend counseling or tried to hold him accountable to the plan. She struggled with believing that maybe this was normal in a marriage, so after a threat, she asked a mentor and elder’s wife in her church if it was normal for a husband to threaten his wife physically when she didn’t comply to his wishes. The elder’s wife was appalled and took it to the church elders, who decided they would occasionally contact the husband to make sure things were okay; in their marriage. On the occasions when the elder checked in on Pearl’s husband, the elder was assured he was doing great.

A domestic violence advocate and friend learned of the things going on in Pearl’s marriage, and she informed Pearl that domestic violence is about power and control. “It is the internal belief that they have the right to maintain power and dominance over you out of entitlement, refusing accountability for themselves.” The advocate explained that physical violence happens when a man feels their threats and control tactics no longer work and told Pearl she was concerned physical abuse was going to happen soon, based on statistics. Then the first incident of physical harm happened when she asked him to please stop correcting her running form when they were running together (he was getting really angry). It was subtle but scary, and her husband always justified himself.

Pearl and her husband decided to change churches. This time she reached out to an elder in the church, and they set up a time to meet. The elder learned that Pearl wanted to save her marriage but wanted accountability and help for her husband. He decided to put them in marriage counseling at the church. Pearl’s husband dodged going at first,
but the church insisted. Then another physical assault happened and this time, it left a bruise. Pearl’s husband told the church, “She is overreacting – she bruises easily and gets bruises all over her body when she runs, so why does she get upset if I give her a little bruise?”  There was no repentance or remorse, but the church insisted on continuing the marriage counseling.

In the next two months, physical assaults continued when Pearl didn’t do as she was told, but her husband had an excuse and justification for every incident. By this point, her church elders were highly concerned and at a loss about what to do. One of her former counselors reached out to the church and recommended a domestic violence advocate from Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM). CTPM mentored the church elder, and eventually the elders began to see that the problem was more serious than a bad marriage. Soon after, they helped Pearl separate from her husband and kept her safe. The church became educated about domestic violence and what it looks like. The CTPM advocate met with them and answered their many questions as they continued to work with Pearl’s husband. They now have a domestic violence protocol and policy to protect other members of the church. Pearl found healing and redemption through counseling, CTPM support groups, and the support of a like-minded community. Before, she questioned her worth, but now she realizes that Jesus never asked her to submit to abuse and that he values this Pearl far more than any earthly treasure or institution.

Irreconcilable Differences

The Destructive Impact of a Lack of Humility in Our Nation

When I used to do marriage counseling, there were certain attitudes on the part of one, or both, spouses that I knew would doom a marriage. If I could not get them to empathize with one another or see things from their partner’s perspective, I knew it was just a matter of time before they’d be standing before a judge confirming the irreparable rift I was already seeing. When these couples came in for counseling the following mindsets were apparent in at least one spouse.

  • I’m here to fix my spouse and don’t need to look at myself.
  • I’m right and he or she is wrong. There is no room for compromise.
  • When my spouse doesn’t agree with me, I judge his or her motives (self-righteousness).
  • When my spouse doesn’t agree with me, I harshly criticize or punish.

As I watch the headlines, I see all of the elements of a doomed marriage playing out in our nation. We have lost our ability to compromise and automatically judge the motives of those who don’t conform to our way of thinking. The latest issues have just brought to a head what has been lying deep beneath the surface for several years now. I was recently criticized on social media for discouraging violent protests and encouraging peaceful ones. The inference was that condemning violence was borderline racist. As someone who lived through and stood up with activists during the civil rights movement, I couldn’t imagine how my comments could have been so misconstrued, but it happens so often these days (from people on both sides) that I’ve become afraid to even state a simple opinion. My freedom of speech has surely been stifled. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost our way and without a miracle I fear that division we are seeing will destroy us as a nation.

I remember a time not too long ago when Americans of differing opinions were able to respectfully debate one another. When I went to college, I naturally carried the beliefs I inherited from my parents. I was a political science major, and during the final years of my undergraduate training, I took a few seminars on the philosophy of politics. In those classes, I got to hear both sides[i] of issues, and often found myself questioning the logic behind my beliefs. I had never really taken the time to listen to both sides of these issues. I simply assumed I was right, because that’s what I had been told most of my life, and because like-minded people tend to stick together so I had never really been exposed to people who believed differently than me. It was an eye-opening experience that broadened my perspective and even gave me the ability to understand and respect people with varied political viewpoints.

After college I stayed intensely interested and involved in politics. I always felt my voice and vote made a difference, but over the last few decades I’ve come to believe otherwise. It seems politicians have capitalized on our division over social issues. They’ve learned to use our passions to divide us to get our focus off of the fact that the vast majority of our elected officials (on both sides of the aisle) are being bought by special interests and promoting big money agendas. The average American has no idea of how many laws these special interests get passed, and with many of them the tradeoff is a loss of freedom in the name of the common good– but I digress, the point is we have become so polarized as a people that we are no longer able to work together. Instead, like doomed married couples, we judge one another and refuse to consider the validity of our opponents’ arguments. We are right and they are wrong. There is no middle ground. If they disagree, we start accusing them of cruelty and claim to be victims.[ii] Simply disagreeing isn’t cruelty, but when we have self-righteous attitudes, we see differing opinions as threats.

As a counselor who specializes in abuse, I know that people with self-righteous, judgmental mindsets often seek to control partners who don’t agree with them. Everything becomes about power and control rather than relationship. As a result, they usually shut their partners down and refuse to listen. They block any of their attempts to voice concerns, and successful resolution of conflict becomes impossible. Communication is impossible. This is where we are as a nation. We are unable to resolve our conflicts and are becoming increasingly hostile towards one another. In a marriage the end result would be divorce, for this nation I fear it could mean something even worse. Our only hope is a miracle from God, and that is what I’m praying.

 

Lord, send revival to our broken land and heal us. Amen

 

________________________________

[i] And I mean both sides. Back then debate was encouraged. I am not sure that is the case these days.

[ii] This statement comes from a counselor who works almost exclusively with victims of abuse, and guess what I’ve learned over the years? Victims of abuse rarely claim that they are abused while abusers do it all the time. A common technique used by abusers is called DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim & Offender. Seems common on a societal level these days.

 

 

It’s the Little Things

What I Wasn’t Prepared for When Leaving My Abuser

Guest Post by “Julie”

It’s the little things that caught me off guard. As a victim trying to escape the anguish my children and I were living in, I was encouraged to watch other victims of domestic abuse leave their abusers. But then they’d go back. It seemed to me that they would always return is because of money. My abuser controlled all my income, so I got a very part-time second job without telling him. I saved up for six months to finally be able to afford to leave. It was a huge amount to me at the time, what I thought would cover the children and me until child support and other assistance would kick in.

There would be no going back for me. I’d already done that once with his promises to change. He seemingly transformed overnight into a repentant man who’d rediscovered Jesus. The abuse was worse after that and was even more hidden as he played up his newfound role of living a life of holiness. I saved enough to budget for two months’ worth of rent, bills, gas, groceries. The child support agent told me it took 4-6 weeks for that process and I knew food stamps would be similar. I thought if I could make it until then, I’d be okay and could work on building my income. It was as solid of a plan as I could make and I didn’t have any more time. I never knew what would cause the next explosion and if he would target me or the children.

I stepped out bravely into what I thought would be rebuilding my new life. I wasn’t expecting a gazillion trips to my attorney’s office, the domestic abuse center, and court, including parking fees each day I had to go. I wasn’t expecting medical appointments for the children and the expenses that my husband refused to reimburse. Child support took six months to get settled. None of that was in my plan.  I ran out of money after one and a half months. My bills were starting to hit past due dates. I opened a few credit cards and mostly maxed them out with attorney fees and living expenses.  I fed my children by going to food banks twice a week.  I often went without myself because there just wasn’t enough food to go around.

Luckily for me, Called to Peace was there. They helped me catch up on past due bills and gave me gift cards for gas. I felt like I could breathe a little.  In a few months, my income increased because I was able to work more.  Some months I was still short, and those gas cards were what I remember because I carried it with me.  For me, a gas card is not just another bill, but someone telling me they think I’m valuable enough to be able to get out in the world and take care of business.  The gas cards represented someone believing I deserved a better life so much that they were willing to invest in it. They meant someone trusted me to use gas wisely.

In my marriage, I’d been given a strict gas budget for my vehicle and was out of luck if it was used and I still had places to go, including work and church- even if it had been used up because my husband had driven the vehicle, even if it was used because of extra medical appointments.  I was harshly criticized if I ran out because “You should have budgeted better.”

Called to Peace understood the financial valley I was trying to climb out of because it’s so common for a woman in an abusive household to have these same challenges.  I’ve watched fellow survivors climb out of the same valleys.  At one time, I was working for five companies. I still work for more than one company, but I only made it this far because Called to Peace helped me. Since then, I’ve gotten a promotion at work. I can pay all my bills. I’m working to pay off the massive debts, but I know I’ll make it. My confidence has a lot to do with Called to Peace believing in me, which they demonstrated to me with gas cards, advocacy, counseling, and a lot of prayer and love.

 

If you would like to help other women like “Julie” who are facing economic hardship, please prayerfully consider donating to Called to Peace Ministries’ Emergency Fund by visiting www.calledtopeace.org— 100% of contributions to this fund go directly to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

How Twisting Words Destroys Relationships

In the last 5-10 years I’ve seen this happening not only in individual relationships, but on a societal level. Our nation has become so divided as we automatically assume evil motives on the part of anyone who disagrees with us. On social media people judge and condemn one another for simply having different opinions. Yesterday we posted an article about how difficult it is for some victims of abuse to wear face masks during this epidemic requires, but on social media, people are posting that anyone who fails to wear a mask is selfish and even murderous. Surely, we can do better as a society. I was raised to always see both sides of the story and to empathize with others, but that ability seems to be disappearing in 21st century America. I pray that as a people we will learn to stop jumping to conclusions and judging people who happen to think differently. It’s not healthy for relationships and it’s certainly not healthy for our country.

JoyfulSurrender.com

Anyone who’s lived with abuse knows what it’s like to have their words distorted, to be accused of thinking things they weren’t even thinking. In counseling we call it assigning motives. This happens when one partner starts judging the other’s intentions. So many times my abuser accused me of having evil intentions towards him when nothing could have been further from the truth. Generally, I put his interests far above my own, but he always saw my intentions as evil. This twisting of words and distortion of intentions kills relationships, and those who face it have little power to change things.

Uniformed people helpers tell us that if we would just win them over with a quiet and gentle spirit or bless them enough, they’ll come around. Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, but apparently the writer of this psalm did…

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TEN SIGNS YOU HAVEN’T HEALED AFTER DOMESTIC ABUSE

I lived 23 years of my life as a victim. Well no, that’s not exactly true. I left my abusive husband after 23 years, but my victim status didn’t go away until several years after that. Becoming a victim was not my choice, and it was never my fault, but eventually I learned that moving out of the victim mindset was my responsibility. In the years after I got out of the abuse, my misery and God’s providence graciously led me to truths that enabled me to overcome and move from victim to victor. It was not a quick or easy process, but it was an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. God lifted me out of a pit despair and taught me how to walk in complete dependence on him in the midst of incredible turmoil. He grounded me in truth and made me a better person than I ever was before the abuse.

Even as I was working through my own healing process, I began working with victims of domestic abuse. I still had so much to learn, but I was willing to share the truths God was teaching me. In the beginning it was really hard for me to hear survivor’s stories without experiencing strong feelings of outrage and anger. I am sure that my support during those early years was iffy at times, but nothing could stop me from pursuing my passion to help. Over the past 23 years of doing this work I have learned many valuable lessons from hundreds of survivors. One of the hardest lessons has been seeing what happens to victims of abuse who never take the time to heal, or try to fast track the process by skipping the hard work it usually takes. Here’s what I’ve come to believe:

There’s no subtle way to say it. If you don’t find healing after your abusive relationship, there’s a good chance you could end up with some negative repercussions. You may find yourself moving on to another abusive relationship. You could end up suffering from severe depression or anxiety, or worst of all, you might find yourself chronically angry, perhaps even abusive yourself. *

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these outcomes. I’ve seen scores and scores of women move from one abusive relationship to another, because they were still operating out of trauma from previous relationships, and because they never became healthy enough to recognize what to look for in a new relationship. The hardest part of overcoming abuse is overcoming the warped thinking that comes with it. I often tell people that it took a lot longer to get the abuse out of me than it did for me to get out of the abuse (and getting out wasn’t easy or quick). I had come to believe so many lies, which were aggravated by the physical impacts of post traumatic stress. These lies were so deep-seated in me that took years to recognize and replace them with truth. Meditation on His Word was powerful, but even after attaining the major healing milestone of forgiving my ex husband, I had a long way to go. Forgiveness did help alleviate the anger that almost destroyed me, but it did not stop the fear and anxiety that continued to rule me. Healing was a process that required honest self- appraisal along with sheer determination not to allow lies to control me any longer.

Where are you in the healing process? Have you determined to work through the impacts of abuse, or are you too afraid to face the truth of what happened? Sadly, that response is the quickest way to stay stuck or end up repeating destructive patterns. Many times people start the work towards recovery, but then try to skip over important steps like forgiveness, grief or self-examination. Are you willing to take an honest look at yourself? If so, below are some signs you have still some work to do.

  1. You feel a desperate desire or need to be in another relationship— or maybe even back in the destructive one you left. You may find yourself longing for your abuser. You may have no idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, but that doesn’t stop you from trying again.
  2. You still see yourself as a victim. While you were victimized by someone and absolutely were a victim, allowing it to become your identity is very dangerous. You may find yourself unable to trust even those who have good intentions towards you, and assume their motives are evil even when they are not.
  3. You find yourself easily triggered by anything that reminds you of the abuse you experienced. A sound, smell, or even a word can thrust you into a state of panic or dissociation.
  4. You struggle with depression or anxiety. While there are chemical and hormone imbalances that can contribute to these conditions, it’s important to recognize that trauma also changes brain chemistry. Recovery work with a trauma-informed counselor, and meditating on truths to counter warped thinking, can help rewire the brain so that it may be possible to overcome long term depression and anxiety.
  5. You can’t move past the anger. Anger, in and of itself, is not wrong. We are made in God’s image, and there are things that anger him. The problem comes when we become consumed with anger and are unable to let it go. Anger like this becomes destructive and compels us to want to control things rather than releasing control to God. It is self-focused versus righteous anger which is God-focused.
  6. You are easily offended and overly defensive. When we haven’t healed we tend to take things too personally. We often read into the motives of others and make faulty assumptions based on our past experience rather than reality. This can cause problems in most of our relationships.
  7. You are critical and controlling of others. Part of healing after abuse involves learning to let go of the need to control things that are beyond our control, particularly other people. When we become hyper-aware of others’ faults and feel it’s our job to correct them, we are in danger of treating others the way our abusers’ treated us.
  8. You struggle to make decisions. When we’ve been controlled and criticized for years, it is hard to move forward and feel confident about our choices. Most of us were told we couldn’t do anything right, so the simple act of making a decision can become paralyzing. Note: this is particularly true for survivors of domestic abuse. Survivors of childhood abuse may become extremely reactive and prone to impulsive decisions.
  9. You can’t get past grief and regret. There’s hardly anything more traumatic than being maliciously betrayed by someone we love. It’s hard to get over the shock that their intentions were so evil, especially when we loved them so much. Many times we struggle to get past the guilt and regret we have for failing to recognize the abuse sooner. Grief is a normal part of the healing process that we can’t avoid, but it becomes a problem when it turns to self-pity.
  10. You feel hopeless and have lost your faith. Living with abuse can make us feel like our abusers are even more powerful than God. It’s especially difficult when they use scripture as a weapon to convince us that God is on their side. Nearly every victim of abuse I’ve ever met found their faith was damaged in some way and most struggle with hopelessness at some point.

Has abuse left you angry, fearful or distrusting of people in general? Do you find yourself having difficulty with relationships in general? Are you easily offended or do you assume evil motives on the part of people who are truly trying to help you? Are you stuck in regret over the past? If so, you are not alone. These are normal responses to trauma and betrayal. The abuse was not your fault, but finding healing after abuse is your responsibility. Are you willing to do an honest self- appraisal and determine to do the work it takes to heal?** If not, you will miss out on the hope and healing our God offers. My prayer for you today is that you will encounter His life-changing truth, and that He will give you the grace and wisdom needed to walk the path to freedom. 💗

 

**If you don’t know where to begin your healing process, reach out to Called to Peace Ministries. We have offers a scripture based curriculum and support groups that can help. Visit http://www.calledtopeace.org to learn more.

Recognizing Bad Fruit Isn’t Judging

So many times when victims of coercive control and abuse try to tell people about what their partners are doing, they are told they shouldn’t judge. Yet, in the same chapter that starts with “Do not judge,” Jesus spent a lot of time talking about false disciples and wolves in sheep’s clothing (7:15-23).

When we judge we are assessing* others based on our opinions and preferences. However, recognizing bad fruit doesn’t require judgment. It’s obvious. The fruit is either good or bad. I’d say when someone curses you again and again or spits in your face and utters hateful words, that is bad fruit. If someone oppresses you, or restricts your freedom to even think or act independently, that’s bad fruit– and God hates it.

Reading further in chapter 7, you will see that many will stand before Him on that final day professing to know Him and He will cast them out, because their actions did not match their profession. It’s a serious thing to claim His name and then treat people with contempt, or to ignore their needs (“I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat Mt. 25:42).

While we are saved by grace through faith alone, that experience should change us, and it should become evident in our actions. Micah 6:8 tells us what God requires of us– “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” Those who abuse do the exact opposite. They may get away for it temporarily, but one day they will be called to account, and required to answer the only One worthy to judge. “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:30-31.

As survivors that should not make us happy (Pr. 24:17), but we should leave justice to God and release our offenders to Him. If we harbor bitterness and anger we may find ourselves becoming like them. So until He comes, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you,” (Lk. 6:28) and leave the judgment to Him. 💗 Joy

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” Jame 3:9-12

* The original word used here can also mean to condemn Greek based on our assessment more than facts.

Deadly Counseling

I’m so grateful that our churches seem to be waking up and responding better to domestic abuse these days. But for every church we see working on getting educated we see many more still resorting to counsel like this. Please continue to pray with us that our churches will wake up and show God’s love and hope to those who are oppressed.

JoyfulSurrender.com

A few weeks ago I posted a simple question to survivors of domestic violence in a few online forums. The question was, ” Could you shareexamples of bad counsel you’ve received from churches and counselors?” In less than an hour I had over 50 responses. Below arejust some the answers I received.

  • Pray more, have more sex, ask God to show you what you’re doing to make him so angry.
  • “Read this book on how to be a better wife.” “Just stop pushing his buttons; you know what they are.”
  • You need to treat your husband like he has special needs. Step back from things so you can give him your full attention.
  • “He never meant you any harm. Just trust God- don’t fight for anything in the divorce settlement. You are bitter- you need to forgive him.
  • ” Well, I don’t think he was TRYING to kill you…

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he makes all things new

Sometimes when we’ve suffered, we start to believe we will never overcome, but as you begin this new year (this new decade) my prayer for you is that you will find God’s goodness in the midst of your pain. He will make all things beautiful in his time and he will redeem what you have suffered. This excerpt from my book describes how his redemption looked in my life. As we enter 2020, I pray you will know him and his goodness as never before, and that he will make all things new for you. 💗 Joy

“Even though I would have never chosen to suffer as I did, I came to realize that suffering had done something beautiful in my life. Before, I said I trusted God, but I lived in constant fear. After my trials brought me to the end of every human resource, I found Him to be entirely trustworthy and was able to joyfully surrender my life to His loving care. I often tell people I would never have chosen that path of suffering, but I am so grateful for it, because if I hadn’t experienced it, I wouldn’t know Him the way I do now. Nothing in this world is more precious than knowing Him! The more I came to know Him and His truth, the freer I became. Over time, it felt as though I had been released from prison!

Along with my newfound freedom, I had the assurance of God’s presence and provision. Isaiah 54: 6, in which the Lord promised to be a husband to His people, became especially precious to me. As I learned to trust Him fully, He proved to be truly wonderful and faithful. In time, I realized that rather than being a victim for the rest of my life, I had become victorious, and God wanted to use my experience for good.”

From Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace & Healing After Domestic Abuse by Joy Forrest

Facing Loss at Christmas

There are so many of you who will not have a merry Christmas this year. I’ve certainly been there. The holidays just seem to amplify all the losses we’ve experienced. Some of you may have to spend Christmas alone while your children spend the day with someone who promised to love, honor and cherish you till death, and then chose to do the opposite. Maybe a loved entered eternity and left you behind this year. Whatever your loss, I know it’s so hard! You might feel more alone than you’ve ever felt before.

Dear friend, you are not alone! Our God took on flesh and came to earth to restore relationship with his creation. He suffered horrendous abuse and rejection. He faced a barbaric death alone, so he understands what you are going through. Just imagine it! The ruler of the universe chose to enter our pain! Such amazing love will never let you go. He is the Prince of Peace, and while peace might seem elusive to you right now, he gives peace that passes human understanding. Our Prince of Peace fills us with his Spirit. He is a Comforter to our broken hearts, a Counselor to our troubled minds and he is wonderful in the midst of terrible.

Whatever pain you are facing this season, bring it to Him. Pour your heart out to him and praise him for what he has done on your behalf. Thank him for sharing in your suffering. There is so much power in making him bigger than your problems. He will give you peace in the midst of turmoil, and you might even find joy! We can rejoice in knowing that he is with us whatever we face. We also know he will redeem our suffering. If we shift our focus from our pain to Him, we will find victory in the midst of loss.

Looking back on my life, I realize some of the most precious moments were those I spent grieving in His arms and declaring his promises— in spite of the pain. Somewhere in the midst of it all I came to know him in a way I never could have imagined. He became my everything, and I found that he was enough. If you find yourself struggling this Christmas because of losses, I pray that you will cling to Him and find peace and joy that transcends this world. 💗 Joy

Beautifully Broken

When I look at Scripture, I love that it is so honest, and filled with accounts of broken people that God somehow managed to use. From Abraham and Jacob, to Moses, David, and Elijah, the Bible is filled with stories of heroes of the faith who messed up in some very big ways or suffered some very painful circumstances. Yet, in spite of their faults, sins and traumas, God wove them into His eternal narrative of redemption. God called David (an adulterer, murderer and neglectful father) a man after His own heart. Jesus used Peter (a man who cursed and denied him 3 times) to powerfully help establish the early church. And let’s not forget women like Rahab the harlot and Mary Magdalene who both overcame broken pasts to further His kingdom.

I’ve worked with many shattered lives over the past twenty years, and I’ve certainly walked my own broken path. In fact, once when I was speaking at a conference the leaders of the event pulled me aside to let me know that in the next session, I should tell the ladies that I missed God’s best plan for my life. Surely God couldn’t be in a messy divorce and such. At the time, I did as they asked, because I knew I had certainly missed God’s ideal plan for marriage, and it seemed I’d missed His calling into ministry at an early age. Yet, somehow in God’s economy my broken path has been used for ministry. Just a few years after that conference Called to Peace Ministries was born, and its mission to those who have experienced the ultimate betrayal of abuse has flourished beyond what I would have ever expected.

Even before the inception of Called to Peace, I found that in my counseling and teaching ministries my past experiences were a great source of encouragement to people. When I think about it now, I realize that my brokenness gave me a gift I never would have known if my life had been trouble-free. It was when I lost everything that I came to know God in a way I never could have imagined before. When my abuser destroyed the furniture I inherited and threw my personal belongings into a large dumpster, Jesus was there sharing in my suffering. My pride was shattered. My will was broken, and I felt about as worthless as the trash that surrounded me. Before that day, I had always tried to maintain some sort of control over my life, but suddenly I recognized that was no longer possible. It really hadn’t been before, but I had been able to fool myself into believing it was until that day when it all unraveled before my very eyes.

It was nearly dusk when I climbed down into the rubbish that day. I saw so many of my precious belongings strewn over mounds of garbage. Ink had been poured over my most expensive clothes that lay on top of the pile. It seemed as if every personal item I owned was in that dumpster. Some trash bags contained my things; others just had garbage, and I had to open them to find out which was which. Before long I was thigh deep in dirty diapers and rotten food, and suddenly my husband was back and yelling at the men helping me. He ordered them to stop taking my things out and told them that he was burning all the furniture at home. It was getting dark outside, so I turned off my flashlight and prayed that he would not see me. He didn’t but began throwing items back into the dumpster. First, he threw a lamp that barely missed my head, and then a large bag that knocked me over into the debris below. I just sat there and prayed until he left.

“As I stood up, I found myself saying, “Lord, nobody has ever been through this before! Nobody knows what I’m going through!” As soon as I uttered those words, something amazing happened. His supernatural peace flooded my soul. In my spirit, I could hear Somebody gently saying, “I have. I know.” God was with me, and everything on earth faded in His presence. There are no words that can adequately describe what happened to me that day, as I had a revelation of His love unlike anything I had ever experienced. He knew the betrayal I was suffering. He had been betrayed by an intimate friend and was beaten and shamed by those He loved. Although I had known Him for over twenty years, I had never experienced the depths of His love like I did at that moment. He had endured the cross because he knew sin would cause me to suffer, and He chose to share in my suffering. In the darkest moment of my life, His amazing light came shining through.

I often tell people that that day was both the worst and best of my life, because my eyes were opened wider to the depths of His great love for me. Paul’s words seemed to sum up my feelings perfectly; “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). I never would have chosen the suffering I was experiencing, but Jesus chose to endure something far worse, because of His great love for me. The thought was overwhelming. I stood in the dumpster and thanked Him for His amazing love, and I knew that a God who loved me that much would never let me go. I determined that I would not let go of Him either.”[i]

Friend, our God doesn’t stand off from a distance watching as we suffer, but He enters the brokenness with us, and when He does it is life changing. At this point, I have worked with over a thousand survivors of domestic abuse, and I can tell you that without a doubt God is a redeemer. As much as He hates violence and cruelty, He manages to weave it together to achieve His good purposes for us. I’ve seen it hundreds of times over with those who choose to believe Him in the midst of their pain.

These days, when I think back on the statement I was asked to make about missing God’s best for my life, I realize that the exact opposite has been true. Only in brokenness was I made whole, and only in great loss did I truly recognize my desperate need that only He could fill. Whatever it is you are facing today dear friend; I know He will do the same for you. As you yield your brokenness to Him, He will do what only He can. He will turn ashes into beauty and mourning into joy. He is good, even in the midst of horrible circumstances. Today, my prayer for you is that you will choose to receive the peace He offers in the midst of suffering, and that you will know the beauty of finding Him in the face of great brokenness.  


[i] Forrest, Joy. Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse. Blue Ink Press, 2018 (35-36).

Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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