shining Through the darkness

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?  (Ps. 42:1-2)

Oh Lord, You are my greatest longing! Your goodness and love overwhelm me day by day, and yet I struggle to keep my eyes on the Lover of my soul. Forgive my scattered mind and divided heart. Help me to soar above the distractions of life. I know You are always with me, but I am not always listening to your voice. Forgive me. Make my ears ever sensitive to hear. I know You put people in my path for a reason, so help me to seek your purposes rather than my own in every conversation and interaction.

Let me show the world the same love and grace You have shown me. I can’t imagine a life without You—it would not be life at all! You have transformed my life—transferred me from the darkness and brought me into your marvelous light (Col.1:13). You have held me in times of despair and traded your strength for my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I bring you nothing, and You give me everything (Rom. 8:32). I wasted so many years knowing You from a distance. I gave you lip service, but did not surrender all, and You allowed me to reap what I had sown. Yet, You were also merciful! You met me in my misery. Thank You!

There just aren’t words… I owe You all that I am, and that is certainly nothing compared to what You have given me. I ask You to let me live with passion—don’t let this dreary world obscure the amazing beauty You pour on me daily. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2: Cor. 4:6-7).  Thank You that You can use this cracked jar of clay. The cracks from damage of life can be made beautiful for your kingdom. I think about that carved clay candle holder I bought in Costa Rica. It’s nice enough unlit, but when the light shines through it is captivating. It’s the light that makes it, and the same is true with me. Please help me to shine for You. Amen

Dear Child, you are mine. I have called you by name and love you with an everlasting love (Is. 43:1, Jer. 31:3). Share my love with others. You can be confident that I have heard your prayer, and because you are praying according to my will, I will answer (1 Jn. 5:14-15). I delight in those who desire to do my will, and I will bring you relief and peace as you continue to seek my face (Ps. 18:19). I have good plans for you, my child. Rest in that knowledge, and choose the “better” and eternal things as you go (Lk. 10:42, 2 Cor. 4:18). Seek my face more than anything else. You are seeking many things, and are easily distracted, but if you seek Me and my kingdom first, I will give you the other things you need and desire. Delight yourself in Me, and I will give you the desires of your heart (Ps.37:4).

Running after earthly treasures is counterproductive. Even if you attain the things you seek, you will find no satisfaction if I am not first in your life. Think of that thirsty deer longing for a stream of water. His first priority is to find water, knows he will perish without it, and is not easily diverted on the way. You must understand that your need for me is even greater, so do not allow yourself to be distracted by things of lesser importance. I see your needs, and I will provide. Yes, you have responsibilities, but if you seek Me first, I will order your day in a way that makes it easier to fulfill them. Come to the waters; drink deeply before you embark on your day. I stand ready to help you and empower you. I desire to shine through you, and will surely do it as you seek Me with all your heart.

caring for the least of these

Let’s be honest, most of us spend a great deal of time focusing on how to improve our lot in life. We think about how we can increase our income, improve our health, and find satisfaction in our relationships. It’s rare that we meditate as much on how we can bless others. Yet, in the passage I read this morning God tells us that blessing others is one of the keys to being blessed.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Dt. 14:28-29)

I love how God highlights helping the “fatherless and the widows.” Besides traditional widows, in modern terms, we have many single moms and children who no longer have full time fathers in their lives. I believe the church has greatly failed to answer his call to these assist the “least of these” among us. This is a theme that runs throughout the bible; yet it certainly doesn’t seem to be much of a focus in many of our churches today.

In our ministry we see many single women and their children struggling with poverty. Women who chose to stay at home with their children have suddenly been forced back into the workforce after experiencing the devastation of abuse and divorce. Many face constant court battles just to get a small fraction of their previous income in spousal and child support. It can take months to years to get these issues finalized, and I have seen many women give up and return to abuse in order to survive, because the system seems so unfair.

Rather than seeing churches reaching out to assist these modern widows and orphans, too often I have heard the women complain that they suddenly feel like second-class citizens because they were unable to save their marriages. Some have even been asked to leave their churches all together after they fled the abuse (they experience loss upon loss). Most of the women I have seen in these situations were stay-at-home moms, and did not want divorce, and their churches were more concerned about saving their marriages than about the safety and welfare of the people in it. Their counsel seems reminiscent of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time who elevated institutions over individuals.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen women counseled to return to abusive situations and to try to win their husbands with a quiet and gentle spirit. Unfortunately, such counsel leaves women and children in extreme distress and danger. The bottom line is that there are children and mothers who are suffering, and the church needs to come along beside them. Sadly, over the years, I have watched scores of women and children move from plenty to needy with very little help from God’s people. They are forced to seek government assistance, which is usually far from adequate. How it breaks my heart!

James 1:27 says that caring for widows and orphans is pure and undefiled religion. It is the sort of religion God accepts and desires. Perhaps we don’t get involved, because the task seems overwhelming. Or maybe we operate under the erroneous assumption that they can find all the help they need in domestic violence shelters or with organizations like ours. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most DV shelters stay full 50-70% of the time, and even when there are openings stays are limited to 30-60 days– hardly enough time to get a life together. We have a vision for transitional housing, but financially it’s not even in the realm of possibility yet. Fundraising, for organizations like ours, is extremely difficult. The majority of our regular donors are stretched thin financially, and give out of their need. We receive many widow’s mites at CTP and continually run on a shoestring budget. It seems that those who have never been touched by these issues turn a blind eye to this type of need.

According to that verse in James, refusing to see the need will not only hurt the women and children in need, but it will withhold blessings from the church as well. Until his people begin to obey his command to care for widows and orphans, I doubt we will see the revival so many of us say we want. Until we learn to care for those who are suffering and needy, we will not be the church he desires. God’s heart is for justice, and caring for the needs of others. When we rise up and answer that call, we will finally be acting like his people, and then will bring blessings on ourselves.

Lord, help you church rise up to become repairers of broken walls and restorers. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but with you all things are possible. Open our eyes and show us how to minister most effectively. Lead us and we will follow. Lord, please wake up your slumbering church to the needs of the fatherless and widows in their midst. Amen

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2/5/20 Would you be willing to answer God’s call to help these modern day widows and orphans? This month Called to Peace Ministries is seeking to increase our monthly pledges by $2000 in an effort to effectively serve the multiple victims of abuse who reach out to us each month. Please join us in ministering the heart of the Father to the least of these. Click here to learn more and to give.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Is. 58:5-12)

Trusting God In Hard Times

Victory over fear is far more than just the absence of anxiety and dread; it is confidence in God’s goodness towards us even in the midst of trying circumstances. Psalm 27:10 has long been a favorite verse of mine. “Though my father and mother [or husband!] forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” When I fear because people fail me, I can trust that He will not. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. It took me a while to grasp that, but now it gives my heart great confidence. I know that He loves me, and promises to work “all things” together for my good (Rom. 8:28), so I don’t have to freak out when bad things happen. I can remain confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living! No matter what happens (even a full-scale war against me!), my heart can be confident and reject fear. So yes, I am loaded with confidence; it’s just not in myself.

The world teaches us that if we believe in ourselves we can do anything, but I have to say that my self-confidence levels are really not that high. I’ve lived with myself long enough to know that I can utterly blow it in the blink of an eye. Outside of the grace and Spirit of God I don’t trust myself, and I know that without confidence in his great love for me, I would be crippled by fear and anxiety. Even after I became a believer, fear was a constant struggle for me until God graciously used some trying circumstances in my life, and his Word, to help me overcome it. (Click here to learn more.)

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against, even then I will be confident. (Ps.27:3) I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13)

In this psalm David (who spent years running from an abusive father in law) reminds himself to seek God’s face. That is his response to fearful events, and as he turns to God his fears begin to melt. He reminds himself that the Lord has been his helper, and then boldly proclaims he will never be forsaken. Knowing God’s goodness, and getting into his presence will dispel fear. There is nothing that can shake us when we are hiding in the shadow of his wing. When I am afraid, I close my eyes and imagine myself climbing up into my Heavenly Father’s lap and listen as he sings over me (Zep. 3:17). I think of the many times I held and sang over my own children and grandchildren when they were upset or afraid. As soon as they stopped struggling, rest and peace came. I chose to be still and know that he is God. He is bigger than all my troubles combined, and I can have confidence in him as I rest in his love.

Lord God, I praise you for your great love! I am so honored to be your child. That the sovereign Lord, creator of heaven and earth, cares enough to quiet me with his love is simply amazing. Today I choose not to strive, but to rest as you hold me and give me confidence to face the day. Life in this world is just hard sometimes, but you are so good, and you have overcome the world for us. Bless your holy name! I love you, and I rest in your love today. Amen

My Story

I love my friend Terri’s story. She is a testimony of God’s redemption and ability to turn ashes into beauty.

Diary of a Quadriplegic

I wrote this essay to be included and a friend’s book.

I became a Christian in 1989 when I was 25 years old. I had never read the Bible and had no idea I could have a personal, life-changing relationship with God. Prior to my conversion, I had been an alcoholic for 10 years. I started drinking when I was 15, and by high school, I was drinking in the mornings. I remember I was always desperate for the drink. It’s all I ever thought about and the only thing I craved. My life was miserable. I felt so alone, so lost and so hopeless. I just assumed my life would always be that dismal. I knew something was missing.

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IS THIS REALLY A MESSAGE FROM GOD?

(Please read to the end. The intention of this post is not self-defense).

From time to time on this blog, I write posts that are written from ”God’s voice” as I imagine he would speak to my heart. I’ve had a few people unfollow and tell me that this is apostasy, and dabbling in new age practices. So, I’d like to set the record straight. I am a writer. In poetry and prose we often write from another person’s perspective. I am in no way asserting that these writings are equivalent to or authoritative like scripture. However, I believe that God gives us imaginations for a reason, and not all imagining is evil as some seem to think. I am sure God is pleased when we stop to meditate on his goodness, and even when we imagine how he might respond to the struggles we are facing.

We are to set our minds on things above and I’d say that is exactly what this is. Sadly, most of us tend to imagine things like “What am I going to do? This situation is impossible! “I don’t see a way out of this.” “What if God doesn’t come through?” Or even— “If I be still and open my mind to His Spirit, I am opening myself up to the demonic.” I find it very sad that children of God worry that when they ask their Father for a fish, he will give them a snake. (Luke 11:11) In my opinion, imaginations like these are far more damaging than imagining that he is on our side or that he keeps his promises.

Scripture tells us that God has given us his Holy Spirit, and that he speaks to his people in a still small voice. Jesus said his sheep know his voice (John 10:27). There have been several occasions when thoughts came into my mind to pray for or call someone, or even go do something for them. Many of these times I found that they were facing serious issues at that exact time. A few times listening to that still small voice has made a HUGE difference in my life, and the lives of those I love, as I acted on those promptings. We need to be sensitive to his voice. He gave us his Spirit to help us through this life, and even to help us understand scripture. The Word without the Spirit is lifeless and powerless. In our work with victims of abuse we find that those who deny his work in our lives are the very ones who use scripture as a weapon. For them it is no longer the living, active, God-breathed word of God, but instead a set of rules. The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:6)

So if you’re following this blog and find these posts offensive, please feel free to stop following. It grieves my heart– not because we’ve lost a follower, but because your view of God is so small, and that you are missing all he has for his children. He offers us intimate fellowship, and that includes two way communication with Him. Yes, scripture is the ultimate authority, and the vast majority of the time he will speak through his word (and quicken it to our minds as we meditate on Him– maybe even as we imagine). He will never say anything to contradict it, but I believe it pleases him when we take time to dwell on his promises and his goodness. What would he say to you about that awful situation you’re facing? I believe if you get quiet and meditate on his word, you will find he has a beautiful message for you. 💗Joy

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Is it Abuse? Minimizing, Denial & BLame… Part 5

This is the 5th and final post in a series on recognizing abusive patterns in relationships from my book Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace & Healing After Domestic Abuse. Most people believe that physical abuse stems from heated arguments, but generally speaking, that is not the case. Most often abusers becomes violent when the techniques  described on the Power and Control Wheel fail to achieve the desired control. Today we look at the last 3 tactics found on the Wheel.

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

Grace had been married to Charlie for over 10 years, and was a stay-at-home mom. Although, she went to extreme measures to please Charlie, he criticized her constantly. The house was never clean enough, the kids were never good enough, and meals never seemed to meet his approval. Grace tried very hard to please him, so one day she decided to cook 2 meals in an attempt to find something Charlie would like. Instead, he walked in late and went straight upstairs, ignoring both meals. Soon after, Grace discovered Charlie was seeing another woman, and he’d had dinner with her that evening. When she confronted Charlie, he turned the situation all back on Grace. First of all, he explained, he had done nothing wrong, and she was being ridiculous. He criticized her for even bringing it up, and when she pressed him on the subject, he started blaming her for his actions. Maybe if she had been more attentive to his needs or managed to do something right from time to time, he wouldn’t have needed to find outside companionship. Basically, he told her she had no right to question his actions, and if she wanted to see things improve in the marriage, she needed to try harder.

Grace also learned that Charlie was slapping their 10-year-old son on a regular basis, and the same thing happened when she tried to talk to him about her concerns. At first he denied it was even happening, but when she caught him doing it one day, he simply acted like it was no big deal. When she expressed her concern that it was contributing to their son’s anger issues, he turned it back on Grace. “Of course, he’s angry! He has to live with you!” No matter what she said and did to confront the wrongs against the children and herself, Charlie always either denied wrongdoing, minimized it or blamed someone else. He never accepted responsibility for his actions.

Economic Abuse

Jan’s husband John put her on a very strict allowance, and it usually fell far short of meeting the basic needs for their family of six. When she went to the grocery store, Jan had to bring back her receipt so that John could analyze every item she bought. He ridiculed half of her purchases and called them wasteful. On the other hand, she had to make sure she bought him special (and somewhat expensive) snacks that nobody else was allowed to touch. When extra expenses popped up, such as prescription co-pays or extracurricular fees for the kids, Jan didn’t have enough left for necessities. She had two little ones in diapers, and one on formula, but the budget barely allowed for these items. If she ran out of money, John ridiculed her for being frivolous. Eventually, Jan decided it might help to take on a part time job in the evenings to help out, but John refused to let her work. Although he constantly claimed to be broke, he often bought high-dollar items for the kids and himself. The older kids were given the latest smart phones, and he bought a boat. Jan was still using an old flip phone her sister had given her several years back.

John made sure that Jan did not have access to his income, or bank information. She only had access to the joint account he set up for her allowance. Even at tax time, John simply had her sign their tax returns without looking at them, but one day she caught a glimpse at his annual income, and found that, in spite of his claims of being broke, John was earning well over six figures. She was barely surviving on what he gave her, but he wasn’t struggling at all. He simply enjoyed wielding power over Jan.

Using Male Privilege

When Jan finally got up enough courage to ask the church for help, John discredited everything she said. Since she had struggled with postpartum depression, he used that to convince the church she was completely unstable. John was considered a leader in the church, and his outstanding service gave people little reason to doubt him. On the other hand, Jan was usually pretty frazzled. She had been in a bible study I had taught a few years prior. At the time, John approached me to say he hoped I could help her with her issues. He acted like she was very troubled, but didn’t give me details. He seemed like such a good guy, I even fell for his portrayal of her.

When she approached me in tears two years later, we set up a meeting and even then, I’m ashamed to say, I doubted her more than him. Eventually, as we met, I did begin to recognize the abusive pattern, and I approached our pastor to say I felt the situation was potentially dangerous. His response was that I was only hearing one side of the story, and that he believed Jan was making up lies “to destroy her husband.” When I asked why she would do such a thing he referred me to years of joint counseling sessions in which John was able to get her to admit she was wrong for accusing him. John had also shown him a video of Jan “freaking out” and yelling. Of course, there was nothing on the videos showing what led up to that, but his efforts to discredit her were hugely successful. The consensus among church leaders was that John was a great guy with a very troubled wife. The worst part of it was that he was able to use his role as head of the house to keep Jan subdued. At home, he reminded her that she was to submit to him, and did not involve her in any family decisions. He basically dictated how things would be. In counseling sessions, he often complained that Jan was not submissive. In addition to exercising male privilege, I would say John used spiritual abuse by distorting his biblical role as head to force his self-seeking agenda, which is ultimately the goal of all of the tactics found on the Power and Control Wheel.

Anyone who truly wishes to help families living with domestic violence must understand these patterns of control and manipulation. A lack of knowledge truly causes people to perish. If counselors and pastors are unfamiliar with these patterns, they will easily be fooled by the abuser, and see the victim as the cause of the problem. In fact, churches really need to enlist the help of those who have expertise in domestic abuse to help them discern the patterns and make an effective plan to help. At Called to Peace Ministries, we believe DV advocates can help serve in this capacity, and have partnered with House of Peace Publications to help train faith-based advocates across the nation and elsewhere.

I have seen far too many victims come under church discipline, or told to submit to the abuser and let God handle him, when in fact abusers need accountability, and victims need practical solutions rather than weak advice that doesn’t work. Domestic violence is an epidemic in our world and our churches! Until people of faith learn how to help, they simply perpetuate the destructive cycle.

Is it Abuse? Part 4: Emotional Abuse & Isolation

Emotional Abuse 

Women who live with domestic violence often tell me they prefer hitting to the emotional torture their abusers put them through. The Power and Control Wheel calls it emotional abuse, and while some may not agree with the terminology, there is definitely an emotionally destructive element to these relationships. “Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.”[i] Tactics include: putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, name calling, mind games, making her think she’s crazy, humiliation, and making her feel guilty. Several years ago, I watched a woman in a store ask her husband if she could purchase a three-dollar item. Rather than saying yes or no, her husband began to put her down in front of everyone present. He asked her how she could be so foolish as to want to buy something that cheap, and indicated that she probably wouldn’t even use it. As he was criticizing her for her stupidity, he looked over at us and chuckled. It was clear he enjoyed taunting his wife, and that he saw her as inferior. Her face turned red as she tried to mumble out answers to his questions, and finally she put the item back to avoid further humiliation. It seems silly that something so small could ignite such a fury, but that’s the nature of domestic violence. Molehills become mountains on a regular basis when you live with an abuser.

One woman at the shelter told me that sometimes she would purposely do something to get her husband to hit her, just because she knew that once the abuse was over there would be a break in the verbal assaults for a while. Victims are made to feel they are constantly wrong, incompetent and worthless. No matter what the issue, and no matter who is right or wrong, everything gets turned around and the victim ends up getting blamed for everything. The sad thing is that abusers are often skilled enough to convince counselors and pastors that their wives really are to blame for most of the problems in the marriage. They’re so skilled at these mind games that often their partners even start to blame themselves. Abusers go to great lengths to portray themselves as morally superior and intellectually more reasonable than their victims, and by the time they get to counseling many victims are so overwhelmed, and insecure about themselves, that they do seem unstable.

Isolation

Abusers love to isolate their victims from people and situations that might provide them with support. I have had women tell me that, after getting married, they eventually lost every single friend. My friend Kathy was rarely allowed to see her family- even on holidays. On several occasions, her husband reached out to her friends and family and told them it was her decision to cut off the relationships. He led them to believe that she was mentally unstable, and he was doing his best to make things easier on her. However, he was the one controlling her contact with others. She was basically allowed to go to church (with him), and to the grocery store as long as she wasn’t gone too long, and came home with a receipt to prove her whereabouts.

      Abusers use isolation to try and make sure their victims have nowhere to turn when things get tough. Most controlling people live in fear of losing control, so they go to great lengths to maintain it. Linda’s husband, Dave, bought a 17-acre farm 20 minutes from the nearest town, and he had the only car in the family. He was retired, so Linda had him as her constant companion. Dave controlled what she ate, what she read, and even her opinions. She was not allowed to disagree with him in any way. When I met her, they had been married over 30 years, and up until just before she came to the shelter, he had never laid a hand on her. Although Dave did not allow Linda to have friends, he had several, and when he invited his friend Carl out to visit, he brought his wife, Lucy. This was the first friend Linda had been allowed in years, and she was grateful. One day when the men were out hunting, Lucy told Linda she needed to stand up to Dave’s bullying, and let him know she had a right to her opinion. Shortly afterwards, she did just that, and Dave went ballistic. He beat her so badly she nearly died, and he ended up in prison. For all the years they had been married isolation had achieved its goal. When she completely isolated, Linda was too afraid to refuse any of Dave’s demands, but as soon as she found some external support she found courage to challenge him. Unfortunately, by the time she did, it nearly cost her life.

This article is part 4 in a 5 part series on recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship. Many victims do not even realize their relationships are abusive. The intent of these articles is to show that domestic violence is far more than physical abuse.

 

[i] Vernick, Leslie, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2013), Kindle Version Location 256.

Is it Abuse? Part 3: Coercion, Threats, Using the Children & Intimidation

One of the most common ways abusers control their victims is through coercion and threats. In the years I have worked with victims of domestic violence, nearly all of them have confirmed that these behaviors were used regularly in their homes. Some abusers threatened to leave their families and not provide for their basic needs, some threatened suicide in order to make sure they got their way, some threatened physical harm, and others just threatened to humiliate their partners somehow. In several cases, I’ve seen abusers go out of their way to make their wives look incompetent.

After years of living with control and manipulation, my friend Jill became seriously depressed, and ended up taking antidepressants. Her husband made sure he let the pastor know how concerned he was about his wife’s erratic behavior, her “inability to parent properly,” and her “dependence on medication.” Of course, the church had no idea of what really went on behind closed doors, and Jill knew better than try to tell them. At the same time, Jill’s husband made sure she knew that if she decided to leave the marriage, he would have no trouble having her declared incompetent and getting full custody of the children. For Jill this threat was far more powerful than bodily injury ever could have been. Her husband’s threats were highly effective in promoting his selfish interests. Even though none of his claims were true, they were powerful enough to keep her in a miserable situation far longer than most people would have  stayed.

Using the Children

Abusive people generally aim their threats directly at whatever their victims value most, so that means threats involving children are very common in these situations. In fact, many women stay in horrible relationships far too long, because they know if they leave their spouses may hurt the children somehow if they leave. Such was the case with my friend Bethany. She had endured unending criticism and relentless threats from the beginning of her marriage. Her husband was well educated and powerful, and had won full custody of his children after divorcing his first two wives.  He was quick let Bethany know that if she ever tried to leave him he would have no problem doing the same again.

He constantly bullied and belittled her, and unfortunately  she sometimes lost her temper. During these times he secretly recorded her outbursts to use as evidence if he ever needed it for court. One day she got up the nerve to threaten divorce, but he merely laughed at her and assured her he had enough evidence to make sure she never saw the children again. In the meantime, his cruelty was also aimed at the children. In fact, I ended up reporting it to Child Protective Services, but even then he ended up coming out their investigation looking good. In the long run, Bethany is still in a terrible situation, because she believes that at least if she stays she can serve as a buffer between her husband and her children. Sadly the older son has become abusive to his mother just like his dad is, but the fear of losing him keeps Bethany paralyzed and afraid to leave.

Unfortunately, Bethany’s story is not an exception when it comes to domestic violence. In my own limited exposure, I have seen abusers intentionally use and misuse their children multiple times in order to punish their mothers. It is not unusual for them to attempt to turn the children against their mothers. Basically abusers will do whatever they consider necessary to maintain control, regardless of the consequences to the children. I have seen women frozen in fear, because of these types of threats, but those who decide to leave usually tell me they made the right decision. Living in fear of a man will never lead to the life God intends for you. Ask Him to help you devise a plan to leave, and be sure to utilize all the resources available to you. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you devise a safety plan, and connect you to legal resources to help you with custody issues. Be sure to find a way to document the abuse that is occuring, and keep a copy of your documentation with a trusted friend or advocate.

Intimidation

Besides using their children to hurt their wives, abusers make regular use of intimidation techniques to instill fear and attain unfettered power in their families. Intimidation can range from a harsh look to extreme physical violence. Most abusive people have conditioned their victims to know when they are about to snap. As a result, a single angry glance can cause wives and children to freeze up or change their course of action. If a nasty look doesn’t get the desired result, or if the abuser is feeling particularly grumpy, he may resort to more physical tactics such as throwing and smashing things, destroying her property, or even abusing the household pets. When I was working in our local domestic violence program, one of the clients told me that her husband killed her dog in front of her and the children, and countless other victims told me that their family pets often received the brunt of the abuser’s wrath. One lady told me that her husband filled her car with poisonous snakes to make sure she didn’t go anywhere. These were more extreme cases, but less dramatic measures are still highly effective.

Intimidation usually escalates in intensity over time, and if the abuser does not feel his demands are being met. Some of the behaviors often seen in the progression of violence include: blocking her exit from a room, punching walls and throwing things, screaming, and raising a fist. If an abuser still feels he is not in control, he may resort to more physical measures like grabbing, shoving, kicking, hitting and worse. An interesting thing to note here is that, even when hitting occurs, many abusers, in an effort to keep the abuse hidden, maintain enough control over themselves to make sure they hurt their victims in way that doesn’t leave obvious bruises. Most of us who live with severe intimidation convince ourselves that our partners are out of control when they use anger to intimidate us, but that is most often not the case. For the overwhelming majority of those who use control and violence, it is a choice. We’ll talk about that more in future posts.

Part 3 in a Series. Today’s post covered three of the 8 tactics abusers use as listed on the Power and Control Wheel. For more on the Wheel, see my previous posts.

Could God Ever Use Me?

There are days when I still have to remind myself of the truths he’s taught me, and this particular lesson is one I have to revisit often. It never ceases to amaze me that God can show up so mightily in the midst of human frailty.

JoyfulSurrender.com

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:13-15

I love that scripture is filled with weak and reluctant heroes of the faith. I love it, because I know how feeble and hesitant I am. People often tell me they think I am so strong for…

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When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I see this so often. People who are consumed with self-pity hurt others and destroy relationships. In this life it’s almost impossible to avoid suffering, but the way we respond is everything, I’ll end this with a quote from my recent workbook. “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. ”

JoyfulSurrender.com

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his…

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Is it Abuse? Part 2: A Proven Screening Tool

Part 2 in a Series.

In order to recognize the signs of domestic abuse, most experts rely on a tool called the Power and Control Wheel. This resource was created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota in 1984,[i] and is based on observation of several focus groups of women who had been physically abused. When project personnel began to interview these women, they discovered several patterns of control and manipulation that seemed to exist almost universally within the groups. As they began to document these common behaviors or tactics, the result was a tool that has been used by victims’ advocates for over three decades. The first time I laid eyes on a Power and Control Wheel I cried, as have numerous victims I have shared it with over the years. It’s pretty easy to deny a relationship is abusive until someone puts a detailed description of your life right in front of your eyes!  For years I suffered in silence, thinking that nobody knew what I was going through, but when I picked up the “Wheel,” it seemed as though somebody had been a silent observer in my house over the years. I was also amazed to find that I was not alone, and that an estimated one in four women experience physical abuse from an intimate partner within their lifetimes.[ii]

One thing that stands out to most observers is that the majority of behaviors listed on the Power and Control Wheel do not involve physical harm. I had denied that my relationship qualified as domestic violence simply because physical altercations were somewhat infrequent. However, the tactics described on this chart happened on a daily basis. According to this tool, bodily harm is simply a last resort when all other tactics fail to achieve the desired power and control. Domestic abuse is not merely about physical harm, but about abusers establishing patterns of complete domination over their victims. This is one of the reasons that in recent years experts have begun to refer to coercive control rather than domestic violence. Basically, the motivation is far more telling than the behavior. In his book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse, Pastor and biblical counselor Chris Moles states that abusive behavior “is driven by a heart of pride and self-worship.”[iii] True domestic violence is not merely a reactive pattern of behavior, but one that is intentionally self-serving. A look at the behaviors listed on the Power and Control wheel show just how self-seeking abusive conduct really is.

As we continue this series, my upcoming posts will describe each of the eight characteristics found on the wheel. Stay tuned!

power_and_control_wheel

[i] “Wheel Gallery” http://www.theduluthmodel.org/training/wheels.html. Accessed January 17, 2016.

[ii] Please note that the focus of this work is to highlight the more prevalent issue of male against female violence; however, we do recognize that women can also be abusive.

[iii] Moles, Chris, The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home (Bemidji, MN, Focus Publishing, 2015), 43.

Is it Really Abuse?

This is part one in a series.  

Step one in becoming free from the impact of living with a destructive spouse or partner is admitting the truth. Oddly enough, we find that many times victims of domestic abuse do not even recognize that they are being abused. Rather they make excuses for their partners and almost justify the mistreatment– especially if they have never experienced a physical assault. This post is the first in a series that explains the various tactics abusive people use. If you’re unsure about your own relationship, I pray you find this helpful. 

One fine day, in the spring of 1995, I lied to a judge. This happened shortly after taking an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt, because at the time, I didn’t believe I was lying. I testified to the judge that my marriage of 14 years had not been abusive at all. Rather, some recent stress had caused my husband to snap, and act completely out of character. It was a story I wholeheartedly embraced, because I had been telling it to myself for so many years. Up until that point, there had been numerous incidences of physical violence, but it didn’t happen on a regular basis. In fact, a few years were completely violence-free. Perhaps another reason I did not think I was abused was the image that I had conjured up in my mind about abuse victims. When I thought about domestic violence, the term that came to my mind was “battered,”, and I was certainly not battered. In the entire length of our relationship, he had never once punched me with his fists. Our rare physical altercations usually began with something like a shove or being jerked by the arm. Once I had my fingers slammed into a drawer and once I was kicked. Oh yes, and there was that time when he held a knife to my throat, but no I wasn’t battered.

Perhaps believing lies was my way of trying to convince myself that things really weren’t that bad, so when I finally did have to admit I had been in abusive relationship, I felt like a complete fool. I had always considered myself pretty bright, and facing the truth seemed to challenge that belief. Another thing the truth challenged was my idealistic concept of my husband’s opinion of me. I thought that my ability to elicit such great emotion from him meant that he truly loved me. It didn’t matter that his actions towards me were the exact opposite of the biblical description of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres[i]

Whenever I came across this passage in my quiet times, I couldn’t help but notice that my husband’s actions towards me were most often the reverse. It didn’t take much for him to lose his patience with me, and within my first month of knowing him, jealousy reared its ugly head several times. I can’t tell you how many times he embarrassed me in public by making rude comments towards others, the kids or me. I felt so vulnerable and unsure when I was with him—certainly not protected. It was his way or no way, and lies were the foundation of our relationship. However, the most blatant contrast between godly love and my relationship was found in verse 5, which states that “love is not easily angered.” There were times when I couldn’t believe how seemingly insignificant details could enrage my husband, and over the years I’ve heard countless stories from other victims of abuse who suddenly found themselves the object of wrath when a small detail in the course of the day set off a reaction of atomic proportions.

One dear lady told me that her husband beat her simply because she left hamburger meat in the sink to thaw, another was belittled to the point of tears in front of her children because she failed to fold and stack her towels in the “correct” manner. Another relayed that her husband tore apart the entire house (throwing things against the walls, and clearing counters of their contents as he went through each room) after one of the children moved his hairbrush from its prescribed resting place. In recent years, a counselee told me that just leaving one cup in the kitchen sink would send her husband into a rage. I would call that being “easily angered,” and it took me years to realize that true love does not act that way.

Perhaps one reason victims tend to lie to themselves is because admitting the truth is almost more painful than the abuse. It means admitting that their partners’ actions do not equate to love at all. So most convince themselves that wounds from the past (or mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, etc.)  just make it harder for their husbands to deal with life, and that they don’t really choose those angry actions. I truly thought my husband was out of control when he blew up, and that I needed to try to hold things together so that he wouldn’t have a reason to lose it. I thought he needed me, and so I built my life around making things go as smoothly as possible for him. I realize this is probably contrary to the average stereotype about domestic violence. People who are unfamiliar with it, including many pastors and counselors, believe that domestic abuse is the result of heated arguments that could have been started by either party. Certainly no man would harm his wife unless she had done something to provoke him, right? It seems to be a logical conclusion, but the problem is, that in the vast majority of cases, it’s a faulty one.

Most abusive people are self-seeking, easily angered, impatient, along with all the other contradictions to God’s love listed in 1 Corinthians 13, and most victims have a hard time facing the fact that their abusers are choosing to treat them with contempt rather than love. In his book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft states that “An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside.”[ii] After working with victims and abusers for over two decades, I’d have to say that this assessment is spot-on. Unfortunately, it is not something that most victims would like to admit. It was so much easier for me to believe my husband was abusing me because he was wounded inside, or that he lacked coping skills, than to admit he was making a choice to hurt me. Coming to terms with the truth was almost too much to bear, so I lied to myself until the day somebody placed a tool called the Power and Control Wheel into my hands.

 

[i] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, New International Version

[ii] Bancroft, Lundy, Why Does He do That? (New York, Berkley, 2002), 31.

How Twisting Words Destroys Relationships

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, and Jesus certainly did.

No matter what people tell you, dear friend, He understands what you’re going through. In fact, He’s been through it too. He loves you and sees your heart. Entrust it to Him.

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” MATTHEW‬ ‭22:15‬ ‭

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” HEBREWS‬ ‭4:14-16‬ ‭

From Hopeless to Hope Filled: A Survivor’s Story

For every survivor, there’s usually a moment of clarity where they fully realize the abusive nightmare they’re living in is a choice he’s making.  They know they need help, but those difficult steps to freedom are filled with trials of their own.  Here’s one survivor’s journey from clarity to freedom.

The day I finally knew no more excuses would do, and I had to leave, was the day he threw a glass of milk in my face and then yelled at me because there was a milky mess.  I kept thinking maybe he would change, or maybe I was the problem, or maybe he’d stop drinking. But that day, I knew I couldn’t take any more. I was losing weight fast and could barely eat. My 3 year old son was watching horrible things happen in his home. So I left and found a temporary solution. He wouldn’t let me take our son with me. But if I couldn’t get better, I couldn’t take care of him or fight for custody.

When the day came that I had to go back to live with him, I couldn’t do it.*  I was going to die in that house. I attempted suicide. For six weeks I lived in a hospital and had a wheelchair. I slowly learned to walk and eat again. But God used that time, my most hopeless situation, to give me renewed hope. My nurses and therapists encouraged me to get well, get help, and get a divorce. Where many people in the church had told me super unhelpful things like “God hates divorce,” or “You need to respect your husband when he’s not beating you,” (I’m sorry, doesn’t God hate seeing abuse?) my angels in that hospital told me I was loved and beautiful and I deserved so much better. I went through years of hearings and finally my divorce was final.

Had I not had that horrifying experience, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today. I still have 2 bullets in my brain, but I am happily remarried to my best friend, and there is sunshine coming through the window of my little house on my little brick street, tea in my mug and flowers on my table. Yes, there are several nasty emails I’m currently refusing to read from my ex-husband, but I never imagined on those awful nights that I’d be in this place of peace someday. I want other women to know they don’t deserve abuse, they are beloved and treasured and I will spend the rest of my life and my second chance being the kindness I needed during the worst days of my life.

The best part of my story is the word “was.”

I was abused.
I was afraid.
I was suicidal.
I was hopeless.
I was sick.
I was desperate.
I was heartbroken.

And today,
I am alive.
I am full of hope.
I am healed.
I am bursting with the good news that God can take women like me and make something beautiful.

I will put beautiful crowns on their heads
in place of ashes.
I will anoint them with olive oil to give them joy
instead of sorrow.
I will give them a spirit of praise
in place of a spirit of sadness.
They will be like oak trees that are strong and straight.
The Lord himself will plant them in the land.
That will show how glorious he is.
Isaiah 61:3

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

* This story was sent to us anonymously and we do not know where her temporary solution was or why she couldn’t stay there.  It could have been a friend or family member who could only house her for so long.  It could have been that she was able to get a space in a shelter, but even those have time limits. It could be that she was being pressured to return by someone who thought they were helping.  We don’t know, but those are some of the most common scenarios.

(Comments in italics were made by one of our ministry helpers.) 💗

Faith for the Impossible

After working with victims of abuse for over twenty two years, one thing has become clear to me. Those with faith do so much better on the road to recovery than those without it. Perhaps you’re thinking there’s no way to have faith after you’ve been beaten down and told how worthless you are, or when you’ve been in an impossible situation with no power to change anything. Yet, scripture is filled with stories of impossible situations that turned around.

This morning 2 of those stories came to my mind. Actually, this verse came to mind: “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” Luke‬ ‭4:25-27

Do you remember these stories? Neither of the people Jesus mentioned had great faith— they just acted on what little faith they did have. The widow shared what she thought would be her last meal with the prophet, and Naaman reluctantly dipped himself in the muddy Jordan River seven times. The actions alone would not have resulted in miracles, but they both acted on the tiny bit of faith they had. They weren’t anything special. In fact, as Jesus pointed out, neither of them were Israelites (God’s chosen people), but as they matched their hope in God with action, God met them and overcame the impossible.

Are you facing an impossible situation today? Is there a glimmer of hope somewhere deep inside that God could work if you took a step in the right direction? If so, I encourage you to act on that hope. Don’t be foolish— make a plan (Prov. 15:22)— seek out wise and informed counsel (Prov. 19:20), but don’t let fear keep you stuck. God shows up for who act in spite of fear— the ones who choose to walk ahead holding on to that tiny mustard seed of faith. Faith isn’t a lack of fear, it’s moving ahead in spite of it, and putting your hope in the One who is bigger than the impossible.

💗Joy

Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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