Category Archives: Counseling Issues

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

 

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[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.

 

 

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.

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

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 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.) 💗

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Anger Takes Over

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

Anger

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

Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

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

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

Divine vs. Human Anger

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

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

Face the Truth

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

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

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

Entrust it to Him

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

Choose to Forgive

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

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

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

Resolve to Believe Him

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

The Process

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

 

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

“I felt so damaged & broken hearted”

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

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

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

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

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

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

With an Abuser, Nothing is Off Limits

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the first in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily. 
Living in abuse presents many difficulties. As a Christian, of course you want peace in your home. You want your husband to love you. You want a good marriage. You read all the books you can find and they usually say “don’t look at your spouse, when you change, everything will get better”. So, you go to God over and over and pray that he will show you all your sin and failure so you can change. They say things like “men need respect.” What does respect look like? Well, you don’t yell, you don’t call names, you don’t roll your eyes, you don’t disregard his feelings, and you do what is important to him. You do these things, but shouldn’t he also respect you?
We hear from the pulpit things like “wives, you control the atmosphere in your home.”
That basically puts the behavior of both the husband and wife on the wife. Truly the abused wife has to bear the weight of everything. We not only have to constantly walk on eggshells (watch his eyes, the corner of his mouth, hands, posture, tone etc.) for our safety, but we have to endure being put down over and over and over. Our bodies are shamed, our abilities are not just criticized, but SLAMMED. We get called horrible names over and over– screamed at, yelled at, things thrown at us, spit at, and physically hurt and so much more. We are worn out and hurting.
We do such a great job of covering our husbands’ sins that people tell us often how amazing our husbands are, and because we have anxiety they feel bad for him. The church says our husbands behavior is our fault. Our husband says his behavior is our fault. Our job is to protect our abuser, protect our kids, and have a good testimony which means “don’t make your husband look bad.”
With an abuser, nothing is off limits. They have one goal and its to destroy you as a human being. No one can really understand the weight that is on us unless you have been through it. In my situation I am just about 50 years old. I have been a full time homemaker for all of our 30 year marriage. When I got sick and was not as useful any more, he became a monster. He would do terrible things, play horrible mind games and then stand there screaming, “Why cant I break you?” He used to threaten to get me locked up in a mental hospital and he would laugh at how funny it would be. He also wanted me dead, but for whatever reason, God not only kept my mind sound he also kept me alive.
In regards to difficulties, I am 49, I have no education, I now have health issues that would keep me from working, but I don’t collect disability. My husband decided now would be a great time to divorce me. He says since I am old now and no one would ever want me, I will be forced to live on the street and beg for food, which apparently would bring him pleasure. I deal with shame on a daily basis. Shame because I have loved God and loved my husband, but I have nothing to show for it– look at my life. Shame because I am not healthy, so I am forced to ask others for help. My faith has been tested greatly because when you have a husband who is abusive and neglectful and throws you away like trash, and then you have a church support him and act like you must be the problem, you can start to feel like God’s against you. I pray for God to do a miracle and change my husband entirely. I pray for him to heal me from all the abuse and heal our marriage, because it’s what I believe God promised me and I know God is more than able, but it would be miracle. Even in that I am judged.  The whole thing is exhausting, and I’m weary beyond words.

This is the Face of Domestic Violence

Anonymous Guest Post

“You need to leave…go to another state…get out with the baby…don’t tell your husband…go…!” I heard urgency in her voice. It was my first counseling appointment with someone outside the church after over 3 years in an abusive marriage. It was November 2017. Suicide was in my thoughts. Were it not for my infant son, I think I would have acted on such thoughts.

I married in the fall of 2014. I had no idea I was in for a ride of the worst sort.

Literally the day after our wedding, the daily abuse began, to my utter shock and confusion. He’d been so committed, it had seemed, to the Lord during dating. He got baptized, was going to church, doing Bible study, reading the Word, and would pray with me at the end of each phone call. Now we were married and the battering began. It started with verbal abuse – swearing, yelling at me, and threats of divorcing me.

For career reasons, roughly 6 weeks after marrying, we moved to California. The drive together across the country was torture, and I was the target. One night on our drive, he was falling asleep at the wheel but refused to stop for a hotel despite my pleas. It was the first time I called 911. I feared for my life.

Once in California, we found a church and began marriage counseling. Two years of marriage counseling commenced with our pastor. The pastor gave some of the best, deepest expository sermons in church that I’d ever heard, so I respected him, and he was someone my husband was willing to attend counseling with, so I wanted to make it work – even when it meant submitting to things I disagreed with.

The pastor was one of the only people I told everything to, often texting him amidst “events” as they happened. He told me not to tell other people about my marriage, because that made my husband feel disrespected. He told me I was angry, too, like my husband, it’s just that I didn’t demonstrate it outwardly; I needed to work on my anger. I needed to serve, just not be a doormat (how does that work with an abuser who won’t honor boundaries?) He told me to say I was sorry to my husband, even if it wasn’t my fault, to regain peace. He told me to go back to my husband (after a brief separation, for example), and questioned me about calling the cops.

Once I called 911, about 6 months after marrying, to get police to just supervise my attempt to depart, since my husband was had grabbed both my wrists preventing me from leaving when I was trying to physically separate from his verbal attack. The pastor from then on questioned me, messing with my mind about engaging law enforcement aid in the future. “Why are you calling the cops? Has he physically hurt you? If not, why are you calling them? Your husband says he won’t physically hurt you.”

So, I stopped calling the cops. I greatly reduced my talking to others outside of the pastor and his wife.

About a year and half into counseling, my husband seemed to be changing – the abuse less daily and more infrequent. The pastor approved of our trying for a child. I got pregnant almost right away.

Once the baby came, it was not long, however, before the same violent man emerged with a new vengeance. Property damage to my stuff. Packing up with dramatic flair to “leave me.” Daily swearing in front of the baby. Yelling at the baby. Shaking the surface where the baby was sitting, causing the baby anxiety and fear.

And as a new mom, I was expected to still do it all – all the housework, help him search for jobs late at night, work full time at a high stress job, care for our son, iron his clothes, prepare his meals. And if my reading the Bible interfered with his plans, he tormented me enough that I could not read it in his presence. My marriage was a nightmare but I still didn’t understand why.

By November of last year, I started reaching out outside the church for help, and started to hear more than one counselor use the word “separate.” An in-home Christian nanny saw enough of the rising tensions to decide she wanted to inform me of something important: my husband was a narcissist. I found Leslie Vernick, and watched one of her webinars. That scared me, because I realized I was in the situation she was describing.

It was domestic violence and it had not been addressed as such. It was if a hidden, lurking monster suddenly loomed in front of me, saying, “Bahaha! You found me! I’m the root of all the confusion and chaos in your marriage!” Suddenly, the dots all connected and the weird seemingly unassociated behaviors made sense.

Fast forward to this summer, and between my son being older and some other logistical changes that made leaving more doable, an incident occurred with my husband that led to my separating back to the east coast.

It’s been nearly 8 weeks now. More clarity has come upon my departure. I understand how mind control and coercion are real. I could not even see the situation fully until I was out.

A pastor referred me to Called to Peace Ministries, who quickly connected me with a local domestic violence trained counselor. I found a local domestic violence organization and started receiving support. I applied for and was confirmed to receive welfare benefits. I wanted to cry showing up for charity food or sitting in the domestic violence building waiting for help. It’s been a low place, my place.

I went from working at a high paying job to leaning on charity and government programs. I was so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell friends or family I was back and why. It all seemed so surreal, so sudden, so unexpected. I hadn’t planned for it to really come to this. I always tried to keep believing the best, hoping the best, praying for my husband, forgiving and forgetting. But my husband wasn’t changing and leaving became necessary.

I’m still very much in the process of seeking stability in my situation, but for any out there in a similar spot, I want to encourage you with some things God has been ministering to me. First, he sees you – he sees the abused one. Just like Hagar who was cast out with her son. Sarah told Abraham to force her to leave, and God told Abraham to listen to Sarah. What?! God told Abraham to proceed? Yup. And sometimes the next step in God’s plan is not the one we wanted. But God showed up to Hagar in the wilderness as her provision ran out and she’d overnight become a single mom. He “heard the lad crying” and promised to also make her son a great nation. God took care of them when her earthly provision had come to an end. (Genesis 21:8-21)

And so God is doing for me, and will do for you as you wait upon Him. He’s encouraging me that my role is to rest in Him, trust Him, wait on Him (Psalm 37). Of course, I am to do my part to take actions to seek stability, but it’s up to Him to provide for my needs. He is – even albeit through unexpected means at times! – and He will do so for all who call upon and wait for Him.

Will Abuse in the Church Overshadow Greear’s “Gospel Above All” Agenda?

I live my life in the trenches ministering to victims of domestic abuse. It’s no place for the faint of heart, and because tragic stories like the ones I see daily are played out below the surface, the rest of the world finds them easy to overlook. However, in recent weeks some of what I see regularly has become big news. A few weeks ago, we saw prominent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader Paige Patterson lose his job over mishandling of abuse cases, and suddenly what has flourished in the darkness was dragged into the light. In response to the Patterson uproar and other scandals involving a significant number of evangelical churches, many in church leadership have made strong statements about abuse. J.D. Greear, recently elected president of the SBC, wrote a poignant apology to victims and abuse advocates. Greear is one of the youngest presidents ever elected and represents a new brand of Southern Baptists that seems more focused on the gospel of grace than the letter of the law.  Our ministry is located in the same area as Greear’s Summit Church and ladies in our support groups who attend there love it. They tell us they find a great amount of support and encouragement at Summit– which is definitely not the case for many of survivors we serve. For this and other reasons, I’m very pleased to see Greear take the lead at the SBC.

However, as a seasoned advocate I’m concerned that in spite of the apologies and promises of change we’ve heard, it will be business as usual once everything calms down. Obviously, one man cannot singlehandedly change an entire denomination, especially one that stresses congregational autonomy. Still, he does have influence. His proposed platform stresses “gospel above all,” which is undeniably a compelling focus. However, when I first heard it I couldn’t help but think how often the gospel has been tarnished by evangelical churches in their handling of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and couldn’t help but think that if nothing changes the gospel will continue to be maligned by the very people who claim its power. In other words, we can’t convey the power of the gospel until the people who are proclaiming it begin to “act justly and show mercy”  to victims of abuse (Mic. 6:8). We must begin to elevate lives above institutions in a way that shows the world we love well or our words are meaningless.

Statistics show that domestic violence is no less common in the church than in the population at large. That means that as many as one in three women in our churches are or have been victims of domestic abuse, and most of them have children who likely have been affected by the abuse in their homes. These statistics refer to physical abuse only, so when you add in the number who have been subject to threats, intimidation and other nonphysical forms of abuse the numbers are likely much higher. Without a doubt, we have a serious problem– one that is largely hidden and misunderstood. For the last few decades advocates have been raising their voices trying to help our churches see, but in general it has been denied or minimized. Even though more and more churches are taking measures to improve their response to abuse, far too many are not.

Years ago, I worked at a local domestic violence shelter. Within weeks I began to meet women who were confused by their churches’ response to the abuse. One lady asked me, “Why does my pastor care more about my marriage than my life?” My non-Christian counterparts simply shook their heads with a look that inferred that if was what Christianity looked like, they wanted nothing to do with it. Over the past 20 years I have worked with hundreds of Christian victims of abuse, and in so many of those cases they came out doubly harmed– first by their abusers and second by their churches.

Many victims faced church discipline for leaving their abusive spouses, many were told they could not file for divorce or legal separation while their spouses used their lack of action to their advantage and depleted their entire savings accounts. Many Christian wives were told to submit to abusive husbands as long as they weren’t asking them to sin, which only heightened their husbands’ sense of entitlement . Again and again I’ve watched counsel like this cause unbelieving friends and advocates to feel justified in their belief that Christianity is not for them. In addition, I have met scores of Christian abuse survivors who refuse to ever set foot in a church again because of the way the abuse was handled. Even worse, I have seen many children from abusive Christian homes reject the gospel altogether, because their fathers used scripture and authoritarian interpretations of male headship, to justify their oppressive ways. Many of these kids have told me that God seemed cruel and unjust, especially in cases where their churches’ advice appeared to sanction their fathers’ claims.

Do I think churches actually intend to harm victims and their children? Absolutely not. At least not in the vast majority of cases. However, I do believe that churches with more authoritarian positions on male headship in marriage provide fertile ground for abuse. I also believe that the complicated nature of domestic violence makes it very difficult for those unfamiliar with the dynamics to handle it. If there ever was a time to refer out to experts, suspicion of domestic abuse is it. Sadly many counselors and pastors miss it because the severity of the problem is never disclosed in counseling, or the abusive spouse is completely charming in public, while the victim is frazzled and anxious. The problem thrives in secrecy so much so that it can be hard to believe when a victim finally speaks up. Without an understanding of the dynamics of abuse these factors can make it very tricky for churches to determine the best course of action. That is one reason our ministry and others offer to come alongside those who want to help in these situations and help navigate. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, and there are many other factors, including the effects of trauma on victims and their children, that must be considered when attempting to help.

Until the SBC and other evangelical churches begin to understand the inherent difficulties of working with domestic abuse, their efforts to help families affected by it could very likely continue to do more harm than good. People will continue to “perish for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). The message to victims, their children, their friends and other helpers will be that God cares more about marriages than lives, and that will do nothing to draw them to the gospel of grace. My prayer is that God will open the eyes of His people, and that we will begin to show unbelievers the truth of the gospel of grace by loving one another well.

A final note

In recent months, Called to Peace Ministries has been working with several local SBC churches as they navigate cases of abuse in their congregations. We have been so encouraged to see them willing to learn how to help families in crisis. In fact, when these churches have gotten on board the outcome has been so much better than we normally see. They have actually been able to step in and protect victims from further harm. The world cannot provide what the church can! There is power in the community of faith. It’s been amazing to watch sacrificial love at work– love that is willing to be inconvenienced and reach out to hold an abuser accountable or to provide for the physical needs of a survivor. It is a beautiful thing to watch the Body of Christ fulfill its mission to care for God’s sheep. In the few cases we’ve seen, the power of the gospel has been crystal clear to unbelievers. In fact, one of the ladies whose church has risen to the occasion told me that one of her unchurched friends has been so impressed by her church’s support that she is coming to church for the first time ever. That, my friends, is “gospel above all” in action! My prayer is that more and more churches will follow suit so that the power of gospel will not be overshadowed by injustice in our midst.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35