Category Archives: Daily Devotions

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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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

Surviving Domestic Abuse is Like Being a Refugee

F6DD681D0-7356-4970-8272-7D9E027AD8EAAnonymous Guest Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Finding Gratitude

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

Diary of a Quadriplegic

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

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Sacred Cows in the Church: Honoring Marriages over Lives

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

JoyfulSurrender.com

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

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

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