Category Archives: Daily Devotions

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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A Promise of Peace on Earth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Joy 🌟

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

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

Your donation matched through 12/31!

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

Why Nobody Believes the Victim

Although we are seeing positive changes when it comes to this, it’s still a huge problem in so many circles. Worth reposting.

JoyfulSurrender.com

How Churches Unwittingly Promote Domestic Abuse

The other day I sat down with a precious daughter of the King and listened to her story. As survivor of domestic violence and advocate for victims, I almost knew the ending of the story before she got half way through, because I’ve heard similar accounts so many times. Once again, I was grieved to hear that another church had turned its back on a faithful member, and embraced the abuser. Once again, I saw the hurt and bewilderment that comes from being first abused by the one who promised to love and cherish till death, and then suspected (even blamed) by the church entrusted with the care of her soul.

I’ve worked with victims of domestic violence for nearly 20 years, and in all this time a several common patterns have emerged, but the most egregious is that when they finally get up…

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He’d be Crucified in the Blogs

I came across this post this morning and thought it was worth reposting since a dear friend of mine is being attacked on a popular blog right now. I have added a footnote regarding these attacks.

 

JoyfulSurrender.com

Some days I just get weary of life in the 21st century American church. Yes, I am a part of it, and yes it does many good things.  When I walk through the halls at my church, I see lives that have been radically transformed, marriages that have been saved, and I hear messages that proclaim God’s unchanging truth. When I look at disasters in our world, I am always blessed by how the church rises up to help victims. However, when I look at the American church as a whole I sometimes get a little nauseated. It brings a whole new meaning to Jesus’ words about spewing the lukewarm Laodicean church out of his mouth (Rev. 3:). In fact, in the Greek, that word literally means vomit.  The church is supposed to be salt and light not curdled milk!

Is it just me, or do others have that same…

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I’m CONFIDENT!!

I still see so many people struggling with anxiety, and this popped up in my Facebook Memories today. Still relevant.

JoyfulSurrender.com

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, 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)

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…

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Holding Nothing Back

Trials can take us one of two ways…

JoyfulSurrender.com

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” Ps. 22:14

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Is. 53:12

 There are days when I think I have nothing left to give. I become so exhausted by the demands and tugs of world that I nearly shut down. Usually I try to figure out a way to pamper myself so that I can recharge, but when I think about it nothing I have faced has ever required everything I have. Even when I was experiencing the worst abuse, I was holding on to every vestige of control I could muster. When it seemed utterly…

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A Biblical Account of the Abusive Personality

One of the ladies in our online group brought up the differences between King Saul and David in our group recently, saying she thought she was getting a David, but got a Saul instead. It reminded me of this post. The interesting thing about Saul and David is that David’s sins were far worse by human standards, yet it was his response to confrontation that made all the difference. He humbled himself and repented (2. Sam. 12:13), but when Saul was confronted he minimized, blamed and made it all about his reputation (1 Sam. 15:15, 20, 30).

JoyfulSurrender.com

People often ask me for specific biblical counsel on domestic violence, and though there is not a specific case of blatant spousal abuse in scripture, there are numerous accounts of abuse. The very first example of family violence came very early in the history of mankind when Cain killed Abel. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their wickedness, which apparently included blatant sexual abuse on a regular basis. Joseph was abused by his brothers. The Levite in Judges 19 casually threw his concubine out to a mob to be raped, and when she died as a result of her injuries he cut her into pieces to show Israel how his property had been destroyed. Family violence touched king David’s household when Amnon raped Tamar and later Absalom killed him. If I were a betting woman, I would bet that Abigail’s husband Nabal was abusive towards her. Scripture…

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At The Heart of Every Fear

Fear is probably the number one problem I see in counseling. If you are anxious, worried or even panicked He wants to give you His peace. Praying you will rest in His goodness and find strength to defeat fear.

JoyfulSurrender.com

I believe that at the heart of every unhealthy fear there is a question about God’s goodness. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love expels fear. That is, when we know we are loved, we know we can trust that God has ultimate control, and that He will work all things out for our good (Rom. 8:28). For years, I was crippled by fear, because I did not understand the concept of his sovereignty. I acted as if He wasn’t paying attention, or like the disciples in the storm tossed boat mentioned in Mark 4:38, I thought he might not care that I was sinking.

The older I get the more I realize that God has a good agenda– even in our suffering. He has used awful circumstances in my life to bring about good that never would have happened without the bad happening first. When Jesus got up…

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How Can I Ever Forgive Myself?

“How can I ever forgive myself?” It’s a question I’ve heard many times in my years of counseling. In fact, I get it! I know very well how it is to be plagued with guilt and remorse over a bad decision. When I finally broke free from a 23 year abusive relationship, I lived with regret on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to believe the lies  that had kept me bound up for so long, and couldn’t believe how I had foolishly disregarded the harmful impact on my children. As much as I tried to tell myself that I did the best I could at the time, I was overwhelmed with remorse. The fact that I was still living with the consequences of my failures seemed to make it even harder to let myself off the hook.

As with the many other struggles I faced as a survivor of abuse, I went to scripture to find the answer to overcoming the guilt and shame I carried. First of all, I found nothing there that spoke to a need to forgive myself. The Bible urges us to forgive one another, and to receive God’s forgiveness, but never once does it tell us to forgive ourselves. Rather, it reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). It also lets us know that if we confess our sin He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). My study of scripture led me to the conclusion that rather than focusing on myself, I needed to focus on His finished work on the cross. I needed to accept what He had done for me– anything less would be the equivalent of saying His work on the cross was not effective for my sin. It was also choosing to walk in condemnation even though He had set me free from it.

Although I finally realized I had no right to continue to condemn myself, I was still overwhelmed with sorrow about the consequences of my choices earlier in life. For many years after I left the abuse, I continued to watch my children struggle as a result of their tumultuous upbringing– and even my own failures as a parent. Over time, I finally learned to establish boundaries with them, but it seemed to be too little too late. In the long run, all I could do was surrender them to His loving hands. All my fear-motivated attempts to control them seemed to push them further away. One day as I was crying out to God about it, I sensed in my spirit that He was not done with them yet, and that He was even sovereign over my mistakes and failures. I realized that just as He was using my pain and suffering for His good purposes, He could do the same with my kids. It took many years to see things turn around, but as I surrendered them to His loving hands He worked in amazing ways.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the weight of guilt from your past, there are two truths that will set you free –if you apply them. First, you must choose to believe God’s proclamation that you have been set free from condemnation by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He took the penalty for all your failures, and took the shame on Himself. If you have received Him, you are free from sin, guilt and condemnation. Telling yourself otherwise is to believe the lie that His sacrifice was not good enough. Second, you must trust God’s sovereignty. This means that He will somehow use the pain and sorrow you experienced for His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). Believing He is sovereign is worthless if you do not believe He is good, so if you doubt His goodness you must start by remedying that problem. Scripture is filled with proclamations of His lovingkindness, and suffering does not diminish His character!

He specializes in turning ashes into beauty (Is. 61:3). As you choose to embrace Him in your pain you will experience the reality of this truth. Full surrender to our good God will never disappoint, but holding on shame and self-condemnation will keep you in bondage. Freedom is a choice, and you will find it as you shift your focus from yourself (and your mistakes) to His abundantly sufficient grace.

When God Shows Up

Many years ago, in a small church in Mexico, I interpreted a whole sermon from Spanish to English. That might not seem very remarkable to some of my readers, but to those who know me (and my very limited Spanish skills) it was nothing short of miraculous. We had just spent a week helping two small churches with their missions to the local community, but just before the end of our trip our interpreter had to leave early.  When we arrived at the church that Sunday, I looked at the two young men who had been interning with a local missionary, waiting for them to begin interpreting. However, they just looked at me and said they couldn’t. I tried to tell everyone that I was absolutely not able to interpret a sermon, but seeing that no one else was able or willing I agreed to give it a try.

As I opened my mouth, God showed up. Somehow I found myself understanding words I had never heard before, and in the few spots (at the beginning) where I got stuck the pastor’s gestures were enough to help me get it. By the end of the message I was getting nearly every word. To this day, I find it hard to believe that happened, but really I should’t have been surprised. If I’ve learned anything in the last few decades, it is that God does miraculous things when we step out in faith.

For years I knew he was calling me to begin a domestic violence ministry, and I sat back waiting for him to show me the details. I prayed and waited for him to provide the income, but nothing happened. Eventually the calling became so strong I began to pour all my effort into developing an alternative source of income so that I could do the ministry. But that didn’t work either, nor did any of my efforts to figure it out and make it happen in a way that seemed safe and secure.

One day as I was crying out to God, I clearly sensed his voice in my spirit telling me that his calling was not for me to make it happen, but to be obedient-– even when I couldn’t see how he was going to do it. I had been spending all my efforts trying to do it in a way that made practical sense, but he was calling me to the impossible. He was calling me out of my comfort zone into the miraculous. Often when God calls it makes no sense in the natural realm. Consider the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan. They arrived there when the river was at flood stage, but God told them to walk through the river.

“Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.” Joshua 3:15-16

Isn’t it interesting that the flow of the river didn’t stop until the priests put their feet in the river? It seemed crazy by human standards, but that’s exactly how God works. He calls us out of our own understanding into his ways (Pr. 3:5-6).  We simply have to be obedient to walk towards his calling. Until we put action to our faith, nothing changes. That does not mean we try to force our idea of how his plan might look. Instead, it means trusting as we walk towards his calling. When we do He shows up mightily.

 

 

Grace for those who Blow It

I get so much encouragement from the story of King David—up till the very end of his life. The fact that God called him a man after his own heart is what I find most encouraging. David blew it again and again. In 1 Kings chapter 1 we find that his parenting left something to be desired, but God still delivered him out of every trouble. This is not to say there were not consequences for his mistakes, but it is to say that God is gracious beyond what we deserve. He even takes delight in his flawed children. David continually turned towards the Lord for help when he messed up. Check out these passages below. David’s son Adonijah had set himself up as king against David’s wishes. He had the backing of Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Zadok. In his weakened state, it may have seemed impossible for David to overcome those odds, but he called on the One who had delivered him from every trouble!

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” …

The king then took an oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel…” (1 Ki. 1:5-6, 29-30a)

From David’s life I get the feeling that the Lord would prefer an honest, repentant heart who messes up a lot than a proud, hypocritical and judgmental heart. David is my hero, because I can relate so much to him. He ran from an abuser for years, and learned to cling to God. Perhaps his personality was a lot like mine in that he didn’t like to confront anyone—we do tend to be the ones who are targeted by abusers. We are also the ones who might fail to rebuke our children like we should, or allow fear of what people might do control us occasionally.

Still, our troubles send us to our knees, and we know where our help comes from. If you’ve ever found yourself in a position of complete desperation with no place to turn (except to God) you can understand David. When every human resource fails us, we have an amazing opportunity to prove Him faithful. In his early years, David’s brothers scorned him, his father-in-law the king tried to kill him, and he lost his wife. Yet, in Psalms we get a beautiful picture of how these trials drove him to God. In Psalm 42 he  compared his desire for God to an unquenchable thirst. Once we drink deeply from the goodness of God, we can never doubt him again– not even when we blow it. Hallelujah!

Lord, we are so grateful for your amazing grace that could even call someone who messed up a lot a man after your own heart. We pray that regardless of our flaws and mistakes we will be people after your heart. We pray for grace and mercy to cover the mistakes we have made. Father, redeem it all, so at the end of our lives we can say you “delivered [us] from all [our] troubles.” We love you Lord. Amen. 

Where Faith & Depression Meet

The first time I met with “Jennifer” she told me she was struggling with severe depression. As usual, I spent our first counseling session gathering information about her past, and wasn’t surprised to learn that she had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older cousin from the time she was 8-years-old until she was 13. When the secret finally came out, her mother told her not to say anything to anyone, but just to avoid being alone with her cousin. She wasn’t even sure if her mom spoke to her cousin’s parents, and somehow she was made to feel responsible for what happened.

For years Jennifer carried the shame of what happened to her. She grew up and married, but he turned out to be physically abusive, and by the time her son was 5 she was divorced. As her marriage was falling apart, a friend invited her to church. Within months of visiting the church, Jennifer fell in love with the One who suffered and died in order to redeem her soul. Her life was changed, and she felt peace like none she had ever known. Yet, five years later she was meeting with me because of depression.

As a survivor of abuse I could relate to Jennifer’s struggle. Getting out of the abuse was much easier than getting the abuse out of my head. It had warped my thinking, and caused me to believe lies about God and about myself. I found myself consumed with negative thoughts, and the more I thought about things, the more depressed I became. I wondered why God allowed the abuse to happen, and felt that my experiences had damaged me for life. It seemed as though I was engulfed in darkness, and suicidal thoughts plagued me. If  not for my children, I’m not sure I would be here today. But that wasn’t the end of the story for me. Misery drove me to scripture. Between my own private bible study, and a few solid group studies, I became determined to “cast down” the negative thoughts that overwhelmed me (2 Co. 10:5). I often tell people God brought me through an intensive period of supernatural cognitive behavioral therapy that eventually set me free.

Jennifer was looking for freedom from depression too, but when I asked her about her thought life, she just looked at me and said, “I really don’t think about anything.” That is the day I came up with the idea of keeping a “thought journal.” I asked Jennifer to set a timer to go off several times a day (especially those times when she was feeling depressed), and to write down what she was thinking about during those times. The idea was to write out any negative beliefs that were fueling the depression, and then to find scriptures to counter them. When I met with Jennifer a week later, I asked about her journal. She told me that the timer had worked, because she realized that she was constantly thinking discouraging thoughts. Even though she had been out of abusive relationships for years, her abusers still had power over her. Deep below the surface she felt she was unworthy of God’s love. Even worse, she doubted it altogether.

The solution for Jennifer, and for anyone struggling with negative emotions, is to identify beliefs that are contrary to God’s truth. I often tell ladies in our support group to print out specific passages of scripture, and to say them out loud any time the destructive thoughts come. I also believe that singing along with praise music is powerful, because it makes God bigger than our problems. In his presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11), and depression will have to flee. I used to imagine myself being held by the Mighty Warrior as he quieted me with his love and rejoiced over me with singing (Zep. 3:17). There is nothing more healing than being in his presence. Those who make the effort to find him in the midst of their pain will not be disappointed. He gives us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Is. 61:3). 

God is a healer! I have never seen him fail to restore those who have tenaciously determined to believe his truth. It’s not a quick fix, but it is a powerful one. Nothing gives me greater joy than to watch the faces of God’s precious children learning to embrace the freedom he offers. If you are plagued by depression or anxiety, please know that he offers “liberty for the captives” (Lk. 4:18), even as you learn to “take every thought captive” to his truth (2 Co. 10:5). Identifying false beliefs about God and about yourself, and replacing those thoughts with his promises will heal your broken heart. Ultimately, his peace, that surpasses human comprehension, will protect your mind from worry and your heart from despair (Phil. 4:7).

 

If you read this article, and are wondering where to begin, please contact me  for a list of helpful scriptures.

When Praying Makes Things… Worse?

Have you ever prayed fervently for a situation to change, only to find matters getting worse? I know I have. I have seen it many times in my years of working with victims of domestic violence. In these situations, things often escalate to unbearable in spite of ardent prayers and abundant effort. It sometimes seems as if God doesn’t see or care about our struggles. After all, if He was on our side, wouldn’t circumstances improve? However, if scripture is to be our guide, we need to look at how He worked with His people there to see if that expectation is valid.

This morning as I was reading in Exodus, I found the story of the Israelites’ plight after Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh to let the people go and worship. According this passage, God had heard the cries of the Israelites, and sent Moses to plead on their behalf. However, instead of helping the situation, it hurt! Pharaoh severely cut the supplies needed for their work. The situation seemed hopeless all around, and even Moses became discouraged.

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the LORD look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex. 5:19-23-emphasis added.)

The story could’ve have ended right there, but Moses took his confusion and complaints to the Lord. Even more significant, he continued to obey God in spite of negative circumstances. Moses was full of doubt about his own abilities, and he was discouraged about the Israelites anger towards him, but he still continued to follow God’s path. We all know the outcome. God used his obedience to bring about a miraculous deliverance—just when things seemed impossible. In the end, terrible oppression made liberation seem even more incredible.

When I think of my own story of escaping abuse, I can see His hand in every painful experience. All I knew to do was cling to Him, because everything else had failed me— from the courts to the church. Even people who loved me and wanted to help had no clue how to do it. In the long run, the overwhelmingly impossible nature of the situation made me desperate for Him. I spent long hours in prayer and scripture, and even came up with a database of passages that were particularly helpful.[1] I made a decision to believe His promises, because nothing else was working. All I could do was hold on to Him for dear life, and He was faithful. Circumstances did not improve in the beginning. In fact, they became worse, but in the end my faith in Him became stronger than it had ever been and He delivered me. I often tell people that even though I would have never chosen to suffer like I did, I am grateful for it, because it drove me to Him. My relationship with Him became my anchor, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

If you think that circumstances are a measure of God’s care, or lack thereof, you are missing a beautiful opportunity to allow Him to redeem your story. God is not a magic genie who snaps His fingers and makes everything suddenly all right. He also will not force anyone to follow His ways, but He will use your pain for good. Please understand, I am not saying you should stay in a harmful situation. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people fleeing danger. Instead, I am saying, cling to the One who loves you most, and you will not be disappointed. He will use your trials to grow you and your faith. I’ve worked with survivors of domestic abuse for over 20 years, and those who have held onto Him have simply amazed me. I have never met more amazing people than those who have proven Him faithful in the midst of great suffering.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to become an amazing example of His redemption, I encourage you to go to scripture. God specializes in using reluctant and under qualified people for His purposes. He not only wants to redeem your situation, but if you let Him, He will use you to help others who will face the same battles you’ve faced (2 Cor. 1:4). Take your doubts and struggles to Him, and determine to hold on to His promises. Just keep walking in His direction, and don’t let people or circumstances warp your view of Him. He will deliver you in due time, and in the process you will develop faith that is unshakeable.

[1] If you’d like a copy of this scriptural database, please email me at info@calledtopeace.org.