Category Archives: Domestic Violence

It’s the Little Things

What I Wasn’t Prepared for When Leaving My Abuser

Guest Post by “Julie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Stuck in the Muck!

Ten Signs You Haven’t Healed After Domestic Abuse

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

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

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

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

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

Ten signs that you’re stuck in the trauma of your past.

Health Illustrative

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

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

 

*Forrest, Joy, Called to Peace Companion Workbook, Blue Ink Press, p. 141.

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

    Recognizing Bad Fruit Isn’t Judging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    he makes all things new

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

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

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

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

    Facing Loss at Christmas

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

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

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

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

    Beautifully Broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    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)