Easter: Now or When?

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“Christ didn’t die for me to live like this!”

The realization came upon me one day as I was struggling with domestic abuse from a minister I had married.

As a young woman, I maintained a conviction that the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lived in me and my essential spirit was eternal.

That was the spirit that kept fighting the abuse. The faith in love and goodness overcoming kept me fighting. But I didn’t understand that reasoning could not overcome insanity.

A man who beats his pregnant wife is insane.

A man who tries to poison her drinking water is insane.

A man who justifies mistresses with the story of David has broken his vow.

A man who enforces prayer each morning and hatred each night is using coercive control.

And it took me years to understand that trying to make a relationship work with such a man was something only God could do. I could not..

A few years before this, I heard a woman say, “If you pray to be crucified with Jesus, you will be.”

The doctrine of imitating Christ by seeking out unnecessary suffering is not God’s will.

The doctrine that we must be locked into an abusive relationship because of a vow is an invention of men using God’s name.

Man-made doctrine is toxic. It is built to control women for the ego of men.

Abuse in the name of God is still abuse.

And so, when will your Easter come?

Is your faith static or dynamic? Does it exalt suffering or the abundant life in the gospel?

The Christ spirit of life was demonstrated by Jesus.

The Christ spirit within raised Jesus. It didn’t leave him in the tomb.

It doesn’t leave you there either.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you it does.

The Key to Your Door

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The Key to Your Door.

Those of us who were in a destructive relationship know the strength it takes to cope with those who don’t understand. We often would hear, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Often those who say this won’t help. They don’t understand the pressures to stay.

Isolation

Lack of money

Violence

All powerful external forces working to keep us trapped.

And as long as I focused on those, I felt tormented and helpless.

The shift that turned the key to unlock those doors began within me. My bottom line. The straw on my back.

And that is what the abuser fears the most.  That is why he began and continues to work to demoralize you. He knows you are powerful.

What was that shift?

Conviction.

Conviction of the core truth about me. Whatever the central button was that he would push, that’s the one I began to affirm the truth about.

I stopped believing the lies.

Each time he hurled an accusation – an insult – a condemnation at me, I had to affirm the truth about me.

My prayer changed. I used to ask God to change me or him. That prayer wasn’t being answered after 15 years. That’s because it wasn’t God’s will.

Now I silently asked God to show me the way to get out. That prayer began being answered.

This practice kept me going as I found

Support

Money

And a way to escape Violence.

Here are some common falsehoods that keep women of faith trapped. These must be overcome to access the strength you need to get out and stay out.

  • Few understand that we may not think of ourselves as victims. Instead we may think we are taking the high road morally.
  • We may have been conditioned to value the ability to suffer, thinking we are pleasing God. We may be praised as “longsuffering” or “patient”.
  • We may be tolerating the abuser’s extra affairs, telling ourselves we will not give in to jealousy – “like other women”.
  • We may believe we have an unlimited amount of forgiveness, emulating the teaching of “70 x 7” verse.
  • We may have been taught to look to our life in heaven.
  • We may have been told we will go to hell if we divorce.
  • We may fear losing social status, asking “What will others think?”
  • We may believe we should stay “for the kids”.
  • We may believe we can keep a relationship going without the other person doing his part.

All of these ideas are not only untrue, they harm us. And they allow the abuser to continue without any consequences while we grow steadily weaker.

It is not pleasing to God to enable sinful behavior in our partners.

It is not God’s will to be yoked with someone who harms us.

It is not our job to earn salvation by suffering: Jesus already did that.

Men have perverted absolute ideals about living the spiritual life into locks that keep us in bondage. They never hold the same standards for themselves.

In this way, they get to do what they want and we pay the price in the name of God.

When I began mentally converting each statement made to keep me down into its opposite, I became stronger in my conviction not to live this way anymore. I knew Jesus did not die so I would live like this.

I used the weapons hurled against me to strengthen me. For example, if he said I was lazy, I reviewed the work I had done that day. If he said I was a derelict mother, I knew the love in my heart that I had shown my children that day.

It’s useless to argue but I can keep my mind on the truth.

And I stopped trying to change his mind, correct him, make him understand, or any other wasted effort that were not my job, no matter who told me it was. I committed  him to God and stopped trying to do what only God could do.

Eventually, this practice did more than stop the demoralization.

It opened doors so I could leave.

It kept me going in that difficult first year out of the marriage with three small children.

I believe God moves for those seeking righteousness.

Leaving an abuser is a move toward righteousness.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found money when we needed it.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found food when we didn’t have any.

Listening for God’s guidance, I got transportation to work after my husband took the car.

Claiming God’s promises, I ignored pressures to return.

Claiming God’s promises, my children no longer lived in emotional terror.

Claiming God’s promises, I found competent trauma counseling to recover.

Claiming God’s promises, I rejected those who would try to enforce guilt, fear or intimidation on me.

Don’t let the lies in. Fortify your mind and heart with encouraging and comforting truths.  “Gird up your loins of your mind” I Peter 1:13.

Get those who understand to help you. There is always a way but rarely a good time to do it. We just have to make plans, take Christ’s hand and step out on faith.

But first we have to find the key in your mind and heart. What is the core belief you need to tap into determination? Courage is not the absence of fear but acting in spite of it.

You have it within. Hold someone’s hand, turn the key in your lock and be free.

A Conversation for DV advocates during COVID

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COVID has been widely discussed for creating challenges in helping domestic abuse victims now immobilized with the abuser. However, many of the same methods can actually be increased to help victims.

Awareness of what being isolated involves is now more widespread as more people experience it. The abuser is also isolated. And the advocates can get more people to understand the dimensions of this injustice.

Recently I spoke with three advocates about what they have found to be effective for both victims and those who would help them during times of social distancing. Gretchen Baskerville is author of The Life-Saving Divorce; Ashley Easter is a coach, writer, speaker, and founder of The Courage Conference; and Lori Anne Thompson is an Accountability Advocate, helping to demand abusers be held responsible for their actions.

Please comment on this discussion.

A Conversation for DV Advocates during COVID

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A Toxic Matrix

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Domestic Abuse Syndrome is a recognizable cycle with common behaviors among the men who abuse.*

Women often ask themselves how they become entrapped in their sinister dance of danger and sometimes even death. They blame themselves as they become exhausted trying to resolve problems with their partners.

No one would say that women are taught to accept abuse. But as with many ideas, a failure to follow an idea to its logical conclusion hides the effects that can be drawn from it.

My experience is that cultural expectations about women’s responsibilities contain the seeds and account for the persistence of these traumas. Churches can play an important if unaware role in conveying these expectations.

Outside those churches that teach submission, women won’t hear the actual words that they should accept abuse. However a predator has tools in pervasive messages given to women throughout their lives.

The first message is that their worth is defined by their relationship with a man.

That second message is that the success of the relationship is their responsibility.

Out of these messages come two strong positive expectations that a predator can turn into weapons.

The first expectation is that a good woman helps others.

The second expectation is that a good  woman forgives others.

Helping and forgiving are seen as two primary ways she ensures the success of the relationship. However there is not as strong an expectation that her partner will do the same. Instead she may feel like she has to set  herself on fire to warm other people. The matrix of these messages and expectations create a prison which traps a woman who does not question their all-or-nothing standards

They lead to two strong and pervasive fears: the fear of rejection (abandonment) and the fear of  failure.

Interviews with abusers reveal that they often get their way by threatening to leave the woman. A financially dependent woman is seriously jeopardized by such a threat. A mother with children is seriously threatened.

A man leaving a relationship is often seen as a failure of his partner. The idea of “she can’t keep her man” is embedded in our culture.

A woman who has been raised with a definition of her worth and success based on helping and forgiving will need help seeing the limitations of these ideas when they are presented without exceptions.

We all want to belong and be loved.  Abused women have been betrayed by a partner who said they cherish them. Women who give everything emotionally to their partners are cut to the core if their devotion is not reciprocated. They feel they have failed at their major purpose in life. Some feel they have failed as a woman.

The abuser is using an emotional carrot and stick to keep her confused and trapped.

This is what can fuel the cycle of honeymoon – escalation-explosion and makes it so hard to break.

If a woman can take her hurt and sorrow and step back for just a moment, she can ask herself if these two fears are fueling her one-sided struggle to make the relationship work.

She can ask herself if it is realistic to expect anyone to always help and forgive another without any limitation.

She can ask herself if it makes sense that, in a relationship of two people, she is the only one has all the responsibility for making it work.

She can ask herself if it is true that she failed the person who she supported wholeheartedly.

Unraveling these unconscious and unreasonable expectations of women in relationships is an important awareness. Women who cannot be everything to someone have no guilt or shame to bear.

They have not failed. They have simply been operating on false ideas which a predator finds ideal to use in their oppression.

If someone who says they care for her does not honor her needs and wants, that someone is not anyone she has failed. They have failed her.

Expectations of no-limit giving or a lack of personal boundaries create pain for her, no matter who has taught this role. By stepping back, examining the pain can be a doorway to her recovering her worth.

The pain makes it clear it is not failure to not be able to do the impossible. Denying needs does not create love in a relationship.

She can permit herself to be less than everything in a relationship. Reciprocal respect and regard are the foundation of a mutually caring relationship. Abusers have proven they will not provide these while they are allowed to misuse their partner.

*In every study, men are consistently 85-90% of the abuser population.

Easter and Domestic Abuse

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One of the most important ways in which my faith matured in the course of escaping domestic abuse in the name of God was the application of eternal life to the situation.

The way that the Bible and faith concepts were hurled against me was contrary to Jesus’ message and example, his demonstration that believers had the power of life over death.

They enforced a view of me and women generally as second- class souls. We were believing Christians, but the promise of the redemption and resurrection were somehow not fully ours.

Instead we had to keep earning our right to be treated with dignity, respect, and hardly ever the love we had been promised both in our vows and in the gospel.

The idea that my husband, a minister, was my Lord standing over me as head between me and Christ was scarcely different in the fundamentalist view than in the Catholic one in which I had been raised. The only difference was that instead of the priest between me and God, my husband was granted the responsibility.

This was one of the teachings I had left the Catholic faith over, citing the teaching to call no man Father.

Yet here I was being told that I must obey my husband who was a proxy for Christ  in our marriage.

But he certainly wasn’t acting like Christ. In fact there were many nonbelievers who had better marriages that we did.

Finally after years of begging, pleading, turning myself inside out to please, asking God in prayer for answers, I changed my prayer.

Instead of asking to change me so he would stop the abuse, I prayed to either change him or get me out of there.

The answer came. I was to leave because Christ did not die for me to live like this.

My own personal resurrection. Thanks be to God.

New Recovery Workbook

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More awareness of gender abuse within church groups has become news recently. Doctrinal groups both reflect and shape the culture they are in.

Groups like Christian for Biblical Equality, FaithTrust Institute, and Twitter voices such as #savedfromthe silence, #defendthe sheep, #churchtoo, #emptythepews and others are witnessing that church is not always safe for women.

During Domestic Violence month, I want to point out that an estimated 25% of church women are abused in their homes. They stay longer because of wrestling with faith questions.

Although prevalence seems to be higher in conservative religions, enforcement of patriarchy as God’s will is not limited to these groups. Many books are now coming out about the struggle to maintain faith within a system that does not honor the equality of women.

However, I did not find a self-help recovery workbook to  help women sort out the complex and subtle pressures to keep them in an abusive relationship within some churches.

That is why I am happy to report that my workbook, Redemption from Biblical Battering, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. I hope you will consider it when you meet a woman of faith who thinks she must choose between her faith and her marriage.