Hope Underscores the Symptoms of Domestic Abuse

“Surely that isn’t possible,” she said, this woman who loved and was loved by an amazing man for thirty-three years.

“Oh, but it is possible. Not only possible, but it happens more often than you might think.” I countered with the mental images of countless women whose stories underscore the truth.

abused woman - hidingDomestic abuse DOES happen in some Christian homes. In fact, one out of three women live in destructive relationships.

We never hear about it from the pulpit or recognize this tragedy until a marriage ends or a woman is carried out of her home, strapped to a gurney.

Everyone understands domestic violence. We all know the origin of blackened eyes, purple bruises or broken fingers.

But domestic abuse hides behind mental prisons, within emotional scars. We cannot see this type of ugliness, and we don’t want to admit it happens—especially within the sanctity of the church.

Yet it will continue if we keep its dirty secret. Too many hurting victims afraid to confess their truth. Too many abusers comfortable with their shame.

And we cannot find hope until we unveil the ugly truth.

On the back pages of my novel, “No Visible Scars, I have listed some of the symptoms of domestic abuse. These come from years of working with women, resources from safe places where women seek shelter, and trusted professionals such as Leslie Vernick.

These are some of the scars my heroine, Abigail, suffers. The same scars women suffered during biblical times and still suffer today.

Read and consider. Are you hiding behind some of these symptoms? Do you know a woman who might be struggling to find hope? Do you know a man who brags about treating “his woman” this way?

  • Using the Bible or religious traditions to put down women
  • Degrading her in front of the children and/or in public
  • Playing good guy / bad guy. She never knows who will be walking in the door.
  • Snooping in her mail or purse
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Forceful sexual advances and/or rape
  • Giving her the silent treatment

These are only a few of the symptoms listed and shown through the story of Abigail. But the saddest aspect of domestic abuse is that many women have been taught they must put up with it—that God demands they must submit and learn how to be quiet, gentle women.

This is such a putrid lie.

We can go to the same Bible often used as a weapon to find the truth. Consider how Jesus treated women, how he respected them, valued them, defended them, allowed them to join his tribe and listen to his teachings.

Consider what God Himself did to Abigail’s abusive husband, Nabal. “The Lord smote Nabal and he died” (1 Samuel 25:38).

In essence, God was saying, “Don’t mess with my daughters.”

The same God loves and defends his daughters today. How can we do less? How can we offer hope to the women in our churches, our families, our communities?

We start by telling the truth, by admitting that it happens and calling it out. Then we support and encourage these women when they come for help. And we teach our children well—our sons how to treat their sisters, our daughters to embrace empowerment.

Domestic abuse will not go away until we underscore its ugliness and uncover its hiding places.

Shouldn’t those of us who sit in church pews be the first to make a difference? Shouldn’t we follow our precious worship songs with the cry “Enough!”

Can’t we examine our teachings and some of the false assumptions we have transmitted through the years?

We are made in the image of God, male and female. And as the divine image bearers, we need to be more proactive to respect each other, to defend women and their children and to make sure our men are living examples of godly behavior.

Let’s share the hope where it is needed most.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read about Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.

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Hope Finds Abigail Within Domestic Abuse

Have you ever wondered what a Bible story might look like in a contemporary setting? Yeah, me too.NVS Cover

Almost 12 years ago, I wrote a nonfiction book about Abigail, one of the characters in First Samuel 25. But I couldn’t sell it, and no one seemed interested in the background story of this incredible woman.

So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting. About that time, the divine whisper reminded me how much people love stories. Fiction. Novels.

“I don’t do fiction,” I said.

Note to self: Never argue with God.

Then came a period of intense challenge as I was unemployed for 14 months. One day, I sat down to write and discovered Reverend G. Throughout the next four years, CrossRiver Media published my trilogy about a fictional woman minister diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Reverend G books were therapy while dealing with my mother’s failing memory. I discovered I could indeed DO fiction. I just needed to be passionate about the subject matter.

So I went back to my research about Abigail. Here was a woman living in an abusive marriage. But in her culture and time period, she had no options for escape.

What would Abigail’s story look like in a contemporary setting? What if she was a woman who felt trapped within the culture represented by the church?

In my role as a biblical counselor and life coach, I had met scores of women dealing with domestic abuse. These women approached me in lines at the grocery store, at writers conferences, through email and blog comments, in ministerial retreats.

Not only were they trapped within the church culture, but no one believed their stories. Their husbands were smart enough not to hit them, so the abuse was not labeled violence.

Instead, it was the soul-sucking damage of mental, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse.

The most heart-breaking symptom these women carried was the shame of feeling they had somehow failed God. They no longer knew how to live as godly wives, because church leaders told them they had to submit and respect these men who screamed at them, called them names and consistently raped them. Yes, rape can happen within marital bonds.

As I cried with these women, I also examined the culture of shame. These women were told they weren’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Never enough. And the women believed their abusers because they loved them, hoped they would change.

Resources included the Holy Bible and how God promises to be husband and maker to his precious daughters (Isaiah 54), Doctor Brene Brown who researches the effects of shame, Leslie Vernick whose blog posts often list the symptoms of domestic abuse and various internet sites where women typed out their vulnerability into cyberspace.

I outlined plots, moved scenes around and let my imagination soar with the heart of so many Abigail’s. The first draft was followed by a second, third…and finally 12th.

Perseverance is at the core of a writer’s soul.

Then I tried to sell the story, pitched it in the Christian marketplace that wanted nothing to do with this particular truth-telling. So I approached secular agents and publishers who could not understand why a woman would stay in such an abusive situation.

I found myself educating agents and publishers about PTSD, the numbing down after years of emotional scars, the fear of leaving, the lack of financial resources.

Each time I described another Abigail, my passion for these courageous women flared. Many of them DID leave the security of their homes in spite of threats from their abusers who felt themselves losing control.

And so many of these precious women also had to leave their churches. They no longer fit in with the traditional model. Friends rejected them. Leaders refused to believe them.

Yet some pastors listened and helped, encouraged their freedom and even provided financial assistance. But rarely.

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. These are women from every segment of society, every demographic, including those who sit in church pews.

Finally, the book is completed and published. “No Visible Scars” is available on Amazon. In a few weeks, it will be available on Kindle.

My hope is that you will read it with an open mind, then share it with the women in your life. Share this blog post as a reminder.

Then fall to your knees and ask God what else you can do to help these brave women. How can each of us move from bystander to a caring community?

Consider how we might educate our children so this tragic pattern ends here: to teach boys how to treat girls, to remind girls how to look for red flags, to train church leaders to see what they don’t want to admit.

Let’s spread the word so the Abigail’s we know and those who hide will know they aren’t alone. Let’s help them find hope as we band together to end domestic abuse.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Order your copy of No Visible Scars” today.

Hope in the Waiting

So many people seem to be waiting.clock - Victorian

  • A good friend is waiting in ICU with her seriously ill husband
  • My son is waiting for complete healing and a blood clot to dissolve
  • Another friend’s son is waiting anxiously for a job opening
  • My nephew is waiting for the day his bride walks down the aisle – 46 days
  • I am waiting for the final author proof of my newest book

Waiting for answers. Waiting for circumstances to change. Waiting for life to move forward.

The word that comes to mind is “frenemy.” One of those complex thoughts where writers like me often dwell.

A frenemy is a person we invite into our inner circle as a friend, yet we may dislike many of their qualities. Frenemies seem to be on our side, then they turn on us.

Bringing the concept of waiting into personification makes it a frenemy.

In hindsight, we know waiting helps our faith grow. Yet enduring the days and weeks of tested patience seems to play on the negative side of this oxymoron.

Living in limbo, waiting for the outcome, for the answered prayer.

In the waiting, we are proven.

How do we stay in hope while the frenemy of waiting besieges us, steals time and forces us to dig deeper into endurance?

I only know what works for me:

  • Admit I am impatient.
  • Call the frenemy of waiting what it is.
  • Re-read my journals about past times of waiting: 10 years for a healthy child, 3 years to sell a house, another 10 years to complete and publish a book.
  • Remember God is timeless. He defines “soon” with eternal measurements.
  • Try to learn the lesson of patience—again.

And when I scrape the bottom of my endurance barrel, I repeat Psalm 43:5, “Hope in God for I will yet praise Him.”

I find hope as I live in the “yet.”

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re in a waiting period and scraping the bottom of your endurance barrel, consider a read-through of Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Steps Beyond the Ordinary

How sad when our faith becomes glib—as ordinary as a slice of wheat toast.

Then something happens that jerks us back into life and reminds us how much we need each other.

weeping woman sculptureSometimes when people ask for prayer on social media, I scroll quickly through the problem. Busy with my own challenges. Figuring others will step up and say a quickie prayer.

But when it’s me and more importantly—when it’s my son standin’ in the need of prayer, I am quick to plead for help.

And so grateful for those who respond.

Our latest challenge has jerked me back to reality and to the importance of stepping out of the ordinary request into the place of true caring.

With my son hooked up to hospital tubes and filled with pain-killing drugs, I cried out for prayers. Loving those who responded, for those who kept asking, “How’s Caleb?”

Reminders that others cared. Saints who pounded the doors of heaven on behalf of my boy.

And for those who also prayed for me, when I didn’t even ask. Mothers who knew I suffered with my son, failed to sleep, cried when I saw him in that sterile bed.

Folks who turned their prayers into action and brought us food. Took the time to visit. Hands-on prayers. Love in action.

My faith challenged and convicted to no longer scroll quickly through social media prayer requests. To remember on the other end of that post is a suffering person, a crying Mama, a struggling child.

My gratitude to those who prayed for us. Please continue. Healing is a process.

Hope underscores the need for honest petitions in the heavenlies and for warriors who embrace the battle.

We need each other. Our prayers matter.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re struggling to find hope within your own challenges, check out Hope Shines – nuggets of encouragement for weary souls.

Hope Detours

detour aheadWhile my son was in surgery, I planned to write several blog posts, work on a newspaper column, maybe read a bit. My bag was filled with pens, paper, books.

Any activity to forget my precious son was lying on a sterile table in a brightly-lit operating room.

But the waiting room was so loud my introvert wrath fueled its frustration. Other occupants in this Family Waiting Area played with their children, worked on crochet projects, laughed and snacked on Starbucks pastries.

Didn’t these people understand I was trying to concentrate on my work? Didn’t they know I was trying to avoid thinking about my son’s body being sliced with a scalpel?

Of course not, I reminded myself. They, too, were trying to forget their loved ones lying on sterile tables behind steel doors.

I gave up on writing projects, certain my creativity left the moment I entered the hospital. Pulled out a book to read.

Read the first page twenty times. Gave up on reading. Watched the clock on the wall. One hour gone. He was supposed to be out of surgery already. Another half hour.

Why wasn’t he out of surgery? Wasn’t this the point when the doctor was supposed to come in and tell me everything would be okay?

The volunteer at the front desk came over and sat beside me. “You look worried.”

“It’s taking much longer than they said.”

She explained how they sometimes started later than anticipated. If something was amiss, they would call her desk and she would let me talk to them.

Then she changed the subject, described how far she drives every day to volunteer, how she loves helping people.

We watched “Fixer Upper” reruns on the waiting room TV. “I don’t like that style, do you?”

“Nah. Too contemporary for my taste.”

The importance of conversation. The comfort given in simple statements. The warmth of another human being. A stranger who becomes an instant friend.

Hope arrived and provided a detour from the present crisis.

Then the phone call. “He’s okay,” she said. “The doctor will be here soon.”

I don’t even know her name, but God does. Maybe he’ll give her an extra star in her crown.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When you’re facing a crisis, hope may hand you a detour. Check out Hope Shines for daily encouragement.

Hope in the Dark

It’s difficult to stay in hope while we’re standing in the darkness.flower in cement

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near his cross and watching him die.

Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart—to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously alive.

He also gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers that she had seen him.

He spoke to her, called her by name.

While it was still dark.

When we’re in those dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. We feel only the raw depth of our struggles.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of bitterness. “Why did this happen?” “When will it end?” are the questions we scream.

Yet the answer is “Who.”

At the end of the darkness stands the One who conquered it, the One who laughed in the face of death.

And he did it while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you’re living in the depths of a grief that doesn’t seem to ease. Like me, every day is a reminder of the emptiness in your soul, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you’re struggling with illness. Like my son, every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you’re trudging through emotional pain, the reminders of what others did to you, those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb. Life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to embrace you.

Stay in hope, dear one.

The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Recycled – Part 2

The surprise arrived in a letter from the city. Appraisals jumped. In my case, from 117,000 to 135,000. Seriously?

I began to calculate the increase in taxes and insurance which equaled an increased monthly payment.

How fast can I write more books and sign more writing clients? Must I forfeit buying flowers this year?Layers of Hope

I sent in my appeal, in spite of no guarantee they’ll accept it. Should I try to sell this house? But then where do we live and how do we survive?

To delete the appraisal from my mind, I worked on old files. In the never-ending quest to clean out and de-clutter, I discovered a notebook filled with answered prayers.

During the post-divorce months as finances were so scary, my daily prayers began with, “Oh God oh God oh God! Don’t let us be homeless and don’t let my son be hungry.”

And every month, God showed up, often in amazing ways:

  • A sack of groceries on the porch – no clue to who brought them
  • Somebody’s change jar filled to the brim – a total of $64.36
  • Coupons and gift cards in the mail for groceries, pizza and Sonic BOGO night
  • Meals delivered – fresh food and generous helpings for leftovers
  • Friends paid for my dues so I could sing in the Lawrence Civic Choir. “Because you’re special to us,” they said. Did they realize how I hugged that statement to my heart?
  • Cards with sweet thoughts – cash tucked in the fold
  • Someone paying school fees for my son
  • An anonymous someone buying me an Amplified Bible

As I read through the pages of my notebook, I remembered the reason why I kept it. So I would never forget how God took care of us.

We never lacked housing. In fact, God provided through generous and kind hearts a beautiful townhome where we healed. My son was never hungry, and neither was I.

Tears of remembered gratitude rivered down my cheeks. God showed up back then, disguised as friends and family. Often anonymously. Always right on time.

And now I’m worried about an excessive appraisal?

Hope reminds me that God does not change. He has provided for us these 18 years. He will continue to take care of us.

Time to start another answered prayers notebook.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re wondering how hope works on a daily basis, check out Hope Shines. Encouraging nuggets for weary souls.