Hope Looks for the Good Guys

Disclaimer: I do not wish to vilify any pastors or church leaders. Please read this entire blog post before making a judgment.

A reader of my novel, “No Visible Scars recently asked me, “Is that Pastor Dennis in your book for real? Surely, a pastor wouldn’t act that way toward a woman who is being abused.”NVS Cover

“Unfortunately, that character was based on a true experience. And I could tell you stories….”

The following are snippets of other true stories about some pastors and the topic of domestic abuse:

  • A woman was locked in the basement and thrown scraps of food. When she escaped, she asked her pastor for advice. He said, “Well, if you’d lose 30 pounds, he’d like you better.”
  • Another woman whose husband refused to let her spend any money, gave her a weekly allowance. He then complained about the cost of groceries and regularly decreased the amount she could spend. Her pastor asked, “Are you giving him regular sex?”
  • From the pulpit, a pastor shamed single moms and their children after they escaped from abusive relationships. “If you get divorced,” he said, “your children will end up in prison.”
  • A woman related to her pastor how her husband belittled her, calling her ugly and stupid. The pastor said, “I don’t see any broken bones or bruises. The Bible says you should go home, be gentle and quiet and pray for your husband.”

In these scenarios, all the pastors were men. A woman pastor may have reacted differently, may have believed these suffering women and fought for them. Admittedly, some of these situations sound extremely harsh, yet I have heard versions of them multiple times.

Licensed Clinical Social worker, Leslie Vernick, recently taught a webinar titled, “Using the Bible to Rationalize Bad Behavior.”

In her newsletter, Leslie wrote, “Sadly, the Bible has often been used as an excuse to do unintended harm. It’s used to rationalize violence, abuse, ignorance, bigotry, inequality, and sexism—all under the guise of ‘The Bible says this.’”

To be fair, I also know about the following situations:

  • A pastor helped an abused woman set up her own checking account so she would have financial options and a plan of escape.
  • A pastor in the Midwest helped an abused woman move. He paid for the moving van out of his own pocket, arranged for church elders to lift furniture and bought pizza for everyone after the move.
  • When a single mom was being downsized out of her job, a pastor paid her salary for several months.
  • A pastor with a kind heart listened to the story from an abused woman, cried with her and counseled her to protect herself and her children—to leave. Then he helped her find a safe home.

All these stories are true. All these women exist and all of them went to their pastors for help.

Some of these women never returned to church because they felt invisible and condemned by the very leaders they trusted.

In the book of First Samuel, when the real Abigail was abused by her husband, God took him out. Nabal died.

God takes it seriously when his daughters are mistreated. Some of our pastors understand and take action.

Those who don’t are playing a dangerous game and someday, they will have to answer for it.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Read Abigail’s story in “No Visible Scars.” Then pass it on to a woman who needs to know she is not alone.

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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 Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we went, we heard it.

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and WalMart – even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound – one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

I called it The Great Cough of 2016.pharmaceutical-symbol

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Christmas bug.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

So Christmas plans changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma. This was the first year since I served as a missionary that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

But we could  not force ourselves into the car for a five hour trip. And why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the entire family?

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday – bless the hearts of that staff ! We armed ourselves with legal drugs – thank you to the hard-working pharmacy staff ! We stayed in bed and slept late – when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

Then Christmas happened in spite of illness. My son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun – playing table games with hygienic gloves on, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we collapsed into our recliners again – still coughing. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how to live a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change. And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God with us.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Streams Through the Promises

In our crazy world of broken promises, it soothes me to know I can depend on one source.

i-promiseThe divine One, God Himself, has never broken any of his covenant promises to me.

Some of his words of hope are recorded within the general principles of the Bible:

  • I will never leave you or forsake you
  • I will be your Comforter
  • I will show you the path to take
  • I will be your Guide
  • I will be your eternal Husband

Although timing for these promises varies, and sometimes the seasons of life interrupt, when God says something and underscores it in print – I am certain it will eventually happen.

But the promises that mean the most to me – those certainties that create the a-ha moments of spiritual awakening – those promises are not recorded in the holy scriptures.

These are the divine whispers during my discouraging nights and my driest spiritual deserts. These are the words that keep me living in hope even when tentacles of fear and uncertainty tighten.

When I walked through the pain of divorce, God spoke his personal promise for my son and me, “There will be hard times ahead, but I will meet every need.”

Even through extended months of unemployment, scary moves away from comfort zones, the horror of watching my son suffer with cancer – through it all – the reminder of God’s statement kept me breathing.

“I will meet every need.”

Indeed – in miraculously beautiful moments recorded in my journals and kept sacred – like the Virgin Mary – ensconced in my heart.

Every. Single. Need. Was. Met.

  • Jobs that suddenly appeared from unusual sources
  • Cars given through the generosity of a good man
  • The healing of my son and my own healings – emotional, spiritual and physical
  • Money that somehow appeared. I constantly affirm God’s math is different from ours. He can make money poof into existence from a negative balance.
  • Friendships spawned in the cusp of brokenness
  • Housing – one of my constant prayers, “Please God, don’t let us be homeless.” A beautiful townhome where we healed for four years then later a mortgage refinanced, gardens where God and I created beautiful color and bountiful food
  • Christmas gifts we received and those we gave – even when the budget no longer stretched far enough
  • A research trip to Santa Fe, featured in the last Reverend G book
  • And much, much more….

Every. Single. Need. Always and Forever. Met. The solo I often sang became reality.

But as sweet and as necessary as the confirmed promise streamed the credibility of the One who made the promise.

The words foreshadowed holiness because they originated from the source of love – the covenant made stronger because of the credibility of the Speaker.

So during this current desert, as I await the resolution for another promise, I continue to look for and listen to the One who has seared my heart with his grace.

“I will meet every need,” he said so clearly. No quantity of time assigned to his statement. Just an eternal assurance that the One who spoke the words will never violate his covenant.

He will meet the needs now as he has done in the past, because he cannot and will not change. His promise forever sealed within the identity of Who he is.

And in that assurance, hope streams.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Wonders When

I will readily admit – patience is not one of my virtues. Yet it seems God often requires me to learn more about patience in his school of waiting.as-we-wait

After two years living in limbo land, I am still waiting and wondering…when will the answers come?

How much longer do I need to wait? What is the deciding factor that is keeping me in this place of limbo?

Is there a deeper purpose than even the waiting – a reasoning God wants me to grasp, a circumstance someone else needs to piece together – something that affects both of us?

On a larger scale than just my small life, when will our communities learn that diversity is a good thing – that we can add to each other’s lives by embracing our differences as much as we do our commonalities? When?

A Facebook friend has watched her little boy endure countless surgeries. He’s lived in the hospital longer than he’s lived at home. When will their endless waiting end? When?

The 36-hour day team-tags caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients. The body refuses to die even as the brain deteriorates. When will endurance result in release? The only way to end the Alzheimer’s journey is to hold the hand of a loved one as she is ushered into eternity.

Writers wait to hear from publishers who hold their words hostage within committee meetings. The words scream to be heard and passed on. When will the answer come?

In their workbook, “Living Into the Answers,” authors Isenhower and Todd write, “If we leave ourselves open to God’s leading, even in the midst of asking the questions, often God sends us into areas we have not considered.”

New areas we have not previously considered…or possibly…God will lead us into a spiritual haven where we can reframe our questions.

How can we find hope while we wait? How can we best live in our waiting rooms without giving way to the frustrations of impatience?

When, God, when?

I wonder what it must have felt like in the 400-year silence between the Old and New Testaments. For centuries, one decade after another, the people waited for their Messiah.

Generations died out. Saints did not receive the promise, yet somehow hope lived on.

Grandfathers continued to share the stories of a miracle-working God. Mothers tucked their children into bed and whispered, “Maybe tomorrow Messiah will come.”

Yet the tomorrows stretched into the next year and the next.

Then – when he did come – he was so radical and so unlike the Messiah they expected – they didn’t recognize the wait was finally over.

Instead of rejoicing, they rejected him and killed him. Now, 2000 years later, they still wait because they haven’t recognized what happened.

As we seek the end of limbo land, maybe we are looking in the wrong location. Maybe the happy ending already happened in a manger in Bethlehem, a hillside sermon, an empty tomb outside the city of Jerusalem.

As I wait for my limbo land to end, I wonder…has it come and gone and passed me by? Did I somehow miss the answer and if so, how do I retrieve it?

Perhaps our When questions are wrapped in the discontent of our days. We can’t truly find the resolve because God’s When is not controlled by time.

Maybe the eternal one who longs for us to trust him plants the answers in the everyday-ness of life and then waits for us to locate him.

Yet as we wait, God sustains and holds us in the palm of his mighty hand.

Instead of waiting and longing and yearning for a change, perhaps we need to just accept today and find the joy in whatever positives surround us.

All the answers will someday be given by the One who is wisdom itself.

Maybe the restlessness of my spirit is merely my heart’s cry for a deeper intimacy with the One who provides the answer in Himself.

At least with Him beside me, I can imagine Hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G trilogy