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So the unpublished pages sat in a box, waiting.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.

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Hope Finds 10 Year-Old Boys

After my final attempt at the perfect recipe, I wondered what to do with the plate full of brownies.brownies and sunflowers

Sampled one. Scrumptious! Now what?

Leaving brownies on my kitchen counter would result in constant temptation.

The next day was Sunday, so I decided to take my chocolate offering to the coffee bar at church. I imagined a few folks would sample them, and I wanted to know their reactions to the secret ingredient I added.

At church, I fixed my usual cup of hot tea and placed the brownies in a convenient place next to the coffee. But then…a surprise.

The ten year-old boys were released from their class and converged on the coffee bar. Within ten seconds, every brownie was consumed with comments:

“Mmm – best ever!”

“Lots of yummy chocolate.”

“Are there any more?”

Years after I raised my own boy, I had forgotten how much fun these fellows could be. Chocolate crumbs around their lips. Smacking fingers. Chuckles and shoving each other out of the way.

My brownies were a success with this test crew. It’s unlikely – in fact – nearly impossible any of these boys will read my novel which features a brownie recipe with a secret ingredient.

These boys are not my target audience.

But for a few moments on a Sunday morning, I remembered the joy of adolescent boys and the promise of the men they might become.

Hope thrives in unexpected places. If we watch for it, keep our senses alert for the slightest tremor of hope, we discover delightful surprises.

Here’s to ten year-old boys – the larvae of manhood. Here’s to their excitement for the simplest of joys – something to eat.

And here’s to the encouragement they passed on to this writer.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

When my novel, “No Visible Scars” is published, the recipe for Abigail’s brownies will be included in the final pages of the book. Make a note to purchase “No Visible Scars” so you can share this chocolate wonder with your own boys.

Hope Stays

As I heard the blog post read on national television, I wept. For the author and for countless other women I know who have believed the same lies.woman in mirror

We stay in abusive situations because we are designed with the capacity for hope.

We believe things will change for the better. We have to believe it because the options feel too scary and totally unacceptable.

We feel powerless and we have been pummeled so long, our thinking is skewed. We no longer believe in ourselves, because the lies have become our truth.

Ah – women. We endure the pain of childbirth because the outcome is so glorious. We  also endure emotional and verbal abuse, because we are certain – if we pray hard enough and long enough – everything will be better.

Then one day, we wake up. We are done. “Enough,” says the battered soul.

Jenny Willoughby’s post has gone viral, because she spoke her truth. She awakened and now she understands why she stayed.

I repeat her words here, because we cannot forget her story and the stories of thousands of women whose hope became reality.

 

“When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed.

He could be kind and sensitive, and so I stayed.

He cried and apologized, and so I stayed.

He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups, and so I stayed.

He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence, and so I stayed.

I felt ashamed and trapped, and so I stayed.

Friends and clergy did not believe me, and so I stayed.

I was pregnant, and so I stayed.

I lost the pregnancy and became depressed, and so I stayed.”

 

From my experiences as a biblical counselor and a life coach, I would add three more statements so many women have whispered in my office:

 

            “I did not want my children to grow up in a broken home, and so I stayed.”

             “I had no money and felt powerless. Because I had no options, I stayed.”

              “The church told me I had to submit, and so I stayed.”

 

The truth sets us free. Admitting the truth and stepping into a new life deletes the lies. Then hope becomes our passion.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

My novel, to be released March, 2018, shows what happens when a woman stays. Look for “No Visible Scars” – available soon.

Hope Finds Her Words

The communications rep from the White House began her statement with, “When we saw the pictures….”

abused woman - hidingShe referred to the black eye suffered by Rob Porter’s ex-wife. Displayed across news channels and social media sites, we all saw the extent of the domestic violence against Jenny.

Yet for those of us who work with women, we know physical violence is often the final humiliation.

The benchmarks of abuse occur much earlier, often with no indication that the end result will be a black eye.

  • Subtle put-downs about her weight or her hair-do.
  • The demand to “Submit!”
  • The control of finances, so she has to beg to buy a decent pair of underwear.
  • The dig in her ribs if she expresses her opinion about anything.
  • Calling her “My woman,” as if she is a piece of property he has purchased.

All these red flags represent emotional abuse and often are so subtle, the wife wonders if she misunderstood. Is she crazy? Or is he so skilled at manipulation, he can make her feel it is all her fault?

One out of three women live in destructive relationships. A particularly insidious type of abuse is called “gas-lighting.” Check out Leslie Vernick’s site for more information.

After all the stories I have heard and the women I have held as they cried, my emotions have become a bit jaded. Jenny’s black eye did not surprise me.

Often the men who abuse are outstanding citizens, hard workers, faithful church members. They seem to be such “good men.”

What disturbed me most was that Jenny’s truth was not believed until pictures were shown. Her voice was not heard until there was viable proof. Why not?

Surely the #MeToo movement is teaching us we must listen to children who tell us something is wrong at school, in the gym, in the youth group—no matter how hard it is to believe.

We must also expand our response to women such as Jenny. She was the second ex-wife abused by this man. Reports had been filed by both women. Those in authority knew the truth yet refused to act on it—until they saw the pictures—until ALL of us saw the pictures and demanded accountability.

Hope begins to flicker for the Jenny’s of the world as we listen to their voices and give them permission to share their truth. Surely we can learn how to believe them and help them find a safe haven where they can heal and start over.

Even before we see the incriminating pictures, we must err on the side of caution. Because women are made in the image of God. Because our daughters live in relationships and we want them to be heard. Because all of us have a voice that needs to be respected.

Hope has spoken her truth. So has Jenny. Who is listening?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

In March, 2018, “No Visible Scars” will be released. This is my 10th book, a novel about domestic abuse within a Christian home. Share my blog posts with your friends and be the first to read “No Visible Scars.”

Hope Celebrates Freedom

Amer flagJuly Fourth is such a fun holiday. Whether it’s family picnics, iced tea with lemon, a favorite swimming hole or watching fireworks – everything about July Fourth seems fun.

But a serious side of the topic also presents itself. In our family, this date is a reminder of how fragile life can become. My son, diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, hooked up to tubes in the hospital bed. The fireworks exploding on the TV screen, trying to entertain us in the middle of a crisis.

Nothing colorful, exciting or fun about that time. But later – after a miraculous recovery – we did celebrate. And every year since, the Fourth of July represents extra hugs, a big meal and two scoops of ice cream – just because.

As a writer, freedom is precious because I type out my thoughts, my emotions and my opinions without fear of retribution or arrest. Our freedom of speech is such a precious commodity, never to be taken for granted. May we never lose it.

In the last few years, I have also watched another type of freedom manifested. Women I worked with who finally realized their abusers were not going to respect healthy boundaries. Brave women who said, “Enough!” and found the courage to pack up and leave. The freedom these women now experience is like coming up for air after drowning for years.

The freedom I now feel to explore my writing gift and to schedule my writing clients. No longer chained to the 8 to 8 job or the “available 24-7” mantra. This type of freedom allows me to read a book, take a nap or stir up some brownie batter when I feel like it.

Freedom also comes with a price. Saying “no” to compulsive buying because freelance work means balancing a precarious budget. Facing condemnation when the freedom to leave becomes a reason for judgment in the church pew. Making sure our constitutional laws are followed no matter how far up the ladder one has climbed.

Freedom costs, but it’s worth it.

The ultimate freedom for me is to know who I am and to embrace my authenticity by setting boundaries around anything that might try to take my freedoms from me.

On this Fourth of July – I will speak a prayer of gratitude for all the freedoms I enjoy. I will hug my son again and have another scoop of ice cream. And I will embrace the joy of living in this land of the free, begging God to keep us so.

How do hope and freedom coincide? Easy. Without freedom, we have no hope for a happy future. Without hope, we feel trapped within emotional prisons.

I am grateful for the hope freedom brings and the freedom hope clings to.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author ofSometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy