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 Was Enough

I was enough rockDuring three seasons of life, I have struggled with the topic of “Not Enough.”

Because I was raised in a perfectionist legalistic culture, it seemed I was never enough for God. Markers of spiritual maturity included how many people we could convince to become Christians and how efficiently we used our spiritual gifts.

This focus led to evangelism by guilt and service by exhaustion.

While in college, I met a group of students who shared love and joy with me. As I learned about God’s unconditional love, the old lies began to fade. Soon, I realized I could not earn my way into God’s heart, rather I had been gifted with a first class ticket.

Jesus was enough. Therefore, I did not have to DO. Rather, I could just BE.

The second “Not Enough” season came in the post-divorce years. Like most women whose marriages end, I tried to rationalize why it happened.

Was I not pretty enough? Skinny enough? Smart enough? Did I not pray enough for him and for our marriage? Did I not submit enough? (another leftover from legalism).

After several years in therapy, the “Not Enough” voices rode off into the sunset. A failed marriage is not one person’s fault and multiple factors can lead to its finality. Therefore, if I did not cause those circumstances, then I could not be responsible to fix them.

“Not Enough” became “Start Over and Embrace Life.”

In this current season of grieving, I again face the demons of Not Enough. As the grief process edges away from the shards of pain and into the emptiness of loss, I wonder if I was enough. Although I know false guilt is one of the side effects of grief, still – the questions persist.

Did Deb know I loved her? Did I say it enough – show it enough? Was our friendship so deep because I needed her? Did I give back enough of what she needed? Did I do enough for her at the end? Did she know I was there, praying she would wake up and start laughing? Was I enough?

Several weeks ago, I attended a spiritual retreat in the country. Being in God’s front yard is always life-giving for me – walking in rhythm with a floating monarch, crunching autumn grass under my feet, petting horses and dogs, stroking a plant. I always feel “enough” within the worship of God’s creation.

Our spiritual exercise was to choose a rock and write an affirmation on it – to remind ourselves to delete the negatives and nurture the positives.

I like rocks. They remind me something in this life is sturdy – dependable – unchanging. Within seconds, I knew what my affirmation would be.

The rock now sits on my windowsill, but I may move it to the memorial I built for Deb – Colorado river rocks at the base of her metal wind machine. I may plant the rock in a sturdy base to remind me of truth – to chase away forever the “Not Enough” lie.

A simple statement. A visual reminder of the following truths:

*In my spiritual journey, God is enough. Leave the legalistic expectations behind.

*With past failures, learn from them and underscore that I gave enough. I did what I could. Let it go.

*In grief, respect the process and nurture the memories. Receive the truth that none of us is perfect. But as we persevere to love others, the attempt is what matters.

I stroke the rock and wipe a tear.

I was enough.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Hope Beyond the Just

musing-girl-silhouette-1122905-mLast week, I met another creative who said, “I’m just a beginning writer.” I understood what he meant, of course, but I wondered about that little word “just.”

How many times do we use “just” to describe ourselves, not realizing that in the process – we are embracing shame.

“I’m just a beginning writer.”

“I’m just a housewife.”

“I’m just the receptionist.”

To be authentic persons, I believe we should eradicate this use of “just” from our vocabulary.

None of us are “just” anything and when we put ourselves down, we throw ourselves into the trash bag of a “less than” mentality. Any type of emotional trash bag will suffocate us.

“I’m just” is another way of stating, “I’m not enough.” Not rich enough. Not smart enough. Not accomplished enough.

And when we shame ourselves, we become our own judge by comparing our worth to another person.

God never shames us. He never says, “You need to be like that person over there.” Instead, he promises he has a good plan for our lives, for each of us, based on who he created us to be.

Sure, we creatives strive to learn more about writing and become best-selling authors. That’s one of my goals. But even if that never happens, if my words touch ONE heart, if even one person finishes my books with a lesson learned or a nugget of joy intact – that’s success.

Being a housewife, keeping the home operational and raising the children is one of the highest forms of work because it influences the next generation. Just a housewife? Not possible. Wouldn’t it be more uplifting to say, “I am so privileged to be a housewife.”

Anyone who works in an office knows the receptionist is the first line of defense. This important person schedules the daily activities, keeps everything going smoothly and greets customers with a smile. He or she may not earn the salary of the person in the corner office, but just try operating a business without a front office person. “Just” does not begin to describe the value of an efficient and welcoming receptionist.

So instead of thinking of ourselves as “just” anything, let’s look in the mirror and say, “Hey there, Wonderful! God has a good plan for you today, and you’re the only person in the world who can do it. You are enough. March forward with hope for an even better future.”

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Image attributed to www. sxc.hu.