Monday, September 21, 2015

To the Young Woman with Bruises

To the Young Woman with Bruises

I had not intended to be 120 miles from home
Late on a Sunday night in an unfamiliar city
Sitting in my van with a Monster drink in my hand
Trying to wake up enough to drive
Back to my cozy bed.

I also did not expect to see a young woman: you
Standing there in the parking lot
Asking for gas money outside my window.
At first I said no.
I do not often give cash to strangers.

You silently turned and slowly walked away
It was then I saw the bruises and scrapes
On your bared back, and I knew.
"Hey! WAIT!" And you turned back to face me.
"Are you OK? Has someone hurt you?"

You nodded. Your boyfriend beat you again and again.
Broken ribs, broken glass, in and out of the hospital.
Three years you have been with him.
Gone back five times. And I thought,
Five times too many. Five times to hell.

You needed gas money to leave town. I gave you $20.
You asked for a hug. I wrapped my arms around you.
Then I rummaged around for bandages and salve.
I wished I could heal your wounded heart but I can't.
I could only do my small part with love.

And I said to you, and I say again now:
“Do not go back! You are precious in God's sight.
You deserve better. He is not worth it!”
And you wept: “I know. But I love him. I keep hoping...”
Oh no, sweet one, no. Your monster will not change.

If you keep going back, he will keep being cruel.
It is his permission to do as he wishes.
Why should he change if you come back for more?
This is not love. It is bondage.
It is far better to be alone than to be abused.

Do not go back. No matter what, do not go back.
There is a different life ahead of you,
A life of freedom and wholeness.
Reach out and walk forward with open eyes.
You can do this. I will help.


Last night my daughter missed her bus back to college because she had forgotten her motorcycle helmet on my dining room table. Her older sister offered to drive her the two hours but I knew she had studying to do, so I went instead. We took along an Ecuadorian lady who had also missed the bus and was hoping to get to the other station in time for a connection to her final destination. We didn't make it in time, so after my daughter put on her gear and climbed onto her motorcycle, we followed her over to the pastor's home where she lives. My new friend would wait there for her daughter to come get her and drive her to Alabama. She speaks very little English and I speak very little Spanish, but with a radiant smile she told me "Jesus is my life!" and our fellowship was sweet. We ate brownies and sweet tea, exchanged e-mail addresses, and after I was sure she was settled in comfortably, I left. By the time I stopped for my Monster drink on the way home, it was 11:30 PM. After talking to the young woman with bruises, it was past midnight. Exhausted, I eventually ended up pulling over at a rest stop to sleep for a while. I finally got back to my cozy bed at 3:45 AM and slept until noon. It was a crazy night-into-the-morning, but somehow, at each moment, I knew I was in the exact right place at the exact right time.

Most of all, I hope that this dear young woman finds safety, peace, and a new life.

A word to the rest of you: Open your eyes. Be aware. Don't be afraid. Offer compassion, not judgment. You can make a difference.

Domestic Violence Hotline: (800)799-7233

Related posts on Watch the Shepherd

Articles on Other Web Sites

Basic Information for Victims and Survivors

Friday, September 18, 2015

War Room: Hope or Hype?

Dear friends,

So the War Room movie hit #1 status in the box offices, and that's pretty amazing for an overtly Christian film. Immediately, my Facebook feed filled with glowing endorsements from my friends. "This movie is awesome! You must go see it!"

But I haven't. Maybe I'll rent it from Redbox when it comes out on DVD. Or not.

Not seeing it yet hasn't stopped me from posting reviews on Facebook, all of them less than favorable for various reasons.

Some ask why I bother if I haven't seen the movie. They question whether I have the right to an opinion since I obviously don't know what I'm talking about. This amuses me.

Others are upset that I post links to articles that supposedly bash Christian efforts at making wholesome films. They diss and dismiss the very valid theological and relational concerns that the reviewers bring up. Critique against a Christian ministry or movie is seen as tantamount to the work of the devil, bordering on heresy, maybe? (Why does this remind me so much of the Duggar fiasco?) This does not amuse me.

Hello folks. We are big people. (I think.) We can hash through big ideas, even controversial ones. (I hope.) If you appreciate the movie, fine. I know it has encouraged many and that there are a lot of positive aspects. But at least acknowledge where others are coming from. At least be sensitive to why this movie might trigger fresh trauma in someone who has suffered deeply even in the midst of prayer.

I think what I have read about the movie has been corroborated enough to warrant a thoughtful discussion of the positive and negative aspects. Here are most of the reviews I linked along with a few extras I just found.

[Disclaimer: I offer this to read at your discretion. I do not endorse everything in these articles or the blogs on which they appear.]

War Room: Pretty Little Lies by Kay Bruner, a professional Christian counselor

Why I Refuse to See War Room at A New Free Life: Rising from the Ashes of Domestic Violence

Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem by John Mark N. Reynolds

War Room review at ScreenIt

The War Room Review: Shut Up and Pray He Quits by Jordan Hoffman at the Guardian

The "Faith" of Faith-Based Films: On Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in Christian Movies by Joel Mayward

Movie Review: The War Room by Jessica B. Fry 

Here is my bottom line after reading these reviews, keeping in mind that as I have repeated over and over, I have not seen the movie! 

Prayer is not the cosmic vending machine to get you what you want. Prayer is a relationship, not a formula. He is not duty bound to give us what we want, and we might never understand why this side of heaven. The life of prayer is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Like our relationship with God, human relationships take a whole lot of work. Difficult and dysfunctional marriages take even more work. And time, lots of it. And professional intervention by people who don't spout trite platitudes. And there is still no guarantee that they will be fixed. An offending spouse can change their tune and act like they have reformed for a while to get what they want, and then go right back to pig slop behavior. This is sheer manipulation and hypocrisy, not true repentance. Time and discernment and firm boundaries will prove what is true. It can be a long and messy ordeal. You can't trust mere words, even religious ones. It takes a long time to rebuild trust.

One more thing: I am well aware that there was no physical abuse in the movie marriage and that the wife had her issues too. However, this must be said: If a marriage is dangerous or destructive, the emphasis has to be on the well-being (safety and sanity) of the victim, not reconciliation or sticking it out in the hopes that prayer will solve all of the problems.  You say this doesn't happen in devoutly religious families that value the Bible and prayer? Oh yes it does! I have spoken with many Christian domestic violence survivors who sincerely asked God what to do about their marriages and clearly heard him say, "Get out now. Run for your life!" Looking back, they realize they and/or their children would be dead if they hadn't. In many cases, their husbands were very religious, some of them pastors and missionaries. But this kind of "run for your life" ending doesn't play well with a triumphant Christian movie plot, does it? Too bad.

It is misleading and cruel to insinuate that someone with a failing marriage can do a snappy U-Turn to Happily-Ever-After-Land by rebuking Satan and storming the gates of Heaven with fervent intercession. To gloss over the realities of life for the sake of a movie plot or to "put in a good word for God in the middle of a dying world" is a crying shame. It is no credit to God to misconstrue his grace. Christians, let us pray more. But let's also get real about what else we need to do. That's what people are really watching to see if our faith is authentic.

I can't end this post without a good word from the Lord. Two passages that are on my heart right now:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." Habakkuk 3:17-19

Grace and peace, 
Virginia Knowles

P.S. Here are some related links on my blogs:

Real Life Relationships:

Prayer and Spiritual Growth:

"For Those Who Suffer"

You are love,
and you see all the suffering,
injustice, and misery,
which reign in this world.

Have pity, we implore you,
on the work of your hands.
Look mercifully on the poor,
the oppressed, 
and all who are heavy laden
with error, labour and sorrow.

Fill our hearts with deep compassion 
for those who suffer,
and hasten the coming of 
your kingdom of justice and truth.

Eugène Bersier (1831-1889)

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Clump of Sadness :: Suicide Prevention Week

This afternoon and evening I have been feeling a bit moody and sad.

I was (and still am) tired from not choosing the right amount of sleep and balanced nutrition these past few days. I missed my thyroid pill in the morning. I am hormonal and though I'm heading toward menopause, it's not here yet. Enough said on that part.

It is 9/11. Thinking of that, remembering and reprocessing what happened 14 years ago, yanks at my heartstrings. For me it's not so much about patriotism or even the evil enemy. It is the thought of so much suffering, so much grief, so much wreckage, so much fear.

I am angry and angsty at what is in the news these days, too. Foreign tragedies and terrors. Refugees. Wars and rumors of wars. Children being abused in churches and families. Patronizing and pious answers. Excuses and lies. I want to shriek. Make it stop!

I am disappointed with a bunch of things in my own experience. Yes, despite many challenges, my life is manageable, I savor my joys, and I am thankful for so much. Yet I also look around and see those whose life circumstances are so much better than mine. This juxtaposition, this contrast of mine against theirs - well then. Sigh. I had so many ideals and sweet dreams for life that others seem to attain with ease. And I haven't. And it is not likely that I ever will. I can hear in my head someone accusing me of the sin of jealousy. It is not that, at least not much. I am glad for others and I really can enjoy the goodness of the life that I do have. But it is still bittersweet.

So right now... a clump of sadness sits in my soul.

I know this of myself. When I grieve for one thing, or two, it all comes rushing in, a least for a little while. When I think of the loss of my sweet mother two years ago, I say, "I'm grieving for my mother." This is true, but not complete. Grief can be like a vacuum that sucks all of life's other losses into the void. Misery loves company. So what starts as one single simple grief becomes a tangled mess, and I may or may not sort out the strands.

I also know this of myself. I will feel better. Soon. Maybe just after a good night's sleep. (Trust me, I'm about to go there.) You don't need to be alarmed. I am not at risk of hurting anyone. I have an awesome support system. Hugs and affirmations from my family, and even writing this, have made me feel so much better already. So I am not complaining.

I just want to acknowledge that sadness is a real thing. Depression is a real thing. Unfortunately, for so many people, depression does not lift as easily as my fleeting sadness. No matter how they try to lift their spirits and think happy thoughts and pray faith-filled prayers, it can spiral down down down out of control. This doesn't have to happen. There is help and hope.

This year, September 6-12 is National Suicide Prevention week. I don't know if your life has been touched by suicide. Mine has. Years ago, a dear Christian friend, who loved and led others from the bottom of her heart, committed suicide. She left a huge hole in a community of hearts. I keenly remember the phone call, the funeral, the questions and regrets. Why was I not more aware? Why couldn't I have done more?

I cannot intervene for my sweet friend. It is too late.

Yet I hope that these thoughts can make you more aware of depression, whether it is you or a loved one, an acquaintance or a stranger. Open your eyes and ears, open your heart, and as you are led by love, open your mouth. Your attention, understanding, compassion, and action can help save a life. It may take connecting them with professional counseling or medication. But it can start with a word or an embrace from you.

A music video, an article, another of my essays and a few of my poems to get you started... 

"Beautiful Things" by Gungor

Why Churches Need to Talk about Suicide by Jamie Tworkowski

Melancholy by yours truly

The poems:

Oh, let me just put a whole one right here...

Your Kindness Gave Me Courage”
by Virginia Knowles

Your kindness gave me courage 
A gentle conversation
A thought-filled gaze
A good deed done 
A warm embrace
A place at your table  
A long letter, short note, silent words
A prayer for wisdom and strength
A gift from the heart.
Surely you did not fully know
(How could you?)
What that would do in me.
Could you sense my soul’s burdens:
The dark and doubt and defeat?

Then, just then, y
our kindness came as
Light: luminous
Love: lifting and leading me with 
Steady steps toward faith, hope, and joy.

Even though you could not fathom
Its deep reach and widening ripples
I knew then what I know now
And what I live a little more each day.

The very remembrance
Keen and bittersweet
Still fills me with dignity and wonder that
I can see, speak, serve, sing and
Bring light and love to others.

I bless you, my friend, with all my heart.
May the Lord Almighty bless you beyond
Full measure, pouring over the rims, for
Your kindness gives me courage.

If you know of other resources, be so kind as to leave a comment?