Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I posted Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence as the first in my series of interviews. Today, please welcome Elizabeth (not her real name). Her story reminds us that domestic violence sometimes happens where we least expect it --  in a home where both the husband and wife are active in Christian ministry. So, without further ado, here is Elizabeth sharing how people responded to her story of domestic violence.

1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)?

In fact, there are very few with whom I have shared my story. As someone working inside the "professional Christian" world for so long, I knew exactly what would be coming my way. I had watched it happen to others. I have friends and colleagues in counseling and helping communities, in mission agencies and denominational headquarters, in educational environments and Christian universities: I knew exactly how I would be treated if I separated from my husband. I knew what would be said, and it was.

Counselors who had said (for decades) "hang in there" asked me in an accusatorial way why I didn't leave earlier. Ministry colleagues -- and most of them wouldn't even speak to me because my husband had so visibly built his victim case with them in the year preceding the second separation (an earlier trial separation had produced no willingness on his part to seek counseling together) -- accused me of:
  • speaking against God's anointed 
  • undermining a man's life work 
  • being unsubmissive and unteachable 
  • opposing God and His word 
  • slandering a brother -- this in regards to the protective injunction
  • making it impossible for my husband to raise funds, so tearing down my house with my own hands 
  • my need to repent and seek public forgiveness from my husband for motivations ranging from jealousy to lust -- I have always modeled complete fidelity to my marriage vows, to doing all I could, even now, to preserve whatever of actual Love remains, and could call a world of witnesses to this. 

I didn't try to answer or defend myself: what, after all, is the point? I have always subscribed to the philosophy that if I live openly in freedom, truth and grace, what is actually true will be seen and known....

Eventually. I accepted that I am powerless over the judgments of others and their desires to manipulate me through punishment or threats. A pre-divorce settlement with his lawyer -- I never hired one -- bound me to silence regarding my husband in any church setting if I wanted to continue to have insurance for my child (who had major medical issues) and myself.

Only someone who has been bound to a person with substantial mental and emotional pathologies for a long time can understand the futility of public engagement. I have been made to suffer substantially by my husband and by some who claim, a little too boldly, that they speak for Jesus. I share the details of this part of my life only with those I can help or encourage in theirs, in privacy with personal openness in that context, but not anywhere else.

The response of social services was to grant me an injunction, with cause. Most family, acquaintances, even homeschooling colleagues, dropped me like a hot potato. I think for most of them, the distancing was on a self-protective, superstitious basis: if someone like myself could not keep the demon of separation/divorce at bay, how could they? I was treated as if I suffered from an infectious disease, for the most part, and that persists today in most contexts. I don't take it personally, because it's not about me. Suffering is not my enemy, but fear of suffering can make me susceptible to all kinds of evil.

2. How did you respond to the comments or questions at the time? How would you change that response now that you know more?

My responses at the time were, in the main, silence, and where that couldn't be avoided, predicated on already knowing how I'd be treated, short and factual with documentation. The years prior to the separation were ones in which I amassed practical knowledge and resources and help, including counseling and seeking medical and psychiatric advice for the complex issues in the spousal relationship and in the home.

It has not been a case of "knowing more and acting differently." I think, given all the same circumstances, I'd choose the same path again. I do wish there had been some support for the path of separation-in-hope that I chose. I see no other way I could have protected or provided for my child's needs any better than I did, without the benefit of being omniscient and omnipotent or having endless financial resources.

Of course, I wish sometimes that I could wave a magic wand and make things perfect in a way they never were, particularly as I watch my child struggle in adulthood with certain issues that I know are secondary to this long relational struggle and the medical/pscyhiatric issues related to it, but that's a false thing to imagine, and engaged in too long could actually limit my capacity to function as a person alive in Christ, to love deeply, and to model for my child a devotion to truth and grace and wisdom.

3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?

Trust God to redeem where you do not see His blessing. Base your practical decisions on a Love that seeks Safety, Health and Freedom. Be dove-gentle and serpent-wise and seek out heart, and where necessary, legal counselors who know what that means.


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Elizabeth. There are more women in danger within ministry families than we would care to admit. I hope this will encourage someone to get help and get to safety, even facing the potential shame and the backlash.

Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites. 

In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence (DV Interview #1)

Dear friends,

As you might know, I have written several articles on the subject of domestic violence. What started with research into spiritual abuse a long time ago, morphed into a study on how abuse affects families. It's all intertwined. Then too, I also have friends who are DV survivors. I try to listen well, and they have taught me a lot. So I started writing what I was learning from them and from my research, and it seems to have helped a lot of people understand better. At least it helps me. I still have a lot to learn.

But there is still a lot of work to do. I have read often, and my friends have confirmed this, that people don't always respond very well when they find out a friend is being abused by her husband. Well-intentioned but misinformed words can be deeply damaging. That needs to change.

Anyway, I asked some of these friends to participate in anonymous interviews about how they interacted with other people about the abuse. I did this so we can all learn better what to do and say. Two ladies have written. This is the first installment. I will publish the second one soon. I have also included the links to my other articles on domestic violence series at the bottom of this post.

This is Abigail's story. (That's a fake name, of course.) With her permission, I removed any potentially identifying details because I am committed to confidentiality. Domestic violence survivors need privacy, protection, and understanding, so please respect that in your comments and questions.

My questions are in bold. Abigail's answers are underneath.


1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)

First, you didn't ask this, but let me say I am currently separated from my husband because of child abuse and domestic violence. It's not what I expected when we got married. I had no idea. I thought he was so gentle and kind. Which he can be when he wants.

Now your questions ---

My parents were shocked when I told them. They knew we had problems, but not that bad. They were upset because I didn't tell them sooner and I didn't act faster to get us safe. But they helped me a lot after that.

Friends were pretty good about it, but some people don't know about how abusive relationships work and what you have to do. They need to listen to really get it. A few said they had been in an abusive marriage or that their mom or dad was abusive.  

Church leaders have been awesome in standing up for me. I used to be afraid of child protection workers, but they've been good to us too.


2. How did you respond to the comments or questions? 

These are my answers to some of the typical questions. Hey, this is like a bunch of little interviews all stuck together!

“He seems like such a caring husband and father. How could I have missed this?”

My answer: He can be very nice. Then he snaps, rage in a heartbeat. He cares about our kids but that goes out the window when he gets mad at them. He doesn't plan ahead of time to hurt us. He just loses it and then excuses it later. You didn’t notice because you didn't have a reason to think he was hurting us. I hid injuries when I could and gave vague answers when I couldn't.

“Have you tried harder to be a better wife, to learn how to communicate, and to make your kids behave so they won’t make him mad? Have you read any books about marriage?”

My answer: Yes, I have. What works in a normal marriage will not usually work in an abusive one. The advice needs to be  different, especially if the husband acts irrationally and you can’t reason with him. Attempts at emotional intimacy put me at more risk because my husband doesn’t always care about my feelings and uses what I say in really bad ways against me. Plus, the time I spent trying to fix what can’t be fixed made it even longer for me to take real action to keep my family safe. Honestly, I need to disconnect from him, not get tangled in more.

“Is he getting counseling?” 

My answer: He has gone to counseling for a long time, even before we separated. No real change in him. Also if we went together and I told the truth, he blasted me on the way home and sulked for days. 

“How long and often did this happen?” 

My answer: He hurt and endangered the kids for years. Then he started lashing out at me when I finally got the guts to try to stop him, and I've gotten hurt, too. The emotional cruelty has gone on for even longer, like most of our marriage. How often? Anger daily, full rage at least once a month, maybe more? Not so much now that we don’t live with him, but enough to see there is no real change.

“If things were so bad for so long, why didn’t you take action before? Why did you wait so many years?”

My answer: I was in denial. I wanted to think we were sort of normal, or at least it would stop when the kids got older. I also thought I just needed to try harder to do things right. Our Christian friends made a big deal about marriage commitment and how a wife should submit cheerfully to her husband. So I thought the problem was me. I wasn’t good enough for him or he wouldn’t get so mad. Also fear. We had little kids. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I had to get over that and get some confidence. It can be done. I’m learning to do things for myself and my kids now.

“Aren’t you just reacting from bitterness and unforgiveness?  Aren’t you going to give him a chance to make things right and reconcile?” 

My answer: I want the best for my husband. I don’t want to punish him. Leaving was the logical consequence for his behavior. It also helps him be calm and have more peace. I talked to counselors and church leaders. I told the facts and didn’t exaggerate. They assured me it was a dangerous pattern of abuse and reminded me to stop making excuses for him. They said forgiving doesn’t mean I have to trust or reconcile. He’s got to deal with his own stuff and not expect me to tolerate it. He had plenty of time to change. I warned him long before we separated. He screwed up a reconciliation attempt. It’s been years, but his basic attitude is the same. He always claims he’s so sorry and that he’s trying to do better but he is still intimidating, manipulative, and dangerous. I have accepted the probability that this will not change, yet I really hope he finds a happier way to live for his own sake. This is about peace & safety, not retaliation.

“Don’t you believe in the power of prayer or that God can change him? Why are you saying he isn’t going to change?”

My answer: I do believe in God’s power to change him, just like I believe in his power to keep me going. But let’s be real. Statistics show a horribly high repeat abuse rate even by those who consider themselves devout Christians. They rarely ever change, faith or no faith. Some guys even twist Bible verses about submission so they can dominate their families. The man feels he must be in control at all costs, even if it takes violent physical force and extreme emotional manipulation. He can change. I'm just not holding my breath for it to happen. Safety first & safety always.

"What about your Christian witness? Broken marriages don't glorify God. They damage kids. Can't you try harder to make it work?"

My answer: Try harder? Been there, done that. It takes two to make it work. Abuse does not glorify God. Abuse breaks the marriage. Abuse damages the kids. The damage is done by the abuse, not by the separation. When there is abuse, pretending things are fine and staying together for the sake of the kids is plain stupid. I think a mom not protecting her own kids is the bad witness. I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation and do the right thing now, no matter what it looks like. Life in the real world.

“You’re still separated? I saw you together looking happy enough and figured everything was OK now. I see him out with the kids, too. When are you getting back together?”

My answer: We are still separated but we get together to talk about practical stuff like kids & money. We also go to events together where we are both invited. We can be polite to each other in public. He sees the kids often and takes them places. That's not a problem. Not everyone knows we are separated, and we want to preserve a little dignity. Getting back together is not in my plans for now. I can’t put my kids or myself in danger again in hopes he will change someday, who knows when? I don’t ever want to go through any of that again and I shouldn’t be expected to. 

“I am really worried about your safety even now that you're separated. I get the shivers when I see how your husband treats you. It’s subtle, but still controlling and demeaning. Please be careful.”

Thank you. You are so perceptive and you also have the courage to tell me the truth. I need the reminder, too, for when I start pretending things are getting better. They aren't, but I let my guard down and don’t hold my boundaries firm.

“I’m so glad you finally separated. I grew up with an abusive dad, and my mom didn’t do anything about it. I felt abandoned and unprotected and that makes me angry.”

I am so sorry to hear you went through this. I don’t regret the choice I made to protect my family. I’m sad it came to that. Wish I’d done it sooner. Thanks for your story. It helps me know I did the right thing, even if it was later than I should.

“What’s next for you?”

I don’t know yet. Taking it day by day. I hope for good things with what’s left of my life. I ask God to lead me and just try to do the next right thing. I need to get a lot of new coping skills. I just want to raise my kids to know they are loved and cared for. That’s the top thing.


3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?
  • Speak truth to yourself. Stop the denial. Don’t blame yourself.
  • Don't let it ruin your faith. God is not like your husband.
  • Get help from a professional counselor who is trained & experienced about domestic violence. Pastors don't always have a clue what to say or do and can make it worse. Be careful. BTW, the kids need counseling too. You can get funding if you can't afford. Ask your local DV office, women's shelter, or the counselor you want to go to.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends & family who will believe you and stand up for you. If you don’t find the support in one place, keep looking until you do.
  • Make a safety plan so you can get out quickly when needed. Extra clothes, keys, money, copies of documents, & a place to go. Prepare your kids ahead of time so they know what to do. Be ready.
  • Know your options. There are so many resources on-line or in the library or bookstore.
  • Most of all, keep your family safe – that means you, too! Don't be afraid to leave! You can do it! It's not the end of the world.


Thank you,  Abigail, for your candid answers!

You can now find the second interview here: Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)

Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites.

In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

For safety and sanity,
Virginia Knowles

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Star of Hope is Still in the Sky When the Night is Blackest

"The star of hope is still in the sky when the night is blackest. The LORD will not forget us and hand us over to the enemy. Let us rest in hope. We have to deal with One whose mercy endureth forever. Surely, out of death, and darkness, and despair we shall yet arise to life, light, and liberty." Charles Spurgeon

Back in March, I downloaded a lovely daily journal app called Ordinary Days onto my iPod. I have an entry and usually a photo for every single day since then, though sometimes I have to go back and fill in a gap.

Today, I read back over nearly five months of entries, and found the Spurgeon quote that my friend Bart, an elder at our church, had e-mailed to me. What else did I find in those Ordinary Days?  Sure, lots of just ordinary things: lists of all the household tasks, a note about an event or an amusing conversation, song lyrics. But then also dark times, exhausting times, confusing times, and the faithfulness of God in the midst, often through the encouragement and practical kindness of friends and family.

I am reminded of a poem I wrote in February 2012, probably my favorite of all. When I am having a tough time, I often think of the last few lines and take courage. (More background and photos for the poem here.)

Shimmer and Shadow


Epiphany dawns to blaze of day
Fiery sun and cooling shade
Then sunset glow
Seeping dusk
Star sparkle, honey gold of moon
Obscuring haze of deepening dark
Dark deep
Epiphany dawns
Hope rises on the horizon

My life is shimmer and shadow
Shadow and shimmer
A chiaroscuro portrait, 
   clear and dark
The Artist draws and draws
Draws me into scenes 
   of day and night
Draws me to himself 
   in glimmerings and glimpses
There is still life
I am still here
I am here and so is He
In shimmer and shadow

"Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:12

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you." Isaiah 60:2

"I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises." Psalm 119:148

"He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night… the Lord is his name." Amos 5:8

"Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars." Psalm 148:3

"My heart is steadfast, O God' I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn." Psalm 108:1-2

"On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings." Psalm 63:7

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

"… because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:78-79

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." Malachi 4:2a

For life, light, and liberty...

Virginia Knowles

P.S. I just renamed and moved my "mom" blog to This Mom Grows Up.
I added in index pages, and one of them is Rocky Places, full of links to articles on that blog about growing during difficult times. My newest article there is When Life is Not a Bowl of Cherries, and another recent one that I imported from the old blog is Adding Wisdom to Strength. Take a peek and let me know what you think!

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Patriot's Prayer (Strength in Hymn)

"A Patriot's Prayer"
by John R. Wreford

Lord, while for all mankind we pray,
Of ev’ry clime and coast,
Oh, hear us for our native land,
The land we love the most.

Oh, guard our shores from ev’ry foe;
With peace our borders bless,
Our cities with prosperity,
Our fields with plenteousness.

Unite us in the sacred love
Of knowledge, truth, and thee;
And let our hills and valleys shout
The songs of liberty.

(With thanks to Kenneth Randall Taylor for including this on his own blog, thus saving me typing time.)


It is July 4, Independence Day here in the USA, my native land.

I sit at my father's table with a pile of vintage hymnals that my sister gave me this week - The Brethren Hymnal, The United Methodist Hymnal, The Broadman Hymnal, Hymns of Praise, and Hymns for the Family of God. They belonged to my mother and grandmother, who both died this past year leaving a musical legacy of faith.

It's been a while since I wrote a Strength in Hymn post, and when the dining room clock chimed the tune of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" at 7 this morning, I thought I'd write about that beloved old German hymn. But, like I said, it is the Fourth of July, so I turned to the "Patriotic" section of the subject index of Hymns of Praise instead. And I found this hymn, "A Patriot's Prayer," which is not even American. I could have chosen "America the Beautiful" or "My Country 'Tis of Thee" but you all know those already, don't you? Let's go for a little something different, even if it is British and the British were... well, our enemies in two wars. This is the beauty of peacemaking. England is now our ally, our friend. Isn't it true that we can look back in our own lives and people who had been enemies but are now friends -- because we learned to forgive and move on?  I can.

But back to patriotism... I love America as my native land, but even more because it stands for truth and liberty.  May God make this a reality, because this is not always what we see here.  It is a reminder that I must work toward this, too, and not just assume everyone else will, or that all will be right and good just because I am an American.  I must be a true patriot myself, even if I do hate politics.  I must "shout the songs of liberty."

Virginia Knowles

(Selfie by Melody,
my little patriot)