Abuse and the Virus

One of the most challenging things about domestic violence is that rarely does the person who is being subjected to abuse realise that they are being abused.  A victim is one of those women, the shrivelled up ones who (according to most stock images) cowering in a corner with a bruised face.  And their partner isn’t one of those men.  He’s a good guy really.  He doesn’t mean it.  It’s only because of all the stress and he had a really bad childhood and he loves me and soon things will get back to how they used to be.  To take the step of acknowledging that our partner is abusive is a huge thing.  Once it’s not “me overreacting”, “his difficult childhood”, “the way I push him to the edge”, “how passionate he is”, “only that one time when he left me bruised”, once we label it ABUSE, everything changes.  Nothing can go on as normal.  We have to take action.  We have to accept that our relationship must end and that our children will lose their father and nothing will ever be the same again.  And that’s before we begin to reckon with all the ways his behaviour will escalate if we try to leave.  Around 80% of men who kill women, do so within eighteen months of her leaving him.

 

Men are more abusive over Christmas.  Often people think it’s because of the stress, the money worries and the increased alcohol consumption.  But that’s not why.  It’s because an abuser deliberately destroys whatever is precious to his partner and children.  He destroys birthday celebrations and anniversaries.  Some abusers destroy every family mealtime, leaving their children with eating disorders because their father (or step father) has thrown food, screamed at their mother, or gone into that silent sulk which they all know ends in him being violent.  The other reason abusers are worse at Christmas is because there is greater opportunity to abuse.  Most people get time off over Christmas, and the abuser will use those extra hours to demand he get whatever he wants.  And because it’s Christmas, his partner will acquiesce, because she wants to make it special for the kids; because where would she go on Christmas Day when he’s kicked the Christmas tree over?  On Christmas Eve he pushes her to do sexual stuff she doesn’t like, but he promises her that if she does what he wants, he’ll make Christmas nice.  So she does what he wants.  Then on Christmas Day she asks him to help with the dinner and he kicks off and blames her for ruining Christmas.  And she just wishes that she’d not asked for help, he was tired after all.

 

You may be wondering why I’m writing about Christmas when we’re dealing with a global pandemic…  It’s because this crisis, and the self-isolation and physical distancing caused by it, creates the similar context as living with an abuser at Christmas, but about a million times worse.

 

He’s now at home 24/7, not just for three days.  He uses his need to work from home to demand that everyone in the home stays silent all day.  If his partner can’t keep their three-year-old silent; he screams, punches walls or makes threats that she’s knows he’ll carry out later.  He’s always hated her speaking on the phone with her friends or family and normally she waits until he’s out of the house to call them, because he’ll tut or huff and puff throughout the phone call.  Now she can’t speak to her anyone.  And then he says he’s started with a temperature and they all need to stay in for fourteen days.  She hasn’t seen any evidence he’s got a temperature, but she daren’t question him as she knows he’ll hurt her, or worse, take out his outrage at her insolence on the kids.

 

And she can’t leave now.  He’s there all the time.  She’d thought about it before, was just waiting for the right time.  But now the kids are off school and don’t have any stability and so she can’t move into a refuge.  And anyway, she’ll be exposing her asthmatic seven-year-old to the virus.  She keeps trying to make everything nice for them all, exhausting herself to make things nice.  He always leads her to believe that she can “make” him nice, if she only plays by his rules.  But then he changes them, or the kids needs something that means she has to break them.  Her job say she can’t have time off as she’s a carer.  But she knows he won’t look after them properly.  He’ll undermine her and play fight with them until they cry and then when she gets home, he’ll keep her up until 4am in the morning interrogating her about which male co-workers she interacted with, accusing her of having an affair.  She says she can’t go into work and her line manager is horrified at her lack of commitment in this crisis and fires her right there and then.  She daren’t cry, because he’ll mock and deride her for it.  She dreads Sunday, when he’ll demand that she and the children participate in the online streamed church service that he’s been planning, the one that was so important all of them had to be silent for three days straight.  Afterwards, he whispers to her that he’s never punched her in the face because people might see it, but now things are different.  She’s his and he’ll do what he wants to her.

 

Specialist domestic abuse services are working around the clock to make their provision effective for women during this epidemic, but due to ideologically driven cuts, they’ve already been stripped back, defunded and de-specialised.  For each of us, there’s not a lot we can do to make a difference while also social distancing and self-isolating.  Abusers are making choices to isolate, control, abuse and harm their partners and children, and the only people who can stop abuse are those who choose to be abusive.  But it’s important that we understand what abuse is, what the dynamics are, and how this virus is going to hugely increase women’s vulnerability.  It’s crucial that we don’t perpetuate myths about abuse; it’s not the stress or financial difficulties caused by the virus that is increasing perpetration, it’s about increased opportunity.  Women who don’t leave abusers are not stupid or wrong; they are doing everything they can to keep themselves and their children safe.  Abusers deliberately act in ways that prevent their partner making sense of what is going on or being able to articulate it as abuse; so doing announcements about “if you’re being abused we can help you” is not really going to reach that many of the people who need support.

 

What can we do as we continue into this unknown place?

 

  1. Contact your local domestic abuse and ask them how you can help; do they need financial support, donations, volunteers to drive/move/clean?
  2. Educate yourself about domestic abuse (my book can help with that).
  3. Be aware that if someone is being abused, their online interactions may be tracked.
  4. Notice who isn’t able to engage with your community; who isn’t on Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp, and see if there’s a way to check in with them some other way.
  5. Facebook is particularly risky for those who have left an ex-partner, because it is very easy for him to find her. Ensure you have an additional option other than Facebook for engaging with those in your community.
  6. If you hear violence or noise from a neighbour’s home, call the police (use 999 if you are concerned it is an emergency).
  7. Be vigilant. Are there people in your family or friendship group, amongst your colleagues, church community or neighbourhood who are acting differently, whose communications have gone down dramatically or who seem withdrawn or different.  Try to make regular contact with them.
  8. Be aware. When you do your shopping, are there women and children who seem overly subdued, or is there a man behaving in domineering ways (abusive men will be emboldened in a context where they have so much uninterrupted space to abuse, and this may be visible in the brief encounters we have with people).
  9. Trust women. If someone tells you something that sounds abusive, if they talk about feeling suffocated by their partner, if they say they feel scared or need help to leave, believe them straight away.  Whatever they tell you will be the tip of a very horrific iceberg.

 

If you identify with the abusive behaviour detailed in this post, it may have shocked you to become aware that what is being done to you (or what you are doing to someone else) is abusive.

If you are recognising that what is being done to you is wrong and if it is safe to do so, here are some places that can help:

 

If you are concerned about your behaviour towards a partner, you can contact the Respect perpetrator helpline: https://respectphoneline.org.uk (0808 802 4040).

Trauma and the Virus

The world has gone mad and for a little while so did I.

 

Before the virus hit the UK we were in the process of relocating from Essex to the North East.  We were excited that our offer had been accepted on a beautiful house in Sunderland and we had buyers in place for our house.  After ten years living in Essex various factors converged to make moving north seem like a great idea. It would allow us to become mortgage free, it would move us closer to my family and we could live by the sea!

 

It’s less than two years since we lost Smallest GLW.  After a complicated process of my great nephew becoming one of our children for three years, we had been seeking a Special Guardianship Order for him when it was ruled he must be returned to his mum and live four hours away from us.  We’d believed God wanted us to welcome him as one of our own children, and then he was taken away.  It really shook my understanding of who God was.

 

Not long after him leaving us, our family history was brought to the fore.  For those unfamiliar with my story, at 17 I entered a relationship with an abuser.  By 21-years-old, I was living in a hospital after my then husband had assaulted me, causing my son to be born 3 months premature. My toddler daughter and I lived with him in hospital for five months.  It was in this place, when I had lost everything, that I discovered the God who is everything.  I gave my whole life to the God who never promised that things would be easy, but promised to always be with me.

 

My children are now 16 and 14.  It’s complicated when our children become teenagers, because their challenges are still our challenges, but they need us to keep their confidences.  Suffice to say, the last eighteen months has regularly sunk me back into a traumatised place as the reverberations of my ex-husband’s abuse continue to shatter parts of mine and my children’s lives over and again.  Even though he’s had no contact with any of us for over 13 years.

 

Over eleven years ago, God called me to work nationally to address male violence towards women.  At first, I refused.  But God said to me, “If I call you, I’ll resource you.”  And so I embarked on what has become over a decade of challenges, frustrations and a deep, abiding joy as I have developed many and varied projects (you can have a read about some of them at the bottom of this blog).  God has resourced us throughout it all.  There has been the constant challenge of trying to work out what we need to do and what we should leave up to God, and there have been many incredibly generous people who have felt called to support us on our way.

 

As the virus threatens impending doom on civilisation, all I could think about was that it was going to stop us moving house.  I became fixated on needing to get moved.  It took up all my headspace, all my emotional energy.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything except moving house.  And it made me hate myself.  The whole world is falling apart, people are going to die, everything is going to change.  And all I could think about was Needing To Move House.  I prayed for perspective.  I used the Ignatian Examen to try changing my perspective.  I blasted worship music out while driving, trying to force myself out of the selfishness.  I journaled, went running and cuddled Preston Wooflepuff (click here if you would like to be dazzled by her beautifulness), but nothing changed.  I wanted to be thinking of others and how to be one of the helpers, but instead I was driven mad with the need to move house.  And I hated myself for it.

 

Then, all of a sudden, I realised I was experiencing a traumatic response.  This wasn’t really about the house move.  I hadn’t become obsessively self-involved.  Instead, my body had patterned matched to previous threats.  When I was with my ex-husband I was powerless.  He almost destroyed me and I lived under a constant fear of what he would do, or make me do, next.  And so my body and brain had strategies to keep me feeling safe. These included:

  1. Focussing on the minor issues, make them HUGE, because then I didn’t have to deal with the Actual Issue.
  2. Being on high alert all the time, repeating the problem over and over and over in my head, but never finding a solution.
  3. Denying my powerless while at the same time shutting down any resources to overcome the powerlessness (like creativity, potential solutions, connection to others and God).

 

Realising I had entered a traumatic space changed everything.  I stopped beating myself up and identified my body and brain’s rationale for behaving in the ways it needed to.  Instead of continuing to be alienated from my body’s resources, I began to appreciate my body and brain for providing an (albeit highly problematic) coping strategy.

 

Last year, I finished a theology MA.  In my dissertation I argued that we should view trauma responses as grace-empowered superpowers, rather than problematising them.  That we operate in a world which is “safenormative”.  A world which “others” traumatised people and holds us to the standards of those who have never been subjected to brutality.  That by honouring (without romanticising or glamorising) trauma responses, we enable traumatised people to love the whole of themselves.

 

I began to feel less wrong as I made space for the purpose behind my fixation on moving house; to make a global pandemic feel manageable, to maintain high alert so that I could be kept safe, to deny the powerlessness.  My responses were understandable, they made sense and they were my body trying to keep me safe and alive.

 

I’ve come out of the other side now.  I don’t know whether our house move will go through, but I’m able to accept whatever the outcome is.  I’m facing the reality that our finances were already highly precarious before the virus hit, and now we have no clue what we will live on for the foreseeable future.  We’re on lockdown after Smaller GLW (he’s 14) developed a temperature yesterday and everything feels hugely uncertain.

 

And yet, that God who met me living in a hospital with a premature baby and a traumatised toddler, is with us today.  That God who has always resourced us remains faithful in the midst of all that we face.  And so, having recognised my trauma responses for what they are, I begin the process of working out how God will help us make it through.  And as I do, I’m reminding of Andy Flannagan’s song, “We Are Blessed”. This is not just about God enabling us to make it through, but finding ways to be God’s hands and feet, wherever we find ourselves in this messy and mad world.

 

 

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These are some of the projects I’ve developed:

 

 

I am self-employed and the main earner in our family (Mr GLW has worked unpaid supporting my work for most of the last decade).  If you feel able to support us at this time, there’s a few ways you can do that:

 

  1. We have a Stewardship Individual Christian Worker account, which means you can give a one-off amount or sign up to give regularly here (and we get Giftaid on it!): https://www.give.net/20220001.
  2. Mr GLW (his real name is Andrew), has begun working as a virtual assistant. He will be charging £20 per hour and has experience in most administrative tasks (book keeping, using Mailchimp, uploading blogs, email management, research, diary management, answering phone calls, data entry, preparing spreadsheets etc).  If you (or anyone you know) could use his skills, please email him andrew@nataliecollins.info.
  3. Buy and read my book (and encourage others to): Out Of Control; Couples, conflict and the capacity for change. If you email me on natalie@nataliecollins.info, I can send you a Paypal link to buy it and then we get a greater amount of the sales.
  4. Pray for us. I know there are so many people and circumstances to pray for at the moment, but if you feel convicted to commit to pray for us, you can sign up for our semi-regular prayer email HERE.

Pray For Helen

Many of you will know my dear friend Helen Austin.  She is amazing!  She’s a specialist in sexual violence, a brilliant activist (she runs the At Your Cervix Twitter account), a wonderful friend and an all-round marvellous human being.  A while ago, I set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for her to get sessions with a specialist trauma therapist after some health problems seriously triggered historical trauma related to being raped by strangers.

 

After years of ill-health (including numerous hospitalisations, wrong diagnoses and death scares) Helen was only recently diagnosed with Hereditary Alpha Tryptasemia Syndrome(which is massively rare).  Helen is the kindest, loveliest woman, and has been on an amazing journey of faith.  Throughout everything that has been done to her and happened to her, she seeks to love God and make a difference in the world.  And I LOVE her.

 

This week, the health problems that triggered Helen’s trauma have been diagnosed as Endometrial Cancer (stage 1).  This is super rare in women of Helen’s age (she’s 35).  She has only just got used to having a serious rare disease and now she’s found out that she has cancer.  It is utterly devastating.  Next Thursday she goes into hospital for a hysterectomy, which is super risky because of her other health problems.  Then, depending on tests, she may also need radiotherapy.

 

There are lots of different kinds of Christians, and some of them (like me) believe that there are spiritual battles to fight.  And with everything that is constantly thrown at Helen, I feel it would be good to dedicate some intentional prayer to battle the ongoing attacks on Helen’s life and wellbeing.  As John 10:10 says, the enemy “comes to steal, kill and destroy”, but Jesus comes that we “may life, and may have it abundantly.”  I know that for non-Christians and other sorts of Christians the idea of fighting a spiritual battle may not be your thing, but for those of you who feel convicted that there may be an ongoing spiritual battle over Helen’s life, I invite you to join me in a day of prayer and fasting for her.

 

Why prayer and fasting?  In Matthew 17:21, Jesus explains that the reason the disciples’ prayers haven’t been effective is because some spiritual battles can only be fought by prayer and fasting.  I’m sure people with much more theological knowledge than me have various explanations for what Jesus meant here, but I’m taking it at face value, and saying that those of us who believe we are called to fight a spiritual battle and are convicted to pray for Helen can join together, wherever we are in the country (or the world) and dedicate a day to fight against all these dreadful things that keep coming against her.  The plan is:

 

DATE: Wednesday 29th January

TIME: When you wake up until 6pm

 

Fast from all food (or if this is dangerous or impossible for you, fast from using your phone or some other important life thing), and take time throughout the day to pray in Jesus’ name against whatever is seeking to harm Helen, asking God to breakthrough, to protect and heal her (including through the medical care she needs).  This can be done around other work/home commitments.

 

Things to pray for…

  • The operation to be successful.
  • Helen’s high risk-ness not to cause problems.
  • All the medical staff involved.
  • Helen’s physical and mental health, and that she will have all the resources she needs (emotional, financial, spiritual, physical).
  • That there will be no need for radiotherapy.
  • That no evil will prosper in Helen’s life and that she will be released in to health, wellness and recovery from physical and mental health stuff.
  • Protection for Helen and all those who are supporting her.
  • Breakthrough, transformation and release.
  • Anything else that occurs to you to pray for.

 

For those who are not into praying in this way, please pray in whatever way works for you.  And if you are not the praying sort, and would like to send Helen a card/gift or other thing, do email me (befreeuk@gmail.com) and I can organise getting it to her.

 

Helen is going to need ongoing trauma therapy, particularly as cancer has somewhat derailed the plan of processing her historical trauma, and if you’d like to financially support the GoFundMe for her therapy sessions, you can do so HERE.

 

THANK YOU!!!

 

 

No Stand. Just My Story.

Last week Alabama became the seventh US state to enact a ban on most or all abortion.  There are only four women in the 35-seat senate, with 25 white, male senators voting for the law, which will be the strictest in the US. It will outlaw abortion in all circumstances, except “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly” (this makes it slightly less strict than the Northern Irish law, which does not allow abortion due to foetal abnormality).  A motion to ensure that exceptions be made for rape or incest failed on a vote of 11 – 21. Under this new law, any doctor who performs an abortion will face a prison sentence of up to 99 years. During the debate about passing this law, Democrat Bobby Singleton pointed out that this would mean a doctor performing an abortion on a woman impregnated by a rapist would face a longer prison sentence than the rapist.  The law has not yet come into effect, but the fact it has passed at all reflects a huge shift in how abortion is treated in the US.

 

White evangelical Christians have been at the heart of the pro-life movement.  Donald Trump capitalised on this in his election campaign, and it worked!  Eighty percent of white, self-identified evangelicals voted for him.  Within the UK, evangelical views on abortion are less clear; the Evangelical Alliance’s 21stCentury Evangelicalsreport found that while 49% of evangelicals believed (a lot or a little) that abortion can never be justified; 18% were unsure and 33% believed that there were situations in which abortion could be justified.  Outside of evangelicalism, Christian views on abortion vary widely; with some Christians actively involved in pro-choice activism.

 

As a Christian feminist, and as someone who currently still identifies as an evangelical; I have avoided speaking publicly or writing about abortion. There will be secular feminists and evangelical Christians who would be disappointed about this.  Both would say that my making a stand on my views about abortion are an imperative of both my feminism and my faith.  I remain reluctant to make that stand, mainly because my views are nuanced and conflicted.  Not something that works well within our highly polarised society on an issue where pro-choice and pro-life are such clearly delineated camps. But here I am, not so much making a stand, but rather reluctantly telling my story.

 

Growing up, we had a jar of dead babies in a kitchen cupboard.

 

Yes, you read that right.  Let me explain…

 

After becoming Christians, my parents discovered pro-life activism. They had leaflets filled with photographs of aborted foetuses.  They were instrumental in the opening of a pregnancy crisis centre in our local town; offering pregnancy tests, counselling, baby equipment and more.  Growing up, abortion was a familiar word, though I didn’t know what it meant.  When I was about six, I was playing with a friend (whose mum was also involved in the pro-life movement).  I remember cradling a plastic doll and declaring that “I’m going to have an abortion of this baby.”  My seven-year-old friend look horrified, “You can’t!” she exclaimed.  “That’s putting a baby in a plastic bag and throwing it on a fire.”

 

One time, my parents attended a rally to mourn the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.  As part of the rally, a paper canon shot out thousands and thousands of small paper circles (like floaty paper communion wafers).  My parents collected a load of them in a jam-jar.  On returning from the rally, they placed the jar in a kitchen cupboard, explaining to us that each paper circle represented a dead baby. And for years, every time we reached into the cupboard to get a tin of beans or tinned tomatoes; there would be the jar of dead babies.  Sitting there.  Getting dusty.

 

Fast forward to my teenage years, where evangelical sex education taught me “don’t do sex until you get married to an opposite sex Christian”.  I loved Jesus and understood that as a teenage girl in the late nineties and early noughties, no naughtiness should ensue. My virginity was proof that I was countercultural.  I would evangelise the nation, or at least my fellow students at my college, with my intact hymen.  Which was all going really well, until I met a dashing young man.  I told him I didn’t believe in sex before marriage, he said that was fine and then proceeded to coerce and manipulate me into sex.  Christian sex education hadn’t prepared me for this; it’s only really in recent years and since the advent of the #metoo movement that evangelical Christian culture has begun to have conversations about consent.  A catholic education devoid of lessons on contraception, a mother who believed what the Daily Mailsaid about the contraceptive pill causing cancer, and an abusive boyfriend who told me that “sex isn’t real unless there’s a risk of pregnancy” led to me becoming pregnant at 17.

 

Reproductive coercion is not a term many people are familiar with, however recent research has found that 1 in 7 UK womenhave been forced into pregnancy or abortion by a man.  The methods of forcing someone into pregnancy range from subtle to brutal; pricking holes in condoms, lying about having had a vasectomy or a low sperm count, interfering with contraception, surreptitiously removing the condom before ejaculating in a woman (some men see this as a challenge and call it “stealthing”), rape (including sex with someone while they are intoxicated or asleep). There’s been this long-term myth that women and girls “get themselves pregnant” to trap a man.  Do you know who is trapped by pregnancy?  The pregnant girl or woman.  That’s who.

 

In 2018, Mormon blogger Gabrielle Blair wrotethat, “all unwanted pregnancies are caused by the irresponsible ejaculations of men. All of them.”  She went on to challenge men’s reluctance to use condoms, “Why would men want to have sex without a condom? Because, for the precious minutes when they’re penetrating their partner, not wearing a condom gives them more pleasure. So… that would mean some men are willing to risk getting a woman pregnant — which means literally risking her life, her health, her social status, her relationships, and her career — so they can experience a few minutes of slightly increased pleasure.”

 

My parents had tried to prevent me having sex, but when I told them I was pregnant they were positive, “We tried to stop it getting here, but now there’s a baby involved that’s something we should be positive about.” The irresponsible ejaculator (my abusive boyfriend) and his family tried to force me to have an abortion.  I refused.  I had my daughter in 2003, when I was eighteen.

 

In 2014, the Guardian featured Young Motherhoodby Jendella.  I was part of the project, and my photograph and some of my story was shown under the headline “We’re glad we chose to be mothers in our teens”.  I was really disturbed by the headline.  I hadn’t chosen to be a mother in my teen.  I had it inflicted on me.  I was ready to ring the Guardian and insist on them changing the headline.  Then it dawned on me.  I had chosen to be a mother in my teens because I had chosen not to have an abortion.  In that moment, something shifted in me.  I hadn’t solely been a victim of reproductive coercion. I had made a choice, I had chosen motherhood!  But I was only able to choose motherhood because I live in a place where abortion is not illegal.

 

When people talk about rape and abortion it often fills me with either rage or dis-ease.  The men who ignore the horror of rape, the trauma of reproductive coercion and the complexity of raising a child in such circumstances will never have to deal with that reality.  Yet, those who exclaim that of course a woman who has been raped should have an abortion do not know how hurtful that can be for those of us who have made different choices.  However, this has to be about choices, not forcing women to have children.  When people suggest that having a child in less-than-ideal-circumstances will destroy a woman’s life, I am proof that does not have to be the case.  Yet, when someone offers blanket statements that abortion is always wrong, I want them to be kept awake at night by the names of women who have died after desperately trying to salvage their life through an illegal abortion.

 

Abortion is a moral minefield because human beings were created interconnected.  No person is an island; a new human is created through a woman and man joining together, with the potential new human sustained in the body of the woman.  And in a sinless, perfect world; new life creation would never be tainted by violence, poverty, inequality, fathers raping their daughters, teenage girls not taught about consent, irresponsible ejaculation or other harmful and damaging realities.  But we do not live in a sinless world, and so many women and girls are scarred inside and out because of that.

 

I remain conflicted.  It is because of my ragingly pro-life parents that I was able to resist an abuser and refuse to have an abortion.  It is because I live in a country where abortion is legal that I was able to choose to be a mother, and that I can tell my children that they were wanted and chosen.  My life shows that being pregnant as a teenager after a male had sexually abused me and subjected me to reproductive coercion, in a context of poverty, did not mean that I should have had an abortion.  That after everything, life can be beautiful and I am achieving my potential.  However, other women’s lives show that having no access to abortion was a death sentence for them and a horrifying reality when they were forced to have children.  I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know that many pro-life people (particularly men) do little more than make uninformed, uncompassionate pronouncements and many pro-choice people view crisis pregnancy in ways that are both hurtful and not representative of mine and some other women’s experiences.  I don’t have any answers.  I’m not here to make a stand. I’m just here to tell my story.

Guest Blog – Dear Discomforted

Recently I connected with a Christian woman (let’s call her Jane) who recently realised her husband was abusive.  She was able to leave him and get herself and her children to safety with the support of her family.  As she has learned more about abuse, Jane began realising one of her church leaders’ behaviour towards his wife seemed to be abusive.  She wrote the following letter (that has been anonymised) to this woman.  She is not yet sure whether she is going to send it, but I suggested it would be a really helpful blogpost to help people learn about abuse and particularly how an abuser operates in Christian communities.  She was happy for it to be published on my blog.  I hope it helps you learn more…

 

Dear Discomforted,

 

I’m writing this because I care about what you’ve gone through and are going through.  It’s been hard to know how or whether to contact you. If you’re reading this it’s because I have decided that I simply can’t say or do nothing, and because you’ve recognised that something isn’t quite right, and it might not be your fault. I’m sure there’s a part of you that is confused about what I’m going to say and what this is all about.  I also think that there’s another part of you that knows exactly what this is about, exactly what I’ve seen and exactly what I’m going to say.  It is a strange truth, that you can, in the same moment, be certain of your own pain and grief, but also deny its existence and source.  That was my reality for 8 difficult years.

 

There is of course the chance that I’m wrong about what I think I’ve seen and what I think is happening. You are the only one who really knows and all I can do is share my own personal experience and pray that if anything resonates with you, that you would feel able to pursue a greater understanding for yourself, with an offer from me of support and love in any form you need.  Absolutely anything.  I have come to understand the many resources available to women and how right it is to respond with all the practical and emotional support it is humanly possible to give.  There are also a great number of agencies and professionals who understand and want to help, even ones specifically for women who are married to church leaders and pastors.

 

In my marriage I prayed for, supported, loved and cherished my husband.  I adored him and genuinely found great delight in the good times. In the beginning he was particularly attentive and loving.  Everything I did was impressive and wonderful in his eyes, it felt like I could do nothing wrong and I was completely swept off my feet by a man who I thought was amazing – a Christian, musical, talented, funny, successful, charming…

 

I have since learnt that the cycle of good times and bad times is one of the many strategies of the abuser.  It engenders a deep love and longing for your partner, a belief in their ‘good heart’ even with the sharp edges, a belief that compels you to work harder, be better, try more.  But the more you try, the less you are appreciated, respected, listened to and truly loved.  The more secure he feels in his possession and control of you, the more tactics of abuse and control he uses to keep you there, living under fear and threat.  In the last few years I lived every day not knowing what mood my husband would be in, but being certain that the next assault was never far away – and I’m not talking about physical violence.  Walking on eggshells in your own home is exhausting. It is also the strongest indicator that your partner is an abuser.

 

For some time I knew that I was unhappy in my life, I knew things weren’t great, but I didn’t fully understand that my marriage was the source of that unhappiness.  I kept up a pretence of happiness, love and unity because I wanted that to be my truth.  It was also a way of managing the stress of not being able to talk to anyone about anything I was feeling.  He had convinced me that any outside involvement in our personal stresses and strains was disloyal and showed a lack of integrity and commitment to each other. I could not see the truth that such secrecy and isolation is in fact damaging and not God’s design for human relationship.  It is merely another tool for the abuser to control and manipulate, but my mind, my emotions, my deepest self was so afflicted by the psychological and emotional abuse that I didn’t know what was real or true anymore.

 

He made me believe that my own mental issues were to blame for any dissatisfaction I experienced. My unhappiness was my fault.  Our arguments were due to my inability to communicate well.  Any tears I cried were a demonstration of how manipulative and controlling I was.  My attempts to discipline our children were my anger issues making them cry.  He minimised and deflected any suggestion that there might be something wrong with him or with our marriage.  There were times that I thought I was going mad, such was the heartfelt denial and convincing rhetoric from him over things that I just felt weren’t right.  Somehow I always ended up apologising for hurting him, for not listening to him or not trusting him and never the other way round.

 

Ironically, admitting to my ‘anger issues’ (genuinely believing this was a problem for me) gave me a reason to pursue counselling.  He reluctantly let me attend these sessions, but I was compelled to share everything I had discussed in them, which he often criticised and belittled.  However, my counsellor saw more than I could see and our conversations explored the deeper truths of the anger I was experiencing.  I started to regain clarity in a mind that had long since lost the ability to find it.  Even now I know I am only beginning the journey of healing in terms of the damage to my mind, but these counselling sessions were a vital start.  I honestly don’t know how long I would have been imprisoned and trapped otherwise.

 

When I got married I made my vows for life; I knew how much God hated divorce and how much I hated being the child of divorced parents.  Divorce was not going to be in my future, nor did I think I would even have to consider it.  I was happy and excited to embark on this new adventure with the love of my life.  I trusted him in every way.  I have since learnt that abusers target the most trusting, empathetic of people; we are the easiest to manipulate and control and to accept abuse as our fault.  I fit the bill.  I had always been very empathetic, wanting to help, support and understand the suffering of others, but I was also very naïve and trusting too.  No-one had ever taught me about healthy boundaries in relationships or warning signs of abuse.  I had no idea to even look for them or that such people in this world even existed.

 

After getting married the change in our relationship was gradual and insidious.  Over time, criticisms about my clothes, appearance, friends, family and interests prompted me to give up more and more of the things that made me me.  I became the wife that he wanted me to be because if I tried to exert my independence then I was attacked for being disloyal, for not understanding his needs, for disrespecting him.  I desperately wanted to be a good wife, to make my husband happy and to love him as a good Christian woman should, so I began to bend and compromise and serve. What I didn’t realise was that he did not return that love and respect for me.  He never bent or compromised or served, unless it met his needs, his interests, his desires.  Still somehow I was the one who ended up feeling bad when I challenged him on this.

 

His treatment of me became more obviously abusive as the years went by, but you don’t see it that way when you’re in it.  He convinced me every time that it was just more evidence of how much I antagonised him and didn’t understand him, of how I needed to change, be different, be better, try harder.  When I was pregnant with our first child, we had an argument about going to the cinema; he threw a vase, smashing it on the floor.  He had chased me into the corner of our spare bedroom and I raised my arms in fear of where he was going to throw this vase, but I was the one who ended up apologising for being selfish and causing him to get so angry.  I became accustomed to his anger.  I remember watching how he talked to the girls so nicely sometimes, wishing he would be that nice to me, then I’d tell myself I was being stupid and dismiss the familiar feeling that something wasn’t right.  It was somehow easier to accept his assertions that I was to blame for him being late for work, for the children not liking their dinner, for buying the ‘wrong’ toothpaste or toilet roll.  He never took responsibility for anything himself, which is another sure sign of abuse.

 

In the back of my mind I excused it all because he seemed such a great Daddy and I couldn’t deny his relationship with his children.  However, having some distance and professional support, I’ve been able to see the abuse they suffered too, not least in witnessing the abuse I was subjected to, where my oldest would often try to defend me.  My youngest once commented “Daddy doesn’t like Mummy very much.” A mother is not protecting her children by accepting abusive behaviour from their father.  In many ways the opposite is true.

 

If any of this feels familiar, then another aspect for you would be the ministry of your husband. How can you be responsible for the demise of his ministry, where he is doing so much good for so many people? Such responsibility is not in fact yours, it’s his, but this must be so hard for pastors’ wives who go through this. I have read the testimonies of a few and it seems that this is the very argument their husbands use in order to heap guilt on them for even contemplating that there’s something wrong in their marriage.  However, the thing these women seem to say is that they knew deep down that their husband’s ministry was not the fruitful, Godly ministry that many professed it to be. In fact, these wives had repeatedly seen hurt and discord as a result of their husband’s behaviour.

 

I’m sorry to say that your husband has been directly responsible for a great deal of my own personal hurt – suggesting I might be pursuing a new relationship in the immediate aftermath of my decision to divorce, and that I would lie to the girls about their father and countless other insensitive and inappropriate comments and actions.  I felt like I was being treated with suspicion, not love, judgement, not grace. My last communication was an email I wrote to your husband, my pastor, that was challenging, but respectful and honest.  I wrote it with great care, out of a desperate concern for three things – 1) my own healing; 2) providing every opportunity for my husband to come to true repentance and change and 3) ensuring that the church I loved was a safe place for abused women to come forward.  To date I have had no reply from a man who was employed to be my pastor. I am living outside of any church fellowship at the moment because I don’t know who to trust and what to tell people.  This is surely the time I needed the pastoral support and resources of the church I’ve called home all these years. Instead I feel abandoned by the church at large and supported only by a handful of friends from my fellowship who have chosen to remain in touch.

 

You are very dear to me, and I can only imagine how hard it may be to read this and how difficult it may be to process even a fraction of what I’ve said.  I suppose I decided that this was still the right course of action because I wish that someone had done this for me.  I wish that someone had said “Hey, I’ve seen how your husband treats you and it’s wrong.  You don’t have to put up with it.  He has broken your wedding vows by choosing to abuse you instead of loving, cherishing and respecting you.  That is not your fault.  God doesn’t like divorce, but he hates abuse even more.”

 

You are beautiful, loved and cherished, made by God to fulfil His purposes for your life, not the purposes of your husband.  I have not liked how I’ve seen him treat you, I recognised so much of the subtle behaviours and dynamics that were true in my marriage.  I saw him ignore and belittle your health concerns over drinking wine that night, I saw him disrespect you by giving you barely any acknowledgement or attention when you explained how he likes to be on time for things, with no mention at all of your preferences and needs; I saw a complete lack of interest in praising and acknowledging you when you heaped praise on him.  You do not deserve to be treated like that.  If you are being abused, you have a right to divorce and a right to know true freedom.

 

I am currently reading scriptures that explore our identity in Christ.  It is so affirming and life-changing after allowing even my relationship with God to be weakened and diminished by my marriage.  There is so much more I could say and so much more I am happy to tell you if you want to speak, but in the meantime, seek after God and His truth, trust Him, follow Him.  He is our only constant, a bright light in the darkness.  If you want an informal, anonymous chat with people who know what abuse is and how to recognise the red flags, then there is also the national domestic abuse helpline – 0808 2000 247

 

I will continue to pray. Get in touch any time, when you feel it is safe to do so.  I am very familiar with the fear instilled by an abusive partner.  I know how they promote that fear in you so that you offer complete submission to them, always telling them everything to show that you’re loyal and supportive, constantly reiterating your love for and commitment to them, as I saw you do that time when you patted his leg and praised what a great husband you had. He was so tellingly cold and unresponsive to this, I couldn’t help but feel desperately sad. I know that if I had received a letter like this during my marriage I would have felt both relief and intense fear.  Relief that my experience finally had a name – abuse – and that it was not my fault, but fear over what would happen next if I began to try and regain the control and independence that was rightfully mine.

 

I would not advise that you speak to your husband about this, unless you are absolutely certain that this is not at all your experience.  I do not care about my reputation here.  If I’m wrong, that’s wonderful!  However, if there is any part of you that has read this and is feeling even a little disturbed or disrupted then get help and advice.  You are not alone and you are worth fighting for. Living under someone else’s control is not living – it’s imprisonment and you need to get out, but it is your decision and such a choice is risky, scary and dangerous without the right support and help.

 

Of course, if I have misread things please forgive me and know that you always have my utmost respect. Either way, feel free to get in touch any time.

 

Yours,

A loving friend who has been there

 

If any of this seems relevant to your life or the life of someone you care about, you can find your local domestic abuse service here: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-abuse-directory/.

Guest Blog – When the Youth Bible Hurts

I’ve got a guest post today from Judi Gardener who is a Christian feminist and also a survivor of multiple abuse including spiritual abuse that contributed to staying far too long with the perpetrator. She eventually ended up with PTSD and as a result lost her children through the family court. She is passionate about outreach to the unchurched, support around domestic violence and understanding of mental health issues. Somehow she ended up in an Anglo-Catholic (ish) Church and now has a Morning Prayer habit. She sometimes wishes God had not given her such broad shoulders.

 

It’s unacceptable. Whatever way I looked it was still unacceptable. I had opened a Youth Bible at random, it was a New Century Version but what I was reading actually seemed more fitting for the 19th century. It was not the Bible verse itself (Psalm 51), but the devotion that accompanied the text which got me so steamed up. The back cover informs me that the devotions are real life stories.  For the sake of the young woman who was the main character in this story, I sincerely hope there was more to it. If not, yet another young woman has been drastically failed by the ignorance of church leaders and will, years later, likely still be struggling through life.

 

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The box was headed “sexuality”, with a subheading of “whiter than snow”. It contained a not unfamiliar story of a young girl called Barbara who at nine-years-old was physically and sexually abused by her uncle. Apparently by thirteen she was sexually active with numerous guys and often dated guys four or five years older than herself.

What the devotion then focuses on is not that Barbara had obviously been abused by a number of men, but that Barbara was a sinner. In other words, the Youth Bible victim blames Barbara, in a rather big plot twist.  At no point in the text are the sins of the men who had sex with an underaged vulnerable girl mentioned. Apparently, Barbara needed to turn to God and have her sexual sin forgiven.  Excuse me.  Barbara, whilst no doubt a sinner just like all of us, had been more sinned against than she had been a sinner in her short life.

One of my go to Bible stories is that of the Samaritan Woman.  Jesus did not condemn her, but instead stayed in her company despite the cultural taboos.  He would have known why she had multiple husbands and was now living with another man outside of marriage. Had she been sexually abused?  We cannot know.

God certainly does not condemn all promiscuous women, Rahab the harlot is also described as a woman of faith. In John 8 1-11 Jesus deals with the adulterous woman, a familiar but for some quarters of the church a difficult story to stomach.

The truth is, a child who has been sexually abused such as Barbara, will feel filthy. The Youth Bible reflection explains, ‘“I came to church feeling like a tramp” she told Jan after they prayed. “But now I feel God has made me clean again.”’

This was supposedly after Barbara had asked to receive forgiveness for her sins. Now I am not doubting her experience and the peace that comes on giving your life to Christ, but for me, as an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, that dirty feeling did not instantly disappear. I was raped, for the first time at no older than seven and in hindsight I am grateful that I was not aware of what was happening to me. The experience left deep scars that lasted well into my adult life, way beyond my conversion.  It was being led into inner child healing and meeting up with my abuser years later that finally freed me. The former because it gave me some control over what I had suffered and the latter because I managed to see what a wounded man he had become and forgave him. The rape, like Barbara’s, was incestuous and was completely mishandled by my family when I choose to reveal it out of fear for another relative. I know now why.  Put simply, it was about shame. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in our family. It is the same in church. I think we can all recall situations where the reputation of the church was more highly valued than the welfare of the victim.

You may say this is an old version of the Bible and today’s teenagers get a different message, yet many of today’s church leaders would have been brought up on such Youth Bibles at the turn of the century and just as your music taste reflects your youth so do your values. It’s scary, and no wonder misogyny still rears its ugly head in our churches.

It needs to stop. Churches (if they have not already done so) need understandable child protection policies which include being able to deal with spiritual abuse and sexual abuse. Victim blaming is spiritually abusive and psychologically damaging. Victims need high quality pastoral care alongside support for reporting crimes. No further Barbaras, please, in Jesus name.

When It’s Not A Happy Ending

Many of you will know that Smallest GLW came to live with us almost three years ago when he was three. He and his mum moved in with our family after she wasn’t coping.  It was a tough time.  Smaller GLW who has some behavioural challenges had to share a room with Smallest GLW and we split our living room in two with a false wall to make a bedroom for his mum.

 

(This got me thinking about how the erecting of walls has become attached to Donald Trump’s racist agenda.  Yet for us, that wall in our living room represented a way of loving and making space for people.  Not all walls are bad, it seems.)

 

Six months into Smallest GLW being with us his mum felt ready to move on.  She got a job and moved out and asked us to adopt him. After much reflection and prayer, we said yes.

 

Every month I have a day with God.  I go to our local seaside town and walk along the shore, reviewing the past month, praying for those God brings to mind and seeking God’s will for my family and me. Soon after we had agreed to adopt Smallest GLW, I was on a God Day.  I realised that I wasn’t truly choosing to take Smallest GLW on as my own.  And when I tried to work out why, at the root of it I realised that it gave his mum a lot of power in my life.  What if she wanted him back?  How could I risk loving a child and taking him on as my own, knowing there was a risk I would lose him? I told God I couldn’t, that it was too hard.  And God told me that I must.  So I did. I trusted that God had told me this because He knew that Smallest GLW would be ours and that we could have faith that it would all be okay.

 

And so, our family embarked on being five and not four.  It was difficult.  Smallest GLW came with a whole load of baggage; it turns out there’s a lot of hurt that can be fitted into the short life of a three-year-old.  We loved him as hard as we could, and we put everything we could in place to help him flourish.  Strong boundaries and clear consequences, constantly telling him we loved him and how precious he was to us.  In response to questions about how many children we had, Mr GLW and I got used to saying we had three, with no qualifiers or differentials.  They were all our babies.  We went from having two older children (nine and twelve), to having a three-year-old and adapting to the limitations and joys of having a small, adorable, hurt little person.

 

Smallest GLW did flourish! In the past three years he caught up from six months social and emotional delay, his health stabilised, he is top of his class in every subject.  His teacher told us recently that out of all the children in her class, he is the one child you would never guess had experienced a difficult start in life. He is kind, caring and wonderful. The moments of helping him hold his hurt gradually diminish.  We all adjusted, and despite the difficult days, it was lovely.

 

But things changed. Smallest GLW’s mum moved over 200 miles away, had another baby, and wanted him returned to her.  We held onto the word from God telling us that Smallest GLW had become ours and we fought to keep him.  As much as we would have loved to help him be returned, the circumstances left us convinced this would not be good for anyone.  The family court system remains highly confidential and so I can’t go into the details, but a year on from his mum seeking for him to be returned and much to our shock (and the shock of everyone else we know), Smallest GLW is going to be leaving us and moving over 200 miles away, returning permanently to his mum.

 

Whilst everyone else was getting super excited about Michael Curry’s wedding sermon, I wept hysterically as I listened to him.  He said,

 

“That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world…Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.”

 

And Christian Twitter LOVED it (well mostly).  It’s inspiring to hear about sacrificial love, but it’s brutal to live it.  All these people cheering on sacrificial love, and I was losing a baby in a system that is messed up; when God had specifically told me to take that baby as my own.  How could God do that to me?  How could anyone preach that this was a good idea?  Why were people not struck with fear by the absolute horror of sacrificial love?  Of what it can do to us?  Of how it can break us?

 

It’s been an unbearable few months as we’ve gone through a system where legal aid is non-existent.  Today I sat in a court waiting room and a volunteer brought around a therapy dog.  She was lovely and sat with people whilst they stroked her (the dog, not the volunteer).  Weeks earlier, sat in the same waiting room I had seen a woman broken by an abusive ex-partner dragging her through the court.  She was representing herself.  She was all alone.  Every day women are being dragged through the family court by abusive men and they are alone.  For a moment I stroked the lovely dog and felt relieved that some women would have a dog to stroke while they waited to be re-broken by the man who had destroyed their life, in a system that colludes with him.  I shared my relief with the volunteer that women would have this dog to comfort them.  And she nodded and told me there have been many women who have sat on the floor with her dog and wept as they told the dog the ways they have been wrecked, by men and by the system.

 

Then I became slightly hysterical.  What on earth was I thinking?  Why am I pleased that women have a dog to comfort them in the family court, when what they need is a functioning justice system that gives them a fair hearing and does not collude with abusive men?  WHAT THEY NEED IS A FRICKING LAWYER, NOT A DOG TO WEEP ON.  The state of our society is captured right there, in that court waiting room.  A woman weeping on the floor comforted by a dog whilst the system completely fails her.

 

When things began to get fraught for us, before we knew what the terrible outcome would be, inspired by the Eat Pray Love mantra, I took on my own mantra of Run Pray Sleep.  I found that as long as each day included a run, a dedicated prayer time, and at least eight hours sleep, I would be okay.  But then that fell apart.  The stress resulted in me getting severe tonsillitis, then I twisted my ankle.  I couldn’t run.  Nightmares, constantly going over statements and strategies in my head and the clocks changing meant my sleep was terrible.  And I stopped being able to pray, there was nothing to say.  I couldn’t face the possibility of losing Smallest GLW, but neither could I rest in the confidence he was staying, because then if he did leave it would be all the more devastating.

 

The debilitating effect of this situation confounded me partly because I have been through worse (and I don’t say that lightly).  At 21, I divorced my abusive ex-husband, while living in a hospital with a premature baby and a traumatised toddler and was a witness against my ex-husband for raping me and causing the three-month premature birth of my baby.

 

Yet this situation hurt in a different way.  With my sick baby, there was little I could do fight.  I was totally out of control.  Whereas in this situation we had to choose to keep fighting, to believe that we could “win”.  The energy required to fight a broken system was different.  And I was different.  I wasn’t a young parent with no confidence who had been decimated by an abusive man. I had been a competent professional for a decade, I had become a warrior fighting for women and speaking truth. And yet, this whole situation drained me of strength, disempowered me, left me broken.

 

A couple of realisations helped:

 

  1. Every year in June or July I have a God Weekend (me and God for two nights, usually in a cheap hotel in Folkestone, waiting on God, reflecting on the year, working out what’s next), and there’s usually some words that become clear about the year ahead. Last June, two of the words God gave me were Fortitude and Presence.  (I didn’t know what Fortitude even meant, but on discovering that it meant “courage in pain or adversity” I panicked.  Courage isn’t too bad, but a word that promised pain and adversity suggested the year was going to be awful, and in a lot of ways it has been.)  Over the year I had felt guilty about the whole Presence word.  I hadn’t sought God’s presence, particularly when things had got bad.  I hadn’t even been able to pray anymore.  Then a few weeks ago, as I wallowed in the misery of being a failed Christian and not seeking God’s presence, God pointed out to me that I was wrong.  That word “Presence” was about God always being present.  I wasn’t a failure for not being able to pray.  God was present.  I didn’t need to do anything, God was there all along.  God is always there.

 

  1. I’ve been having counselling for almost a year. On my God Weekend some stuff came up that I tried to pray about and God was all, “YOU COULD SIT HERE FOR THREE DAYS AND PRAY, BUT LET’S BE HONEST, YOU NEED TO GET YOURSELF IN THERAPY.”  So I did.  Which turns out to have been very good advice given that this year has involved being utterly wrecked.

 

In one session recently, just before a court hearing, my therapist did this visualisation exercise with me (it took months for me not to be all ARGHHHHH about such things) and she told me to imagine being a boat on a stormy sea and that I was putting down an anchor.  My imagination conjured up a wooden rowing boat and I knew that an anchor wasn’t going to help. I was going to be SMASHED TO PIECES and an urgent solution was needed.  Suddenly my rowing boat became a massive metal warship.  As I drove home I pondered this and realised that I wasn’t a rowing boat, I was a MASSIVE METAL WARSHIP and I knew that I would not be overcome.  I walked into the court room all empowered and confident that I could fight everyone.  And we lost.  We lost our baby.

 

Church has been tough, illness and circumstances meant I didn’t attend for almost two months.  Every song makes me cry.  And I am certainly not a public cryer (no judgement to those who are, I wish I could be).

 

This week when we announced to our church that Smallest GLW was leaving, people were so sad. One woman came over to tell Smallest GLW, who was snuggled up to me, that no matter what he would never be alone, and I squashed all the tears down as my insides screamed “BUT HE WILL BE ALL ALONE AND I WON’T BE THERE TO KEEP HIM SAFE AND LOVE HIM AND TELL HIM HE IS PRECIOUS AND AMAZING AND CUDDLE HIM AND MAKE SURE HE BRUSHES HIS TEETH AND EATS HIS DINNER AND IS KIND TO HIS FRIENDS”.  Someone else assured me that she thought he would be back, even though he won’t be. But this person just wants there to be a happy ending, because that’s what we all want isn’t it?  Happy endings.  And that’s what we’ve been told the Gospel is, a happy ending.  But for most people in the world, Christian or not, it’s not a happy ending.  The woman weeping into a dog on the floor of a court waiting room.  The Palestinian nurse Razan al-Najjar shot by Israeli soldiers. The American citizens fearful of being arrested and shot or hearing of their sons or daughters being shot, because they are black.  The Syrian people living in a warzone.  The increasing numbers of homeless people in our cities.  Happy ever afters are for fairy tales, not for real life and certainly not for Christians.

 

The sermon at church last week was about brokenness and how Jesus’ light shines through our brokenness.  Inside I was yelling, “BUT NOT THIS BROKEN, BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING LEFT.”  Then we sang Becky and Nick Drake’s song “City On A Hill” and there’s a line in it, “If God is for me, who can stand against me.”  And the yelling started up again inside me, “BUT CLEARLY THAT’S NOT TRUE BECAUSE WE’RE LOSING OUR BABY.”

 

I have no answers.  I don’t understand why God has put us through this.  I should have had an inkling it was going to be hard when I won a sermon competition two years ago decrying the complacency and comfortableness of Christians (you can read the sermon HERE).  So maybe, now I get to like on of those long ago prophets who lives out some sort of lesson to the people of God.  Or maybe that’s me trying to make meaning out of the unbearable.  Who knows?

 

I do know that for the last three years Smallest GLW has belonged somewhere.  He has not felt like he was a temporary family member.  He has been ours.  And if God had told us he was only ours for a little while, I’m not sure we could have given him what he needed.  To know he belonged.

 

I got thinking about the Prodigal Child (I wrote a story once reimagining this story as a mother and two daughters).  How our model for God as parent is that we mess up and walk away from God and then God waits for us to come back and welcomes us with open arms.  But what about the children who don’t walk away? What about the ones who are taken away, or who find that religious systems abuse them and for their sanity and safety they have to leave?  And I wondered if I’m getting to feel a tiny bit of what God feels when the systems take God’s children away, and how deeply God grieves for those children and how hard God fought but that didn’t change the outcome.

 

There may be people reading this who aren’t Christian (if you’ve got this far, I applaud you!), and you may be thinking that I’m a masochist.  Why continue to love a God who only causes pain?  If God asks that much of me, why do I keep going? How can I call myself a feminist and worship this patriarchal God who demands everything and leaves men to continue wrecking the world?  (I remain forever grateful to the feminists who continue to welcome me, even though they are confident I am utterly deluded about this God business).  I wish I had a snappy answer to give you, but I don’t.

 

Awhile ago, I read THIS interview with Rachael Denhollander who is an absolute Shero for all of her work seeking justice for the many victims of Larry Nassar, and in her continued work to shine a light on male violence in Christian communities.  Rachael was asked if a Bible verse has particularly helped her and she answered,

 

“One was from John 6, where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you want to leave too?” Peter says, “Where else would I go, Lord? You have the words of life.” There was a point in my faith where I had to simply cling to the fact that although I didn’t understand or have the answers, I knew that God was good and that he was love. Whatever else I didn’t understand couldn’t be a contradiction to that.”

 

In all of this I know that to be true.  It makes no sense.  But it is true.  There is nowhere else I could go to find Life like that which I have found in following Jesus.

 

Michael Curry’s sermon, whilst leaving me hysterical, is true. He is not someone speaking nice ideas. He is a 65-year-old black American man. He knows what sacrificial love costs and yet he still advocates it, and even in the midst of all this awfulness for us, I remain convinced it is the only way.

 

I don’t have any answers.  And the pain is going to get worse before it becomes bearable.  Smallest GLW leaves us on 23rd June.  As a family we have to work out a new normal and find a way through.  Both in spite of and because of all we are dealing with, I remain convinced that though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed; though we are deeply perplexed in trying to make sense of it all, we are not totally despairing or abandoned, though we have been struck down, we will not be destroyed.