Harps Upon Willows

weeping-willow-2The Old Testament is for the most part God’s interaction with his chosen family set apart to bring forth our Savior, Jesus Christ. These Scriptures describe their struggle to follow the rules God gave them as his standards are high. Around 600BC, through his many prophets, he gave the Israelites warning after warning that unless they stopped worshiping idols he was going to allow them to be taken captive. We know that did happen. King Nebuchadnezzar took them from their home to Babylon and there they lived in captivity for 70 years. Psalm 137 relates the lament of this people as they realized that they no longer lived in their beautiful city of Zion – Jerusalem. Their captors wanted them to be entertaining, to sing and be happy but their spirits and hearts were broken. They were no longer free. Nothing was the same.

          “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

                                                                                                Psalm 137:1-3KJV 

You don’t have to be captured and exiled from your home to experience the loss of freedom. Today, as I work with families who have been victimized in their own homes by people they love, I have seen this broken heart and spirit where happiness and contentment is temporary and superficial. They are literally being “wasted” by the ones who they thought loved them but who now control their every move.

Many Ozark city and county law enforcement departments report that 50% or more of their incoming calls are related to domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not just a law and order problem, it is also a community problem. Harps Upon Willows has been written to raise awareness that there is a severe cultural problem in our communities. Listed below is the profile of an abuser. Some or all of these behaviors can be present in the individual who is abusing their family. The list is a pattern of behaviors repeatedly presented in my case files of hundreds of Texas and Wright County citizens that make up in part that 50%.

Keep in mind that for the most part an abuser has a low self-image and seeks ways to control and intimidate others to compensate for it. When you have two persons together in a relationship who both have a low self-image and one of them fits the abuser profile then you can have a perfect storm.

 

 Below is a list taken from “Criminal Thinking and Behavior Patterns Often Displayed By Abusers” Source unknown.

 Excuse Making: Gives excuses instead of accepting responsibility; tries to justify the behavior with the excuse: I was never loved; My parents beat me; I had a bad day and when I walked in and saw this mess, I lost my temper.

Blaming: Shifts the responsibility for the behavior on others and justifies the anger at someone else for causing the behavior: If you would stay out of it when I’m disciplining the kids, I wouldn’t hit them. 

Redefining: Changes the definition of what is going on so that the problem becomes the focus instead of the abusive behavior: This place is always a mess. . .what do you do all day!

Lying: Helps to control the situation through confusion by controlling the information available.

Uniqueness: Believes that they are different from others and do not have to follow the same rules. They are right and everyone else is wrong: I don’t need counseling; Nobody knows as much about me as I do; I can handle my life without outside help.

Fragmenting: Feels justified and sees no inconsistencies in their behavior: Common for an abuser to attend church on Sunday and beat their partner on Monday. 

Minimizing: Refusing to take responsibility by making behavior out to be less than it is: I didn’t hit the kids that hard; I didn’t leave any marks so you can’t be battered; I could have hurt you a lot worse, but I didn’t.

Ownership: Applies equally to people and possessions and justifies their control over other’s behavior through abuse and taking what they want: If I want it, it’s mine; If it’s mine, I can do whatever I want with it. 

(Rest of the list Taken from “Criminal Thinking and Behavior Patterns Often Displayed By Abusers” Source unknown).

 Anger:  Uses their anger to control and intimidate others and situations.

Power Play: Uses these tactics to regain control when not getting their way: Walking out of a room; Refusing to listen to others; Out-shouting and ignoring others.

Playing Victim: Manipulates others into rescuing them by appearing helpless and pretending to be unable to cope: If I don’t get what I want, I am a victim.

Drama and Excitement: Substituting uproar and stimulation for close satisfying relationships because they have a problem connecting with others: Gets into fights; incites others to anger. Criticizes and belittles others to make them feel worthless.

Closed Channel: Reveals little about their real feelings and is not open to new information particularly about their behavior: Secretive, closed-minded, self-righteous, always right in all situations.

Image: Thinks of themselves as strong, superior, independent, self-sufficient and macho because of the results they get from intimidating others. Any statement which does not support the concept of their image is taken as a put-down: I’m not doing anything wrong. If I am doing something wrong, I won’t get caught. If I get caught, I can talk my way out of it. If I can’t talk my way out, the consequences will be light.*(end of quote) 

 

We may only witness a few of these behaviors in our acquaintances and family members and feel that they are harmless and even normal but the person or the family who is being victimized by this pattern of behavior can tell a different story. Abuse is criminal. A person with these behaviors will cross a line at some point pushing the control to a new level – one of violence, especially if there is any resistance.

If you know someone like this or are living in a relationship with them, please know that you cannot change the abuser’s behavior. This individual must seek professional help and want to change themselves. If you are finding yourself in an ongoing cycle which includes incidents of escalating abuse followed by the honeymoon phase and on and on, please seek help for yourself. Protect yourself and your children as it typically does not end well.   You can also lose your children to state custody and be charged with “failure to protect” or “child endangerment”. There are different levels of severity of these charges which could give you a felony record for life. This record could affect any employment or education opportunities you might seek especially in human services as they do background checks. And worst of all, eventually your children will think this lifestyle is normal and behave this way when they are adults or will enter into relationships where they are abused – continuing the cycle because that is all they have known. This is your opportunity to break the cycle and protect yourself and them. There is help available in dealing with this destructive problem.   Please call me for more information: 417-252-0829.

Harps Upon Willows is a voice for those whose every activity is monitored for signs of infidelity or betrayal; those isolated from family and friends and spending each moment bracing for the next barrage of verbal abuse that can escalate into violence.

This writing also provides a voice for the survivors who have been kicked out of trucks speeding down the highway; for those being ran over with the family car causing permanent damage and those dragged by their hair while being pulled alongside a truck on a gravel road leaving gravel embedded in their knees.   Harps. . . is especially a voice for those who were killed by their partners as they tried to leave. Statistics prove that that is when the danger is the highest.

Imagine a community where everyone is knowledgeable about abuse and will not tolerate it. A community where the children observe the adults taking action to protect them within their families, their schools, their churches and in the justice and the social services system that has been created to protect the innocent.

“The Lord will perfect me in knowledge, concerning his kingdom, I will praise thee O Lord forever, for thou art merciful, and will not forsake the works of thine own hands.” Psalm 138:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awakening

107286-555x488-YinYang6In the life that I have experienced, joy and sorrow can come at the same time just like the yin and yang of the Taijitu symbol in Chinese philosophy.

Yin and yang is used to describe how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many natural dualities (such as light and dark, high and low, hot and cold) are thought of as physical manifestations of the yin-yang concept. The concept lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary instead of opposing forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, for instance shadow cannot exist without light. (Wikipedia online)

A disciple of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul, described the same Christian principle in this way: II Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I will call her Grace. When someone is describing their life to you in tears of both joy and sorrow about not knowing real familial love and then finding it at their lowest point you listen in earnest because she has had divine intervention in her life, an awakening.   Grace’s lowest point came when everything that defined who she was had slipped away and was under the control of the ones she no longer trusted. This was her yin and yang moment – the light and shadow, fire and water, joy and sorrow, life and death moment of awareness. I was sitting across the table from someone who once was dead and now – alive – her tears, a form of baptism in entering a new life.

A few years earlier at our first meeting, she described a life without a childhood, a life of trying to parent siblings only a few years younger to keep them in school and out of trouble.   Her life started in rocky circumstances, born into the chaos of drugs and a long string of stepfathers. She talked about the adults who knew the abusive lifestyle in which the children of this family were living but who did nothing. She described social services representatives who looked the other way. She was in and out of hospital care with broken bones due to the condition she was born with caused by drug abuse. She got pregnant at 15 by the son of a family friend who lived with them. They had slept together due to cramped quarters since they were children.

She was in a leg splint recuperating from a broken leg. She was told that next time she would most likely lose her leg. She was raising her child and attending college online and trying to make her life better. I remember how impressed I was with her intelligence and will to succeed.

Today, two years later, even that was renewed and stronger than ever coupled with nosedives to the bottom describing her struggle to stay clean from drugs and the devastating fact that her children were no longer in her care. Grace talked about the journey she had had with alcohol addiction and now hardcore drugs and trying to get through life daily under her own steam toughing it out – the only way she had learned to survive each hellish day.

I have heard the stories from many young women looking for love in all the wrong places as the saying goes and getting burned again and again but this time for her it was different. Grace was in love with being loved in healthy ways. She was around people who weren’t perfect but were trying to live a clean drug-free life, and who set boundaries on her addiction management and yet loved her unconditionally. Now, for the first time, she had her village. Her partner sees her as a beautiful person. He wasn’t trying to exploit her in any way.   This was the joy that ran down her cheeks today, at last finding something that felt whole and lasting.

The dark and light in her life, were in a battle together everyday making her feel like they could tear her apart. The yin and yang symbols are held together in a circle which is an actual line not just imagined but visible as it shows up in the light side. It is this circle I believe to be God who I look to at all times to keep my light and dark together as a whole. I hope to lead others to this awareness by seeing that belief in action in my life.

Grace’s greatest challenge was now facing her in her new life. Her parental rights were in question. Her tears of joy and sadness peaked as she was dealing with the reality that she could do nothing at this point. Too much time had been lost in drugged numbness and escape to be able to catch up. Could she let her children go where they would no longer have to experience her present instability or fight for them when she had nothing to fight with at this time? Later, as we rode in the car, I told her the story of King Solomon and the two mothers who came to his court one day. She leaned forward and listened.

.           17 One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”

22 The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.

23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”

24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

26 The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. I Kings 3:16-28 NIV

This story has many of the elements that Grace was dealing with and the most important one was the ”grace of God love” that she and the mother in the story both shared. “Grace of God love” is defined as the love and mercy given to us by God, our Father because he desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.

This love tirelessly advocates in the most difficult situations. This love makes the hard choices to let go when there is no other way. I have witnessed many times in custody cases where one parent even though they have been the perpetrator of abuse is awarded physical custody because they have the financial resources. Whereas the other parent who has invested a great deal of emotional energy and time in providing loving care will have to accept this decision due to their lack of financial resources. The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence reports that half of all women and children become homeless while trying to escape abuse situations. Research shows that domestic violence is a risk factor for homelessness and this is especially true for those who are more isolated and have a harder time getting support from family and friends.1

After hearing the story of the two mothers, Grace decided she must be that woman who was the real mother and let her children go until she was able to get her life on track for their sakes.

From her journal: Struggling to Stand Again – “I turned to the people supporting my self-destruction thinking they were my only real friends. .. I asked multiple people sitting in leader seats for direction, advice, help, a chance. I have tried every way I know to show the people of the community that make the big decisions, that have jobs to give that make any difference, that I made a mistake. I own that. But once I was the employee to fight over. I want to be that again.” (End of quote)

. . .we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NIV

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14NIV

5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. John 1:5 NIV

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

“Like the rising sun that shines. . . From the darkness comes a light!

I hear Your Voice. . . This is my awakening!” Lyrics from “Awakening” by Hillsongs United

Wherever you see dysfunction in people’s lives, believe me, God is there working to bring Shalom2. If it isn’t visible it’s most likely because not enough of others are helping God to make it happen.

I have been entrusted with the stories of those whose paths have crossed mine. I have been blessed in discovering how powerful the “grace of God love” is in helping someone understand that God encircles their chaos and wants to teach them life’s lessons while under his guidance and protection to bring about their awakening.

John Newton wrote: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” 

Our neighbors in our communities have amazing stories of life and near death of the spirit and the watershed moments of enlightenment that brought them into an awareness of God. I believe that it is God’s intention that we come together to listen to and support one another and be strengthened by each other’s story of faith and struggle.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

                             John Newton 1725-1807

The true stories that are included in Sweetwater Journey are being shared with us by clients of Christos House with their permission that they be presented in a way to teach the readers that there are people who are in difficult circumstances where not having any resources or a support network can make it impossible to overcome. We are honored that they are willing to share their stories to help others with similar issues and to hopefully keep them from making the same mistakes.  

  1. MCADSV “The Basics” Newsletter, February, 2012

    2.  Peace

 

 

A Bittersweet Journey: From Shame to Grace Part One

shutterstock_57747313Rising from His seat in the synagogue in Nazareth, His home, Jesus stood to read this most important passage from Isaiah declaring that He was the long-awaited Messiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. . .”       Luke 4:18-19 KJV                                                                  

Because of its prophetic importance, this particular reference should always be the starting point for any ministry in Christ’s name. Just recently, I met with a young woman who had all of these conditions. She was poor, brokenhearted, captive, bruised and a little blind to the miracle that she was still alive. It had been nearly a year since I had heard from her. Her story to bring me up to speed on her life was absolutely jarring. Prescription drug abuse and meth had put her in life-threatening situations time after time. She had just turned 21 and already life had been so devastating that she had made multiple suicide attempts but someone was always there to intercede. She related that at one point when she was extremely high on drugs and attempting to end it all the person who intervened beat her unconscious so she couldn’t physically carry out the suicide. She was drawing emotional and financial support from one good friend who had reached out to her in her times of desperation. When she described walking, multiple times 30 miles one way in freezing temperatures to get to court and visitations with her children I asked her why she hadn’t called me. Her answer was that she was too ashamed.

Shame is powerfully destructive in the way that it subtly moves us into position to fail time after time without even a fight. On the levels of consciousness, shame is at the bottom just above death with love, joy and peace at the top. One source that I found described shame as paralleling with banishment. If a person is struggling with shame the drugs help them to temporarily escape as it suppresses these lower emotions. This can cause continued addiction with serious consequences as the will is slowly rendered ineffective.

This young woman had gone through a trial of self-banishment as one by one members of her inner circle, friends and close family members betrayed her and took advantage of every success of self-improvement she was gaining through sheer determination and hard work. When her children, her only joy, were finally taken by social services because she hadn’t taken action in time to protect them in this disintegrating state, it was the final act to dismantle her will to succeed. At the time of this meeting with her, the consequences of her choices in regards to the drugs she chose for escape were bringing her to the point of facing hard prison time. She has given permission for her story to be told in part in this chapter.

As we sat together and talked, I could see there had been a mellowing of her attitude and that grace had come into her life. Somewhere in the midst of her crucible of hell snatched from death multiple times, she had been given a kind of sanctification that she was now recognizing as the positive change in her out-of-control life.   We find these words in Romans 5:1-5 NIV 5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

In the presence of someone who she could trust, she let down her guard and relaxed. She pushed up her sleeves and showed me the writings on both arms that had become her mantra: “Wrap me in a bolt of lightning, Send me on my way still smiling, Maybe that’s the way I should go, Straight into the mouth of the unknown.” (Lyrics from “Call Me” by Shinedown)

In the Scriptures there is an account about a tormented man who Jesus rescued:

Mark 5:1-20 NIV

They went across the lake to the region of the Gaderenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

(To be continued)

The Prayer Shawl

images-2

This story begins in the early part of 2013. Connie Root of The Rootin’ Tootin’ Alpacas’ Fabric & Yarn Shop outside of Houston, Missouri called me to offer prayer shawls for our families in crisis. This ministry had started as she and a few friends had helped each other pass through some difficult times in their lives by creating prayer shawls to share. From this the Rootin’ Tootin’ Prayer Shawl Circle came into existence. By March, I decided to accept her offer by inviting her and a few of the women in the Circle to attend an International Women’s Day program at the Christos House Shelter. They arrived with 25 shawls of different shades and types of yarn. After the program, the shelter residents each came forward and chose a prayer shawl to keep. Wrapping themselves in those shawls seemed to lift their spirits as they dealt with being homeless and past abuse that had brought them to this point in their lives. Then the shelter and outreach staff each selected a shawl, many of us still struggling with past experiences of abuse that can in a positive way create the empathy and sensitivity needed to do this work.

Throughout that year, I was able to pass on prayer shawls to clients with whom I worked. Whenever I would go to the R.T. Shop I would have two large totes filled with lovely shawls to go through.

One of the devastating effects of domestic abuse is that most of it happens in secret and creates deep shame and humiliation. Humiliation is an effective tool in the abuser’s arsenal to insure that the episode doesn’t become common knowledge. The person who is being victimized doesn’t want anyone to know that this is happening and is even being made to believe that it’s her fault and that she is the problem. When she courageously tells her story even to one, some of that humiliation and shame fades away because it is no longer a secret. When she comes to the shelter, she hears other women’s stories that very much parallel what she has been through. There is always some variations in the stories as the perpetrators find different ways of abusing but so much of what we hear is right out of a textbook on domestic abuse.

When she receives the shawl, she feels that “now, someone knows and understands what I have been through and feels I am worth knitting, crocheting and praying for. I can wrap myself in this shawl and feel some sense of peace in my spirit.”

God has made it very plain that he works through us to raise others up. In the human experience, that is what works the best. Our acts of kindness raises up and rescues the person we are ministering to and also raises up and rescues us. Sweetwater comes in many forms and today it is in the form of a prayer shawl.

On February 1, 2014 the Rootin’ Tootin’ Prayer Shawl Circle attended our Chocolate Festival fundraiser. Three survivors stood and shared their stories. The daughter of one of the survivors also told of her experience of having to witness her mother abused every day. As a young girl she had to take over the care of her baby brother because her mother was so distracted with surviving that she was unable to care for the child.

When the last survivor took her seat, three prayer shawl circle members were introduced and their contributions recognized by the gathering. Each Circle member held a prayer shawl. As they each draped a survivor with the shawl the room erupted in applause and cheering. One of the most powerful moments of the event unfolded as tears flowed and hearts communicated love and understanding to both the receiver and the giver. It is in these moments that the survivor begins to find their way back through the hearts of others to the place where they lost their way from abuse and betrayal. 

What drives Connie and her friends to create prayer shawls, one after another? It must be the same Spirit that fired Dorcas in Acts 9 to do what she did.

Acts 9:36-42 KJV

36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.

When this story took place, there were few people in the culture who were more destitute than widows. They were usually considered the neediest people in society. Having a job to buy food and other things they needed would have been very difficult. Dorcas stepped in to help fill that dire need.Good works” is a phrase that speaks of general acts of kindness to people but “alms deeds” is more specific and has to do with acts of mercy that relieve the burdens of the poor and needy. Being “full of” refers to the fact that she was habitual in her acts of kindness. And the story goes on:

37 And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.

38 And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.

The following is a good description of Dorcas’ life by Reverend Marilyn Murphree, a UMC minister on Sermon Central Website:

         At her death, the tearful widows came into the room and showed Peter the clothes they were wearing that Dorcas had made for them while she was “with them.” It wasn’t just the clothes – it was her friendship and interaction in their lives. Her life had been woven into their lives. She lived among these people on a daily basis. She knew when they needed a word of encouragement as well as a new coat. She didn’t just make the clothes and send them somewhere. She was “with them.” She was willing to get involved in their life struggles as well. They were considered the least of these probably by many and were overlooked and ignored. (End of quote)

40 But Peter put them all forth,(asked them to leave the room) and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him(self) to the body said, Tabitha, (Dorcas) arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

41 And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.

42 And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.

Just as Peter’s prayer of faith restored life to Dorcas, the prayer shawl created and given in love draped on the shoulders of these survivors, caused new life to pour freely into the broken and dying. They exchanged words of encouragement and appreciation and shared in the spirit that brings humanity together to become something greater than we are as individuals.
There is an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and said, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?” Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.” The woman went off at once in search of that magical mustard seed.
She came first to a beautiful mansion, knocked at the door, and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me.”
They told her, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong place,” and began to describe all the tragic things that recently had befallen them.
The woman said to herself, “Who is better able to help these poor, unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?” She stayed to comfort them, then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow. But wherever she turned, in hovels and in other places, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune. She became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that ultimately she forgot about her quest for the magical mustard seed, never realizing that it had, in fact, driven the sorrow out of her life.                                                                                                                                Brian Cavanaugh

Lord Jesus,

I give you my hands to do your work.

I give you my feet to go your way.

I give you my eyes to see as you do.

I give you my tongue to speak your words.

I give you my mind that you may think in me.

I give you my spirit that you may pray in me.

Above all,

I give you my heart that you may love in me

your Father and all mankind.

I give you my whole self that you may grow in me,

so that it is you, Lord Jesus,

who live and work and pray in me.

                       100 Prayers by the De La Salle Bros.

 

Imagine our communities. . .

October Awareness: Part One

shutterstock_108866654Once again, October rolls around and the staff of Christos House schedule the proclamations in the eight counties we serve to inform the public on what they need to know about domestic violence. We dust off the silent witnesses that are once more placed on the lawns of the different county courthouses, representing the women and children who have fallen victim to domestic violence. The numbers grow and we see no end in sight. We ponder “Is God among us or not?”

In Exodus 17, there is a reference about the complaining Israelites needing water and challenging God to provide it. Moses pleads with God “What shall I do unto this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” God then tells Moses to go before the people to a special rock that when struck will produce the water they need. The key point is that God tells Moses “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. . .” In verse seven, Moses brings it to the reader’s attention that the people doubted God because of the conditions that they were struggling with and questioned “Is the Lord among us?”

It’s easy to say God is with us when things line up and life is a positive experience but much more difficult when we see no end to trouble. It is essential to our peace of mind to know that God is with us even though it doesn’t readily appear like it. So many times we stay in bad relationships because we don’t see God in our lives and can only trust what we see even if it is a disaster. Like the Israelites, we want to run back to the mud pits in Egypt rather than look for God in the ways in which he can be found.

As God told Moses “Behold I will stand before thee there upon the rock” he is telling us “I am with you”. Pastor Jeff Nelson states it best in his sermon “Is God Among Us or Not?”

 

               We look for waters of relief from our grief and miss God’s presence in our tears. We look for waters of relief for loved ones and look past the person next to us offering us a cup of water. . . Is the Lord among us or not? We hear the promise: “Yes, I am in front of you. I will be in front of you”. In our thirst, God remains with us. God fills the cracks in our hearts with his presence. God stands in front of us through friends and family reaching out to us in genuine love. . . I stand in front of you calling you to each other; calling you to be my hands and feet, calling you to take up your staff and take care of one another. I am among you! Look toward one another and believe.”

October, the month appointed for raising awareness of the dangerous conditions that still exist in many homes comes and goes with a few more members in our communities who have stepped forward to make a difference, a few more church and civic organizations offering to sponsor an event to raise awareness, a few more victims who leave their threatening environments, a few more children safely out of harm’s way and we passionately declare that a success. We hear about domestic violence in the news and it pulls at society’s conscience to do the right thing and level consequences that fit the crime. As long as some of us are standing against this criminal behavior with such far-reaching consequences to human life, the hope of eradicating it is still alive and well. May God bless all that you do to help him care for others.

October Awareness: Part Two

shutterstock_67756186In September of this year, 2014, we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of “The Violence Against Women Act”. The fact sheet states that:

Under the leadership of then-Senator Joe Biden, Congress recognized the severity of violence against women and our need for a national strategy with the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. This landmark federal legislation’s comprehensive approach to violence against women combined tough new provisions to hold offenders accountable with programs to provide services for the victims of such violence.

 In an interview on the Today Show, September 9, 2014, Tamron Hall discusses this ground-breaking legislation with Vice President Biden:

T.H. My focus has been on domestic violence and this week marks the twentieth anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women Act. Vice President Joe Biden introduced that legislation as a Senator and I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to talk with him about it. I started out by asking him about he disturbing video involving former NFL star Ray Rice.

TH: Today the headline is about Ray Rice, an NFL star. The NFL has suspended him indefinitely. The Ravens have fired him but this is after the video that was released with him knocking his wife out.

V.P:   The NFL did the right thing whether it was for the right reasons or not. When the video came out they had no choice.

T.H.: When the meetings started twenty years ago to explore the epidemic of domestic violence there was low attendance. Even some of the domestic violence awareness groups at the time said this would never work.

V.P.: It was the women’s groups who didn’t stand up. It was the civil rights groups who didn’t stand up and there were so many laws on the books that made the presumption if somehow I raped you, if I abused you, you must have done something. It’s never, never, never, the woman’s fault. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman!

“No” means “No” and when I started, that was my position twenty years ago but it was like, “Oh, that’s way too strong; “That’s too much”. The society didn’t want to pull this scab back. The one regret I have is that it’s called “domestic violence” as if it’s a domesticated cat. It is the most vicious form of violence there is – not only the physical scars but the psychological scars that are left. This whole culture for so long has put the onus on the woman. What were you wearing? What did you say?

What did you do to provoke? That is never the appropriate questions.

T.H.: When you looked at this culture change in your opp ed, you wrote “It’s hard for many people to fathom a day in which Americans ignored this violence or worse condoned it”.

V.P.:   I’m very proud that the Congress of the United States passed the law but that’s not what changed things. What changed things was the change in the culture, making people aware. That’s what changed things. So you know the first reason the NFL responded in my view is that there’s so many women who are fans in this billion dollar industry. All of a sudden they said, wait a minute – he (Rice) got suspended for a couple games, “Whoa, that’s not enough!” Then we got a little more sensitized and then it was larger.

T.H.: What’s the next challenge?

V.P.: The next challenge is making sure ironically, we get the college presidents and colleges to understand that they have a responsibility for the safety of women on the campus. They have a responsibility to do what we know from great experience works. Bring in experts, give the woman the support that she needs – logical support, medical support and if need be, the legal support. Societal change is taking place. It takes time. But I really believe it’s taking root and we have an obligation to just keep pushing it.

Here Be Dragons

shutterstock_57747313In older times, mapmaking was a fairly imprecise task, due to lack of advanced technology for exploration purposes.  So, to fill great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include textual and/or graphic warnings of the perils of going into uncharted territory.  These words have been found on some ancient maps “Here Be Dragons”.

In our work, each situation has its uncharted element even though basic symptoms are present.  To each person who is being victimized by insidious behavior within the relationship, their experience is their own and not like anyone else’s so pointing out textbook examples may not have any convincing proof for them.

Traveling to the shelter, the small woman sitting in the backseat held her bruised forehead in her hands and uttered these words, “you were right, he did everything you said he was going to do”.  I found no satisfaction in being right about this as she had been through so much since I had seen her last but this day was a good day for her.  She would be safe in shelter and her healing could begin.  Now she was armed with more information about herself and what love isn’t.

In the nearly nine years since my work began in Texas and Wright Counties, unfortunately I have heard this statement many times perhaps in different ways but all with the same meaning.  Our progress in making inroads in this serious widespread social problem sometimes feels incremental in the face of its proportional negative impact on families and communities but nonetheless progress.

I have seen evidence of greater awareness that domestic violence is no longer a private family problem but one to which we all must make some response when the opportunity presents itself.   Greater awareness is not something achieved overnight but through one client, one family, one presentation at a time.

Profile of an Abuser

shutterstock_151887428In my area, many Southwest Missouri city and county law enforcement departments report that 50% or more of their incoming calls are related to domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not just a law and order problem, it is also a community problem.   With numbers like this, we know there is a severe cultural problem in our communities. Listed below is the profile of an abuser. Some or all of these behaviors can be present in the individual who is abusing their family. The list is a pattern of behaviors repeatedly presented in my case files of hundreds of Texas and Wright County citizens that make up in part that 50%.

 

Keep in mind that for the most part an abuser has a low self-image and seeks ways to control and intimidate others to compensate for it. When you have two persons together in a relationship who both have a low self-image and one of them fits the abuser profile then you can have a perfect storm.

Below is a list taken from “Criminal Thinking and Behavior Patterns Often Displayed By Abusers” Source unknown.

Excuse Making: Gives excuses instead of accepting responsibility; tries to justify the behavior with the excuse: I was never loved; My parents beat me; I had a bad day and when I walked in and saw this mess, I lost my temper

Blaming: Shifts the responsibility for the behavior on others and justifies the anger at someone else for causing the behavior: If you would stay out of it when I’m disciplining the kids, I wouldn’t hit them.

Redefining: Changes the definition of what is going on so that the problem becomes the focus instead of the abusive behavior: This place is always a mess. . .what do you do all day!

Lying: Helps to control the situation through confusion by controlling the information available.

Uniqueness: Believes that they are different from others and do not have to follow the same rules. They are right and everyone else is wrong: I don’t need counseling; Nobody knows as much about me as I do; I can handle my life without outside help.

Fragmenting: Feels justified and sees no inconsistencies in their behavior: Common for an abuser to attend church on Sunday and beat their partner on Monday.

Minimizing: Refusing to take responsibility by making behavior out to be less than it is: I didn’t hit the kids that hard; I didn’t leave any marks so you can’t be battered; I could have hurt you a lot worse, but I didn’t.

Ownership: Applies equally to people and possessions and justifies their control over other’s behavior through abuse and taking what they want: If I want it, it’s mine; If it’s mine, I can do whatever I want with it.

Anger:      Uses their anger to control and intimidate others and situations.

Power Play: Uses these tactics to regain control when not getting their way: Walking out of a room; Refusing to listen to others; Out-shouting and ignoring others.

Playing Victim: Manipulates others into rescuing them by appearing helpless and pretending to be unable to cope: If I don’t get what I want, I am a victim.

Drama and Excitement: Substituting uproar and stimulation for close satisfying relationships because they have a problem connecting with others: Gets into fights; incites others to anger. Criticizes and belittles others to make them feel worthless.

Closed Channel: Reveals little about their real feelings and is not open to new information particularly about their behavior: Secretive, closed-minded, self-righteous, always right in all situations.

Image: Thinks of themselves as strong, superior, independent, self-sufficient and macho because of the results they get from intimidating others. Any statement which does not support the concept of their image is taken as a put-down: I’m not doing anything wrong. If I am doing something wrong, I won’t get caught. If I get caught, I can talk my way out of it. If I can’t talk my way out, the consequences will be light.

The following is taken from an excellent website titled “Characteristics of Abuse”. The link is at the end of this reference.

“Below is a self-assessment quiz to help you determine if you are being abused. You may be suffering abuse even if you answer, “Yes” to only a few questions.

You may be becoming or already are a victim of abuse if you:

  • Feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” to keep him/her from getting angry and are frightened by his/her temper.
  • Feel you can’t live without him/her.
  • Stop seeing other friends or family, or give up activities you enjoy because he/she doesn’t like them.
  • Are afraid to tell him/her your worries and feelings about the relationship.
  • Are often compliant because you are afraid to hurt his/her feelings; and have the urge to “rescue” him/her when he/she is troubled.
  • Feel that you are the only one who can help him/her and that you should try to “reform” him/her.
  • Find yourself apologizing to yourself or others for your partner’s behaviour when you are treated badly.
  • Stop expressing opinions if he/she doesn’t agree with them.
  • Stay because you feel he/she will kill him/herself if you leave.
  • Believe that his/her jealousy is a sign of love.
  • Have been kicked, hit, shoved, or had things thrown at you by him/her when he/she was jealous or angry.
  • Believe the critical things he/she says to make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Believe that there is something wrong with you if you don’t enjoy the sexual things he/she makes you do.
  • Believe in the traditional ideas of what a man and a woman should be and do — that the man makes the decisions and the woman pleases him.”

http://www.ilrctbay.com/upload/custom/abuse/content/abusers.htm

We may only witness a few of these behaviors in our acquaintances and family members and feel that they are harmless and even normal but the person or the family who is being victimized by this pattern of behavior can tell a different story. Abuse is criminal. A person with these behaviors will cross a line at some point pushing the control to a new level – one of violence, especially if there is any resistance.

If you know someone like this or are living in a relationship with them, please know that you cannot change the abuser’s behavior. This individual must seek professional help and want to change themselves. If you are finding yourself in an ongoing cycle which includes incidents of escalating abuse followed by the honeymoon phase and on and on, please seek help for yourself. Protect yourself and your children as it typically does not end well.   You can also lose your children to state custody and be charged with “failure to protect” or “child endangerment”. There are different levels of severity of these charges which could give you a felony record for life. This record could affect any employment or education opportunities you might seek especially in human services as they do background checks. And worst of all, eventually your children will think this lifestyle is normal and behave this way when they are adults or will enter into relationships where they are abused – continuing the cycle because that is all they have known. This is your opportunity to break the cycle and protect yourself and them. There is help available in dealing with this destructive problem.   Go to the resource section for websites and phone numbers you can access for help.