Beyond Eros

I once dated a narcissistic “Peter Pan”. Little did I know, a month after his serial cheating and self-delusion I would find a mature, selfless man who lived me with true “agape” love. Excellent article.

Dear Children

Dear son,

I didn’t have very many girlfriends in high school. I met one girl at the skating rink when I was fifteen. Her infatuation with me lasted for a couple of months and then she decided that she liked one of my friends better. Still, I have warm recollections of the feelings I felt when she was my “girlfriend”. It was magical, unlike anything I’d ever felt before.  There was another as well. It lasted for two weeks I think. I had dreams about her for years afterward. She was one of the most beautiful girls I can remember ever knowing, much less being able to call her “girlfriend” for a couple of weeks. I would learn a mere 7 years later that beauty comes much easier for some girls at fifteen than at twenty-two for.

And then there was a relationship with a girl right out of high school.  She…

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“You Go Girl!” (Another Vote of Confidence from Dad)

b5741-fearless“Marie:

I just last night (7/7/18) finished your frank and fearless book Fractured Covenants. It both compels the reader to look behind the false pretensions of a duplicitous ex-spouse but prompts sympathy for the way you, and others like you, on the part of the reader, for the way you, with your back to the wall, refuse to be cowed or silenced, but instead combat the pious hypocrisy of those pastors, and other patriarchal types whose attitudes, consciously or otherwise, strengthen the walls of the individual prisons in which you, and many others like you have found themselves. Bravo to you, who never quit; but fought and prevailed in your often lonely struggle.

I’d like to recommend most heartily reading something by, or about, two other strong, courageous – yes, even fearless – individuals from long ago.

Mistress Anne Hutchinson, who stood up to the Puritan ministers of 17th Century Boston. She held prayers and theological discussions in her home which contravened the fire-and-brimstone; hell-and-damnation Calvinist diatribes which kept most Massachusetts Bay Puritans, cowed in fear and “in line”. Anne’s “inner light” – the light of grace present in one’s soul was far from a wrathful Jehovah, and much akin to the Quaker view, a group which also aroused to hatred the Puritan theocracy. Not surprisingly, she was a follower of Roger Williams, whom she followed to Rhode Island, when she was exiled there in the late 1630’s.

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William Lloyd Garrison’s preoccupation was with the immediate unconditional and uncompensated emancipation of all enslaved human beings, everywhere. He considered owning, exploiting the labor of, and trafficking in slaves to be the ultimate sin. He was born in Newburyport, MA some years after this state abolished slavery in its 1780 Constitution. His newspaper The Liberator was published from 1820, I believe, right through the end of the Civil War. It was, not surprisingly, banned in the South.

His fiery credo was expressed, as I recall, in the following words:

On this subject [emancipation] I do not propose to speak or write with “moderation”. As well might one expect a mother to “moderately” rush into a burning building, to rescue her precious baby….or a husband to “moderately” rescue his wife from the clutches of a fiendish ravisher.”

“I am in earnest. I will not excuse, I will not equivocate; I will not retreat a single inch….and….I WILL BE HEARD!

And he was heard, and in the fullness of time, with great effusion of blood, in this land at least, human bondage was forever exterminated.

YOU GO, GIRL!!”

 

Sanctified Bullying – A Woman’s Cry for Help

EmotionalAbuseA few nights ago, I received the following letter from a woman in a very unfortunate, but not uncommon situation. I will provide a response in a follow-up blog post. Her name, country of origin, and dates of immigration have been removed at her request, but she has granted permission to let her story be used so that other women in her situation will know they are not alone. These are entirely her words.

“Dear Marie,

I have come across some of your articles while browsing and was astonished to see how much your story and  issues you raise in your writings are relevant to mine. No I never published a book, but daily I face injustice, greed, and dictatorship, something similar to what you described in the article “The culture of abuse in Slavik Marriages”. (sic). Yes, I am a [Slavic woman]. A wife of almost 20 years. A wife of a youth pastor, a teacher, a radio minister, a missionary, and there are many other titles my husband has. He is also a [Slavic] man. My story is long and it would probably be impossible for me to ever tell or write what i have gone through and how I emotionally survived till today. But only because Of God’s mercy, I somehow got through it all and today stay under the same roof with my children. This is my ultimate motivation, my goal, my life.  I don’t know if you have time to read this, but I guess I thought I would give it a chance. If anything, by typing this – in a way I am letting go my long-lasting pain of silence and it’s making me feel better already. So thank you, even if you got this far with reading.

Before we got married, my future husband seemed an ok guy. As you may know it’s not typical in [Slavic country’s] culture to date, so in the period of several months, we met a few times before the wedding. He’s lived in the state since ****, I came in ****, we got married the next year. So while in the short few Pre-marriage months he was polite and even romantic, it has changed quickly within very first months of our actual married life. I right away noticed his dominant nature and typical [Slavic nationality] overbearing character. Many times it was so hard for me to submit but, also by being naturally and culturally prepared I have anyway. And keep doing so to the best of my abilities to this day. My strength reaches limits when I see pressure and control used towards the children. And so it has gotten much more challenging now to just listen and submit since our kids turned to be 17, 13, 12, and 6. If I was able to put on, eat, and do what HE wanted before, now I often find myself having a real hard time seeing kids have to wear, eat, and do what HE wants. Accepting the fact that his is the highest authority in the house, I still often do only to keep peace and not to cause anything worse from happening. I have to tell you that I am not a perfect wife. In fact I by no means defend myself, I probably would not have been writing this if I was a Proverb’s kind “wise” woman. But I guess not everyone can be. In given circumstances. I did and do try though, with my whole heart.

As already mentioned, my husband has a “good name”, he’s highly regarded in church, and well respected in our nationality’s community. This righteous appearance is only outward though. He’s been working hard to cover up hate, inconsideration, and unhappiness. Yielding to his authority and just being committed to marriage, continually prompted me to be silent and so all these years I have been keeping things quiet hoping it’d “get better”. The thing is that he never really physically abused me, he grabbed me by hand a few times, he has thrown kitchen towels to my face, but never really hit me. Except emotionally.

Attitudes and words he used towards me are hard for me to repeat, because I know that I am still a child of Almighty God. I feel shamed that I was called ugly, stupid, immature, and even mentally ill. Yes he has many times been nice to me, only when he chose to be. Other times, he was – the husband, “the head” to who I owe just because I am a wife. Example, if he told me to wear jeans, I couldn’t wear a skirt if I wanted, and the opposite. Any slight contrary suggestion would always provoke a fight, yelling and screaming. So I learned to not to say anything. Especially when the kids were growing up. As I said earlier it’s harder now because with their age, their interests, habits, and desires grow.

But  because things have to be his way, tensions and arguments are also fast increasing. Our oldest just had a graduation, a long waiting event, something she worked so hard for and finally could walk that walk and receive the well deserved diploma. She went to a salon and did her nails in a pastel color. He still noticed and ordered her to go take them off the next day just because. She said to him that it’s hypocritical and that God looks at the heart, and he told her she is in sin and needs to repent. As you may suspect, his beliefs and views are conservative. But only if and when he chooses them to be. There were times he made me watch porn with him because it’s “exciting “, he has made me get highlights so my grey hair doesn’t show, and others.

It’s with heavy heart that I write this, and I am so sorry for maybe being too graphic here. When I suggested to him that this is hypocritical life we live, our conversations again would turn into an argument and yelling and if younger kids witnessed it, I saw their hurt and would do anything to fix and let go. I am afraid I won’t always be able to let go as they learn their way, and because of this control in the house – the oldest for example has already said that she wants to move out as soon as she turns 18.

I have to tell you that this control is largely encouraged by our [Slavic] church. It is culturally appropriate to keep things “looking good” and everything else should stay “under the carpet “. I already know that if I talked to a senior Pastor, he would tell me to repent and listen to my husband. I even suggested to go to counseling, but my husband said he himself can counsel others better anyone. He seems to have this gift to be able to justify everything HE DOES, but he judges excessively everyone else.

I am sorry for taking your time and thank you if you’ve read till here. I just thought I would give it a try and tell. And I wonder if there is anything you can suggest I do? Do you know if he can be legally or what other way – made to stop emotional abuse? No I am not looking to divorce, I always knew my kids have to have their dad, but it’s just getting harder and harder for me to let go and just take on the insults and unreasonable accusations. I am also unable to acquire any paid counseling or legal help because he is in charge of all the finances. Anything you can tell me, I would appreciate so very much. Again, thank you; thank you for your time, for your story, and sound views that are Biblically supported. May God bless you.”

[name redacted]

For more information and resources on marriage counseling and how it may help your relationship, see BetterHelps’ article here.

An Open Letter to Heath Lambert and Leadership of ACBC

victimsToday Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director of ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors – formerly “NANC”, National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) sent out a Statement regarding their upcoming annual conference, which purports to support and minister to abuse victims. He seemed especially concerned about how their counsel will come across, in the wake of disgraced pastor Paige Patterson’s recent remarks regarding abused wives and the subsequent scandal (one of many involving the evangelical/Reformed Church and their cover-ups on abuse).

Having been both on the inside as a nouthetic counselor and subsequently re-victimized by an ACBC-affiliated group (one of whom graduated from the same seminary as Lambert), I wrote the following open letter to share some of my years of experience in counseling and talking to survivors of spiritual abuse:

“Dear Dr. Lambert, and Board of ACBC,

It is with great sadness and concern that I respond to your Statement emailed to me on 5/23/18 regarding your upcoming Annual Conference “Light in the Darkness: Biblical Counseling and Abuse”.

As I’m sure you are aware, the very organization of which you serve as executive director, and proponents of the nouthetic counseling model at large, have been notoriously inept at providing the care, counsel and protection that women in abusive relationships and particularly marriages have most needed. The recent scandal over SBC leader Paige Patterson’s comments dismissing the severity of abuse Christian women often endure in their marriages was hardly uncommon or an anomaly; rather, it was simply the public nature of his insensitive (and unbiblical) comments that created the controversy.

Unfortunately, his opinion that Christian women in abusive marriages should simply “stay and submit” (I am paraphrasing for the sake of brevity) appears to be, by and large, the opinion adhered to by many, if not most, Reformed conservative churches in the United States and the counselors certified by your organization in particular. It grieves and concerns myself, as well as many others in Christian abuse-survivor advocacy ministries, that ACBC is holding a conference on counseling abuse cases when we know of so many hundreds of women who have been grievously harmed by the “counsel” some ACBC advocates and practitioners promote.

Specifically, from the many testimonies I and many other counselors and writers have received, both male and female, it is modus operandi in churches adhering to the nouthetic counseling model to counsel, then pressure, and finally try and coerce female victims of marital abuse (whether physical, emotional, or both) to “reconcile” with their abusers at all cost. Lip-service is paid to the need for the abusers’ repentance; but when it is not forthcoming (more specifically, the right words are said within the counseling room, absent any real admission of guilt or changed heart) the woman is unilaterally “pursued in love” – in an Orwellian phrase literally meaning stalked, harassed, and even blackmailed with threats of excommunication – into “reconciling” with the man who has adeptly learned to play the game in front of spiritual authorities. Nothing has changed; he has thus become more empowered by his spiritual leaders; and the woman is more smashed down than ever – being admonished that this is “God’s will” for her life. The marriage must be preserved at all costs; even at great cost to her emotions, sanity, even life. By submitting to this unbiblical pattern of the marriage covenant, she thus demonstrates willingness to accept (and even enable) a sinful representation of the one-flesh relationship of what marriage is supposed to be in front of her children. Unsurprisingly, the cycle thus repeats itself in subsequent generations.

I would highly recommend to you the 21 sermons preached on the evil of marital abuse by respected pastor Jeff Crippen (Unholy Charade; A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church) as well as my own book, Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church. I would also like to refer you to the works of Lundy Bancroft (particularly his Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men). While not a Christian, Bancroft is widely considered the foremost expert in the field of domestic abuse and unpacking the heart-motivations and psychology of psychologically abusive men. At least one pastor, one of the few who has had the courage to speak out about the evil of domestic abuse (and how it is broadly swept under the rug) has stated publically that Bancroft has done more to help women in abusive marriages than anyone in the Church has. This should not be so. As Rachel Denhollander recently stated,

“The Church is the least safe place for victims of abuse.”

This is a painfully true and tragically sad statement. While it may be coated in the most spiritual-sounding language possible, the reality is that abuse, whatever its form, is by and large minimized by proponents of nouthetic counseling and victims are urged to “forgive and forget” absent any real repentance on the part of their abusers. This does not promote healing; nor does it reflect the heart of Christ, Who is a Protector and Defender of the Innocent (Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 17:15) and will not even hear the prayer of a man who sins against his wife (1 Peter 3:7). Both the Mosaic Covenant and the New Testament Epistles make clear provision for wives who are mistreated by their husbands (see Pastor Herb Vander Lugt’s God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce or chapter 3 of my Fractured Covenants for a thorough exegetical treatment of the subject). Conversely, what is largely taught in churches that subscribe to nouthetic counseling is that no abuse, including physical beatings and even including adultery, is ever grounds for divorce. The Permanence Doctrine? Since when are Calvinistic doctrines more important than people’s lives?

Neither John Calvin himself nor the Early Church Fathers took such dogmatic a view. Part of the problem, which I believe your conference should address in October, is faulty training at the nouthetic counseling course level. When I became certified as a nouthetic counselor in 2011 (through the Institute for Nouthetic Studies – INS), I completed 185 lecture hours (mostly delivered by the respectable bastions of nouthetic counseling Jay Adams and Donn Arms), as well as having read many thousands of pages of required books. The problem of marital abuse merited less than 10 minutes in one lecture, and was largely brushed aside as something a woman should talk to her pastor about, and if it persisted, he should send “two of his biggest deacons” over to the house to set things right. Emotional abuse of all types was dismissed: “Emotional abuse does not exist, because emotions cannot be abused.” Please let me assure you that emotional abuse does very much exist; is incredibly damaging; and is patently unbiblical. Please see my articles “Carrying the Wounds of Emotional Abuse”, which was originally published by Biblical Counseling for Women but deleted after I committed the unpardonable sin of fleeing an abuser and exposing him publically, and “The Culture of Abuse in Christian Slavic Marriages”, published by the Biblical Counseling Coalition (I was a part of this sub-culture for over 20 years). Interestingly, it was for the latter – in which I spoke about Lyubka Savenok, the young Russian woman murdered by her husband after being counseled by her pastors to “reconcile” with him, that I was censured by the elders of my then-church and essentially blacklisted by many in the nouthetic counseling movement.

Will your conference directly and honestly address glaring questions (When does an abused woman have biblical grounds for divorce? What is repentance? How do we gauge it? What recourse does an abused woman have?) or will you side-step them, as I have so often observed your leaders do?  Using spiritual-language and cherry-picking verses absent of hermeneutical context can so easily be done to not only control the narrative, but manipulate how one’s followers think – and counsel others. We know this from the famous writings of George Orwell, and history itself.  Please, I beg of you, do not send your followers back into the pews of their churches with a  handful of verses, only to exhort desperate women to “reconcile” with their (usually unrepentant) abusers, in order to “glorify God”. I have seen this over and over, and it not only presents a grossly distorted view of the marriage covenant, but it destroys lives and misrepresents the Christ Who meets us in our pain. Inadvertently, ACBC often grooms  hundreds of unqualified “counselors” back to their churches to inflict secondary pain and guilt on abused women. Never have I seen victim-shaming to the extent I have seen it coming out of the nouthetic counseling movement, and I say that both as a former insider and as a formerly victimized wife.

Please do not read this as an indictment of the nouthetic counseling movement as a whole – as a church elder I know once said, “Things are rarely completely black and white; good or bad.” The older and wiser I get, the more I realize this to be true. Nouthetic counseling and experienced individuals from within the movement have indeed helped a great many people, and for that I am grateful. Countless marriages have been saved by godly men and women, on equal footing, going to a wise counselor to help them get their relationship on track. In the area of substance abuse, in which I specialize (my first book, Redeemed from the Pit, is considered a valuable resource among nouthetic counselors), the biblical principle of “putting off” destructive and sinful behavior and “putting on” healthy and God-honoring behavior in its place is well-applied with those struggling with life-dominating addictions. Many have testified to the help that God has graciously provided, through the Scriptures. But many have also testified to the immense hurt done to them by nouthetic counselors, especially inexperienced ones.

Unfortunately, many nouthetic counselors have proven themselves woefully inept at providing any kind of helpful, godly, or compassionate care when it comes to areas such as depression, or spousal abuse (which is a completely separate issue from marital counseling, make no mistake). Even the beloved pastor of many Reformed Christians and nouthetic counselors alike, John Piper, laughingly stated in a “Desiring God” interview that a wife who is physically abused by her husband should “endure being smacked around for a season”, and then perhaps go to her church leaders for help. (He has since partially retracted that statement, begrudgingly allowing that she may have justification at points to go to the local authorities, i.e. the police.) This is a frightening, almost sickening minimization of domestic abuse, which is all too common in Reformed churches.

Please understand, Dr. Lambert, that the scars of emotional/verbal/psychological abuse take far longer to heal. Humiliation (especially in front of the children); false accusations; screaming fits; degradation over everything from failure to parallel park to undercooking the potatoes; constant criticism; dealing with a man with narcissistic personality disorder and anger issues so deep he refuses to see himself as the problem; a one-verse-fits-all-‘well-you’re-the-spiritual-leader-of-your household’ response from church leadership coupled with “God hates divorce” (failing to exegete the rest of that verse, which discusses treacherous treatment of one’s wife) – this is the reality so many of us Christian women currently deal with, or have in the past. It is a hell I would not wish on my worst enemy, only compounded by the local church’s re-victimization of the woman and failure to confront the abuser and put him out of the Church, as Scripture commands (Psalm 74:10; Luke 6:22; 1 Cor. 5:11). And yet, when we women who have for so long been on the receiving end of this treatment speak out and expose the sin, as Scripture commands us to do (Ephesians 5:11), we are called “bitter” and accused of “sin” and “slander” (which, by definition, must be false. It is statistically very unusual for a woman to make up an abuse allegation – the truth is frightening enough).

The charge of “bitterness” when we finally find the strength to stand up for ourselves, speak out, and, absent repentance (which is extremely rare in the cases of pathologically abusive men) seems to be a trump card pulled out as a conversation-stopper when an inconvenient truth (especially one belying a pattern in the Church) is brought to light. While I received much support from within the Christian community during the ordeal of leaving my unrepentant abuser (and subsequently being harassed and blackmailed by my former religious community), and also notably by several male, high-ranking members of the nouthetic counseling sphere who were extremely sympathetic, by far the most hateful and vitriolic message I received was from one of your own – a female ACBC conference headliner, ironically enough, divorced from an abuser (and re-married) years before. Christian charity restrains me from revealing her name. The hypocrisy at times is astounding, and because abused Christian women with a voice are increasingly willing to search the Scriptures for themselves, we are often seen as a threat to your agenda.

Which, it is increasingly clear, is itself unclear.

In your Statement, you wrote:

“This entire situation should remind all Christians of the urgency required in protecting the victims of abuse.”

I quite agree, Dr. Lambert. So why is there no real action, or meaningful “confrontation” going on? In Massachusetts, where I live, pastors (like teachers) are mandated reporters. When I reported sufficient, but not exhaustive details of the abuse; when my adult daughter cried out (twice) to our former (ACBC-affiliated) pastors for help; when my 18-year-old son documented with them details of both the physical and emotional abuse inflicted against him, why was the abuser protected and enabled? Why was I cast in the light as the villain, for speaking out? Do the confines of patriarchal authoritarian teaching so silence the (female) victim, that no behavior, regardless of how ungodly, will be seen as the “deeds of darkness” for which it is? What are they teaching in seminaries these days? How is ACBC really equipping its followers?

I thank God that my current pastor and the many Christian counselors and friends God has brought into my path see abuse for the destructive evil it really is. While I qualitatively respect the nouthetic counseling field for the good it has done, I prayerfully hope that you will reconsider your doctrinal approach to confronting and rectifying the epidemic problem of marital abuse (in its various forms) that exists within the shadows of evangelical Christianity.

Your sister in Christ,

Marie O’Toole (formerly Marie Notcheva)

 

 

Bikram Yoga – not for Pansies

by Marie O’Toole

pansyAbout seven months ago, I started exercising again after a 22-year hiatus (I was a college gymnast) and a nearly-unused Planet Fitness membership. The form of intense exercise I chose (or rather, was introduced to by my boyfriend, the famous Amos Parker), is known as Hot Bikram Yoga. We go to Bikram Yoga Durham, in Durham New Hampshire, which also offers Inferno Hot Pilates and Hot Vinyasa Flow. (There are many types of yoga, and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means.) Bikram was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who synthesized various aspects of hatha yoga into an intense whole-body workout. (There is no chanting or spiritual aspect, but you are encouraged to “set your intention” for class and focus on breathing in life, positivity and affirmation, while exhaling negativity.)

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The designer “modeling” one of his creations

Usually as a beginner you are so focused on not having a heart attack and keeping the sweat out of your eyes that “meditation” during class would be elusive anyway, but it does rejuvenate you mentally and physically to the extent that stress is relieved and the exercise helps combat anxiety. As one instructor in Durham often says, “If you can do Hot Bikram, you can do anything. The little stresses in life will not bother you so much.”

True to its name, this form of yoga is performed in a 104° studio for 90 minutes. This from a girl who doesn’t like to sweat. (Seriously…perspiration has always grossed me out.) Yoga is never an activity I thought I would engage in, since I associate it with hippies, New-Agey types, and people who eat tofu and wheatgrass. Nor do I have either the time or attention span for mediation. Yeah, not for me.

Crunchy Therapy?

SwansonThe funny thing is, (there are probably several funny things about me doing yoga, and you really have to look for the humor when describing an activity so intense that you lose 4-5 lbs. of sweat in an hour and a half); but not long after my divorce ordeal an old school friend (who had similarly been through a traumatic divorce) specifically recommended yoga to me – along with good nutrition and avoiding sugar – as an excellent way of beating depression and keeping a clear mind and healthy body.

I remember thinking, “Sounds cool, Tony. Yeah. Yoga….I’ll add that to my list of things to do. Along with joining a commune and eating kale chips.” (I actually did try kale chips once…they are over-priced and over-rated. And one cult experience in my life is more than enough, thanks.) But I digress. Back to Bikram Yoga.

My first voyage into the studio was tagging along with Amos, who didn’t promise it would be “fun”, but hey – it was something healthy to do together, and I’ll try anything once. I quickly learned why students cover their yoga mtee2ats (which Amos loaned me) with a beach towel – the sweat is pouring off of you within 5 minutes. For the second class, I ditched the T-shirt and sweatpants for a proper yoga costume – spandex that covers just a bit more than a 2-piece bathing suit.

*Disclaimer: There will be no sweaty yoga pictures of me in the making of this post.

The Practice and Benefits

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The class starts with a series of deep breathing exercises, then moves into a series of 26 poses (“asanas”) focusing on flexibility and endurance. There are moments at which you think you are going to die, but Bikram is not a competitive sport and the instructors are very affirming of each person’s ability and effort – encouraging students to “take a knee” when necessary. It is extremely important to be well-hydrated prior to and following class, as water takes 45 minutes to enter the system and what you drink during class cannot compensate for the fluid and electrolytes you excrete during those 90 minutes.

The floor series takes the heart rate down, stretching takes you to the max, and the class concludes with another breathing exercise and a few minutes on the floor in bump5.pngrelaxation and meditation (“savasna”). Besides improving flexibility, endurance, and improving circulation, some of the physical benefits of Bikram yoga reportedly include alleviation of arthritis, better thyroid function, and increased bone density (much like any weight-bearing exercise). It is also extremely helpful for folks who are trying to cut down or quit unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking alcohol.

The primary physical benefit for me in the months since starting Bikram has been dramatically decreased pain from a soft-tissue injury that acts up when I am driving (I have a 2-hour commute, each way, every day, to work and back….and Amos and I live 108 miles apart. I do A LOT of driving.) Two years ago, I foolishly kicked up into a handstand in my living room – sans stretching or warmup – just to see if I still “had it”. Apparently I don’t. I felt something rip, and spent the next several days limping in excruciating pain, cursing the fact that I am no longer 17. Initially I thought I had pulled a hamstring, which was a frequent occurrence in my gymnastics days, but this refused to heal or allow me to stretch. I had torn a tendon, which do not completely heal on their own.

While I mourned the fact that I would never again do the splits on that side, the more annoying aspect began about a year after the injury: about an hour into driving, I would notice the tendon started to hurt. It became neuropathy, shooting pain all the way down into my right toes. The pain was especially bad whenever I would wear shoes with even a slight heel on them. Coincidentally, it was right about the time the referred pain started that Amos started bringing me to yoga – which involves a lot of straight-leg stretching. While I cannot even come close to putting my forehead on my knee without bending it, the continual stretching made the chronic-achiness-pain-while driving disappear by about 90% after the second or third class I attended.

 

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I can’t quite lock my knees. Well, not when my face is on them anyway.

Additionally, the post-exercise rejuvenation has a calming effect. Hot Bikram helps keep the mind clear and anxiety at bay – not a “magic bullet”, by any means; but a healthy option for stress-fighting and a good option for pursuing total wellness. Like many, I have found yoga beneficial both for physical and mental health. Since Hot Bikram burns approximately 400-450 calories per 90-minute class (for women – probably more for men), it is an excellent choice for anyone on a weight-loss regime.bump9 (I won’t be joining you in that – with my blast-furnace metabolism, calories are my little friends and I replenish them after class with a pure cocoa-and-protein-powder smoothie, courtesy of Amos).

Artwork for Merchandise

One creative endeavor Amos has recently started has been to design various T-shirts, bumper stickers, and similar products to extol the virtues of Hot Bikram in a humorous way. (See designs scattered around this post, none of which are “official” BYD merchandise; but rather thought up just for fun and potentially for individual order.)

I particularly like the tote bag, which should be lined with plastic in order to cart your mat, water bottle, and saturated-with-sweat yoga costume and beach towel home:

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Some cool water bottle designs too:

Additional T-shirt designs:

Hot Bikrim is a great way to blow off steam (literally and figuratively) while getting in shape and making new friends. Yoga really is for everyone – regardless of age or ability, there are tremendous health benefits to taking a class before or after the busy-ness of the work day. A demanding-yet-rewarding discipline, fatigue, pulled muscles and lethargy with certainly be banished after your first few classes.

Namaste!

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Grace, Gratitude, and Paying it Forward (Rather than “Paying it Back”)

receivingloveby Marie O’Toole

A clichéd saying goes, “It costs nothing to be kind”. This is very often true in a tangible sense; often the most meaningful expressions of kindness cost nothing to give in a material sense. Especially in our day and age of mass media and instant communication, with more people paradoxically feeling lonely and isolated than ever, a smile; a kind word; a conversation over coffee may be the most-appreciated gesture of generosity and individual could receive. In our busy-ness, giving of our time and limited attention seems to be a bigger sacrifice than opening our checkbooks, and it’s easy to under-estimate the effect of a simple gesture of attention and encouragement.

kindnessThis is especially true of friends (or even strangers) who may be struggling emotionally. As a social media meme goes, “Everyone is fighting some sort of battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”

But what about tangible help, gifts, “surprises-just-because”?  Sometimes accepting the generosity of others – even (or especially) of those closest to us, can feel awkward. Difficult to receive, for reasons stemming from our own wounds, insecurity, or pride. Humiliating, even, rather than humbling. I have been considering a few reasons this might be, and the faulty thinking/conditioning that might lie behind this very-human tendency to recoil from another’s generosity.

  • The “I don’t deserve it” mentality. Few people would actively say that they carry low self-esteem, or think of themselves as worms, but deep down many of us carry an inherent sense of unworthiness. We have been taught (rightfully) to put others first, and not to be selfish. Therefore, the subconscious reasoning goes, “I do not deserve this gift. I am completely unworthy; he must not give it to me!”

The flaw in this thinking, of course, is that the giver wants to be generous – to “grace” the receiver with something that would bless him or her. In the giver’s eyes, the person is special enough to warrant his or her generosity, and has even taken the extra step of considering what the receiver could use or enjoy. This thoughtfulness on the giver’s part alone should fill the recipient with joy – not embarrassment.

unworthyHave you ever noticed that children do not feel unworthy or awkward when receiving gifts? Of course, we teach them to say “thank you” and to feel genuine appreciation, but a feeling of unworthiness of others’ goodwill is not on their radar. Accepting a gift graciously is a child-like attitude that ironically comes with maturity.

  • The “I must earn it” mentality. Inherent in human nature is the instinct to earn our keep. In daily life, this is a good attitude – it demonstrates a healthy work ethic, and integrity. Few of us would consider cheating on our income taxes, or misrepresenting our income in order to milk the state for welfare or social benefits to which we are not entitled.

A “gift”, by definition, does not represent anything we have earned on our own – if it did, it would be called “wages”. It is a no-strings-attached tangible expression of generosity. Even legal documents use the term gift to differentiate sums of money given from loans, which need to be paid back. Because we are proud by nature of being self-reliant, self-sufficient, and having “pulled our own weight”, it strikes at our pride to have unearned and unexpected kindness lavished on us.

(The extreme importance placed on self-reliance is a recent and Western value, by the way. In tribal and “primitive” societies, selflessness and communal service was assumed, necessary to survival, and the thought of “thanking” someone for assistance or a gift was actually considered rude. Read this excellent article by Christian Medium blogger Mallory Smyth, “Why Americans Have a Hard Time Receiving Love”.)

gift.jpgWhile appreciation should always be genuine, and expressed, it makes one wonder if our quest never to take anything from anyone in the name of autonomy has actually served to make us more prideful and isolated than God ever intended. Seeing the beauty of a gift through the eyes of the giver and receiving it in the same spirit should be humbling; not humiliating. Gratitude is appropriate – not self-recrimination. This is upside-down to our way of thinking, but it is part of the unique human ability to love (to seek the good of another, without reserve). Reminiscent of the Christian doctrine of grace, which is defined as “unmerited favor or undeserved gift”, something bestowed freely on us without thought of reciprocation belies the beautiful and caring nature of the giver – not how “deserving” the receiver is.

  • The “insecurity” mentality. In almost any human relationship except that of parent-child, there exists at least the possibility of fear or distrust. Sometimes, people who find themselves on the receiving end of generosity are so unaccustomed to kindness that it actually confuses them. Some might question the giver’s motives; some might fear that the relationship will end – and then feel morally responsible to compensate the giver for everything.

The knawing question of “where do I stand with ___? How can I accept this?” belies a certain amount of distrust. If one is secure in his or her identity, the fear of losing someone (or “falling from grace”) should not be on the radar, but unfortunately we often react out of our past wounds, worst fears confirmed, or feelings of worthlessness – often instilled in earlier relationships. The gentlest soul in the world may find his or her generosity rebuffed if the recipient is unaccustomed to kindness being shown to her, material or otherwise.

A gracious giver gives because he or she wants to, and cares for the recipient first and foremost as an individual. Generosity without thought of being re-paid is a Christ-like quality.

Paying it Forward

So many people who struggle to accept gifts or assistance from other people are, themselves, very generous and often go out of their way to help others. Done out of the goodness of their hearts and will a genuine desire to serve others, those who feel awkward about being on the receiving end would be horrified if those to whom they give were to react in the same way. “Someone else is deserving….it gives me pleasure to give….but I am not; and I am ashamed to receive”. Self-abasement, however, is not humility – it is actually a form of pride.

gratitudeWhat, then, is an appropriate and healthy way to receive another’s generosity? Graciously. A realization that the giver has done something purely out of the goodness of his or her heart lightens the spirit; brings a smile of delight; and makes the receiver want to show the same grace simply because being others-focused brings joy. Rather than trying to “pay back” the giver, a healthier response is to “pay it forward”. Or, as Jesus succinctly put it, “….Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8). There are infinite ways of paying it forward – sponsoring a child in a Third World country; calling a friend from whom one has been estranged; cooking a nice dinner for your parents with a beautiful cookware gift set. Even something as simple as a smile, a kind word or compliment to a stranger in the workplace can be meaningful…..many people are hungering for even a small touch of compassion.

While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, (Acts 20:35) receiving gifts and acts of grace from one another is an opportunity to grow in humility, appreciation, gratitude and joy – which benefits not only ourselves, but those closest to us.

The Evangelical Wife by Susanna Krizo – (Review)

wife_imageSeveral weeks ago, while turning my time sheet in at the Interpreters Services office at work, I met a newly-hired Arabic interpreter from Saudi Arabia. My boss introduced me to her while she was in a friendly discussion with the Farsi interpreter, a woman originally from Iran who I know well. The Saudi woman, an artist, was describing her life as a feminist in the Kingdom. “I was forced into an arranged marriage at 20….it destroyed me inside, and my art suffered. I couldn’t create,” she said. From outward appearances – her close-cropped hair and professional pantsuit – I never would have guessed this woman had grown up under a repressive patriarchal regime where she was allowed no voice; no vision; no freedom to dream. We spoke for a few minutes about courageous young women to come out of the Islamic world such as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who spoke out for girls’ rights to education, and I expressed sympathy that my colleague had been deprived of basic freedoms (such as being able to drive or dress as she wished) in Saudi Arabia. “Well, you experienced half that – it’s not so different,” my boss interjected ironically. I quickly demurred, saying “You can’t really compare American patriarchal oppression of women to Islamic…..and I didn’t really have it so bad compared to some women.”

A week later, Author Susanna Krizo sent me her novel, “The Evangelical Wife”. I had to retract part of that last statement – there is much basis for comparison between the two worldviews, as well as contrast. While we women in America may drive, eschew burqas and have no fear of flogging or stoning, the silencing, relegation to second-class status (on par with children) and denial of equality women in the conservative evangelical world Krizo depicts is the exact same spiritualized misogyny inherent in Sharia law. While more subtle and supported by unwritten rules (as well as application of Scripture from the Pre-Mosaic patriarchal period of the Old Testament to 21st century America), the lives of quiet desperation imposed on many evangelical/fundamentalist women in the United States is not a theme often addressed in either Christian fiction or non-fiction.

A Thoughtful and Sensitive Treatment

While I don’t usually read or review fiction, Krizo’s novel was worthy enough to warrant a thorough analysis. An excellent writer, Krizo brings the reader into the inner world of the fundamentalist American sub-culture by use of descriptive details and thought-provoking soul-searching in the main character’s daily life. What makes this novel so compelling is her insightful portrayal of the unfullfillment, despondency, and ultimately settled resignation that many women in patriarchal authoritarian churches experience (through the eyes of the main character, Hannah) without lapsing into clichés or stereotypes. Krizo effectively brings us into the world of a stay-at-home wife and mother, who is offered no other life choice, through the use of details and unanswered questions – without vilifying anyone. Far from an indictment of evangelicalism, the characters in this novel are sympathetic and likeable – cogs in a system that has reared them to think in absolutes. Krizo neither attacks the Christian faith nor demonizes those in power (read: the men), but as the days wear on and more is justified in the name of “authority”, we see the maxim “absolute power corrupts absolutely” very much at work in the church which dictates every detail of domestic life.

And domestic life can be difficult with multiple children; no reprieve from the demands of child-rearing and cultivating an image of familial perfection; enduring the ever-escalating demands of husbads who demand absolute obedience; and an ecclesiastically enforced single income:

“He worked so very hard to transform her into a godly woman. Too hard, in Hannah’s opinion, especially since he didn’t take care to do the same to himself. It was as if Jesus had thought about evangelical husbands when he talked about the speck and the plank. Sometimes they could be so blind.

No one at church talked about how they were supposed to make it on one income. It all sounded so great when the pastor talked about the life God wanted them to have. They all nodded in unison and smiled. They knew how to please God and it made them special. It was too bad that the power company didn’t think they were special too….. Perhaps if she prayed more their finances would improve. But why was she thinking about any of it? It was Michael’s job to worry about the finances, it was her job to cook and clean. She shouldn’t attempt to meddle in things that were none of her concern.”

Loving, Christian, but Inherently Unbalanced

Refreshingly, “The Evangelical Wife” is not a story of abuse. It is far more nuanced than that, delving into the gray areas between unmet dreams; guilt over having expectations; growing dictatorship at home (which, axiomatically, breaks down marital intimacy); and finally, Hannah’s husband’s increasing defense and justification of men in the congregation who truly are abusing their wives in plain sight. Her own experience is more dichotomous. Michael is a well-intentioned man who loves Hannah and their two sons, four and two, and is thrilled to learn a third is on the way. We see him spontaneously express affection to Hannah and bring their sons to the park – even offering to take them out to play so Hannah can get some rest – but only when the mood strikes. A hard-working provider, Michael is also prone to mood swings that cause him to rage at Hannah for an unwashed coffee cup (which he had left in the garage) after she has spent a day washing, ironing, cooking, and running after two toddlers. Hannah has long since learned not to defend herself when he demands, “What do you do all day?” or is accused of being “selfish”, as it will incite an angry lecture about “wives being submissive to your husbands”. She is usually to exhausted, physically and mentally, to endure his criticism.

The Search for Meaning

We first meet Hannah during a rainy day like any other, staring out the window at the gray drizzle as endless as the mountains of laundry produced by Michael, and her two little boys. Pregnant with her third child, Hannah remembers her childhood dreams of having a career and seeing the world, quashed by her strong Christian parents in the name of “godliness”. She, like many women in her position, years for something more outside the confines of the life dictated to her, but doesn’t know exactly what “something more” is.

“Accordingly, all women were expected to become homemakers as it was considered the godly choice, the only choice. Growing up, little boys were encouraged to play with swords, get dirty and be loud, while little girls were taught to dress their dolls, have tea time with their friends and dream of the day when they themselves would become homemakers. It was a beautiful dream filled with God’s light and pink glitter, but it was a dream that never crossed the border of childhood into adulthood. In the real world all the days began to look the same, the glitter ended up in all the wrong places, and the kitchen that had once appeared so bright and sunny began to feel more like a dungeon where the once hopeful young women tried to create something edible out of the few things they knew how to cook. Despite all of it most women accepted their role without much thought, having listened to stirring sermons on godly womanhood that dazzled them with the promise of romance and happiness. Becoming a wife and mother was the most important thing a woman could do. Only selfish women chose a life outside of the sheltering walls of the home. And as everyone knew, God didn’t approve of selfish women.”

Hannah had been allowed to attend Bible College – the only academic option available to women in her branch of Christianity – primarily for the purpose of finding a “godly husband”. An intelligent young women, Hannah met Michael studying Greek syntax and was shortly-after married to him. All of her life she had been taught that marriage was the fulfillment of her purpose as a woman (culminating in childbirth), but the illusion soon began to dissipate:

“Hannah looked at the rain and thought how women were like rain—needed yet despised. Women were at fault if anything went wrong, just as everyone blamed the rain that spoiled the perfect picnic. But if a woman ever tried to leave, suddenly everyone was invested in making sure she stayed. She had to be there, for without a woman there was no family, there was no home. Their pastor had waxed eloquent on more than one occasion about the role the wife played as the foundation of a home. Just as it was impossible to remove the foundation without destroying the whole house, it was equally impossible to have a family without a wife that stayed home. The real question was why everyone blamed the foundation for the poor condition of the rest of the structure.

All their lives they had been told that marriage and children was the “better” they had to look forward to and now suddenly there was another “better” to look forward to, one that didn’t include children and endless housework. What was the next “better”? Death? Without missing a beat their parents nodded and said, ‘yes, it is better to be with the Lord.’ The young people listened silently and wondered why they had been told to marry and have as many children as possible if it was better to be dead than alive. There was something wrong with the picture, but no one dared to say it out loud.”

Within the first chapter, the author takes us into the mundane details of the isolated female evangelical: starved of conversation, Hannah occasionally watches sitcoms just to hear adult voices (a choice Michael piously condemns as “worldly”, after returning from his office job). The women make homemade dish soap from recipes found on homemaking blogs – something, anything to give their daily lives purpose. Completely deprived of intellectual stimulation, Hannah’s soul begins to crumble and atrophy. She notices the lack of exhaustion and happiness apparent on the faces of other mothers she sees at the library’s weekly story-time hour, but quickly dismisses her dormant envy as the women’s skirts don’t go past their knees (making them “unbelievers” and therefore inferior).

Her few friends, all from the insular evangelical church they attend, all face the same struggles and guilt over admitting (even to themselves) that they struggle with the burdens placed on their shoulders. They must all keep their doubts and guilt to themselves – as if speaking it aloud somehow validated it This admission would be tantamount to heresy – because it would demand re-examining the worldview they had been taught all their lives – and threatened with hellfire if they ever dared question it.

“… How many women really wanted a man to boss them around and how many men wanted to get stuck in a dead-end job just to support their families?…. What would have made her happy was help with the housework, time for herself, and a husband who didn’t always silence her, a husband who treated her like—like a person. Why didn’t they talk about that in these glossy marriage publications? But an even better question was why she kept on thinking about these things. Everyone knew men and women were so different that there could never be any hope of equality. Why didn’t motherhood elevate women to the same status men enjoyed instead of lowering them to the ranks of children? Children needed supervision for their own good and women were said to need the same, for the exact same reason. It would have been almost funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. A grown woman who made life possible was treated like a tantrum throwing toddler when she objected to the fact that she was being treated like one. If they said men should treat women with honor, then that’s exactly what they should do. There was no honor in condescension.”

When “Not Depriving” Each Other Becomes Assault

At a baby shower, Hannah learns that she is not alone in viewing marital relations as a chore, which must be done – like ironing – out of a sense of duty to one’s husband, regardless of her own emotional needs (which are to be “crucified” if a woman even acknowledges they exist). Using 1 Corinthians 7:4 as a proof text, evangelical women are universally taught that depriving their husbands of sexual relations is a sin against God and a sign of “unsubmission”, which causes Hannah to feel guilt over her feelings of violation when Michael brutally forces himself on her one night. (While cases of non-consensual relations are likely rare in Christian marriages, the trauma and misguided spiritual guilt Hannah experiences over this action is a painfully accurate portrayal of the conditioned thought process evangelical women go through in this sensitive area). It is a well-known fact than love and mutual respect cannot flourish in any adult relationship based on inequality; the closer a marriage approximates a master-servant dynamic, the less intimacy can exist. For all of the marriage conferences and endless Christian marriage books the devout feed on, this imbalance of power and its destructive influence of the marital relationship is never addressed nor admitted.

While taught to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship, Hannah and her friends – although they dare not discuss it openly and must cultivate an image of family bliss at all costs – notice the double-standard and outright hypocrisy that their husbands practice in family life. Michael plays basketball, socializes with his church friends at will, and regularly leaves town for business or church men’s conferences for days at a time; but Hannah is expected to focus all of her time and energy on “the family” (within the house), unless it means volunteering at the church (with two toddlers in tow).

The one outside social event she might be allowed to enjoy is the two-day church women’s retreat, which Michael grudgingly lets her attend, although it means his missing a basketball game. Hannah has learned that to “ask permission” to socialize (evangelical women are expected to “ask their husband’s permission” for everything) is not worth the price she will pay: days of sulking and moodiness from Michael, and being guilt-tripped for not being “a good wife”. While she does enjoy a two-day reprieve at the retreat, her friend Laura is not so lucky: while there, Laura’s husband angrily telephones her, demanding that she return home immediately and cook him a “real” supper. The casserole she had left “tastes like dogfood” and the children are a nuisance. Laura tearfully leaves, and we later learn, through a conversation overheard by Hannah in the supermarket, that Laura’s husband can cook quite well – he just refuses to, in order to “show Laura who is boss”. We also hear him instructing a single man on the perks of finding a wife from the eager ranks of women within the church – “You don’t even have to worry about keeping your woman in line; the Church does it for you. It’s a win-win situation.”

“It was all about the family, until it wasn’t. But why was it always men who got to choose when it wasn’t?

No one dared to talk about it, for no one wanted to admit that their lives looked more like the evening news than the posters they saw at church; posters that advertised summer camps and short-term mission trips that cost more per person than a regular vacation for an entire family. Neither did anyone talk about the feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration.

Or the guilt.

The huge amounts of gut-wrenching guilt they all carried around for wanting more out of life than the dead-end drudgery of homemaking…”

Victim-Shaming and Gossip

Later, we learn that Laura’s husband is battering her. Hannah grows suspicious when seeing her friend’s black eye and the obvious shame in her demeanor, and speaks to the pastor’s wife. Already aware of the situation, the pastor’s wife curtly tells Hannah to keep the “secret” quiet and reminds her of the wife’s obligation to “submit” to her husband. After all, of Laura had obeyed her husband and been a more dutiful wife, her husband wouldn’t have had to “discipline” her. When he finally puts her in the hospital,  as “discipline” for breaking his bowling trophy while cleaning, Laura escapes to a woman’s shelter with her two children – but not before suffering a broken arm, and miscarrying her child.

She is shunned by the church; excoriated by the other women. Now a pariah, Laura, a victim of domestic violence, will forever be viewed as a “wayward women”. She is blamed for her husband’s sin, for not “trying hard enough”. The same fate befalls the leader of women’s ministries, whose husband is having an illicit sexual affair with a teenager. The women in the church decide it was the woman’s own fault; after all, if she had just been “more available” to her husband, he wouldn’t have had to seek gratification outside the marriage bed.

Finding the Light

Growing dismay over the hurt she sees inflicted on these women, as well as Michael’s justification of Laura’s husband’s abuse of her, Hannah grows increasingly disillusioned with what is practiced in a church claiming to preach “grace”. When a new woman joins, a biology teacher who – gasp – believes in evolution, she is subtly shunned by the other women who consider her not much more than a heretic. Friendly and very much walking with God, Jessy visits Hannah with a much-needed casserole (for all of her homemaking responsibilities, Hannah cannot cook – unthinkable for an evangelical woman) and we learn that she cannot bear children. This further alienates her in the Church Ladies’ eyes, and Hannah must keep her acquaintanceship with Jessy a secret, lest the holy tongues start wagging about her, as well. Jessy slips Hannah a book in the church ladies’ room about women in the Bible, which Hannah reads in secret. New hope fills her:  God had never dictated that women hide their gifts; be subjugated by the ones entrusted to love them; or to endlessly serve without reciprocity or appreciation. His intention for His daughters was the same as it was for His sons: to find their joy and identity in Him; while using their unique gifts and abilities.

Meanwhile, Jessy suggests Laura report the battering to the police, and ultimately gets her to the women’s shelter. Hannah asks herself, “How was it possible that the only person who cared about what was happening to Laura was the one everyone thought was a blazing heretic? Something was very wrong with the whole picture.”

Hannah’s disillusionment with the dead-end destiny of herself and other fundamentalist women, combined with her growing concern over the way women are treated and blamed for their husband’s sinful misconduct and the increasingly dominant attitude of her husband cause her to question whether this is really “God’s will” as she nurtures her newborn baby daughter.

“She knew the real question was why the church had done nothing to stop the violence. How could they defend the destruction of a child of God? The authority men had was supposedly given for the protection of women. That was what they all said. But in reality it was given for the protection of the man’s selfish refusal to regard his wife as a person, a real human being. Only a man who saw his wife as a servant, created to please him, was able to treat his wife with such contempt. The Bible didn’t allow for such a blatant disregard of human life. Love for one’s neighbor extended to one’s spouse as well. In fact, it began with one’s spouse, for who were as close as two people who slept in the same bed and ate from the same table? A deep rage began to build within Hannah. Not only had they lied, they had also refused to help a woman getting hurt because of the lies. They said resisting those set in authority was evil. But how could resisting someone who hurt you be evil? There was nothing godly about beating your wife and there was nothing godly about defending someone who did. It was evil.

Pure evil.”

Hannah realizes she needs to change her life, but knows very well that if she speaks up against the injustice, she will share the same fate as the women whose husbands were adulterers or wife-batterers. Her situation, while bleak, is far less dramatic and in optimistic moments she is conflicted. As a woman who loves her husband, her family, and her God, what should she do? What can she do, without facing dire social consequences, and being made to be an outcast in the only world she has ever known?

Susanna Krizo’s “Hannah’s Choice”, a soon-to-be released sequel to “The Evangelical Wife” promises to answer these questions. Order The Evangelical Wife here, and visit Susanna’s author page here: http://www.susannakrizo.com/ to check out her other excellent books!

Susanna“Patriarchy is as far from benign, as it is from being biblical. Nowhere does the Bible advocate for a model in which men are allowed to elevate themselves above women in the name of “godly leadership.” Either all humans are equal, or human equality doesn’t exist; if human equality doesn’t exist, we are not created in the image of God; if we are not created in the image of God, we can forget about Genesis and seek the truth elsewhere. It is my hope that we can all join hands in this historic moment and bring equality back to where it should always have been found, the church.

Peace and Grace,

Susanna Krizo

Becoming an Angel – Give Her Wings’ Campaign to Help Women

 

Last week, the Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Laura Dyke, contacted me to discuss the ministry’s urgent need to help more mothers of small children. I have written before about Give Her Wings’ caring and compassion towards women who have had to flee abusive marriages, and the unenviable position they often find themselves in when faced with caring for their children without the assistance of family, their churches, or even the state. http://giveherwings.com/current-fundraiser/Laura.png

Regarding Give Her Wings’ Angel Campaign, Laura wrote:

We are trying to get our monthly recurring donations to a point where we can continue to help at least two mamas a month, and right now, the resources are just not there.  We are going to have to cut back and we are heartbroken about that.  We get nominations continually, and while we want to maintain our two mamas a month, we’d love to be able to grow that number even more. We know that working together, we can all make a bigger impact on these women, their children, and the kingdom of God as a whole.

While many charities and ministries have fundraisers and annual campaigns, Give Her Wings is a non-profit ministry near and dear to my heart. While I have never personally been the recipient of aid from them, their much-needed social action fills an oft-overlooked gap from which many churches and para-church ministries prefer to look the other way.  The leadership of Give Her Wings carefully vets women in need who have small children, and out of donations provides them with basic necessities such as groceries, heating, clothing, and gas/automotive assistance when needed. At Christmas, an extra donation fund set aside to help these women buy their children Christmas gifts is earmarked to assist as many moms and youngsters as possible.

Beyond practical help, the staff of Give Her Wings is an invaluable source of strength to women of ten demoralized by their situations, abuse in previous marriages, and betrayal. Megan Cox, the ministry’s previous director and author of “Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse”, (like myself originally trained as a nouthetic counselor) has sought to compile a directory of volunteer Christian counselors to speak life and hope to these broken women. In fact, I dedicated my recent book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church” to her, and the other selfless ministers of the Gospel working behind the scenes at Give Her Wings.

dedication

On Give Her Wings’ website, you may read the thankful testimonies of many of the “mamas” helped by generous donors. Here is one such thank-you note:

Dear Friends,

I am getting the chance once more to write out words from my heart concerning the love you have shown to me and my children during this time in our lives when we needed hope and to be lifted up from a dark place. Thank each and every one of you so much!! Please know you are part of our story of God’s goodness to us. I lived for a long time not knowing what to do and tried very hard to keep going in a situation that I believed a forgiving wife had to endure. Through God’s amazing grace and His bringing very special people into my life, I was given the information, the answers, the help I so desperately needed.

This ministry is “life giving” in so many ways

This ministry is “life giving” in so many ways and you dear ones who gave to help us or prayed for us, became a part of our story of hope, and a part of this ministry that does more than I can ever express to help those of us struggling so much to start over. I am forever grateful and promise your gift and your love and kindness will never be forgotten. As I move ahead in my journey, I will be remembering you in my prayers and asking God to bless you all for helping me with a new start, a new story, out of the darkness of abuse into freedom and healing…..I am thanking you again today and always….it means more than I can ever say……

If you are able, please consider a one-time gift to Give her Wings to help needy mothers of small children. Your donation will be much-appreciated, tax-deductible, and 100% goes to “The least of these” (Matt. 25:40). Thank you on behalf of all involved with the ministry of Give Her Wings, and the mamas and lambs they support.

 

New Book Releases….New Beginnings

Whew, has it really been six weeks since I have last blogged?? Well, nothing too surprising, as I have been extremely busy on the writing/promotional front, as well as professionally (oh yeah…I’m a full-time interpreter); and personally (more on that later!)

books.pngThe two biggest projects, which I’ve just started preliminary marketing on, have been my two most recent books released with Calvary Press Publishing.

In late December, my third book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church” came out and seems thus far to be selling better than my first two books combined! This book, which the President of Calvary Press suggested I write, examines the different forms of emotional/psychological abuse women in patriarchal authoritarian churches and marriages experience. I discuss what emotional abuse is, the cycle of abuse and re-victimization, and the teachings inherent in Neo-Calvinist and conservative evangelical churches that serve to condition and groom women to accept abuse as normative.

Some of the discussion of Scripture-twisting (especially mis-use of Ephesians 22, to the expense of women making a good faith effort to be loving, godly wives) was based on an article series I wrote for Biblical Counseling for Women over a year ago. I also examine the aspects of nouthetic counseling (often touted as ‘biblical counseling’) that are, in fact, UNbiblical — namely, the practice of sending women back to unrepentant abusers; and the superficial way in which emotional struggles are often dismissed.

From the Publisher’s Description: 

Abuse of different forms has become much more prevalent in the United States over the last two decades. Unfortunately, Christian marriages are not immune to this dark reality. Often part of a dynamic of control and oppression in relationships, extreme authoritarian teaching can set the stage for abuse to occur. Far too often, rather than being a haven for survivors of abuse, local churches enable perpetrators by maintaining a “code of silence” and shaming victims for speaking up.
In this book, Marie O’Toole identifies the many forms spousal abuse takes; alerts the reader to the signs of an abusive relationship; and offers practical advice to pastors and counselors on how better to confront abusers and help victims heal within complementarian environments. Some of the questions this book answers:

  • What is emotional abuse?
  • Why do Christian women stay in destructive relationships?
  • Can abusers change?
  • Are men also victims of abuse?
  • Is marital abuse ever biblical grounds for divorce?
  • What does the Bible say about “ragers” and “revilers”?
  • How does Christ heal abuse survivors?

The issue of abuse within Christian communities (and how it is often mishandled by the Church) is currently garnering more media attention worldwide as it reaches near- epidemic levels. With more pastors and victim advocates speaking out than ever before, leadership of seminaries and local churches need to reevaluate how they assess and counsel women in the unenviable position of a destructive marriage. Writing from an insider’s perspective as well as that of a biblical counselor, O’Toole sheds light on a painful subject often shrouded in secrecy and shame.

Concurrently, my fourth book – a tie-in to my first book, “Redeemed from the Pit“, is a 31-day devotional dedicated to helping Christian women overcome and be fully free from eating disorders. “Hope and Healing from Eating Disorders: a 31-Day Devotional” is currently at the publisher’s, and will be available within the next week as both a paperback and on Kindle. The project was originally suggested to me by a colleague in The Biblical Counseling Coalition, and perhaps most exciting for me is that it has been translated into Albanian and is available as an e-book: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/shprese-dhe-sherim-per-crregullimet-e-te-ngrenit

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I’m very pleased with these developments!

While I haven’t had much time to enjoy being published or promoting my work lately (save for scheduling a couple radio interviews and book signings), I don’t feel too badly about it…….I will be closing on a new house at the end of this month – a permanent place for my children and me to live! The events of the past two years have been painful and traumatic at times, but I have overcome…and am managing to secure a better future for all of us, thanks to the steadfast support of family, friends, and God.

The wonderful, kind and generous man in my life tells me he “admires [my] strength” and is “inspired by [my] fearlessness”, but the truth is I still occasionally carry fear. I’ve simply learned to “do it afraid”, for my own sake and more importantly, for the sake of my children. By this time next month, Lord willing, we will be moved into our new house – where my 12-year-old daughter will no longer have to share a bedroom with Mom! Pictures to follow in due course.