Pressing On When Faced with Medical Ordeals

(English Translation of article that appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of “Ilira Revista”)

by Marie O’Toole

Ilira1“Elena” has just arrived in the examination room for her chemotherapy treatment. A tiny Bulgarian grandmother of 82, she sets up the bed with the blanket she has brought from home, adjusts the headscarf that covers her bald head, and enthusiastically hands me a plastic bag filled with tomatoes, peppers and fresh basil from her garden. “For you, Marie!” she exclaims, her pleasure obvious at being able to give her interpreter a treat.

Elena has been fighting pancreatic cancer for three years, as aggressively as the tumor that pumps malignant cells into her frail body. However, she refuses to dwell on her physical limitations – or sometimes, even admit that they exist. Last year, her oncologist was astonished that her body was responding so well to treatment, and that she was not complaining of the usual side-effects of chemotherapy: fatigue; nausea; or mouth sores. I could barely conceal my delight at her response: “Don’t you know, Doctor, that Christ heals us? You doctors know your work, but I pray. And Jesus heals my body!”

While Elena’s strong faith anchors her, there is no denying that a serious illness such as cancer is extremely difficult. Her daughter, a woman about my age, tells the full story: there are dark days, some when Elena is barely able to get out of bed, and must rely on pain medication. How does she summon the strength to press on, while waiting for the next treatment that will hopefully shrink the disease – yet make her extremely sick in the meantime? “I have work to do,” she says. “I tend the garden – we have zucchini as well as tomatoes; they are so good for cooking! And I teach my grandchildren Bulgarian,” she says proudly. “I must leave them this gift. If I don’t teach them, who will? My son-in-law is American, and my daughter is always working so much; poor thing. It is very important for the children to know their heritage….the little one can already read the Cyrillic alphabet!” Does she ever get anxious while waiting for test results, which will reveal the progression of her cancer? “Eh!” She waves her hand, in the dismissive gesture so typical of Balkan people of her generation. “It’s not for me to worry about that. I am in God’s hands.”

Joy: the Nature of God, Pumped Through Our Bloodstream

Despite Elena’s admirably positive attitude, it is undeniable that serious illnesses such as cancer are difficult and painful both for patients and the family members who help care for them. pic2 (1)A friend of mine from church, “Altin”, describes the feeling after chemotherapy as “being in a boxing match, and losing”. A fellow Christian and writer, being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was a shock for Altin and gave him much time to reflect on his life in Christ in the midst of frightening circumstances. He and his wife started a Facebook page, “Ad Alta Simul” (Latin for “To the Summit Together”) to update friends on the progress of his medical treatments as he took step after painful step to fight the cancer. During the worst of his treatments, he wrote:

“Joy is a topic I have thought long and hard on over the past 5 months during this battle with cancer. Can I be joyful in the midst of all of the uncertainty of my future? Is it possible for me to be joyful when experiencing near constant physical and emotional pain?

The Bible certainly indicates that it is possible for me to do so. “Consider it pure joy when you fall into all sorts of trials” (James 1:2). To transpose James for my current situation: Can I consider my cancer as nothing but joy? Joy is nothing less than the nature of God pumped through our bloodstream. It’s a blessed invasion of the Spirit of God deep into my soul. Let me contrast happiness and joy: Happiness is all about the here and now. Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a sound bite that does not last, while joy is like a pleasing chorus that can’t be stopped.

As I reflect on the words of James, I can’t avoid the high bar that he sets for God’s gift of joy. Any lingering confusion between joy and happiness must end with this passage. If I claim to be happy when my life has been turned upside down with cancer, I am either lying, deluding myself, or am downright insane. Happiness and cancer (or any trouble for that matter) simply don’t mix. But according to James, I can rejoice in the same situation. If he is correct, then God’s joy must be made up of material so strong and sturdy that it can withstand the toughest pain and sorrow that this world can thrash upon us. Trials thus emerge as joy’s greatest and toughest proving grounds.”

Far from treating chronic illness as a pleasant gift or simply pretending it doesn’t matter, the Christians I see fight this curse with courage, but humility. As Scripture instructs believers to “carry one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ”, believers in Christ are humble enough to seek and accept help and practical expressions of love from others when they are most needed. pic3When Altin was diagnosed with cancer, he and his wife were grateful for the much-needed support of friends and church family that came in the form of cards, letters, prepared meals, and assistance with other needs as they arose. After months of grueling treatments to get the disease under control, Altin and his wife hosted a joyful “No More Chemotherapy” party attended by many friends. This marked a milestone of success, but as with many chronic diseases, the battle continues.

Caring for Caregivers

When life is disrupted by serious illness, it is not just the patient who needs support and care – but often his or her spouse or family as well. While Elena speaks sincerely about her steadfast faith in God, it is impossible not to notice the exhaustion on her daughter’s face. Early morning hospital appointments, 24-hour care for a sick parent, child or spouse, and the stress of waiting for conclusive test results are a daily reality for family members. Do you have a family member who has fallen ill? Here are some suggestions to help you in your battle:

·         Learn about your loved one’s diagnosis, and get to know his medical care team. Each member of the medical group will have specific responsibilities, and you will want to become acquainted with each one.

·         Share the responsibilities of caregiving with other people. It will be overwhelming to try and do everything alone; learn to ask for help when you need it.

·         Take care of your own health. You need to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy food and drink enough water in order to have the energy you need to help your sick loved one.

·         Find ways to relax and relieve stress. It is not selfish to make time for yourself – relaxation will help you mentally and physically prepare for each day’s challenges.

·          Try not to take anything personally. Sometimes, your sick loved one may be upset or frustrated, and you may feel unappreciated. Do not forget that your loved one truly appreciates you and all you are doing, even if it is not always said.

·         Let your loved one be in control. You do not have to make all the decisions and plans; whenever possible, let your loved one be in charge of his or her experience with treatment.

Small Gestures that Mean a Lot

“Doviana” cares for her son, a man in his early 30’s, who has had a painful condition creating a large tumor on his hip for several years. While dealing with the challenges of her own chronic illness (Multiple Sclerosis), Doviana and her son take an eternal perspective: “Everyone has an expiration date; some of us are simply more aware of it than others.” Faced with possible amputation, he lives with constant pain but possesses an unshakeable faith. “Physical problems can take you down spiritually faster than anything else,” Doviana says, and points out that many well-meaning people simply don’t know how to approach tragedy. “We have learned patience, and don’t judge people who don’t know how to respond. Most people who ask a chronically-sick person ‘how are you?’ don’t really want to know how they are, but we have learned to give gracious answers, because we realize that [we] may be their first experience with serious illness,” she explains.

Simply knowing that others care and are praying for them – or receiving small but tangible gestures of compassion – often lifts the spirits of patients who are fighting serious or long-term illnesses. Doviana found comfort in meeting with another woman from her church who had cancer, talking about the day-to-day difficulties they each faced, and praying together.

When Illness Leads to Serving Others

In 2006, “Albina” was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early enough to be cured; but the road to recovery was a difficult one. Although initially Albina felt abandoned, the new church she attended let the congregation know (through an email prayer chain) what she was going through and what help she could use. “The results were amazing,” she said. “Cards, meals, phone calls (at least weekly from the pastor). The cards came almost every day, and I still have them. To have a physical item to show that someone was thinking of you and praying for you meant so much.” Because this support from other people was so crucial to Albina during her recovery, she started to reach out to others facing the same ordeal. In 2006, the same year she was diagnosed, she started a ministry called “Haven of Hope”. At her own expense, Albina has been sending encouraging letters, cards and books to people battling cancer for the past 11 years. “I have 3 scrapbooks of notes from people telling me how much it means. [The money] comes from designated offerings and income I get from selling tote bags. The sewing only cost me my time, because the fabric has all been donated,” she said. A small thing like a letter or uplifting booklet can make the day of a frightened cancer patient just a little bit brighter, and give them renewed hope.

When facing a potentially life-threatening illness, life for a patient can revolve around hospital visits, waiting for test results, and medication. Yet a person’s health cannot be measured purely in physical terms, and maintaining one’s emotional and spiritual health is possible even when circumstances are bleak. Working towards personal goals (whether teaching grandchildren; writing a book; gardening tomatoes or encouraging other patients likewise struggling) is important to a chronically-ill patient, as it takes the focus off of his/her disease and helps them focus on a normal life. And there is no replacement for simple human compassion; often expressed in the simplest of ways that cost very little.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-19)




Të ngulmosh përballë sëmundjes së hidhur

(nga “Ilira Revista”, Vjeshtë, 2017
Botimi i 61-të)

Marie O’Toole


Elena sapo mbërriti në dhomën e kontrollit për trajtimin e kimio-terapisë. Një gjyshe vocërrake 82-vjeçare nga Bullgaria, ajo shtroi krevatin me mbulesën që kishte marrë nga shtëpia, rregulloi shallin që i mbulonte kokën pa flokë dhe më dha tërë ngazëllim një qese plot me domate, speca dhe borzilok të freskët nga kopshti i saj. “Për ty, Mari!” tha nga kënaqësia që po i jepte diçka përkthyeses së saj.

Elena po lufton me kancerin në pankreas prej tri vitesh në mënyrë po aq agresive sa tumori që nxjerr qeliza malinje në trupin e saj të brishtë. Por ajo refuzon të përqendrohet në kufizimet e saj fizike – ose ndonjëherë, të pranojë se ato ekzistojnë.

Vitin e kaluar, onkologu u habit që trupi i saj reagonte aq mirë ndaj trajtimit dhe që ajo nuk ankohej për efektet anësore të kimioterapisë: lodhje, të vjella ose plagë në gojë. E pamundur ta fshihja kënaqësinë që ndjeva kur ajo u përgjigj: “A nuk e di doktor që Krishti na shëron? Ju doktorët e njihni punën tuaj, por unë lutem. Dhe Jezusi më shëron trupin!”

Edhe pse besimi i fortë i Elenës e mban fort, askush s’mund ta mohojë që një sëmundje serioze si kanceri, është jashtëzakonisht e vështirë. E bija e saj, një grua në moshën time, na tregon të gjithë historinë: ka ditë të errëta, atëherë kur Elena e ka të pamundur të ngrihet nga shtrati dhe merr ilaçe për dhimbjen. Por, si i mbledh forcat të ngulmojë ndërsa pret trajtimin e radhës me shpresën që sëmundja do të tkurret, por që e bën të ndihet jashtëzakonisht keq ndërkohë? “Kam punë për të bërë”, thotë ajo. “Kujdesem për kopshtin, kemi kunguj, domate; janë të mira për gatim! U mësoj edhe nipërve dhe mbesave bullgarisht”, thotë me krenari. “Duhet t’ua lë këtë dhuratë. Kush do t’i mësojë nëse nuk i mësoj unë? Dhëndri im është amerikan dhe ime bijë është gjithmonë në
punë, e gjora. Është shumë e rëndësishme që fëmijët ta njohin trashëgiminë
e tyre… më e vogla mund ta lexojë alfabetin cirilik!”.

A ndjen ndonjëherë ankth ndërkohë që pret rezultatet e analizave? “Eh!”, tund
dorën me një gjest kaq tipik për ballkanasit e brezit të saj. “Nuk jam unë ajo që duhet të shqetësohet për këtë. Jam në duart e Perëndisë”.

Gëzimi: natyra e Perëndisë që rrjedh në venat tona

Me gjithë qëndrimin pozitiv për t’u admiruar të Elenës, pa dyshim që një sëmundje aq serioze sa kanceri është e vështirë dhe e dhimbshme për pacientët dhe anëtarët e familjes që kujdesen për ta. pic2 (1)
Një miku im nga kisha, Altini, e përshkruan ndjesinë
pas kimioterapisë si “të jesh në një ndeshje boksi, dhe të humbasësh”. Diagnostikimi me kancer në pankreas ishte tronditje për Altinin, një mik i krishterë dhe shkrimtar; kjo i dha shumë kohë të reflektojë për jetën në Krishtin në mes të rrethanave frikësuese. Ai bashkë me gruan hapën një faqe në “facebook”, “Ad Alta Simul” (latinisht për “Në majë

së bashku”) për t’i përditësuar miqtë për progresin e trajtimit mjekësor pas çdo hapi të dhimbshëm në luftën kundër kancerit. Gjatë periudhës më të keqe të trajtimit, ai shkroi:

“Gëzimi është një temë për të cilën kam menduar gjatë këtyre 5 muajve të betejës me kancerin. A mund të jem i gëzuar në mes të çdo pasigurie për të ardhmen? A është e mundur të kem gëzim kur përjetoj dhimbje të vazhdueshme fizike dhe emocionale? Bibla sigurisht që tregon se kjo është e mundur për mua. “Ta quani gëzim të madh, o vëllezër të mi, kur bini në tundime të ndryshme” (Jakobi 1:2).

Për ta zhvendosur vargun nga Jakobi në situatën time:

A mund ta konsideroj kancerin veç si gëzim? Gëzimi nuk është asgjë më pak se natyra e Perëndisë që rrjedh në venat tona. Është një pushtim i bek


uar i Frymës së Shenjtë thellë në shpirtin tim.

Dua të vë në kontrast lumturinë me gëzimin: Lumturia është e përkohshme. Gëzimi është i rrënjosur në përjetësi. Lumturia është një tingull që nuk zgjat, ndërsa gëzimi është si një kor i ëmbël që nuk mund të ndalë. Ndërsa reflektoj fjalët e Jakobit, nuk mund ta shpërfill cakun e lartë ku ai e vë gëzimin, dhuratën e Perëndisë. Çdo konfuzion mes gëzimit dhe lumturisë duhet të marrë fund me këtë pasazh. Nëse pretendoj se jam i lumtur kur jeta ime është kthyer për së prapthi nga kanceri, ose po gënjej, ose po mashtroj veten, ose kam luajtur mendsh. Lumturia dhe kanceri (ose ndonjë telash tjetër) nuk pleksen bashkë. Por sipas Jakobit, unë mund të gëzohem në të njëjtën situatë. Nëse ai është i saktë, atëherë gëzimi i Perëndisë duhet të jetë bërë nga material aq i fortë dhe i ngurtë, sa mund të durojë dhimbjen dhe hidhërimin më të ashpër me të cilin kjo botë mund të na godasë. Kështu që sfidat dalin si sprova më e madhe dhe më e fortë e gëzimit.

Ata nuk e trajtojnë këtë sëmundje kronike si një dhuratë të pëlqyeshme apo thjesht bëjnë sikur nuk ekziston, por të krishterët që njoh e luftojnë këtë mallkim me kurajë, me përulësi. Ashtu siç i udhëzon Shkrimi të “mbajnë barrët e njëri-tjetrit dhe kështu të përmbushin ligjin e Krishtit”, besimtarët në Krishtin janë aq të përulur sa të kërkojnë dhe të pranojnë ndihmë dhe shprehje praktike dashurie nga të tjerët atëherë kur u nevojiten më shumë. Kur Altini u diagnostikua me kancer, ai dhe e shoqja ishin mirënjohës për mbështetjen aq të nevojshme të miqve dhe familjes së kishës që erdhi në formën e kartolinave, letrave, vakteve të përgatitura dhe ndihmës për çdo nevojë që doli. Pas disa muajsh trajtimi të mundimshëm për të mbajtur sëmundjen nën kontroll, Altini me bashkëshorten organizuan një festë “S’ka më kimioterapi” ku morën pjesë shumë miq. Kjo shënoi një moment suksesi, por ashtu si me shumë sëmundje kronike, beteja vazhdon.

Kujdesi ndaj atyre që kujdesen

Kur jeta të prishet nga një sëmundje serioze, nuk është vetëm pacienti që ka nevojë për mbështetje dhe përkujdesje, por shpesh edhe bashkëshorti, bashkëshortja apo familja. Ndërsa Elena flet me sinqeritet për besimin e patundur në Perëndinë, është e pamundur të mos vësh re rraskapitjen në fytyrën e së bijës. Vizitat herët në mëngjes në spital, përkujdesja gjatë 24 orëve për prindin, fëmijën apo bashkëshortin e sëmurë, dhe stresi i pritjes së testeve përfundimtare, janë realitet i përditshëm për anëtarët e familjes.

A keni një anëtar në familje që është sëmurë? Ja disa sugjerime për t’ju ndihmuar në betejën tuaj:

• Mësoni për diagnozën e të afërmit tuaj dhe njihni doktorët që po kujdesen për të. Çdo anëtar i grupit mjekësor ka përgjegjësi specifike dhe është mirë të njiheni me secilin prej tyre.

• Ndani përgjegjësitë e përkujdesjes me të tjerë. Është jashtëzakonisht e rëndë të përpiqesh dhe të bësh çdo gjë vetë; mësoni të kërkoni ndihmë atëherë kur ju duhet.

• Kujdesuni për shëndetin tuaj. Duhet të flini mjaftueshëm, të hani ushqime të shëndetshme dhe të pini mjaft ujë për të patur energjinë e duhur për ta ndihmuar të afërmin e sëmurë.

• Gjeni mënyra për t’u qetësuar dhe për të çliruar stresin. Nuk tregoni egoizëm nëse gjeni kohë për veten – çlodhja do t’ju ndihmojëtë përgatiteni mendërisht dhe fizikisht për sfidat e çdo dite.

• Përpiquni të mos merrni asgjë personalisht. Ndonjëherë, i afërmi i sëmurë mund të jetë i zemëruar ose i mërzitur dhe mund t’ju duket sikur nuk ju vlerëson. Mos harroni se i afërmi juaj ju vlerëson juve dhe çdo gjë që bëni, edhe pse nuk e shpreh gjithmonë.

• Lejojeni të afërmin tuaj të jenë në kontroll. Mos merrni çdo vendim dhe mos bëni çdo plan vetë; nëse është e mundur, i afërmi juaj le të jetë personi që do të vendosë vetë për përvojën e vet me trajtimin.

Gjestet e vogla tregojnë shumë

Doviana po kujdeset për të birin, një djalë në të tridhjetat i cili ka një sëmundje të dhimbshme që i ka krijuar një tumor të madh në ije prej disa vitesh. Ndërkohë që merret me sfidat e sëmundjes së vet kronike (sklerozën multiple), Doviana dhe i
biri kanë një perspektivë hyjnore: “Të gjithë e kanë një datë të fundit, por disa nga ne janë më të vetëdijshëm për këtë sesa disa të tjerë”. Ai jeton me dhimbje të vazhdueshme dhe rrezikon amputimin, por ka një besim të patundur. “Problemet fizike të rrëzojnë shpirtërisht më shpejt se çdo gjë tjetër”, thotë Doviana dhe tregon se shumë njerëz me qëllime të mira nuk e dinë si ta trajtojnë tragjedinë. “Kemi mësuar të tregojmë durim dhe nuk i gjykojmë njerëzit që nuk dinë si të reagojnë. Shumë njerëz që e pyesin dikë me
sëmundje kronike “Si je?”, nuk duan të dinë se si është, por kemi mësuar të japim përgjigje me hir, sepse e kuptojmë se [ne] mund të jemi përvoja e tyre e parë me sëmundjen serioze”, shpjegon ajo.

Kur e dinë se të tjerët kujdesen dhe luten për ta, ose marrin gjeste të vogla dhe praktike dhembshurie, shpesh kjo i inkurajon pacientët që po luftojnë me sëmundje të gjata e serioze. Doviana ka gjetur ngushëllim duke u takuar me një grua tjetër nga kisha që kishte kancer, duke folur për vështirësitë që hasnin çdo ditë dhe duke u lutur së bashku.
Kur sëmundja ju nxit t’u shërbeni të tjerëve Albina është diagnostikuar me kancer në gji në vitin 2006. Kanceri u zbulua aq herët sa mund të kurohej, por rruga drejt shërimit është e vështirë. Edhe pse Albina u ndje e braktisur, kisha e re në të cilën merrte pjesë u njoftua (përmes mesazheve elektronike për një zinxhir lutjeje) se çfarë po kalonte dhe për çfarë kishte nevojë. “Rezultatet ishin të mahnitshme”, thotë ajo. “Kartolina, ushqime, telefonata (të paktën çdo javë nga pastori). Kartolinat vinin çdo ditë dhe ende i ruaj. Kur ke në dorë diçka fizike që tregon se dikush po mendon për ty dhe po lutet, do të thotë aq shumë. Për shkak se kjo mbështetje nga të tjerët ishte aq domethënëse për Albinën gjatë
kohës së shërimit, ajo nisi t’u shërbejë të tjerëve që po kalonin të njëjtën përvojë si ajo. Në vitin 2006, në të njëjtin vit kur u diagnostikua, ajo nisi shërbesën “Limani i shpresës”. Albina u ka dërguar me shpenzimet e veta në këto 11 vitet e fundit, letra
inkurajuese, kartolina dhe libra njerëzve që po luftojnë me kancerin. “Kam tri albume me pusulla nga njerëzit që më kanë thënë sa shumë i kam inkurajuar. [Paratë] vijnë nga
ofertat dhe të ardhurat që mbledh nga shitja e çantave. “Unë investoj vetëm kohën që i qep, pasi copa është e dhuruar”, thotë ajo. Diçka e vogël, si një letër apo një libërth inkurajues, e bën ditën e një pacienti të trembur nga kanceri pak më të shndritshme
dhe i përtërin shpresën.

Kur vihet përballë një sëmundjeje që të kërcënon jetën, jeta e pacientit sillet rrotull vizitave në spital, pritjes për rezultatin e analizave dhe marrjes së ilaçeve. Ilira2Megjithatë, shëndeti i një personi nuk mund të matet me gjëra materiale dhe ruajtja e shëndetit emocional dhe frymëror është e mundur edhe kur rrethanat janë të vështira. Puna për të arritur qëllime personale, (qoftë mësimi i nipërve, shkrimi i një libri, kujdesi ndaj domateve apo inkurajimi i atyre që janë në të njëjtën luftë) është shumë e rëndësishme për një pacient me sëmundje kronike, pasi largon fokusin nga sëmundja e tij/e saj dhe e ndihmon të fokusohet te jeta normale. Dhe nuk ka zëvendësues për dhembshurinë njerëzore, e cila shprehet shpesh në mënyrën më të thjeshtë që kushton shumë pak.

Unmerited Grace…at the Dentist’s Office


by Marie O’Toole

Grace: An undeserved gift, or unmerited favor.

This is a highly personal, non-theological post.

Today, I was the recipient of a blessing on so many levels that I cannot begin to express my gratitude. I spent the afternoon with my dentist, who I’ve been seeing since I was about 13. He was to repair a molar that broke months ago. As he put on his gloves and asked me how I’d been, I said: “Dr. C, I think we need to have that conversation we’ve been putting off for 30 years.”

The back-story.

At age 17, my dentist was the first person to figure out that I was bulimic. I had never had a cavity up until that point, but as my anorexia and later bulimia progressed, the damage to my teeth worsened. By the time I was in college, my life was in danger and while the dental damage was not the biggest priority, he did a tremendous amount of fillings and composite repair that I still have in my mouth. I have used a prescription toothpaste with concentrated fluoride for about 25 years to re-calcify my teeth, and practiced excellent hygiene. However, once the enamel is that damaged, teeth never fully “recover” the way a person might. Staining continues; cavities are frequent; damage is evident.

I may not be “damaged goods”, but my teeth definitely are.

In short, I am very self-conscious about my teeth. For some women, it’s their thighs or stomachs or breasts that make them insecure. For me, it’s my teeth. This is not simple vanity. The only time I think about eating disorders these days are when I am counseling a woman, or I go to the dentist – but I still have to see them every day in the mirror. Keep my lips closed when I smile (hard for someone who is often smiling or cracking jokes!).

My damaged teeth are a visible reminder of who I used to be. And it isn’t pretty.

So often, I wish I could shake my 15-year-old self, the one who was obsessed with being the thinnest on the gymnastics team, and tell her: “Stop it. There is nothing wrong with how you look; and do you have any idea of the permanent, painful and expensive dental work you will need down the road?”

Not that I would have listened. I had concerned adults galore trying to warn me.

When I was 17, Dr. C warned me that eventually I would need to have them all capped. Having been fully recovered for nearly two decades, and having had piece-meal work done, I have somehow managed to avoid that; but the continued sensitivity, occasional pain, and obvious cosmetic issue lead me to decide that something needed to be done. I was strongly considering traveling to Albania this coming summer and having all of them capped (that’s a thing, by the way – it’s called “Dental Tourism” and all of my Bulgarian patients, as well as many Americans, do it – the cost of having one’s whole mouth done would be about the same as a co-payment for one or two teeth here.)

Dr. C. listened to my concerns, and asked what bothered me the most. “People see it when I smile,” I answered. “I’d be embarrassed to open my mouth.” He ordered x-rays of my entire mouth, determined that everything was in good shape (no need for root canals or immediate work), and showed me that most of the “ugliness” is just fillings. Fortunately, I am at a place where the capping would be purely cosmetic, but because so much work had been done on each tooth, I would run the risk of his “killing” them and needing root canals.

I am a dentally-complicated patient.

I realized it would be better to have the same dentist who knows the history behind each tooth do any work than seeing someone new on the other side of the world – no matter how good. There are highly skilled dentists in Eastern Europe using the same technology and treatments one might obtain in the U.S., and I could surely bring my dental records to an English-speaking provider, but Dr. C’s suggestion seemed better: he preferred to cap only the front six teeth, which are most visible….

… a greatly reduced price.

“Marie, you were sick for a long time. We didn’t know if you would be here at age 46. I have watched you heal for 20 years….your strength is inspiring. I want to do this for you.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Nothing is more humiliating that having to open my mouth at the dentist’s office, even though the hygienists have known me since childhood and are not intimidated by the challenge I provide. The only time I really still feel regret (shame, even) over foolish, youthful mistakes I made is in that chair. I did this to myself, I am constantly thinking. I don’t even deserve Novacaine. Then, I leave and go about my daily life; and don’t think about my bulimic past until 6 months later, at the next dental appointment.

But it’s there. And every time I smile, I feel like the world is staring at my damaged teeth. And recently, I decided to do something about it….but I couldn’t have imagined my old dentist would not only meet me halfway, but gladly offer this as an affordable service to me. This will save me several thousand dollars. But what touches me most? Even knowing all I’d been through, or perhaps because of it, he wanted to do it for me.

Completely undeserved and unmerited. I probably caused that man many sleepless nights in my teens (he is friends with my parents, and has sons my age.) He felt he was watching me kill myself. He wants me to feel pretty again when I look in the mirror, and chose to extend major grace in his billing to this dentally-challenged single mom.

The icing on the proverbial cake?

A gift. WOW. I..can’t…even.

Before we start the capping, he wants to try and lighten up the baseline of all my teeth, and threw in a high-quality dental bleaching system (worth about $70). When I went to pay for it, he wouldn’t let the receptionist charge me.

Probably the average reader cannot understand how huge of a deal this is to me. (“YOOGE”, as Donald Trump would say.) Most people don’t have to worry about seemingly-trivial things like this (self-inflicted dental damage); and unfortunately some have far bigger problems to deal with (like diagnoses of cancer or other serious illnesses). I know, because I see you every day. The struggles of some people make my everyday problems look trivial or even microscopic in comparison. And yet, this was a very big deal to me.

Not just because I won’t have to hide my teeth when I smile anymore. But because this was such a pure, unexpected and undeserved gift of grace. My dentist showered me with pure unmerited favor today, and told me he wanted to have the pleasure of capping my teeth. While she was checking me out and making the appointments to begin the work, the receptionist (who has known me since high school) exclaimed, “I’m so excited for you!” She actually had tears in her eyes.

Max Lucado once wrote a devotional book, “Grace in the Moment”. Perhaps today at the dental office was one of those moments for me.

White Privilege, Patriarchy, and Reaching the Tuna on the Top Shelf

By Marie O’Toole


The term ‘white privilege’ has been lighting up the Twittersphere, the blogosphere, and just about every other media-sphere lately. Many of us (white people) – perhaps most –  have not really grasped what it means (or doesn’t mean), nor how it applies to us…or what the connection of ‘privilege’ to ‘power’ is.

First, to define what the term is not: when someone speaks of a pervasive ‘white privilege’, it is neither an indictment nor a blanket accusation of all whites being racist. It is not ‘reverse prejudice’, nor a guilt-trip imposed by disenfranchised minorities against what they perceive as a counter-culture. What is meant by the term (as I’ve recently come to understand) is that the very fact of being a non-minority affords us the luxury of being ambivalent to common (although often subtle) struggles or injustices minorities face. It has nothing to do with affirmative action, Louis Farrakhan, or quota laws. It has more to do with day-to-day snubs, covert racism, and just plain weirdness that non-whites encounter in daily life. Because we whites* are not subject to exactly the same types of slights and problems, we’re more or less unaware that they even exist. (I dislike the term “micro-aggressions”, because it calls to mind spoiled college kids whining about not having fat-free soy lattes in the dining hall, but you may use it to discuss white privilege if you like. To me the term “micro-agression” sounds petty, and it’s really not pettiness we’re describing here.)

Having grown up in progressive New England, from personal experience I can’t recall ever personally witnessing an incident of overt racism. (Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist; just that I’ve never seen it). Friends who have lived down South, however, tell a different story. In explaining white privilege, Lori Lakin Hutcherson, a very articulate writer, told of the time her family moved into an upper-middle-class (predominantly white) neighborhood, and their swimming pool became the target of rock-throwing. Excelling academically in high school, she attended Harvard University – and experienced surprised looks and comments from many people who would never have reacted in such a way to a white student matriculating to Harvard. Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network and PhD student from Mississippi, describes being out for ice cream with friends and being circled by the police – presumably because they were all black. There was no reason for law enforcement to be there, and they wouldn’t have been there at all had the ice cream-imbibers been white. A white group out for a snack would never even think of the police casing them. Yet for minority males, it is often standard operating procedure.


‘American Privilege’ or ‘Tallness Privilege’ as an Allegory

A very illuminating explanation of ‘white privilege’ was posted on Quora by Omar Ismail, a stand-up comic of Middle Eastern descent, in which he compared being white to being tall. There are some inherent advantages, and no one is blaming you, but denial or defensiveness is pointless.

Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has a racist bone in our body, so I can sincerely say that I am ‘colorblind’ and have always believed that achievement is based on merit alone – and nowhere in the world are academic and professional achievements more equal opportunity than here in the United States. But the more I learn about the subtlety and complexity of the issue, the more I think of ‘white privilege’ as being somewhat akin to what I experience when traveling, as an American, in Europe (well, Eastern Europe anyway). When people realize I am an American, their countenances often change. They are suddenly more interested – as if my life experience and humanity is somehow more valuable because I am from the US. (I am not, of course, talking about Paris – where those in the ‘hospitality industry’ are notorious for being douche-waffles to Americans). And yes; we all know that there are scams and muggings and people/organizations ready to take advantage of Americans abroad, but that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m trying to describe the overly-attentive attitude of the average Joe on the street.

When I am in a hotel or visiting a friend, for example, locals immediately warm up to me and want to know about my family, job and life in America. They compliment pictures of my children; ply me with chocolate and coffee; and seem delighted that I enjoy their country. It’s not that I would get a ‘special price’ on a room, or preferential seating in a restaurant, but the general treatment is such that if I were a Turkish or Liberian or Chinese woman, I know that I would not receive the same level of interest. I intuitively know that if I were to complain about something (which I wouldn’t), the problem would be fixed much more quickly. It is subtle, but such is ‘American privilege’. It is something I neither court nor exploit, but it exists.

Privilege Equals Power

The important thing to realize in the discussion about ‘white privilege’ is that no one is asking anyone to feel individual or collective guilt. No one is looking for tokenism; and no one wants to be condescended or pandered to. The minorities who articulate this hidden reality ask simply that more melanin-challenged folks accept that there are, inherently, perks to being white in the sense that we will not experience the same type of race-based bias which they often do. And by accepting this, we may develop two things:

  • A realization that being part of a majority group (or culturally more entitled, however unofficially) axiomatically yields power, to some degree;


  • Acknowledging this inherent power can foster either a sense of empathy for those outside the dominant group, or a sense of entitlement that breeds contempt.

The Golden Rule of Power

A saying goes, “He who has the gold makes the rules”, and nowhere is this truer than in politics. But it is also true in a metaphorical sense, because society functions according to a set of unwritten rules. When someone is seen as “other”, he or she may try unsuccessfully to break into a circle only to be excluded due to factors beyond his or her control. For example, the affirmative action policies in education that were first implemented in the 1970’s and ‘80’s have served to level the playing field for everyone in terms of obtaining a quality education (in theory, at least. There are countless communities in such abject poverty that affirmative action only serves to promote….integrated poverty). But even taking the rosiest possible view of equal educational opportunities, minority kids and teens are more often bullied on school busses and hear racist remarks than their white counterparts. This is a power-play at the earliest level.

Recently, I was talking with my friend Amos (go read his blog too!) about this privilege-power dynamic, and how those in privilege (speaking broadly here) tend not to even realize the inherent power it serves them, because we are oblivious to how ‘the other side’ experiences it. He compared it to a woman experiencing sexism or harassment in the workplace (which I would offer is a much rarer occurrence nowadays than racially-based covert aggression). Men cannot understand the vulnerability and “dirtiness” a woman feels when being oogled by a stranger; and in fact, a male bystander probably wouldn’t even notice it if the encounter doesn’t become verbal. That, by nature, is power: being so insulated from such experience that one doesn’t even have to consider it happening to them.

In The 48 Laws of Power, a cynical and matter-of-fact analysis of how power (and subsequently ruthlessness and hubris) is built, author Robert Greene states “Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once” as law # 45. Many demagogue leaders, followers of the majority, and even pastors do exactly this – pay lip-service to a sociological problem; vow to change it; and do “a whole lot of nothing”. It might negatively impact them (or at least their popularity among followers) to upset the apple cart, so it is easier and more beneficial to maintain the status quo.

And if it hasn’t happened to me, it must not really be happening, right?

Conditioned to Believe: When the Voiceless are Further Silenced

Let’s all keep quiet; keep our heads in the sand; and pretend no one is in a more vulnerable position than us or even being victimized. This same power dynamic has led to a culture of silence regarding oppression (both racial and sexist) in patriarchal authoritarian churches. As I wrote about in my soon-to-be-released book, Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church, the authority structure in such religious groups puts and keeps the “right” people in power; while silencing all others – especially dissenters. Women not only have the deck stacked against them (Ephesians 5:22 is typically used as a catch-all conversation stopper), but interestingly, it is often other women who are the loudest proponents of their own oppression. Women such as Lori Alexander, Debi Pearl and others work tirelessly to keep women in bondage to man-made rules, confining them to the house, and often trapped in abusive marriages. In fact, I found it both interesting and ironic that during my own ordeal of being harassed and slandered by the leader of the high-control religious group I left, it was predominantly the men who contacted me to express empathy and support. Both current and former male members of the religious group, as well as male colleagues in the biblical counseling world, were horrified by the leaders’ victimization of me and were nothing but compassionate; and while many women were as well (especially those who had known me for years), they were less vocal. And the two most vitriolic, hateful attacks I received for speaking out about the spiritual abuse were from other women. Both of whom had been in abusive marriages years prior, and divorced.priv3

I have a theory as to why this is. Women in the evangelical subculture have such a limited voice and sphere of influence that they will compete for ‘power’ any way they can (I have seen this happen among jealous ladies’ bible study leaders), and one of the main ways they can garner respect (and therefore a form of psychological ‘power’) is by backing up whatever prominent male Christian leaders espouse. I have sat in on workshops at biblical counseling conferences that, in essence, conditioned women to enable emotional abuse from their husbands. Many of these ladies take complementarian teaching to extremes their male counterparts would never dare. They become sycophants servant-leaders to Scripture-twisters powerful male church leaders who keep their sisters oppressed.

It’s a classic, dysfunctional case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I am not the first woman to notice this: No Longer Quivering author Vykie Garrison has described how women in the Patriarchy movement actually believe that they are “choosing” a life of servitude and inequality, and in a Stockholm syndrome-like way, are actually “joyful” about it. Godly men, who are aware both of their inherent power and how it has been abused, strive for mutual respect and honor among the sexes.

‘Denial’ is Not Just a River in Egypt

So what has this to do with ‘white privilege’, unchecked power, and how it (overtly or covertly) oppresses the more vulnerable group? One common denominator is that denial of the problem exacerbates it. The harder the pushback, the stronger the defensive attitude of the prevailing party. A national example of this is the resurgence of ‘white nationalism’ under the current administration. The KKK and white supremacist movements (small as they may be) do not exist in a vacuum. When there is mass push-back to what a large group is experiencing, and that push-back is rooted in denial (and even the absurd counter-claim that the minority group is actually receiving greater dividends or privilege than the majority), contempt is bred. Rather than attempting to walk in another’s shoes, see and empathize with their very valid and objective experiences, denial creates straw-man arguments and stirs up even more contention.

Privilege exists among the elite, and you need not be wealthy to be ‘elite’. Privilege carries with it inherent power in its own sub-culture, whether it be an upper-class ‘white’ neighborhood, a homogeneous corporate environment, or a church where women are allowed no voice. When you are a member of the ‘in’ group – the upper-hand majority, in whatever context that may be – simply realizing and acknowledging the relative strength of your position (rather than denying there are certain benefits to your status) helps guard against an imbalance of power. Closing our eyes and pretending that there is no difference in access to the “top shelf” is the opposite of empathy. The (Anglo-Saxon) concept of noblesse oblige, written about during the Renaissance by Machiavelli, demands that those born into a more privileged position in society help those who weren’t to reach the tuna on the top shelf.

priv2There is plenty of tuna for everyone, and no one need have a monopoly on the tuna. Tuna seekers, regardless of race or gender, should not be shamed into silence – either for speaking out against tuna-hoarders, or for asking for assistance in reaching those high-up cans. Listen to those who struggle for tuna. Empathize with their experience, even if it is not your own and you have no frame of reference. And as we learn to empathize with those who have had different challenges than us since birth, may it make us more compassionate rather than defensive.

 *(I do think that to some extent, however, we should narrow the term ‘white privilege’ to ‘native-born American white privilege’. Caucasian immigrants – especially ones with heavy accents – deal with many of the same problems that US-born people of color do, but that is the subject for another blog post. Probably a LENGTHY one.)

Surviving and Thriving – Jen Grice Provides Encouragement for the Journey (Review)

Grice_coverby Marie O’Toole

After turning in the first draft of my own manuscript to the publisher, I was very pleased to review Christian author, speaker and homeschooling mom Jen Grice’s excellent book, “You Can Survive Divorce: Hope, Healing and Encouragement for Your Journey”.

So much of what is offered to abused and/or divorced Christian women is anything but hopeful; impedes healing by fostering shame; and even if well-intentioned, is often discouraging.

Far from accepting labels that divorced Christians are “damaged goods”, like any good Christian counselor, Grice starts off by offering the reader hope. She starts by comparing the pain of a failed marriage to Joseph’s story in Genesis 37. She emphasizes that what was a brutally painful and life-changing ordeal can be used by God for good, and to enable her to not only survive but thrive and minister to others in similar situation

In first chapter, she points out that the platitude “Time heals all wounds” is a fallacy – many women are still holding onto wounds and unable to heal, even years (or decades) after their divorces.

“Where could I turn with all of the hemorrhaging pain? Who would heal me?” was a question she often struggled with herself.

Grice does not deny the unique pain that ending a destructive relationship causes. Insightfully she states:

“We cannot bypass the process by using the world’s comforts. That only delays the process and often sets us back, because we add more pain we have to then face, once we finally deal with it. Grief is just put on hold when trying to “move on” while still healing. Not only does taking baggage into a new relationship hurt the relationship, but after that rebound relationship ends, the already hurting heart is hurting ten times more.”

Going straight to the source of healing and restoration, she compares the visceral pain to the woman with a bleeding disorder in Matthew 9:20-22 who desperately sought out Jesus. Time is not a healer, and healing will not be a “one-time thing”, she cautions the reader.

Grice also gives practical advice regarding new relationships:

“Many jump into dating too quickly without healing and dealing with their own issues first. I’ve seen countless women remarry only to divorce a second time shortly thereafter. This is because unhealthy people are drawn to unhealthy people. If you were in an unhealthy relationship in the past, the chances of getting into another unhealthy relationship are much higher. We gravitate toward what we know to be “normal……and if He allowed you to escape from oppression the first time, He doesn’t want to see you go back to that same situation again. Trust Him to guide you into this new chapter of life.”

Grice candidly shares a little of her own hardship and acknowledges: “I had felt for too long that if my husband was able to reject me in such a cruel way, multiple times, I was just that unlovable. I was tired of feeling worthless and unaccepted.” This is a common emotional struggle women in abusive marriages experience. “While married, I would often feel bad for even breathing, not understanding that my Maker, who saw me as His masterpiece, had loved me since before I even started breathing.”

Grice reminds the reader of the continual, unconditional love God has for His daughters – even when they don’t feel it. He changes the identity we put on ourselves, by making us truly know how accepted in the beloved we are.

Re-iterating the cliché-sounding “God loves you” for a woman going through the pain of divorce is crucial to her healing, because subconsciously the pain and rejection common to our marital experience makes us question (on an emotional if not intellectual level) God’s personal love for us. Trusting God to want to heal us cannot happen without a deep-rooted assurance of His love, which sounds too good to be true during such a brutal season. Grice puts it this way:

“During my lowest points, I understood “God loves you,” but I didn’t feel that in my heart. My heart was filled with words said to me and about me, throughout my entire life, which sought to tear me down. The words left scars that turned into voices that told me I wasn’t worthy. They were words I believed about myself.”

After the crisis she was in made her tell God she was “done” with Christianity, Grice felt the Holy Spirit intercede on her behalf:

“Just then I started feeling a lot of love and compassion I had never felt before. I had been a confessing Christian for over fifteen years, but it was in that moment that I finally felt I was loved and accepted. It felt as if my daddy was looking down on me, chuckling, saying, “I know you didn’t mean that! I still love you so much, my child.”

Beloved Daughters of the King

Emphasizing that God sees past our pain and into our hearts, Grice transitions to what it really means to be daughters of the King and how that should shape our identities, rather than focusing on the hurtful labels others have put on us (and we have come to believe about ourselves) or the hardships of our circumstances. While it is difficult to focus on the Cross when worried about health insurance and paying the bills, remembering that earth is not our home and God has numbered the hairs of our heads should calm our hearts, as it did Grice’s during the early stages of her divorce and subsequent healing.

In Chapter 3, Grice writes about appropriate self-care (and cautions against numbing the pain rather than working on the healing).

“Self-care had never been in my vocabulary. I was told I was selfish for wanting to do things for myself…..But all the psychological abuse I had endured, plus the stress and feeling totally overwhelmed, had taken its toll on my body. Putting everyone else first was killing me from the inside out, and I knew I would die if I didn’t start seeing myself as equally important as everyone else.”

She discusses others’ expectation that we should heal on a certain time-table, and feeling rushed through grief. These expectations often lead to a temptation to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or food (rather than walk through the grief process with God). Self-care, rather than self-hatred, enables us to love others and to serve God. Drawing these truths together, Grice effectively demonstrates how the reader may walk through a life-altering situation back into an effective life that glorifies God and edifies others (which she refers to as “producing ripe fruit”).

Dealing with toxic people by remaining calm is important way of keeping one’s stress level low, as is spending time with God, which impacts health and other relationships. Self-education on abuse issues or other aspects of healing is another practical suggestion Grice makes, as is setting healthy boundaries and closing social circles to ensure healthy, edifying relationships are in place.

Survival Strategies

The early days after a divorce are mere survival – doing the bare minimum to get by, numb, before crashing into bed to do it all over again the next day. Extreme exhaustion and the pain of grief controls one’s life in this stage. “Now is the time to get your household in order,” Grice advises, “before the kids get used to pushing over mom and manipulating the situation…Be consistent and intentional in how you’re working through the issues and reclaiming your home and your family.”

While not denying your feelings or exhaustion, this is imperative to “making progress each day toward the goals of healing your life and your home, while giving yourself grace as you move from merely surviving to enduring, and then to thriving.” Grice recommends continuing to eat as a family, pray, read the Bible together, and to call family meetings to establish ground rules for the new home situation as ways of maintaining order, normalcy, and continuing to rely on God during this difficult season. Each child should contribute in age-appropriate ways to the smooth running of the new household, which enables them to also feel a sense of responsibility and stability.

Creating (and sticking to) a budget is an important consideration for all single mothers, and as Dave Ramsey suggests, establishing an “emergency fund” should be the first step. Most newly-divorced mothers find that they now have no support system, including from their churches (which they have often had to leave). The Christian support group, DivorceCare (which I was also a part of), is a very helpful resource for newly-single mothers finding their way. Sacrifices, as well as government assistance, may be in order. As fathers will often have more means to provide the children with “treats” during this time, Grice admonishes guilt-plagued mothers to avoid competing for the children’s acceptance but rather to stand their ground on financial matters.

Helping the Children

While relying on support and making practical strides towards order and financial independence, Grice spends considerable time considering how to help the children of divorce suffering behind the scenes. This is a very important consideration, often overlooked in resources geared towards struggling women. While acknowledging that parents are not responsible for the choices adult children of divorce make, Grice reminds the reader that God loves our children even more than we do, and to seek Him in the day-to-day parenting choices we make to help our children through their unresolved trauma and pain.

“If you want to heal and grow as a family, and help your children to move on to be healthier adults, then you need to seek God to help you be the best parent you can be while working on your own emotional healing and growth.”

Often unable to identify their own feelings, younger children may regress in their development and older ones act out, unconsciously feeling guilt that they were part of the reason for abuse and/or divorce, or blaming the innocent parent for the separation. (Divorce Care for Kids, offered in many churches, helps provide a safe community for children to identify and articulate their feelings). Creating a safe haven in the new home where children are safe to vent and are protected from “triggers” (including violent media; unhelpful practices or new boyfriends/girlfriends) is part of the healing process for children, and re-building trust through honesty and communication (without tearing down the other parent) is crucial. Teaching our children to have healthy boundaries in all of their own relationships is part of preventing the cycle from replaying out in the next generation.

Accepting the path before her for a newly-single woman means not only embracing God’s future for her, but also trusting that God will “parent” her children in the ways she cannot control even after she has done her best to lead them.

Being Stuck in the Desert

“I heard a pastor once say (paraphrasing), “God closed the Red Sea not only to save the Israelites from the Egyptians who were chasing them, but also so that they had no passage back to their oppressors.” God knew they would think it easier to go back. Many separated or divorced women feel that as well because of guilt and shame. They get stuck in the desert because they’re unable to see God’s plan or purpose, even for their divorce.”

Understanding God’s heart for the oppressed and those cast aside leads to the trust necessary to let Him bring us out of the desert, and into the new life He has prepared for us – not merely to survive; but to thrive in His service. The “Red Sea” door has been closed; notwithstanding the judgement of others, a woman in such circumstances must learn to trust and lean on God alone for her vindication and direction. Wasting nothing, God puts the pieces of shattered lives back together so that His daughters who have been through this painful desert may be a witness and source of strength to their sisters walking the same path. “Giving the past purpose is part of your healing,” Grice writes. “Divorce doesn’t define who you are in Christ. And those who walk in the light will never walk in darkness again.”

Grice’s words to women in destructive marriages or who have been through divorce speak life and healing. It is refreshing to see a Christian author speak so candidly about the raw pain one experiences at the tearing of a “one flesh” union, regardless of circumstances; yet she refuses to leave it there. Drawing on her own experiences and those of other women she has counseled, Grice infuses the reader with hope and an unwavering commitment to the Word of God. She continuously leads the reader back into the arms of the Father she may have felt abandoned her, reminding her that her strength comes from Him alone – not the opinions of others; false identities she has applied to herself; another man; or any other ‘empty cistern’ that may give her temporary relief.

Both in this book and on her blog,, Grice uses Scriptural principles to guide hurting women to re-claim their identity in Christ, no matter how long they have been in the desert. She guides against bitterness, gives helpful practical advice, and gently exhorts the reader with Scripture passages to strengthen her on this hard journey. Renewing an unwavering trust in the God Who loves her is the key to renewing strength, reclaiming joy, and thriving in ministry for a Christian woman post-divorce. This book is a valuable resource not only for these women, but also for counselors and families of divorced women in order to learn better how to love them as Christ does. It is a privilege to review and recommend it.

Dad’s $0.02 on the Armenian Genocide (Guest Post)

armenian_genocide_intent_to_destroyA couple of years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the Serbian massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, I wrote about the Bosnian Genocide of 1992 – 1995 when a quarter of a million Bosniaks were wiped out, tortured and imprisoned in concentration camps. (Another 200,000 fled or were unaccounted for). In the middle of Europe. At the end of the 20th century.

What astonished me then, as well as now, was how few people in general (and Americans in particular) seemed to remember the horrible tragedy, a mere 20 years after it happened. Equally few remembered Kosovo. The same year the world commemorated the 70th year liberation of Auschwitz with the famous cry “Never Again”, we were already forgetting much more recent history.

It DID happen again. And again.

Before the Jewish Holocaust, there was the Armenian Genocide. Hitler famously used people’s collective short attention spans when he scoffed “Who today remembers the Armenians?” in preparation for his “Final Solution”.

Yesterday, my father (who is a World War II expert historian and has once before achieved near rock-star status among the readers of this blog) wrote me a letter about the Armenian Genocide, which was recently portrayed in a movie starring Christian Bale, “The Promise”. (Since we couldn’t see it in the theatre, we saw “The Zookeeper’s Wife” instead – an excellent family film that follows the Nazi invasion of Poland and a family that rescued over 300 Jews.) I would have like to be able to review “The Promise”, but as it highlighted a tragic part of history (still denied by the Turkish government), I decided to share his letter instead.

At one Armenian center after another, throughout the Ottoman Empire, on a certain daye (and the dates show  sequence), the public crier went through the streets announcing that every male Armenian must present himself forewith at the government Government building….The men presented themselves in their working clothes, leaving their shops and work-roos open, their plows on the fields, their cattle on the mountainside. When they arrived, they were thrown without explanation into prison, kept in batches, roped man to man along some southerly or southeasterly road. They had not long to ponder over their plight for they were halted and massacred at the first lonely place off the road.

– Viscount Bryce, “The Treatment of Armenians”, 1916

“Marie –

Even though we’re not seeing “The Promise” today, I’ve written down a few observations about the Armenian Genocide 1915 – 1921, which cost 1 ¾ million Armenians, of both sexes and all ages, their lives.

Although Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were under the rule of the Ottoman (Turkish) Sultanate, from the time of the fall of Constantinople in mid-15th century they and the Jewish population had been not only tolerated by the Muslim government but often their administrative talents had been recognized and appreciated. A number held posts of importance in the Ottoman Empire’s governmental bureaucracy, without their Christian religion being an impediment in any way.

So too it was in Moorish Spain – El Andulus; today’s Andalusia, where the Muslim government scrupulously respected the freedom of religion of the Christian and Jewish communities (“millets”) recognized, along with Muslims, as “Peoples of the Book”.

I don’t fully understand, in light of the above, just why the Armenian Genocide took place when and where it did. Perhaps the fact that the Ottoman Turks allied with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in WWI, AND the part of historic Armenia, north of Ararat, was coming under Russian-Leninist influence in 1917-1919 had something to do with it. [Even in 1946-47, Stalin made threats against Turkey hinting at a possible invasion. The Turkish reply? In effect: “Come if you dare, but be prepared to pay a terribly high price.”  “Uncle Joe” Stalin backed down.]

Turkish official tormenting starving Armenian children with bread

A book on the Armenian Genocide: The Slaughterhouse Province (“Vilayets” in Turkish) came out, I think about 25 years ago. Available from Worcester Public Library – the main one downtown. Its impact in part, and its credibility derive from the fact that the U.S. Consul to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morganthau, Sr. and his Armenian “manservant” left the country with a number of photos of murdered Armenians – men, women and children – by the hundreds, especially in northeastern Turkey, around Lake Van. Morganthau, of course, had diplomatic immunity, which enabled him to avoid any kind of luggage search when the two men exited Turkey.

Dr. Deranian, a friend of mine, now deceased, gave me the enclosed photocopy – sorry about the rather poor reproductive quality! He urged me, years ago, to become better informed about the Armenian tragedy. I regretfully assured him that my hands were completely full with my years of “total immersion” in the Holocaust. I think he understood.

Final note: Abe S., (“Uncle Abe” to you three kids) was one of the lucky ones – his parents escaped to Smyrna (now Izmir) on the Ionian Coast where he was born in 1923, then coming to NYC as a small child.


~ Dad”

“My best friend has just been hospitalized. How can I help her?”


From “Ilira”

By Marie O’Toole

All of us, at one time or another, have had a friend or relative in the hospital. Sometimes it is the sudden onset of illness which leaves a patient’s family members in a bewildering situation. Other times, and unfortunate accident can lead to months of treatment and physical therapy. Whatever the situation, medical crises are times when friends and family are most needed. What are some practical ways you can be a “friend in need” while a loved one is sick or injured?

When Visiting at the Hospital

Being alone in a hospital is often frightening, and it is always boring. You will surely want to visit your friend, but check the hospital’s policy first on guests (what hours they are allowed; if she is in the intensive care unit, if she will be able to receive visitors at all). If your friend has just given birth, be sure to ask her wishes before you visit – not all new moms want visitors at the hospital, and would prefer you come to see her and the baby once they are at home.

Three things to keep in mind when visiting at the hospital:

  • Be respectful in the length of time you stay. Depending on your friend’s medical condition, she may need more quiet rest than you realize, and she may not be able to focus on a conversation for very long. This is especially true in cases of serious illness or if she is on pain medication, which cause extreme drowsiness. If she is sharing the room with another patient, do not stay longer than an hour as longer visits make it difficult for the roommate to rest.
  • Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before entering the room. Many infections are spread in hospitals, and the first line of prevention is frequent hand-washing. If your friend has a compromised immune system, (for example, if she is receiving chemotherapy), this is crucial. Precautions such as masks and gloves are often used by visitors with cancer patients, as well. Being especially careful with hygiene (and postponing a visit if you are sick yourself) is very important for your friend’s well-being.
  • Letters (and other personal touches) mean a lot. While enduring a tedious hospital stay, patients will appreciate the knowledge that friends are thinking of and praying for them. It’s fun (and helps the time pass more quickly) to look at photo albums and remember things you’ve done together, read personal notes, or enjoy a book you’ve selected with her in mind. Books make excellent gifts, as do electronic devices. Avoid bringing balloons, as many patients have latex allergies.

Depending on how sick your friend is and her personal wishes, it might be a good idea to avoid bringing young children to the hospital. Also, visits in the evening should be avoided, especially by several people at once. You will want to be considerate of the other patients on the unit, and noise created by visitors may make it difficult for them to rest. Keep in mind that your friend may not be able to focus on you or even stay awake for a long visit, and that is perfectly ok. Friends and family members visiting patients with extended illnesses or lengthy hospital stays often bring knitting or other things to keep their hands busy while just sitting quietly. It is not necessary to engage her in conversation all the time; your presence itself is comforting.

When She Returns Home

Don’t forget your friend still needs you after discharge. If she has a family, they have likely pulled together to take care of her and each other during her hospitalization, and practical help would be a blessing to them. Once she has gone home, some ways to serve her as she continues to recuperate are:

Shopping. This is the single-most difficult task for someone recovering from an illness or injury. An offer to take a list from her and purchase what she needs may be greatly appreciated.

Cooking. Each meal provided by a thoughtful friend means one less evening she will have to be on her feet in the kitchen. Preparing meals that can be frozen for future use (for example, soups; moussaka; roasted meat) is always a good idea.

Child care. If your friend has small children, offering to take them on outings or watch them for a few hours so she can rest can be a real blessing to her. Caring for young children, while a joy, takes much energy and so taking them for a few hours will give her some much-needed rest.

When a woman has been hospitalized, her family feels her absence very keenly and will surely need this help. The compassion you demonstrate by visiting with her and making sure her needs are met after she goes home will encourage her tremendously, and help her to recover more quickly.  Don’t forget that when you are assisting your friend, you are also serving the needs of her husband and children (if she has them) and being the “fragrance of Christ” (‘’’ 2 Corinthians 2:15) in this way.

“Shoqja ime e ngushtë sapo u shtrua në spital. Si mund ta ndihmoj?”


Nga Marie O’Toole

(“Ilira”, Maj 2017). Perkthues: Elson Farka. (Lexoni në anglisht ketu).

Të gjithë ne, në një moment të jetës, kemi pasur një mik apo të afërm në spital. Ndonjëherë është pikërisht fillimi i papritur i sëmundjes ai që i lë anëtarët e familjes së pacientit në një situatë të pakëndshme. Herë të tjera, një aksident fatkeq mund të çojë në muaj të tërë me trajtime dhe terapi fizike. Pavarësisht situatës, në fatkeqësi të tilla mjekësore, miqtë dhe familja janë ata që i duam më shumë pranë vetes. Cilat janë disa mënyra praktike si të tregohesh një “mik i vërtetë” kur një person i dashur për ty është sëmurë ose i plagosur?

Gjatë vizitës në spital

Të qenit vetëm në spital është shpesh e frikshme dhe pothuajse gjithmonë e mërzitshme. Ti me siguri dëshiron të vizitosh shoqen tënde, por si fillim informohu me rregullat e spitalit për vizitorët (orari i lejuar; nëse ajo është në reanimacion, nëse ajo mund të takojë vizitorë). Nëse shoqja jote sapo ka lindur fëmijë, sigurohu ta pyesësh për dëshirat e saj para se ta vizitosh – jo të gjitha nënat e reja duan vizitorë në spital, dhe preferojnë më shumë vizitat sapo ato të kthehen në shtëpi me foshnjat e tyre.

Tri gjëra që duhet të mbash mend kur të shkosh për vizitë në spital:

  • Respekto kohëzgjatjen e vizitës

Në varësi të gjendjes mjekësore të shoqes tënde, ajo mund të ketë nevojë për më shumë pushim sesa mendon ti, dhe mund të mos jetë e aftë të përqendrohet në bisedë për një kohë të gjatë. Kjo është veçanërisht e vërtetë në rastet me sëmundje të rënda, ose nëse shoqja jote po merr mjekim për dhimbjen, e cila mund të shkaktojë përgjumje ekstreme. Nëse ajo është në të njëjtën dhomë me një paciente tjetër, mos qëndro më gjatë se një orë sepse vizitat e gjata e bëjnë të vështirë që ajo të pushojë.

  • Laj duart me sapun antibakterial para se të hysh në dhomë

Shumë infeksione përhapen në spital, dhe hapi i parë i parandalimit është larja e shpeshtë e duarve. Nëse shoqja jote ka sistem imunitar të ulur, (për shembull, nëse ajo po trajtohet me kemoterapi), kjo gjë është shumë e rëndësishme. Masat paraprake, siç janë vendosja e maskës dhe e dorezave, përdoren shpesh nga vizitorët e pacientëve me kancer. Të qenit e kujdesshme sidomos me higjenën (dhe shtyrja e vizitës nëse je vetë sëmurë) është shumë e rëndësishme për mirëqenien e shoqes tënde.

  • Letrat (dhe gjërat e tjera personale) kanë domethënie të madhe

Gjatë qëndrimit të tyre të gjatë në spital, pacientët do ta vlerësonin shumë faktin që miqtë po mendojnë dhe po luten për ta. Është kënaqësi (dhe të ndihmon të kalosh kohën) të shikosh albumet e fotografive dhe të kujtosh gjërat që keni bërë bashkë, të lexosh shënimet personale, ose kur asaj i pëlqen një libër që ti e ke zgjedhur kur po mendoje për të. Librat janë dhurata të shkëlqyera, ashtu siç janë edhe pajisjet elektronike. Mos sill tullumbace, sepse shumë pacientë kanë alergji nga lateksi.

Në varësi të gjendjes shëndetësore të shoqes tënde dhe të dëshirave personale të saj, mund të jetë një ide e mirë që të mos sjellësh fëmijë të vegjël në spital. Gjithashtu, vizitat gjatë mbrëmjes duhen shmangur, sidomos kur ka shumë vizitorë në të njëjtën kohë. Duhet të konsiderosh edhe pacientët e tjerë, sepse zhurmat që bëjnë vizitorët mund ta bëjnë të vështirë për ata të pushojnë. Mos harro që shoqja jote mund të mos jetë në gjendje të përqendrohet te ti, ose të qëndrojë zgjuar për shumë kohë, gjë që është krejtësisht normale dhe e kuptueshme.

Miqtë dhe anëtarët e familjes që vizitojnë pacientët me sëmundje kronike, ose ata që qëndrojnë gjatë në spital shpesh marrin me vete shtiza për të bërë punë dore, ose gjëra të tjera sa për të mbajtur duart e tyre të zëna, ndërkohë thjesht rrinë ulur në heshtje. Nuk është e nevojshme të bisedosh me të gjatë gjithë kohës; vetë prania jote është inkurajuese.

Kur Ajo Kthehet në Shtëpi

Mos harro që shoqja jote ka nevojë për ty edhe pas largimit nga spitali. Nëse ajo ka një familje, me shumë mundësi ata janë mbledhur së bashku për t’u kujdesur për të dhe për dhe njëri-tjetrin gjatë qëndrimit të saj në spital, dhe një ndihmesë sado e vogël nga ana jote do të ishte bekim për ta. Pasi kthehet në shtëpi, disa mënyra për t’i shërbyer asaj teksa ajo vazhdon të shërohet janë:

Të bërit pazar. Kjo është shumë e vështirë për t’u realizuar nga dikush që po shërohet nga një sëmundje. Të shkosh të bësh pazar dhe të blesh listën e gjërave që shoqja jote ka nevojë është një ndihmesë e madhe për të.

Të gatuarit. Një vakt i gatuar nga një mik do të thotë një mbrëmje më pak për të qëndruar në këmbë në kuzhinë. Përdorimi i ushqimeve të ngrira për t’i konsumuar më vonë (për shembull, supat; mishi i pjekur) është gjithmonë një ide e mirë.

Kujdesi për fëmijët. Nëse shoqja jote ka fëmijë të vegjël, do të ishte një bekim i vërtetë për të nëse ti del shëtitje ose kujdesesh për ta për disa orë. Fëmijët e vegjël, edhe pse janë gëzim familjar, kërkojë shumë përkushtim dhe kujdesje e cila të lodh shumë dhe kështu shëtitjet për disa orë i mundësojnë shoqes tënde një pushim shumë të nevojshëm.

Kur një grua është e shtruar në spital, familja e ndien shumë mungesën e saj dhe me siguri edhe kjo e fundit do ketë nevojë për ndihmë. Dhembshuria që ti i tregon gjatë vizitës dhe siguria që nevojat e saj janë plotësuar pasi ajo shkon në shtëpi, mund ta inkurajojnë jashtëzakonisht shumë, dhe ta ndihmojnë për t’u shëruar më shpejt. Mos harro se kur je duke ndihmuar shoqen tënde, ti je duke u shërbyer edhe nevojave të burrit dhe të fëmijëve saj (nëse ajo ka) dhe në këtë mënyrë je gjithashtu edhe “aroma e Krishtit” (2 Korintasve 2:15).

Open Letter to Adult Children of Patients



By Marie O’Toole

Dear Son or Daughter:

I just interpreted for your father or mother. It may have been our first encounter; or I may have had the pleasure of knowing him or her for a good many years. The medical encounter proceeded just as always: pleasantries; information relayed; test results discussed; plan of treatment considered.

Today you worried that you offended me.

You didn’t.

You see, we medical interpreters are a perceptive group with thick skin. And we care about your parent, who is far more than the medical record number we write on our Service Verification Forms.

I realize, as does the healthcare provider, how well you speak English. Even moreso, how you care for your ailing parent. You are your parent’s best advocate, and that’s why I appreciate your presence. Some of you work in healthcare in the United States; some of you have battled diseases such as cancer yourself. All of you, it seems, come to the exam room far better equipped than I, a mere linguist, to help Mom or Dad make the best healthcare decisions for him or herself.

And of course, you all understand the constraints of HIPPA law; consent forms; waivers of services (if you decline my services). None of this is personal, and the implications of serious illnesses such as cancer naturally make a family want to turn inward.

I am often an uninvited witness to your very personal pain. I get that. And I respect it.

More than that, I am incredibly grateful to YOU.

Sometimes, the doctor pauses mid-sentence in order to allow me time to consequitively interpret his or her sentence and as I do so, you pick up on the fact that I don’t understand where he or she is going with it. Focused purely on linguistics, I may have missed the gravity of the situation and you interject something. No, you did NOT offend me. Do not apologize, as you often do, for reeling off crucial medical information that only you would know during an appointment. You have all this information in your head; the physician needs to know it.

I am there purely as an interpreter – a conduit of language. I am not the one who has sat up with your mother or father countless nights, through nausea, pain, or other symptoms. Do NOT apologize for interjecting.

Sometimes you catch my eye, as if to communicate the gravity of what the doctor is saying. This is especially true when we are with an oncologist, and timeframes such as months and years are being relayed. The relief you all show at not having to be the interpreter in those situations is palpable, and I sense your deference to let me interpret this painful information from language to language.

As I do my job, I hope and believe I do not come across as overly-clinical and sterile. Once, when interpreting a terminal cancer diagnosis, I had to fix my mind on getting the accents on the correct syllable and noun declension so that I would not burst into tears myself. As a mother, I dread the pediatrics floor. As a daughter, I pray not to be in your shoes.

You asked the physician additional questions in English, and feared I was offended. I wasn’t.

You see, there is only one person who matters right now: your mum or dad. You have information inside your head that neither I nor the doctor are privy to; by all means, share it. I’m no stranger to cross-conversation (hey, I lived in the Balkans for years!) so I can easily interpret the additional information simultaneously into mum or dad’s ear. Stop worrying about me and focus on your parent.

I saw how relieved your eyes were today when I interpreted every word the doctor said, with the appropriate gravity – and YOU didn’t have to be the one to deliver bad news. The brief second of eye contact we made spoke volumes, and in that moment I again realized that we are a part of a team. Team “Your Parent”.

You corrected a mistake I made, and feared I was offended. I wasn’t.

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I lack the hubris, even after 16 years in the profession, to think that I am incapable of making an error either in medical terminology or syntax. I learned Bulgarian as a young adult, so while I may enjoy near-native fluency of the language, I carried my medical dictionaries around for years after becoming certified as an interpreter. And you know what? Many times, your English is better than my Bulgarian. I realize that I still have an accent in Bulgarian, even after 25 years. Please rest assured that your proficiency in English does not offend me.

And thank you for allowing me to enter into what is, often, an incredibly sensitive and painful time for your family. I have often (MANY times!) been racked with guilt after leaving an assignment (a precious encounter with your mum or dad, and often you) that I had to impersonally rush off to my next assignment with an LEP (Limited English Speaker) at a neighboring hospital. I worry that I come across as cold, uncaring, and impersonal. I rationalize such thoughts by reminding myself that I am an interpreter; not a patient advocate. And healthcare professionals are trained in the art of emotional detachment from their patients.

See, I missed that day in “detachment training”. But many years of experience of having the privilege of being part of your intimate circle has taught me much.

The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice; and mourn with those who mourn. This morning, I interpreted for a gentleman whose cancer remains in remission. Good news is easy to interpret, and I’m objectively glad for him. This afternoon, your father presented with additional malignant growths outside the area of radiation, and I had to interpret hard facts. I am deeply sorry. Maybe I don’t always show it in the exam room, especially as new pages come in, but I truly do care and want everything to be alright.

A few of you have found me on Facebook or social media, and thanked me for my “compassion” towards your ailing parent. I am ashamed to admit I did not even remember being particularly compassionate, even though I truly did care – I was concerned that my rushing off to another appointment would be seen as coldness.

We are a team, you and I. You have the best interest of your beloved parent at heart; and in a professional, much more detached way, so do I. At BIDMC, (one of the hospitals at which I interpret), their slogan is “Human First”. I am a human…..a mother; a sister; a daughter; first – I understand to a certain point what you are going through, and can empathize. And then I am a medical interpreter. Trained; linguistically adept; and socially neutral, completely at your service.

Thank you for allowing me to be part your “team”. Please know that I love my career, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to speak into your parent’s life, even if only as an interpreter. A reassuring glance; a smile, a hand squeeze….these are the things people remember. If I incorrectly conjugated a verb in Bulgarian, I beg your pardon. And I thank you for your indulgence in accepting my assistance as a linguist on your parent’s team.

I value every one of you.


Marie O’Toole

Bulgarian – English  Interpreter

Spreading Your Wings – Even When They’re Broken

Spreading Your Wings – Even When They’re Broken

By Marie O’Toole (formerly Notcheva)


We are so thankful to Marie for writing a guest post just for our ministry! We have long since supported and respected Marie for all she has endured. Marie is the author of “Redeemed from the Pit” and “Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age”. She is also a trained counselor, who is now focusing her ministry on helping emotionally abused women. She is currently writing a third book – on abuse women endure, and the Church’s failure to address it.



Fourteen months ago today, I stepped into the kitchen of my new home – a two-bedroom apartment – to find that my landlady had left me a case of rice pilaf, hot cocoa and eggnog mix, a bottle of steak sauce, and tins of chocolate cookies for my children. It was, by far, the kindest gesture any Christian made towards me during the painful month of my divorce.

My landlady, a woman approximately twenty years my senior, understood first-hand the stigma of being a divorced Christian woman. Happily married now to a loving man, Cheryl had also gone through the pain of betrayal and subsequent difficulty that comes with suddenly finding oneself a single mom.

Paying it Forward

I realize I am far, far more fortunate than the women helped by Give Her Wings. This is why I support their ministry, not only financially but also by speaking up for abused women and writing about the secondary abuse we often face from our churches. Where the Church has largely failed to help women who have had to escape abusive situations, ministries like Give Her Wings and secular programs have stood in the gap. Fortunately, I have never faced homelessness. I have two degrees; a rewarding and well-paying career as an interpreter, and my children are well beyond the age where they would need childcare. Following months of intimidation attempts by my ex-husband, I was able to hire a lawyer and am now receiving child support. The other “mamas” are not so lucky – I am painfully aware that Give Her Wings is often the only resource standing between them and abject poverty.

During the journey of the last year, however, what I’ve come to appreciate is that moral support and encouragement from other Christians is even more important to “getting back on my feet” than a steady paycheck. And by “feet”, I mean my spiritual groundings. The worst part of emotional abuse is that after time, you start to actually believe you deserve it. Even when we finally wake up, and realize that the abuser is the one with the problem (and not us), the struggle to leave is compounded by those who enable the abuser (and shame the victim, trying to paint her as the villain for standing up to the abuse). All too often, abused women’s churches are guilty of this. Secondary abuse by clergy is insidious, because we have been conditioned to believe these men speak for God. The all-too-common practice of trying to convince women to ‘reconcile’ with unrepentant abusers is a horrible sin, which only compounds the woman’s pain.

When you have left an abusive marriage, it is vitally important to get connected to a loving, Gospel-preaching faith community. Telling women that ‘abuse is never grounds for divorce’ is not biblical, nor is shunning or excommunicating them when they leave. Once the marriage covenant has been broken by abuse, women need godly counsel and compassion that will help restore their identity as daughters of the King. There are many good churches that will do that. Even if you have been hurt by a church, there are others that will help heal your wounds. My current pastor and many people in my church have done just that, and it has been vital both to my healing and to restoring my trust in Christians again.

Coffee and Compassion

Last year, my former pastor harassed me (mainly by email) for 10 straight months following my divorce. The harassment turned to blackmail three weeks before Christmas, when I was threatened with defamation if I refused to repent of the ‘sin’ of leaving my abuser (this was four months after I resigned membership from his church). Exhausted by the 50-60 hour weeks I was working in order to survive, and worn down by the pastor’s constant gas-lighting, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Without his knowing the details of my situation, my new pastor emailed me one morning simply to ask how I was (no one at my former church had ever done that). Alarmed by my answer, he and his wife arranged to meet me at Panera Bread that very afternoon…..where he let me cry and shared the Gospel with me for three straight hours. Two women in the church, around my mother’s age, subsequently ‘adopted’ me. They would often invite me over for coffee in weeks following. At Christmas, I learned that someone had anonymously donated a ‘love offering’ to me so that I could buy my children Christmas gifts.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I was surrounded by strong, Christian friends who lifted me up at my lowest points. Most of them are members of other churches, but all are strong believers. Yet the dichotomy was striking in how one church’s leadership took the stance that I was the one in sin, simply for standing up for myself; whilst another church emulated Christ’s role as a Protector and Defender of the innocent. It would have been impossible to hold onto my faith in God if I had not been embraced by His children in this way. Spiritual abuse can be the most damaging type of all, because it skews your view of God. If an institution claiming to act in His Name is systematically tormenting the weakest and most vulnerable members of His Body, the sheep will be so beaten down that eventually they will leave. In His mercy, Christ has provided true shepherds – like my current pastor – who continuously reveal Him to the hurting. Relentlessly, he takes me back to Scripture to show me how we are all a part of “His Story” and partakers of His grace.

Remembering Our True Identity

One of the most important things my pastor has taught me is simply a “refresher course” on what I’ve often counseled women myself: finding my identity in Christ; and not in the opinion of others. After 11 years serving and fellowshipping at Heritage Bible Chapel, I saw the side-long glances and heard the gossip started by women I had previously considered friends. None of them knew the real story, but at least a dozen women in that church had known (or suspected) I was in an abusive marriage. For months after I left, my former pastor continued to spin his version of the story, even going so far as to Facebook-message friends of mine invitations to have “conversations” about me with him. It seemed the torment would never end.

Yet Pastor David and my other spiritual mentors continuously reminded me that Jesus Himself was unjustly slandered, and to continue to focus on His opinion of me….not that of others. It is a hard lesson to learn, but nothing else will bring us the inner peace and lasting joy in Christ that we so desperately need in trials. He also counseled me to forgive my prior church leadership, who are simply deceived in their hearts. Like Paul massacring early Christians, they actually believe that what they are doing is an act of service to God.

The journey is long, and unexpected roadblocks often come up. The most difficult struggles are not always financial, but rather spiritual. Surviving after divorce, even absent spiritual abuse, is incredibly difficult. No one can do this alone and thrive. There are many who will try to break your wings; do not let them. Seek out instead those who will help you heal, and enable you to soar again on wings of eagles. If you are depressed, get help. Give Her Wings can help you find a safe, Bible-preaching church in your area, and is starting to compile a directory of trained counselors (including myself) equipped to help you. There are many soldiers in this battle, and you are not alone!