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.

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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)

 

 

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.

 

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

Ilira1.png

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

pic3

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.

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, jengrice.com, 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.

Spreading Your Wings – Even When They’re Broken

Spreading Your Wings – Even When They’re Broken

By Marie O’Toole (formerly Notcheva)

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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!

“Unë i Kam Pasur Flokët si të Tutë”

Nga Marie (Notcheva) O’Toole

hair_albLexoni në anglisht ketu.

Në karrierën time si përkthyese në mjekësi, një nga vendet ku kam punë çdo javë është një spital shumë i njohur i kancerit në Boston. Me një arredim të bukur të brendshëm dhe një staf të dashur e të mirëtrajnuar për të ruajtur dinjitetin e pacientëve, ai të jep më tepër ndjesinë e një hoteli me 5 yje, sesa të një spitali. Kjo bëhet qëllimisht: kanceri është një sëmundje e tmerrshme, sinonim me vuajtjen dhe, çfarëdo mase rehatie që u ofrohet pacientëve dhe familjeve, është hartuar për t’i ndihmuar që t’i largohen atij tmerri.

Dhimbja që kanceri shkakton nuk është vetëm fizike.

Kati i kemoterapisë

Jo shumë kohë më parë, isha ulur në një pavion te kemoterapisë me një pacientin tim (një burrë i moshuar nga Bullgaria me një prognozë të mirë). Trajtimet zgjasin disa orë, kështu, mbasi ndihmova pacientin të nënshkruante formularin e Pranimit të Trajtimit, u rehatova si pa mendje duke parë Instagramin dhe Facebook-un në telefonin tim. Një grua e re që po merrte kemoterapi e ulur ndoshta 2-3 metra përballë meje, dukej sikur nuk po m’i ndante sytë. Nuk dukej e lumtur. Askush të cilit i futen helme në trup nuk pritet të duket i lumtur. Sa herë që ngrija kokën, ajo largonte shikimin.

Të tretën herë që ktheva sytë në drejtimin e saj, e pashë në sy dhe i buzëqesha. “Mot i çuditshëm, apo jo?”, ishte fraza e mençur që doli nga goja ime. Duke e shpërfillur komentin tim, ajo zbrazi çfarë kishte qenë duke menduar:

“Unë i kam pasur flokët si të tutë”.

Toni i saj i zërit ishte i përzishëm. Ishte vështirë të dalloje se çfarë moshe kishte, sepse kemoterapia ka edhe efektin anësor të fryrjes së fytyrës së pacientit. Të kuptuarit sa është përhapur kanceri, opsionet e trajtimit dhe pritjet e jetëgjatësisë ndonjëherë duken më abstrakte sesa humbjet e momentit, të flokëve të fertilitetit, të bukurisë fizike për gratë. Pashë e shokuar që përveç infermieres, isha e vetmja grua në atë dhomë që kishte flokë. E shoh këtë çdo ditë dhe duket sikur jam bërë më pak e ndjeshme. I shikoj pacientët si “raste mjekësore”, por nuk mundem të futem plotësisht në dhimbjen e tyre, ose në ankthin e një gruaje të re për humbjen e flokëve.

Dhe këtë doja.

E ruajta kontaktin me sy. “Më vjen shumë keq që ke humbur flokët,” i thashë. “Duhet të ketë qenë shumë, shumë e vështirë për ty.” Sytë iu mbushën me lot dhe vetëm tundi kokën. Jam e sigurt që nuk kishte nevojë t’ia kujtonin që “do të të rriten prapë” ose t’i thuhej “Oh, janë vetëm flokë!” për të njëmijëtën herë. Ishte dhimbje. Ajo kishte nevojë që dikush ta pranonte këtë fakt.

Edhe flokët e kokës suaj janë të numëruara

Si të krishterë, ne jemi kaq të shpejtë për t’u fokusuar në “gjërat atje lart” dhe në “frytet shpirtërore”, saqë është pothuajse një tundim që t’i kalosh përciptas gjërat e përkohshme (si puna e humbjes së flokëve), ose edhe të kapërcejmë shqetësime të tilla si thjesht kotësi. Por dëshira për t’u dukur dhe për t’u ndier e bukur është kaq thellësisht e ngulitur në të gjitha gratë kudo, saqë ta ulësh këtë si një vogëlsi, do të ishte e pashpirt dhe e pandjeshme. Unë besoj se ky aspekt i kancerit është më i vështirë për gratë sesa për burrat (burrat më të vjetër ndonjëherë edhe bëjnë shaka për rënien edhe të atyre dy fijeve që u kanë mbetur). Për një grua, nuk është aspak shaka. Është një tragjedi e pashoqe. Nuk është e mundur, e as e përshtatshme, të futësh me forcë një shkak të tillë hidhërimi, në kallëpet teologjike. Është shumë më e rëndësishme që thjesht të tregosh përkujdesje…, ashtu si Krishti do të bënte, dhe bën, për çdo aspekt të jetës së saj (Luka 12:7).

Dashamirësia e thjeshtë shpeshherë ndodh larg zyrave të këshillimit. Si mund ta këshillojmë një grua që hidhërohet për humbjen e flokëve të saj, apo për heqjen e gjirit? Ne sigurisht që duhet t’i ofrojmë sigurinë që ajo prapë është e bukur në sytë e Perëndisë dhe që ajo duhet ta besojë të ardhmen e saj në duart e Tij. Ka, me shumë mundësi, shumë mënyra se si ne mund ta inkurajojmë atë në marrëdhënien e saj me Zotin ndërsa përleshet me dhimbjen e një sëmundjeje (ndonjëherë drejt vdekjes). Por nuk ka nevojë të jemi këshillues (apo të dimë shumë teologji) për të ofruar atë lloj kujdesi për të cilin një grua ka nevojë dëshpërimisht në kohë të tilla.

Prova e recipetave

Të nesërmen u ktheva në të njëjtin spital për të përkthyer për një grua të vjetër që kishte humbur njërin gji. Ky nuk ishte një takim mjekësor. Ajo do të bënte prova për një recipetë dhe protezë të veçantë në butikun e spitalit. Asistentja gazmore e ndihmoi pacienten që të zgjidhte një palë recipeta të modës me ngjyra pranverore; u sigurua që gjithçka të ishte në simetri; disa herë ia përsëriti se sa mirë i rrinin. Dhe gjëja më e bukur ishte se ajo ishte krejtësisht e sinqertë. Kur pacientja i mori recipetat, filloi të qante ndërkohë duke i kërkuar falje asistentes për shenjën e saj të shëmtuar të mastektomisë. Gruaja e re fshiu lotët, e përqafoi atë dhe e siguroi që ajo ishte e bukur.

Kjo, shumë më tepër sesa testet e gjakut apo rezultatet e skanerit, është shpeshherë çfarë një grua ka nevojë të dëgjojë. Qe një moment tepër prekës, dhe përforcoi një mësim në përkujdesje që dua ta mbaj mend jo vetëm në këshillim, por edhe në jetën e përditshme të krishterë. Të gjitha gratë kanë pasigurira, dhe kur ne jemi të ndjeshme ndaj nevojave të njëra-tjetrës për inkurajim dhe siguri, Perëndia gjithmonë na jep mundësira për ta ndërtuar njëratjetrën.

Një nevojë e vlefshme për bukuri…dhe dashuri

Kaq shpesh në dishepullizim, ne jepemi kaq shumë pas teologjisë dhe “parimeve biblike” që zbatohen në një situatë (që janë kyçe, sigurisht), saqë harrojmë nevojat e thjeshta, bazë, që janë dhënë nga Krijuesi. Sigurisht që rritja shpirtërore është e një rëndësie më të lartë se pamja. Askush nuk do ta mohonte këtë, dhe është ngushëlluese të kujtosh përkufizimin e Perëndisë për bukurinë: “një shpirt i butë dhe i qetë” (1 Pjetri 3:4). Por kemi edhe lejen që të “qajmë me ata që qajnë…. të pikëllohemi me ata që pikëllohen” (Romakëve 12:15). Edhe nëse janë të pikëlluara “vetëm për flokët”, apo se kanë humbur bukurinë fizike, gratë, ashtu si dhe burrat, janë bartëse të imazhit të Perëndisë dhe dëshira për të reflektuar bukuri është e mirë, legjitime dhe, kur kanalizohet siç duhet, është një dëshirë e perëndishme. Kur vuajnë këtë lloj humbjeje personale, gratë nuk kanë nevojë për fraza apo vargje nga Bibla që janë ngazëllyese. Ato kanë nevojë për përkujdesje, përqafime, siguri që ato akoma janë të bukura dhe kanë shumë për të dhënë. Dhe ndoshta kanë nevojë për një mike që t’i nxjerrë për të blerë recipetat apo ndonjë shall të bukur.

Trusting God to Open Doors (Interview with Ajkena Çela)

By Marie (Notcheva) O’Toole

010Ajkena Çela was three years old when the sound of praise and worship songs drew her mom to church in their Lushnjë neighborhood. Her mother gave her life to Christ soon thereafter, and Ajkena attended church with her regularly. By age nine, she had a strong understanding of personal sin, and already was following Christ. Her biggest childhood dream was to study in the United States, and she prayed fervently for this. When she turned seventeen, God enabled her to move to the US to graduate from high school while living with a host family in Glendive, Montana. Helped by her sister Suela, who works in community college admissions, she was able to earn a two-year degree in Science….but she wanted more.

“I wanted to complete a Bachelor’s degree, but it was only possible with a full scholarship,” she explains. “I was waiting to hear from Boise State University in Idaho, where I had applied.” Nervous, Ajkena constantly checked her email and shared her fears with her older sister. “I was freaking out,” she says. “I was praying, but I was not really giving it to God. Suela reminded me simply, ‘If God wants this to work out, it will. Trust Him! If it does not work out, he will certainly open other doors.”

Taking her sister’s advice, Ajkena immersed herself in her day-to-day life in Glendive and forgot to check her email. A few nights later, she learned that she had won the scholarship, and cried tears of joy. Ajkena, now studying Kinesiology at Boise State, recalls, “It bolstered my faith immediately, but God had already been with me so much that I shouldn’t have been surprised.”

Waiting on God to answer her prayers hasn’t always been easy. I first met Ajkena at age 15, when she was a part of her Lushnjë church youth group attending summer camp. Ajkena stood out as a young woman with unusually strong principles, an unwavering faith in God, and a beautiful singing voice. (She could sing Christian praise songs equally well in both English and Albanian, switching flawlessly between the two languages during evening events). Once camp was over and she returned to “real life”, however, things weren’t so carefree.

Missing her Father

Ajkena and I kept in touch through Skype, and I learned that she was struggling with her father’s recent return from Greece. Her father had been working there since she was one year old, and due to geographic distance they did not have a close relationship. Ajkena only knew his voice. “I will never forget his sacrifice for our family, or how my parents sacrificed their marriage in order for my sister and me to have the best food, clothes and education. But I thought that I’d never be able to fill the “hole” in my heart, of my father not being with me when I needed him the most.” God used this painful experience to mature Ajkena and she says her heart is now healed. “I am where I have always wanted to be. I let God heal my relationship with my father, and now I love him more than I could ever imagine.”

Coming to America

In 2013, Ajkena arrived in Glendive, Montana. It was a dream come true….but Ajkena faced new challenges that would cause loneliness and isolation, and force her to examine who she was in Christ. “I didn’t expect life in the US would be so different,” she says. “I was missing the warmth of Albania. In the US, there is less hugging, touching and emotional support from people. At first, I thought people around me were rejecting me, but over time I realized ‘that’s just the way it is; they’re not ignoring me.”

Getting accustomed to the cold climate of Montana, detachment of people, and countless cultural oddities (such as the use of artificial flowers for home décor) was just the beginning for Ajkena. Soon, her faith was tested when she entered the world of American college life. She attended church, but did not feel connected in her small town. Loneliness is common for university students when they leave home, but Ajkena was half a world away from her home and church family.

She began eating for emotional reasons, and gained weight. “American food has a lot of sugar and I started to eat more to combat stress. There are two types of women in the world – those who don’t eat when they are emotionally upset; and those that eat more. I am in the second category,” she says. Ajkena was trying to fill a spiritual void. “Growing up in church in Lushnjë, we were given real spiritual ‘food’. But here, my faith was not being fed.” Her steadfast immersion in God’s Word and reliance on Him kept her faith strong during those three years. She read her Bible daily and prayed, but says “I was downcast, but not hopeless because I knew God was with me.”

Finally Feeling at Home

True to her strong convictions, Ajkena focused on her education and her personal walk with God. Then in May 2016, she received the dreamed-of scholarship and moved west – to Boise, Idaho. Finding a new church, Ajkena says, “I finally felt at home! Bose is a bigger city than Glendive, so there were more people to befriend. I found other people who also felt disconnected!” This common ground with other believers helped Ajkena mature in her faith. “While I was going through my struggle to find community in Glendive, I was not judging anyone. I focused on not letting culture or nationality divide us. We are defined by the same God; we have the same Bible. Despite our nationality, socio-cultural influences, as true Christians, we define ourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom….who love and obey in the same way,” she says.

Having finally found her niche, Ajkena feels free to love others because she is so secure in her identity in Christ. “After my third year in Glendive, I learned how to love all kinds of people and realized this is life. I’m always going to have a good connection with people who think like me, but I am better able to love others for who they are.”014.jpg

For as long as I have known Ajkena, this young Christ-follower has always had an optimistic attitude towards even the hardest battles in life. Much stronger than she looks, she works hard in all she does but has learned first-hand that the battle belongs to the Lord. “When you let Christ change your identity, you trust Him to do great things through you,” she reflects. “When you take big steps toward loving and accepting and having compassion for other people, just the way they are, it is completely His power.”

Rrugëtimi i Sonila Potter

ilira_christmas_16Nga Marie Notcheva

Ky artikull është publikuar në numrin dhjetor 2016 “Ilira”.

Sonila  dymbëdhjetëvjeçare  donte një akullore. I futi duart ngadalë në xhepat e palltos së vjetër të të atit, duke parë mos gjente ndonjë lek të blinte një. Ajo që gjeti në fakt e intrigoi: një varëse me një burrë të varur në një kryq. E hutuar shkoi tek e ëma, e cila po bënte darkën. “Ma, çfarë është kjo? Kush është ky burri?”.

E ëma u kthye me kurriz nga soba, me një vështrim të frikësuar në sy. “Ku e gjete këtë?”, – e pyeti ajo. Liliana, nëna e Sonilës, kishte arsye të fortë të kishte frikë në vitin 1989: familja e mbante të fshehur origjinën ortodokse greke të babait të Sonilës nga frika e ndëshkimit nga regjimi Hoxha-Alia. “Çoje atje ku e more Sonila! Është mall kontrabandë”, – e paralajmëroi Liliana. Më vonë ime më më tregoi sekretin se kryqi portretizonte Jezu Krishtin dhe që Ai vdiq për mëkatet tona. Ajo më tha që, “Nëse i lutesh, Jezusi do të të dëgjojë”, – sjell ndër mend Sonila. “Ajo më ndaloi rreptësisht t’u tregoja të tjerëve për Të, sepse mund të na arrestonin të gjithëve”.

Shembulli pa fjalë i një nëne

Edhe pse Sonila kishte një besim fëmije dhe donte të dinte më shumë për këtë Perëndi i Cili e donte, vetëm kur u bë 15 vjeç, në vitin 1991, mundi të dëgjonte Ungjillin dhe të kuptonte kush ishte Personi dhe vepra e Jezu Krishtit. “Lutesha si fëmijë kur prindërit më treguan për Perëndinë, por nuk kisha njohuri për mëkatin”, – thotë ajo. “Në vitin 1991, kur filluan ndryshimet, misionarët po shpërndanin Ungjillin e Lukës të përkthyer në shqip në një kishë në Tiranë dhe aty mora një kopje. Isha kaq e etur për ta lexuar! Në faqen e fundit ishte një lutje dhe ndihesha sikur më në fund po më hapeshin sytë”, – thotë ajo. “Ndërsa lutesha, fjalët më dilnin drejt e nga zemra. Më në fund kuptova dhe qava ndërsa ia rrëfeva mëkatin tim këtij Zoti, të cilin më në fund mund ta njihja. Ndjeva dashurinë e Perëndisë që më mbështolli të tërën në kuptimin e vërtetë të fjalës”.

Tashmë e lirë për të shkuar në kishë, me nxitjen e prindërve Sonila shkoi në njërën nga kishat e para ungjillore në Tiranë. Pavarësisht vështirësive të jetës në fillim të viteve ’90, si Sonila ashtu edhe vëllai i saj, Genti, u bënë ndjekës të Krishtit, dhe kjo vinte në një farë mënyre edhe nga kuraja dhe besimi i prindërve të tyre. “Ime më ishte këshilluesja ime më e mirë”, – thotë Sonila. “Në fund të jetës së saj, ndërsa vuante nga tumori, më tha: “Mos qaj për mua, Sonilë. Po shkoj të takoj Bariun tim”. Ishte një shembull të cilin vajza e re nuk do ta harronte kurrë dhe dëshmia e nënës së saj mbolli një dashuri të thellë për Perëndinë dhe të tjerët në zemrën e Sonilës.

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Pak pas mbërritjes në Hollandë, 1998

Kur mbushi 20 vjet ajo kishte pasion për punë misionare dhe dëshironte fort ta shihte Ungjillin të predikohej te njerëz të pashpëtuar në Azi dhe në gjithë botën. “Në moshën 20 vjeçe nuk dija pothuajse fare anglisht dhe nuk kisha shumë të holla. Mendoja: ‘Si mund të më përdorë Perëndia mua, një shqiptare që s’di anglisht?’. Kështu që u luta që Ai thjesht të dërgonte dikë tjetër”, – sjell ndër mend ajo. Por Perëndia kishte plane të tjera. Po atë vit (1998) Ai hapi një derë për mua që t’i shërbeja në një hostel të rinjsh të krishterë në Amsterdam të Hollandës. Kisha mundësi t’u flisja për Ungjillin bujtësve në hotel dhe t’u shërbeja në nevojat e tyre emocionale. “Në një konferencë të krishterë në të cilën ajo mori pjesë bashkë me një shoqen e saj amerikane, ato vendosën të bëhen misionare dhe të shërbejnë për dy muaj në Filipine me YWAM (Të rinj me një mission). Menjëherë paskëtaj, Sonila pati mundësi afatshkurtra misioni në dhjetë vende të ndryshme aziatike, ku shërbeu me fëmijët, adoleshentët dhe nënat e reja që jetonin në varfëri ekstreme.

Studio për ta treguar veten  të miratuar…

Ndërsa pasioni i Sonilës për t’i shërbyer Perëndisë rritej, po kështu shtohej edhe dëshira e saj për të mësuar. “Zoti më dërgoi në një shkollë biblike në Gjermani për më shumë mësim dhe njohuri më të thellë të Fjalës së Tij”, – thotë ajo e mahnitur. Me një njohuri më të mirë të anglishtes, ajo tashmë mund të punonte si përkthyese vullnetare e Biblës Wycliffe dhe në Shkollën Biblike Capernwray në Angli. “Ndërsa shërbeja në Azi, lindi në mua një përkujdesje dhe dhembshuri për njerëzit, por më mungonte një njohuri e gjerë [doktrinare]”, – thotë ajo. “Po mendoja të studioja psikologji që të bëhesha terapiste, duke menduar se kjo ishte një mënyrë e mirë për t’i ndihmuar njerëzit. Fatmirësisht, shkolla biblike ofronte kurse këshillimi biblik. Lexova në internet mbi ndryshimin mes këshillimit biblik dhe se ku bazohej psikologjia… dhe vërtet e ndjeva se Perëndia më mbrojti nga e tatëposhta”. Sonila mori diplomë të shkollës së lartë në këshillim biblik dhe më vonë një diplomë të dytë nga Wayne Johnston, Presidenti i Shoqatës së Këshillimit Biblik dhe një Dishepullizimit, duke ndjekur kurse në internet dhe duke studiuar në mënyrë të pavarur.

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Me Peter Reid, Drejtor i Kolegjit Biblik në Bodenseehof, Gjermani, 2001

Ardhja në Amerikë –  Sfidat dhe Mundësitë

Në vitin 2006, burri që do bëhej një ditë bashkëshorti i Sonilës, po shërbente me ushtrinë amerikane në Afganistan. Sonila, e cila jetonte në Angli, e ‘takoi’ Emmett Potterin në një komunitet të krishterë në internet. Dy javë pas bisedës së tyre të parë, Emmett-i dhe Sonila u takuan në Londër. Po krijohej një miqësi dhe Emmett-i i dhuroi Sonilës një DVD të kreacionistit Kent Hovind që ta shikonte para se të kthehej në Shqipëri.

“Ne e vazhduam komunikimin për disa muaj dhe më vonë Emmett-i erdhi në Shqipëri për tri ditë dhe u takua me familjen time”, – thotë Sonila. “Sa herë kishte pushime, ai vinte në Shqipëri dhe ne u martuam në vitin 2007. U deshën tetë muaj që të më dilte viza, dhe kur mbërrita në Miçigan (SHBA), organizuam një ceremoni të dytë martesore”. Ata jetuan gjashtë muaj në Miçigan dhe më pas u zhvendosën në Masaçusets, ku kanë jetuar këto shtatë vitet e fundit. Nuk është e lehtë të jetosh besimin e krishterë në Amerikë, dhe çifti, që ka tanimë tre fëmijë të vegjël, është përballur me sfida.

“Ka një ndjenjë shumë më të fortë komuniteti në Shqipëri. Kur të vijnë miq për vizitë në shtëpi, ata janë pothuajse si familje për ty”, – shpjegon Sonila. “Këtu kjo gjë mungon. Ka ftohtësi,Sonila4.jpg një ndjenjë largësie, veçanërisht këtu në Masaçusets. Kisha thotë që është një familje, por njerëzit vijnë e ikin… rrallë i sheh të vijnë për herë të dytë. Nuk gjendet ajo ndjenja e miqësisë së vërtetë, e të investuarit në jetët e njëri-tjetrit, siç e kemi ne në Ballkan. Jemi prej kaq vitesh këtu, por nuk ndihemi tamam pjesë e një ‘familjeje’ të kishës”, – thotë ajo.

Është çështje tjetër pastaj të rritësh fëmijët në njohjen e Krishtit. Shkollat e krishtera janë të shtrenjta në SHBA dhe Sonila e pranon që ka presion nga ambienti përreth për të kompromentuar bindjet që ka familja e saj. “Ne nuk e festojmë Hallouinin dhe as u mësojmë fëmijëve që të besojnë në Plakun e Vitit të Ri”, – shpjegon Sonila. “Festat janë për të lavdëruar Jezusin
dhe vetëm Atë. Të tjerët jo gjithmonë e kuptojnë apo respektojnë vendimin tonë në këtë drejtim”. Sonila aktualisht po ndjek studimet master në edukim fetar dhe po jep mësim në një shkollë të krishterë, kur bindjet e saj kanë hasur sfida.

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Me instruktorin në Kolegjin Biblik në Bodenseehof, 2001

Krishterim pa kompromis

“Më pëlqen shumë të lexoj nga puritanët”, – thotë gruaja shqiptare që ka një librari të tërë mbushur me komentarë në anglisht. “Shkrimet e Thomas Watson dhe Thomas Brook janë të preferuarat e mia dhe librin e Richard Baxter “Kura për trishtimin” e përdorim shpesh në këshillim biblik. Sot predikojnë një ‘ungjill të holluar’. Në të kaluarën, këta burra të mëdhenj flisnin për mëkatin”, – thotë ajo. “Charles Spurgeon, Princi i Predikuesve, nuk kishte frikë t’i paralajmëronte njerëzit për të keqen”. Sonila flet se si mungesa e dëshirës që shumë pastorë amerikanë kanë për të predikuar mbi mëkatin është një nga arsyet pse kompromisi dhe lëshimi moral janë kaq problem në disa kisha amerikane.

Megjithatë, ishte nëpërmjet ar- dhjes fillimisht në Angli dhe më pas në Shtetet e Bashkuara që Perën- dia hapi shumë më tepër dyer mundësish që Sonila Potter t’i shërbente Atij. Nuk ka mundësi më të mira për studim teologjik dhe tani Sonila i përdor këto në shërbesën e saj si këshilluese biblike. Ajo tashmë ka mundësi t’u shërbejë grave në dy gjuhë, çka është një pasuri e çmuar (jetojnë 16,000 shqiptarë në shtetin e saj Masaçusets dhe ka pak apo aspak kisha ungjillore shqiptare). Dhe me hirin e Perëndisë, kjo nënë me tre fëmijë është plotësisht e lirë t’i rrisë fëmijët e saj në dashurinë dhe njohjen e Perëndisë, pa pasur nevojë t’i fshehë në xhepa xhaketash simbolet e besimit të tyre.