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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Bikram Yoga – not for Pansies

by Marie O’Toole

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

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The designer “modeling” one of his creations

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

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

Crunchy Therapy?

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

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

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

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

The Practice and Benefits

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Artwork for Merchandise

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

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

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Some cool water bottle designs too:

Additional T-shirt designs:

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

Namaste!

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

receivingloveby Marie O’Toole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paying it Forward

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

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

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

In Response to the Unbiblical “Biblical Counsel’ on Marital Abuse

FracCovCoverThis morning, “Crying Out for Justice” posted an excerpt of a podcast on the subject of marital abuse/domestic violence in which the speaker represented a well-known nouthetic counseling organization. Many of the standard minimization and arguments for wives staying in abusive marriages were re-cycled, and Lambert essentially based his position on two New Testament verses (while ignoring the call in Ephesians and elsewhere for husbands to love their wives, or the Levitical protection of married women).

In the comment section, a reader asked,

“Many of us know how terrible this advice is. However, there are those who are being counseled with these twisted interpretations who think that the Bible actually says these things and that Biblical they must stay with an abuser. Can you provide a rebuttal–or a link in the post to a rebuttal–for their benefit so they are not just left with Dr. Lambert’s counsel?”

Yes – and I’d be glad to. Within the next few weeks, Calvary Press will be releasing my latest book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church”. One of the chapters I wrote deals with when divorce – always a final and tragic decision, although at times a necessity – is indeed biblical grounds for divorce. While lengthy, I provide a thoroughly-researched and written exegesis of this difficult doctrinal issue.

Having been trained as a nouthetic counselor, I am well-familiar with the proof texts and arguments used to defend a permanence view of marriage even in the face of unrepentant and ongoing abuse. Never was this more clear than when I was going through it myself. As a Christian counselor and writer, I have devoted my ministry to helping women who are trapped in the bondage of abuse (both domestic and spiritual), and opening the eyes of well-meaning ministry colleagues who perpetuate the eisogesis they have been taught.

Chapter 3 – Is Abuse Ever Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

“Domestic abuse is a test case for your theology. Eminent people may have great theology in many areas, but if they don’t get it about domestic abuse and divorce, they are gravely in error (in my humble opinion) and need to sit down and seriously examine their doctrine. Until they do, victims of abuse will continue to be unbelievably hurt by the church. God is not happy about this! I suspect He would like to spit them all out of His mouth for their lukewarmness when it comes to protecting the vulnerable (who are mostly women and children).” – Barbara Roberts, author of Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion

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By the time a Christian woman is even contemplating the horrifying thought that her marriage may be beyond repair, she has endured so much for so long that she has given up hope that anything will ever change. She (and her children) may be in physical danger, and need to get to safety. Her husband may be a habitual adulterer, who shows no signs of repentance. Or, it may be a less physically-dangerous but equally toxic form of torment – years of unrelenting verbal abuse that have driven her to despair.

To be clear, couples therapy can be helpful before things have gone on too long. Harmful patterns can be recognized for what they are, and turned around before it’s too late if both spouses are willing to make healthy changes. See this excellent article by BetterHelp for more information on couples therapy and how it works.

While a full treatment of when divorce may be biblically-justified is beyond the scope of this book, some discussion of the matter is in order because of the erroneous assertion that many contemporary churches take: namely, that domestic abuse is never grounds for divorce. Abused women who are living with the covenant-breaking spouse are often chided (and even blackmailed with the threat of excommunication) if they do file for divorce, even after they have made repeated attempts to salvage the marriage. This dogmatic stance is a misrepresentation of God’s high view of marriage, and puts the blame for sin squarely on the victim’s shoulders – rather than on the unrepentant abuser, where it belongs. Unpacking what Scripture says about such situations is necessary, in order to shed light on an unfortunate situation many abused Christian women find themselves in.

One excellent book on this subject is Pastor Hugh Vander Lugt’s booklet, God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce. As the senior research editor for RBC (now Our Daily Bread Ministries), Lugt’s 1982 book is a concise, yet exegetically-rich resource which biblically challenges the contention that divorce is never justified by abuse. Far from being a plea to reason based on emotionalism (or even pastoral experience), Lugt effectively shows how a faulty hermeneutic has led many conservative pastors and churches to teach that Matthew 5:32 is the final and definitive word on divorce.

Just as there is sinless anger (Ephesians 4:26), there is also sinless initiation of divorce. God cannot sin, yet He actively initiated disciplinary divorce (Jerimiah 3:8). Until and unless there is fruit of repentance (Matthew 3), and evidence of love (John 8:31ff, cf. v. 42), those who claim to be children of Abraham are not automatically included in the New Covenant (Romans 11). One Boston-area pastor wrote to me, “If a wife seeks the support of church leaders and the husband is unable or unwilling to change his patterns of verbal abuse, I think it is incumbent upon those church leaders to regard him as an unbeliever. That follows the instructions Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15 – 17.  Divorce is then a regrettable but valid option…it is regretful that church elders also very often do not recognize the more vulnerable position the woman is in [with a domineering husband].  Perhaps this is also because of a belief that “headship” in marriage means that a husband’s “authority” rests in his person per se, irrespective of his own obedience to Jesus.  Many others, including myself, view that as highly contested, to say the least. I have already argued that “headship” in marriage is only true authority to the extent that a husband is faithful to Jesus, so that he is not a “head” by virtue of simply being a husband.  The question is, what kind of husband is he being?”

Linguistic Misconceptions

In the thorny endeavor to unpack all of what Scripture has to say about divorce (as well as abandonment and abuse of different kinds and re-marriage), it is dangerous to conclude that one verse contains the full and final answer on the permanence view of marriage. Moses, Jesus and Paul all recognized a range of marital conditions that are worse than divorce. Historically, although women were often treated as property, the Puritans were a notable exception when it came to recognizing the seriousness of marital abuse:

In the spirit of the Reformation, Puritans didn’t see marriage as an indissoluble sacrament but as a civil contract that could be terminated if either party did not fulfill fundamental duties of marriage. Although cruelty was not a recognized ground for divorce in the Puritan era, there are those who thought cruelty to a wife was a type of desertion. [1]

In his discussion of marital abuse, Lugt demonstrates how, even in modern times, women have been overly-subjugated by a misunderstanding of the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18.

There is no sense in which this word connotes a position of inferiority or subordinate status. The word “suitable for” literally means “in front of”, signifying one who stands face to face with another, qualitatively the same, his essential equal, and therefore his “correspondent” (“Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 666-7, IVP, Downers Grove, 1996).[2]

Sixteen times in the Bible the Hebrew term ezer kenegdo is used in reference to a person, and fifteen of those are in reference to God as our “warrior helper.” The sixteenth is used in Genesis 2 in reference to woman, that she is man’s “warrior helper” (Ezer means “help” and kenegdo means “partner”).  God created women to be ‘warrior helpers’ to their men.

Another fallacy that many writers have pointed out is that male domination is a “right” inherited from the Fall. However, if we are consistent to the rest of Genesis 3, it was a curse that, like sickness, thorns and discord, should be resisted and fought. With sin, these maladies entered what was previously a perfect and harmonious world, with idyllic relationships. The tendency to dominate, dictate and abuse is a perversion of the Creation order that has no justification in Scripture.

A Bulgarian proverb states: “Better a horrible ending, than a horror without end.” To state that God wills His daughters to stay in destructive, toxic or dangerous relationships (not merely disappointing ones) contradicts everything we see scripturally about His loving and protective character. One abuse survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, put it this way: “I upheld my wedding vow. I’m not someone who would ever leave a marriage or break a promise. I would never knowingly allow violence or abuse to break up my family. I would never knowingly let sin take root in my home. I wouldn’t put my children through the trauma. So I had no choice but to leave my husband.”

Mosaic Law

Even the most weak and vulnerable women in Hebraic society – daughters or wives sold as slaves or concubines – were protected under the Law of Moses. Quite progressive for its time, Exodus 21:7-11 lists the “three foundations of marital duty” – namely, the provision of food, clothing, and ‘marriage rights’ – often interpreted as affection and marital love. (In fact, the Jewish Ketubah lays these out as a contract, not unlike Ephesians 4.) Breaking these conditions is, in fact, a violation of the marriage covenant. But more significantly, it shows the principle of protection that is seen throughout Scripture, from the lesser to the greater: if God would provide protection and care even for a slave, how much more is owed to a free wife?

Exodus 21:11 makes it clear that if the husband fails to fulfill this contractual obligation, he is to “let her go free”. This has been proven conclusively by theologians to mean a formal divorce, the ‘get’. Of course, neither rabbis nor Christian pastors argue that this is the ideal; rather, the Mosaic divorce allowance was given by God for humanitarian means – to protect women from cruelty. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 similarly makes provision for the divorce, protection, and remarriage of non-Israelite prisoners of war.

As Laura Petherbridge writes,

It takes two to get married, and only one to break the vow. Stop placing both spouses under one sin. (This is normally the wife. In twenty-five years I’ve never had one husband tell me his church abandoned him when the wife walked out, but I’ve lost count of the hundreds of women who have wept over the shunning of a church when her husband left.) Just because a sin has occurred don’t assume both have sinned.[3]

Unraveling Malachi 2:16

Scripture reveals an ongoing intent of protection first by Moses, (whose Law Jesus upheld completely during His ministry); then subsequently by the prophet Malachi, whose words were intended to protect women being wrongly divorced by their husbands; and finally by Jesus, in His indictment of the Pharisees. One of the most frequently misquoted verses in the Bible regarding divorce is Malachi 2:16:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV).

In Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion, Barbara Roberts addresses the correct etymology of that passage. The verse is often incorrectly and incompletely translated as “I hate divorce” and used as a catch-all conversation stopper to assert that divorce is never permitted biblically. However, this is not the intention of the passage (written during a time period when male casual divorce was rampant). She writes:

The incorrect translation came about as follows. The word “hates” in Malachi 2:16 is he hates. The Hebrew denotes third person masculine singular = he. The King James version had “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.” Many subsequent translations switched the third person “he” to a first person “I” without any grammatical warrant. For example, the 1984 NIV was “ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” Possibly translators thought the switch was okay because it retained the sense of the KJV — that God feels the hatred [for divorce]. They did not seem to worry that “I hate divorce” was grammatically inaccurate to the original Hebrew.

But modern translations are starting to correctly this mistake. The construction in Hebrew (“he hates… he covers”) shows that the one who feels the hatred is not God, but the divorcing husband. To be faithful to the Hebrew, the verse could be rendered, “If he hates and divorces,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with violence.” It is talking about a husband who hates his wife and divorces her because of his aversion for her. Therefore, Malachi 2:16 is only referring to a specific type of divorce: divorce for aversion, which could be dubbed “hatred divorce”. Divorce for hatred is treacherous divorce: if a man hates his wife and dismisses, he “covers his garment with violence” — his conduct is reprehensible, he has blood on his hands.[4]

Biblical scholar Joe Sprinkle also has pointed out that the context of Malachi 2:16 is a limited one: taken in accordance with the allowances for divorce made elsewhere in Scripture, it is clearly only certain divorces in certain circumstances to which God is opposed. While upholding the sanctity of marriage, we can see how the New Testament teaching on divorce demonstrates how Christ, Moses and Paul’s teachings complement one another.

New Testament Application

Even a superficial reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus demonstrated a concern and caring for women that went beyond the social mores of the First Century. And it is plain that the God of Scripture is a Protector and Defender of the weak and downtrodden. So then, does Matthew 5:31-32 over-ride the provision offered divorced women in Deuteronomy? Did Jesus completely nullify the Mosaic Law of protection with this one verse?

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Of course not. Just as with all of Scripture, a correct hermeneutic demands we examine context (Literal-Historical and Synthetic Principle of Scriptural interpretation). Jesus was, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressing the Pharisees’ specific excesses and “stretches” in interpreting and teaching the Law of Moses. They had added hundreds of laws onto the original Levitical code, and the abuse of the divorce clause in Deuteronomy 24 was no exception. In reality, divorced women of the First Century were disgraced and had few career prospects outside of prostitution. It is not biblically consistent to say that He was contradicting the conditions Moses had set, but is more consistent with the passage that He was forcing the Pharisees to focus on the condition of their own hearts. Relational sin was the point; the one statement was clearly not intended to be the single and final word on divorce (as Paul later demonstrates).

Later in Matthew 19:3-9, Lugt notes, we in fact see the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus by confronting Him with the Law of Moses on the same subject. While upholding the sacred ideal of the permanence of marriage, Jesus did not disagree with Moses in allowing divorce.

Commenting on the allowance made for hardness of heart, Dr. Willard notes:

‘No doubt what was foremost in His [Jesus’] mind was the fact that the woman could quite well wind up dead, or brutally abused, if the man could not “dump” her. It is still so today, of course. Such is our “hardness of heart”. Better, then, that a divorce occur than a life be made unbearable. Jesus does nothing to retract this principle…no one regards a divorce as something to be chosen for its own sake…but of course a brutal marriage is not a good thing either, and we must resist any attempt to classify divorce as a special, irredeemable form of wickedness. It is not. It is sometimes the right thing to do, everything considered.[5]

The Mosaic Code and the teachings of Christ on divorce complemented each other. Jesus was forcing the hypocritical religious leaders of the time to examine their own hard hearts in putting women in danger (both by abuse and neglect, and unrighteous divorce), as they were actually ignoring Moses’ rabbinical provision for women. There was no need for Jesus to cite all of these scripturally-valid grounds for divorce, any more than He explained the full Gospel of salvation by faith alone when speaking to the Rich Young Ruler. Context is crucial. During his indictment of the Pharisees, Jesus was not addressing women in distress. He was addressing the self-righteous men who did as they pleased in “putting away” their wives.

Of course, Jesus also didn’t mention the additional circumstances meriting divorce later cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Note that neither of these chapters (Matthew 19 or 1 Corinthians 7) gives a full litany or examination of all of the circumstances under which a woman might be justified in seeking a divorce from a covenant-breaking husband. Also, as Paul would have been well-acquainted with Mosaic teaching on re-marriage, why the no-remarriage clause? Lugt argues that the context of chapter 7 suggests Paul was answering specific questions raised by the Corinthian believers about celibacy (advocated by some even within marriage), and about marriage itself. He urges wives not to leave, but as a concession states that they are then to remain unmarried. Nowhere do we see the Early Church pressuring divorced women to “reconcile” with their husbands (under any circumstances) or to stay with abusive men. In fact, both the epistles of Peter and Paul speak directly to the men and command caring and love towards “the weaker vessel” – an extremely progressive command in the First Century!

Furthermore, Paul clearly rebukes the church at Corinth for tolerating men who were revilers (1 Corinthians 5:11). They are the ones to be removed from church fellowship; not their victims. Pastor Sam Powell asks a rhetorical question of those who refuse to concede that abuse is, biblically, grounds for divorce:

How can we refuse to allow divorce from a reviler… when the scripture forbids us from even eating with a so-called brother who is a reviler? Doesn’t this involve us in hopeless contradiction? You force his wife and children to live with him. “He didn’t leave any bruises. You aren’t really in danger. You have no grounds for divorce.”

Are you willing to excommunicate the victim for obeying the command of the Lord in this passage? Or is it your contention that she should still continue the intimacy of marriage, but perhaps eat separately? I’m having a hard time understanding this position.

Perhaps this is why the [local] church today has become so corrupted. We have been tolerating corrupt leaven. I say it is time we stop, and start obeying the Lord. You can be a reviler, or you can be a Christian. You can’t be both. In fact, according to this text, a reviler who calls himself a brother is far, far worse than an outright unbeliever. A reviler who is allowed to call himself a brother will corrupt the whole church.[6]

Mako Nagasawa, a former campus director with The Navigators and biblical scholar, explains how the Levitical Code and New Testament application complement each other. He writes,

The important question for Christians is how Jesus and Paul interpreted this Old Testament law of divorce for neglect and abuse. One problem the Church has grappled with for centuries is that Jesus appeared to forbid divorce “for any cause … except sexual immorality” (Matthew 19:3-9). The common interpretation until recently has been that Jesus allowed divorce only for adultery. This has been very difficult to understand pastorally and seems absurdly contradictory of other biblical principles since it appears to condone abuse and abandonment. Even as early as AD 200 the Church Father Origen was puzzled by it. He said that if a wife was trying to poison her husband, or if she deliberately killed their baby, then for her husband “to endure sins of such heinousness which seem to be worse than adultery or fornication, will appear to be irrational.” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew II.14.24)  Nevertheless, Jesus’ teaching appeared plain, so the Church followed it.”

But recent research into Jewish documents show that discussions about Exodus 21:10 – 11 and Deuteronomy 21:1 – 4 were separate discussions.  So the discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus about Deuteronomy 21 were isolated to that text:

“This mystery has been recently solved by research in ancient Jewish documents where we find that the phrase ‘Any Cause’ divorce was a legal term equivalent to the modern no-fault divorce (see the chapter ‘No-fault Divorce’). By means of a legalistic interpretation of the phrase “cause of immorality” in Deuteronomy 24:1, some rabbis allowed divorce for both ‘Immorality’ and ‘Any Cause’. When they asked Jesus what He thought, He confirmed that this phrase referred merely to divorce for adultery (nothing “except sexual immorality”). He totally rejected the newly invented divorce for ‘Any Cause’. The misunderstanding through the centuries has been the belief that Jesus was referring to all grounds for divorce rather than the ‘Any Cause’ divorce specifically.”[7]

But what bearing did this discussion about Deuteronomy 24 have on the criteria given by Exodus 21?  Did Jesus categorically overrule Exodus 21?  No. Jesus actually said nothing about the law of divorce for neglect and abuse in Exodus 21. This was partly because He wasn’t asked about it and partly because it wasn’t a topic of debate like the text in Deuteronomy 24. All rabbis still accepted these biblical grounds of neglect of food, clothing and love and ancient Jewish marriage contracts found in caves near the Dead Sea show that its three requirements were incorporated into Jewish marriage vows. Every couple would promise each other to provide “food, clothing and bed” (a euphemism for sexual intercourse), just as it says in Exodus 21.[8]

The “Separation…but No Divorce” Position

Although in the Greco-Roman context separation constituted a legal divorce, some churches currently claim that they protect women by “allowing for separation for a time,” which they base on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 without looking at the full context of the letter. They insist that the ultimate goal must be reconciliation (essentially under any circumstances), ignoring the possibility that the woman may choose to remain single or that the man’s sin pattern may justify (and even necessitate) divorce. While well-intentioned, the insistence on only a temporary separation is problematic and rarely solves the root issue. “Crying Out for Justice” blogger “Jeff S.” writes:

The two biggest problems with “you can separate but not divorce” are:

  1. It’s not a biblical solution. How can we be in a “marriage” doing all the things we are called to if we are separated? Yes, there are probably times a separation, mutually decided, can help with healing; but the way it’s advocated for in abuse situations reads more like a technical “married but not married” so everyone can feel good about the way they’ve parsed the law and found a loophole.
  2. Separation with an eye on reconciliation has built in pressure to reconcile, which is very dangerous for someone who has had their boundaries repeatedly violated and likely is not good at setting them up (or keeping them up). The last thing you want to do when someone needs to learn to erect healthy boundaries is to keep asking them when they are going to take them down.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, Origen and a number of other Early Church Fathers upheld that abuse in certain cases could constitute biblical grounds for divorce, and maintained that Jesus did not nullify the Mosaic Laws on divorce and remarriage. It is a relatively modern interpretation held by many Reformed and conservative evangelical pastors that divorce is never allowable in cases of abuse, including verbal. Luther, in particular, was quite adamant that continual conflict, hatred, and cruelty were what drove the believing spouse away, and as the marriage covenant was thus broken, were legitimate causes for divorce.

It is crucial for pastors, counselors and others in Christian ministry to understand God’s original design for marriage, as well as His protection in certain circumstances where divorce is allowed as a concession. Untold amounts of needless guilt and victim-shaming has occurred in the name of “being faithful to the Word”, when the Word really has much to say about cruelty. Marriage is indeed a covenant, and sadly, once the marriage covenant has been thus violated, the abuse survivor is not obligated to stay.

Examining the context and hermeneutic in which certain passages were written is illuminating in dispelling the “abuse is not biblical grounds for divorce” fallacy. This didactic belief serves to keep women in bondage. Marriage was created for people; not the other way around. When marriage becomes an idol for its own sake, and women are coerced into staying in (emotionally, physically, or spiritually) destructive situations to save face for the Church, God’s Word and intent has been misunderstood and misrepresented.

The Lysa TerKeust Travesty

During the writing of this book, well-known Christian author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries Lysa TerKeurst filed for divorce from her husband after years of his infidelity and substance abuse. In a public statement, she wrote:

My husband, life partner and father of my children, Art TerKeurst, has been repeatedly unfaithful to me with a woman he met online, bringing an end to our marriage of almost 25 years. For the past couple of years, his life has sadly been defined by his affection for this other woman and substance abuse. I don’t share this to harm or embarrass him, but to help explain why I have decided to separate from him and pursue a divorce. God has now revealed to me that I have done all I can do and I must release him to the Savior.

Anyone who knows me and Proverbs 31 Ministries knows how seriously I take marriage. I’ve always encouraged women to fight for their marriages and to do everything possible to save them when they come under threat. So, for the past couple of years I have been in the hardest battle of my life trying to save my marriage…I believe I have the capacity to love Art and to forgive him, but his steadfast refusal to end the infidelity has led me to make the hardest decision of my life. After much prayer and consultation with wise, biblically-minded people, I have decided that Art has abandoned our marriage.[9]

The backlash against Lysa (rather than her adulterous ex-husband) from some leaders in the evangelical community was astounding. Jeff Maples, the editor of “Pulpit & Pen” (a well-known Reformed blog) wrote: “We will be praying for repentance for Lysa TerKeurst to turn from her rebellion against God and walk in righteousness in accordance with His statutes as found in Scripture alone.” Then, in an even worse indictment, a number of Christian media outlets insisted that she step down from ministry and specifically leadership of Proverbs 31, on the grounds that her divorce now disqualified her.

Black Christian News (BCNN1) editors wrote:

No one with any spiritual discernment is going to buy that her husband is the big, evil, bad monster and she’s the sweet, little lamb. Whenever there is a divorce, both parties have issues. Sadly, many Christians have bought into this lie that it is always the man causing the problems in the marriage and that the woman is always innocent. And that is just not the case.

No one is condemning you, but you need to admit that you were not perfect in your marriage either, and we urge you to reconcile with your husband. As you stated in your blog post, you ‘always encouraged women to fight for their marriages and to do everything possible to save them when they come under threat.’ We urge you to do the same. As the reason for continuing your ministry, you stated that you were determined “not to let darkness win.” Well, the way you do that is by not letting darkness win over your family by reconciling with your husband and getting your family back together.[10]

Art’s ongoing infidelity, which is a very serious form of abuse, was proven. By all accounts he refused to abandon his affair and return to a monogamous marriage. Although Lysa stated that she had forgiven him many times for the adultery and substance abuse, he continued to return to it and would not give up either vice. She had single-handedly fought for the marriage for a quarter century, and now the very ministry leaders with whom she served God were throwing her under the bus for pursuing a very biblical divorce. Notice the victim-blaming in the editors’ castigation of her – they directly state that since she was not ‘perfect’, she must share in the blame for her ex-husband’s philandering and addiction.

Much like the claim that abuse victims must share in part of the blame for their mistreatment, this extreme patriarchal thinking absurdly places the sole responsibility for saving the marriage on the woman’s shoulders. And Lysa had embraced more of that responsibility than was ever hers to bear – not only by fulfilling her end of the marriage covenant, but also through forgiveness and her long-suffering attempting to gently “win her husband over” and bring him back to the truth. She cannot be blamed for his failure, nor can she be criticized for taking the final step that Scripture instructs spouses to do in such situations. There is a serious problem in the Church when leaders insist that even clear-cut, black-and-white cases of biblical grounds for divorce are sinful…on the part of the victimized spouse.

In the next chapter, we will look at some of the ways scriptures have been misconstrued and have thus conditioned Christian women to accept emotional abuse as “headship” or “spiritual leadership”. We will examine some of the teachings prevalent in conservative evangelicalism, and how they enable patriarchal thinking to grow and ultimately enable abusive men.

[1] Hugh V. Lugt, God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 1982), 4.

[2] IBID, 6.

[3] http://www.ibelieve.com/relationships/this-is-the-reason-god-actually-hates-divorce.html

[4] https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/10/24/god-hates-divorce-not-always/ Barbara’s book can be purchased at notunderbondage.com or from any book retailer.

[5] Professor Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 169-70.

[6] https://myonlycomfort.com/2017/06/02/christians-who-revile/

[7] David Instone-Brewer, “Marital Abuse,” BeThinking, 2012. http://www.bethinking.org/bible/bible-scandals/5-marital-abuse

[8] Mako Nagasawa, personal correspondence with author.

[9] http://lysaterkeurst.com/2017/06/rejection-heartache-and-a-faithful-god/

[10] http://blackchristiannews.com/2017/06/lysa-terkeurst-we-love-you-but-you-need-to-resign-from-proverbs-31-ministries/

 

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!

A Letter from My Father

dad_letterToday is December 18th. So much has happened in the past week, regarding my former church situation and the legal (not to mention ecclesiastical) implications of their actions and communications with me.

I have refrained from sharing anything on my personal blog about the debacle thus far, although those close to me are well aware of the situation and the relentless bullying of the past 10 months from the lead pastor, Tim Cochrell, which turned to criminal harassment after I legally resigned my membership on September 28, 2016. The Wartburg Watch has done a fine job of re-capping the situation here and here, and the Boston Globe will be picking up the story later this week. (Interestingly, many former members who have been bullied out of HBC – as well as current members who know about my situation and disagree with leadership’s position – have contacted me in writing to express their support.)

On Thanksgiving, my Dad slipped me a letter which was the best articulation of reality that I have seen to date. I feel compelled to share it.

Marie:

Mom showed me a text message [he meant e-mail] yesterday from Pastor Tim to you. On the surface, at least, it read like a tender, compassionate and empathetic “we feel your pain” communication. Reading between the lines, however, PT and his co-pastor and the chapel’s membership, are operating as a self-appointed “kangaroo court”, trying to bind you with golden cords. They are insistently telling you, as pointedly as they dare, how you should conduct yourself; especially PT’s clear implication that you are not willing to bend…he’s trying to lovingly urge “reasonableness” on your part, which in fact means submission to these self-appointed “well-wishers” and caving in to their “loving” demands that you submit to your (ex) husband as a dutiful Slavic wife. BULLFEATHERS!

When Martin Luther was threatened with heresy for criticizing the pope, the sale of indulgences, and other practices enumerated in his 95 theses of protest in 1519; his determination, as expressed in his defiant words: HERE I STAND!…GOD HELPING ME, I CAN DO NO OTHER!!

Stand your ground, Marie.

And that pretty much says it all. Well, not ALL. What’s hilariously ironic is that my father is a practicing Irish Catholic.

Quoting Martin Luther.

To one of those pesky sola-Scriptura types (namely, me).

Ok, that’s funny…..in a vindicating sort of way.

They say “When you’re right; you’re right.”

True, but it’s ever so much more meaningful to have the informed support of family….the ones who were there, and saw, and heard, and observed, and discerned….from the very beginning.

#EndAbuseNow #FightingBack

Takim me Zotin në bregun e Jonit

titlepicKy artikull është publikuar në “Ilira”, dhjetor 2016. Mund të lexoni në anglisht ketu.

“A do të shqetësohesh për opinionin e njerëzve këtu, apo për opinionin e Zotit? Opinioni i njerëzve nuk do të ngrejë shumë peshë kur të jesh para fronit të gjykimit”.

Charles Studd, Misionar i shekullit të 19të

A është e mundur që ndërsa je e rrethuar nga njerëz të ndihesh krejtësisht e vetmuar? Ne duam që njerëzit rrotull nesh ta vlerësojnë praninë tonë, ta çmojnë miqësinë tonë, të shuajnë dyshimet tona, të na mbështetin në sfida, të shërojnë lëndimet tona më të thella. E thënë shkurt, ka mundësi që ne kërkojmë nga njerëzit atë që vetëm Zoti mund të na e japë: përmbushje, paqe dhe dashuri pa kushte. Padyshim, Zoti i përdor fëmijët e vet për të inkurajuar dhe për të mësuar njëri-tjetrin, por është shumë e lehtë që opinionet e të tjerëve t’i kthejmë në idhull.

Skenari i parë është i shëndetshëm dhe na afron më shumë me Zotin. Galatasve 6:2 na thotë të “mbajmë barrët e njëri-tjetrit” dhe të kërkojmë këshillën e urtë të vëllezërve e motrave të krishterë si një aspekt i rëndësishëm i rritjes shpirtërore. Gjithsesi, skenari i dytë, mbivlerësimi i këndvështrimit, opinionit apo sjelljes së të tjerëve ndaj nesh, ndonjëherë edhe deri në dëshpërim, është një kurth. “Frika e njeriut” mund të na largojë nga Zoti kur ne lejojmë që opinionet e të tjerëve të bëhen më të rëndësishme sesa mënyra si na sheh Zoti. Kjo mund të ndodhë kur ne besojmë që të krishterët flasin në emër të Zotit kur na lëndojnë, ose thjesht duke hequr dorë nga lutja për njëfarë kohe. Kur ne e harrojmë ‘zërin’ e Zotit, zërat e të tjerëve do ta mbytin zërin e Tij.

“Frika nga njeriu” (edhe njeriut të kishës) na thotë që nuk jemi mjaft të mirë kur të tjerët vënë në dyshim motivet e veprimeve tona, na akuzojnë padrejtësisht, bëjnë thashetheme ose gjykojnë vendimet tona, pa i ditur rrethanat ku ndodhemi apo parimet shpirtërore që na udhëheqin. Kjo është e dhimbshme, turbulluese dhe disa nga ne që janë natyra të shoqërueshme, instinktivisht do të kërkojnë njerëz të besueshëm për të qenë në shoqërinë e tyre. Në njëfarë mënyre ne do të ndihemi më mirë në praninë e miqve tanë; do të ndihemi përsëri të vlerësuar, ose të paktën do të kemi mjaft shpërqendrim, sa për të mos menduar për ndjenjat tona.

Unë e di që kjo është e vërtetë, sepse pas 25 vitesh si e krishterë, Zotit iu desh të më sillte në anën tjetër të botës (relativisht e izoluar) për të më tërhequr vëmendjen.

Kur Zoti shfaqet papritur

Gjatë vitit të kaluar unë mora vendimin e dhimbshëm për t’i dhënë fund martesës sime. Divorci është një ngjarje tmerrësisht e dhimbshme, dhe aq më tepër kur ndodh midis dy të krishterëve, për shkak të ‘njollës’ që e shoqëron këtë vendim. Megjithëse kisha mjaft mbështetje biblike për divorcin, për hir të qetësisë së fëmijëve të mi nuk i tregova detajet (përveç disa njerëzve të cilët duhej t’i dinin). Shumica e personave që e njihnin situatën tonë, treguan dhembshuri të pamasëdhe mbështetja më erdhi nga nuk e prisja. Megjithatë, ata të krishterë të cilët nuk e njihnin situatën tonë apo rrethanat që më shtynë drejt divorcit, filluan të më gjykonin. Kjo e lëkundi besimin tim te kisha dhe si pasojë edhe te Zoti.

Megjithëse miqtë e mi nga kisha të tjera më çuan në vende të qeta, më përfshinë në studime Bible dhe kaluan shumë orë duke më folur dhe duke u lutur për mua, përsëri lëndimi i shkaktuar nga personat, opinionin e të cilëve e quaja të ‘rëndësishëm’, më bëri të ndihesha konfuze në lidhje me Zotin, ndërkohë që isha duke i shërbyer Atij. Mezi po prisja të vinte gushti, gjatë të cilit kisha planifikuar të shërbeja në Kampet e të Rinjve {në Nju Hempshire (New Hampshire) dhe në Shqipëri}, të kaloja kohë me fëmijët e mi dhe të shërohesha. Një nga gjërat që më jepte gëzim dhe mezi po e prisja ishte ritakimi me motrat dhe vëllezërit e dashur në Krishtin në Shqipëri, me të cilët isha miqësuar gjatë kampit të vitit të kaluar. Unë kisha ‘nevojë’ për ta, për praninë e tyre, kisha nevojë për miqësinë e tyre, kisha nevojë të qeshja.

Pas tri ditësh në Tiranë, unë mora autobusin për në Sarandë, ku do të takohesha me ata që do të më çonin në kamp. E lënduar nga sjellja e miqve të mi dhe e shqetësuar nga ideja që duhej të flisja me drejtuesit e kampit për situatën time, qava në heshtje pothuajse gjatë gjithë udhëtimit 7 orësh. Si për ta rënduar edhe më keq situatën, shumica e personelit me të cilët isha miqësuar më shumë nuk erdhi në kamp këtë vit për arsye nga më të ndryshmet. E rrethuar nga kampistë të rinj dhe të panjohur, personel i ri dhe nga gjuha shqipe, u ndjeva edhe më e vetmuar se më parë. Kujtimet e bukura të së kaluarës më bënë të ndihesha akoma më e trishtuar për ditë me radhë dhe fillova të pyesja veten se çfarë bëja unë në atë vend. E rrethuar nga 70 persona dhe një skuadër të krishterësh shqiptarë, u ndjeva plotësisht në ajër dhe e panevojshme.

Kështu që kaloja kohë vetëm me Zotin. Ai ishte i vetmi që shihte lotët e mi. Ecja mbi skelë, shikoja perëndimin e diellit mbi Jon dhe ulesha e rrija aty për orë me radhë. Disa herë lexoja Biblën; disa herë vetëm mendohesha, por gjithmonë e kuptoja që isha në praninë e Atit tim, i cili ishte Mbrojtësi dhe Mbështetësi im. Unë e dija që Ai e kishte orkestruar gjithçka në mënyrë të përsosur, por më duhej ta përjetoja këtë në nivel emocional dhe kjo është shumë e vështirë të ndodhë kur ti je duke u arratisur nga emocionet e tua.

Një nga mësimet në anglisht që po u mësonim fëmijëve tregonte si ta vendosje opinionin e Zotit mbi atë të njerëzve. Kjo ishte tepër specifike për të qenë një rastësi. Zoti po më fliste mua drejtpërsëdrejti. Kishte mëngjese kur doja të largohesha nga grupi i diskutimit, të cilin e drejtoja bashkë me një anëtare skuadre nga Britania; të vërtetat themelore për dashurinë e Zotit që po u mësonim fëmijëve ishin premtime të harruara prej kohësh, për shkak se nuk e besoja më që mund të zbatoheshin në rastin tim.

Na tërheq në anën tjetër të botës… për të na detyruar ta dëgjojmë?

Këtu filloi edhe shërimi im. Si për të më siguruar mua që Ai ishte pranë, mora një mesazh nga një anëtare e re britanike e skuadrës, (e cila nuk më njihte aspak) një ditë pasi u largua nga kampi, duke më pyetur nëse isha mirë. Pasi i tregova një version të përmbledhur të ngjarjeve, ajo u përgjigj:

“Unë të jam mirënjohëse që ke folur me personat në kamp dhe lutem që ata të kenë qenë mbështetje dhe inkurajim për ty. Unë e vlerësoj shumë ndershmërinë dhe sinqeritetin tënd me mua, duke më treguar atë që po ndodh realisht. Zoti ka një plan për ty, që të solli në Shqipëri këtë vit dhe unë lutem që ti me të vërtetë do të gjesh shërim nga gjithë vështirësitë që ke kaluar. Unë e di që Zoti ka plane të mira për ty, ashtu siç ka premtuar për popullin e tij.

“Në fund të fundit ne duhet të shqetësohemi, mbi të gjitha, për atë që mendon Zoti dhe të lutem mos harro, Ai na do pa kushte. Afrohu pranë Tij dhe lëri krahët e Tij të të mbrojnë. Mos e lëndo veten duke mos lejuar të përjetosh ato ndjenja që të vijnë. Zoti e di çfarë ndien ti. Unë nuk dua të mendosh që duhet t’i fshehësh ndjenjat e tua, apo që nuk po përfshihesh aq shumë sa duhet në kamp. Ndoshta Zoti do që kjo kohë që po kalon në Shqipëri të shërbejë për shërimin tënd nga lëndimi dhe ndjenjat e tua. Sa e mahnitshme është mënyra si na përdor Zoti në jetët e njëri-tjetrit. Unë e ndjeva fuqishëm Frymën e Shenjtë teksa më shtynte të bisedoja me ty dhe jam e sigurt që Zoti të ka rrethuar me kujdesin e Tij. Është e mahnitshme sesi Zoti na tërheq në anën tjetër të botës, për të na detyruar të dëgjojmë dhe për të na afruar te Vetja”.

Të jesh transparent ndërsa i beson Zotit

Drejtuesit e shërbesës, nën autoritetin e të cilëve shërbeja, janë miq të mirë, por unë kisha shumë frikë se mos më refuzonin apo më gjykonin pasi ta merrnin vesh për divorcin tim, pavarësisht arsyeve që kisha; por ndodhi krejt e kundërta. E mbushur me ankth, u ula dhe i shpjegova situatën time pastorit shqiptar dhe më pas drejtorit të kampit. Ata jo vetëm që e mbështetën vendimin tim, por më përkrahën si motrën e tyre, ashtu si përherë. Megjithatë, mësimi që më mësoi Zoti atë javë ishte që kjo nuk duhej të kishte rëndësi.

Ai më pranon, më do dhe gëzohet për mua. Opininoni i njerëzve (edhe i njerëzve të Tij) zbehet për nga rëndësia përpara Tij. Gjithsesi ishte çliruese të mbështetesha nga miq që shqetësoheshin për mua dhe më kuptonin. Pastor “Erioni” (ky nuk është emri i tij i vërtetë) kishte parë vetë një nga motrat e tij të përjetonte një eksperiencë të ngjashme me timen dhe ishte i vetëdijshëm për faktin që jeta jo gjithmonë ndjek besnikërisht udhëzimet biblike të pendimit dhe pajtimit. Vëllai im ballkanas, më shumë se çdokush tjetër, ndihej i çliruar për faktin që unë tashmë isha e sigurt, e shëruar, dhe po rifitoja vetëbesimin tim.

Ne si besimtarë nuk mund të jetojmë në boshllëk. Është e pamundur të hiqemi sikur opinionet, pranimi, dashuria apo aprovimi i të tjerëve, veçanërisht i vëllezërve dhe motrave të krishterë, nuk kanë rëndësi. Ne jemi krijuar për të jetuar në bashkësi dhe Zoti trishtohet kur bijtë e Tij krijojnë mëri me njëritjetrin. E megjithatë, për të shembur muret e turpit që nga largojnë prej Tij, Ai detyrohet të na izolojë në një vend nga i cili nuk mund të arratisemi më; dhe kur më në fund fillojmë të dëgjojmë zërin e Tij të së Vërtetës, Ai e pohon dashurinë e Tij ndaj nesh edhe përmes njerëzve të tjerë. Megjithatë, derisa të zbulojmë që Ai është i vetmi zë që ka rëndësi, ne do të ngecemi midis zërave të vetë konfuzionit dhe dyshimeve tona.

Unë duhej të ndihmoja të tjerët të kuptonin Fjalën e Zotit verën e kalredemption_picuar, por Zoti e përdori atë kohë për të sjellë hirin dhe shërimin e Tij mbi mua, në një kamp të largët bregdetar, pa miq të cilëve t’u besoja, gjysmë bote larg nga shtëpia ime. Shqipëria gjithmonë ka qenë shumë e veçantë për mua, por tani unë do ta kujtoj edhe si një vend ku Zoti më takoi në një mënyrë unike dhe thellësisht personale.