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

b5741-fearless“Marie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU GO, GIRL!!”

 

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Sanctified Bullying – A Woman’s Cry for Help

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

“Dear Marie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[name redacted]

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

An Open Letter to Heath Lambert and Leadership of ACBC

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

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

“Dear Dr. Lambert, and Board of ACBC,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which, it is increasingly clear, is itself unclear.

In your Statement, you wrote:

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

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

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

Your sister in Christ,

Marie O’Toole (formerly Marie Notcheva)

 

 

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.

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

 

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

Regarding Give Her Wings’ Angel Campaign, Laura wrote:

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

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

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

dedication

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

Dear Friends,

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

This ministry is “life giving” in so many ways

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

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

 

New Book Releases….New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

From the Publisher’s Description: 

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

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

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

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

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I’m very pleased with these developments!

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

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

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.

Rrugëtimi i Sonila Potter

ilira_christmas_16Nga Marie Notcheva

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

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

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

Shembulli pa fjalë i një nëne

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

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

Sonila3.jpg
Pak pas mbërritjes në Hollandë, 1998

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

Studio për ta treguar veten  të miratuar…

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

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

Ardhja në Amerikë –  Sfidat dhe Mundësitë

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

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

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

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

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Me instruktorin në Kolegjin Biblik në Bodenseehof, 2001

Krishterim pa kompromis

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

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

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

The Journey of Sonila Potter

This article first appeared in Albanian, in the magazine “Ilira Revista” under the title “Rrugëtimi i Sonila Potter”. 

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By Marie Notcheva

Twelve-year-old Sonila wanted ice cream.

Quietly, she slipped her hands into the pockets of her daddy’s old coat, looking for a bit of money to buy some. What she found instead intrigued her: a metal necklace, with a man attached to a cross. Perplexed, she went to her mother, who was cooking dinner. “What is this, mama? Who is this man?”

Her mother turned from the stove, a look of fear in her eyes. “Where did you find this?” she asked. Sonila’s mother Liliana had good reason to be fearful in 1989: the family had hidden Sonila’s father’s Greek Orthodox background, for fear of punishment under the Hoxha-Alia regime. “Put that back, Sonila! It’s a contraband item,” Liliana warned. “Later, my mother explained to me in secret that the cross portrays Jesus Christ, and that He died for our sins. She told me, ‘If you pray to Him, Jesus will hear you,’” Sonila recalls. “She strictly forbade me to tell anyone about him, because we could all get arrested.”

A Mother’s Quiet Example

Although Sonila had a child’s faith and wanted to know more about this God Who loved her, it wasn’t until she was 15 in 1991 that she was able to hear the Gospel and understand the Person and work of Jesus Christ. “I would pray as a child, when my parents told me about God, but I didn’t have a knowledge of sin,” she says. “In 1991, after the changes started, missionaries were handing out the translated Gospel of Luke at a church in Tirana, and I took one. I was so hungry to read it! There was a prayer in back, and it was as if my eyes were finally opened,” she says. “As I prayed, those words were coming straight out of my heart. Finally, I had understanding and I cried as I confessed my sin to this God I could finally know. I literally felt God’s love wrapped around me.”

Now free to attend church, with her parents’ encouragement, Sonila attended one of the first evangelical churches planted in Tirana. Despite the difficulties of life in the early 1990’s, both Sonila and her brother Genti became followers of Christ in part thanks to their parents’ courage and faith. “My mother was the best counselor for me,” Sonila says. “At the end of her life, when she was suffering from cancer, she told me ‘Don’t cry for me, Sonila. I’m going to see my Shepherd.” It was an example the young woman never forgot, and her mother’s legacy inspired a deep love for God and others in Sonila.

By age 20, she had a passion for missionary work and longed to see the Gospel brought to unreached people groups in Asia and around the world. “By age 20, I barely spoke any English, and I didn’t have much money. I thought, ‘How can God use me, an Albanian girl without English?’ So I prayed that He would simply send someone else,” she recalls. “But God had other plans. That same year (1998) He opened a door for me to serve him in a Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, Holland. I was able to reach out to guests with the Gospel, and misonila1nister to their emotional needs.” At a Christian conference she attended with an American friend, the two decided to be missionaries and served for two months in the Philippines with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Soon after, Sonila had short-term missionary opportunities in ten different Asian countries, where she served children, teens and young mothers living in extreme poverty.

Study to Show Yourself Approved…

As Sonila’s passion for serving God grew, so did her desire for learning. “The Lord sent me to Bible school in Germany for more training, and a deeper knowledge of His Word,” she says with amazement. With increased proficiency in English by this time, she was able to volunteer as a Wycliffe Bible translator and at Capernwray Bible School in England. “While I was serving in Asia, I developed a concern and compassion for people, but I lacked a broad [doctrinal] knowledge,” she says. “I thought of studying psychology to become a therapist, thinking this was a good way to help people. Fortunately, however, the Bible school offered biblical counseling courses. I read online about the difference between counsel that is biblical, and what psychology is based on…and I really felt tsonila4hat God protected me from going down that road.” Sonila completed a Bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling, and later went on to earn a second degree under Wayne Johnston, the President of the Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Association by doing online courses and studying independently.

Coming to America – the Challenges and Opportunities

In 2006, the man who would become Sonila’s husband was serving in the United States army in Afganistan. Sonila, living in England, “met” Emmett Potter in an online Christian community. Two weeks after their first conversation, Emmett and Sonila met in London. A friendship already in the making, Emmett gave her creationist Kent Hovind DVDs to watch just before she returned home to Albania.

“We stayed in touch for a few months, then Emmett traveled to Tirana for three days and met my family,” Sonila says. “Each time he had vacation time he came to Albania, and we married in November 2007. It took eight months for me to get a visa, but once I arrived in Michigan (USA), we had a second wedding ceremony.” The couple lived for six months in Michigan before moving to Massachusetts, where they have lived for the last seven years. Living out one’s Christian faith in the United States is not easy, and the couple, who now has three small children, has faced challenges.

“In Albania, there is a much greater sense of community; when you have friends as guests in your home, they are almost family,” Sonila explains. “Here, that is missing. There is a coldness, a feeling of detachment – especially here in Massachusetts. The church says it is a family, but people come and go….you rarely see them a second time. There is nothing like that true sense of friendship; of being invested in each other’s lives, like we have in the Balkans. We have been here for so many years, but cannot really feel like part of a church ‘family,’” she says.

Raising children in the knowledge of the Lord is another matter. Christian school is expensive in the United States, and Sonila acknowledges there is peer pressure all around to compromise her family’s convictions. “We do not celebrate Halloween, nor do we teach our children to believe in Santa Claus,” Sonila explains. “The holidays are to glorify Jesus and Him only. Others do not always understand or respect our decision in this regard.” Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in religious education, Sonila has even taught in a Christian school where her convictions have been challenged.

No Compromise Christianity

“I love reading the Puritans,” says the Albanian woman who has a library filled with English-language commentaries. “The writing of Thomas Watson and Thomas Brook are my favorites, and Richard Baxter’s “The Cure for Melancholy” is one we use often in biblical counseling. Today, they preach a ‘soft gospel’. In the past, these great men talked about sin,” she says. “Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was not afraid to warn people about evil.” Sonila cites the aversion many American pastors have towards preaching about sin as one of the reasons compromise and moral laxity is such a problem in some American churches.

Nevertheless, it was through coming first to England and later to the United States that God opened many more doors of opportunity for Sonila Potter to serve Him. Nowhere do greater opportunities for theological study exist, which Sonila now uses in her ministry as a biblical counselor. She is able now to minister to other women in two languages, which is a valuable asset (there are 16,000 Albanians living in her state of Massachusetts, and few, if any, Albanian evangelical churches). And by the grace of God, this mother of three is freely able to raise her children in the love and knowledge of God – without having to hide symbols of their faith in coat pockets.ilira_christmas_16