I am writing this as a plea, and I hope and pray that you will hear the cry of my heart.
I come to you on behalf of countless women who are suffering from destructive marriages.
Abuse comes in many forms and is not just defined by broken bones and bruises.
The Duluth Power and Control Wheel is one resource that reveals other forms of abuse.
Sarah McDugal created a chart with the 13 systems of abuse patterns.
The patterns/systems of abuse include child, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, pets and property, psychological, sexual, social, spiritual, verbal and a core mindset of power abuse and entitlement.
My first plea is that you become familiar with the patterns and systems of abuse.
You may read more here or listen here.
Reportedly, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse.
This number does not account for unreported cases.
This number does not account for other forms of abuse.
Based upon my personal experience and the hundreds of women that I encounter daily, my gut tells me that 50-75% of women within faith communities are experiencing multiple forms of abuse on a regular basis.
These women read your books, blogs, and social media posts.
These women listen to your podcasts and sermons.
These women have endured years, even decades, of heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing abuse.
Some are aware that they are being abused, and many are not yet aware.
We can no longer say, “But my message was directed at healthy couples.”
Many marriages are not healthy.
Most women who are seeking out help are not in healthy marriages and the messages they hear cause more harm.
When you speak on these topics and do not include a warning about abuse, these women feel blamed, shamed and responsible for the abuse they are enduring.
My second plea is to add a heartfelt, informed disclaimer each time you address relationships, marriage, sex, and divorce.
Please include information about consent, safety, equality, and mutuality.
Please educate yourselves and others about the patterns and systems of abuse and direct your readers and listeners to resources that will help them to be safe and well.
Please refer abuse victims to trauma-informed and abuse-informed therapists, domestic violence shelters and law enforcement agencies.
Abuse within faith communities is epidemic.
This is not a new problem, but there is a tidal wave of survivors who are stepping out and speaking up.
As one story is shared, it gives others courage to come forward.
For generations, abuse has been covered up within homes, churches, and institutions.
The tide has turned, and survivors and advocates are saying “Enough is enough.”
Will you join me and other survivors, helpers, advocates, counselors, authors, and leaders who are taking a stand against this evil?
We are unlearning and relearning, every single day.
We are realizing that many things we have believed, spoken and written have brought more harm to those who were seeking healing.
We invite you to join us as we seek ways to help and heal the masses who are showing up at our doorsteps, our computer screens and in our coaching sessions.
We now know better, so we must do better.
Ladies, join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
The Held & Healed Podcast is a resource filled with resources and I have interviewed some powerful men and women who love God and love others and are speaking out on behalf of survivors.
Thank you for your time and consideration, I invite the opportunity to learn and grow with you.
A Survivor and Advocate
In case you are not familiar with it, here goes.
“One day a man was walking along a beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son, the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.””
Every day, I find myself walking along a figurative beach.
The tide has gone out, and countless starfish are lying on the beach, wasting away.
Every day, I meet and interact with women online.
They are wasting away.
They have endured years, even decades, of abuse at home and at church.
They have no idea how beautiful, precious, and cherished they are.
Every day, I also encounter opposition.
Those who say things like, “No marriage it perfect,” “It takes two,” “She should just…”
I am here to say, “NO MORE.”
We are way past that.
There is evidence that shows us that (reportedly) one in three women are subject to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
This does not account for unreported cases.
This does not account for the masses of women who are enduring horrific emotional, financial, intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual, and verbal abuse.
The days of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending this epidemic doesn’t exist are gone.
There are many voices raising awareness and we can no longer pretend that most marriages are safe and healthy.
I choose to spend my days, walking the beaches of online conversations, picking up starfish and throwing them into the water.
This epidemic is especially deadly within conservative, fundamental, evangelical church circles.
Most of the starfish I interact with have been raised in a church culture that tells them they must submit more, pray more, forgive more, and give their husbands sex more to stop the abuse and adultery.
Most of these starfish are blamed and shamed for their husbands’ sins while the men are not addressed.
Beautiful, gifted starfish are being removed from their places of ministry while their husbands are slapped on the wrists (in some situations, they are sat down for a few months, but usually they are reinstated without therapy or treatment for their addictions and behaviors).
I am crying out for more starfish throwers.
Will you join me?
Will you commit to learning about the realities of trauma and abuse, and will you pick up one starfish and throw her back into the sea?
In 2021, I earned a certification as a survivor advocate and that lit a fire in my soul.
Once the lights turned on for me, I wanted to flip every switch and bring light to other survivors.
Since that time, I have formed support groups for starfish and starfish throwers, and we are taking a stand against the evil that almost destroyed us.
We are walking along the seashore and looking for other starfish who desperately need life-giving water.
I long for every book, blog, podcast, sermon, etc. that covers topics such as relationships, marriage, divorce, and sex to include information about the patterns/systems of abuse.
I long for them to include information about consent, safely, equality, and mutuality.
When one in three women have reported being physically and/or sexually abused and countless others have not reported and/or are experiencing emotional, financial, intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual, and verbal abuse we must change the way we approach these topics.
Every week, in every church, there are women who are hearing messages that that are crushing their souls and sucking life from their lungs.
Please stop saying, “But that book was written for healthy marriages,” when it is highly likely that more women who are in destructive relationships will read the book and feel shamed, blamed, and responsible for the abuse they are enduring.
"You’re too sensitive,” is another common response when an advocate speaks up on behalf of a harmful source.
I am deeply concerned for the women who believe that if they just pray harder, put on more makeup, lose weight and cook gourmet meals their husbands will become faithful, kind and loving.
One dear starfish endured decades of abuse, serial adultery and was debilitated by chronic illness.
At the point of her deepest need, unsure if she would live or die, her abuser abandoned her.
The church chose the abuser over the victim and promoted him in leadership.
Sadly, her story is not uncommon, it is one I hear often.
I am calling out, screaming, yelling, pleading…will you be a starfish thrower?
Would you be willing to learn about abuse and trauma and how to help and not further harm the precious star fish around you?
Are you willing to ask a trauma-informed, abuse-informed survivor or advocate to help you write posts, sermons or books that will offer hope and healing, rather than bring further harm?
Are willing to remove books from your personal and church libraries that are filled with toxic teachings?
Are willing to open your heart, home, and wallet to help support women who are escaping destructive relationships?
My guess is that 50-75% of women in conservative church cultures are enduring one or many forms of abuse.
Your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your friend may be need life-saving intervention.
Will you hear her?
One of my greatest joys is connecting resources to needs.
am connected to a powerful network of star fish throwers and together we are bringing awareness, educating, equipping, and encouraging survivors.
Will you join us?
Ladies, you are welcome to join us at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
Survivors, helpers, and leaders, join us at the Safer Spaces Summit where we will share statistics, survivor stories, and offer solutions for addressing abuse within faith communities.
And yet, here I am.
In the middle of a battle that is as old as the world itself.
A battle against abuse.
A battle that has been raging since the Garden of Eden and one that is hot, hot, hot in 2022.
What baffles me and breaks me the most?
That so many so-called “Christians” will defend abuse.
When an abuser is exposed, many will come to his defense and accuse his victim of slander, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Taking a stand against abuse within faith communities is exhausting, heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Abuse is rampant in churches, on Sunday mornings during services and all week long behind closed doors.
“No church is perfect” has been used for generations to cover up, minimize and excuse abuse of every kind.
I survived more than four decades of spiritual abuse, while enduring every other form of abuse at home.
I cannot…I WILL NOT…be silent.
I once believed that I was called to be a bridge back to an institution, one that deeply wounded people that I loved and did so in the name of Jesus.
Now, I realize that I am called to be a bridge back to Jesus, not an institution.
I remember how I felt when I was still in the fire, being blamed and shamed for my abusers’ sins.
I remember the guilt I carried for things that I didn’t even do.
I remember the condemnation of being accused of being bitter and unforgiving when I was hurt and unsafe.
I remember being told that I had to return to dangerous situations, and not being told I was worthy of love, honor, respect, safety, and fidelity.
I remember spending thousands of dollars on counseling, seminars, programs, and ladies retreats that did not have a clue how to properly assess and address abuse.
On days when I feel like pulling back, shutting up and closing down, I remember.
I remember being a little girl who desperately needed someone to speak up for me.
I remember being a young woman who longed for someone to protect me.
I remember being a mama of three under three who didn’t know how to juggle all the trauma while keeping my sweet babies safe.
I remember being a woman who did everything “they” told me to do while the abuse got worse and worse.
That is why I do what I do.
There are countless other women who are still in that fire, and I will not…I CANNOT…be silent.
I will pace myself.
On public forums, I may pick my battles.
But, in my group, surrounded by other survivors, I will speak up.
I will expose toxic teachings that have been used to repress women for generations.
I will ask hard questions.
I will offer resources to equip, empower, edify, and encourage my survivor sisters.
I will be offer TRUTH to those who have believed lies for far too long.
My commitment to my former self?
I will be what I needed someone to be for me.
Ladies, you are so, so, so welcome to join us on Facebook at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse, where we are growing and healing together.
I know that you are weary and worn.
You have tried and tried.
You have done everything that your friends, family, and church has told you to do.
You’ve forgiven, submitted, prayed, served, cried, and waited.
There may be moments or teasers of change, but underneath it all, you know his heart is the same.
He is one person in public and another person in private.
He charms others, and yet the words he uses with you cut like a knife.
He serves others with a smile but when you ask for his help with the house or the kids, the look he shoots you sends shivers up your spine.
Regardless of how he treats you, he still expects you to be available to him whenever he wants to have sex.
You know there will be hell to pay if you do not give in, so you lay there and take it.
You feel your spirit fade a little more each time he treats you like a prostitute.
You know he’s addicted to porn, and you feel that his addiction is somehow you fault and your responsibility to fix.
He’s known in the community as a stand-up guy.
His co-workers like him.
The neighbors like him.
Your family would pick him over you any day.
Other women tell you how lucky you are to have him as your husband, one even told you that she “adores” him.
The pastor is his best bud.
He holds a position of leadership in the church, and you feel sick every time he steps up to the podium or straps on his guitar to lead worship.
You’ve gone to the church leaders for help, and they end up siding with him.
Somehow, according to them, his abuse and adultery are your fault.
You need to forgive more.
You need to pray more.
You need to submit more.
You need to nag less.
You need to give him more sex.
Dear one, I am here to say that none of this is your fault and none of those things will change him.
You are beautiful, brave, strong, and kind.
God loves you and He wants you to be safe and well.
God loves you, a person, more than He loves your marriage (an institution).
Abuse is so much more than broken bones and bruises (there are thirteen different patters/systems of abuse and they are all vile in God’s eyes).
If you are in an abusive marriage, marriage counseling is unwise, unsafe and unethical.
God sees all, hears all and knows all.
You do not have to prove to Him that you have been abused.
You are worthy of love, safety, honor, respect, and fidelity.
You story matters.
We invite you to join our community at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse.
If you are ready to dive deeper and explore the truths shared here, along with many others, I invite you to join our next session of Twelve Truths Groups Coaching.
Learn more here.
You are not alone.
We see you.
We hear you.
We believe you.
No trauma, no drama, no tears.
My childhood holiday memories and adulthood holiday memories were overshadowed by fighting, crying, and more trauma than I want to recall.
Along the way, I have learned some things that help me navigate the “most wonderful time of the year.”
These are things that I've been learning over the past two decades, and I hope they will encourage you and set you up for a more peaceful and joyful Christmas season.
1. Practice Healthy Habits
This is the time to take care of yourself.
You’ve been through so much and the holiday season can be a time when you neglect your basic needs and get caught up in taking care of 1,000 little details.
Don’t forget to:
* Get 6-8 hours of sleep each night
* Eat whole foods
* Drink water
* Take supplements
* Move your body
* Spend time outdoors
* Set and keep medical appointments
* Spend time with a trusted friend
2. Ask yourself and your kids which traditions are the most important.
So often, we try to keep all the traditions from our childhood, a spouse’s childhood and all the things we see others doing on Instagram and Facebook. IT’S EXHAUSTING, OVERWHELMING AND EXPENSIVE.
Ask each family member to share his/her top 1-3 traditions and create a list of 5-6 for your family.
* Decorating (do they like to buy a fresh tree or is artificial acceptable?)
* Gift giving (do they prefer several small gifts or one larger gift?)
* Stockings (do they love them or are they indifferent? Stockings can get very expensive, so determine if this is something they enjoy and if not, let it go.)
Start a NEW tradition, one that symbolizes the rebuilding of your life together.
* Misfits Christmas—invite others who may not have a family to spend Christmas with.
* Christmas carol and visit those who are shut-in, in retirement homes, etc.
* Put on Christmas PJ’s and watch Christmas movies
* Bundle up, fill mugs with hot cocoa and drive around looking at lights
* Game night
* Puzzle night
What are your favorite traditions?
What is one new one you’d like to add?
3. Ask yourself and your kids which holiday foods are the most liked.
Much like holiday traditions, we can get stuck trying to keep up with all the things that others are doing.
Does your family even like turkey and fixings or would they prefer another meal?
Don’t spend the money and time making foods that most of the family doesn’t even like.
Ask each family member to share his/her favorite Thanksgiving or Christmas food.
Ask for help! The whole family should pitch in so that mama doesn’t have to do all the work.
4. Set a budget and stick to it.
The most important part of the holidays is being with your loving, safe family, and friends.
Those who love you do not want you to spend money you do not have, and they do not want you to go into debt buying them gifts.
Set an amount and stick to it.
5. Bless someone in need.
Look around you.
Who needs a smile, or a listening ear?
Who needs help with a simple task that may take thirty minutes to complete?
Who would be blessed by a plate of Christmas cookies?
Who would feel seen by a visit from carolers?
Who needs help putting a festive meal on the table?
Who needs gifts to put under the tree?
These suggestions range from being FREE to more costly.
We can all do something to make others feel seen and loved.
6. Surround yourself with safe and loving people.
You are an adult, and you get to choose who you spend time with.
The holiday season can be extra triggering as you work through past trauma, so surround yourself with safe and loving people.
Schedule a tree decorating party, a Christmas movie picnic (throw a blanket on the floor, pile on festive snacks and watch your favorite Christmas flix), a game night, a Christmas lights hunt (put on PJ’s, fill a thermos with hot chocolate and ride around looking at lights), go caroling, etc.
7. Set boundaries and hold them.
If you have set boundaries to protect yourself throughout the year, do not dismiss those boundaries just because it is a holiday.
If you are no contact with certain individuals, maintain that stance.
If you are low contact with others, determine a length of time that you can be around them and make sure that you are not alone with them.
Establish who your safe people are and keep them close by.
Drive your own car and know that if you feel unsafe (in any way), you may get into your car and drive away.
If there are topics that you do not feel safe discussing with certain people, hold that boundary and walk away from conversations that make you feel unsafe.
Join us on Facebook at Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse, where I'll be sharing these tips and so much more in the coming weeks.