Held & Healed Holidays

Held & Healed Holidays
Last year, at age 46, I experienced my first peaceful and joyful holiday season.

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.
 

Dear Church Leaders: Abuse is Happening in Churches

Dear Church Leaders: Abuse is Happening in Churches
Dear Church Leaders,
 
 I will begin by saying that I love God and have accepted salvation through Jesus and want to live each day representing His love and being His hands, feet, and heart to the those around me.
 
 I write on behalf of women who are victims of abuse, so my pronouns will be she (victim) and he (abuser), but I understand that women can be abusers and men can be victims as well.
 
 I am not a church hater nor a man hater.
 
 I am an abuser hater.
 
 Abuse is happening in churches every day.
 
 Reportedly, one in three women are victims of physical abuse by their intimate partners.
 
 Countless women are experiencing other forms of abuse as well.
 
 I hear stories each week that break my heart.
 
 Most of the women that I hear from are devoted Christians and are or have been members or regular attenders of church.
 
 There are thirteen patterns/systems of abuse: child, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, pets and property, physical, psychological, sexual, social, spiritual, and verbal. These patterns revolve around the thirteenth one, which is a core mindset of power abuse and entitlement. (For examples of each system, go here.)
 
 Statistically speaking, at least one in three women who are in your church are experiencing physical abuse.
 
 But, my heart and my experience tells me that MANY MORE are experiencing other forms of abuse and do not have visible marks to prove it.
 
 Abuse is so much more than broken bones and bruises.
 
 When these patterns of abuse are in play, marriage counseling is unwise, unsafe and unethical.
 
 Most abusers are master manipulators and their personal and public personas are very different.
 
 Whatever is shared in a session will put the victim in physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual danger.
 
 It is vital for individuals to pursue counseling with professionals who are domestic violence-informed/trauma-informed.
 
 God loves people more than He loves marriage (an institution).
 
 He loves His daughters and wants them to be safe and well.
 
 If a loving father hears that his daughter is being beaten, hit, cussed, cursed, threatened, lied to or cheated on, he will do anything and everything he could to help her find safety and healing.
 
 He would welcome her home, provide her with resources and assure her that she deserves to be loved and honored.
 
 God is the perfect, heavenly Father who sees, hears, and knows all.
 
 If an earthly father would protect and care for his daughter, WHY WOULD WE TELL WOMEN THAT GOD EXPECTS THEM TO ENDURE ABUSE?
 
 It makes no sense.
 
 And yet, far too often, churches tell women that they must return to danger, submit more, forgive more, pray more, nag less and give more sex.
 
 Jesus called wolves “wolves” and told us to have nothing to do with them, but many churches tell women to go home and sleep with them.
 
 ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
 
 There is an epidemic of abuse and conservative, fundamental church cultures are place where abusers feel safe hanging out.
 
 Far too many churches welcome abusers (wolves) and shun abuse survivors.
 
 Many survivors no longer attend traditional church because they do not feel safe.
 
 They have been shamed and blamed for their abusers’ sins.
 
 They are finding their voices and linking arms with other survivors and a church without walls is offering healing, resources, community, and tangible help.
 
 Online support groups, local meetups, and retreats are bringing hope to the hurting.
 
 I am using my voice to speak out on behalf of my survivor sisters.
 
 Many of us desire to be a part of a safe, loving church community but when we bring our concerns to leaders, we are dismissed, shamed, blamed, argued with, and met with great opposition.
 
 Would you be willing to look at resources and ministries that exist to equip and empower churches in this fight?
 
 Twenty years ago, there were limited resources for equipping and empowering churches and other institutions to recognize and confront abuse.
 
 Now, they exist, and I would be honored to send you information.
 
 I love God and I love the model of Acts 2 church.
 
 My hope and prayer is that the broken and battered lambs will find refuge under the care of safe shepherds, and protection from the wolves that seek to devour and destroy them.
 
 Ladies, if you are a survivor or someone who is caring for survivors, please join us on Facebook at 
Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse. This is group of over 800 women and I have shared thousands of resources that will help you on your healing journey. 

Don't Wait for Permission to do What God Has Anointed You to Do

Don't Wait for Permission to do What God Has Anointed You to Do
Do not wait for the permission of a person or institution to do what God anointed you to do.

I look back over the past decade and I am in awe of all of the experiences I have had, all of the ministry I have been a part of, all of the people I have met.

If I was still a part of the abusive religious systems that controlled me, I would not have stepped out to do any of those things.

I was expected to ask permission from my leaders each time I felt led to do…anything. And, more times than not, I was told I could not or should not do the thing I felt passionately about doing. Then, a month or two later, that same leader released someone else to do the very thing that I felt God was asking me to do.

THAT'S NOT GOD. 

I prayed with people and was told that I did it wrong.

THAT’S NOT GOD.

I led worship and was told I was too emotional (and was eventually stripped of my role as a worship leader).

THAT’S NOT GOD.

I signed up to go on a mission trip and was rejected because I might “go there and be a basket case like I was here.” (This was mere months after disclosure of the worst betrayal of my life. That same institution offered me no help, but was quick to blame/shame me for another’s sin.)

THAT’S NOT GOD.

I have many other incidents that I could share, but will not now.

If I was still part of that system, I WOULD PROBABLY BE DEAD.

If not physically, definitely spiritually.

Now, I am FREE to live, move and have my being.

I am FREE to see needs and make the connections to resources, without waiting for someone else to decide if the recipients was “worthy.”

Oh, yes!

The last straw?

The thing that FINALLY pushed me out of that abusive, patriarchal, misogynistic place?

When a dear friend was so sick and I asked if we could bless her.

The response?

“She needs to be alone so she can find God.”

What the actual HELL????

I’m grateful for the remnant of godly shepherds who protect their flocks from wolves.

Sadly, they are few and far between.

I am grateful to Abba Father for continuing to speak to my heart and give me vision and strategies for loving the ones that churches have shunned.

I am grateful for faithful friends who speak His plans, purposes and call forth His destiny in my life when so many tried to shut me up.

And, now, I will take every chance I get to be a voice for survivors.

He rescued me from the fire and I will be one of His firefighters who goes back to help pull others from the flames.

His permission, approval and covering is all I need. 🤍

Party Barge

Party Barge
The scene reminded me a bit of one from Anne of Green Gables.

Remember the dramatic, solemn, forsaken scene where she pretends to be the Lady of Shalot?

She rested inside a wooden canoe and was sent out to her watery grave.

500 survivors gathered to spend a weekend releasing, growing, learning, connecting and networking.

Some of us had the opportunity to go a boat  tour and release lanterns.

The lanterns represented anything we wanted to let go of.

The mood was somber.

These precious souls are warriors and the battles they have endured have been brutal.

We carefully dropped the delicate vessels into the water.

Tears steamed down many faces as we sang a verse of a cherished hymn.  

We sat in reflective silence.

As we began our trek back to the dock, we noticed several high schoolers who were taking prom photos at the lake’s edge.

They noticed us, too.

One young man yelled out, “PARTY BARGE!”

The entire atmosphere shifted.

Tears turned to laughter.

I blurted out, “If only they knew!”

Then, I caught myself and declared, “We’re BECOMING a party barge!”

Surely, He is turning our mourning into dancing!

He is trading our ashes for beauty!

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Psalm 126:5

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!



13 Systems/Patterns of Abuse

13 Systems/Patterns of Abuse
Systems/Patterns of Abuse  
 
 For more information about the systems of abuse, I recommend the book Safe Churches, written by Sarah McDugal, Jennifer Jill Schwirzer and Nicole Parker. In this post I am going to share several examples of each form of abuse (these come straight from the book). This is by no means an exhaustive list but is intended to help bring clarity to those who are living with an abusive person and/or to help those who know someone who is living with an abusive person.
 
 From Safe Churches (page 66): “Sarah McDugal has documented 12 fundamental patterns of abuse, which all revolve around a thirteenth pattern: the core attitude of entitlement and the right to take power over another person.
 
 Before we delve deeper, it is important to acknowledge that every human alive has capacity to be abusive, given the right circumstances. If we define abuse purely as a single action or one discrete occurrence of a behavior, then every time you behave badly, you could be labeled an abuser. That isn’t how abuse is defined. People don’t automatically become abusers every time they feel self-centered or act impatient.
 
 Rather, as we discuss later in this chapter, abuse is defined as a system or power of behaviors in which someone with greater power uses their advantage to exploit or cause harm to someone with lesser power. When a system of persistent power exploitation exists, you are now dealing with an abuser.”
 
 These systems are explained on pages 68-77 of Safe Churches. I encourage you to buy a copy of this book as soon as you are able and share it with other Christians that you know. For shareable infographics on patterns of abuse, visit Sarah's website.
 
 1. Child Abuse may include:
 Threatens to harm children
 Doesn’t pay child support
 Belittles you in front of kids
 Leverages kids to keep you silent
 Abuses other people’s children
 Scares or hurts you in front of kids
 
 2. Cultural Abuse
 Mistreats you and blames it on culture
 Demeans your heritage
 Forces you to embrace their culture
 Isolates you from mainstream culture
 Uses expectations or shame to keep you silent
 Isolates you through language barriers
 Insults your family culture as inferior to theirs
 
 3. Emotional Abuse
 Invalidates your perception of reality
 Insults you then says, “I’m joking!”
 Denies affection, goes silent
 Manipulates you with false guilt
 Flips arguments back on you
 Acts possessive (calls it protective}
 Vacillates—creates relationship rollercoaster
 Blames you for things that aren’t your fault
 Refuses to take responsibility for what they did
 Says “sorry” and promises to change, but doesn’t
 Withholds nonsexual affection
 
 4. Financial Abuse
 Limits your money
 Refuses to share accounts
 Tracks every penny you spend
 Spends impulsively, incurs debts
 Interferes with welfare or state aid
 Makes all financial decisions
 Lies about money, time, activities
 
 5. Intellectual Abuse
 Demands perfection
 Insists on proof of your right to opinions
 Dumbs you down
 Intimidated by your mind
 Attacks your ideas, devalues your convictions
 Refuses to allow you to disagree
 Manipulates information flow
 Invalidates others if they point out abusive behaviors
 Judges others for small mistakes but gives self grace for moral failures or rule-breaking
 
 6. Pets and Property Abuse
 Confiscates your keys/ID/Driver’s License
 Damages your car, refuses to keep it maintained
 Trashes your favorite things, says it was accidental
 Harms your pets, gives them away
 Punches walls, slams doors
 Controls your access to electronics
 Threatens to do any of the above
 
 7. Physical Abuse
 Drives recklessly, road rage
 Disturbs your sleep
 Chokes, restrains, controls breath
 Blocks exits, won’t let you leave
 Prevents you from getting medical care
 Throws things, uses items other than hands to cause you pain or fear
 Slap/hit/kick/punch/bite/pinch/spit
 Locks you out of the house, makes you sleep outside
 Doesn’t control own strength when being playful, is indifferent to pain caused
 Postures aggressively to intimidate you
 
 8. Psychological Abuse
 Gaslights you—says or does things, denies it later
 Terrorizes you—then acts like it never happened
 Controls minute aspects of your life—food, fun, friends, etc.
 Projects responsibility for addictions on to you or others
 Claims you misunderstood when you quote back their threats
 Displaying weapons as a way to keep you afraid
 Convinces you they know better than you do
 Controls your access to food, freedom to eat
 Tells bold or white lies
 Reverses questions to make you feel paranoid
 Demonstrates lack of empathy
 Can’t discern your emotions accurately
 Threatens to hurt or kill themselves or others
 
 9. Sexual Abuse
 Forces or withholds sex
 Criticizes your body or sexuality
 Demands sex as payment
 Uses pornography or makes you use porn
 Has affairs or threatens to cheat
 Pays for sexual services from others
 Shares sexual fantasies about others/your friends
 Lacks intimacy and connection
 Sexually abuses or molests others
 
 10. Social Abuse
 Monitors your communication (phone, email, text)
 Tracks your social media
 Monitors your milage
 Discourages your friendships
 Dictates freedom for education/employment
 Obsesses on body image an appearance
 Limits equal social access
 Expects others to keep secrets, maintains glossy public image regardless of reality
 Keeps you at home
 
 11. Spiritual Abuse
 Twists Scripture to avoid accountability
 Uses beliefs to gain advantage
 Leverages spiritual leaders against you
 Silences you with Bible verses
 Puts down your convictions or beliefs
 Isolates you from your faith community
 Dictates your access to counseling/mentorship
 Believes you need them to teach you about God
 Soul-destroying behaviors
 
 12. Verbal Abuse
 Tells you how to do everything
 Cuts you off in conversation
 Puts you down
 Forbids you from talking to others about issues
 Shames, silences, or insults you
 Ridicules your appearance, abilities, etc.
 Jokes condescendingly toward others
 Intimidated you with words or tone
 Yells/screams/swears/calls you names
 Demands that you keep secrets
 
 13. Core Mindset of Power Abuse and Entitlement
 Creates chaos—gains control by turning people against each other
 Credit hog—takes others ideas, doesn’t share glory
 Delusions of grandeur—believes they’re smarter/wiser/stronger/more powerful than reality
 Dictates belief system for everyone in the household
 Entitled—acts as if others should give way to their preferences, or take care of their needs
 Supremacist—looks down on culture, color, gander, age, status, thinks own identity is superior
 Obsesses with “respect”—may get aggressive to peers/children/elderly who act with perceived disrespect
 Fixated on appearances—expects other to keep secrets, maintain glossy public image regardless of reality
 
 This list is not exhaustive, but it is certainty a tool that will turn the light on for many. As I typed this, I had a few additional thoughts. Remember, this is describing patterns of abuse. Every single person is capable of hurting others. But, when a normal, healthy person hurts another person and realizes the damage that was caused, they want to make things right. An apology and changed behavior go a long way in these situations.
 
 Also, if your husband has had an affair and/or is a porn addict and you ask to see his devices or hold him to account, that does not make you an abusive wife. If you do not feel safe being sexually intimate with your husband for the same reasons, that does not make you abusive. You are experiencing trauma from sexual betrayal and I advise you to seek the counsel of a trauma informed therapist who specializes in this area.
 
 If this post gave you clarity that you did not have before, I encourage you to take deep, cleansing breaths and do not panic. You are not alone. There are countless women who have experienced many of these forms of abuse. There are amazing survivors, advocates and therapists who are rising up to speak truth and to walk with you from darkness into light. Join us on Facebook at 
Held & Healed: Christian Women Rebuilding After Abuse. I have organized hundreds of healing resources for you into guides so that you can search out the topics that most affect you and begin learning, healing, and growing.
 
 If you are a woman who loves other women who are walking this road, please join us at Held & Healed. If you are man and/or a pastor who genuinely cares about these women and wants to learn how to help and not further hurt, feel free to contact me through my website, 
HeatherElizabeth.org. There are several ministries that I can recommend who have created training tools to help ministry leaders make churches safe for survivors.
 
 Abuse is rampant in the faith community. These systems described in this post are in place in more church homes than not. We must not ignore this epidemic any longer. It is not going away until we begin to take a stand for truth, righteousness, and justice. Jesus came to set the prisoners free. If we are His followers, that is our call too. 

 
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