I attended the commencement ceremony of four amazing women from a Christian women’s facility this week. I’m not sure how many are there at any given time but it might run into the dozens and they can bring along children under 12. They voluntarily come in for a number of reasons but all are looking for a better life…a fixed life…and they know they cannot fix themselves…they learn that only Jesus can fix them. The following is from one of the graduates. This is her commencement address and it needs to be shared to those that are in an abusive relationship, to those who know someone in an abusive relationship, and to those who don’t know that they may know someone in an abusive relationship. This is a compelling story that ends in hope:
It’s no coincidence that October also happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence is a silent killer. Over time, it slowly chips away at your inner most being. It strips away your thoughts. It skews reality and the ability to define what is right from wrong. It manipulates you to fit its agenda. It isolates you from those you love the most; your family, your friends and even your own children. It hurts those around you. It consumes you. It brainwashes you. It demands power and control. It intimidates you. Your days operate on auto pilot. You have no healthy emotions. You are a robot. It steals your identity, time, values, dreams, visions, passions and soul. It comes in all shapes, styles and schemes and can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, mental and spiritual.
You begin to ask yourself, “Who am I? How did I get here?” You are so far from the person you once were. You feel different. You feel awkward. You feel like you don’t fit in and you don’t belong. You have no self-worth. You don’t deserve happiness. You used to be outgoing and confident; now you are an introvert, lost, confused and insecure. You question your ability to be the mother you desire and should be. You are a failure. You become the sounding board to some of the ones who have been hurt around you. They don’t understand. They feel abandoned, betrayed and unloved by you. You question what your purpose is. You are afraid (the only emotion you can feel) and you don’t know where to turn or who to turn to. You don’t know who to trust. “How could you allow this to happen?” “Why didn’t you do something sooner, before you lost so much?” “Why did you stay?”
You believe lies about yourself. You downplay and find ways to justify the situation or your actions. You stay because “through thick and thin, in sickness and in health”. You stay because you don’t want to split your family apart, but in reality, you already are. You believe “I’m the problem.” “I can change it.” “If I just do this or if I just do that, it will all be fixed.”
You make poor choices. You alienate yourself. Your friends, family and even your children become your acquaintances. In the depths of despair, some victims try to numb the pain by burying themselves in their career; others succumb to alcohol, illegal/prescription drugs, or sex/pornography to cope. In extreme domestic violence situations, victims operate under severe threats, including but not limited to, threats of harm to them, their children, close family, friends or coworkers.
In all cases, Satan is evil, wicked and deceitful. His only mission is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
August 25, 2017, I finally chose to seek help after enduring 8 years of domestic violence. It was a split-second decision; or should I say years in the making; but fear crippled me. I didn’t have it all figured out and I wasn’t prepared. It was a moment when I knew in my heart, I just couldn’t deal with it anymore and I chose to act on it rather than just think about it. As I walked with my 13-month-old son in his stroller to pick up my 6-year-old son from school, I prayed and cried out to God. “God, if I’m to go back home, lead me to the door to pick up my son. “If I’m to change the course of my life today, lead me to the front of the school where I can cry out for help.” I went to the counselor’s office and sought the help and protection I so desperately needed and wanted. It was the scariest moment of my life.
We spent 3 weeks, homeless, afraid and unsure of what the future had in store for us. My church family rallied beside us, offered us shelter in their homes, loaned us a vehicle, put clothes on our backs and food in our mouths. Two weeks after we left, my husband was arrested, I retrieved our only vehicle from impound, gained access to our home and complete strangers from my church came to help us pack up all our belongings. God met every need we had.
I took a 6 month leave of absence from my 11-year career and the day before we were to come to Genesis, CPS stepped in and the boys were removed from my care. Because of the domestic violence in our home and the drugs my husband was involved with, CPS found it safer to take the boys from me temporarily. This was the 2nd time I had tried to escape, I went back the first time, despite my better judgment. I had to prove to them, and to myself, that I wasn’t turning back and that my boys were the most important thing to me. I also had to begin the journey of restoring my mind and my health before I could give them the attention and love they desperately needed. I continued moving forward.
Two families stepped up at my church, whom I didn’t personally know, and volunteered to keep my boys so they wouldn’t go into foster care and on September 19th, I walked through the doors of The Genesis Center, alone, confused, scared and emotionally exhausted.
From the very beginning, God’s footprints are all over my story. It took an army of His people to rescue me from the darkness, but, the hope on the other side of the traumatic start of this journey is that I’m finding healing and freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17 says: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Timothy 1:7 says: For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
God has a purpose for every mountain and valley. Our experiences, shape, mold, wake us up or throw us around, but they don’t define us. They break us down and for a few of us, they force us to hit rock bottom so that we learn to reach for the only One who can truly save us and turn our mess into a garden of beautiful flowers. He gives us the hope to keep moving forward despite how we feel or the circumstances that surround us. He shows us how to love ourselves again; you can’t open your heart to others unless you truly love yourself.
This journey has been painful and at times a very scary road to walk; but I’m recovering. I have faced resistance, criticism, skepticism, retaliation, rejection, confusion, doubt, fear, shame, guilt and anger, but I’m a survivor. I’m getting stronger every day and I’m rediscovering myself. I’m an overcomer. I know my identity. I know my worth. I no longer hold my head down. I’m taking care of me and I’m gaining confidence in myself again. I’m building new relationships and restoring others that are important to me; ones that build me up and encourage me, not tear down and drain me.
I know that God has a purpose for me, the three miracle children He has blessed me with, and our story. He will turn ashes into beauty. He will use all the pain, victories and miracles for His purpose and His Kingdom. I’m learning to forgive, and, in His timing, I will be forgiven by those who have been deeply hurt by the events and circumstances that have surrounded me.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says: He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Our trials can also provide us the wisdom and the compassion to love, encourage and support others who are enduring similar circumstances – when we are ready and feel equipped to do so. To walk alongside them in the storm, hold their hand, hug their neck and offer a shoulder to cry on. To be someone who understands their pain because we’ve been there, done that.
Tragedies, tests and trials, if used correctly, can open doors to our purpose and our passion. He’s slowly revealing my purpose and placing desires, passions, dreams and visions in my heart; I’m just waiting, listening, and doing what I’m called to do. One of the messages I’ve heard loud and clear is that I am no longer called to be silent.
2 Timothy 4:17 says: But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.
My beautiful friend, Brenda, says it so perfectly: “Shame is a freedom stealer. It robs us of connection with others. It causes us to live in hiding, to put on masks, and to discount who we are. It’s a liar that tells us to build walls so that no one sees, and no one knows; but those same walls we build to protect ourselves become walls that imprison and isolate us. Speaking truth out loud takes away the ties that shame uses to bind…and it sets us free.”
I no longer want to be hiding and live in the shadows. I no longer want to be disconnected from those I love and care about. I no longer want unhealthy walls around my heart. I want freedom, restoration, joy and healthy relationships in my life. I want to strive for more. I want to be present when I’m with my loved ones, not lost in my own thoughts. I want to be able to enjoy life. I want to be more and reach for the woman, daughter, friend, and mother God made me to be; I deserve it and I’m worth it.
Pastor Lonnie says it best: “Always more…never less!”
Domestic violence awareness matters, and I can’t possibly predict the sphere of influence my story may have for others. Besides, who am I to stop God’s work in me and those around me? I can no longer remain silent, especially if, through me, God chooses to reach someone else who’s hurting, someone who just might be my friend or family member. To keep the joy and freedom I’ve found and obtained all to myself would be stealing someone else’s potential for hope, healing and happiness.
I’m choosing to be brave and step outside my comfort zone; I’m choosing to listen and put faith in action and do what God is directing me to do. This isn’t about blasting my dirty side of the street or pointing fingers, it’s about choosing to be a voice for domestic violence. To what capacity this voice will have, is unknown at this time, but God knows and when He feels I’m ready, He will reveal it to me.
Psalm 18:2 says: The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the strength of my salvation, my stronghold.
Am I perfect? No. Do I have it all figured out? No. Am I blameless? No. Do I own up to the harm I’ve caused and the mistakes I’ve made? Absolutely. Do I have regrets? Of course. I could stand here and continue to go down the path of “what if…”, “I wish I would have…”, “how could I have…”, or “why didn’t I…”, but that will only continue to stunt the growth and healing that is required to become the person I am striving to be.
In her book, She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You by Chrystal Evans Hurst, she says:
“You can either take action or you can determine your reaction to the story that has unfolded thus far. If you have a sense of discomfort about your life, that is a gift. It is the call of the girl inside asking you not to give up and to fight forher. The mere fact that you have a sense of dis-ease about your life is a testament to the fact that you know deep down you were made for more.”
“…while you cannot control all your circumstances, every day you can choose beliefs, attitudes, and actions that honor the best of who you are and who you can become. Your belief will affect the attitudes you embrace and the lens through which you view your life. Your attitudes will steer your actions — what you say and what you do. What you say and do determines how you move from who you are today to who you will be tomorrow.”
“…if you choose to embrace your journey — even the parts that disappoint you, challenge you, or make you double over from the emotional weight of it all — you can one day look back and see your hard as a part of your life and not the definition of your life.”
Pastor Nancy engraved on my heart: “I am blessed, highly favored and a daughter of the most-high King!”
To each of my children, my 15-year old daughter, and sons ages 2 and 7, whom are too young to comprehend everything that has occurred:
I love you with all my heart, even though it’s been broken, tattered, shredded, stomped on and thrown around in the storm. During the last several years, I lost myself and I lost the ability to be there for you to the capacity I should have. I can’t get those years back. All I can do now is strive to make the years in front of us, better and brighter. You are worth every tear I’ve shed, every chain that’s been broken, every sleepless night and every ounce of fear I’ve had. I’m sorry for the things you have witnessed and the pain you have felt; for the anger, hurt, frustration, helplessness, uncertainty, insecurity and confusion that has been placed in your hearts, minds and souls. These feelings don’t just magically disappear, it takes hard work, it takes time and it takes a leap of faith.
Psalm 121:2 says: My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
God’s leading the way now and I look forward to the blessings that are just around the bend. Hold on tight to the promises of God, this is just the beginning of the beginning.
To My Fellow Residents: The road you are on is hard and the path of unknowns can be daunting. The living quarters can be unbearable at times and the drama that comes with living with 40+ other woman and children can be comical, joyful, nerve-racking and down-right annoying. God has placed us at The Genesis Center for two reasons, to seek Him and His will for our life and to heal our brokenness.
If you’re a mother who is fighting for reunification, you will find yourself wanting to rush the process. I learned the time passes quickly, and this is quite possibly the only opportunity you will ever have in their young lives to spend the time investing in YOU; to heal your heart so that you can be the mother they need you to be. Be of good cheer, despite the circumstances. Dig into God’s word and enjoy the quiet time you have for yourself. Seek what God’s will is for you during this time and work on YOU as much as you possibly can.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
The relationship you have with yourself is the foundation of everything you do in life. Love yourself completely and always be kind and loving with your words and actions. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first; as soon as your children are returned to you, you will have wished you did. When they are returned, you’ll spend your free time chasing them down the halls and negotiating with them at meal times. You’ll spend time building with Legos, blowing bubbles, playing cards, reading books and watching the same cartoons or movies repeatedly, while you nurture them back to health when you’re stuck in quarantine. You’ll even lose your bunk space as you all squeeze together night after night.
Treasure your ME time, the friendships you’re making, the confidence you’re gaining and the safe sanctuary you are blessed to call home. I guarantee you, there are many things you will begin to miss once this chapter is behind you.
Proverbs 3:13-17 says: Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
In closing, you may have noticed the Forget-Me-Nots displayed on my table. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska where I spent the first 29 years of my life. The Forget-Me-Not is the state flower, so it has a special place in my heart, but it also symbolizes some important truths:
Forget not to be patient with yourself
Forget not the difference between good sacrifice and foolish sacrifice
Forgot not to be happy NOW
Forget not the WHY of the Gospel
Forget not that the Lord LOVES you
Isaiah 49:15-16 says, “…Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…”
Whenever you think God has forgotten you, your prayers and your requests to Him, remember the little Forget-Me-Not flower and say, “God, forget-me-not.”
LOVE YOU ALL!