The Advice My Church Gave to an Abused Woman, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

I arrived at the event, praying for wisdom, for Betty, and for her family. Amy, Cathy, and a couple of other friends were all there.

After we’d all gotten our kids into a reasonable holding pattern, I asked Betty about her new job.  It sounded great–like a really, really good job, especially for a woman that’s been out of the workforce for ten years!

I congratulated her, and she said, “Well, Amy told me that I just have to trust God for what’s happening in my life right now, that he has a reason for all of this stuff happening, and I need to figure out what He’s trying to teach me.”

(Really? Amy said this?? My friend Amy??)

“The thing is,” she continued, “I’m concerned, because I’ll be working 30 hours a week, and my husband really expects everything to be perfect with the house.  He doesn’t think he should do any housework, and I don’t know how I’m going to live up to this standard.”

Now, Cathy then shared several comments that stood out in bias relief to me.  Since kids were coming up and interrupting, and I was feeding my baby, I’m not 100% sure everything is verbatim, or in it’s proper context.

“Well, God really showed me this past year that marriage isn’t supposed to make us happy, it’s supposed to make us holy.I mean, we can’t look to the world, and do marriage how the world wants us to do it.  God will show you a way.  Besides, I don’t know any man that wants to clean house.  They expect this of us.”

I THANK GOD for sunglasses, because I probably had a scream showing on.my.face, even though it wasn’t coming through my vocal chords.  I had no idea what to say.  “Cathy, you’re full of ****?”  Or maybe, “I think you’re misapplying scripture here?” How on earth was I supposed to address the perverse mishandling of God’s word in this moment, in a party, with a bottle in my baby’s mouth?

My alter-ego,  at TaylorJoyRecovers (my pseudonym that came before the Parody Twitter account) has been blogging about certain “Theological Loose Screws”–misapplied, twisted doctrines– that come into play when certain churches deal with abuse.  Over our two encounters with Betty, I’d now watched ALL of these perverted beliefs spoken over this woman!

1) Abuse of authority: God set up an authority, so He intends for me to follow it, regardless of what the person in authority does.

2) Presuppositionalism: Christians have more knowledge than those “in the world,” because we have the Holy Spirit.

3) Predestination of Everything: God willed this to happen to me, and will somehow work it for my good.

(I haven’t finished these other posts yet, but let’s say I’m more motivated now.)

4) Sin-Leveling: I’m a sinner worthy of hell anyway.  Who am I to judge my abuser? Both of our sin nailed Christ to the cross.

5) Mountains out of Molehills: Are you serving your husband? Cooking for him? Is the house clean? Have you gained weight?  Are you going to church? This could directly impact your quality of life–or even your salvation.

6) The Sociopathic Concept of God: Hey, if God destroys whole cities to show His glory, what’s my life in the grand scheme of things?  I can suffer for God’s purposes.

I’m not saying that there’s no Scriptural authority, or that God doesn’t work all things together for our good–I’m saying that these doctrines are layered, one on top of the other, to keep a woman like Betty with her abuser.  They trap her into a circular mode of reasoning, where separation is unthinkable, but physical/emotional/financial/verbal/sexual abuse is forgivable.

On the way home, I called Amy.  We had a detailed, hour-long conversation about the things she and Cathy had said to Betty.   Did she actually imply that God willed it for Betty to be abused?  Did she understand that Cathy was not properly handling God’s word?

I’ll have to put that in a part 3.  I’m so exhausted right now that I can hardly think.  I also sent a letter to my pastor and one other elder, and will put their response in another post as well.

The Advice an Abused Woman Received At My Church. Part 1

Recently, I wondered if I was doing the right thing in blogging about Spiritual Abuse and gender roles in the church.

After all, don’t I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on the bad experiences? Isn’t this distracting from the real mission of the Church?  Is this distracting from my own calling as a worship leader, writer, wife, and mother?

Besides, was I really the victim of Spiritual Abuse myself, or was it simply a Big Misunderstanding (TM) caused by Theological Disagreements? Could I even be dishonoring my husband by talking about his bad behavior that I (admittedly) enabled?  Am I really, truly, making a big deal out of nothing?

Then I was knocked over the head –with a phaser–with the reality of what’s happening in our churches.

What I’m about to describe to you is real.  This is not a hypothetical scenario.  This ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  LAST THURSDAY. In MY CHURCH.  This is a church that’s not known for controlling, legalistic behavior at all.  A few minor details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved–but if you knew me well enough, you would probably know exactly who these people are.  I have spoken with my pastor about the situation, and will be reaching out to other authorities as I am able.

Now, on with the story…….

I was simply enjoying some shore leave with some friends. It’s not often that we get away from the demands of life, parenthood, and running a starship.

Five women from my church were socializing, eating food, drinking tea, and letting our kids run around in the rare Northern Sunshine. In the interest of keeping friendships, allow me to give them random pseudonyms. The group leader, “Amy,” had brought a friend, “Betty,” and this was probably the fifth or sixth time Betty had joined us.

Obviously, Betty was having a bad day.

She was holding back tears. She wasn’t making eye contact. She was trying really hard to put on a happy face, because she “didn’t want to ruin our day.”

Now, this type of behavior, from anyone, gets under my skin. If you have a bad day, *that’s what friendships are for.* You should be allowed to be grumpy, or aching, or sad, or lonely, and reach out to a friend for companionship and comfort. If we keep a plastic smile on over our pain, what’s the point of fellowship?

After about an hour of this awkwardness, I started passing out cupcakes: “Look, we all have cupcakes! Mmmm…” I took a bite. ” What yummy cupcakes….they’re chocolate, they’re awesome! See, we’ve had such a good day eating cupcakes! Which means—” and I turned to Betty “—it’s impossible for you to ruin OUR day now. We’ve had chocolate. What’s going on with you, and what do you need?”

She broke down into tears.

Her husband had just told her to “get off her fat ass and get a job.”
She has six kids. One of them is autistic.
She runs two businesses from her home.
She homeschools.

She told us her husband spends whatever he likes, without telling her anything, and expects her to be frugal and make up the difference.
She told us her husband expects everything to be neat and clean all the time. So she keeps it that way.
He calls her bitch, whore, and c*nt every day, because something always doesn’t go according to plan.
He was in complete control of the money–including her income–and all of their assets were in his name. House, car, cellphone, everything.
She had no family to turn to.

So, she was trying to get a job.

Now Betty was in a bind: where could she work that would make enough money to cover childcare for six kids?  Who would watch her children?

I told Betty that I’d been where she is, if only financially.  I’d had to make some hard choices, and eventually had to realize that it wasn’t ONLY my problem. “Just three summers ago,” I told her, “I had to ask my husband to either start looking for a job, or move into his parents’ house until he was willing to.”

[Yes, my blogging and Twitter friends.  Your very own Captain Calvinist Janeway not only supported her husband through graduate school, but continued to work to support his spending addiction.  And support our family when he felt he “deserved” summers off.  You know, because he “worked hard,” and it was my job to “submit.”  But that’s another story.]

“Once I started setting some boundaries, he realized what his own problems were, and voluntarily got some help.  But my husband never treated me the way you’ve been treated.  This is above and beyond anything I’ve experienced, and I’m worried that he could escalate.”

That’s when another friend of ours, “Cathy,” broke in.

“We need to decide right now, as a group, that we’re not going to say anything bad about her husband, and that divorce is not an option.”

(What??)

Cathy started talking about how God made marriage to be permanent, how Betty could turn her problems over to God, and trust that He would take care of them.  Cathy started talking about Betty developing a habit of praying for her husband, and serving him the way God wanted a wife to serve and submit to a husband. She mentioned that we were all sinners, and Christ transformed us, so Christ could transform her husband too.

I said that I didn’t think “submission” was what we needed to be talking about right now. Cathy said, “Well, I used to be a feminist like [CalvinistJaneway] but God really showed me…..”

I honestly don’t remember what she said after that, or what I said, because the gravity of what was happening pulled me under: Betty’s needs and safety were somehow secondary to whether or not Betty submitted to her husband and prayed hard enough.  I now carried the label of “feminist” because I didn’t believe submission was what we needed to be talking about right now.  I did know it was NOT appropriate to get into a theological discussion in front of an abused woman.

I sat there, like I’d taken a phaser on stun, unsure of what to do next.

Another friend touched Betty’s arm and asked, “What do you want to do?”

Betty said she’d get a job.

We all gave her our phone numbers, and checked up with her regularly via text and phone.  I kept in regular contact w/ Amy about her, and it seemed that she was safe, for now.

About a month later (which is last Thursday) Betty invited us all for a gathering, “right before I go back to work!”

To be continued…..

Robin Williams, Suicide Prevention, and How We Can Help

It’s nauseating to believe that Robin Williams took his own life. His family is left with the questions: What was he struggling with? What lies did he believe?  Why didn’t he reach out for help?  Did he have any idea how this act would devastate those around him?

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Ten years ago, I very nearly took my own life.  I had a two year old daughter.  I worked night shift.  I had recently suffered my very first miscarriage.  (With twins.)  We’d moved into a new home. Then, during a trip to see my husband’s parents, I was falsely accused of child abuse.

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See, my daughter had a horrible, horrible diaper rash.  She had bleeding, oozing, silver-dollars-sized blisters on her buttocks.  Every time I changed her, she would kick, thrash, scream, and fight to keep me from wiping her where it hurt so badly.

However, when my mother-in-law changed her, my daughter was calm.

I’d only been married for two years at this point.  My in-laws barely knew me.  We lived a thousand miles away, and only visited twice a year.  What my in laws *did* know was that I came from a background of abuse and alcoholism. (I was not physically abused.  However, my sibling was. I grew up in a home with violence, addiction, and domestic/spousal abuse.) Sure, I was saved, and sure, they thought well enough of me at the time of the marriage—but this is their *granddaughter*, bleeding, screaming, and upset.  Surely something was wrong.

My mother-in-law pulled my husband aside and told him that she suspected me of child abuse.  Why else would my daughter be so calm with grandma and so vicious with her own mom?

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Looking back with ten years of perspective, I think my in-laws did the RIGHT THING with the information they had.

However, at the time, I was grieving the loss of my twins, reeling from finding out that my parents were addicted and mentally ill, struggling to cope with my daughter’s health problems, sleep-deprived from working the night shift, and caught up in the throes of the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  (Which basically told me to submit to everything my husband said, or I wasn’t really saved.)

I didn’t want to live.

I honestly thought I *shouldn’t* live.

I thought my daughter would likely be better off without me.

Heck, my own mother was abusive. How could I be any better?  How could I know the difference between abusive parenting and good parenting?

I had an insurance policy. She’d be okay.

Maybe she wouldn’t even remember me.  Maybe that would be a good thing.

In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I reached out to some people on a message board I’d been actively involved in. I told some people I’d never met that I was accused of child abuse, and that I was considering suicide.  My daughter deserved better.

The response was instantaneous and intense.  “Call the suicide hotline NOW! Here’s the number!”

“Your in-laws are wrong on this–there could be plenty of other reasons for her condition.”

“If you want to kill yourself, GO AHEAD! Your kid will be JUST FINE as she grows up knowing that mommy offed herself because she screamed too loud during diaper changes.  She’ll never wonder if it was her fault.  She’ll never consider doing the same thing.” (This was from a pastor.  Who knew me well.)

“Did you ever consider that, if you die, your in-laws will have a lot to do with how your child was raised?  How much influence do you want them to have in your daughter’s life?”

Twenty-four responses kept me alive long enough to reach out to friends.  To my husband.  To a counselor.

Janewaychakotaybenefits

The best part was talking to my daughter’s babysitter: “She screams like that with me too.  She’s kicked me in the face during diaper changes.  She gave me a bloody nose!  I have to put one knee on each of her legs just to wipe her down.  Do you think *I’m* abusing her?”

None of us knew that my daughter had an undiagnosed food allergy.  We ran out of her favorite foods before we went on a trip–and her rash vanished.  We re-introduced them one at a time, and sure enough, the rash consistently returned with one food group: citrus.

I almost killed myself over a citrus allergy?

What my in-laws *didn’t* know, what they *couldn’t* have known, was that I’d spent the last six months holding my daughter down for various invasive tests.  Kidney reflux (a cathederization), Celiac disease (a blood draw), X-rays (a big scary machine hovering above you) and the bloody raw diaper changes 5+ times a day.  My daughter couldn’t gain weight, couldn’t have a bowel movement without pain, and had big scary doctors working her up the wazoo trying to figure out why she’d dropped off the weight percentile charts.  She was terrified of me for a good reason.  Mommy holding me=pain. Grandma holding me=ice cream.

Later, my daughter was treated for chronic constipation, and we eliminated the citrus from her diet. Her bottom healed, she gained weight, she sees a GI occasionally, she lives a normal life, and I am no longer a child abuser in my in-laws’ mind.

I still have the two-page apology/support letter that my mother-in-law sent me.  I sent her flowers in return.

That doesn’t change the fact that I almost killed myself over poop and citrus.

Janewaybaby

If I’d taken my own life that night, I never would have seen my daughter heal.  I never would have gone on to have three other daughters.  I never would have the restored (friendly) relationship that I now have with my mother-in-law.

I owe my life to Christ, and to the people who were on a message board in the middle of the night.

I’m just a parody Twitter account.  I pretend that my words about spiritual abuse and gender roles in the church are coming through in Captain Janeway’s voice. For whatever reason, people listen.  But in these few months, I’ve seen the power of connecting with Twitter–how people all over the world can share, in a moment, a similar experience or feeling or bit of news. I can even legally stalk my favorite celebrities.  I can listen in as William Shatner or Patrick Stewart or Nathan Fillion fill us in on their daily lives.

But I found out about Robin Williams’ death because I follow Robert Picardo on Twitter.

robert-picardo

In that moment, I wondered, “What if Robin Williams could have reached out to all of us?  What if he’d had an online community, even an anonymous one, where he could have said, ‘I’m thinking about ending it all?’ Maybe, like me, he’d still be here.”

Maybe he would have been afraid to admit weakness.  Maybe he would have disparaged himself as a washed-up actor.  But at least he would have  been a LIVING washed-up actor, who could go on to live another day, and maybe get better.

If Robert Downey Jr. can go from inmate to Iron Man, then surely things can get better for you. DownyJr1

IronMan

Let me plea with you, as a survivor, as someone who did *not* follow through with her plan to end her life, please talk to someone.  If you’re having these thoughts, please tell someone, immediately, even if it’s on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever social media network I haven’t heard of yet.

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Let me tell you, life does get better. Life is a gift from God, and is worth living.   If you are alive right now, there is a REASON for it, and I want to see that reason be fulfilled.  Please reach out for help.