In a Dark Place?

cat-on-the-prowlAs I raised our garage door one Sunday morning to begin our drive to church, my children spotted it. But, none of us could make out what it was. A bird? Lizard? Rodent? No use guessing…the animal had been completely mutilated. Since my husband was out of town (and my previous night had been restless) I was certain of one thing: I wouldn’t stick around long enough to fathom what happened in my driveway the night before. So, off to church I went.

In the days that followed, my mystery unraveled. I noticed a stray cat roaming through my back yard. On one occasion, I watched it crouch behind my neighbor’s garbage bin with its gaze fixed on something nearby. Another day, it pranced across my patio with a small animal swinging from its mouth. Finally, I saw the orange and white feline in action. It jumped on my retaining wall and chased a chipmunk into its burrow. Three days passed before I saw one of the tiny rodents surface from the hole. Even then, the chipmunk wouldn’t move more than a few inches away from the entrance.

Like the chipmunk in my back yardentrance to chipmunk burrow, many of us retreat to dark places when we feel threatened. Some folks become promiscuous once their hearts have been broken; they refuse to fall in love again. Others might turn to a gang for brotherhood or sisterhood when family has failed them. And, when our prayers aren’t answered according to our timetables, do we begin to practice self-reliance instead of waiting on God? Dark places … unfortunately, we can nestle in them so deeply that we forget our way out.

Still, I have good news: We don’t have to stay in a pit of despair. It’s natural to feel afraid, overwhelmed, and even overpowered after a devastating or hurtful experience. But continuing in such debilitating mindsets isn’t healthy. In time, as we seek help, healing, and encouragement, we can emerge with a plan to exit our dark places stronger (and wiser) than before. Do you have an escape plan?

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Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’ve included links to sites that offer advice on developing escape or safety plans for those who are in dark places because of abuse.

An Accurate Measure of Success

Success...Measure it accurately!We were “on program.” We had to go through with it, now. But, no one from our ministry’s leadership team felt comfortable standing before the church. Guess who was tapped for the daunting task?

After a few hard gulps, I walked to the front of the sanctuary. A microphone was placed in my quivering hand. I hoped no one would notice the uncertainty in my voice. I wondered: How shall I begin? What shall I share? What does the congregation really need to know about the Single Moms’ Ministry?

With a heaving chest, I decided to begin with a story … mine. I told the congregants how my prior abusive marriage eventually led to my single parenthood. I also told them that God had restored me; I had since remarried and my family had grown. Life was good.

I paused to inspect the audience with slow glances. My fear mounted. Yet, I continued and explained the services the Single Moms’ Ministry offered. I emphasized that every woman on our leadership team was on a mission to help single mothers experience restoration through Christ.

Before long, I wrapped up what seemed like the longest three minutes in church history. Glad the ordeal was over, I trotted to my seat, dropped my head, and began to torture myself silently: You botched this opportunity. No single mom will ever want what this ministry offers. Learn how to talk in front of a crowd before you take the mic again. You nervous wreck … you failed.

Minutes later, the service ended. A strange woman pushed her way through the crowd and bolted toward me. “Your message…” she whispered through sobs. “It was for me. I need this ministry.” She held out her freshly bruised arms. My stomach knotted as I gave her an empathetic gaze and a comforting hug. I hadn’t failed after all.

My experience during that church service taught me valuable lessons about how a believer should measure success.

  1. Success is gauged by our obedience to do what God calls us to do. Sometimes, though, we may have to work with “fear and trembling” while trusting God to give the increase.
  2. God Himself will prosper our best efforts and make them fruitful as we work toward the purpose He designed us for. He often equips us supernaturally—beyond our formal training or education. That way, He gets the glory. It’s not about us anyway.
  3. We can’t botch God’s plans; He’s sovereign. He can take the mess we’ve made and use it for good (Rom. 8:28).

Over a decade has passed, and today, I don’t mind speaking in public. I’ve performed storytelling, taught workshops, spoken at writers’ conferences, and have been interviewed on TV and radio. Each time, I have had to face unforeseen challenges. But, when I prepare diligently for an assignment, I can trust God with any surprises that come my way. I’m always equipped for a win with Him.

Some Leave, Others Stay: Domestic Violence Awareness

Georgia Perimeter College Prevents Domestic Violence

Georgia Perimeter College Prevents Violence 2014

As Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month comes to an end, many have been enlightened by statements used alongside the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. This month, such statements have helped people understand why some folks continually endure unhealthy, dangerous relationships, while others leave their abusive situations altogether.

Last week, at a Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) DV awareness event, attendees were given handouts with heart-pricking statements followed by these hashtags. One by one, male and female audience participants stood to read the statements they’d been given.

One bold woman broke the silence. “I stayed because I was used to his behavior,” she said, glancing up from her handout. Another participant rose and added, “She’d take away my children if I left.” In the back of the auditorium, a woman studied the paper in her hands. “I wouldn’t have been able to support myself or my children if I left.”

However, as participants popped up to read the text marked #WhyILeft, the room’s heaviness lifted. We were empowered by statements like, “I realized I deserved better;” “I was tired of being bruised;” and, “My children needed a safe environment.”

As the session continued, we interacted with a panel including counselors, survivors, and advocates who shared their testimonies and expertise. Before long, one of the few men in the audience told about the physical abuse he’d recently endured at the hands of a female family member. The panelists verbally affirmed his worth. The audience applauded his candor. After witnessing the support this young man received, I couldn’t help but think, This is what DV Awareness Month is about.

Kudos to GPC for providing free seminars like these to enlighten students and the community. GPC has set the standard high for DV Awareness by …

  • Helping people to realize the signs of abuse and the intricacies of DV
  • Revealing how common DV really is (for women and men)
  • Sharing why it’s important to have a DV safety plan
  • Publicizing free anti-violence mobile apps like Circle of 6
  • Teaching people how important their voices are
  • Making people aware of safe ways to offer assistance to someone who is in an abusive relationship

Share your hashtag statement by leaving a comment on this post to enlighten someone today!

Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2013: Throw Me a Curve

SmileA fashionista may tell us what a warm color is and who should wear it.  She certainly knows how a pear- or apple-shaped woman should dress.  With a quick glance, she detects whether a woman with an A- or D-cup could get away with a plunging neckline.

However, one of the most attractive and welcoming curves a woman displays is not in the span of her hips, the size of her waist, or the ampleness of her bosom. Surprisingly, it’s her smile.  A universal symbol for peace, happiness, assurance, and contentment, it is a contagious symbol of beauty.

But what happens when you’ve lost your smile?  Many domestic violence victims have done just that—exchanging grins for grimaces.  They’ve been under the influence of a person who controls, isolates, humiliates, and dehumanizes.

What will you do to advocate domestic violence awareness?  The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) offers 31 suggestions—one for each day in October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month). Visit NNEDV’s Facebook page for ideas or leave a comment here to share one of your own.

In the meantime, go ahead and throw me a curve.  I’d love to throw it back.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2013: Why Won’t She Leave?

Leave an abuser? At what cost?What causes a woman to stay in an abusive relationship?  Perhaps …

  • She’s aware that she’s more likely to be fatally wounded when she escapes her abuser.  (However, an exit strategy helps.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers a safety plan template.)
  • She knows that the need for emergency housing often outweighs the availability.
  • She’s unaware of the resources that are available to her and her children.
  • She fears she will not be able to single-handedly support (i.e., feed, clothe, and provide shelter for) herself and her children.
  • She’s misinformed by well-meaning clergy who simply aren’t trained in counseling abused women.

Perhaps a more appropriate question is: Why won’t he stop?  For more facts, read Domestic Violence Counts 2012: A 24-Hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2013: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

DVAM 2013 - Forgive vs. ReconcileIn her Bible study, Renewing the Heart…for Women: Life Principles from the Beatitudes, Barbara Henry writes, “Women in abusive relationships must often separate themselves from the men they love. Forgiving does not mean putting yourself in a place of being hurt again. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness must be unconditional, but reconciliation depends on humility, repentance, and change in the attitudes and spiritual directions of both parties.”

How appropriate that I happened to read this content in my quiet time during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I agree with the author wholeheartedly. What’s your take?

Work Cited

Barbara Henry, Renewing the Heart…for Women: Life Principles from the Beatitudes (Chattanooga, TN:  AMG Publishers, 2005), 80.