Diapers By Elizabeth A. Hartwig
s Christians we are told that God loves us and that he has a plan for us. Scripture is filled with verses that well-meaning people quote at us when we are going through hard times. Jesus, however, never utters words that are mere platitudes. He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He lived in the same skin we live in and dealt with the same joys and sorrows we deal with (see Hebrews 2:18). I used to cry out to God to stop making my life an object lesson in faith for other people. Thankfully, our all-wise Father did not answer that prayer. It is in living through these experiences that I can confidently and assuredly say to you that God does love you dearly and that he truly does have a plan for you (Jer. 29:11). As Jesus has lived in the flesh, I have lived in your skin. I have been spat upon and hit and threatened with a knife. I caught myself about to hide bruises on my infant’s bottom when I realized I had to get out of my marriage. I did for a time but went back for two more years, at which point my husband left me in exchange for the freedom to date other women. I breathed a sigh of relief that day, combined with heartache. My whole story is long and convoluted, yet I offer you only part of it at this time. It is told with great dis-
tance from the actual events, and I hope that in writing now, some will see that life does go on and become whole again after abuse and abandonment. I don’t want to focus on the gory details of a marriage turned sour, for since then God has done great things in my heart to forgive and move on in strength and healing. My ex-husband too has grown, learned, and regretted—and twenty years later, we are friends (at a distance). (I am not recommending that anyone return to an abusive situation. If you are in an abusive relationship, you need counseling and protection from the abuser. It took much work on my part with an experienced counselor to be able to establish the boundaries necessary to have a good working relationship with my ex-husband, and I know it is not recommended in most cases to continue to have a relationship with someone who is abusing you or your children. It also took work on his part to overcome the patterns that were destroying our family. Both of us contributed to the problems of our marriage.) The purpose of my sharing is to demonstrate the love of our Savior to deliver and to heal in both small and mighty ways. What does the Word of God say about his nature concerning the widow and the fatherless? I use these
terms because I felt they applied to me. I wasn’t really a widow—although at times my anger and hurt were so great I wished my husband had died instead of left. And my children were not really fatherless, but that is how it felt to me and to them throughout most of their childhood. I often refer to the “modern-day widows and orphans” when I speak about God’s heart toward abandoned mothers and children. Generally, people buy life insurance to care for loved ones after an unexpected death, but there is no insurance payout for an abandoned family. I believe it grieves our heavenly Father that so many children are raised in single-parent households, especially ones without fathers. Jeremiah 49:11 says, “Your orphans; I will protect their lives. Your widows too can trust in me.” And James 1:27 reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It is clear that God cares for this special class of the weak and the vulnerable. He places greater emphasis upon caring for widows and orphans than upon being outwardly good and upstanding members of a church or society. So how did these words continued
written in the books of James and Jeremiah become real to me and not simply something written in an old book? Shortly after Christmas 1989, when my sons were one and three and I had been living as a single mother for about four months, I heard a sermon one Sunday. The message the minister preached that week is just as clear to me today: it was about God’s faithfulness. The minister said that “God is always faithful to his word. We may be out in leftfield, but he is always true to his word and his nature.” I thought about this and the clear contrast I saw between my circumstances and this eternal truth. In the quiet moments of my day and while lying down to sleep at night, I continued to think about this: God is always faithful. He knows when I sit and when I stand. He knows the number of hairs on my head and he called me to good works before he laid the foundation of the world. In fact, it says in the first chapter of Ephesians that “in him we were...chosen having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). So how is it that I found myself married to a jealous and hypercritical man, in a marriage so wrought with anger and aggression that I no longer had a marriage left? Was this in conformity to the purpose of God’s will? Even when my husband and I were still together, the only peaceful (non-abusive) stretch of time seemed to be when I would fast through lunch and spend the time in prayer for him. Now there was no father coming home at the end of the day to see my children and, to top it off, I discovered he was no longer going to be working so there was no money coming in to support us. How did my experience of life match up with God’s promises? Outwardly it most certainly did not match up to God’s promises—as I understood them. Yet I continued to think about the sermon message I had 2
just heard concerning God’s faithfulness. I thought about it again and again during the next few weeks. One afternoon shortly after this sermon, I was on the phone with a friend of mine from church. I was complaining bitterly and at considerable length that my estranged husband was not going to be getting a job while in graduate school as he had promised. Now what was I going to do? Right in the middle of my bitter tirade, I felt a hand upon my shoulder—though there was no one there— and a voice from an invisible source spoke into my free ear, “Go check on your children.” I said to my friend, “I think I need to go check on the boys.” Life is hard. There would be troubles—I would have to pass through them, but God would be with me and would not let me be consumed by them. The voice spoke again, “Go check on your children, now!” I promptly put down the phone in the kitchen and went into the front hall. There, climbing up the stairs was my one-year-old son. At the top of the stairs was my three-year-old son about to sled down upon his baby brother, riding the new sled his grandmother had given him for Christmas. God, through what I believe was an angel, instructed me to go check on my children, “Now!” Who knows what would have happened if he had not cared for me in this way? My circumstances still weren’t aligning with how I thought they should be, but God’s care of my then fatherless children was startlingly apparent. One night in particular I was feeling chewed up and spit out by my exhusband. I was in bed and crying out to God when he spoke to me: “Get out of bed and go read Isaiah 43.” But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O
Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isa. 43: 1–7) Things jumped out from the page and spoke deeply to my wounded heart. Where it says, “He who created you, O Jacob,” it read in my heart as “He who created you, O Elizabeth” and “He who formed you, O Elizabeth.” Where it read, “Fear not I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine,” God was speaking words of healing that touched my very soul. The Word of God is said to be sharper than any two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any doubleedged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s word pierced me, healed me, and brought me understanding of a hard truth. Life is hard. There would be troubles—I
would have to pass through them, but God would be with me and would not let me be consumed by them. Pondering all these things in my heart, I found myself late on a Friday afternoon with my youngest wearing the last diaper we owned. I had no money to buy any more of them and I was beyond exhausted. And I was sad—so very sad—to be alone and in this situation. My mother, with whom we were staying, asked me to run to the store and pick up a few things for dinner. With her list in hand and her money, I set out for the market, fully intending to skimp on something she needed and buy a small package of diapers. I was so tired, though, I completely forgot. Upon loading the car, the grocery cart with the boys in it started to roll away across the parking lot. I was so tired and distressed over my situation that I got angry with the woman who alerted me to my sons rolling away in the cart. After packing up in the car and not remembering that I had forgotten to buy the diapers, I stopped at the light at the end of the parking lot. A little sports car whipped in front of me to pull up to the florist that was on the corner. A well-dressed man dashed into the florist and I imagined the flowers I thought he was buying for some special woman. I, however, did not feel special to anyone. I quietly cried the whole way home. My thoughts taken up with things such as, “No man loves me like that. No one is bringing me flowers tonight.” But God sees. God saw. God loves and God hears the cry of our hearts. I walked in the front door and right in the middle of the hall was a box of sixty-four perfectly sized diapers somebody had dropped off. No one knew that my son was wearing the last diaper I owned—no one but the Lord. No one knew how distraught I would have been when that last diaper was soiled and there was nothing to change my son into and no money to buy any more diapers. But God knew. His eye was upon this
“widow” and these “orphans.” He was and is faithful to his word. My knees buckled from under me and there in the front hall I uttered a prayer of thanksgiving to the God who brought me diapers, to the God who loved me more than a man, when he brings her flowers, loves a woman. I still utter prayers of thanksgiving to the God who sees me through the floods and fires of this life.
The NIV translation of Isaiah 42:3 reads, “A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. The NLV translation says it this way: “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” As a young single mother, I was a bruised reed, I was the weakest reed. I was clearly living through some “floods and fires,” but God was gently carrying me through. While I was angry and hurt, God was patient with me. When I was brokenhearted, he held my heart in his hand and was careful to be tender and present in my struggles. As often as God spoke to me though, it was hard to not repeat some of my own destructive patterns of interacting with people. I’d like to say that when God reaches into your life and so clearly touches it, everything is fine from that point on. Not so. In response to God’s love, we must act. We need to do the hard work of cooperating with God’s healing. Jesus healed people and gave them instructions of what to do. When he healed the blind man at the pool in Bethsaida, Jesus commanded him to go home, not into the village. After forgiving the woman caught in adultery that the teachers of the Law and the
Pharisees brought to him, Jesus tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin”(Luke 8:1–11). Paul uses the word “therefore” to illustrate this point many times in the Epistles. Doing a quick word count, I came up with one hundred uses of the word “therefore” in the Epistles of Paul, Peter, and John. It is a word that indicates there is a required response to the previously or subsequently presented idea. In particular, I want to go back and look at the context of a Scripture I mentioned above. Hebrews 2:18, in context, says, Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. A few verses later it says, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” In fact, this warning is repeated three times in quick succession. So I say to you: Today, if you are hearing words of healing or caution or feeling enough is enough, do not ignore the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit. Moving on in life after an abusive relationship takes action. God brought me great healing in the ways he inter3
vened in my life as a newly single mother. I, however, needed to do the “therefore.” I was no longer in the relationship, but I needed to look at how I got there. I needed more healing, and I needed counseling so as to not repeat my destructive behavior
patterns. I needed to be saturated with the Word of God, and I needed to do what it said. I also needed the support of my church, my friends, and especially my family of origin. My prayer in writing this essay is that you—or someone you love—
would find hope in the very God who hung the stars in the sky. Although life can be rough, he has not abandoned you. Let him be your deliverer and your refuge. He is eager to save those whose hearts are inclined toward him.
In the Light of His Countenance By Lucy Marshall
“In the light of the king’s countenance is life” (Prov. 16:15) Countenance: 1. Aspect; appearance; especially the expression of the face. 2. The face or facial features.
3. A look or expression of encouragement or support. 4. Support or approval in general.
rior to becoming a prison chaplain, I worked for a social services agency dedicated to family preservation and family reunification. I had attended many workshops and seminars and read many articles about spouse abuse and domestic violence. I knew about agencies, shelters, and court systems dedicated to helping victims of abuse and domestic violence. But when I began this course, I had an experience comparable to the one Paul had on the Damascus Road: I enrolled in Dr. Kroeger’s class, “Counseling in Abuse and Domestic Violence” and viewed the issue in the light of his countenance. Like Paul, I truly felt “blinded by the light.” When I read the required books and heard how many women are suffering abuse and violence within the church and how clergy leaders have been silent regarding this issue, I was mortified. I realized that the problem is not only with the thinking and beliefs of men: we women (no, I) have been guilty also of either agreeing or “going along to get along.” Actually, this enlightenment began about a year ago when I was asked to be a panelist at a women’s conference. One of my co-panelists 4
was a woman named Lurena Lee. I do not recall what the coordinators originally planned, but somehow the conference rapidly turned into an outpouring of the anguish and pain the women in the group were suffering— or had suffered—at the hands of supposedly Christian men. These were women I knew. Their men were men I knew. The women gave the appearance of having it all together. They were church-going, church-leading, hatwearing church ladies. Leaders in our community. Mothers of football stars and choir soloists. Daughters of heads of community agencies. And female ex-inmates who were now attending church. The conference organizers were surprised and so was I. Over the following month, I often thought of the conference; then, when I saw an Internet announcement for this class, I signed up. Imagine my surprise when Lurena Lee walked into the classroom! Right then, I knew this would be a pivotal time in my life and in my approach to my work as a prison chaplain. When I began this course, I soon felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. I felt embarrassed by my own culpability regarding the
church’s misinformation—and deliberate ignorance—concerning spousal abuse and domestic violence within our own walls. I knew about abuse and domestic violence, “out there,” but as a church leader and female-ordained prison chaplain for female inmates, why wasn’t I paying more attention? I recalled a phone call many years ago from a professional woman, the wife of a deacon, who wanted to talk to me about her abusive husband and how he made her feel. In my ignorance, I quoted Scripture about “submission” and trusting God to change him. She never called me again and subsequently left the church. Her husband still attends and holds a prominent position as a deacon. A more poignant memory arose. Two years ago, my two daughters and I went to a women’s retreat. Women of our denomination traveled from all over New England to attend. At first we were surprised that the bulk of the women were elderly. Many of them used walkers and canes, and they walked with slow dignity to take their seats in a large discussion circle. After opening prayers and songs, these elder women who had come North during the 1930s tearfully began to
share stories of incest, sexual abuse, and domestic violence that had happened to them over fifty years ago when they were young women living in the Deep South. As each woman spoke of how the local church had not come to their aid, one thing stood out: they fled their Southern homes, came to their current homes and churches in the North and found hope, solace, and support. My daughters, along with one other woman, were the youngest women in the room. They each proclaimed that this retreat was the best and most memorable they had ever attended. All of us saw the humanity and dignity of these “old church mothers,” and we praised God for his mercy and grace in the face of overwhelming pain and suffering. Upon reflection, I also realized that the women I work with in prison are “safe” from their abuser while behind prison walls, but they are not safe from the memories, the fear, and the emotional connection to their abuser. I realized that the bold faces worn by many of them actually hide pain and anguish over abusive relationships with either the men or women in their lives. This class caused me to realize that just as I had not considered abuse and violence within church walls, my chaplaincy ministry had not included intentional consideration of the problems of women behind prison walls as victims of abuse and domestic violence. On the first Sunday of each month, I go through a little ritual at the beginning of the prison worship service. I ask all women who are going home that month, “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get out?” They answer, “Find a church!” I respond, “And when you find a church, show yourself to the pastor. That way, they will know they are accountable to you and to God to shepherd you.” I say other things as well, and then I pray Numbers 6:24– 26 over them. Now, after taking this course, I wonder if the shepherds will truly
protect the sheep I send to them. Will they use both the staff of instruction and the rod of protection when a woman seeks help and safety from abuse? Will the shepherd feel overwhelmed and choose to overlook the issue? Will the shepherd seek to dismiss the gravity of her situation or even sympathize with the abuser? Will the shepherd really listen to her? Will the shepherd offer validation of her fears and safety for her and her children if she has them? I now have much more to pray about than Numbers 6:24–26!
Meditation on Scriptures pertaining to the issue of abuse led me to realize that a better understanding of them can be obtained if we interpret them in the light of God’s countenance. For example, my grandchilddren can tell by my face whether I am pleased or displeased. Even when I am across the room, I can signal to a disruptive toddler a smile or frown that lets them know how I feel about their behavior. So, as we look at relationships between men and women and children in the context of what we have learned about the nature of God—that he is merciful, just, and gracious; that he is on the side of the vulnerable and weak—we can measure the righteousness of our beliefs about these relationships in the light of his countenance. The PASCH newsletter (Winter 2009) contains the following information: “A University of California study demonstrated that 93% of verbal communication occurs through sound (inflection, tonality, voice variety, emphasis, and energy) and look which includes the speaker’s appearance, gestures, movements and
visual aids.” What look might be on the face of God when the church ministers to “divide the word of truth” concerning abuse, domestic violence, or divorce? We can search the Scriptures in the light of his countenance to find answers. For example, is divorce always the wrong choice? We can see that the Lord God made a provision for divorce that was orderly and proper in the light of his countenance. In the Old Testament book of Ezra, the men who married “strange wives” in direct disobedience to God’s law, were given time to divorce them in an orderly procedure. The gravity of this sin is spelled out by Ezra’s contemporary Nehemiah, who was very upset about this intermarrying by the Levites who were charged with passing down the word of God to the children. He reports: And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? (Neh. 13:23–26a) I had always thought the demand to divorce the women was too harsh. But when I look at this account in the light of his countenance, I can see that though it was painful it was necessary. God was merciful to the women and their children. He gave the men wisdom, compassion, courage, and time to repent of their disobedience in an orderly and humane manner. Only a merciful God would show a way of repentance and allow time for the repentance to work out. The New Testament tells us that Jesus paid particular attention to the care and protection of women. Prostitutes, housekeepers, children, and mothers were all assured that “man’s business” was not so important that 5
they should be discounted, disrespected, or disinherited. Jesus denounced the religious leaders of his day for placing more emphasis upon their traditions than upon the Word of God. They were no longer caring for widows and orphans as God had instructed Moses and the prophets. Jesus’ angry indictment of the Pharisees for this was so countercultural that three out of the four Gospel writers make note of his scathing condemnation: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widow’s houses, and for a pretence make a long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14, Mark 12:14, Luke 20:47). In the light of this, notice the funeral procession for the dead son of the widow of Nain (Luke: 7:11–16). The mourners’ loud laments probably took in consideration that by losing her only son she had also lost the source of her own care and livelihood. The temple leaders would not have cared for her as directed by God. Jesus had scolded the Pharisees for not caring for their own elderly parents, so we may be sure that in the near future, the widow of Nain herself would soon be the focus of another sad procession. When Jesus restored
her son to life, he ensured that the widow would continue to have her needs provided. When we see things in the light of his countenance, the challenge is to take on and keep at the task and “not get weary in well-doing.” I notice that the Good Samaritan gets much praise for his unselfish rescue of the robbed traveler. It was the innkeeper, however, who had to care for the wounded traveler. It is not clear how long this care took, nor is it clear whether the wounded traveler was appropriately grateful or whether he listened to the innkeeper’s advice. When I place abuse and domestic violence in the church into the light of the countenance of a patient, faithful, and merciful God, I see that our compassion must be bold, practical, consistent, and faithful. It may take many attempts before a woman finally leaves her abuser for good. Likewise, those who work with abusive men tell us it takes months and consistent work on the part of helpers and the men themselves to make the change from abuser to true lover or husband. The challenge to the innkeeper in Jesus’ parable—and to the church as “innkeeper” today—is to “take care” of the abused (and abusing) wounded travelers of this world. And when the
“Good Samaritan” returns, if we have spent more than he has provided for us, he will make it up to us. We are all responsible for abuse and domestic violence in our society. We who are called to preach and teach the Word of God must fearlessly examine the loom of our own doctrines as well as the doctrines and opposing views of others, and then apply them to the orthodox Word of God. Truly, God hath not given us a spirit of fear [fear of confrontation, fear of having our dearly held beliefs challenged] but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). If we are to give hope and encouragement to others, if we are to preach to others, then we must let the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth and pray that we are always rightly dividing the Word of truth. It will be a wonderful day when men and women of the church—and indeed men and women everywhere —realize God’s eternal purpose is for them to dwell together as one in peace as a true sign of equal relationship: “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity.” Amen.
The Journey Goes On By Laurel Westphal-Peterson
e have tried to move on and live life, then the unexpected happens, the triggers are sparked at times, but God’s love surrounds us. Things weren’t right in my marriage.
Then the fights came and I landed with such force that a bone broke. The state stepped in and charges were filed. Protective order in place, and I moved far away to Mom and Dad’s. It’s been a year and half when life forever changed.
At first I was in a state of shock, but eyes opened enough to think through which way to turn. God has been gracious with the support, from family to new and some old faithful friends, to counselors, to church… The first thing I learned is that I didn’t know what I was feeling. For so long when I would get hurt emotionally from others, I would take the emotions not felt and stuff them away. Shake off the dust and go on continuing to serve. God doesn’t want us to ignore our feelings but to bring them to him. So as I have groped to even rediscover what I feel, I have to admit I didn’t always bring it to God. I would share with trusted counsel and came to a point that the emotional wounds consumed me. The more I would share the more it didn’t satisfy. While God patiently waited for me to talk with him. I thought I had forgiven my ex, but God has shown me that more forgiveness needs to take place in my heart. God’s healing hand is at work. It will take time. For safety’s sake, I can’t forget. I have been living in a storm that brewed to fierceness. The storm has passed, the pieces have been picked up, and rebuilding is occurring. At times I feel the cloud bank lingers nearby, but the sun is shining and the clouds are clearing. Hope lingers in the sun’s rays that reach toward me. I sense a joy bubbling in my heart. And the journey goes on…
PASCH 2011 Conference Emerging from the Shadows: The Church and Justice May 12–15, 2011 Columbia Bible College Abbotsford (Vancouver) British Columbia, Canada
ASCH invites session and paper proposals for our fifth conference that will be held in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The conference will be a venue for the discussion of strategies, research projects, best practices, legal processes, and therapeutic initiatives related to creating peace and safety in the Christian home, Christian responses to wife abuse, and other forms of domestic violence. Come and join with other victim/survivors, researchers, theologians, therapists, pastors, social activists, community advocates, shelter workers, and faith community members as we network to respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence and to promote healthy, peaceful family living. Although a wide range of session and paper topics are encouraged, we especially solicit those concerned with the following:
Faith-based batterer intervention programs; The impact of domestic violence on children; Therapeutic strategies for facilitating hope and healing for victims; Biblical mandate for peace and safety in the home; Safety planning; Pastoral leadership in understanding and addressing violence in families of faith; Justice system responses to domestic violence;
Pastoral counseling for victims and those who act violently; Narratives of pain and despair of victims; Bridge building between sacred and secular agencies; Pragmatic strategies for assisting families in crisis; Liturgy and resources for individuals and congregations.
Paper Proposals (title and 200-word abstract) are due by October 31, 2010, and Session Proposals (title and description) are due by September 30, 2010. Send proposals to: Dr. Barbara Fisher-Townsend, Program Chair, 7 Duke Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada E3A 4J4 (506-453-7826); email@example.com. 7
Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH) www.peaceandsafety.com
1095 Stony Brook Road Brewster, MA 02631 Tel. 508-896-3518 Fax 508-896-6864 A Christian network addressing varied aspects of domestic abuse. Prayer support, biblical and practical resources, literature, conferences, training, research, referrals. “Faithful to the wounded, faithful to the Word.”