For three years, I worked as a house manager in a domestic violence shelter for women. I longed to “fix” things for these women, but it was not me or my abilities that could change these women’s behavior. I had to learn how to love with true compassion, which means to “suffer with.” I began to listen to their stories without a personal agenda, but with love.
Here is one of those stories, Ashley’s, written in her own words:
I had a good childhood. I did not come from a broken family. My parents are still married, forty years and counting. My mother and father raised me up right. I had a solid spiritual foundation. Yet in high school, I was desperate to fit in and be a part of the “cool kids.” So, I started using drugs. I graduated from high school and had plans to pursue nursing, but I still did not feel accepted by others. I ended up meeting, what I thought, was the perfect man. He was good looking, had muscle, and said all the right things. When we were together, it was as if nothing in the world mattered. After a couple of months, he asked me if I wanted to move in with him. I was absolutely “in love” with this guy, so we moved in together. The day we did, my life changed forever.
He became a totally different person. He would call me names and curse at me as if I was some kind of dog. He then started beating me. These beatings were brought on by nothing other than his insecurity and the pain of his childhood abuse. I think he beat me because he could control me that way. I wouldn’t say a word, and he would just do whatever he wanted because he felt like it. Afterwards, he would say something like, “Go fix your hair and clean your face!”
Sometimes he would be out all night, occasionally for days at a time, but when he returned home the nightmare would continue. I knew if I tried to fight back there would be more severe “punishment.” I thought if I made him dinner every night and did everything he said to do, he wouldn’t beat me.
No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough. He would always think of an excuse to beat me. I never knew when he would explode. One minute everything would be ok, the next I was on the floor with his foot standing on my chest the other placed on my throat with all of his weight on me. I remember praying that I would pass out so I wouldn’t feel the pain, but as I started to black out he would release me. When I started to say something, he took his gun out and stuck it to my head. He said if I said another word he would pull the trigger. Every day I woke up wondering if it was going to be my last.
You are probably wondering, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Well, this man had a six year old son, and I grew to love him as well. The son’s mother did not live in the same city, so I became a mother figure in his life. He even started calling me “mommy.” I wanted to protect him, and I knew if I stayed I would be the one to get hit, not him. This lasted for about six months.
One day I finally asked my mother to pick me up down the street. I was safe. But the son’s voice kept going through my mind. I went back to the boy and the abusive relationship and then left again a couple months later. This vicious cycle continued two more times. I finally “came to my senses” and filed a restraining order on him. My mother and father played an important role in convincing me that my life was valuable. I knew God, and I grew up hearing the Word, but I wanted to do things my way. I knew that this relationship was wrong, but I had bought into the lie that, “Maybe this is how my life is supposed to be.” I never got used to the beatings, but they became a daily routine. My mother never gave up. She told me repeatedly that I was worth way more than how this abuser treated me and that I did not have to experience such pain and suffering.
It is only by the grace of God that I’m alive today. I wish I could say I had learned my lesson and said no to other unhealthy relationships, but my journey to freedom continued. I wasn’t beaten physically by other men in future relationships, but I experienced more isolation, degrading remarks, and humiliation. I wanted to escape my prison of pain and darkness on my own strength, and this fueled my drug addiction.
Finally, I agreed to participate in a Christian recovery program. This program was very structured and involved two Bible studies a day, prayer three times a day and church services throughout the week. It was Jesus Christ 24/7, which is exactly what I needed. It was not an easy program, but I can say that God has remolded my heart and the Holy Spirit has renewed my mind so that I know I am loved and accepted by Him.
I no longer seek love and affection from men and drugs. I have all I need and more through Jesus Christ. I have been clean over 2 years now. My relationship with God is stronger than ever, and He is growing me more each day into the woman of God He has called me to be. I believe Jesus is truly the Way, the Truth and the Life. God allowed me to go through everything to be a witness. I lived to tell my story and show that there is hope in Jesus Christ. No matter what storms of life you go through, know that there is a God who cares and will bring you out of the rain and into His glorious Light.
As Ashley’s story shows, domestic violence is complex and often brings deception to a woman’s understanding. She may know she is getting hurt, but fear and shame keep her captive. She gropes along in a darkened prison and clings to false love, empty promises, the belief that she can change him, or the thought that there is nothing better. These lies slowly destroy her. A legal protective order or a shelter may keep her safe, but these alone cannot rescue her from the darkness of her situation.
If you know someone who is trapped in domestic violence, first pray. God’s Word says, “You, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14). Next, challenge injustice by recognizing the dignity and worth of the woman because she is created in God’s image. Many are apathetic to reach out to help the abused because they believe the woman’s destructive behavior or poor choices are her own fault. Approach her with compassion. Seek to listen and to understand her.
Lastly, do not become discouraged and give up on the woman if she returns to the abuser. Maintain safety but become a dependable ally. This is important because isolation makes abusers bolder and causes women to give up hoping to escape because they do not have support. Remember to always call local police for dangerous situations or if someone is hurt. Find support by calling your local domestic violence shelter. Most of all, know that God can use you to bring light and truth to captives of domestic violence.Image courtesy of Bruno Mendizabal / Flickr.com