Reblog: Twitter sheds light on non-physical forms of abuse

Abuse has many faces. For many years I stayed with the highly abusive man who was my first husband because of teachings like this (see video below). My children learned that it was ok to be nasty to mummy. They were being brought up in a miserable, soul-destroying home. It is not the abuse towards me that breaks my heart to recall, it is the fact that they were there too. I have no words to describe the abject horror of the seemingly innocuous words from John Piper on this issue. This teaching is not just wrong, it is wicked.

The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

The Twitter handle #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, started by the BBC, has given victims of emotional, spiritual, financial and other forms of abuse a platform to share a glimpse into their experiences.

Often, the pain and trauma of non-physical abuse is dismissed or ignored.  Because the bruising to a victim’s psyche and soul are not visible, they do not receive the help and healing needed or the support to leave.  Slowly, they are beaten down to a place of low self-esteem and self-doubt and they begin to believe the lies of their abuser.  They experience symptoms of PTSD or anxiety or other conditions from their distress and this gives their abuser the added ammunition to claim they are the crazy one, they are the cause of the abuse.

Sadly, these types of abuse are very common in…

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Musings and Frost

I find in the work of Robert Frost both a heavy, in-birthed cynicism and a fresh dose of reality with an appreciation for all things. I think his poetry is often focused around this conflict and as such I have loved it since I was sixteen years old and received the collected works of Robert Frost for my birthday from my darling Granny. Aside: I never called her ‘darling’ in life but I wish I had; she was a dear soul. I often dream of my grandmother since she died. Strange. Anyway, I am in a strange mood – angry and fed-up but at the same time not caring one way or the other. Also I’m aware that I am alive and have a commission to serve. All things considered it’s not an easy combination but will overrides all and I will to follow God, whatever my emotions. Such is recovery from PTSD, soothly, as I gesse (l’il bit o’ Chaucer for you there – I told you I was in a strange mood). Well, in short, this poem reflects those kinds of conflicts within a backdrop of everyday reality:

A good reading. The last line is what resonates with me:

And they, since they

Were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs.

C’est la vie.

 

My dear son has been ill. We have an appointment at the hospital this afternoon for a scan but so far they’re somewhat baffled. He has missed school for weeks now and I don’t know what to do. He seems ok in himself, apart from running a fever this morning, poor lad, but for the most part I haven’t been able to tell if he’s really ill or if he’s faking it. Or partially faking it, because of his anxiety, which he says no one understands – and perhaps we don’t, not being autistic or OCD like him. I have had to be extremely patient with him, bless him. I thought he would be well enough to go back to school this morning, but ’twas not to be :-/

As for me, I am weary. Bored as much as anything, having stopped studying with the O.U. I am no better, physically, than I was, although I would very much like to be. I am trying to declutter and organise our house, which gives me goals each day, although I dislike housework immensely. I am not sure if it is a sign of organisation or madness to now have labelled shelves in the kitchen and an organised plastic container drawer. What do you reckon? I’ve been learning to speak Mandarin along the way. I can say, “I am English but he is Chinese,” and “She is busy. She is reading a book.” I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin and they have a good course on Audible so I thought I’d give it a go. But it’s all pretty aimless, really. Is it ironic that the Chinese invented the examination, which was solely for the purpose of becoming a Mandarin, and here I am learning Mandarin but with no prospect of examination? Or is it just a tongue twister?

“In space things touch, in time things part,” she repeated to herself… her brain so weak that she could not decide whether the phrase was a philosophy or a pun.** 

My daughter started talking about careers the other day. She thinks she would like to be an architect or an engineer when she leaves school, and she has the aptitude for it. I do so love my children, but when she started talking about going to university and having a career I found myself unable to join in! My husband chastised me for my tone of voice so I shut up; I would never want to hurt my child. Yet there I was, overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow and, yes, bitterness, that I usually manage to keep under wraps. At least, I’m not generally aware of it. I have no patience for self-pity yet my thoughts were (and have been since) along the lines of: I was the one who scored highest in the 11+ out of everyone who took it that year. I was the one who should have gone to Oxford or Cambridge, or at least to a redbrick. I was the one who should have soared in the academic world of my choosing, following in the footsteps of my father. And what did I get instead? Nightmares and flashbacks and ill-health and a great steaming pile of bovine faeces.

The ridiculous thing is that I know, perhaps more than most, that life isn’t what we expect it to be. We are spoiled, here in the West. We have the illusion of being in control and we don’t like to be disillusioned. When a billion people in the world are malnourished, when 6 million children under the age of five die every year from preventable causes, who am I to turn my nose up at anything? Yet I couldn’t stop those feelings! Like I said, one’s will is sometimes the only way to move, and movement is surely better than stagnancy: I might not feel a certain way, but I’m flippin’ well not letting it get in the way of what I know to be right and true and honourable.

I hate PTSD and I hate M.E. (note the full stops denoting abbreviation – I don’t hate myself, which is a minor miracle really because I used to). I loathe not being ‘normal’, or at least having the chance to be, but it is what it is and not wanting it to be a certain way is not going to change anything. Since when did a person’s wanting or not wanting change a thing? And because I believe, as a child of God, that I have a divinely-imbued purpose to love and to serve, then so be it. Deep calls to deep. It is inescapable.

 

** from A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

Cathy, Come Home

One of my favourite scenes of any novel that I have ever read comes from Wuthering Heights, that dark, brooding tale of obsession and death (why anyone would think it’s romantic is beyond me but that’s not the focus of this post). It is one of very few novels where the main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, are utterly unlikeable yet remain genuinely compelling. Emily Brontë was a genius. This is the scene of which I speak:

This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten. ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in—let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear. ‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ 

I have felt like that voice in the desperate darkness. Sometimes I have felt like I’ve been wandering, desolate and lost on the moors for so many years that I’ve forgotten what home is like. That cry of “twenty years!” strikes at my soul.

Twenty years ago my friends all went off to university. I didn’t. I was ill. Three years later I went away to college with a view to moving onto university after a year. Two weeks after that I had the utter misfortune to meet my first boyfriend, 12 years my senior. 18 months after we met he had coerced me not only out of my long-held dreams of studying but into a controlling marriage and even motherhood. I found myself mother to an autistic child (not that I knew that then, of course, but there were signs), living in a council flat with a jobless, manipulative psycho. What the **** happened? I spent so many years feeling like… like a cockroach. Waiting to be squashed. Disgusting and despised.

Nowadays… I sometimes just wish – I wish I could feel like I had achieved something. I wish I didn’t feel so different to everyone else. Last week I received a certificate of participation for a course I studied via Future Learn. For me, this was a big deal. Straight away I wanted to go out and get a frame so I could put it on the wall. I don’t have any certificates other than my rather pathetic 6 GCSEs. It doesn’t matter that I taught myself in order to pass them (I was too poorly to go to school most of the time). I didn’t do A-levels. I didn’t get the degree. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t do all the other stuff my contemporaries did. I never ‘fulfilled my potential’. So for me, this certificate from Future Learn meant – well, quite a lot, actually. But even my own husband made a joke about it. He didn’t mean to cause upset and I wouldn’t take to the blogwaves to complain about my spouse, that’s really not my point. It’s just that, well, sometimes I’m fed up of being different. I’m fed up of people who have led really good lives and they don’t even know it, who live like kings and don’t see it.

Don’t worry. This is not going to be a great long wallow in self-pity. There’s just one thing that I would like to say to the blogosphere in general: if you had the chance at education, at making choices, at being a ‘normal’ Western teenager, a ‘normal’ young adult – just recognise how lucky you were. Please. And if in your life you have been granted more than enough, whether it be materially or spiritually, in friendship or in love – please take it as your God-imbued duty to be thankful, to be accountable for what you do with what you have been given, and to share.

Actually, make that two things. There are two things I’d like to say. The second is to please try your very best to make the disaffected welcome. Especially in churches. Churches aren’t supposed to be full of well-fed, content middle-class people. More often than not they are. They’re supposed to be home to the movers and the shakers and the sinners and the broken – one big messy family, made holy in Christ. Last week I was brave enough to share with someone at church that I’d been receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She just frowned at me.

Churches must wake up to the broken within their walls, as well as the broken without. It’s not ok to exclude people because you don’t understand them or because they scare you. It’s not ok to not make an effort to include someone, however unappealing they may be. Ask yourself: who is my neighbour? What does that really mean?

Jesus never excluded anyone. In fact, He always did the opposite… and that knowledge always cheers me up no end. I know that if Jesus were to sit here with me, He’d say that I have been given gifts beyond measure. He’d point out that I’m just about to begin my next module with the Open University. He’d point out all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do with my family. He’d even remind me that, no matter how tough EMDR was, I’ve reaped the benefits in the past few months. Jesus would show me again my wonderful husband, and my super children. He’d say that I’ve found the most important thing in my love for Him. With Jesus there is no lost wandering on the moor. There is no desolation or despair. Jesus says, “Cathy, come home.”

********

This post was prompted in part by a post over at Sacred Wrightings, which is a very good blog if you ever have the chance to take a look. The author, Terry, is much more learned than I and I have learned a lot from reading what he has to say. He’s also quite funny.

I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

‘Mummy, Sometimes I Feel Like Killing Myself’

Frank is away this week in London on business. It’s been a surreal time. I miss him terribly. It’s the longest we’ve ever been apart, but I’m making the most of the time with just me and the children. Also, it has proved the EMDR is working because I am no longer panicking and paranoid when I’m alone in the house. I am coping. Yay!

Anyway, yesterday evening, Fluff was at gymnastics. Chip had lost this privilege earlier in the week through bad behaviour so at 6 o’clock she and I were eating soup with Prince, all nice and calm, like.

“Mummy,” Prince said matter-of-factly while munching toast, “sometimes I feel like I want to kill myself.”

If your child said this to you at the dinner table, how would you react? 

I took it in my stride… we are used to brutal honesty in this house, and we are used to a young man who often says things that are completely unexpected, especially at the dinner table for some reason! He may have autism and learning disabilities, but he’s a very deep thinker (can’t think where he gets that from, can you?). So, despite the seemingly terrible tea time conversation-starter in front of his 9-year-old sister, I asked dear Prince what made him say that. I wasn’t shocked or horrified or… anything, really. I just wanted to understand what he was thinking and why.

“Because sometimes,” Prince replied, “the world just seems like such a horrible place full of horrible things and I don’t want to live in a world like that.”

Bless his beautiful black-and-white thinking. He doesn’t have the social skills to recognise why saying exactly what you think might be socially unacceptable. e.g. when we were in the supermarket and he said, horrified (and within earshot), “Mummy, why does that lady stink?!”

So we had a conversation about a world full of sin and sorrow, and a caring, loving God whose heart was breaking seeing all the misery. We talked about how He sent His Son, who willingly gave Himself to be killed in the most horrible way, to experience for Himself the very worst suffering, so that the bridge between us and God could be mended. Eventually I promised to get him a notebook so that he can write down all of his feelings and show them to his counsellor, whom he sees monthly. Then the conversation took a slightly different turn.

“I’m not sure I want to be a Christian, Mummy.” He said, “I don’t want to be like you and Daddy. It’s too hard. I just want to be able to pray sometimes.”

We talked about love and what happens when God is your friend and constant companion. We talked about how love is the only thing to make a difference in the world, how love is the only thing worth living for, and how God is love. These conversations are always challenging, because Prince’s vocabulary is limited and his comprehension is very literal. I have to keep my language very simple and straightforward, and this is quite difficult!

I thanked God for the opportunity to talk to my son about Jesus on his terms. Church and Sunday School are pitched way over Prince’s head, so he’s never going to learn from there, even if he does recognise that church people are generally kind and friendly to one another. We’ve had some conversations around the dinner table, but that one was a corker.

What about you? Have you ever had stunning questions from your offspring? How have you dealt with it?

Far Away and Close at Hand

CHIBOK GIRLS MISSING FOR OVER A YEAR

The girls abducted from a school in Chibok have now been missing for one year and three days. For their parents who continue to hope and pray for their return, it feels like an eternity. Of the 252 girls that were taken, 16 jumped off the trucks, four escaped after arriving in the Sambisa forest, but 232 are still missing.

It seems likely that they have been moved to another country, possibly Niger. Muhammadu Buhari, the recently elected President of Nigeria, has said that his government will ‘do everything in its power to bring them home’ but that he ‘cannot promise that we can find them’.

PLEASE PRAY:

  • Continue to pray for the protection and safe return of the Chibok girls
  • For comfort for their parents. Twenty of them have died since the girls were taken, many because of stress-related illnesses.
  • For wisdom for those who are working to secure the safe release of the girls.

From an email from Open Doors, a charity serving persecuted Christians worldwide. I can only imagine what those parents are going through. My heart goes out to them. I can’t doing anything other than pray and show my support through agencies like Open Doors. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

What about closer to home? What can we do to love those who are distraught and in our midst? Too often the response is to avoid the person, because their grief or distress is so deep that it seems overwhelming and although we might like to help, we just don’t know how. Plus, it’s scary. We fear becoming entangled in their pain and distress. We know that, as followers of Jesus, we must be kind, we must show compassion, but what can we do? I’d like to share this, which happened when I was a teenager:

My grandparents were visiting us for Christmas. On the evening they arrived, my grandmother was taken ill. She was rushed to hospital and the next few weeks were a blur as she was admitted to hospital, sent home, admitted to hospital again, had surgery… and then she died. My grandfather, my father and his brother were overwhelmed. Their grief was palpable; it seemed to hang in the air.

My grandfather stayed with us for four months after her death. One morning, I heard him sobbing. The door was open so I went in the room. I put my arm on his shoulder and stayed with him until the sobs lessened. Later that day he said to me, “How did you know?”

“How did I know what?” I replied.

“How did you know to not say anything?”

I looked him in the eye and shook my head, “I just did.”

“Thank you.” He said.

Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes words are too much. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Broken

Sometimes I wonder what the point is. Sometimes I look at the world and all I see is brokenness. Sometimes I look at my life and all I see is brokenness. Sure, I see that where many families would have fallen apart, we stayed together and grew in love, flawed as it is. We’ve had our rocky moments but I think, thank God, that my children are going to be ok. They have been through such a lot, but each of them is, I hope, secure in the knowledge that he or she is loved and worthy of love. Each child has hopes and dreams for the future and understands that they have to work to reach those dreams (to a greater or lesser degree). Each child also has a knowledge of God, again to a greater or lesser degree… Prince’s understanding of Christianity is – of necessity – very simple. It boils down to ‘God is love. He teaches us to love. Be kind. Where you have done wrong, say sorry.’

I have a wonderful husband, who gives me more than words can say. I hope I give him what he needs, too. He has been enormously supportive throughout our marriage (we celebrate five years this year!) and even more so these past few months during EMDR. My husband always sees things in me that I never see in myself. He always has. Ours was definitely a match made in heaven.

But then I look at me. I’m nearly 40. I’m still going through therapy. When will my life begin? When will I experience normality? When will I be able to serve God more fully?

So I said to God, “Dear God, how can I be of use to You when I am like this – broken and jagged and anxious and broken and…”

I had hardly begun this (admittedly rather truculent) prayer when into my mind came an image of Christ on the cross. He was weak. He was scorned. Naked. Shamed. Humiliated. Tortured. Nails through his flesh to enhance the suffering. Broken.

“This is my body, broken for you.” The words flashed into my mind as the image changed: Jesus with the disciples, sharing the final meal, speaking the words that would become a gift for His followers.

The image changed again: bread and wine raised aloft as the priest repeats Jesus’ words; words that have echoed through the centuries. “Take, eat. This is my body… Do this in remembrance of me…”

*****

Jesus was broken. I am broken. We are all broken, in different ways. Brokenness is the most remarkable thing about the Gospel. Brokenness was taken down from the cross all crumpled and empty. In grief and sorrow brokenness was carried and laid in a tomb, carefully wrapped in cloth. The shell-shocked stragglers walked away.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.