A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Shelters

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”
(Psalm 55:1-8)

Oh that I had in the desert
a travelers’ lodging place,
that I might leave my people
and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
a company of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like a bow;
falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me, declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 9:2-3 )

From what I’ve been gleaning about Women’s Shelters in the USA, they may be even more under-funded than the ones in Australia (in Australia they are called Women’s Refuges, which I think is also the UK term). In at least in some parts of the USA, shelters are using volunteers to keep the show going, with paid professionals to oversee the volunteers. If the volunteers aren’t well trained (and how much training can you afford to give to volunteers?) they can easily say things insensitively to victims. That’s been the experience of one of our readers, as related to me by email.

It was also my experience the first time I went to a shelter. I had been living in the shelter for several days. Each woman had a little bedroom and kitchenette, with shared bathroom and laundry facilities. Each little bedroom unit had an intercom with the office. The office staff, who were sometimes volunteers, would buzz you on the intercom to tell you stuff they wanted to tell you. I found that really impersonal, officious, and off-putting . . .  as if we victims had leprosy so they wouldn’t come and talk to us face to face. Sometimes they talked face to face, but for small things they just buzzed you.

One day I got a buzz from the office and the woman at the other end said, “Your husband is here and would like to talk to you.” I was shocked. How had he found out I was staying there? Looking back, I assume he had rung round town till he found out the phone number of the place I was likely to be staying at. It was not a high-security refuge, the address and phone number were in the phone book as “Salvation Army Family Center”.  It took lower-risk victims of DV and a few other homeless women and children from non-DV backgrounds, but the vast majority of residents were from DV situations. Someone in the office must have confirmed to him that  I was there when he rang or knocked at the door and asked them! But I didn’t have time to cogitate on all that at the time; I was just dumbfounded and scared.

The refuge rule was that men were not allowed on the premises. He had knocked at the door and asked to see me, so this person ( I assume she was a volunteer) buzzed me and said “Your husband’s here, do you want to talk to him?” Being a newbie and very naive, and thinking ‘the staff know what’s best’ I thought she was saying “You SHOULD talk to him.” So I went out and met him on the pavement! He wasn’t allowed on the premises because it was deemed unsafe to have men in the refuge, but they were happy to send me out on the sidewalk to be subjected to his charming lies and guilt-tripping confusing words. I’m still really angry about it to this day!

Some years later, after I’d been writing and advocating for survivors of domestic abuse for some time, I screwed up my courage and spoke to one of the long-term staff from that refuge. I told her (meekly, not showing my anger) what had happened that day. She responded without much empathy and certainly very little apology. She just said rather dismissively, “It wouldn’t happen nowadays; we had volunteers on staff then, but these days we don’t use volunteers much.”

I felt deflated and hurt all over again by her lame, un-empathic response.

Each time I went to the shelter (three times) I had insensitive comments or actions from some of the staff there, including some of the paid professionals. They just lacked empathy and had little insight into how much the victim takes EVERYTHING personally because she’s a walking guilt-bag. They didn’t give nearly enough reassurance to dispel all that guilt. One of them lent me that book Women who love too much. What a guilt-tripping title!

But the refuge did some good things. They sent one of their workers out in a car to pick my baby and me up from the public phone box where I’d rung a personal emergency hotline after having fled my husband’s violence. It’s something of a blur, but I know they came and picked me up from the street when I was terrified to go home, and for that I am immensely grateful; and they gave me accommodation and food and even some child care at certain hours during the week while I was at the refuge. And one thing they did at the refuge did help me eventually get out of the abuse. Even though I had informed them I was going to go back to my husband (after he’d conned me on the sidewalk) they recommended I attend a ten week DV support group, and I did so, even although I was reconciled with my husband and living with him again!  (How? — you ask.  I told him I was going to a women’s self esteem group, and he looked after our toddler while I was at the group. 🙂 ) One of the sessions in that ten weeks was about Court Protection Orders, and a little part of my mind took in that info and filed it in some bottom drawer until a couple of years later when I left my husband and (much to the astonishment of my fore-brain) applied to the court for a Protection Order. So the refuge staff did help me; I don’t want to paint my refuge experience as all bad.

So that’s my little story. I would love to hear if any of our readers have stories, good or bad, about being in shelters/refuges. I trust that these days the domestic violence sector is run much more professionally and the staff are doing a much better job than when I went through the system in the early 1990s. From my current interactions with them as a writer and victim advocate, the professionals I know who work in this area seem to be much better than the ones I encountered when I went through the system as a victim-in-crisis. So this post is not meant as a gripe. Let’s just share our stories — and hopefully encourage other victim-survivors and help them navigate through the system in whatever way suits them best.

30 Comments

  1. fiftyandfree

    The women’s shelter in my town is called “safe shelter.” Everyone knows where it is, so how safe it truly is I can only imagine. I went a number of times to speak to the counselor, but I never stayed overnight. She was a DV survivor, very empathetic, and very wise to the wiles of emotionally abusive men. She validated my fears and seemed to understand like no other person I had ever spoken to (including pastors, Christian friends, etc.) that although he never laid a hand on me, he was terrorizing me on a daily basis. The biggest problem with the shelter for me was that it was tied to the mental health services in our small town and my ex is a licensed psychologist, so there was always that fear that he’d find out I had gone there. I trusted this counselor, but if you called after hours you got the generic mental health services line and were referred to safe shelter. That was the scary part… who were these people answering the phone? Did they know my ex? Would he have access to these records? Would someone tell him, ‘Oh, your wife called last night?’ This counselor (at Safe Shelter) had also been married to a licensed psychologist, so she understood my plight like no one else ever could. The one possibly damaging thing that occurred for me at this shelter is that she told me that if I divorced my ex he’d have a good 30 – 40% chance of getting custody if he fought for it. She told me that professional men in this jurisdiction often win in child custody cases. My ex had told me from the time I was pregnant with our first child that if I ever left him he’d sue for custody and that he’d win because of his profession and because he knew the judges in town. So this counselor’s words only added to my terror and I ended up staying in the abusive marriage for another 7 – 8 years. I can’t say I blame this counselor, or that she was wrong in saying what she said, because if it’s the truth I certainly needed to know that, but I do know that her words haunted me almost as much as the anti-husband’s threats did, and they (her words) definitely contributed to me staying as long as I did.

    • Oh FiftyandFree, what a story! ((((((hugs))))) to you.

  2. Anne

    All I’ve done is call. The lady who answered seemed impatient when I froze up at a question she asked. She said, “Are you going to say anything?” I hung up.
    My lawyer has encouraged me to call back and has told me specific things to ask. I haven’t so far.

    • Oh Anne, how I know that freezing up! Been there, many times. More than I could count. Not only with talking to a shelter worker, but talking to anyone on the phone about whatever crisis I was in at the time.

      I understand. Please don’t blame yourself. Your response was natural. We victim-survivors are hyper-alert to being judged or treated dismissively, especially when we are at our wits end on how to deal with the crisis we are facing, and running on empty already.

      I want to sit with you and hold your hand.

      And I believe in you — and your ability to try again, when you feel ready to.
      lots of hugs
      Barb

      • fiftyandfree

        Oh, Anne… I know that freezing up feeling too. I called the Sheriff’s office once to ask an anonymous question and the Sheriff asked, “Is this an abuse situation?” (This was a female Sheriff and evidently she was very perceptive). I literally froze. I wanted to say, “Yes, please come help me.” But I was terrified of what would happen if I did, so I said nothing, and the Sheriff kept saying, “Hello, hello, hello?” I finally blurted out something like, “Well, not really…” I bet this lady would have been very helpful had I told her the truth.

        Anyway, I hope you’ll call again. It’s a shame she was impatient with you. She probably has no idea how discouraging that was for you.

    • Oh, here’s a tip I finally worked out for myself: when I feel like I’m freezing up and becoming unable to talk, tell the person on the other end of the phone “I’m finding it hard to talk right now, but please just wait, as I’ll be able to tell you more in a few moments.” That way I am telling her (or him) that I am still there, I am struggling emotionally right now, but I still want to continue the conversation as I believe they may be able to help me.

  3. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    Right now, having read the post and all the comments, I just want to hug all of you! So much heartache, so much pain, hurt and injury to heal from. Praying for all of you right now. We’re making it, slowly, one step at a time.

  4. Ellie

    I’ve used the counseling services at a couple of shelters. The first one was helpful, but I didn’t like it when the counselor acted like being a stay-at-home-mom was out of the question for me now. I understand that she wanted to empower me. She wanted me to not need anyone or feel trapped. I understand that. I don’t feel trapped where I am. I am so grateful to get to be a SAHM with the help and support of loved ones.

    The second shelter has been fantastic! I am seeing a wonderful counselor who helps me sort things out and make plans. She’s been a great blessing to me.

    • anonymous

      I would love to hear more from other women who have managed to some how continue to be a SAHM after escaping, if anyone feels like sharing. I was told by a lawyer at a free legal consult that is wasn’t possible. 😦

      • fiftyandfree

        Every situation is unique. It’s always a good idea to talk to more than one lawyer though. I got lousy advice from my first lawyer and it cost me a lot.

      • Anonymous, I agree with Fiftyandfree. I think that lawyer who told you it wasn’t possible to be a stay at home mom after separation was wrong to state that with certainty.
        It would depend on where you live and to what extent the welfare system might assist you and your kids, the amount of assets you manage to retain in the divorce (and that can vary greatly depending on a lot of factors such as how dirty the abuser plays the divorce game, how good or bad his and your lawyers are, how good or bad the family court judge may be….) and how much support you may have from others like family and friends.
        I know of one mother who continues to homeschool her several kids while earning enough money to just get by from house-cleaning jobs. She has arrangements with other moms whereby they swap childcare favours. She does not live flash, but she chooses to do that low paying work because it can be fitted around home schooling. That’s just one example. And as far as I know she gets little or no child support from her ex. You could look up her blog : A New Free Life. It’s in our sidebar under ‘blogroll’.

      • Ellie

        I want to write a post addressing this more. But I’ll tell you a bit now.

        I know at least 4 other moms who have left abusers and have been able to be at home with their kids most of the time. They have prayed about this a great deal. None of us live in luxury. Only one of us lives without any other non-nuclear family members. One of us has a part time job, one has a very part time job as an overnight childcare provider for a single mom who is a nurse, one has work as God provides it, one teaches music lessons, and I have no income apart from the divorce settlement at this time. If Jane Austen were writing our stories, I think rich long lost uncles would leave us large inheritances and we’d live on a Disney Cruise, but that hasn’t happened to any of us.

        Several of us live with family members or have family staying in our homes in order to help out. There are databases to connect single moms with compatible roommates, but I can’t remember the names right now. I’ll include them in the longer post. OneMom’sBattle might be a good resource for you also.

        My escape was carefully prayed over. It didn’t go as I expected AT ALL, but I (eventually) submitted it to God throughout the process. Before I fled, I might’ve been voted “Least Likely to Ever be Presbyterian” by my friends and family. Now the kids and I are thriving in a PCA church. This couldn’t have happened if I had dug my heels in and insisted that I know best. I stay home with my kids not because I think it’s the only way to ensure their Salvation, but because it’s what they need at this time. I have made giant humbling sacrifices to accomplish this (by God’s grace). I live with family. I rely on many family members’ generosity and compassion. My kids and I share a room and that room holds everything I own. That is a big change from my old life (see my Thinking of Abigail post). But I wake up each day with a sense of peace and well-being that I’ve never had in my life.

        As you prepare to escape, pray and ask for God’s perspective. He might have different ideas than you. He might change your heart and your thinking in ways that shock you. But if you trust Him and obey Him, it’ll be worth it. You can trust Him with your kids. He loves them even more than you do.

      • Thanks Ellie. I’m glad you are going to write a post about this. When you do so, please copy and paste into your post the original question from Anon about being a SAHM after divorce, with a link back to where it was first published on this thread. Thanks 🙂

      • anonymous

        Thank you. so much. I know in my heart I’m not called to stay here forever-this in between limbo is so hard. Thankfully I have family I can lean on. Have had one appointment with DV counselor, and will be going back, and looking more into what they can help me with regarding legal counsel. (SO refreshing to talk to someone face to face who “gets it” !)

      • fiftyandfree

        Anonymous, Hang in there and pray for the Lord’s guidance and protection. I remember the terrible feelings of being in limbo. I think part of the reason I stayed as long as I did (12 years) is that the fear of the unknown (what would happen with the divorce) was so terrifying. The abuse was almost more tolerable than the terror of what might happen if I left. It was really prayer and biblical truth that freed me and gave me the courage to get free. The truth I needed was so lovingly provided by God through Barbara’s book, and David Instone-Brewer’s book, and the Holy Spirit bearing witness with my soul that what they wrote was biblically sound. Once I knew it was not sin to leave the abuser I started praying for support to help me get through the nightmare of divorce and the Lord delivered everything I needed; new friends who supported me and loved me and my children and who were there for me when I needed money, babysitting, house repairs, you name it. Pray and ask the Lord to provide for you. He will, and one day you will look back and you will be amazed by the hand of God in your life!

      • anonymous

        FiftyandFree-thank you (( )) so much. I’ve been able to see God’s hand in our journey so far..each time I felt like I had truly reached the end of my rope, someone else would unexpectedly come forward, or I would stumble on something (like this web site!) that has further helped me escape the awful fog. Will be so thankful when I am finally looking at this from the OTHER side.

      • fiftyandfree

        Anonymous, the “other side” is bliss. Of course, life will always present challenges, but freedom is precious. I pray you get there soon. Oh, and I am one of those women who manages to stay home with my children. It’s not been easy, but God has provided what I need so I can stay home with them. I hope you can too.

  5. Kathy seldon

    I visited the one in my parent’s town where I’m staying. It took a while to get an appointment, probably because I was living with my parents half a country away from my abuser so I wasn’t in immediate danger. I remeber thinking that i couldnt win, if i was too cool and calm no one took me seruoisly because I didn’t seem to be in that much pain, but if I was the emotional basket case they wrote me off as emotional and crazy.
    It was right around the time that he had filed for custody and I was frantically wanting advice from someone. When I finally got an appointment it was with a student from the local university, an absolute child with no experience. She just kept repeating practiced lines like “how did you feel about that” and “I can’t give legal advice but we can refer you to a lawyer”. I had read two books on DV and had been a part of this blog for a few months, combine that with being able to email the wonderful people running this blog and I decided I was better off with my Internet support group. I never went back. The experience wasn’t hurtful, but it was disappointing. Even though I had support from ACFJ and from my family, I was so thirsty for support and help that having to educate a psychology student on abuserese was a pretty big let down. But God has provided, this past week I completed a Mending The Soul class and it was amazing. Now my victim advocate back at the military base where my husband is stationed is ordering the books so she can consider implementing it there. Obviously the success of this course depends on the facilitator, but it is a great resource.

  6. King'sDaughter

    We have a group that works with DV through the Sherriffs office. They were very helpful in getting a protection order but they seemed so angry and convinced that “abusers NEVER change” that it was hard for me to hear them… I wanted to believe that MY situation was different, afterall we were Christians and God could do ANYTHING, right? I was SO blind and naive… God CAN do anything with anyone who WANTS to change- I know that now. I had NO idea that my MIW was choosing to abuse me, eventhough he kept telling me he hadn’t “lost control” I dismissed his honesty and believed he was a good man with “issues” I missed the fact that he never really repented. I’m SO thankful for God’s faithfulness to finally bring me out of the fog! I wish I knew how to go back and talk to “me” years ago! I thought the same way the folks I’m wrestling with now in the “c”hurch think.

    • . . . they seemed so angry and convinced that “abusers NEVER change” that it was hard for me to hear them… I wanted to believe that MY situation was different, after all we were Christians and God could do ANYTHING, right?

      KD, that vignette is a very good illustration of how people can make mistakes when talking to victims of abuse who are still to some degree in the fog. I imagine that if those people had seemed less angry to you, and less dogmatic, you might have been able to hear them better.
      It shows how supporters and bystanders need to tailor their approach very much to each victim, not by telling the victim untruths or whitewashing the unpleasant realities, but conveying the truth with empathy for where the victim is at:- her degree of naivety or knowledge; hesitancy or determination; ambivalence or certainty; timidity or determination; and her emotional mix of fear, shame and anger.
      If support people tune in to where the victim is at and the cues she is giving, if they actually repeat back to her some of her own words (showing they have listened well to her), and if they show they feel for her and care for her, she is much more likely to be able to listen to the information and advice they want to impart to her.

      • King'sDaughter

        Barbara,
        I recently (finally) googled “Stockholm Syndrome” THAT was very helpful! Even now coming out of the fog, it is helping me… One way is seeing that I DO still make decisions in his best interests. Just being aware of the tendency in abuse victims to do this, helps me reframe my thoughts and reconsider decisions, basing then now on the best interests of me & my children, NOT my abuser.
        I think many of the symptoms of SS apply that made it hard for people (who were ignorant of abuse) to hear me and for me to hear others (who were more knowledgeable about abuse but aggressive in their approach).
        I agree that a great deal of empathy and attention to the victim’s cues would go a LONG way in helping a victim ‘see’ what’s going on.
        Thank You, for being that one who was sensitive enough to really hear and understand, for me! You, My Friend, RESCUED me and my family! I am forever grateful! ❤ ❤ ❤

  7. Not to hijack this post but these comments bring up a topic I would love to see in a future post: what IS a more helpful way to respond to a woman you suspect is in an abusive situation? There is a young woman I love and I worry for her. Her husband seems like a jerk. She is very loyal to him and I don’t know how to reach out to her or what would even be appropriate to say.

    • Becky, good suggestion. We may get round to doing a post like that, but in the meantime here are three items we have on our Resources page which are useful when trying to talk to a victim of abuse who you suspect is in an abusive relationship.

      Is Someone You Know Being Abused in a Relationship?

      Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence by Elaine Weiss

      Family Violence Hurts Kid Too has information for parents who are in abusive relationships but think I can put up with it; it’s not hurting the kids, it’s only hurting me.

    • King'sDaughter

      I mentioned it above, but google “Stockholm Syndrome” you will find good information on where your friend might be emotionally as well as advice on how to help.

  8. KayE

    It was extremely hard for me to bring myself to contact a refuge for advice.However they were wonderful.They really helped me through a very scary situation. They were empathic and knowledgable and I felt safe with them.They didn’t judge me and they didn’t tell me what to do. For victims of abuse in the town that I live, the refuge is definitely the most professional and trustworthy place to go.

  9. ranthegauntlet

    I contacted a secular counselor in my small town when I felt I was beyond my ability to cope with my husbands psychological abuse. But I thought shelters were only for those fleeing for their lives. She clarified for me that psychological abuse is also abuse, and the shelter was for me, too. I stayed a week and a half – there was no one else there. It was a space I needed – peaceful, healing, strengthening. Like LauraGrace I was afraid of losing custody of my children and did go back. However, I had learned to detach better, had more information and knew the support was there. The counseling was not very helpful – rather general – but just hearing someone knowledgeable ID the abuse for what it was, was freeing.

    I’m currently in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and am still coping with unprocessed abuse issues 12 years after leaving. I hear varying stories about shelters, some very glowing, a few rather horrifying. All relate to the training and wisdom of shelter advocates and staff. Here, also, there is low funding for the extent of the need. One option here is “Shelter Without Walls” an offshoot of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (serves everyone). It is funded fairly well by the Buffett family and I have attended support groups, received counseling and therapy. There are classes in legal matters, paperwork, job searching, how to dress and interview, restarting after 50, assertiveness and communication skills, stress management, exercise. Services also include assistance with finding transitional housing and becoming independent again. And victim advocacy in court – which is where the system most breaks down here; laws are seriously skewed against victims, even with savvy advocates and attorneys present. I am amazed by the resources, the number of women receiving services, and the organizational efficacy of the program, from where I see it.

    Thank you for your work on this blog. It is very informative and helpful!

    Diane

  10. xerarose

    I am in the process of divorcing my abusive husband, and I had contacted the local shelter system. I am in Canada. The address is unlisted (they gave it to me over the phone), the building unmarked, and has a manned, double-locked door system, that requires id and signed confidentiality agreements to pass through. I have to say I was impressed on the security. The staff- I met with two, a legal system advocate and a counsellor- has been patient, non-condescending, and supportive. Seeing as this is the 2nd separation, no one has faulted me for going back, and no one tries to say “you should…” to me either. It has been a very helpful experience for me.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      so good to know! Stay safe!

  11. Charis

    My experience with the local, county-run DV shelter is recent. I contacted them via hotline at the beginning of April – fully expecting them to tell me to grow up, dismissing my story, get marriage counseling and quit wasting their time. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I told a fraction of what my h had been and was doing and the administrator validated every type of abuse I had been trying to educate myself about in Bancroft & Simon’s books – as well as this website. She went on to express concern about my situation, the risk of escalation – especially at the point of separation, and my own fears about stopping the trend of abuse from continuing on in raising my son (the 4th generation of abusive men).

    With all this, she offered me options – something I didn’t know existed. I have been a SAHM, separation by my choice was limited. I have no income and no place to go. The shelter offers many resources and I would qualify for all of them, including the safe house. I could also apply for food stamps & metro housing waiver. They offer free counseling for me & my 5yr old son. Group therapy, too. Classes in finance, parenting, life skills, and domestic violence. They would also help me with job placement. I was shaking on the phone w/ her: praising Jesus for confirmation, validation & resources I didn’t know were available while fighting back tears of acknowledgement that my situation really was as bad as I feared.

    She went to confirm what I had begun to suspect: years of physical maladies were most likely caused by abuse; my body knew long ago what my mind was only now processing and it could only take so much. Adrenal fatigue, Irritable bowel, Migraines, Insomnia, Chronic pain; I was maxed out on meds & hormones. The only way to truly come ahead in these stressed-induced disorders was to remove the stress: my husband. She put me on the waiting list for the shelter as a last-ditch effort while I worked my Plan A exit strategy: get a job, find an apartment, move out. Meanwhile, say nothing to my husband to avoid possible escalation.

    Meanwhile, the class instructor for Healthy Homes wanted to meet with me so I could register for the class…in person. Odd, but okay. I’m guessing it is a strategy to lay eyes on victims, get them in the door and continue the discussion. I was nervous. I figured I would have to tell my story AGAIN. So this time, I took my “abuse log.” I should have left it at home. Like before, I barely got started when the instructor simply quit writing and put down her pen. She empathized with me and validated several types of on-going abuse.

    I kept breathing small whispers of prayers – as I had all morning: “Jesus, please be in the room. Jesus, please speak to me in this place.” I had to check Him when I heard her next words: “I cannot tell you what to do but I can affirm that your plan to leave is a good decision.” I remember asking Jesus: “Hey…is that You talking to me? Are you telling me it’s time to go?” Then I decided to press her, what about my husband’s ability to change? “Nope. I haven’t seen that happen once in the 18yrs I’ve worked here. Every class someone asks that…the answer is always the same: in small ways – yes; deep, lasting change – no.” Again, I sought God: “Really?! Is this YOU speaking to me here?! Jesus, are you hearing her words to me!” Next, she advised me to “lawyer-up”, something I cannot do because I have no income and they do not offer legal aide. I told her I wished for a peaceful exit – mediation. “It always gets nasty. Always.” I pressed her. Always? She gave considerable thought and answered in the affirmative.

    Together, we agreed that the shelter was a good “last resort” strategy. Life at the shelter was hard. It is communal living. There are chores, classes, kids are with you at all times. It is a fully locked-down, gated facility. Zero-contact w/ my husband and visitation between my husband and child would be handled through the courts with a mediator. I would be better off if I could get out on my own. I would keep trying.

    That afternoon my personal therapist, Barbara Steffens, confirmed everything from the conversation at the DV shelter. Everything.

    Fast forward 6wks to the beginning of May. I am an RN by trade, so it was fairly demoralizing that after sending out 20+ resumes, I heard nothing. Then, I get a call from the DV Shelter: a room has come available, do I want it? I was stunned. What to say? This was not my Plan A. This was not how I envisioned leaving. This was…drastic…and sudden…and SO not what I had in mind.

    I told the administrator that I was not in immediate danger. Although my husband abuses me in several different covert/manipulative ways – I am in no physical jeopardy; I would hate to take a room away from someone who truly needed it. She thanked me for my honesty and reminded me that I deserved that room just as much as the next person; I shouldn’t minimize my situation. Fine, but I would need some time to think about it. She said I could have a week – after that I would lose the room and it might take another 6wks to get put back on the list for a new opening.

    O, how I wrestled with this decision! I emailed & called every one of my therapists, Safe Friends – anyone I trusted who might weigh in with a word of wisdom. The next morning, God led me to these 2 sets of verses:

    “And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
    The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.” Isaiah 35:8
    “Then you will go on your way in safety,
    and your foot will not stumble.
    When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
    Have no fear of sudden disaster
    or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
    for the Lord will be at your side
    and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3:23-26

    I clung to those verses over the next week as I prayed and listened. I turned over every rock. I looked down every road. Nothing. I called the shelter & told them my son and I would take their offer. We were given a date & time to come in.

    The days leading up to packing were tense; at one moment peaceful and the next filled with fear or self-doubt.

    Next, God took me to Acts 5 where Peter is preaching in the Sanhedrin and the bloodthirsty crowd wishes to lynch him. Gamaliel stops them in and in verses 38-39 says that “if this is of men, it will fail but if this is of God – it cannot be stopped!” I made that my mantra. “Stop me, God if this is not of You.”

    The next day, God led me to 2 Samuel 24 where David buys the threshing floor. It is offered to him for free but he refuses and pays full price, saying, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” And after the sacrifice, the Lord was pleased to stop the plague on Israel. It hit me that this move to shelter was costing me greatly. This was my altar, my threshing floor, my sacrifice – may God be so pleased by my sacrifice and obedience that He would then remove the plague of abuse and suffering from my life and that of my son.

    The final confirmation was God’s testimony of Truth spoken directly to my spirit. He brought to mind the timeline I had dreamt of. Not voiced. Not prayed. Not even spoken – a “desire of the heart.” Yet it was this timeline I was struggling with in going to the shelter. It was “all wrong.” He reminded me that it was this very timeline I had projected as being “ideal” and He was granting me the “desire of my heart.” This…was all part of His plan. I actually smirked at that. Okay, God, I trust You…and I believe that in going I will begin to see You move in a mighty way – a way You haven’t up to this point; speedily, undeniably You. Doors will open: left & right. And yet, as the 3 lads in Daniel said, “Even if not…yet will I serve You.”

    That sealed it for me. The morning of the move, I had a Safe Friend with me…so I wouldn’t chicken out. I almost did. I cried. I panicked. I wrote my husband a vague notification email and hit send as I walked out the door with my son and a week’s worth of clothes.

    The “check-in” process at the shelter took several hours. One of my fears was that this 3rd staff person would hear my story and disagree with the other 2: “no, you don’t belong here” and send me back home. Of course, that didn’t happen.

    I declared “homelessness.” That was uncomfortable. I signed pages of paperwork. My son played on the floor while we went through everything. I had to disinfect every single item we brought with us, including clothes.

    And then, I had to say goodbye to my friend and we walked through the door. My heart was pounding. This…was for real. There were half a dozen mothers and twice as many screaming kids. One mom was grabbing her son by the elbow, dragging him through the Common Room and yelling at him. Another lady was “tattling” on another woman for making disparaging remarks about her earlier in the day. I was horrified…my son was loving it. He made a bee-line toward a small child to play – plus, the TV was blaring SpongeBob. What’s not to like?

    We shared a room w/ another mother & her daughter. Shared a bathroom, too. Meals were prepared; no choices – cafeteria style. I cried every 5min wondering how I was going to survive here the next 6mos. I prayed. Hard.

    I texted my husband to give him the general location of where we were & let him know he could talk to our son before bed. I texted my parents to let them know…they had no idea the back story; they were confused. I cried myself to sleep while texts rang in on my phone. I was too depressed to care. My son slept like a champ…until he rolled out of bed and hit the floor in the middle of the night.

    The next morning I had to drive my son to preschool. While there, I was supposed to change all the paperwork so that my husband’s family no longer had rights to pick my son up. I thought this would be simple, emotionally. It was not. I had difficulty keeping it together. I also asked them to please let me know if my husband arrived on the premises. I also had to inform them that if his family threatened me on the premises, I would need to call the police. I was very apologetic – since I felt like I was creating drama and had no idea what kind of escalation would occur, if it would at all. Still, it was my job to inform them, keep myself and my son safe. They handled everything beautifully. I went back out to the car and wept.

    We stayed at the shelter exactly 24hrs. God had been very kind; peace about staying was slowly filling my soul. Not for 6mos…maybe for a week.I had asked Jesus to get us out by the weekend. By that afternoon, my husband found someplace to stay and got out of the house. My son and I were home after supper that night. The exit interview from the shelter went much smoother. They were concerned; rightfully so. I am sure this is nothing new for them – women leave thinking they are safe and go home to be misled and beaten within an inch of their life. We made several safety plans: one of which was to come right back. Everyone agreed, the shelter was no place to find healing or peace…safety, yes. Home was where peace & healing would be found. They wished me luck.

    I cannot describe the peace upon arriving home. It was tactile. It was everything I had been seeking in separation. It was…God, Himself.

    And since then, God has been on the move! I landed my first interview less than a week after leaving the shelter…and I am expecting a job offer tomorrow. “He is mighty to save!” Zeph 3:17

    The verses He gave me in Proverbs 3…have come true. For someone who has had insomnia for 15yrs, I have had some of the best sleep of my life these past 2 weeks. Even my son – who nearly always is up with the birds has slept in almost every morning he is here with me. Peace and healing have begun their good work.

    The shelter was the first step. A very scary step. I completely underestimated the courage and bravery of the women who choose to go there. I get it now.

    I would have never predicted this as the first of God’s stepping stones for my freedom, for my new life. As one of my friends said, “It took you putting your foot in the water for God to part the sea…and He did!” Oh yes, He did…and so much more!

    • Isaiah40:31

      Charis, I cried as I read your story. The tears came because through your story of deliverance, I was reminded of mine. Our circumstances are different, but God obviously removed both of us very clearly from our abusive situations. I am so thankful for that! Cling to Him; and as you do, create a ‘new normal’ for yourself and your son. Surround yourself with supportive people, and distance yourself from those who are not. I wish you all the best!

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