On November 6th and 7th of this year, the Shining the Light Conference 2015 was held in Greenville, South Carolina. Though the conference was specific to sexual abuse survivors and those who care about them, because Jeff Crippen attended, several domestic abuse survivors attended too. (And as we know, there is very often overlap between the two kinds of abuse.)
Back in August, I had received an email from someone who wanted to attend, a single mother of lots of children ages 14 and under. She would be coming from a few hours away and would be unable to afford lodging. Could I find someone for her to stay with? My friend Sally Calder agreed to host a person she had never met.
Sally and the abuse victim/survivor, whom I’ll call Amanda, connected immediately, as well as my BJUGrace partner Kristi Wetzel and so did a couple of other friends. All of us were reeling at the story of this gentle soul, of how not only her husband had abused her, but also her church leaders and the entire denomination. Sally’s description could fit many who read at ACFJ:
She’s a survivor of multiple types of domestic abuse. She and her children work every day to overcome years of terror and control. . . When Amanda first summoned the courage to seek help, she went where she expected help to come — her church leaders. Help didn’t come from these church leaders. Amanda learned the very painful lesson that God is not always at church.
While I listened to a story that included the horrors of domestic violence, spiritual abuse, emotional coercion, and childhood sexual abuse, I sensed a valiant spirit in this young mother. What I saw in front of me was a woman who was doing all she could to learn how to use her voice to advocate for herself and for her precious children, and I was deeply moved. I found myself silently praying for God to protect her and give her an abundance of wisdom.
Amanda’s circumstances were very dark indeed. She had actually met Jeff before, and he had given her the courage to get away. But the situation was still precarious.
Sally and Kristi continued to keep in touch with Amanda. Early in December Kristi let me know that the two of them would be traveling a few hours away to visit Amanda and her children. After enjoying a Christmas festival together, the children ate pizzas Sally had brought, while the adults spent some time getting caught up on Amanda’s difficult state of affairs.
After supper, the children unloaded the car, where they found all the goodies Sally and Kristi had brought, early Christmas gifts. They and their friends had bought items to stock Amanda’s kitchen. Friends had also donated quilts, towels, and gently used clothing. Some had contributed cash. Then, since Amanda and the children wanted to make gingerbread houses for the local people who were helping them, my friends were excited about going shopping for the ingredients for those gingerbread houses, in addition to other groceries.
Though my friends visited for just a weekend, it was a life-changing experience for them, as they heard about not only the hardships, but the provisions. Sally said,
God has raised an army of supporters for this girl, and they are the most unlikely cast of characters. . . . The hands and feet of Jesus were in this unlikely cast of characters who have fed and clothed her children and carried her when she could no longer carry herself.
After they returned home, there was another surprise, which Kristi wrote about at BJUGrace. Sally added,
This Christmas season Amanda and her children are still in limbo with their lives. But God has shown up in remarkable ways. He has shown her that not only will He meet her day-to-day needs, but that sometimes He will delight her with unnecessary but precious gifts that remind her that she is precious to Him.
These two women, my friends, helped to make Christmas a bit brighter for Amanda and her children, along with other people I’ll probably never meet.
Amanda’s dark and difficult situation isn’t over. Sally said,
In my conversations with Amanda, I have been continually amazed that the solid foundation of her faith has not been shaken by her abuse or the very ungodly behavior of these well-respected church leaders. She has told me of the sweet whispers of the Holy Spirit as He contradicted the words of these elders, of how He held her hand in abusive counseling sessions to help her hang on until she could walk out the door. An abusive, controlling religious sect taught her that God (and her life) fit in the small box they built for Him, but God has taught her that He doesn’t fit in any of the constructs of our minds.
Our God is helping her to stand! Daily she bears up under the weight of heavy responsibilities that could be crushing. There are so many issues she has to face; what a complicated labyrinth she is in! But our God is much bigger than all her problems, and He is guiding her in such gentle, tender ways.
We know that the circumstances are bleak, but God is strong. Sally said,
I think Amanda sees glimmers of a future where this pain is redeemed. I believe one day Amanda will be among the unlikely cast of characters that God uses to rescue other women. I hope her soft voice becomes loud and strong.
For those of us who haven’t come out of an abusive situation, circumstances like Amanda’s may seem absolutely overwhelming. Since we can’t fix the problem, we may feel like we want to look the other way. But we can say instead, “Even though I can’t fix this problem, because it’s way, way beyond me, I can shine a ray of light. I can show the love of God.”
If all of us were willing to do that — those of us who say that we follow the Light of the World, who ourselves are told that we are lights in the world — if all of us were willing to do that, then the whole world would be a whole lot brighter.
Some details in this post have been changed to protect the identity of the abuse victim / survivor.
Rebecca Davis and Jeff Crippen co-authored the book Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church [Affiliate link] which was published this year.
6 thoughts on “Rays of Light at Christmas Time, by Rebecca Davis”
Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog [Internet Archive link].
Touching one life from the perils of abuse has eternal rewards.
The kingdom of God is living in every true believer!
It’s hard work to be a supporter to an abused child or woman.
Jesus conquered death! Healed the sick. Loved the unlovable. Stood His ground against the religious hypocrites.
What’s your excuse?
Right on! What a beautiful testimony of God’s real church in action!
Few people will know the depths of courage it takes to step out of a situation with a number of children into an unknown and unsure future. To run the gauntlet of condemners and stand in the face of a corrupt church culture that would rather see a woman die in abuse than support her is no small thing. The voices within and without saying “you can’t do this” are put aside to push forward.
I liken it to standing in front of the Red Sea with an enemy closing in from behind. Until that day no one had ever seen God part the waters. It wasn’t a known or shared experience, no one could say “we’ve been here before God is going to part the waters for us.” Hebrews 11 speaks of those valiant in faith that clung to the promises whether they saw them fulfilled in their lifetime or not. We hear of an invisible cloud of witnesses watching and bearing witness of this type of faith, that steps out in front of a sea of obstacles and puts their foot in that water.
God still parts the sea! In my own case as a beloved one (my new name for survivors) I can look back and observe that every time I choose life, though fearful and trembling, he provided the bread on my journey. Both those that God uses to share bread, the recipients and the witnesses see God at work making a way where there isn’t one.
This is the faith that pleases God. This is the faith that few will exalt, or praise or give honor to, the faith to leave a situation that disgraces the message of God’s love that marriage was supposed to represent. There will be a day when all of us stand before the throne of God and some will hear “that single mother you gave food to, you supported, you helped, you did it to me, well done faithful servant” And the mother “that day you trusted me as your provider, well done, your faith pleased me”
And those others? That woman you turned away at the door–you turned Me away, unfaithful wicked servant.
I just read this wonderful account of God’s provision and protection for this woman and her children, and it made me weep. Not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow and grief for another young woman whose own husband, family, and religion have betrayed her and used her. (I am referring to Anna Duggar.) Would God that this could be her story, too!!
A Prodigal Daughter Returns commented: