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BIBLE SEARCH
One Woman's Hell … and Salvation
She wanted to be a peacemaker and to follow in Jesus' steps, but life with the man who had promised to love her became a nightmare of escalating abuse.

Growing up Mennonite, I was taught early in life that we were called to be peacemakers in the world. I came to believe that in following Jesus' steps, with God's love flowing through me, I could be a peacemaker and be instrumental in calming strife and conflict. As a woman-child, I learned to be nurturing, to help the unfortunate, to always think of my husband as the head of the house and the ultimate authority in our home.

Physical and verbal abuse became a regular pattern. … And I kept trying to do everything right …

I will not tell you that cruel reality has changed all my beliefs. However, they have been tested and I have learned more about violence than I ever wanted to know.

Whenever people share a living space they run into little problems—things you can talk about, problems you can solve together. But in our house the problems would not be solved.

Subconsciously I believed that, as wife, it was my job to smooth out the wrinkles in life. So I would give in, but he would not be satisfied. His anger and his criticism of me would grow. I would try harder to please him, but he would not be soothed. I was blamed for just about everything and I got so that I accepted that blame. Once he threw his brush at me in anger and accused me of breaking it. He threw his plate when he didn't like what I had fixed for dinner. I started to feel, through the physical and verbal bombardment, that maybe he was right and that his anger was justified.

Physical and verbal abuse became a regular pattern. He would grab me or push me if he thought I wasn't listening to him. He would throw things and tell me that I was a lousy wife or mother or housekeeper. And I kept trying to do everything right, willing to do anything for peace in my home, still believing that I could make it all come out all right. But the tension would continue to build and I'd be walking on eggshells. Suddenly, the violence would explode.

A beating is a hard thing to describe. It's a hard thing to remember, not because the memories have faded, but because they are so clear and painful. I felt an inexpressible fear, my arms pinned immobile to a bed by the knees of the man I loved, his fist coming toward my face. I have looked in the mirror and not recognized myself.

It is like an unbelievable nightmare. It is unbelievable to think that the man who professes to love you—and with whom you vowed to share your life—would actually do this to you. This nightmare quality of the experience is what made it so easy to believe that it would never happen again. He promised me that every time, crying and begging for forgiveness.

And me? Well, I was raised on forgiveness. How many times did Jesus tell us to forgive? Did he say to forgive only if it was a minor offence? Of course not! So I would forgive, wanting desperately to believe that he wouldn't strike me again. I would try again to be a better Christian, to be a better wife.

And so, after the tears and the pleading and the forgiving, long before the black eyes and bruises were healed, we would be trapped again in the days of wine and roses. He would be kind and loving. I would be forgiving. He would nurse my wounds. He would be considerate and helpful and gentle. He'd do the dishes! He would take me out to dinner, he'd buy me flowers and gifts. He tried to make me feel safe in my own home. Although I wanted out the first time there was violence, I was hooked on the promises and my own hopes for the future.

He needed to feel that he was taking steps in the right direction. He sought counselling but wanted me to go with him. Once he told me that he thought I must be an angel sent from God to teach him about peace. This is powerful stuff!

Next he would suggest marital counselling since the problem belonged to both of us and it was here that I began to gain the strength that I personally needed to finally reach out for help. But it did nothing for our marriage; the things I said in a counselling session were often cause for verbal abuse later.

Around and around and around, always spiralling downward. I felt hopelessly trapped. I lost all self-esteem. With my "missionary complex" I had thought that I could help him. But I had failed again and again. I couldn't stop the violence.

My husband tried to alienate me from my family, my friends and my church. Going to church was such a struggle that it was easier and sometimes safer to not even try. The church only made me feel more inadequate because of its emphasis on family stability. My pride would not allow me to admit or speak of the problem in my home.

I finally realized that I was living in a kind of hell, and that it surely couldn't be God's will for anyone to live like this. So I ran away—to the crisis intervention centre in my town. That's where I began to learn to be alive again.

I began to pull the shreds of my life around me, the beginning of a long process of education and recovery. I learned that I was not alone, that it was not my fault, that thousands of other women like myself have been— and are being—beaten by someone they love, that the victim cannot help the abuser.

I have learned so very much. I know now that I could have called the police the very first time and that that might have done some good. No one deserves to be abused, and submitting to such abuse is not the way for us to be God's peacemakers.

There were times when I wished I were dead. But I'm alive and I'm grateful for that. Some women do die, killed by the man who promised to cherish them. Some women kill. Sometimes it seems that death is the only way out. But today I know that there is a strong network of caring, loving people who will listen when I need to talk. These people have helped me to live again.

For more information on abuse awareness, visit the Mennonite Central Committee's web page, MCC Abuse Response and Prevention.

Originally published in "The Purple Packet" by the Mennonite Central Committee, and reprinted in Canadian Mennonite, April 2, 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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