You who know me would never know that once I was an abused woman. I became free, in part, because many women of the church gave me shelter, loving advice, and most of all—never gave up on me—even though it took many breakups to break away.
I knew him from Bible Club. He asked me out and since I was still 15, I had to quickly arrange a double date. (No single dating until we were 16.) We ate at the drive-in and went bowling. It was fun! This led to a spring and summer of double dates and Sunday dinners at my house. He got to know my family. I thought it was great! Even though he was a bit quiet, we still had fun around others.
But the next school year, when I was allowed to single date, more and more often he would cancel our plans with friends—sometimes we’d actually be on our way and he would stop at a relative’s house and make me wait in the car until it was too late to go. It was hard to object since I didn’t know he was going to do it, and it was winter. If I left the car, where would I go? (No cell phones.) The first time, I got really angry at him. He got angrier. He convinced me that his conversation was so important there was no way any good person would object to his making me wait in the car while he talked. Pretty soon, we were eating all Sunday dinners at his family’s house and as well as once or twice on weekdays. We would be on the way to see my grandma and he would drive instead to his grandma’s. I cried; he yelled. He saw her every day and she gave him money. She bought all his clothes as well as the clothes for his siblings. I was shocked! In my family we all worked and bought our own clothes and necessities. When I DID get to see my grandma, she told me he was no good. She inked him out of a family snapshot! She prayed for me every day. She loved me unconditionally and continually but her love seemed unable to reach me.
I complied to the demands of this relationship partly because my goal in life was to be a model wife—a submissive woman. I wanted to do better than my mom (who got criticized for being more outgoing than my dad). I would show the church people I could be perfect! When he “made me” quit one of my jobs so I could spend afternoons with him, I knew that I should break up with him. Church people would not approve of job quitters! But I liked the idea of having a boyfriend. My low self-esteem said he was the best I could do. Besides, I actually liked eating at his house because I didn’t have to cook. (At my house the two oldest kids did most of the cooking.) Like him, I enjoyed being waited on. Although I could see he was indulged and spoiled, I began to believe that being in his life and more specifically, the lives of his mother and sister, was my ministry. When a church lady or two put her arms around me and whispered, “You can do so much better.” Or, “You are worth so much more,” I smiled and hugged her and explained that God sent me into his life and the life of his family to help them.
I was 16 the first time he hit me. Staring out the window at the starry sky, I thought he was going to put his arms around me. Instead, he spun me around, hit my cheek and sent my glasses flying across the room.
“NEVER turn your back on me!” he growled under his breath. He didn’t want my family to hear. I was horrified and heart broken. We spent hours talking about how it was my fault; I made him do it. Sometimes, he’d remind me that I had a big nose and had to wear glasses. I was ugly; no one else would want me. I belonged to him. Another time—I was so beautiful, I should change my name because my name was ugly. Another time—that if we broke up he would kill himself. Over and over I tried to reason with him, I often tried to break up, and it would end in these endless arguments. And I believed him more than I believed the church ladies who loved me and more than I believed myself. Sometimes I felt as if my brain were being twisted—wrung out like a cloth. I knew what was true sometimes—but he’d talk to me and make me believe anything else.
Having believed his lies, I got to the point where I myself thought I’d die without him. The first time we broke up, I cried all the time and lost 20 lbs. The second time we broke up, I did the breaking up. I had to earn money for college, he was home for the summer. He quit his amazing job after only a couple of weeks and tried to make me quit mine too. I couldn’t take it anymore! I wanted him but someone had to earn money. (By then if we did have a date, I paid for it.) We were not officially together, yet I would go whenever he called. Throughout my freshman year of college I worked, he didn’t. He went on dates with others and I would be devastated. But when he called, I would go. My grades suffered. I threw up often. My roommates were concerned about my weight and bought me doughnuts to fatten me up! They begged me to break up with him. I gave them a theology lesson on the woman’s role.
Our happiest times were when we were embroiled in theological discussion. We read the same books and discussed them endlessly. When my roommates heard us talking on the phone they began to think that perhaps we were made for each other. They began to see why it was hard. What other two people could talk like this?
In the summer before my sophomore year, we had the best summer jobs in town (thanks to my uncle). I loved my job. It lead to my decision about a career. It lead him to two-time me. When I found out he had a work girlfriend I broke up with him “for real.” The calls became ceaseless; he came by often. Sometimes I would find him in our house and no one had let him in. Finally, a woman from our church welcomed me into her tiny immaculate home way out in the country. She was no one he knew. She cooked for me and sewed with me. Together we made clothes for the fall term. She made lemonade and cookies! Just for me! I stayed for days. Finally, I felt safe to go home because I had changed schools and was farther away. I went for a fresh start and with a light heart. I went out on dates. I had fun. But he wasn’t done with me yet. His letter campaign was relentless. I answered only the ones written by his mom and sister. Now they call it “stalking through others” but I thought I was being a friend to two women who needed me.
He called me; he bombarded me with romantic letters. He was going to transfer to my school. Did I believe in the power of God to change someone’s life? I did. So I let him convince me he was changed. He would work hard and be kind always. At Christmas break he presented me with a ring and I accepted it. But that summer, I nearly died for serving him and his family. For a straight week I worked 18-20 hours a day to help his mom empty their home and move to a new town. Most of the time he didn’t show up to help. But despite my exhaustion, I could seldom get a good night’s sleep because of my inner turmoil. His mother gave me a sweatshirt that said “slave” while he had a matching one that said “master.” My mother wept when I showed her. “It’s not funny” she said, “because it’s true.” She had wanted to help save this messed up kid and his family too, but it broke her heart to see her daughter taken advantage of like this. (She knew little to nothing about the actual abuse.)
At the end of that terrible week of moving, I knew I needed objective, Christian help. I found a chaplain at school to talk to. He was wonderful. He convinced me I was not responsible for this man or his family. He showed me that if I didn’t end it, I would end up always sick or even dead. But the chaplain’s wife—the godly woman who answered the door—who lead me to the office twice a week for a month, it was the words she spoke that gave me the last bit of strength I would need to not give in as he stalked me everywhere—both on and off campus.
This is what happened: I stood on my family’s front porch and broke up with him for the fourth time. He threw me off the porch and broke my finger; kicked me in the stomach when I was down. I scrambled and ran. My mom heard something, opened the back door, and pulled me inside. We crouched under the kitchen table as he pelted our house with little stones from the driveway. She wanted to call the police but I persuaded her to call the pastor that knew his family best. After the pastor got the guy to leave, he took me safely home to his wife to hide me for several days. This church lady talked to me about being a good wife. She showed me that by being faithful to her gifts (she was a musician) she was faithful to God. She was a beautiful godly wife and mother. She taught me so much—from her favorite recipes to true romantic love and being a mom. And the word submission never came up!
After I had lived some weeks without my abuser, I went to a communion service at the chaplain’s familiar house. His wife answered the door as she had for so many weeks. She acted friendly, but not as if she knew me. Strange. I saw her sending me looks. After the service, she said, “You are SO BEAUTIFUL! I didn’t even recognize you! You are a new person!” And that was that. I WAS a new person. I stayed beautiful. A few years later I married a fun, hardworking, caring man who only asked that I be his partner in life. I learned that there are different stages of a woman’s life. I was able to stay home with my children but at different times I’ve also had a career and served in the church. The church ladies were right: I could do better; I was worth more; I could be anything God created me to be.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! And all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2Corinthians 5:17)