by Wenda Dottridge
In late January of 2008 I made a long-distance phone call to my sister.
Nothing spectacular about that for most people, except that our relationship had mostly become a perfunctory phone call on major holidays or when I needed to order promotional items from her business for my business. Until the previous summer when we met at my parents' home and for the first time in years, we really talked. Since, I'd made a point of calling every few weeks. Or she called me.
On this particular day, I was on my cell phone while I waited for my kids in the school parking lot. The day was one of those brittle winter days with hoar frost-covered playground equipment and car tires that squeaked over hard-packed snow. I listened while she told me what was really happening in their lives. The crystal sparkle of snow blurred and then shimmered through my tears. I cried and cried, my heart breaking for my sister, her husband, and their three nearly-adult children.
But I'm too far ahead. Let me back up....
This has been a fascinating week at Inkwell. The idea of Battle Wounds has been tackled in different ways. Like Dina and Niki I thought we would be dealing with those mothering wounds: childbirth scars and you know, all our scary delivery stories (which makes me wonder why I volunteered, because I'm one of those horrible women who popped babies, sans drugs, like I was "shelling peas." (As an Irish friend observed when I was out for a walk with baby three and two active toddlers within hours of escaping the hospital--see, what woman can resist the opportunity to share her birthing stories?). Ronnie's post yesterday dealt with the very real and often hidden wounds of soldiers in a heartrending way.
After much consideration, I decided to tackle the most dreaded topic in Christianity, the Battle Wounds of a Believer.
Before you tune out, let me say I know this isn't a popular topic. I started a romantic suspense manuscript last year set in an "abusive" church. After I finished the first three chapters, I sent it out to a contest to get some anonymous feedback (as us writers often do) and the response was pretty overwhelmingly poor. I'll grant that my writing might not be the greatest, and that the story execution was lacking. But even acknowledging those factors, one judge summed the general response pretty well when she commented, "I don't want to read another church-bashing story. We get enough of that from the world."
And she had a point. People pick up fiction to escape, not to deal with issues. So I set the manuscript aside. I was still too angry and yes, wounded, by my sister's family's experience to write a good story. And while church abuse might not make a good escape read, I still feel that it is a topic we need to acknowledge.
You see, on that cold day in January my sister told me she and her family had made the decision to leave the church they'd belonged to - and I say belonged in every sense of the word - for over twenty years. I wish my tears had been from joy for a thousand faithless prayers answered, but they were of grief. Because even though they were finally leaving, they were still very much prisoners of a pernicious system of mind-control. Their battle had hardly begun, let alone been won.
My grandmother had a twin-sister who lived with an abusive husband all her married life. There was always a bit of a hush about her and her children. They were loved by my family, but there was a distance, too. An aunt once explained it by saying my grandfather could never tolerate his abusive brother-in-law and refused to have much to do with him. In the days before women's shelters and social workers, interfering would never have occurred to anyone. And so it is with the wider church and the abusive churches in our midst.
We either don't know they exist, or we blame the victims for being victims. If we are aware there might be a problem, we can't interfere because part of the abuse is the very effective "us and them" siege mentality that exists in abusive church families. Any word against the abuser spoken to a victim might damage an already fragile relationship.
It is now understood that when a battered woman leaves her abusive partner, her life is most at risk in the period immediately after she leaves. My sister and her family found this to be true after they left their abusive church. While their physical lives were not in jeopardy, their spiritual lives were assaulted over and over through vicious public character assassinations from the pulpit. And a lifetime of twisted scriptural interpretation voided the power of God's word for them and nullified what comfort and grace could be found in His arms.
I believe absolutely in the power of Christ's blood to heal and redeem every wound in our lives. But I also believe that in God's infinite love for us he granted us free will. And when our innocent trust is violated and we are emotionally and spiritually wounded, our capacity to allow God's grace in our lives may be limited. There is seldom a quick fix for serious injury.
If this were fiction I could wrap it up by writing a happily-ever-after ending with everything tied in a neat bow. It's not that simple. They are still healing from a lifetime of deep wounds, and so are those of us who have shared in some of their journey. But, to borrow from Dina, the wounds are becoming scars, badges of battles fought and overcome. For that we can be thankful and praise God!
Do you have battle wounds as a believer? If so, how have you dealt with those wounds?