A Cry For Justice

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

Letter from a Pastor: how not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse

Natalie Collins, a DV survivor and activist in the UK, posted this on her blog God Loves Women and we are reproducing it here. Thank you, Natalie, for publishing this! May it help educate the Christian community.

You can find the original post here: Letter from a Pastor: how not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse

Trigger warning: this pastor’s letter may be painful to read, if you are a survivor.

Natalie’s introduction:

The following email was sent by a pastor to a woman who is being abused by her husband.  Her husband has been extremely abusive to her and she is seeking to escape from him.  All names and identifying details have been removed, but the recipient of the email has said she would like people to see the reality of how Church Leaders are unequipped to respond appropriately in cases of abuse.  As you read this email, you may think that some of the pastor’s comments or thoughts are correct.  I would suggest that for a couple struggling with relationship difficulties they might be, but where there is abuse, it is not the relationship that needs dealing with, but rather the abuser.

Letter from the pastor

Hi Hannah,

I hope you are doing well, despite going through these difficulties in your marriage.  I thought about responding to your last email; the one you sent after another incident with Saul where you called 911, and where afterwards someone gave you some information about not staying with an abusive partner.

But to be honest, to me it looked like you had made up your mind and that you yourself are looking for a way out of the marriage.  I don’t know everything that has gone on between the two of you, but I do feel as though I know both of you fairly well in some degree.  I know Saul well enough to know that he is a believer who loves the Lord, and has changed in many ways from the way he was.  However, I also know that he is a work in progress as we all are.  He tries to look at many Scriptures with his Saul’s Way glasses on.  He is certainly not perfect, and he does have his quirks, and inappropriateness, but I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person.  He is stubborn and often pig headed, and doesn’t like to lose an argument, but I can say the exact same thing of many people, including yourself.  I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things

I also know that you are a believer who loves the Lord, and has had many great experiences in ministry.  However, you too are a work in progress.  You also, like Saul, like to try to look at certain Scriptures, and interpret them to fit what you want.

You two are very different people–different cultures, different families, different ways of looking at the Bible, different ideas of what is appropriate.  So many different things.  But something brought you two together.  If you don’t remember, it was your love and passion for our Lord Jesus.  I think you often forget that and focus instead on all the negative things in Saul–his past, his quirks, his inappropriateness.  (Some of these things he can change, and needs to work on changing, but others, like his past, he can’t change, and you simply need to accept, forgive and try to forget.)

Hannah, I believe that you need to be honest, and decide whether or not you are committed to this marriage–“in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live”.  If you are, then you will try to make things work, rather than always running away (often months at a time) and pointing out the negative, you will need to start working on the strengths and focusing on the positive.  What is going on now cannot help this goal.  Saul is not physical abusive to you.  He can be incredibly frustrating and mentally annoying, but not physically abusive.  And in regards to verbal abuse, in our counselling together, I have witnessed just as much verbal abuse coming from your lips, as I have from his.

If you don’t want to be married to Saul anymore, then just be honest and tell him you made a mistake–that you don’t want to be with him.  Don’t try and find loop holes in the Bible for your mistake or lack of commitment.

The fact is, Jesus said that the only reason Moses made a concession to allow for divorce, in the case of physical adultery, was because the people’s hearts were hard.  This is not what God intends.  If you are looking for a way out of your marriage, then your heart is not in the right place–it is hard.

Now, I know that if you decide to honour your marriage commitment, it will not be easy–nothing worth saving is easy.  It will demand a lot of love, grace, patience, work and sacrifice on both parts. Did I mention grace and patience.  But I believe anything is possible with God.  And I know that God’s will is that you marriage commitment be honoured, worked on, and be something that brings love and joy to both of you.

The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again.  But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives.  I hope you know that the tone of this letter is one of love and wanting to help a sister and brother in the Lord.

Blessings and prayers,

Pastor Phillip

(P.S.  I don’t know whether or not you know, but Saul is going in for his major knee surgery on September 13th.  I thought you would want to know so you could be praying for him and his recovery.  Please feel free to reply or call me anytime.

65 Comments

  1. This makes me ill to read.

    I remember pouring my heart out, in tears, and getting a response of “everyone goes through these things- I know it’s difficult but there’s never been a marriage that hasn’t experienced problems like this.”

    I was floored at the thought.

    Later on after the divorce was almost finalized and I’d been finally moving on emotionally this same person sent me a text message encouraging me to take my ex wife to see the movie “the vow”, as if the issues were something watching a movie could hope to fix. My response was much more gracious than my thoughts.

    This is ignorance when you just don’t get that some pain is way beyond your experience. I remember thinking of the analogy of a box that represented the people the church could minister to. If you were outside of the box, you were out of luck. I don’t mean the box is a clique- more like the issues they were equipped to address. I was way outside the box- on a different planet in fact.

    To be fair, to the church I went after that I was also outside of the box, but the elders recognized it and didn’t try to give advice. They stumbled in a few ways with me, but their humility was encouraging.

    • “The Vow?” Really? That ranks right up there with the best (or worst) I’ve heard.

      • Jeff S

        Yeah. It was before the movie came out and apparently she knows the couple it’s about in real life and really values their testimony (from what I hear, this part did not come through in the movie).

        But yeah. Kind of shows you what kind of skewed view of our marriage problems she had.

  2. Mama Martin

    Oh, oh, oh….. I hope she was able to get out with her children before any more damage was done. She has already called 911 – she has to get away to be safe and then stay away until ‘Saul’ changes. Was she able to find someone who would listen to what she said, affirm her experiences, and guide her in discovering that she was not the problem? The way her husband thinks and thus treats her (with abuse) is why her marriage will not work.
    The pastor is wrong – what she does will make NO difference to her marriage. Unfortunately, it is usually the non-Christians and the non-Biblical resources that do a much better job of facing the truth of abuse than do most followers of Christ. We are so taken in by the words without looking at the actions nor discovering the motives behind the actions.
    The pastor is blinded by what he does not want to see – and thus he does not believe the truth that she is speaking. When the pastor writes “I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person”, he is wrong. There is no way the pastor knows ‘Saul’, her husband, better than Hannah does. No one, even this pastor, can say “Saul is not physical abusive to you.” unless he is there all the time. No one is there but Hannah. She must be believed. The pastor, in fact, continues to abuse Hannah by denying her feelings and fears and telling her what she does feel instead when he says “I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things.” The pastor is just as unsafe as her husband! Hannah must get away, and then when she is safe, speak out against the abuse – both from her husband and her pastor. Only then can she begin to heal from this trauma.

    • I agree. One of the things I noticed in the pastor’s email to the abused wife, he said that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts. Implying that the abused wife’s heart was hardened. His application of that passage is a train wreck. The Pharisees came to Jesus and asked if it was okay for a ‘man’ to divorce his ‘wife’ for any reason. Jesus said that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of ‘your’ hearts. It was because of the hardness of the ‘husband’s’ hearts against their wives that God allowed for divorce as a way to protect the wife. To twist the scriptures to accuse the abused wife of being hardened is outrageous.

      • YES YES YES! Thanks Dale for voicing that. So many people don’t hear Jesus’ specifically gendered language in Matthew 19. Moses reluctantly tolerated men divorcing their wives, because the MEN’S hearts were so hardened. Jesus did not use gender neutral language there. He said that Mosaic passage was about men who were treacherously divorcing their wives, without just grounds.

      • Little Miss Me

        I have been accused of having a hardened heart because when I reached the point of no return, I wouldn’t return. I had already given so many chances to reconcile, I had already forgiven so much, and I had already seen nothing change. Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, no one else heard it, and my husband would not see it, and certainly wouldn’t share it with anyone else.

      • Little Miss Me, I love that expression ‘like a tree falling in the forest’.
        That’s IT, exactly.
        Domestic abuse hides in plain sight.

      • Song

        Barbara, that’s it!! “Domestic abuse hides in plain sight.”

  3. Jeff S

    The implication is that only physical abuse is “real” abuse, never mind that bruises and even broken bones heal, but the real damange is done at the emotional level. You don’t have to hit someone to attack their personhood. And if a pastor doesn’t understand this, that pastor has no business giving advice on this subject.

    • Mama Martin

      Yes, the mental abuse, the verbal abuse, the emotional abuse – the ‘crazy-making’ – are all far worse than the physical. Yet here, the pastor doesn’t even believe Hannah about the physical abuse and in turn abuses her further. No wonder victims don’t dare speak out many/most churches.

    • Anonymous

      That’s right! So stop asking them! Go to a real counselor, just make certain, if you can, that they are Christian, and pray beforehand. The point was made earlier, that Jesus did not isolate Himself from the World. We are to use the good things He has given us, in the World, for His glory. So how does that look? We go to counselors He provided us, (Christian if possible) and we use the information they give to us, to HEAL! Why would God despise you seeking help from anyone who was actually going to help you heal, in comparison to a pastor who was keeping you in an abusive situation.

      They say there is no Biblical example of separation for abuse, although David separated himself from his abusive leader Saul, and did not submit to him. Also, Nehemiah did not submit to those “calling” for him, because he knew they meant him harm. Look a the account of Abigail. Even Jesus escaped the crowd, when they were going to throw Him over a cliff. Oh, I know, I know, these are not examples pertaining to marriage. No, they are not, but they are still examples from our Lord, to help us decide how to deal with an abuser. And also, did anyone ever stop to think, that the reason there are NO examples of how to deal with an abusive spouse, is because in God’s eyes, if a spouse abuses, God no longer considers him/her a spouse? Maybe that is so offensive to God, that God just doesn’t even address it. Maybe he figures that He gave His people wisdom to know that anyone who abuses their spouse, isn’t a Christian, so the Word does not apply to them and the believing spouse is free. Maybe.

      There is also no Biblical example of using illegal drugs, but we know what is best for us to do, even with no example. It is just that the victims of abuse, have a really hard time doing what is best for them.

      • Desley

        I think too, that although there are no biblical examples of how to deal with an abusive spouse (although I think it’s reasonable to surmise that Abigail’s husband may have been abusive), we do find repeated examples of Jesus’ encounters with the pharisees, who always seemed to elevate the law (as they interpreted it) over people themselves. We see this with the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath when they were hungry and with the woman Jesus healed on the Sabbath, His mercy was the guiding force behind how He dealt with people and their circumstances.
        Jesus Himself, when correcting the pharisees, referred to how David broke the law and ate the sacred show bread which he was not permitted to eat according to the law, in order to satisfy his hunger. Apparently Jesus doesn’t even think everything is as black and white as many of those who are versed in the scriptures make it out to be.

        But what He does tell us clearly – and what He defines as the most important command – is that we are to love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. What kind of love is it for a pastor or congregation to pressure someone to endure abuse when they wouldn’t want that done to them? And what kind of love is it for a wife to enable her husband’s destructive behavior by submitting to it and dismissing it? I propose that it is more loving to take a firm stand against it in order to make it less comfortable for that man to continue on in his sin – to give him the clearest possible message that his behavior is deplorable before God and man. This can be done in love. Divorce can be done in love in these situations, and God cares first and foremost about the motives of the heart and acknowledgement of Him (Hosea 6:6).

        “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
        He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12)

      • Jeff Crippen

        Right on, Desley!

      • Jenn

        You recommended, “Go to a real counselor, just make certain, if you can, that they are Christian, and pray beforehand.” When I first sought help, I went to a Christian counselor. He prayed with my husband and me. He was highly qualified. He also told me I was sinning when I filed for divorce; he explained that a marriage could never be broken by one person; he kindly told me in “godly love” that I was at fault too. Eventually I went to another psychologist. He too was a Christian and somehow it was still my fault for leaving. I saw a Christian psychiatrist. He recommended I submit to my husband, pray more, get over myself, and then drugged me into complete numbness. I am not sure where to find good counsel. I read as much as I can get my hands on, I write, weep, and try to pray. I go to church because I know my children need to be there, but to the church I will never be more than a broken, sullied person that has left her husband. I guess my point is, “Christian” counsel, isn’t always Christian and it isn’t always wise counsel.

      • Jeff S

        Jenn, in my opinion the number one thing that you need in a counselor is someone who has experience with abuse cases. I think it’s also important that she be a Christian if possible, but when you are exhausted and short on time, this may be an impossible combination. If something has to give, don’t let it be the experience and knowledge of abuse.

        My therapist was not a Christian, but he had experience with abuse. I tried some Christian counselors first and they did not help (to his credit, our Christian marriage therapist told me “look, I don’t believe divorce for emotional abandonment is biblical, but I have colleagues who do, and no matter what you do Christ will love you”). Note that my church did not approve of even our Christian marriage therapist.

        I was blessed with a lot of outside my church Christians friends who surrounded me during my therapy, and I think that helped keep me grounded. There were certainly some things that my therapist conveyed to me that I believe were unbiblical, but at the end of the day his ability to help me recover and figure out what it meant to choose life were vital.

        There’s a blog post a week ago on this sight where Jeff talked about this- it’s worth going back and reading, I think.

      • If you’re a victim of domestic violence, it’s essential that you find someone who specializes in DV counseling/sexual assault and trauma recovery. I saw many therapists over the years, including a Christian one, and I only found true help from a specialist in DV. Even though she isn’t Christian, she was absolutely open to discussing my faith in relation to what happened to me. To be completely honest, I didn’t view my therapy as needing to be based in Christian teaching, and in many ways I’m grateful that it wasn’t. Instead, I spent a lot of time in prayer outside my therapy sessions.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Good counsel Lucy. Thanks much. Right on.

      • Jenn, I can really relate. I took my abusive ex-husband to quite a few counseling sessions. He went on his own a couple times to appease me, we went together a couple times when they refused to see him alone, and I sought help from some without him there often. The men that counseled us were all Christians, either a professional Christian counselor or pastors. Their comments and counsel mirrored what you experienced. Regardless of the abuse I endured from my husband, I was always told to be more loving, forgiving, sacrificial, evangelistic, servant-minded, and that it was always something I was doing wrong when I couldn’t handle it or when he wasn’t changing. I’m sure there may be some Christian counselors who are qualified regarding abuse issues but I have to wonder if their preexisting beliefs on what does or does not constitute a biblical divorce would still be intermingled in their professional counseling. I’m glad you shared all that. :)

      • Laurie

        T. Austin-Sparks in “From One Humanity to ANOTHER”: The church is not a building or a group of people that agree to meet there. It is a Person, Jesus Christ, and His family; children, brothers, sisters.

        If what calls itself “church” judges like that, then it isn’t the church. John 4, after Jesus sent the disciples into a Samaritan village, He had a wonderful conversation with a “five-times-divorced-and-living-with-a-man” Samaritan woman (think for a minute to get the full scope of her–totally useless according to the doctrines of mankind) at a well, which He was not supposed to do, let alone be there in the first place (except He must needs go there).

        Not only did He talk to her, but two things: 1 She is the first one that He told plainly that He was Messiah and 2 He sent her into town to evangelize–first evangelist. I mean, the whole town came out to hear Him for two days because of her witness. Leading people to Christ. If that is not doing the work of an evangelist, then what is?

        A useless woman. But not in God’s eyes. And neither are you.

      • Jenn, my heart was wrenching for you as I read that. Tragically, your experiences is not all that uncommon. You tried three Christian mental health professionals: a counselor, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and all three gave you the bum’s rush (Aussie slang for “they treated you abysmally”).

        Perhaps we need to re-phrase the advice as follows:
        “Go to a real counselor, ascertaining if you can that they are Christian, and go prepared with a series of interview questions to ask them, to help you decide whether they are going to really be able to help you.”
        Maybe we need to write a post setting out suggested questions for interviewing a potential counselor. I’m sure there are samples of such interview questions already written by others, so if any readers know of them, please email us and we can build on them to create our own suggested list. And of course, our readers can then comment and add improvements if they wish. That’s the wonderful thing about blogging. The whole is more than the sum of the parts: in the multitude of counselors (our readers here), there is wisdom.

    • Desley

      Absolutely! What makes even physical or sexual abuse so devastating is the emotional fall-out from it. I think you are correct in placing emotional abuse up to the same degree of destructiveness as physical abuse.It all boils down to the same thing in the end..

  4. Desley

    This is disturbing. My stomach was knotting up as I read, hurting for the woman who read these words in the midst of so much pain already. I wonder how long it took her to get past the point of blaming herself for the abuse or thinking she somehow possessed the power to change her abusive spouse. I wonder how much needless abuse she endured in order to live up to these horrendous standards before she finally said “enough!”

    Even in a more balanced church like mine, a benevolent Complementarian church, this is all too common.

    When I first conjured up the courage to confide in the wife of one my deacons about my husband’s abuse toward my son, she completely disregarded me and the pain my husband was inflicting on my family and turned the tables on me instead, asking “But what problems do YOU have to work on?”

    At one point I believed that this was an isolated incident, but when Child Services and I set up a family meeting with the church leadership to let them know that the bottom line for them was that my husband had to leave the house, all the most vocal attendees shifted the blame on to my 15-year-old son and insisted that I kick my son out of the house instead and go on more dates with my husband. As if my marriage was in trouble for a lack of dates and a “rebellious teen.” They were quite visibly angry with me at this point and remarked that my children needed their father.

    My pastor and his wife remained silent, but later confessed that they thought my husband was “centered out” in that meeting.

    Centered out?

    It was a meeting to deal with my husband’s abusive behavior. Who else but him should be centered out? We are talking about a man who literally throttled my 14-year-old, called his masculinity into question, constantly put him down about his hair, cologne, clothes, etc., pushed him away any time my son tried to be affectionate with him, left countless bruises, cuts, and scrapes on him, rubbed his face in his own urine, made him chase the van before he would pull over and let him in, continuously destroyed his property, gave my other children bleeding noses, kicked my 12-year-old in the back as he was going down the stairs, tore away in the van as my 10-year-old son was getting in and leaving him there alone as he proceeded to drive across town, as well as habitually calling them names and cruelly targeting my eldest son (who is not his biological son) to the point that this kid weeps and now hates God for not intervening for him.
    And in the last year I have took notice that his aggression is escalating to the point that he is facing off with me and shoving me around as well.
    I have always been more than willing to acknowledge my own sin and work on it, but I refuse to shoulder the responsibility for his as well.

    At one point he was forced by Child Services to attend a Caring Dads program (a program for fathers who have abused their children or are at risk for abusing their children), and the facilitator of the program warned in his review that she was concerned for the safety of everyone in the home because he had spent most of his time there blaming my son and I for his behavior. She strongly recommended that he repeat the program. When I finally got the courage to leave him and go to a woman’s shelter, the other elder’s wife showed up without my permission, walked right to the back where the kids were, and told my kids she was there to take them out to a movie. Since I was at the lawyer’s, the child care worker interjected and informed her that “for safety reasons she was not permitted to release the children to her.” The elder’s wife informed her that she didn’t believe my children were in any danger and that “there are two sides to every story.” She was later called by the house Administrators and told that she was prohibited from returning to the property.

    I left just over a month ago and nobody from the church has called me or emailed me to say “I support you” or “I am praying for you.” I am looking after 8 children alone, with no means of transportation, and they have offered me no help at all. But they left my husband messages, and they had my husband over for coffee where they told him that they were working on me with my submission problem. The only time they do talk to me they want to pressure me let him come home and drop all the legal proceedings.

    After completing a group for abused women, I really grasped just how wrong their approach to the problem was…on so many levels! So a few days ago I finally had enough and sent a blanket email to everyone involved, demanding that they cease pressuring me, speaking over God’s voice in my life and assuming they know better what God wants for my family than I do, and that they immediately stop referring to my husband’s abusive behavior as a “family problem” that I am in any way responsible for.
    I also pointed out that they mishandled the situation and that I feel like they abandoned me – that they were complicit in the abuse and prolonged it – and that they need to get educated about Intimate Partner Violence. My pastor’s wife responded to me that “you can’t expect him [the pastor] to get educated about social issue.” I suggested that they had a particular responsibility in this area because they teach headship and submission and aren’t prepared to even define abuse.

    All this to say, my church is a mainline Baptist church (not fundamental in the sense of KJV only, women must wear dresses and head coverings, etc.), and there seems to be a major issue with the way even they respond to women seeking help, as well as abusive men. Child Services walked out of the meeting with this church convinced that the church neglected to deal with the problem because they are pushing an agenda. They were absolutely horrified.

    As for me, I have given some serious consideration to leaving the church. I feel that it can be very unhealthy for my children. For example, I was in the nursery a few weeks back with the pastor’s daughter. There was a little girl, about three, playing with a toy. A little boy took notice of the toy and wanted it so he approached her and asked if he could play with it. The little girl said no. Upon watching this exchange, the pastor’s daughter went to the boy, collected him in her arms right beside the little girl, and comforted him by saying, “it’s not nice when a girl says no to you, is it?” I thought, “what kind of thing is that to teach the kids? Do girls not have a right to say no to boys? Are boys entitled to have whatever they want whenever they want it?
    I am still not sure that this atmosphere is what I want my children to immersed in. And no wonder the church is inept at dealing with abuse if these are the attitudes they espouse!

    • Anonymous

      Desley, I am horrified at reading your story. The LORD hates injustice and wrongdoing (Is 61:8) so I guess He would be horrified too. The difference is that He is always reacting with perfect justice and mercy, while I feel like bashing my computer screen! So I’d better not say anything inappropriate and just let you know that I will be thinking and praying for you. Stand strong, and may the Lord show you victory.

    • Desley, I want you to know that I am praying for you (and just did)- what the church has done to you is wrong. They have stood up for evil and joined in your oppression. It breaks my heart because I know how hard it is to realize the people that you turned to in your darkest hour not only didn’t support you, but piled on.

      That isn’t Jesus- He loves you so much. He wants you to be healthy and free. He wants you to be the whole person he created you to be.

      I know it seems like there is no hope because the church of this age is so wrong, but the fact that we are having this conversation is proof that God is working. He will bring his church around- people will see and there will be shame for the abuse done in God’s name.

    • I’m going to go ahead and post this song I’m working on. It’s a work in progress so this may have changes before I ever record it (if I do), but this is the first song I’ve written in YEARS (I used to write all the time) and it’s about the pain I experienced when y chirch let me down. This may not all be exactly where you’re at, but it is my story and I hope you can see that you are not alone.

      I Never Knew

      Who was I to you that you that you pushed me away?
      No chance for me to heal, for you to understand my pain
      I thought we were a team, but I guess I should have seen
      When I couldn’t be controlled by you you had no use for me

      I never knew I could hurt like that
      I never thought you’d let me down
      I never believed I would reach for you
      And you’d stand back and watch me drown
      I never knew

      Who was I to you that you wanted me to suffer?
      I only asked for hope, but to you I was the failure 
      I needed you to come and speak in my defense
      Instead I was on the stand and you took me through it all again

      I never knew I could hurt like that
      I never thought you’d let me down
      I never believed I would reach for you
      And you’d stand back and watch me drown

      And in the end I found freedom
      Apart from you where mercy really lives
      So I turned away from you
      And looking back I’m glad I did

      I never knew I could hurt like that
      I never thought you’d let me down
      I never believed I would reach for you
      And you’d stand back and watch me drown
      I never knew it could be like this
      I never thought I wasn’t free
      I never dreamed that choosing life
      Would mean I’d have to leave
      I never knew

      • Jeff, I hope one day we hear the final version. Looking forward to it!

      • Desley

        I would absolutely love to hear the final version. You captured the feelings of abandonment and insignificance so well. Thank you for sharing this with me, Jeff.

      • Laurie

        Gal 4:17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

        Weird verse unless you to the word study…affect means “affection, longing for”

        They zealously pour affection on you, but not for your best interest, listen, they would exclude you, turn their back on you, put you outside the circle of their interest, so that you would have affection or longing for them, to be one of them.

        I have seen this often, the latter part coming after the “group” realizes they can’t control your faith, so they turn their backs on you and leave you with the choice…long for them, do anything to be with them or leave.

        Leave is a good option, better than selling God and yourself out to be a part of a group.

        Desley, your history breaks my heart…I have 5 in my care, but they are older, yet I can have compassion for what you are going through. God of all Comfort and Grace, strengthen Desley with Your love and turn back the voices and thoughts of the gainsayers upon themselves, that they may learn what Your love is really like. Provide for my sister, Your daughter, and give her wisdom and favor as she stands for her children in the gap, to turn back the evil that would seek to slay her faith and scatter her children. You are the Defender of such, You always have been. Bless them and encourage them this day, In the Name of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

    • Desley, I am truly amazed at how clearly you are thinking and expressing yourself, in the face of all this abuse from your church and your husband. Well done for defying the church who are giving you bad counsel! Well done to the shelter staff who have protected you and your children’s safety! (Please tell them my thanks, if you can.)

      Glad to hear you are considering leaving that church. I think if you stay connected to that church it will be immensely damaging to you and your children’s health, safety and recovery.

      Yes, it’s not only KJV-only or other extremist churches that get abuse totally wrong. All kinds of churches are getting it wrong. Even many so called ‘egalitarian’ churches where there are women in leadership are getting it wrong. It goes right across the board.

      My pastor’s wife responded to me that “you can’t expect him [the pastor] to get educated about social issue.”

      That’s a new twist on an old chestnut! So pastors of churches that shun the social gospel (social justice issues) can be excused from being ignorant about social issues because the gospel has nothing to do with social issues? What a load of bollocks! (‘scuse my language, I’m angry!)
      I seem to recall that Jesus knew all about social issues like the Jewish resistance to Roman taxes (Matt. 22:19), and Herod Antipas’s illicit marriage to Herodias (Luke 3:19; 13:32).
      And He certainly knew a lot about the oppression of women, as we see from the shrewd way He dealt with the accusers of the woman caught in adultery (John 8).

      • Desley

        “Well done to the shelter staff who have protected you and your children’s safety! (Please tell them my thanks, if you can.) ”

        I absolutely can and will! These people were the hands of Jesus for my family when the church failed. I first went to the church for help about 5 or 6 years ago. Then last year my while my husband was yet again abusing my son I put my face on the floor, and angrily pleaded with God and asked Him why He was not intervening since I was trying to be submissive to my husband. I quoted His promises back to Him and asked why He wasn’t keeping them. Then out of nowhere an almost audible thought materialized in my head – the most rational and clear-cut thought I had ever had concerning the issue – and it simply said “*you* can leave. ” I was waiting for Jesus to change my husband or make him leave, but I had never even considered leaving myself with 8 children. That would take faith! That would take strength that I didn’t have!

        It was during that episode that my neighbors called Child Services. My first worker was a Christian woman who worked previously with trauma victims from the military. She helped me to understand the consequences this was having on my son, as well as my other children. She showed me how my son’s behaviors were the product of years of abuse. She also drew a connection between my husband’s behaviors and my persistent suicidality and depression. She then walked with me through the journey of learning to trust myself and my intuitions, as well as trusting in the various social services available to me.They later connected me with the woman’s shelter to learn more about abuse when they felt I was ready.
        These people have been such an encouragement and motivating force throughout this whole situation.

        I thank God for His provision for the abused. He really is faithful and does not abandon us. And I am not wandering away from God or turning to idols by learning from their expertise or accepting their help; I am following the still, small voice of Jesus.

        “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” -Isa 30:21

        “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” -Isa 42:16

        “This is what the LORD says–your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” – Isa 48:17

      • Those scriptures are perfect, Desley. Thanks for sharing them!

    • Anonymous

      “But what problems do YOU have to work on”. Now that statement is a familiar statement. Doesn’t that just sound like something the Pharisees would say to Jesus, when He told them about all of their problems?

      This is just how people respond, when they are clueless about how to help someone. I believe that not giving justice to God’s people, when they ask for help, is ranked right up there with murder, in God’s eyes. Why? Because abuse is a slow form of murder. Maybe pastors in particular would have their views changed, if they were told that not helping a woman who comes to them with abuse problems, no matter what kind of abuse is taking place, would mean that God would hold them accountable for her murder, even if her abuser never killed her, but just slowly murdered her spirit over time. And I mean serious help, like making certain the abuser was “put out”, and protection was put in place.

    • Desley, I’m so sorry for what you and your children have gone through. What you’ve expressed here reflects my own experience with nearly everyone I dealt with who had the power to help my daughter and me. The courts, child protective services, psychologists … they all strive for “family reunification,” even if it means putting children in harm’s way. I dealt with the court system for more years than I care to remember, and to this day, it remains the same broken system.

      Like your son, my daughter has turned away from God and says she that she will never go to a Christian church, ever again (she’s 24 years old now). We have both felt abandoned by organized religion and our society, which seems to place more value on the abuser’s rights than it does on ours. One of the reasons, as you so eloquently describe, is because we live in a patriarchal system that, no matter what people may claim, does not truly value women and children (especially girls). As I mentioned elsewhere, I have left the church behind and continue to practice my Christianity through prayer and Bible reading.

      Please know that there are people who care and who can help you and your children. It just takes a while to find them.

  5. Anonymous

    Well this sounds just like something I have been told, time and time again. I think perhaps what happens, is that pastors are worried that they could be held legally “responsible” somehow, if something happens to the victim, so they write this nonsensical letters about the abuse not being serious, or there is no physical threat, etc, etc., just in order to “cover” themselves for anything pertaining to the law. In some states, clergy are required to report abuse. It varies from state to state.

    I have some thoughts on physical vs emotional/mental abuse. When we are told in God’s Word not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather those who can kill the soul, it speaks to me a couple of ways. First of all, one of the implications to me, is that we can still serve God, even if our body in some way becomes incapacitated, (I am not speakiang of abuse here) because we still have our minds. For example, if I lose my arm or leg, I can still serve God, because I can “think” of a way and my mind still has all its faculties to reason and deal with the things of life. However, if we lose our minds or become so emotionally unable to deal with life, it definitely affects our ability to focus and serve God. I am saying that if something happens to our body, we can still function, but if we become mentally incapacitated, we may become dormant and unable to function. When you are not as equally concerned for the mental and emotion abuse victims suffer, but only if there is a physical threat, a great injustice is done. Both should be considered on the same level. People think that unless there is such a great threat of physical abuse that it looks like it could lead to death, that we should not be too overly concerned about the well-being of the victim. I say, that both areas should be given equal validation. I believe that God is just as concerned for our minds, as He is our bodies.

    I am sorry that you have had to endure this man’s words. They are familiar to me and I understand the confusion with being told, that it looks like YOU just don’t want the marriage to work, when you have been fighting for it some 20 years, putting up with and enduring the abuse. When the victim finally breaks and decides enough is enough, everyone forgets that she has been fighting the battle for years and years. They think, oh this has only gone on a month, because that is all the longer they have known about it. I think we should all just be quiet, quit going to pastors for counsel and help and start looking to the qualified counselors whom God gave us to help us. May God be with you!

    • Desley

      Exactly! But how will things ever change when such powerful voices such as John Piper minimize emotional abuse, calling it “verbal unkindness?” Or when religious leaders like Nancy Leigh De Moss maintain that the label “abuse” only applies when one’s life is in danger? It’s bad enough that there are extreme fundamentals out there. But these are the more moderate evangelicals. And they refuse to even recognize it as a problem.

      So discouraging.

      • Anonymous

        I believe that the way to change, is to lay aside the counsel of pastors who only want to use their interpretation of Scripture and cover over the sins of abusers. I think that the way to true change, is to call the pastors to account, by not seeking them for counsel. Try it. If the pastor is an abuser himself, you will find that out very quickly, when you say, “No thanks” to his counsel.

        God gave us counselors to help us through these things. The Bible is loaded with stories of how to deal with abusive people. If the leaders of our churches decide not to allow the use of those examples, then they are denying the Word of God, as being profitable for teaching, etc., and those churches need to be left with empty pews, just as God would want us to. The only true Church, is the Church that teaches the whole Word of God, not just what they have decided to teach, because they know better than God Himself. The true shepherds, are those who love the body of Christ enough, to educate themselves and tenderly care for the sheep, without manipulation and intimidation. Our churches are loaded with false shepherds, who called themselves to the “ministry”.

    • ” I believe that God is just as concerned for our minds, as He is our bodies.”
      AMEN

      • Song

        “I believe that the way to change, is to lay aside the counsel of pastors who only want to use their interpretation of Scripture and cover over the sins of abusers.” As a wife of a pastor on staff of a large church, as a wife who has sought help from said church for my experiences with my husband, as a wife who was blamed for his behavior, as a wife who is continually told by him and his co-workers what a “godly” man he is and that’s only my perception of his behavior, I heartily agree with this statement and so many more here on this post. I have stepped off of the carousel called “An Effort in Futility.”

      • Jeff Crippen

        Song- You know, I have had at least half a dozen pastor’s wives tell me the very same story in the past year! And we can bet that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I am very, very sorry that you have had this experience and that your husband is, well, a hypocrite to say the least. But you have had the lights come on and you sound like you are on the road to wellness in Christ. It would have been very easy for you to grow bitter against the Lord, but you don’t sound that way at all. Can I say that for the most part, I don’t like pastors. And I am one! I know that can be taken wrongly. I know that there ARE godly pastors and true churches with true Christians as members. But over and over and over again I have had bad experiences with pastors who, so often, seem to be on the self-promoting ego road. Either they choose the “nice guy” persona or the dictator role. I believe that the way to find the genuine article in a pastor or in any Christian for that matter is to look for someone who has or is suffering for Jesus Christ. The prophets and Apostles and the Lord Jesus Himself were hated and spurned by the world and by what professed to be true religion. Do we think it is any different today?

        Blessings on you and we look forward to hearing from you more in the future. If you ever want to tell your story, myself or Barbara would be glad to hear it. You can email me at swordtrowel@gmail.com and Barbara is barbara@notunderbondage.com We love to hear stories from abuse survivors. They are our primary source of learning more about abuse.

  6. no name please

    And why do those that have been physically abused stay…usually it the mental/emotional abuse, those are the bars that trap the victim in.

  7. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  8. This letter the pastor wrote makes me sick and disgusted but it sounds like what many pastors told me about my situation. Wow, I married an abusive foreigner when i was 23 who was using me for relations only. I married him to escape immorality even though he yelled at me nearly all the time or ignored me and was violent. I married him and when I said “for better or worse” i felt sick inside because I knew it was going to get worse. I tried everything to save my marriage even though I was being physically threatened and emotionally abused. I thought God wouldn’t allow me to divorce him until later on, after I’d moved out I studied the Bible and prayed and understood that I had grounds for divorce. However, when I told another pastor a year later that I divorced him and he didn’t cheat on me, I was told I had to remarry him to be right in God’s eyes or remain single forever. I cried and cried…and remarried my suicidal, abusive ex when I was 27. Pastors and other Christians treated me the exact same way as they did this woman above…except there were a whole new batch of them this time when I got married again. I was always told to be more sacrificial and forgiving. I prayed hard for deliverance and GOD caused my abuser to leave me two months after our remarriage. It’s laughable that churches say, “Without us, you’ll fall into sin.” I have too many stories to count of how I was led into the devil’s arms simply because I listened to the man behind the pulpit or the advice of uneducated Christians. I know Jesus–the real Jesus–was trying to set me free all along.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jacqueline – The more people like you who have forums like this one to tell your stories, the louder the cry for justice grows. How can pastors and Christians continue to write off testimonies like yours when they just keep growing in numbers? I am no prophet, but it does seem to me that the momentum is growing in our outcry and I would not be at all surprised if something bigger is coming. The Lord hears the cries of the oppressed and He never sits idly by when they cry out to Him.

      • Thank you for saying all that, Jeff. When I went through all that, I had NO ONE but still served God, evangelized and was faithful to churches anyway through my tears and horror. Years later, NOW I’m finding support. That really touched me what you said.

    • Desley

      I am so relieved for you, Jacqueline, that you were set free from your abuser. Everything they told you was completely out of step with the heart of God. Do these people not know Him at all? How can this be?

      • Thank you, Desley. My take on how I was treated was that each denomination, church, and pastor seemed to have traditions of how they interpreted the Bible personally so they relied on those interpretations and did not seek God at all about my situation. It’s like the equivalence of a pastor treating the Bible as a medical text book, taking the words in it out of context, and performing a botched surgery on an innocent patient. The end result is spiritual malpractice all over the body of Christ.

  9. Laurie

    “The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again. But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives.”

    Do WHAT?!? “I won’t be there for you, but if you need me, I’ll be honored to be there for you.” That’s the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, if I ever saw one. Talk about sending a conflicted message.

    • EMSoliDeoGloria

      That phrasing usually means “You are both a mess and you are both the problem. I’m tired of dealing with your sin but when you are ready to follow my advice to the letter, I’d be happy to give it to you.”

  10. Jeff Crippen

    I have to ask pastors and churches and Christian authors the same question that always comes to my mind when I read these stories. “How is it that, while knowing full well that there is wide disagreement among pastors, theologians, and Christians as to the biblical grounds for divorce, each one of you imposes your own opinion on people as if it were definitely THE correct interpretation?” I mean, think about it. Permanence view. Adultery only view. Adultery and desertion view. Divorce but no remarriage view. Why does everyone feel that it is so necessary to impose one of the scenarios on others when, if we were honest for 5 seconds, we would admit, well yes, we could be wrong. And yet pastors like the one who wrote this letter speak authoritatively, they accuse, they pronounce judgment. Why? What is wrong with simply educating our people about what Scripture says, about how Christians interpret those Scriptures – yes, including all the views – and then let them decide for themselves? Obviously if a husband or wife is in open, obvious sin in seeking a divorce, such as adultery or they simply want to “dump” their wife and go find a new model someplace, then yes, the church has a say. Those things are open and plain sin. But if a person honestly believes that ongoing, habitual and unrepentant breaking of the marriage vows (as in abuse) constitutes desertion, is there any reason that the pastor and the church need to have the final say on the matter? I can’t think of any reason.

    • I like what you wrote Jeff! When I looked back over what I went through in various churches, I saw that many of these churches pushed the doctrine of submitting to and obeying pastoral rule and authority, based on a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 13:17 in the King James which states to “obey” spiritual leaders. This type of brainwashing made people like me not validate my own ability to reason and walk in wisdom from my own prayers and relationship to God regarding my abusive marriage. I second guessed myself because it was considered more spiritual to “run it by the pastor first”. So what he thought about my situation won out.

  11. I had just finished taking my marriage vows, in a church, when a few hours later my new husband raped me. Being a deeply religious person and brought up in a Christian church, I believed I had to stay in the marriage, which I did for nearly seven years. That seven years changed my life from what it could and should have been, to what it has been — an empty shell of a life, directionless and frightening. It’s been 30 years since that first rape, and I am just now starting to live, instead of merely exist. The church and other people in power need to be educated about the extent of the damage done to (mostly) women and their children by domestic violence. I’m still a believer, but I no longer attend church and never will again. I have too much distaste for what I believe to be the church’s gross misinterpretation of God’s word when it comes to women’s issues and marriage.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Well, Lucy, you are very welcome here! And I hope that you are indeed re-discovering a joyful life. Blessings in Christ.

    • Lucy, I am so sorry for what you went through!!! I can relate to a lot of your words. I remarried the same abuser twice at the counsel of the church (many pastors agreed with this for me). Even after THAT, I still kept having faith in different pastors and churches and went to quite a few different ones and each time, I’d get some other type of abusive doctrine or treatment thrown at me or others that was about other things not even pertaining to marriages. People still try to tell me their church is “different” and not like what I’ve experienced in dozens of churches in the past from every denomination but when I talk to them about issues that pertain to the treatment of others, domestic violence, and interpretations of Scripture, it’s the same story I’ve heard a million times before. And I want no part of it,

    • Oh Lucy, that’s awful, what he did to you. So glad you came to our blog.
      I will look at your website and read your story there.
      You might like to read the posts we have on this blog about sexual abuse. The categories search bar will enable you to find them.

      • Thank you for the generous and warm welcome. This overall topic is such an important one for women like me, so I truly appreciate the work you’re doing.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Lucy – I just bought your kindle book. At least you are up to 99 now! I look forward to reading it.

      • Gosh, Jeff, thank you so much for doing that. I hope the book is helpful to you in some small way.

  12. Ella Walker

    I have been following these posts ever since I discovered this website recently and finally feel compelled to add some of my thoughts and experience. I was married to an abusive man for almost 20 years and have been through the same thing with different pastors. Desley’s story especially mirrored many of my own experiences. I was raised in a tradition and religion that does not permit divorce and/or remarriage for any reason and I felt totally trapped for most of that time. After 10 years of going to pastors and counselors (those affiliated with my church) I came to the realization that pastors have no clue how to deal with abuse. With God’s help and the help of some dear friends I was finally able to break free. It was no small thing to take my 5 young children and leave him and it felt like a giant leap off a cliff in the dark but God was faithful in taking care of us. The church leaders and people that I thought were supporting me turned against us which was devastating to my children because they were so relieved that we were leaving and they couldn’t understand why everyone else couldn’t see that it was necessary.

    I can look back now 10 years later and know that it was the best decision I ever made for myself and my children. I was able to go back to school and get a bachelor’s degree, a long-time dream of mine, and am now a mediator. The majority of my cases are family and divorce cases. I have had extensive training in domestic violence and how to mediate in those cases to protect the safety of the victim. I would say about 2/3 of my cases involve some form of abuse in the experience of my clients. I have also long had a desire to somehow be involved in educating pastors about domestic violence and how to deal with it, but haven’t really known where or how to begin. I remember having lunch with a lawyer friend of mine and telling him of my desire. He looked at me and said, “Well I think we should just forget pastors and tell people to look for help elsewhere. Pastors are UNBELIEVABLY INCOMPETENT when it comes to domestic violence.” I told him that sadly, I agreed with him but the reason I think it is so important to educate pastors and spiritual leaders is that they are often the first ones that a woman will speak to about her situation, maybe after years of silence, because it seems as though it would be the safe place to go.

    Thank-you for your efforts in this area.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Ella – Wow! Thanks for jumping in and telling us your story and about your present work and ministry. Great stuff. Your friend is right, and so are you. Pastors are indeed unbelievably incompetent in DV cases and we do need to try and educate them or they are just going to keep confusing and hurting DV victims, all the while thinking they are serving the Lord. Thank you for your encouragement. Would it be alright if I emailed you directly and suggested a couple of ideas to you about how you might help us?

      • Ella Walker

        Sure Jeff, that would be great! I would welcome that.

  13. Jenn

    I would be very interested to see a list of questions that would help weed out the lousy counselors. :)

  14. Debbie

    This is a great thread. However, I’ve been considering talking to my pastor(s) and fearing their dismissal of my claims. My husband is always being hailed as such a nice guy. (Yeah, in public!) After reading this, I am fairly certain going to my pastors would be a mistake. I would be double victimized – home and church. I am very, very involved in my church – serve on multiple teams and committees, sign for the deaf each service, teach Sunday school, etc. etc. etc. I love church and love being there. I love Jesus. But I am tired of always saying everything is fine and having a fake happy face. My husband is not a believer and goes to church faking everyone – except he sleeps through every single sermon. Literally. And has outwardly and explicitly rejected Christ. He is emotionally and verbally abusive as well as over-the-top narcisstic. I don’t think he’ll ever get it. He has hurt me and my kids tremendously. They are all teens now and I wanted to leave as soon as they are grown since at this point it’s soon, but now his dr thinks he has early-onset Alzheimer’s. If he does, the Lord is turning him over to the depravity of his own mind. I think his behavior is just so bad that the drs think he has that but he doesn’t because there hasn’t been a decline. He’s been this way for 20 + years. That is not the pattern of Alzheimers. We’re going for a 2nd opinion soon. His dr is trying to convince me. If she’s right, then we will see a decline. And I am stuck. I can’t leave if he has that. I’ll look awful to my kids and I can’t risk that. If he doesn’t then my dream of someday being free can remain but I truly don’t know if I could leave. The church as ingrained in me that you never leave / divorce.

    • Debbie, that’s a really tough situation you are in.
      Many kids who grow up in houses where the dad is abusive do judge their mum and as a knee-jerk reaction resent their mum if she leaves their dad, but this attitude in the kids can be modified, especially if they see that their dad has abused them too, so they see him as the nasty bully he really is. I’m wondering, therefore, whether your kids might come to see that if you did leave him it would not be wrong on your part.
      Furthermore, is it wise or necessary for you to make your decision on the basis of what your kids think? They don’t fully run your life. You have your own choices, and you are free to make them even if they don’t always please other people. It takes courage, I know, and it’s not easy, but I would encourage you to realise that you do not have to be a slave to your children’s opinions.

      And whether or not your husband has Alzheimers you still would have the choice and freedom to leave him, in my opinion. He clearly has stated his rejection of the gospel, and his masquerade of Christianity is bringing him under even more judgment than an ordinary atheist or agnostic living their life in the world is under. I would suggest that you don’t actually ‘owe’ him anything in the way of being his carer as he declines, in whatever form or shape that decline takes. He has repeatedly and chronically violated the marriage covenant by being verbally and emotionally abusive to you and hurting you and the kids so much. That is enough grounds for divorce. Truly, it is. Read my book, or look at the online summaries of my book (you can find the links on our Resources page, see the top menu).

      Regarding your gut feeling that your church would probably double-victimize you if you disclosed the situation in your marriage, I encourage you to trust you gut. Usually our gut feelings are right in this area. We pick up subtle indicators of people’s opinions and prejudices, and we may not register all these pick-ups consciously, but our gut feelings tell us what to be wary of – what is dangerous and what is safe. More particularly: who is dangerous and who is safe to disclose to.

      You are very welcome to come to our blog and share as much as you want. And do check out the Resources page. We esp recommend you read the Why Does He DO That by Lundy Bancroft, and The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Adams .

    • Jeff Crippen

      Debbie- in the end this has to be your decision. We don’t want to minimize the pressures you are under to stay with him. I guess I just want to say – you have biblical grounds for divorce and the right before God to leave. Sadly, as you say, the typical local church creates these terrible dilemmas for abuse victims. Christians play church. Pastors abuse power and pretend. And wicked abusers hide and are enabled.

      I understand fully why you don’t think it wise to go to your pastors. What you say will happen if you do probably will.

      As to owing allegiance to your abuser because he may be failing physically – you don’t. But it is for you to decide if you want to pay the price of leaving. Keep reading about abuse and learn more about its effects on victims and children. You may change your mind. As to loyalty to your church – once more you are not obligated no matter how active you are in it. A church that ignores the pleas of the oppressed cannot make Christ’s sheep stay.

      Now here is what you can do. You can tell your story. We can give you the forum to do so on this blog. Keep it anonymous, no problem there. But we can make it a blog article of its own for all to read. Tell us about the abuse, about how you came to see it, and about what the atmosphere is in your church. By that I mean what is it like to go there, serve, and yet know the reality of your situation? Why hasn’t there been a climate where a person like your husband has escaped church discipline?

      If this is something you would like to do to helps others, and yourself too, contact me at swordtrowel@gmail.com and Barbara and I can give you a hand.

      You are brave. Keep walking out of the darkness and into Christ’s light. Blessings on you.

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