Abuse and God’s Mercy: Martin’s Story
I was born in 1962, raised in a very strict Roman Catholic home in Roman Catholic schools. Having been gifted with a desire to seek God, I sought Him as best I knew how within the Roman Catholic Church. As a teenager, I felt called to service and even talked to several priests about entering into full-time ministry. I became relatively well versed in Scripture (as defined for me at that time) and often found myself in the fellowship of priests debating God’s intent as revealed in Scripture. Long story short, facing a combination of witnessing rampant immorality in the priesthood along with the overwhelming contradiction of the church with Scripture, I left the thought of service behind and set out to college for a career in corporate finance.
I had given up on service, but would not give up on the Roman Catholic church. You see, we were taught, the Roman Catholic Church is the only church that will be taken up to heaven. Salvation, it was taught, began with that qualification. While I may have disagreed, my conviction was as if to say “I’ll just go about my way and the Sacraments and Church will protect me in the end.” Of course, we know that’s a tremendous lie of the Devil. My journey took me into the darkest hole of life I could have imagined. My corporate finance career prospered but my life grew more and more miserable.
After getting married to Linda in 1989, I ended up being subject to abuse in a marriage for over 12 years. I was punched in the face, chased, threatened, slashed at with knives and even promised death while asleep. At one point, I slept in an empty bedroom for years afraid that I would be killed in my sleep. One of my wife’s favorite tactics was to wake me in the middle of the night to begin an outburst that often turned violent. Never once did I retaliate in kind, and I never once laid a hand on her in violence of any form. For a while I prayed, and even tried to get her involved in the Roman Catholic church. Of course, that was a joyful day for her because she knew that the Priests would never allow me to leave her. She joined. I tried to get the help of the Church. She was right. Imagine being a former college athlete and trying to get help because you’re being beaten by your 5’4” wife. My pleas were met with laughter. As the children grew older (three boys) her attitude grew more and more abusive. It was nothing to find her in front of me with a kitchen knife, and threats to take my life became a daily affair.
I knew her behavior was escalating to a boiling point, and one day I came home to find her face down after taking a handful of sleeping pills. She left a suicide note saying that it was my fault because I was abusive. The police took quite some time to tell me what a wicked and awful man I must be after reading the note. After talking to the doctor at the hospital, I discovered that the pill she took rarely causes death at any dosage and that in any event after pumping her stomach she was never in danger of dying. She later admitted to staging the whole event, and her family confirmed that she had done such a thing twice as a teenager as well. Her outbursts and violence escalated, and I ultimately made a terribly hard decision.
I left her there with our three young children – firmly committed in my mind that I would get custody. How little I knew about courts and custody. If I stayed and pursued divorce, I am certain I would be dead. After nearly two years of separation, the divorce was complete. After the divorce was over, she began abusing pharmaceutical drugs and then recreational drugs. Her emotional and physical abuse on the boys escalated as well. Eventually, they were around me most of the time because she had other places she would rather be than with her children. A school counselor came up to one of my boys, who was sitting on the hallway as school with his hands over his face praying. She said, “Dan, what are you doing?” He responded, “I am praying that God will let me live with my Dad.” That school counselor was the first advocate the boys and I had found in 18 years. Finally, I gained full custody two years later. The judge even revoked her right to visitation.
There are seven facets to this story which confirm God’s loving and guiding hand:
First, I received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior after the divorce and the Holy Spirit began a transformation process that would take volumes to describe. The veil was removed from before my eyes and I suddenly understood God’s love – but most of all His Word came alive in my life. My soul yearned for His Word, which became my consuming passion. Scripture, Church, and my boys became my life.
Second, my three sons came to receive the Lord as well through my efforts taking them to church. I will admit that in the beginning I bribed them with free lunch. One is in Bible college right now committed to serving the missionary field. Though the others are still yet teens, they are committed to serving the Lord as well. One has even committed to full time preaching the word of God.
Third, on the day I was baptized in a Baptist Church (May 11, 2008), right after the ceremony while still at church, God introduced me to the help mate he had in mind for my life – my dear sweet Rachel. I was stunned and distrusted my feelings when I first met her, convinced that I was supposed to be alone the rest of my days. I prayed about it, and refused to even talk much to her, for almost ten months before asking her out for dinner. We were married a few months later.
Fourth, my three sons had never known a woman that loved them unconditionally and would care for them deeply. Their own mother had abandoned them to drugs. Through God’s unending love, I have been married to my sweet Rachel for over three years, and my three sons now know that they too are capable of being loved, and not abused, by a woman they call Mom.
Fifth, my wife Rachel is also a former victim of domestic abuse who thought she would spend the rest of her life alone as well. We had both been victims, and you see a victim has no problem believing that their life might somehow have to be lacking. That’s the first psychological tool of the abuser – get the victim to somehow understand they are less valuable or deserving than the rest of the world. Even after done with abusive spouses, victims seldom challenge abusive churches who would contend that we are still yet lesser than the rest of the world because of our divorce. Today, Rachel and I stand in awe of God’s work in our lives and understand our value as children of God more clearly than ever. I have a tear in my eye every time I describe it.
Sixth, having my own call to ministry being given by God after I came to Christ, I began pursuing a ministry degree two years ago, with the intention of sharing the good news of God’s redemption and deliverance through Jesus Christ. I finished my M.A. in Theological Studies and am now only one short year away from my M.Div. I now minister at a mission for the poor and provide preaching, worship, and counseling one to three times per week in the local prison. It is amazing to me the number of stories of domestic abuse I see in the mission and at prison. A woman I met last week has endured decades of abuse solely because of advice she considered to be biblical counsel. I have found Barbara Roberts book, Not Under Bondage, so very useful.
Seventh, my ex-wife has continued her violent and abusive ways. After she lost even partial custody (and child support payments) she quit her job here and went to go live in a distant state. She has been arrested five times for assault and battery – usually against those she was living with. We do not rejoice to know that she still harms others. We do rejoice that we are no longer under that bondage. We all pray for her.
MY PERSONAL ISSUES WITH DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
Given the overwhelming walk with the Lord described above, can you imagine how shocked I was when someone first suggested I was not qualified to be Deacon, Elder, or Pastor? Yes, that’s right. To add more, the words were “Brother, we’re sorry, but we’ve taken this into consideration and carefully considered your circumstances, and decided that you’re disqualified from being in Church office because of your marriage to Rachel.” I had heard that people may have an issue with my calling to ministry, but God had spoken so clearly in my heart. At the same time, He had given me and the boys such great comfort and love through Rachel. How could she be the cause of bad? I was standing next to Rachel when he told me. I looked at her and said “we’ve got to go to the car.” I cried for a good long time before we could drive away. I will admit, at this point I gave up. I hurt so bad, describing it here brings tears to my eyes.
During the summer that would ensue, I found a Baptist church here locally that does a great deal of community outreach, including door-to-door evangelism and six buses they send around town to pick up children. I went to meet with the Pastor – who has a very extensive library of the works and sermons of Charles Spurgeon. I soon realized he took most of his sermons from Spurgeon outlines, adding his own colorful illustrations, so I thought we would be in pretty good shape. I played down any calling I may have, figuring I must have simply been mistaken. It came time for August to come again, and suddenly God was directing me to get back into training classes. Reluctantly, I said no way. I told Rachel. She agreed. She had seen me hurt enough – we were done. But God would not relent, virtually forcing me back into classes with the demand “walk by faith, not by sight!”
I enrolled in classes for the Fall and, perhaps because of my reluctance to re-enter, God arranged for me to be forced due to scheduling problems into my first course in Hebrew. Man, try being unmotivated to study and learning Hebrew. It is virtually impossible. I was going to have to get over myself and get moving in God’s power on His path. I did. Soon after, I was asked to preach a message at the Mission worship service, so I did. I told my story – how after all my trial God revealed Himself in Me, gave me a new birth in Him, and brought me into His light. As I stood there, people responded, I could feel the Spirit and suddenly it was as if my notes were not even there. I wasn’t preaching – I was watching myself preach by His Spirit. What? Yes. Applause came loudly. I stood in awe of a mighty God who had once again affirmed His grace and call on my life.
Well since then my ministry life has blossomed. A few weeks ago, for example, I was preaching to 19 inmates in a prison chapel. At the end of the service, five made first time commitments to Jesus as Lord and Savior, and one of them shouted out “I want to be baptized,” and then another right behind him “me too!” They will be baptized this Sunday. We run Christ based recovery groups for all sorts of lost souls through the Mission – it is awesome. At a picnic last fall, we had thousands of people at the park, many of which I know well through ministry. They came up and talked with me, prayed with me, and asked me for guidance throughout the day. Late in the day, after one such exchange, Rachel looked at me, and then gazed around the park at all my friends, and said “What do you think?” With a tear in my eye, I said with great joy “These are my people. God is so good.”
MY CURRENT SITUATION
During all this, I have continued my professional career in banking. My current employer has been very gracious – allowing me to work very flexible hours and giving me assignments which I can complete on flexible terms. But God is making it more and more clear – it’s time to take that next step out in faith to full-time service. To the best of my knowledge, no church exists that would ordain a pastor with my background. I rejoice in my service at the Mission and will wait on the Lord for the next opportunity. At least now there’s no quit left in me. God has given me enough trial to know – there’s no option besides perseverance for me.
There is a God in heaven that is more powerful than the nastiest group of Deacons, Elders, or Pastors. He will show each of us His path for us to go, and He loves each of us no more than the other, that is without limit.
Thanks, again, for you wonderful ministry.