Rays of Light at Christmas Time, by Rebecca Davis
On November 6th and 7th of this year, the Shining the Light Conference 2015 was held in Greenville, South Carolina. Though the conference was specific to sexual abuse survivors and those who care about them, because Jeff Crippen attended, several domestic abuse survivors attended too. (And as we know, there is very often overlap between the two kinds of abuse.)
Back in August, I had received an email from someone who wanted to attend, a single mother of lots of children ages 14 and under. She would be coming from a few hours away and would be unable to afford lodging. Could I find someone for her to stay with? My friend Sally Calder agreed to host a person she had never met.
Sally and the abuse victim/survivor, whom I’ll call Amanda, connected immediately, as well as my BJUGrace partner Kristi Wetzel and so did a couple of other friends. All of us were reeling at the story of this gentle soul, of how not only her husband had abused her, but also her church leaders and the entire denomination. Sally’s description could fit many who read at ACFJ:
She’s a survivor of multiple types of domestic abuse. She and her children work every day to overcome years of terror and control. . . When Amanda first summoned the courage to seek help, she went where she expected help to come — her church leaders. Help didn’t come from these church leaders. Amanda learned the very painful lesson that God is not always at church.
While I listened to a story that included the horrors of domestic violence, spiritual abuse, emotional coercion, and childhood sexual abuse, I sensed a valiant spirit in this young mother. What I saw in front of me was a woman who was doing all she could to learn how to use her voice to advocate for herself and for her precious children, and I was deeply moved. I found myself silently praying for God to protect her and give her an abundance of wisdom.
Amanda’s circumstances were very dark indeed. She had actually met Jeff before, and he had given her the courage to get away. But the situation was still precarious.
Sally and Kristi continued to keep in touch with Amanda. Early in December Kristi let me know that the two of them would be traveling a few hours away to visit Amanda and her children. After enjoying a Christmas festival together, the children ate pizzas Sally had brought, while the adults spent some time getting caught up on Amanda’s difficult state of affairs.
After supper, the children unloaded the car, where they found all the goodies Sally and Kristi had brought, early Christmas gifts. They and their friends had bought items to stock Amanda’s kitchen. Friends had also donated quilts, towels, and gently used clothing. Some had contributed cash. Then, since Amanda and the children wanted to make gingerbread houses for the local people who were helping them, my friends were excited about going shopping for the ingredients for those gingerbread houses, in addition to other groceries.
Though my friends visited for just a weekend, it was a life-changing experience for them, as they heard about not only the hardships, but the provisions. Sally said,
God has raised an army of supporters for this girl, and they are the most unlikely cast of characters. . . . The hands and feet of Jesus were in this unlikely cast of characters who have fed and clothed her children and carried her when she could no longer carry herself.
After they returned home, there was another surprise, which Kristi wrote about at BJUGrace. Sally added,
This Christmas season Amanda and her children are still in limbo with their lives. But God has shown up in remarkable ways. He has shown her that not only will He meet her day-to-day needs, but that sometimes He will delight her with unnecessary but precious gifts that remind her that she is precious to Him.
These two women, my friends, helped to make Christmas a bit brighter for Amanda and her children, along with other people I’ll probably never meet.
Amanda’s dark and difficult situation isn’t over. Sally said,
In my conversations with Amanda, I have been continually amazed that the solid foundation of her faith has not been shaken by her abuse or the very ungodly behavior of these well-respected church leaders. She has told me of the sweet whispers of the Holy Spirit as He contradicted the words of these elders, of how He held her hand in abusive counseling sessions to help her hang on until she could walk out the door. An abusive, controlling religious sect taught her that God (and her life) fit in the small box they built for Him, but God has taught her that He doesn’t fit in any of the constructs of our minds.
Our God is helping her to stand! Daily she bears up under the weight of heavy responsibilities that could be crushing. There are so many issues she has to face; what a complicated labyrinth she is in! But our God is much bigger than all her problems, and He is guiding her in such gentle, tender ways.
We know that the circumstances are bleak, but God is strong. Sally said,
I think Amanda sees glimmers of a future where this pain is redeemed. I believe one day Amanda will be among the unlikely cast of characters that God uses to rescue other women. I hope her soft voice becomes loud and strong.
For those of us who haven’t come out of an abusive situation, circumstances like Amanda’s may seem absolutely overwhelming. Since we can’t fix the problem, we may feel like we want to look the other way. But we can say instead, “Even though I can’t fix this problem, because it’s way, way beyond me, I can shine a ray of light. I can show the love of God.”
If all of us were willing to do that — those of us who say that we follow the Light of the World, who ourselves are told that we are lights in the world — if all of us were willing to do that, then the whole world would be a whole lot brighter.
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Some details in this post have been changed to protect the identity of the abuse victim/survivor.
Rebecca Davis and Jeff Crippen co-authored the book Unholy Charade:Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church* which was published this year.