Sunday, February 28, 2016

When No One Cared

My husband left early that afternoon for that trip that changed our lives.  It was a routine trip that he had done many times, and we had nothing to worry about.  But it did not end up routine.  I still am unable to blog about all the details of what happened, but he was taken and went missing.

I knew almost instantly because he was going to phone me the minute he got through an upcoming checkpoint - a task normally taking less than five minutes, but I never heard from him again and his phone and his friends phones went silent.  I knew immediately we had serious problems.

But what was I to do?  Phone Dick?  The man who demeaned me at every turn and labeled me as unbalanced and talked behind my back?  I hesitated, waiting, hoping that my husband just met a friend and was talking and forgot.  Dick would belittle me and use it as another example of my instability and weakness.  So I waited.  I phoned others who I knew could pray and be silent.

Two hours later, Dick phoned me.  He had heard an hour before, but decided to phone all the other people on the team and tell them first and me last.  I was only the wife after all.  I still remember that call.   "Hi.  We just heard from (a friend who saw) that your husband was taken.  I've told everyone else on the team.  If I hear anything more, I'll tell you.  Oh, do you have (another friend's) number, I need to tell her.  You do, thanks.  Ok, bye."

That was it.  Nothing more.

My whole life had been spent in the "missionary family".  I already knew without a doubt that this was a distinct possibility and had already battled it out with God before I headed into this ministry.  I had also had the expectation that if such an event happened, I would have the immediate support of my missionary family and we would get through it.

I remember the overwhelming silence after the phone clicked down and Dick moved on.  He never even asked if I was ok, if I needed anything.  No expression of sympathy.  No prayer.  No nothing.  Still, that is Dick.  He is likely somewhere on the Asperger's scale - never been one to do interpersonal relationships well.  He thinks he does them well because he can teach on the "how" of them, but he doesn't actually do what he teaches, just teaches it.  But nothing.

Still, I remember the distinct thought that people would be coming.  After all, we are only two hours from the head office for our mission in this country - from people that will be working to help get him back.  Someone will be here in no time at all.  We also have a local team; they will be here in ten minutes, for sure.  So I quickly cleared up the living room of some games I was sorting, and made tea and set out cookies.  It was the last logical step that my mind was able to accomplish before the fog set it.  I then phoned a few friends, but they were out of town, and I told them to check on me when they got in, but that my team and my mission would be here soon, no doubt, and we would be ok.

Instead Silence.  No one came.  No one even phoned.  Two hours away, and my head office, who were quite aware that my husband was taken and his life was in serious risk, did not either phone me to see how I was or drive over to be with me.  To this day, I can not understand that, and it left a wound that may never completely heal.  I still flinch at the memory and struggle with it.

The next four days were a marathon of pain and hard work and strategic silence.  Everyone needed me.  Getting them out was my job.  The mission did phone the next day and ask for my help with another person.  Then they phoned me the next day and told me that they did not want their name involved, and my husband's best chance lay with the government, so I should phone them and ask them to help get him back.  So I did.  I don't think they ever phoned me again during that time.  I was entirely alone.  Dick phoned a few times.  He told me what was happening over there, which was that no one knew anything.  Once he told me he was turning his phone off and taking a sleeping pill so he could sleep.  Thanks.  I didn't sleep.  Besides trying to get my husband out, I also had to assume that my husband was being tortured and I had to block all methods he had of accessing data that would endanger others.  I worked night and day, and when there was no work, I sat.  I organized prayer support, and I sat quietly.  My church stepped in and the school, but no word from the mission.  Three days later, someone from our local team did come by and provide some support, but from our head offices, nothing.  On the third day, I got a two minute phone call from "Harry", the director to tell me they were thinking of me.  I said thank-you.  I was too busy and too numb to call him out on it.  Besides, he was Dick's good friend and Dick had already stated in his letter that he had shared freely with Harry all he thought about me.  I assumed that my mission did not support me because they thought I was worthless anyway.

Thankfully, God was still there when His people failed, and he had a few people who stepped in totally unexpectedly when people failed.  A widow who lost her husband in conflict phoned me and helped me process the next hours.  A good friend came over and wrapped his arms around me and held me since his wife was out of town and couldn't.  Another friend stopped by and brought snacks.  Others stepped in with food.  People were there after the first 36 hours.  But not the mission.  I guess two hours is a long drive...

And after four very long days, God worked a miracle and returned my husband to our family.  Then began the next season in a very twisted and complicated story with our mission.  My husband wanted me to fly and meet him and spend time with him and his friend who had been with him, but separated.  They needed time together.  Harry, the director of our mission, told me that I should not go, that my kids needed me, and that if I went I would be being a bad mother.  My husband insisted, and I flew to meet them.  I left my kids with my mother who flew in.  But we had to pay for our ticket ourselves and do all the arrangements.  The mission still did nothing, except tell me that my kids needed me and I should just wait until my husband came home.  My husband was furious with them by that point and bluntly told me to tell them that he needed his wife and I needed him, and that was that.  So I left.

Now my husband had already had one night in transit and Dick was able to phone him that night and gather all the critical information to ensure others were safe and all, but on our first night together, Dick phoned at 11:30 at night and was on the phone with my husband until after 1.  That was after being on the phone with his friend all afternoon.  He had no clue of decency, of the fact that we hadn't slept in four days, and that we needed rest and each other.  He continued to phone and disrupt the few days that we had with the four of us trying to recover.  He wanted to talk to help himself process it and decide what to do later.  When my husband refused to take his calls, he began e-mailing me very rude letters insisting that I "make" my husband take his calls.  It was disturbing.

After a week, we came home, and sure enough, Dick flew in and wanted to see us both that first night.  My mother forbid him to come to the house and insisted that the kids get first dibs on their dad.  Then we began the process of a team debreif - what happened and what will the policies be next.  In that team debrief, there was a lot of criticism of us that we did not do enough to reassure people and talk to them during our first 48 hours of freedom.  They felt that because they were all concerned (even though never stopped by our house to show that concern), they each wanted to talk to my husband themselves to reassure themselves.  We had issued a statement that we were ok, but it wasn't good enough.  They were upset that they didn't get to talk to us personally.  No one was there to advocate for us that we needed some rest and recover time.  After a day of talking policy and procedures, Dick was ready to move on to strategic planning for the next six months.

At no time was there ever a personal debrief.  At no time during, after, or in the months to come, did anyone from our mission sit down with us as a couple and ask how we were.  At no time was counseling or trauma debreif offered to us.  At no time did anyone come have a cup of coffee with us and listen.  We actually made the two hour trip hoping to meet our home team, be heard, and be with "family".  We went to an evening event, walked in, and someone came up to my husband, slapped him on the back, and said, "Hey, heard about your adventure!  Four days - that's nothing; so and so spent three weeks in jail in Turkey!"  We were stunned.  We still were not sleeping from the nightmares that would plague us for six months every night, and then decreased to only three or four times a week.  We still have them.  The case in Turkey was a totally different situation,  That man had no fear of death.  It was awful, and he faced separation, but it was not the same.  No one seemed to care more than a few more slaps on the back and an occasional, "Good to see you; we were praying!"  We left feeling ignored.  No one asked how we were doing.  They didn't even sit still long enough to ask.

We came home, and existed for the next several weeks.  We couldn't function.  Thinking through cooking a meal was too much.  I stared at the washing machine once for ten minutes and couldn't figure out how it turned on.  My husband would come home, we'd put the kids in bed at 8:30, and go to bed ourselves to stare at the ceiling.  If we slept, we had nightmares and woke again.  But our brains were too tired to do anything but sleep.

After three months, we asked our mission for help with some debrief counseling.  They told us that perhaps our insurance would cover it, and we should check our policy and if it did, we could arrange it and bill insurance.  We hung up.  Life took so much energy to even write a shopping list; there was no way we would figure out an insurance policy.  We just lived, trying to manage one day at a time.

Now, years later, we look back and wonder what our lives would have been like with proper member care.  Honestly, it never crossed my mind that one could face that type of a crisis and have NO member care provided.  I expected someone with us during the crisis.  I expected at least to be called in to the main office and to meet with a member care person and be heard.  I expected some sort of debrief and trauma care.  But we had nothing.  Then the very fact of being completely ignored in trauma became in itself another trauma actually harder to recover from.  The first was perpetrated by evil men, and there was some sense in that.  Evil will fight against good.  The second was perpetrated by God's own people, and it was hard to comprehend.    Looking back, though, we wonder... had appropriate member care been given, could we have avoided some of the pain of dealing with years of PTSD?  I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Then only weeks after this trauma, our field was plunged into the worst season of trauma after trauma after trauma where you could not even catch your breath between them.  We lost so many friends that it was hard to count them; we cringed turning on our computers and reading the news in case it brought more news of deaths and missing.  We had no more time then to even deal with our own trauma since we were so caught up with others.  Nights brought nightmares and days brought grief.

And our churches began to drop us because we weren't "doing much" and we weren't getting our prayer letters done on time.  Money got tight, sleep didn't come, more deaths hit, and we just weren't functioning well.  Again we asked our mission headquarters for help, and this time they said that they would find someone, but months went by and we never heard from them again.  We felt entirely alone, and began to feel judged even by the church we attended in our "over here" location because Christians are joyful and victorious, and we sure didn't look it.

When no one helps, that itself becomes a secondary trauma.

Harder to heal from.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Then Things Got Strange

As we continued on in this new project, like I feared, things got worse.  I don't know if it was the increased work load, the detailed work focused on little things and not people (outside of my husband's energy-giving sphere), or an attack against us, but things got worse.  My husband would work a full day at the office, come home, nap on the couch until a late supper, and then work for another five hours on the new work.  He would be up early in the morning because that was when people on the other side of the world were up, and on his computer in our bedroom talking away and working.  It didn't do good for our relationship.  I began to parent alone again - entering the awful world of preteen boys all alone.  If the kids disturbed him or were loud at home when he was on the phone - which he so very often was for so very long - he was angry with me for not having them under control.  I had two boys with ADHD attempting to navigate school with varying degrees of success, and I was working a part time job to supplement our income.

We were far too busy.

I tried not to complain.  After all, I was also deeply invested in the work my husband was doing and was willing to sacrifice to see it done.  But I also wanted a husband and a father for our kids.  We hadn't learned to take time out for each other and for family.  A new couple joined us at the office and instead of being a help to us, they came with their own agenda and their own pressure because their sending agency wanted them to do things their way.  That ended up splitting the fledgling church that was in our city because they had to "plant" a church.  Working with an existing fledgling church and helping grow it would not meet the demands of their agency, so they pulled people out of the one to create another that they "planted".  This caused division and trouble among the little group.  They also came into the office and grew very close to one family of the two that worked with us and spent much time with them.... and not the other.  This also caused more problems.  My husband was the "hearer" of the problems and maintained a fairly calm demeanor at work, but then would come home and vent his emotions at home.  One day, I again tried to ask Dick, as our field leader, for help.  He told me at first that I must be lying or exaggerating because my husband "does not get angry".  He told me that my husband had lived with them for a year once and he had never seen him angry, so either I am lying or it is something wrong with me because he never gets angry at anyone else.  This began to erode more and more at my confidence and my sense of self that I hardly knew what to think any more.  I knew he was wrong, but there was no way to talk to him.  He either accused me of being too emotional  or being too logical.  He continued to tell me and my husband that I was "damaged" from my past and that I am weak.

In desperation, I went to our pastor, and my husband agreed to go with me for counseling.  I was actually really optimistic.   This was the first time he had agreed to go to someone besides Dick, and I had great hopes that things would being to work out if only we could talk and get some godly counsel.  The first session, the pastor listened to us talk.  At the end, he handed us this two page list of references.  Bible verses.  About 120 of them.  He wanted us to look them all up; they were references to different sins, and list the ways each of us were sinning according to these verses.  We were both stunned.... but we wanted to cooperate, so we tried to work our way through them all on top of our busy lives.  List after list of sins, we waded through.  When we went back, we mentioned that it was a lot of verses.  His comment was, "Some people would think it is not enough."  On the bright side, it did get us talking, because on the way home every week, we would talk about how odd this pastor's method of counseling was - that he seemed to have no idea of what to do other than condemn people.  But, the problem was, we couldn't stop going without looking like we were rebelling, so we went, but there was little value in it.  He was a good preacher, but not a counselor.

At some point in here, because Dick was still checking on us, and he heard that we were going to our pastor, our pastor wrote him and suggested that we have a break from ministry.  I really do not know what triggered Dick to do this because it only came across my attention later, but Dick wrote my pastor a letter and told him not to listen to me.  It was two pages long of some of the worst slander one has ever seen.  I am tempted some days to change names in it and post it on here because no one would believe it otherwise.  It was vile.  On and on he went, and just when you thought he was done, he added a page of postscript that was more vile than the letter.  He told him that I was lying, that I exaggerated, that I had a psychological disorder that he and another counselor (who when I asked her about it said that not only did she NOT say that, but that she would never because she didn't think it true, neither was she qualified to make such a statement!) both agreed that I had.  That this disorder was shown by my logic and skill in thinking.  He said it likely came from my past of severe abuse, and that I will never be normal or be able to be lived with and my poor husband will just have to endure it all his life; there is no other hope despite a miracle which he doesn't even think is possible.  He told my pastor that I am likely pathological liar and should not be listened too.  He even went so far as to mention all of my family members and drag their characters down stating "I do not even know how her mother lives with her father".  Then he quoted a letter from his wife saying how I do not even care for my own children and my poor husband has to take all the responsibility in our household.  Interestingly, his wife had only visited our house once in the last eight years, and we had visited her once.  When she visited us, I had just fallen on the stairs (yes, really, really - the ER asked me a few questions about that too!!  But I tripped running up them and took a flying fall into the next ones!) and had broken my clavicle and cracked my shoulder blade.  So, no, I wasn't doing much to care for my kids and my husband was very kindly taking most of the responsibility for the kids.  When we visited her for two days, I had just recovered from a pinched nerve in my arm, and my husband was doing most of the child care to give me a break and because he was about to leave for a three week trip and wanted to be with the kids.  I didn't see her point.  (Later, under questioning, he admitted that his wife had never written that, nor seen it, but that he made it up "from conversations we had had together".)  Then, to make matters worse, Dick sent this letter to my husband "to see if I have it right before I send it to the pastor"!  

It is hard to explain how I felt when I stumbled across that letter.  I had always had the passwords to my husband's e-mail accounts and at times would look for a letter or so in order to write prayer letters, and I came across this jewel.  I think my blood ran ice-cold.  I knew before then that Dick was a bad influence on my husband and had the feeling that things weren't being handled well, that I wasn't being listened to with any respect, but I had no idea!  At the time, I was still believing that my husband loved me, but was over worked, suffering from burnout, possible PTSD issues, and his moods were out of control due to the above and his uncontrolled diabetes issues and lack of sleep.  I needed this to change, for sure, but I believed it was possible, and I believed that people would help us in that.

Then this.  Wow.  I didn't even know how to react.  No one would ever believe me if I accused the team leader of something like that.  He was already saying I was illogical (and too logical) and paranoid and a pathological liar.  And honestly, I had no clue who to trust or where I was safe.  Was the pastor saying these things about me, too?  Is this what he was telling my husband about me behind my back?!  No wonder my husband was not being respectful of caring towards me!  I basically shut down.  I couldn't think.  I didn't dare ask for trust or for help again.  Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to copy the letter and save it.  That step saved me later because it gave me the ability to say no when I finally got strong enough to stand up to some of this.  (Years later, when I showed this letter to a few counselors working with us, even they could not hide the shock on their faces.  Two called it blatant spiritual abuse, and one who knew him, called him a misogynist.  But at the time, I had no one to carry the pain of that letter with me or to stand up and loudly contradict it.)

Still, my husband and I continued to work on our relationship, and Seth continued to mentor us, and we got to a relatively stable place and then even moved on to a good relationship.  We began talking more, sharing our hearts, taking time for each other, and life was good.  Then my husband was excited to start working in a new ministry... a culmination of the project he had taken on before.  He was so excited.  I was thrilled for him.  I went on a trip and began a new ministry myself of writing.  Life was good.  Seth was over visiting, and we had a relaxed and wonderful time.  A few weeks later, my husband packed to go on one trip that changed our lives.  We just didn't know it would when we packed his bags that last evening.  We were so happy with our family life and all we had struggled through to get to this point of peace.  Life was about to change, and we spent that last evening sewing some aprons together for a friend who wanted some.  (Shh... don't tell, but my husband can sew quite well!)

A Too Busy Life

Moving take a lot out of you!  Still working it all out...  but it is good here.

Back to the story..

We went on like that for a few years.  Dick consistently speaking bad of me to my husband, my husband up and down with good times and bad, times of managing well, and times of emotions and sleep all out of whack.  We lost more friends.  Just a few at this stage, but a few good ones. Seth and his wife continued to mentor us both.  I began to come to some peace with God and work through a lot of the pain of my past and began to grow and relax in my relationship with God.  I had a job I loved with old people besides my ministry.  Life was often stable with occasional bad times.  After two years attempting to make friends in a big church, we changed to a smaller one.  It was a good church, and we settled in and made friends.  We noticed that their theology was slightly more restrictive than ours - they weren't at all sure if the Holy Spirit had any role in the world today and were pretty sure that miracles only happened in the time of Acts for a reason then.  We ignored that because we were quite used to functioning in community with believers that have varying beliefs than ours.  We liked the church, liked the preaching, and had found a home for our hearts.

We had a few decent years.  Life went on well.  Ministry was going fairly well.  Then we went back into our default mode of working too much,  My husband brought work home; because his work involved so much virtual work, there was always someone up at any hour of the night that wanted to work with him, and he has a hard time saying no.  Family life suffered.  His travels took him at times for five to six weeks long trips.  Dick encouraged longer and longer trips because it was more cost effective to do even more "while you are there".  Seth warned that this was not good for the family, but Dick himself was gone from his family for extended periods and saw no problem with it at all.  If I said something, he complained to my husband about his "weak" wife.  The longer trips with the increased danger as the situation "over there" got more intense began to wear on my husband again and he began to be more and more short tempered.  I asked once to speak alone to Dick when he was visiting.  I was hoping to discuss this increase in exhaustion that my husband was showing and see if there could be some balance.  Even things like a day or two off after a month long trip for some family time and allowing us to decompress.  But Dick was too busy.  Despite my repeated requests for some time to meet with him and several trips a year that he made to our office, it took him over a year and a half to give me ten minutes of his time.  Then he agreed that my husband should not work so much, but did nothing to change his ways of constantly throwing more at him and needing him for about ten hours a day his first days home.  Nothing changed.

Then an important event occurred in our lives that I still think is key.  We were doing reasonably well in our marriage but just overworked.  Then we took on a very key project for my husband's country.  We ended up with this project because the person doing it before - their marriage almost ended.  I remember thinking when we agreed to take it on that "ack, that will put us on the front lines of the enemy's attack", and I wasn't sure I wanted it.  But it was critical, so we took it on.  I remember that we called our pastor over for a cup of coffee that week and shared with him what we will be doing.  We asked for prayer because doing this project would subject us to attacks of the evil one and asked for prayer, especially for our marriage and family life as we do this.  Our pastor looked straight back at us and said something that I still remember with absolute clarity.

"That is the scariest thing I have ever heard; people blaming their problems on the devil."

I remember it because I was stunned.  It felt like we had just been slapped.  We were not coming to him with problems.  Yes, he was aware that we had issues at times in our marriage, but we had been doing well for quite some time, and we were not going to him with problems,  We were simply asking for prayer protection over our family as we ventured into a new field of ministry.  We were asking because we had just seen our coworker who previously had this project have his marriage almost fall apart during his time with it.  But that was his response...  and we were stunned and speechless, feeling ashamed and scolded.

Needless to say, after that we did not go to him for little things.  We did not go to him and say, "We've had a rough week, can you pray with us or talk with us."  We felt already judged before anything happened.  We really didn't have too many other people to go to either.  Dick was still the same old Dick - running around too busy or too busy typing away at his computer not really aware of the people in his life to really pick up on issues and relationships.  We hadn't seen or heard from our head office two hours away except for three times a year: the Christmas party, a summer weekend retreat, and the board meetings.  We had Seth, still faithfully mentoring us from a distance, and we had our kid's school which was a community of caring people that we had friends in, but friends who were very removed from what we were doing that it would have been hard to explain what we were facing.  They, however, did end up to be the most supportive group we had.