Saturday, January 15, 2022

I Should Write

 People say that often... "you should write"  or "do you have a blog?  You should!"

I always smile and say, "Maybe one day...." or "I'm too busy to write..."

I am.  One day, I should tell you what I am up to now - it's amazing, and I love it, and life giving and deeply involved in ministry that I was created to do!  

But I didn't write my story mainly for one reason - to protect people.  And usually to protect people who didn't deserve protecting.

To protect an abusive spouse's image.

To protect the name of a mission that told me they wouldn't listen to any claims of abuse.  Who told my that I was a "pathological liar" because he was not angry outside the home.

To protect the name of another mission who told me that while they believed he was abusive, that I was also abusive to him (but they would not tell me any of the accusations against me because the accuser "wouldn't cooperate with their request to do that"), so they decided that it was a situation of "mutual abuse".

I didn't write because I protected everyone.... everyone except myself and my kids.

After the second mission came to their inherently uneducated decision, I launched on a process of appeal and attempts at education.  Not so much an appeal of my personal case because I told them I would not appeal that.  I had hoped that if I took everything I had to gain out of the situation, that they would be more open to learning and less defending.  I attempted to advocate for their ill-informed process of dealing with domestic abuse (oh, and an affair.).

I failed.

It was a year of very hard advocacy.  There were about five main points I went for:

1. The wisdom of having a woman on the deciding panel and team dealing with a situation.

2. Proper domestic abuse training for members and leaders, and more indepth training given to member care people.

3. That the voice of professionals ie, counselors, psychologists, etc, be taken into account and their view on a situation considered.

4. That a process of appeal be open and told to all members so that when they feel a situation is not being heard well, they have a route of appeal.

5. That all accusations that one would be fired on or disciplined on be made known to the accused prior to action being taken on them and the accused be allowed to both hear and answer to the accusations.

I thought they were pretty reasonable requests, and I fought well and hard.

I was able to make changes in that mission agency for #1, #2, and #4.  

But no progress on the biggest one that will help victims of domestic abuse be safe #3 and #5.   Abusers tend to be hard to spot, very manipulative, and get in close with leaders and inflate their sense of worth and usefulness.  Mission leaders tend to be about usefulness, great stories, good PR, and administration.  They are often not trained in psychology or counseling or capable of seeing the harder to spot signs of manipulation and abuse.  They are not the people to make the decisions, but without the voice of a professional being valued, they are often the ones who will make the decision.  #5 The basic principle of transparency is the key to avoiding manipulation and abuse.  

Basically, "Walk in the Light".  It's what we are called to do for a very real reason.

And I failed.  I feel that failure.  I gave up so much for it.  I fought so hard.  I am really struggling with that failure.  You see, I wish I had had someone to fight for me, to advocate for me all these years, and I went in to this to advocate for safety for the next "me".  And I lost.

However, during that season of advocacy, I didn't write because I was protecting the agency.  I really, really wanted to sit down at the end of it and write the story of redemption.  The story of an agency who got it, who learned, who implemented safe practices.  

But it didn't end up that way.  I did create some safety.  I did create some awareness.  I did create some waves within the organization that I hope continue to fight for better practices.

But I am deeply tired, deeply sad, and deeply wounded.  I wanted a faith that apologizes when we do wrong, but the organization changed several policies, but refused any apology.  The "we should have done this better", but "you're not worth us apologizing to for having done this poorly".

That does not reflect the heart of God.

But I have just been set free from my "not now" in regards to writing my story.  I am no longer protecting anyone.  It is time to begin to speak, but I am still sorting out how that will be.

What I do know is something watching Jesus sit with His disciples at the last supper.  He was asked who would betray Him, and He knew!  He knew exactly who it was.  But He didn't answer right away.  He gave this coded answer...  why?

I think that initial refusal to say "Hey guys, Judas is going to betray Me tonight and get me killed."  allowed time for each disciple to search their heart.  For the internal response to me more a "is it me?  It's not, is it?"  rather than "kill Judas!"

I may not name the organizations when I find my voice.  Because it is less about "oh, that group is crappy!" and more about "how are we set up to face this?"

Because the stats say that one in four marriages have a level of abuse in them.  Even if the stats are a little off, that is a heck of a lot of people!  Too many for our churches and missions to hide their heads in the sand and assert that "we don't really face that problem, thank God."  They do.  They just haven't made a safe place to deal with it yet.

It's time to do that.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Journey Started Here

 The journey to freedom started here.  This quiet blog among other missionary women.  Where I could write because I was unknown.

I still wrote very carefully.  Very carefully.

I had already been told I was crazy to suggest my husband was angry, and I hadn't yet had the bravery to admit to myself that it was beyond angry and was abusive.

Ya'll told me that.

A part of me knew it, but it was still a shock.  That other people saw that.  I look back and wonder why it was a shock.... and I think it was because the church/mission/believers had been telling me for years that it wasn't.  I began to believe them and my husband that I was crazy.

I knew I wasn't.  But I also knew I wouldn't be believed if I said what was happening.

But looking back, I see where I first saw it.  I saw those first steps.  And I remember the shock of the first person naming it as "abuse" and suggesting I pray about getting out.  I had prayed I would survive, stay alive longer than him, not be killed, but to pray about getting to safety wasn't something I thought I could do.

I didn't believe that first person who called it abuse, though.  I said to myself, 'no, he's just that angry because......"

I sat a few weeks ago with a young wife who told me that line,  "I know it is only because......... that he gets so angry, but it scares me when he does."  I wanted to grab her from her side of the table and run far away.  She's not ready to name it yet, but I see it, and I know the path she is about to walk on and all I can do is pray for mercy.

I didn't believe it either.  I was trained by an expert in making excuses for his behavior.  He did it all the time.  So did the mission.

When it got really bad a few years ago and I bore the bruises of how bad it got, I was scared to call my organization.  The last time I had done that, they accused me of being a pathological liar.  One day, I will post that letter here - the reality of what collaboration with abuse by enablers looks like.  So I called a friend's mom - a member care person with another organization in another country.  I asked for help in knowing how to cope with the stress in my relationship.  She listened for fifteen minutes, and then interrupted me to ask if I was safe and if I needed help getting out to a safe place.  I paused, and said, "no, I... I'm ok...".  She told me, "in ok relationships, people don't threaten to kill you or say they wish they could."  

It still took a few months before I was able to admit to myself that this was something more than an angry spouse.  It took my pastor telling me to get out, trusted friends telling me for years that this was not safe and I had two counselors asking if I was safe, my kids worrying about my safety when they left the house.... it took a lot.

And yet I was judged later for not speaking up earlier.  Or more - my mission blaming me that I hadn't told them when we applied.  As if I could have in front of him... as if I was even ready to feel safe enough to speak up.  Instead of support when I spoke up, I got judgement.  Again.

Why don't women "just" leave?  Because there is no "just" about it.  It take immense bravery and a lot of support, and it costs deeply.  But that journey started here. 

I owe a debt of gratitude to you all.  My watchers and prayers and truth speakers.

Monday, October 11, 2021

At The End Of Tomorrow, Looking Back

 It's been a long time.  So much has happened.  And where to start?  But I feel the need to write again because there are lessons from this life that I want shared, that I want learned.

There's the basics I could say - this and this happened, and then that, and then that.  And I probably will now.  I am not longer in a position where I can not speak what happened.  I am no longer in a situation in which I can not name the agencies who reacted the ways they did that were perhaps equal to the abuse that I lived in.

The question is whether there is value in that.

The tendency of people when they know what agency is to say, "Oh, them!" instead of question, "Is it me?"  Maybe the reason Jesus initially didn't tell His disciples in the upper room who was going to betray Him that night.  Maybe He wanted them to question their own hearts.

I'd rather leave it unnamed because I don't believe the two mission agencies who reacted like this are an aberration.  I believe they are the norm.  And that is profoundly sad.  And that compels me again to write.  Older.  Sadder. And wiser.  

I will write the lessons I wish someone had written to my younger self.  I will write the wisdom I wish someone had shared with my mission's member care people.  I will write the insights I wish my churches had known.

There's bright spots along the way.  There's learning.  There's beauty.  But there is deep pain, and there is deep error and deep betrayal by the very people who should be speaking loudly and clearly for the God who hates violence.

We can do better.

We must do better.

And to do better, some of us must tell our stories.  And others of us must listen.  So I begin here, at the end of my tomorrow, looking back.  There will be more tomorrows ahead, and I believe those tomorrows will be better, but I am at the end of this one.  

Because I have stepped out of an abusive relationship.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Sticks and Stones

 Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me...

We learned to chant this laughingly on the playground when other kids said things about us.  But even then, we knew it wasn't true.  We just learned that you will only get in trouble for the sticks and stones, but words went unpunished.

I knew the day that there were bruises on my arm, but I should have seen it clearly before.  Maybe I did, but the weight of trying to explain it and be believed was too great. 

The sad truth is that the Christian world is not set up to recognize, understand, and come alongside a wife suffering emotional and verbal abuse.  We default to preaching forgiveness, grace, patience, long suffering.  And we quickly and easily believe passionate verbal promises to be better.  We want to believe them.  We want to believe that when we confronted a brother and he "repented", that we have saved our brother and saved the marriage, so our pastors and elders are quick to believe these repentances.  

We're also quick to believe that the people we see and know are transparent.  That the person we see is the person who is.  Maybe that gives us a sense of security, but our churches are quick to believe their eyes, and less to believe the eyes of someone else.  "But I've known him for years.....!  He's so nice.....!"

In public, yes.

Then comes the most twisted tool, but it comes in almost every situation.  I've seen it happen to me repeatedly.  It's happening again now.  And the very twistedness of it is what makes it so effective.  They blame their wives for "having emotional problems"  or "having unresolved issues from her childhood" or "having some psychological problems"  and ask for prayer for her.  It is almost as if people take a huge breathe of relief - "ah, that explains it"!  Then they have a context for the things that haven't made sense up to then.

And in one line, the abusive person both bolsters their own position, gaining support, and silences the victim.

Because it makes sense.  People nod and think back.  Yes, haven't we all seen how upset, withdrawn, troubled, sad, whatever she looks at times?  He's usually so nice, outgoing, talkative, willing to serve, friendly, but yes, she has issues at times.  We've all seen that.

They have.

What they haven't seen is that on the way to church, she was subject to verbal abuse.  That she was cut down, told she was nothing, she was his biggest mistake, that no one could ever love her, that she's lucky she has him because no one else would ever put up with her, that the world would be a better place without her.  And as they pull into the parking lot, she's told to straighten up right now and put a smile on her face so people don't see how crazy she is.

And she tries.

And they walk into church.  And he greets everyone cheerfully and with enormous kindness for the details of their life.  "How's your mom after her stroke?", "Wow, new haircut! It looks great!", "have you lost weight, you're looking wonderful!".  And she trails behind, more silent, trying to smile.  Struggling to reconcile the man she sees now with the one she saw five minutes ago.  The stark difference re-enforcing his words that maybe it is something about her.

So when she tries to get help, and he pulls out this twisted tool, "please pray for me, she has emotional/psychological issues", people think back to how they have perceived them and nod and agree.  And not only is she silenced yet again, but judged and de-valued.

Maybe one day, she's strong enough to try again.  And she gets the simple question, "why didn't you just leave?"  or "why didn't you just say something?" 

Because she tried.  And there was no "just" about it.  It wasn't just easy.  And it wasn't just.  Because a spoken apology is given great weight in the absence of real repentance, and yet the spoken testimony of what has been said is not given weight.  Not seen as abuse, but as a "communication breakdown" or as "arguing".  You need to work on your communication.  You need to try better.  You need to keep the house cleaner.  You need to meet his needs.  You need to speak better about him in public so he feels valued. You need to learn to phrase things better.

But where is the statement, "You need to be protected from abuse"?  Because we think that if it didn't leave bruises, it isn't abuse.

My bruises healed in a week.  My soul still bears the scars of words.  And sadly, not only my husband's, but those added by those he was able to turn against me.  I still face that today.

The Lord is a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. This is the verse I cling to.  I know my God.  I know His heart.  And while I don't know the future, I know He is there in it, and He will still be a shield about me, still be my glory when so many people will say I failed, and will be the One who lifts my head.  When He lifts it, He lifts my gaze to meet His eyes, and His view of me.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Day I Knew

 It really started out like any other day.  I had people coming, but everything was under control.  Except one thing...  you see... I'm a doula now.  And babies have never listened to my plans for the day.

This mom was a midwife herself, so when she called, I knew she meant it was time and it wasn't just early labor.  She's stoic and informed.  She also wanted me there.  A new country, a new language, a new system... she wanted help, she wanted another woman there with her.

This is my life now, walking through pain with people, encouraging them, reminding them that they are stronger than they think.  And slowly, I've been surrounded by women who remind me of that as well.

I rushed home to complete one thing and grab my bag, quickly calling my husband to arrange one final detail, and setting my daughter on cooking chili.  Looking forward to a "good birth", a woman determined to go through this well, and to welcome this beautiful baby girl.

But it is the smallest things, you never know when they will come, what they will be, how to predict, or how to avoid.  And that day, it was a load of laundry unfolded on the couch that set it off.  That one load became "the whole house is trashed" and was followed by a angry "why don't you schedule your babies better?!"  And it began.

I sighed and came back in to fold the laundry - a task my daughter would have done one she got the food cooking - and load the few dishes in the dishwasher before I ran.  Already conscious that I had got the second call of "where are you?!!  I don't want to go in without you!"  And as I walked in, it hit me - my doula bag thrown across the room, and then I was grabbed and shook.  More words followed, but my brain froze in shock.

Up to that point, I had not named it.  But that day, while I rapidly folded laundry and loaded the dishwasher to the wide eyes of my daughter trying not to be caught meeting my eyes, I knew that it was time that I begin to face what is.  This is abuse.

I drove in after quickly calling my oldest son to get home to be with his sister, and I began to shake.  It wasn't that the shaking had been so bad.  The next day, four finger point bruises would be visible on my arm, but it was that the realization was overwhelming. This is abuse.

I left that birth as soon as baby was out because I needed to be home again.  The baby's name was one which meant "health".  I look back and see that as fitting.  Because as painful as it was, it was the first step to health to name my reality.

It was still a long trip from that day to now, but it began that day.  I did the usual - go to the church.  The church did the usual - you need to get better at communication.  They also suggested the usual - anger management would be good for him, but never followed through that the very agreeable man sitting in front of them smiling and nodding to every suggestion did what they asked once he walked away.  They also did the usual - if you kept a cleaner house, if you had food ready, I'm sure it would all work out.

I cringed.  I had heard it all before.  But a little voice inside of me this time said, no.  No.  This is not an argument.  This is not frustration.  This is not lack of communication.  This is not burnout.  This is not ptsd.  This is not a clash of cultures.

This is abuse.  And this is not right.  That was the day I knew.

It was abuse far before hands were laid on me.  Because bruises heal in a week, but the wounds from words designed and spoken to wound last years.  They alter a person until one barely recognizes who you were - if you even remember that person.  But we've been taught that it's only abuse when there are visible marks. So we ignore the wounds on our soul, wounds laid over wounds over more wounds, and we try to find that magic formula that will improve our communication or figure out what part of the house is the one that was needed to be cleaned that day, whatever it is to bring peace, but peace does not live in the house with abuse.  A lull can, but never peace.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Breaking My Silence

 There is a time to break the silence.  To speak things as they are.  To face truth.

That time comes often before we are ready to admit it is here, but it still comes, standing quietly until we acknowledge its existence.

First we have to speak the truth to ourselves.  An intimidating task.  To face what is, to call it by its real name, to deal with the stigma.  To deal with the emotions and shame of it.  

Then we have to speak the truth to others.  And few will believe it.  They will say they do, but their actions belie that.  They believe a lesser truth, one easier to believe.  And while you struggle to face the truth, their hesitation to believe will be deeply wounding.  Because it comes across as accusations.

And you've faced far too many of those.

The choice is then to retreat back into silence or continue to speak.  To speak the truth of what is.

There is a time to speak.  A time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecc 3:7

That time has come.  To tell my story.  To face the label of what it is.  

And yet, I stand, like I did on the early mornings beside the cold pool before my swimming lessons, shivering.  Afraid to jump. 

But when I took that jump, I learned to swim.  And it is time for learning that I will not sink, but I will learn to swim.

It's time.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Tentative Hunt

We took a few days to cry together, to blink, to stay home and put in the garden.  We tried to absorb the shock.  They carefully planned all of this so that it landed on my husband's birthday as the last day he was allowed in the office.  We decided we would fight back, and we threw a huge birthday party at our house.  We knew the team needed to gather, to see we were ok, and to have a formal goodbye since nothing was planned.  So we threw a party.

First of all, Harry tried to cut off our e-mail.  Well, strangely, the office e-mail was not belonging to the mission, but it was something my family members (I belong to a family of highly intelligent, geeks.) had set up and were running.  My family refused.  Harry insisted.  My family then said that if they pushed that, they would take down the entire system that they had set up to run the entire office.  Harry backed down fast.  It was the first step to say no, to set limits on the damage, and it felt good to win it.

We began with phoning someone who was in our organization but who sounded like he had an idea of member care.  Well, in the meantime, he had left the mission, but he referred us to a church that he used to work with with some good counselors.  We drove all day and went down there.  They had a child psychologist meet with my daughter, and they had someone meet with us.

We told this psychologist the whole story, including all the "care" we had received to this point.  He shook his head, sighed, and said that it is all too common of a story.  He strongly recommended that we leave the mission.  He also referred us to a missionary debriefing center.  We also met with the church's mission team who listened for the first time to the trauma, laid hands on us, and prayed for us.  What a difference!

At home, I did my research on the debriefing place, but one thing worried me.  They did all their work in groups.  I was worried about the effect of our story on a group of people since most of what they did was furlough debriefing.  I felt that if we went in a group and told our story, it might have the unintended consequence of making other people feel like their stories were nothing, and I did not want that to happen.  Everyone's experience is valid and deserves to be heard and valued.  I didn't want to make people who suffered the confusion of having to see poverty up close and feeling unable to help everyone to feel like they didn't have a real reason to be struggling.  So I phoned the center, and explained what we had gone through and my concerns.  The lady on the phone took a deep breath, thanked me for calling, and agreed that yes, it would not be good to be in a group for that.  She also expressed shock that we were years in and our mission had not sought help for us.  She recommended that we phone another place that was actually set up not as a furlough debrief, but a trauma care center for missionaries.

During the summer, we also headed down for a week at my former Bible school.  We asked for their advice, and again we were urged to leave the mission and not stay in it.  We were told to look forward to what God has for us and be thankful that it will no longer be with them, but God will have something better.  We rested there with them and enjoyed being loved.

Again I did my research.  After being so burned, we took our time to thoroughly research everything.  We also phoned two more people, another person from our organization and another good friend.  The first apologized and said they already knew that our organization severely lacked member care and they were sad that this had happened.  They supported us looking for debriefing and trauma care and prayed with us. The second person listened and also referred us to the place we had already been referred to.  They said they had also been there and they were very helpful.

So we picked up the phone and applied to go.  Another friend strongly recommended that we take the entire family to this place.  The costs were in the thousands... and we had no money.  So hesitantly, we wrote our home church asking for funds to go.  Our home church wrote our mission and our local church and asked what they thought.  Our mission wrote them back, ccing us, and told them not to support us going there because we were not focusing on the things they told us to, our marriage, and were looking for other types of care that "may have some benefit, but are not the problem".  So our home church refused to support us.  We cried that night.  But the next morning brought news that one supporter was giving half of what we needed because he believed in us and knew we needed some help.  We scraped the rest, and some friends donated as well, and we set out to go.  To be honest, our hopes were not that high, but we set out to go.

Merciful - To All of Us

I was once reading soldiers recollections of WWII.  There was a story of a battle near the trenches, and a man was injured out in the mud a few hundred feet from the trench.  Night fell, and all sides were hunkered down in their trenches, all but this badly wounded man in no-man's land.  No one could get him without risking being shot at, and he was badly injured.  No one thought he would live all that long.  But he was screaming.  He screamed and screamed in pain.  He screamed for his mom, and he groaned and howled in agony.  This went on for four hours into the night.  Darkness in the trenches and silence save the screams of a dying man.  It made all the soldiers huddled in the trench nervous.  It stole their courage.  That might be them out there, and they began to break down hearing the pain of another.  Finally, one man, a native Canadian who could walk sure footed and silent, went over the top.  He made his way to the injured man, and there was silence.  Silence went on until he slipped back unseen into the trench.  The guy telling the story said he asked the native Indian what happened.  

"He's dead now.  I slit his throat.  Merciful - to all of us."

I thought, "You know, an army without a good recovery/medical capacity will kill its wounded".  Not because they think the wounded are useless, but because it affects them too much.  "Merciful - to all of us".  Now they don't have to hear the cries.

We were required to meet with a couple on the team when we returned from this odd counselor's house.  They wanted an assessment of what was wrong, and the counselor mentioned that possibly I may have ADHD. Ok, I may.  So may my husband.  Not severe.  So they settled on that and asked me to get assessed for that.  I told them that while one or both of us may potentially have ADHD, it was not the problem.  We were getting closer... it was a set of initials, but they needed to try PTSD. Nope, they insisted.  So I told them that I would ask for a referral to a doctor.  Socialized medicine meant that that referral would take a year or two, so I had no worries about agreeing.  I just didn't agree without reminding them that it was PTSD, not ADHD that was causing the problems.  Because I did not agree and kept telling them something, they again labeled me as argumentative and a problem.

It would have been amazing how argumentative and how not a problem they would have found me to be if they had just simply considered the obvious - we were suffering from PTSD.  I actually had more training in psychology than anyone on the healing team dealing with us, but no one would listen.

Then our home church got involved when getting reports from our mission and are local church.  They decided that I did have a problem getting along with people and that I needed to see a counselor to learn how to communicate better.  I really wouldn't have minded, except counselors are not cheap and they were not paying!  I told them there is no way I can afford a Christian counselor, so they told me to find a non-Christian one. I also needed help for my daughter, so we went in search of one together.  I found one that said she could do the treatment my daughter needed, except when we got there she said she couldn't.  She also had no clue about faith and asked my daughter dumb questions like, "so do you think what you dad believes is important to him?"  We both hated going and talking to her because she was spacey.

But somewhere in there, I began to work more, and as I began to work more in a healthy environment with people who believed in me and valued me, I began to see myself differently. I also began to be open with my coworkers about my PTSD.  They began to help me when I had flashbacks or triggers.  They'd walk the halls with me, bring me a cup of tea, or simply give me a hug.  I began to believe that I could survive.  I began to see the difference between the emotionally and spiritually unhealthy environment of the mission and the church and the healthy environment of the school I was working in.  This stabilized me enough to allow me to take action instead of only reacting.

My first action was one of passive rebellion, but it gave me the giggles, and enough strength to begin to think I could resist and work outside the abusive system that had set itself up.  I got tired of seeing and paying for seeing this totally useless counselor.  I read the letters from the church that kept insisting that I see a counselor... and then it hit me!  These counselors would never report to the church - the law forbids it and they will not break the law because they think as Christians they can.  They will not even tell the church if I go or not.  A small giggle began to form... the letter only asks that I see a counselor - not that I talk to one!  So every week, on the way home from school, I would drive by the building where the entire lobby was glass walls.  I would pull in the parking lot, stare in the building until I saw a counselor with their tags on around their neck.  Then I would drive home.  I dutifully reported that I was seeing a counselor weekly, and it was really helping.  It was!  It was giving me my power back, reminding me that I was capable of standing up to abuse, and making me laugh again.  In an odd way, it was the beginning of recovery from PTSD.  PTSD can happen when horrific things outside your control happen suddenly and you can't cope.  This small step of taking back control began to tell me that I could, and I began to breathe again.  The church was very happy that I was finally cooperating and seeing results.  I was happy, they were happy, and some breathing room was gained.

A few months went on.  We heard nothing.  Then we were asked to plan a meeting with Harry and our pastor again.  We asked that they hear us before the meeting, as they still had not yet taken any time to listen to us, but only tell us what they knew was wrong about us.  At this point, in January, they asked that we write a letter together and tell them what we thought was wrong.  We were so relieved!  Finally, we would be heard!  WE worked on the letter for two weeks, carefully detailing all the trauma we had been through since we first began moving towards the field years before.  We counted and were in the high forties of friends we had had killed.  We had been in several critical incidents and a few near misses.  And then the trauma.  We detailed it all.  We wrote that our marriage had been doing well before this trauma, and then we began to suffer PTSD.  We wrote about how PTSD was affecting each of us and how that it together was affecting our marriage.  We talked about the nightmares, the lack of sleep, the heightened sense of fear, the fog our brains were in, the anger outbursts, everything.  We asked for trauma care, for PTSD counseling, and for a trusted couple to meet with us weekly and pray with us and listen to us.  We were so happy.  January and February were happy months.  We knew that something good was going to come now that we were finally listened to.

In February, I went on a missions trip with my son and with his class.  It was a wonderful time, and I spent an emotional break from the abusive environment we were in.  In March, Harry was gone, so we planned to meet in April.  The day came, and we were nervous, but happy.  We drove to the church, and saw Harry in the parking lot.  He was tired, so we offered to grab him a coffee.  He agreed, so we drove and got one.  Then we filed into the church to meet with our pastor.

We didn't see the knife in the dark.  We didn't know that they had no intention of getting help, but only of silencing the cries of the wounded.  It was merciful.... for us all.

We sat down and there were about 30 seconds of "how are you?" and then Harry began to talk.  We blinked our eyes in shock.  He said that as of now, we are to step down from our positions, hand in the keys to the office, our e-mails would be shut down, and we were placed on a forced sabbatical.  We were to do no work, not come to the office, not show up for prayer meeting.  They would write a letter to all our supporters and tell them that we were placed on leave for moral failure.  We were not to say one bad word about the mission in all this time, and if it was found out that we did, then they would take our support.  During the 18 months of leave, we were to work on the course of counseling at our own expense that they decided we needed, and at the end of it, they would evaluate us and see if we would be allowed back.

We blinked. And swallowed.  And my husband asked if they had even read our letter.  Yes, they had, we were told.  But we were handed a letter that was what Harry had read to us.  Both of us noticed the date on it - before we were given permission to write them, and before they got our letter.  

We were kicked out.  And given a gag order.

My husband took it better than I did.  We had been twenty years in this mission, and had grown up with them as children.  And that was that.  With threats.  But he took a deep breath, and told me as we left not to worry, God was in control, and we would make it through.  

What followed was the hardest months ever because of the gag order.  We told a few close friends who could be counted on not to gossip back.  Two told us to sue them, but we did not feel that that was the right course of action.  We sat down and decided that we would take a few months and not even deal with them, but that we would begin a search on our own for the help we needed.  In a way, it was a blessing, because we began to take the action that we needed.  We were forced into it.  Oddly, the two of the first people we phoned were people inside our mission, but people who were wise and good listeners, and not in our country.

As far as the mission was concerned, they had silenced the cries.  What they didn't know was that they had injured more.  We went that night to our team, family by family, to tell them the news.  As a unit, they all decided that they would leave too.  They could not work for a mission that did that, and they would not stay.  We begged them to stay.  We told them not to think of us, but to think of the people they are ministering to.  To remember that they serve God, and not the mission board, and to continue in that.  We told them we would be ok, we would survive.  We asked them to accept the new leaders and stay.  The new leader was one of the healing team, one who was that very day we were in that meeting emptying and rearranging the entire office so that when we arrived back to pick up my husband's computer, we were handed boxes of stuff that they no longer felt belonged in an office - all the team's kids toys, coloring books, and nap blankets from when the little kids would come after school to do their homework in the break room and hang out for prayer and family suppers.  We always questioned this team member's motives.  He had always been a team leader, and had come here to take a secondary position, but always seemed to push for leadership.  We walked away.  We sorted the toys out that night and gave them back to the families they belonged to.  An era was over.  The team was no longer a family working together, but only an office.  

An army without a good capacity to heal its wounded will kill them.  To be merciful to everyone.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Wrong Medicine Can Be Deadly

When I was a child, I almost died of a drug mistake.  A pharmacist gave my parents the wrong drug when I was just a toddler, and the results put me in a coma.  Had it not been for my dad being aware and arguing with the doctor when his instincts said something was wrong, I would have died.  The next session in our lives were much like this.  When wrong medicine can do massive harm.

After a few years of us functioning in a fog and PTSD taking a toll on our relationships and life, our church finally grew deeply concerned about us, and communicated to our mission that we were not doing well.  They finally decided to do something about it.

There was only one drawback - the mission leaders, who were not with us, who did not know us, and who did not talk with us made the decision about what was wrong and what we needed....

They discussed it a little with our pastor... who had absolutely no experience with missions, trauma, or member care... and who also made the decision without talking to us.

What happened was that we got called in to a meeting with our pastor and mission leader who informed us that we had marriage issues due to personal moral failure and that we would be seeing a marriage counselor.  We asked if we could see someone with experience in post-traumatic stress care, and were coldly informed that we should not try to blame our moral failure on other things.  We had no options, but we had hopes that the counselor would help us process life and recover, so we went.  He was a decent guy, but he focused on skills we already knew - listening and paraphrasing the other's message back to them.  Nice skills, but not helping us with the nightmares, lack of ability to handle emotions, severe panic at times, and numbness at other times.  We went until the summer travels interrupted the visits.  It had helped a small amount just to be talking on our long drives to this counselor's office.

That fall, when we returned and still were having the same issues, the mission decided to send a retired pastor to assess us.  He sat in our living room one afternoon, and tried to figure out where we were in our thinking.  He deeply offended my husband by telling him that if he gets angry, he doesn't have the Spirit of God and he needs to question if he is a believer.  We sat in shock, staring at him.  Two years ago, my husband was willing to lay his life down not to deny his faith.  He faced the loss of many of his close friends including ones who helped him get home safely.  He received no care for the trauma, and now his salvation was being questioned!!  It was like a slow moving nightmare unfolding.

After this visit, Harry and Dick conferred and decided that I might actually be the problem, and decided to send us to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.  This may have been a good step, if it had been done ethically, but we found out something later that shocked me as a medical person.  They chose a doctor who was the son of someone in the office who they had known most of his life, and they told this doctor what they thought of our diagnosis and what they expected to find.  Then, not knowing this, we went to see him.  He interviewed both of us separately, after assuring us of confidentiality.  He questioned our background, our family up-bringing, sexual history, abuse history, marriage issues, and other very personal details.  At the end, he said that he would write a summary of his findings and send it to Harry and the team that Harry had put together to "help" us, including our pastor, the missions pastor of our home church, Dick, Tom, and Daisy, a woman asked to join because I requested that a woman be on the "team".

Although we had provided the doctor with separate e-mails, he claimed that he had "forgotten", and sent the summary (which was actually about three pages of all the confidential details he had asked about and assured us of confidentiality) to both of us at our joint e-mail.  If that was not bad enough, he told us he was just waiting for our permission before sending it to Harry AND THE WHOLE OF THE "HEALING TEAM"!!!

Whoa!  We immediately objected that this was no summary of what he thought was wrong, but a collection of details he had promised confidentiality on, and that we were uncomfortable with details of our sexual lives, details of my past history of abuse, and other details being sent out to such a wide group.  We were very bluntly told by Harry that if we did not agree to these summaries being sent to the "team", that we would be asked to leave the mission.  It was degrading.  But we didn't see an option but to say yes, under duress.

 (I did phone the medical board and report the doctor for unethical conduct, but that was all I could do.  The board assured me that they could file a complaint and bring it up for arbitration and protect me from any repercussions from it, but I declined to go for arbitration.  They hadn't yet met Christians, and I knew they could not protect me from them.  The laws meant nothing to these people.)

We suffered through the humiliation of our very intimate details being sent to people we barely knew.  The doctor questioned my sanity and said that I seemed to be operating out of fear but he didn't see any reason for it, so he questioned an underlying mental issue.  Don't worry - I was questioning my sanity at this point too!!  All this stress was making our lives and our relationship even harder, and we were not functioning well at all.  Thankfully, my work was a safe place full of caring people who understood grace and believed in me.  I hung on and rested in their firm love of me through this difficult time.

Dick phoned again about six months later and had a solution.  They had a couple who were counselors and they would send us there for a week.  They were experts and had worked in a similar culture and would be great to help us.  I specifically asked that the wife would also be involved in the counseling because I was losing faith in men's ability to listen.  I was assured that both husband and wife would be working with us, and this would be a good place.

What followed was one of the oddest experiences we have ever have.  It did serve to draw us together, but really only out of a deep instinctual desire to protect each other.  We arrived at the house of this couple and were shown to our room.  We were informed that the wife was in school, and we would not see her barely at all.  So much for the promise that she would be in sessions.  We were then told we would have one session a day.  The rest of the time, our host, the counselor, and his wife when she was home, went in their bedroom and shut the door and left us for the rest of the day.  They popped out when food came, ate, did dishes, and went back to their rooms.  We stared at the walls of this fairly empty house - no games, no tv, no books, nothing.  Well, books on psychology, but not relaxing reading!  We took some walks, but didn't want to be gone long.  We had no clue when the next session was.  We stared at the closed bedroom door and were puzzled.

As the week dragged on, we noticed that our host had fairly severe OCD, so we amused ourselves by finding something small to "adjust" and laying bets to how many minutes it would take him when he appeared out of the bedroom to fix what we had adjusted.  We moved the rug slightly off square.  We bumped a picture on the wall just slightly.  We moved the salt shaker from the middle of the back of the stove to the side.  (It really was the only entertainment we had that whole long boring week!)  It never took more than ten minutes before it was exactingly readjusted, but it kept us laughing, and laughter is needed.

Half-way through the week, the psychologist hit on what he thought was the problem.  He found out that a man had been mentoring me for a few years.  Seth had been, from across the ocean, been mentoring both my husband and me.  Still is.  We love him and his wife.  Ah ha!  That was it!  He told me firmly that "all relationships across gender lines that are not blood related are wrong".  (This was a man who was supposed to have extensive experience on the mission field - did he not know that we all grew up with substitute uncles and aunties because we left our blood related family behind???!!)  The problem in our marriage, he told us, was because I had a relationship with another man.  Yup, that was it.  My husband stared at him like he had grown three heads, and told him that he had absolutely no doubt about his wife's integrity and no doubt about this relationship with this man who is like a father to both of us.  Nope.  He knew the truth, and he told us it was the truth.

I was emotionally worn out, and I began to cry.  This he took as evidence that I was wrong, and he offered to help me "break away from this emotional affair."  I declined his help.  He told me he was ordering me not to speak to Seth again and would put that in his report to Harry and Dick.  I could not speak.  I was humiliated!  I also knew that it would be embarrassing for Seth to have that said. It was far better to have my sanity doubted than my purity!  My husband was outraged.  But he would not listen to him.  At the end of that session, we ran from the house, took bikes, and got as far away as we possibly could.  We reached a small mountain lake, just barely clear of winter ice.  Crystal clear and clean.  I stripped down and dove in, letting the ice-cold water wash this awful man's words away.  I dressed again, shivering, and we returned.  He thought I was crazy to have gone swimming in lakes in that area, but he never knew it was only to get the filth of his words off.

We suffered through four more days with this man.  We agreed to say as little as possible to him and nod and agree.  He rarely stopped talking anyway, so it was easy to do.  Then we flew home.  We were done, but "they" weren't.  But for now, we were more traumatized and stunned.  He had also forbid us to talk to Seth again.  Life was just utterly confusing and we began to have more horrible nightmares after our time with this man.  We also began to wonder if all counselors needed to be in the looney bins themselves. We had totally lost trust in getting help and promised we'd never try again.  Thankfully, God did have some good people out there, but it took us awhile before we got there.  Life was going to get far worse before it got better.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Cost of No Member Care

Our mission repeatedly told me that they just didn't have the resources to have a member care person.  Well, officially, they had one, but it was more of an intake person.  They had someone to help people through the process of joining.  Questions about taxes, passports, visas, etc.

They had no one to care for people once they were on the field.  That, apparently, was to be cared for by an on the field person, the team leader.  Sadly, that didn't work for us for two reasons:  1.  We were the local team leaders and 2. We were not on our field.  We lived elsewhere in a relatively safe location and traveled to a very unsafe location because of the nature of our specific work.  So we had no one immediately caring for us as team leaders and we fell under the jurisdiction of a office in a fairly safe country who had no idea of how to care for people in unsafe locations.

Those are just explanations that might give mild insight into the situation, but not solid excuses.  The people who should have stepped in had years of experience and were leaders for years and years.  They were not newbies and should have at least had the experience to know that help was needed, what was needed, and to ask for help from wiser people to assist.  They didn't. 

What happens when there is no member care after trauma?  I guess it could be described as a slow spiral downwards.  We had the immediate of no sleep for a week or so.  Horrific nightmares woke us the minute we slipped into REM sleep.  Our bodies ached and our minds were on hyper alert.  We were exhausted, but everything hurt and the slightest noise set us on edge.  We had a hard time processing logical thoughts because we were so exhausted.  After a few weeks of this, we hit a wall where we could sleep.  The hyper alertness settled, but nightmares still woke us several times a week. The lack of sleep dulled our emotions and we became "flat".  It was hard to muster a feeling besides a vague deadness.  Our eyes looked out of our heads stunned and confused.

As more trauma hit our field, we had a hard time.  Not only did we feel grief for our friends, we felt a deep sense of guilt or pain.  Why did we get the miracle and they didn't?  How do you explain to yourself that you lived and your friends were killed?  How do you process grief that is mixed with guilt?  How do you ask for resources and help when you already got the miracle?  When others maybe need those resources?  Were we whining to keep saying we weren't doing well?  We were alive... others weren't.

As the trauma settled in, we grew more exhausted.  We lost patience with each other.  We still didn't sleep.  I couldn't eat without pain.  Our children suffered, and we could not leave them even to run to the store without them worrying about us.  We stopped asking for help because no one was listening.  We didn't know how to write a prayer letter.  We didn't know what to say.  We felt dead and defeated.  Our church began to have questions about our "fitness" as missionaries because we weren't showing the joy of the Lord.  We weren't living victoriously.  We knew they were judging us, and we were unable to explain how we were feeling.  It was months in now, and most people in the church assumed it was "in the past", and they had no clue that we still dealt with fears, nightmares, and difficulty regulating our emotions.  Then we felt ignored and not valued on top of it.

A year went by, and we say our mission headquarters people again at the next conference.  We asked again for some debriefing and that some sort of member care protocol be put into place in case this ever happens to anyone else.  They nodded, but nothing was ever done.  Nothing has been done to this day.

We never healed.  We tried to do life by sheer force of will and habit.  It didn't work.  We just piled up stress on stress.  Our marriage began to suffer, our family life began to suffer, and of course our director stepped back into my husband's life to tell him that this was all his wife's fault because she was weak.  We literally began to fall apart.  And as we did, the church and mission was quick to step in and judge us for "moral failures".  It was a nightmare of a time, and we longed for someone to listen and help us process, but there was no one.