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Everything I Learned about Dating and Love, I Learned from Cinderella

cinderellaWhere did you learn about love?  Who taught you about dating?  If you had to answer this question, could you?  Maybe you don’t even realize where your concept of dating came from.  Perhaps you learned from your parents, family or friends.  Maybe you learned from watching Twilight or listening to Pink on the radio?  Commonsensemedia.org reports that for teens the main source of information about sex, dating and sexual health comes from what they see and hear in the media.  Quite possibly, your concept of love started at even a much earlier age.  For so many young girls, the first idea of a romantic relationship comes from fairy tales.

“Once upon a time” is a wistful, nostalgic phrase repeated countless times in the bedrooms of little girls around the world.  It sweeps children away into a fantasy land of imagination that helps foster creativity.  Fairy tales impart important morals and valuable life lessons.  They teach right from wrong and the consequences of making bad choices.  They demonstrate that bad things happen to good people, but through hope and perseverance, good will triumph over evil. Albert Einstein once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  But what do they teach children about love and relationships?

In Disney’s version of Cinderella, the heroine is possibly the sweetest creature that ever lived.  She works as a house servant for her mean stepmother and her nasty step sisters, Anastasia and Drizella.  Cinderella sings and dances her way through her daily chores, despite the constant demands of the household.  Yet, she dreams for her wish of the heart to come true.  Cinderella’s wishes are of course answered in the form of her fairy godmother.  With the wave of a magic wand, Cinderella is transformed.  She is no longer the servant in rags; she is now the belle of the ball.  Cue the prince to enter stage left.  He lifts his eyes to see Cinderella and falls in love at the sight of her beauty. A little dancing, a lost glass slipper and a little drama later, they go on to live happily ever after.

So what does this version of Cinderella potentially teach young girls about falling in love?

  • You are not worthy of love. But if you can magically transform; if you wear the right dress, the right shoes, you too can be loved.
  • You are not complete without your prince. The longing of your heart can only be filled if he loves you.
  • Without love, you are nothing. You are only a servant in rags.  But with his love you can become a princess.  All your troubles will be gone, and you will live happily ever after.

Here’s the truth about love.

  • You are already loved. You are rooted and established in the love of Christ. (Ephesians 3:17)  The only transformation you need to make is to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.
  • The true longing of your heart can only be filled by the love of Christ. If only you could grasp how wide and long and high and deep is His love, and know that it is this love that completes you.  Then you will be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
  • You are already a princess, a child able to do immeasurably more than you can ever imagine through your father, the one true King. (Ephesians 3:20)  This birthright, that you have only to accept, promises life ever after.

The parallels are so similar; one can’t help but wonder if Christ’s love was Disney’s intended message.  Yet, without the Christian context, it’s easy to be misled by the themes expressed in the story.  There is danger in continuing to seek fulfillment from another human being, instead of from the one who can truly provide it.  The danger is a life filled with disappointment and loneliness.   Constantly trying to transform into someone worthy of love in the eyes of world, leaves you incapable of loving yourself.  There is no true fulfillment apart from Christ’s love.

Originally posted in the FOCUS Ministries, Inc. Newsletter, Fall 2014.

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It Can’t Happen to Me

I am quite simply the poster child for “This Can’t Happen to Me.”  I was raised in a stable Christian home.  My mom and dad just recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.  Both of my parents were raised in loving Christian homes, and so on and so forth for generations.  I am the baby of the family, the only girl.  I have two older brothers.  One was my partner in crime, while the other was more like a father figure.  In high school, I was the president of the debate team and floor captain of the volleyball team.  I was in all honors courses and got pretty much straight A’s.

Can you see the picture of the perfect middle class upbringing?  Of course, my childhood was far from perfect, but it definitely doesn’t fit most people’s picture of where an abuse victim would come from.  Yet, it did happen to me.

In college, I began dating a Christian guy, from a good Christian home.  After just two dates he wanted a commitment.  It was every girl’s dream, right?!  He was so attentive and made an effort to listen to the music I liked, study with me, take me dancing, and hang out with my friends.  We spent every possible free moment together.  When he felt we didn’t get to spend enough time together between school and both of us having part time jobs, I quit my job.  He kept his.  We’d see another girl walking down the street, and he’d suggest I wear an outfit like hers.  Suddenly he didn’t like to dance, and he didn’t like me dancing with anyone else.  I stopped going to the places I had gone before I met him.  I spent less and less time with my friends.

Over time things escalated even more.  My internal warning bells would start to go off.  But he said he loved me, so I would ignore them.  No one had ever paid this much attention to me before.  I was caught between feeling loved by him and being suffocated by him.  I desperately wanted him to love me, and I found myself willing to do what I had to do to keep him loving me.

The name calling got worse.  He called me things I wouldn’t call my worst enemy.  He constantly insisted that I wasn’t a normal girl.  A normal girl would do this or that, especially if it related to sex.  When he’d get extremely frustrated, he’d put his fist through the wall.  His jealousy became all consuming.

After 2 years of dating, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes.  A year later, we were married.  A month later, he hit me for the first time.

It didn’t matter that I had come from a Christian home or not.  It didn’t matter whether I came from a stable home environment or not.  It didn’t matter that I came from a middle class family in a good community or not.  It still happened to me.  It didn’t matter that I managed to complete 2 Bachelor’s degrees and a Master’s degree.  It didn’t matter that I was the bread winner for our family.  It didn’t matter that we had the perfect house in the perfect suburban neighborhood and 2 kids.  It still happened to me.

It happened to me because I did not know any better.  Dating violence was not something that happened to someone like me.  If it didn’t happen to girls like me, then why should I be aware of it?  Why should I know what the warning signs were?  Why should I be taught what constituted a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy one?  I went to Sunday school.  I went to youth group every Sunday.  Didn’t I understand just how much God loved me?  Didn’t I find myself worthy of that love?  Why would I let someone abuse me if I did?

If I had known all of these things, this wouldn’t have happened to me. 

Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves.

Ezekiel 33:5

Hindsight is truly 20/20.  So let me give you the benefit of my 20/20 vision.  You do need to worry about dating violence.  Intimate partner violence can affect you, your child, your friend, your neighbor or your parent.

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month – What Can You Do?

In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, here is what you can do to help raise awareness and make a difference in your community.

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  • Become a prayer warrior to intercede for women in crisis and for the needs of FOCUS Ministries. You will receive a regular update of prayer requests from women worldwide who need to know someone is praying for them, and a list of specific needs relating to the operation of FOCUS Ministries.
  • Partner with us financially. We are supported by individual and church donations solely depending on the Lord’s provision to carry our work forward. Funding is needed to help us meet the physical needs of families, to continue free counseling and support groups, and to provide Homes of Refuge. As a 501(c)(3) organization, your gifts are tax-deductible.
  • Start a FOCUS Support Group in your area. Our Train the Trainer seminar will help you with the tools you need and a leader’s manual is available for purchase. Leaders are able to connect with FOCUS representatives to assist them in this process.
  • Represent FOCUS Ministries in your area. Partner with us in distributing information about the newsletter, support groups, and seminars. Help us with creative fundraising through garage sales, walkathons, etc.
  • Support our Homes of Refuge. Big needs require big dreams and FOCUS Ministries has some. Perhaps you can become an integral part to providing a safe place to a family who desperately needs one.
  • Contribute by clicking. Check out simple ways that you can to earn donations to FOCUS Ministries in conjunction with your regular Internet activity. Every click counts!
  • Purchase the Teen FOCUS Curriculum.  Whether you are a school counselor, youth pastor, educator, or volunteer who works with young people, this tool is a “don’t miss” resource in helping prevent today’s youth from experiencing destructive relationships that will destroy their spirit.
  • Support Teen FOCUS.  Show your support by wearing one of our buttons or ribbons.  Give them to your daughters and friends.

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Domestic Violence Awareness is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I have been thinking about blogging about this topic for days. Upon stumbling across this amazing post from the Mary Byron Project, I knew I could not say anything better than what has already been said here.

It is my wish that someday men and women will understand the true devastation and the widespread effects of domestic violence.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Ask anyone the color of breast cancer awareness and they will tell you pink.  Pink is everywhere this month.  There are breast cancer walks in nearly every community with survivors, friends, family members all wearing pink.  The American Institute for Cancer Research has a website dedicated to getting “pink on purpose.”  There’s a pink store that sells pink items and even a collection of pink recipes. 

October is a month awash in pink, and, rightly so.  Everyone knows someone, a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance, which has battled breast cancer.  That is why we care so much, why we walk to raise awareness and why we fund prevention and treatment.  Breast cancer is a horrific disease, affecting one in eight women.  Hopefully, awareness, funding, and research will eliminate this monster before the next generation suffers.

 Domestic violence affects…

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Physical Constraint

Merriam Webster gives three definitions for constraint:

  1. The checking on one’s true feelings and impulses when dealing with others.
  2. Something that limits one’s freedom of action or choice.
  3. The use of power to impose one’s will on another.

Any woman who has been in an abusive relationship knows firsthand at least one of these definitions if not all of them.

In the beginning when we would fight and things would start to get out of control, I would leave.  I would get in the car and just leave.  Having already moved 1000+ miles from home, I didn’t have anywhere to go.   I did not have anyone to turn to, so I would drive around for an hour, maybe two, before giving up and going back to the house.  I don’t remember what would push me over the edge to get in the car and leave, and I probably wasn’t always right in walking away when things got heated.  But I do remember being afraid of what he would do while I was gone, especially to my cat.  He would threaten to hurt her if I left her with him.  He would pick her up and throw her at me and yell at me to take her with me.  So I would pack her up in her carrier, and she and I would take refuge in the car.

Eventually, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house when things got too intense.  The days of driving around in the car with no place to go soon became a distance memory, a luxury of freedom I would long for.  If we were having an argument, no matter how heated it got, there was no walking away.  He considered my walking away to be extremely disrespectful, and it meant either I didn’t really love him, or that I was sleeping with someone else.  I remember the sheer frustration and anger it would generate, to be confined to a room when you wanted to leave.  I pushed, shoved, screamed; I didn’t go down without a fight.  The first time he restrained me in a doorway, when nothing else worked I pinched him when he wouldn’t let me through.  It was the first time he hit me.  He slapped me hard across the face and then just stepped aside.

In the rare event I actually made it out of the room before he could stop me, he would take the car keys or stand in front of the outside door so I couldn’t leave the house.  I would try and remove myself to the couch or the guest room.  But that was not permitted either.  If I didn’t return to the bedroom in a reasonable period of time, I would be physically brought back to the bedroom.  This meant being picked up and carried.

On one occasion, I managed to grab the car keys before he could stop me.  I barely made it outside and into the car before he bore down on me.  With the doors locked and him unable to get to me, he went berserk.  There was an old tire in the yard, and he used that to start attacking the car.  Terrified, I sat in the car too scared to even drive away, while he pounded and screamed and threw that tire at the car over and over.  Once he had worn himself out from throwing the tire or was sure I wouldn’t drive away, or both, he went inside and locked me out of the house.

Eventually my anger and frustration at being restrained started to fade, and as it faded, so did my attempts to fight back against the restraint.  The anger gave way to a feeling of defeat and worthlessness and ultimately to acceptance.  In the end, I quit trying to leave.  I’m not exactly sure of the point in which I crossed over from believing I couldn’t leave, to not even thinking about trying at all.  It was probably around the time I had my oldest son.  There was no way I was going to leave that house without him, and my husband made it clear there was no way I would leave the house WITH him.

By the time my youngest came, I honestly believed there was no option of my leaving.  It saw absolutely no way of being able to leave of my own accord.  Instead I would daydream of ways I would finally be free.  I would fantasize of my husband dying in a car crash.  I would dream of him having an affair and leaving me for another woman.  I would often tell him that some other woman would make him happier, that clearly I was the wrong woman for him.  Silently I prayed that he would somehow leave me.

They say the average woman in an abusive relationship tries to leave 10 times before she is successful.  After the first couple of years we were married, I never tried to physically leave, and I was so trapped mentally by his abuse that I never even imagined a scenario in which I left.  But I probably fantasized of him leaving me more than a 1000 times.

Years later, my now ex-husband still does not recognize his actions as abusive.  He even recounts events as humorous anecdotes to tell while with friends.   One particular story, of my cat sailing through the air and landing in a clothes basket continues to be a party favorite.  Once I even laughed along when he told this story, desensitized by his violent behavior.  But I am no longer in that dark place of acceptance.   The other night while laying in bed with my oldest son, he referenced a story daddy told him of throwing our cat.  I am grateful that I am now in a place where I can openly discuss this story with my son and demonstrate to him that violent behavior is not the way to solve his problems as he grows up.

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Sleep Deprivation

While we were married, my husband wanted to live 100% by the rule “don’t let the sun go down on your anger”.  If I begged him for sleep, he would accuse me of loving sleep more than him.  He found it as an attack on him if I asked to stop arguing so I could sleep.

Night time was absolutely the worst time of day.  I was terrified to go to bed.  In the end I would do almost everything I could to avoid entering the bedroom.  It always started with some expectation of sex or some sexual favor.  If he was not “satisfied” and sometimes even if he was, the torment would continue throughout the night.  On average, 2 nights a week he would keep me awake until the wee hours of the morning.

On nights I would fall asleep before him, he would wake me up.  He would slam his hand down on the bed, jarring me awake.  Some times he would accuse me of doing things to myself (think touching myself).  Other times he would accuse me of cheating on him, because he’d just dreamt that I had.  I learned to not move.  I learned to barely breathe.  I could lie like that for hours waiting to be sure he was truly asleep.

 He came home late from hanging out at the bar with his friends and was disgusted that I was reading a book.  He had clearly drunk more than usual and lashed out immediately.  Upon entering the bedroom he blurted out a very profane comment towards me, which in turn set off a whole chain of unpleasant events.  He lay down to go to sleep, but was soon unsatisfied with the situation and got back up.  He picked up the humidifier and threw it across the room, smashing it against the wall.  He then stormed out, slamming the door.  I didn’t move.  I barely even took a breath.  I continued to lie frozen in fear.

A while later he came back into the room and ripped the covers off of me, proceeding to throw them onto the floor to soak up the water from the humidifier he had smashed.  He left again.  Terrified I remained frozen.  Another block of time elapsed before he once again returned.  He laid my wedding rings on the bed next to me.  His special way of letting me know I had forgotten to put them on before bed.  Then he was gone again.

I have no idea how long I remained frozen, afraid to move even a muscle.  Eventually I found my courage and quietly slipped out of bed to make sure he was asleep.  I hung up the drenched duvet, got towels to mop up the rest of the water, found a blanket, and finally settled in to try and get some sleep.

In the morning it was as if nothing had ever happened.

 I was not even aware I was being abused by being kept awake at night.  It took me months of counseling before I ever understood that sleep deprivation was a form of abuse.  An often easily dismissed form of abuse, I now clearly see it as a very effective form of torture.  In fact in most states consider purposeful, repeated, and unnecessary sleep deprivation to be a form of physical abuse.  The United Nations defines sleep deprivation as torture.  “The forced deprivation of someone’s necessary amount of sleep has been used in the interrogation of terrorist suspects to make them more amenable to providing information or confessions.”1

The effects of consistent loss of sleep are severe and can make it harder for someone to free themselves from the cycle of abuse.  WebMD reports that the lack of sleep has 10 surprising effects2:

  1. It causes accidents.
  2. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving.
  3. It can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes,
  4. It kills your sex drive.
  5. It can contribute to the symptoms of depression.
  6. It ages your skin.
  7. It makes you forgetful.
  8. It can make you gain weight.
  9. It may increase risk of death.
  10. It impairs judgment.

Yet as a society we find it much easier to protest the use of sleep deprivation as an interrogation tactic by the US military, than to acknowledge the abuse happening in our own neighborhoods.  It’s time we opened our eyes to the reality that the same tactics we so readily abhor, when brought to light by the main stream media, are in fact being carried out in bedrooms across the world.

Sources:

  1. http://terrorism.about.com/od/s/g/SleepDeprive.htm
  2. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-surprising-results

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Transforming

The first time he hit me was one month after we were married.  He didn’t hit me again for a year, but he did hit again, and then it got worse.

He was always sorry and would promise to never do it again.  But the apologies always felt insincere and there was an obvious lack of remorse.  In time, the abusive behavior always returned.

I learned to walk on eggshells; a hand slammed on the table, a fist through the wall, the car wheel yanked out of my hands at 70 mph.  Life was unpredictable.  We never made plans.  I grew further and further away from my family and friends.

Imprisoned by all the things I was scared to say and scared to do, I was afforded none of the same respect.  I had no expectation of privacy.  A closed door was unacceptable and a locked door was knocked down.

I made excuses for him.  I felt sorry for myself.  I never left and never even seriously tried to leave.  Where would I go?  I remember the rage.  I would shake with anger and lash out.  I would fantasize of beating him back.  I remember the shame.  How had I let this happen to me?  Who would believe me?  He wasn’t like one of those monsters on TV, so what was I complaining about?

Then came the numbness.  Any love I had once felt for him had disappeared. But I had chosen my lot in life.  Instead I would encourage him to leave me.  I clearly was not the girl for him.  Another girl could obviously make him so much happier.  I daydreamed about life after he died.

In one moment, if someone would have just asked the right question, I would have spilled everything.  In the next, I would flat out lie to my mother that he had never hit me.  I became so beaten down I was diagnosed as severely depressed and put on medication.

I felt like a failure.  I knew there was no life for me aside from him.  I dreaded that I was as bad as he was.  If I could just be what he wanted everything would be ok.  Severely depressed and medicated, living with physical abuse, he convinced me they would take my children away.

But I found an amazing psychologist.  She never told me I was abused.  She never told me to leave.  She gave me articles to read; she suggested books.  She taught me coping skills and helped me create a safety plan.  I discovered he was out of my control.  I could not fix him.  No magic change in me, nothing I could do was ever going to make him stop.  He wasn’t mentally ill; he wasn’t sick.  He honestly believed he was entitled to act the way he did.

A tremendous weight was lifted.  Some semblance of the girl I had once been slowly came back to life.  I left work in the middle of the day, packed mine and the children’s bags, picked them up from school and drove to a women’s shelter.  It was probably the hardest night of my life.  Thinking about it can still bring a tightening in my throat.  But I didn’t turn around.  I kept driving through the rain and the fear and the guilt.

I have never looked back since that night.  The guilt and the feeling of loss lasted a week or two.  But then life became filled with endless possibilities.  I make plans; I lock the bathroom door; and there is dancing and horseback riding and camouflage.  I have an amazing network of friends.  My family is indispensable, and I am once again present.

The wounds are still deep and will take time to heal. But they will heal.  I am starting to open up to the idea of forgiveness.  It will take time, but I will forgive him.  In the meantime, I will continue to share my story.

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