“You Weren’t There…” My First Big Post

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In one short sentence, I escaped my abusive marriage a few years ago.

Metaphorically, I had been dangling, sweat-soaked, from the rim of a deep, still, black, putrid, abandoned well by my fingertips. In my escape, I had clawed my way up and over the rim — bruised, terrified, alone in a strange wood. The Wood of All-By-Yourself-Now. I cast about for any signs of comfort, any landmarks that might help me make sense of where I was, where to go, and what to do next.

The church, my church, was within sight, within reach. They had been there all my life. It was, after all, my church. My church home. However, my church linked arms to try to push me back into that pit. They pressured, they threatened, they cajoled, they shunned, they ordered, they shamed, they punished. However they tried though, I just sat, still as a stone, in their pews. I resisted. I became the stone in their shoe. Always there. Troublesome. A problem. That was, until they attacked my children, publicly shaming them, trying to pit them against me. I finally took my bigger-than-me “babies” and ran. Again. Into the unknown.

All they while, I continued to cast about for other signposts, other markers. Searching for a light in dark times. What I eventually found was a community. Outside the camp — the “church” camp — I found others like me. Those who had been kicked out and then kicked away from the door. I found a woman who shared her personal, scribbled-in, tear-stained copy of “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. A signpost!

I found a domestic violence shelter (a landmark!), with a legal counselor (a guide!) who was patient and kind and who gently nodded and advised as I filled out a restraining order with shaking hands, scarcely comprehending that it was me who was doing such a boldly terrifying thing. I knew… He would see the paperwork. He would know what I had done. There was no going back once I signed. I was signing the end of my decades-long marriage. But, I found that kindness walked beside me into the court house, sat next to me in the judge’s chambers, and rubbed my clenched shoulder as the judge read through my papers.

I also found kindness in the judge (another guide!) who, as God would have it, used to work for the domestic violence shelter as their legal counsel. A judge who had seen desperately-wicked evil and had memorized its face. He not only approved the order, but strengthened its protections beyond what I had even asked for. Because, after reading my description of what was happening in my home, he also understood that we survivors never tell even one-tenth of what we were living.

I found books about abuse. I found blogs about abuse. I found articles about abuse. I read and read and read. I absorbed information like a sponge. I sobbed uncontrollably as I read story after story after story of people who somehow had the same story as mine. Signposts! I began to see I was not alone in this scary wood. As women and some men came out from the trees, it was as if they each carried the candle, the light of their own story. I didn’t know these people, and yet I understood them. Thumbnail pictures next to a name on a media platform somehow became kin. Each story-light enhanced the others, pushing the dark of the unknown that I found myself in further to the edges. I found… that the church-refugees, the divorce-pariahs, the kicked, abandoned curs, the mongrels had joined together to make their own pack. Strong against ridiculing outsiders, yet kind. Defensive against shaming aggressors, yet gentle. Angry at critical attackers, yet overwhelmingly generous.

One of the blogs I found during this time was A Cry for Justice. Women world-wide, as well as men, shared their stories of being abused by the person they loved. And all of these people had done as I had done… they had cried out to their churches from their pits — their black, abandoned wells in the dark woods — for help. And… all of these people had heard the church doors slam to block out the “wretched noise” of their pleadings. Once these people had clawed their way out of their pits, they had watched the light behind the stained-glass being switched off. No welcome here.

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One woman, given the pseudonym “Linda,” wrote into the blog, saying that her church too, like countless other churches, was turning her away as she begged for help with her abuser. Her church was ordering and pushing her back to her black pit of an abusive marriage. The writers of the blog (who have since had serious disagreements and have gone their separate ways) explained her case to the community. They then asked the community, what if you could write a letter to the pastor who is heaping shame on the wounded one to pressure her back into her pit? What would you say to this pastor who wants to preserve a marriage within his church so much that he is willing to sacrifice the injured and vulnerable person trapped within that marriage? What would you say to this pastor and others like him they wanted to know?

I wrote one of many letters in response under the penname MoodyMom. I wrote as if I were in “Linda”‘s shoes; as the one who had been married to “John.” Of course, we contributors were aware that the letters would never reach this pastor, since the bloggers knew that he, like all the other religious authorities who acted and preached in the same vein, would never listen to the advice of victim’s advocates or especially never listen to scarlet-lettered women (S for separated, D for divorced). My letter, titled “You Weren’t There,” was well-received and shared, which surprised me! A domestic abuse victims’ advocate, Rebecca Davis, author of the Untwisting Scriptures series, (a series that I highly recommend!) and blogger at Here’s the Joy, whom I’ve since come to trust and respect and call a friend, asked me if she could use my letter as a dramatic reading for a “how a church should respond to domestic abuse” conference. It was well-received there, too.

I wanted to share this letter here on my personal blog. It has a lot of my personal experiences, combined with information that the bloggers shared about “Linda.” It’s a few years old now, but I pray that my story-light will add to others’ lights so that those still trapped might find their way out of their pits and find their way in the wood.

Here’s the letter.

Dear Pastor James (and any other pastor who will listen),

You said to me in your letter, “it is about you and John learning to understand one another.” LISTEN. Please, for once, stop talking. Stop spouting parts of Scripture passages and trite, dry “Christian” expressions. Stop trying to fix this. Stop trying to fight for “marriage” above people –above all else –and listen. Stop thinking and talking about how you are the expert on what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have experienced. Just LISTEN.

I want you to understand that I have TRIED to help John understand what he was doing to me. I have done NOTHING BUT try to help him understand what he’s doing to us. I have explained. I have detailed. I have told. I have used analogies. I have used other people’s stories as examples to explain what he’s doing to us. I have cajoled. I have tried to bribe him to be in a good mood with food or sexual favors. I have begged. I have screamed. I have whispered. I have cried. I have sobbed until I couldn’t breathe. I have walked away rather than saying something I might regret later. I have engaged and stayed in the trenches. I have fought to try to save our marriage. I have remained silent while he berated me. Like you told me to in our counseling, I have ignored “his bad and hurtful behavior and made myself winsome so that I may ‘win him without words’”.

You weren’t there.

You seem to think that you are the first one to introduce the idea of “the need for communication” in marriage to me. I want to tell you in the strongest possible language, that learning to “communicate well” is all I have done for the past __ years. I have read so many books. I have done workbooks. I have done journals. I have done Bible studies. I have done classes. I have sought godly counsel. I have gone on retreats. I have gone to conferences.

You weren’t there.

I HAVE told John he’s hurting me (us). And he laughed. He blamed me. He snickered. He punished. He hurt or killed our pets. He went after our kids. He told me I’m crazy. He told the kids I’m crazy. He told me he didn’t say that (whatever it was he just said). He destroyed or got rid of my things that meant something to me. He lied and told me that I had lost those things. He told me that it was because I was so unorganized and messy that my things went missing (only my things). Over and over, he told me I was lying. He told me I was making things up. He told me “he would never do anything like that”, even as I had just watched him do something cruel. He made jokes about me to other people – friends and my own family – so that they would join him in laughing at me. He told very private, personal things about me to our men friends in order to either have them laugh at me, or to make me seem cheap.

You weren’t there.

I have approached John in calm moments, after a good meal that he enjoyed, when he seemed to be in a pleasant mood, like a lot of the Christian women’s books admonish us women to do. I approached him with fear and trembling (because of all the past fights, humiliation, snickering, silent treatment, making “secretly a payback” jokes about me days later in front of other people, so they too will laugh at me as a “gotcha”). I approached, hands shaking, hoping this time… this time… maybe it might work. Maybe he would finally understand he’s crushing me. I shook with dread as I did it, because I knew I was giving up/ losing what might have been the one pleasant, calm night with him I had seen in a while. I started to speak what was on my heart. He turned those eyes on me. His jaw tightened. His eyes narrowed.

You weren’t there.

I have tried talking to him in the calm of the night, only to listen to him roll over, face away, and humph at me. As I stared at the back of his head, I have tried being silent (like only this half of the human population is told to do – have a gentle, quiet spirit; winning him without words; submitting to suffering, hoping that somehow this was going to perfect me) as tears pooled on my pillow. I have tried to stifle the shaking sobs as he again falls asleep right away with a clear conscience.

You weren’t there.

I have endured months and months of cold silent treatment at a time, only broken by Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights at church, where he’s a leader in your flock. I seem happy at your church because this is the only time he will speak pleasantly, or at all, to me all week. Of course his pleasant, kind words are only performed in front of others, but at this point, I am licking up any crumbs of kindness I can get. You don’t see my heart sinking or watch me as I’m dragging my feet going out the door.

You weren’t there.

You see, I know that the ride home either begins more deafening, painful, shaming silence. Or the ride home is the beginning of his rage for something I might have said or done that he didn’t like – the way I moved my hand, where I sat, who I talked to, the way I carried a book, who I smiled at, my buttons done up too high, my buttons undone too low. Something I will have to pay for with tears. Or sex. Or both. The rest of the days, I’m isolated in a silent home while he has friends and admirers at work boosting and encouraging him about what a great guy he is.

You weren’t there.

I watched as he smiled at me and went to my money-hiding place… and took it all. I listened in stunned silence as he told me that he was doing this because he was behind on his giving money to the church. Because I was such a financial drain, he hadn’t been tithing. So now God was causing him to have financial problems. So he was taking the money I had been secretly saving and offering it to the Lord. I also couldn’t believe it as he took the money out of bank account after bank account. I would see “Final Notice” stamped in red on letters before he whisked them away, telling me he’d take care of that, getting angry at me for looking at the envelopes. I did see envelopes for multiple credit card bills for cards I know I didn’t have in MY wallet. All the while, he rages about how the kids and I eat too much. He says he will not give me money for groceries for the next six weeks. Then he comes home with bags of snacks for his buddies for their “guys’ night.” He measures shampoo levels, toilet paper usage, how fast soap disappears. You think I didn’t communicate with him? Believe me, I talked and talked and talked to him. I communicated that we as parents have the responsibility to feed and care for the needs of our growing children. He turned on us, and blamed us for the financial mess HE was in.

You weren’t there.

When the threats that one or all of us might not live to see tomorrow made us sick to our stomachs, I held it together while holding my children. When the kids couldn’t sleep because of the fear, I sang to them of Jesus’ love. When my children were racked with sobs on the floor because he had taken another pet of theirs away, (and killed it, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that), I rocked them, sobbed with them, loved them the best I knew how. When he yells at them to “Just shut up!” or tells them to “get out of here, I don’t want you,” I calm their hearts and tell them over and over that they are loved, and wipe their eyes and their noses. Yes, I told him. I told him he was destroying his family. I told him to stop threatening the children – even in a roundabout way. I told him to stop making jokes about killing me. Killing them. I told him he was tearing down his own home. He blamed me for being not getting his sense of humor, being over-sensitive, and for turning his children against him.

You weren’t there.

So now… I came to you. In my weariness, I finally asked for a lifeline. I invited you into my pain. I invited you into my blackness, my faintness, my exhaustion, my endless pit. You who say that you love me as Christ does. You who say that you care for my soul. You who say that you want what’s best for me and my family and the church. You who say you want to “help [us] both to learn to identify the problems that are damaging [our] marriage,” but then don’t ask me what’s been happening. You hold yourself up as the expert who is going to tell me what our problems are without ever asking me what’s been going on behind the doors of our own home? How can this be possible? But… I told, nevertheless. I told what’s been our lives for years and years. I told.

You weren’t there.

I came to you for help. I finally had to start bringing light into my darkness, exposing the evil that’s been done to us to the light of day, the light of truth. I have brought all my pain, all the damage, all the devastation to Jesus. HE is rescuing us from our Egypt, from our oppression. However, I am at my most vulnerable right now. You see, I told. I communicated. That is what it’s all about, right? Communication? But now… he knows that I told. I told what he calls “his secrets”. Now his mask is cracked. He knows. I am vulnerable.

You weren’t there.

You tell me you are going to help us learn “to understand one another.” Please LISTEN. Please hear me! I DO understand him. I have stared into those eyes during the good times, the moments of kindness and laughter that kept us staying. I have also stared into those eyes as he has threatened us, ruined us, shredded us, humiliated us. I have spent __ years studying this man – studying his moods, his looks, his face, the set of his jaw, the squint of his eye, the shift of his weight, the movement of his hands, the movement of his arms (just in case), his words, the meaning behind his words, the movement of the corner of his mouth, his need for admiration, his derisive laughter, his sniggering when he “got” me again. I have studied him meticulously all these years to try to avoid the next rage or joke at my expense or humiliation or cruel trick. YOU need to understand, from someone who DOES know him inside and out – he will not go down without a fight. I am scared, hurting, confused, shaken, broken, financially ruined, sexually damaged, and nearly destroyed by all that he’s done to us. And you want to put me into a room with this person? I KNOW HIM. He will lie, shift blame, label me as crazy, act humble, draw you aside into his “confidence,” convince you that you and he are the clever ones in the room who are now working together to solve the problem of… me. If that doesn’t work, he will lash out in anger, rage, cry, tell you he’s the victim, blame his parents and environment, yell, pull suddenly into himself and stare right through you — ice-cold. He will intimidate, threaten, laugh, deny, storm out and then half-“apologize” (so that you will be obliged to apologize TO HIM for “words that were said,”) or use any other variety of tactics in order to get you to back down and admire him again.

I cried out to you for help. You sent me this letter. You completely discounted my pain, my family’s pain. You made yourself out to be the expert in a situation you have never looked into, have never visited, have never seen. You have used words like “one another,” trying to shovel even more blame onto my shoulders, implying that this… torture… was somehow mutual, again without ever asking me what has been happening to us. Jesus said to the hurting, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” I wanted, I needed you to be the arms of Jesus here on earth. I cried out to you for help. And yet again…

You weren’t there.

I hope that readers will be encouraged along their own pathway out of the dark.

Here’s the link to where the letter was originally published. https://cryingoutforjustice.blog/2017/05/05/you-werent-there-a-letter-to-pastors-from-a-survivor-of-domestic-abuse/

5 thoughts on ““You Weren’t There…” My First Big Post

  1. This letter got a really good response when it was published at the A Cry For Justice blog — it received 134 comments.

    Julie, I’m glad to see you are still active on your blog. I’ve been subscribed to it for ages. Hoping things are going okay for you in these troubled times.


      1. Thanks Julie, yeah all is well with me. It’s been three years since the debacle at ACFJ and I’ve pretty much recovered now. It took me a long time (much processing and prayer).


  2. This is WONDERFUL clear truth! Yes, the Pastor wouldn’t receive it, but there are many survivors who need this. I am sharing this on my page. I’m also a survivor of marital abuse (so much was similar to my own experience) and now a “budding” advocate and trauma counselor… Still fine tuning my training to be able to provide the best care that I can. Blogs like yours are such wells of wisdom and shared experience. Yes, we are not alone.. there is a community “outside the camp.” In my days after I left my marriage and was untangling with what I’d been taught and told about God’s word re: abuse in marriage…. Cry for Justice was a port in the storm of confusion for me as well. Let’s keep shining the light of truth… to set the ‘captives’ free. Thank you for your heart and your God-given writing. .

    Liked by 1 person

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