Sister Love (The Love Project, Day 21)

The Hess Girls, 1978

The Hess Girls, 1978

Today’s my sister Kathy’s birthday, third in the line of “Hess Girls,” and likely the most gifted of the four of us. My mother once told me that she decided to walk, talk, and feed herself for the first time … all on the same day. “She just kind of sat back and watched, then, when she was ready, she just decided to join the rest of the world.”

That initial promise was compromised and nearly lost when a misguided crush her junior year of high school went horribly, horribly wrong. She did not realize — none of us did — that she had fallen into the clutches of an abuser. Playing on her sympathies, giving her gifts, isolating her from friends and even family . . . then threatening to harm himself, and everyone she cared about. The smiling, carefree girl she once was disappeared, replaced by a ghost.

But my sister is a fighter, and when she finally decided she was ready to join the rest of the world again, she broke free of the man who was now her husband, taking her young daughter with her. She went on to marry a man who loves them both, had another daughter. Both my nieces have all the artistic and intellectual promise of their mother — God’s way of redeeming the past, I’d say. The scars are still there, but she has spent her life standing up for those who, like her at that time, have no one to help them break free of the hell that is domestic violence. And I am so very proud of her.

Happy birthday, Kate. I love you.

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EMN Mailbag: A domestic violence survivor writes

UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comment posted by my sister Kathy, who is herself a domestic violence survivor. I don’t often refer to her by name, but since she does so in the comments I wanted to mention, publicly, that Kathy has given me an invaluable education about the dynamics of domestic violence. The article she mentions in her comments may be found here: “The War at Home”

I received this note from a woman who had just read my article “Is Domestic Violence Grounds for Divorce?” at “Streams of Mercy”. She writes:

I appreciate your suggestion that domestic violence victims try everything they can to make the marriage “work” before leaving–yet emphasize safety while doing so. Not only does that offer the abuser a chance to improve and give the marriage a chance–it also helps the victim have strength in her conviction to seek divorce knowing she has tried everything within her power to salvage the marriage and give it opportunity to prosper. Sadly, abusers are extremely hard to rehabilitate due to their own resistance and often an underlying psychiatric condition (such as bi-polar, depression, a personality disorder, or addiction).

After 14 years of marriage, I had exhausted my resources and in the process had become stronger and more independent–which led to my spouse feeling more insecure and escalating the abuse into physical violence. My priest had warned me years before, that although I was obligated (and felt that heavily) to do all I could to preserve my marriage, if my spouse chose to not seek help I would have to pray with an open heart to know at what point my obligation to continue the marriage ended and my obligation to protect my children (and myself) was greater.

Through prayer, one thing I realized was that in my attempts to shield the children as much as possible (provide them with stability/safety by covering up and minimizing the abuse) I wound up facilitating the abuse by shielding my spouse from natural consequences.

Two months ago I left, and it has been hell. Although I understand I am well within my rights (according to the priests/therapists/friends) the decision was still incredibly painful and sad. It is the loss of a dream.
My spouse has loudly and publicly proclaimed he is rehabilitated YET still speaks cruelly to me in private and has changed control tactics by seeking full custody of our children and withholding financial support. It’s a mess, and it will be for a while.

The upside? I am stronger: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I am doing all I can to protect my children. The support I am receiving from my church, family, friends, and strangers has been stunning, humbling, and fortifying. The best way to end this is simply by saying that in the midst of this upheaval, I am grateful for and held up by the mercy of our Lord.
-Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:  May God send an extra flurry of angels to guard and protect you and your children. I commend you for your willingness to reach out to others. One day very likely you will have an opportunity to be the loving support to other women who find themselves in the same situation you now are in yourself. Until that time, know that you are not alone … and that God is giving you the grace even now to be strong and make good choices for you and your family. God bless you!

Marriage and the Single Mom: Now @ Mommy Monsters!

peek-babyCome on over to “Mommy Monsters” for an article I posted there today: “Marriage and the Single Mom: Some Thoughts.”

Today I’d like to offer a prayer for single moms everywhere … Those who are raising children on their own, temporarily or permanently. Military moms. Adoptive and foster moms. Divorced and separated moms. Never-married mothers who are doing their best, one day at a time.

I’d especially like to request prayers for my sister, Jennifer, who is divorcing her husband. Pray that God will provide for her needs, and the needs of her children. You might toss up a prayer for Jerry, too … Frankly, I have a hard time doing that without feeling like a total hypocrite, but you don’t know the twit, so you feel free. (Throw in one for me, too.)

Heavenly Father, bless single parents everywhere.
Those who are content, and those who are scared.
Those who are struggling, and those who feel secure.
Those who need a tangible, practical reminder
That you love them, and have called them
To imitate You in selfless, boundless love,
And to lead their children to heaven,
one prayer at a time.

Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of families, pray for us.
St. Jude, patron of the hopeless, pray for us.

“I Will Not Be Broken”: The Book by Jerry White, Survivor Corps

I have not read this book … but this looks like a worthwhile read for those who are struggling to rise above circumstances from their past or present. So I wanted to pass it on to you!

In his website, White offers five steps to turn “survivors” into “thrivers”:

1. Face Facts. One must first accept the harsh reality about suffering and loss, however brutal. “This terrible thing has happened. It can’t be changed. I can’t rewind the clock. My family still needs me. So now what?”

2. Choose Life. That is, “I want to say yes to the future. I want my life to go on in a positive way.” Seizing life, not surrendering to death or stagnation, requires letting go of resentments and looking forward, not back. It can be a daily decision.

3. Reach Out. One must find peers, friends, and family to break the isolation and loneliness that come in the aftermath of crisis. Seek empathy, not pity, from people who have been through something similar. Let the people in your life into your life. “It’s up to me to reach for someone’s hand.”
4. Get Moving. Sitting back gets you nowhere. One must get out of bed and out of the house to generate momentum. We have to take responsibility for our actions. “How do I want to live the rest of my life? What steps can I take today?”

5. Give Back. Thriving, not just surviving, requires the capacity to give again, through service and acts of kindness. “How can I be an asset to those around me, and not a drain? Will I ever feel grateful again?” Yes, and by sharing your experience and talents, you will inspire others to do the same.

Sign the Petition for Domestic Violence Prevention Funding

Please join me in helping women and children stay safe by signing this petition, which is in support of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. This act that provides important funding to domestic violence shelters and training programs — something that has been gradually losing funding under the present administration (more money for bullets).

For more information about the FVPSA, click here.

To sign the petition, click here.

Blessings–Heidi

Painful Truth: A Review of “Silent Prisoner” by Amanda Young (BookSurge Publishing)

From the angry, drunken brawling of her parents’ house to the soul-chilling austerity of a children’s home, eight-year-old April learned early in life that her best chance of survival involved keeping quiet and making herself useful. And so she cultivated a habit of silence.

She was silent as she stood in the yard of the orphanage, exposed to the elements, nearly dying of pneumonia. Silent as she endured unspeakable verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Silent as the only family who had ever shown her kindness died untimely deaths. Silent as she married hastily to escape her childhood horrors, only to find the nightmares multiplied. And now the eloquent silence served her again as she faced a phantom of childhood.

April looked into her aunt’s eyes … This woman had done as everyone else had done years ago. She had closed the doors of her beautiful home while her nieces begged on the street for food. April did not want this woman to touch her, and she sensed that her aunt felt it.

“I hope you can forgive your mother,” her aunt said, carefully touching her perfectly styled hair.

“It has not been a concern of yours, how I feel now or have felt. Am I correct?”

Her aunt stepped back from [April] and looked as if she had been burned with acid. She pulled her collar again in a nervous manner. April stared at the woman and felt as if she wanted to say more, or ask why she hadn’t put her mother in a hospital, especially since her aunt’s ex-husband was an attorney and could have helped her mother. She held back and simply stared at the woman in silence (p.297-98).

Silent Prisoner is not easy reading. Yet woven throughout are silvery threads of hope: distant relations and other strangers who showed momentary kindnesses. A little boy, the product of a loveless marriage that became for her a promise of a better future. Above all, the comfort of angels and glimpses of God … not overt and overwhelming, but beacons of something better, urging her on. It is the portrait of someone truly powerless, yet ultimately unbeaten.

Foster parents and those hoping to adopt older or difficult-to-place children will particularly benefit from this unforgettable story. Even the grim details of this young woman’s life offer a glimpse into the secret burdens that are common to many of the children in the system. Some details particularly struck home:

  • April kept her things stored in the paper sack she came with, not trusting that she would be able to stay anyplace “for good” – or for long.
  • The emotional reserve that kept her from joining in family activities unless explicitly invited – even watching television – because she was unsure her presence would be welcome. April’s resolve not to tell when someone was hurting her, fearing no one would believe her – or care enough to help.
  • Her rich imagination, inventing a friend and a mountain of treasure to tide her over in the darkness.
  • The pressing need to find some area of control – what she ate, where she hid, to whom she spoke – when life seemed most out of control.
  • Sadly, the patterns begun in childhood continued into adulthood; on three separate occasions she married men who began to abuse her.

Like many victims of domestic abuse, “April” becomes disenchanted with organized religion. And, like many victims of domestic violence, she has reason to be. Instead of defending her against her abusive husband, religious figures in her story – particularly one priest, “Bill” – side with the perpetrator, urging her to be a better wife and even testifying on her abusive husband’s behalf.

While the Church has made some significant inroads into understanding the dynamics of domestic violence, such as their pastoral letter released in 1995 entitled “When I Call For Help”, stories like April’s are grim reminders that there is still much work to be done. Catholics of all stripes – laity as well as clergy – need to be aware of the realities of this particular offense against the dignity of women and the sacrament of matrimony, so that they might be able to assist these prisoners from their dungeons of silence.

Based on the author Amanda Young’s true story, Silent Prisoner is valuable (though difficult) reading for all those who wish to identify with the poor and powerless. Excellent Lenten reading.