Behind Closed Doors – Stories of Domestic Violence in Christian marriages

Trigger and graphic detail warning: This blog is about the domestic violence and abuse of women in Christian marriages. It contains real life examples of abuse which is not appropriate for younger readers and may be distressing for some, but honestly, I’m praying it’s disturbing for all of us.

The names in this blog have been changed to protect the identity of the women who have bravely allowed me to share some of their stories. Many of them have continued contact with their ex’s due to child arrangements. I dedicate this blog to you brave sisters and I write it for the women still in silence, still in darkness. I see you and I’m shining a light on this evil so others can see too. Never fear, the darkness is starting to tremble.

Beth:
Beth was having a shower, naked and vulnerable while her two young children wandered in and out. Her husband stormed into their bathroom and held up her mobile to the glass screen with anger burning in his eyes. “You’ve been messaging with Courtney again! Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” Courtney was a recently divorced Christian and was now according to her husband, a bad influence. As the dread and shame filled Beth’s heart, her husband threw the phone onto the bathroom tiles yelling, “Lying B*itch!” He stormed out of the room, leaving his wife feeling physically ill while she looked at her phone smashed to pieces. She went a week without her mobile, her husband making her fix it herself. On Sunday, they sang the songs in church, listened to the sermon and chatted with their friends. When people asked Beth how her week was, she smiled and said “It was ok thanks, how was yours?”

United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines domestic violence as: ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’ Secular and faith-based organisations in Australia identify 8 forms of abuse and violence:

I am 34-years-old and I can name five women in my Christian social circle who have revealed they suffered from abuse or domestic violence in their marriages. Violence against women is a serious problem in my country (and world-wide), but I naively thought it wasn’t happening in Christian relationships. And so, after years of hearing otherwise I feel its time for me to write about this specific issue. In a faith context domestic violence has its own unique complexities as some men actually use biblical scriptures to justify their actions while many women stay because they believe they will disappoint God if they leave. It breaks my heart and I am so very angry.

All of the women in this blog have since separated from their husbands, and I would say that all of these ladies have come out of their marriage ostracized, judged and slandered. Most have children and almost all of them don’t share publically about the years of devastation they endured. For some reason, the men remain protected. But I see you dear ones. I see you and I say that what has happened to you is not right. What you have been through is absolutely NOT what God had in mind when he said “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). I applaud you and your bravery for leaving. I know many of you have endured extraordinary internal struggles, to the point of contemplating suicide, yet you have kept going. You, precious sisters-in-Christ, blow me away. Your stories are important for us to hear and share.

Laurel:
Laurel’s home-life was just one long emotional assault. Her husband, who was meant to treasure her, constantly put her down. He frequently rolled his eyes, spoke to her like she was a child and openly disregarded her opinions. In his eyes, he was always right and she was always wrong. Her husband’s refusal to treat her as an equal caused her constant emotional pain, but he never took her concerns seriously; dismissing her distress any time she brought it up. In social situations they would hold hands and joke while she publically laughed off any humiliation he put her through. If she said something that embarrassed him, he would discretely pinch or kick her to keep her quiet. They were both actively involved in their Church, going to home groups and serving in teams on a Sunday. Her girlfriends sometimes worried amongst themselves how he treated Laurel at home, but they never questioned either of them. The onslaught of condescending, belittling, eroding and numbing words broke her fragile heart until there was nothing left.

Kirsty:
Kirsty thought her husband was a gentle man with a heart after God. Just six-months into her marriage she realised he was not the man she thought he was. Kirsty endured another 5-6 years of married hell before she was finally able to call a family member to come and get her from the house. “Did he hit you?” Christians tend to ask and her heart sinks because he didn’t. It reinforces her husband’s ideas that only physical strikes to the body count. She doesn’t tell them about the times he shoved her, pushed her off the bed or repeatedly threw objects at her head. She doesn’t say a word about the times he aggressively grabbed her, the time he slammed a freezer door into her head or how he locked her out of the house. She doesn’t mention the ‘episodes’ – frequent 3 hour-long sessions of verbal abuse she would endure long into the night, which he said were her fault. They will never know the number of times he screamed in her face calling her a “Stupid F-ing B*tch” (his favourite phrase). Then there were the restrictions on who she could be friends with and his constant need to know word-for-word what everyone said any time she was out without him. Appallingly, Kirsty’s husband often used scriptures to justify his treatment of her.

On three separate occasions after an ‘episode’ from her husband, Kirsty came out of the shower with her towel wrapped around her body. Her husband taunted her laughing, “Are you purposely trying to hide yourself from me?”. Kirsty, full of confusion and hurt didn’t respond. He stripped the towel off from her naked body proceeding to touch her in the most violating of ways. Meanwhile she stood there crying, desperately yelling “Stop it, stop it!”, pushing his hands away to defend herself. Her husband would continue touching her saying “I’m allowed to touch you Kirsty, you’re my wife!”

In their faith community they seemed like one of those incredible ‘Christian power couples’, so involved in church and on the surface, so very supportive of each other. Although separated, Kirsty continues to fight against to her ex-husbands controlling behaviour and has serious concerns about the safety of her daughter.

Emily:
Emily’s husband had complete control over the household and over his wife. He controlled her through every means he could including financial control (down to an allowance that he set), control over who her friends were, what activities she could do, where she could go and more. He used sex as a bargaining tool saying, “You can only do this activity/see that person/buy this item, if we have sex”. He was the ‘head’ of the household and he made it very clear that she was the tail.

If he did not get his way, he stopped talking to her civilly and a screaming match would erupt. In extreme conflicts he would throw threats of suicide in her face. All she could do was retreat, give him what he wanted and peace would return for a short while into the family. At church they were the picture-perfect Godly family, esteemed from the platform and involved in everything. Other people would seek them for marriage and business advice, but no one knew what was really happening behind closed doors. When Emily did reach out to friends, they told her that “marriage was for life, you’ll just have to put up with it”. So, Emily thought that this was what a Christian marriage was, she didn’t realise it was abusive.

When Emily finally got the strength to leave she was completely isolated from her church friendships. Her ex-husband spread slander and rumours to anyone who would listen. When none of Emily’s friends came to see how she was, it was a devastating second blow; best friends disappeared overnight. Unfortunately just like Kirsty, Emily is still on the receiving end of her ex-husbands abuse as they share custody of their children.

Willow:
Whilst the kids were in bed Willow and her husband discussed a trial separation. Despite his numerous affairs and constant belittling, she hoped for reconciliation. A fight broke out, escalating until he grabbed her and threw her to the ground. Physically and emotionally bruised Willow ran out of the house in her pyjamas while he locked the door behind her. Separated from her children, her phone and her money, Willow felt utterly helpless. She contemplated finding a way calling the police, but she was concerned she’d be found at fault and didn’t want her husband to get into trouble either; she continued to protect him. Willow eventually got back into the house, calling a friend to come get her. To add to the trauma, she had to leave all the kids at home with her husband, including the baby who was still breastfeeding. Through an intermediary, she instructed him how to give the baby its first bottle feed.

Although they weren’t regular church goers, they still attended from time to time and pretended to be a happy family. Willow found it difficult to be in an environment where everyone else seemed to be fine, while her home-life was a battleground. She kept the details of her marriage a secret for over 8 years.

This is dark stuff. Beth, Laurel, Kirsty, Emily and Willow, I believe you. I believe what you are telling me. I have known some of your husbands rather well and I never would have guessed what was happening behind closed doors. However, I believe what you are telling me, you don’t have to convince me. You do not have to have physical scars for me to know that you had to leave. I know some of you have been judged for how you coped at the end. I know people have pointed their fingers at you and told you horrible (or flippant) things to your face. But for some reason, this man, who treated you so badly, has come out of your separation with most of the sympathy and not a hit to his reputation. After all the abuse he hurled at you, it seems to everyone else that he is the victim. But I know, I know what he did to you. I know what he did when no one else was around, how he treated you in the darkness. I see you.

When I hear these stories a small part of me thinks, “I’m so grateful my husband is nothing like that.” And then I catch myself… I’m grateful that the man I share my life with doesn’t abuse me? You have got to be kidding right? To be treated with respect and as an equal is the benchmark, not the exception. I am disgusted by my own reaction, even if it’s fleeting. What kind of culture do we live in where we congratulate men on treating women well, instead of just knowing that is what is expected of them?

During my discussions with Willow about her abused (I have shared but one story), her concern is for the women still trapped. She says to me, “If I could share anything, it would be that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to stay. You don’t have to extend grace so far to your husband that you damage yourself or your children.” Wow, just wow. This is perhaps one of the most powerful truths for women to hear within the faith context.

I sat in church a few weeks ago, thinking of the beautiful women I know. They have endured so much and I wondered how many other women are still being abused, controlled and belittled. Was I still seeing women every week like Beth, who smiled and said, “Good thanks, how was your week?” The heartbreaking reality is that I probably am. Some of the women I know went to churches in my own denomination. It’s easy to think that things like this happen elsewhere, but the truth is, domestic violence and abuse against women exists across Australian church groups. This darkness has to stop. We need to become more aware that it’s actually happening and start to develop stronger pathways to protect and support these women.

There is a song that has been playing on repeat in my mind whenever I have worked on this blog. It’s called Tremble by Mosaic. The lyrics say:

Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus

When I started contemplating putting this together, this song roared through me and left me kneeling on the floor in tears. I felt Jesus saying that He wanted the darkness to tremble. This ugly, ungodly thing in supposedly Christ-centered marriages, this thing we are fearful to face and talk about, He wants us to talk about. This is happening, right now, possibly in your church, perhaps to your friend, daughter or sister. We need to shine a light on this issue for these women. To let them know it’s safe to speak up and that we’ll believe them. I spoke with an older Christian couple about this blog whilst in it’s infancy and expressed my hesitation in addressing such a complex issue in 2500 or so words, but the male said passionately, “Jess, we need to talk about it everywhere and anywhere we can, however we can. We need to have these conversations.” My prayer is that other Christians will continue to take up the conversation. This is not a one-week sermon topic (although that’s important); it takes ongoing discussion, awareness, re-education, accountability and action to bring down an ungodly culture that is present in godly people. We need men and women of all ages and stages to partner together and invest in shifting this culture of abuse and violence.

If there is one thing I could say to a Christian women caught in domestic violence and the cycle of abuse it is this…

God loves you more than he loves the institution of marriage –
you do not have to stay to honour God.
This is not the marriage that God had in mind,
it is a man-made prison.

Where to from here? Well, firstly, if you have read these stories and identify with something shared, I encourage you to speak up and get help. The help-lines below are wonderful places to start. Alternatively, you may want to discretely share this blog with friends and say “I am like Laurel” or “I am like Kirsty”, try to start the conversation somewhere. Unfortunately, you are not alone and what you are going through is NOT RIGHT.

For the rest of us, if you are part of a faith community:

  •  Please share this blog with others and have a read through some of the articles below (Common Grace has some great blogs).
  • Talk about this topic this with your friends, in your cell groups, at women’s and men’s events and do it more than once. Perhaps you can write an article about correct biblical interpretation, share information about local support groups or teach couples about appropriate conflict resolution? Yes, marriage has conflict and yes it is hard at times, but it shouldn’t be this hard, it should never include abuse. These examples are powerful because they give you a framework of what abuse can look like. We often only listen when we hear the words hit, slapped or strangled.
  • Ask more questions instead of giving throw away lines. I know next time a friend tells me that they ‘have been fighting a lot”, I will ask them to tell me more and give specific examples instead of speaking in vague terms about things like communication and compromise. Perhaps her definition of fighting is a lot different to mine and his way of communicating is actually abusive. We need to look a little closer and see if she’s trying to tell us that something is happening behind closed doors.
  • Lastly, let’s pray that things come into the light. I’m praying that hidden abuses will be revealed and that women and men will be released from this darkness. I do not do this lightly or gently, but with fierce determination and righteous anger. Domestic violence does not belong in anyone’s life, Christian or not, it’s time we ripped this thing out of our lives.

Love Jess xxoo

Helplines:

  • 1800 RESPECT National Helpline: 1800 737 732
  • Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
  • Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
  • Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114

Resources for Churches:

Common Grace – Resourcing Churches

Common Grace – Blogs about Domestic Violence

SAFER – A Domestic Violence Resource for Churches

General Information – a few to start with:

White Ribbon – Australia Wide campaign to stop violence against women

White Ribbon – Dometic violence Statistics

OurWatch – National Campaign to stop violence against women and children

Life Line – Domestic violence information

Respect – Education for kids and young people

ABC article – Domestic Violence in the church, published 23 May 2018

A dreamy reminder

Hello dear friend, recently I’ve been talking with people about having personal dreams that are outside of our jobs and family life. One day the kids will leave home and employment doesn’t last forever, so what else are you working towards? Particularly for mothers, many of our dreams can be based upon our kids, but you are more than a Mum. What do you want to do for you? For our workaholics, you are more than your title within your vocation. If your position were taken away, what would you do with your passion and drive that was just for you? Stick it up somewhere you can see daily as a reminder to pursue what brings you joy.

Here are some of mine…

  1. Be in a financial position where I can bless anyone whenever the opportunity arises.
  2. Have a house in which others feel instantly at home in. A peaceful and relaxing, creative space with plants, arts and soothing textures. That people would feel they are being hugged as soon as they step through the door.
  3. Grow lots of my own fruit and vegetables.
  4. Cultivate more space for creative expression – writing, gardening, cooking/baking etc. Maybe 1-2 hours a week.
  5. Go away by myself for at least once a night every year.

As you can see, these are not my usual ‘buy ethical and sustainable products’; they are more about joy and delight. Some will require a lot of planning, research and discipline while others will be easier, more of a gradual unfolding in my every day.

I hope this little blog inspires you to spend at least 20 minutes this week writing out a dreams list for yourself; a list of dreams for this season and life stage. Then, share it with someone, stick it on your fridge, comment below whatever you want. Let’s do this, let’s dream a little together.

Love Jess xxoo

An excellent spiral

This morning I had a full-scale mummy guilt spiral. Complete with tearful messages to my best friends and crushing feelings of failure.

We’ve been speaking about excellence in my faith community the past few days, and let me be honest with you, even using the term ‘excellent’ fills me with dread and frustration. It makes me want to roll my eyes and say sarcastic things about the value we put on performance within a church program. Clearly my response shows where I’m at. My past experiences with “calling people to excellence” have involved feelings of striving, comparison, fake smiles and exhaustion. So let’s take my morning spiral and look at it through the lens of excellence, because you know… that sounds like fun.

I got home from a frantic morning of Daycare drop-offs and parent-teacher interviews with a grumpy baby and an overwhelmed heart. Like most parents, I want to give the best I can to my kids, but sometimes, my best doesn’t seem to be cutting it. Sometimes, my best is disappointing to my kids and to me, hence the spiral. Unfortunately, one of my ongoing battles from childhood is a belief that ‘I’m not good enough’. This means, I wish I were more; I wish I could be more, do more and give more. I fear I am not enough.

After my cry and a few rounds of brutal self-criticism, I regrouped and decided that today was a day to go ‘gently gently’. Gently, gently means recognizing the things I’m doing right and acknowledge my limitations. It means lowering my expectations about what I can realistically give and get done today. What I might have been able to do yesterday is different today. My capacity is different. I am doing the best with what I have; and that my friends, is excellence. Today, what I am doing really well is looking after myself. To have battled with an unhealthy personal belief and come up for air is a win in my books.

Allow me to make this suggestion:

When it comes to people’s capacities,

the standard of excellence is different

for everyone in each seasons.

Rest easy, you are actually doing better than you think. We are often quick to disregard the internal struggles and believe the lie that we shouldn’t have spiraled in the first place. I believe that success or excellence is found in the rising.

Inside a church program it will look different on everyone. For some, they will be able to contribute to multiple areas by serving, for others, even making it to a service will have them maxed. The trick is in knowing what type of season you are in and what capacity you have. This won’t come from looking around at others or your church leaders. It comes from being secure in who you are. If I’m secure in my identity and who I am created to be, the thought of personal excellence doesn’t have to be so confronting. So when I hear a message or conversation around this topic, instead of wanting to yell “For goodness sake, don’t ask me to give anything more, just leave me alone”, I can look to the one I call the King of Heaven and check in with Him.

I like to imagine it goes a little something like this. Firstly, picture my hair everywhere, a piece of half-eaten, cold toast in my hand whilst I try to get everyone out the door for school:

Me: God, far out, I don’t feel like I’m excellent at anything at the moment. I am stretched to the max. I just told off my daughter for taking half an hour to put her socks on and the other one is screaming at me from the end of the hallway because I won’t hold her hand when she’s on the toilet. Plus Bubba woke up three times last night and I just wish he would stop making this annoying tired noise. I also can’t get this frickin’ jar of vegemite open. Grrrrrrr. It’s all a bit much. I’m certainly not my best self today.

God: Oh honey. Do you think you are doing your best with what you have got?

Me: Sigh. I sure am. I don’t have much, but I’m trying with what I have. I may throw this bloody vegemite jar in the bin, but I’m trying to do the best I can.

God: Excellent! Of course you are doing your best. I’m so proud of you! You are killing it.

Me: Phew, so I’m not a failure?

God: Nope. I think you’re wonderful.

Me (looks on Instagram): But look at this mum, she’s got more kids and has somehow managed to hand-sow her kids Book Week costumes. She runs a mid-week connect group, makes meals for her neighbours, does welcome lounge on Sundays, goes on actually date-nights with her husband, probably washes all the bed sheets weekly and doesn’t swear. Ever. Oh man, look at the sexy shoes she’s wearing. I don’t measure up.

God: That’s nice, I think you’re wonderful.

Me: Did you see her shoes though God? I would love to be able to walk in those heels.

God: Jess (long piercing stare), are you doing your best?

Me: Yes.

God: Then you are doing so well. Now, put the phone away and get moving, it’s 8:16am.

Me (yelling through the house): Amy! Get your bag we’ve got to leave soon. Where are your shoes? Put your shoes on! Oh my goodness, I forgot to go over your sight words with you last night. Oh well. No, Bella you can’t have something to eat, you just had breakfast. Ok, you can have something when we get back home, but right now we have to go. Shshshshsh Kai, shshshsh, Baby Boy, you’re all right shshshshs…. Dang it, I’ve got baby vomit on my jeans. I’ll just rub it in; no one is looking at me anyway. OK, everyone, we’re leeeeeaviiiiing now!

Me (to God): Excellent?

God: Yep.

😉

Love Jess xxoo

A Trafficking in Persons Update

It’s been four years since Tim, Amy and I went overseas to observe and serve those working to end sex trafficking. So many things have happened in our own lives since then, but our heart remains the same, we will do what we can to help end modern slavery and never shut our eyes to what is happening.

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After spending hours reading many reports and articles, trying to decide what information to pass on to you has been difficult. I’ve decided to provide some brief global information and then focus on the countries we originally spent most of our time, Brazil and Thailand. Although critics are quick to point out the biased political and financial implications on the ranking systems in the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports, it’s a great place to start. But, don’t you worry about that. Reading a whole lot of statistics about people in bondage can be depressing and let’s be honest, a bit dry, so at the end of the blog, I’ve included three things you can do.

As you read the summaries below, try to remember that through all the numbers, these are individuals living in horrendous conditions. People trapped in a hell they can’t get out of; they are mothers, daughters, sons, husbands, cousins, grandparents and so on. So, buckle up. Let’s see what’s been going in the world.

The UN defines trafficking in persons as:

“…The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – What is Human Trafficking?

Trafficking types include:, sexual exploitation and forced labour (being the most prominent), forced beggars, sham marriages, benefit fraud, pornography production, organ removal, among others (UN Global report on trafficking in persons, 2016).

Some global info:

  • The 2016 Global Slavery Index puts global modern slavery numbers at 45.8 million – more than Australia’s population of 24.91 million.
  • Although 79% of all victims trafficked are women and children, in the last 10 years the percentage of males identified as being trafficked has increased (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 2016).
  • 28% of all trafficked victims detected globally are children. 20% of these are girls. (UNODC, 2016).
  • Sexual exploitation accounts for 54% of all trafficking cases detected globally (UNODC, 2016)
  • 96% of all victims of sexual slavery/sex trafficking worldwide are women and girls (UNODC, 2016)

“Local communities are the most affected by this abhorrent crime and are also the first line of defence against human trafficking.“

– Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State

Brazil Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:


  • The Government of Brazil does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Concerns around officials being involved in or receiving bribes from trafficking rings remain a concern.
  • Consistent with previous reports, Brazil is a source, transit and destination country for people subject to force labour and sex trafficking. Child sex tourism remains a serious problem, particularly in resort and coastal areas in Brazil’s northeast. Child sex tourists are typically from Europe and the United States.
  • Contrary to international law, child sex trafficking it is only considered a crime if there is proof of force, fraud or coercion. This leads to many young people being exploited in the commercial sex industry without protection.
  • There have been increases in convictions of traffickers, however most serve their sentences under house arrest or are only incarcerated at night-time.
  • Despite the significant number of child sex tourists visiting Brazil, there were no reports of investigations, prosecutions or convictions for child sex tourism in 2017.

 Thailand Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:

  • The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, the government has increased its efforts since the 2017 report. The government convicted 12 officials complicit in trafficking crimes, although corruptions still remains a major problem.
  • The government has made efforts to increase training for staff despite serious gaps in services. Sadly, authorities are more likely to send boy victims to juvenile detention than to centres offering victim services.
  • The trafficking of Rohingya refugees and migrants into Thailand is a particular problem at this time.
  • Children from Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia are victims of sex trafficking in brothels; massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences.
  • Men and boys from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia are subject to forced labour within the fishing industry. Many spend several years a sea, work 18-20 hours a days, seven days a week and are subject to physical violence, forced drugging and can be killed if they become ill or try to escape.
  • In 2017, there were credible reports that corrupt officials protected brothels, other commercial sex venues from raids and inspections. Some officials also profit from bribes and direct involvement in the exploitation of migrants.

Compared to countries like Brazil and Thailand, my own home nation of Australia performs much better. However, I thought it would be worthwhile to include some of the observations made in the report. Human trafficking does exist in my country and we can do more to protect the most vulnerable. Particularly concerning is the way the authorities fail to screen and identify ‘boat people’ and asylum seekers as victims of trafficking. There are estimated to be over 4300 modern slaves living in Australia (Global Slavery Index, 2016).

Australia Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:

  • The Government of Australia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Australia is a primary destination country for women and girls trafficked for sex and for women and men subject to forced labour.
  • Problem areas occur with identifying victims. Due to inconsistencies in screening, some potential victims were detained, fined or penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.
  • Identified trafficked victims are supported with accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, job training and counselling.
  • The government did not report screening for trafficking indicators among individuals smuggled via sea or among refugees and asylum-seekers held in offshore detention centres. Immigration authorities forcibly deported some asylum-seekers who may have been vulnerable to trafficking after returning to their home countries. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during any initial screening interviews.
  • Some women are held in captivity, subject to physical or sexual violence and intimidated, required to work off debt bondage or subjected to deceived working arrangements in legal or illegal brothels. Traffickers evade authorities by allowing victims to hold onto their passports and frequently move their place of work.
  • Forced labour is present in agriculture, cleaning; construction, hospitality industries with overseas visa students being particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Researching and reading the reports and individuals stories for a blog like this is disheartening and draining at times, but there are also many stories of governments and NGOs attempting to make better laws and provide better services. Once again, I am reminded that strong and connected communities are the best way to combat human trafficking. Change takes intentionality and time. It takes time to change culture, influence decision-makers and educate people about what is happening in their own cities.

So, what can you do?

  1. Becoming educated about something is a good place to start, so well done to you for reading this whole blog. You can’t do something if you don’t know it needs doing. Human trafficking is a large, complex issue, so if it’s something that’s on your heart, find out which area you are most passionate about. Is it child prostitution in Brazil? Forced male labour in the Thai fishing industry? Does prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, prosecution or policy light a fire in your heart? If so, become more educated about that particular issue and the work already being done in that field.
  2. Support organisations that are doing great work already. Getting behind credible organisations is an easy way to get involved, you can do this with your finances or by donating your time. A word of caution to investigate organisations properly and be aware of how voluntourism could be impacting those involved.
  3. Shop ethically and support companies that care about their workers and the conditions of those in their supply chains. In Australia, using apps like ShopEthical and reviewing the Baptist World Aid 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide are the easiest ways to do this, because they have done the research for you. Similarly, back in 2016, I wrote about one simple change you can make today to stop supporting modern slavery practices in the tea supply chain. You can read it here.

Love Jess xxoo

Further Reading:

United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/2016_Global_Report_on_Trafficking_in_Persons.pdf

US Department of State – Trafficking in Persons Report 2018  https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/282798.pdf

Global Slavery Index https://www.globalslaveryindex.org

Walk Free Foundation https://www.walkfreefoundation.org/understand/

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx

International Labour Organisation – Global Child Labour tends 2012-2016 http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575499.pdf

Save the Children – Research and Reports – https://www.savethechildren.org.au/Our-Stories?categories=Research%20and%20Reports&currentSort=

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From struggling to learning

I will be honest, moving from two kids to three kids has been a struggle for me. I won’t go into the finer details, but those with a sideline view into my life hear all about the tantrums, fights and other parenting conundrums my kids are throwing my way. On a few occasions I have said to my inner circle “I am struggling”.

My church recently had Ben Higgins, from Life Church as guest speaker. He spoke a timely message about encouragement and being mindful of the words we speak to others and ourselves. During that message, Ben spoke the words:

“Our words shape our future – they don’t just speak to what is, but what will be.”

It was a good reminder for me to be mindful about what I’m speaking and the atmosphere I’m creating with my external and internal dialog. One morning last week, as I made the bed and contemplated what the day held, I really felt these words strongly in my heart:

You’re not struggling, you’re learning.

And you know what, it’s true, I’m learning. I love how this shift in language and understanding can change the way I view a situation or myself. I am learning how to be a Mum to my growing family. Sometimes I make mistakes and often it’s difficult… because I’m learning and so are my kids.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

This verse has become a bit of a mantra for me during difficult moments with my kids. My weakness, lack of insight or parenting mistakes are ok because that’s when God shows up. Sometimes, He shows up by giving me keys to a situation, sometimes He shows up by giving me a hug and encouragement to try again next time.

And so, I will focus on the learning, not on the struggle. Today’s lesson is in the language I am speaking over my heart and what this season is producing for the future. To approach this season of parenthood as learning rather than struggling is somewhat freeing. It allows me to move from things that restrict me to things that release me:

Another day dawns, here I go, watch me learn again today.


Love Jess xxoo

Digging Deep into Bravery

Digging deep, sigh, it can be tough. I had one of those days yesterday, but instead of digging deep and finding my inner strength and peace, I think I just ended up digging myself into a hole. A hole filled with frustration, emotion and lots of chocolate. Yep, I confess I was not my ‘best mummy self’ yesterday as I screamed at my two-and-a-half-year-old and messaged Tim telling him I didn’t like our kids very much at that point in time. Apparently, having one of my kids deliberately (and defiantly) pour a cup of water onto our laptop brings out the Hulk in me. My bravery abandoned me as I questioned what we are doing having baby number 3 and how on earth I was going to mentally cope with an extra little person in the house. However, even in my moment of (let’s be honest) blind rage, I could hear my sister encouraging me and reminding me that I had chosen to be brave and bravery is only present when there is something to fear or overcome.So, I write this little note to myself and to any other readers out there who have decided to be Ten Times Braver.  To one and all, remember that during your bravery journey, you will come across difficulties. You might find yourself wondering what you have gotten yourself in to and question if you have what it takes. Can you really dig any deeper into your faith/inner strength/reserves and find hope in this situation?

We all have days (or months) like this. Sometimes it’s during a busy workweek, other times in chaotic family life, perhaps friendship dynamics or creative blocks. Whatever the reason, there are days and seasons where digging deep is hard and the sense of bravery we felt before is just a little bit on the thin side right now.

But… We can do this! Yes, YOU dear friend, CAN do it. You can try again tomorrow. You can rise again from disappointment. You can give it another go. You can try something different next time. Keep being brave, keep pushing forward and remember… it’s ok to feel fear or confusion, frustration or discouragement. It is in those moments, when you choose to believe things will be ok, that your truly brave self emerges. If it’s not difficult, you wouldn’t need to be courageous would you?My girlfriends and I frequently encourage each other by send this pic (below) as a powerful reminder of how we see each other. This lady right here, the characteristic she exemplifies, are there inside you too – Dig deep, big breath, here we go (again).

As a side note, you’ll be pleased to know that the laptop was not damaged from its little baptism by Bella and I do still love Miss B, despite the epic battle of wills that occurred most of the day.

Love Jess xxoo

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Ten Times Braver

One day I sat at work with some people, and over terrible mocktails (I don’t know what I was thinking) I asked the question: “What would you do if you were ten times braver?” The answers they gave were varied, but all very brave and transparent.

I love asking people this question. I like to connect with people in a deeper way and see what is under the surface. This question pushes people to look deep into their hearts and find their secret desires. It also allows people to be encouraged to pursue something they may not have done. When you sit around with people and share something you wish you could to face, they will automatically be encouraging you to go for it. They help you find the reasons why you should overcome your fears; it’s hard to walk away from this question feeling discouraged. In fact, most of the time, people will realise that they were ten times braver all along.

Would you like to know what my answer to this question was?

I said I would have another baby. I confided that I would ignore the (realistic) concerns about finances, I would push pass the possible struggle of actually trying to conceive and the anxiety around the whole process. I would face the physical and mental exhaustion and realise I’m stronger than I feel and the provision would be there when we needed it.

Now, if you have followed any of Tim and my story on this blog, you’ll realise that we often face our fears and say to ourselves… why not? God is with us, He’s placed this dream in our hearts, let’s go for it! And so, a few weeks after I shared this question at work, Tim and I sat on the couch in our house and contemplated this question.

“What would we do if we were ten times braver?

We would have a baby. So, that’s what we’re doing. We are having a baby, due in early April. Yes, I am pregnant with number 3 and we are so very excited! We are being ten times braver! God is so good!

Our girls are so excited and constantly talk about if it’s a boy or girl, what Baby’s name should be and how they are going to play with Baby. It makes it even more special to share it with them and our family and friends.

          

Now over to you dear reader… What would you do if you were ten times braver?

What is stopping you? Go for it whatever it is! It’s perfectly normal to be scared doing it, that’s part of bravery. It is ok to fail; it’s ok to try something else if it doesn’t work out. You can do it. You are braver than you look. So, enroll in that course, apply for that job, plan that holiday, start a family, submit that book, play that song for someone, ask that girl out, say yes to that date, renovate that house, face your fear of heights, see a counselor about your past trauma, get that blood test, start to exercise, change your diet and lifestyle completely, whatever it is, at least give it a go.

Let’s be braver together. We can do this, we can try, and we can make plans and set ourselves time-lines. If I can be ten times braver, so can you.

Love Jess xxoo

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It’s ok to sleep

We recently went to Darwin to visit Tim’s youngest brother and his wife (YAY). We came into this trip off the back of a number of unusually full weeks and Tim and I were both exhausted and recovering from illness.

Whilst there we had the opportunity to attend their once a month church gathering. We arrived 30 minutes early to take a look around and observe Mark and Christine in their ‘natural environment’. My darling Bella decided to throw a stellar tantrum about 3 minutes after the service officially started, complete with body thrashing, screaming and hitting. It really was rather impressive, so I’ll give her points for that. After removing ourselves from the main hall, I tried all my (patient) mum techniques and finally managed to calm her down. We rejoined the rest of humanity and I placed Tim in charge of both my little cherubs. I tried to engage in worship, but seriously, I had nothing. As I looked around the room at people’s heartfelt ‘worship’ faces, I couldn’t help but be amazed that they had any energy left to stand, let alone sing. I looked up at the lyrics of the song on the big screen and read:

“All the Sons and Daughters,

Wake up from your sleep.”

And man, all honestly, I just wanted to punch someone in the head. Wake up! You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m a working mum with small kids, I’m always awake. Goodness me, how much more am I meant to be giving? I exhaustedly told God that I didn’t want to wake up, I actually just wanted to sleep.

You know what I heard Him say?

He said, “That’s ok Babe. It’s ok to sleep, you’re exhausted.”

Phew.

When I heard Him say that, I felt so much release. He gave me permission to feel tired without guilt. I realised that He does see me in my current season and instead of being disappointed in me, He is cheering me on. I felt so much liberation that I packed up my two tired girls in the van and drove them home to sleep and rest.

It’s funny how I sometimes slip back into performance with God instead of authentic relationship. Sometimes, I still get caught up in comparison, not just with others, but also with my past seasons that I lock myself in a prison of self-criticism.

What I’m continuing to learn in this season is the fine art of balance and acceptance. Acceptance of myself and how I function as a mum, friend, employee, wife, daughter and sister. Sometimes I can’t give what I want and I have much less to offer than I have been able to in past, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong. Let me repeat… it doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong. If my capacity is less than someone else’s, that doesn’t mean I’m not living a full life. I am not less, I am me.

And so, there may have been other mums in that church hall with screaming kids hanging off their arms, able to sing that song with all their heart and that’s great. I can cheer them on without feeling competitive or bitter and I hope that they can cheer me on, (whilst I sleep) without judgment.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a kid-free day, so I’m going to hang out the washing, make myself a second coffee and read my latest lighthearted acquisition “That Hathaway Girl”.

Love Jess xxoo

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To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant,

I have been thinking a lot about you the last few weeks. You are on my mind and I can’t shake you no matter how much I try. Some of you I know personally, while others I wouldn’t know you if you were sitting next to me right now. Regardless, I wanted to take a few moments and type these words to you, because what you are going through is painful, so incredibly painful and usually hidden.

Psalm 56 v 8
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

If I could sit and have a beverage with you, I would look you in the eye and tell you that you aren’t alone. I know it feels like it, believe me, I know it does. It may seem like others around you are falling pregnant with not a care in the world and you feel you’re the only one’s struggling… but you aren’t. For some reason, knowing that other Christians are going through or have gone through a similar struggle can make you feel less isolated. I say this not to take away from your unique experience, but to encourage you and remind you that your thoughts, questions, doubts, victories and triumphs are perhaps similar to what others have felt.

Psalm 31 v 7
I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.

Although some of your closest friends may not see your pain… I see you in my mind’s eye. I acknowledge this difficult season with its’ faith filled highs and the hopeless lows. I understand the courage you draw upon when you celebrate other people’s victories and the anguish in your heart when you see that photo on social media or glossy picture in a catalog. I can relate to the faith in your heart when you respond to an alter-call and the frustration when someone says something insensitive. Sometimes you have grace and things don’t bother you, while other times you want to put your fingers in your ears to block out the noise. It is difficult. Plus, those ever-changing thoughts and emotions can really throw you can’t they? Up and down and round and round. Then, there are the faith-based questions, medical decisions and ethical considerations that can keep you up at night! You are really doing so well. No, really you are. Be encouraged.

Psalm 9 v 9-10
The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.

I am aware that your stories are all different and so will the outcome. I sincerely pray that your dearest dreams will be realized, and yet I know how hard it is to believe that at times. I don’t pretend to have answers for your situation; I only want to let you know that you aren’t forgotten. You aren’t abandoned and your journey is important, so important that God keeps bringing you to my mind. Even if you don’t tell anyone about this season, I am praying for you and for the child or children you want to have.

All my love

Jess xxoo

Enjoier (to give joy to)

When was the last time you deliberately did something you enjoyed? It doesn’t matter if it’s cliché or something entirely unique, as long as it fills up your joy tank, it’s valid. Is it having a large group of people over for lunch? Could it be reading a new book on your bed? Would it involve lots of people and noise and energy or quiet and stillness and peace?

Enjoy (a verb).

Originates from Middle English and a stem of Old French > From the Middle English word enjoyen, which means ‘to make joyful’. > Old French ‘enjoier’, meaning ‘to give joy to’.

Low mood can be a sneaky thing and by sneaky I mean it can lead to depression. At the end of last year I had a downer, constantly in Mum-mode and managing the household. Never feeling like ‘me’, but just the mum-version of me. In short, I was no longer having any fun and was starting to lose sight of who I was. Little moments of joy would pass me by without me even noticing and my days were becoming full of to-do-lists and high expectations. And so, after some good self-reflection and advice, I decided it was time for more joy.

One of my top enjoyen tricks at the moment is to blast out some fun music and dance around my house with my little people in tow. Nothing changes the atmosphere like a playlist of songs that have your little people jumping around and giggling with you. A few little spins through the air and some quick leaps around the dinning room table just seem to help me shake off my tendency to be caught up in ‘adulting’.

Adulting (a verb).

To do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.

Coming off the back of a season of low mood, I have been thinking a fair bit about joy and ways to cultivate it. I think one of the best ways, is to be aware of it and make it something you notice within yourself. The little joy moments within your day can make a world of difference, if you embrace them. Often though, I’m too busy adulting (or parenting) to notice and I need to deliberately set time aside every few days and do something I love. Scheduling a weekly ‘joy session’ is a great place to start if you’ve stopped being able to recognise it in your daily life.

From my experience, deliberately making time for joy and silly fun is important in our crazy, over-connected culture. The more I am able to bring joy into my life, the more joy I can see. The more I see, the more I treasure and embrace.

And so, let us embrace the silly, fun, delightful, surprising and awkward moments of life. Let’s take a moment to look at the beautiful flower on the tree you walk past every day. Let’s have a laugh when someone does a fart during dinner – the sound of a trumpet coming out of a bottom, what’s not to laugh at? Let’s run a bath and read a book. Have dinner with a close friend. Have dinner with 20 strangers. Go for a bush walk. Bake something new. Colour in that drawing. Sip that coffee while looking at the view. Paint a fence. Paint your hand. Spend a morning in the garden. Spend a morning in the surf. Go on a date. Watch a movie. Go on a holiday. Laugh at the spilt drink. See that new exhibition. Go to that new shop you saw the other day. Take a language class. Watch a bird play in the bird bath. Giggle at a clever quote. Sing loudly in the car. Start a blog*…

Whatever the things are that bring you joy, join me and deliberately do at least three of them this week. Sure, life can be difficult and boring at times, but if we can cultivate joy while doing it, then we’re onto something.

Love Jess xxoo

*(Oh that was for someone specific, I don’t know who you are, but you do. Now get on it and give it a go! Apparently it’ll bring you a lot of joy)