My plumb line

Zechariah 4 v 9-10

“Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. 10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (NLT)

Honestly, last week was not great. Tim went away to a Community Development conference and I have been running on empty for a few weeks now; a perfect storm for becoming unhinged. Mid-week I came across this scripture on Instagram:

 

This post on Instagram took me on a little journey as I read the whole chapter in context and became captivated by the phrase ‘plumb line’ at the end of verse 10. This term can also be found in Amos and a few other places depending which translation you use. Not being a builder, I immediately searched on Google and did some reading (I found this blog really insightful). If you can’t be bothered looking into it yourself, a plumb line is a tool used to ensure buildings are built straight – think of it as an ancient ‘spirit level’.

A few days later as I hid in my garage away from my kids, I thought about the plumb line. I realised that in this season my kids are using me as their plumb line for life. They look to me to see if things in their own little lives are on track. They look to me to know what is right, what is acceptable and what the boundaries are. They like to push me and there are times when the pushing causes me to feel unstable. They have also been known to frequently grab onto me and give me an almighty shake. My sister and I often encourage one-another to ‘hold’ in the moments when we feel unstable. I am often reminding myself to ‘HOLD’ my centre and not allow the conflicts and uncomfortable moments in life to push me around. However, I am not a perfect parent, so naturally there are times when I end up swinging out of alignment. During these moments, I often feel like a failure and am discouraged that I am not holding my emotions or reactions in check as much as I’d like.

So, back to the garage… as I sat (shamelessly hiding) behind the car trying to get a moment to myself, I sent up more “Help me Jesus” prayers and felt myself coming back to centre. I felt God reassuring me, reminded me that although I’m a plumb line for my kids, He is my plumb line and He is never shaken. If I keep holding onto Him through prayer, worship and reading His words, when I am faced with the bumps and swings of life, I will naturally come back into alignment. I don’t have to fear the shaking; sure, the shaking of life will continue to happen, but it’s not something to fear.

This timely, gentle reminder carries a lot of freedom for me. There are many times when I overthink my reactions, but knowing that swinging doesn’t equal failure means I can continue to endure life’s ‘pushes’ until my head and heart get back into alignment. Instead of looking at the plumb bob swinging out of control and making myself dizzy, I’ll just keep looking up, because that is where my strength comes from.

Let me close with these thoughts – I may be my kids’ plumb line at the moment, but God is mine. He is my plumb line. I want to encourage you if you feel like you are swinging out of control… don’t fear, be still, He is a firm foundation. Keep looking to him and not at the plumb bob; we’ve got this. Big breath, remember the plumb line.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – Yes, I went and bought myself a plumb bob/line from Bunnings while processing this all, because sometimes I like a physical reminder of what God is speaking to me about.

How to worship to a song you hate

Disclaimer: These thoughts are based off my experiences in many churches, conferences and meetings across different denominations, cultures and countries, so everyone relax. I’m not being critical, just having an honest chat.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get to a church event and they are singing my absolute favourite song and I’m right there heart, body and soul. Other times, not so much. Let me be honest, there are some songs that I really dislike. The ones that talk about being unworthy and how terrible we are just really frustrate me. I hate that we, a redeemed people, are still holding onto our old identity and actually singing about it together. Ugh, talk about creating identity confusion.

*Jess takes a deep calming breath*

Sometimes, my worship playlist looks very different at home to what I hear in a church meeting, because I like a certain style. Kind of like if you loved jazz, but went to a country music festival. Neither are better, I just like one over the other, so it’s easier for me to engage with what I like. You feeling me? If you’ve been in church for more than three months, I know you will get it.

How about you? I’m sure you have songs that you dislike too. Maybe you don’t understand the lyrics, find it too repetitive, have sung it a thousand time, find the lyrics aren’t actually biblically sound, you don’t think it suits your church’s own flavour or you hate the musical arrangement and so on. I started singing on worship teams in the kid’s rooms when I was 12-years-old, so I’ve had my fair share of songs I don’t love. I thought (for a bit of transparent fun) that I’d share four things that I choose to remember when I come across a song at a church event that I really dislike or don’t connect with. Here goes 🙂

  1. I realise that everyone has different taste.

Tim and I have had a few laughs over the years when we get to church only to find they have added a new song to the rotation that we had only just expressed our dislike for. It honestly makes me laugh. Although I may not like the song, someone else clearly does, so maybe I need to allow opportunity for others to connect to God and not make it about me. I have to remember that the Creative Team are not responsible for my connection to God, I am. So regardless of the song, style, etc. I need to push through my own preferences and connect.

  1. I try to find something.

Within any song there will be one line or some musical hook that I can connect to. For example, even if I dislike the style of a song, the lyrics might be incredibly powerful, so I’ll focus on that. Maybe there is an awesome bass line that I feel is prophetic, so I will lean into that moment. When I come across a line in a song that I really feel is not based on scripture or actually undercuts the finished work Christ, I’ll just skip over it and put my focus into the next line. For me, I have realised that just because not every part of a song is perfect, doesn’t mean I should write it off… kind of like us. Ouch! Not everything we do is perfect, but our imperfections don’t discount from the parts that shine. I still may never play a song I dislike at home, but if it’s played at church, it’s all good. This one is good for me to remember when I’m getting particularly hung up on a song. I have taught myself to become intentional about finding something I like, particularly if I’m meant to be leading others from the stage.

  1. I remember the writer’s intent and season

It’s good for me to remember that someone wrote this song with a heart to connect to God. They wrote it out of their own personal experiences, out of a desire to express their heart and love towards their God. I also realise that the song writer’s revelation or breakthrough can become mine even if (in this moment) it doesn’t seem relevant to me. There is power in recognising the heart behind a song, especially when the style isn’t my favourite or the theme is different from the season I’m in.

  1. I remember why and who I am trying to connect with

At the end of the day, I’m here to connect to God. I do not have to enjoy or even sing along to connect to Him. One time, I was so put off by the theology behind a song that I didn’t sing it and made up my own lyrics instead, because I still wanted to connect to Him. My heart is for him. Regardless of what the song is, my intent is to let Him know how much I love Him. Full stop. Maybe my outward expression looks different during a song I find difficult to connect with, but my heart-to-heart connection with God should never change and that’s what I focus on. That’s where I always end up.

Man, I know within my own social circle there are many others who find music a very personal way to connect with God and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you do when you don’t connect with a song?

Speaking of songs, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite songs at the moment. I would not call this a typical worship song and my preference would be to not sing this in a congregation, but I’m so glad it was written and these guys recorded it. It’s a song from God to us and the bridge has me bawling every time.

Love Jess xoxo

Check out my other popular faith-based pieces:

When Faith and Hope Run out

To the Christian Couple trying to fall pregnant

Behind Close doors – Stories of Domestic Violent in Christian marriages

Into the pit and back again – A story about depression

A different plant

I was out in my backyard this week, spending some time in nature and being mindful of the beauty around me. I saw these two plants and they captured my attention. Some of you may have seen my post on Facebook:

Both of these plants are in the same season (winter), but they are at different stages of growth and development. One is blooming, so vibrant and fertile. The other is shedding its leaves to conserve water and energy, eventually building cells to protect the exposed areas until the season changes. Both are beautiful for their own reasons.

What these little plants reminded me of was that different plants flourish in different seasons. It’s winter in Australia right now, but when summer comes, these plants will look very different. Instead of the picture looking like above, the plant on the left will be blooming while the other will be protecting itself from the heat. Growth for each plant will accelerate at different times of the year, but regardless of which season I see flowers, neither is better than the other. These plants are just totally different and thrive in different seasons. In their very DNA they were designed to bloom at different times, because quite simply, they are different plants.

The lesson I take away from this is that people (*cough* Spiritual people) are great at talking about ‘knowing your season’, myself included, but we can get tripped up when we see others in the same season as us. We compare ourselves to others who are our same age or life-stage or working in a similar role. When we feel we are conserving or withering while someone else is thriving or blooming, it’s important for us to be mindful of how we view ourselves. Essentially, you are a different kind of plant to me and I to you. I would not expect my Crepe Myrtle to bloom in winter, what a ridiculous notion, but goodness I can catch myself expecting to see blooms in every season of life. It sounds like this:

The simple take away is yes, you are different plant and therefore you bloom at a different time to someone else and that is ok. Perhaps you beauty is in looking after yourself. If you try to force yourself to bloom in the wrong timing, you’ll be too exhausted for the growth that could be coming your way.

Having simple one-liner to hold onto, like “I am a different plant” and speaking it to yourself, is incredibly powerful. It is a useful tool to cut through the lies we sometimes tell ourselves.  This one is helpful for me, maybe it will be helpful for you too. So, my friends next time you look at a fellow stay-at-home parent, or the colleague who is excelling in the same work industry as you, stop that poisonous comparative thought in its tracks and say it with me “I am a different plant.”

Love Jess xxoo

PS – For those concerned or bursting to encourage me, I don’t feel as though I am in a hibernating winter or sweltering summer. In case you are wondering, that was last year 🙂 But I know there will be winters and summers all throughout my life, so it’s good for me to keep being reminded of these lessons regardless of where I am in that cycle and whoever else I see alongside me.

A confession: Playing small

I have a confession to make, I have been playing it small. Ever since my son has come along, I have been a slightly lesser version of myself. I have been holding back, uncertain of my capacity and locking away parts of myself and my giftings, less I should fail. I think many people (especially Mums) feel this way, especially when re-entering the workforce or trying something new. We can feel insecure, don’t see what we have to offer and feel conflicted about where our loyalties lie. For me, I have returned to work and joined the creative team at my local church, you know, just two big commitments at once, nothing major haha.

The last seven months have been interesting for me as I have observed myself react to situations and people that I previously would not have struggled with. I have been my own worst enemy, continually undermining myself: Don’t make suggestions, don’t disagree, keep your head down, keep your eyes down, don’t rock the boat, be easy going, stay in the background, keep out of people’s way, don’t be ambitious, don’t have dreams. Be small.

But, I am not small. It’s just taken me a little while (with a few bumps and false starts) to rediscover that fact. I have gifts, talents and skills that should not be hidden. I have something to offer. I was created to shine in my own particular way and I do no-one a service by making myself less to accommodate others. Others don’t shine brighter because I stop shining. It doesn’t work like that; we shine brighter together. I didn’t even realise I was turning down the dimmer switch, but apparently, I was. Good to know. Good to finally recognise. Good to stop.

So looking forward, what does this re-discovery of identity mean for me? Externally, not much. I know the season I am in and I know my capacity and current commitments. I’m aware of my energy levels and honestly, at the moment I like going with the flow and doing my part for another person’s vision. Internally, I feel I am waking up. I am allowing myself to dream a little about what is stirring in my heart. I am curious about the things that I struggle with and wonder what is hiding underneath. If I don’t re-check what my passions are and look for opportunities to develop and learn, I will keep being small. I could easily get stuck in this place, not moving forward. Nothing has to change in this moment, it’s my own heart that’s changing. Instead of unrest, I am at peace on the inside.

I share this with you dear reader, because I feel like someone else needs to hear these words. Have you turned down the ‘dimmer’ in a certain area of your life? Let me challenge you to see where you might be playing small? You were not created to be small; you have something to offer this world in your own special way. Your offering, will look different to mine and woohoo for that. If you too feel you have been stuck, come on sweetheart, let’s take a moment to dream together. It’s time to stop playing small, even if it’s only evident in our hearts.

Love Jess xxoo

Church Parent Rooms – Five reasons to keep going

What I’m going to share isn’t new information at all, but I think parents need to be encouraged anyway. Each new group of parents can benefit from learning from those before them, I know I certainly have. But first, some stories…

A story:

One day I went to church and spent the whole time in the nursing Mums room making awkward conversations with women I couldn’t remember the names of. Meanwhile my (childless) friends and husband got to sit in church like adults. My baby managed to do an explosive poo, getting it all over her clothes and we had to leave straight after the message finished, I should have just stayed at home and had a much better time.

 A story:

One Sunday I was in the parents room all by myself. For some reason none of the ‘usual crew’ were there. The vision and audio on the TV wasn’t working and I spent the whole time keeping my baby from pulling cords out of the wall and feeding him snacks. I was exhausted by the end of the service and just wanted to get out of there.

 A story:

One morning I was really eager to hear the message, but ended up spending the whole time in the parent’s room with my grumpy baby. The room was packed with other parents who were talking and letting their kids run wild. I tried to listen to the message, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I left church frustration and empty.

The question I hear a lot from (new) Christian parents is why do I even bother coming to church? I spend the whole time in the parents room with my kid/s, don’t get to worship, hear nothing of the sermon and go home without feeling connected. I have honestly been through seasons where I have thought the same thing, wondering why I put so much effort into something that felt like a waste of time. Or to be brutally honest, like ticking the ‘went to church’ box.

 

The answer to the question many flustered parents ask “Is going to church really worth it?” is – Yes. From my experience and those who have gone before me, here is five reasons why I would encourage you to keep going.

1. Community

You will make friends in that Parents room. If you are a new parent, connecting with others can be so valuable, but just remember that connection and relationship building takes time. Your little ones will grow up together and right now is a great place to cultivate friendship. Sometimes churches can have tight friendship circles, but in the parents room… we’re all in this together. You will meet people of all sorts of personalities and backgrounds that perhaps you would not normally get to meet. You won’t instantly connect with everyone and that’s ok, but you might feel less alone and who knows, maybe you’ll meet your next best friend.

2. Triage

Sometimes, the parents room at church becomes a sort of emotional triage. Parents (often Mums) share their frustrations, struggles and worries while others get around them to commiserate, encourage and provide a sympathetic ear. At times, I can be that person for them, giving encouragement and sharing my snacks, and other times; I need them to be that for me. Look, you may miss out on being prayed for by that Spirit-filled visiting speaker, but I’ll let you in on a little secret, when the audio cuts out in the parents room, sometimes that’s when God does his best work.

3. Growth

God has taught me a lot in my years in various parent’s rooms. I have learned a lot from other parents too and I feel my faith is richer for it.  My security comes more from what God thinks of me, than the preacher on Sunday. My faith expression is more than a once-a-week service. I’ve realised that being unnoticed suits me rather well and I prefer ministering and being ministered to in unexpected places where there is no where to hide and I’m at my most vulnerable. I’ve had to develop patience and learn to relax my ‘God plans’ a heck of a lot more, my Sunday church plans rarely work out like I think they should.

4. Go with the flow

Some churches have amazing resources and facilities and are able to cater to so many different needs, while others can’t. Don’t take it personally. Goodness me I’ve heard some parents say some interesting things while I have sat quietly in the corner pretending not to hear. When we are put out, we tend to take it personally and feel we are being deliberately overlooked when often it’s not the case. How many times did you think about parents with young kids before you had them (unless you worked in kids church that is). Many churches are doing the best they can. Speak up when changes need to be made, but don’t get yourself all twisted up in knots. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. You should be pretty good at it… you have kids 😉

5. Seasonal

Time with your littles in the parents room doesn’t last forever and it will get easier. Perhaps your church attendance will look different to how it did in the past (that’s fine by me), but stay connected because this too shall pass. What might be difficult for you could be a pathway to change for others.

 A story:

We had a terrible sleep that night up and down with the kids, but woke up and rallied to go to church. Our oldest threw a major tantrum refusing to put on her shoes while our middle child spent 20 minutes talking to a bug he found in the bathroom instead of brushing his teeth. To top it off my youngest son did a poo just before we got into the car to leave, so as usual we ended up being late to church. After dumping my older kids with the amazing kids workers (God bless kids workers)  I went into the parents room with my son. As I put down my bag and sat on the floor I realised I had forgotten to bring his snacks and we had a looooong way to go until we would be home again. One of the Dads saw my dilemma, generously sharing his grapes and laughing with me about how my carefully prepared snacks were probably sitting on the kitchen bench. Another five minutes went by and one of the single mums started openly sharing about how her older son was going through a really stubborn phase, refusing to do simple tasks and that it was really driving her up the wall. She had no idea what to do to reach him and I felt like I had found my people, I knew just what she meant. Before I knew it five of us were sharing tips and encouragement and I felt like less of a failure as a parent. If these amazing parents were going through the same things as me, I didn’t feel so alone. At the very end of the service, I felt encouraged and empowered. We even got to listen to the last five minutes of the sermon without anyone’s kid screaming. I left church feeling a little tired, but less isolated and down on myself than before I came.

So dear Parent with young kids, I see you. I understand, and goodness you are doing so very well. Keep at it, keep at least trying to connect with your faith community. Sometimes it is wonderful, sometimes it’s a challenge, but hey… we’re all in this together and often that helps.

Love Jess xxoo

Meet Greta

Hi everyone, I would like you to meet Greta. Some of my girlfriends have suggested this might be a bit of a laugh to share with you all. Here is our story…

Jess’ Story:

Last night Tim got home from work at about 5pm and I was starting my overnight shift at 7:30pm. I immediately went to have a shower and was looking forward to having some alone time to wash off the day.

As the water was running I saw a reasonable sized Daddy-long-legs spider in the corner of the shower, and realised that it was too late to remove her. So I had two options:

  1. Flush her down the drain (which I didn’t really want to do)
  2. Leave her be.

Now is that point I made the mistake of calling her Greta. I spent the rest of the shower slightly tense that either she would fall, drown and float down the drain, or crawl over my back while I was shaving my legs.

At one point, she did make an attempt to crawl up the wall and fell. Time seemed to slow as I watched her bungee down towards the wet floor! I embarrassingly let out a squeal as I was now slightly attached to Greta and didn’t want to see her life cut short.

I’m happy to report that we both survived the shower, but needless to say, I will probably look for her next time I hop in. As this whole saga was happening, I did think that a male would probably never have this problem. He would probably just squish the spider and go on with his life, whereas I named her and got invested as to whether or not she survived my shower.

And that is my story. I hope you enjoyed it and don’t think I’m a crazy person.

Tim’s story:

This morning I got in the shower.
Saw a Daddy-long-legs spider on the wall.
Knocked spider onto the floor, flushed it down the drain.
Had shower.
The end.

Love Jess xxoo

 

Four Questions for Christmas

Most nights when putting our kids to bed we ask them four questions. These four questions do two things, firstly, they allow us to get a window into our kids day and secondly, it gives us an opportunity to help our littles process the things they have experienced. So, as it’s the season for long lunches and evening glasses of wine, why don’t you take some time out as you reflect on the year that’s been and ask others or yourself these four questions:

What made you smile?
What made you sad?
What did you learn about?
What are you thankful for?

Tim and I have put our answers below.

What made you smile?

Jess: New and deeper connections with people. This current season with my family and friends has been a great one, particularly seeing my family complete with the birth of our son. I have loved building new friendships and getting to know others on a deeper level.

Tim: Work Opportunities. There were many days at work this year when I would pinch myself. How did I get here? Did I do that? How amazing is God?! 18 months ago I was seconded into my organisations Project Team and things just clicked for me. It’s been a rollercoaster of amazing opportunities and challenges met and I found myself energised by this environment and the amazing people in it. At my recent work Christmas party I was presented with an individual award that recognised my achievement to help our organisation be ‘Future Ready’ (one of our five strategic goals). Yet again, I had to pinch myself.

What made you sad?

Jess: Family illness. There have been some rather significant hospital stays and health investigations this year. Some health questions have had answers, while others are still ongoing.

Tim: A lack of Wholeness for our families. In many facets of life we don’t see the wholeness that God intended; mental, physical, spiritual, financial, social. But this is something we believe and work towards.

What did you learn about?

Jess: Parenting. This year was a huge learning curve when it came to parenting. I have never felt more stretched while navigating how to parent a rather strong-willed, physically aggressive little one. My three-year-old has pushed me to learn more about child-brain development, the impacts of food on behaviour, when to hold my ground and so much more. There have been many messages sent to my ‘squad’ in frustration, many prayers uttered and moments of being far too overstimulated. It has been difficult, but I have learned a lot and continue to learn a lot.

Tim: Human services and community development. For a number of years my heart would always sway towards working and serving within community settings. Through my work (Disability and Aged Care) and other community networks I have been exposed to philosophies, frameworks and practices in Human Services and Community Development. Australia is a blessed country in these regards with a government and social services that fight for justice and equity in our communities. Recently I was offered a new job in a Community Development role and needless to say, I am thrilled to continue to learn and serve my local community.

What are you thankful for?

Jess: The little things. A message from a friend. My morning coffee made by my husband. A good book. Discovering a new yummy recipe. Henry Ward Beecher says, “The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things” and I think he was definitely onto something.

Tim: Kai! There’s not much more to say here really. When he came into this world, I cried with joy. Everyday since then, I have been totally smitten with this little guy. #whatakai

Have a wonderful time this Christmas season. Happy reflections.

Love Tim and Jess xoxo

 

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