My resolve today.

I have no idea anymore. Yeah, I honestly have no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen next; I would say that none of us do. But you know what… that is Ok, I am at peace with it because it is outside of my control. If there is a choice between stress or peace, I’m going to choose peace every time. I’ve also read that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, so naturally I will choose Him any day of the week. Before this all started, I was reading my way through a book in the Bible called Proverbs. It’s filled with short phrases full of wisdom and I am always up for getting some extra wisdom in my life. I would encourage you even if you don’t like the Bible or Christianity that these words are still good – it’s worth a look 🙂

There is one line that is standing out for me at lot at the moment; you can see shadows of its influence in my previous post.

Today I am holding onto kindness for my fellow man. I have no idea any more, but I will still be kind. I may cry, I may feel sad, I may feel uncertain, but I will still be kind. When people are scared they react in all sorts of ways, but I can still choose to be kind. I am determined to carry myself with kindness and be like ‘honey’ for those I engage with. May people walk away (more accurately ‘turn off their phones’) from their interactions with me soothed and stronger.

Today I am holding onto kindness for myself. When the kids are driving me crazy, when I feel weak and weighed down… I will be kind. I will give myself space to feel and move through the emotions. I will allow for growth in its many stages and forms. I will make self-compassion my companion.

I will share kind words to sweeten souls and give health to bodies – This is my resolve today. What is yours?

Love Jess xxoo

Letting go and holding on

As countries continue to go into lockdown and people’s livelihoods are disappearing, it is a season of uncertainty for us all. I was speaking with a friend in the USA this weekend (via Instagram) and he said he was “trying to hold on and let go at the same time”. What wise words for us all to apply to our lives.

Letting go:

All of us will have things that we need to let go of at the moment and some of them are so very, very hard to do. They might be wedding plans, long awaited holidays, jobs and careers, personal dreams, new businesses, studying, fitness plans, financial goals… I honestly can’t name them all. There are so many ‘things’ that COVID-19 has impacted and we have all been impacted in one way or another. So today, why don’t you give yourself permission to mourn the things you need to let go of – mourn the things that can no longer be.

I suggest you allocate 20-30 minutes to write down the dreams/goals/plans in your life that are not longer possible and really be honest with how you feeling. Allow yourself to actually feel disappointed, angry, frustrated, depressed, sad or whatever. After that timing however, let’s do some letting go. If we are going to keep going, it’ll be easier if we aren’t holding onto things that are no longer a reality. The world has changed for the foreseeable future and it’s time for us to be resilient. You can do this; you can rise and rise again. You can let go of those hopes and dream and put others in their place. I will be doing the same. Our new dreams may look very different and not as ‘glamorous’ for a while, but having dreams/plans to look forward to is important for us all. Take a moment… let go with me. It is hard and almost unbelievable, but we are in this together. You are not alone; everyone will be faced with changes. Let them go dear friend. Even if you have tears in your eyes, take a moment to mourn and let them go.

Holding on:

As we are doing our ‘letting go’ now is also a time to ‘hold on’ more than ever before. Hold on to relationships, hold onto hope, hold onto self-compassion and hold on faith or beliefs. Hold on to the idea that you will survive this. Hold on dear heart. I will be honest and say that I have moments during the day when I think ‘Is this really happening?’ I feel sadness as I look at the lives lost, the virus spreading, people without work, nations shutting down – it is the reality of what is happening. But I don’t stay in that place. Instead I hold onto my faith in God and my belief in the extraordinary ingenuity and endurance of the human race.

Today I am holding onto the people I love, messaging them words of hope or sending them funny memes to lighten their day. I am being more intentional about my connections, not necessarily in quantity but in quality. I am also treasuring and being mindful of the the moments I find joy and sharing them with others. Today I am holding onto hope, hope for a cure, hope for a breakthrough and good news. Today I am holding onto self-compassion and realising that sometimes I will feel strong, while other times weak and that is ok. Lastly, I am holding onto my personal faith. Faith in a God who cares for us, who hears us, who has empowered us and loves us without measure.

What are you holding onto today? Just like our letting go exercise, why don’t you write them down and spend some time focusing on the things that are your strength today? When you feel down, remind yourself of what you are holding onto.

As things around the world continue to unfold, we will be letting go and holding on at the same time. Both are equally important particularly in moments of such rapid of change. Take a breath, take a moment, you are doing so well.

Love Jess xxoo

PS – I’ve been spending time on a live dance party on Instagram by DJ dnice (click on his name for link to his profile). Although I know nothing about him, he plays great music and it’s honestly a lot of fun having a virtual party with about 100k people. Things really go off when he does a hat change 🙂

What’s your prayer?

Back in 2013 Tim and I sat down and wrote out a prayer for our family. While we were overseas we prayed this almost every day to align our hearts with The Father. It remains displayed on our kitchen cupboard to this day. This morning, I was praying over the line “We choose peace over stress” (see below) and it got me thinking about all of you as we face the global pandemic of Corona Virus (COVID-19) together. Taking a moment to stop and reset our thoughts is so important during times like these.

If you are a person of faith, what are your prayers at the moment? If the idea of ‘the divine’ is not something you adhere too, what truths are you holding onto and speaking over your life at the moment?

Greenwood Family Prayer

Here we are Jesus, the ones you love. Remind us that heaven is here right now.

We know Your favour follows us today. Thank you for watching over us. We want to stay in your presence all day long. 

We trust in You with all our hearts and we won’t depend on our own strength or intellect. We seek Your will in all we do, and ask that You will show us which path to take. We thank you for Your favour in all our plans. Show us the best way to do things so they get done quickly and easily. We choose peace over stress, because we know You have the best plan for this day.

Speak to us, we are listening for your clear, gentle voice. Speak through visions and pictures, songs and signs, nature and our five senses. Show us how You see us and those around us. We’re on the lookout for divine connections today. We want to meet unexpected people in unexpected places. Help us to see and love people the way You do. Every person is so precious to You.

Thank You for loving us so much that You include us in your dreams. May your dreams come alive in us; work through us and in us. We want to walk with you and see You accomplish many signs, wonders and miracles in our lives. Thank you for sending your angels to help. We want to work with them to do whatever You ask. 

We know that you provide all we need. We give you our finances today. Help us make wise decisions as we use what You give us. We also thank you for full health today. You make our bodies, emotions and spirits strong. Your angels are a shield of protection around us, so we can do all You have asked us to do. We will not fear when bad things happen, because You are with us.

Your joy is our strength. We laugh with You today. Thank you for helping us find fun and silly moments together. We know You are always good.

We choose to live with your word in our hearts and find our rest in You. If we make a mistake, we run to you Jesus. Forgive us and let your love wash over us.

Thank you for preparing our hearts Jesus. As we go about our everyday lives whether asleep or awake, we know You are changing our hearts for what’s to come. We are open to You. We access Your nature, Your perspective, Your heart and Your love.

We want to fall more in love with You as You use us today. Amen. 

Love Jess xxoo

Dear Anxious Heart

Dear Anxious Heart,

I speak peace over you right now
Peace over the fears and thoughts that keep you up at night
Peace over the worries that weigh your heart down.

I speak peace over you right now
Peace over your body and your breathing
Peace over tension in your shoulders and the tightness in your chest.

I speak peace over you right now
I have known the bondage of anxiety
And I know the sweet freedom of peace
So, I will speak it over you just as it was released over me.

I know that your mind is crowded with thoughts right now and you want to chase them all down, but we both know that it’s not possible because you can’t hold onto them long enough. Take a breath and sit with me in this moment, sit with me and bring your uncomfortable feelings; I am not afraid of them, you are safe here. I will not tell you to ‘get over it’ or ‘just stop thinking about it’ and I’ll mentally punch anyone in the head who says those words to you 😉 I understand that it’s not that easy – I’ve got you.

I don’t know your situation, but I will tell you what I know… I know that it’s possible to break out of this mental prison. It’s possible to come out the other side (it really is), however I also know it’s hard for you to believe that right now. I have personally worked for years on my thoughts, fight/flight reactions, breaking down lies and perfectionism while failing, trying again, failing, trying again and again. It is hard work, but it can be done. Maybe I will write more about this one day (ok I will, just for you), but for today, you need to be seen in this moment and told that you can and will survive this. Go read the beginning bit again, change is coming your way. Sit with it today. Sit with it. We’ll talk more later ok?

Love Jess xxoo

Some Perspective on Significance

My nation of Australia has been ravaged by devastating fires and many parts are now experiencing floods. I (like many people) have given money to help those affected, but I desperately wish I could do more. My contribution feels futile when I see the images on my phone. What is happening to my country breaks my heart and brings me to tears. I can’t do much, but I have done what I can with what I have, unfortunately at times like these it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Yesterday I had a moment in my kitchen, looking around my little house and thinking about my life. I felt so very insignificant in that moment. Not unhappy, just insignificant. I know that we all have those moments; when we want to be more, do more, help more, see more and yet… that may not be on the cards for us. At times like that I often picture an old lady working in the rice fields in a country like China and wonder if she feels the same. I wonder if she would be envious of my life? I’m sure many, many people would be and would give anything for my seemingly insignificant life.

As I wiped down my kitchen bench, I also thought about those who are more fortunate than me and what they must be exposed to in their lives. What experiences and opportunities they might have that I will never come close to? As I packed away the craft paper from the dining table, I felt inconsequential. Although I keep a tight lid on my own social media, I thought about people with millions of followers and imagined what it would be like if someone very famous requested to follow me. How would I react? Would I feel more valuable? Would I believe that I had something to offer that no one else did? What story would I tell myself about my self-worth now that a famous person had noticed me?

AND THEN….

And then I felt God whispered so clearly…

“I created everything and I am following you.
I am watching your stories and your day.
You are significant to me.”

Oh man that made me smile. I hope it made you smile too. It’s a delightful reminder for those of us who feel insignificant at times isn’t it? Even if history doesn’t remember us, there is always One who does and I am quite frankly, in awe.

Sometimes when I see tragedy around me, I feel small. Sometimes when I get a glimpse into a far more glamorous social circle, I feel small. Both at opposite ends of the scale, but similar feelings. Honestly, it’s not even about where I sit on the social or economic ladders that I’m struggling with here, it is clearly about worth and value. It’s about realising that if and when I encounter tragedies or trailblazers, I am still significant. That thing I did, the words I wrote, that call I made, He actually thinks they were wonderful. He is not as impressed by quantity or output as I am, it is who I am (the person of Jess) that so captivates His attention.

All of Matthew 6 is a great read, but I just wanted to put verse 26 here in front of your eyes as a reminder. When I heard God tell me that He’s following me, I instantly thought about this verse:

Matthew 6:26 (NLT) – Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

I also like this translation from The Message – Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

You are significant. Perhaps your name will never be recorded in earth’s history books and maybe you will live out your life in the same area you were born, but don’t believe the lie that there is anything wrong with that. God thinks you are significant. God thinks I’m significant. Sometimes, being reminded of that is all we need.

Love Jess

PS – If anyone super famous does want to follow me; I’ll just give you a heads-up now that I’ll probably take a screen capture and send it to all my top WhatsApp contacts.

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

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

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

When Faith and Hope run out

I have a friend my age that has a chronic illness. I have a friend who is in her late thirties and longs to find a life companion. I know someone who suffers through the heartbreaking disappointments of wanting to fall pregnant. I know others who struggle through the dark complexity of mental health issues. As a “person of faith” aka a Jesus-lover, sometimes I have great faith. Faith so strong that I know in my very soul that something good is going to happen; be it a physical healing, a new job or a mended relationship. Other times, I have hope. Hope in people, hope for a fresh start, or hope that this time I’ll see my prayers answered. And then, and then my dear friends… there are times when my faith and hope have depleted and it’s too painful to even dare to pick them up. I feel faithless and hopeless, with no answers and no end in sight. My heart is downcast.

There are some incredible commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13, but recently I have been thinking about verse 13 in particular:

 Three things will last forever
— faith, hope, and love —
and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

Three things will last forever – it’s an interesting notion, especially when at times it feels like those exact three things have faded from my heart. However, if they do in fact last forever like the verse says, then they must be intricately linked. Therefore, if the greatest one is said to be love, surely it’s something I should take note of and turn to in a personal crisis. Personally, when I spend time receiving love from God, I’m surprised by the way hope finds its way back into my heart. Then, after a little while (and even more love), hope builds and eventually produces embers that ignite into faith.

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Many of you know my journey with pregnancy and some of you don’t. In a nutshell it took 3 and a half years, one miscarriage, many, many blood tests and doctors visits to see our first child into the world. During this journey, some months I would be full of faith. I would believe with all my heart that this time was ‘the month’ so much so that I would go out and buy nappies as a ‘step of faith’. Some months I would have hope, hope that held onto promises in God’s word and prophecies that people had given me. Other months, I had nothing except my knowledge that God loved me and that He was holding me through my pain. I didn’t have faith and I couldn’t find hope, so I would just tell God that I had nothing that month and knew that others around me would have to do it on my behalf.

If you don’t have faith for a personal miracle and can’t find hope that your situation will ever change, let me encourage you to let go of everything else and just let yourself be loved. As Christians often say ‘camp out in love’. This means that you don’t have to force your faith or hope. Just close your eyes and ask Father God to show you His love. Remember, don’t force yourself to feel something you don’t, simply ask to see His heart, then, ask again the next day and the next day and the next day. You’ll never be disappointed focusing on that – camping there. You can always find rest by being loved by the best Father that ever was. I can promise you, that as you get a greater revelation of His indescribable love, hope will inevitably come and eventually, so will faith.

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Allow me to interrupt this nice warm fuzzy moment… couldn’t that be overly simplifying things? What about people in deep depression who can’t feel any love? What about people who don’t see a physically healing and no longer have faith for one? Ok, let’s go deeper…

I’ve have already alluded to it, but let me give you my thoughts about how this can work. When you can’t feel love, experience hope and find faith, in steps what the bible calls “The Bride of Christ” – which basically means other Jesus followers. When I’m authentic with other Jesus-lovers about what’s in my heart, they can help me out when I lack something. No love? Boom, they can pray about the barriers that are keeping me from feeling love. No hope? They can have hope on my behalf that things will be brighter and can encourage me on the journey. And lastly, if I’m lacking faith, I can lean on theirs. Of course it works both ways – even if you don’t have faith, hope and love in your own life and circumstances, it’s surprising how sometimes you find it for someone else.

I see this constantly in my own life, not only with my husband, but also in my relationships with others like my sister; always patient, always kind, not jealous or rude or proud. They love me in all my seasons, inspire hope when things feel hopeless and stir up faith. Deeply trusting and authentic relationships built on unconditional love are a beautiful gift. Plus, these are earthly relationships with limits on the amount of time and energy we can offer each other. This leads me to ponder how much more does God want to give us? We may not see answers to every prayer, but I believe we can always experience love. If I am lacking faith, hope or love, I can allow my life-affirming friends to intercede on my behalf to a willing God. I believe God is a good God, so breakthrough will inevitably come and love will be released.

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God’s love never fails and I know this to be true. How do I know this? Because I have spent a lot of time being loved by Him when my hope and faith had faded. So, I say it again, if all else fails, camp out in love; it really is the greatest.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13 (NLT)

 Love Jess xxoo