Silence Kills (Giving a Voice to Domestic Violence): Survival Story #1

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each day in the United States, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Sadly, even with such staggering numbers, domestic violence is underreported as the majority of women abused by their partners never contact the police, shelters, or private organizations for help (www.domesticviolencestatistics.org).

While my focus for this post is on domestic violence in women, men are victimized by domestic violence as well. I will share information regarding domestic violence against men at a later date. Today, I wanted to mention these statistics because it is very important that we recognize how large of a problem domestic violence is in our country. It is a taboo topic for many of us. Victims remain victims because of this. Rather than expose themselves to humiliation or greater harm, they hide behind sunglasses and pseudo-smiles. All domestic violence victims and survivors deserve to have their voice heard. Silence kills.

Throughout this month, I will solicit and feature survivor stories and share them with you. Maybe you will recognize signs in someone that you know and be able to support them in their own fight for survival. Perhaps, you yourself will find strength in a survivor story to empower your own transition from victim to survivor. All stories are real. Names will be withheld.

As children of God, we cannot be okay with abusive behaviors. We cannot excuse them. We cannot ignore them. The bible tells us in Psalm 11:5 that “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and Him that loveth violence His soul hateth.” This is not to say that it is our job to judge those who afflict violence upon others, but because it is not pleasing in God’s sight, we must stand against it. I urge you to get involved. Share statistics with someone. Donate your time or money. There is much that can be done in the fight against domestic violence.

Take a look at this survivor’s story…

I didn’t even know I was a victim.

I was nineteen years old and I had a new boyfriend. The red flags were there, but I ignored them.

He rushed me into a relationship when I just wanted to be friends. As soon as we became a couple, he immediately became controlling. He took my cell phone whenever the urge hit him, so that he could make sure that I wasn’t talking to anyone else. He continuously called and emailed me to check my whereabouts. He went as far as to stop by my apartment unannounced to make sure I was there.

Somehow, I ignored those warning signs, but I could not ignore the fact that he never took “no” for an answer. He referred to me as his “female,” and he said that it was my job to please him. I tried my best to refuse, but he ended up sexually assaulting and raping me over the course of two days.

After I told a few of our mutual friends about what he did to me, he never contacted me again. That didn’t stop me from living in absolute fear for months afterward. After seeing a therapist at my college, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

I realized that I was a survivor of domestic violence six years later, as I sat in volunteer training for the Durham Crisis Response Center, an organization that is dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

I was once a victim, then I became a survivor, and now…I’m an advocate.

All of Him loves all of you (and me)…

Let me go ahead and warn you…this post is all about the love of God, but that video down there is quite secular. It’s an autobiographical love song. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful love songs of our time. An instant classic, for sure. When I first heard this song, I was immediately drawn in by it. What woman doesn’t want to experience the type of love described in this song? It is devout. It is unashamed. It is imperfectly perfect. It is unconditional.

My initial reaction to the song was a jaw drop. I was in awe of how sweet it was. Then, I experienced a longing…then I became hopeful. Finally, I began to feel grateful. I experience the type of love that John Legend sings about every.single.day. The bible tells us in John 3:16 that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is clear to us through this verse that God has a tremendous heart for us. It reminds of us His demonstration of that love through actions as opposed to just words. That alone, is worth having a glad and thankful heart, but God’s love runs so much deeper than that.

Most of us can name someone that we love. I don’t mean someone that we are just fond of…I mean someone that we really, really love. We can probably list many reasons for loving them. Perhaps they are physically attractive, intelligent, funny, and a good listener. Maybe we love the way they find interest in the things that we like to do, we might like the way that they dress, or it could be that we enjoy sampling their amazing culinary skills. It might be that they are ambitious or generous or compassionate or helpful. I’m sure that someone came into your mind as you read through those last few sentences. Now, ask yourself…would you still love the person in your mind if they stopped being every single one of these things?

There are levels to love. Phileo is brotherly love…like the type shared between friends. Eros is sexual love. Agape is unconditional love. It is how God loves. It is the only way that love can last a lifetime. It is illogical and completely selfless. The other types of love are easily influenced and fluctuate based on feelings, which are fickle in nature. Agape love says that MY LOVE FOR YOU IS NOT DETERMINED BY YOU, BUT IT IS RATHER A CHOICE THAT I HAVE MADE.

God does not love us because we are so good. He doesn’t love us because we are worthy. He doesn’t love us because we are obedient. He definitely doesn’t love us because He has to do so. God loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is loving. He has made a choice on His own to cover us with His love no matter what we think…or say…or do. Now think…who do you love in this way?

God has called for us to love each other as He loves us. If we find that we “fall out” of love, what we have truly realized is that we were never loving unconditionally in the first place. When it comes to our relationships with the people that we care about, we have to remember that true agape love cannot be swayed by time, distance, or circumstance. When we allow this to resonate, we will find that we are able to love more completely and more like God, who has provided the model for us.

Receive the love of God. Reciprocate the love of God. Share the love of God. Make up your mind to love people no matter what. Call or text someone and tell them, “I love you…and there is nothing that you can do about it.”

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

Be blessed, beautiful. 🙂

The Comeback Kid…

“Oh Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me.” – Psalm 30:2

October is a special month for so many reasons. Here in the south, we welcome a break from the heat, embrace the colorful leaves, and enjoy weekends full of football and fun with friends and family. October is also a month of awareness for a lot of people. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, I am amazed at the number of people showing support for this cause.

Breast Cancer Awareness has been dear to my heart for as long as I can remember. My aunt (my mom’s older sister) was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a little girl. I remember being told about cancer back then, but I had no clue how much impact it would have on my aunt or our family. I had never known anyone with cancer although I had heard stories of older people who passed away from it. To me, cancer was something that happened to old people. It made them sick. It made them pass away. This bothered me. My aunt wasn’t that old and I definitely didn’t want her to pass away.

It wasn’t until I went to middle school that I really began to understand what cancer was and how it truly affected people. My math teacher was diagnosed with skin cancer that year. She shared her journey and victory with our class. Through candid conversations with her, I learned that cancer was caused by abnormal cell growth and that there were so many types. I learned that some cancers were very preventable and that many had good chances for recovery. I learned about remission and chemotherapy. As I was learning, my aunt was fighting. She went to countless doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy sessions. My mom would often accompany her on her doctor’s visits which is how I was kept up-to-date on her progress.

In hindsight, I realize that my aunt never once mentioned her cancer to me. I never heard her complain about it. Every time that I remember asking her how she was doing, she would say she was fine. I can imagine that there were many days that she really didn’t fee so “fine.” At one point, I remember getting the great news that my aunt’s breast cancer had gone into remission. It was such a day to celebrate. Her medication and chemotherapy treatments had gotten rid of the cancerous cells and she was on the road to recovery. I was so happy. I know that she was too, but she didn’t make a big deal of it. I think that each day was a reason to celebrate for her as I’m sure it is to so many people that are living with cancer.

My aunt’s cancer would go and come over the years. She was something like the comeback kid. The doctor’s appointments would pick up from time to time and I could always tell by her eyes when she was undergoing radiation treatments. As I got older, I realized how strong my aunt had always been. She maintained a positive attitude as she fought every single day for her life. I know that some days had to be very rough on her, but I also know that she knew the power of God. She knew that He was capable of healing her. She truly believed that He would…and He did, time and time again.

One year, I decided that I would purchase a gift for her every year in October. I got that idea when I was in Hobby Lobby one day and noticed that they sold greeting cards specifically for people living with cancer. I grabbed a card for her and sent her a bouquet of pink flowers. One year, I got her a pink photo frame. Another year, I got her a stuffed animal. She was so amazed by the thoughtfulness of a greeting card made specifically for the cause, that I don’t think she would have missed the gifts at all.

Our tradition of October gifts lasted for four years before my aunt transitioned from angel on earth to guardian angel. I don’t want to write or think too much about her being sick during the last few months of her life because that is not her legacy. She never let her illness define her. She was so many other things. She was a daughter…a mother…a wife…a sister…an aunt…a grandmother…a giver…a caretaker…a comedian…the best cook I’ve ever met…and most of all, she was a survivor.

I am amazed at how much heart she showed throughout her life. For more than two decades she could have wondered if the next day would be the day that cancer won. Instead, she decided that IT WOULD NEVER DEFEAT HER. She went toe-to-toe with breast cancer for years. She kicked its butt so many times. She’s in heaven now, but still…cancer didn’t win. God won. He used her to show so many people what can happen when your soul refuses to die.

I am so blessed to have had her as a model of strength, perseverance, resiliance, and survivorship. God bless my Aunt Rosa Kaye and anyone who has every been affected by breast cancer. Breast cancer is highly treatable when detected early. Awareness is key. I encourage anyone that is able to consider donating to cancer research. If you are not led to do so, perhaps you will still lend a helping hand through volunteer work, increasing awareness, or showing someone that is living with cancer that their life matters to you.

Be blessed and have a happy October, beautiful!

Note: Throughout the month of October, Smiling By Faith will recognize both Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness. Please check back frequently for updates on how you can help as well as preventative information. If you or someone you know would like to share a survivor story to be featured here (it can include your name or remain anonymous…your choice), please email me at smilingbyfaith@gmail.com.

It’s All Good…

I am truly a work in progress. I won’t use that as a crutch or an excuse. I hate when people do that. I actually get a little frustrated quite often by how MUCH work still needs to be done on me and within me. I have to learn to be patient with myself in that regard because while it is perfectly find to want to do and be better…some things simply take time.

Nevertheless, pressing on is the only option. There is no alternative. I was reflecting on a painful experience today with someone very close to me and was really bothered by the outcome. Fortunately, this week I have been heavily focused on Romans 8:28, which reminds us that “ALL things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.” With each day that passes, new experiences provide different insight on some of my “go-to” verses such as this one.

I look at Romans 8:28 today with new insight. I look at it with the understanding that if I truly internalize the notion that ALL things are working for my good, there is no worst case scenario. Whether the things that I desire from a person or situation come to pass as I would like for them to or not…God is in control. With focus on what He has placed me here to do being of the utmost importance, each situation that I am faced with and every decision made has the opportunity to bring me closer to God, which is always a GOOD thing.

This is yet another example of what it means to me…to put feelings aside and smile by faith.

 

It’s Not About Us (my thoughts on servitude)…

We should wake up every morning determined to be better, happier, and more successful, right? Isn’t that what life is all about? At least that is what society wants us to believe. But, who told us that? Who told us that we are to focus our attention on these things? We have even come to believe that these are the things that Jesus wants us to focus on. Somewhere, our vision became blurred. Matthew 6:33 clearly tells us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The kingdom comes first. That’s our calling. It’s as plain as day. This thing that we call life is not about us.

Our calling is to serve others. We are to bring joy to others. We are charged with finding ways to help them to be the best that they can be. If we have the resources, we are to share them. If we have the knowledge, we are to teach them. If we have the wisdom, we are to guide them. That’s what Jesus has asked of us because that is how we draw people closer to Him. We allow Him to use us, which allows them to see Him through us.

If we all truly commit to that concept and we love each other as Christ loves us, while we are focusing on the joy of others…others will focus on ours. This interdependence…the notion that we will love and serve in community is pleasing to God and it exalts Him. When we give in to the human urge to take care of self first, we lose much more than we gain. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has provided us with a perfect model of love…of service…of humility…and of total submission to the will of God. Even the Lamb of God did not make it about Him. Certainly we can come to realize that it is not about us.

God develop within me a servant’s heart. Help me to love my neighbor as myself. Thank you for the gift of life and the opportunity to serve. Thank you for sending your Son to provide a model so that I might know what love and service truly look like. Bless my life so that I may be a blessing to others in Jesus’s name. Amen.