Through the Valley of the Shadow of Abuse: A Mother’s Perspective
WRITTEN BY: MOTHER JUSTICE / April 20, 2018
In 2004, I felt the need to include my family’s experience of my survival in the narrative I share with others, and so I asked my mother if she would share the impact of watching me be in relationship with someone who chose to hurt me. Following is her response (only lightly edited for privacy or clarity of thought):
“January **, 19**. Kathy made her entrance into the world, and true to her middle name, she become a “real joy” to family and friends alike. As a baby and a toddler, she was a happy, placid little one who sat and observed. Then, when she had things figured out, she moved into action.
“As she grew, she delighted many with her hearty laugh and her developing talents and capabilities. At four years of age, she learned how to play the organ by ear. She would watch her 8-year-old sister practice her lessons, then Kathy would climb up on the bench and play, singing along very lustily such favorites as “Old MacDonald.” One day I came into the living room, she had the earphones plugged in so not a note was heard from the organ, but I guess she thought because she had the earphones on, no one could hear her, either – WRONGGG!!! To the top of her lungs!!
“Every year at Christmas time, when my children were young, I painted a stained glass “look” on our living room window. Kathy was in kindergarten when she watched me create a nativity scene on the window. Her art project in school the following day was an almost perfect copy of the very scene I had completed at home.
“She was a happy-go-lucky girl, and made friends very easily. We moved to another town mid-kindergarten year. The first day home from school, she cried, “I want to go back to Sussex! I don’t have any friends.” At the end of the first week, she bounced through the door exclaiming, “I have a hundred and twenty friends!”
“She was an excellent student, always eager to learn. Her favorite reading material in junior high was the encyclopedia. She went through several sets!
“Kathy had the knack of drawing people to her. In junior high and high school, friends sought her out for wisdom and advice. She seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, and her peers admired her for it. As she grew from grade school to high school, her special abilities and talents increased by leaps and bounds. She loved drama club. She was a cheerleader, and her artistic abilities kept her busy. She loved sewing, and did very well also at creating and designing beautiful gowns and costumes for play characters, sometimes out of something as simple as an old curtain.
“The limit of her God-given talents never seemed to reach full attainment, for whenever she was given an aptitude test in school, she always scored over the top.
“At an early age, she accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior at a Good News Club. For a season, she continued to grow in her walk with Him – His presence a demonstrated reality in her life. At summer camp, she would memorize chapters of scripture and would come home zealous to share them with her family. God blessed her with a heart of compassion for others. Many times, this led to befriending some who might not have been at the top of the world’s popularity pole.
“For her sixteenth birthday, we arranged a surprise party in her honor, and invited several of her friends for a lasagna dinner. This is the last happy high school memory I have of her. At some point after 16, she took a part-time job at Burger King. It was there that her life started its difficult and destructive course.
“Her friendships changed tremendously as one boy sought her full attentions. Although we didn’t understand this relationship, we began to see drastic changes in her outgoing personality as a result of it. Happy-go-lucky became withdrawn; loving and compassionate became somber and numb. Goals for pursuing an art career were given over to no expectations. High scholastic achievement gave way to barely making it.
“As her relationship with this person deepened, we could see the manipulative, controlling affect he had on her life. In an attempt to build himself up, he tore her down. He attacked her intelligence, her talents, her friendships, her relationships with her family so intensely. His jealousy increased, and he succeeded in isolating Kathy from all who loved her.
“As her parents, we tried everything we knew to help Kathy. We went to pastoral counseling, we consulted school guidance counselors, we went to school authorities, we shared our concerns with friends whom we trusted. We prayed fervently. No one was attentive to our cries of help for our daughter. No one seemed to comprehend what we were seeing, saying or living through.
“In Kathy’s senior year, her sister began the excitement of planning a wedding. She wanted Kathy to be a part of her wedding. The day of the wedding was a disaster. The intensity of Kathy’s boyfriend’s jealousy was so emotionally charged that Kathy’s unhappiness could not be set aside, even for a day. At one point, we confronted them as a couple, privately. We made it clear that we expected Kathy to share in the happiness of [her sister’s] wedding. We told them to come into the hall and join in the celebration. Instead, he chose to remain moping in his car, with Kathy leaving at every opportunity to be with him.
“The day after the wedding, even Kathy’s grandmother could not persuade her of the love her family had for her. She fled. For a time, we had no idea where she was, but we eventually found out that the boyfriend had made arrangements for Kathy to live with a relative…
“As a parent, there is nothing more emotionally [distressing] than seeking after that missing one and coming up with nothing. We needed to allow her the freedom to make her own choices, for nothing else worked. We continued to seek ways to let her know we loved her, even in our letting go. When her school choir sang, we went to the concert, and sat unobtrusively in the balcony. When Kathy graduated from high school, we sat on the top bleachers in the auditorium, looking down at the forlorn-looking girl on the court.
“From the time she left, I had the assurance of God’s direction in Kathy’s life. That is not to say going through the process was not painful, but I had the heart knowledge that Kathy belonged to Him. There were times that knowledge was the only thread holding me together. Very early in this tumultuous situation, God gave me a promise in Jeremiah 29:11:
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope’.”
“I clung to that promise like a drowning man on a life ring. I nailed it to my walls as a plaque. I’m so thankful for the assurance I had that He would bring her through to the other side, even though I didn’t know when or how. I was willing to trust Him in this, because I had found Him to be faithful in other areas of my life. I knew he loved Kathy even more than I did, and the confidence in trusting the One who held my life allowed us to continue, and to wait for His accomplished work. This was not a quick-fix situation. Life took many turns in the process, but I continued to claim the promise given.
“After high school graduation, the boyfriend would not allow her to leave town to pursue an education. Hamburg, NJ, did not have a college, so that made things a little difficult. Her interest in dress designing and sewing, at this time, seems to be the one thing she enjoyed that she did not give up. Someone persuaded Kathy to do a year’s training at a local business school.
“About the same time, my husband’s job was transferred from New Jersey to Michigan. Kathy was 19, and chose to stay in NJ, rather than move with us. By this time, she was living in an apartment with a friend. Even though we didn’t feel comfortable in leaving her, we had no choice.
“Kathy’s life seemed to be in transition at this time, also. She got a job working at Macy’s, and for a time seemed to be happy in her creative work. I’m not sure where in this process Kathy became engaged to the one who had so controlled her in high school. However, her employment at Macy’s pointed her toward another relationship. The engagement with the controlling jealous person was broken, and a short, new relationship began with a co-worker at Macy’s. The ex-fiancé found this new to be very threatening. He stalked her at work. He threatened the young man, and would not give up pursuit or claim. Eventually, the controlling, intimidating jealousy affected her work and her new relationship. Wherever Kathy went, she was pursued.
“In the summer of 1990, we brought a very pregnant Kathy to Michigan to help her in her situation. The Macy’s love interest failed due to the continued threats on the man, his mother and his sisters. Kathy was left alone, struggling to work out her life and prepare for the baby to come.
“Kathy became an obsession to the domineering, manipulative one. He stopped at nothing to trace her, and continued his harassment, even long distance. Phone calls – hang ups – increased. He knew where she worked, and made calls [to her workplace] under the guise that he was calling as a “family member” to let Kathy know her father had been “seriously injured in a car accident” and “was dying.” He used un-truths in many other ways. There seemed to be no way out of his grasp, for Kathy, or for us.
“Kathy’s baby arrived [in early November]. Kathy was with us a short time. After a family Thanksgiving in Ohio, Kathy returned to New Jersey, and in a move that caused us utter dismay, married the pursuer. I think this was a desperation measure, so the baby would not be ‘fatherless.’
“All the hopes, dreams and desires for a bright future quickly disappeared. All the promises he gave her before the marriage became null and void afterwards. I do not know all that transpired from that point on, but I know that the happy, confident girl we had raised became a person of worthlessness in her own eyes. We were not allowed to be a part of her life at that point, and the sorrow we felt was overwhelming.
“In April 1991, my husband’s work reassigned him to the Boston area. I had gone to New England to house hunt. When I learned of the death of a friend’s husband in New Jersey, I returned there for the funeral on my way back to Michigan. When I discovered Kathy was living only a block from where I was staying, I let it be known I would be coming. What a wonderful surprise when I answered a knock on the door at my host’s home, and there stood Kathy with her beautiful baby in her arms. My mother’s heart wanted to take her with me then, but this saga continued. For Kathy, this meant abuse and life-threatening situations. Again, our cries to authorities for help in her desperate situation went unheeded, and glanced over as unbelievable.
“The memory of the anguish of those days has faded (or been healed, through time and a lot of prayer).
“God tells us in His word that no temptation will be so great that He will not allow us a means of escape. For Kathy, that means of escape came slowly, but in [July 1992] it began with an urgent call from Kathy, and her concern for her child’s life. We made the five-hour trip to New Jersey, and returned with a little chicken-pocked child. God is faithful, and continued to intervene for Kathy and her baby, even in the most difficult times.
“Sometimes, the greatest lessons of life are learned through the school of adversity. It took several years …but how thankful we were when she was brought through to a place of safety. How thankful we were when we knew that her child could be raised free from fear and abuse. How thankful I am that Kathy has indeed come full circle, and that she no longer has to live in fear.
“The traumatic events we experience in life can indeed change our lives forever, but how grateful we are to a loving Father who never gave up on His child. How thankful we are, also, that He is using this experience in Kathy’s life for His praise and glory. I am especially thankful that he has restored what the canker worm has eaten. How I pray that Kathy’s life will continue to be a message of hope and encouragement to those who are, even now, enduring their own pain. How I pray that God in His mercy will likewise bring them to the other side.”
Mom included a P.S. for any parent who is watching their child being hurt by someone who is supposed to love them:
“Never. NEVER. NEVER GIVE UP. God’s Love is sufficient (and ever-lasting).” – Sandra D. Hess