At eight years old Kristine held onto to door handle of her father’s car trying to keep him from leaving. He had to get out of the car and pry her fingers away from the handle. This was divorce and it terrified Kristine because her dad was the only real source of affection in their home. When he was gone Kristine was treated differently, very differently.
Within a year Kristine’s mom was already remarried to an old family friend- one that Kristine didn’t like very much. She was expected to call him ‘dad’ or else would be in trouble. The first time she slipped and called him by his first name she was afraid her mom would follow through on the promised spanking. It wasn’t unheard of to be struck for minor offenses. In fact, it was more the norm.
At ten years of age kids are beginning to form some life-long observations and judgments about themselves – it is an important make-or-break time. Instead of getting the love that Kristine found so essential her family decided to break her. It wasn’t an expensive item she lost, but her narcissistic mother took the misplaced article personally and sicked her new husband on Kristine to punish her. She ran, but he caught her, and when he did he beat her with his belt until she no longer resisted. “The worst part,” Kristine explains, “was looking up at my mother while he was thrashing my back, butt, and legs and seeing her just stand there watching, doing nothing to come to my aid or to tell him to stop.
When her grandmother, a few days later, saw the open wounds across her backside she asked Kristine what had happened. Kristine lied as she had been instructed. “I fell off my bike.” Grandma knew more than to accept this line and had Kristine stand in front of a full-length mirror to see the damage. “That is no bike accident, Honey.” She phoned her daughter and threatened to call the police if something like this had ever happened again. Of course Kristine had already been warned about the cops – If they found out they would take her away and then she would have no family at all. And as sick as it is, many of us would stick around in an abusive situation because the thought of being alone terrifies us more than our beatings.
Kristine moved in with her grandmother for a year.
God showed up to Kristine when her dad left his broken marriage. She didn’t know it was God; there hadn’t been much religious talk in her upbringing – but one day she was overwhelmed with the power of God’s presence and she had what she describes now as a vision. All of a sudden she knew she was loved, an all-encompassing love, a secure love, by a world that was all around her, just not the world she was used to experiencing. She learned to meditate on this ‘womb of love,’ as she called it, and it helped get her through her childhood.
Childlike faith can get compromised when we get older. And there are a lot of experiences that convince us there is no escape from our hell. Kristine wanted hers to be over. She was in her early 20’s, and she was alone with more baggage than she could handle. I’ve heard many people say that suicide is a selfish, cowardly act. I don’t think they are always right. For some it seems to be the only way that they can stop the cycle of abuse. It takes courage to get out, even if it means taking yourself out. That is what Kristine choose to do- taking over 40 barbiturates – preparing herself for what she hoped was an eternal sleep. Imagine her surprise when God woke her up, three days later, still lying on her bed. It took three months for her body to physically recover.
When you’ve escaped an abusive relationship you vow to yourself that you will never put yourself in that same place again. Wouldn’t life be grand if it had guarantees?
Kristine married for love, but it was to a man who beat her.
Once he broke nearly every bone in her face while three of his friends watched in the background, none of them coming to her aid or telling him to stop. Do you see a pattern?
What does it say about you when the rest of humanity stands by as a silent audience and watches the cruelty against you as entertainment?
What would you do?
She had children. She remembered what it was like when her father divorced her mother.
So she left stayed.
More than anything Kristine wanted the comfort and love of a family. She thought her kids would fill this place in her heart. It ended up not really working that way; instead they sort of dug a deeper hole. This year mother’s day came and went without any acknowledgment from them.
And it broke her heart. She told me this was her scar – and though it wasn’t noticeable from the outside looking at her, it was none the less very real and painful. She decided to paint on her wound, a lightning bolt through a broken heart, right over her chest. She tells me the emotional abuse from her parents and her children continually choosing not to value her hurts even worse than the beatings from the men in her life.
Kristine finally left her husband, after her kids were grown up, but instead of supporting her for her strength and courage to end the abuse, they stayed and comforted their father. Abusive men are still human and though he obviously hadn’t cared for Kristine the way he promised and the way she needed, he was going to miss all those years she had given to him. He broke down. He showed emotion. He vowed to change. The kids pitied him and wanted their mom to stay. They were used to this codependent relationship and were dysfunctionally slaves to the same abusive cycle.
She couldn’t leave stay.
The lightning bolt, when laid on the ground symbolizes the fissure in the earth that separates Kristine from her family.
Kristine’s ex-husband died a few years later. She went to the funeral to be a comfort for her kids. As the slideshow played there was picture after picture of her family. They made her cry. His family members interpreted her tears as remorse for her leaving him and many felt vindicated that she was finally sad for leaving. In reality she was weeping for what could have been and how foolish her husband had been to destroy a family, and a love, that had so much potential.
She has no regrets about divorcing him.
Our posed pictures are full of posers. We fake a smile onto people’s faces by having them say ‘cheese’ in harmony. We dress up in our best and pretend there are no bruises underneath our clothes, but there are scars they cannot see.
People at the funeral would have reacted differently at the slideshow if Kristine had been wearing no clothes to cover her bicycle accidents.
Awkward Family Photos could have quickly become an Awkward Family Funeral.
A few weeks back Kristine talked to her mom and her mother asked about the grandchildren. This is a grandmother who was absent from her grandkids’ lives, even when one of them lived in the same city and started having children of her own.
Her mom’s advice to Kristine, “Sever your ties with them, because they will just hurt you.”
Here is Kristine’s response: “I tried to explain that my kids have no one to cry with, no one to be a mentor, no one to guide them, no one to hug them when they are hurting and no one to support them when they make good decisions… I’m it. I cannot leave them, neglect them or pretend they don’t exist. I love them and I will continue to speak truth into them, give encouragement, and fly hundreds of miles away to hug them and support them when their world falls apart… even if it breaks my heart.
A back can be broken, so can a spirit, a will, vows, and a marriage. Apparently Kristine’s love is one of the things that can’t.
I ask her how this is possible, how she can continue to love even after experiencing so much rejection.
“Jesus told me he understood,” she responds “that he had been despised, rejected and beaten by others too, and those he loved had turned their backs on him also. That brought me the deep comfort that I needed. God personally understands rejection.”
Kristine is healing.
When pain shows up she embraces it and gives herself room to breathe.
She is in love with and married to a gentle man who treats her with tenderness.
She walks alongside other women who have been abused, because she understands.
But I think it is this last part of Kristine’s story is what has shaken me. Kristine is planning a trip to the bedside of her stepfather – yes, that stepfather- because he is sick and may not recover. She explained that she wants to go to offer him comfort. I’m thrown by this because I still want justice to end this story and instead she is taking it down a path of grace. She reiterates to me that God has called her to be a comforter and he didn’t restrict who that care was to go to. Plus, not even his own flesh-and-blood daughters, or his wife, are at his side as he lies in the hospital.
It is no wonder this is Kristine’s life verse:
The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.
Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”
planted by God to display his glory.
They’ll rebuild the old ruins,
raise a new city out of the wreckage.
They’ll start over on the ruined cities,
take the rubble left behind and make it new. – Isaiah 61:1-4
And Kristine knows she is loved.