This is the first in a series of Answers for Readers. All of your questions were excellent and I thank you for your interest. I hope that you will continue to submit questions as they come to you and that you will learn from my experience.
The following questions were similar enough to answer in one post:
Have you ever heard a story, read a book, or watched a movie and thought it could happen to you? Most of the time, we feel immune to danger. Sometimes, a crisis can stir our imagination and bring these stories closer to home.
I saw several movies growing up that had a story line of a man & woman who moved to a new city or country at separate times. They always intended to meet “on the other side” but one would inevitably not make it. It became a joke in our family. During my last year of high school, my dad and I moved to a new town while my mom and sisters stayed behind to sell the house. They joked about it being a bad idea and it stuck with me, even though everything turned out fine.
I visit my parents for long stretches without my husband since we live so far away and rarely see them. While I was pregnant with our oldest, I stayed with them for four weeks before my husband joined me. I was very homesick by the time he arrived. Then he told me that there was a mix up in my plane reservation and that I would not be flying home with him, but a week later.
The following year, we flew down together with our 6 month old son and I stayed longer than my husband again. The morning my son and I were to leave was 9/11. Obviously, we didn’t go home that day, but stayed for two more weeks. With that, a fear took root deep inside.
I continued to travel without him, but the possibility of permanent separation was always in the back of my mind. When we left “the community” last year, the fear increased. I worried something (anything) would keep my husband from me and I’d never see him again. All manner of disasters ran through my head as I traveled without him to our rendezvous point.
One of my fears centered on the nature of the church we left behind. We received several calls on our cell as I was driving away and I was sure that they would come to the house next. It was unheard of for anyone to leave town or simply not show up to meetings without the blessing of the church. They would likely assume something was wrong and come to check on us. If they showed up before my husband could leave, he would be delayed even further. They would have detained him with a wall of hugs, plead for him to change his mind and confused him with circular reasoning. It would have been hard to resist.
While we knew leaving was right and looked forward to freedom, my husband and I were not happy about the choice. We love the people. We wanted things to change. We wanted to stay, but we could not. (Even later, the emotional pleas were difficult to resist.) We were completely united in our decision to leave, but I was afraid that the possible “love bomb” would change his mind. I will follow my husband anywhere: I know that he is leading me in the Lord. If he had changed his mind that day, I could not have returned because I would know he was not leading in the Lord. That possibility scared me.
Our parents knew about our decision to leave and each warned that it would be difficult. Statistically, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before staying away. My father-in-law had heard me say this once and he wondered if the same would be true for us.
A heart is often more broken after leaving than while living in abuse. The emotional investment alone is often enough to draw a person back. There are also investments of time and resources. We left behind a dream. For decades, we had dreamed of living in that place and serving with those friends. When the dream was broken and we felt all was lost, we were confused and afraid. It would take months to heal and know that all was not lost, but gained.
Please remember my story when you want to help someone being abused. Whether the abuse is in a church, a marriage or any other relationship, leaving is scary and heart-breaking. Treat leaving with tenderness and respect. You may wonder why they grieve or are afraid when it is over. There may be a lot of emotions you do not understand. Be there no matter what. The emotion is not over the moment a person escapes and it will not be for a very long time.
Do you have more questions? Leave them in the comments below or at An Invitation to Ask Questions.
Image source: istockphoto