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Written by Lauren Rose, as told by “Jessica”

When I first met Charles, I was coming off a very recent, very messy breakup with a college boyfriend who had been physically abusive to me during our two-year relationship. Charles was clearly very well educated (having been in medical school at the time), and his reassuringly calm demeanor presented a marked contrast to the volatility of my former relationship. As we got to know each other, I was introduced to his close friends, some of whom concerned me; it turned out one member of his inner circle was a family member of mine who had once molested me. He detailed his past relationships, and it was curious to me that they never seemed to have ended well…but throughout our dating, he never raised a hand to me, and never presented the threat of any harm; after the trauma of my previous relationship, it was a very welcome change.

However, things became odd starting the wedding night. For some reason, he couldn’t have sex with me; this aversion continued for several days. I placed the blame on myself: clearly I wasn’t pretty or attractive enough for him to find me desirable. But within two months I discovered he had a huge porn collection, and what can only be described as an addiction to masturbation. As I kept unearthing these unsettling possessions and behaviors, he began to clamp down on controlling me.

I was hurt when I started discovering these things, but I had been taught to honor and obey, no matter what — and so I did. I prayed for him, and tried to talk to him, hoping that he would eventually hold himself accountable for these transgressions. But the more I tried…the worse things became.

Early on in our marriage, I related our problems to one of our pastors — who immediately went to Charles and asked him about it. When we got home that day, he physically abused me for the first time, shaking me and pinching my arms, warning me to “never try that again.” And for a very long time…I didn’t.

I stayed in this marriage for 28 years — keeping secrets, hiding his addictions, and slowly dying inside.

Towards the end of our marriage, I upset Charles during an argument, and he began to punch me. Our two youngest kids saw this happening and began to scream; our two oldest daughters came running to defend me, and he began hitting them. The two youngest then tried to help us; by this time, he was throwing furniture and we were all screaming. Our oldest son — who had been in another part of the house — came running in, and finally stopped Charles from hitting us.

The next month, I was having brunch with a close friend — like me, she was a staff member at my church. In the course of the afternoon, I told her what had happened; within a week, she sat with me as I repeated the story to our senior pastor. I was met with tenderness and love; there were no questions or indications of disbelief. They immediately began caring for the kids and me, and have walked beside us through the experience. I cannot imagine making it through this without their support!

This church had become a partner with Called to Peace Ministries. It has been a constant support of our family; they pointed us to resources that could help, and patiently sat with us countless times while we processed, cried, raged, and questioned. There was never any judging or lecturing.

Sadly, the abuse has impacted my children; they are still navigating their way through the trauma. Their father won’t allow the children underage to get counseling, though it’s help they desperately need. The church paid for my oldest to receive some counseling, but she is engaged to be married and terrified that she will repeat the cycle. My oldest son is suicidal, the victim of having Charles continually put him in the middle of the situation. My second oldest daughter has entered a relationship that I worry is a desperate effort to find male approval and love.

I knew the physical assaults in my marriage were abuse, but Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM) helped me unpack all the other abuse I experienced. There were layers and layers of abuse that we had all been living under — and we weren’t even aware of most of them.

I have attended two CTPM retreats, and Brooke Eggen has been an incredible blessing in my life. I met so many lovely ladies in the course of my second retreat, and together we have built a community that has changed my life. My church is now enrolling lots of people in advocacy classes, and getting all our pastors trained.

I honestly don’t believe that the kids and I would be safe and free if not for CTPM’s resources.

They changed our lives! On top of all that, we received a Christmas gift card from CTPM which allowed me to purchase food for Christmas — a huge part of our celebration, even more than gifts!

I’m beginning to heal. And even when I was raging, and desperately seeking to find justice in this situation, and questioning my very faith…Jesus has been with me every step of the way.

My advice to a woman who is experiencing domestic abuse? First, GET TO SAFETY. And then reach out to safe people and organizations, to find your first steps on your new journey. And never forget that Jesus was abused too — and He understands.