This is a tough read, but glory to God who preserved her through it all.
I was born into a very abusive home in 1973. My mother was a violent alcoholic; my father was just plain violent and abusive in “other” ways I need not specify. Though I sought help from neighbors and teachers and even counselors, nothing was ever done; and in fact I was looked on as a “troublemaker” and basically ostracized for the most part. On the bright side, however, I did become “born again” at the age of approximately ten years old, when I read about Christ in a book given to me by a neighbor who was decluttering their book collection. From that time on, I began reading the Bible, listening to only Christian music, and praying the best I knew how… and also eventually watching Christian TV when it was available.
In approximately 8th grade, I was somehow able to convince my parents to allow me to go to a private Christian school in Roswell, Georgia. I was failing terribly in public school due to depression and inability to keep up with assignments… I was labeled as having “behavior disorders” (although it’s really hard to study when you mother is drunkenly chasing you around with lit cigarettes and you are also trying to save yourself from your father’s wrath AND ‘affections’). So, I ended up in a Christian school and thus began my decades-long association with the Charismatic/Word of Faith movement.
At the age of 18 I left my home here in Georgia and moved to New Jersey to stay with a family with whom I was pen-pals (back in the days before email!). There, as one might guess, I married the first person that paid attention to me, just two months before my 19th birthday. He was an atheist but mostly tolerated me going to Church…except when he didn’t. He was also violent and angry, but of course, that was all I’d known up till that point and so it seemed normal. At times, he threw my Bibles at me, tore them up… berated me… “Why can’t you drink and smoke and go to clubs like a NORMAL WOMAN?!”
As the three-year marriage progressed, he became more abusive: not just mentally, but physically. It grew worse and worse and I felt trapped and afraid. I was a high school dropout with no education beyond a GED, no family, and two young babies to care for on my own.
But then… Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered along with her friend, and suddenly domestic violence was at the forefront of the national news. I realized then that if I did not get away, I could end up just like Nicole. Indeed, on at least one occasion I’d been threatened with a knife and told if I ever left and ended up with someone else, he’d kill me, the other guy and himself. Finally, I was able to somehow make him leave. I got a restraining order and for a year or two, the kids (ages two and six months at the time) and I moved from friend’s house to friend’s house as I worked my way through vocational school to become a legal secretary.
Our sole means of support was welfare and food stamps during that time. I filed for divorce on my own (the waiting list for legal aid services was nearly two years… unless he’d violated the restraining order more than twice, then it was only one year… he’d “only” violated it once thus far at the time). To make a long story short, I eventually got a job, and another job, and a better job… eventually I was able to get completely off of welfare, obtain a vehicle and in 1999, moved back home to Georgia with my four year old son and six year old daughter. We stayed with friends until I had saved up enough money to get my own place.
In 2000, I married (after an extremely brief courtship of approximately three months) what I thought was a “good Christian man.” We had two more kids…one born when I was 28 and the last born when I was 30. Unfortunately, about six months into the marriage, the mask fell off and the abuse began. There was constant name-calling (of myself and his older kids (my stepkids), and eventually the same treatment of my kids as they got older and began to develop their own minds). There were put downs, and constant screaming. And it was no wonder my first ex-husband hit me: I deserved every bit of it, and more, he said.
When at one point I expressed an interest in joining a local gym after my last child was born, it set off a tirade of insanity because
“every single woman I know who joined a gym ended up cheating on their husband!”
It’s hard to describe the 11 years of severe abuse and mind games… when I had knee surgery following a motorcycle accident, he thought it was funny that in the middle of the night, my cane was mysteriously moved and shortened to its lowest level, causing me to lose my balance and fall when I was barely able to walk in the first place. He laughed and laughed. I kept thinking this was all just “a rough spot.” His kids were really rebellious and psychologically unstable… so I knew he was just trying to keep them in line with “tough love”…wasn’t he? Then my kids began having the same issues and, unknown to me, my son at the age of 12 began using drugs which ultimately became a hard-core meth addiction. I had no idea… I was naïve and genuinely clueless and flat-out stupid. I thought (to my shame) the teenagers were just being spiteful and rebellious and if they would just behave right, he would quit the screaming and name-calling. And if he would just quit the screaming and name-calling, then maybe the teenagers would finally settle down and behave right. And if I could just be better at everything, maybe he would quit screaming and name-calling and the kids would behave right and it would all be fine. Right?? Not so much. God forgive me.
During this time, I lived in terror of having my kids taken away. He always threatened, “If you want to leave, leave, but I’ll make sure you never see your kids again!” His parents echoed that sentiment. Because I worked full-time and, for a season, went to college (honor student!) to be better able provide for my family, I was not their ideal of the perfect Southern doormat wife and I didn’t deserve to have children.
Ultimately, he ended up having an affair with a co-worker, telling me,
“It’s no wonder my first wife cheated on me – she was right, I wasn’t meeting her needs. Adultery is perfectly acceptable under those circumstances! I deserved to be cheated on – and so do you.”
And on my youngest daughter’s tenth birthday, after ruining a family camping trip with his vitriol, he moved out.
Thankfully, by this time I had ended up in an Anglican church… quite a departure from my decades in the Word of Faith charismatic movement. They helped me through all the frightening weeks and months following his departure. They made sure I had food. They helped me move to a humble home I could actually afford. While my previous Word of Faith churches had simply told me to “make proper faith confessions and believe more” during my first marriage, and the Methodist church I was in for a while during my second marriage said, “you just need marriage counseling to learn to communicate better,” this church recognized the abuse for what it was: abuse. And not only did they recognize it, they acted on it and tangibly as well as emotionally, helped me. I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that sadly, that response is very, very rare in Christian circles.
In any event: God used my time at the Anglican Church to show me that “liturgical worship” was not the dead, evil thing I had long believed. He showed me then that it is our hearts that are often dead and evil… and as our hearts are, so will our worship be. It was also during this time I met Father Darren, an Anglican priest and the Benedictine prior of a lay religious order that was a blend of both Benedictine and Franciscan orders. The Benedictine way of life appealed to me. The emphasis on prayer, work, hospitality and stability resonated strongly with me. “Ora et labora” – pray and work…as a single mother of four, that’s all I did – pray and work! Developing a “rule of life” and a discipline of a morning and evening prayer rule grounded me and gave me an anchor of stability I’d not heretofore known was possible. (And as a side note, interestingly enough my birthday falls on the feast day of St. Benedict’s sister, St. Scholastica: February 10.) I was accepted into the order and named after Catherine of Sienna by the abbot. Father Darren told me after the ceremony,
“Catherine of Sienna is nice… but if it had been up to me, I would have given you Brigid of Kildare… I think she fits you much better.”
I’d never heard of St. Brigid until then, and I never forgot what he said…that was my first introduction to St. Brigid, so to speak.
One day, Father Darren posted a link to Ancient Faith Radio on his Facebook page, with no commentary or explanation… just the link. Curious, I began listening to it. At first, I was very nervous…this sounded all too ‘Catholic’!! I was still very evangelical and though my love of liturgy was growing, I was still conditioned to believe “Catholic” equaled “evil”. But as I listened, I realized that this was something different and not Roman Catholic at all.
“Orthodox? What’s that? I’ve never heard of that…”
I kept listening. And reading. And something just “clicked” within me that this…THIS is what I’d been looking for: the faith handed down from the apostles, unchanged and unwavering.
Some time later down the road, Father Darren announced that he was converting to the Orthodox Church and would be ordained as a priest with the Church as well. He began holding catechism classes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My first experience of a Divine Liturgy was at a local Greek Orthodox Church on their annual “back to church Sunday” event. I’d never experienced anything like this before…. Truly, I “knew not whether we were in Heaven or on earth…” In November of 2012, Father Darren became Father Benedict, and my two youngest kids and I began our journey into the Church.
This is where I screwed up again. On my 40th birthday, in 2013, the man I’d been seeing proposed to me. He was my “best friend” of many years. Sure, he had mental problems, but so what? He loved me and my kids, right? So that was all that mattered. He would marry me, but on one condition: I had to leave the Orthodox Church. He couldn’t stand all that liturgical, “demonic” crap. This should have sent me running… but honestly? I was still living in serious fear of my second ex-husband. He routinely withheld child support from me…or mailed the check made out to my maiden name to try to force me to go back to my maiden name so I’d not carry his surname anymore… he would call the Department of Family & Children’s Services on me and even though they never found cause for concern and stated “this is clearly a grudge call with no merit”, the ever-present fear was always there of what he would do next, or try to do next. I had no money or family to fight him, and I was deathly afraid to keep facing my ex on my own. So, to my shame, I agreed to these conditions.
My third husband-to be was considerably older than me by 18 years and in very poor health; I reasoned that my time with him was most likely limited, and the church would be around forever… I wanted to be able to spend what time I had with my “best friend” as long as God granted us. I could always go back to the Church; she wasn’t going anywhere! He did not have money…in fact he was unemployed and supposedly “in the process of applying for disability.” This was OK by me; I have never been a materialistic person and couldn’t care less about a person’s level of income, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, however, I eventually learned he was never actually in the process of applying for disability. As it turns out, he was addicted to pain pills and “made his living” by selling OxyContin and Xanax and Klonipin and whatever else he could get his hands on. He always promised to stop, at least in the beginning…but as his addiction got worse he became violently enraged whenever I reminded him of his promise to stop and really get on disability.
We were married for two years. We visited many “biker churches” and met some fantastic people. (Yet, none of them were ever quite “good enough” to suit him somehow; he always found some reason for offense.) We attended Daytona Bike Week each year and frequented open house events at various biker clubhouses in Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee. I even bought him a Harley for his 60th birthday so he could finally try to fulfill his dream of prospecting for and eventually becoming a patched member of a motorcycle club (a basic requirement of which was owning a Harley).
During this time, we moved in with his elderly mother and sister in order to take care of them. Both were eventually placed on hospice: his mother for severe dementia and congestive heart failure, and his sister for pancreatic cancer. For 18 months of our two-year marriage we took care of them until their deaths. However, as mentioned before…he was very mentally unstable. He would rant and rave over anything or over nothing at all. He never forgave me for once having been Orthodox, even if I had only been so for less than three months. He threw away my Orthodox Study Bible…burned my prayer books… threw away any icons… I had these items hidden from him because I knew he “didn’t like them.” But he searched them out and destroyed them nonetheless…he couldn’t stand having their “evil presence” in his home. As time went on, his abuse became worse. At one point, after his stepfather died (before his sister became ill and his mother’s condition worsened), he held a loaded gun to my head… actually had the barrel jammed deeply into my neck. He claimed he “blacked out” and didn’t remember it. That was the first time I was held at gunpoint by him.
Finally, about a year into the marriage, when I was still constantly being tortured (and there’s no other word for it really) for having once been Orthodox… it happened that 21 Coptic Christians were martyred by ISIS for refusing to recant their faith. It was all over the news at the time. This hit me like a sledgehammer. They died… they prayed for their murderers as their throats were being slashed… refusing to compromise their faith. Meanwhile, I’m over here in my comfortable home with plenty of food and clothing and all the advantages of western society… but I was “too afraid of making my husband mad” by returning to the faith. I’d left to appease him…these precious heroes died because they would NOT appease the evil one… just who the [expletive] did I think I was? What… gave me the right to a cozy, comfortable existence living in denial of the faith? Just who did I think I was? Just because “someone wouldn’t like it,” did that give me the right to spit on the blood of martyrs and ignore the prayers of the saints who had gone before? No. A thousand times no. And so… I announced that I would be returning to the Orthodox Church.
Needless to say…this caused all sorts of hell to break loose. The abuse, both physical and mental, increased exponentially. Though he would at times pretend to go along with allowing my return to the church, always he would end up snapping and doing all he could to make sure I “paid” for my disloyalty to him. To say I feared for my life is not an exaggeration. There was at least one other time where he pointed a pistol at me, point blank range… not necessarily directly as a result of this, but it certainly factored into whatever he was enraged about at that particular moment. However… I kept in mind those martyrs on the beach. Was I suffering? Of course I was. Had I never left the church in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this mess now. I was not about to leave again… no matter what, God help me, please to stay true to You this time!
During this time, I was attending Divine Liturgy at the parish in which my priest served some 90 miles from home once a month, and the other three weeks a month going to a parish closer to home. On May 24, 2015, the kids and I were chrismated into the Church. Eventually we moved closer to my priest’s parish, so I could attend services there regularly.
On May 2, 2016, the abuse became even more frightful and I made him leave. I’d hoped this would shock him into truly getting help for his psychiatric illnesses and his drug abuse, but it did not. I learned that he had been living a double life this whole time. He had been answering ads on Craigslist, and placing ads on Craigslist, for “adult services” and group BDSM events, bisexual encounters, and so much more. Like that TV show on A&E, “Who the [bleep] Did I Marry?!?” – he had a whole other secret existence that had gone on for decades. I’d believed naively I was “special” and that he had left that all behind years ago. However, I was not, and he had not. Other, even more heinous revelations came to light which impact our family to this very day.
I am thankful we escaped with our lives. And indescribably thankful for the mercy and kindness of God for accepting us into His Church, though I was faithless and had left Him… like the prodigal, He welcomed me back. I have been blessed to have just passed my third anniversary of Chrismation. It is certainly not something I take lightly. Though I do not deserve anything, Christ has given me everything. And I am thankful.
Glory to God for all things.