Turning Point recognizes and honors the Hope and Comfort provided to us all through our diverse faith traditions and through our individual relationships and understandings of a Higher Power. In the wake of the terrible tragedy that took the lives of 3 individuals and forever changed the lives of 2 survivors and all the surviving family and friends (Jonesburg, MO, February 14, 2014), we offer the following as a message of survival and hope for us all:
We have just suffered a great and painful tragedy. Lives have been lost and families have been shattered.
When such violence rocks a community, whether we knew and loved those involved, or whether their names and faces were not familiar, our sense of safety is shattered. We don’t know what to think and we don’t know what to do. We don’t understand how these things happen.
I cannot change what has happened. And I won’t pretend that I can bring great comfort for us to share. There is nothing comfortable about talking about domestic violence in the wake of such suffering.
In fact, in the wake of such horrific violence, and through our contact with TV and Facebook, we sometimes believe we live in a broken, wild, angry, destructive and Godless world. And if we never look away from the school shootings and the car bombings and the gang-shootings; if we never look for life beyond the beatings and stabbings and rapes, we might not continue to believe in God’s salvation, or in prayer or have faith of ever finding Peace. Anywhere. Ever.
And it is difficult to maintain hope and faith. I come face-to-face with the despair and the broken places every day when I go to work. I recite the numbers: in the past year, 80 new women and 60 of their children have taken refuge at Turning Point’s Shelter, joining an average of 15 ongoing women and children already in shelter from the month before. And there have been more than 650 calls for help, assistance and referrals… And another 50 or so women who do not need shelter have come for emotional support or assistance with court, housing, and other critical needs.
And while most battered women do not die, the threat of death is an all-too-real consequence of the power and control dynamics that create this crime we call domestic violence. The threat of death is not just for the battered woman, but for her family, her new partner, her friends, or anyone who offers her refuge and peace.
In this community, we now know how very real the violence is, and we know that the women and children who are sleeping at Turning Point’s shelter tonight have suffered.
And we also know that rather than home being the place where Peace starts, for many, home is the most dangerous place on Earth.
That is a terrible Truth to hear. And there are a few more truths I feel I need to share, difficult as they may be to confront, because I think they will help us understand a little better what has happened and how we can survive.
1) The first is that domestic violence is not caused by alcohol, drugs, mental illness or a personal defect. It IS caused by power and control – where one person feels entitled to take control of another, often stating that if he can’t have her, then no one can have her.
2) Another awful truth is that it is unbelievably common; nearly 75% of all Americans know someone personally impacted by domestic violence. At least 1 in 4 women will experience some level of domestic violence in her lifetime.
3) And yet another truth is that we often don’t help the situation – we often make it worse. He has told her she is stupid, worthless, and completely incapable of taking care of herself and the kids. And then we tell her she is worthless, and trashy, and responsible for her own abuse. We put her in a lose-lose situation.
4) I can tell you right now that this tragedy in Jonesburg has battered women scared –scared to stay, and perhaps even more scared to leave.There is good reason: 50 or so Missourians die each year in domestic homicides. And nationally, studies show that no matter who died – the man or the woman – in 75 – 80% of those cases, he has been physically violent to her prior to the killings. And in virtually all of those cases, she has been at her greatest push-back against the violence – she has tried to leave, filed for divorce, gotten an order of protection, or announced she was leaving…. And he upped the ante.
5) Perhaps the most significant truth – battered women are no different than you or I. Battered women are US. We love, we trust, we care, we make mistakes, we are strong, we are smart… we are US.
What about shelter?
Women come to shelter for one of two reasons:
1) the violence and threat of death is so great that shelter is the only safe place to go – he will find her at her mom’s and friends, and he has said he would kill them, too, if she goes there.
2) because she has no financial means of supporting herself and needs a safe place to heal emotionally and to put together a plan for sustaining herself.
Shelter is an emotional place. The women come in completely at wit’s end. And they crowd in to shared rooms and have little access to private space. And they are strangers to one another.
**** And this is where the story begins to improve****.
While in shelter, women share their stories, experiences, and pain. And they build new visions of themselves and their own futures. Through support groups, and casual talking and meeting with advocates, they identify the barriers that make it hard to start over, and they build safety plans and employment plans and they make budgets and they meet with a counselor for crisis work. They go to court, and they learn to speak loudly about their abuse. They begin to heal from the negative messages and they learn to believe in themselves.
There is a lot of laughter in shelter, right along with the tears. They begin to find joy, to celebrate that they are still alive.
The average stay in our shelter is around 3 weeks. But the women often stay involved with Turning Point long after they have left shelter – they meet with advocates and come to support group and meet with the economic empowerment advocate and they come to special workshops.
And did you know that most battered and abused women do not come in to shelter? Instead, they contact us for services such as support groups, court advocacy, and safety planning.
Most importantly, battered women rebuild and move on. They have new relationships, and they have jobs and they adore their children, and they volunteer time and donate money.
And they begin a new type of home – one in which Peace is the goal. They determine that only those who will join them in this picture of Peace are welcome in their lives.
And we can learn from our abused and battered sisters and cousins and friends and what they have done to bring Peace into their new spaces. And perhaps by considering what we have learned from battered womenand how they transform their worlds, we can better understand what has happened and we can figure out how we can embrace tomorrow once again.
God has already blessed us with the tools we need to choose a Peace-filled home and to regain our footing and find the safe places. We have to embrace and use the tools God gave us. I believe that through using these tools, WE can become the manifestation of God’s Promise of Peace. And that we can create a transformative Peace that truly begins at home.
Like our Battered women, we can:
- Nurture – we can commit to nurturing the goodness that rests in each of us.
- Hold and Embrace – we can commit to not hit each other. Hitting does not reduce violence. Hitting creates a home in which hitting is the immediate response to conflict and control and to taking power. Embracing slows and communicates and heals the bruised and scraped places, all the way to our very souls.
- Stop Shaming – Shaming has no place in a home committed to Peace. There is no joke or challenge or discipline or learning moment that grows better with poking at a person’s most vulnerable places. It puts holes in one’s souls – holes that diminish a person.
- Respect – what a wonderful thing respect is. Respect happens when we realize that there are many ways to tackle each problem, and the different perspectives lend depth to every argument, and that diversity strengthens a family – diversity of thought, of action, of critical thinking.
- Speak with Care – some of the most damaged women I work with have never been beaten. But their abusers have been masterful it using words to destroy them – threatening, crazy-making, violent words, dehumanizing framing, destroying self worth. Careless words hurt. Targeted words destroy.
- Hug Often – We all know what it feels like to be hugged. Well hugged. Bear hugged. Tiny arms around Grandma’s neck. Mommy’s soft-skinned check against ours as we are being rocked. Daddy’s big strong arms catching us in a hug after a big success. We never outgrow the need for hugs, kisses, and being told we are loved.
- Touch with Love - Touch that comes without a pay-back. Touch that is freely given with no expectation. Touch that says what words just can’t quite explain.
- Play – especially you adults. Giggling under the sheets with our spouses can relieve some of the most disturbing stress. And while Chutes and Ladders may get old, finding a way to be just plain silly with your kids, your friends, your partner, can recharge our good places.
- Be Quiet – a healthy, comfortable silence, free from fear, threat, anxiety over the next word. Just silence.
- Check the Exposure - It is true – the world is violent. It is depressing. We need to know. But how often do we need to know? Reserve time and space where there is no violent mass media, no violent games that numb us to our own promise of Peace.
- Forgive – forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do enough of or that we did too much of. Forgive ourselves as a community.
- Move forward – Don’t forget what has happened, learn from it. But don’t forget to be thankful that the sun continues to rise whether we want it or not. It means we have another chance.
We can determine that non-peace-filled people and non-peace-filled language can have no place in our homes and in our personal relationships. We can set boundaries that reinforce our Peace-filled lives, and we can insist that people who want to join us in that Peace-filled home must commit to living a life that craves the promised Peace.
- And these things are our commitment to survive. These gifts of ways of being are the manifestation of God’s gift of Peace. And this commitment to Peace in our homes will spill forth and begin to transform the world around us, restoring confidence in the safety that truly exists for us.
In the wake of this tragedy, let’s not surrender to the violence. Rather, let’s open our hearts and our homes with a renewed determination towelcome the gift of peace and safe-keeping into our own homes. Let our Peace-filled homes become the manifestation and the transformation of the world.