Lizbeth Meredith, author of award-winning memoir, Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is my guest blogger this week. I was captivated by Lizbeth's story. With it's real-life dramatic twists and turns, it kept me reading. But what has remained with me is her account of overcoming the abuse she experienced at the hands of her husband. And I wanted to know more about the response of her church during that time, and what her faith looks like today.
Abused, Ignored, and Finally Restored
by Lizbeth Meredith
I gave less attention to selecting a husband than I did adopting a kitten.
Back in 1985, nearing 21, I was feeling incredibly small, vulnerable, and in need of rescuing. I’d left my volatile family of origin for college at 17. Neither of my parents finished high school, yet I’d set my sights on college. I moved to Washington and made wonderful friends. But scholastically, I belly-flopped.
So, I returned to Alaska a collegiate failure and got a job as a maid. I leap when an older man from what seemed like an exotic country (Greece) paid me some attention. I was saved.
This man appeared to love everything about me, wanted to be with me constantly, and let me know that he saw everything that came between us -- my friends, my job, my interests -- as a waste of time. Ninety days after first meeting, we married.
That love and attention ended just as quickly.
It was my idea to leave the charismatic church I’d attended to convert to the Greek Orthodox faith. I wanted my marriage to work. I was happy to learn about my husband’s culture. His language. His family. I ditched my last name for his, erasing my identity for his.
The Greek Orthodox Church soon became one of the few places I could go and not raise my husband’s ire.
Back in the late 80’s, no one talked about abuse in marriage or domestic violence. We didn’t have the words to name it. It had only recently become illegal for an American man to strike his wife.
I never meant to minimize what was happening in my marriage.
I just didn’t want to run my husband’s reputation in to the ground so that he’d not be welcome in church again. So instead I hinted at what was going on. “My husband didn’t come home for a week.” (Translation: The kids and I are out of food, and I have no access to money or transportation.)
“My husband doesn’t like me to talk about our relationship.” (Translation: My husband doesn’t want people to know how he’s treating me.)
“I’m feeling hopeless and afraid in my marriage. (Translation: My husband has threatened to kill me if I try to leave him, or otherwise take the children and disappear.)
Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me when parishioners said things like “You’ve made your bed. You have to lie in it,” or “You don’t want your kids to have a broken home.”
I felt I was being held accountable for my husband’s conduct.
Fast forward four and a half years from our wedding day. I was jobless. Hopeless. Then on the floor, near- lifeless. My two-year-old daughter screaming as her father did his best to strangle me.
Later, reactions from parishioners were mixed. “Why don’t you forgive and forget? ”Maybe you’re not giving as much to the marriage as you should.” Yet a brave priest reached out and urged me to get an annulment. “This was not your fault. An annulment would allow you to marry again in the Orthodox Church.”
I did not get an annulment. Nor did I remarry in the Orthodox Church, or anywhere else, for that matter. I remained wary of investing in a church home again. My trust in God remained, but so did a lasting distrust of all that man-made religions sought to control.
What I did do was get a lot of counseling, for me and for my kids. I got a divorce. I got a degree, and then another. And I got a fabulous job as a domestic violence advocate and later found work as a probation officer, where on a good day, I tell both staff, victims, and offenders about the dynamics of domestic violence and the long-term impact growing up in it has on our mental, physical, and even financial health.
I remind young people that when making a decision with lifelong consequences such as picking a partner, it merits plenty of time and attention.
Last October, I was honored to attend Kodiak, Alaska’s annual interfaith community prayer service for victims of domestic violence, hosted in part by Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center. For over twenty years, Kodiak’s spiritual leaders set their differences aside and join in a community-wide ceremony to honor the slain victims of domestic violence. There, they remind the community, that (paraphrased):
We understand the prevalence of intimate partner violence and its crushing impact. We understand that this (faith) community does not have all the answers, and we refer you to the local shelter for information and support. We understand the secrecy and isolation surrounding domestic violence and invite you to talk about it with us in confidence.
The impact a faith community has in addressing (or not addressing) domestic violence is powerful. If more spiritual leaders offered themselves as a support and as a referral source, victims could safely address their safety issues and remain in their faith families.
For myself, I ended up with an abiding faith and an ever-growing skepticism of how people organize religion to suit their own needs and promote a power structure rather than please God. And my personal belief from the experience is that a loving God does not want to exclude anyone.
Lizbeth Meredith is the author of award-winning memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters. Pieces of Me was released as audiobook in 2018.
Lizbeth lives in Anchorage, Alaska, close to her two grown daughters. She is a member and infrequent attender of a Methodist Church that welcomes women and humans of every gender, race, and orientation as children of God. Recently, Lizbeth spent many weeks agonizing over which kittens to adopt.
You may reach Lizbeth at lameredith.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lizbethmeredithfan or on Twitter@ LizbethMeredith.
Do you have a divorce experience to share? Have you been shamed by a church because of your divorce? Or supported? There are hurting people who need to hear your story, who need to know they are not alone, and who need to be encouraged. If you are interested in sharing your story, email Linda for guidelines: Linda@LindaMKurth.com