We were absolutely broken. Escape was our only option.
This is Part 2 of Jennifer Pahl’s story of domestic abuse. Read Part 1 here.
Master With A Metal Rod
My children (there were eight of them by this time), had no life left in their eyes. It broke my heart. I had nothing left inside of me. The week before we escaped life had become unbearable. Again. His emotions were all over the place, his demands and expectations were unreasonable, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the metal rod he started carrying around.
He would raise his voice and proclaim, “this is my rod of correction and I’m not afraid to use it!” Talk about instilling fear into all of us. He was a large, towering man. A rod like that would break anyone, let alone a child. I was on hyper-alert that week.
Raging and Flight
He raged at me because I offered a child who needed stitches, some tylenol. He forced one of my little girls onto her back and flung her socks off because she wasn’t allowed to wear rubber boots around the farm animals. She needed to be “grounded” with her bare feet (the outside was not at all safe for bare feet).
I knew I could no longer keep my kids safe. We would leave the very next day.
I didn’t tell anyone we were fleeing.
I hid diapers and wipes in the van. After running a couple loads of laundry, I put the clothes into garbage bags and hid them beside real bags of garbage that were being taken to the dump. I didn’t sleep much that night. I prayed that I would be able to get all of my kids into the van, pretend to go to our music lessons and never look back.
He would never forgive me for leaving; I was so afraid of the consequences if he found out what I was planning. I had no plan of where we would go. We had to get out.
The day of my planned escape, he wasn’t very happy that I was taking all the kids to their lessons. To help placate him, I agreed to run some errands for him while we were in town. I didn’t even tell my kids we were leaving until we were safely in town.
We went to the dollar store to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste. We drove to our church where a couple of friends met us. They knew something was going on, but they had no idea I had made the decision to leave and that there was no way we could ever go back. We met with our church’s pastoral team and they agreed we had to stay hidden.
I felt heard, I felt relieved that people believed me. I felt so scared of how I was going to hide my little family of nine from him. I was scared he would find us and force us to go back home.
But we were finally out. We had escaped.
Our Journey in the Wilderness
For five weeks we became traveling nomads. The police encouraged us to go as far away as possible. They were glad I had all my kids safely with me.
We lived from house to house. People donated clothes. We carried our belongings in boxes and borrowed totes. Strangers sent gas money to us. Friends and family protected us in any way they could. It was day by day miracles of how God directed us to each place.
Then God directed us to someone who had suitcases for us. They also gave us a house to live in. They were going to sell it, but when they heard what happened, they decided to rent their house to us. What a miracle because the agencies set up to help women in my situation had never helped a family as large as mine and they didn’t have a place for us. But God knew. He had a house for us and it felt like a mansion.
At our old place, we had two bedrooms and one bathroom. In our new house we had four finished rooms, extra space in the basement, and three bathrooms! It truly was a palace. We could finally settle down.
We witnessed a miracle of furniture arriving at our house. We had a few trusted friends who knew where we were moving and they were the ones who delivered all the donated furniture. Our community was absolutely amazing. They thought of everything that we would need to start over. Beds, dressers, bedding, more clothing, garbage cans, cleaning supplies, food, books, toys, crib, linens, couches, chairs and a couple of tables.
Over the next seven years, every month brought a miracle. I don’t know how God does math, but each month we were able to pay all our bills even when things didn’t add up. Just like the Israelites had food provided and their sandals didn’t wear out, God provided for us over and over again. This was our wilderness time because although we were finally starting to heal, there was so much hard work to accomplish.
The Idol of Marriage
After we left, I had to take time to learn about the court system, about writing up parenting orders, what legal separation looked like and take a course through the government. During that time I thought separation was my only choice. I still believed that divorce was never an option; that God hates divorce, and he only allowed it because of the hardness of people’s hearts. I didn’t want a hard heart.
It took me a full year before I realized we were living in abuse. It took me two years to realize I was able to choose divorce and that our covenant marriage had been broken a long, long time ago.
The idolatry of marriage had trapped me in abuse and it almost destroyed every part of me.
I am thankful for the people, the books, the advocates I have met along the way. I’m thankful for God helping me to dismantle these dangerous teachings, helping me to untangle the thought patterns they created in me. And I am so very thankful for healing and growing.
In The Wilderness
During this wilderness time, I filed for divorce. I was terrified of my soon to be ex-husband getting parenting time with my younger children. I was so scared that no one would be there to watch over them, to protect them, to advocate for them. I poured my heart out to God one night, writing out how his justice would protect children and not put them with an abusive parent, how his ways were so much higher than the court’s ways.
Every part of the court process is hard and exhausting. Yet over and over, I felt God was encouraging me to trust him and watch what he was going to do to help us. I admit that some days were easier to trust than others. In the end, my children were very protected by the Judge in our case. In fact, the lawyers involved both admitted they had never seen a judgment issued so much in favour of children. That is pure and simply God’s amazing miracle! He heard my cry and he answered me.
The wilderness was also the place where we had to face our need for healing. There were many nights and days of tears, fears, nightmares, anger, pain and trauma. We had to change a lot of our thought patterns and disentangle all these harmful teachings that had trapped us for so long.
I am so thankful that God truly loves us and he is patient and gentle. He has been so faithful to help us find the help we needed all along the way. We are healing, we are learning and growing. My children had life in their eyes again. We were beginning to have hope for our futures. Even though we absolutely loved living in a safe environment, we still were carrying around a lot of fear. My ex-husband believed he was above the law and could still do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
I eventually had to get restraining orders placed and take him to court when he breached those orders. We hated when anyone would knock loudly on our door; that drove our fear reactors sky high. He was unstable and had managed to hurt us many times over the years.
We feared this would be part of our story for the rest of our lives.
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