Monday, October 23, 2023

Caring for Families Caught in Domestic Abuse

Caring for Families Caught in Domestic Abuse: A Guide Towards Protection, Refuge and Hope, Chris Moles (ed) (New Growth Press, 2023) 

This is another excellent resource, but one we all wish didn’t need to exist. Sadly, the stain of domestic abuse (or intimate partner violence, or family violence) spreads throughout families, and Christian homes are not untouched.

It is edited by Chris Moles, who is a pastor, biblical counsellor, and works with perpetrators. He has brought together very experienced people in this field, providing a guide to care for families caught in domestic violence.
“My hope is that this book will help pastors, elders, deacons, counselors, and other church leaders move toward greater unity in how they respond to domestic abuse, and thereby prevent or lessen some of the potential conflicts and missteps.”
I am not going to write a detailed review. It’s something that needs considered reading and thought, and my summary won’t do it justice. Responding to domestic violence is a specific ministry area and one that requires skills, training, time, and energy. I suspect that few of my readers or their churches will get deeply involved in this space in a structured way. Not for lack of desire or a belief that it’s unimportant, but due to lack of skills, training, and resource allocation. However, it’s so important that I want to flag this book’s existence for those for whom it may be helpful.

I will provide some summary points and some quotes:

Regarding the church:
“My prayer is that the church of Jesus Christ will be the safest place on the planet for women and children. I pray that the church will lead the way in not only providing compassionate care, but also in developing best practices to address the needs of victims and confront the abusers. We represent an army of responders who can effectively, graciously, compassionately, and firmly confront the evil of domestic abuse. As we do so, we will simultaneously promote healthy, God-honoring relationships.” (Chris Moles)
A church needs to consider what they can offer with the resourcing they have. This is not an area that you can partially help in, you really need to be there for the family for the long-term.
“My desire is … to encourage you undershepherds as you seek to minister in a complex, confusing, time-consuming, and redemptive ministry. I want to help you think through how to address domestic abuse in your church in a biblically faithful, organizationally sustainable, and practically helpful way.” (K├»rsten Christianson)
They propose a team-based approach to domestic abuse, requiring numerous people (e.g., victim counsellor, crisis counsellor, victim advocate, perpetrator counselor, pastor). My overwhelmed thought was: this is a massive undertaking for a church. Of course, worthwhile and needed, but I don’t know many churches who could even attempt to do this well (knowledgeably and skilfully) with one couple, let alone numerous couples.

Caring for survivors:

Is long term care, needing awareness of the impact of trauma.

It was openly acknowledged that this is “likely the most complex and difficult problem most counselors will ever face” (Joy Forrest). Few women realise they are experiencing abuse, and abusers are often charming, confident and convincing.

Confronting and counselling abusers: 

The most important rule of engagement - safety - the victim must give consent and advice. This would be an area where churches need to be very careful, for the increased risk if this goes wrong can be devastating.

“One way of thinking about abuse relative to other relational sin is to say that most relational sin is competitive, while abuse is parasitic or predatory.” (Greg Wilson) Relational is me before you, abuse is me over you.
“Working with abusive people often feels a bit like the work of Jeremiah or Isaiah—you care in grace and truth as well as you can, but in the end there is a high likelihood that they will reject you and/or your message.” (Greg Wilson)

There is a helpful chapter about how to discern true repentance (godly sorrow, not worldly sorrow).

Impact on children:

Two initial priorities for working with children who have lived or are living in homes with domestic abuse:
  • determine whether they blame themselves 
  • discover how the distress impacts them and what coping strategies they employ. 
“Several factors can influence the severity of the impacts (age, socioeconomic status, birth order, frequency and form of abuse, duration of exposure, existence of supportive relationships, and cultural beliefs). Generally, preschool-aged children tend to have physical and anxiety-based symptoms. School-age children tend to show stress along behavioral and emotional dimensions, and teenagers tend to be at risk of seeking relief destructively (drugs, sexual activity, running away).” (Darby Strickland)

Appendices include a safety plan and basic abuse screening questions (a much more comprehensive list is in Darby Strickland’s Is It Abuse?)

A very worthwhile resource for anyone in Christian churches who is counselling or working with families affected by domestic violence, or looking to establish a ministry to do so.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Moving Forwards after Abortion

Moving Forwards after Abortion: Finding Comfort in God, Camille Cates (New Growth Press, 2023) 

This book completes the newly released additions to the Ask the Christian Counselor series by New Growth Press.

Camille Cates has written this caring, gentle yet honest book for women who have had an abortion. It is aimed at Christian women, but does spell out the gospel for those who are unbelievers. I’m not sure if an unbeliever would pick it up - but God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

Cates is uniquely equipped to write this book, both having had an abortion herself, and having worked with women since 1999 “who have been left with hurt, confusion, and unanswered questions after an abortion.”
“I hope and pray that you feel comforted as you read this book, not only by my words as a woman who has had an abortion, but by God’s Word. The Bible truly has answers for aching hearts and mixed-up minds.”
She starts sharing her own story, full of sadness, grief and shame, and how she then found a bible study for women struggling with post-abortion trauma. Her openness can help other women acknowledge their own experience. So many in our churches find this so hard to talk about, yet many are sadly dealing with their struggles alone.

She addresses common questions women are dealing with:
  • Is God going to punish me for this? - No, Christ has borne the punishment of all sin, and now is the time to draw near the God for healing. “God, in his mercy and kindness, doesn’t waste the pain and suffering that his children endure….He uses both our sin and suffering to reveal more of himself to us.” 
  • Why is it so hard to move on? - You need to acknowledge your sin, idols and trauma. 
  • What do I do with my thoughts about the baby? - Acknowledge it was your baby, take time to grieve, consider memorialising in some way. 
  • Why am I struggling with forgiveness? - There are helpful comments here about the myth of forgiving yourself - for only Christ can atone, redeem and forgive. 
  • Will I ever stop feeling this way? - Need to work through the guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression and numbness. 
“Processing your thoughts and emotions after an abortion can be daunting. You may have felt like it’s all too much to work through on your own. Yet, you may not have asked for help, believing no one could possibly understand what you’ve been through. Maybe you’re scared to lift the lid off your heart, afraid of emotions boiling over and spilling out into your life, making things messy. However, God wants you to understand why you feel the way that you do, especially if it is hindering your relationship with him or other people.”
There are self-reflection questions at the end of each chapter, and many recommended resources throughout. It is strongly encouraged that one reads this alongside a trusted friend, pastor or counsellor. Cates encourages women to talk about their journey, to help others who are going through the same thing, and to share how Christ’s redemption has worked in their lives. We want to be communities who walk alongside each other sharing our struggles, pain, regrets and griefs, and rejoicing in the healing and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Bible verses to remember series

Bible Verses to Remember book series, Sally Michael (New Growth Press, 2023)

This cute new series from Sally Michael teaches little ones (aged 3-7) truths about God while also helping them start to memorise bible verses. Eye catching and cheery illustrations by Sengsavane Chounramany will engage kids and caregivers alike. Each book goes through each verse, exploring different parts of it and how we can trust God, rejoice in him, trust in him, or praise him as a result.

Good Gifts Come From God shows how many gifts we receive from God - in creation, in other people, and most of all in Jesus. Anchored in James 1:17a “Every good first and every perfect gift is from above” (ESV), it helps children to see how much in our lives is a gift to thank God for. 

Our Great God shares the truth of Psalm 95:3 “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods”. There is certainly overlap with the above book, but it’s more about everything God knows and how we praise him with thankfulness. 

Give God Your Worries helps kids to see that we share our worries with God and trust him with them, with the encouragement to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). This might be for slightly older kids, but it certainly gives a biblical, helpful framework for us when we worry. 

All three will be appreciated additions to a family’s collection of Christian children’s books.

I was given ecopies of these books in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, October 2, 2023

I have PTSD

I have PTSD: Reorienting after trauma, Curtis Solomon (New Growth Press, 2023)

This is yet another very helpful release in the expanding Ask the Christian Counselor series by New Growth Press. While it is a short book, Solomon sensitively and carefully unpacks the core issues well, explaining trauma and it’s impact, and then guides the trauma sufferer through a process of reorientation in God’s love and care keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

He is clear from the beginning - God knows about trauma: 
“If you open the Bible to its first book, Genesis, you will read story after story of trauma inflicted and endured. Trauma did not take a break or disappear; it has been with us ever since. In each generation, people from every tribe and nation have experienced and inflicted trauma.”
Throughout, he uses three ongoing examples of people who have experienced trauma:
  • Vanessa - who watched her brother die from a football injury 
  • Javier, an army ranger - who experienced traumatic events in war, including the explosion of an IED which took a friend’s life. 
  • Carl - who was in a car accident where a child died. 
Therefore, the focus is on trauma that is connected to a specific event, not long-term childhood abuse or neglect. For those who are aware of diagnostic labels - this means it’s more for people experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not complex PTSD (C-PTSD). In fact, Solomon is clear that he is not addressing abuse (particularly long-term).

He is clear that this is not a battle for one to fight on their own. You need a team around you - he has specific ideas who that should be, including a biblical counsellor, a counselling ally (someone who does counselling with you) and trusted supporters who you can call when things get tough. It’s a specifically structured approach, but one that could have value.

Early on he explains trauma and post-traumatic stress, and how the body responds to it, noting:
“Your response to trauma is unique because you are a unique person with a unique blend of genetics, relationships, history, thoughts, feelings, and desires. Nevertheless, while the difficult things are unique, they are not uncommon. So when you face them, remember you are not having an abnormal response to normal life; rather, you are living a common response to extreme suffering.”

Because of this, Solomon (like many others) takes issue with the term ‘disorder’. As such he refers to PTS throughout (rather than PTSD). 

He helps the reader to develop a “peace plan” when triggered - which includes praying, sitting down (for safety), breathing (with instructions), thinking truths about God, and considering who to call. He further explores triggers and how to manage them, including how to face them wisely and in small doses. Next, there is encouragement to grieve your losses, and take responsibility for what you can, noting that while some things may bring shame, they do not necessarily stem from actual guilt.

In reminding of how Jesus restored - he notes that Jesus suffered as well, and that he is our saviour. We need to remember that:
  • The world has been disoriented since sin entered the world 
  • God came to rescue the world and put things right 
  • Jesus understands your suffering because he has suffered 
  • God does bring transformation out of trauma 
It’s this idea of transformation that structures the final part of the book - how to reorient your past, present and future. There are concepts of CBT in here, as well as general trauma—informed therapy - there are trigger logs and charts to help you process. But all also focus on God, who he is, how he loves us, and how he brings transformation even through awful suffering.
“One hope that God offers trauma sufferers through the Bible is the happy news that a person’s PTS can be reframed to become Post-Traumatic Sanctification.”

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.