In my first memory, I am running through my grandfather’s garden. It is a warm summer’s day, and the mud is soft under my feet. I feel safe and happy in a place filled with memories of being loved. The air is thick with the scent of roses. I am wearing overalls and my hair in pigtails. I am 4.
In my daughter’s first memory, her father is punching a hole in her bedroom wall in a rage. It a dark winter’s night; the sky is as blank as ink. Her baby brother is crying in the background. I am not there to protect her. She is wearing footie PJs and clutching her favorite teddy bear. She is 4.
One night three years later, I load my girl and that teddy bear into our car. I buckle her brother into his car seat. I leave everything behind but my purse, and pull out of my driveway not knowing when or if I will be back. As I drive along the highway, I ignore the frantic phone calls from their dad that punctuate the night. As I get farther away from my neighborhood, I start to breathe easier and reflect on everything that has happened in the past two hours.
I can’t change my daughter’s first memory. That has been a hard reality to accept.
Earlier in the evening, I had turned up to our latest marriage counselling session with a conflicted heart. I had reached a crossroads where I did not know if could keep raising my kids in a place where I did not feel safe. My prayers for discernment were answered that night, but not in the way I expected: my husband showed up sober for the first time in possibly the entirety of our marriage and was manic.
When he went to the bathroom mid-way through the session, the counselor whispered to me, “I think the drinking was masking some major psychological problems. He is really unstable. You should be very careful right now.” That session ended with my husband, the man who welled up with tears as he saw me walking down the aisle a decade earlier, telling me that he was going to get our kids and take what was his out of the house.
And yet this night is also when God began to weave my story from one of fear to one of faith. It started with my friend, Mia, who lived on the other side of town. I called her, and explained through tears that the kids and I needed somewhere safe to go. Up until then, she had no idea that our marriage was even in trouble. That’s the thing about domestic violence. It’s sometimes hard to recognize that it is happening, much less admit it to others.
She was the first one to come to my aid, but she wouldn’t be the last.
If he had punched me in the face, it would have been clear that I was being battered. Instead, he “just” pushed me out the way when I formed a physical barrier between his rage and our children, and manipulated me oh so skillfully.
That dark night, Mia didn’t flinch. Instead, she said, “Come. I am setting up beds for the kids now.” She was the first one to come to my aid, but she wouldn’t be the last. God has consistently put people in our path at critical times. One afternoon that I will never forget, my neighbor, a police officer, stood next to me unflinchingly with his hand on my back when my husband refused to leave and spouted hate at me. In that moment, my neighbor was truly Jesus in the flesh. In that moment, I knew with such clarity that I was not alone and God would never leave my side, no matter what happened.
I have been a single mom for two years now. God has taught me so many lessons, from feeling intense gratitude that I can support the kids and myself financially to learning to ask people for help, something that does not come easily at all. At times, He and the people He has put in my life have been the only thing carrying me. But I have learned that in vulnerability and hitting rock bottom there is beauty and grace.
My daughter turns 12 next month. The hole that her father punched in her wall was patched long ago and is invisible to the naked eye, but she still knows exactly where it is. I can’t change my daughter’s first memory. That has been a hard reality to accept.
But I can try to make lots of other, happier memories with her and her brother: the days when we go hiking and discover nature, the afternoons when we snuggle up and watch a movie, and the nights when we sit down and read the Bible together.
Our home is now a safe place that is filled with love. We have walked through some dark valleys these past few years, and the path ahead will surely have many twists and turns, but I know whatever comes, God will be right by our side.
In vulnerability and hitting rock bottom, there is beauty and grace. Tweet This
Hope Slater is a woman who knows the power of truth brought into light. Hope is not her real name. Her story is that of so many women suffering in silence. Share it with a woman who needs to know God can show up, even in situations where they feel helpless and trapped.
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