By Kaley (18) & Amber (22)
Kaley: It should have been a fun day. We were on our way to buy a dog. Dad had been in a good mood. My teenage brother Chase drove as my sister and I enjoyed the ride. Dad’s attitude changed suddenly when we missed a turn. Chase made a safe, but quick U-turn. Turning the car around seemed to swing open the gates of hell.
“You stupid, ignorant driver!” Dad yelled at Chase. “Stop the vehicle!” My brother moved the car toward the shoulder of the road, but not fast enough; Dad wrenched the steering wheel from his grasp, and we swerved toward oncoming traffic in the opposite lane. The approaching driver braked as we moved back into our lane and pulled to the side of the road. Dad jumped out of the passenger seat and raced toward the driver’s side. “Is everything o.k.?” The other driver asked.
“Everything is fine,” dad barked. “But I’m dealing with a rebellious son!” The man drove on.
I don’t remember ever being so scared. Dad forced Chase to the passenger seat, screaming that he would discipline him with a stick in the woods after we got home. My sister and I begged dad to stop. I threatened to call the cops, but it didn’t faze him. Dad said I would be next for the stick whipping.
Amber: Nothing we said convinced him to settle down. We were like hostages with no escape. Dad pulled recklessly into the driveway. “Do not breathe a word of this to Mom!” It chills me to this day. He hoped he could get away with mistreating us.
We piled out of the car. Kaley ran for Mom, scared to tears. Dad commanded Chase to the woods for the whipping.
Children, obey your parents? After his recklessness on the road, I knew that dad was too gone to be trusted alone in the woods with a stick and a boy. “You do not have to go with him!” I insisted. Chase hesitated before stepping toward the house with me.
“Come back here!” Dad screamed.
“No.” Chase and I answered.
Dad stormed into the house behind us. Mom stood up for us, and dad turned his rage at her. “It’s your fault for poisoning them against me!”
Kaley: I lay on my bed clutching a pillow over my head. Dad’s voice still reached my ears, tearing up mom. How could he blame her when she hadn’t even been with us on the road? Why does he hit my brothers with a cutting board and call it discipline? I couldn’t stop shaking. Stomach cramps crippled me. I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. My mind raced with questions that seemed to have no answers.
* * *
Dad blamed mom for everything that went wrong in their marriage. He yelled at her for being a “rebellious woman.” He used Bible verses to justify his “duty” to keep all of us in check. He claimed that he was like Jesus turning tables in the temple. But on Sunday mornings, he acted charming. He quoted scriptures and had theological discussions with church friends. No one knew that he screamed at us, and had fits of road rage, before walking through the sanctuary doors.
Anything and nothing ticked him off. Dad’s anger made no sense. It flared up when we least expected it, and disappeared when other people were watching. We could never predict which noise, or comment about the preacher’s sermon, or imperfect handshake would trigger it. Dad shamed and scolded us in public whenever and wherever he could get away with it.
Mom tried desperately to fix the marriage. She went to church leaders, counselors, and friends. Most didn’t believe her. Some accused her of gossiping, acting rebellious, and failing to submit to God’s will. Some advised her to love and submit better to her husband. Some acknowledged dad’s mistreatment yet blamed mom for the problems. “Even though your husband is a bear,” one elder advised her, “don’t stir the bear.” When she voiced concerns about her husband’s fidelity, some rebuked her “harsh conclusions” and advised her to have more sex with him. Elders warned her never to think the worst and almost never to think at all.
For more than 15 years, we endured dad’s attacks. Mom obeyed church leaders. She did not consider separation or divorce, and the situation grew worse. Hope came when mom opened up to some best friends about the condition of her marriage. Shocked, they listened to secrets that our family had kept all those years. They understood that dad was abusing us and that we needed to escape the toxic environment.
Defining the abuse was almost too much for mom. Dad had pushed and shoved her, but never until she was black and blue. Learning that abuse takes many forms was critical to our escape.
At one point, Dad admitted his abusiveness; he claimed to understand mom’s reasons for leaving him. Yet when she left, he changed his tune: “Arguments? Maybe,” he defended himself. “But abuse? Never.”
Dad said all the right words to convince elders of his repentance while continuing to abuse his family. Nobody investigated the degree of abuse going on behind closed doors. Pastoral leaders did not seek professional counsel. They did not contact the domestic violence unit of the police department, not even when we were scared.
With church leaders on his side, Dad’s hatred and mistreatment of us grew. The elder board demanded reconciliation while accusing mom of acting unforgiving and rebellious. They would not support Mom’s decision to separate from a seemingly “changed” man.
* * *
After a long battle, we are free. Although we had to leave our home, we know that we could never be happy or normal while living in a modern day holocaust.
We could not have gotten this far without amazing friends and, most of all, God. God’s hands have protected us the entire way.
We have grown past being shy, unstable, and scared kids. We confidently, boldly, and fearlessly pursue God’s purposes. Having lived through abuse, we want to help others reach freedom. Every life is precious.
No one deserves to be treated like dirt. God’s heart is to free those living in oppression, bondage, and fear.
 Names and identifying details have been changed.
This story is part of our Stop the Silence, Start the Healing initiative. Each month we will feature the story of one person who has never had the chance to tell her story, without fear, in a safe space. We honor these women who are speaking up.
Do you think that you may be on the receiving end of abuse? Please visit our resource page for more information on what it is.
Image credit: John Steven Fernandez
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the women who wrote this story.