Friday, October 7, 2011

Doing Justice

Doing Justice

Prior to being clergy, I served as a shelter director and advocate for victims of violence. One little girl I served, a 4-year old named Lizzie (not her real name), suffered from fits of rage, something often seen in children who witness or suffer extreme violence at a very young age.

Lizzie’s rages were triggered by sounds, smells or events that connected her to memories of her abuse. Doctors and therapists were brought in to treat Lizzie and they instructed us on how to immediately interrupt her violent behavior while rewarding her good behavior.

Well, we tried. For weeks, every time Lizzie went into one of her rages, we did they said but Lizzie wasn’t responding. In fact, her violence toward herself and others was increasing.

One afternoon, as I was talking with Lizzie’s mom in the shelter, a little boy came in from playing outside and slammed the door shut behind him. Lizzie, who had been playing quietly on the floor in front of us, ran to the corner of the room and curled up in a fetal position. A rage began to overtake her. Lizzie’s mother responded immediately, but Lizzie would not be comforted. She began trying to hurt herself, running at full speed into the furniture. Lizzie’s mother, totally overwhelmed, sat down on the floor and began to cry.

I caught Lizzie in my arms as she ran across the room, sat down on the floor, and began to rock her in my lap. I spoke softly to her, telling her that she was loved. Lizzie punched at me, even bit me on my arm, but I continued to hold her and softly speak words of love to her. Eventually, Lizzie stopped struggling and rested in my arms, her breaths short and sharp from her tantrum. Then she looked up at me, her eyes still puffy from crying and asked, “Am I a good girl?” “Yes, darling, you’re a good girl.” A moment later, Lizzie was asleep.

That was the last fit Lizzie ever threw. By the grace of God, I knew in that frantic moment that what Lizzie needed was the assurance that she was loved. Being only four years old, Lizzie lacked the words she needed to describe how the violence she had witnessed and suffered made her feel. She was too scared to tell anyone that she thought she must be to blame for the nightmare she lived, and she was too vulnerable to speak her greatest fear – that she wasn’t loved. So instead, she acted out.

This reminds me of the woman in the parable of the unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8). To those who listened to her with earthly ears, she was an annoyance. But to God she was a beloved child, and God acted swiftly to bring about justice for her. God cares deeply about the powerless, the vulnerable, and the abused, and so should we. (Mt 25:40)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Last year, the Abuse Prevention Council (APC) here in Shelby, provided shelter to 287 women and 173 children. They advocated and filed for 827 orders of protection to keep these women and their families safe from their abusers.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that:

· an estimated 1.3 million women are assaulted by their intimate partners each year.

· boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

· 30% to 60% of those who abuse their intimate partners also abuse children in the household.

· the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services (Source:

As people of God, we are called to open ourselves to hear the pleas of those in our midst who suffer. More than that, though, we are required to act, to do justice. (Micah 6:8)

How can we do that? We can be the mouths that speak love and offer hope to victims of abuse in our area. We can inform ourselves about domestic violence, and support the APC and their efforts to rebuild the broken lives of the women and children they serve, volunteering our time, talents, and expertise to strengthen their services. We can be the place where the grace of God touches the wounded children of God. We can, and we must.

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