Abused and alone, Michelle found a refuge with The Salvation Army
by Caroline Franks
“The first time my husband hit me, I thought it was a sign of his love for me. How wrong I was”
Names have been changed.
“When you’re abused, you don’t tell anyone anything. You become silent,” says Michelle.
She should know. Michelle spent much of her life living in fear of an abusive father and, later, an abusive husband. But thanks to The Salvation Army, Michele rebuilt her life.
What’s in a Name
Growing up, Michelle’s father made it clear she was not wanted.
“The time my mother took caring for me took her away from him,” she explains.
Her father watched her every move and Michelle was corrected, criticized and abused.
“I was terrified of him and had no one to turn to for help,” she says. “I couldn’t even run to God because while we went to church every week, my family had no relationship with Him. He was only a name.”
Michelle remembers being in a church when she sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to her.
“The Spirit said, ‘Give me your life,’ ” she recalls.
Terrified, the 11-year-old resorted to bargaining.
“I offered him 75 percent of my life as long as I could keep the remaining 25. Again, the Spirit said, ‘Give me your life,’ to which I replied, ‘I can’t.’ There was no way I’d hand over my life to some unknown being who could control, manipulate and abuse me like my dad.”
Michelle says she felt the Spirit’s disappointment and then it was gone, taking her awareness of God along with it.
A Bargain Made
When Michelle was 16, her father got a new job and her family moved to a new community. It was there, at the age of 18, that Michelle met her husband, Frank. They married and soon had a son.
“The first time Frank hit me, I thought it was a sign of his love for me,” she says. “How wrong I was. I struggled to keep my tiny family together, but darkness, confusion and rage were the norms.”
At around this time, her father had an emotional breakdown. That night, her mother noticed a Salvation Army band playing on a street corner.
“If my husband doesn’t want me, I’ll give my life to You,” Michelle’s mother prayed to God.
The following morning, her mother found the nearest Salvation Army church and committed herself to God.
Michelle attended church with her mother, not because she was interested in finding faith but because she craved the order church brought to her life.
On the third Sunday, however, her experience was different.
“I walked in the front door and the Holy Spirit spoke to me again, saying, ‘I want you to give me your life.’ ” she says. “Suddenly I was 11 again, only the life I had so carefully protected now included an innocent child.”
It took months before she willed herself to answer God’s request. But one morning, she stormed up the aisle to the front of the church.
“Fine,” she prayed. “You want my life? Here, You can have my life. But realize this: You are taking the only thing I own.”
As she left the church, a song lyric she’d overheard began to play in her mind: “Now I belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to me.”
Stunned, she thought to herself, Does that mean I get something from this bargain, too?
It took 18 years for Michelle to walk away from her abusive relationship.
“I realized I had to do something when my husband started carrying a gun and talking about suicide,” she says.
By then a mother of three, Michelle found support at a Salvation Army home for single mothers, a safe place for her and her children.
Michelle began attending Bible study at a nearby Salvation Army church and slowly accepted counselling for the years of abuse that she had suffered. She also became an official member of The Salvation Army.
“I realized God had told me that it was finally time to move on,” Michelle says with a smile. “The Salvation Army was there when I needed something strong and stable. It didn’t shift or change and it was somewhere I could find a place. For many, The Salvation Army is about what they do for others. To me, though, it’s also about courage and safety.”