FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Finding Freedom From Domestic Abuse

with Dan Allender, Nancy Murphy | June 25, 2004
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Ten years into the marriage, Nancy decided it was time for her and her children to leave the abuse routinely initiated by her husband. Now the executive director of Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center, Nancy helps others find freedom from domestic violence. Joining her today is author, counselor, and founder of Wounded Heart Ministries, Dr. Dan Allender.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Ten years into the marriage, Nancy decided it was time for her and her children to leave the abuse routinely initiated by her husband. Now the executive director of Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center, Nancy helps others find freedom from domestic violence. Joining her today is author, counselor, and founder of Wounded Heart Ministries, Dr. Dan Allender.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ten years into the marriage, Nancy decided it was time to leave the abuse routinely initiated by her husband.

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Finding Freedom From Domestic Abuse

With Dan Allender, Nancy Murphy
June 25, 2004
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Bob: After years of experiencing domestic violence, Nancy Murphy's marriage came to a crisis point.

Nancy: It was when I got pregnant with her that everything started to change, and, you know, I would be punched and kicked and stuff when I was pregnant, and that's most women's stories as well.  It's a tragic story.  Do you know that violence escalates during pregnancy?  It's a time that he's got her all to himself.  She's not going to leave.  She's dependent on him, where is she going to get the money from?  Many babies are lost during pregnancy.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 25th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We’ll find out today where Nancy Murphy found hope in the midst of a dark marriage.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  In too many families, in too many homes, in this country and around the world, there is domestic violence taking place.  Maybe not daily or weekly, but if it takes place once, it's too often, and we're going to be talking about that subject again today, and I just want to alert our listeners to that.  You may decide that this is something that younger children don't need to hear or be exposed to.  I just want to make you aware of that.  It's a shocking subject and one that I think we need a wake-up call on, Dennis.

Dennis: I think we do, and I think the Christian community is poised because we have solutions to offer that work.  The Bible is not a storybook.  It's about the reality of how God has pierced time and has stepped onto the planet and offers hope for broken people and people who experience domestic violence are broken, and they need help and hope.

 I'm reminded of Micah, one of my favorite passages in all the Old Testament – Micah, chapter 6, verse 8 – "He has told you, O Man, what is good.  What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."  And as we talk about the subject of domestic violence, think about those three – to do justice.  Yeah.  There does need to be justice in that situation; to love kindness – there has to be an appropriate caring and compassionate approach to both the abused and even the abuser; and, third, to walk humbly with your God, and how can anybody correct or bring help or hope to another person if they don't walk humbly with him.

 And over the past couple of days, we have heard a riveting story from Nancy Murphy and, along with her friend, Dr. Dan Allender, both from Seattle, Washington, just around the whole subject of domestic violence and how it impacted Nancy's life and Nancy, Dan, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Dan: Good to be with you.

Nancy: Thank you.

Dennis: Nancy is the executive director of Northwest FamilyLife Learning and Counseling Center, which is a nonprofit agency right there in Seattle, dedicated to assisting individuals and families who are facing domestic violence, and Dr. Allender is the president of Mars Hill Graduate School, and they're offering a brand-new program that we're really pleased to help announce for the Christian community.  It's a certificate in domestic violence advocacy, and it's a 12-credit-hour course, is that correct?

Dan: Yes, it is, Dennis.  It's six courses of two hours each that address the issues of both advocacy dealing with the abuser, dealing with the victim, understanding something of the issues of what causes abuse to begin with, and then, as well, giving you a chance to get supervised care as you prepare to work with those who have been abused.

Dennis: Nancy, over the past couple of days, we've heard more of your story of how you married a man who abused you.  It started on your honeymoon, on the third day.  It continued on for 10 years, is that right?  You had how many children?

Nancy: Three children.

Dennis: Tell us, what was it that finally was the proverbial straw that broke you to the point of saying, "You know what?  I have to get out of here.  I have to receive help and hope."

Nancy: Well, I think for 10 years I had that sense of urgency – "I have to get out of here."  But I had such torn feelings because of my theology.  So I also felt that I had to stay.

Bob: Now, wait a sec – you're saying your theology was actually keeping you in a place where you were being abused?

Nancy: It was.  I looked to the Scriptures – what do I do as a Christian woman, as a wife?  How do I address this issue?  And it says so clearly in 1 Peter, chapter 3 – "Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your husbands.  So if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives," and it goes on, and it says, in the same way.  So if you read up above it, in the same way, it says, "To this you were called.  Because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.  He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth."

Dennis: Actually, when you read that passage, I believe it says, "While being reviled, he did not revile in return."

Nancy: That's exactly.  It says, "When they hurled their insults at them, He did not retaliate.  And when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly," and it goes on there. That was our example.

Bob: That's the context.  And so you read that and go if I’m going to be Christ-like, I'm going to stay here and allow my husband to revile and to make threats and ultimately to bring harm to me, because Christ was put to death on the cross, and maybe God will win him by my being submissive and by my having a gentle and quiet spirit.

Nancy: That's what it says, and that's how I read it.

Bob: All right, so that's what it says.  What's wrong with that approach?

Nancy: Well, it took me years to understand, and my father actually said to me at one point, he said, "Are you suffering for Christ's sake?  Is this your idea of suffering?  Because you can take that too far.  Do you understand that Christ did it willingly?  He was obedient to the cross.  That was His calling.  That's not a wife's calling."  And at the time I kind of felt sorry for him because my poor dad was losing his faith.  He wasn't "properly" dividing the Word of God.  You know, I didn't know – I couldn't make sense of the Scriptures, but I hung onto this, thinking that maybe there was something about me – if I lived my life in a certain way, that Mike would change.

Bob: Dan, let me go back to 1 Peter, chapter 2 and chapter 3 and the verses that we've read here and what Nancy says this was the Word of God calling me to stay in my marriage.  What was wrong with her interpretation of that passage?

Dan: Well, I see it as reflecting back up in 1 Peter 2, where it's speaking about the fact that here is Jesus who had every right to bring justice and didn't; who had every right to, in one sense, get off the cross and chose not to.  He didn't assault, but does that mean – an assault – mean that there is no place for naming, opening the door to the reality of what is there.  Of course, not.  I think if Nancy had had someone walk her through the passage and say, "There is something different between exposing and reviling."  Exposure is where the light of God enters darkness, and human hearts don't change unless the darkness is dispelled by naming what is true.

 So what do I do when I'm bound into that moment?  I do what the Scriptures tell me to do – encourage one another day after day lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin – Hebrews 3, verse 13 is telling me the word "encouragement" is exposure of what is there in order to invite the person to having a different kind of heart.

Bob: Nancy, I have to ask you, is it possible – in your experience, do you think this is possible – that a wife would go to her pastor and would fabricate – she wouldn't say – she's mad at her husband, she wants to do something to bring harm to him.  She would go and say, "Pastor, you need to know my husband is beating me," and it's not true.  She is trying to malign him.  The reason I ask this is because oftentimes a pastor will have a woman come in his office and say here's what's happening at home.  He'll go to the husband, and the husband will say, "Pastor, she's delusional.  I don't know what to do," and here is the guy going, "Who do I believe?"  I'm imagining that nine times out of 10 the woman is telling the truth, isn't she?

Nancy: Yes, it's more predictable the other way around, but when she is coming, she is really minimizing her experience.  She is only telling such a small portion of what she has really experienced.  Every man who has ever come through a treatment center says, "But I'm not violent."  It is a predictable statement – "But I'm not violent."  And when I hear that statement, it always breaks my heart to think, "I wonder what kind of violence he witnessed or he is exposed to that he would not call what he just told me of violence."

Dennis: As you've told your story, repeatedly I hear a process of denial that's very similar to those who are addicts of drugs and of alcohol.  There are the abusers who deny they have a problem – "I'm not violent.  I don't have a problem.  She's got the problem."  And there is the wife who is, in her fear, protecting him from reality.  Now, in your situation, your father actually was one of the people that your husband abused.  You said your husband actually hit how many people?

Nancy: Over 80.

Dennis: Eighty?

Nancy: Yes, and I never knew that.  See, this is the thing – I think women who are battered have what has been called "post-traumatic stress disorder," and so they kind of compartmentalize all the experiences.

Dennis: Did he ever hit your children.

Nancy: That's the impetus to leave.  He would ask that question, and I tried to avoid it because it's such a heartbreak.  I can remember, even when I pregnant with my first, I just wished I could – I tried to abort them, you know, by myself, and my husband was yelling, "What kind of a Christian are you doing – you know, you're supposed to be standing for life," and it's like what kind of a life am I going to bring my child into?  And …

Dennis: … when you say you tried to abort your children, that was because of the fear of bringing your children into an abusive home?

Nancy: It's so crazy, and on the outside we were so well respected, and we were well-liked, and so it's what happened inside our home was so far different from the life that we lived in Christian community.  So it was my youngest one.  You know, my oldest one – Mike really loved Andrew, and he loved him passionately, and so we didn't have any abuse during those first years that Andrew was born.

Dennis: Did that boy see him abuse you, however?

Nancy: Yeah, yeah, he's gone on to see lots of that, and then my daughter, when she was born, it was when I got pregnant with her that everything started to change and, you know, I would be punched and kicked and stuff when I was pregnant, and that's most women's stories, as well.  It's a tragic story.  Do you know that violence escalates during pregnancy?  It's a time that he's got her all to himself.  She's not going to leave.  She's dependent on him.  Where is she going to get the money from?  Many babies are lost during pregnancy.  March of Dimes tells us that the leading cause for birth defects is domestic violence.  It's an outrageous thing.  You think, too, that there is so much that goes into that, but my daughter, when she was born, she naturally was distant from him.  She didn't want to be around him, and we were driving away from the hospital, and she was three days old and five pounds – five pounds, two ounces, and sitting in the back in a little box because he didn't want to have her in the car seat, and she was sucking these two fingers, and she looked so cute, she was just tiny, and he turned around, and he smacked her so hard and said, "And when I yelled, I was leaning, Mike, he said, you know, "No kid of mine is going to have buck teeth," and started to drive crazy, and I couldn't go back and comfort her, and she just had to cry herself out and, you know …

Dennis: … you're talking about a newborn?

Nancy: A newborn baby – just five pounds.  And then – the stories are on and on, they're immense.  There's multiple layers of dependency and fear and shame that play into that.  And then there's the hope, you know, the hope springs eternal, they say, and it's "God, where are you?"  And that's when the promises come.  I didn't know the promises weren't real.  I still hadn't realized that.  But one day Daniel, my youngest son, he was really darling, and he was just about a year old, minding his own business, playing with his own toys, and Mike was, all of a sudden, "got into one of his moods," and he looked out the window, and he says, "I don't have any friends."  And here is somebody very likable, very charming, and I said, "Mike, we're your friends."  Like, little Andrew wanted to go fishing with his dad, Heidi's there, and Danny, and we're all there.  We still loved him.  And he goes, "Well, you guys are nothing."  And put his foot in Danny's stomach, and he just kicked him all the way down this hallway, you know, so that little boy's head banged against the door, and he walked off, and got in the car and drove away for a couple of weeks, went to town.  The next thing I know, my pastor and his wife were there, and they just said, "Nancy, come here.  Where's Tom?"  I said, "He's gone to town," and they said, "Write a note and tell him that you'll be back."  And they wrapped us up and put us on a plane to a little community and said, "You know, you're not leaving him, you're just going away for a couple of weeks.  Whatever is happening here, we can't stand.  We don't like, you know, and that's it."

 I went there for a couple of weeks.  Then we went to see a counselor.  My first time to see a counselor, and I told the guy what had happened, and I said, "Is it okay to be away from my husband for a couple of weeks?"  And he said, "Nancy, given what you've told me, you should go away for nine months.  That's how long it takes to conceive a child, and you need to think about having a new life.  We'll find a safe place for nine months that's good and come back in a week."  So that was a tremendous week for the kids and I.  We went to the park, we did all the stuff, and we were free, and a week later I went back to see this guy, and I walked into the office, and there was Mike.  And I said, "What are you doing here?"  And he had called all around to find out, you know, where I was.  And so they told him the time that I'd be there, and he said to the counselor, "Isn't she beautiful?  Isn't she great?"  You know, and he put his arm around me and said, "I've missed you so much," and I looked at him, and I said to the counselor, "Well, what do you think?"  And he says, "Nancy, I know what you told me must have been true, but I don't see any violence in this man.  He really loves you."  And Mike just went "Yay," and he put his hands up in victory, and he says, "I'll be right back."  And he went out to the parking lot where the kids were sleeping in the car, and when I said goodbye to the counselor, I can't tell you the feeling of trapped and betrayal that I felt.  Got out to the car, and Mike had woken up the children and said, "Daddy's back, we're back," and I got in the car, and that was it.  It was another year before I could find a way to get away.

Dennis: A year?  Did he abuse you again?

Nancy: Yes, of course, because things never get better without help.  They only get worse.

Dennis: And the kids?

Nancy: He didn't hurt the kids physically, but emotionally and the things – the ways that they watched the things that they saw, they hurt.

Bob: And I think, as we hear the story today, if there is a message for a woman who is in the position you were in, it is – get to a safe place for a long time.  Not that God can't do a healing, redeeming work in your marriage or in the heart of your abusive husband – that's possible, certainly, and we believe the Gospel is gloriously able to transform, but it's going to be a process, and you need to be a safe place for a long time to start that process.  And if you want the transformation in the heart of the abusive husband, you start it by getting to a safe place and forcing him to a place where he's got to come to grips with his issues.

Dennis: And you need a safe place that is equipped.  I think of that counselor – if that counselor had understood what was at stake there – that counselor sent you back into harm's way.  That counselor, if he had received some equipping and some ability to understand the nature of the abuser and of the abused, could have taken a resource like yours, Nancy, "God's Reconciling Love," and used that to have been a part of providing the safety and security that you needed at that time. 

 I want Bob to share with our listeners how folks can get a copy of this and also further information on our website, but before we're done here, I want you to finish telling the rest of your story – how you did decide to step out of that dangerous situation and receive hope and healing.

Bob: The resource you're talking about is a handbook that Nancy has put together for pastors and for other care professionals, counselors and others who might deal with those involved in abuse, and, again, it's called "God's Reconciling Love."  We've got it available in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with a booklet that we've put together called "A Way of Hope," for a person who is in the midst of abuse.  It offers some very concrete, specific direction on what to do to break free from this.  Both of these are available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY for more information on how you can obtain copies.  "The Way of Hope" mini-book is also available in Spanish, and the text of the mini-book is available on our website at  You can also order these resources online.

Just go to our website at, and you will find there a link to the graduate program that Mars Hill Graduate School has put together that is designed to help caregivers and pastors, others who are involved in counseling, to certify them to deal not only with abuse victims but with abusers.  Again, there is a link on our website at that can get you the information from Mars Hill Graduate School.  So simply stop by our website, and the information is available there.

You know, I'm a little exhausted by what we've talked about this week, but I think we've offered, perhaps, a fresh sense of hope.

Dennis: I feel like what Dr. Allender and Nancy Murphy have done is uncover, really, the wound – a wound that's in the church.  A tremendous place that needs healing, it needs help, it needs attention, and it's providing safety for women – primarily for women.

Nancy: And their children.

Dennis: And the children, that's exactly right, and the church needs to aggressively address this.  It's an opportunity for us to have solutions, and, I think, present the Gospel – present the redeeming power of the Gospel to people who are broken and who ought to look to the church for help, who are presently maybe looking to secular agencies.  And it's not that they don't provide help and hope – they do.  But the caring of the soul is ultimately of a need that needs to be addressed.

 Nancy, you've told a story, as Bob said, that has been riveting, over the past couple of days.  How did you finally get out of that situation?

Nancy: Well, I got a divorce, but the divorce didn't end the violence.  He would still break into the house and make statements like, "You're my wife," and he'd go on from there.

 So finally I left for the United States.  I'm Canadian, and when I went across the line, it was a place that I knew he didn't – excuse me – like Americans or like the city.  He was afraid of both.  And so I thought that I would be safe there and that the Lord was directing me there.  I can only live in the United States and go to school, so I attended Seattle Pacific University and finished a degree, but I had no money and no place to live.  And, you know, the Scriptures where the Lord will provide and never see His children begging for bread, so it was a walk of faith.  It's, like, okay here we go.

 And four men that I'd met on a trip years ago had said to me, "If you're ever in Seattle, why don't you stop by?"  So we stopped by, and I never told them my story, I never told them my circumstances, but at the end of the weekend they asked if the kids and I would like to live with them while I went to school.  And I was so afraid.  I said, "I don't like men well enough to live with one of them, let alone four of you."  And they got down on their knees, and this one guy, in particular, a Marine, he said, "Nancy, the Scriptures say that our religion is worthless if we don't look after the widows and the orphans."  And I said, "I'm not a widow.  I'm a divorced woman.  My children aren't orphans, they have parents."  He said, "That's a technicality."  And I looked at him, and he was so concerned.  He said, "Seriously, Nancy, we really want you to live with us."  It took a couple of days for me to make that decision, but it felt like the Lord's only provision.

 Well, the kids and I lived with them for five years and during that time I never had to sleep with them or cook for them or be friends with them or anything.  They simply gave us a safe place to live.  The room had no windows, but they built us a three-story bunkbed for the kids to sleep in, and I had a little bed and had no closets or mirrors.  But we were safe, and we were together.  It was tremendous.

 And I finished my bachelor's degree and my master's degree, and I went through a counseling program for domestic violence and found an awful lot of healing.  My kids went into Little League, and there was a coach, who was a great coach, and he spoke so much peace and happiness into my son's life – Andrew – and I thought he was married.  He thought I certainly had to be married to one of those four guys, you know, and so we had this friendship for about a year.  And ended up finding out that we went to the same church.  We went out together for three years, and he went through a program, too, just to make sure that he knew how to do friendship.  He had been broken and wounded, and so we went to a "Learning to Live, Learning to Love," program and during that time we learned about friendship and about trust and this year we're going to be married 10 years.

 There has been no abuse in our marriage – none whatsoever.  There has been no violence, there has been no pain.  It's really tremendous.  It's been healing for both of us and for all of our children, and it's been a truly great experience.  And as the director of Northwest FamilyLife, I've been there for nine years as the director, to work with men who are willing to change their life is wonderful.  People say, "How can you do it?"  I have children that I raised with so much violence and so much abuse, and I know the odds for them, and we can't stop working for the kids' sake, for kids who have been wounded.  We have women and children that we help with resources and counseling, because we know that without long-term help, the women who have been abused will go on into more abusive relationships or become abusive as well.  That's not okay.  That's not a good representation of God's love, and we need to understand that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, God loves us.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

NOTE:  Some names have been changed in this transcript. 


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