Hope When Evil Is Under Your Own Roof
How can Jennifer Greenberg, a trained opera singer, still sing and find joy despite growing up with a father who was physically and sexually abusive? Or a mom who enabled the abuse? Or a pastor who didn't offer protection and help, but only reinforced her worst fears? Listen as hosts Dave and Ann Wilson, with Bob Lepine, uncover the source of Jennifer's defiant belief in a God who never leaves nor forsakes you, but One who knows our suffering first-hand.
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How can Jennifer Greenberg, a trained opera singer, still sing and find joy despite growing up with a father who was abusive? Hear the source of Jennifer’s defiant belief in a God who never leaves nor forsakes you.
Hope When Evil Is Under Your Own Roof
Bob: When you grow up experiencing abuse as a child—physical abuse—you’re not aware later, as you get married, of how those memories, those experiences, those traumas come with you into marriage. That was Jennifer Michelle Greenberg’s experience.
Jennifer: A weird thing happened to me when I got married to Jason; because suddenly, I was living with a godly man and a patient man; he was interested in my hobbies; and he wanted to know how I felt about things; he wanted to know my opinion. So, yes; in our early marriage, I had to really grow through and unravel a lot of these preconceived notions and acclimate to being loved and acclimate to a godly relationship.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to hear today about a God who can bring redemption, and healing, and hope out of the tragedy and trauma of childhood abuse. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’re talking about a subject this week that I know is difficult for a lot of listeners as we’re hearing descriptions about child abuse. I just/I want to warn our listeners about this. If this is hard for you, you may want to not listen today.
I think, sometimes, we forget the level of evil that exists in our world; because we’re not confronted with it daily. We see hints of it; you can turn on the news and see something that is going on and go, “That’s just wrong,” and “How could somebody do that?”
There is probably more happening behind closed doors in homes than most of us realize; and some of our listeners know, firsthand, about evil that they’ve experienced. That’s the subject we’re visiting this week. It’s a subject that I think we have to acknowledge; because as we’ve said, “When you bring evil to light—
Bob: —“that’s where it can be redeemed.” One of my favorite verses I keep coming back to—Isaiah 61—where God says, “I bring beauty from ashes.” We’re going to go near some ashes today and find the beauty that is there.
Dave: Yes; and when evil is out in the world or out in the city, and it’s not in your home, it’s one thing—you can start to separate, or detach, or sort of standoff—but when it’s under your roof, and you have to look at it every day and be a victim of it, it’s another deal.
Bob: Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Jennifer, welcome.
Jennifer: Thank you so much.
Bob: Jennifer is a wife and a mom; lives in Houston, Texas. She is an opera singer, and you’ve got a CD that is coming out; right?
Jennifer: I do; yes.
Bob: Is it opera, or is it pop songs or what?
Jennifer: Well, I’m opera trained.
Jennifer: Yes; so there is a difference. It’s more along the lines—I mean, it’s—obviously, I’m a Christian. It’s more along the lines of, maybe, like Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan.
Jennifer: But it’s kind of vintage, too; I play the piano and write my own songs. There is kind—
Ann: So you’ve written all of them?
Bob: The fact that you can still sing and find joy—
Bob: —is pretty remarkable; because as you’ve shared with us already this week, you grew up in a home, where there was physical violence and abuse/where your dad was mean and violent; your mom was somewhat complicit in this in that she was an enabler of your dad and said: “We’re not going to tell people about this,” and “We’re going to keep up appearances.” You had younger sisters who, undoubtedly, experienced some of the same things you experienced.
Jennifer: Yes; even just—I mean, having a child witness—
Jennifer: —something that traumatic is child abuse.
Bob: Can you isolate what you think was the worst beating/the worst abuse you ever experienced, growing up?
Jennifer: Oh goodness! The incident that I shared previously—when my dad beat me in the living room and left hand-shaped bruises all over me—that was, I think, the most violent and one of the most traumatic moments of my childhood.
Ann: The story that struck me, too, was about your neighbor’s dog—
Ann: —coming into your yard.
Jennifer: Well, we lived out in the country in Austin. There were no fences, and people generally kept their dog on a rope. Our neighbor boy had this dog that was just really prolific at escaping. This dog would wander into our yard and eat our dog’s dog food. I remember, one time, my dad came home from work; and he said, “Oh, that bleep neighbor’s dog is in our backyard again.” He said, “Should I shoot it?”
I was [thinking] like, “You’ve got to be kidding”; right? I said [speaking sarcastically], “Sure, Dad; go ahead. Shoot the neighbor’s dog; that’s a fabulous idea.” He got this weird look on his face, and he went over into his bedroom. I knew that something was wrong, so I followed him in there. By the time I got in there, he had already gotten out his .357 magnum.
Jennifer: He opened the sliding glass door in their bedroom; he aimed, and he shot the neighbor’s dog. The bullet hit the dog’s side and just blew its legs out from underneath it. This dog just twisted in the air, slammed against the ground, and screamed like nothing I’ve ever heard, and ran on three legs back to his home.
I remember my mom running into the room and saying, “Did you just shoot the neighbor’s dog?” and just screaming; and my little sisters were crying. Then 10/15 minutes later, the neighbor comes pounding on our door and just attacked my dad. They had this fist fight in our living room. I said, “I’m going to call the police”; they broke it up. I think, later, my parents agreed to pay for the vet bills; and we brought them a casserole for dinner. [Laughter]
Jennifer: But it never got reported.
Ann: Even in the book, you said, when you asked your dad why he had done that,—
Jennifer: Oh, yes.
Ann: —he said, “You told me to.”
Jennifer: Yes; he blamed me.
Bob: The intimidating impact of that—
Jennifer: Oh, it was terrifying.
Bob: —as a child, you watch your dad shoot a dog; and you wonder—
Jennifer: You know what that gun does—
Jennifer: —and my dad would threaten to shoot me.
This is the other thing you have to understand; I mean, this was a demonstration. My dad would tell me stories like—for example, he would say—I remember another time he came home from work. We were getting ready to have dinner; and he said, “Hey, did you hear that story on the news today?” I was like, “No; Dad, what are you talking about?” He goes, “Well, this guy came home from work; and he caught his wife and his children packing to leave, so he shot them all dead.
Jennifer: “And then he killed himself.” Then he looked me straight in the eye; and he just said, “You better never try to leave me.”
When I was about 21, he told me that same story again. Jason and I were engaged; and he didn’t want me to get married, so he told me that story. He rehashed that stupid story again. I was just done; so the next day, while he was at work, I snuck into his bedroom. I took his gun out of the gun case, and I wrapped it in a towel. I snuck it downstairs, past my mom; and I hid it in a box of craft supplies in my bedroom.
I remember he came home that night, and everything was normal. Then he went into his bedroom, and he came back out, and he just glared at me.
Ann: Like he knew?
Jennifer: He knew; he absolutely knew. Talk about walking on egg shells; it was like that for my entire life.
Actually, when I ended up getting married to Jason—you know, he’s this quiet, calm, sweet guy, who likes to help out with chores and play guitar—he’s a cat person. I mean, he’s just like—he is the exact opposite of my dad.
Ann: Well, take us back. Did you ever report your dad? Did you ever say anything to anyone at church, or was that too scary?
Jennifer: No, I did; I tried to talk to my pastor. I made some excuse that I was interested in dating boys, and I wanted to meet him for lunch. This was kind of an excuse I told my parents to kind of get around their little paranoia of me reporting. We met up for lunch, and I told him my dad threw an iron at my head the other day. I had just finished ironing his shirts, and he was mad that I left the ironing board out. He just threw the iron at my head. I ducked just in time, and it hit the wall behind me, and it dented the wall.
He got really quiet; and he said, “Well, we should really pray for your dad’s anger issues.” I remember just, in my head, thinking: “Whoa! That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.” I mean, I was expecting him to not take me back home/to call the police.
Ann: Yes; “Tell me more.”
Jennifer: Yes; “Tell me more. Let’s go; why don’t we set you up”—
Bob: —to rescue you.
Jennifer: —set me up so I can stay at an elder’s house. I’d even like—I already picked out, in my head, which elder I wanted to stay at/stay with when he took me away from my home. Instead, he dropped me back off at my house. It was unbelievable.
Ann: What did that say to you, as that young teenager?
Jennifer: That what I had experienced was normal and that no one would believe me. That just—it reaffirmed every worst fear that I had.
Bob: It was in your college years that you decided: “I’m not going to live in fear anymore. I’m going to confront my parents.” That’s a bold, courageous choice to make. There had to be some trepidation in even making that choice.
Jennifer: There was a lot. I knew that it would probably be what tore apart their marriage. I knew that it was going to be really difficult for my younger siblings. I realized that after I left/after I got married and moved out, he was going to pick a new victim. I wasn’t going to be the main victim anymore, and I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen.
I wrote him a letter, and I told him: “I’m giving you a week. If you don’t talk to a pastor, get counseling, go to therapy, tell Mom the truth—if you don’t face up to what you’ve done, I am going to tell.”
Dave: You were—how old?
Dave: Twenty years old.
Jennifer: —twenty-one, yes.
Dave: So how did he respond?
Jennifer: Completely ignored it. He never did anything. He pretended that he had never seen it. I told my mom; everything began to implode.
Ann: Did she not know? Was she not aware of a lot of it?
Jennifer: I think she was in a lot of heavy denial. She was a victim as well. It’s very hard for me to reconcile in my head what all was going on in her head. That’s been a really hard thing for me to deal with.
Bob: You decided, not only to bring this to light with your mom and in your family, but at some point, you made the decision to tell this story publicly.
Jennifer: Oh, yes; I told our pastor. I started speaking to various women’s shelters. I got involved with RAINN, which is the Rape and Incest National Network. You know, I started talking to them and telling my story. I put on a few fundraisers and little fundraisers for local women’s shelters, and I’d share my story.
Ann: How did you get so strong?
Jennifer: I don’t know! You know, it’s really God; it really is. I also/because I grew up in that environment, I don’t think I realized how strong I was being.
You know, I was recently talking to a group of pastors at a church conference in Oklahoma. I made the example of:
It’s like when you’re in a hot tub. You kind of get used to how hot the water is, and it doesn’t feel that hot to you; but then you go jump in a swimming pool, and it feels like it’s freezing; because you’re not acclimated to it yet. Then if you go and acclimate to that pool, if you get out of that cold pool and try to go back into the hot tub, it’s going to feel really hot again.
Abuse is kind of the same way. You get acclimated to abuse; it feels normal to you. Not much surprises you when you’re acclimated to violence and perversion, and you really think this is normal.
A weird thing happened to me when I got married to Jason; because suddenly, I was living with a godly man and a patient man; he was interested in my hobbies; and he wanted to know how I felt about things; he wanted to know my opinion.
I remember there was this one time when he was doing the dishes. The only time I had ever seen my dad do the dishes was when he was furious at my mom. He was telling her what an awful wife she was and how useless she was. He was actually washing the dishes, but he was also breaking a lot of them and throwing things.
I saw Jason washing the dishes and I was like, “I have failed as a wife!”; and I remember just grabbing him by the arm, and crying, and saying: “No; no; I can do this. It’s going to be okay.” Him just looking at me like—
Ann: “What’s wrong?”
Jennifer: “What’s happening?! [Laughter] ” So yes; in our early marriage, you know, I had to really grow through and unravel a lot of these preconceived notions—
Ann: —and learn to be loved.
Jennifer: —learn to be loved, and acclimate to being loved, and acclimate to a godly relationship.
Bob: And today, you are not in communication with your mom or your dad—
Bob: —or your siblings.
Jennifer: Most of them, no.
Dave: Is that because you told the story?
Jennifer: Oh, there is kind of a different story with each person.
Jennifer: I mean, it happened over the course of many years. Obviously, my dad—I cut him off 12 years ago. But you know, there is still—some of them still have limited contact with my dad and relationships with him and with my mom. It is very painful for a lot of my siblings; I mean, they still love my parents—you know?—some of them.
Telling the truth about abuse—it’s like pulling a thread in a cloth; everything comes unraveled. You’ve got to kind of reinvent who you are, and you’ve got to rebuild your relationships. A lot of those relationships—they used to be structured—they were built in an abusive environment and around abusive behavior.
Once you take out that abuse/once you pull the rug out from under that relationship, it’s like, “Well, who are we?” We used to—like I remember me and one of my sisters—we used to be thick as thieves. We would stand up for each other, and we would defend each other. That was the basis of our relationship—we were constantly protecting each other—so now, that we don’t have to protect each other, and we’re actually bumping heads about how to deal with our trauma, it’s like, “How do we do this?”
Ann: “How did you forgive?”
Jennifer: That also I really chalk up to God. One of the things that I’ve learned, both through Scripture and also just through experience, is there is really two different varieties of forgiveness. There is boundary forgiveness, where we let go of our anger; but we still hold that person accountable—we’re not going to let them babysit our kids; maybe, we may still file that police report—we’re going to protect ourselves from that person.
Dave: We have boundaries.
Jennifer: We have boundaries, but we’re not living in that state of constant pain; you know? We’ve grown through/we’ve processed our anger.
Then there is also reconciliatory forgiveness; and that’s where, by God’s grace, He has worked in that person’s heart; they’ve shown the fruits for repentance. I’m not just talking about they’ve said they are sorry; because a lot of abusers will say that they are sorry, and then go right back to what they’ve been doing. We need to see the fruits of the Spirit in that person’s life; we need to see them want to make amends.
You know, a truly repentant person/a truly repentant abuser will say: “You know what? I was so evil to you. I totally understand why you don’t want to see me anymore. I totally understand why seeing me again would cause you to have flashbacks or would make you stressed; and I don’t want to make you stressed. I want you to grow in grace; I want you to heal, so I’m going to step out of your life.”
A truly repentant abuser will be willing to sacrifice their “reputation.” They’ll be willing to acknowledge/say: “You know what? Yes, I’m untrustworthy; I’ve been untrustworthy, and I don’t deserve these people’s trust.” Until you see that fruit of repentance, you know, you’ve just got to be very wary.
Bob: You’re talking about the difference between forgiveness and trust. There is a separation between those two.
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely.
Bob: We can decide not to punish someone for how they have wounded us. We talk about burying the hatchet; and we go, “Well, why was there a hatchet in your hand in the first place?”—right? Bury the hatchet means “I’m going to give up the right to punish you for what you’ve done to me,”—that’s one level.
Now, rebuilding trust and saying, “We can have a relationship”—
Jennifer: —totally different.
Bob: —it is a totally different thing. That can happen over time, if there is repentance and the fruit of repentance, and you see that. But you can still forgive someone and pray for reconciliation but need to see some things happen before reconciliation takes place.
Dave: So, now, you are setting a new legacy.
Dave: You’re a mom; Jason’s a dad. You’ve got three daughters.
Dave: When you look at them, thinking back to when you were that little girl, what do you see? What do you think?
Jennifer: My real Father is God. That biological guy—he was a stranger—you know? It’s like the words of Jesus when Mary and His brothers came to try to dissuade Him from preaching and dissuade Him from sharing the truth/the gospel. He said, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?”—then pointing to those around them—“These people; these people, who love my Father in heaven, are My mother and My brothers and My sisters.”
That’s really true for me, too; you know? The people who love God—the people who repent of their sins, who grow in grace, who love our Father in heaven—this is my family.
Ann: Jennifer, would you mind praying for listeners that might be struggling in a situation where, maybe, they can’t forgive; or they’re in a situation where they are stuck, and they don’t know what to do?
Lord, You are our Mighty Counselor. You are our Savior and our Redeemer. Lord, You are recovery. And You know what? Jesus Christ, You are the ultimate survivor. You suffered betrayal; You suffered false accusations, beatings; You were nailed to a cross. You know what it’s like to be hated, to be abused, to be abandoned and betrayed. Lord, You know every person who is listening right now. You know everything that’s ever happened to them. You know every tear they’ve ever cried.
And Lord, we don’t just have a God who died for our sins and rose from the dead. We have a God who can relate with us on a personal level—who can look into our situation, our suffering, our pain—and when we say, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”—Lord, You know what that’s like.
So, Lord, I would just ask that You bless everyone, who is listening, with the comfort of knowing that You understand/that You know our deepest fears, our darkest experiences, our most fierce anger and pain. Lord, because You have felt these things too, and You know everything, and You are sovereign, and You are just and good.
I would just ask that you would bless everyone with peace, that You bless me with peace; and that, Lord, as Joseph said in
Genesis 50:20: “These abusers—they intended to harm [me]—but You can and You will use all things together for good for Your glory and for the saving of many lives.”
Lord, I would ask that You knit us together. Lord, You knit us together in our mother’s womb; You can knit together our broken hearts. I would ask that You heal us/that You would enable us to use our stories to glorify You, to help others, to be the wonderful parents, friends, and children of God that You designed us to be. Lord, I thank You for Your faithfulness and Your justice. Amen.
Bob: Jennifer, we thank you—
Bob: —for your story and for your willingness to tell it.
Like you, we pray that God will use the exposure of this to bring hope and healing to those who have experienced this in their past or those who are still wrestling with this.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Ann: —and that they’ll be brave enough to go get help—
Ann: —and to expose what needs to be exposed.
Jennifer: Bring that light into darkness, yes.
Bob: Jennifer’s book is called Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman from Victim to Survivor. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order Jennifer’s book online; or you can call us to get a copy of the book, Not Forsaken; our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and the word, “TODAY.”
Listening to Jennifer’s story this week, it’s been hard to hear. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife®, is here with us. I think, maybe, things like this are more common than we realize.
David: Yes; situations like this can be more common. It’s also a message of hope for every one of us, no matter the situations that we are walking through. If God met Jennifer in such evil/in such darkness—and if He has helped her experience, so intimately, that He is always with her and will never forsake her/that He is her Father—if that is true in the most difficult circumstances we could imagine, what about you in your circumstances?
Your situation may not be as shocking, but it doesn’t diminish that you are experiencing it and feeling it deeply. Perhaps, you feel isolated and alone, and like no one can really understand. God’s commitment to you is exactly the same; He is always with you. He never will forsake you. He weeps with you—has a righteous anger of the unrighteousness you’ve experienced—and He loves you deeply.
Bob: That is so important. That’s a great reminder, David; thank you for that.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to be together with your local church this weekend for worship.
And I hope you can join us back on Monday, especially if you are in the dating years—or if you know somebody who is, have them tune in—Shelby Abbott joins us to talk about how to navigate those years effectively/successfully. I hope you can be here for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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