Note: Watching her on stage, no one knew that singer/actress/musical theater star Marie Barlow Martin was an abused spouse.  But the reality is, domestic violence happens even in seemingly-stable Christian marriages. Now years later, re-married to producer/songwriter Gordy Martin, Marie has dedicated her talents to singing inspirational praise & worship music and helping women find the courage to tell their secrets. 

Of all the roles I have played in my career in musical theater, my favorite role was that of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."  When Eliza exclaims, "The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated," I knew exactly what that meant.  Because at the time I became Eliza on stage, at home, I was living as the victim of domestic abuse.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I have a burden for women who share my story.  Statistics are startling, but having lived through it, not surprising.  On average, a woman in the United States is battered by a partner every 12 to 15 seconds.  Up to six million women are believed to be beaten in their homes each year.  And over thirty percent of all homicides of women in America are committed by intimate partners. 

I have vivid flashbacks of the nights of terror, wondering at times if I would live or die - often wishing for the latter.  Spending nights hiding in my locked car - huddled in the back - the safest place I could find.  Praying out loud to God --as violent hands gripped tightly around my neck - that He would send his mighty angels to protect me in that moment of surrender to my assailant.

I had not told anyone of my circumstance, and looking back now, I realize what a mistake that was.  But the chaos of such a life began to seem normal.  And I began to believe that I didn't deserve better treatment - that I was worthless and that it was somehow my fault.  The most influential and important voice in my life at the time was telling me I was nothing but a lowly flower girl... and I believed it.  And in virtual isolation, who was I to tell?  Who would believe me anyway?  After all, my husband and I faithfully attended bible study and fellowship several days a week.  He was liked by everyone.  To the few who knew us in public, we were a fine pair, yet in the privacy of our darkness, we kept the secret locked away. 

I remember in the middle of rehearsals for a Gilbert & Sullivan production, my husband was in such a rage that he cracked one of my ribs.  I covered it up.  I wrapped my ribs as tight as possible so I could stand and breathe correctly enough to hit the high notes.  Although I was in terrible pain, the show went on.  My husband was sorry, and my secret was kept.

Another night during one of his rages, he had me on the ground and began choking me.  I felt myself blacking out.  As I was going into darkness, I remember clearly thinking, "He's finally done it.  He's killed me." 

It took several years after that for me to gather the courage to ask him to get help.  He refused, and that was my exit cue.  I could finally sing as Eliza did, "...I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things I've never done before..."

So on the occasion of National Domestic Awareness Month, I want to talk directly to women who are living in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship.  TALK ABOUT IT! There is power in sharing what is happening to you. It doesn't matter who you share it with - a pastor, a counselor, a friend, a family member or even a stranger.  When you share your struggles, you become stronger, and you are able to see things in a different way. 

The power of the abuser is to isolate you so that you will remain weak and under his or her control.  The way to counter that is to come out of isolation.  Shame keeps you in seclusion, but the shame should not be on you.  My personal faith in a living God who loved me and wanted the best for me, gave me the strength to get out of that pit of loneliness and despair and gave me the shelter I so desperately longed for. 
 
Like Eliza, when we surround ourselves with people who tell us we are lowly 'flower girls,' we begin to believe it and behave as such.  But surround a girl with people who remind her she is the daughter of a loving Father, Creator of the universe, and she will, likewise, take on that role.