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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

We had been married less than a year the first time I found myself curled in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out.

“Why, God?” I cried out. “Why have I been a success at everything in my life except the one thing I want most?”

The tears streamed down my face as I tried to recover from the huge fight my husband and I were having. I don’t remember what the fight was about, but I do remember it was obviously my fault.

At least that’s what he told me.

As I poured out my heart to God from the safety of my bedroom, I heard the gentle whisper. “It’s not you.” In that moment, I knew God was telling me this fight—and so many after—were not my fault. It was not that I was a failure; instead, it was that my husband was using me as a scapegoat, to turn every argument into something I had done wrong.

A couple years later, we were outside with our then two-year-old son. He peddled around on his little tricycle as we stood talking. Then, Blake crashed.

“What were you doing?” came the angry outburst from my husband. After all, our son’s crash (which was nothing more than a few tears) was clearly my fault.

Just like everything else in our marriage.

Years later, the stakes were much higher. He had an affair. Eventually, when it became clear he was not turning from his affair, I drew the line and filed for divorce. During one conversation as we tried to work through the dividing of assets, the accusations came out yet again.

“It’s your fault we are in this situation,” he said. “You’re the one who kicked me out.”

Never mind the affair which was public knowledge. Ignore the online dating profile he had established and the numerous women he was dating. Forget the many lies he told me and that he lost his job.

It was my fault because I finally had the courage to stand up to him, to refuse to be abused any more.

Emotional abuse.

It’s real. It’s damaging. It is painful. It eats away at your self-esteem, your desire to live. It steals your life, your self-respect. It robs you of the opportunity to fulfill your God-given purpose.

You might think I’m being dramatic, exaggerating the impact.

I’m not. I never would have been allowed to write, to speak, to do the things God called me to do. My husband would have forbidden me from stepping out of the shadows and doing anything beyond being the faithful helpmate, the first lady of the church.

I was repeatedly told that “wives must submit” under all circumstances. Scriptures were twisted to keep me in my place, to support his agenda.

My job was to cook and clean, take care of the kids, serve him faithfully however he wanted. I was responsible for the yard work and the household repairs and the grocery shopping and everything else in our home. There was no partnership; my children and I were made into little more than his servants.

His job? To bring home a paycheck and rule his castle.

What if we didn’t do what he wanted when he wanted? The consequences were usually a fit of rage, a yelling, screaming, cursing tirade that left us running for safety. It was usually much easier—and safer—to simply go along with him.

I hear from men and women everyday who are living in a similar hell.

There’s the dear friend who took all the guns out of her house and slept in her car for fear of what her drunken husband might do.

Or the sweet lady who found herself scorned by the church because her husband went crying to the elders about how she just wasn’t willing to work on the marriage—after years of emotional abuse.

Or the precious pastor’s wife who put up with her husband’s ongoing affairs thinking she was doing what was best for her kids only to realize they wanted her to leave years earlier.

Or the husband whose narcissistic wife controls every aspect of their lives and belittles his attempts to be a leader.

Or the woman whose husband is addicted to pornography and only uses her to satisfy his lustful desires, repeatedly wanting to act out pornographic fantasies with no concern for her dignity.

Or the man who spends all of the family money on his addictions.

Emotional abuse is rampant in our culture, in our church. And sadly, the church rarely recognizes the damage it does to the victims.

When you think about emotional abuse, here’s a few things I hope you begin to understand:

Emotional abuse is an ongoing pattern of mistreatment. We’ve all fallen into the trap of emotional abuse. Maybe we attempted to manipulate our spouse to get our way. Maybe we wrongfully placed the blame on him/her. Maybe we’ve lost our temper and said things we later regretted.

But that’s not what I’m talking about when I refer to emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is an ongoing pattern, a regular way of relating to someone in an abusive manner. It’s about creating an atmosphere where our spouse must walk on eggshells, never knowing what’s going to trigger an outburst. It’s intentionally tearing down our spouse to build ourselves up, to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s a pattern of attempting to make our spouse the guilty partner while we never bear any portion of the blame. It’s a regular pattern of relegating our spouse to a lower position instead of an equal partner. It’s about using our spouse as an object to gratify our desires instead of selflessly putting our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

Emotional abuse is worse than it seems to the outsider. If you’ve never been in an emotionally abusive relationship, you might be reading these examples and thinking they are no big deal. Everyone experiences these types of circumstances at some point. You might be thinking I’m just describing human nature. But those of us who have lived through emotionally abusive relationships? We are probably shuddering, experiencing flashbacks to those moments. We are questioning ourselves, wondering if it really was us or if it was even abuse. We find ourselves shrinking back into our shell, seeing the hollow reality of who we became in the midst of the pain. We are reliving the worst days of our lives.

If you have never lived our lives, I ask you not to judge. It doesn’t matter how we describe it, it doesn’t do the reality justice. And, many well-meaning souls will turn it on us and further victimize us by making us think we truly are the crazy ones.

Emotional abuse is basis for a biblical divorce. I know many will disagree with me on this point. Some will say there’s no biblical basis for divorce. Others will argue only adultery is a biblical basis for divorce. Some will make exceptions for abandonment or even physical abuse (even though that one is not explicitly stated in scripture).

What happened to husbands loving their wives and wives respecting their husbands? Are these not the vows we take before God?

Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:15-16

The infamous “God hates divorce” passage is actually about the husband who breaks his vows and mistreats his wife. It’s about elevating the wife to make her an equal partner, loving her the way Christ loves the church. Divorce was established in Deuteronomy 24 to protect the vulnerable women, to allow them to remarry so they had a way to support themselves and their children. And, I believe Jesus was continuing this elevation of women when he talked about divorce.

God has a daddy’s heart for us. He does not want to see us suffer, to see us locked in bondage in a sick, dysfunctional marriage where one spouse continually mistreats and abuses the other.

Emotional abuse leaves scars that take years to heal. Honestly, I refused to leave my marriage until he had an affair because I was going to stick it out until I had a biblical reason. I didn’t even recognize the dysfunctional patterns in our relationship as abuse until several years after our marriage ended. Sadly, I watched the emotional and mental abuse become worse as my husband sunk deeper into a lifestyle of sin in the years after our divorce.

Despite years of working on myself, I still find myself shrinking away from conflict for fear of an angry outburst. I have to watch myself as I relate to my sweet husband, and he has to be cautious to keep his passion in check. Now and then, he gets excited about something like football, and he can visually see my kids and I shrink back into our shells as we are reminded of our pasts.

Some people say victims of abuse just need to walk away; no one is keeping them in their prison. I so wish it was that easy. In reality, escaping the abuse is one of the most dangerous times for the victim. The abuser doesn’t like having his control challenged, and he/she can become very unpredictable and dangerous.

If you are/have been the victim of emotional abuse, please know you are not alone. And, even more importantly, know God can bring you healing. He can bring beauty from your broken life and put you back together and on your feet for good (1 Peter 5:10).

Lord Jesus, I know you look down on all the victims of emotional abuse with tears in your eyes as you weep with us over the pain inflicted on us. I know you hold us tight, loving us even in the midst of our pain. I know you are the God who sets prisoners free and I pray for those trapped in the bondage of an emotionally abusive marriage. I pray you would guide their steps as you set them free. I also know you are the healer of all wounds and I ask you to pour out your healing power on those who have walked this painful path. Give them a vision of the beauty you want to bring from their broken lives. Lead them to that beauty as only you can. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.



She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25

Have you ever had a really good laugh? I mean, one of those laughs where you find tears streaming down your face? A laugh that keeps you going for days? A laugh that just feels so good and releases so much emotional stress?

It happens. And it’s a good thing. After all, Proverbs tells us a cheerful heart is good medicine.

Last week, I had one of those laughs…and it was much needed. We have been under a lot of stress because of some false accusations against us, accusations that could have dire consequences. We trust God to bring truth to light, but sometimes the weight of the situation is so heavy.

I just can’t explain how good it felt to have one of those really hearty laughs…a laugh that left me in tears with my daughter having to ask if I was laughing or crying, a laugh that released so much pent-up emotion I didn’t even know was bottled inside of me.

What caused the laughter?

If I tell you, you can’t judge me…

Wednesday last week, I received a text from my oldest son who is away at college. It simply said:

“I think I might’ve broken one of my wrists and/or elbow.”

That’s really not what you want to hear, and it didn’t leave me laughing at first. Instead, I immediately called to find out what was going on, to make sure he was ok. As he began to tell me the story, I knew from experience he had a broken arm. He was playing basketball, went up to dunk, lost his balance, and extended his arms to break his fall as he came down.

Yep. We’ve been there done that with him. He knows what a broken arm feels like, so I was confident in his diagnosis.

But then came the million-dollar question: Which arm?

“Both of them,” came the sullen reply.

I guess when we do something, we do it up BIG! Yes, as he came down, he stretched out both arms. Both wrists felt broken…as well as his left elbow. I sent him across the street to the local emergency room (he had to walk…he couldn’t use his arms to drive) as I tried to figure out how to best help him.

And then this image flashed through my mind.

My son with a cast.

A cast on both arms.

Wondering how he would shower or dress or tie his shoes.

Hoping his professors would give him grace through upcoming finals.

Thinking about all the things he wouldn’t be able to do.

And I began to laugh…and laugh some more…and laugh until I couldn’t control myself.

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not in any way think it is comical that my son is hurt. I do not wish this injury on him or anyone else. I’m not even sure what caused me to laugh so hysterically.

Maybe it’s the image of him with two casts and a sling.

Maybe it’s the fact that his brother is also in a sling after his shoulder surgery last month from an injury he sustained lifting weights.

Maybe it’s because I thought laughter would be better than tears (which I had anyway from the extreme laughter).

Maybe it’s because it just seems when one boy gets hurt, the other always seems to try to show him up (unintentionally).

Maybe it’s because it just seems to be our luck.

I really don’t know what caused me to laugh so hysterically. I will say it’s rather ironic in light of the current (false) accusations against us. But whatever the reason, I could not stop laughing…for two days.

At the emergency room, Blake was diagnosed with a left wrist fracture and a left elbow fracture. Fortunately, his right wrist was not fractured (or at least they didn’t find a hairline fracture of any type). He walked out of the orthopedic office with a cast on his left wrist, a sling on his left elbow, and a brace on his right wrist. We were very thankful that’s all he has.

And, thanks to the artistic talents of his friend, his sling is even decorated for Christmas.

When was the last time you had a really good laugh? When was the last time you just stopped and enjoyed life? When was the last time you let everything loose—didn’t care who was around—and were just overcome by hysterics?

My now 16-year-old used to start laughing so hard he was literally uncontrollable. I’ll never forget when his brother had just had surgery and he got tickled about something…no idea what. His laugh started. And kept going. And kept going. And kept going. His brother was begging him to stop because he was beginning to laugh—and laughter hurts right after surgery. Cole buried his head, trying to hide his laughter from his brother so it couldn’t hurt him. He couldn’t hide it, and the laughter rippled through our home, Blake doubled over in pain and laughter, Cole’s laughter growing by the minute as he tried unsuccessfully to control himself.

Those are the moments we remember, memories seared into brains, the thoughts that make a smile creep across our faces. The moments of uncontrollable laughter stay with us, lighten our moods, bring us into the presence of our Savior.

I know last week’s laugh session completely changed my heart. It was truly a God-given gift, the medicine that did my heart so much good. I went from a downcast heart to utter joy simply because God gave me the gift of laughter.

Maybe you need a good laugh. Maybe it’s time to sit down and watch a really good comedy. Maybe it’s time to just play a really silly game with your kids. Maybe it’s time you run out in the rain and jump in a few mud puddles or put on your snow boots and have a good snowball fight. Maybe it’s time you start a pillow fight with the kids and laugh until you cry.

Life is hard. Life is serious. Life can be downright cruel.

But I am convinced God gave us a gift when he gave us the ability to laugh. Find a reason to have a good belly laugh today.

Father, we thank you so much for the gift of laughter. Sometimes we don’t know what is going to cause us to break out into a giggle that grows into a roaring belly laugh. Sometimes we laugh at inopportune moments. No matter the reason, it truly is a gift. To everyone reading these words today, I pray you would give them the gifts of laughter and joy this holiday season. Let your joy overwhelm us as we learn to embrace the gifts you have given us—the gifts of joy, of love, of laughter, of family.

I recently took my daughter to see the new Grinch movie. I really think the Grinch has been remade so many times, I’m not sure we need another one. But, there was one aspect of this remake of the old classic that stole my heart.

Cindy Lou Who was being raised by a single mom.

It was never explicitly said that there was no dad in the home, but it was quite obvious. From the lack of a male in the home to the utter exhaustion as the mom worked long hours and poured everything extra into her kids to Cindy Lou Who’s quest to meet Santa so he could make her mom happy… the movie screamed single mom.

It was actually a beautiful portrayal. Mom—no matter how exhausted she was—always had a little love to pour into her children. Despite her less than perfect circumstances, she was happy, content. Her home was full of laughter and love. And even though finances were obviously a concern, there was no lack of anything.

It certainly brought back memories of my years as a single mom.

The story line centered around Cindy Lou Who’s attempts to meet Santa—a desire born from her desire to do something special for her mom. She wanted more than anything to alleviate some of her mom’s burdens, to let her have something special of her own. And it was the love Cindy Lou Who had for her mom that eventually melted the Grinch’s hard heart.

As I reflected on the movie, I began to wonder what it is that single mom’s really want for Christmas. So I asked. Here are a few of the things single moms want the most this Christmas:

To feel like I have money and time to do all the things that need to be done.

To spend some time just having fun with my kids.

All of my kids under my roof for a few days just having a good time.

To be able to relax knowing all the bills are paid.

Uninterrupted sleep.

Gas money and gift cards for fast food so I can have a night off from cooking duty.

Bills paid for a month.

A spa day just so I can unwind for once.

More time with my kids.

Enough money to take a trip with my kids and make memories.

A clean house.

Some time away with my girlfriends.

Presents under the tree.

To know it’s not all going to fall out from under me.

A real friend who loves me just the way I am.

My kids to open their hearts and come back to me.

To have all my kids together at my house at the same time.


For God to protect the hearts of my children and use their trials as an opportunity to know him more intimately.

To be able to provide a stable, loving home for my kids.

One sweet mama just wants more because there never seems to be enough of anything. More time. More energy. More money. And definitely more of Jesus

As I read these dreams, my heart aches for each single mom. I know the pain. I know the hurt of broken dreams. I know the fear of financial instability. I know the anguish of just wanting time with your kids…without the stress of this life.

Most days, single moms seem to have superpowers. We fly through our day, juggling work and kids and home and all the responsibilities that rest squarely on our shoulders. Others watch and wonder how we do what we do. But the truth is, we often collapse at night and cry ourselves to sleep, knowing our to-do list never seems to get any shorter, wondering if we did enough to love our kids, wishing we could just have a few hours to relax and forget our burdens.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking with my daughter. I began to cry as I expressed my remorse for the way our lives turned out. I told her how I always thought I’d be the mom who did fun crafts and had healthy home-cooked meals and fresh-baked cookies when the kids came home from school. The reality is I have worked so hard, such long hours, that my kids are often left to themselves to find something for dinner. I rarely have the energy to do anything with my kids, let alone have the creative juices to be a Pinterest mom. The tears flowed so freely as I apologized for all of my short-comings.

My sweet girl just looked at me and said, “I really like the mom I have better than the mom you just described. Besides, I don’t need cookies after school every day.”

There’s a bond between a single mom and her kids…one you just can’t explain unless you’ve been there. It’s a hard road, but it’s also one that can be very blessed. But single moms carry huge burdens.

This Christmas season, I encourage you to look at this list, this “All I want for Christmas is…” list from some of the single moms I’m blessed to know. Maybe you know a single mom. Maybe you and your church can take a few hints from this list and bless a single mom in your area. There are many burdens. We don’t want the latest and greatest in technology or a Michael Kors purse. We want the best for our kids. We want a break financially. We want a few moments of rest.

Maybe you can help grant a single mom her dream Christmas.