“I’ve been wanting to go back to school for a long time, but my ex-husband wouldn’t let me. I was originally a music major at York University way too long ago. I never finished my degree because it was a very secular university. There were unhealthy perspectives I had to agree with to get good grades, a lot of hard pills I had to swallow, and I refused to. [Because of that,] I kept dropping courses, and halfway through third year I ended up dropping out. Later on, I went to Bible school in California for two years, but it was not degree granting.
“I met my ex- husband in Bible school, and starting on the honeymoon, it turned into a very abusive marriage. When I finally left him after 13 years and a continuous attempt to make it work, I decided I would follow through with my desire to go back to school, which led me to Redeemer. I have five kids, and it’s been an ongoing sacrifice for our whole family. I still get them out the door every morning, but the older kids make their own lunches and do their laundry, and they help out with more chores than before. The two youngest, my twins, are too young to really be capable of that, but even they help ‘clean up’ their room.
“It’s not been easy for them, but I think they’re all proud of me. My ten-year-old son has adopted a new practice lately. He comes up to me every night and puts his arms around me, says, ‘You’re the best mom ever,’ and gives me a back massage and makes me a cup of tea. While I finish getting ready in the mornings, he pours his younger siblings bowls of cereal. They’ve had to learn how to help out in new ways—It’s been really cool to see.
“I am a social work major with two official minors, one in psychology and one in not-for-profit business management. I’m potentially adding a third minor in art. Why? I want to open up a centre for women and children that are leaving abusive homes so that they have a safe place to go to reestablish their lives while they are getting their feet back under them. I want it to be Christian-based, not secular. I don’t want the government to have its hand in the pocket of how we run things, deciding if we can use the name of Jesus as we minister to the women who need our help.
“My vision for the centre would be an 18-month program cut into three different trimesters. The first six months would be intake, focusing on healing. It would be like when you go into the ICU, connected to all of the machines and resources you need to survive. Group counselling, one-on-one counselling, peer support groups and grounding therapies for the women, with art therapy, daycare solutions, and bussing back and forth to school for the children. I’d also love to have some sort of exercise centre. We carry a lot of our stress and trauma in our bodies, and I want to give space to focus on alleviating that.
“The second six months would be looking forward to what’s next. Do they still need ongoing counselling or support groups? No problem. But what is next? Do they want to go back to school? Do they need help finding a job? A large proportion of abused women are stay-at-home moms. They are [often] financially and relationally isolated when they do end up leaving an abusive marriage. Figuring out how to provide for their children and themselves is what keeps them in those relationships because they aren’t sure where to go without them. This trimester would be about addressing those things and helping them to find the goals and solutions that would best work for them.
“The next six months would see them hopefully working on those next steps. They can live there, save up money, and get the resources they need to become independent. After they’ve graduated the program they can have ongoing support from us if they need it.
“They say that on average it takes seven times to actually leave an abusive husband. It took me five! [Typical shelters] are sterile and cold; they try to make them as welcoming as possible, but they are a maximum of six weeks. I can tell you myself that after six weeks you don’t have your life back together; you are not ready to go back out there and necessarily know how best to provide for your children if you haven’t been in the workforce for a long period of time. Because of that isolation that a lot of abusive relationships lead to, you likely don’t have the relationships or support system in place to help keep you out of the abusive relationship once your time at the shelter is over. That’s why most women return time and time again to their abusive partners, which perpetuates the issue and causes it to get progressively worse.
“[Before I came to Redeemer,] I was searching for a long time to see which school I wanted to go back to. I was talking to the children’s pastor at our old church in London, who had just graduated with her MDiv in clinical counselling at Tyndale. We had been in talks about what I wanted to do, and she said, ‘If I had to be honest, I would have gone to Redeemer for my undergrad.’ I pulled out my phone right then while on that phone call and looked at Redeemer for the first time and saw they had every program I wanted—not-for-profit, social work, psychology.
“It sounds like a lot of little things, but at the time it felt like there were many huge obstacles to overcome to get me here. I had to sit and wait for doors to open and things to happen. The biggest obstacle was getting my ex to agree to me moving with [the kids]. My parents and I moved and bought a small hobby farm together. The kids switched schools, the twins went into daycare, and I had to sort out the funding with OSAP—a lot of things had to line up perfectly for it to work out.
“Thankfully, I own my own business, and it was flexible enough to move. I work in the wedding industry, and my business has two sides to it. One side does hair and makeup; this involves going to help brides and their bridal parties get ready on the wedding day, but we also do things like photoshoots, fashion shows and special occasion hair and makeup. I have 11 women working on that side of the team, and on average, we do about 75-100 weddings a year. The other side of the business focuses on floral, decor and wedding coordination. We’ve done 16 weddings a year at our peak and I have five girls working on that side of the team.
“In all of this I’ve learned to not compare myself to others. He has made me to be me and not somebody else. I could look around right now and say, ‘Here I am starting over again at 42. I shouldn’t be here.’ But I shouldn’t compare myself to others because in a lot of ways I know this is where I’m supposed to be. He loves all of us so extravagantly. His mercy is so incredibly breathtaking.
“Some of the things that have become overwhelmingly apparent to me is the amazing mercy and grace of God’s redemptive story in our lives. God is at work in all of us, making a masterpiece. It can look messy along the way sometimes, as it’s not always clear what he’s doing in us while we are in process—like a sculptor with a mound of clay that goes through many stages in the shaping process. This is the way God works in our lives. If we trust him with our story and with our process, he will make all things beautiful in his time. He is a God of redemption. He is in the business of restoration and making us more like him. He takes our broken lives and will use them for his glory, as we follow him and submit to his love and his leading.
“As hard as the details of my past were to walk through, I wouldn’t go back and change any of it. All the pain and heartache were things that God used to bring me to where I am right now, and give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel the pain of others. My desire is for him to use me to help bring freedom, healing and restoration to the people he brings across my path, that I may minister his love, grace, and mercy to them.
“I don’t see myself as a victim but an overcomer. And I don’t see my ex as the enemy but as a beloved son of God who also is in need of healing. Every one of us is on our own journey of healing. As we let God into the broken places inside of us, then he can bring us into the place where his love can heal us and shine through us. We don’t need to live in fear as we place ourselves in his amazing, loving, and kind hands.
“I was asked, if I could go back and tell my past self one thing, what would it be? And it would be this: All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. In him, through him, and with him are all things.”