Updated: Oct 15, 2019
“God's time is always near. He gave me my strength and he set the North Star in the heavens; He meant I should be free.”
One thing every kind of Abuse does is make you a captive. It limits your freedoms. It makes you a prisoner; it confines and controls you. Whether by fear or foe, rape or violence, bully or boast, Abuse traps you and trauma alters you. If you are freed to escape it’s clutches — your own memories and emotions hold you captive. The inner voices cling liked barbed wire wrapped around wrists and ankles. The messages keep you bound. But, God means we should be free.
Nearly all captives identify with the Prophet Moses leading his people out of Egypt. That great call to Pharaoh echoes into our Egyptian places, “Let my people go!” That great plea from those held as slaves, “Deliver us, O Lord.” Moses stepped forth in fear with the promise of a land filled with milk and honey. The Promised Land. Captive people made free. The conduit, Moses.
And so, the slaves of the Southern United States also strongly identified with The Exodus. That great call of abolitionists to Southern plantation owners, "Let the people go!" That great plea from those suffering as slaves, "Deliver us, O Lord." The story much the same: freeing slave captives of the South, delivering them to the Promised Land of the North, singing songs of deliverance in the well-known Negro spirituals and riding the Underground Railroad to Freedom. The North Star their guide. Captive slaves made free. Harriet Tubman, the conduit.
I have my personal heroes and Harriet Tubman is one of them. I grew up in small town, Ohio and you didn’t pass fourth grade Ohio History without a working knowledge of the Underground Railroad. A key figure in the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. She was called, ‘The Moses to her people.’
Harriet Tubman is an icon of bravery and courage. She was born a slave. She was beaten, misused, mistreated and bought and sold like property. She escaped slavery and went on to free countless others in 13 missions on the Underground Railroad. She never lost a slave to the dogs that hounded them or to the forces that threatened. She took all her passengers to safety, to freedom. She became a Union Army nurse, scout and spy with subsequent military honors. She spoke out for women’s suffrage. She led a rich and full life into her 90’s though coping the entirety of her life with the aftermath of a serious head injury from her youth. Her last words recorded: ‘Swing low, sweet chariot.’ * She carried so many home to safety and yet she whispered that phrase in her passing. Sweet Jesus, come forth and carry me home.
“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."
Ironically, my abuse took place in the South. It took me some time to figure out I was captive in a domestically violent situation. There were signs everywhere and every day. Pinching me so hard, it hurt. Slamming my head against the car window so hard that I saw cartoon-style stars should have been a first hint. Leaving me stranded at work to walk home, leaving me stranded in dark woods alone, shoving me out of the car and leaving me stranded on a major interstate super highway should have been captive clues.
There were the stereotypical things you think of with Abuse: kicking, punching, spitting on me, throwing rocks at me like I was a dodge ball target, pulling my hair, backhanding me in broad daylight with clenched fist, pressuring me sexually, and endless hours of vile obscenities and words that wounded me so much that they shattered and splintered my psyche. Captive.
Captive to a belief that I deserved this; was not worth more than this; must stay committed to a diamond ring I was engaged to; and captive to a cycle of abuse that believed his lies of love and devotion while he misused and mistreated me, I was both prisoner to the relationship and my own choices. I was bound by my own belief system.
The train came for me, tho, on a hot spring day in the middle of May 1988. That day, I knew I was captive and I begged for my freedom.
My relationship with (Un)incredible Hulk was fast and furious. We were both coming out of other long term romantic relationships. He began abusing me where he left off with his former girlfriend. He easily mistook me for her and spent less timing grooming the relationship and more time abusing. It was immeasurably intense. It was fueled by anger and explosive dysfunctional relationship dynamics.
‘The Day in May’ carried angst and petty arguments all day. We seemed at odds from the start. The Georgia heat bore down on the rented tin trailer. There was no food in the cupboards but a lone can of tuna. But we were more than hangry. We bickered, we bitched, we tangled, we threw things, we wrestled; this was one of the days I fought back, and it was one of the days I said ‘no’. Then, he almost killed me.
Emotions at an all time high, I was screaming, crying and in complete hysterics by now. This angered him even more. I just wanted to leave. He just wanted me to stop crying. That’s when I knew I was captive. He wouldn’t let me leave the tin trailer until I stopped crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. I physically could not stop crying.
So as it would go, he repeatedly forced my head into the cushions to quiet my crying. It seemed like minutes at a time and I would come up gasping for air; still screaming and still crying, barely able to breathe. His hands grasping my head—shoved back into the couch cushions. Up for air again, I just couldn’t breathe. Smothering. I was being suffocated in the Queen Anne sofa cushions.
In time, I scrambled, crawled, and limped to the bathroom commode and hugged it— the cool porcelain some comfort as I gagged in the bowl. By this time, I was begging, begging and begging him to let me leave and walk ‘home’-- to a tiny dorm room on a college campus with a suitcase of my belongings strewn about the bed. This pathetic image of myself will certainly never leave me. Abuse had robbed me of my dignity. I was powerless and paralyzed without permission from the hulk to walk away from everything I wished I wasn’t — everything I had become. Or, everything to which I had been reduced.
I was slightly more composed as the threat of not breathing ever again quieted my hysteria to softer cries and whimpers as I hugged the toilet bowl in the middle of a tin trailer. He got what he wanted because my crying was quieter now. He was slightly more willing to let his captive walk on one condition. I had to walk the long way. Adding nearly a half mile to my walk, I had to promise to turn left out of the tin trailer driveway and not to the right.
Hulks often get their way. Usually, by sheer force. This time, I cared not. He finally let me leave hell’s hole and I walked the mountain road alone, weeping and afraid.
“ ‘Twant me, ’twas the Lord. I always told Him, “I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,” and He always did.”
I had found my Egyptian place and it was the tin trailer. There were many people pleading heaven that (Un)incredible Hulk would "Let her go." I may have managed to whisper a plea toward heaven, "Deliver me, O Lord." And the train was coming for me, coming for to carry me home. The conduit, Steel Magnolia.
I have my personal heroes and Steel Magnolia is one of them.
steel-magnolia. Noun. (chiefly Southern US) A woman who exemplifies both traditional femininity as well as an uncommon fortitude
Even the Urban Dictionary keeps it clean and straightforward with the number one entry by Dolly Parton: A woman who possesses the strength of steel, yet the gentleness of a magnolia.
Not everyone has the privilege of being dramatically rescued from their abusive situation by a tenacious southern woman with steel gray hair, a million dollar smile and sheer grit. But I did. She is the quintessential Steel Magnolia.
Steel Magnolia was born and reared in the Deep South as the youngest of 17 biological children born to one woman and one man. She knew hard work. She knew hardship. Her mother died when she was five. She became a young widow left to rear four teenagers alone. She had previously lived and worked abroad in primitive living conditions telling others the good news that Jesus sets captives free. Because of her position, she counseled many young women my age through difficult situations. Steel Magnolia was and is an icon of bravery, courage and great faith.
Looking back, she was my age now when she passed me on the road that ‘Day in May’. Steel Magnolia knew what captives to domestic violence looked like. She had intimate experience rescuing those caught up in dating violence. She knew all the back roads of abuse that hulks like to travel. Looking in her rear view mirror, she saw me reach my hand toward my face and wipe away tears.
Her car stopped. She remarked to her passenger, ‘Sadie’s just been beat.’ She backed up and met me on the road. She called my name. The train schedule miraculously timed by an abuser forcing me to walk the other way, and the train stopped for me at the moment of my need. But I know the Real Conductor who orchestrated my story. He ordered my steps.
Steel Magnolia creatively convinced me into her car through my resurfaced hysteria. I was so afraid. Steel Magnolia harbored me in her home for three days. I was so afraid. She fed me, gave me a warm bed, hugged me, carried my tears, my fears and my burdens and protected me. I was so afraid. Steel Magnolia prayed powerful prayers over me. She saved my life. She set a captive free. I was still so afraid. She was Moses to me.
Probably one of the first things Steel Magnolia said to me was that I needed to be home and that I needed my mother. My home was in the North and my mother, my North Star. Still afraid at the Atlanta airport, I boarded for the promised land. Sweet Jesus, come forth and carry me home. I was met at the airport to the emotional embrace of both of my parents.
I have my personal heroes and North Star is one of them. My mother. My dear mother. She is the icon of loyalty, a steady hand and heart, a listening ear and keeping a confidence. She is the quintessential North Star— that faithful presence in my life through joys and sorrows, captivity and freedom, pain and healing. She is one I could always count on as the brightest star in the sky providing a compass and light no matter what.
Whereas Steel Magnolia performed triage on my captive wounds, North Star had the long term care. She heard my months of sobbing from the next room. She absorbed all of my anger and grief as I tried to rebuild a self esteem, a person-hood, a life. She was a faithful friend when I was nearly completely isolated from every relationship I ever had. She stood and watched when my own foolishness threatened that I walk back into the bondage of abuse. Her presence, a guide— but more than that, North Star was and is a gift to me.
North Star trusted me again and never scolded my foolishness nor wished me punished for my choices. She let me start new. She let me be free. And that is a great gift to be given by anyone, especially your own mother. North Star knows all of who I am and yet she cheers my healing, revels in my writing and loves me tenderly. My mother would have loved me even had I stayed a captive. Steel Magnolia saved my life, but my North Star gave me life. My mother, a conduit to my healing.
“I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.”
My elementary friend, Katy Hamilton, lived in an Underground Railroad House. I never got to go inside but I sat in envy of all the secret passageways. I daydreamed of being brave and Quaker and opening my home to weary slaves seeking refuge. I lit the lantern so many times in my imagination-- the lantern set in the window to let the slaves know that my home was safe for rest. In my imagination, I was never a captive only a freedom fighter.
I’m no longer bound by the abuse that once held me captive. I don’t even recognize that girl any more. But I want to emulate my personal heroes. I want to be a conduit to freedom, safety, and sacred spaces of relief from your fearful Egyptian places. The beauty of redemption is that captive becomes freedom fighter, ashes become beauty, darkness becomes light and tin trailers disappear on the landscape of the promised land.
Jesus came to set captives free. I want you to be free. Jesus came to heal deep recesses of the soul. I want you to be healed. Jesus came to deliver us from every kind of bondage. I want you to be delivered.
Hear the call of Jesus, “Let my people go!”
Answer Him, “Deliver us, O Lord!”
Sweet Jesus, come and carry us home.
*Public Domain. For more information on Harriet Tubman, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/harriet-tubman