We decided to meet for lunch at Houlihan’s in Arlington. She worked near that restaurant and at the time, I lived just 10 minutes away. When I sat down, she had the same big smile and warm spirit that I remembered from our initial meeting a few weeks earlier. I had met “Ericka” at a women’s professional networking mixer in Dallas. We were both waiting in line to meet one of the speakers for the evening and we started chatting while we waited. Within seconds I knew that I liked her. She was the kind of girl that was totally easy to like: she laughed often and gave you her full attention as you spoke. By the time we got to the front of the line, we had exchanged contact info and promised to follow up with each other for lunch.
We talked about work and living in Texas while enjoying our lunch specials. She mentioned that she was recently divorced and had gone back to work to help make ends meet. I talked of my budding jewelry company, including my recent collaboration with Genesis, a local battered women’s shelter. I had recently done several Trunk Shows with Genesis as the beneficiary. I had also designed a signature purple necklace in honor of domestic violence awareness month and I had attended several of their luncheons.
As I continued to commend Genesis for its amazing work, she listened but there was a subtle shift in her expression. It was like she was trying to decide if this lunch table at Houlihan’s was a safe place to be vulnerable. She seemed to make her decision, lifted her eyes to mine and said, “I left my husband because of domestic abuse.” I tried not to show how stunned I was. She proceeded to tell me that he had been verbally abusive for years. She had taught herself to cope with it and continued to hope and pray for a lasting change. But then the verbal abuse became more aggressive and she became increasingly fearful for herself and her children. She said that one night they were arguing and she was holding their youngest child. All of a sudden, he pushed her hard against the wall and she fought to not drop their baby. She said that was the last straw and she decided to get out and get help. She found another local shelter that helped her restart her life and educated her on her options.
One of the most incredible works of The Genesis Women’s Shelter and other similar organizations is education and information. Before I got connected to Genesis, I knew very little about domestic violence. I had one encounter with it in college. I was coming out of a Wal-Mart and I saw a man pinching the woman he was with. These weren’t playful nips; she wasn’t smiling. It was as if she was used to enduring that physical aggression. That scene haunted me for a long time. Was there something I should’ve said or done? What if I had said something and I made it worse for her at home that night? I remembered feeling helpless and scared. During one of the Genesis meetings, when they opened for questions, I asked, “If you suspect a woman has been a victim of domestic violence, what should you say?” I loved the answer: You should ask, “How is it that you came to have that bruise?” and then you wait for them to decide if they want to tell you. Genesis taught me that our job is to ask, to give her an opportunity to reach out. But she has to first be ready to seek and accept help. This is, after all, her life and her decision. You can’t want change for her. She has to want it.
But wanting help isn’t the end of the story for so many. There’s real danger for the survivor of domestic abuse and her children once she decides to leave. That’s where organizations like Genesis come in. They take women and their children into a safe house at an undisclosed location. What also boggled my mind were the stories Genesis told of abusers trying to find out where these survivors were in hiding. They would do things like put trackers on the women’s car. They would call the safe house and pretend to be the fire department needing to do routine inspections. I can’t even wrap my head around that kind of single-minded evil intent. Who could? But this is actually some women’s every day. Ericka isn’t the only incredible woman with this heartbreaking story.
Because of the work of Genesis, I understood just how dire Ericka’s situation had been. At another Genesis meeting, they showed us a ranking so-to-speak of specific domestic violence acts. The experts at Genesis said that while they respect each woman’s decision to leave when she is ready, they go from encouraging to adamantly pleading with a woman to leave if the perpetrator commits certain specific violent acts. They taught us that 1) if he will choke you or 2) if he is willing to push you while holding a small child, research shows that he is far more likely to kill you.
TO KILL YOU.
When they said that, I just caught my breath and could feel myself slowly shaking my head from side to side. I’m not sure what the connection to those 2 specific acts would be to murder but then why would any of these men ever lay a hand on a woman or his children? Trying to understand the darkened mind of an abuser is so beyond me. But as I sat there with Ericka, I thought, thank God she said enough is enough in that moment and got out.
Satan loves the dark. Like a fungus, the more the secret is kept in the dark, the more fertile the ground becomes for evil to thrive. One of the nightmares of domestic abuse is the secrecy that these women are trapped in. Ericka told me that she had to find a new church once she filed for divorce because her husband was a deacon at their old church. I. Can’t. Even. Imagine. While he was hurling leaden insults at his wife and terrified children and basking in a rage that was quickly escalating to violence, he was smiling at church meetings and welcoming first time visitors. Another acquaintance told me that her friend had hid the domestic violence she had endured from even her best friends for over 20 years.
I hadn’t expected to have a lunch like this with Ericka. As she told her story, we both sat there, tears streaming down our faces. Twenty minutes ago, we were practically strangers. Now the facades were gone and two women were sharing the weight of an unsearchable burden and finding strength in each other. What was true of Ericka when I first met her had been true of her during her nightmare. She was bright and talented when I met her and she had been that way as he screamed at her. She was fashionable and attractive that day at lunch and she probably had been the day she stumbled for balance to protect her child. While standing in line with me, she had a smile that lit up the atmosphere and I’m sure she smiled like that with other strangers before going home to the landmine that slept next to her. From the outside looking in, I never in 100 million years would’ve guessed that she had been through this battle, one that was now raging in court as she fought for sole custody of her children. It was a real life example of the quote, “Be gentle with her. You don’t know what battle she’s fighting.” Ericka is a beautiful reminder to all of us to treat each other with kindness, patience and grace. You may never know how your bit of kindness lights up her darkened night.
I’m so glad I met Ericka. Her exuberance for life and optimism has never ceased to inspire me. Her strength in restarting her life and fighting for the safety of her children would make any woman keep fighting for good in her own life. These women are my heroes. Bruised but not broken. Weary but not dismayed. They teach us all to be thankful for even the small step that you’re able to take today toward a better future.
For domestic violence awareness month, I decided to tell these women just what I think of them. I made coffee mugs with handwritten notes on them. What I love most about writing these messages on their mugs is that first they'll get some love from my heart to theirs and then as they use them, any gal around them will receive the same little soul-gift!I hope that when they receive these gifts, they believe me when I tell them that they’re someone’s hero. They’re my hero. I think they are for all of us.
Here’s how I made them. It’s a super easy way to brighten any woman’s day. It doesn’t have to be for domestic violence or any particular occasion. There are women all around you that are hurting or going through a silent battle. They could really use some encouragement and a bit of your strength.
If you make them for someone in your life, please send me a pic (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tag me on Instagram. I’d truly love to see them! Enjoy Loves!
Materials: Coffee mugs, fine point black oil-based Sharpie pen, an oven, rubbing alcohol, cottonballs/paper towel. TIP: Try the Dollar Tree…you may be able to find plain white mugs for a DOLLAR like I did!
1) Wipe down the outside of each mug with rubbing alcohol. (NOTE: if at any time you mess up when writing on your mug, quickly rub the area with rubbing alcohol and it works wonderfully as an eraser)
2) Use your sharpie to write on your mugs. Shake pen vigorously before using. NOTE: If you don't want to use your own handwriting, you can pick up some stickers at Hobby Lobby and then trace around them. Then remove the stickers and fill in the letters.
3) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
4) Place your mugs on a cookie sheet and bake for 35 minutes.
5) Allow the mugs to cool inside the oven (crack the door and turn off the oven).
6) Remove mugs. That’s it!!