Welcome to the fifth installment of my seven-month interview series entitled “Resilience & the Bible” which is about how Scriptures can be used to bounce back from the trials we all have to go through from time to time. Once a month since October, I have featured someone who has used Bible verses to bounce back! If you know of someone who has bounced back using Scriptures and would like to be featured on my blog, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Since this is the last day of the month that we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I wanted to interview someone who bounced back from lost love in the form of divorce and was able to find true love, not only in Christ but in a new and healthy marriage!
How to bounce back from domestic violence and divorce is the focus of this month’s “Resilience & the Bible” blog post. I am pleased to introduce author Deborah Hall-Branch, who is a domestic violence survivor, mother of three daughters and a happy wife of nearly 22 years. However, during her first marriage, she was beaten by her ex-husband. Branch credits three Bible verses for helping her to be a survivor of and thrive after domestic violence.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7
When and why did you get married the first time?
I got married, I believe, we were young, when I was 18. We were junior high school and high school lovers. We met in junior high school. We didn’t really date although we called ourselves dating, and then we went to high school together, and we stayed together. After our last year of high school, we got married. He was in the military, and we got married. I believe that was 1972. I have so put this out of mind, but I believe it was 1972. I was raised in the apostolic faith, and we did not believe in divorce. And if you had a boyfriend, which was something new for them to allow me to have, you know a boyfriend coming around and coming to your house, they automatically felt like if this child don’t get married, they’re going to get involved intimately, and then we’re going to have a baby on our hands, and that’s going to be a stain on the family and the church. And so they said, ‘We’re just going to get them married.’ I was living at home with my mom in Philadelphia where I was born and raised. My boyfriend was a preacher’s son in the Church of God in Christ.
Tell me about your marriage. Was it a good marriage in the beginning? When did your marriage change?
He went off to the military, and he got involved in drugs and started using them heavily. And that became our life. His drug addiction became our life. And then it became his abuse. It was the military, addiction and abuse. When he got out of boot camp, they sent him to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was there for about a year and half, and then they sent him overseas to Madrid, Spain. We had two little girls, one behind each other. I stayed at home with my mom and kept the girls there. When we first got married, we were young and we were happy. We called ourselves a little family. He was really a nice guy. I thought that we were in love with one another and to this day, I believe it was love, but we didn’t understand the format of love.
He had started using drugs when we got in high school, but he kept it a secret. I didn’t know about that at all. But just before he enlisted in the military, he became withdrawn and he was hardly ever home. And I started seeing signs of drug use. He wasn’t bathing as much because he was a well-groomed man. He believed in being well-groomed and clean. He wore the best of everything, and I just started seeing him going down. And because I was sheltered in my youth, I didn’t know that what I was seeing were the signs of drug addiction. We stayed married for 14 years. Probably only four of those years were good.
Then he started beating me, and I let him. He tore down my self-esteem by saying things to me like, ‘Nobody’s going to want you but me,’ ‘If you leave me, nobody else is going to take you in,’ and ‘You got two children. Nobody else is going to be bothered with that. They’re not going to take you and them.’ And I started believing it. My mom knew what was going on, and my father just didn’t bother with it. My mom used to say, ‘You need to get out of it. You need to get away from him,’ but I just believed that was a way of him showing me his love. That he was just having bad days because of the drugs and so I needed to understand or find out a way to make his days happy so that when he would get high, he would not beat on me.
He didn’t abuse our girls physically, but what I discovered later on as I became more in tune with what was happening to me was that they were being emotionally abused.
How and when did you decide to leave and divorce your ex-husband?
One day, a little something in me that I know now is the power of God, didn’t feel like playing house with the devil anymore. Believe it or not, I put him out, packed up his stuff and put him out! I surprised my own self. I couldn’t believe I got the courage to do it, to put him out. He came home one evening and we got into a big fight, and he went to bed. The next day, he got up and he was sick. He was sick all of a sudden. I know it was the drugs. And I took advantage of that time when he was down. I knew he couldn’t fight me back. So I just packed his stuff up and told him he had to go. He was so sick that he didn’t fight me back. He just left and went to his parents.
When he left, he didn’t try to come back but he became my tormentor. He would come to the house and bang on the door and try to force me to let him come in. He would stand out in front of the house and just stand there. And me and my girls would just lock ourselves in the house, and I would peep out of the window. Sometimes, we would be too scared to lay down and go to sleep because we thought he would break in on us. And this went on for some time. Sometimes when I would leave to go to work, he would follow me to the bus stop. They were tactics to keep me in bondage to him and his abusive ways. I finally divorced him in 1986, but I kicked him out years before then. In my mind, I was still in bondage to the affirmation of faith that I grew up with that did not believe in divorce whether you were abused, whether it was adultery or anything. You were married until death did you part.
What convinced you to finally divorce your ex-husband?
It had to be the power of God that started working in me that convinced me to divorce him, to set me free because I knew without a shadow of doubt that I didn’t have it in me. I would have just put him out and we would have remained separated for the rest of our lives. One morning I just woke up. I had started a new job and the people that I was around, they were outgoing people, they were party people. I had never been around those type of people before. And it was doing a change in me. A young lady was working in my office, and she reached out to me and we became best friends. And she started showing me there was more to life than what I knew. And I started allowing all of that to deprogram me because I had to be deprogrammed from fear. I was reading a newspaper one day at work on my lunch break, and I just happened to go into the section where the attorneys advertised their businesses and I saw where one attorney could file for your divorce and it would cost you but x amount of dollars and so I called him. I went to him and saw him, and I was fearful the whole time because I wondered what my family was going to say, was my ex-husband going to retaliate against me, but I went through with it anyway.
How did you change after your divorce?
I started going to a new church, not the church I grew up in, and I found a freedom I had never known about before. It was an evangelistic church. The pastor at this church used to be a member of the church I used to go to when I was growing up, but I didn’t know him then because I was a child. His teaching was free from what I raised up in, and I was just loving it. I started going to theology school which was a big change because at my former church women just didn’t do things like that, and it was just a whole brand new life for me. The name of the school is Deliverance Evangelistic Bible Institute in Philadelphia, and I got an associate’s degree in Theological Studies.
How did you meet your current husband and were you against marriage at that point?
I never said I wasn’t going to get married again because I loved married life. I just said I wasn’t going to let anyone in my life until I had discovered my own life. I met my current husband at the new job I where I was working when I met the outgoing friend. We working at J.G. Hooks, a clothing manufacturer. He was working there when I started and his testimony is that when he first saw me, he told the guys he was working with that he was going to make me his wife. I didn’t even like him at first. He would speak to me every morning, and I would just growl at him. This went on for about a year and a half.
When did you things change between you and him?
Finally, he invited me to go to dinner one day. I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ He said, ‘No, I just want to take you to dinner.’ I said to him, ‘Well, I’m going away for the weekend. I’ll think about it over the weekend when I’m gone, and when I come back, I’ll let you know.’ Well, I figured when I came back that he would have moved on away from that and wouldn’t want to go out with me. But when I came back, he said, ‘Well, did you make up your mind?’ I said, ‘You still want to go?’ And he said, ‘Yeah!’ So we went out that Saturday. He was so nervous when he went out. He was knocking things over. I just sat there and looked at him and laughed. I took my hand and put it on his hand and said, ‘Calm down. Why are you so nervous?’ He said, ‘I’ve never dated no one like you before. You’ve got so much class and you’re nice.’ He was 28 years old at the time, and I was 29 or 30 somewhere in there. That night, he also took me to see Stephanie Mills and the Whispers. We went to the show first and then he took me to dinner and then he told me he wanted to take me by his family. He also took me to meet his family. I thought that was really weird. He took me to meet his mom, his dad, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, all in that one night. I don’t know what he told them, but they were all excited and happy like we were in a relationship and would be engaged. But I believe he must have told them what he told me later on, he said he knew we were going to be married
What happened then?
After that first date, though, he asked me out again, but I said no. I wasn’t really into being in a relationship then. I was just getting to know me, and me and my girls were having a wonderful time. I was feeling happy, and I didn’t want nobody infiltrating that. I felt God’s peace like I had never felt it before. And that peace felt like protection to me. But he kept asking me out, and I got tired of it. He was asking me out every other day. That went on for about two months. I finally said, ‘Okay, I’m going to give him one more opportunity.’ This time we really got a chance to talk, and he shared some things with me about his life. He loved his parents. He loved his sisters. He loved his nieces and his nephews. And they were a very close-knit family. That really impressed me, but he wasn’t a Christian at the time. He was religious at the time, but he eventually did become a Christian. So we kept going out, but we didn’t share it with our co-workers. We dated for about three months before I let my daughters really get to know him. Before then, I really watched him around his family, particularly how he handled his nieces.
How did he propose and when did you get married?
We got married on October 22, 1994 after we dated for three years. Believe it or not, he bought my rings after the first time we went out. He didn’t know if I was going to go out with him again or not. And he didn’t know my ring size or anything. They are beautiful rings. They look like a rose with a diamond in the middle. He came over to my house, and the girls rallied around him because they loved him by then. All of a sudden in the living room, he got down on one knee and he pulled this ring out. He said, ‘Deborah, would you marry me?’ My mouth flew open, and I said, ‘Where did you get this ring?’ He looked at my mother, who was living with me, my father was dead by then, and said, ‘Would you allow me to marry your daughter?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I looked at her like, ‘How you gonna say yes, and I haven’t even made up my mind yet?’ But I said, ‘Yes.’ I told him, ‘I’m probably gonna have to get this ring sized,’ but it fit perfectly.
How is this marriage different from first marriage?
My husband is a very compassionate, loving guy, not to say we haven’t had difficulties in our marriage, because we have. But I told him in the beginning, I would never ever live in an abusive situation again.
How did your Scriptures help you to bounce back?
Well, the first one helped me because every day, I made a new decision over my life. And I demanded things of myself in order to begin the process of bouncing back after my divorce. The first thing I demanded was that I be truthful to myself. That divorce happened, and it was nothing that I did although I probably could have helped some things, but it was gonna happen. So I made some demands of myself to change the outlook of my life. I had to face the fact that it was over so I forced myself to get dressed and go out, see new people, start enjoying life. If I had to, I would have moved out of the area I lived in. I started declaring God’s word into my life each and every day and 11 Corinthians 4:8-9 were some of the Scriptures I used as my declarations.
And with 1 Peter 1:6-7, by that time, the Lord had started letting me understand that trials are gonna happen in your life and sometimes, you would feel like just giving up. With me looking at those Scriptures, I came to realize it was never really about my ex, it was all about me and my faith and that I was being tested in the fire. By me being tried in the fire, it was going to give God glory.
11 Timothy 1: 7 helped me to discover that I did have power because the abuse had lowered my self-esteem. I discovered that God had not given me a spirit of fear so where that fear came from, it didn’t come from God. And then I learned that love was not abuse. I used to think that when you hit me, you loved me. I know now that real love doesn’t hurt you.
Deborah Hall-Branch was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After working many years in the health field, a job separation nudged her to begin writing about her life’s experiences. Deborah is a multi-genre published author and co-author who speaks and teaches about abuse warning signs, its devastating aftermath and how to break free to women, children and men. Her most recent work is THEONA, “tantalizing faith-based women’s fiction with a surprising end.” For more information, go to deborahhbranch.com.
For more Bible scriptures online, go to BibleGateway.com.