Getting to Know Us
Interview Part 2
with Dr. Ann Maree Goudzwaard
Hello, and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree, and I'm the Executive Director for Help[H]er and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope, Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God's redemptive purposes. All suffering his loss, but God leaves nothing unused in his plans. We want to help women see his redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.
Last time on the Safe to Hope podcast, we turned the tables and had one of our newest Help[H]er board members, Julia, Fillnow interview me. As I mentioned in that episode, it is our desire to have each one of the board members introduced to our audience in some way. However, Julia as a master interviewer, as you will soon see. She was first up.
Just to introduce her a little bit. Julia is a licensed counselor who is certified and specializes in trauma abuse and addiction treatment. She has worked in private organizations, community, mental health agencies, nonprofits, and church counseling centers. She is a member of National Professional Networks for Trauma and Addiction Therapy and Abuse Care. And she desires to help build a bridge between the faith and mental health communities. I appreciate that about her. She is particularly passionate about the church's role, and calling to care for the oppressed and heal the wounded. Julia currently works as a therapist in North Carolina, and she is married with four children.
So on this second interview episode, Julia is going to continue to ask me questions that have been developed by several of the Help[H]er board members in order to further introduce the audience to this ministry, its history and some of the behind the scenes details of what we do and a little bit more about who I am. So we pick right back up now with Julius’ next question.
Another thing that I love and appreciate about you is that you are willing to take risks.
Much to my husband's dismay.
I think it would be easy in this line of work to play it safe. And of course we do when we're handling people's stories and interacting with them on a one-on-one basis. But when it comes to advocacy work, there is almost a necessity to put yourself out there and become vulnerable for the sake of the healing of another person and for the healing of the church body. And I certainly see that in you, that you hold somebody's experience and journey close to your heart. And because you do that so well, you can go forward and courageously speak on their behalf, and get them to safety and healing. So thank you for that. And thank you for being even that inspiration to me.
In my line of work, I can close the door. Right? And the healing happens in a contained space, which is necessary and beautiful. But there's a whole other part of the work that you do for that counseling work, and also there's that advocacy piece. Of course, there's overlap with advocacy and counseling and counseling and advocacy, but you have to hold both of those hats and responsibilities. I'm interested to know from you, how you see the heart of God specifically in advocacy work.
I think this is obvious but God is intimately aware of the work of an advocate. Christ is our Advocate, and he stands before the Father on our behalf. It's God's idea to advocate. John 14:16 says then that Christ specifically asked the Father for another Helper for us (Greek parakletos), someone that's called alongside to help, that being the Holy Spirit who advocates for us. Though not completely similar, and not nearly perfect, but like Christ's and the Holy Spirit’s advocacy, a Help[H]er advocate tries to imitate the Godhead as she steps in to help her client or care recipient. God, in his work there with providing Christ and providing the Holy Spirit did not leave us alone. He has provided abundantly, a Helper. He gave us His Spirit. And in Christ's Body, and I'm talking broadly now about the Kingdom Body, we don't have to function alone. We have one another in the local context, and we have one another in the broader context of the Kingdom. Almost 60 times in the New Testament, we’re instructed in one another's talk. This is God's idea. Advocating for one another is one of the ways that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, our soul, and our mind, and we love our neighbor as ourselves.
It feels almost like an impossible question to ask you. But, as you said, you've learned so much from victims. And why I say that this feels like an impossible question is because it feels so difficult to try to encapsulate it all in an answer. These women really are our greatest teachers. What are some of the things that victims have taught you along the way? What have you learned from speaking with them?
Just defer to Diane Langberg. She said that her experience with victims was her education, and I have to say, “Yes, same thing.” I agree that victims are our teachers. When she first began hearing from victims and survivors, there were no other options for education in this topic for Christian counselors and definitely not for biblical counselors. So similar to Diane, my education began when I was interviewing those victims and survivors for the PCA DASA Report (the Domestic Abuse Sexual Assault Report). And again, I was blown away which was similar to the first domestic abuse case that I encountered. I sat just totally blown away. Diane actually helped me as a counselor put words to that experience in calling it sacred. She calls it “bearing witness and a holy moment.” And when I spend time with one of those precious women, that is a totally accurate articulation.
What I've learned from them is how much I don't know. At that time, it started like the snowball effect. In that I also figured out that what I had been learning was inadequate, or worse at times could be harmful for those who have already been harmed in every possible way emotionally, physically and spiritually. So for inadequate I mean, I don't know if I could speak to licensed counselors, but for biblical counselors, we are focused entirely on left brain change. So in our training, we are trained to know truth about doctrines like the Trinity and Salvation Inerrancy in Scripture, and then we're supposed to speak that truth to those who mostly sin or those who suffer fully anticipating that truth will change their character. But is that how it actually works? I'm finding more information about that daily.
I want to say that it does take an incredibly humble and teachable spirit to say what you said that not only was my approach probably not working, but it was potentially causing harm, even if it wasn't obvious. And so many of us in this work can attest to that. There are many other counselors out there who have come into contact with cases involving coercive control, and because they don't know or they don't have experience or there are faulty assumptions for a variety of reasons, the same thing can happen so that harm can be caused even if it’s not obvious. I mean, these issues are highly complex, they're confusing even for those who are trained. This is why we interact with other counselors all the time to get input, to get feedback, to hear their perspective. I think every counselor who has done this work has that one case that we wish we could have back to do over again.
Yes. I have gone back to two of those cases and begged their forgiveness, and they are great friends still to this day. They taught me that it wasn't their character that needed to change. That was the first thing.
Yes, Christians are responsible for our responses to what happens. But anger is an accurate response to horror. Fear is an accurate response to a husband, who like our recent storyteller Anna, was holding her up by her neck, off her feet, pressed up against a wall until she started to lose consciousness. Yes, Anna will stand before the Lord as an individual who is responsible for her own actions and how she responds. And we can talk about those responses when she is far from harm and healing from that horror. So what can a biblical counselor do now or what can any counselor do now to help Anna? Surely she needs truth. But specifically, she needs somebody to truthfully say what's happening is wrong and she did not cause it. It wasn't her fault.
And I said this to Anna, there is nothing I can think of that would justify a husband needing to strangle his wife. She needs to hear that. She needs to be encouraged, loved, and she needs to know that fear and anger are appropriate. She needs good choices so she can take care of herself, she can make decisions for our own well-being, and for her children’s well-being if she has children. And she needs resources and help if she wants to get out, if she wants to get to safety. But the most important truth she needs to hear is that God cares and the evidence is that He sent His Son. He does care. And I know it's not a one-to-one in that moment, but it's got to hold you in the moment until you can hear more about that God. Sadly, I learned very little about people in my counseling training. So I am eternally indebted to these women who have shared their most vulnerable selves and stories with me.
Truth is a gift. And truth is multi-faceted. It is gospel truth that shines light into dark places. And gospel truth names the reality of what's going on. First, we know that in abusive dynamics, there are distortions, there's lying, there's manipulation, there's confusion. And these women who come to you, maybe they can name some of what's going on, but at the same time, there's a deep fear in naming that. Because what does this mean? And what do I do with it? And then there's other women who, because they're in such a fog of confusion, they can't name it. And one of the gifts that we have is to be able to name and acknowledge the truth for them.
Right. Give them words, concepts. Early on when she said, “He choked me.” I just stepped back and said, “No, we need to use the right language here. He strangled you. That means he had intent to kill.”
Yeah, truth needs to be truthful. And I mean that both ways, putting accurate, hard language to the story, but also not embellishing it. You know, I said earlier with storytelling, that telling those stories, bringing them out into the light was part of their healing process. And that you can't heal unless that happens. Well, we also can't heal from something that didn't happen. So we want to be very careful to walk that line of truth telling.
Yes. When you are able to name this for other women, how do you see that they respond?
I mean, somebody did it for me. And I remember how I responded. It was a physical realization first. Again, it feels just like your shoulder slipped down, and you have a sense of peace. But immediately after that initial reaction, I find that grief hops in. Or, and this is me, a little more alarming is when no grief shows up. And that just tells me something about how they've held that harm in their bodies for maybe many years. And a lot of the times, you know this too, their bodies are telling the story if they haven't used the words. They're dealing with some sort of autoimmune disease or unexplainable physical manifestation of something. So yeah, I see it if I'm on a Zoom call with a person or face-to-face with a person And I've felt it.
You know, the truth is transformative. And the truth sets you free. There's so much impact that this ministry has on you personally, obviously, from what you're describing. What is probably one of the biggest impacts that this ministry has done for you? How has it transformed you spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally?
One impact for me is that I’ve watched and realized that the informants, the people who are reporting abuse, the victims, the survivors never knew about a place where they could go to report the abuse or talk about their circumstances openly or share their stories or find their language. They never knew about a place where they could be genuinely heard for them. So I'm watching. Even like your last question, I'm watching their hope restored, because they have somebody that understands and hears them and wants to know more and is genuinely curious about them in their story.
I mean, there's more now. There's a lot more of those places now, I think. But in the beginning days, I was just watching that wash over them as they realized, “You understand, you know what I'm saying. You're not going to argue with me. You're not going to tell me I'm wrong, mistaken, sinful, fearful, whatever.” It's not that this ministry can change their circumstances. That's not what we're in this for. We hope and pray that that will happen, but we can't do it. And that's just the sad truth. The enemy is against women, he has been since the Fall, and he will be until Christ returns.
And likewise, the Help[H]er ministry isn't necessarily going to help women in crises resolve their secondary abuse, which they've all told me is substantially worse. The abuse that they get from when they report from church leaders or other powerful people, or even other church members, especially if it was a friend of theirs that harmed them. And I know this sounds defeatist, and discouraging and hopeless, but I've also seen this community of oppressed have that sense of finally finding another woman with whom they can identify, and finding people who will understand and affirm their experience.
If you have children, you might remember the maternity season of life where you would go to a party and all the new moms would gather in a circle and share their birth story. I hated it. I didn't want to relive that story. Those brought back the pain that you didn't want to have. But we found affinity in those circles, and they brought encouragement by just another woman nodding in understanding and saying, “Yeah, I know what an epidural feels like. Yeah, I know what it feels like when you don't have one.” And sadly, I have to say that I think abuse is probably as prevalent as motherhood. And so it's part of the healing process together in those circles to process with likeminded, similar situation companions on a difficult journey. I think the #MeToo and the #ChurchToo movements provided an environment that helped the healing process. Before that, there was an isolating nature to our experiences, and it truly inhibited our healing and our emotional and spiritual growth. And you know, Satan likes that. He likes us stuck.
So now along with the Help[H]er ministry, there are others like it. Beth Broom is doing great work Chris Moles, Joy Forrest, Eliza Huie, Melissa Affolter, Nate Brooks. I could go on. These are people now who are helping pastors and leaders with their caregiving and providing advocates the help they need to navigate devastating circumstances with the survivors that they’re working with. They are helping them eliminate the “he said, she said” dynamic, and they’re providing connections for ministries. They are part of our network of like-minded people and counselors.
And so I’m watching women finally finding a way forward in finding a community of people who will bear witness with their story. The community may help them, and this starts with sometimes just understanding. I think that's probably been the biggest impact. I love to see that wash over them. Like you're there.
Yeah, you're seen, you're known. That is part of the hope and dream of the podcast but also the ministry. It's YES to provide content and resources. The church cannot say that they are under-resourced in this area when there are so many good helpers who are highly trained, educated. and experienced in this. But then there's also that building of the broader community for not just church leaders, but also for the victims to make connections and to build relationships so that they don't feel like they're free-falling, and they're out there on their own.
So obviously, you spend a lot of time thinking about the victims, thinking about churches, thinking about content for this podcast. But you do so much more. Would you share a little bit with the listeners about your work and some of the things that you do day to day?
Well, as I mentioned before, advocacy work is a large part of my day to day. And what that looks like on any given day is meeting with care recipients, hearing their stories, helping them discern out of all of their options, how to proceed with their case. And I want to emphasize that we leave those decisions to women to make. That's not for us to do, we just provide them with the resources so they can make educated decisions.
It can mean meeting with their pastor or their session or a presbytery for the same purpose. I do a lot of educating in those meetings, particularly regarding the informant, victim survivor, and the trauma, they've endured, the impact on their lives. Some of that will require research, finding people places, something that the care recipient might need.
And so I spent a lot of time with them, I spent a lot of time encouraging, acknowledging them. Sometimes they just need to hear your response to them saying, “I'm going to make this decision. What do you think?” Or asking a question that will help them get to a decision? Yeah, for a lot of abuse victims that's how we help restore their agency, what we call “giving them the right to their own thoughts, feelings and desires.” And they make those decisions since they do stand individually before the Lord. That in itself is one of the greatest things advocates can do.
I help victims/ survivors with documentation for those who are going to report to either their ecclesiastical court case, or sometimes, for judicial proceedings. Or maybe they are just to show evidence to their own pastor. It's helpful to set things in a timeline in front of a pastor and say, “Does this does this look like a biblical marriage to you? Does this look right?” That can be a better course of action instead, of trying to explain, “He abuses me.” Putting it out in a very detailed timeline or evidence-based documentation kind of way is sometimes helpful.
I do a lot of networking with similar ministries, talking to them about what they do. So I know how to refer them to other advocates who can pass those resources on to our care recipients. I do a lot of on-the-fly networking when something happens like on Twitter or in the society or with the SBC, and then we're all talking about it. And we need to decide how we are going to think about it or respond to it.
We are also still working really hard to structure this ministry. I've structured ministries, I've structured many businesses before, and this is the most involved. As a biblical counselor, I don't have the same accountability that you do in your practice as a licensed professional. But I still want to dignify our clients with the same careful processes and procedures. And for us, for biblical counselors, it feels like we're on the ground level, making it up as we go.
Of course, I'm using an attorney to do that. It's not my own ideas, although he regularly puts it back in my court. So for instance, I just don't know many pastoral counseling type organizations who, for instance, are working with cybersecurity to protect their information. It's a weird meeting. And I don't understand a lot of it. Thankfully, Helen, our web administrator does.
I meet with staff individually, collectively, regularly. We have eight volunteer staff people since the beginning of last year, amazingly. And then we have five board members. And so those meetings always include preparation and then also I walk away with my own little to-do list. I study, especially for these webinars that we're going to be rolling out next year. I speak sometimes and so I'll be studying for that particular purpose.
I'm an entrepreneur at heart. As I said, there are multiple other entrepreneurs in our midst. Helen dreams up ideas. Darby comes up with some great ones. So I'm not the only one. And so, for instance, we are thinking about a handbook that we could produce that would guide a ministry through what a healthy church would look like who cares for abuse well. We have found that each context is unique. So it's hard to create a curriculum or a system. So what we're working on is questions that will guide a session or women's ministry group, or whatever, to answer their own questions in their own context and develop strategies from there.
Let's see, I've been writing a lot, curating resources. Safe to Hope is by far the most demanding timewise. But that's in a good way. We, we do workshops together with the storyteller, and I love those. I'm getting to know them. It's always bittersweet at the end, because I feel like I made a new close friend, and we're done. And then learning. Oh, my gosh, from the experts. There have been be multiple times that I have lost an entire edit that I've been working on. I'll have to listen to the podcast again. And those are God moments where you know that God is saying, “I think you need to hear this one again.” So I’m learning.
By the time this podcast airs, I hope to have successfully defended my dissertation for a Doctor of Ministry. That's taken a lot of my time over the last four and a half years, but it has been a wealth of knowledge for even how to help these women more effectively.
Wow, again, you are no slouch. I am exhausted just thinking about all of it. Certainly, the Lord sustains you with energy. We are all though the beneficiaries of so much blood, maybe literal sweat, but very certainly literal tears.
Definitely literal tears. And you know, what? Sweat. Yes, it gets warm in here.
I mean, obviously, there's so much joy in what you do or else you would not continue. Right? There's also weight and gravity to this kind of work. I tell every one of my clients about the importance of putting ourselves in the way of God's goodness whenever we can, and to put ourselves in the way of beauty whenever we can, to see the kingdom of God at work, because so much of what we're faced with is the kingdom of darkness. Right?
And having those daily practices of pursuing the kingdom of God in a variety of ways is just such holy and redemptive work in its own right. And it's something that we all have to fight for pushing back against the kingdom of darkness. So how do you live your daily life pursuing joy pursuing kingdom, beauty and creativity in light of carrying such a heavy load?
Yeah, going back to that tension that we walk of darkness and evil, and yet there still can be joy. And I think that's important to say, because so many of the people we're working with are in that darkness. And because it's so dark, when even just the pinprick of light shines through the tiniest little bit of joy, it pierces the darkness. There is that tension.
This is a super great question. I had it multiple times in my Global Trauma Recovery Training, and I never had the answer. Other people have beautiful answers of what they did, pottery and walks, but I don't have the answer. So I have to have several friends who will regularly call me out from getting cynical and encourage me to do something.
It's so easy to fall into cynicism. It is so easy to forget God's goodness in the midst of all of the evil that we witness. I love what you tell your clients is that we have to be purposeful to remind ourselves of often. Because of the list I mentioned of everything that I do, I don't have a lot of time to go paint. I was a very creative person. I was interior designer and started out with art school and graphic design. So I love all that. There just isn't a moment to do it.
But I can, and I do this daily, think about my God moments that I've been talking about so much. I write them down as I remember them. I have a list of about 20 or 30 of them, and sometimes I just stare out the window and I remember them.
For more information, these God moments are times when something happens in my world that I knew only God could have orchestrated especially for me, and then also when I felt that he was close like he was right there. I've often said, when I feel the breath of God on my cheek, when I sensed he wanted me to know something more about Him, and His ways. That's what I consider a God moment.
And so, for example, one of those God moments was a Christmas during the pandemic when I had been trying to help my kids because they had to homeschool since their schools were still closed. Everybody knows what I'm talking about. So I hosted what I called Gigi homeschool on Friday morning. We had so much fun. Maybe I'll post one of the videos on our show notes. It makes me cry, I laugh so hard. We had so much fun. Some of the best memories, some of the best pictures that they still want to see to this day.
Anyway, it was Christmas morning of the year of the pandemic when we had been experiencing each other in Gigi homeschool. And we went to my daughter's house to open presents. And all of a sudden, each of the older kids who could walk, who were in Gigi homeschool, walked up to me and brought me a gift of those ESV individual journals, if you're familiar with them. They brought me a stack of a few like two, three at a time. And they just kept coming. They would go back and get more, and they kept coming and coming. And they handed me the entire Old Testament, New Testament box set in individual two, three pack sections. None of them were big enough to even hold the New Testament set, let alone the Old Testament set. But eventually I had the whole set.
And I can still picture their little faces as they handed me a stack, and I was crying. And I had horrible eye issues that year. And so I'm crying. My eyes don't even work. And if you see my eyes, I have little slits anyway. I couldn't see all but I can remember their faces, and how excited they were when they would hand me these journals. And I just knew I was blessed beyond measure, I was so blessed in a very difficult year. And if you know anything about me, I'm not a fan of the ESV. But I still love the concept of those journals.
So in the middle of all that, in the middle of a pandemic, in difficult times, difficult physical limitations, God used the Word literally, and my grandkids to know the joy of the Lord. And then immediately I think about the source of my strength that the joy of the Lord is my strength. So I will treasure both those journals, yes, even though they’re ESV and that God moment forever. Even though I might go back and rewrite some of those questionable ESV passages using a Christian Standard Bible instead.
The journals are there in my living room. And I actually look at them every morning when I do my devotions so that reminds me of my God moment. I think about those often. I try to think of my God moments every day. And honestly, it's not me, keeping me at peace and keeping me in his arms. He is actively doing that while I look for him. I just have to look for him.
Yeah, that's beautiful. I love the concept that God knows us, and particularly, that he knows what we need, that he is near to us. And he reaches to us in very specific moments, like how you described. So we all need to remember that too, that he's near, that he sees us, and he speaks to our individual hearts. And sometimes like for our callings, like when we're walking in our calling, we see those particular characteristics of who God is, his attributes.
So in your work and your calling, when you come face to face with God, who has he shown himself to be?
So many things, so many things. I mean, the only thing I can do is answer from the most recent revelation. And it's an obvious one, too, but for some reason, when you read something in the Bible, and all of a sudden, it can take on new life, and it can minister in new ways.
It's a strange passage to articulate this, but I'm going to say that it's a greater extent of his grace. The passage that I'm thinking about is Genesis 3:15. So much happened in Genesis 3:15 and 16. I mean, so much. But this is God speaking to the serpent and he says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” I'm thinking about that using sanctified imagination, and thinking about Eve having just disobeyed her Father. And I can remember doing that as a child and the absolute fear I had for the consequences. And if my brother and I were in trouble together and have to wait to find out what my punishment was until after his punishment was over, which was excruciating, especially if he got spanked, and I heard him. It makes me wonder about the terror, that he felt that she was listening to God curse the serpent.
But then again, I'm imagining what happens next, God says to the devil, not imagining what he says, but imagining maybe the picture of it. “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” “The woman,” in my mind's eye, it's like God turned around and pointed to the woman. And he said, “See her over there. That enmity I just cursed you with Satan is between your seed and hers, the woman.” And this is just where God's enormous grace blew me away. Again, Eve just sinned. And before God even metes out her consequences, he announces that her offspring will redeem the world.
So often, we hear that these verses include Eve's curse, even though God never says that. But we tend to see that a bit differently. I mean, sure, there's that enmity with the evil one that women will endure for the entirety of our lives, this side of Christ's return. And if the oppression we've witnessed historically and in our culture today is any indication of that enmity, that is huge. There is suffering.
But notice that the next time an agent of the Lord announces the woman's seed will bruise Satan's head, that angel of the Lord tells Mary, you have found favor with God. I mean, I'm not saying that God was telling Eve that she found his favor directly after her sin. But you know what? I might be saying that there is a God who is just like that and a grace that we cannot fully comprehend. He was telling her that she was favored because, ultimately, favor is not earned. So it’s a picture of God's grace.
Thank you, Julia, for being our host today.
Thank you for the opportunity and for sharing more of your heart with us.
And thanks to the audience for just kind of listening in on our discussion. I'm sitting here hoping that you'll hear more from Julia on her Safe to Hope podcast soon.
If you want to know more about the Help[H]er ministry, you can go to helpherresources.com. If you'd like more information about our advocacy work specifically, click that care button on the menu, and then you can choose from several options. If you're interested in having Help[H]er to your location for training, you can click on the training button on the menu. And then again, choose the option that most closely addresses your needs.
Next season on the Safe to Hope podcast beginning in 2024. We invite you to join us for a topic that never should have these two words in the same sentence, that is “trauma” and “children.” Our storyteller is a foster care mom who shares many of the facets of what it's like to be at one of these caregivers on a daily basis. But she also hopes to share what she looked for in her home church. With this podcast season, we endeavor to help church leaders and people helpers learn more about how to respond with understanding and care specifically to foster care families, but also how to care for all traumatized children who aren't included in our church family.
Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our executive producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe to Hope podcast series.
Safe to Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er a 501(c)(3) that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax deductible. If you'd be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to helpherresources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you'd like more information, or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals or advocacy needs, go to helpherresources.com
We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.