I write this blog not to preach or because I have all the answers – I do it to try to process and figure out my life. And I assume some others might be dealing with the same kinds of things, and I could possibly be an encouragement. However, in this case, I believe I do also have some serious advice to give. I will save that for the end.
Here is a bit of background to catch you up to our latest trial (literally). In what seemed to some as a bold and even irresponsible move, we relocated our family across the country five years ago, wanting a new life; in particular, longing for community and closeness after being nearly isolated for many years. We had always wanted to be a part of a particular small church denomination, so we chose an area that had one.
For over a year after our move, we thought we had found what we were looking for. Our family laughed and partied with other families, I confided in dear friends, and when we had a personal tragedy, we were surrounded with love and care. We thought this was it. God had clearly brought us here to bless and comfort us with these wonderful people. Of course there were issues. When people are close, you can’t help but have conflicts. (We had avoided those in the past by moving around a lot and just never forming true attachments to people.) However, we committed to love each other and work it out, just as you do with family. And we truly did consider this church our family. So, we resolved to get issues talked out and taken care of.
But there was one problem that just wouldn’t go away. There was a single man at church (with Asperger’s) who was paying way too much attention to my teenage daughter and me. This included standing too close, expected hugs, intense staring, gushing compliments, gifts, heartfelt cards, showing up at our home without being invited, spending hours commenting on FB photos, photographing, and filming. We didn’t think we were in actual danger – we were “just” uncomfortable, we didn’t want to want to hurt feelings, we didn’t want to make assumptions, we didn’t want to cause trouble, we didn’t want to mess up this glorious new life God had given us. And we really did care about this man and his family. We did not want to hurt his reputation, so we kept this to ourselves. We tried hinting, separating, avoiding, guarding, instructing, and finally asking for help from those in authority. This man would back off for a while, but always came around to start up again. After 3.5 years of not seeing any progress, we left our beloved church with broken hearts. Although we were sorrowful, we were thankful to be free of this man and looking forward to moving on. But three weeks later when he showed up at my daughter’s play (about which he should not have known and which was 50 miles away from his home), we were met with the realization that this was not over.
I promptly went on Facebook with a vague post asking what we should do about a stalker. I immediately received so much advice and support. On that advice, we went to court to ask for restraining orders against him for both my daughter and myself.
Here are some details of how the hearing went. We could not afford to hire a lawyer, but we had a friend who had been advising us via FB and telephone. We were under the impression that since I filed on behalf of our daughter, age 17, I would be questioning the witnesses that pertained to her. However, once the hearing began, we found out that she was in charge of her own prosecution. And that even if she had been five years old, that would have been the case! I had stacks of notes, but they would not let her use them. I could not advise her or nudge her or even look at her. She is terribly shy and was terrified of being in court, so I thought we were doomed. I just prayed that she would know what to do, and the Lord was with her and gave her the words to say, with confidence and boldness. I am still utterly amazed at what she accomplished in that courtroom.
However, the respondent had a lawyer, so obviously they had the advantage. They never missed an opportunity to object to things we did; so much so that I became afraid to say anything at all. The defense was the Asperger’s, as well as the size of the church. Even though this man was told on multiple occasions by the church leaders, my husband, and myself to stay away from us, in email and in person, the lawyer argued that that was not clear to him and that he is just naturally affectionate. Also, every time we would complain that he stood too close or sought us out at church or events, the defense was that the church was so small that he could not avoid us. (Funny how all the other men in the church managed to behave toward us in a socially appropriate way… )
The hearing went on for three grueling hours. I had been told by our lawyer friend that crying would be to our advantage, but I was just so angry I couldn’t. My daughter and I both argued passionately for our case. However, in the end, the judge said that we had not proven willfulness or malicious intent, due to the presence of Asperger’s. He talked about how he completely understood how we felt and that we had made the right decision in leaving the church. He said he agreed that we had been between a rock and a hard place, feeling like we would be shamed or admonished (which we were) if we had refused the respondent’s advances. He affirmed that the play incident was clearly stalking, but that the other things we brought up could be “explained away.” In the end, he basically gave the respondent a verbal restraining order. He repeatedly went through all the places and situations that he could think of that the respondent is not allowed to go to. He sternly admonished this man to forget that our family ever existed.
I left disappointed in the verdict but also relieved – and overwhelmed by the huge answers to prayer that we had just received! It was over and this man was firmly warned in court to leave us alone. He should be sufficiently scared off. At least for a while.
During the past few months, I took to nervously chewing on and picking at my hangnails so much that they were constantly infected and I had band-aids all over my fingers. I noticed my jaw was continually clenched. My husband was getting 1-3 hours of sleep at night the week of the hearing. My daughter had a big bloody chewed up spot on her lip the day of the hearing. I remarked when we got home afterward that I hadn’t been that tired since giving birth. However, I had trouble sleeping that night (over two weeks ago now), going over and over in my mind what I should have said and when. As time has gone on, the replays in my mind have lessened, but I still can’t sleep well and have many nightmares.
Besides being utterly consumed and distressed by what all going to court entails – entering a completely new legal world, wondering if we should spend the money on a lawyer, worrying about being counter-sued, fearing for our safety – we also had the sorrow and shock of losing almost all of whom we thought were our closest friends,
whom we thought would stick with us forever. When we moved here five years ago, we had been looking for a family. People to “do life” with. Instead we were accused of being paranoid and unkind and dishonest. We were yelled at and placed under church discipline. We lost what we came here for. We lost what we thought God had brought us here for.
So, after moving around for years, and thinking we were finally settled, we find ourselves having to start all over again. It’s hard. We were burned. Severely. We find ourselves delighted and encouraged by the new friends we are making, but always on the lookout, wondering what disaster will befall us in the next few years.
However, the Lord is certainly carrying us through this ordeal. While it surely hasn’t been easy, he is giving us what we need:
- We quickly found that when we started asking people about this problem, virtually everyone immediately saw the issue as we did. We received support, advice, reassurance, care, and most importantly, many prayers. Besides “regular” people, we had input and encouragement from many with credentials:
-Two security guards
-A former police officer
-Two self-defense experts
-Three former stalking victims
-A social worker
We heard over and over again:
-Trust your instincts.
-Protecting your family does not make you a bad Christian.
-Just because this man hasn’t been violent in the past doesn’t mean he won’t be in the future.
-What you describe is clearly stalking.
-There is a reason you are worried; don’t discount it.
-This behavior is not to be ignored.
-People with Asperger’s can follow instructions.
(Note – In this post, I am imitating the style of another encouraging blog post that I recently read.)
2. We have seen the “coincidence” that so many pertinent articles and videos have come across my FB newsfeed just when we’ve been needing encouragement and counsel.
3. I want to emphasize that neither my daughter nor I was ever physically harmed or violated. I have come to see this difficult time in our lives as a gracious lesson and warning for us. Having never dealt with crime or abuse in any way, and by nature not being a worrier, I have just never been concerned about things like this. Understanding the reality that these things happen, yes. Sympathetic to others, of course. But in denial that something like this would happen to us. I was too trusting. And who knows what will happen in our daughters’ lives as they mature and move out from under our safekeeping. This ordeal may someday be used to spare them from something much worse. Now they will know the warning signs and quickly act to get help or remove themselves from the situation.
4. We have a friend who said she was up for hours one night praying that we would have a good graduation day and not be bogged down by this. (We did! I honestly hardly gave it a thought, even though I had been utterly consumed the day before.) We have an acquaintance who dreamed that she was supposed to protect our daughter, so she committed to continually pray for her safekeeping. Someone we just met at our new church offered to be an escort for our daughter whenever and wherever she needs it. Old friends with whom we had lost contact have come out of the woodwork and offered to give testimony in court. My mother came to visit for a week while we were in the midst of all this, and quietly took care of the house and helped our kids with school, while I was consumed with court papers and legal issues and tracking down witnesses. Most strikingly, a FB college acquaintance (now good friend!) of ours who just so happens to be a lawyer took time out of his busy schedule to patiently and kindly assist us with all the new legal concepts we had to learn and helped us with strategy. He was quick to respond and instruct, always with sympathy and understanding. Oh, and did I mention that he helped us for free??
So we thank God for the blessing of his people. We have learned the hard lesson not to put our trust in man (Jeremiah 17:5), but also are receiving tangible godly encouragement through… what? Through the saints (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). As with so many things, there is a balance here that we are being taught to find.
5. Throughout this tribulation, I have said repeatedly that it seems that the Lord took the leaders and others at our new church aside and whispered, “Psst. Here is what needs to happen to best minister to this family during this time.” Every sermon preached and Sunday school class taught and hymn sung during those first couple months seemed to be custom-made for us in our present situation. I was brought to tears multiple times at God’s provision in this way. I brought home stacks of notes, verses, and hymns to incorporate into my devotion time.
6. My daughter and I have been experiencing the deep comfort of a devoted husband and father. I have always felt confident that my husband would protect us if needed, but now we are privileged to see that vigilance lived out. Again, I don’t believe we have been in true bodily danger, but my husband is clearly on the lookout and is ready should that someday be the case. I feel deeply loved when I see him physically insert himself between us and this man and others when we have been forced to meet, and volunteer to speak with various authorities on our behalf.
- If you find yourself in this kind of situation, please follow the counsel we wish we had received from the beginning. Trust your instincts! We can’t help but feel remorseful that we stayed in these distressing circumstances for so long. We wanted to be kind. We wanted to give the benefit of the doubt. We wanted to be good Christians. But the truth is that pressure was put on us (by others and ourselves) to go against our consciences. We were not loving our family by repeatedly putting them in an unhealthy situation, and we were not loving this man by allowing him to behave badly toward us. I am profoundly grateful that the Lord kept us from any real harm, but we deeply regret not acting more decisively much sooner. If you are uncomfortable with someone’s actions toward you, he won’t listen to your requests that he stop, and you can’t get anyone to help you, just get out. Don’t draw things out and hope for the best. The more I read about this type of thing, the more I am learning that it only escalates. Move on with your life and trust that God has something better for you elsewhere.
- That being said, remember that it’s not your fault. I worried over and over (and have been told) that I sent the wrong signals, I wasn’t clear, I was too nice, I overshared, etc. No. While I see that I behaved unwisely in the beginning (and I have learned my lesson!), that does not excuse this man’s inappropriate actions and outright refusal to submit to our wishes. I will again quote an excellent and recent blog post that is focused on a much more serious plight, but which can clearly be applied to any number of situations:
“The world we live in is a world full of sinners, ourselves included. When we are confronted with the grotesque sin of someone else, …, it is a temptation to blame yourself for what he did. He is responsible for what he did, and he alone is responsible for what he did. If you try to take any of that on yourself— ‘maybe I did do something to encourage it,’ etc. you are embracing vain speculation instead of sober reflection.”
- I have no problem with men being the authority in the church. I support it. I also believe that the role of a husband and father is to protect his family. However, the court may not agree. If you find yourself or your child in a situation like this, the man needs to hear from you that he is expected to back off. And, likewise, have your daughter tell him to leave her alone. And keep records that this was done. This may be extremely awkward, especially for a teenage girl, but it is important. We had a hard time in court because our daughter was not allowed to say that her father had spoken with the respondent on her behalf. That was considered hearsay. And both of us were mocked by the lawyer for not screaming and calling for help when he was around.
- If you ever must go to court on behalf of your child, it is very likely that she will not have to prosecute her own case (from what I hear, our case was an exception), but you probably won’t know that until you get there. So prepare her. Practice over and over. Have her bring her own notes because you may not be allowed to share them with her.
I hope that you will rejoice with us in how the Lord is caring for us in this situation, and that our story will encourage those who might be prone to worry, that they might expect to see the Lord work in a similar way in their lives. I am so thankful to say that through all these means mentioned above, my fear is dissipating and I am feeling more restful in my outlook and expectations. God is good. And this time I will just go ahead and quote the previously mentioned blog post because it was said so beautifully:
“From the beginning of this trial, we were faced with one of the most difficult balancing acts that I know of. The first thing is to rest in God’s promises, trusting Him for answered prayer, and the second thing is to surrender the outcome completely. If all we do is say ‘thy will be done,’ this can be indistinguishable from a pagan stoicism. If all we do is claim God’s promises, without surrendering, what we are doing is trying to dictate to God. But holding the two together is a work of the Holy Spirit. The best I can figure out, the thing that indicates this balance is happening is that you carry the thing as a weight, not a worry. A weight must be carried, and it must be carried across the finish line. But it can be carried. A worry just chews you up and you can’t carry anything anywhere. And so we thank God for all His promises, and for the arms to hold them.”
I Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Psalm 100:5 – For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.