UPLAND, Calif. When 17-year-old Jim rescued 15-year-old Judi from an abusive boyfriend, she thought, “this time, it will be different.” But within weeks, the verbal abuse began. Then Jim started pushing her. Within a few months, he slapped her. The closed fist waited until soon after their wedding.
Even before they married, Judi Noble said there were other abuses. She was isolated from friends and Jim Howell took the money she earned. Believing his horrific verbal abuse, she worked hard to become the “perfect girl,” but she was never good enough. Whenever Howell felt the least bit threatened, he punished her.
Like many young girls, Noble said she believed she had no real value so she attempted to find her worth in others. Though her parents were successful and well meaning, they were, she said, emotionally absent.
“I was like this lost little girl. I grew up feeling as though I was unseen,” she said.
A broken place inside made her crave love.
Noble said she thought Howell would change once they married, but, as it usually does, the domestic abuse escalated. After Howell almost killed her and their unborn son, she decided to leave her brutal marriage. With no place to go, she worked two jobs while living in a motel. That experience generated a longing for a place where abused women could be safe. So Noble started Eagle’s Wings Global in 1995, the ministry she still serves as its president.
Shortly thereafter, while on vacation in Alaska, Noble said she was deeply moved by a family of eaglesa mother, father and babiesand God impressed on her the importance of helping families reconcile.
Meanwhile God was also at work transforming Howell, Noble said. By 2000, he suddenly reappeared in her life and, even though they never remarried, his deep repentance permitted an amazing reconciliation to take place. They began working together, and Howell played a strategic role in Eagle’s Wings until his death in 2009. Together they started “Love Does No Harm” workshops giving the abused, their abusers and children a safe place to learn how to break the cycle of domestic violence. Families began to heal.
A Christian conundrum
Since the Scriptures are clear on how to love, Noble said believers often find dealing with domestic violence more difficult. The reality is that some women live with Christian leaders who emotionally and physically abuse them. For victims who have been taught how to submit from a biblical perspective, it can be difficult to find their voice when a husband claims, “you’re not a good wife.”
For the broader church community, it can also be difficult to process claims of mistreatment. It’s hard to imagine a charming Christian leader perpetrating such harm. Physical abuse, for instance, may leave marks, but “verbal abuse leaves scars on the heart,” Noble said.
Unfortunately, without proper training, church leaders often reinforce the abuser’s message by advising women to “try harder, be more submissive or have more sex,” she said.
From the beginning of her ministry, Noble said she believes God gave her a mandate to train church leaders. She was overjoyed at the assignment until she discovered how hard it is for the church to understand the issue of domestic violence. Within the Christian community, she said, it takes an average of seven times of telling someone about the abuse before a woman is believed.
Noble said she encourages women to let the Lord replace the lies with the truth. That way “we can explore what God’s word says about abuse.” Scripture empowers women to start walking out of the shame, guilt and condemnation. Noble also encourages Christian women to get counseling from someone who can help them learn biblical self-esteem and how to set boundaries. Eagle’s Wings support groups can help abused believers, too.
According to one woman, who said she’d tried to be a “proper Christian wife,” the challenges of dealing with domestic abuse are significant. Over time the Lord had begun to free her from what other people thought and gave her the courage to begin taking steps to freedom. Still admitting that her husband was too self-absorbed to love or care for herand that no matter what she did or said or how “perfect” she tried to be, he never wouldwas a long and painful road. But Noble’s ministry helped her find a voice.
After seeking counseling with her husband several times, this woman said she finally stopped mincing words for fear of damaging his reputation. Telling the truth took an act of courage, but it didn’t improve their relationship. He refuted her complaints, and counselors advised her to respect him more, so he could love her better.
“It was like salt to my wounds and furthered the depths of our already dysfunctional patterns.”
Then, she said, Noble started “helping me see biblical truth about my situationnever counseling me to divorce, but to stand in the place God has called me to, one of dignity and worth, seeing myself as a daughter of the King.”
After 30 years of being a believer, this new concept led her into a joyous time with God.
“I have been able to stand without being consumed by fear, knowing that God is with me every step of the way, and He has proved His love for me over and over in this process in miraculous ways,” she said.
Eagle’s Wings builds this value into their Women of Worth conferenceswhere women are encouraged to dream again, Noble said.
“I hate what abuse does to families, but I love watching them transformed from death to life, from hopelessness to hope, to living lives full of peace and victory,” she said, adding that her ministry serves between 40 and 50 people every month.
“We want to do so much more,” she said.
To find out more information see www.eagleswingsglobal.org
or call (909) 529-3373.