Abuse Archive

Whispers of the Past

Posted January 25, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I drove through the hills of Alabama and Mississippi as the brisk winter air rushed in the window. Patches of snow and ice dotted the landscape but my mind was on the past. For the first time since Road to Freedom 2.0 began, I was retracing this particular segment of my epic solo bicycle trip from 2013.


I passed the McDonalds in North Gadsden where I’d taken refuge from one of the worst thunderstorms in history. The nearby church pavilion where I’d spent the night looked different in the daylight. I prayed that since my visit the members of that church had learned to be more accepting of strangers. They hadn’t realized I was on God’s errand and had passed me off as a vagabond.


I double-clutched my way through town and wondered how I’d managed to ride my bicycle loaded with gear along this busy road. I was also grateful there was no bicycle in the path of my big rig. Familiar buildings and landscape flooded my heart with memories as Sand Mountain came into view.


My truck lugged upward, dragging the 43,000 pounds of cargo behind it. I’m sure if a stranger but fellow cyclist named Norman hadn’t stopped and insisted on ferrying me and my bike over the mountain, I’d have strained more than my truck.


I cut through the outskirts of Huntsville where I was born. During that trip, I’d wondered if that would be where God would have me settle. But, now knowing it is not home, I trucked on without an emotional attachment to the city of my roots. I made my way west, riding parallel to Tennessee, my new home and where my heart now is. When I pedaled this same road three years ago, I had no idea where home would be. Today I am proud to call Tennessee home.


I passed Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s childhood home. I could clearly see its well in my mind’s eye, the place on the property where Helen’s life changed. I laughed as I passed the Coon Dog Cemetery, recalling the lavish memorials owners had erected for their hunting canine companions.


Finally, it came into view. I changed lanes and made a left turn into the place I’d been watching for. I backed my truck into what could have been a parking space, climbed down out of the cab and hurried into the store. There I saw him. My heart sang. The man behind the counter looked up as I approached. His eyes grew wide.


“Reba! You returned.”


“You remember me?” I was astonished.


He ran around the counter and pulled me into a hard embrace. “How could I forget the bicycle lady who introduced me to her God.”


Tears bubbled up in my eyes but through them I could see his tears as well. For the next half hour, he told me how different things were in his family and with his wife since we first met. (read the original blog post from 2013 here).  He no longer blames himself for his misguided anger toward her he’d displayed early in their marriage. He realizes he was a victim of his own culture and upbringing. He finally forgave himself. I could tell he was at peace.


I finally and reluctantly said farewell and headed west, thanking God that not only had He reached the heart of this victim/perpetrator of violence, but had allowed me to see the fruits of my labor. This man had come to America as a child to find freedom, only to go into bondage. He was bound by his tradition where men are superior and women are treated poorly. He was bound by not knowing the true and loving God. But God set him free and just seeing him on Saturday, there is no doubt that he is free indeed.


The heartbeat of America is alive and well in rural Alabama.

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Auntee Gertrude

Posted November 17, 2014 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

IMG_3040Deep in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, a house sits alone in a cove. If the walls could talk, you’d hear laughter, tears, secrets shared in days gone by. You’d hear the heart’s cry of twenty-seven children, who have long since grown up and started lives of their own. And you wouldn’t help but hear the affirmation and expressions of love from Auntee Gertrude.

Gertrude and her husband Chester, have provided extended foster care for almost three dozen children who had no place to go and no one to take care of them. It all started with a frantic knock on their door on a rainy night. The sheriff showed up with an  abandoned child and no place to take them. The parents were missing and someone had to care for the children.

They said yes… temporarily… and it set in place a lifetime of purpose. Together they provided not only the basic needs for the Homeless Young Boy Holding a Signchildren entrusted to their care, they raised them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They all grew up to be amazing men and women. Every single one is successful in his or her own way.

We sat over coffee and I asked Gertrude why they did it. “Well, when a need shows up on your front door step, there’s overwhelming evidence that you’re the one God chose to meet it.” 

A simple woman by design, Auntee Gertrude lives her life for others. She could not sit still without asking me if I wanted more coffee. And we were at a Travel Plaza, not her home! As I let the java grow cold, I drank in all the love, caring, and genuine happiness that flowed from this lady’s heart. Interestingly, she didn’t want to talk about it. She’d much rather discuss the amazing and unusual sunrise God gave us that morning.

But I finally did pry some information out of her. For decades, every time there was a knock on the door, Gertrude would yell out the back door to Chester’s wood shop, “Better get another bed ready. Somebody’s coming!” They were always needing room for one more child. Chester would build and Auntee Gertrude would sew, knit and cook. 

When I asked this couple what was the greatest blessing they’d received from their lifetime of caring for underprivileged children. She became quiet for a moment as if deep in thought. Then with conviction she said, “We were able to teach these children how to grow up to be responsible adults. And patriotic Americans. That’s something you just don’t find too much any more.”

IMG_3021Auntee Gertrude and Chester are heroes. They not only helped these children in a desperate time of need, they gave them the heartbeat of America. And they introduced them to Jesus. 

No, I don’t think it gets much better than that. 

Gertrude and Chester shuffled off into anonymity once more. To see the elderly couple, you’d never know who they are or what great things they have accomplished. As they drove away in their old Buick, it made me wonder how many amazing heroes I pass by on a daily basis without realizing it.

That old song, “Stop and Smell the Roses” fluttered in my head. I was once again reminded it is the people-the heartbeat of America- that provide the wonderful fragrance in this amazing nation we call home. 

I salute you, Auntee Gertrude and Chester.


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Meltdown in the Candy Store

Posted November 19, 2013 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I took a break from writing yesterday and wound up in the mall. I know, so out of character for me but I was on a mission.  In one particular small store, I noticed the manager was a bit flustered. As I struck up a conversation with him (surprised, aren’t you? haha), he told me about a woman who frequents all the stores in the mall. She always gives them a hard time and demands things they simply cannot give her.

Interior of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelel II 1865-1877 Milan, Italy

When I told him I wanted to meet her, he gave me a description of her and I set off through the mall in search of the hot headed woman. I heard her before I saw her. She was having a meltdown in the candy store. I stood outside observing her tirade for several moments she walked out in a huff. It appears the manager would not allow her to take home a sample of every candy in the jars. There were dozens.

CAndy Canes

I slid into step with her as she marched to the next store. “How long were you abused?” I asked her as we walked.

She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me with HUGE eyes. “I know you’re not talking to me.” She put her hands on her wide hips, her eyes narrowed as she pierced her lips.

I took a deep breath and tried not to shake. “You’ve learned to survive quite well. I don’t think I would have thought to have a meltdown in a candy store. Congratulations on learning to live life in spite of your abuse.”

Angry, Frustrated Woman

There are moments when a pregnant pause is a good thing. It adds effect and makes the audience grave the next thing. In my case, I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to what the next thing could be. At best, a tongue lashing would come. She was also quite capable of beating me to a pulp. But I knew she was hurting because only hurting people intentionally hurt other people.

Slowly her hands dropped to her sides and her face fell into sadness. “How did you know?”

For the next thirty minutes, Shaniqua told me about her stepfather’s daily abuse. Her mother had been paralyzed by the fear and told her to just do what the abuser said. That way they would have a roof over their heads and he would not hurt them.

Various Truffles

I introduced her to life beyond survival and assured her it was within her reach. Shaniqua admitted she was angry, bitter and took it out in everyone she could. Interestingly, she came to the mall to feel safe. She screamed at everyone so she could be in control. 

I put her in touch with some resources that could help her overcome and cope with her past. She grabbed me in a bear hug, grateful that I’d stopped her. I was offering thanks that she wasn’t crushing my bones in anger.

As I walked back out to the parking lot, I was reminded that there is always a reason behind how human beings behave. Always. If we can take a moment to look beyond the meltdown in the candy store, we will understand–and even diffuse–the anger. We just might be able to help someone overcome.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you been in a situation where God used you to make a difference? Share it here!




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