It was fall 1990, and life was unraveling. Emotionally, I was a mess. Physically, I was deteriorating. I had been a believer for 3 years and my faith was strong, but something wasn’t right.
At the time I was in a long-distance dating relation with a young man from Pennsylvania, whom I had met in Bible School several months after accepting Jesus as my Saviour, at age 18, three years earlier. We had started writing letters then, but waited to start officially dating until about five months, or so, later.
Now, two and a half years into the relationship, I started to push him away when he came to Canada to see me. His visits triggered depression and I withdrew into a shell, a mental state I could not understand. When he left, I missed him and wished he was here again.
Such was the cycle of love. There was no rhyme or reason to it, really, in my mind. Nor in my then-boyfriend’s. He was confused when I withdrew, and I hated it, but it was as though I couldn’t help myself. Trapped. Unable to identify, unable to speak.
In hindsight I understand it perfectly, but at the time it was torment. For both of us.
Had we been sexually indiscrete, or had he even pushed me for it, I could have understood it. But in our time together, we had guarded our hearts carefully. We held hands. And we gave each other good-bye hugs. No intimate kissing, though I can’t say with confidence that there had been no little kisses. We had talked early on about what was important to us, and agreed that abstinence was the only standard, and to protect that, we would have strict boundaries. They served us well. This was especially important because of the life I had left behind. I wanted a clear boundary between my life apart from Christ, and my life with Christ. I was determined, by the grace of God, to leave the pain and shame of my former life in the past.
During our relationship I spent quite a bit of time in Lancaster and Lebanon Pennsylvania, and developed many positive friendship with youth and even some church leaders, who made a profound and lasting impact on my life.
Three homes, in particular, stand out. The Hursh’s, my brother-in-law Leonard’s family, allowed me to stay with them, several weeks at a time, helping on the farm and simply being part of their family. Always I was safe in their home. I was my spontaneous, high-energy self, and never felt rejected for it. Mom Hursh, as I sometimes called her, took me shopping for fabric to make my dresses. She gave me the freedom to choose fabrics that probably pushed the edge of what she thought was acceptable, maybe jumped right over that edge, I’m not sure. But I never felt judged. They took me on an extended family deep-sea fishing expedition and made me feel, in every way, a part of their family.
From milking cows, to working in the fields, to helping in the kitchen, I was ‘at home’ in their home, safe, loved and accepted. Their sons were respectful, in every way.
My friend Connie Weaver, who later married one of the Hursh sons, also frequently invited me into her home. It was the safest home I had ever set foot in. There was something special there that I have not encountered before or since, to this day.
A home filled with deep faith. Genuine prayer. Laughter. Gentleness. Kindness. Passion. Hard work. Beauty. They valued beauty. Music. Always a lot of music.
Connie’s sisters offered friendship and acceptance, cheerfully inviting me into their home and lives. A father who spoke gently, lovingly. A mom who laughed and loved. And cooked. She was second to none when it came to good food. (For those who don’t understand Mennonite cooking, find the nearest Mennonite who cooks that way, and invite yourself to dinner.) Or maybe the food tasted so much better because of the safety to sit, to interact, and to enjoy it.
Mom Weaver was a great story-teller, painting a vivid picture on the mind as she spoke. My favourite story was when she visited her husband’s home for dinner when they were still dating, and ended up tripping down the stairs, embarrassing herself. I can’t remember if she tripped into her future husband’s arms or if we just joked about it, but the story was told with much laughter. She had laughed when it happened, as her way of handling the embarrassment. I liked that about her too, the way she handled embarrassment.
But two memories stand out above the rest, and each is with Connie, and little things she taught me, by example.
One night, a while after lights were out and we had stopped chattering, a question popped in my head. And any of my friends of days gone by who read this blog, and ever had a sleepover with me, could tell you that this would happen repeatedly at almost any sleepover. (The problem was so bad that it even got me in trouble at Numidia Bible School, with a consequence of cleaning bathrooms with my friend Sally Tucker, who had a similar weakness and bunked beside me. Oh what fun we had cleaning together, chattering some more!)
Lying in the dark, I debated whether I should wake Connie to ask her my question, and after several minutes of contemplation, I broke the silence. “Connie, are you still awake?” I whispered.
“Excuse me, Lord, Trudy wants to talk to me,” I heard her say, clearly not talking to me. She had been praying.
I apologized profusely, laughing of course. Her response to my interruption taught me something of non-religious, intimate relationship with God that I had never seen or known before. Something that seemed so shocking at the time, yet so refreshing. That one could speak to God so candidly…
The other image permanently etched in my mind is when we walked into her bedroom one evening, and on her desk was a neatly stacked pile of envelopes to be mailed out. (For the benefit of this generations… back in the day, we sent snail mail letters to our friends. No texting, emailing, etc.) Connie picked up the stack, studying them, flipping through them, a look of frustration on her face. Her little sister had traced every letter, on every envelope. Connie’s writing was meticulous, her envelopes always perfect. Little hands had done a number.
Moments later her sister walked in the room. “Did you do this?” Connie asked. Her sister nodded. What happened next shocked me.
Calmly, gently Connie spoke to her little sister, even though she was clearly upset. No threats. No intimidation. No display of anger. Gently she explained that these get mailed and people have to be able to read the words to get it to the right address. She asked her sister if she understood. Her sister nodded.
“Ok. Run along and play.”
That was it? No rage? No smack? Nothing more? It seemed almost unbelievable, what I had just witnessed. My childhood had been so different. And after I left home at fifteen, I wasn’t around young children much again until I met Howard and Alice, and their family, whom I shall write about in the next several days.
The third outstanding safe home was with Bishop’s Stephen Ebersole and his wife, where I was free to speak of heart issues. They were not harsh, not judging. They loved, listened and laughed with me. We only barely scraped the surface of my story and my pain, but in their home, with almost a dozen children, I found peace and safety.
That was the brighter side of life, the safe haven from the internal torment….
At home, in the final months of my connections to Pennsylvania, something dark and melancholy overtook my heart and spirit. And thank God that it did. If it had not, I might have remained trapped forever in that silent torment. I would most likely have married the young man I dated at that time, without resolving the abuse in my past. And that would have been disastrous.
As it was, with me shutting down, something had to happen. I was desperate. And I let God know it. How hopeless I felt, with no clue why.
God heard my cry.
That same year I started attending Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, a Mid-West Fellowship church, where God began to heal me spiritually, from the abuses of the Conservative Mennonite Church I had been part of previously. I encountered grace. And, while not fully understood by the people in my new church, because there was no way I could possibly blend into a Mennonite culture with my personality, I was loved and received by the youth, and people in general, at the church, for the most part.
In developing friendships, God had a plan that I was completely oblivious to, but one that would bring restoration in ways I didn’t even know I needed it. One of the youth, Cindy, was about two years younger than I and we quickly formed a ‘sister-kind-of-friendship’.
That friendship changed my life. A friend who refused to stand silently by…
© Trudy Metzger
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