(Part 4 of 5): What about forgiveness? (The Christian F-word?)

…Continued from Part 3

WHAT ABOUT FORGIVENESS?
Ah… forgiveness. The Christian F-word, and used almost as ruthlessly, sometimes even more so, than the F-bomb. The message it sends in the way it is often used, is not unlike flipping the birdie.

The thing is that, the F-bomb’s dreadful misrepresentation of what sex is intended to be — an expression of intimate love, not a weapon — makes intimate sexual love no less wonderful. It remains a deeply bonding act of love and intimacy. And that, in spite of it being used as a weapon by abusers.

The same is true about the way forgiveness is used and abused. It is a dreadful misrepresentation of what God intended to be one of the most freeing choices we can make. Forgiveness, when chosen by the victim without coercion, forced silence, or other religious manipulations — like the famous “you’ll go to hell if you don’t” — remains one of the most critical and beautiful steps in the victim’s healing journey.

I am asked why I don’t talk about it more in the public domain. The answer is quite simple. Because of further abuse imposed on many trauma survivors through false teaching on forgiveness, it is a topic best addressed in relationship when it comes to the intertwining with sexual abuse and victims’ healing. (This is also true of domestic violence and some other abuses of which I have less understanding). It is complex to address it in a way that is meaningful to them, so that their spirits do not shut down due to triggers and past trauma.

Sitting face to face, and speaking heart to heart creates space for interaction, exploring, inviting dialogue so that they can discover the beauty of forgiveness in safe relationship. To do it any other way is much like trying to convince a rape victim that sex is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It can’t be imposed on them. Through safety of relationship many rape victims discover safety with a spouse, and learn to love sexual intimacy. They may have ongoing flashbacks or nightmares and triggers, but in the safety of that relationship they are free to weep, to struggle and to find deeper emotional intimacy with their spouse in the process of the struggle.  I speak from experience. The emotional trauma of the past was very present at various times in our marriage, and it wasn’t unheard of for me to weep in my husband’s arms after intimacy. And it was ok. It was part of the healing for him to hold me, knowing I love him deeply while reconciling past trauma to a similar act.

When we walk victims through to a place of being able to extend forgiveness, that same gentleness, that same compassion and tenderness is necessary. To avoid sexual intimacy in our marriage would have served no good purpose. To have it forced upon me would have destroyed me. To avoid the discussion of forgiveness also serves no good purpose, but forcing it on the victim for whom it has been weaponized is deadly. Inviting victims into forgiveness is a delicate and relational process. And the trust to get there in a meaningful way requires deep listening, assuring them that what was done is wrong, and that we are willing to walk gently and patiently with them.

Forgiveness is not what most of us have been taught. It is not a commitment to silence. The Bible is full of bad stories we should know nothing about if it meant silence.

Forgiveness is not a commitment to reestablishing a relationship with the offender. Some victims choose relationship, and sometimes it is healthy. But forgiveness without reestablishing relationship is possible, and sometimes the healthiest option for the wellbeing of a traumatized person.

Forgiveness is not a promise to avoid reporting crimes to the law, or keep the offender out of prison. If a victim reports to the law, in most cases — in fact, all but one that I have been involved in — it is to prevent further victimization. I’ve heard one victim say they’re doing it to get back for the pain inflicted on them. That, in my experience with victims, is the exception. The thought of more children being victimized is overwhelming to victims, and is often the thing that drives them to report, knowing they will likely go through hell all over again, in the legal process.

Forgiveness is not saying “It’s okay”, and it certainly is not a commitment to giving a ‘second chance’ that puts others in danger. And it is not overlooking the wrongs committed. It does extend grace for the soul of the abuser to be redeemed, and even wishes that redemption for them.

Forgiveness is not a one-time choice. It is a struggle. It is choosing, day after day, with every nightmare, flashback and trigger, to say, “I forgive.” It is being honest about the depth of suffering the wrong has brought, without hating the person who wronged us. It is about acknowledging truth, and the severity of the violation.

Forgiveness is saying, “I refuse to be in bondage to the offender.” It is saying, “I release him/her from my retribution and I will see no revenge.” And that is something you can do even while sitting with a law enforcement officer to report. Because reporting to the law and doing what you can to stop the violence against the vulnerable is the right and responsible thing to do. It is not at odds with forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing in the life of the victim. So beautiful that it should not be thrown around carelessly in such a way that it only serves to further traumatize them and increase the struggle. Through relational exchange is the best way to invite survivors into a journey of forgiveness and a place of freedom.

Leaving anyone stuck in a place of bitterness is cruel. And, sometimes, throwing teachings like forgiveness at victims without relationship or without understanding of victimization — or even forgetting out own journey and struggle to get there — does exactly that. It serves to lock them in more deeply than before because they have not yet had their pain acknowledged and have not had opportunity to grieve.

That, my friends, is why a careless command to forgive, or a thoughtless criticism of victims who we perceive have not forgiven, is never welcome in my space.

My goal is always to move victims toward healing. Jesus confronted arrogant religious folks boldly. He never did so with the brokenhearted. And until we have tended to their broken hearts, we have no business preaching at them.

Continued… (PART 5)

As always…

With love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2019

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ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR

Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters

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JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
7:00pm
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here

NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect

November 2, 2019:  THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief.  It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.

NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.

Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.

NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.

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If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to info@generationsunleashed.com. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.

 

Setting Back Time (literally), Cake Batter Disasters, and Other Mother’s Day Musings

How soon it was, after we moved to Canada, that my parents bought that old daisy clock for our kitchen, I don’t recall, but I was enthralled by it. In my little mind it was the prettiest thing on earth, just like the real daisies outside. I would have one just like it when I was all grown up. Mom liked it too. So much so that when it stopped working, sometime around my late preteens, she set out to fix it.  There was also the little issue of not having money for frivolous things so what Red Green’a duct tape couldn’t fix, my parents found a way to redeem. Whether it was lack of finances or love for the clock, now useless, mom took it upon herself to fix it.  She pulled it apart, every little piece, and put it back together again. And, sure enough, it ran again.  Backwards. We kids laughed and joked about that for a long time.

Now, at 47, I look at the picture of that daisy clock and think to myself, if but for a moment, how I’d like to take the ‘clock of my life’ apart and put it back together differently. Maybe go back and do some things differently with a second shot at it. Especially as a mom. That’s me and almost every other mom, with presumably a few exceptions.

Not because of Mother’s Day, but just because of mothering and humanity, this topic has toyed with my mind more than enough lately. My failures stare me in the eye, time and time again, and more so with age. I see who my children have become and are becoming and I am amazed by God’s goodness in spite of my failures, but the awareness of generational sins, cycles and dysfunction are pretty glaring at this stage. So, yes, if I could pull down the old daisy clock, reset it, and go back with all that I’ve learned and…

Truth told, Adam and Eve would eat the apple again, and I would fail as a parent again. And we mothers would look back with regrets, losses, and wonder how God will ever redeem the impact of our generation, and the generation before us. Somehow he just would. Because God is amazing that way.

So that old daisy clock, which looks much less appealing today than it did then, can keep moving forward and I will choose to trust God to be enough for this generation and the next, even as He continues to redeem our generation and the ones before us.

And I’ll take a step back and look at the messy parts with new hope. More like that cake mom made when I was around 8 years old. The old yellow bowl was filled with batter and mom stirred enthusiastically, trying to beat out every lump. (So help us God if cake should ever have a lump in it…) And just like that, having been a bit too enthusiastic, she sent the bowl flying and chocolate batter spread everywhere on the counter, running down the counter and onto the floor. The bulk of it stayed on the counter, fortunately. We were not wealthy by any means, and wasting a cake would never do! So, after much fussing and gasping and exclaiming – while her children watched in humour – mom scraped the batter from the counter back into the bowl, cleaned up the rest of the mess, and baked a lovely cake for us. We kids who witnessed it, and those who heard the story, laughed many times over that moment.

Life is hard. Really hard, sometimes. And we moms have a habit of beating ourselves up pretty good. We look at our failures and see only the batter running down the cupboard and the mess on the floor. We forget that the bowl with batter running down it’s sides still has much in it to give, and what is spilled on the counter, God will redeem and make something beautiful out of it. The spills, He will wipe up.

Mother’s Day is the hardest for me to blog about, or write about, and I pretty much never speak publicly about my mom. There are so many unanswered questions, so many pains left in limbo, so much loss that I must give to God constantly, that it would be easier to look the other way. That is true in my relationship with my mom, and it is true in my own journey as a mom. And I’m not alone. I hear story, after story after story. I’ve chosen to forgive even where the story has never been acknowledged. When I see mom I hug her and tell her I love her, but my arms feel empty even as they are wrapped around her, knowing some things have never been and will likely never be.  Mom is old now, and because she is still living, I carry the story quietly within me out of respect. It’s something I did for dad, and it’s something I will do for mom. And when she is gone, I will speak, but I will speak respectfully as I have about dad. I bless her as she lives out her remaining days, months, years, and possibly decades (in fact probably decades… she’s pretty stubborn, or determined, depending on point of view). And I trust she has made peace with her God. I hear it in her, and bless her. But there are scars that cannot be addressed. So I trust God to wipe up the spills, scrape up the batter that remains, and make something beautiful.

This Mother’s Day, if you grieve for whatever reason, I pray for you. If you are the mom who failed and feels beyond redemption… If you are the mom who never had babies, or lost them all, or lost any… If you are the mom who is unappreciated, abandoned, or used and abused… If you are the mom who is in the thick of the mess of those early years, or struggling through difficult teen years (not all are, but some are)… If you are daughter or son who is estranged, rejected, or manipulated and repeatedly wounded… This day you are worth being celebrated.

And, this Mother’s Day,  if you are the mom whose life is idyllic, beautiful and ‘perfect’…. You are worth being celebrated.

Motherhood is a beautiful thing, made up of more joy and more pain than any human can possibly imagine exists in this world. Nothing has made the miracle of God and the wonder of spiritual life more real than motherhood. Nothing has broken my heart in deeper places. And nothing has caused me to reach out to Someone greater and say, “I need You. We need You!” And I trust that Someone with my life, my children, my mother and our intertwined stories, to bring something beautiful out of all things.

Happy Mother’s Day!

With Love, 
Trudy

 

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Why I chose to forgive my dad…

Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And  I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”

That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.

The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.

My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.

That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.

I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.

forgiveness-quote

Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.

When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.

If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.

*****

I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger