Trust, disruption, obstreperous victims, repentant offenders, pastors in prison, the church & the law, and finding a new way forward

“Trust Me” ~ GOD ~
When God says “Trust Me”, and you do it, and then everything in your human nature wants to trust people – good people – and all the good advice they give. Advice that collides with what you know God has spoken, the most tempting thing as a human is to cave and cater to human reasoning and logic and explanations – on either side, whether the ‘most spiritual’ or the ‘most humanistic’. But just contemplating it, causes your spirit to rise up ‘in remembrance of what He has spoken. “Trust Me,” He says again. So you return to the place of discomfort and wait. Alone. Or at least feeling alone. And you do this because you choose to trust Him, above all.

Obstreperous Victims, and Repentant Offenders
I’ve said it many times. I live in a space where both sides collide – where one force pulls this way on me and the other pulls that way – living between two sides in opposition. But I intentionally choose this place where generally neither ‘side’ is particularly pleased with me, and I do it because I genuinely believe it is one of the most critical aspects of breaking the cycle of abuse in churches.

I *advocate* for victims, and victims only. But I long for the healing and personal redemption of both victims and offenders. I hold tenaciously to the truth. And sometimes I have it wrong. But it will not be some human that convinces me I have it wrong, based on reasoning, excuses, explanations or any other thing. It will be God, and His people who take me to the place of my error and show me. Until He does that – directly or through His people – I will not say and do the things that please the crowds. I cannot live with myself if I do that.

And individuals on both sides of almost any situation I am in – whether a ‘situation’ or my day to day ministry – try often to persuade me to see it their way, or to “do this or that” or “do (whatever that thing is) this way or that”. Lovely people. Kind people. Well-meaning people. And all they want is peace. But true peace comes from letting latent and buried conflict rise to the surface, and erupt – sometimes into messy and chaotic ‘explosions’ – so that the ‘lie about peace’ is exposed, and true peace can be sought. Buried conflict presents as peace, but, alas, it is not. It is ongoing unacknowledged destruction. People’s spirits die. The next generation pays the price for the previous generations’ *peace* – which indeed was not peace – and the cycle continues. And most are content with this illusion of peace, because the alternative shakes things at a place that is uncomfortable, and takes the messy to places many cannot handle.

On the ‘Healing for All’ Side and Disrupting Norms
I advocate for victims. I believe working in cooperation with the law is ideal. And I fight for the healing and redemption of both victims and offenders. Because whichever piece (or ‘side’) we neglect to bring healing, is the side that will drag the sexual violence into the next generation. On the one side it goes forward through coverup and silence. And on the other side it goes on through unhealed trauma. It cannot be about this side or that, in any conflict or trauma, if real meaningful and lasting change is to come, and the cycle broken. But that middle place is at times a lonely place to stand and fight, with just a few who stand together. It is a place of fighting for the past (those who already were victimized or who already offended), and simultaneously fighting for the future to break the cycle. It is a place of disrupting norms, disrupting the illusion of peace, and of standing for two unpopular and polar opposite positions.

For this reason I am uncomfortable at a personal level with a vindictive approach to exposing corruption. But I will not silence voices and police what is said, unless it becomes directly abusive. I tend, rather, to counter it with what I believe. That anger is the result of generations of not being heard, and is linked to deep, deep pain and trauma. And pain demands to be acknowledged, one way or another. The sooner we all learn that leaning in and really hearing those devastated by abuse, rather than writing them off as bitter, the better off we will be and the more effectively we will break this dreadful scourge, and end (at least a large portion) of this horrible cycle. Because bitterness turns to hope and grace when the love of Jesus touches it, and it is not done through formula. It is done through relationship. And once that trusted relationship has been built, you’d be amazed what you earn permission to say to someone to help them heal! But your goal has to be simply loving them, not some other agenda.

It seems ‘easier’ for many Christians to deal with offenders and give them a place in Christian community because of this messy process of hearing victims who have been silenced. (And I would propose that victims who are heard immediately, seldom, if ever, get as dark and as messy as those in religious communities who have been silenced, blamed and shamed).  For offenders, all that is required for them to be embraced in Christian community  is for them to say “I’m sorry”. That’s it. If they are sorry – genuine or just skilled at appearing that way; and both do happen – they are back in. Immediately they are surrounded, applauded amid tears of joy at the ‘prodigal returned’. After that, whether they play the victim who is hated, or the gracious martyr ‘sinner come home’ who acknowledges that the victim rightfully feels negatively toward them, in either case, the offender finds a place more easily than the ‘bitter victim’ does. Power is more easily integrated with Christianity than messy pain, and it requires little investment, if any, by the community. Victims, on the other hand, need care, compassion, a listening ear, someone to speak gentle truth, and so much more, on every level, than most offenders. So offenders are often more welcomed than victims, for many reasons.

I would like to see both – the life of the victim and the life of the offender – redeemed. Each, individually, restored to God and peace. Each with the support in the church that they need.

A Place of Safety for the Victimized
The victim given a safe place to acknowledge and experience the pain  in its messy stages, while being guided to wholeness and redemption. To be allowed to grieve and mourn, without being labeled or thought insane. They’re not insane. In fact, the more they are allowed to honestly grieve, the more whole they will become. Rather than judging as bitter, we need to lean in and hear all that has been silenced and shut down, for many generations, behind that uncomfortable expression of grief. And the victim being protected from unnecessary upheaval, to the point of asking the offender to attend elsewhere if the victim cannot cope with their presence. Forgiveness to be the path we walk with them not the demand we place on them. The latter is damaging an shuts down the spirit, the former is relational and life-giving.

Speaking of bitterness and victims’ anger, I asked Mike Yoder of Milton PA this week if he finds many victims of abuse wanting revenge or retribution. (Mike is “trained in STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) and has also received training in Restorative Justice and Community Peacebuilding through the Center for Justice and Peace at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VAH”, and is passionate about impacting the epidemic of sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities). He said no, but with a disclaimer and an exception of ‘unless they tried to speak out and their voices have been silenced’. (That is as close to verbatim as I can recall his statement.) This lines up with my experience. Victims generally want offenders to take ownership without excuse, and courageously face whatever the consequences and fallout is of transparency and repentance. (Because that truly does symbolize repentance, to be willing to face consequences. In fact, I would argue if self-protection is still present, repentance is not complete.) Many victims have no desire for retribution or revenge. Many don’t even want their offenders to go to prison, and will even actively try to prevent such a thing, unless they believe there is a risk of reoffending, in which case they may actively seek to have the offender imprisoned. This is not for their own good, but for the protection of potential victims. Countless victims have said to me that if they were absolutely certain there was zero risk of reoffending, they would want nothing to do with the legal process. So the notion and judgement that most victims are part of an angry mob wanting to get even or cause pain, is highly inaccurate. So that mentality needs to shift.

Does the Offender Have a Place in Church and God’s Kingdom?
Yes, but not behind the pulpit.
For the offender, there must be both encouragement to repent, and permission to really repent – King David style, in sackcloth and ashes, with nothing held back, and no excuses left for sins committed. They need to be encouraged to face consequences with courage. It is the coward who assaults an innocent and defenceless child or vulnerable adult, and then thinks he/she doesn’t deserve the consequences for that crime. And it is a group of cowards who stand in the way of such courage rather than encouraging the offender to face those consequences, and daring to walk alongside. The enablers who play the role of protecting, are often good-hearted naive men and women who are of deep faith but have little understanding of predators – different than those who offend and then come forward and seek help, and change – and predators know how to play on the emotions and compassion of this crowd. The offender convinces this compassionate crowd that they were helpless in the face of struggle and meant no harm, or they “only did ___, not ____” and list a ‘small offence’ in contrast with rape. Or they may even say that the child intentionally tempted them. (Yes, I’ve heard this too often!) That offender is not helpless in the face of temptation, and not nearly as helpless in the face of a prison sentence as the child he/she assaulted. For grown men and women to band together and cover for such a person, or downplay their crime, is destructive and cowardly. Adults have physical, mental and spiritual advantages when facing consequences that the child (or vulnerable adult) did not have in that moment of victimization.  That said, I would like to see healthy cooperation with the law to support offenders in this process so that redemption is possible for them, and the risk of reoffending is decreased. That is in everyone’s best interest.

Along with this ‘place to repent’, we need to believe that transformation is possible (I do believe that it is, as do many other professionals) but with the balance of recognizing that we have no right to impose risk on the vulnerable. An adult who has molested children should not be given positions of power or leadership over children. It is absurd to think this is wise, and it is the wrong place to prove that transformation has happened. It is wrong to impose that risk on children and the vulnerable, and it is wrong to place the offenders in such a position of temptation/risk. I may be a recovered alcoholic, but becoming a bartender to prove my freedom from addiction is foolishness. Even more so when that addiction imposes risk on innocent, helpless or vulnerable individuals.

There is a difference in situations where teens and children have molested and gotten help. First of all, in most places such knowledge cannot be made public. Secondly, in cases I have worked, many teens who offended came forward on their own seeking help. And statistics indicate that teens who get help are most unlikely to reoffend. Even so, I know of teen offence cases where those young offenders have grown up to self-impose boundaries and accountability for everyone’s protection, using the ‘buddy system’ to ensure no one is ever at risk, and that they are never tempted or falsely accused. There is great wisdom in this. And, whether teens or adults, we should always believe that transformation is possible, and be equally committed to not taking risks or imposing risks on others, by using healthy boundaries to protect everyone. This is the responsibility of families, church leaders, ministry leaders (and, by law, businesses, to an extent and in some places), and is in the best interest of all.

The “I am trustworthy, they are not” mentality
I am amazed at how many adults have said to me that they don’t believe such transformation is possible, and it doesn’t matter if the offender is a youth or adult. It’s not possible. They insist that the offences of all who have offended by publicized, even if they were minors, and heavy boundaries imposed. (I’ve worked with several situations where 5 to 7 year olds were demonized for inappropriate touch. That, in my opinion, is another form of child abuse and is highly inappropriate. As is spanking the ‘offending’ party. But that’s another blog for another day.) When these individuals push this aggressive agenda, I sometimes ask if they ever offended sexually, as a pre-teen or teen, and the answer sometimes is, “Yes, but….” They make exceptions for themselves, because they know they: 1.) came forward on their own (or) 2.) only did it because, through the abuse they suffered, they were taught to reenact it (or) 3.) only did it until they understood what sex was (or) 4.) it’s obvious ‘my offender’ isn’t sorry, because he/she makes excuses (all the while forgetting they are making excuses as well)… and the list goes on. (I inject here that, depending on the conversation, it is perfectly appropriate to ask someone if they have offended but only on the condition that the individual asking is willing to answer the same question. If you molested as a teen and are not transparent about it, you have no authority or business to be holding others accountable. That’s hypocrisy, as is holding them to a higher standard in any way.) The truth is, if one offender can be transformed or rehabilitated, then we need to believe it is possible for others, and it is pride that holds oneself higher (or better) than another. It doesn’t mean that we have to get cozy with our offenders and pretend like it never happened, but we do need to allow for ‘them’ to also change their ways. (Again, I reiterate, while never putting minors and the vulnerable at risk to prove that ‘work of grace’ or transformation in the offender. That is one of the consequences that a humble and repentant offender will accept. And those who do accept it, are the least likely to offend because they don’t place themselves in a position of risk.)

Regarding Pastors/Leaders and the Duty to Report
I admit, I feel an element of relief at seeing the law hold leaders accountable for not reporting, because of the incredible damage the silence has done to victims, and to the Christian community. I am equally relieved to have both secular and Christian media paying attention to the problem of sexual abuse among us, and the problem of churches covering it up. However, while I wouldn’t in any way interfere with a prison sentence for such a leader, on this front I hold a somewhat controversial personal position in that I don’t like the idea of having hundreds of leaders put behind bars for this failure unless they insist on their own innocence, and there is no reason to believe they will protect going forward. Where leaders get a revelationeven if it is inspired by pressure from the lawI am inclined to work cooperatively with them. Earlier today, Pastor Dale Ingraham – who is my personal ministry pastor and, together with his wife Faith, founded Speaking Truth in Love Ministries – and I had a lengthy conversation addressing this topic (as well as that of teen offences in closed communities), and we agree that there needs to be a healthy process for transitioning from the old way (covering up and silencing) to leaders embracing transparency, accountability. Meeting the leaders ‘where they are at’, if they so much as show interest in learning to respond well to abuse, rather than pushing for imprisonment, seems redemptive and critical in breaking cycles. We are both interested in helping leaders in this process, and supporting them in a restorative approach to dealing with past coverups and failure to report, as it is most likely to result in positive outcomes all around, going forward. (I read this to Pastor Dale prior to publishing)

The exposure – through media and law –  will reveal the extent of the problem, much as the story in Spotlight and the exposure of sexual abuse in Catholic churches is influencing greater accountability and transparency among them. And restorative approaches to dealing with these leaders will most effectively turn the tide across our culture and bring positive change. And ultimately – Pastor Dale and Faith and I agree – our goal is to break the cycle and bring positive change. Where cover-up continues and offenders are not held accountable, prison is an excellent short-term consequence, but fails to influence long-term positive outcomes.

A Segue: Our Legal System & An Alternative
That’s the spiritual/church/religious side of it. From a legal system perspective, the truth is the system isn’t equipped to work well with sexual violence. It is faulty and the only thing it seems to offer is getting offenders off the street for a time after which they return with an increased likelihood of offending. In this way it contributes to the problem, albeit not as much as religious cover-ups, from my perception of things. So, somehow these two things need to change, ideally simultaneously. At the same time as the church stops covering up for offenders and preventing consequences, we need to find healthier ways of working proactively and in cooperation with the law, even while the system for handling sex crimes is questioned. Here, from my observation, we need a new way of working with cases. Sexual abuse is one crime in which the criminal is often very closely related to the victim, though not always, and in which the arbitrary process of imposing the law on both parties can do a lot of damage to the victim, as his/her voice is lost in the process. It offers only the comfort of the offender being behind bars, if the case ends up being one of the few in which the offender ends up prosecuted. (Based on information provided by StatCan, between 2009 and 2014, if an accused is identified in 300 of 500 (3×100 of 5×100), the end result is that in approximately 129 cases charges are laid, 63.21 would go to court, 17.04 lead to a conviction, and in the end, 9.54 of the 300 are placed in custody. That’s a pretty low percent of convictions, meaning most who are charged, and almost half of those convicted, are never incarcerated.) This, alone, leads me to believe that we can be far more effective in partnership with the law than to leave the law to its own devices, or to expect the religious system to deal with abuse, when both are currently clearly ineffective.

For this reason, one of my dreams and passions and brainstorms is that, much like Child Protective Service organizations, there be an alternative to the police force – albeit one that works in cooperation with the law and within the confines of the law – to handle sex abuse cases. The more specialized the team, the more sensitivity there will be toward victims, and the more likely it is that offenders will be truly ‘rehabilitated’ and given ongoing healthy accountability and support to prevent re-offending. These things, as part of reintegration into community, are among the most effective and necessary steps in preventing recidivism. Like every other addiction, isolation and loneliness increase the risk. Therefore, the way we are most accustomed to responding – by alienating, shaming-without-redemption (because it is healthy to be ashamed of such crime), and excluding from community – are contributing to the problem.

What the church is doing in most cases is an epic fail, and no one can convince me it is the Jesus Way or God’s heart. It’s not. And what the law has to offer is sadly just as inadequate. So, somehow we have to transform these two ways of responding to sexual crimes. And it is my prayer that this will come.

A Place in the Middle, and a Path to be Pursued
It is the thing for which I advocate, and for which I stand in the middle – that place between two opposing sides – and long to help both sides, while never compromising truth, justice, mercy and love. Calling out abuses, injustice, coverups, abuse of power and the like, and never silencing the victims’ pain even if it is entirely uncomfortable to hear their anger (yet not endorsing abusive attacks), and believing offenders can change. yet never compromising on the need for consequences and healthy boundaries even if the offender is completely repentant, and then working for the greater good…  this, I believe, is key to a path forward.

And that is the path I seek to walk. At a leadership level, it is a path of being held accountable, and holding others accountable – and those leaders who are willing to commit to such transparency are the only leaders I wish to work closely with, even while allowing for failure in that goal. A path of standing firm and honouring the voice of God when those around insist you choose their particular path or condemn the path God set before you. It is a path that is groundbreaking, in this field of sexual violence, and is therefore one of failure and stumbling. Therefore it must also be a path of repentance, in which I humbly acknowledge “I have sinned’, when God reveals – either directly or through other godly voices (and dare I add, through relationally ‘present’ individuals who are not agenda driven) – that we have done wrong. (I throw this disclaimer in because I get advice from absolute strangers – even people I’ve never seen or heard of before – and while I listen and hear them, I do not take every criticism to heart, or adjust my position/belief at every ‘word of wisdom’ or ‘message God told me to give’.)

Truth is, even from people I know and have personal relationships, I can get two messages on any given day, both devout Christians who have a ‘word from God’, and the two messages are polar opposites. I am then supposed to decide which one is the true word and follow it, I suppose. But often they are opinion-based ‘words from God’ – advice that clearly supports one agenda or the other – and when I hold them up to ‘the JESUS Way’, neither is inherently wrong or right. Sometimes the difference is whether the person sharing ‘the word’ is endorsing Anabaptist non-resistant views, the Apostle Paul confronting Peter in public views, or some other personal opinion.

I choose to take my counsel from those nearest – those in my inner circle I never disregard – as well as those who I may never have met, who clearly are not agenda-driven, who reflect the heart of Jesus consistently (not perfectly). Those who listen, really listen…. Those who obviously and actively pursue God, truth, peace, justice and mercy… with love. These are the voices that I value most, whether they agree with me or not, because these are among the things that matter most to God. And it is my heart to value what God values.

So I press forward and onward…. thankful for grace. And I wait for God to speak…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

 

Why can’t you shut up about sexual abuse and get a life?

That question. Why can’t I just shut up? I’ve been asked this question in various forms over the past several years, by a variety of people. I’ve been unfriended (both in the real world and on FB) because I won’t shut up. One woman, a victim herself, who claims it’s had no impact on her and “it’s not a big deal” had a most condescending way of telling me to give it up already and find something better to do with my life.

Here’s the thing. With my personality, my nature, or the way I was trained – (I don’t always know where the ‘born this way’ starts or ends, and where the ‘trained this way’ picks up) – but in any case I would rather shut up. Yes, you heard me. I would rather shut up and pretend that sexual abuse isn’t an epidemic. And I’d especially like to pretend it isn’t in churches and faith communities. But it is. And I can’t.

In part I’d like to shut up because it’s not a fun way to spend my life. And I like fun. I love laughter and doing fun things. And I’d rather do them all the time than to even once get my hands bloody and feet dirty in the messy world of sexual violence against children. I’d rather plant flowers and manicure my lawn and sit in my flower garden and sip coffee, tea and water all day long in frivolous conversation with happy people. (Okay…stroke the ‘frivolous conversation’ bit. I don’t enjoy that.) And eat fruit. Because in The Garden it was supposed to be that peaceful and nice. But we don’t live in that Garden and hell has invaded our worlds in ways our first parents never imagined when they took that bite.

So the thought of sitting in a garden chattering with friends, laughing and playing games is appealing. Not gonna lie. No one would threaten to sue me.  No one would hate me. Everybody would love me. If all I did was sit in a garden with friends and never spoke another word of confrontation about sexual abuse and the agenda to cover up. Okay, they might hate me if I was super rich and if it was only an elitist group welcome in my garden. But if all were welcome and I simply served biscuits, treats and drinks, no one would hate me. Except maybe those who hate everyone and are always jealous. But mostly I would be loved. And that is my bottom line, based on my personality and who I am: I like to be loved and accepted. I am born for that. I am conditioned for it. Follow the rules. Don’t stir the water. Love everyone, and be loved back generously.

But I can’t shut up. And I can’t because every day children are conceived. Every day they are born. And every day they are molested, raped, brutalized and used. And every day I am aware that at any given moment, if I pause, a child enters the world, somewhere. And in that same moment another is being raped or molested in some way. And in that same moment an abuser, a church leader, a parent… someone, somewhere, is denying the horror that child lives. I cannot ‘un-know’ these things. They are as real to me as the breath I breathe.

But the real reason I cannot shut up is because I know there is hope for that child in spite of all that darkness and hell and trauma. And if just one child (whether an adult or still a child) hears that someone, somewhere is willing to fight for the truth and their hearts, then defying everything my heart longs for (peace, no conflict, Garden-kind-of-innocence, and to be loved by all) is worth it. Because that child might not commit suicide. That child might find the courage to heal and get help. And that child might not grow up to molest others, if that child knows that their story matters to someone.

So, go ahead, ask me if I can’t just get over it already, or move on or get a life. But first dare to picture the graphic truth of a toddler (male or female) being raped, an adult body forcing inside, and that adult getting away with it as a “member in good standing” because he said he is sorry. (Now recreate with a female offender). Too graphic? This is the reality of many children so we as adults better be able to handle it if we demand they live with it.

If you can physically step over that toddler, spirit torn and flesh bleeding, and keep on walking and literally ‘get over it’…. then send me your challenge to get over it and move on. But I can’t. And I won’t. Because I have ‘seen’ those little bodies left to bleed… I have seen them in the broken lives of struggling adults. I will continue to pick up those little bodies, wipe up the blood and bodily fluids that have left forever stains in their spirits – stains which remain, fluids which continue to spill, and blood which continues to flow from those scars for decades. And I will speak the love of Jesus over them, tell them who they really are and what they are worth. And I will confront boldly the dark sins hiding in our communities.

Because Jesus would. And He would say a whole lot more than I have courage or boldness or words for. And it wouldn’t be laced with an ounce of self-preservation or fear or wanting to be liked.

Matthew 18:6-9.

I invite you to speak up. Educate yourself about the truth. And fight for the lost children, stripped of innocence, and born into the silent sex-trade of what we call church and faith community.

Rise up. Join in transforming our communities so children are safe and offenders are called out and held responsible. Together we will create an environment where image means nothing and truth means everything. We need you. Even if the only ‘speaking out’ and ‘fighting for’ you can muster is on your knees in your room. The children need you.

Love,
~ T ~

© 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

Shocking Note From Conservative Minister…

Even as I write this, I recognize that I have not fully absorbed the words in the note that arrived earlier this week. I shared it with a small handful of people, not offering the name of the author, and most responded with tears and emotion, amazed and encouraged. Of those with whom I shared the message, most–if not all, besides my husband– were also conservative Mennonites. And because it was so encouraging to them, I decided to share it in a blog….

I am accustomed to receiving letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from strangers. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence, so when I saw that note, I was mostly nonchalant about it. That is, until I started reading. And my eyes have this way of taking in an entire page all at once, but registering only a portion, so words popped out grabbing my attention. “…don’t know me… conservative… minister… negative connotation…” This can be a distressing thing, at times, when the wrong words grab me, and my heart rate increased ever so slightly as I read it.

The shock at what I read, compelled me to read it at least three times before it all registered. (All identifying information has been edited out:

Trudy, We have never met but I feel a fire inside to drop you a line this morning. I am a conservative Anabaptist …minister…. Recently …in the course of different conversations your name come up at least a half dozen times often with negative connotations but not always. For your name to come up that often you must be having a big impact … I want to do 2 things.
1. I want ask for forgiveness where “my” people have spoken evil of you for just following the call on your life.
2. I want to thank you for following that call and not giving up. We need you. Your call? Isaiah 61:1

By the third reading I felt like a dam was pushing against the inner walls of my heart, threatening to burst, but it would not give way. I wanted to weep, but only a lonely tear or two formed. A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and memory, of all this one message addresses in my heart, and the ‘history’ of my life among ‘his’ people… who are and always will also be ‘my’ people.

In an instant I realized how very healed my heart is in so many ways and places, and yet how there are small ‘brutally raw’ spots, waiting to heal. The words God had spoken, and words I shared with Tim and a few friends a few years ago, when my heart was particularly raw, returned, “Healing will come… and it will come from the very source of your pain.” At the time I tried to imagine just how my healing could or would ever come from ‘my people’, where so much pain had entered my life and broken trust with God. But I chose to believe it.

And little by little it came… A note from a friend still in the setting… and another… and another… An encouragement from one Conservative Mennonite pastor after my book came out in March… and then another… and another… and another, until there were six.

And then the unthinkable happened. Never in a million years would I have anticipated it or even dared to desire such a thing… but it came. I attended a funeral in my former church setting, and a leader I knew in ‘those years’ shook my hand. But he didn’t let go. He held my hand and his voice choked up as he thanked me for honouring them in my book. “We didn’t deserve it,” he said. I smiled and patted his hand–still holding mine–“I think you did,” I said. Tears formed then, as he continued, apologizing for not understanding me, for not being there and for failing me. “I wish we had done more to help you,” he said.  I thanked him, and immediately felt it; another moment of healing.

These moments have been representative of my Heavenly Father; Abba… Papa God, who cares personally and intimately about every wound in my heart. Even the ones I forgot I had, or never acknowledged. I expected nothing more in the way of healing. My heart was full.

And I think that is why the note this week was so overwhelming. It wasn’t just about the past. It was about the ongoing lies, evil-speaking and attacks on our ministry. (Which, thank God, I have learned to let run off as the oil of the Holy Spirit covers me and doesn’t allow it to penetrate.) But more than that, it was a blessing on our ministry.

Ultimately my affirmation comes first from my Heavenly Father, very directly, as He ministers to my heart. Secondly it comes from my husband who stands with me. Thirdly it comes from hearing and reading about others who are rising up to bring the healing of Jesus to the broken and wounded in the church. I seek nothing beyond that, in the way of endorsement or affirmation.

So when a moment like this drops out of the clear blue sky, my heart and spirit are almost overcome. I thank God for this minister’s encouragement, for his ministry to the wounded, and for a reminder that there are others ‘within’ in spiritual warfare for the children and offering the hope of Jesus to the wounded.

It is my prayer that this minister’s note will be encouraging for those of you who are also conservative Mennonite and feel alone and abandoned. If you are wondering if any of ‘our people’ and leaders in particular, will acknowledge what was done against you, and the need for your heart to find healing, now you know.

I recently received a message from an abuse victim, asking if every conservative Mennonite victim of sexual abuse gets the urge to strangle anyone they see wearing a plain suit coat. And in another email this note arrived not so long ago, from a victim of extreme sexual violence, in a religious home with this question:
“why is it that the people who ‘look the most christian’ are the ones that are the least understanding and the most hurtful? Even the ones who don’t place much stock in a host of church rules etc. The people who have shown me a clear picture of who God really is are people who my friends and family would call wordly. (…) It’s been drilled into us since we were kids that if they don’t wear a Menno dress they probably aren’t Christian and yet look at what all goes on in the life of people who wear the ‘right’ clothes. When it comes to some of these people it feels like the only thing you accomplish is beating your head on a brick wall.”

 

My prayer is that the gentleman/minister who wrote the note of encouragement and apology, who also wears a plain suit coat and is conservative Anabaptist, will be representative of the Father’s heart to you as he was to me, and a reminder that good and evil dwell in every culture. And I pray that healing will come to each of you also–even from the very ‘source’ of your pain–as it has for me, as Jesus is represented will by those who love Him above all else, including image and religion.

Those of us who love Him, will love you also, and we will tear down the dividing walls between brothers and sisters in Christ, with no regard for self preservation. We will put ourselves on the line for your well-being, because that is the way of Jesus.

Last but not least, I want to bless this minister of the healing Gospel of Jesus. I pray that God will enlarge his sphere of influence, so that many of ‘his people’ will know the healing touch of Jesus Christ, through him, his wife, his family and his church.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

Day 30…

It’s November 30, and the final of my 30 days of focusing on victims of sexual abuse in these blog posts. A day or two after I made the commitment to do my best to post daily for the month, and acknowledge survivors of abuse, in some way, I realized that November is Canada’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There are many aspects to family violence, and sexual assault is a part of that violence. That said, while offenders are often family members or close friends, it is not always the case.

My goal this month has been to lift a weary heart, to encourage those lost in the shadows of shame, and bless victims who have lost sight of their own value and personal identity. And hopefully it encouraged those who are not victims to reach out to the hurting around them.

My prayer has been, and is, that each victim becomes a victor… an overcomer… So that together we become a people who raise our sails against the winds, and master the winds of pain and trauma… using the very thing intended to destroy us, as the launching pad for a future filled with purpose and hope.

In this 30 day stretch I learned that it is very difficult to focus solely on the victim, but it can be done. And it was a good exercise for me. Longterm, however, both sides of this equation need attention, and both the victim and the criminal need the appropriate help.

I also learned that it is challenging to write daily about sexual abuse, even from a ‘healing for victims’ perspective. There is a heaviness to this topic that cannot be done away with, no matter how positive the ‘spin’. It’s painful and it is hard. From that perspective I understand why church leaders, parents, teachers and the general population want to run, deny or silence people. But it is a cowardly act, and it is not of God.

God welcomes the cries of His children, and comforts us. He doesn’t tell us we are making things up, lying, over-reacting, or just trying to ‘get even’. He doesn’t tell us that our reality is nothing more than a nightmare or a demonic imagination. He  hears us. He holds us. He comforts us.

But most importantly, He reminds us who we are; His beloved, accepted and healed; His adopted, with divine authority over the darkness; His redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit. His love flows into us, and out to others. We breathe in His life, in exchange for the stale air of sin that poisons us, and we breathe out His life to those around us.

That is purpose. That is hope. That is a good future. That is redemption.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Dear Victim: How God views you…

Yahweh, your God, is intimately present in your battle, as a mighty and victorious warrior, fighting for you! Having overthrown your enemy, He serenades you, singing over you with great delight, like a Papa mesmerized by His child! He (Based on: Zephaniah 3:17)

The battle is not mine, it is not yours. We are loved. We are fought for. We are accepted. And our Heavenly Papa–Abba–holds us in His arms and in His heart. He is not a far-away-never-present Papa; He is ‘over us’ watching, loving, laughing and finding joy in us.

He sees His creation; a child in His own image and likeness, not the brokenness that we feel. He sees us through the eyes of love, acceptance and grace. We are His; we belong… no longer misfits. In this we find our true identity, our freedom.

Take a moment to whisper a thank you to this amazing God, and spend a moment basking in the light of His infinite love. It is life-altering to experience the wonder of Him.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Dear Victim: Just so you know…

Your story matters. Your pain matters. And most importantly, “You matter.” In fact, you matter so much that you are worth more than the chains they have tried to put on you.

You are worth a ‘prison break’, to leave that bondage behind and move into a place of freedom, purpose and healthy personal identity. If you are struggling to find that freedom, find someone–anyone safe–who will walk you to that place. It awaits you.

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And, whatever you do, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t be free.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Freedom; Reality or Illusion?

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Freedom.  

Look at the word closely, and it becomes a place; a state of ‘being’.  Much like kingdom. Kingdom is that which is in a state of being under the authority or ‘belonging’ to a king. Freedom is that which is in the state of being free.  

And it can often feel much like that; and elusive placed which one must have a key, or a connection to enter. Currently I am traveling in the United States of America–hence the lack of consistency in posting, and it will be that way intil next Wednesday–and I needed a passport to get in; not to mention the security process. Had I tried to force my way in any other way – – especially with the state of our world right now– – It probably would not have gone so well for me. 

As it was, things really couldn’t have gone better! The security process back in Ontario Canada, had three steps. As we neared the third and final security check, I observed something that I would define as freedom. A security guard, all decked out in his uniform, stood near the line singing the orders. “You don’t need your passport now, all you need is your boarding pass and a smile on your face…” 

Over and over he sang, and as he sang the people walking through the line who could hear him, began to smile, and chuckle. I caught a young woman’s eyes just as she rounded the corner; they sparkled with delight. We exchanged a few words and shared a laugh. (And it wasn’t until I turned away that it struck me; she was Muslim.) Around me similar exchanges happened between strangers from many races and cultures, and gradually most of the line transformed from sullen and sober, to smiling and chatting amongst ourselves. It was 5:30am. 

The security guard’s freedom inspired and influenced us, but his freedom was personal. He was confident to be himself; daring to be different than everyone else around. He stood out from the crowd, in hope and expression. 

Freedom is like that. It stands out, offers hope and influences those around, but ultimately it is personal. It can seem like a land far, far away, to which there are no passports or visas. It can feel like an illusion, but if we push through – – much like all those security points to enter another country — there comes a moment when we find it, and realize it was there all along, waiting for us to discover and express it. 

Freedom is a choice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. (Trust me,–anyone who sings to a passing audience of grouchy strangers–a few who really couldn’t bring themselves to be amused–at 5:30am, is choosing to rise above.) It isn’t about making the circumstances right, but about refusing to surrender to them. It doesn’t always look like singing; sometimes it looks like tears or even frustration. It looks mostly like a lack of pretentiousness and yet choosing hope even in pain, even in frustration. 

Freedom is that inner state over which I am given authority. It is as my willingness to enter in, and it is as successful as my ability to be honest, and and as lasting as my honesty and humility in seeking help from someone else, if and when that is needed. 

Ultimately it is about how free I am to function within my intended design, regardless of what life has done to rob me of that gift. That is freedom. 
Love,

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger