Filling freezers, Statistics, Glass Houses and ‘Why do we want to believe in miracles?’

Forty hours ago I logged out of Facebook and asked Tim to reset my password. He did. And I don’t have it. So I can only go on when he signs me in. I then went to WordPress and relinked my blog to my FB account so that I can post blogs automatically. While I do not spend a lot of time on FB, most days, it is easy to get caught up in the opinions and debates of current events. Some of that is good. Some of it is not. All of it is time consuming. And the fallout of various aspects is more than I have energy for in the middle of finishing up my PhD coursework.

Since posting it I have managed to squeeze an 836 pound beef in our freezer, canned 14 jars of stewing beef, and completed my final quiz for my Statistics course. (This beef will be shared, not hoarded. In fact, about 20 pounds already left the house this morning. And, for the record, it was ordered prior to this ‘craziness’ going on).  Now I’m working on my final paper for Stats course, and am about to start my final course, a reading course and research project to be completed between now and August. And then comprehensive exams. They will be the ‘make it or break it’ of my degree. The aftermath of medication last year, combined with a concussion after being rear-ended at 100km/h (65 m/hr) have made memory work a challenge. Exams require strong memory capabilities, or the determination to get everything into longterm. For stats, I overcame this by rewatching class lectures between 2 and four times, and rewriting notes 3 to five times. It has been extremely time consuming!

As I was doing all of these things, I’ve been contemplating why we humans reach for miracles. More specifically, why do I? I’ll admit, apart from taking Bible stories at face value, I’ve not seen many miracles and used to be a skeptic. And then one day a friend who knew I was having a lot of issues with my one knee ‘giving out’, and accompanying pain, called me up and invited me to church. We’re having a healing service, she said, and I think you should be there. I agreed, because she is my friend.

Nothing wonky happened. But I did muster the courage to ask for prayer, and a group of strangers gathered round me, and prayed. The problem left and never came back. That was about 14 years ago.

I am one of those who gets to have a colonoscopy ever 5 years. It started first in my 20’s, when I had significant rectal bleeding with no explanation. After the colonoscopy showed nothing, the specialist chalked it up to stress. That made sense. I was just starting to acknowledge and work through the trauma of my childhood. Nothing more was done.

In my 30’s, they started with the scopes every 5 years. Just keeping an eye on things after weeks of the same issues. At one point, I believe it was two weeks into another round of bleeding, we had a worship night. I had my eyes closed, hands raised, and when I opened my eyes i was surprised (and deeply moved) to be surrounded by a handful of individuals, including one of our elders, praying over me. A woman, who had no idea what was going on with my health, was among them. She placed her hand on my abdomen and began to pray. As she did so, I just knew the bleeding had stopped. That was around ten years ago. The bleeding has never happened again.

Were these miracle healings? Frankly, I don’t care what they were. I’m thankful for the outcome. Even so, I like to keep one foot firmly planted in the practical and scientific realities of this present world, while keeping the other firmly planted in the mystery of God and the spiritual realities that we cannot fully grasp. It keeps my faith in balance and rooted in the eternal, not the temporal. It helps me live in a place of trusting God, in the unknown.

And maybe seeing a loved one fighting a fierce battle with cancer right now, forces me to grapple with the absence of such mysteries as miracles. I have prayed. I have wept. I have tried to hold onto a fragment of faith in the miraculous, when the practical screams it is a lie. When the fight against cancer is a quiet,  persistent evidence of the absence of miracles. And when faith in God’s goodness boils down to knowing, “Even now. Even here. Even in this, He is good.” And to somehow reconcile myself with that certainty, when there is no evidence that good can or will be done in a given circumstance.

Maybe, hearing another’s ‘miracle’ offers us some borrowed hope in a place or circumstance destitute of such hope. It is a reminder that God is sovereign and He is goodness. It is the very essence of His nature. And where no miracle is granted to the naked eye, a greater miracle, reserved for the spirit to see, is born.

With the passing of time, my world has become more and more that of ‘living in a glass house’, thanks to my work and how public it is. I am ok with that, for the most part, as I have nothing to hide. I am human. When I fail, I will apologize. I aim for due diligence, and throwing in disclaimers in my writings, and apologize if I have erred. It’s who I am.

However, the standard of perfection that is required to function within Christian context is one to which I cannot live up. I never have. I never will.  It has been months of ‘off and on’ discussions with Tim, wondering how long I can do what I do, within the context and ‘audience’ of my work; conservative Anabaptists and ex-conservative Anabaptists. I’ve lived simultaneously the past four years in another (secular) world (university) that is, ironically, far more grace-filled. It is strange to say that out loud, but it is true. This contradiction has been challenging to process. It is in university I was trained to be culturally sensitive and separate the horror of sexual abuse I encounter from the Anabaptist culture in which it takes place. It is in university I was trained on Restorative Justice practices (that strangely echo the teachings of Jesus). It is in university I was taught to separate the crime from the criminal and remove crime labels from their identity. It is in university I learned to extend grace to myself, when profs would say, repeatedly, “Trudy,  you don’t have to be perfect”, and “It’s ok to make a mistake.” Most of my profs have said that, and several have gone above and beyond, entering into my world, my life, my story in ways that few people ever have. I never looked for it, and didn’t even realize how much that can do for a person, other than seeing what it did for others when I entered in. One prof (not a believer) in particular, sat with me for more hours than I can keep track of, and would say, “Someone has His hand on you.” I understand why people are drawn away from religion.

I could now do a list of things that do not align with Christian values, but I won’t, because I have no expectation that a secular entity will uphold my Christian values. Instead, I will thank God that He reveals His kind heart through those who do not believe. I will thank Him that He has protected my faith in Him, in spite of … in spite of so many things, even while He is eerily silent in the space of other prayers that are wanting in answers.

Today, while miracles are glaringly absent in the wilderness of many of my prayers, I will grieve those disappointments while holding on to this one thing: God is a God of miracles. Even if the only miracle is that I (or you) can somehow hold on to Him and embrace hope in spaces and experiences that, humanly speaking, should drive us to cynicism, atheism and rejecting God.

Maybe, at the end of the day, that is the greatest miracle. To live daily finding joy and hope in God. That my heart has not grown cynical, in spite of daily reminders that incredible evil lurks ‘among God’s people’ (along with goodness). To separate that evil from God and see Him is good and kind, and to separate that evil from the ‘personhood’ of the evildoer and still see him/her as holding value and being worthy of kind treatment (albeit good ad firm too). These are miracles of another sort.

I will trust Him as I process things what seem upside down in my world. Harsh judgement from the religious, Christ-like kindness from unbelieving professors and peers, sexual abuse blithely brushed off in religious community where children should be safe, and much more.

Because the thing about miracles is that they don’t make sense. They are the unexpected outcomes. So I will continue to believe that my God is a miracle working God.

As for Facebook… for now I will likely pop in from time to time. I care deeply about my friends. Hundred and hundreds of the 5000 are familiar to me. Many have engaged privately, so that you come to mind even in my day-to-day-not-on-Facebook work and world. You are not just ‘one of many’.  Your wellbeing, each one of you, matters to me. That does not change with my absence from Facebook. Maybe I’ll be back one day. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Or maybe I will find the world of real interactions is much more life-giving without it, even in a world suspended in time, with no gatherings. Either way, I am taking this time to be thoughtful, to live with grace, and to continue to seek the heart of God, and let Him seek mine. The processing of experience is my responsibility. The outcome of things that come into my life, good or bad, invited or not, is my responsibility.

And I choose redemption and grace.

As always…

Much love,
Trudy

 

© Trudy Metzger 2020

The Message that Changed Me Forever

The stone bench had grown familiar, my senses numbed, so that I hardly thought of the discomfort. The prison cell was dark, damp and cold, yet, somehow, strangely comforting. I felt at home. I had memorized every square inch of my surroundings, every stain, and every mark. At least what I could see in the dim light of day. I wasn’t happy, exactly, and I didn’t pretend to be. I was trapped. Caged in. Held captive by iron bars in the window, placed so high no human could ever reach from within, surround by cement walls, and a heavy metal door blocked all but the tiniest hint of light from whatever lay beyond. There was a lock and, I assumed, somewhere there was a key. Not that I cared. Or even wondered. It could have been in my own pocket and I wouldn’t have bothered about it. I had no desire to leave. Nothing to leave for, or to. This was my ‘home’ and had been almost as far back as my mind could remember. Other realities had long faded, and when I thought of them, I wondered if it was real, or just some ‘other world’ I had imagined. Yes, this was ‘home’…. but, then, what did I know about the meaning of the word?

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When I paid any attention to it, I realized my parched tongue hurt. I touched my chapped lips. They burned. Moist red on my hands indicated they were bleeding. Again. I wiped my hand on my tattered old shirt, once a pure white, now faded and marred with sweat, blood and time. Just another stain. Another mark. Proof that I was still alive. Surviving. I washed my clothes, from time to time, in the puddle that collected in  the corner of my cell.  At least I did, to a time. Anymore it made no difference.

Thirst. It had been a long time since I had a drink of clean water. Just how long, I couldn’t say. I walked to the corner of my cell, picked up the rusty tin and held it to my mouth, sipping just a swallow of the stagnant water. At least it was wet. I looked in the bucket, now emptied of its last drops, and whispered a silent prayer for rain. To whom I prayed, or why, I had no idea. It just slipped in quiet desperation, without a thought, or a speck of faith to accompany it. The hole in the foundation had saved my life often, providing water in a puddle in the corner. Ironic, how a curse for one man is a blessing for another.

My stomach growled. I squinted, looking at the dried loaf at the end of the bench. It tempted. Each week someone pushed one loaf through the bars, without a word, letting it drop into my cell. It was how I told time. And each week I broke that bread into seven pieces, knowing it had to last. Sometimes the kind stranger didn’t show up and I found myself worrying they may be deathly ill, or even dead. The relief when the loaf arrived a few days late was more the knowing my ‘friend’ was alive, than the loaf that fell into my cell. But always, when the loaf came late, there was extra. I turned away from the portion that remained. It was the last piece.

I wondered, often, who my kind stranger might be. The cell was to be my slow and painful death, starving and abandoned. Yet this stranger’s gifts sustained me. I wondered how many other cells there were, and did anyone bring them bread? I was fairly certain it was a child—I had heard the voice, faintly, a few times—but couldn’t be sure. And, if it was a child, where were they getting the bread? It occupied my mind and, in a way, boosted my will to live. I needed to be there to receive the gift.

The lock rattled. I jumped. Startled out of my reverie, I cried out in fear. “Who is it? And what do you want?” My mind raced, immediately. Who knew I was here? My captors were long gone, assuming I was dead, and apart from the child and the bread, no one had ever bothered about me.

The key scraped loudly, the lock clearly rusted, and the rattling continued. The visitor persisted and, at long last, removed the lock. The door creaked loudly as it swung open and light suddenly filled the room. In truth, it wasn’t a bright light, but to eyes that had not seen more than a distant ray, it was nearly blinding. I raised my hand, covering my eyes, parting my fingers to peer through them.

A man stood just outside the door. “May I come in?” he asked.

“It’s really quite a dirty place,” I said, my voice as rusty as the lock. I was suddenly aware of the filthy ‘toilet’, off to one side, offering nothing more than a hole in the floor. I cringed, not willing that anyone would see my condition, or my ‘home’. “I’m not sure you want to come in. You’ll get your clothes soiled. Besides, I don’t even know who you are, or what you want. Why would I let you in? Why would you want to?”

“Please, just let me come in. I have some good news for you, if you’ll hear it,” the visitor said, his voice tender, and filled with compassion.

“Good news? For me? What on earth could you have to say to me? You don’t know me and….” I paused. “Oh, never mind, what do I have to lose? You can come in, I suppose.” I mumbled as I motioned, somewhat carelessly, for him to sit beside me on the stone bench. My mind raced, filled with questions I dared not ask.

He sat down and I looked at him just long enough to see if I recognized anything about him. His brown eyes held a rare gentleness, something I had not seen often in my life. Even in the days before I was thrown in this dark pit… though there had been someone, once… but it had been so long ago… one of the memories I doubted were real. His eyes drew me in, yet I dared not hold his gaze, knowing how repulsive I must be and fearing the memory that threatened. Keenly aware of the present, I tried not to imagine the stench of the place. A stench to which I had grown so accustomed it didn’t even bother me. But it had, at first, and suddenly I remembered. I wanted to tell him to leave, to lock the door behind him and never come back, but I couldn’t speak. His voice interrupted my rambling thoughts.

“I was sent here by the king, to unlock this door and release you from this prison,” the man said.

“Why that’s ludicrous!” I blurted out, scoffing. “Why would the king send you? And besides, I don’t want to leave! Every week a child brings me a loaf of bread, and I collect water from the rains. I have lived here so long that I’ve all but forgotten how to live in any other world. I have no place to go, no future and no life outside of this place anymore. And, even if I wanted to leave, who would want me? I deserve this place. I did dreadful things before I was thrown in here. Paying for my crimes in this way assuages my guilt. So, if you don’t mind, please leave. Just go.”

“The prison door is open, you are free to walk out of here, on the king’s orders,” the man said. “He has granted a pardon for all your crimes. What’s more, he arrested the men who threw you in this place and is having them sentenced. But that’s not all. I haven’t even told you the best part of all…”

“Sir, I don’t know who you are, or why you are kind to me. I don’t know why the king sent you, but I cannot leave. Whatever the rest of this ‘good news’ is, it doesn’t matter, so don’t even tell me…. I don’t want to hear any of it. It will only torment me when you are gone.” I pointed to my ankle, at the shackles that held me further entrapped. A large iron ball had been placed in the middle of the room, and the chain attaching me to it allowed me just within reach of the stone bench, the toilet, and the puddle–my water supply. Never, not in a million years, would I move it from its place. The shackles that once cut my circulation, when my flesh was healthy, now scraped against my bony body, calloused from the rubbing.

The man pulled another key from his pockets. “Ah,” he said, “but the king sent that key, having taken it from your captors. He ordered me to unlock it also.”

The kind man knelt, then, on that dirt floor and worked at the shackles until they came off. At once he began massaging my feet, his warm tears falling. He kissed the wounded ankle. I cringed, embarrassed that he would touch my wounds, so filthy, repulsive. Yet I was amazed at his tenderness. “Please, sir…” I started to speak again, but he interrupted, raising his finger to my lips.


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“Shhh….” He continued working on my ankle as he spoke. “There is something you need to know, if you are to understand why I am here….” the tears turned to sobs, as he spoke and he had to pause, from time to time, to compose himself. “The king is my father, and you… you are my sister. We never stopped searching for you after you disappeared. Not a moment has passed that you were not in our hearts and on our minds.”

Still weeping, he looked deep into my eyes and in that instant I recognized him. His father had adopted me, many years ago, and loved me like his own, from the start. I had never known such joy as I did then. But, alas, I had begun to listen to other influences who lied to me about my adoptive father. Gradually, at first, my heart had pulled back, as I began to question his heart, his motives and his intentions. With time I had become hardened, bitter and angry and, eventually, I had run away while still quite young. The men who had lied about my father, had taught me to steal and murder for them, and when they had no use for me anymore, especially when they discovered I kept some of what I stole in hopes of one day escaping, they had raped me, beaten me and tossed me in this prison.

Now, haggard and worn, my father had found me. I sat in disbelief, my mind reeling from shock, my soul buried in shame, unable to form words. I didn’t deserve him, but oh how my heart longed to go back… A deep ache tugged at my heart. A place deep inside that I thought had died long ago, began to throb with desire.

The man stood to his feet, and reached out his hand, “If you are willing, I would like to take you home and my father and I will care for you. You will regain your strength, and your father will welcome you with open arms, but the choice is yours. You can choose to stay here, or you can come with me.”

I stood to my feet, holding his hand for support. I had resorted to crawling mostly, of late,  so weak from malnutrition and dehydration. My body trembled and I was about to sit back down and declare defeat, resigning myself to my fate, when he picked me up and carried me out of the prison. Weary, I collapsed in his arms as he returned me to my father’s house. He ran to the gate, when he saw us, and threw his arms around me, with no apparent notice of my tattered rags and the stench of my years in prison.

Home. What did I know about the meaning of the word? In that moment, in my father’s embrace, my heart remembered… And in that moment I knew where I belonged.

****

Isaiah 61:1 (NKJV)

The Good News

61 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

****

I stumbled across this writing while sorting through items from as many as twenty (or more?) years ago. A hand scribbled expression of my heart, recounting in allegorical form, the wonder of what I felt when I encountered Jesus, and the gift of adoption God offers us through Jesus.

Many things of life experience make no sense to me and leave me wondering and uncertain, yet always some ‘loaf’, or kindness, sustains me. Many times I don’t know where the ‘bread’ comes from, and when I feel there isn’t any way to survive without the ‘rains’, God carries me through deep hunger and desperate thirst.

How easily I slip into various prison cells, when the struggles of life overtake me, and how quickly the Son returns to meet me in that dark and broken place, reminding me who I am, and Who adopted me. He offers me one constant assurance: The Good News is for me, in every broken place I enter. And it is for you too. We are loved. We are bought with a price. The adoption papers are signed the moment we accept Jesus as the Son of God, who died for us. And that thought comforts me more than any religious ‘knowing’ of where I stand has ever offered me. And for this truth I thank my Father. I am His. I am loved.

© Trudy Metzger

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Messy Grace, Dipped in Blood

My  new coaching client sat across from me,  suddenly distracted. Her eyes ‘popped’ in shock. She gasped. We had spent a bit over forty minutes talking, exploring her dreams, her talents, her desires, and the challenges to match. Unlike most of my clients, who are working through one trauma or another, she had come for career help, and I had asked her a question. The sudden diversion startled me.

Instinctively my eyes followed her gaze and I saw him, an elderly man, hitting the cement, then leaning up a few inches and dropping again. Did he try to lift himself up, or did his body bounce? I saw it and wondered.

The mind and body are fascinating, in a moment like that, when consulting reason is not even on the radar; they simply engage one another in reasonable and necessary action.  Nor does dignity or any other thing hold an ounce of importance, or factor in, in any way, in a moment like that.  I shot to my feet, and ran through the coffee shop, and before my mind had fully registered what it was I saw, I found myself kneeling beside the gentleman. He struggled, attempting to sit up. I put my arms around him, and leaned him slightly forward to lift his head from the unkind hardness, while asking him questions. He was coherent. I felt the cement under his back, and wished I had an extra sweater, a jacket or a blanket.  I had enough dignity that I wasn’t willing to sit there in my bra so he could have my sweater, but I certainly would, if needed, to save a life.  Most of us would.

From my vantage point there was no blood,  until I sat him up.  That is when I saw blood running down his temple, his neck and onto his chest and shoulders, and his hand dripping a steady pace.  I looked for something to use as a compress, at the same time as I asked my client, who had followed me out, to go in and find napkins or something  and bring them back, and to make sure to call and ambulance.

The manager came running and for the next twenty minutes, or so, we sat there, holding an elderly man’s hand and forehead.  There was blood on the ground, blood on his pants, his shirt and matted into his hair. It was all over our hands and arms, and a bit on my white shirt. Blood stands out on white.  My client sat behind the gentleman, providing a back-rest, while the manager held his forehead, and I held his hand–now gripping mine in solid tension. We chatted and laughed, as we sat there. He was so appreciative and said he was okay, that he had just lost his footing. It had happened a few days ago, too, and he had hurt his finger. He showed us his crooked finger, bent at the last joint, in an almost -perfect 90 degree angle.

As we sat with him, bleeding all over us and himself, people drove by. They looked. A few gentlemen came and asked if there was anything they could do. One was a fireman, the others made no indication that they had any training. They were just concerned.

Something else happened as we sat there, all covered in blood. In fact, two things. First of all, we bonded. We cared for him. We held his wounds. We connected. (Admittedly, I was afraid to ‘touch’ his raw wounds. Not because I feared being contaminated but because I feared contaminating them.  One never knows for sure what germs or bacteria we have come in contact with and the immunity of the elderly potentially being compromised, I assessed the extent of the bleeding. It wasn’t life-threatening, though steady, so I waited for the compresses. (Obviously, had he been bleeding profusely, I would have taken the chance.) And the second thing that happened was that we learned a bit of his story. He told us that he had a ‘weaker side’ because of a stroke twenty years ago and hence the recent tumbles.

By this time we had retrieved an umbrella from his truck, and sat there, in a spritzing rain, talking and still holding his wounds.  A staff member came with some forms and asked questions. What did we see? Who saw it first and what did we do?  Who were we all. Names. Addresses. Phone numbers. All those things.

The paramedic arrived and together we helped the gentleman stand up, and seated him on a chair, under the awning. We stayed a few minutes, answering his questions, then went inside to wash the blood off. The red stain on my white new sweater stayed. I hung my scarf over it, and returned one more time to the elderly gentleman, to wish him well.  That’s when I thought of his wife, at home, and how worried she would be.  Would it be okay if I popped by their home to tell her he was okay, but needed stitches and to get checked over? He thanked me and said how nice that would be.

I had just given my new client a good-bye hug–you do that after intense moments like that–and was almost to my car when the manager caught up to me. The gentleman had one valid concern. His wife would need the vehicle, but would have no way to get it. I said I would offer to drive her back to him, and to get the truck.

She met me at the door, moments later after I rang the bell. To make sure I had the right house I asked, “Are you Mrs. ____?”

“Yes….” she said, looking quizzically at me.

“First of all, your husband is okay, so don’t worry, but he did have a tumble at the coffee shop. He said you would need the vehicle–would it be okay if I drove you there?”

Moments later I dropped her off,  made sure she had everything she needed and headed for home. The rain had picked up, and I remembered that my car window was stuck… open.  My old Mazda had picked this day to malfunction with an open back window. How convenient. I tried half a dozen times, unsuccessfully.

I took to pleading with God, at that moment, about something as piddly as a stuck window, all because I didn’t want rain in my car. I tried again and, “Tada!!”  it went up. I whispered a thank you as I drove out  off of the coffee shop parking lot.

My mind got busy then, thinking about many things. Why does God answer little prayers about broken windows, and neglect big ones like a dying loved one, a chronically ill family member, those who desperately need jobs and many other things. And I had no easy answers. Just the awareness that God is God.

I saw the blood again, and the elderly gentleman’s eyes, as he thanked us and told us how nice we were. And then the awareness that his blood had been all over me, and I had hesitated to touch his wounds, afraid of contaminating them.

That’s when my mind wandered to church. To people who are bleeding.  And we sit there, like my client and I, in our coffee shops.  And I wondered if we get so busy with our coffee, and conversations, and whatever things we all do, while people bleed only feet away.  I thought of how I had my back turned, and my client–thank goodness she was ADHD, she said, and observing everything–was the one who noticed the gentleman, almost before it happened.  He could have been there an hour, with me only feet away, if she hadn’t been there.  And, while that wouldn’t have likely happened, I couldn’t help but think about, when I considered church. Or if, when we see the ‘fallen and bleeding’, do we even run to them, or do we get scared  and run the other way again.

I wondered what it would be like, in church, if we stopped being afraid of each other’s cuts, and wounds and scars. What if we weren’t afraid to get all bloody, and have stains on our new white clothes.  And if we put our hands on those gaping wounds without fear of contaminating, or being contaminated, and we held each other up, spiritually, even while we bled…  And sitting there, under an umbrella in the rain, we could get to know each other and hear the stories behind the pain… the stories about why we have ‘weak sides’ and stumble…

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And then, when the weak ones, with bleeding wounds, need help with walking to a place of rest, we who are stronger could square back our shoulders and let them rest on our strength until they are safe….  Until they find that rest in the One who Bled Love for us,  all messy and dipped in grace, when we were in that place of need and brokenness…

What if… Yes…. What if?

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Serving from a Broken Bottle

We romanticize church, communion, and all things ‘Christian’ as hinging on a holiness born of perfection,
But it is the unrefined love of the Broken Christ, poured in messy spills, like wine from a broken bottle,
Flowing into and through broken vessels, and splashing reckless love into the world around
That ultimately spreads His grace to the world around.

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****

Christianity is a messy encounter between sinful humanity and Divine Love.

****

There is this thought that troubles me, and one that has tumbled around in my mind, for years in a way that can’t be ignored…  Like the annoying sound of mindless, repetitious tapping that carries on until someone bursts out an exasperated ‘stop it!’ … or the faucet dripping water until you are forced to abandon what you’re doing and get up to tighten it…

My  first awareness that some people are ‘different’ came when I was about four or five years old. A girl in our community, or possibly a neighbouring colony–I cannot recall which–probably in her twenties, brought this revelation into my life. Or, more accurately, what people said brought the revelation. To me she was simply a more fun adult, than most. One I could connect with. Really connect with.

I don’t recall her name, but her image is burned on my memory, most clearly. When we visited her home, which I recall doing at least twice, she and I played together. This friend loved to play dolls, and sat with me, holding and rocking them with the same childish delight that I felt. Though I certainly didn’t recognize it as childish then. I did, however, observe that she did what other adults didn’t do. She entered into my world, and I into hers. We sat in our chairs pretending to nurse our babies, then rocking and burping them, just the way mothers in our world did. She didn’t talk much. I don’t recall, but it would be a safe guess that I chattered. I did that from time to time.

After one visit to their home my mother explained that this girl isn’t ‘normal’ or, the German wording, ‘not as she should be’. This bewildered me. To me she was as everyone should be.  It isn’t that my mother was rude, or condescending. It was the normal wording used for mentally handicapped or delayed people. Another expression used was the equivalent of retarded–something I found offensive, even as a child.

But the thoughts tumbling in my head are not exactly about the mentally delayed or handicapped, though this ‘learning’ of our differences does tie in, for me, emotionally, to my thoughts…

I don’t know when I first learned that there are people at church who are ‘different’. People who don’t fit the mold.  The ones who are not ‘as they should be’. Those who dance to a different rhythm. (God bless them, at least they dance!) These are the broken souls who don’t have it together, hold it together, or present a ‘church image’. They don’t wear a ‘suit and tie’ in a ‘suit and tie church’. And if they do, the pants are too short and the sleeves fall shy of reaching the wrist with an obvious deficit. Their shoes have no shine, if they wear shoes at all, and their socks probably don’t match. Not each other, and not the suit.  The tie, if worn at all, is a tacky mis-matched accessory, and the hair slicked to the side, haphazardly, with Brylcream and smeared flat.

When they talk, they stutter. When they laugh, it is a geeky laugh that incorporates a few snorts and maybe a cross-eyed glance, as they push their ‘taped-together’ glasses up their nose. When they look into your eyes it’s that awkward ‘look deep into the soul’ gaze that creeps the average Joe out, especially in church where everything is meant to be nice and peaceful, and no one is supposed to know anything below the nice exterior. And everyone is perpetually happy. Because God is good. And when they do that–the awkward ones–and look deep into our souls, they look past the ‘nice’ and see the dark spots on our souls and it makes us uncomfortable. I know. I’ve experienced it.

These people don’t fit into Western church culture. More accurately, they don’t fit in anywhere.

My descriptions  are figurative. It isn’t the external differences that make people ‘unfit’, but it is that way of thinking and living, of refusing to conform to expected norms, or maybe oblivious to these norms, that make them misfits. They are no more welcome in much of church culture than Jesus was welcomed into the religious community of His day.

And whether it is because of a mental handicap or just ‘being different’, and being ‘broken’ and scarred by life, we don’t really know what to do with these people. The mentally handicapped most of us accept. They can’t help how they were born. But the broken. Them we try to fix. Surely with a bit more effort, or offering another earnest prayer, or a bit more counsel, surely then they will pull themselves together and fit in. But they try–some of them, at least–and we pray, and we advise–or send them to the more qualified for help–and still they sing off tune and dance out of time… And slowly we pull away, or push them out, and leave them on the discard pile…

The broken ones who don’t fit…

While housecleaning my basement I came across an envelope. A fat, homemade envelope. Crooked and mis-measured, with holes where the corners should meet–gaps because she didn’t align it right. A few scribbles decorated the front. Inside a handful of papers with unintelligible notes, made of up wordless words, with letters randomly slapped together. Tall letters. Short letters. Fat ones and skinny ones.

i studied them, trying to recall where they had come from. A memory played at the fringes of my mind, teasing, but refusing to reveal itself. I flipped to another note, unfolded the uneven folds.  There, written in clear English were the words, “I Love You! Janet Kuepfer”

I smiled. And a tear fell. And I remembered why I kept the note. She worked hard to write that, many years ago when we attended the same church. It was one of a few such notes I received from friends there, who were mentally delayed, handicapped or had special needs of some sort. I found others as I rooted through my boxes. And while hundreds of beautiful cards landed on the discard pile, each of these notes returned to my keepsake box, where I will likely stumble upon them in a decade or so, the next time I go through my memory box, sorting what is worthy of storage, and what should be tossed.

And in the meantime the question will continue to tumble through my head, like an empty tin can, blowing about in the wind, demanding to be acknowledged.  What should the church do with the broken ones?

I believe I saw a glimpse of this on Sunday. We attended the Meeting House in Waterloo, and it was communion Sunday. At the very front, sat two gentlemen in wheelchairs. I don’t know them. I don’t know their stories…

A man went forward for communion but, rather than taking the bread, dipping it in the wine and helping himself, he walked past the cup and the bread to these men. He leaned forward and whispered something to them, then turned, took some bread and dipped it in the cup, and placed it in the first gentleman’s mouth. He followed suit with the second man.

“He’s a true gentleman,” I whispered to Tim, pointing out what I observed.  And something connected deep in my spirit with the broken Jesus–the One from whom many in today’s Christian culture would likely withhold communion, or walk the long way around Him, if the way we treat our broken is any indication.

In the background the worship team played ‘Jesus Messiah’, and I came unglued as the tears began to fall so that I couldn’t hold them back if I wanted to. And I wanted to. Because I don’t like to cry in church anymore. I’ve learned that people don’t cry in church, and mostly I prefer not to be so vulnerable in front of them. With Tim I don’t mind, and some of my trusted friends. But in church I have learned it is best to close down my heart and emotions, and blend in with the accepted norms.

Every now and then, however, the raw, real, broken truth, about love being poured from a broken glass without pretense of apology,  grips me with such force that all walls crumble and all defenses  dissipate. And then I weep. And in those moments I feel alive, as if Jesus has slipped again among us. And my soul reaches out with open hands and longing heart….

… for a place of vulnerability where it is safe to be broken…  A place where Jesus is lifted up and human effort is not glorified…  and the ‘least of these’ is valued as if they were Jesus in the flesh…

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Flame-Broiled Grace

Every diet needs balance to be healthy. And, while fine on occasion, all meals should not be served flamed-broiled. Neither should all messages on Grace be served with Hell Fire.

****

She sat across from me, her hair neatly tucked under her prayer veiling, black covering strings in place, and hand-made ‘cape’ dress perfectly fitted. A church leader’s wife.

We conversed about many things. Her role as a leader’s wife, and what is expected of her. Their adolescent children. How they view Jesus and grace.  And then she took me off-guard….

“It’s almost as if we are uncomfortable with God’s grace,” she said.  (That’s true, I thought to myself. And so are most conservative Christians.) “I wonder why that is?” she added, thoughtfully.

“I don’t know… Maybe we’re afraid we’ll lose control?” I suggested.

“Maybe…” she looked thoughtful, not satisfied.

We discussed it for a while, this thing about grace, and how desperately we need to hear it, and how hard it is to tell without serving it wrapped in the condemnation of hell fire, with no real answers.

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This got me thinking a lot, lately, about why we feel we have to do that, serve the Good New of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, like that. As though His death and sacrifice are not convincing enough on their own, and a little fear of hell is necessary to get people saved.

Even writing this, I presume, somewhere, there will be those who gasp and wonder if I no longer believe in hell. If you must know, nothing has changed. I still believe there is a hell. But it is Jesus I worship, not my belief in any particular heaven or hell. Those are the mysteries of God that we are forbidden to fully understand. And there is a time and a place to tell of both, but not every time, and not every place.

Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all (mankind) unto Me.” He did say, “And don’t forget to tell them about hell. They’ll want to know about that place, because heaven with me is much more appealing.” He simply said that lifting Him up would draw all people to Him. Some will still reject Him, but He will invite and draw them. He doesn’t need the motivation of missing out on hell as a ‘bonus offer’. He is enough. More than enough.

And that is what I’ve been thinking, a lot. Whether the most revealing truth in all of this is that we don’t really have faith in Jesus as being enough, on His own–when He is lifted high and worshipped–to draw people to Himself. And if we have trained ourselves, or been trained, to serve grace, wrapped up in fear of hell, because we have not had a true revelation of Who Jesus really is, and exactly what He came to do. And, out of a lack of revelation, we don’t trust the Good News of Jesus to be enough.

In reading through the New Testament, I found Jesus spoke frequently enough of hell. But He seemed to reserve it for the religious–and leaders in particular–rather than for evangelism. And maybe we’ve had that part backwards….

And I wonder if the greater purpose of our knowledge of a place of everlasting torment ought not to propel us into telling the Good News, sharing the wonderful stories of Jesus, and lifting Him up, rather than using it to instil terror in people.

I understand that it isn’t possible to tell people what they are saved from, if we don’t first share that sin has consequence and brings separation from God. That sin cannot stand in God’s presence. And that is why Jesus died.  But that’s a different thing than preaching for thirty minutes–out of a forty-five minute sermon on grace–about the horrors of hell. (Or going over time so it gets properly explained.)

The world is full of condemnation and shame. Hardly does it need that message more passionately reinforced and expounded on, than the truth of grace and Jesus having paid in full, for their sin.  Or even expounded on every time we talk about grace.

Grace.  A free gift that will wipe all that sin away with one simple act of repentance by faith.  So simple. So profound. And therefore hard for the human mind to grasp…

****

I opened the email….

“Dear Trudy,

I have thought a long while about emailing you.  It is fear, I suppose, that kept me from it.”

She went on to tell me her story, as most people whom I’ve never met do, when they  email me ‘out of the blue’ like that.  She lives in USA, and was raised in a conservative Christian family. Abused in early childhood, and sexually active with other girls since long before she understood the meaning of sex, she struggled all her life with sexual addictions. Now, an adult, trying to live our her life of faith in holiness, she battled these same struggles and addictions at every turn. Was there any hope for her? Or would I simply judge her, condemn her for her sins, and turn away? She said she would understand if I did. It was how she felt about herself. Like so many  others she wrote, “I didn’t know who else to tell… I hope I can trust you with my story.”

I sat down to respond to her familiar message. If I had seen this message once, I had seen it countless times. And if I had believed in the healing of one, I would believe it for a thousand more.

“Dear Clara,” I wrote back. “Thank you for trusting me with your deepest pain, your story and your struggles. You need to know that you are not alone. There is hope. And I believe in your healing.”

I shared how I had worked with many women caught in pornography and addictions. Many with same-sex attractions or relationships. Many who had come hopeless, and found freedom through Jesus, even breaking free from same-sex desire, breaking sexual addictions and self-harm, and other struggles. I assured her that God’s grace was more than enough to cover her sins, to free her from the strangle-hold of addictions, and break the power of childhood trauma. Repentance for our sins brings freedom from its grip. Offering forgiveness to those who sinned against us brings freedom on another level.

That was pretty much my message. I offered no condemnation. No scolding. No reminder that she would be condemned if she did not repent of her current sins and addictions. Her email was filled with self-condemnation. There was no need for me to add to it.

Her response made me weep. “Dear Trudy, Thank you. I don’t know what else to say. Somehow I expected to be condemned. For the first time, in a long while, I feel a glimmer of hope that I can be free….”

That’s what grace does. It offers hope where there is hopelessness. Life where the spirit has died. And the promise of reconciliation with God, where sin once stood in between. All because of Jesus.  And Jesus, alone.

© Trudy Metzger

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The Hammer, The Nails, & the Heartbeat

canstockphoto8390883On a beautiful day in early summer the sound of a hammer, pounding nails into wood, echoes through the air. Birds, startled in the trees, stop their singing and fly away.

A little boy, playing in the sand, stops to listen. Horses hooves add their beat to that of the hammer and soon other hammers join the rhythm. Men’s voices—some talking, some whistling, and others singing—blend in pleasant welcome. There is a purpose, a mission.

The little boy runs to his father, “Papa! Papa! What are you making? Why do you have all your friends here?” he asks.

The father smiles at his curious son. “We are building a stable for the animals, son,” he replies. “Now run and play. This isn’t a safe place for a little boy.”

Years go by and the little boy, now grown up, tends to the animals and keeps the stable in good repair.

On a dreary day in autumn, he cuts some wood and gets a hammer and some nails. The sound of the hammer pounding nails echoes through the air and a little boy, playing in the leaves, stops to listen. Mice scatter and find a quieter place to nibble.

The little boy runs to his father, “Papa! Papa! What are you making?” he asks.

The father smiles at his curious son. “I’m building a manger for the cow I bought yesterday. She needs a place to eat her hay. Would you like to help?”

The little boy nods and takes hold of the hammer and nails his father offers him. He feels so grown up helping his father in the stable.

Many years later the sound of a donkey’s hooves, walking briskly, echoes through the air. It is a crisp winter night, and they must hurry. It is time.

They pause in front of the inn. The man leading the donkey knocks on the door, awaking the innkeeper from his sleep.

“My wife is pregnant and about to give birth, sir, do you have any room for us?” he pleads.

“I’m so sorry sir, the rooms are all full,” a gray-haired man says apologetically. “Follow me,” he says, leading them down a cobble path, “you should be warm enough in my stable. The animals help keep it from getting too chilly and the stable is well kept.”

“Thank-you, kind sir”, the younger man says, “We are grateful to have a place to stay. Better to give birth in a stable than to be out on the street.”

The young man lifts his swollen wife down from the donkey’s back and carries her into the stable where the older gentleman is preparing a bed in the hay. He drags the manger from the cow’s stall, into the humble birthing room. “A crib for the baby,” he says.

The sound of a hammer, pounding a nail into the stable wall, startles the animals in the stable. The old man creates a hook for the lantern that will give light for the young couple in the night.

A baby’s cry pierces the silent night. The young man takes the lantern from its hook to have a better look at his newborn son. A tear rolls down the young woman’s cheek, as her lips touch face. Her heart beats with love and passion for this new life. He is her son.

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The animals stop eating and turn their heads, curious at the unfamiliar sights and sounds.

Throughout his childhood the little boy listens to his father, and watches as he works with his hammer, pounding nails into wood. The little boy talks and laughs with his father as they work side by side.

One day, when the boy becomes a young man, he gives his father and mother a good-bye hug and kiss. “I must go do the work I was born to do,” he says.

Years go by, as the young man moves from place to place, feeding, healing, loving and telling people about His Father.

Then the sound of a hammer pounding nails into wood echoes through the air again. The atmosphere is sad, dark and heavy. There are no singing birds, no sound of horse’s hooves, or men whistling, talking, or singing. No little boys to ask curious question and bring a smile to the man’s face, as he goes about his work.

He didn’t want this job. But he was desperate and they were willing to hire him. So, morbid as it was, he decided to do it. He needed to provide for his family and better to put bread on the table, by building crosses, than to see them starving and destitute.

The carpenter’s son, now in his thirties, runs to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Tears mingled with sweat fall from His face, like drops of blood. “I hear the sound of a hammer, Father. Can’t you take it away? It has been a pleasant sound all my life, must it be the sound of my death as well?”

Then as He listens. Through the ages of eternity He hears the sound of millions of hammers, cursing, condemning and judging… sentencing all of humanity to an eternal death.

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Love overtakes Him. His agony has purpose, a mission. He cries out again. “If there is no other way to redeem them I will take this cross. Not my will Father, but Your will be done.”

The Father weeps with His Son, longing to stop the sound of the hammer, but the price is too great. His arms around His Son, He commands an army of angels to strengthen and minister to Him, preparing Him for the sound of the hammer, for it will echo again; not once, not twice, but three times.

The irreverent stomping of soldiers’ boots, shakes the ground, coming to take the young man to be judged for crimes he never committed.

The pounding of the judge’s hammer, striking the wooden table, silences the crowd. Utter silence and anticipation…

A voice breaks the stillness, “Take him, and crucify him.  I find no fault in him.”

The thunderous applause of the self-righteous and deeply religious crowd creates an electric atmosphere. There is a purpose. A mission.

The man walks into his chamber. Water splashes over his hands as he scrubs away the blood of an innocent man.

Up on a hillside a hammer, driving nails into a cross, echoes through the air.

The pounding heartbeat of a mother’s love, blends with the hammer. Her tears fall to the ground, water spilling in symbolic passion, as she kneels before the cross.

Not far from her the scoffers stand, laughing and taunting the dying young man, “Well, if you really are the Son of God, save yourself! Come down from that cross and prove to us! Then we’ll believe you!”

The spring sky, once bright and blue, turns black as ominous clouds roll in. Lightening splits the skies. Thunder shakes the earth.

A cry of anguish pierces through the darkness, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?!”

One last heavy breath, and then, “It is finished!’ He cries.

A deathly silence falls on the earth.  The young man’s heart stops beating. The hammer lies silent.

The devil dances around that cross with great delight. Oh the victory! He calls his demons to join in the celebration. Finally mankind is doomed and hopeless for eternity; destined to be victims of his torment forever. He has conquered the Son of God!

A centurion’s voice shatters the silence, “Surely this was the Son of God!”

The patter of running feet, as the crowd scatters in every direction… questioning… wondering… uncertain what to believe.

Even the scoffers have stopped their laughing. This is no ordinary crucifixion day.

A sword pierces the young man’s side. Blood and water rush down the hill of Golgotha. The place of death.

The devil and his demons flee in terror at the sight of the blood of the Holy One. The place of death has become, suddenly, the promise of life.

The hammer rips the nails from the cross and out of the young man’s hands and feet, tearing at His flesh, ripping at His wounds.

The reverently subdued footsteps of one solitary disciple slip across the hill as he carries the young man’s body to the grave. A large stone scrapes against the tomb as it is rolled in front of the door to seal the His body safely inside.

Several days of silence and darkness reign as hopelessness covers the face of the earth. Family, friends, and followers of the young man, mourn his death. The devil orchestrates a careful guarding of the tomb to ensure the young man will not escape, His body not be removed.

But on the morning of the third day the sun peeks over the horizon, wrapping the world in brilliant light. The birds sing in cheerful chorus. The flowers burst in vibrant colours.

The stone rolls mysteriously away from the tomb and the angels smile at the young man rising from the grave, as if from an ordinary rest.

All creation bursts into song, “He’s Alive! He’s Alive! The Son of God has risen from the grave! He’s Alive! He’s Alive! Christ Jesus will not be death’s slave! He’s Alive! He’s Alive! Hallelujah! He’s Alive!”

The sound of the hammer, is silenced. A new rhythm is heard, echoing across the earth. More powerful than the hammer, it is an unbreakable beat, uninterrupted, and accompanied only by a whisper of Love; it is the heartbeat of Jesus. The never ending, undying invitation to eternal life in Him.

This heartbeat continues for all of time, so that, one day when He is called to bring justice to the world, the Judge’s hammer will shatter. Replaced with the sound of blood and water rushing down over a place of death, it will cover our sins. With one breath we will breathe in eternal life, our heart beating in perfect time with Eternity…

© Trudy Metzger

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Why I Write About My Mennonite Culture & My Life Story

Criticism, as addressed in my previous blog about my bold telling of stories from my time in the conservative Mennonite churches, is inevitable.  If it isn’t the criticism about bashing Mennonites,  then there’s the risk of making some churches (or ‘brands’, if you please) look good and others look bad.

This leaves me with a few options: Stop writing. Misrepresent the truth. Or keep writing and take the criticism. I’ll go with option three.

I am also criticized for not speaking the truth in love. Of all the accusations that have come my way, this is the most common. Still, compared to the encouragement I receive, it’s minimal. And, since there is no truth in it, it deserves no defence. I know the love and compassion I have in my heart, and that is the fuel that keeps me writing.  I admit that I’m a fairly direct communicator, which can be misinterpreted by those who would prefer if I softened the blow and downplayed the truth.

The thought of doing so wearies me to the point that I would never get my writing done if I had to write pretentiously, so I will decline to invest great effort in making it less extreme.

When I write, I spill my heart onto the screen, or paper, as the case may be, and not a hint of hatred for my culture resides there. None. I say I am Mennonite with the same confidence and boldness as I’ve ever said it. In fact, more. While I no longer attend a Mennonite church, I am very aware that one doesn’t become a ‘non-Mennonite’ by leaving. I always was… I still am… and will be, to my death, a Mennonite. There is no way to ‘unlearn’ the cultural experiences that shaped me. Nor would I wish to. Not the good, the bad, the beautiful or the ugly. All have contributed to the person I am today, and I embrace the experience and the outcome.

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I am the product of the culture I was born into and lived in, refined by God, for His purpose–the exposure of sin, and the redemption and healing of many broken hearts. What’s not to love about that? Sure, the tears exhaust me at times. The pain overwhelms my soul, at times. The accusations, though few, crush my spirit, at times.

But I would do it all again, for even one of the friends I have had the honour of leading to the Father, through Jesus, for healing. (Most of whom continue to do life in conservative Mennonite churches, and are among my most appreciated friendships.)

That healing, that hope, and that redemption of stories, is why I write about my Mennonite culture. It is why I write honestly and acknowledge the shame, the pain and the abuse that still hides in the shadows of an otherwise beautiful culture–because it offers a voice and healing to those trapped, voiceless and oppressed.  For any offence–however unintentional–I cause in the process,  I am confident I will be forgiven, if it needs forgiveness at all.

It is for this same reason that I have written a memoir of my life story, up until age 18, and am currently working with an agent to find the right publisher. To bring hope and redemption to many, not only in the Mennonite culture but Christian culture in general, where abuse lies hidden and voices are silenced, giving the enemy an unfair advantage, and leaving believers sick and dying spiritually. It is unnecessary.

Furthermore, it is one thing for people to pop on here, and read a blog, and judge me as harsh or hateful toward the culture, while not taking time or having time to read nearly 400 blogs just to see what my heart is in it. It is another thing to read a book, beginning to end, and see the horrible truth mixed with love and respect for many in my cultural background, who have shaped me, blessed me, and still have a special place in my heart.

My hope is that, with the release of my life story–and the sequel is already in the making–there will be a better understanding of my passion for Jesus Christ, in the middle of the truth of life experience.  While I know it will stir up more anger towards me, I am also confident that the wonder of Jesus’ love, and the power of the cross, will be magnified and lifted high.

Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up… will draw all men unto me.” Being lifted up on that cross, 2000 years ago, Jesus  drew men and women of every generation to Himself. And when we lift His name, and raise Him up in our words and deeds, we point others to Him, and He draws them to Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that is why I write about my Mennonite culture… Because Jesus is being lifted high, His name is being raised up, and He is drawing many to Himself in the process, and they are finding He is the Saviour, the Healer, the balm in Gilead; a safe place.

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Crowded Malls, Tantrums & the Christ of Christmas

I rounded the corner at Conestoga Mall, on a mission to get the last few items on my shopping list. And when I’m on a shopping mission, I march. I don’t love shopping and can probably count on two hands, with fingers left over, the number of times I visited the mall this year.

Christmas shopping is even less enjoyable, in some ways. The crowds are bigger, making the malls busier, and the noise doesn’t help.

Speaking of noise… I rounded that corner and, there, several feet in front of me, was the cutest little boy throwing a tantrum. An exasperated mom, who appeared to be quite pregnant–though I couldn’t say for certain, with her winter coat on–leaned over her little one. She looked at me, desperate, “I’m sorry.”

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I smiled, compassionately, as I spoke to her, “I went through it with five. I get it.” On the floor the cute little monkey rolled around, making whatever statement he was trying to make. I smiled at him, “Hi handsome.” He stopped his fit, momentarily. I looked back at mom and saw tears begin as all the stress threatened to spill over.

“That one woman was just rude! She told me I should get him off the dirty floor, that he’s going to get sick! Why are people rude like that?”

“I don’t know. All I can say, is they don’t get it. I’ve been there. Don’t worry about what people say or think. Your son isn’t going to get sick from a little dirt on the floor!” (Good heavens! What is more filthy at a shopping mall than the cart the child will eventually get stuck in! Let the child lick the floor. Won’t harm them a bit!)

She continued, “Why did you stop? Why are you being nice when other people are so rude?”

“I get it…I know what it is like,” I said again. “Can I help you with anything?” I looked at the bags she carried. Plus pregnant, maybe. No wonder she’s at wit’s end, I thought.

“I was just trying to make it to Zehrs to get a cart. If I could just get to a cart!”

“Could I carry your son for you, or your bags?”

“Sure. Would you do that?” She had picked up her son, still squirming and fighting. “He’s really heavy.”

“I can handle him,” I said. How it took me back in time. I looked at her, a beautiful and petite lady. I could see why his weight concerned her. Well, I’m not a petite anything. I am a big, strong, German/Friesian girl with bone and muscle to me. Granted, they’re not quite what they used to be, but I’m still pretty strong. She leaned her son toward me and for a tiniest moment he was calm. Shock is a wonderful thing, at times.

As we walked, I talked to him, told him exactly where we were going, and why. With that we headed for Zehrs, the little guy squirming in my arms again. We walked about ten feet when the woman stopped at a small area with oversized, stuffed, leather animals. She called a child’s name.

I stopped, turned, and watched as three quiet children collected themselves and walked toward her. In that moment I understood exactly what she felt. Four children, with one hyperactive one. And pregnant.

“He’s a twin. I took him to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with him, but the doctor said he’s normal”, she explained.

“Trust me. He’s normal,” I said. “I have several like him. One especially much. They’re a lot of fun but it’s hard sometimes.”

We didn’t get far before we came across an abandoned cart. A big Zehrs cart, perfect for twins and a few extra. The other children complied beautifully. But not the little monkey in my arms. I tried to set him in and his legs went stiff.

“No! Choo choo train!” he declared loudly.

“Where?” I asked. He pointed to the train in the store. We negotiated for a moment, unsuccessfully.

Well, I’m mother enough to know that when all else fails, treats work. They’re not really bribery. They are an advance on reward for upcoming good behaviour. They require faith–believing that the good behaviour will come–and action–giving it to them.

“Is he allowed gum?” I asked. She said that would be okay. So I asked him if he would like some. Of course he would! Then he would have to sit first, I informed him. Otherwise I could not give it to him. That was an epic fail. Not sitting. No way. His legs were as stiff as before.

I pulled out the pack of gum and showed it to him. His eyes lit up. “But you have to sit first, before I can give it to you,” I reminded him.

This time he sat down. He watched quietly as I opened the pack and handed him a piece, as well as the other children.

“Why are people rude?” she asked again. “Why did you stop and help?” She was having a hard time processing why I would help. “The woman… saying it will make my son sick! I wanted to tell her that my daughter here–she pointed to a child about 6 years old–fought cancer for three years. She’s okay. She did it!”

Wow! A mom of four, including one hyperactive twin, pregnant, and having gone through three years of battling cancer with her beautiful little girl.

“Don’t worry about what people think,” I said again, “Your children are very sweet! He’s sweet too,” I said, patting the high-strung son on the head. “And you’re going to be very good for Mommy now, right?” I said, addressing him directly. His innocent eyes stared back at me, as if he had no idea of being naughty,  and then a mischievous grin spread across his face.

We chatted a few more moments, and parted ways. Before I left I promised I would pray for her as I shopped.

Another passionate, “Thank you! Oh thank you!” and she was on her way. And so was I, with an image burned in my memory of a beautiful pregnant mama in tears. I prayed. Repeatedly.

It’s easy to get sucked into the rush of Christmas and forget about the reality of people’s lives. And it’s even easier judge the people around us, when we think they don’t have it together. It’s easy to be annoyed, and write them off. But we never know the bigger story. Well, almost never. Even Saturday, having had a wee glimpse into this woman’s story, I have a feeling there is a lot more that she didn’t tell. I thank God for that moment of vulnerability, when she fell apart, and God allowed me to see her heart. It puts the season in perspective.

Christmas time, when many people are giddy with excitement, when children’s eyes sparkle with anticipation, there are people whose lives are empty, lonely and overwhelming.

In the past few days, since meeting that woman at the mall, a good friend has whispered ‘Good-bye’ to her sister for the last time in this life… a young pregnant-soon-to-be-first-time-mommy has laid her young husband to rest… a young woman messaged me, devastated by rejection from her conservative Christian family–a family who would judge her for many of her choices–and this is how she experiences the ‘Christ of Christmas’ through them…  and the list goes on.

This Christmas, and through the coming year, take time to look beyond the surface, and remember that people carry a lot of pain. Sometimes all they need is for someone to offer a little understanding, and to know they are not alone, they are not a failure, that they are not abandoned.

By caring for their hearts, let’s bring the Jesus of Christmas to life in the world all around us, all year long. Let’s talk less about our religious beliefs, and show the world through our lives–not our perfection, our dress, or other ‘performance’–that Jesus is the reason for everything we do.

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Have a Merry Christmas!

© Trudy Metzger

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Bearded Men, Religious Views, Gay Rights & Free Speech in a Duck’s Dynasty

Everyone else is chattering about it, I decided I might as well too. Usually addressing these ‘trending topics’ doesn’t interest me too much, so I stay away from them, even if I have an opinion.

And that was my plan this time too, but somehow I got drawn into this Phil Robertson saga. And it’s not because I watch Duck Dynasty. Mostly I haven’t the patience, the interest, or the attention span to watch anything on TV, including the news. Maybe especially the news. Most definitely, if it isn’t on CTV and free–which Duck Dynasty is not–I certainly won’t pay to watch it. Some day, however, when it shows up in second-hand stores, I’ll purchase Duck Dynasty and watch it at my leisure. Of that I’m quite certain.

The purpose of that little anti-TV rant? To establish that I have no vested interest in what happens to Phil Robertson, based on the show. Of course it is possible that I may change my mind after I find it in the used goods store, and ‘fall crazy in love’ with it. For now, I could care less about the show.

What got my interest is the hype on FB. Admittedly, when I first saw the ‘bring Phil Robertson Back’ status updates and invitations to ‘Like’ pages about it, I ignored them. Didn’t even know who the man was. After a day, or so, when I saw his bearded face and read his name in context with Duck Dynasty, I got curious and started clicking links and reading.

Part of me wonders what the big ‘social media deal’ is and why the fuss, even now that I know what happened, and what caused the ruckus. Didn’t Jesus give us a heads up that truth would not be appreciated? Is anti-Christianity not prophecy fulfilled? We should expect a bit of rejection. I get it all the time for speaking truth, and I get it from ‘within’ for exposing sexual abuse in churches, so this doesn’t shock me at all. If the religious, who have hidden sin, can’t handle truth spoken because it offends them, why should the secular world respond with more grace?

Acknowledging this ‘conflict with truth’ and the reality that we should expect rejection, is one side of the equation from a blatantly Christian point of view.

On the other hand, some Christians protested loudly to the war on freedom of speech. While I understand it, and have no problem with people actively standing for freedom, it is a view I can’t fully agree with. Both sides clearly spoke their minds, and neither was thrown in prison for it, so freedom of speech wasn’t taken from them.

Phil Robertson had freedom of speech. He did precisely what I think he should have done. He said what he thinks and believes with no apology. He is a Christian and, as such, embraces the Holy Bible as his authority on matters that collide with secular society. That’s what he said and it got him in trouble with his employer who has a different view. If he had been hateful, that would be a different thing. To believe something to be sin, and say so, isn’t hateful. It’s being honest.

A&E took action against Phil, based on their beliefs and views. They also exercised freedom of speech. And well they should. If it is their organization’s stand that homosexuality is acceptable and anyone who takes a stand against it publicly doesn’t reflect their views, then are they not being true to themselves to act as they did?

I’ve worked for a Christian organization that got rid of an employee for living in homosexual sin, and wasn’t willing to repent. To keep the employee, who clearly no longer embraced the values of the organization would have had huge ramifications had that truth leaked out. Without question the organization would have lost financial support from many sponsors and donors. They couldn’t afford to keep the employee. And, truth is, there was a collision of views and, in my opinion, that organization had the ‘right’ to get rid of the employee if it’s freedom of speech we are arguing for.

If that story had leaked out, I can’t imagine there would have been a ‘cry for justice’ regarding freedom of speech. And, had the individual taken it to court or gone public, there would have been an outpouring of prayer support. We can’t have it both ways, folks. Either both sides have the right to stand for personal beliefs and convictions–or lack thereof–or neither side has the right.

Granted, the whole thing falls apart right about there. Because if the fired gay individual goes to court, they’ll win. Hands down. Every time. The law is a donkey, at times, when it comes to justice for both sides. It leans heavily in favour of certain views.

Nor should we expect anything different. Life is a battle between good and evil, right and wrong. It has been since the fall of man, and it will remain that until the return of Christ.

We should not expect secular society to embrace, endorse, or support our views, unless we want to embrace, endorse and support their views. We should expect there to be a gap, some sort of ‘consequence’ for taking a stand, rather than buying into the worldview that is so popular, that all should live in perfect harmony. It can’t happen. Jesus prophesied that He would bring division.

Furthermore, God gave us all freedom of choice and we should, therefore, extend the same to the world around us. I’m not saying we should not speak out against sin, crime and all ‘darkness’, but we shouldn’t expect to be appreciated or even ‘accepted’. Prophets in days gone by were murdered for speaking truth. That didn’t stop them. We should speak out, respectfully, and pay the price.

Whether it is calling sin ‘sin’, or actively proclaiming the evils of murdering unborn babies–cleverly disguised as ‘freedom of choice for women’–we should be bold and firm in our stand against darkness. But in all of that we should never try to make the world ‘accept’ us, or walk in the light. Nor should we be hateful or obnoxious about it. That’s counterproductive. Ignorant, really.

If freedom of choice, given us by God, is something we want to exercise, then women should get to decide whether they have an abortion or not. Homosexuals should get to decide if they want to live in same-sex relationships or not. Secular governments should get to decide whether they endorse gay marriage or not. That is their God-given ‘right’ to freedom of choice, lifestyle and speech. Why should I take from them the right to choose between a life that honours God or glorifies sin? God gave me that choice.

And while they’re busy making those decisions and living out the consequences for their decisions, I should stand firm in the truth of Jesus Christ. I should speak His truth. All of it. Without apology. And I should love them, without justifying sin.

That truth will collide with their lifestyles. Truth is, this battle is over no duck’s dynasty, after all. It is a war between good and evil, God and Satan, right and wrong. If that were not so, then our truth would not be such an affront to people living in sin would. They would simply shake their heads at us poor misguided souls. But, even kindly spoken, and gently lived truth is an enemy.

We should always remember that until people know God, through Jesus Christ, intimately and personally, the truth about bearded men with biblical views, the truth about sin, and the reality that freedom of speech is two-sided should not make any sense to a lot of people. Why should they value the things that matter to God, when they have no understanding of God Himself?

Maybe, if we live the life of Christ boldly, fearlessly, regardless of the outcome–even if it means getting kicked off TV, which most of us need not fear–and speak the truth of Jesus… maybe, just maybe, the world will come to know our Saviour.

© Trudy Metzger

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