This is one of the most exciting posts I have written to date… but I struggled to know what title to give it… A dozen went through my mind, falling flat without making an impact. I thought about this one, but without ‘Jesus’ and using ‘the Outsider’ instead of ‘I’, but that sounded like one of those lame ‘St. Peter’ jokes, and this isn’t really that kind of post.
This post is a celebration of the things God can do, when human beings lay themselves aside, lay aside their religious beliefs–both sides of the equation–and focus on what really matters.
Today I’m sharing *Tracy’s story, with her permission. Tracy is one of the people I meet with, to mentor through the ‘stuff’ of life, and to find Jesus in day-to-day experience. Even in the tough situations.
Tracy and I connected first a year, or so, ago. Briefly. Superficially. The kind of friendship that is common on Facebook, where you ‘friend’ someone, but don’t necessarily engage in relationship. You interact from time to time, but don’t often go deep. Nothing wrong with that.
Our relationship changed, however, some time ago, when Tracy started reading my blog and my story began resonating with her. She contacted me, just to ask a few questions, and that led to more interaction, and finally our first face-to-face meeting.
Tracy is conservative Mennonite, and knew that I am not. One of the things I do, when I meet someone with different beliefs than my own, is talk about what my goal is, and isn’t. My goal is never to pull anyone out of their culture, or undermine their culture, though I do mentor from a faith perspective, but with neutral position on practical beliefs. My goal is to hear hearts, and heal hearts, through restoration and a healthy understanding of, and relationship with, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Having had that talk, we moved into the ‘stuff of life’. Tracy shared some of the struggles and conflicts in her life. Church rules, though rigorous, were bearable. Family dynamics were difficult. We talked about specifics and could only conclude that her parents love her deeply, but struggle with being over-protective, to the point of controlling.
In conversation I commented, “They simply want to protect you, possibly from something they, or a friend, went through when they were young. That doesn’t make it right to be controlling, I told her, but it helps understand them. “I’m suspicious they want to protect your virginity,” I said, when the discussion of dating came up. I sensed hesitance. I don’t remember what I said next, but I recall her answer.
“I’m not a virgin,” Tracy said. Too late for that.
Being a spiritual mentor, who predominantly helps people work through sexual abuse and violence, while establishing a healthy relationship with God, I reacted accordingly.
“Have you taken care of it? Asked God to forgive you?” I asked. “Are you free?” She said she had and it was forgiven, in her past, so we moved on.
Tracy and I have met numerous times in the past few months, always connecting at a heart level. From time to time, in between meetings, I would get that ‘niggling’ in my spirit, that I should send a note or a text, asking how things are, and we’d set up a meeting within a day or two. Frequently something had just happened, and she was in recovery mode, or something happened within a day. Often just before our meeting.
That is what happened last week. I messaged Tracy to see how she’s doing. To make sure she’s getting through things okay. Later that evening we spoke on the phone, and she was quite upset. Her bishop had asked for a meeting and she didn’t know why.
I asked if she would like to meet for coffee and talk through it. She did, so we met at Timmies. We talked through a lot of ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen ‘if” scenarios, bringing the fears back in check.
Before we parted she said she would like if I joined her for the meeting on Monday, with her bishop and his wife. She said she was nervous only because she didn’t know what to expect, but that they are very kind.
I’ve often told Tracy that any time she needs me for support or mediation, I will be there, if I’m available. When she asked, I knew I needed to prioritize it, because she doesn’t ask easily, or lightly.
Tracy and I stood outside the church, on Monday night, waiting for the bishop and his wife to arrive. We had agreed to meet a few minutes in advance and connect before the meeting. Her body trembled, her voice carried an edge of nervousness.
“We’ll probably meet in the minister’s room,” she said. We talked about how intimidating the room is. Laughed about it, concluding it’s because that’s where all the big decisions are made.
The bishop and his wife arrived.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Trudy Metzger, and I’m here on Tracy’s invitation, to support her as she shares with you. I am the first woman with whom she shared her story, and have been her mentor through it. If it’s okay with you, I would like to be her support today.”
They shook my hands warmly, welcoming me, assuring me that was not a problem. “Why don’t we go to the minister’s room,” the bishop said, “it’s about as good a place as any.” He paused. We started up the steps. “Hopefully it’s not too intimidating,” he continued.
I resisted the urge to snicker. Funny that, only seconds before they arrived, we had talked about it.
“And we have nice plush chairs in there,” he said, trying to make things as comfortable as they can be when you have a Mennonite Bishop and his wife, a young girl who is struggling or perceived to be struggling, and me–an outsider.
In the early school days, I remember the worksheet that had four items and you had to identify one that didn’t belong. Well, this one would have been easy. I was definitely ‘that’ item. The one that looked different. The duck in a line up of flowers, The motorbike in a row of cars. I chose not to feel out of place, in spite of this obvious detail. And they really were trying to make me feel safe, I could tell.
On my way to the meeting I had prayed the blood of Jesus specifically and individually over each person’s mind, body, soul and spirit. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would have free rein, not held back by our differences in cultural practice and Bible interpretation, and that we would lift our eyes to Jesus, and not the stuff of life, or our beliefs. I had called my friend and mentor, Anne, to ask her and her husband to pray. I knew we were well covered. And I didn’t doubt that the others had also prayed.
We engaged in small talk for a few minutes before opening in prayer. The bishop then opened the conversation, inviting Tracy to share her journey, specifically addressing some of the family stresses she faced. How was she doing? What was her side of the story?
Tracy shared from her heart. Raw. Honest. Bold. And yet gentle. She has a very sweet, gentle spirit and a deep thinker. Very deep. She is very open about her desire to know God, to serve Him with all that she is, and to pursue His plans for her. This came through.
Tracy paused, looked at me, as if asking a silent question. I’ve learned to read her. “Are you going to share some of the past stuff we talked about?” I asked.
“Should I?” she asked.
“It’s up to you.” We had agreed at our meeting on Friday night that it would be best if they heard it from her. The odds of rumours leaking out–now that she was breaking silence–and things becoming twisted was high. Truth, directly from the individual is always best. “Shall I share how we arrived at you telling me, and then you can pick it up from there?” I asked.
She nodded. “Sure.”
I shared about our initial meeting and how our conversation about family dynamics and her protective parents had led to her making a confession. There I stopped. The bishop and his wife looked at her. I looked at her. I could see the anxiety but with confidence she spoke the words, “I am not a virgin. My first boyfriend and I had sex.”
Shock as it registered on their faces, yet gentleness. The bishop looked tender and sad, not upset or angry. No judgement. His wife choked back tears, but held the same tenderness.
“Thank you for being honest and telling us,” the bishop said.
She went on to say that it wasn’t just a one time thing, that it started early in their youth and carried on until they broke up some years later. The boyfriend had promised a future… a life together…. downplaying how wrong it was. How could it be that wrong in a committed relationship, if they were to be married one day?
We talked at length about the ways we had worked through it. She said she had asked Jesus to forgive her, and had left that life behind, but had never cleared it with her boyfriend. They had shared the secret alone for years, just the two of them, and now one other friend, and me. She wanted the power of the secret to be broken, and she wanted to make things right with her first boyfriend.
The bishop asked us both some questions, and we spent some time just talking, heart to heart, exploring appropriate next steps. Breaking ties and the power of that relationship got most of our focus.
The bishop applauded Tracy several times for her honesty, and her willingness to share the truth, no matter how hard.
“Tracy speaks very highly of you,” I said, hoping to reassure them that she does, in fact, have a healthy respect for them, and their desire for her, and the church family as a whole.
The bishop’s voice held emotion as he spoke, gently, tenderly, “So you trust us, Tracy?” His eyes filled with tears.
Tracy choked up. She nodded. The tears began to fall. I saw then, more than before, the depth of their relationship. Tracy is friends with the bishop’s children. She has spent plenty of time in their home, and has told me how much fun she has had with them. How the bishop has a great sense of humour, and his wife is ‘just the sweetest woman’.
“I love you, Tracy,” the bishop said, eyes glistening with tears that would not spill. “I really love you.” He looked at his wife, who could not speak, for the intensity of emotion. “She really loves you. Don’t you?” he said, now addressing his wife. She nodded. “We really love you.”
Tears fell from Tracy’s face. When she cries, tears spill, one at a time and drop. It’s quite beautiful, really. They don’t pour like a stream. It’s as if each one has a unique identity, that it is not willing to let go of. And so they fall, one at a time, splashing, wherever they land, into countless little sparkles, testifying to the purity of the heart, from which they came.
The moment held a sacredness. An intimacy that was almost tangible. There was a few moments of silence. The bishop’s wife started crying, her face sweet and beautiful, eyes filled with compassion.
I sensed a powerful Presence in the room, and I knew we have not met to tell stories and gather facts. We had met with Jesus, the Healer.
The bishop broke the silence to present the dilemma. The church ‘tradition’ is to confess in front of the rest of the congregation, when caught in sin. At least sins of ‘this nature’. He admitted he wished he didn’t need to even propose such a thing, not wanting to shame Tracy or make a spectacle of her. But he believed it is best. It would allow her to share her story, her repentance and forgiveness with the congregation, rather than having rumours spread, without truth. For her to share her testimony would put the power where it should be, in redemption and healing.
It is a big deal, in the Mennonite church, where the sense of community is so strong, when something like this happens. Some mean well. Others, well, they love to sensationalize the stories. It’s their way of adding a bit of spice to life, often at the expense of others. Some are true saints about it all. Extending grace and forgiveness quickly, marvelling at the goodness of God, in spite of our fallen nature. Regardless of intent, the one thing not likely to happen, is silence, once the cover is blown, or the truth leaks out. Gossips and rumours, prayer chains and concerns. Whatever the method, word will spread in such a tight-knit community. That is the downside to a beautiful and powerful sense of community, that in many ways has advantages others lack.
Tracy and I had talked about this the Friday night prior to the meeting. Biblically, we agreed, according to Matthew 18, that if she confessed and repented it was finished. No need to get up front. But, relationally, and for the sake of all the others in the church, who were hiding the same sin, we agreed it could be advantageous for her to do this. So when the bishop reluctantly broached the subject, she was prepared.
Biblically, she said, she was free. It was done. But her heart was willing, if there was any chance it might help someone. It would be her testimony to the goodness of God, to His forgiving grace, to His healing of broken hearts and lives. And that’s where we left it.
The bishop said he would need time to pray. To make sure what’s done, is done scripturally and for the benefit of Tracy and the church body.
The time came for the meeting to wrap up. It was good. There was peace in the room. A powerful sense of the presence of God.
“Why don’t we pray,” the bishop suggested. “Maybe we could stand, and form a circle. I believe there is power in prayer, power in agreement.” He looked at Tracy, “Would you be willing to pray, out loud, with us? There is power in that too.”
Tracy nodded. We stood to our feet, and followed the bishop’s lead, meeting to the side of the room. There, in the once-intimidating minister’s room, the four of us huddled in an intimate hug, praying to God, our ‘Abba Father’, our ‘Papa’.
Tracy stood between me and the bishop, our arms wrapped around her in a secure embrace. His wife stood between us on the other side, also held in a firm embrace. Our heads were bowed, The Bishop was emotional, his wife wept quietly.
The prayer ended with the bishop blessing everyone, and thanking God for ‘brothers and sisters in Christ who are willing to step in…”
He hugged Tracy again, saying how much they love her. His wife held Tracy for a while, reassuring her.
The bishop shook my hand warmly, “Thank you, Trudy. Thank you. We really appreciate this” His wife gave me a warm hug, also thanking me. And then it was over.
We had gone in, feeling uncertain. For several months Tracy had been meeting with other church leaders, about other things, only to leave frustrated and feeling misunderstood. Not heard at a heart level. Because of this she had been especially worried about meeting with the bishop and his wife.
We left having encountered Jesus and knowing they too had encountered Him. No cultural barriers. No debates, but heard from the heart. And with a common goal, to lift Jesus high and bring His healing to His children.
Tracy and I left, ecstatic! It was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and been part of.
© Trudy Metzger
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