Parenting: What we should have known…

“...it feels like the heart gets ripped out in little pieces, and somehow is supposed to keep on beating… and it hurts to breathe. And I think these honest conversations are generations overdue.
        Those were my words to a parent earlier today; a parent I have idolized from afar and wished I could measure up to. A parent who is hurting, grieving mistakes, longing for the best for their children. If you are a dad… If you are a mom… Most likely you understand this. We fail, and there are consequences. We misunderstand our children, and they misunderstand us. We don’t do conflict because it’s not polite to fight, and Christians just forgive quickly and silence the chaos and messy of conflict. So we ‘forgive’ and expect to be so easily forgiven, but scars remain on our hearts and one day those scars rip wide open and bleed years of pain, or they thicken the walls of our hearts so we cannot feel. The former is harder, the latter kills.
        I, for one, fear pain. I am terrified of relational pain. That’s just the truth. But I am learning, slowly, deliberately, to let the scars rip open. It is the only way to heal and stay tender… or become tender. And I’m sharing this because I have heard story, after story after story of parental grief in recent weeks, from professionals, from church leaders, from friends. Some just sharing a story, not knowing if I will get it. Some seeking advice… at which point I simply confess, “I get it. I blew it so often and am living in the aftermath of that” and the advice I have for them? Face it and hurt like hell, so you can heal; don’t run and die. Because you will die – something in your spirit will die – if you run. I came pretty close… and it’s a hard recovery.
        Why share this? Because it should have been openly discussed many generations ago. I never knew, and because I didn’t know, I was completely blindsided and lost more than I could afford to lose when I turned to survival. And I don’t want that to happen to you. So know this. I made early vows, and I mostly kept them. They were many vows. Vows of all the things I would not do, all the things that were not ideal in my story. I would not let a child molester near them if I could help it. I would not call them degrading names, or say they are useless and never amount to anything. I would never take their money; if they worked, they would save up for school and their future. There were many things I vowed I would not do. But there were many things I should have done; things that I missed. And I expect, if you are a parent, you understand some of this.
        Parenting is the most beautiful, the most painful, the most rewarding, the most devastating and the most wonderful thing you will ever do. You will fail your children terribly. And they will fail you. And if you don’t talk and face the conflict, a day will come when it will cave in on you and you will have to stay and dig yourself out of the rubble, or you will outrun the debris, and lose everything worth fighting for.
        So start young. Start now. Face the hurts, the betrayals, the misunderstandings (on both sides… it’s not just them and it’s not just you) and fight for your family like you’ve never fought before. Fight *for*, not *with*. Maybe you think they hate you, maybe they think you hate them. Fight with truth, and fight with love. Fight against the hate and the darkness that steals relationship and joy. Fight resentment, and fight for honest conversation, and deep listening. Dare to go to hard places; don’t retreat in passivity and comfort yourself with being a peacemaker.
        That is’t peace. I thought it was. I hate conflict. I hated it when I saw my parents fight. I hated it when dad threatened to kill us, or mom threatened to beat us. I hated it when a parent and one of my siblings threatened one another, or when a sibling threatened me. I became the master of forgiving and letting go, of avoiding the conflict, and expected the world around me to be as ‘gracious’ and ‘forgive’ as easily; but it was neither grace nor forgiveness. It was a blend of fear and apathy. For me, more the former than the latter.. It isn’t worth it. It communicates dreadful things to our children. To my children.
        In the past year I have studied Conflict Resolution, Conflict Analysis, Restorative Justice, Negotiations (a lot of mediation focus), and have learned good ‘fighting’ (aka conflict management) skills. And I am convinced we Christians need to unlearn a lot of the passivity we have adopted and learn a new way of facing conflict, especially as I face the consequences of years of avoiding conflict. Avoidance – even with ‘cheap forgiveness’, as I call it, that doesn’t resolve the deeper story – kills meaningful relationship. Conflict, well managed, is a good and beneficial thing.
        So fight for your family relationships. Get a mediator or support person involved to prevent escalation if that’s something you can’t manage. Do it for them – especially for them, do it for you, and do it for the next generation. A cycle will continue; you choose which one it will be.
family conflict
        I promise you, avoiding the conflict isn’t worth it. Choose your pain; the pain of working through conflict, or the pain of feeling your heart torn as you decide whether you will run as far and as fast as you can, or stay and let your heart bleed back to life, as you face what you ran from in the past.

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Of Parenting, Crooked Backs & Delightful Conversations With Rough-looking Men

Thanks to back spasms that have been tormenting me, off and on since June, with no medical explanation, I hobbled toward the checkout at Canadian Tire, looking like an 80-something-year-old with too much plastic surgery. (This is an observation I made recently, when a certain actress was on the new and her body and face didn’t match, and that is what I remind me of on those days.) On my best days I forget it ever happened and on my worst days, which fortunately are few and far in between, I cannot walk without support. And on the not-good-but able to move days, I shuffle slowly with occasional debilitating spasms. It was one of those days and I hoped to not stand too long.

I assessed the line lengths and the cart contents. Why I even bothered to assess it, I’m not sure. It’s useless, really, choosing the shortest line. I should have learned that a few days earlier when I tried it, and stood there, shifting from foot to foot, my arms loaded with more than enough stuff to justify a cart, while the elderly lady in front of me struggled with her card. Turned out she just didn’t know how to use it, and after about a dozen tries, I finally whispered to the cashier that she’s not finishing the process after entering her pin. In no time, after that, I was out of there. Never mind that the long line beside had moved a fine lot of people through by then, and I’d have been long gone had I chosen that one.

I chose a random line, in the Canadian Tire store, knowing it would be what it would be, and entertained myself with people watching. The gentleman in front of me continued eyeing the product beside us. It’s strategically placed at the checkout, in hopes customers will pick up one little thing, or another, whether they need it or not. He reached for a measuring tape–a nice big one–and placed it on top of his stack. He glanced my way and in that moment I spoke spontaneously, as I do from time to time, in a boring moment like that. And, quite frankly, he looked as bored as I felt, and there was some kind of instant connection. I saw it in his eyes, a certain kindness that welcomes conversation.  His tattoos, shaved head and biker’s beard and mustache made no difference to me, other than a passing observation.

canstockphoto1285179 (2)

“Everyone needs one of those,” I said, nodding at the measuring tape.

“I bet I already have nine or so at home,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s always a matter of finding one when you need it, eh” I said, “especially when you have almost as many kids in the house. And I do…  five,” I added. I didn’t add that we have six right now, with a German exchange student living with our family.

He snorted then, and for one moment I thought it was because of our having five kids. It just popped out, when I thought it, and even as I said it, I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. But it’s true. Things get used, misplaced and finding one out of nine measuring tapes, or nail clippers, or combs isn’t that easy.

He looked at me then, laughing, “I have more kids than that… I have fourteen!”

“Oh wow! Good for you,” I said. It was my turn to laugh, and then I did to him what people do to me when they learn we have five children. I offered a look that was a cross between admiration and disbelief. Admittedly, my shock was a bit influenced by his appearance. May as well be honest. I picture guys like him with fourteen Harley bikes, not that big a family.

He laughed again, “No. Good for you. You knew when to stop!”

“That may be a matter of opinion… ” I said,  “One of my favourite parenting moments was the day one of our children yelled at my husband and me, in anger, for having such a big family.”

He laughed and shared his parenting highlight. “My all-time favourite moment was when my oldest son, then in his thirties, called and said, ‘Dad, I just did to my son what you used to do to me’, and he told me how he was angry with his son and yelled at him.” He laughed again, a twinkle in his eye, and continued, “And he said to me,  ‘Then I stopped mid-sentence to say, ‘My gosh! I’m just like my dad!’ So I said to him, ‘What… you’re calling to blame me for that?’ and my son says, ‘No, Dad, I’m calling to say “I’m sorry. I finally get it!'”

The conversation carried on from there, about parenting and the moments we have, the ups and downs. We both spoke candidly, having similar personalities, and at one point, after a particularly revealing statement he said, “I’m no hypocrite…. Sometimes I wish I was.”

I laughed then, and echoed his statement. “Yeah… I’m not either. I tend to say it as it is,” I said. The cashier called to help the next person in line, and we parted ways.

It was a refreshing moment, with a complete stranger whom I will not likely meet again, sharing  things as they really are. Life as it should be, in my opinion, with no pretenses. It reminded me of a message I received the other week from a young mom who felt like she really blows it sometimes. She started by asking me if I was ever afraid I’d make the same mistakes my parents made.

I wrote back, unfiltered and told her I never feared I would sexually abuse children. Ever. But, yes, I was afraid I  would repeat the anger and other harshness, I wrote back and shared how I started with spanking our children much too hard, and out of anger. I told her how I yelled at them. And how there was a moment when I realized it was all wrong, the way I parented, and I went for help. I didn’t do it perfectly, after that, but things started to change. And it’s still a growing, learning experience. I told her she will be okay, and do well, and even reaching out will have a powerful impact.

She sent a note to thank me for being honest, because it’s not comfortable for people to admit to having done it wrong. Well, I did it wrong, and that’s just the way it is. It’s pointless to pretend it was any different than it was. It was pretty horrid, at times, the first years. It was lonely and I felt like a complete failure, and I begged God constantly to transform me, to make me a good mom. Then I discovered that He was far more interested in making my heart beautiful, by giving me a revelation of His kindness, than He was in suddenly perfecting me.  And in discovering His kindness, I became more like Him, and thereby more kind to my family.

These candid conversations, sharing our imperfections, failures and what we’ve learned  offer hope for the next generation. They’re necessary. I think to myself, if only we could be a bit more like that, and not pretend, the world would be a different place. It would be a community of sharing. And if the world can’t be made like that, all at once, I can still be that…  And so can you.  Then, if we can encourage others, the ripples will begin.

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Praying Like A Pagan: A Challenge from My Sons

I wasn’t planning to write a blog tonight, but, after tucking my two youngest into bed, I decided to take a few minutes to do so.

Tonight Tim & I had a great night. We met with a handful of couples for an evening of prayer and confession. Well, it started with one individual sharing some things with me a few weeks ago, and wanting to pray through some past ‘stuff’ and some ongoing struggles.

Within the context of meeting in a group such as this, we had never had such a meeting. It was new… the unknown. And it was beautiful. It turned out to be an evening of prayer, of reaching out to God as a group. The presence of God was sweet and powerful. The perfect ‘ending’ to an intense week.

We returned home shortly after 10:00. Todd, thirteen, and Kordan, ten, were ready for bed, but not asleep. There was a bit of a dispute between them about who would tuck them in bed, Daddy or me. In the end I was the one who went up.

Everyone in our family knows that when I do prayer time, I sometimes get carried away… well, maybe usually… and I ‘chatter’ to God about all kinds of things. When they were little it worked great for putting them to sleep. I would pray, and pray and pray, until they fell sound asleep. I didn’t necessarily do it for that reason, it was just a great ‘bonus’ to my time with God.

As always we prayed together when I tucked them in. First Todd prayed, then Kordan, and finally I prayed. Both prayed their unique prayers, but each included, “…thank you that tomorrow is Saturday, and we will clean a little and play a lot….” Todd added a ‘hopefully’ to the end of that prayer. And then it was my turn.

I did the usual and prayed a while, but tonight I caught myself and wrapped it up relatively quickly.

Immediately when I said ‘amen’, and before I could leave the room, Kordan said, “Wait, Mommy, wait… Turn on the ‘head light’ (meaning the light on the head of the bed)… there’s something I want to show you.”

He pulled a box from the head of the bed and I assumed it was something he had made, but, as he turned the box, I recognized his Bible box. He said something about the book of Matthew, and having learned something in Bible Quizzing at church.

He looked up the book of Matthew at the front of the Bible, then started paging through, looking for page 1051. A few chapters in he decided to flip large sections and get there faster. In Matthew he started skimming, eventually asking Todd for a bit of help for the chapter and then scanning for verses. He said it was about prayer.

The heading ‘Prayer’ caught my eye so I pointed to it. He held it up and I read it to him. When I got to verse seven, Kordan said, with a laugh, “Yeah, that’s the one, that’s what I wanted to show you.”

The verse says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…”

Both boys laughed their little hearts out at their own humour and wit, at having found a verse, just for me. “That’s you mom… that’s what you do.”

I laughed, and explained, “It’s a bit different. I don’t think I’ll be heard for talking a lot.” Then I added, “I just think God likes to listen to me chatter.”

They argued that maybe that was just my perception, not reality, and laughed again.

It was a fun and light ‘topping’ to a week filled with ministry, and seeing the power of God work in breaking the chains of silence, victimization and abuse.

It is no wonder God tells us to become like little children. There is freedom in laughter, freedom in humour, and freedom in the love, hugs and kisses of our children.

I finished tucking them in, my heart full with the wonder of being blessed with God’s love through our children. I said it in my prayer, and I’ll say it again. I am so thankful for our family.

And my prayers… well, they may continue to be as long as that of the pagans, but I still think God likes to listen to me chatter.

© Trudy Metzger

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A Universal Problem

A recent conversation with a teen proved again how normal sexual promiscuity has become. Having been through several failed intimate relationships, she shared with me what it’s like to be a teen in the mainstream evangelical churches today.

Two or three of her church friends are virgins, and intend to protect their virginity until marriage. The rest are sleeping around and started as young as age 12 and 13. She shared bluntly and graphically what she had done, and what her friends were into, and even how they talked about it.

She struggled with anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies, guilt and shame. She still believed in Jesus, still attended church, still wanted what is right, but is trapped in her story. Fourteen is too young for this. We owe it to our kids to give them a better future by walking them through their developing years. It is not fair to them if we don’t teach them appropriately.

Another young woman contacted me yesterday, sharing her story in detail, of being abused in a Conservative Mennonite church, time and time again, by an older female. The abuse carried on for years before she had the courage to say something and before she stopped it.

Children should not have to live with the pain and trauma of guilt and shame. These years should be sweet, fun and innocent. A time of maturing. Whether it is abuse, like the second story, or by choice–albeit uninformed choice–like the first story, these years should not be consumed by sexual perversion. (Yes, I still use that word. I know it offends some, but the abuse of what is good and right and true, is still perversion, even in 2012.)

Every now and then people tell me that my sensitivity in the area of sexuality has more to do with my strict religious upbringing than anything else. They tell me that teaching sexual purity, and abstinence before marriage, is out-dated, and unrealistic. And in today’s culture it’s ‘normal’ to be sexually active.

The last part is true. In today’s culture it is normal. And if I would not see people in non-religious settings grieving that loss, I’d probably believe this to be true. Few people teach on it, or support and encourage abstinence, openly.

*Kamille, an international model in her late twenties, sat in front of me, album in hand, with tears in her eyes. She had just shared with me pictures of various photo shoots in USA,  and should have been overjoyed and so proud. The pictures were gorgeous.

She ran her fingers over the album, outlining a photo. Her regret? She wished someone had told her the truth about life, sex, her body and marriage. Maybe, just maybe, it would have saved her the current heartache and grief.

She was abused as a child and made some pretty bad choices in her teens. When we spoke, her marriage was falling apart. They simply were not able to trust each other, because past lovers played havoc with their minds and memories.

In the process of trying to rescue her marriage, Kamille had fallen in love with her female counsellor, and become more certain than ever that her marriage would not survive. She didn’t even love the man–she loved a woman.

Kamille told me that she knew the truth, based on God’s Word, but in her mind it was too late. (She was not a professing believer, but was learning the Bible through friends.) She felt too much damage had been done and she could not retrain her mind and let go of what had transpired.

What intrigued me most was when Kamille told me that she believes if she had known the truth about sex, it would have changed the course of her life. And though she regretted her life, she didn’t have the will to change.

“If I could change one thing,” she said, “I would have saved my virginity for marriage and not have all those memories.”

Kamille was wealthy. And incredibly beautiful. She appeared, on the surface, to ‘have it all’. But below the surface a battle raged. She struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She told me she fantasized about having other lovers–including her female counsellor–and her self-esteem ran dangerously low. She felt trapped and victimized by her own desires and shamed by her story.

Each of these stories are very different in cultural context. From a mainstream evangelical church, to a conservative Mennonite church, to an atheistic/agnostic background. Yet each of these women carried the common thread of guilt, shame and regret, in one form or another.

The desire to be informed, equipped and protected is universal. Culture, upbringing and life experience will influence our feelings and desires, and even how we recover, but they cannot change how we are wired.

Before our birth, before our conception, God says He knew us. He created us with a  desire for Him and truth, for a connection with our Creator, to function within His design for us. When we move outside of that design sexually, whether by force, by choice or by ignorance, something in our spirit knows something is not right, that is not what we were created for. And that awareness triggers grief and depression.

We are a generation who desperately need to know truth, and teach truth. The years of silence have brought destruction and it is time to reclaim and redeem.

We can hand out condoms til we’re broke, and teach kids how to put them on, using bananas to illustrate–the way they do in school–and we can foot the bill for abortions. We can tell them it’s normal and it’s okay to explore, experiment and be sexually active. We can disregard their broken hearts, and cast them aside, by making the surface ‘acceptable’.But nothing in the world can heal the broken hearts, undo the damage, the trauma and the emotional aftermath, except the truth.

Only truth, only Jesus, can bring healing to that inner place. And we are the messengers of that hope–His hands, His heart, His feet, and His voice in this generation.

What will you do to bring redemption within your sphere of influence?

Jeremiah 1:5

New King James Version (NKJV)

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you…

© Trudy Metzger

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When Should You ‘Tell All’ to Your Teens About Sex?

One of the hardest things about tackling the topic of sexual abuse, and breaking the silence and advocating for survivors of abuse, is that it requires constantly staring the past in the eye, one way or another. This can be wearing, if not managed well, and requires introspection to ‘nip in the bud’ any negative impact being in this kind of ministry can have.

I am blessed to have a supportive husband, who also is tuned in to the impact ministry has on me, and together we try to stay balanced. But for all the balance in the world, it is faith in Jesus that keeps me strong and focused, without being sucked into the horror of the stories I hear, let alone my own past.

Yesterday I took a day off of my series on Sexual Abuse and Violence, to honour a friend who died suddenly and tragically, in a crash. The thought of what his family is suffering right now quite overwhelmed me. When I hear of tragedy such as this, and the painful aftermath, I realize again that this is not what we were created for. This pain and trauma, caused by sin and death, is more than the human mind and body are created to handle. That is why we need Jesus.

It is this comfort, that Jesus is willing to carry for us, those things that we were not created for, that helps me shift my focus. I shift from the tragedy of death and sin, to the triumph of the cross. From the  wounds I carry, to the battle I need to fight. And from the battle I need to fight, to the Saviour who already conquered sin on the cross, and took authority over death.

With that in mind, I dive back in….

Training our children about sexuality has been (mostly) a fun journey, after we made it past the initial awkwardness. Okay… that is my opinion. Tim, who is reserved and private, would hardly describe it that way.

On her twelfth birthday, after all the action had settled down, I was on our bed studying when Alicia joined me. I was finishing my Grade 12 studies, having determined that a GED was not satisfying. I wanted to work for my diploma. I wanted actual exams and classes to attend, and reclaim what I had missed out in my youth.

I laid my books aside to chat with Alicia, when she asked why it is important for women to cover up and dress modestly. (I had said ‘no’ to an outfit not long before this)

I explained that it is good and important to cover our bodies out of respect for ourselves and people around us, but that balance is important. We don’t want to not be so hung up on it that it becomes all-consuming and a religious ‘measuring stick’ to determine salvation. She wanted a better answer. The ‘why’ it even mattered. What was wrong about exposing our bodies.

Ah yes, that little bitty detail… Perfect material for a bedtime chat.

I can’t tell you exactly what trail led us there, but enough questions later, Alicia knew about erections, penetration and how men are wired to be visually stimulated.

Her eyes about popped out at the penetration. “It actually has to go inside?!”

I assured her that it’s all part of God’s plan, that it’s not painful as it sounds it could be.  I told her that by the time you’re married and in love, it’s a God-blessed relationship and it is all ‘right’ and good.

We were wrapping up the conversation when Alicia asked in a whisper, “Mommy, where’s Daddy?”

Playfully, I answered in a whisper, “I think he’s hiding in the bathroom.”

“I would hide too!” she exclaimed, “if someone was telling all that about my body!”  No sooner had she spoken the words than Tim walked in the room. He got that look on his face that said, ‘I don’t think I want to be part of this conversation.’

“Am… I…. interrupting something?” he asked.

“Not at all! You’re welcome to join us, if you wish,” I answered.

With a grin he declined and said he’s heading downstairs, leaving Alicia and me on our bed, giggling.

When I went to teach Nicole about these things, when she turned twelve, she calmly told me, “Mom, I already know that stuff.”

“Don’t you want me to explain it just to make sure?” I asked.

“No.”

Okay then. No need to waste words.

With the boys we explained nocturnal emissions, and how that wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or worry about. Even random ‘leaking’ or spills were nothing to feel bad about, just a matter of ‘covering up’ in public. We told them of other changes their bodies would go through and the need for good hygiene. (That hasn’t always worked…. ) And then we told them about the female cycle and the importance of being gentle with their sisters, explaining the rise and fall of their emotions.

“Well they must already have that,” Bryan said matter-of-factly when we explained the mood swings to him. I guess that part is obvious.

It’s a wonderful thing when children are respectfully informed. I also believe it is biblical. But that’s at least 500 words worth, so I’ll save that for another day. In practical day-to-day living, things run more smoothly, and boys are very understanding when their sisters are not well, and they know why.

The past few days one of our daughters has been in a lot of pain because of menstrual cramps. Last evening our whole family was watching the Olympics and she moaned around a bit, then looked up and asked, “Bryan, would you mind getting me a cup of water please?”

Without hesitation, and with a look of compassion, he did it for her.

When Tim prayed at dinner, he prayed that her cramps would go away and that she would feel better.

I am convinced of this, when my boys get married, they will be sensitive and caring. They will be prepared for what goes with a woman’s monthly cycle and will treat their wives well.

It is no wonder that the enemy loves silence in Christian circles. There is so much power in the truth! Yes, every family needs to be discerning in the ‘when and how’, but to not do it at all, because of fear and awkwardness, is a cop-out and a tragedy.

Have we done it perfectly? No. I doubt it. But the door is open and our children know we’re available. They know God thinks they’re pretty awesome, right down to their sexual identity. It was His idea after all, the way He designed us just before He said, “It is very good!”

© Trudy Metzger

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Breaking Chains: A New Legacy

Yesterday our family spent the day at Goderich, on the beach of Lake Huron, with some of Tim’s uncles, aunts, a few cousins and family friends for our annual ‘Beach Day’–a thirty year, plus, tradition. Tim and our children enjoy the water and spend their day swimming. I enjoy the sounds, the scenery and watching the waves–the bigger, the better.

Tim and I managed to get away for a walk, just the two of us, and wander over to the breaker, climbing over rocks to watch the waves for a while. The waters were quite rough, causing the waves to crash and splash over the rocks. It was lovely to watch, but I had no desire to be in it.

It made me think of life. Of the rough waters Tim & I have come through, many of which were caused by my responses to life, due to my background. I thought of the emotional struggles I went through because of those things, and how it impacted us in training our children. Some good, some bad.

As we stood there, high above the ‘storms’ in the water, holding hands, I realized how much our love and commitment to each other has played a role in breaking chains and building a new legacy for our family.

The one thing our children know, always and without question, is that their mommy and daddy are very much committed to each other, and still crazy in love. We display affection in front of them. Contrary to popular belief in some cultures, this does not damage children. (I recall being taught that physical affection should only happen in the bedroom. )

One of our children, at about age thirteen, commented, “You and daddy are kind of mushy.”

I was a bit surprised because we are discreet, never making out in front of our kids, or anything like that. We hug a lot. We hold hands. We kiss, but not super intimately–just sweet, gentle kisses. Still, that was her take on it so I asked, “Does that bother you? Do you wish we wouldn’t?”

Her eyes sparkled as she shook her head, “No.”

We talked awhile about it and she told me it makes her feel secure, that she finds comfort in knowing her daddy and I won’t abandon each other, leaving them with the aftermath.

Training is a big part of breaking the chains of sexual abuse and violence, or any other generational chains, but what we show through example is as important. Our lives should exemplify the things we teach, reinforcing the words we speak into our children’s lives.

To teach truth, and live a life of purity, commitment, love and hope, leaves our children with a new legacy Where we fail, we need to take ownership and then release it, trusting the same God who saw us through our parents’ failures, to walk them through their disappointments and the scars of our failures.

If we have shown them how to forgive those who have wounded us, and if we have demonstrated how to love and stand with our spouse in commitment, we will have equipped them to make wise choices.

One day, when they are adults parenting their children, they will remember, and hopefully they too will break the chains we carried forward, unwittingly, and leave their children with a stronger legacy than we gave them.

Last evening, as the day was wrapping up, I went for a brisk walk along the board-walk, enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean in the background, and playing worship music on my iPod. When it’s all said and done, it is God who redeems, God who gives strength resilience and courage, and it is God who breaks the chains, offering us a new legacy for our children.

© Trudy Metzger

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‘The Talk’, Staying Flexible

The conversation I had with Alicia just before her tenth birthday set a standard at the Metzger house. I took Alicia out for her birthday, a special dinner, to celebrate this next level of growing up. Since we had already had, what has since become known as, ‘the talk’, it was an ‘after the fact’ celebration.

For Nicole I did the same, just the two of us, but with the plan to have ‘the talk’ afterwards. Dinner was lovely. The restaurant she chose had live jazz and she was quite taken with the band. As with Alicia, the talk went well.

I hadn’t thought through the next phase. Boys. How would we teach them about their bodies and healthy sexuality? Since I had done one-on-one with the girls, and because of cultural upbringing, it seemed ‘right’ for Tim to do this. But I’m the ‘teacher’ in the house. The communicator. The artist–at least enough to do sketches for the purpose of teaching our kids. The life coach. The one who has no difficulty–once past the initial awkwardness–explaining sex to children, at a level they can understand. I had taken the girls out, without their daddy–something I later regretted–and wondered how Tim would fare to do it alone.

When it came the time for the boys, Tim asked me to join him, and help answer their questions. We had breakfast with Bryan, our oldest, and quickly discovered that a classmate had already given him a bit of information that he didn’t really need at ten. At least he told us, so we could work through it.

With Todd a series of events at school, involving premature discussions of sexuality with some classmates, triggered a conversation well before his tenth birthday. Circumstantially, it was a ‘mom and son’ talk, and while the idealism of our ‘tenth birthday talk’ fell by the wayside, I have no regrets. That day Todd became a responsible and deeply respectful young man. The things that had transpired, particularly the ongoing inappropriate conversations, required him to take a stand with his peers. That brought out strength and character that I see in him to this day.

The summer after this talk I met a leader from a kids club in our town, where Todd attended after school. She told me how she had been teaching about Joseph and when she told the story of Potipher’s wife, she had made it as ‘child friendly’ as possible. She told them it was wrong to cheat on a spouse and that the Bible called it ‘adultery’.  After the class Todd had walked up to her and said, “I know something else we shouldn’t do.”

“And what’s that?” She had asked.

“We shouldn’t have sex before we’re married either,” he said matter-of-factly, and then left.

Todd and I had coffee one evening last fall, at Tim Hortons–Canada’s most popular coffee shop–and he again showed this same strength of character. He told me that it bothers him when classmates talk about ‘inappropriate’ stuff, and when they swear.

I asked how he responds, or what he does with it. “Mostly, I just walk away,” he answered.

Kordan, well… he just turned ten. Being three years behind Todd, with none of the older children being even two years apart in age, he is a bit of a tag-along, in a way. He learns a lot from adult conversation and listening to older siblings. He’s as comfortable with the topic of healthy sexuality as anyone I know, and knows age-appropriate facts.

Nicole and Bryan prefer more privacy and tend not to discuss things as openly. While some talks are ‘mandatory’ in our home, we do try to give them space, and respect that preference for space and privacy. (Even stories I share in blogging, writing, or in public speaking tend not to be about them, or disclosing their names, at their request. Respect is a two-way street and it is important to honour our kids wishes, and not violate their personal space.)

The teaching process is for the purpose of protecting our children, and equipping them to protect themselves. To do it effectively, our children need to feel that it is about them, not about us or a personal agenda. If we stay flexible and respect their ‘personhood’ in the process, that will validate our teaching, and affirm them.

It’s an area I am growing in, not one I wave a flag on, boldly declaring I have conquered. Because of the trauma and broken memories of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of caution and my passion can run away with me.

My children are outspoken, and not afraid to let me know when they think I’m over protective or ‘over teaching’ a topic. While it doesn’t always change my mind, or end the conversation, it does teach me their ‘voice’ and what matters to them, and what their boundaries are. And that does influence my parenting style, more than they know.

My prayer is that my children will be protected from the brokenness that so many suffer, because of a lack of awareness. That they will know their worth. That they will be whole, not broken, and scattered, like a rose that is forced to open before it is ready, leaving petals scattered here and there. The rose can still be beautiful, but it is scarred, and the wonder of what was meant to be can never be regained.

Fortunately, when we fail, Jesus heals and forgives. He restores and makes us whole again. In no way do I want to undermine that. But it comes with a cost because, in our humanity, when those doors are opened, innocence is lost and the battle of the mind remains for years. To equip our children with truth is the best we can offer.

Jesus said, ‘and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’. All truth is God’s truth, and knowing truth is the key to freedom in every area of life.

© Trudy Metzger

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If God Makes Babies, Why do Unmarried People Get Pregnant?

“Mommy, my friend said her brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. How can someone that’s not married have a baby?” Alicia, seven at the time, asked this question immediately after school one day, as she emptied out her lunch box.

Alicia had a knack for asking all the tough questions, always keeping me on my toes. With God coaching me, and a few good friends to encourage me, her questions taught me this: Talking about sexuality, in a healthy way, shouldn’t be that different from teaching our kids how to play ‘patty-cake, patty-cake…’ or how to cook, read, write or handle money. It’s all part of good parenting. Quite honestly, I’ve done better in this area than some of the others.

“Well, it isn’t just married people who have babies,” I answered, still trying to form an age-appropriate answer. “When people live together and sleep together, like married people, they sometimes have babies too. But that’s not God’s plan for people.”

I wasn’t quite ready for the ‘sex talk’ so I kept it real, but superficial, hoping it would be enough.

She asked several other questions, trying to sort out what it all means. Did it make God sad? And if God makes babies, then why would it happen before people get married? Could just anyone suddenly be pregnant? (Way to keep it ‘light’, girl!)

I explained that by sleeping together, and living the way God planned for married people to live and sleep together, they do their part in making the baby.

“A man and a woman have to be together for that to happen, it doesn’t just happen. And babies are always special. It might be a mistake to sleep together, but the baby is never a mistake.”

Not perfect, but it was the best I knew. And it satisfied her. For a while.

Up to this point I had told them that God takes a part of the daddy, and part of the mommy, to make a baby in the mommy’s tummy. I was in no hurry to explain that we play a predominant (and fun!) role in that miracle making process. Back then the thought of talking to my children about it, in any detail, was still awkward and unnerving, even looking ahead to when they would be ready. Fortunately each ‘baby step’ prepares you for the next, and we don’t have to do it all in one day.

Starting in the bathtub when they were still toddlers, I explained body parts, using appropriate names. I told them that this is stuff we talk about at home, with our family, but not with other people. And if other people start talking about it, we tell them we only talk about this at home. This teaching resulted in our one son returning home from school, in grade one, having had an interesting conversation.

“One of the boys at school told us that all boys have a peanut,” Bryan said.

I wanted to laugh, but he was dead serious, so I responded calmly, “Really?”

“Yes. But I told them, ‘it’s not a peanut! It’s a p-e-e-n-i-s-s-s-s….'” he said, enunciating the ‘s’ in the appropriate word.

“Very good!” And with that he was off to play.

Shortly before her tenth birthday, Alicia had more question. The years in between had been the normal talks of respect, how to treat others, and how to expect to be treated. But that couldn’t last forever. I always assumed that if they asked detailed questions, then detailed answers were in order. The time had come.

“Mommy, today at school I had to look up a word that started with ‘ex’. And someone had written an ‘s’ in front of it. I showed it to my friends.”

“I see. Did you girls look up what it means?” I asked, curious.

“No. We talked about it and decided maybe it was bad and we shouldn’t look it up,” she answered.

“Good for you,” I said. It wasn’t that looking it up would have been bad, but that they collectively decided what was the right thing to do, and did, made me proud. “But it isn’t bad,” I added.

“So, Mommy, what does ‘sex’ mean?”

Tim had left with the other four children, and Alicia and I were alone at home.

“Go get a pen and paper, and I’ll explain what it is, if you want,” I said. She nodded and ran off to get the materials.

I whispered a silent prayer… “Oh God, help! I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here!”

We sat at the island, and she watched intently as I drew the torso of a female and a male body, with detailed internal and external sex organs. I explained that sex can simply mean ‘gender’, or it can be an act between a man and a woman.

I told her about sperm, the female egg, the monthly cycle–in more detail than I had already told her about–and the birthing process. I explained the simple facts again, saying that God takes part of the daddy, and part of the mommy to make the baby. This time that wasn’t enough.

“But how does He get it from the daddy into the mommy?” She asked. “Does the daddy have to touch the mommy?”

I pointed out how the male is created and how the female is created, and how it all fits, and that the male has to transfer sperm into the female. I didn’t explain erections, penetration or the intimate pleasure of love-making. That would come later.

When I had finished, she continued to stare at the paper, in absolute silence. For a brief moment I was sure I had overwhelmed her. Destroyed her innocence.

She looked up, her face filled with awe, “Cool!” she exclaimed.

And that was the end of that, for another two years, when, on the night of her twelfth birthday she asked yet more questions. Her birthday was a month later, and I took her out for dinner to celebrate, and I told her we would have ‘the talk’ with her siblings later. For now it was something she could talk to myself or daddy about.

Not all parents are comfortable with this level of detail at ten, while others will have ‘told all’ at a younger age. I cannot say what is right for everyone, but it has been good for our children.

The important thing is to be available, to never shame or punish children for asking tough question or being curious. Yes, it’s a bit scary at first, especially if we didn’t get that from our parents, but it’s important.

Our sexuality it a beautiful thing, a wonderful gift from God, and our responses either confirm that truth, or they warp it. We either equip our children, and free them from shame, or we give shame power.

How will you influence your children?

© Trudy Metzger

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Sexual Abuse & Violence: Learning on the Farm… Basic Lessons on Sex

Having grown up on ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’, with about two of every kind of animal, you would have thought we were building an ark. Add to that a random selection of old tractors, plows ‘and such’, as well as a machine shop with massive lathes, drills, presses and other machinery, and you have the ‘Harder Homestead’.

Photo Credits for all photos: http://www.freefoto.com

My guess is that you’re anticipating a ‘birds & bees’ type blog post, based on the natural behaviour of farm animals…. But, while there’s something to be said for that, I’m speaking about farm machinery and safety. The more farm kids are educated, the safer they are. And my parents were strict about farm safety.

Dad, especially, would ‘lay down the law’ and, with his temper, we knew he better not catch us slacking. I observed more than one fit of rage that resulted in someone receiving a thrashing. I narrowly escaped at least one such punishment.

We didn’t always honour those rules. When our parents were gone we took what we thought were calculated risks, though I realize in hindsight these could have cost someone a life.

A favourite was wrapping my hands around the ‘lift’ on the front of the tractor, interlocking my fingers firmly, and then Wil would slowly raise me into the air, crank the steering wheel as far in a given direction as possible, put the tractor in reverse, and give it as much gas as possible. The tractor would spin around in a circle, and the I would swing almost straight out, flying through the air. Who needs Canada’s Wonderland?

Photo Credits: http://www.freefoto.com

Mostly this risk-taking was instigated and executed by my brother Wil and me. It was all fun and games because no one lost a limb or a life. And, since we never got caught, the consequences never out-weighed the thrill. But I seldom hear of a farm accident now without thinking back to those days and knowing it could have been us. It’s a miracle all sixteen kids lived to experience adult life, and survive to this day, save one step-brother who died in infancy long before I was born.

My point? We risked lives, abusing machinery, and we did it for a temporary ‘feel good’. In our case we were taught safety and warned appropriately, and still chose to experiment, when parents were not around. We thought we were being responsible enough, and didn’t intentionally cause harm. But it would all have turned out differently if one of us had lost our grip, tipped a tractor or had another accident and broke a limb, or, worse, died.

Had we not known the dangers, with no training on how to use equipment, we would likely have been reckless to a greater extreme.  As it was, we were risk takers with standards and a conscience.

It’s easy to see this in the day to day life safety. It makes common sense. But in the areas of sexuality, where the consequences are potentially devastating, many have this notion that silence will produce the best result. Hoping, somehow, that by saying nothing, no perversion is planted or introduced.

While we are silent, the enemy is talking. At every turn he is lying to our children. Whether through sexual abuse, through over-focus on covering every bit of skin (thereby over-sexualizing and objectifying people), or by the pornographic material that is so easily accessible, not to mention plastered everywhere you go. The enemy is not silent. And children are not blind, or naïve. If the only teaching they get is what they see when they’re out and about, or what is done to them, then their sexual identity will be very warped.

Whether they are abused or not, and whether they choose to engage in inappropriate sexual activity or not, they will have an unhealthy sexual identity if we don’t teach truth.

If we spend the formative years of their life teaching them that sex is bad, secretive, or ‘dirty’, then that is what they will ultimately believe and live. If society teaches them that it is fun and appealing and exciting, within the context of sinful behaviour, and they choose to experiment, they will be confused. Because of guilt they will believe that it is ‘dirty’, just as they were taught by Christians, and it is also fun and exciting, just like society teaches. That is a problem. It gives the enemy the power.

It is our God-given privilege and duty to teach our children the truth about their sexuality, that sex is beautiful, God-ordained and designed for marriage between one man and one woman. Age appropriate, honest answers should be given when children ask questions. Body parts should be explained, using proper terminology. It teaches respect and dignity.

We owe our children the truth. They deserve to be equipped, and need to have a healthy awareness of their sexual identity, because it plays directly into their view of God, and their perception of how He sees them. When they are faced with situations, when no one is around to watch over them or tell them what to do, they will more likely to make wise choices if we have given them wise counsel.

In the upcoming posts I will speak more to this aspect of teaching our children well, using some of our experiences as family.

I welcome your thoughts, your questions and your input, either here, or via email. (info ‘at symbol’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com)

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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