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.

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“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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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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Losing Religion & Finding Community

“You know you’re supposed to do it? How long will you fight it?” He looked deep into my soul. At least as deep as I would let him, and then a bit deeper, as my defenses broke. Just as quickly I did the only thing I know how to do when I’m too vulnerable, when my soul is bared, and I would rather hide and retreat; I laughed.

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it though, I promise,” I said, still laughing. His challenge, urging me to start a group/meeting for the broken and hurting, came at the end of a lengthy conversation about the brokenness of people. Particularly in churches.

Having suffered much, he has wearied of how Christians present as ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ all the time. Because, with few exceptions, that’s what nice church people do. And say. And are. Happy, victorious, healed, and ‘fine’ Christians.

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If you don’t agree, try it sometime. Go to church and when asked how you are, if you’re not in a good place, be real. When they say, “Good morning! How are you?!” with a big smile, and warm handshake, respond with transparency. Don’t bother to smile, or say “I’m fine, thank you.” Forget about social graces for just a moment. Look them in the eye. Look longer, and deeper than is comfortable. Pause awkwardly before saying a word. They’ll squirm and you’ll want to run for dear life. But don’t let go of that hand because, odds are, you’ll both turn and run, if you release them.

When the awkward is about all you can handle, still looking them in the eye and holding their hand, which they, by now, are most likely trying to wriggle free, say, “I’m really not doing well. It’s been a hard week, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it. It feels like hell!”

If they ask “May I pray for you?” say, “Sure, if it makes you feel better, but it would mean more if you helped clean my house. With the time I’ve spent caring for my dying mother (or whatever hardship you’re going through), even basics are neglected. My bathrooms, especially, could use a good cleaning.”

If they have stopped smiling, and don’t simply mumble, “God will provide”, before apologizing that they need to run, then consider yourself in a good place. If that person says, “When can I come clean your bathrooms?”, know this, you are in an exceptional place. If they acknowledge your suffering and share how much they struggled with anger, loneliness and feeling as though God abandoned them, after some great tragedy, they are extraordinary. Most have excused themselves by now.

We withdraw because we fear people’s pain and suffering. But, as my friend pointed out over coffee that day, suffering is an opportunity to connect. It is the single universal experience all humans share. Every person on earth suffers. Some experience joy. Some success. Some happiness. But everyone suffers. Eventually.

Why, then, are we so uncomfortable with suffering? Here, my friend pointed out, it is our faulty view of God that rams a stick in the spokes of our bicycle at most in opportune moments; our ‘vendor machine’ view of God, if I pop in a prayer, out should come a miracle, an answer, a solution. And the world should be made right and perfect and wonderful.

But we do. And it doesn’t. Our prayers rise. And our miracles fall with a splat. Our faith gives way to questioning. Eventually it grows tired and we wonder… Does God care or even listen? And, as Christians scamper away from our broken pains, we conclude He doesn’t. Because they don’t. And suddenly God makes no sense. He should have done something. But didn’t. He let us down. And answers don’t match the questions.

There, with props yanked out… faith and religion having failed us… abandoned by the God of religious obligations, we are finally free to meet the true God. He sees us in that gutter, filthy, weary and faithless. And He doesn’t run. Or fix. Or pray it all away. No. He gets down on His knees and crawls into the gutter with us. Unkempt. Looking worn and haggard, bloodstained and naked–His garments having been stripped by the religious rulers who despised Him too. And suddenly we are understood. Nothing is fixed. Nothing has changed, circumstantially, but we feel hope. Because that’s what happens when someone enters our pain, offering only love.

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That is what community was meant to be. And it is the community we hope to create, a place where the broken Jesus is welcome, and imperfect people are loved.

If you are local to Elmira, Ontario, and have suffered spiritual abuse or feel misunderstood and long for a safe place, a community where the broken are valued, and all are invited to contribute, regardless of class, race or gender, send an email to info@generationsunleashed.com for more info.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in you.”  The Kingdom of God is not some distant goal we strive for, it dwells within us.  (Luke 17:21) Everyone of us was made with a ‘Kingdom purpose’. And that is not a religious statement. It is an invitation to love, as Jesus did, and offer others an encounter with divine grace, regardless of circumstance. Together we advance the Kingdom of God, by loving our neighbour.

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(Written for the Elmira Independent, September 4, 2014. Ending has been revised.)

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

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