Christmas: a Widow, a Church’s Kindness, and a Washing Machine

The day after Christmas seems a perfect time to pause and write a seasonal blog, and wish you all Christmas blessings. Yesterday was full, with no time to sit down with my computer until later in the evening. That, to me, is a good thing, to be busy in real world relationships that the virtual world becomes secondary. With being in school, continuing with speaking engagements and trying to do the basics at home, social media has taken a back seat for a while, so that has become more normal for me. But that does mean the blog I intended to write for Christmas never happened.
Even so, throughout my day, I thought of many of you, my friends. Especially those of you who find this season difficult. Those who have suffered great losses this season, whether this year or years gone by, saying goodbye to family members with whom you won’t share another Christmas… or maybe never spent even one Christmas… wee ones, recent or in the past, who slipped away before you heard their laughter, their cries, their chatter…  And those who are rejected by family, or just far away, and lonely this season, wishing your world was different; praying for healed relationships, or maybe having given up hope, yet unable to shake the longing for what could have been.
Christmas can be the hardest of times, and it can be the sweetest of times. Sometimes both at the same time. That was our Christmas this year, for reasons I won’t and can’t get into, but just to say you are not alone, and there are others who understand. As much as we had a wonderful Christmas, there was an emptiness and an ache, the reality of unknowns as we head toward 2018, that is unsettling. Even as I write this, I know that every day is an unknown for every human. Our last breath, some great sadness or loss, or the opposite: some unlikely kindness and grace that falls on us. We never know the future, and yet it is an unsettling thing to have it written on the walls of our lives where we must read it every day, and wrestle with the realization that the outcome may be far from what we long for, and somehow to find peace in it, if not with it.
They talk about coming to peace with things, but I’ve concluded some things we cannot make peace with. We can only find a way to be at peace within the existing reality, in spite of the unknowns, even as we grieve the reality that is. And sometimes grieving is that peace, or at least a part of it, because it’s the facing head on of a thing you’d rather run from, and knowing you will be okay, even when your heart stops beating every now and then, and you catch your breath from the pain. And then it starts to beat again, out of rhythm and out of time, because a heart can’t beat right when a piece of it has died. But it can beat, and it can still give love, and find hope. And maybe, having experienced loss, it can give more, love more, and find a greater hope. Because where all is as it should be, or as we desire it to be, there is no need for hope. Hope is the thing that makes the heart keep beating, willing it to live, when everything else makes it stop.
Speaking of love and giving, one of my favourite things this Christmas had a rather tragic  beginning… It was early November – the 6th, I believe – when I came upon an accident. It happened only a few vehicles in front of me, and I stopped to make sure there was someone there with First Aid and CPR, and that 911 had been called. The one woman involved in the accident spoke Low German and seemed very distressed, so I asked if it would mean something to her if I stayed to support her. Her conversational English was excellent, but trauma can make communication difficult. She borrowed my phone and made a call to what I understood was her husband, and when she handed back the phone, she said the name and that he is on his way. A bit later, when she seemed to be slipping into shock and struggled to communicate, I asked where her husband works and how far he has to drive. She looked at me, eyes filled with unspeakable pain, and said, “he died four years ago”, and began to weep. Shocked, I said, “I am so, so sorry! I thought that’s who you said you called”. I stayed composed, but writing it now, I weep. She slipped into a state of complete shock and confusion, repeatedly expressing worry over the injured driver of the other vehicle. I stayed with her and her young daughter, and later went to the hospital to offer what support I could, when other children arrived and made certain they had food and drinks. I left, then, and told them to call if they need anything at all, and especially if they have to go to court.
It was almost two weeks later, I sat at Tim Hortons waiting for the woman to arrive. We were meeting for coffee to discuss her ticket, a first for her, which she couldn’t read and understand. It was a fine, due the next day. I was heading in, so I offered to deliver it, and support her in a meeting with the prosecuting attorney, to discuss options. Before we parted ways, I asked if she needs anything else, and she mentioned needing a wash machine, and might I know anyone who has a used one that wouldn’t cost a lot. I put the word out that evening, asking friends if they might know a place to find one. There were several leads, but nothing came together. Several weeks went by and I came across a message I had missed.
Faith Mennonite Church near Wellesley heard of this woman’s need, and offered to get her a wash machine. I connected them with the woman and this week she messaged saying how much she appreciated the machine they brought, and how she feels so undeserving. “You’re one of the kindest people I ever know”, she wrote. I didn’t do anything except put a need out there, so I felt I didn’t do anything, and told her it was the church, not me who gave the gift. Even so, I thanked her for her kind words and told her she deserves the gift and I’m very happy for her. What touched me most is that a church would take Acts 6:1 and James 1:27 so seriously as to reach out to someone not even in their congregation, or a church in any way affiliated. It was about a woman in need, and a passion to exercise the religion that God honours (James 1:27) and spread the love of Jesus in a practical way.
That is Christmas. That is the Gospel. Whether delivered to a believer, or one who has never heard of Christ, that is the love of Jesus, packaged in language that humans understand, through meeting practical needs. It’s not the only way, but it’s one way. And because so often it seems Acts 6:1 is the greater reality, where widows and orphans are neglected and overlooked, while the religious systems pressure them to give and barely survive, this touched my heart deeply. In a world where religious systems seem often to absorb more than they live generously among the broken, this blessed me to happy tears.
I posted recently that choosing thankfulness sets apart those who overcome, from those who are victims. Today I am thankful. Thankful that Faith Mennonite church met this woman’s need, and for other churches like it. (My friends at Westpointe Church Grand Rapids Michigan have a house they offer to single moms! Check it out: Gold House Project) I’m thankful that I am surrounded by people I love, and people who love me – from here at home, to Mexico, to Africa, to Australia and New Zealand and beyond. And I am deeply thankful, for the kindness of God in my life and His promise to walk gently with us, to lead us, carry us, hold us, and never abandon us.
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For Christmas our youngest son had my name, and he gave me a blue coffee mug with one word on it. My favourite mug cracked a while ago, and he knew I had looked for a replacement. He also knew how much I love words and writing. The mug said “Kindness”. So that’s the word I am taking with me into 2018. Kindness. My prayer is that God will help me live this word, daily. It won’t be perfect. It never is. Because I’m involved and I’m human, but it is my prayer and I trust God will teach me, walk with me, remind me and love me through my failures. And I will choose kindness.
Merry Christmas! And may 2018 be a year filled with kindness even in the pain, sorrow, and hard times that are inevitable in human experience.
Love
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Have a Real Mother’s Day!

Holidays and special days are a funny thing. We run around saying the ‘right’ words for the occasion without much thought for the other person, unless we know them well. Cheerfully we greet women with a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, if they have children, at church, at the grocery store, or just about anywhere we see them.

I think about this every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But, with today being Mother’s Day, I will focus on Mothers. Some of us are blessed with good relationships with our mothers or children, some of us struggle through broken or dysfunctional ones, some have been completely abandoned and rejected, and some are a blend. How does a chipper ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ greeting even begin to honour every mother?

In this stage of life I feel blessed to have a communicating relationship with my mother. For years it was virtually non-existent. And the scars and aftermath of the first fifteen years of my life–the years before I left home–remain, but have healed over and now remind me of God’s grace. What was lost then has not been fully restored, but God has redeemed it in my life. And I am blessed with five children who will be home for brunch today, and a mother-in-law whom I’ve grown to love deeply over the years, who will also be here later. These years are blessed and Happy Mother’s Day fits. It is, just that. Not perfect, but happy. And ‘blessed’, by the way, means happy or filled with joy.

It isn’t that because I have been a perfect mom. Not one of us is. Though it can seem like some are, and it’s easy to look around and start comparing with a friend who is ‘the perfect mom’, or judge ourselves or our mothers harshly for failures. But not of us are perfect, and we never will be. We vow to be better than the generation before us, and in our zeal we ‘perfect’ one area, while missing another, and we still fall short of becoming that perfect mother we want to become. Still, we are blessed if we have children, and have a relationship at all.

Today is Mother’s Day. And there are women–many who are my friends or family–who woke up this morning with deep dread and pain, because today is not their day. They have prayed and wept, like Hannah of the Bible, for an infant to be conceived in their womb, but the prayers seem to have a rubber coating, as they bounce off ceilings and echo from wall to wall. Disregarded. Ignored. Forgotten. That is how it feels to the ‘mother at heart’ who sits in the rocking chair of her early dreams, with empty arms. No child to hold. No grandchildren to dream of. This pain is real and it runs deep.

So this Mother’s Day I challenge myself and others to be mindful of those in places of grief. Don’t stop celebrating what is right and good and beautiful; wish mom’s a Happy Mother’s Day or some other blessing. But take a moment to say a word of encouragement to the mom whose child has passed away, or whose children won’t acknowledge her today, or the one whose children are but a dream in her heart. Bless the one who fosters or ‘adopts’–legally or emotionally–the abandoned children and gives them a place in her heart.

Today is a beautiful day. It is a sunny, warm Mother’s Day here in Ontario, and it couldn’t be more gorgeous! I pray that the One who made this day, and who gave us the honour of birthing children and raising them, will meet you, every one in your personal inner struggle or celebration, and lift you up, encourage and bless you. For those trying to conceive, I pray that God will grant you the desires of your heart, and fill your arms with a child. It is a good and beautiful thing, and a God-given desire. To those who are lonely and abandoned–whether mothers, or children longing for their mothers–I pray that God will fill your hearts with His love and grace. To those who have lost their mothers, and to those mothers who have laid their children to rest, I pray God will comfort you in your tears and sorrow.

Today is a beautiful day. It is sunny and warm, and couldn’t be more gorgeous. But even beautiful days welcome tears, grief and sorrow, in the midst of laughter all around you, when that is where your heart is. Whether it is a day of laughter or tears, or a blend of the two, I wish you God’s blessing! You are valued, you are loved!

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

Dear Victim: When Thanksgiving is Lonely & Hard…

This day is about gratefulness, a time of celebration, food and family get-together celebrations. Some of you will laugh, love and party together, in a safe and loving environment. And so you should! Without guilt. Because you are blessed to be with people who care and protect you; your abuser is not a family member, and you look forward to these gatherings.

But for some of you it is a painful day, and you find yourself  ‘giving thanks’ through tears, and loneliness, in the middle of deep trials, trauma and tragedy. It is a day that makes you reach deep for the next breath, through threatening panic, as family drama unfolds, or you find yourself in the room with the person(s) who abused you. Or maybe home, away from family, swallowing hard on yesterdays leftovers in solitary communion, because they have chosen the offender over you. And when you do go, the manipulation and sexual advances are present to this day…

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Today, if that is you, I encourage you to look deeper, not to avoid the pain but to strengthen your heart.

Remember who you are; you are courageous, resilient and redeemed. Remember Whose you are; you are a son, a daughter, of the God of the Universe, held in your Father’s heart. God is intimately present with you and interested in every part of your life. He is not afraid of your raw feelings, and invites you to share them. He is not intimated by your anger; trust Him with it. Remember that you are not defined by the crimes committed against you, or the person(s) who committed them; you are defined by the Love of the Highest Being ever to exist. You have purpose and value.

Draw from that well of truth, drink deep until you are giddy with drunkenness from it. Let them think you are crazy…

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Happy… Day! (A Valentine’s Day Afterthought)

First thing Saturday morning–using the term ‘first thing’ somewhat loosely–my husband kissed me (after brushing his teeth, and me having brushed mine) and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Oh yes… that’s today... I thought. “Happy Day to you too,” I said, laughing. He grinned, knowing I’m torn between the romantic notions of the day, and wanting to boycott the obvious marketing ploy. “Happy our Day”, I added, just to make my point.

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We’re pretty down-to-earth people, Tim and I. Mostly, what you see is what you get. So, if you don’t like what you see, run. Because it isn’t going to be much of a show beyond the obvious. Tim is laid back, yet strong and determined. He’s not overly social, but enjoys time with close friends in a ‘not too big’ a group. He steps out of that box for ministry, and pushes himself to be ‘present’ in bigger crowds, reaching out to hearts that are hurting. He is always a calm and peaceful presence. Being a man of few words, the few he speaks carry weight, and what he says is direct.

I’m outgoing and crazy, sometimes, and love crowds, sometimes. When it comes to speaking, the bigger the crowd, the more energized I am, though I’ve learned to enjoy the smaller groups and not feel suffocated by the ‘nearness’ of the people. The intimacy of it is growing on me. There are also times when I’m somewhat recluse, and prefer alone-ness, and, if the whole truth must be told, I return from most social events, depleted to sheer exhaustion. Like Tim, I speak directly, but haven’t mastered the art of condensing an entire book into a chapter, a chapter into a paragraph and a paragraph into two or three words… or a sentence, to be generous.

Life at home reflects who we are; practical and fairly direct. So, when days like Valentine’s Day roll around, we don’t get too caught in the hype. Sure, we’ll exchange cards at some point, and there might even be some little gift of flowers, chocolate, candy or even boxers and a negligee–in spite of the fact that the latter never gets its value in wear–or some such thing.  We do these things, some years, and other years it’s a card only, and we’re just as happy. (The bigger fuss was a big deal, years ago, but with time Valentine’s Day became more about our family, with little gifts for our children and a special family dinner.

Last year we went all out and decorated something crazy and I thought we’d do it again this year, but, alas, the busyness of life took over. One child is dating and she and her boyfriend pretty much boycott the Hallmark holiday, calling it a silly money-grab. While they’re gracious about others fussing over it, they celebrate their relationship other days and other ways. Another daughter headed out to a friend’s house, one son is in Germany for three months, leaving us with two boys.

That said, this Valentine’s Day, we stayed in our everyday duds, chilling at home and doing things that need doing, like cleaning, writing and tax preparation stuff. (Yay!) And we organized everything for a huge dinner, which we enjoyed at noon Sunday. There was turkey–with cranberry sauce, of course–dressing, corn, squash, and mashed potatoes for first course. And, for dessert, lemon meringue pie, banana cream pie, and my personal favourite, chocolate cream pie–all homemade. (Okay… I cheated on the crust and used Tenderflake.) Dinner was delicious. But more importantly, we were together as a family–minus our son in Germany–and shared love and laughter together.

No matter the day, Valentine’s Day, or how we spend it, I know this, I am loved. While I welcome special dates, from time to time, I would choose the ordinary, every day kind of love that we have, over one day of fuss and 364.5 days of mediocre co-existence, if it had to be one or the other. And I’d rather wake up each morning next to the man who loves me practically and sincerely all year, and indulge in genuine kisses, than to look at the flowers on the table the week after Valentine’s, eating lonely chocolates kisses, having never had his heart.

For those who choose to celebrate the day large, and live that love daily, good on you! The rest of us shouldn’t feel jealous, cheated, or guilty.  It is a wonderful thing to celebrate love and relationship in a way that is meaningful and personal.

For us, one day soon, it will happen… as it does, spontaneously, two or three times a year…  I will look at Tim with pleading eyes, probably somewhere around 9:00pm on a Friday or Saturday night, and the words will pop out, “I’m hungry for mussels.” And he will know exactly what that means. As much as he likes the quiet of home and the comfort of his chair, he will slip into a coat or jacket–if the weather still demands it when it happens–and we’ll drive to Kitchener for a late night date at the Symposium. Or maybe he’ll walk in the door this summer with a handful of gladiolas or some other roadside stand flowers, and I’ll pretend he spent a fortune, and laugh when I remind him that the first time he brought them, he announced with great pride that they were 25¢ a piece. And the moment will be filled with love and memories of days gone by, and I will know, again, that I am loved.

And, who knows? Maybe next Valentine’s Day we’ll leave the kids a few treats and a note saying, “We love you, there’s soup in the pantry–stuff for grilled cheese if you want to go all out–and please don’t lock the door when you go to bed.

Now off to enjoy this new Canadian holiday, Family Day… Tim plans to take our youngest skating, the teens are chilling with friends, and I have more writing, laundry and cleaning to do. In that order of preference…

Love

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

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Of Past Traditions & Rescuing a ‘Ruined’ Christmas

Our family has Christmas traditions. Some we’ve adopted in recent years, and some go way back. Some are things we all love to do, while others are traditions a few love and the rest of us endure for the sake of those who love them.

With me coming from a conservative Mennonite background–and having the influence of both Old Colony and ‘white bonnet’ Mennonite–we kept decorating down to a bare minimum the first eight years of marriage. We did so out of respect for my culture, not out of a sense of personal conviction, especially with Tim being raised in a United Church family. When we left the Mennonite church–into which Tim had been baptized two months before marrying me–we gradually adopted the practice of putting up Christmas lights and various decorations.

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Starting two years after the transition, we purchased a Christmas tree that looked gigantic back then, when the children were small. I remember well turning out all other lights, so that I could enjoy the sparkle of that tree. We had picked it up on December 26, when Boxing Day sales brought the price down to something we felt was reasonable, and manageable for us. And, rather than save it for the following year, we went home and decorated it. Thus began our Christmas tree tradition.

Several years ago, we adopted a new Christmas tree tradition… The smell of pine, and the delight of the fluffy white stuff beckoned me into the man-made woods–a tree farm–to pick out a real tree. It was going to be a family affair, trekking through snow, choosing just ‘the perfect one’ for us. We would all fall in love with ‘that one tree’ and drag it through the snow together…. the way they do in picture books and in the movies.

But my whole family does not love winter and fluffy white stuff, like I do. Nor do they all love real trees. And certainly the matter of falling in love with ‘the one perfect tree’ was a pipe dream.  Five children, ranging from about age nine through sixteen, agree on only a few things. And that day they agreed it was cold and miserable outside, and that each had a very particular opinion about what made for a nice tree. One liked a crooked one. Another a short fat one. Another a tall fat one… and so on. And there I was, chasing our family with a camera, trying to capture the moments.

Why I chose still pictures and not a video, I can only chalk up to lack of thought. Because, had I videotaped it, I would only have needed to insert the clip, and words would have been unnecessary. You would have seen children frustrated with each other, and with us. You would have seen our youngest son’s ‘Charlie Brown’ tree choice. You would have seen tears and anger, exasperation and hurt feelings. But, more than that, you would have seen a family do real life together. Parents trying to hear their children, through their own frustrations, and wishing they could turn five trees into one perfect representation of a wide array of opinion. Children learning to hear each other, and us, or at least trying. You would have seen us finding a shiny new iPod in the snow, and turning it in at the front desk, in the event that the owner would come looking. You would have heard laughter… much laughter, and clever jokes and one-liners that most of our children are quite gifted in. You would have seen us inside, wandering through the store of Benjamin tree farm, warming up, and sipping hot apple cider and eating cookies, all bundled up in our winter clothes….

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As we left the tree farm that day, some children declared they hoped it was a first and last such outing, convinced that the hullabaloo of the experience left much to be desired and we couldn’t agree anyway. I left that day already looking forward to the next year. We did real life together, and we found a tree we could all enjoy; a medium sized fat one.

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The Charlie Brown one landed somewhere on the front porch, for a while, if my memory is accurate. Granted, over the next few days, now and then, a comment would be heard, “I think we should have gone with… ” and a particular tree would be described, but we all came to peace with ‘the one’.

Several years earlier we had begun another tradition…. Our children finally talked their Daddy into letting them open just one gift on Christmas eve. From the start, that gift held pajamas. Of course, after the first year, it wasn’t a surprise anymore, but we all–including me–acted as though it was the most original gift. We did manage to videotape it one year but, alas, I haven’t the faintest idea where the clip is, and, besides, our children would be very displeased if I shared it. But I’ve seldom laughed as hard with my family as I did that night. Year after year, this remains a tradition. It has gotten harder, over time, and as our daughters have grown–one taller than me–to find pj’s that fit. As a result half of the laughter is in modeling the pj’s I chose. That tradition was kept again tonight–opening one gift–but with a bit of a twist to it. One daughter, for whom it is particularly hard to find pj’s that fit, received a pair of slippers. And for the first time in several years, I think I hit it right.

Christmas Day we always do  a small brunch, mid morning, because later we will go to Grandma and Grandpa Metzger’s for a big turkey dinner. But brunch doesn’t happen until we’ve had a small assembly in our bedroom. When our children wake up, they get their stockings and bring them into our room. All seven of us gather on our king-sized bed, and someone reads the Christmas Story, or tells it in their own words, as the case me be. This has been the cause of much laughter as well, when the telling of it gets jumbled. It isn’t a religious formality, requiring somber and serious reverence–though appropriate on occasion. It is a celebration of a baby born, some two thousand years ago, to bring us life and hope. And, in my opinion, laughter and joy are most appropriate.

After the story, Daddy usually prays for each of us. Mostly because the children vote for him to pray because when I get chattering to God, there’s no telling how long we’ll be. So Christmas morning Daddy prays, after which the stockings are dumped and contents inspected. It works out much like the Christmas eve gift. Predictable, for the most part. Candy. Chocolate bars and treats. We’re not a family to have candy and treats around all the time. If for no other reason than for fear of what would become of me, home alone several hours most days, with candy. So I don’t feel badly splurging a bit and loading them up with a stocking full of it, which, hopefully, they will spread out over time. But not necessarily. I try to look the other way a little bit. I remember eating too much one Christmas, when I was about five, and regretting it. I had been warned. And my children are too. If they get sick, I’ll hold the bucket. And then they will slow down. But it’s never gotten that far.

After all that, and when brunch is over, we meet in the family room for presents. First we do our family name exchange, followed by us giving each child a gift. If the children have purchased gifts for each other, or us, they hand those out, but this is not an expectation. In fact, with one in college and the other applying to university for next fall, the value of the Canadian dollar has gone up considerably in our home. There is a new appreciation for the cost of living and, as a result, we lowered the name exchange to spending $15 each, from $20-25. This financial awareness is a very good thing!

Tim and I are not big into gifts. It isn’t my love language, and it isn’t his. I delight in ‘getting it right’ with our children, and watching them beam at their gift being ‘just what they wanted’, but the’ getting gifts’ part, while appreciated, doesn’t thrill me nearly as much. Truth be told, because it is not my love language, I struggle with giving meaningful gifts. And that makes ‘getting it right’ even more exciting. None-the-less, Tim and I always exchange gifts of one sort or another. This has ranged from some item we know the other really needs or wishes for, to a ‘home-made certificate’ that the other can cash in on. For example, I still have a day in Stratford, wandering the shops with my Love, and having lunch together, waiting from one year. The gift thrilled my heart, for the thought put into it–because my husband would never wander a city window shopping for his own pleasure or entertainment–and I knew the thoughts behind it were all wrapped in love in love for me. And one day we’ll do it… I just need to remember at the right time.  One year I gave him a ‘car cleaning kit’ with an offer to detail his vehicle, from time to time. I did it once and our one daughter did it another time. She is a perfectionist, and no vehicle looks better than when she has touched it.

When gift giving is over, we prepare to go to Grandma’s, arriving there mid afternoon.  Soon after, the excitement of gift exchanging begins. It has become a far more civil event, now that the children are a bit more mature, than it was back in the day when gifts were ripped open with gusto, and paper lay strewn everywhere. I miss the less civil, at times. The children still get excited, but there is something beautiful about the unrestrained excitement of a child. It is so unpretentious. A big turkey dinner is followed with games, watching TV or some movie, and staying at Grandma’s until well past bedtime.

Boxing Day morning we always have Tim’s family over for a big brunch. There is not a meal I enjoy more–whether making it or eating–than a giant brunch. Even so, December 26 is the only day of the year when we go all out. It includes any combination of breakfast casseroles, bacon, sausage, ham, potato patties, toast, a large fruit platter–this is a must–pancakes or french toast instead of toast, possibly homemade cinnamon buns, and always coffee. A lot of coffee. Occasionally another special drink like Mimosa.

Year after year, our Christmas looks something like the above. And, year after year, we look forward to some of the most predictable events of the year as though it were a first. But this year is different. Tim’s brother and his girlfriend are off to see her family in Peru, so they will not be home. And Tim and I are off to Pennsylvania, leaving the morning of December 26 to attend my niece Emily Hursh’s wedding on the 27th. This means no Boxing Day Brunch. And, since I was still busy painting our house–my Christmas gift to Tim and me–and since we would be away a few days, we decided against a real Christmas tree this year. We still have the one that looked so big when the children were little. It now looks pretty scrawny, and sits on the landing of the stairs.  Our son did a great job of decorating it with beads and ornaments in a fun and free manner. In our living room is another tree I found for a  few dollars at a second-hand store last year, a big, full tree. It is colour coordinated, in red and gold, blending in with the room in which it is situated…. In the place where the real tree would have been.

When I broke the news to our son Todd, about all the changes this year, he did a fake pout and said, “Christmas is ruined!” He went on to lament the losses this year, with the best brunch of the year, time with Uncle Tom and the tree–all his favourite things. I  assured him we would do our best to make Christmas special and did the ‘good Christian mom thing’, and explained what Christmas is really about.  (Kept it down to a few pleasant sentences, not an annoying lecture.)

Soon it started…. Kordan, twelve, asked if we could ‘at least make those sugar cookies’ and put icing on them. “Sure,” I said. I didn’t do them last year, and it’s a little thing to  make the holidays special. Bryan, sixteen, jumped in, too, asking for shortbread cookies. “Of course!” And then Todd asked for his favourite cookies, adding peanut butter cookies to the mix. I had already committed myself to making peanut butter ball cookies, and didn’t even think to ask who all likes them. I like them. A lot. So I made a double batch. And that is when I discovered that only about half of us like them. The peanut butter cookies–Todd’s kind–inspired an experiment, which didn’t go well, when I decided to add flour to the Kraft recipe, to give them more substance. The failure wasn’t beyond redemption, however. Kordan searched the internet for a recipe that would incorporate the ingredients already in my experiment and with a little adjusting, I had a lovely batter… but enough of it to make well over 100 cookies. With two of the other kinds producing over 100 each, we ended up with just under 400 cookies in total, and three happy assistant bakers. Our daughters, being away most of both baking days, missed out on the fun without regret.

Christmas cookies

I pulled the peanut butter cookies out of the oven, and, within minutes, there was Todd, munching. He closed his eyes and made some very male-like sounds that accompany eating. “I haven’t had these in years!” he said. I disagreed, but he insisted it had been years, so I let it go. Granted. It had been a while. No more had he finished his cookie and he started reminiscing and declaring that there is nothing like the nostalgic feeling of eating favourite childhood foods, while recalling good times past. As I watched him indulge, and listened to his stories, my heart-felt warm. It may be a different kind of Christmas, but Christmas isn’t ruined after all.

And, as long as Love lives in our home, no matter how imperfect we are, and what traditions must be sacrificed for other important events, Christmas will be exactly what it was meant to be. After all, didn’t love compel the God of heaven to humble Himself and come into the world, as an infant, to dwell among us, and give us His love? … Isn’t that love the very essence of Christmas?…

Jesus… Emanuel: God with us. Love with us. For God is Love.

 

Merry Christmas!

Love,
Trudy 

© Trudy Metzger

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The Bitter-Sweet Truth About Mother’s Day

Here’s an honest confession… Since grade school, when all students made something for our mothers in art class, and the childhood gathering of dandelion bouquets, Mother’s Day hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention in my life. Beyond a phone call, a little gift,  a card, or some other acknowledgement–though not all in the same year–and an annual blog, I haven’t done anything outstanding for my mother. We never really did stuff like that, growing up, and to change habits requires deliberate thought.

Mother's Day  Blessing

Well, this year, I decided, was the year for change. I thought of it on Monday–I think it was–that I had nothing planned for Friday. Not one appointment, commitment or obligation.  I asked Tim if he needed me home for any reason, or if I was forgetting anything. Other than picking up my police check, for the student exchange program our son is going on, there was nothing. And that one I could work around.

That settled it. If my mother had nothing going, I would make dinner for her, and drive the hour and a half to spend some time with her.  I thought about my Aunt Anna, my mother’s younger sister, and her daughter Helen, who is not only my cousin but has become a very good  and trusted friend in my life. I would invite them too.

I called mom. She had no appointments. Friday morning was ‘wash day’, she said, but she could do it Thursday instead, or later on Friday. I told her I would likely bring someone  to join us for dinner, but didn’t tell her who.  If nothing else, the not knowing would occupy her mind, trying to figure out who.

Thursday evening I prepared a chicken and tater tot casserole, a seven-layer lettuce salad–and enough for my family at home–then organized what I would need to make crepes for dessert.  A simple menu, and easily transported.

On Friday morning I got myself all domesticated and out of character, by going so far as to set the table for dinner for my family that evening.

The butter was soft and still in the packaging–a pet peeve of mine, that I can blame on no one but myself. (I like it cut in quarters upon opening the package, then  placed in a butter dish, one quarter pound at a time so it doesn’t get stale, and the remainder refrigerated. But, alas, I don’t always dedicate myself to following my own rules, and I am left to accept the consequences.)  I looked at the pathetic and unappetizing lump, with it’s dips and digs and, even though I wasn’t going to have to look at it over dinner,  I decided to do something about it.

I transferred it to the ceramic butter dish–which is really a cheese ball dish, given me by my mother-in-law, and began shaping it into a heart.  Having shaped it nice and smooth the whole way around, I tapped the top with a knife to give it a nice ‘bumpy’ look.  I placed the lid on it and set it near where I assumed my daughter and her boyfriend would sit. They might as well see it first, since they’re all about hearts and starry eyes and all that goes with the sweetness of young romance.

Having packed all the food, and a little family photo album as a gift for my mother, I was ready to go. I looked at the table, all set for evening dinner, thought of the food in the fridge and the heart-shaped butter, and thought about how out of character it is.

The thought went through my mind then, What if I die? What if this is one of those crazy things people talk about after someone passes away, and assume somehow I had a premonition and this was my final way of saying ‘I love you’?

I smiled. Silly thought. And if I actually died, know one would ever know I thought it. (But, having lived to tell about it, I shared it with Tim, who simultaneously grinned and rolled his eyes even as a mild look of horror crossed his face that I would even think it, let alone say it.  I tried to justify it, laughing playfully, and he just kept shaking his head, grinning.)

My drive to Aylmer was uneventful. Though that might only be true because I took one exit before my usual, the #73 into Aylmer from the 401. It was a most spontaneous decision. One I made immediately after seeing flashing lights… A police officer…

I was travelling along at speeds I shall not mention here, lest said officer reads this–though the odds are not high–but suffice it to say it was a bit higher than the acceptable speeding range.

Yes, yes, I remember I’m in ministry, and should obey the law…  And I really do want to but, I, like the Apostle Paul, confess that “the things I would not, those I do, and the things I would, those I do not.” It seems as I listen to worship, and the roads are clear (reasonably) before me, I absent-mindedly pick up speed.  I catch myself constantly inching toward speeds one should only reach on the Autobahn–which is on my bucket list–and then I chide myself and slow back down, only to find myself there again soon thereafter.  And it’s even worse if a vehicle beside me is going faster. My subconscious instinctively encourages my foot to apply a bit more pressure. And that is exactly what happened on Friday.

It was in the ‘inching toward’ speed, with a ‘Wind Mobile’ company van beside me, going just slightly faster than me, when the flashing lights startled me back to reality. I looked in the general direction of the lights, and that is when I saw the Wind van, and realized what had happened.

The lights were in the opposite lane, so there is a chance that the officer wasn’t even after Wind or me, but at that very moment I saw the exit for ‘Culloden Road’, and felt compelled to get out of the officer’s way just in case he was after Wind.  Furthermore, rules are to pull over to the right with emergency vehicles, and that is precisely what I did. A far right. And a whole new route to my mother’s. I did learn a little something though and on the way home at midnight, feeling a bit repentant, I set my cruise control to keep myself in check.

I arrived a bit later than expected, and popped dinner in the oven. Aunt Anna had arrived earlier, and Helen came soon after. We enjoyed dinner, and chattered in a mix of low German and English. After first course we did the dishes, waited a while, and then started with crepes for dessert.  We filled them with ice cream, natural Balkan style plain yogurt, peaches and strawberry jam–or any preferred blend of these.

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When Aunt Anna and Helen needed to leave, I observed how tired mom looked. Her colour, I noted earlier, was ‘off’, as though the chest cold deprived her of oxygen, but by the time they left, she looked completely worn out. I hinted she take a nap, and would have let myself out, but she insisted on accompanying me to the main door of Menno Lodge. She also insisted I place all my stuff in her cart and wheel it out because it’s too heavy to carry. I had carried it all in, with the food we had consumed still in containers, but arguing with mothers is futile, so I accepted the cart and loaded it up.

I headed down the hall, mom scooting behind me in her wheelchair, backwards–which she insisted works better–when an elderly gentleman met us. Grinning from ear to ear, he looked at the empty containers and asked if I had brought him any dinner. Mom swung around then, and the two began their banter. Mom telling him what an amazing dinner he had missed out on, and him playfully offended at not being invited.

Mom introduced me then, and told me they had been in youth together, many years ago, before she married my father. As we parted ways Mr. Loewen patted mom on the shoulder and said, “We always have a good time, Tina.”

No one calls mom ‘Tina’. She is Katherine. Always has been. Only one of her siblings, to my knowledge, had ever called her Tina. And now this man from her youth. It intrigued me to see her interact with someone this way. It is not something I have observed before, this comfortable banter with an old friend.

As we moved on, she told me more about Mr. Loewen. His wife had died seven years ago, or so, and a year or two later he had married again, right there in Menno Lodge. She was happy for them, and both were good friends to her.

We met another ‘neighbour’ and chatted awhile. When mom told her I had brought dinner and ‘it was the best casserole she had ever tasted’, her friend smiled, “I hope one of my daughters is nice enough to bring me dinner for mother’s day,” she said.

Mom’s eyes twinkled with mischief, “Call your daughters and tell them that Mrs. Harder’s daughter brought her a very lovely meal. Then one of them will want to do it for you too,” she said with a laugh.

It struck me how she must have lost sight of herself between those years of singleness in her teens, and these older years as she nears eighty. Life was hard, in every way, and much was lost in those years. But never beyond God’s redemption.

The last thing she told me before I left, as if making a sheepish confession, was how she fell at night recently and had to call 911 to help her back up. She is aging. Fast. And I wonder how much longer she will have her independence. Some of her ‘self care’ and home remedies are more than only mildly concerning to me, but she will be seventy-nine this summer, and has managed shockingly well considering the beating her body has endured. As long as she isn’t doing any major damage, I suppose it’s none of my business.

As I drove away, I couldn’t help but smile. It makes me happy to know my mom is surrounded by friends. The other residents have become her family, in many ways, it seems. With all the broken history of our home, there are deep, deep scars. No matter how good our time is together, as family, there is always a shadow of the memories that haunt us. Always.

But here in her home, among her friends and this new family, she has a new reality that is not interwoven with the trauma and tragedy of many years of living.  For this I thank God, on her behalf.

I thought of my Amish friends–the Wagler family–who live only minutes from Aylmer and who lost their mother in the last two weeks. It would be a different Mother’s Day for them, I thought to myself, and I wanted to acknowledge it. I slipped into a store, and purchased a sympathy card, then over to Tim Horton’s for donuts. They’re wonderful cooks and the donuts seem a shallow gift, but they love them.

I arrived at Joseph and Rosemary Gascho’s home and made my way to the house. Joseph saw me coming. He looked, first, surprised, then lit up in a smile, then back to surprise.

“Is Rosemary here?” I asked, after saying hi to him. He fumbled a bit, kicked off his shoes and let me into the house.

Rosemary’s mouth dropped open, her eyes lit up and she giggled, “I know you! I know who you are!!” she laughed again.

“I heard your mom passed away and wanted to tell you I’ve been thinking of you and praying for you and your family,” I said, and gave her the donuts and the card.

She thanked me, her voice mellowing to a deep appreciation. At her table a guest sat waiting for her and I really didn’t want to keep her. I had not intended anything more than a quick drop in. But before I could excuse myself she asked enthusiastically, “How’s your book coming?”

“It’s done,” I said, meaning it was ‘finished’, as far as writing and personal editing, but was just going to add  that we ‘re looking for a publisher, but her excitement interrupted.

“Really! Where…” she held out her hand, as if reaching for one, her eyes sparkling.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “my part is done, but we’re looking for the right publisher. I haven’t forgotten, I will bring you one just like I promised.”

“Oh…” she said, pausing, then laughed and said she’d be looking for it.

I told her I best be running along, and wished her God’s blessing. She thanked me again, and with that I was off.

For the first time, in adult life, I took time for a very deliberate Mother’s Day visit and acknowledged the day with my time. And for her first time, Rosemary was about to face Mother’s Day grieving the loss of her mother.

That was Friday… Now it’s Sunday.. Mother’s Day…

At home this morning, two of my sons decided to make breakfast. One mentioned it to daddy yesterday, and got up this morning to help, but decided to go to early service.  Daddy had given me a heads up that I might expect breakfast in bed, so I waited, oblivious to the changing plans downstairs.  At length he returned to update me, and to tell me Kordan was taking charge, since Todd wanted to get to early service with Bryan. He would take them and return shortly. It would be okay if I went downstairs, he said.

At the kitchen Kordan, who had been by the stove, quickly shooed me off into the family room, so I wouldn’t see anything.  I obliged and wandered to my writing chair.  Moments later Kordan joined me in the family room, curled up in his bean bag, and started playing on his Nintendo DS. And that is how Tim found us when he returned moments later, after delivering the boys to church.

Tim set to work and eventually Kordan joined him. My phone rang. It was my brother, Wil. We immediately launched into our German banter, laughing and carrying on, until I got called over for breakfast.

Neatly placed on the table was the most picture-perfect breakfast, beautifully arranged, and my favourite extra-large mug of coffee.  (Pictures will follow…. when my new cord arrives so I can transfer pictures from my camera.)

I took some pictures of the arrangement and Kordan posed with the plate, all while nibbling on a piece of bacon.  I took a bite and the taste was as good. Kordan stood for a moment, quietly, then asked, “Will you eat all your oranges and pineapples?”

“Did you want some?” I asked.  He nodded, so I told him to get a plate. Daddy was working on his omelette and said he had pineapple already. I asked if there were no more oranges, in case I should save some for Tim as well. There was more, Kordan said, but it had been such hard work to cut them that he would rather have some of mine. I laughed and shared. I had more than enough.  Isn’t that what motherhood is all about?

Kordan, in his musings, said, “You know what I don’t get? They made a mother’s day and a father’s day, but no daughter’s day or son’s day. I think they’re cheap!” (Whoever ‘they’ are… and it’s certainly not the retailers!)

The day is packed full with the buzz of many activities. Tim took the boys to his mother’s to spend some time with her. I’m preparing food for another afternoon event, after which I hope to slip over to see her too. (I would have done the food yesterday or Friday, but was away both days.) One daughter is working and may or may not get in on any of the day’s events. The other daughter asked if she and a friend could take their mothers out for dinner tonight, just the four of us. We’ve done this before when we all decided it was time for us mothers to meet, and we connected well.

And sandwiched in the day, I will be with some of my siblings and nieces and nephews this afternoon. Two of my brother Pete and Nancy’s children are in for a visit from the West, and we will spend a few hours together, which we are very much looking forward to. Last time we saw them they were little children. Now they are parents. Unbelievable how fast time moves!

We’ll have a great time, talking, laughing and carrying on–indulging ourselves in ‘Harder humour’, as we call it–but mom will not be able to join us, as her health makes distance nearly impossible.

Times and seasons change, and with that change comes loss and sacrifice. I feel sad, in a way, for my mother, and at the same time I feel very blessed. I am proud of my children, every one of them, and thank God for them.  The day is bitter-sweet…

I think of it every Mother’s Day that, for some, it is a day of joy, for other’s a day of grief and pain. For some, the grief is because of the loss of a child or mother. But for others it is not the grief of a mother or a child having passed on, but the grief of broken relationship. A mother who won’t speak to her daughter or son. A daughter or son who won’t speak to their mother.  Or relationships filled with hate and fighting. And, not to be forgotten, the ‘mothers at heart’ who were never able to conceive or give birth, or never married.

And as they struggle, often in silence and alone, we casually wish each other a “Happy Mother’s Day”, with the sincerest of intentions, while overlooking the fact that many will walk out of church doors, to a lonely house and empty hearts.

It is bitter-sweet for me too. My mom is living and I keep in touch with her, quite regularly, but the years have robbed us of the sweet innocence some mom’s and daughters have in their relationship and history.

God’s grace has redeemed, but the scars remain. I wish her well, and she wishes me well. Of this I am confident.  And in it all I thank God for His kindness to us both, and pray He blesses her remaining days on this earth.  She gave me life, and for that alone deserves my honour and thanks.

And all the stories my scars tell, in relationship with mother, are stories that give honour and glory to the redeeming power of Jesus.

To you, my friends, who have the ‘perfect and ideal in every way’ relationship with your mothers, embrace it. Embrace her. Celebrate that sweetness. And to those whose relationships are wounded and scarred, join me in inviting God to redeem, and then embrace your journey, your story, and celebrate it.

To my mother, my mother-in-law, and every other mother out there… the ones with scars and wounds and broken hearts, as well as those living a dream…  I wish you Mother’s Day blessings that run deep and never end.  Blessings that supersede the stuff of life, and celebrate you: A Mother.

 

© 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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2014: Embracing A Year of Adventure & Change

Each year New Year’s Eve rolls around, and we gather with family or friends, or both, and celebrate all that has been in the 12 preceding months. The good. The painful. The devastating. The incredible.

Through laughter and tears, we thank God for it all; it blends together to shape our lives, to make us who God wants us to be, if we give it all back to Him.

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Looking back over 2013, it is with mixed emotions, particularly from a ministry perspective. We did more retreats and conferences than any other year to date, and that growth seems to be continuing in 2014. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a few more thoughts about 2013…

There was a time I said I would never do ministry among ‘my people’–the Mennonite culture–because I feared rejection. Still, when God laid it on my heart in late 2012, I found myself, almost instinctively, planning a conference for this spring as though it was everything my heart had ever dreamed of. When fears surfaced, I pushed them down, reminding myself that the thing God calls us to, He also gives us the strength for.

The conference took place in April, and went off pretty much without a hitch. Worshiping God with so many believers from my background is one of the most wonderful things I’ve experienced in my life. There was life. The Holy Spirit was present, without question, healing hearts, stirring souls, and denominational barriers were broken. At least for some of us, and for a time.

That weekend opened a floodgate, and many new doors to ministry. I was busier with one-on-one sessions in the months that followed, than I had ever been, and that continues to this day. With those open doors, and those sessions, came more stories of abuse, violation, and violence against children. And as we worked through those stories, and mediated between victims and perpetrators, resistance grew.

Since April 2013, we have experienced more attack, more resistance, more lies circulating than we have in three years ministry. That tells me something. We’re getting dangerously close to exposing something the devil has a vested interest in hiding. It has nothing to do with Mr. & Mrs. Martin, or Mr. & Mrs. Weber, or Mr. & Mrs. Bauman or Mr. & Mrs. Wagler or some Ms. Anybody, or Mr. Anybody Else. Sure, they and their families might slip into a rage over the exposure of hidden sin, or they might retreat in shame and silence, and some will hate on me and spread lies,  but it’s not about that.

It’s about God and the Devil. Ultimately God loves truth and justice, and the devil hates it. When lies come against truth, those walking in the truth continue to walk in the love of God and the truth of Christ. But when truth comes against lies and the devil, those walking in lies get all riled up and begin letting the enemy use them as tools to spread darkness and hate. And they suddenly busy themselves trying to cover their evil at any cost. And that brings backlash to anyone involved in bringing that darkness to light.

I said I expected it, when I went into ministry in the area of sexual abuse in the church. And I thought I did. I thought I was prepared. But when it came, it still blind-sided me. I wasn’t as noble as I desire to become, in how I responded or reacted. From time to time, when I met the people who were responsible for spreading hate against me, in stores or churches, and they glared or turned and walked away, I struggled. It took the grace of God to be kind, to wish them well, when, at times, I would have rather ‘said my piece’.

And that struggle is okay. God never asked us to not feel the anger, hurt or pain. He asked us to walk in the Spirit in spite of those feelings. I failed at moments, but constantly my heart cries out to be more filled with the Holy Spirit, and become more like Jesus.

It has taken a lot out of me, the battle in the mind. Hearing absurd lies about oneself, and having friends turn their backs, gets a bit wearing. But it has not changed anything as far as vision is concerned. Whatever God leads me into, even if it ends in twice the ‘hell’ I’ve fought this year, I embrace it.

Having said that, it appears as if 2014 may be a different flavour, and He may not be asking me to do any conferences here, with the local hostility. I’ve felt no ‘pull’ to find a host church for a similar conference, and don’t feel the slightest bit compelled to plan anything of that nature. (That will change in an instant, however, if God speaks the word.)

The only exception is a women’s conference, if it works out. We have a dynamic Old Order Mennonite woman from USA, who I hope will speak at a conference for women. She has a powerful testimony and is an anointed, Spirit-filled believer with a gift for speaking. If that works out, we will have her come join us for a local conference in late 2014.

All other conferences, so far, are scheduled out of the country, beginning with a mixed audience, Shatter the Silence Conference in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. We will work in partnership with Pastor Dale & Faith Ingraham, of New York, whom we had at our conference in April 2013. With true ‘servant hearts’, they will join us in sharing through testimony, and teaching.

Chambersburg conference posterChambersburg conference brochure outside

brochure insideAfter the conference,on Saturday evening, we will also do our first ever sessions–like a mini-seminar–for married and engaged couples. We will teach God’s design for marriage, and share vulnerably about the impact sexual abuse has on marriage.

It is exciting (if not a bit scary) to think about opening that part of our story to the public. Exciting in that I know it will help other couples, and scary because we’ve never shared that part of our story. Even my closest friends know only little snippets of our journey, and the hell we went through. I’ve never even written much about it. There was so much trauma, at times, and it was where the ‘hell of childhood’ came out in night terrors, flashbacks and angst like I had never known or acknowledged in my life. I think of those early years with Tim as my safe place to ‘feel the past’, really, for the first time.

Even now, as write, I’m back in that era… I even went back in time and purchased Silverwind music on iTunes, and am listening to ‘Only Jesus’. How I remember listening to that song, over and over again, knowing there was truth in the words. “Like a bird, whose wings are broken, wishing I could reach and touch the sky, Then the word of God was gently spoken, Suddenly my heart was free to fly… Only Jesus…. Jesus… makes my heart soar like a bird… Only Jesus… Jesus…  can free my soul with His word…”

Tears pour unashamedly as I listen to the words, the music, and remember what once was, and the healing God has brought into my life. And the sweet truth that, when His word was spoken, my heart was healed, set free.

And that is the message we will share with couples in Chambersburg Pennsylvania, who are fighting the demons of past abuse, and hiding the shame of that struggle. That part thrills me.

There are several other ‘out of country’ events in the works as well, including a 4-week conference/speaking tour in New Zealand and Australia this fall, God willing.

Writing will continue to be a big part of my life. Possibly even more than in the past. A friend awakened an old dream to write fiction–something I tried years ago and did not enjoy then, and didn’t feel was my niche. But I may just give that a ‘go’ again, when I finish my current projects.

There is also ‘rumblings’ of a bill being passed that will prevent me from continuing with one-on-one sessions, as I do them now. While I have never called myself a counselor or psychotherapist, the reality is I work with trauma and using a Christ-centered approach to working through that trauma with people. It’s effective. It produces results. It’s life changing for my clients. But soon–I’m not sure when, exactly–it will be against the law for me to do what I do, as I do it now, I am told.

This will change my life dramatically, unless we work around it. Instead of sitting with clients 3 to 5 days a week, I will look at moving into doing more conferences and speaking. It’s a tragedy, in my opinion, though I’m sure the motivation is to protect the public. Or at least so they say.

Makes me wonder what the world was like before the government controlled everything. Probably some negatives, but maybe some positive things too?

The only way around it will be to do fundraising, and offer a free service to people in need of a listening ear. And, as donors get on board with Generations Unleashed to make that possible, we may just end up being busier than ever. What I know for sure is that God has redeemed every potential negative in my life and in ministry. No doubt this is a set-up for something very different than it appears to be.

As this change and the unknown lie before me, and our ministry, all I can say is, I can’t wait to see what God has in store. Each year brings with it pain and tears, intermingled with great joy and celebration. Looking back there isn’t a year in my life that I would erase if I could. Some are hard to remember. Very hard. Particularly those early years of marriage and parenting when the hell of the past revisited me mentally…. If it were not for the husband God gave me, with a patient and godly heart, I don’t know what might have happened to me.

But even those years God is redeeming and using for His purposes and His glory. Knowing this about Him gives me confidence that 2014 will be a Kingdom building year. A year of relationships. A year of Redemption. A year of Change. A year filled with God’s blessing in every trial and every success.

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2014, I welcome you, with all you offer. My God has given you to me, and I am jumping in with passion, purpose and commitment!

© 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

Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”

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