The Crossroads… (Part 5: On hugging a cactus)

 

The question mark
Hung at the end of every fear
Is answered by
The promise that you are with me here
And that’s all I’ve got
When the lights go out and I lose my way
So I’ll close my eyes
I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid

As I reach for your hand in the night
When the shadows swallow the light
‘Cause I’m giving up, giving in
Once again a childlike faith
Is my only way
To see in the dark
~ Jason Gray ~

 ***

A year after we started Generations Unleashed, I was with two young women – sisters .- and supporting one of them facing traumatic memories. She was not a client then, nor did she ever become one, but I had been asked to meet with her. In her trauma, she curled up on the floor in a fetal position – a tiny little woman – writhing in agony. Heartbroken by what I saw, and with no training, I responded the only way my humanity knew to respond: I picked her up. That lasted only seconds but felt like an eternity, because immediately I felt it take something out of me and sensed God saying, “That’s not yours to give.” Not comfortable laying her back on the floor, I asked her sister to hold her, and she agreed. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was right or fair. I just know it was wrong for me to hold her. And I have never again gone there. About that time I also put my arm around weeping victims and let them cry on my shoulder whenever they wanted.

I have since developed much better practices and have watched people heal far more effectively, by getting to the root of the issue, rather than creating dependence on me. And I have looked my clients in the eye when they ‘craved’ that touch and promised them I will never violate their boundaries or their trust, or take such unnecessary risks. That extended physical touch should not come from the professional/ministry worker who is their mentor, coach or counsellor. It is my duty, first and foremost, to protect them and help them heal. I will not cross that line. It creates unhealthy bonds that eventually have to be broken, and is entirely unprofessional and unhealthy. It has led to affairs, struggle with lesbianism among young Mennonite women (when the person holding them was female), and is all around unfair to them.

This does not happen with LOP seminars that I am aware of, but D certainly did it ‘on the side’… It should cause both those who practice this and those who hear of it to at least pause and ask if it is healthy… When you hear of  men holding the vulnerable (sometimes curled up on their lap, faces placed cheek to cheek, and other times more discretely) to comfort them ‘like a daddy would’ or ‘like kind Heavenly daddy’, be aware. Not all who have done that have molested, but many who have been held have felt sexually and spiritually violated. Those being held are incredibly vulnerable, and women are by God’s design very sensitive to tender touch. It’s how we are wired. Do the math. They get sexually aroused being held (this has also happened with females holding females) and go on to deal with sexual shame and confusion all over again.

Women are predominantly stimulated by tender touch – based on my work with them – and are especially vulnerable when they are working through abuse. Some fear touch. Some crave it, but then find themselves deep in sexual feelings for their counsellor (or whoever offers that touch). Some hate it, feeling violated and resenting that feeling of being overpowered. And in every client with a trauma story, there is a power imbalance that makes it even more violating, regardless of the intent of the person touching them. Even when it never feels sexual for either party, damage can be done. For this reason I choose not to take that risk.

Some, like D, have held the hurting ‘like a daddy’ and then gone on to sexually violate the vulnerable individual. And, shamefully, somehow it gets misconstrued as her consent when she was groomed to be victimized. It is, in my opinion, not appropriate for a man to have young women curled up on his lap and call it ministry, but I do know some have done it with what they declare to be the best of intentions.

My advice in any case is, Don’t. Just don’t go there. Because when it gets to court, you will likely be guilty. Nor does it, in reality, typically – if ever – heal the victims. It often intercepts their connection with God and draws them to you and your bandwagon. Just don’t. I have spoken with numerous friends in ministry and urged them to end the practice, telling them that if it ends in court, and I am asked to be involved, I know which side of the court room I will fill. And it won’t be their side. I know the incredible damage this has done in many cases. It is a terrible violation of boundaries – which vulnerable people, especially abuse victims, usually lack – and completely inappropriate.

***

If we are going to make a dent in the abuses going on, it will require seeing fondling breasts, grabbing buttocks and groping crotches as the vile abuse that they are, and acknowledge the damage they do. It will mean no longer downplaying these things and then deciding the victim’s trauma after the fact is for show or selfishness. It is not only rape that devastates victims. Of all the damage I have seen, none is greater than the damage done by someone who is a ‘spiritual hero’ and then molests those who trust him/her, regardless what that violation is. This is spiritually destructive, and I don’t take that lightly.

Until this past week I kept telling myself that S must not know the truth. After working with him on a case recently, my trust grew shockingly strong, almost instantly. Not without reservation, but limited reservation. When I wrote him last week to make him aware of that bigger story, I discovered at the end of the day that he had taken what I told him right back to D. He insisted I am being lied to. I have assured him that I have been given copies of proof for everything I shared with him that day, except one item. (What I shared that day was different information than the sexual assault and lewd phone calls shared here. It had to do with finances). Regarding the sexual assault and phone calls, I have been given copies of messages validating the victim’s experiences, including some sent by D himself. The evidence is undeniable. Had he taken full ownership, and had there not been molestation of a young woman (I reiterate, she is not a minor), it would still be concerning and there should still be some form of ‘buddy system’ at events where he has blatantly prowled in the past.  In this case, had leadership listened to warnings from people close to them who cared deeply, intervention would most likely have prevented the assault. When there are signs of predator-like behaviour, intervention is in the best interest of potential victims, as well as the offender, who ends up carrying shame that could have been avoided.

I do not ask S to hold to my personal values, standards and principles, or to keep the promises we made – this isn’t about that. This is about keeping our promises and commitments to our calling: serving vulnerable people, and exposing those who violate them. The day I cannot do that and fear of facing the fallout and consequences for exposing is greater than my commitment to that calling, is the day I need to resign from ministry. So help me God if I continue without that commitment. This is my calling, and I embrace it. Not comfortably – much like hugging a cactus, really – but I embrace it nonetheless.

It has tormented me, knowing that D assaulted someone, and wondering if LOP leadership was aware, and then discovering they knew and were repeatedly warned about D before the assault, and again after, by people who love them deeply… It has tormented me that if I know and say nothing, and D keeps sponsoring victims, or grooming them, and eventually assaulting another, that I have allowed that through silence. Not to mention that if victims of sexual abuse discover he sexually assaulted a girl recently and I knew and said nothing, that I betray them…

I cannot live with that betrayal of their trust.

I can live with being hated. i can live with being verbally attacked. I can live with being called a drama queen or a nutcracker. I can live with many things. But I cannot live with knowing and being silent.

When I am in a place where I am ‘forced’ to choose between speaking out and being silent about abuse, for any reason (whether out of a sense of duty and loyalty to someone I consider a friend, or to protect family) I will choose to defend the vulnerable no matter what it costs me.

And it has cost me a lot…

But taking a strong position for the vulnerable wasn’t my idea, it was God’s example -and it is His command. It is the Jesus Way. It is the path I choose. Cactus plants and all.

***

Proverbs 31:8
“Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

As always…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

A New Season; Barefoot, Dreaming & Necessary Changes

It is the middle of summer, or at least the middle of warm weather, if not summer exactly, here in Ontario and apart from the extreme dryness, it has been a beautiful summer! Roses are loaded with blooms! One bush I counted to 74 buds before concluding it has ‘a lot’, and the actual number doesn’t really matter. And the Limelight hydrangeas are about to bloom, as the delphiniums slowly die off from their first splash of colour.

Seasons are filled with wonder, and then they pass, each bringing in a new season with new wonder. And in each there are things we can long for or miss in another season, while fully embracing the one we’re in. At least I find myself doing that. I look at the evergreen, while sitting barefoot on my front porch sipping a glass of ice tea or some other summer love, and imagine it in winter with sparkling lights. But even as I imagine it, in that moment it is summer I am in love with the warmth.

Til winter rolls around, however, I’m happy to wear boots and a coat, with no desire to sit on my front porch, quenching summer’s thirst. And I certainly don’t sit there in bare feet.

Life experience isn’t that different. When changing of seasons is necessary, whether we like it or not, we are wise to adjust to the new season. And, figuratively speaking, I may have sat in the snow, barefoot, for a while already.

It has been six years now, since working closely with trauma victims, listening to broken stories, encouraging victims, trying to keep healthy boundaries in place–which can be easier said than done, for some. And they’ve been the best six years of my life, on so many levels. They have also been the hardest in other ways.

One of the things I encourage in clients is healthy boundaries, both in personal experience and in respecting the boundaries others set, which can be a difficult thing to learn when boundaries have been seriously violated, and we’ve been taught to give and sacrifice until we drop or burnout. But it’s critical  to take steps that are in the best interest of personal well-being and family before such a thing happens. In the past two weeks, after trying to make adjustments and find other ways to ‘make it work’, it quickly became evident that the changes I was trying to make would bring more stress than relief and my lessons on boundaries needed a close look and personal application. So, after seeking counsel from several individuals, including my doctor who is a rather amazing woman, I  knew it was time to take my own advice, and that of everyone I consulted. In the uncertainty of what is best right now, I saw these words, “Do the next right thing”  and  the words stuck. If I am to be healthy for my family, for university and to continue advocating for victims, I must do ‘the next right thing’. And that next right thing is to take a step back from working with trauma clients for the time being and focus on family, writing and then to University of Waterloo in September.

I have heard other individuals talk about needing to leave trauma support, due to secondary trauma, and am thankful that in this area God has given me resilience, rarely experiencing it. Admittedly, the area(s) I have struggled are in dealing with blatant manipulations, as well as when boundaries are ignored and violated, so that our world is invaded as a family and couple, or  when focusing on personal commitments. Manipulation can only be faced as it happens with clients, and boundaries set to bring about healthier habits. And fortunately there is much good information out there, about healthy boundaries, how to set them, and when to ‘draw a line in the sand’ if they are violated. And on this front I have been blessed beyond words, having had very few problems with boundaries being violated. For this I am most grateful, and thank God, so that I can look back at six years of client relationships and see predominantly positive relationships, and wouldn’t hesitate to return to one-on-one sessions, when school is less intense for having had the most amazing opportunities to walk with victims and see healing come.

So, while I am making changes, I’m not ‘going’ anywhere, and will continue to blog occasionally, and focus more on doing public speaking engagements as far as Generations Unleashed goes, though more one-off engagements in various environments to create awareness, versus church-focused conferences. And, God-willing, I will be able to follow through with travel plans for this summer, where I’ve made commitments. And though I am making myself available to several past clients, and welcome requests from other past clients, to meet from time to time, I will not currently be taking on new clients, or working in intense and high-trauma cases. And it is unlikely that I will consider taking on any full time clients during the first four months of University, starting this September, as I will have 5 courses and must maintain 75% average or higher in each one, to be accepted into the 16-month Master program in January.

These changes leave me with a summer calendar that has nothing but ‘family, friends, and writing’ booked besides travel. While this feels odd and a bit sad in a way, it also feels right and necessary, especially as I focus more on finishing several writing projects and prepare for school.

I am thankful for these six years, and the many people I’ve had the honour of knowing in places of pain and journeys of healing, and only time will tell if this is ‘the end of an era’ or whether God will lead me again to this. While I sense it is ‘an end’, I also try to hold these things in an open hand, and not control every step and outcome, so that God can open the door again in the future if He needs me.

And I imagine I will sit on my front porch at times, figuratively speaking, sandals on my feet, and sipping a summer drink, imagining lights on the tree, all covered in snow. And I will long for it. But I will rest in knowing that ‘doing the next right thing’ will take me where I am destined to be, to accomplish a purpose higher than my own.

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

*****

NOTE: Due to so many of my clients finding me through my blog, or word of mouth, I an sharing these changes here. (Clients have already been notified, in person or via message, of any changes.)

(…) The Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 2)

Don’t come to Church!
There comes a time when an individual can be asked not to come to church. But it is not the right answer every time.

The identity of a teenager who offends, in many countries if not most, is protected. While there should be vigilance–always, always–public exposure is not usually an option, by law. The teen needs help and guidance and whatever ‘judgment the courts determine to be appropriate, but banning from church is not one of them. At least not most times, though there may be an exception.

The adult who has victimized people in church, people who must face their offender and be continually traumatized, is a different story. In my opinion, an offender ought to have enough remorse to choose to go somewhere else, to protect the child. It’s easy math. And every now and then they do.

But, as it stands, more victims leave churches than abusers, based on the people I deal with, because the ongoing trauma becomes overwhelming. They forgive, they try to move on, but Sunday morning, when they should be hearing the truth of the Gospel, they are confronted with the trauma of flashbacks to naked genitals or breasts, or some other sexual exploitation in the past. A wife goes home with her spouse after church, and struggles all week with intimacy because the flashbacks make her feel gross and disgusting. The husband how remembers being molested, goes home and withholds himself, and possibly turning to pornography, feeling completely inadequate. (Let me inject that, surely we can try to understand that this is not about a lack of forgiveness–as is often the accusation–but about post-trauma anxiety and flashbacks.)

Why would an adult who has molested someone choose to impose such a thing on a victim, Sunday after Sunday, robbing couples of intimacy and forcing them to relive the violation? Is it not reasonable, in such a situation, to encourage the offender to find a church family elsewhere?

Instead, it seems victims are the ones who eventually uproot and find some other church family, or simply stop attending, spiritually stripped, having endured accusations of being unforgiving or making things up. The lack of healthy care and understanding for victims, combined with religious demands to ‘forgive and forget’ has done it’s share of damage, and has in essence told victims to either ‘shape up or get out’, while offering little in the way of healing.

Get Out!

I spoke recently with yet another victim of a now-church-leader; the third that I am aware of, who eventually just left, while the offender went on to become a leader. The victimizations ranged from coercing a peer in early teens to reaching under skirts, yanking down panties to molest–something I recently discovered is/was a very common occurrence with hired ‘maids’ in some homes–and grabbing and groping… well into his twenties. And in every case the victims ended up paying the price, while the offender managed to fly under the radar, with nothing more than a mild slap on the wrist for ‘sexual immorality’. That should not be. And yet it happens repeatedly.

If an offender refuses to take ownership, and comply with the laws of the land and church-imposed boundaries, or if there is any indication they are causing ongoing trauma, it is not asking too much to tell them not to show up. There is no repentance in self-preservation and rebelling against those boundaries, and that person should be deemed unsafe in every way.

Feel Free to Attend, but with Supervision and Boundaries
In the case of the church I worked with in 2014, a team of people met with the intent of creating accountability. There was no agenda to cover up or protect the offender, but neither was there any agenda to destroy. In all my life I’ve never seen such a healthy approach as I saw in that meeting, and in the  months that ensued.

A recommendation was put up for discussion, to allow the offender to attend church, but to always have someone supervise. Every trip to the bathroom, every exit from the auditorium, every event, someone would be assigned to watch over the offender. There would be zero opportunity for offending again. There would be guidelines of not working with children, or being involved in any way that would compromise their safety. Had his presence made victims vulnerable, I might have felt differently, but as it was I thought it was brilliant.

The thought of being ‘babysat’ was offensive to the perpetrator, saying he felt the church was not proving forgiveness. As a result, and of his own free will, he chose to leave the church and find a new church family. If my memory is reliable, the pastor felt it his responsibility to contact leadership at the new church to inform them of the situation, not out of spite, but for the protection of the children there.

All in all, the situation was handled responsibly, and in the best interest of the victims and church family.

What About The Law?
The law was involved early on, in the case of the church I worked with; even before the church was made aware. So, for an example of law, I will share from a conversation I had with a police officer in the past month.

My conversation with the officer led me to believe that when it comes to religion, she is on the outside, looking in, and trying to make sense of it all, and she wondered at the driving force behind that behaviours of churches and Christians, as it pertains to obeying the laws of the land in regards to child abuse. I tried to explain–not justify–from my perspective, what I see; fear, pride, the belief that we Christians are subject only to God’s law and not the laws of the land, among other things. I’ve had the same conversation with 4 police officers since May, where they talk about the religious community covering up and not getting victims or offenders the help they need, and it leaves them shaking their heads. It should.

But what this last officer shared, didn’t stay there. After questioning, she mentioned how several years ago she had a case unlike any other. A pastor, she said, had walked in one morning, accompanied by an offender who had molested his daughter. Immediately after having done so, he went to his wife, and told her, packed his bags and left so his daughter would be safe. The pastor was drawn in, and that is where the man stayed until morning, when they stood in front of the officer saying they have a crime to report. The entire police staff was flabbergasted, she said. Not one had experienced such a thing before.

She told me how the man ended up doing jail time, getting counseling and was eventually reinstated in his home, but is not allowed to be with children unsupervised at any time. He is humbly compliant, and understands that this is to make 100% certain it never happens again. This situation, is the ideal, when it comes to handling abuse cases, she told me.

I wasn’t involved with that situation, and don’t know the people, but from where I stand looking on, I see redemption, while complying with the law and facing consequences. The church is aware of what he has done, and works to make it a safe place for children all around, while allowing him to be part of his family and the church.

A Tragedy Cannot be Undone, only Redeemed
There is no way to make a bad thing good. It can’t be done. There is only redemption of evil in the lives of God’s people, and in the working of society. What our enemy means for evil, God will use for good, but the wickedness can never be made good. We have to accept that, and call the wickedness what it is.

That said, we undermine the grace and mercy of God, when we refuse to extend the work of Jesus on the cross to all sinners… including those who molested a child, or children. There must always be forgiveness for them. While the practical working out of healing should be done with great wisdom and seeking God’s heart–and God always fights for the children and the vulnerable–to sentence offenders to hopeless judgment, doesn’t sit right in my spirit.

I’ve worshiped in prison with those who murdered someone. And I’ve hugged them if they wanted to be hugged. It makes zero difference to me, at the foot of the cross, what you have done; you are my brother and my sister. Besides, I remember that “but for the grace of God, there go I”. And I mean that. Coming out of the sexual confusion of my childhood, it is nothing short of the grace of God that kept me from growing up to be in prison with the murderers and pedophiles. When it comes praying ‘thank God I am not like the sinner beside me’, the words choke heavy in my throat and I cannot spit them out.

Instead, I thank God for His liberal grace and generous wisdom so that we might be forgiven, extend forgiveness, while still choosing to respond carefully in every situation. Bitterness and hate destroys lives, as does overlooking sin and neglecting to address and deal with abuse. Somewhere, in seeking the wisdom of God, there is a better way…

We were molested, many of us, and we inevitably hurt and grieve the loss of innocence. We need to be given space to do that, and to express that hurt without being judged. But, horrific as that moment was, or the thousand times over, none of us really want to stay stuck in that darkness. Advocating for other victims, fighting for the safety of children and creating awareness are some of the many ways to take back our freedom, our God-given voice, and to bring good out of evil, without empowering evil through bitterness.

Together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope, if we avoid the pit of bitterness, and a sense of being entitled to live in it and speak out of it. Our life purpose is not defined by what happened to us, but it can empower us for greater things. The choice is ours. Always.  And I, for one, want to care for the hearts of all, but I want only to partner with those who bring hope out of darkness…

Yes, together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger