Sexual Abuse, A Pair of Sunglasses & my friend Danette

A friend from days gone by in the Midwest church, whom I consider a friend still, though we don’t really see each other any more, messaged me. She still had my book ‘Growing Up Amish’, which I had loaned her, and how would be the best way to get it back, she wondered, or when would it suit for her to pop by.  I was coming that way a few days later, I told her, and would stop in for it.

It was intended to be a quick  ‘stop, grab a book and go’…. I rang the door bell, and waited for Danette to answer, expecting her to have the book in hand. “Do you have time for coffee?” she asked, instead.

There were things I could be doing, I knew that, but it had been years since we sat and chatted and I really do love conversations with her, and her heart… it’s beautiful. Like, really beautiful. And even though our lives have traveled worlds apart and we don’t talk often, when we do, I trust her with things I don’t entrust to everyone.

“I’d love that!” I said, ignoring that niggling that I had things to do.

We sat for the next while–it must have been almost two hours, or more–and talked. Danette is passionate about helping women; mentoring them in faith and just being there for them. She didn’t share how her compassion for abuse victims was birthed, and I didn’t ask, but clearly her heart is there for victims. She asked a lot of questions about my healing journey, and I spoke candidly. Not having experienced abuse herself, she admitted it is hard to understand, fully, the aftermath.

“Is it almost as if people who have been abused, are handed a pair of sunglasses, and from that point forward it is as if their world is tinted a different colour? And to the rest of us, the world is clear and we can’t even imagine what they see?” she asked, presenting an analogy that works well for me.

“Yes,” I nodded, thoughtfully processing the word picture, “but it’s not only that. It’s as if each victim is given his or her own shade of sunglasses, and while we can understand or imagine, to an extent, what another victim experiences, there are always things that are unique to that person. So we can’t even fully understand each other.”

Having said that, I recognize that this diversity is also real for those who see the world without the ‘tinting’ of sexual abuse. However, the aftermath of abuse is complex enough, and adding our unique way of processing to that complexity does not make it easier. We talked at length about how abuse ‘messes us up’ and how damaged we feel, and how confused our spirits are, and the struggles that go with it. She asked me a question then about how I overcame that ‘broken’ reality.

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“I didn’t, really,” I said, “I accepted it.” Danette looked surprised. And we talked for some time about what it looks like to be broken and messed up, but living full of hope with that knowledge. And I wished, in a way, that I could say things like “if you love Jesus, and know that He loves you, He’ll take it away like magic, and one day your mind won’t process through that filter”, but I couldn’t.  I still can’t.

And that’s not meant to squash hope of healing. I am healed. I am happy. I am whole. I am loving. I am life-giving. Because of Jesus in me. And I am broken. Because of what life was, the ongoing scars and memories. And the moments that catch me off guard, resurface these realities. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve accepted it.

Truth is, there was a day when I realized that one event, abuse, actually changed who I am. And there is no undoing it; it can only be redeemed. I am messed up, and I will always be. It’s just the way it is, and has to be. Extreme trauma changes how our minds work. I have quirks as a result of it. I have struggles. And I have strengths. These all work together to make me who I am; weird to some, heroic to others, judgmental to those wanting to cover or hide abuse, obnoxious and bold to those who don’t understand my passion and don’t know my caring heart–those who have never asked question and have, themselves, simply judged. But I am incredibly loving and compassionate to all who dare to get to know me and push past the shattered edges of my heart. Even offenders. Even those who cover up. I am always kind.

I am learning to not only accept this person I am; I’m learning to love me, by focusing on Jesus and loving Him. The more I see His love for me, the more I love myself and, yet, the less I focus on me. It’s an irony and a beautiful thing! Jesus says we are to love others as we love ourselves. And, well, it’s a bit hard to love anyone else at all, in the way Jesus said, if we hate ourselves. If I hate myself, and who I am as a result of life, then I will not love others with a genuine love ‘as I love myself’. (Here the question randomly pops in my mind; is that where the pretentiousness comes from in some people, when they act all ‘loving’ but come off as being not authentic? Is it them, trying desperately to love–out of themselves rather than allowing Jesus to flow through–while hating themselves? Are they sincere, but lack the ability to express love, because of that self-loathing? )

But back on track… The reality I contend with is that the ‘sunglasses’ I was given are pretty dark. Sure, the light of Jesus has healed my broken heart, but I can’t ‘un-know’ the things I experienced. So no matter what healing comes, that ‘knowing’ will influence my awareness of evil in the world, and maybe especially in the church. I am sensitive to it, and feel things before they ever get exposed, in people. I hear of some abuse case, in people I once knew as a ‘youngun’, and no great shock wave strikes, most times. It’s as if I knew it all along, and that’s why I felt ‘creeped out’ around them. That’s my shades.

On the bright side, my awareness of redemption, hope and overcoming is far stronger than it could have been apart from having encountered abuse. It is because of those very sunglasses that I can turn and look the Son full in the face, and tell every other suffering person, “He’s here. He loves you, loves us. He really does! And we can make it! We’ll do this thing together, hand in hand,arm in arm,–(figuratively speakings, since I’m not much for touching more than a quick hug with anyone beyond family and closest friends)–and you will live again!”

Yes, tainted sunglasses, smeared and smudged by the sins committed against God in my childhood, changed how I see this world. But they now also keep me a little less focused on it. I’m a little less attached to religion because of it. And I hate sin a whole lot more.

But my Jesus… How I love Him. Tainted shades and all, I look Him in the face and know I am loved. And the dirty smudges of sins ? He wipes those away, little by little, as He reveals more of Himself to me. I’ll always see the world through the shades of what I know to be true of its darkness. But I will always see the reality of this world through the truth of Jesus.

It’s a beautiful day! Bright and sunny. Thank God for sunglasses!

Love,

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Serving from a Broken Bottle

We romanticize church, communion, and all things ‘Christian’ as hinging on a holiness born of perfection,
But it is the unrefined love of the Broken Christ, poured in messy spills, like wine from a broken bottle,
Flowing into and through broken vessels, and splashing reckless love into the world around
That ultimately spreads His grace to the world around.

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Christianity is a messy encounter between sinful humanity and Divine Love.

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There is this thought that troubles me, and one that has tumbled around in my mind, for years in a way that can’t be ignored…  Like the annoying sound of mindless, repetitious tapping that carries on until someone bursts out an exasperated ‘stop it!’ … or the faucet dripping water until you are forced to abandon what you’re doing and get up to tighten it…

My  first awareness that some people are ‘different’ came when I was about four or five years old. A girl in our community, or possibly a neighbouring colony–I cannot recall which–probably in her twenties, brought this revelation into my life. Or, more accurately, what people said brought the revelation. To me she was simply a more fun adult, than most. One I could connect with. Really connect with.

I don’t recall her name, but her image is burned on my memory, most clearly. When we visited her home, which I recall doing at least twice, she and I played together. This friend loved to play dolls, and sat with me, holding and rocking them with the same childish delight that I felt. Though I certainly didn’t recognize it as childish then. I did, however, observe that she did what other adults didn’t do. She entered into my world, and I into hers. We sat in our chairs pretending to nurse our babies, then rocking and burping them, just the way mothers in our world did. She didn’t talk much. I don’t recall, but it would be a safe guess that I chattered. I did that from time to time.

After one visit to their home my mother explained that this girl isn’t ‘normal’ or, the German wording, ‘not as she should be’. This bewildered me. To me she was as everyone should be.  It isn’t that my mother was rude, or condescending. It was the normal wording used for mentally handicapped or delayed people. Another expression used was the equivalent of retarded–something I found offensive, even as a child.

But the thoughts tumbling in my head are not exactly about the mentally delayed or handicapped, though this ‘learning’ of our differences does tie in, for me, emotionally, to my thoughts…

I don’t know when I first learned that there are people at church who are ‘different’. People who don’t fit the mold.  The ones who are not ‘as they should be’. Those who dance to a different rhythm. (God bless them, at least they dance!) These are the broken souls who don’t have it together, hold it together, or present a ‘church image’. They don’t wear a ‘suit and tie’ in a ‘suit and tie church’. And if they do, the pants are too short and the sleeves fall shy of reaching the wrist with an obvious deficit. Their shoes have no shine, if they wear shoes at all, and their socks probably don’t match. Not each other, and not the suit.  The tie, if worn at all, is a tacky mis-matched accessory, and the hair slicked to the side, haphazardly, with Brylcream and smeared flat.

When they talk, they stutter. When they laugh, it is a geeky laugh that incorporates a few snorts and maybe a cross-eyed glance, as they push their ‘taped-together’ glasses up their nose. When they look into your eyes it’s that awkward ‘look deep into the soul’ gaze that creeps the average Joe out, especially in church where everything is meant to be nice and peaceful, and no one is supposed to know anything below the nice exterior. And everyone is perpetually happy. Because God is good. And when they do that–the awkward ones–and look deep into our souls, they look past the ‘nice’ and see the dark spots on our souls and it makes us uncomfortable. I know. I’ve experienced it.

These people don’t fit into Western church culture. More accurately, they don’t fit in anywhere.

My descriptions  are figurative. It isn’t the external differences that make people ‘unfit’, but it is that way of thinking and living, of refusing to conform to expected norms, or maybe oblivious to these norms, that make them misfits. They are no more welcome in much of church culture than Jesus was welcomed into the religious community of His day.

And whether it is because of a mental handicap or just ‘being different’, and being ‘broken’ and scarred by life, we don’t really know what to do with these people. The mentally handicapped most of us accept. They can’t help how they were born. But the broken. Them we try to fix. Surely with a bit more effort, or offering another earnest prayer, or a bit more counsel, surely then they will pull themselves together and fit in. But they try–some of them, at least–and we pray, and we advise–or send them to the more qualified for help–and still they sing off tune and dance out of time… And slowly we pull away, or push them out, and leave them on the discard pile…

The broken ones who don’t fit…

While housecleaning my basement I came across an envelope. A fat, homemade envelope. Crooked and mis-measured, with holes where the corners should meet–gaps because she didn’t align it right. A few scribbles decorated the front. Inside a handful of papers with unintelligible notes, made of up wordless words, with letters randomly slapped together. Tall letters. Short letters. Fat ones and skinny ones.

i studied them, trying to recall where they had come from. A memory played at the fringes of my mind, teasing, but refusing to reveal itself. I flipped to another note, unfolded the uneven folds.  There, written in clear English were the words, “I Love You! Janet Kuepfer”

I smiled. And a tear fell. And I remembered why I kept the note. She worked hard to write that, many years ago when we attended the same church. It was one of a few such notes I received from friends there, who were mentally delayed, handicapped or had special needs of some sort. I found others as I rooted through my boxes. And while hundreds of beautiful cards landed on the discard pile, each of these notes returned to my keepsake box, where I will likely stumble upon them in a decade or so, the next time I go through my memory box, sorting what is worthy of storage, and what should be tossed.

And in the meantime the question will continue to tumble through my head, like an empty tin can, blowing about in the wind, demanding to be acknowledged.  What should the church do with the broken ones?

I believe I saw a glimpse of this on Sunday. We attended the Meeting House in Waterloo, and it was communion Sunday. At the very front, sat two gentlemen in wheelchairs. I don’t know them. I don’t know their stories…

A man went forward for communion but, rather than taking the bread, dipping it in the wine and helping himself, he walked past the cup and the bread to these men. He leaned forward and whispered something to them, then turned, took some bread and dipped it in the cup, and placed it in the first gentleman’s mouth. He followed suit with the second man.

“He’s a true gentleman,” I whispered to Tim, pointing out what I observed.  And something connected deep in my spirit with the broken Jesus–the One from whom many in today’s Christian culture would likely withhold communion, or walk the long way around Him, if the way we treat our broken is any indication.

In the background the worship team played ‘Jesus Messiah’, and I came unglued as the tears began to fall so that I couldn’t hold them back if I wanted to. And I wanted to. Because I don’t like to cry in church anymore. I’ve learned that people don’t cry in church, and mostly I prefer not to be so vulnerable in front of them. With Tim I don’t mind, and some of my trusted friends. But in church I have learned it is best to close down my heart and emotions, and blend in with the accepted norms.

Every now and then, however, the raw, real, broken truth, about love being poured from a broken glass without pretense of apology,  grips me with such force that all walls crumble and all defenses  dissipate. And then I weep. And in those moments I feel alive, as if Jesus has slipped again among us. And my soul reaches out with open hands and longing heart….

… for a place of vulnerability where it is safe to be broken…  A place where Jesus is lifted up and human effort is not glorified…  and the ‘least of these’ is valued as if they were Jesus in the flesh…

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Living The Messy Love of Christ

Today’s post is a thank you to the people who embrace the messy love of Jesus and have lived it in my life. Those who stand with me, and fight this war on the evils and corruption of hidden sexual abuse in the church. I feel badly, sometimes, when I see the glaring sins of silence, and never thank the faithful Christians who stand with me.

First I want to mention church family at Wilmot Centre Missionary Church, who pray for me and bless me in ministry. My church isn’t perfect. It has broken people. Lots of us. And we don’t always choose the life Jesus would choose, or extend grace to each other like we should. We are human. And, along with the prayers, that’s what I want to say thank you for. I feel less out of place with Christians who are human.

I want to thank the people in my life, who, in the past, or in the present, have extended grace at a time when my humanity and my sinfulness deserved judgement, those who have given me permission to fail, and, more importantly, get up again after I failed. Some names deserve mention, because of that grace. In fact, there are more than I can do justice to.

Thank you to my spiritual leaders/protectors, starting with my husband, Tim, who knows more than anyone in the world, of my heart, my story and my struggles. Steve and Jackie Masterson, who walked me through the hardest struggles in our marriage. Pastor Rob Gulliver and Pastor Wayne Domm, who know me well, and see God’s call on my life in spite of what they know. They, along with my church elders, support my ministry and my passion for breaking the silence of sexual abuse and violence.

Without my friends, I wouldn’t be able to do the ministry I do…  Anne Koebel who hears the darkest battles I fight, whether I win or lose, and still does not judge me–thank you. You get the ‘raw goods’ from me, my friend.

Bob Hamp, a pastor at Gateway Church Texas, is a true and good friend, first and foremost. Thank you for seeing my failures as a God opportunity for growth, for relationship with my Heavenly Father, my Papa. I thank God for your wisdom. …I like how you think. (Must be ‘cuz when you ‘Think Differently, (you) Live Differently’)

My friend and mentor of many years, Margaret Kuepfer, who believed in me when I didn’t know how to believe in myself, and understood the endless dreams of my heart because she, too, knows more dreams than can be lived in one lifetime.

My small group who have become my favourite confessional group, along with my ‘inner circle’ of friends, past and present, too numerous to name. But including friendships, with Juanita, Cindy and Norma, that have lasted twenty years and longer, and who have seen the best and worst of me.

My developing board of directors and support team, Tim, Mish, Krystal, and Anne, with our new ministry to men and women, Generations Unleashed, that is about to be launched. You stand with me in this ‘larger than life dream’ and God’s call to ministry.

Richard Fangrad, whose life intersected briefly with mine, who believes in grace at a level few understand, and lived it. I saw your greatest strength and weakness, and you saw mine. But what I will take with me for life is the five minutes when I saw grace lived in a way I’ve seldom encountered.

To each of you, I either confessed something ‘hidden’, or I sinned directly against you, and you extended grace. Each of you have blessed me, and most of you have also failed me. Some failed me deeply. But you left a God-sized fingerprint on my life when you extended grace at a time when I felt utterly condemned by my sinfulness. You showed me the heart of God, and gave me the courage to believe in His goodness. For this I am thankful.

It gives me hope as I am confronted daily by sin that lies hidden and covered up within the church. It gives me hope that maybe they will encounter someone to extend grace and offer accountability, and a church like mine, where they will be cared for and loved. Not judged by the arrogant, and religious in their ‘sinlessness’.

For those of us who have done the hard life, sometimes Christianity looks so fake, when it’s all neat and tidy, and no one sins. If I was perfectly honest, sometimes that niceness sickens me, because I know too much. And then I miss the raw honesty of that hard life…

Night before last, in fact, I longed for the crowds of my youth… for the bar scenes, for the streets. I longed to be with the broken, and the homeless, to sit with them and listen to drunken confessions, raw truth, no pretences.

 

 

 

 

 

That crowd knows they’re broken. And if I sat there, listening to their pain and their stories, inhaling second-hand smoke, of whatever joint they hold, I would no longer see religious piety, hiding the sins of the fathers, and pretending everything within is holy.

The church is often arrogant. And broken. But too proud to admit it. And that overwhelms me at times because it is a daunting task to tackle a topic such as sexuality, at all. Let alone the ‘broken’ version. It’s uncomfortable for many Christians when it’s not a message of, “Here’s the right thing to do, now do it. And, for heaven’s sakes, please don’t tell me the dirty things you struggle with, because then I will see you differently. It will make me uncomfortable, and I like comfortable, victorious Christianity.”

We often don’t want the truth because we are afraid of it, and afraid of ourselves. That is the world I spend my time in. A world of people sharing raw truth. And, honestly, it’s much like sitting in a back alleyway, inhaling second-hand smoke, of whatever substance they hold at the moment. The beer dribbling down their chins, as they tell me their true inner struggles. I take the hem of the garment of Christ and I wipe their chins.

And then, arm-in-arm, we stumble over to where He is, bloody, beaten, a broken man on the cross. And we kneel there, side-by-side, knowing we are loved ‘just as we are’.

We stagger, following at a distance, as He is carried to the tomb. And for three days we wait. Hopeless. Doubting the pain and struggle will ever end.

And then we see Him. Jesus. In a beautiful white robe. Sinless. Perfect. Without a spot or wrinkle. But that doesn’t stop Him. He sees us, with our scars, wounds, stains and all, and takes us to His Father and presents us as His friends, His family, the ones He loves.

And God looks on us, through the eyes of Jesus, and sees, not our sin and our brokenness, but His holiness. He doesn’t ask us to clean up. He reaches out and receives us. Dirt and all. And it is this love that washes us clean.

That, my friends, is the only way we will ever be presented to God in holiness. There is no other way. No amount of struggling to attain a standard will qualify you.

My deepest thanks to You, Jesus, for daring to walk that path to the cross. For embracing us, in our humanity, and carrying the weight of my sins. Thank You for taking the shame, so I don’t have to. Thank you that it’s not about ‘neat and tidy’ in my relationship with you, but that You see us through Your love, not through human eyes of judgement, and condemnation. Thank You for Your messy love.

© Trudy Metzger

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