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

 

What Does a Sexual Predator Look Like?

What does a sex offender look like? How does one ‘spot’ a molester or someone who is a potential threat to our child’s innocence? What are the ‘signs’ to watch for? From time to time I am asked these questions, or similar ones, by parents wanting desperately to protect their children against predators. And every time it happens, I wish there was a list I could give that parent to say, ‘here are 12 signs that prove…’, or that they had bold stripes, round spots, or some defining feature. But, alas, I am left with a short list, when looking for such clues.

In the first place, a sex offender looks like a normal person. He may look like a well put together businessman, or perhaps a pastor. Alternatively, she may look like a school teacher or Sunday school coordinator. She may even look like an aunt, a mom, a sister or a cousin. Or he may look like a father, a brother, a cousin or a close friend. He may be exceptionally charismatic and captivating, or somewhat recluse, and she may be outgoing and bubbly, with a twinkle in her eye, or reserved and ‘dark’. They may be intelligent and intellectual, or slow and mentally challenged. They may be grandparents… He is anyone within reach of your child, and she is beside him with the same access. There are seldom strongly distinguishing features or clues to peg, with certain confidence, a child molester.

The answer then seems to be to turn to paranoia and suspicion of every person you know. But that is the wrong answer. Second-guessing every person in the life of our children is hardly the solution to a problem like molestation. Over-focusing on the negative has never brought about much positive change.   There are a few clues to watch for, but beyond those clues, the answer lies in positively influencing our children and empowering them. But first, the clues…

The person who is ‘very gifted’ with entertaining children is not always the safest person to do so. Some are perfectly safe, some are not. A truly skilled offender knows how to charm victims, groom them, entice them and silence them ‘sweetly’, so as not to have them give clues. (Threats create fear in the child; bribery and making the secret ‘special’ fill a void or make the child feel valued.) Beware the person who finds ways to get children to go on walks, car rides or other isolated places. (Especially when there’s an age gap, but always consider it a red flag when the ‘alone time’ is orchestrated, one way or another.) When uncle or aunt ‘so and so’ promises to buy candy or some treat in an effort to convince the reluctant child to go places, it may be nothing, but may also be a sign. Listen to your child. Tell them it’s okay to stay home this time, and engage in casual conversation about what made them not want to go. I say ‘casual conversation’ because you never want to plant an idea that the person is not safe, or may have done something, if the reticence is merely a mood thing, or some other benign cause.

Watch your child for clues that he or she is not ‘safe’, especially if said child is typically outgoing and loves people and suddenly resists a particular adult or teen. This may well be a sign that the child senses danger or has already had boundaries crossed emotionally, sexually or physically. Be very aware of your child’s sense of boundaries, and respect and reinforce them.  Many an adult has told how, in childhood, a parent pushed them to go with their abuser, oblivious to the dangers, and forced them to spend time with them. Children’s gut feelings, instincts and hesitance is not for nothing. If your child has been away, ask your child, when alone, “How was your time with (fill in the name), and what all did you do?” Watch your children for signs of shame, discomfort or anxiety. Some things are impossible to miss.

Spotting A Predator

But more important than ‘spotting the predator’–which is much akin to spotting a needle in a haystack from a great distance, except that it’s more like finding hay with particular marking in a haystack–is teaching children and equipping them to protect themselves. Children need to understand they have the right to say no, and to tell parents or a trusted adult when they are being abused. They need to know that if they feel unsafe, no one will force them to spend time with the people they fear. They need to know the word ‘respect’ and understand that it means not touching, looking at, or showing body parts. And if someone suggests such a thing, they have a safe place to tell, where they will be heard and supported.

Our greatest weapon against abuse is equipping and educating our children.
If they know the truth–that their body is theirs and no one may touch or look,
that it is beautiful and God-blessed–then they will have expectations and a
standard by which to to measure others’ behaviours. The ‘learn as you go’ through experience is not a safe approach, and parental naivety that assumes a child will ‘just know’ (maybe because you told them it is bad) is not going to cut it. The better children understand their own bodies, the value of them, and their right to a ‘voice’, the better off they will be.

Love,
~ T ~

 

There are only 6 days left in the next Goodreads draw for a copy of Between 2 Gods. To enter draw visit: Goodreads Book Giveaway for Between 2 Gods

Thank you to all who have offered feedback and reviews on Between 2 Gods either through private messages and email or via Amazon and Goodreads. I appreciate your thoughts and insights, whether constructive criticism and the correction of my understanding of details related to Mennonite history or endorsement, encouragement and blessing.


© Trudy Metzger

 

Untangling More Thoughts: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage

I am seldom emotional after writing, or posting a blog. But the previous post left me completely undone for a few hours. The tears started to fall, unbidden. And they only increased with the messages, comments, and emails of readers. Some messages were from people identifying. Some crying out. Most grieving. And all showing appreciation for breaking the silence.

The overwhelming support and encouragement deeply impacted me, while the strong identification, of so many having suffered saddened me.

Of course, there were one or two by the end of the day who questioned the validity of my post… is it really that bad? Is it an exaggeration? And, even if it is true, why expose it? But even those who questioned were kind.

That last question is another whole blog post, but the short answer is, “For freedom’s sake.” People need to know that they can get that ‘hell’ off of their chest. And if I can give them a safe place, by openly addressing it, that’s a first step. And I have connections to others who will listen.

Originally I did not intend ever to expose the things I posted. In the back of my mind I heard the shallow warning that, ‘If you speak of it, you will put ideas in their heads’. But that ancient echo holds no power. Or truth.

Those who are pure, will hear it (or read it) and cry out to God for mercy for His children, and  healing for our broken hearts and lives. Those who ‘feed’ on perversion, well, they would think of one perverse thing or another either way. At least I present it with a cry for truth and healing, unlike pornography sites or books.

It is a difficult thing to write, to expose, to bring to light. And the tragedy is that this darkness has badly scarred the beauty of a culture that was founded on faith in Jesus Christ. And it is not exposing it that has scarred the culture. It’s the hidden sin that’s doing the damage and escalating the epidemic. Yes, there were flaws and faults all along but with the passing of time, it is a culture that has, in many cases, slipped into legalism that makes image more important than truth. And that ‘perfect image’ is the very thing that has caused people to cover up and has allowed sexual abuse to flourish.

There is so much good to celebrate in the culture, even in the conservative roots. But, unfortunately, those roots have become ‘the god’ of the culture for many, and the God of Light and Truth–Jesus–has been lost for them. It saddens me that the good has become lost because of religious pride and unwillingness to go to the hard places. It is especially saddening because there are good men and women who want truth and healing.

My prayer is for redemption. and redemption will not come until the darkness is brought to light.

While some have all but lost sight of the truth, others are as sincere and godly as anyone will ever be. And, apart from possibly having known a friend or two who were abused, some are genuinely shocked to discover that the things I write here are happening in the Mennonite culture. I would apologize for breaking that innocence, but some innocence is destructive. I received three messages from people not identifying with abuse. One offered to help, any way possible and expressed sadness at realizing what others deal with and suffer through, and how prevalent it is.

I was asked recently about my Mennonite culture, “How many families do you know who have been impacted by sexual abuse?”

My answer, without hesitation was, “At least one hundred or more.” After the conversation I took a few minutes to write a list. I made it to almost fifty families, for a total of about seventy victims, without giving it much thought, based only on the people I have personally interacted with, via phone, email, and one-on-one meetings. I have not yet finished that list, but I know this, I will have closer to two hundred families when I am done. And I have no idea how many victims I will have.

That is jolting. And many of the victims on that list will read this and say, “I am one of them. I spoke with her.” But they will not have the courage to identify themselves. Nor do they need to. It is not an easy thing to be identified as a victim of sexual abuse in a culture that often hasn’t a clue what to do, how to help people, or inadvertently ‘labels’ and shames victims.

The list I wrote up did not include the many I know of in the USA, or those I’ve heard ‘rumoured’ locally but have not spoken with or personally confirmed. And it does not include many that would be referred to as ‘mild cases’, (a term I don’t like), by those not wanting to acknowledge the issue. (This is sometimes used when referring to groping or fondling and that sort of abuse.) The list also did not include many ‘child to child’ cases. And it excluded all my cousins or relatives, other than my immediate siblings. And it does not include those who attended conferences and identified themselves that way. And finally, it does not include any ‘mutual consent’ situations that have been shared with me. That is a different topic.

I am one person. If I know that many victims, many of whom I have only discovered in the last four months, how many more are out there? I know it is an uncomfortable thought for those of you who were sheltered, but the truth needs to come out. And to stifle it because it is uncomfortable, is not going to help.

If I knew that only 2% of children in my cultural background were being sexually abused, I would still feel compelled to do something. But it isn’t 2% we’re talking about. Tragically the real number is much higher.

Jesus said, in Mark 9:42, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

If Jesus takes offending a child that seriously, where is the church when it comes to doing something about this epidemic of sexual abuse? Why are perpetrators protected and ‘hidden’, while children’s lives are destroyed.

If I didn’t know that there were people who tried to go to leaders for help, in the CMCO and other Mennonite fellowships, it would be different. And if I truly believed most of the leaders are unaware, I would be cautious about speaking out so publicly. But I know that many know what’s going on, and many victims have tried to bring this to light quietly, within the culture, but unsuccessfully. Many have been silenced.

The sad thing is that some of the leaders are also victims. Some are perpetrators. Some are both. And they have a vested interest in silence. I have spoken to some of them. They know who they are… should they happen to break their own rules and read this. My intent is not to be harsh but to ask, Where are the men of God who will rise up and take a stand for the children? Where are the men who will lay down their lives for the little ones, to protect them, at the expense of religious image?

Pontius Pilate was not innocent simply because he washed his hands of Jesus. No more are we if we wash our hands of this epidemic of the victimization of children. God will hold us accountable. Of that I have no doubt.

On a positive note, there are some who have been willing to help and continue . I would like to thank Glen Jantzi, of Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, who played a key role in the life of one victim who is very close to me. Glen did not turn a blind eye when he knew the truth, and  he didn’t merely track down the perpetrator. He cared for the victim’s heart the best he knew how. I applaud that compassion and am blessed by it. In his actions I saw the Father’s heart.

And there are others. I know several leaders in the CMCO church, who, from all I am told, desperately want to help, but they don’t know where to turn. My prayer is that God will bring along the right people who will equip these leaders to help their people, and that the leaders will have the humility to receive that help.

Until the day I die, I will continue to do the little bit I can do, and pray it brings about good change. I have no desire to harm or destroy, but to bring truth and healing, through Jesus, to the culture and protect the children of the next generation. That is my mission and my ministry.

© Trudy Metzger

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