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

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

What I’m Learning: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage

(Warning: Disturbing content. This post is not intended for readers under 18, or victims who are easily traumatized. My target audience for this post is adults and leaders in the Mennonite culture. It will have a shock factor for some. That is not my intent or purpose in writing. It is to create awareness of the truth of sexual abuse and its impact on the culture.)

When I started to speak out about sexual abuse, through conferences and sharing my story in various venues, I had no idea the dam that would burst. In some ways I feel a bit like Abram, in Genesis 12, when God told him to leave what is familiar and go to a ‘land that I will show you’.

I embarked on this journey, with one passion. To bring freedom to people, particularly victims of sexual abuse. To be honest, my goal initially was not to do ministry predominantly in the Mennonite culture. In fact, when a friend asked me if I would go back there, I said no, not because I didn’t want to help, but because I feared I would not be heard. I said that, having left that culture, I would not be received.

I expected a few victims would come forward. I always believed I would impact a few of ‘my people’, but I never expected what is happening. But I thank God for what is happening.

In the past several years, and particularly the last six months, I have had the honour of interacting with many people, men and women alike, though predominantly women, from my cultural heritage. This is true of the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonite, as well as the Old Colony Mennonite heritage. Both need the light of Jesus, and hope of truth, to impact their cultures, especially in the area of sexuality and sexual abuse.

What I’m learning is both, at once,  heart-breaking and encouraging. I am  heart broken to have my fears confirmed that indeed sexual abuse is an epidemic in both cultures. It is prevalent in churches across our nation, as well as common in many places in USA. I cannot imagine it abruptly ends there. I fear it is an epidemic in the conservative churches everywhere. (What better place for the perpetrators to hide than in that silent, non-resistant culture, that does not go to the law, that does not speak or teach of sex?) That is the heart breaking part.

The encouraging part is that people are beginning to speak out. A few men, and many women, are tired of the guilt, the shame, the demonic oppression and mental instability that this type of secret brings to individuals, marriages and families. There are more and more people who are finding the courage to say, “Here’s my story.” And when they have told it, the unspoken question always lingers, “Will you still love me?”

One elderly individual recently thanked me for creating a safe place to ask anything, to tell anything. There were things they, as a couple, had struggled with their entire marriage. They had talked of going to leadership, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it because ‘no one talks about that stuff’, and because they feared judgement, condemnation and church discipline.

Others tell me how they went to leadership, some repeatedly, looking for help and were either told they don’t need help, or were abandoned. And then, when things went wrong, the church was quick to discipline harshly. This concerns me greatly.

It is especially disturbing to me that for many of the victims of abuse, the acts committed against them, or sexual favours requested of them, were so manipulative, and cleverly disguised, that they hardly know they were victims until we began to unravel their stories and identified ‘normal’ and healthy sexuality. They understood that things felt wrong, and they felt ashamed or guilty, but didn’t understand why. A prime and somewhat frequent example of this is when a teenager (often between the ages of 15 and 18) asks a child between the ages of 7 and 10, for oral or other sexual favours, by presenting it as a ‘game’ or within a ‘playing’ context. This leaves the child confused as to motive. (As a child I witnessed this being done by a group of teens, with a group of children and always believed it only happened to us. To hear it from other was at first shocking.)

I repeatedly encounter stories where this has sparked ‘same gender’ attraction that the victims carry with them for life, as the tapes play and replay. Especially if those ‘favours’ have been ‘returned’. It triggers sexual addictions and cravings that are obsessively unnatural. Some of these individuals, especially males, seem never to be sexually fulfilled. If their spouses do not give in to constant sex, or ‘sex-on-demand’, they turn to masturbation, and toys for release. I have only encountered one admission of turning to prostitution.

On the other end of the spectrum it has caused extreme frigidity in many a marriage, for both men and women, destroying what God intended to be a beautiful and natural relationship between husband and wife, because the partner is so wounded and repulsed by sexuality. It is also wrecking marriages where one partner knows the other instigated or engaged in this activity, and then went on to have same gender partners in their youth, within the culture. Suddenly, in marriage, that individual (whether male of female–and it does happen in both, in the church) is supposed to have the same attraction for the opposite gender. Most often they don’t. They have, sometimes for years, lived in same gender relationships, experiencing a very different kind of attraction. That does not ‘switch off’ over night.

The other heart breaking truth that I’m finding is the number of Mennonite children who engage in sexual acts with each other, as young as age two, where they are performing oral re-enactment on each other. And sexual acts with animals is also surprisingly common, with cases I’ve heard being as young as age five, and sometimes continuing through the teen years. (This is usually after an older child or teenager has had them ‘play’ with them.)

I now meet with adults who have carried this disturbing secret, in silence, for many, many years. Some have not even shared it with a spouse, a pastor, a counsellor or a friend. They carry it alone.

I have heard numerous stories, either from parents who caught their children in with other children or animals, or men and women who were never caught but hold this darkness inside.

The guilt and the shame that consumes them, as they sit in their pews, neatly dressed, perfectly presenting the Mennonite culture, ought to stir compassion, not judgement. (And God forbid that some preacher should read this and become determined to do some ‘housecleaning’ and further destroy these hearts. Endless love and compassion, accompanied by teaching healthy sexuality is the answer.)

Many adults tell me that in the case of children, whether it is children under age four engaging in oral re-enactment, or other children under eight or ten, that it is ‘innocent child’s play’. And yet, almost every time I ask ‘So what did you do when you caught them?’, I get the same answer. They spanked. And when I ask how hard. It’s very hard.

If it is innocent child’s play, why spank? Why beat a  child or whip a child for innocent play? I have contemplated this at length, and can only conclude that their own past, their own pain, and their own experiences haunt them. And in every case I have spoken with, the adult was exposed as a victim of that type of thing, or the instigator of such ‘play’ as a child.

My advice–and I seldom give advice but tend more to ask questions and help the individual come to the right conclusion–is that an adult should never spank a child for sexual exploring or sexualized behaviour. I hear stories of sexual confusion that the individual can pin-point to that moment. They did not understand what they were doing. They had not been taught about their sexuality. And they had, in most cases, been previously abused. Then, when caught with another child, they received a harsh whipping, spanking or even beating.

This is wrong. I remember well the screams of my siblings as they were beaten for, God only knows, what. Because of the sexual abuse and confusion in our home, there was definitely ‘child-to-child’ exploring and re-enactment at young ages, and various sexual behaviours, that at times resulted in vile beatings.

If a parent or other authority figure, gives that child a safe place to talk, the child will be able to speak to what has been or is being done to them, to spark this sexual behaviour. It gives the adult the opportunity to speak truth over that child’s identity and sexuality.

My understanding of life, truth and sexuality is faith-based, Bible-based and God-focused. I am made in His image. Made to reflect Him. Made to represent Him. The Highest Being in the universe acknowledges me as ‘good’, because He made me beautiful, inside and out. He spoke words of approval over me. And those words were spoken before sin touched me.

He has invited me, as He invites every individual on earth, to return to that original identity. To embrace the ‘wholeness’ of His plan and purpose for us. When I return to that, I immediately must reject the lies that life experience have spoken over me. Lies that I am worthless, that I am perverted, or ‘used goods’ or any other darkness. Truth is the only thing that has the power to overcome the lies.

I appeal to leaders, to parents, to friends, that the conservative churches change the way these things are dealt with. For so many generations there has been silence. And the only teaching I heard growing up was negative teaching. ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that. If you engage in sexual activity you will go to hell.’

Sex was predominantly attributed to evil and Satan. But the real truth about sex was never taught. Sex is, and was, first and foremost, a gift from God. It is, and was, a reflection of Him, of His passionate love for us. He made it pleasurable because it is lovely. It is delightful. It is bonding. He didn’t add the ‘fun parts’ for nothing. He could have made us a thousand other ways, to take all pleasure out of it. But He didn’t. Sex is, and always has been, first and foremost, good. Very good.

That’s what we need to teach. It needs to be valued. Appreciated. Protected. Our children know that sex is good. That it is precious. And they know that if they engage in it, it will probably feel good physically. Yes, we’ve told them there are emotional consequences, but they know that sex is good and it is sacred, and worth waiting for.

If it is not good, there is no value. If there is no value, there’s nothing to protect.

And if our shame over the things we have done, or what was done against us, causes us to react, we only carry on the generational chains. It is time to break those chains with truth.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

A Crippling Fear

Tim and I walked, hand-in-hand, laughing. I chattered happily. Just being me. Snuggling closely to his arm, flirting a little with the man who won my heart several years earlier.

It had been a great date night. A luxury not often afforded us, with our two beautiful babies demanding our time and our energy. Alicia was not quite two and a half, and Nicole was only sixteen months behind.  They kept life full and busy.

In spite of the busyness, on special occasions we managed, one way or another, to celebrate. Tim’s job didn’t pay well, at that time, and when we purchased our house on two incomes, we had not expected I would be able to conceive so quickly, given my history and the doctor’s warning. (Read story here.)

To go from paying for a house on two incomes, to raising two little girls and paying for a house on one low income, was challenging, so our dates and celebrations were not extravagant. But they were time together. Alone. And that was what we needed. To sit across the table from each other, in the candle-light and simply be in love.

As every parent understands, we sat there, talking about our babies, not truly able to ‘leave’ them. We talked about life, how things changed so quickly. About how blessed we were. I’m sure I chattered about how crazy in love I still was with him. I could never say that enough… Still can’t.

We could have stayed longer, in the restaurant, drinking coffee and holding hands across the table, me playing with his fingers. (It’s another habit I have.) But truth is, we didn’t want to be away from our girls too long, especially me. I struggled with leaving them. So many silent, unspoken fears lurked in my mind. ‘What if…’ Always, ‘What if…’ My childhood was never too far away.

That night was no different. When dinner was over, and it was over more quickly than we had anticipated, we decided to go back, pick up our girls and head home. We were tired. Home was inviting.

We arrived early to pick up the girls at the babysitters, out in the country. The night was dark. The house had only a few rooms lit. At the front door I froze, my heart stopped in crippling fear.

The kitchen light was off but I could see into the family room, across the house. There a teenage male had our oldest daughter in a position that shot terror through my heart. The squeaking of the door, as I opened it, caused a scuffle, as he released her and sat up, startled. Our little girl ran to us, giving us hugs and kisses. Happy as a lark.

Relief washed over me, at seeing her so happy, so free. Still, the image played in my mind. I could only pray that nothing had happened.

Tim picked up his little girl, who chattered excitedly about her evening. Tension hung in the air. The teen couldn’t look us in the eye, shifty. But what were we to do? Confront it? I didn’t even know if Tim had seen it. I felt nauseated

I checked on our other daughter, in another room with another teenager, a girl, while Tim changed Alicia’s diaper, not far from me. We chatted with the young girl for a minute before we headed home.

In the car Tim played Alicia’s favourite children’s CD. We turned the volume off at the front, so we could talk, and the music would drown out our voices, so Alicia would not hear us. Before I could ask Tim, he started the conversation, his voice tense with uncharacteristic anxiety.

“I think it’s time you have a talk with Alicia,” he said. “When I changed her diaper, she said something about not touching her ‘there.’ I think we need to find out if anything happened tonight and make sure she knows that no one is allowed to touch her.”

I told Tim what I saw, when we got to the door and how uncomfortable I was, how concerned over what I had seen and sensed. We discussed how we would handle it, without planting ideas. The last thing we wanted was to give our innocent daughter false memories, and cause unnecessary destruction. We noted her innocent joy and carefree welcome when we returned, and hoped it was evidence that nothing traumatic had happened.

We felt quite confident that God had brought us back early, specifically to protect our children. But we would not rest without a discussion, so we agreed that I would have a chat with Alicia at home.

It was just after nine when we arrived home. Tim set about making hot chocolate, while I assisted Alicia with pj’s and tucked Nicole in her crib. As I helped her change, I talked to her about her body. I had told her before, but told her again, that God had made her body beautiful and special, and that she had the right to protect it. I told her no one is allowed to ‘feel, touch or see’ her body between ‘here’–pointing to the top of her torso–and ‘here’–pointing to just above her knees.

At the time we were still in the Mennonite church and wore skirts and dresses, so I told her that no one should ever lift up her skirt. That it’s her ‘private’ body and people need to respect it. She cheerfully told me that the teen girl had touched her that night, but when I asked more questions, the closest I could figure out was that she had needed a diaper change.

“But people can touch mine arms, right?’ she asked.

“Yes,”

“And mine hands?”

“Yes.”

“But not mine body, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Ok.”

With that it was done. We headed downstairs for hot chocolate, where Tim asked, “What were you and Mommy doing?”

“Oh… Mommy and I just had a little chatter,” she answered cheerfully, then proceeded to give Tim an overview of what she had learned, including the word ‘respect’.

Alicia displayed no evidence of victimization, so we did not pursue it further. We did learn that there was victimization in that home, and could only thank God for protecting our daughter.

From that day forward I taught my children to kick, scream, bite, punch, run, if threatened in any way. I instructed them to always tell an adult if someone touched them or made them uncomfortable with how they handled their body, and to tell Mommy and Daddy when they get home, if we’re not there at the time.

And that is what I tell them still. “Be as aggressive and as violent as you need to be to protect yourself.”

Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, “(There is) a time for love and a time for hate, a time for war and a time for peace”. When it comes to sexual abuse, I teach my children that it is a time for war, a time to fight, a time to protect yourself and use your voice. No one is required to allow victimization. It is no time for apathy, no time for non-resistance. Preach the Word if you must, but doing it kicking and screaming.

That day, seeing what I saw, and fearing the worst would have happened had we stayed a little longer at dinner, made me realize the importance of talking to our children at a young age. Sometimes they think I’m too protective. Maybe I am. I try not to be. But I cannot live with the thought of having left them vulnerable through silence. I have never held them back from sleepovers, parties and time with friends, because of fear. But without fail I have asked them, as they are about to leave, “What do you need to remember?”

“Respect,” is the sometimes exasperated answer.

“And what does that mean?”

“Don’t touch, and don’t look at other people’s bodies.”

“Now run along and have fun!”

The conversation may not go exactly like that, but something like it. I want our children to know they have the right to protect themselves. The early stages of teaching were easy, and they helped prepare us for the next level, the harder questions that followed.

© Trudy Metzger

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Sexual Abuse & Violence: Learning on the Farm… Basic Lessons on Sex

Having grown up on ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’, with about two of every kind of animal, you would have thought we were building an ark. Add to that a random selection of old tractors, plows ‘and such’, as well as a machine shop with massive lathes, drills, presses and other machinery, and you have the ‘Harder Homestead’.

Photo Credits for all photos: http://www.freefoto.com

My guess is that you’re anticipating a ‘birds & bees’ type blog post, based on the natural behaviour of farm animals…. But, while there’s something to be said for that, I’m speaking about farm machinery and safety. The more farm kids are educated, the safer they are. And my parents were strict about farm safety.

Dad, especially, would ‘lay down the law’ and, with his temper, we knew he better not catch us slacking. I observed more than one fit of rage that resulted in someone receiving a thrashing. I narrowly escaped at least one such punishment.

We didn’t always honour those rules. When our parents were gone we took what we thought were calculated risks, though I realize in hindsight these could have cost someone a life.

A favourite was wrapping my hands around the ‘lift’ on the front of the tractor, interlocking my fingers firmly, and then Wil would slowly raise me into the air, crank the steering wheel as far in a given direction as possible, put the tractor in reverse, and give it as much gas as possible. The tractor would spin around in a circle, and the I would swing almost straight out, flying through the air. Who needs Canada’s Wonderland?

Photo Credits: http://www.freefoto.com

Mostly this risk-taking was instigated and executed by my brother Wil and me. It was all fun and games because no one lost a limb or a life. And, since we never got caught, the consequences never out-weighed the thrill. But I seldom hear of a farm accident now without thinking back to those days and knowing it could have been us. It’s a miracle all sixteen kids lived to experience adult life, and survive to this day, save one step-brother who died in infancy long before I was born.

My point? We risked lives, abusing machinery, and we did it for a temporary ‘feel good’. In our case we were taught safety and warned appropriately, and still chose to experiment, when parents were not around. We thought we were being responsible enough, and didn’t intentionally cause harm. But it would all have turned out differently if one of us had lost our grip, tipped a tractor or had another accident and broke a limb, or, worse, died.

Had we not known the dangers, with no training on how to use equipment, we would likely have been reckless to a greater extreme.  As it was, we were risk takers with standards and a conscience.

It’s easy to see this in the day to day life safety. It makes common sense. But in the areas of sexuality, where the consequences are potentially devastating, many have this notion that silence will produce the best result. Hoping, somehow, that by saying nothing, no perversion is planted or introduced.

While we are silent, the enemy is talking. At every turn he is lying to our children. Whether through sexual abuse, through over-focus on covering every bit of skin (thereby over-sexualizing and objectifying people), or by the pornographic material that is so easily accessible, not to mention plastered everywhere you go. The enemy is not silent. And children are not blind, or naïve. If the only teaching they get is what they see when they’re out and about, or what is done to them, then their sexual identity will be very warped.

Whether they are abused or not, and whether they choose to engage in inappropriate sexual activity or not, they will have an unhealthy sexual identity if we don’t teach truth.

If we spend the formative years of their life teaching them that sex is bad, secretive, or ‘dirty’, then that is what they will ultimately believe and live. If society teaches them that it is fun and appealing and exciting, within the context of sinful behaviour, and they choose to experiment, they will be confused. Because of guilt they will believe that it is ‘dirty’, just as they were taught by Christians, and it is also fun and exciting, just like society teaches. That is a problem. It gives the enemy the power.

It is our God-given privilege and duty to teach our children the truth about their sexuality, that sex is beautiful, God-ordained and designed for marriage between one man and one woman. Age appropriate, honest answers should be given when children ask questions. Body parts should be explained, using proper terminology. It teaches respect and dignity.

We owe our children the truth. They deserve to be equipped, and need to have a healthy awareness of their sexual identity, because it plays directly into their view of God, and their perception of how He sees them. When they are faced with situations, when no one is around to watch over them or tell them what to do, they will more likely to make wise choices if we have given them wise counsel.

In the upcoming posts I will speak more to this aspect of teaching our children well, using some of our experiences as family.

I welcome your thoughts, your questions and your input, either here, or via email. (info ‘at symbol’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com)

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series