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

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

© Trudy Metzger 2017

Of Past Traditions & Rescuing a ‘Ruined’ Christmas

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

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



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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas cookies

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

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

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


Merry Christmas!


© Trudy Metzger

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When Christmas Cheer Brings Christmas Tears: A Season of Pain for Victims

There’s no denying it! The Christmas season is upon us! And, though it didn’t last, the winter wonderland  that made its bold appearance well before December, put some of us in the mood for it. As more and more twinkly lights appear, and Christmas music plays in stores and on the radio, the cheer of the season gets inside of me. I love the thrill of Christmas, with happy sounds in the air, and beauty all around.


Unfortunately, for many people, the season is one of the most difficult of the year. With festivities and ‘happiness’ everywhere, to them it is a bold declaration of loss, a reminder of pain and grief. Often unacknowledged. This can be the result of any number of losses—whether the death of a loved one, loss of employment, or family abuse and violence—all of which deserve acknowledgement—but, for the purpose of this column, and not to diminish other losses, I will focus on the loss of innocence, through sexual abuse. While many thrill at having parties and family gatherings to attend at Christmas, for victims of sexual abuse these events often cause anxiety and panic attacks. As adults get together with their siblings and parents, their children who have been abused by these family members, dread it. And, because there is so much cover-up and secrecy surrounding abuse, the victims often carry the anxiety in silence, unable and unwilling to disrupt family ‘peace’.

This need to protect family ‘peace’ at all cost, is something that is ‘caught’ more than taught, as the pain of victims is overlooked, often starting in early childhood. When ‘Uncle Joe’ comes by, and little Sarah doesn’t want to say ‘hi’, shake his hand, or give him a hug, mom and dad are quick to insist on being polite, and force the interaction or even punishing her, without so much as a thought that maybe Sarah is justifiably afraid of Uncle Joe. When little Jason doesn’t want to sit on Grandpa’s knee, or throws a fit when aunt Mandy wants to take him for a walk, the same coaxing or discipline is applied. Rather than taking children aside, and exploring their feelings and fears, we force ‘niceness’. As a result, many years later, that same forced niceness continues, as does the loneliness of dealing with sexual victimization. Both parties—victims and perpetrators—act as if nothing ever happened. And victims shed lonely tears after the gatherings, or, worse, simply shut down.


Adding to the confusion is the religious focus of Christmas, and celebrating the birth of the Messiah, all while the sins of fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbours, remain carefully cloaked. The sin that this Holy Child supposedly came to save us from, is protected at all costs. This begs the question, did Jesus really die for that sin or do we believe, somehow, that it is one sin He can’t handle? Or, more likely, do we excuse the sin and overlook the devastating impact? Either way, the wonder of the Christ-child is lost behind shadows of shame, false guilt, and emotional angst, leaving victims feeling abandoned by God and angry with Him. Rather than stirring love, and ‘goodwill toward man’ the Christmas season becomes a burden.

It is not uncommon for me to receive emails and messages from abuse victims, this time of year, sharing the pain, grief and loss they feel, and the dread of needing to attend family events. It isn’t self-pity; it is deep trauma. Most victims long for one thing, more than anything, and that is to have the burden of silence lifted, their pain acknowledged, and to have the abuser say, “I’m so sorry for robbing you of innocence. It was my fault. I have no excuses.” For many, this is the gift they long for most, this season.

If you have victimized someone, sexually, consider taking ownership for your crime this Christmas. Find a mediator to communicate with the victims, so that you don’t add further trauma, and tell them you are sorry, offering no excuses for your crime, and without demanding forgiveness. It won’t undo the past. It won’t ‘fix’ the victim’s ongoing trauma. But it will give him or her permission to grieve, without self-blame for something you did against them. It will be awkward, for a while, but you’ll stop tripping over the elephant in the room, all decorated with Christmas lights and superficial festivities, and discover the real meaning of the season.



(For the Elmira Independent: December 4. 2014)

© Trudy Metzger

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

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