Yet More Family Reunions…

I had intended, in my previous blog post, to carry on into Saturday, June 21, but ran out of time. Besides, over 2000 words is enough for one sitting., both to write and to read. Too much, for some people….

Following the excitement, noise and shenanigans of my side of the family, we had our Annual Summer BBQ on Tim’s side of the family. It’s a different experience entirely. The Metzger family, while a strongly opinionated–whom Tim would playfully describe as ‘determined’ in contrast with the Harder ‘stubbornness’–are a very peaceful group to spend a day with. Pleasant and peaceful.

No wrestling. No throwing water at anyone, or playing tricks. No rambunctious nonsense or people laughing until they can’t talk. What I’m really saying is that they are more self-controlled, mature stock than I come from.  I enjoy both worlds equally.  That Saturday, however, I was quite ready for the world I was in, to unwind from the busyness of the preceding week.

We met at noon, but our family was late. Tim, Nicole and Bryan had to work until noon. Everyone brings food to these events. Lots of it. And, true to the reputation of Mennonite cooking, it is good food. Frighteningly good, for someone trying to make good food choices.

We sat in the shade, in a haphazard circle, to eat lunch. The weather couldn’t have been much more perfect. Hot and sunny, with a nice breeze.

After lunch–which really had more dinner qualities than lunch qualities–Uncle Amsey hooked up the wagon and offered to take willing participants on a ride to the back of the property. A good number climbed on board, and away we went.

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Amsey’s farm was the childhood home of John and Lavina Metzger, Tim’s grandparents. We listened to the uncles and aunts reminisce, when we stopped at the back of the property, going back down memory lane of ‘how things were’ back then and what has changed. It’s hard to picture parents–in this case in-laws–and uncles and aunts as little Old Order children, running around the farm.  If the property could tell stories and produce images of days gone by, it would fascinate me to spend a great deal of time knowing those stories.

I jumped off the wagon to get a few more pictures. No more was I in the long grass when one of the uncles warned, “Look out Trudy! There are snakes in the grass!” Immediately others chimed in.

For one brief moment they spooked me before I realized they wanted a reaction, and resisted the urge to dive for the wagon again. Okay, I take that back about there being ‘no shenanigans’ in the Metzger family…

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The young boys went exploring for a few minutes, several nearly hidden by the tall grass. A picture perfect moment

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Kordan lasted a few minutes in the long grass before returning to the wagon to sit with his daddy, and watch his the others wade through it. I managed to capture a father-son picture, as well as a close up of my love.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the way back,  cousin Jen–a fun and beautiful friend–sat with her father’s farm, and the Macton Catholic church  in the background, creating  a lovely picture. And several other interesting shots…

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack at the house,  a few aunts and one cousin sit in a circle of now mostly empty lawn chairs. They seemed quite happy to have stayed behind in the shade. And two nights later, when my sun-burned shoulders awakened me to a sharp stinging, I understood why.

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We kept the annual tradition of ice cream mid afternoon. There was popcorn again, as well, and I wonder if it is becoming the new annual tradition. That’s two years in a row. And that suited me just fine, since I’m not much of a fan of ice cream… unless it’s mixed in with popcorn.  I totally grossed Jen out, but Uncle Dave Metzger and cousin Lorna tried it and concluded it wasn’t too bad.

(Before you say, “Eww gross!’ and write it off, I suggest you try it and then form an opinion. When my daughters brought this idea home from a sleepover with their friend Cherry, I was totally disgusted… until I had one bite… In my opinion chocolate is best, and it’s best with super cold ice cream, when it’s not so hot that ice cream melts quickly. That way the popcorn stays crisp and crunchy. )

Tim and I engaged in a deep conversation with Uncle Dave Metzger, hearing his heartbeat on everything from faith, to family, to the culture of his childhood.  Uncle Ab and I had a short conversation as well, sparked by a column I had printed in our local paper, and he shared of the discussion it triggered among some of the men from their church.

He wondered if I’d speak for them sometime, and I said I’d love to! We’d even do a Q & A session, I said, if they’re interested. From what he told me of their discussion, it would be a mutual learning experience and a delightful time.

There were many other interactions, but those two stood out. In both instances the uncles instigated the conversation… With age and time there is much wisdom. While these uncles are still young, they have lived long enough to have that wisdom and I enjoy the dialogue.

As I left the gathering, it struck me, again, how important family is. I left home a month before sixteen, and never really bonded again the way healthy families bond. Even what bond was there before I left, seemed lost. In some ways that can’t be regained, but with time and age the awareness hits me of what was lost in that process.

I find myself, especially in the past year or two, enjoying time with family–whether Harders or Metzgers. A cousin with whom I had lost touch in my early teens, has become one of my dearest friends since 2010, when we reconnected via Facebook and she attended the first conference we did for women. When I’m with siblings, I’m at ease again and truly enjoy the time.. And my in-laws are among the people I love most and enjoy being with.  I call my mom a few times a month–in spite of the fact that I can’t tolerate phone calls and phone conversation because of restlessness and distraction issues–and we talk for an hour… or two… or more… At the end of the day it is true that blood is thicker than water.

After the reunion our family spent a few hours at the Crane Lake Discovery Camp annual BBQ fundraiser. It’s always a great time, and an opportunity to connect with friends we don’t see often. That could be another thousand words, but I’ll spare us all.

I had parked beside the grave yard so I took a few more pictures.  I find them quite beautiful. And they carry many an untold story that would capture the mind and heart, if it were to be told. Dreams lie there, unfulfilled, unexplored. Others lived with passion, changing someone’s world. Tragedies. Promises. Hopes.

These all create a sense of mystery and wonderment for me, when I see the tombstones, marking the memory of someone resting there. And always I think about my life, and the unknown, and pray my dreams will not go to the grave with me, but that I will keep living them, no matter the  battles I fight for them.

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Those happy and determined thoughts in mind, I started for home. Heading toward Wallenstein, the light caught my eye between the trees and I pulled over once more, to take a few final shots of the evening sun.

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As if promising of ‘tomorrow’ the sun slipped behind the horizon in the west, bringing to a close another beautiful day.  My heart was full at the realization that the world is most beautiful when shared with those we love, and those who love us. When we hold on to the things that matter most, and embrace difference of opinion and culture. When diversity is not a threat, but an opportunity for richness and sharing.

These past few days, my world was most beautiful!

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Shattering the Silence & Finding Jesus in Our Pain

Proverbs 19:21

New International Version (NIV)

21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

There are many things we can dream up, plan for and create. Many good things, in fact. But the move of the Holy Spirit is not something we can understand, much less control, or even truly define. There is a sacredness in what God does in the hearts of people, that moves my spirit in awe and wonder.

We witnessed that again this past weekend, at the Shattering the Silence conference, for men and women, addressing sexual abuse within Mennonite and plain cultures.

Our goal was to create a conference with sensitivity to the more conservative culture, by toning down our typical energetic worship, in both volume and intensity.  We also had more gentlemen involved, and taking more active leadership, with me taking a step back. A little step, since I inevitably need to be involved, but a step none-the-less, which I didn’t mind at all. These were good things, but we could not have anticipated or created the sweet response from the majority of the audience. Only God can touch hearts at that level.

Friday evening went well, with much higher attendance than we had anticipated for a first time event, specifically targeting the culture. Going into it, we had no way of knowing whether they would see that our intent was to create an environment that would be more comfortable for the culture, or if they would misunderstand us as saying the problem of sexual abuse is a Mennonite specific problem. The response was encouraging.


Pastor Dale Ingraham welcomed the audience and introduced the weekend, and then invited Tim and me to come up, so he and Tim could lay hands on me, and pray over me before sharing. This is something we do at every mixed gender conference, at my request. I would not, apart from Tim releasing me to do so, enter into speaking to men. It is a personal conviction I have, that I want to function with his blessing and release, as my leader. In the past, when he has said, ‘No’, or ‘Not now’, I respected that and waited for that release before moving ahead, and I’ve never regretted it. (Though I have been terribly impatient at times during the ‘waiting’ period!) I know that there is safety and protection in God’s design, and I feel that protection in ministry.

To break the ice I read a few jokes that highlight the difference between men and women. I then did a short talk about the strength of the Mennonite culture–the strong sense of community–and how the enemy is using this strength to his advantage, because of silence. There is something incredibly beautiful about the closeness of the culture, and the ability to band together in the face of hardship, as well as the social interactions and support of the Mennonite community.

It is also a place where much sexual interaction takes place between children, or youth, or youth and children, leading to all kinds of struggles in life. And, from the many cases I’ve been involved in, it often begins with a victimized child introducing other children, and it mushrooms from there into a much bigger problem, and sexual addictions.

I shared how, if we break the silence and begin to take the power away from the enemy, by teaching our sons and daughters of their sexual identity, their worth, their right to protect themselves, and make Jesus number one, then the Mennonite culture would be, without a doubt, the safest environment for our children. I honour the simplicity of the Mennonite lifestyle, though I do not idolize it or make it ‘a god’, and that simplicity, when Jesus is lifted high, and God is worshipped, is truly sweet.

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I then shared glimpses of my story, and how I went back and found Jesus in the pain and hell of my story. He never abandons us, but suffers with us, and meets us in the trauma, through the people who love us, through nature and in little ways that we sometimes can only see in hindsight. I shared how He is always there, but we need to invite Him into our healing journey and, when we do, He takes us to a place of hope, restoration, and forgiving those who wounded us.

After my talk, Dale Ingraham and his wife Faith spoke to the audience, in turn, making confessions on behalf of fathers and mothers who have not protected their children, or, worse, who have abused their children. Faith speaks on behalf of mothers beautifully, even though she was violated by her own father, a pastor, and was not protected by her mother in childhood, or in adulthood. Dale, who has walked gently with Faith in her healing journey, did an excellent job on behalf of fathers.

I spoke on behalf of women who have abuse women or men, acknowledging the pain and destruction we have brought into their lives, and asked them to forgive us. As someone whose childhood was scarred with abuse, by both males and females, and who witnessed a group of older teens abusing a group of children when I was only three, it is not hard for me to imagine the damage. To stand in the gap, and make that confession is gut-wrenching for me, and when I ask the audience to forgive us, I can only pray that God does His work, and brings healing to the brokenness of their experience.

Tim made a confession on behalf of men who have abused women or other males. His life was amazingly protected from sexual abuse, with no memory or reason to believe he ever suffered such abuse, but he has seen in me the ‘hell’ this trauma causes. He has held me countless times as I wept, watches as my body curled into the fetal position, in those early years of working through the trauma. When he speaks, he speaks as one who has seen the devastating aftermath, and patiently, lovingly walked me through it.

Pastor Dale then went back on stage and did the pastor’s confession, which is always powerfully touching. He speaks, as a pastor, on behalf of pastors who have silenced victims, or otherwise disregarded and shut them down, for personal agenda, religious pride and various other reasons. He also speaks on behalf of pastors who have been perpetrators, knowing his wife was abused by her own father, a pastor.

Pastor Dale then closed by inviting the worship team to do a song or two, while giving opportunity for anyone who needed prayer, to come to someone on the ministry team.

Saturday morning we started with the testimonies of two Mennonite women from the states. For privacy and confidentiality reasons, I cannot share their stories, but suffice it to say they did amazing with difficult testimonies. It was incredibly powerful to hear their journeys of trauma, tragedy and ultimately healing. They gave the audience permission to acknowledge their pain, their stories, within the culture.

At break a Conservative Mennonite man, along with his wife and a friend, approached me. With tears in his eyes he said, “I’ve waited for many, many years for someone to rise up and break the silence.” His wife stood beside him nodding, tears in her eyes, obviously choking back emotion. He paused, then continued, “Their story is my story. Everything they said, I went through.”

They thanked me, all of three of them, and walked away. If no one else had appreciated the weekend, that moment, alone, would have been more than enough of a sign from heaven, that we did the right thing. But it was one of many, many such sentiments.

Dr. Timothy Warner spoke on Identity in Christ, and the power we have over the enemy, when we understand the ‘rights’ and blessings that come with sonship, as God’s adopted children, as co-heirs with Jesus. He explains in depth, beautifully, something we hear superficially, but often don’t understand just what it means.

Numerous people said, after hearing Dr. Warner’s message, that they wish they had known this many years ago. It is life changing, and empowering to know who we are in Christ!

After lunch Pastor Dale spoke on ‘When Life Hurts the Most’, acknowledging the suffering of victims, and the enemy’s determination to destroy victims through that suffering. He based his message on the life of Job, and also shared part of his wife’s story, and their journey.

The final talk was “Unleashing the Next Generation: A New Legacy”. I used the story of Achan to show that God hates silence, and burying sin ‘in the camp’, or church, as the case may be. If God despised stolen clothes hidden under the tent of one man, then surely, surely, He will hold the Body of Christ to account if we remain silent and hide stolen innocence–crimes and violence against children–under our proverbial church rug.

I felt led to close with an invitation to men, to rise up, to be like Joshua, and with the same gentleness with which he addresses Achan, to call the church to repentance. Joshua 7:19 says, “Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”  I asked them to respond to God’s call to protect their wives and children, and be the men of God that He calls them to be. The vast majority of men rose to their feet, and in one moment, my heart thrilled at what took place.

The moment was one of simply hearing God and obeying what I sensed He asked me to say. I had no plan, no agenda. For an instant I had no idea what I would do next, but almost immediately I sensed God asking us, as women to rise up to support our leaders, to honour them and show are appreciation, but also to plug into that leadership, and become all that God has called us to be. I presented this, and gave women opportunity to respond, and they did. Most of them.

Last, I invited those willing to join me, to unite as the Body of Christ, with differing cultures and backgrounds, to stand together in the name of Jesus. To fight for our families, our churches, and our communities. More than half of the audience filed to the front, starting with one young conservative Mennonite couple, who came from the back down the centre aisle.

As we sang the closing song, ‘Because He Lives’, surrounded by fellow believers, I noted an Old Order couple still standing at their pew, singing with hands raised in worship. It was truly beautiful! This is what we, the Body of Christ were created for. To band together, from all cultures and backgrounds, and lift up the name of Jesus, in whose name we will conquer the darkness.

Thank you to all who attended, all who prayed, all who helped in any way. We were blessed beyond anything we anticipated or imagined. If ever I was blessed by an encounter with God, and His children, it was in this weekend of worship with ‘my people’, and fellow believers from my cultural roots. It was a healing moment!

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I am returning to posting one blog a week, scheduled on Fridays, whenever possible. I may add an occasional extra post, but Fridays will be consistent, apart from technical difficulties, or some other unforeseen interference. As the business of ministry overtakes me, it is increasingly difficult to find the time to write as much as I would like.

It is challenging to prioritize the things I love, and the things God has called me to, and balance those things with family. Ultimately family must come first, though we do sacrifice on that front for the ministry.

I appreciate your prayers, your support, your encouragement, and even the ‘challenges’ when you don’t agree or see eye to eye. All of these are an important part of shaping me, and making me all that God has called me to be. I, in turn, pray for you, my readers, that God will continue to draw you to Himself, to His heart, to know Him, and be fully known and loved by Him.

Be blessed!

© Trudy Metzger

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