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.

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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.

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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.

 

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(For the Elmira Independent: December 4. 2014)

© Trudy Metzger

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Crowded Malls, Tantrums & the Christ of Christmas

I rounded the corner at Conestoga Mall, on a mission to get the last few items on my shopping list. And when I’m on a shopping mission, I march. I don’t love shopping and can probably count on two hands, with fingers left over, the number of times I visited the mall this year.

Christmas shopping is even less enjoyable, in some ways. The crowds are bigger, making the malls busier, and the noise doesn’t help.

Speaking of noise… I rounded that corner and, there, several feet in front of me, was the cutest little boy throwing a tantrum. An exasperated mom, who appeared to be quite pregnant–though I couldn’t say for certain, with her winter coat on–leaned over her little one. She looked at me, desperate, “I’m sorry.”

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I smiled, compassionately, as I spoke to her, “I went through it with five. I get it.” On the floor the cute little monkey rolled around, making whatever statement he was trying to make. I smiled at him, “Hi handsome.” He stopped his fit, momentarily. I looked back at mom and saw tears begin as all the stress threatened to spill over.

“That one woman was just rude! She told me I should get him off the dirty floor, that he’s going to get sick! Why are people rude like that?”

“I don’t know. All I can say, is they don’t get it. I’ve been there. Don’t worry about what people say or think. Your son isn’t going to get sick from a little dirt on the floor!” (Good heavens! What is more filthy at a shopping mall than the cart the child will eventually get stuck in! Let the child lick the floor. Won’t harm them a bit!)

She continued, “Why did you stop? Why are you being nice when other people are so rude?”

“I get it…I know what it is like,” I said again. “Can I help you with anything?” I looked at the bags she carried. Plus pregnant, maybe. No wonder she’s at wit’s end, I thought.

“I was just trying to make it to Zehrs to get a cart. If I could just get to a cart!”

“Could I carry your son for you, or your bags?”

“Sure. Would you do that?” She had picked up her son, still squirming and fighting. “He’s really heavy.”

“I can handle him,” I said. How it took me back in time. I looked at her, a beautiful and petite lady. I could see why his weight concerned her. Well, I’m not a petite anything. I am a big, strong, German/Friesian girl with bone and muscle to me. Granted, they’re not quite what they used to be, but I’m still pretty strong. She leaned her son toward me and for a tiniest moment he was calm. Shock is a wonderful thing, at times.

As we walked, I talked to him, told him exactly where we were going, and why. With that we headed for Zehrs, the little guy squirming in my arms again. We walked about ten feet when the woman stopped at a small area with oversized, stuffed, leather animals. She called a child’s name.

I stopped, turned, and watched as three quiet children collected themselves and walked toward her. In that moment I understood exactly what she felt. Four children, with one hyperactive one. And pregnant.

“He’s a twin. I took him to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with him, but the doctor said he’s normal”, she explained.

“Trust me. He’s normal,” I said. “I have several like him. One especially much. They’re a lot of fun but it’s hard sometimes.”

We didn’t get far before we came across an abandoned cart. A big Zehrs cart, perfect for twins and a few extra. The other children complied beautifully. But not the little monkey in my arms. I tried to set him in and his legs went stiff.

“No! Choo choo train!” he declared loudly.

“Where?” I asked. He pointed to the train in the store. We negotiated for a moment, unsuccessfully.

Well, I’m mother enough to know that when all else fails, treats work. They’re not really bribery. They are an advance on reward for upcoming good behaviour. They require faith–believing that the good behaviour will come–and action–giving it to them.

“Is he allowed gum?” I asked. She said that would be okay. So I asked him if he would like some. Of course he would! Then he would have to sit first, I informed him. Otherwise I could not give it to him. That was an epic fail. Not sitting. No way. His legs were as stiff as before.

I pulled out the pack of gum and showed it to him. His eyes lit up. “But you have to sit first, before I can give it to you,” I reminded him.

This time he sat down. He watched quietly as I opened the pack and handed him a piece, as well as the other children.

“Why are people rude?” she asked again. “Why did you stop and help?” She was having a hard time processing why I would help. “The woman… saying it will make my son sick! I wanted to tell her that my daughter here–she pointed to a child about 6 years old–fought cancer for three years. She’s okay. She did it!”

Wow! A mom of four, including one hyperactive twin, pregnant, and having gone through three years of battling cancer with her beautiful little girl.

“Don’t worry about what people think,” I said again, “Your children are very sweet! He’s sweet too,” I said, patting the high-strung son on the head. “And you’re going to be very good for Mommy now, right?” I said, addressing him directly. His innocent eyes stared back at me, as if he had no idea of being naughty,  and then a mischievous grin spread across his face.

We chatted a few more moments, and parted ways. Before I left I promised I would pray for her as I shopped.

Another passionate, “Thank you! Oh thank you!” and she was on her way. And so was I, with an image burned in my memory of a beautiful pregnant mama in tears. I prayed. Repeatedly.

It’s easy to get sucked into the rush of Christmas and forget about the reality of people’s lives. And it’s even easier judge the people around us, when we think they don’t have it together. It’s easy to be annoyed, and write them off. But we never know the bigger story. Well, almost never. Even Saturday, having had a wee glimpse into this woman’s story, I have a feeling there is a lot more that she didn’t tell. I thank God for that moment of vulnerability, when she fell apart, and God allowed me to see her heart. It puts the season in perspective.

Christmas time, when many people are giddy with excitement, when children’s eyes sparkle with anticipation, there are people whose lives are empty, lonely and overwhelming.

In the past few days, since meeting that woman at the mall, a good friend has whispered ‘Good-bye’ to her sister for the last time in this life… a young pregnant-soon-to-be-first-time-mommy has laid her young husband to rest… a young woman messaged me, devastated by rejection from her conservative Christian family–a family who would judge her for many of her choices–and this is how she experiences the ‘Christ of Christmas’ through them…  and the list goes on.

This Christmas, and through the coming year, take time to look beyond the surface, and remember that people carry a lot of pain. Sometimes all they need is for someone to offer a little understanding, and to know they are not alone, they are not a failure, that they are not abandoned.

By caring for their hearts, let’s bring the Jesus of Christmas to life in the world all around us, all year long. Let’s talk less about our religious beliefs, and show the world through our lives–not our perfection, our dress, or other ‘performance’–that Jesus is the reason for everything we do.

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Have a Merry Christmas!

© Trudy Metzger

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When Life Disappoints

It’s an easy thing to write about trusting God, and share all kinds of happy thoughts, when life is good. But what about when life disappoints? When you’re fairly certain God opened a door, and just as suddenly it swings shut. Maybe even pinching your fingers, or slamming you in the face

That’s when trust requires faith.

For the past several years I have wanted (almost desperately) to study. But always the doors have closed, before they even opened. The advantage to that was that it never hurt too much. No fingers caught, no bruised nose. Eventually, I laid that dream down, intending not to revisit until my children are fully grown.

And then it happened… the door cracked open again, and I stepped in. Yes! This time I actually got in the door. Just the front door, but in the door none-the-less. I signed up to ‘audit’ a class, with the option of completing for credit, on the condition I register for full time next year.

This would have been completely impossible, financially, except for one thing. The Seminary will fore-go (or cover) one third of the tuition cost, if one third of the cost is sponsored, and as long as the student pays one third. On top of that they have payment plans that don’t rip people off, and that’s how they help students follow their dreams in ministry.

That’s a bit more manageable, for someone like me, being in ministry and raising a family. I felt hope rise up. But there was one catch….

They encouraged me to enroll for one class and see what I think. In the meantime they would see what they could do about ‘the catch’ in the plan. The sponsor must be a church, not a person, not a business. I have businesses, and individuals who believe in me enough to sponsor me, from time to time, and I have not exhausted the list of possibilities. I was quite confident I could raise $7000. No problem, I thought. So they said they would see if they could work something out.

I started studies, and immediately fell in love with it. I knew I would. I’ve always loved studying. Even exams. As long as I get to choose the topic. Throw some trigonometry or calculus at me and my tune might change, or I may doze of altogether. But anything to do with English, Science, Religion/Faith, or Politics, and I’m right there.

So when we jumped into studying Second Temple Judaism, and learning about Alexander the great, and how he ruled from 356BC to 333BC…. and how he conquered from Mesopotamia to India with an army of 35000 men… and how those men trusted him with such loyalty that they would line up and march over cliffs to show that allegiance and strike fear in the hearts of kings… and about Josephus… I was so excited. Several years of intense study for a Masters Degree. Yes! Couldn’t wait!

That’s when the door swung shut, suddenly. I learned, that, having looked at their policy, the Seminary cannot accept donations from people willing to sponsor. The donation must come directly from a church, to them. A local congregation has to believe in me enough to put up $7000 for me to have them sponsor a matching amount, and leaving me with the same.  My heart sank.

First off, many churches don’t want to touch a ministry like mine. It’s probably the most awkward ministry that exists, and it disrupts ‘image’. No, the work I do, thrives in the secular world, far more readily, where social justice is fought for, than in ‘the church’, where acknowledging such things is still quite scary for many, if not most. (God bless the churches who dare to go there–I am connected to a small handful.)

(I learned a few hours later that they would also accept multiple churches going together to sponsor that portion. But it has to be churches, and one church would need to be willing to collect the money and send payment.)

I ran the list of churches that I know who are comfortable with this topic. I had a few. They exist. But not many that I know. And to follow all the CRA rules and make it happen ‘above board’ is the next hurdle, with no easy solution.

It’s hard, when life disappoints, and the dreams you could almost taste and feel, wake you up to a new reality. I haven’t given up. Not yet. Not even on the sponsorship thing.

They say, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.” But I say, “Where it is God’s will, there is a way.”

And since I believed with every ounce of my being that this was God’s will, and that He was opening a door, I can’t let it go ‘just like that’, without another step forward, and another prayer. I will see what creative ideas God sends my way, and give them all I have.

Then, when I have done everything in my power to follow this dream, if the door still swings shut, then I will let it go. But not a moment sooner. Because even when life disappoints there is reason to give our best, to go as far as we can, and not lay down and die.

But always, always, we must choose to trust God, no matter the outcome, if we want to live in the fullness of His blessing.

©TrudyMetzger

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