Why I chose to forgive my dad…

Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And  I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”

That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.

The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.

My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.

That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.

I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.

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Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.

When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.

If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.

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I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

Dear Victim: You are an overcomer!

As I thought about nearing the end of this commitment, I thought of how victims of abuse don’t have an ‘end’ to reach for; it’s a lifetime kind of thing, dealing with memories, forgiveness, flashbacks, tears, more forgiveness, and a blend of victory and struggle. I’ve talked with enough elderly victims to know that, while healing comes, there are aspects of what happened that never leave us.

The past cannot be undone. The story cannot be done away with. The pages are written, and they cannot be edited. The steps taken, cannot be backtracked. And the scars etched on our spirits and psyche are a testament to that harsh reality.

Truth is, the road looks long, many days. There are seasons in the healing journey that feel like there is no hope of ever reaching that place of purpose, redemption and being an ‘overcomer’. It seems far away… and we move at what seems a snail’s pace toward it…. And in those moments hope has a way of escaping us.

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But there is a sweeter truth; an overriding reality; our title isn’t an earned one. It is a gift, given to us by the One who already overcame on our behalf; the One who took upon Himself the curse of what was done against us.

In school, when we played ball, if we had an injured student who couldn’t run, they were allowed to have a ‘runner’. They would hit the ball, and the runner would take off the instant that ball connected with the bat, and when the runner made it to home plate, the diamond symbol we used for score keeping was drawn next to the batter’s name, just as if they had ran the bases.

Jesus was our ‘runner’. He ran the diamond, landed on the home plate, and gave us the title ‘overcomer’. On our worst days and in our lowest moments we are overcomers and have purpose because of Him. And in those moments He is our hope. When we feel nothing, He is our hope. When we crush beneath the pain and cannot breathe, He is our hope.

He demands nothing in the way of performance or proving ourselves; He invites into a place of resting and being held. There’s no ‘washing up’ to be presentable. He invites us stained and bruised.

And there, held in His grace, stained, bleeding and wounded, He whispers peace and reminds us of the only thing that really matters, “You are loved, eternally and completely…. just as you are. You are mine. You are an overcomer.”

Ah, yes… You are loved, completely and eternally. I am loved… We are are loved. And together we can press forward, some days at a snail’s pace, but never abandoned, never alone. We’re in this together.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Wine, Poured Out & Spilling Reckless Love

wine poured out

Today someone confronted me…. And instantly my heart sank, as it registered what I had done and what I was guilty of… I felt sick and sinful; unworthy of the calling God has placed on me. Unworthy of His grace, and overwhelmed by my humanity.

Restless, I returned to writing the devotional my agent asked me to write, reading through the most recent chapter. And the truth of the story of Jesus offered hope to my heart…. what He did for me, for us…

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Written in my own words, how the story plays out in my mind, as I read Matthew 26, and having limited words to tell it, the following as an excerpt from the devotional:

“Wait here,” the God-man said to His inner circle of friends. “My heart breaks so that my soul is filled with sorrow; a sorrow so deep it feels to be drawing the very life from me. Stay… Wait… and pray, for temptation waits to trip you… pray that you will not surrender to it.” And with that He slipped away, leaving His friends behind, night shadows wrapping cool blankets around Him. He walked, willingly into the dark that night until He came to a Garden…

Gethsemane…. Oil press. What a name, on a night so dismal, when the agony was so near to pressing the very life from His compassionate heart… Gethsemane, the place where oil poured generously from the fruit of the Mount of Olives…

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Here, in that Garden, the God-man knelt, having found solitude from all but His Abba Father. Human flesh cringed at the burden suffocating a heart most tender, and in that humanness, the God-man spoke in intimate conversation.

“Oh Papa… If there’s any other way… if it is possible, please take this crushing burden from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Your will, Papa,” He prayed. And there the blood-red wine began to trickle from His heart, as sweat droplets formed in anguish, falling from His forehead like drops of blood, a symbolic prophesy soon fulfilled.

Having prayed, He went to His disciples and found them sleeping. Three times He prayed. Three times they slept. Each time He roused them, urging them to pray, until the third time; then He told them to rest. For then the time was at hand… That time when disciple-and-friend-turned-foe-and-traitor would come.

Faithless and filled with self, the traitor kissed the God-man’s cheek; a stolen kiss, betraying that tender heart, selling the God-man as if He held no worth. Still, that love flowed, poured out wine, for that one. Because love, when it starts to spill, knows no boundaries; it spills that generously over those who sell it.

Driven by whips lashing hate, a mocking crown bleeding, He stumbled up the hill…Golgotha; the place of the skull, a place of death. Such symbolic prophesy, for from that day forward, Life would spring from places long condemned.

Earth groaned beneath the God-man’s feet, crying for release, as from thorn-pierced brown the blood drops fell, each one a promise of life. A prophesy soon fulfilled…

He reached the top of that hill, and there, in ground long cursed, the haters laid Him on that cross. Nails punctured gentle hands. Life trickled, like wine poured out, blood-red, from His hands and His feet. Then, raised to heaven, naked and for all to see and scorn, love kept trickling without regard for the scoffing.

The spear, ruthless, sharp… piercing through the God-man’s side…  Oh prophetic victory! Oh generous love, poured out! For from that piercing, the blood of Christ spilled out, messy and red, staining wood, the ground and cloth on which it fell; leaving an eternal mark. Because Love does that; it leaves a forever mark and flows with abandon… Without straight lines, it spills in reckless patterns, wherever it will travel, on rough and scarred terrain.

Like wine, poured in generous serving, offered with bread, He sustains the life of all who reach for it. His body, broken by hate and rejection like bread shared with hungry, His blood, spilled out like wine on weary lips…. Flowing through us, shared with those around… Without reserve in reckless patterns without straight lines, wherever we travel…

Because that’s what Love does, when it touches our lives and spills over us generously like poured out wine…  

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I am so thankful for what Jesus did on the cross, not only for my sins, but for those I have sinned against, to bring life and healing from ‘the place of death’ and skulls. And I am so sorry for wounding a heart and breaking trust… Praying God will heal and redeem all things.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

(…) The Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 2)

Don’t come to Church!
There comes a time when an individual can be asked not to come to church. But it is not the right answer every time.

The identity of a teenager who offends, in many countries if not most, is protected. While there should be vigilance–always, always–public exposure is not usually an option, by law. The teen needs help and guidance and whatever ‘judgment the courts determine to be appropriate, but banning from church is not one of them. At least not most times, though there may be an exception.

The adult who has victimized people in church, people who must face their offender and be continually traumatized, is a different story. In my opinion, an offender ought to have enough remorse to choose to go somewhere else, to protect the child. It’s easy math. And every now and then they do.

But, as it stands, more victims leave churches than abusers, based on the people I deal with, because the ongoing trauma becomes overwhelming. They forgive, they try to move on, but Sunday morning, when they should be hearing the truth of the Gospel, they are confronted with the trauma of flashbacks to naked genitals or breasts, or some other sexual exploitation in the past. A wife goes home with her spouse after church, and struggles all week with intimacy because the flashbacks make her feel gross and disgusting. The husband how remembers being molested, goes home and withholds himself, and possibly turning to pornography, feeling completely inadequate. (Let me inject that, surely we can try to understand that this is not about a lack of forgiveness–as is often the accusation–but about post-trauma anxiety and flashbacks.)

Why would an adult who has molested someone choose to impose such a thing on a victim, Sunday after Sunday, robbing couples of intimacy and forcing them to relive the violation? Is it not reasonable, in such a situation, to encourage the offender to find a church family elsewhere?

Instead, it seems victims are the ones who eventually uproot and find some other church family, or simply stop attending, spiritually stripped, having endured accusations of being unforgiving or making things up. The lack of healthy care and understanding for victims, combined with religious demands to ‘forgive and forget’ has done it’s share of damage, and has in essence told victims to either ‘shape up or get out’, while offering little in the way of healing.

Get Out!

I spoke recently with yet another victim of a now-church-leader; the third that I am aware of, who eventually just left, while the offender went on to become a leader. The victimizations ranged from coercing a peer in early teens to reaching under skirts, yanking down panties to molest–something I recently discovered is/was a very common occurrence with hired ‘maids’ in some homes–and grabbing and groping… well into his twenties. And in every case the victims ended up paying the price, while the offender managed to fly under the radar, with nothing more than a mild slap on the wrist for ‘sexual immorality’. That should not be. And yet it happens repeatedly.

If an offender refuses to take ownership, and comply with the laws of the land and church-imposed boundaries, or if there is any indication they are causing ongoing trauma, it is not asking too much to tell them not to show up. There is no repentance in self-preservation and rebelling against those boundaries, and that person should be deemed unsafe in every way.

Feel Free to Attend, but with Supervision and Boundaries
In the case of the church I worked with in 2014, a team of people met with the intent of creating accountability. There was no agenda to cover up or protect the offender, but neither was there any agenda to destroy. In all my life I’ve never seen such a healthy approach as I saw in that meeting, and in the  months that ensued.

A recommendation was put up for discussion, to allow the offender to attend church, but to always have someone supervise. Every trip to the bathroom, every exit from the auditorium, every event, someone would be assigned to watch over the offender. There would be zero opportunity for offending again. There would be guidelines of not working with children, or being involved in any way that would compromise their safety. Had his presence made victims vulnerable, I might have felt differently, but as it was I thought it was brilliant.

The thought of being ‘babysat’ was offensive to the perpetrator, saying he felt the church was not proving forgiveness. As a result, and of his own free will, he chose to leave the church and find a new church family. If my memory is reliable, the pastor felt it his responsibility to contact leadership at the new church to inform them of the situation, not out of spite, but for the protection of the children there.

All in all, the situation was handled responsibly, and in the best interest of the victims and church family.

What About The Law?
The law was involved early on, in the case of the church I worked with; even before the church was made aware. So, for an example of law, I will share from a conversation I had with a police officer in the past month.

My conversation with the officer led me to believe that when it comes to religion, she is on the outside, looking in, and trying to make sense of it all, and she wondered at the driving force behind that behaviours of churches and Christians, as it pertains to obeying the laws of the land in regards to child abuse. I tried to explain–not justify–from my perspective, what I see; fear, pride, the belief that we Christians are subject only to God’s law and not the laws of the land, among other things. I’ve had the same conversation with 4 police officers since May, where they talk about the religious community covering up and not getting victims or offenders the help they need, and it leaves them shaking their heads. It should.

But what this last officer shared, didn’t stay there. After questioning, she mentioned how several years ago she had a case unlike any other. A pastor, she said, had walked in one morning, accompanied by an offender who had molested his daughter. Immediately after having done so, he went to his wife, and told her, packed his bags and left so his daughter would be safe. The pastor was drawn in, and that is where the man stayed until morning, when they stood in front of the officer saying they have a crime to report. The entire police staff was flabbergasted, she said. Not one had experienced such a thing before.

She told me how the man ended up doing jail time, getting counseling and was eventually reinstated in his home, but is not allowed to be with children unsupervised at any time. He is humbly compliant, and understands that this is to make 100% certain it never happens again. This situation, is the ideal, when it comes to handling abuse cases, she told me.

I wasn’t involved with that situation, and don’t know the people, but from where I stand looking on, I see redemption, while complying with the law and facing consequences. The church is aware of what he has done, and works to make it a safe place for children all around, while allowing him to be part of his family and the church.

A Tragedy Cannot be Undone, only Redeemed
There is no way to make a bad thing good. It can’t be done. There is only redemption of evil in the lives of God’s people, and in the working of society. What our enemy means for evil, God will use for good, but the wickedness can never be made good. We have to accept that, and call the wickedness what it is.

That said, we undermine the grace and mercy of God, when we refuse to extend the work of Jesus on the cross to all sinners… including those who molested a child, or children. There must always be forgiveness for them. While the practical working out of healing should be done with great wisdom and seeking God’s heart–and God always fights for the children and the vulnerable–to sentence offenders to hopeless judgment, doesn’t sit right in my spirit.

I’ve worshiped in prison with those who murdered someone. And I’ve hugged them if they wanted to be hugged. It makes zero difference to me, at the foot of the cross, what you have done; you are my brother and my sister. Besides, I remember that “but for the grace of God, there go I”. And I mean that. Coming out of the sexual confusion of my childhood, it is nothing short of the grace of God that kept me from growing up to be in prison with the murderers and pedophiles. When it comes praying ‘thank God I am not like the sinner beside me’, the words choke heavy in my throat and I cannot spit them out.

Instead, I thank God for His liberal grace and generous wisdom so that we might be forgiven, extend forgiveness, while still choosing to respond carefully in every situation. Bitterness and hate destroys lives, as does overlooking sin and neglecting to address and deal with abuse. Somewhere, in seeking the wisdom of God, there is a better way…

We were molested, many of us, and we inevitably hurt and grieve the loss of innocence. We need to be given space to do that, and to express that hurt without being judged. But, horrific as that moment was, or the thousand times over, none of us really want to stay stuck in that darkness. Advocating for other victims, fighting for the safety of children and creating awareness are some of the many ways to take back our freedom, our God-given voice, and to bring good out of evil, without empowering evil through bitterness.

Together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope, if we avoid the pit of bitterness, and a sense of being entitled to live in it and speak out of it. Our life purpose is not defined by what happened to us, but it can empower us for greater things. The choice is ours. Always.  And I, for one, want to care for the hearts of all, but I want only to partner with those who bring hope out of darkness…

Yes, together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

I have the right to be bitter; I was molested… And the Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 1)

The Crime and the Calling
Standing against sexual abuse and violence is a noble and godly thing to do. It really is. And I applaud anyone who does so with a pure heart. Because I cannot think of many topics that stir deeper feelings than child molestation. And rightfully so. What is more horrendous than an innocent child or young person stripped of sexual innocence by an adult? I can’t think of a thing, really, that does the thing to my stomach that such a story does.

Especially now, as a married woman who understands what sex was supposed to be in the first place, as designed by God; a beautiful and fun bonding between husband and wife. For an adult to impose such a thing, and impose a life-sentence of struggle on an innocent child… to rob that victim of unhindered marital joy…

Even writing about it, like this, creates inner angst and tension on behalf of that child that the makes me want to vomit. And that’s not exaggerating. That’s how the mind and body should respond, with powerful resistance, against such a thing. And the instinct to protect children should rise, immediately, to the surface.

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The Danger in Fighting Against Abuse and Violence
But that is the very thing that makes it such a complex thing to stand against. Those feelings, legitimate and justified, must be acknowledged but cannot be the driving force, in and of themselves; there has to be a deeper goal to be effective. Those feelings must not be it, lest we move out of hate and bitterness. Because then the very thing we fight against, gains power over us, and makes us slaves to it. When we become bitter and hate-filled, and out to make the offender(s) pay, on our terms, a toxicity sets in that does nothing–not one little thing–to protect victims or change the world.

Bitterness is counterproductive in every way. Besides rendering your voice empty and irrelevant to those in positions to help change the world, its toxic poison will suck your soul dry faster than any hurt imposed on you. Every time. And not only that, it will suck dry those around you, if they don’t leave before it poisons them. In either case, it will leave you empty and friendless, or empty and lacking healthy support. It’s not worth it.

As Believers, What Do We Reach For?
There are good and positive things that can be done in dealing with molestation, without turning to the venom of destruction and the poison that is so prone to dribble from our lips. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it. I’ve lost sight, in the past, of what my heart really longs for in all of this; redemption, justice, boundaries, mercy, truth and ultimately restoration with God… even in situations where the last thing that ever could happen (or should, for that matter) is reconciliation between offender and victim.

In religious settings it seems often there is a dreadful imbalance in situations where an abuser is exposed, caught or turns himself or herself in. It is either carefully guarded and covered up in denial, or the individual is abandoned and thrown under the bus. Most often it is the former. And, to the latter, many ‘justice seekers’ would shout a hearty ‘Yay… serves them right’ and jump on the bandwagon that finally someone is listening.

At the risk of receiving hate mail, I will say publicly that I think both are corrupt; both are wrong. That’s my view. Justice and truth without mercy is barbaric. Mercy without truth and justice is endorsement of evil. As I watch the two sides play out around me, in various situations, I think surely there must be a better way! Surely there is some humanity, somewhere. Humanity that says, “Enough is enough!” to the senseless victimization, and humanity that says, “we are all broken and need help, so we’re going to get you that help.”

And then, beyond humanity to Christ-likeness, that says, “Someone died for my sins; He died for yours too.” To offer the grace and love of Jesus to my offender is the most freeing thing I have ever done. Freeing for me.

To not share that truth with others, is to keep them in bondage. And yet, as angry voices–and yes, they should be angry–shout around me, some with bitterness and hate, I find myself retreating, publicly, for fear of tomatoes… or worse, thrown at me. It is not the healthy anger that makes me cringe, it is the hate and offensiveness. And I am not alone. Other victims have written me, saying they are afraid to publicly state they have forgiven, for fear of being judged or ‘hated on’.

What Then is the Solution?
While abuse angers many of us, as it should, the greatest headway in change will come from calm, composed persistence. There is a time to expose, but doing so with venom will stop the ears of people we want to speak to; it is overwhelming. Furthermore, if there are defenses already in place–take for example a pastor, parent or other person of influence–where the person feels it is an attack on them, the attack and raging approach will trigger subconscious response–either tuning out or defending.

An approach that lacks attack, and rather appeals to the intellect, the heart and compassion of individuals in positions of influence, will produce a much healthier response. Reasonable dialogue is necessary, and exploring healthy solutions without demanding the heads of abusers on a platter, will go much further than raging and bitterness. And if we want to really make a difference, then we need to manage those feelings with honour.

What Can the Church Do?
When a molestation case comes to light in a church, there is inevitably much upheaval. In 2014 I was hired by a church several hours away, to work with a very difficult situation. I learned more in a few months, about what pastors and leaders go through, than I had learned in the preceding 44 years of my life.

When a pastor cares for his church and wants nothing but the best for everyone, abuse and molestation allegations cause heartbreaking struggle. When the offender owns up, admitting to the crimes, and it is confirmed reality and not allegations, the truth is harsh and offensive. The crimes need to be dealt with, and the person needs someone to walk with them, and the victims need to be protected along with all vulnerable church attendees, children in particular. How is a pastor to do all of those things, and not be harshly judged by some, if not all involved and aware?

Some want the offender banned from attending. Some want the church to ‘forgive and move on’. Others want boundaries and protections in place. Some want it taken to the law. Others say that’s not biblical, even when the laws require it. The latter, for me, is not optional; a crime must be reported. The Bible says that the law is for the lawbreaker, and if that lawbreaker happens to sit on a church pew, he or she is no less a lawbreaker.

How to handle incorporating the abuser, or banning, as the case may be, is something each church family must fumble their way through. Each situation and solution presents complexities that make a black-and-white-blanket-solution nigh impossible to implement. And while the protection of victims should alway take precedent over the abuser, I hesitate to judge harshly when I see a church trying to care for both.

I say that as someone who instigated inappropriate sexual interaction with a peer in my early teens. Sure, she came into agreement before we did anything, but I will always see her as the victim. I was a few months older and I suggested it, therefore I feel I need to own that. To this day, it is more important for me to know that she is cared for than to have my pride protected. She deserves that; I made her vulnerable. And any offender who steals innocence should pursue the well-being of the victim, over their own comfort. It’s the least any of us can do who have wounded another.

So what, then, should a church do? What are some options?

(To Be Continued…)

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

The Duggar Sister’s Interview (Part 1): on Forgiveness & Indoctrination… because you asked what I think

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. 
~ Paul Boese ~

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Almost twenty days have passed since the Duggar sisters were interviewed by Megyn Kelly, Fox News.(Whom, by the way, I love to listen to! Her voice is, for me, an easy listen, so that’s a bonus.) With the passing of time the ‘noise’ has died down somewhat, and maybe sensible conversations are now possible, without all the hype and high blood pressure. Maybe.

People wrote and asked for my thoughts on the interview, immediately after it took place, and (fortunately or unfortunately) I had more pressing things to do than to write this blog. However, I did listen to the interview immediately after it happened–only days after the interview with Ma and Pa Duggar–and listened to it again before and during writing this blog, replaying pieces numerous times to get details right. These posts are heavily intertwined with what I have learned from victims, and working through my own abuse, so I am dividing it into several posts to break it up rather than posting a long and overwhelming post.

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Factors that Impact How We Process Trauma:
Some questions being asked are: Should the interview be taken at face value? Were the girls coached in what to say? And do some of their comments and responses indicate ‘indoctrination’? There are many questions from many people, and we do well to remember that every one of us, myself included, process through our experiential filter. That is 100% inevitable. However, the more we exchange thoughts and ideas with others, and the more we hear from those who have lived through this kind of trauma, the broader our frame of reference will be, and with it the awareness that all of us do not face trauma the same way.

Many factors play into how we process traumas that happen to us: personality, environment, religious views/teaching, parental ‘handling’ of the event(s), and many other things. If we are not willing to acknowledge this, then the rest of the conversation is pretty much useless because we will transfer our ‘needs’ onto the victims, and not give space to be true to themselves.

Another thing to consider is that we work through trauma in phases and stages, so what the girls feel today is different than what they felt twelve years ago, and it is different than what they will feel ten years down the road, when their own sons and daughters are the ages that they (and Josh) were at the time of the abuse. So, if what we hear in the future collides with today, they are not lying; they are moving through these phases and stages. Let them do that. Most if not all of us, who do the hard work of facing what happened, do this to one extent or another.

That all said, I applaud both of the sisters for their courage in coming forward. They did not choose to have their stories disclosed but they chose, of their own will, to come forward and share their stories. Their motivation to come forward is ‘for truth’s sake’, as Jill says it, because ‘most of the stuff out there is lies’, and they wish to ‘set the record straight’ and also to speak in Josh’s defense against labeling him as a child molester, pedophile and rapist. Jessa makes it very clear that the molestation did not go to those extremes, but was limited to touching over clothes, or ‘mild inappropriate touching’ on fully clothed victims slept. (To watch the full interview: Duggar sisters Jill and Jessa Interview with Megyn Kelly)

Forgiveness Doesn’t Equate Trust:
Jill also says that their father explained to them that forgiveness doesn’t equate trust; that trust is something that must be rebuilt, and they were given freedom to forgive with boundaries. These are good things, from my perspective. I get it that offering forgiveness for those who molest is not something we can confidently shout from the mountains without anticipating a few tomatoes sailing our way, but it is an important thing, nonetheless. More so for the victim than the offender. Forgiveness, with boundaries, is the best protection for victims. Popular or not.

The unforgiving victim remains in bondage to the offender, whether the offender is repentant or not, and cannot move forward. Certainly it is up to the victim when or if they forgive, but the cost for withholding that forgiveness is not to the offender; it costs victims. The victim who becomes embittered is a difficult person to associate with, that’s just the way it is. I have watched as they burn out their friends, jump from counselor to counselor, never finding freedom and never moving forward. Eventually, stripped of friendships and emotionally bankrupt, they conclude the whole world is against them. The world isn’t against them; the world is weary.  Having said that, bitterness and self pity should not be mixed up with grief and sorrow over loss; that is a very different thing, with a different focus and not toxic.

With this understanding of forgiveness, I cannot criticize what Jessa and Jill say, or doubt their sincerity. Their eyes, body language and tone all speak of authenticity and truth, as do their statements that are more incriminating of Josh. Jessa says that Josh was ‘subtle’ and  ‘sly’ and  “…he knew in his mind ‘my actions are wrong and I have bad intentions’…” These comments expose the manipulation behind Josh’s behaviours, and are not things you would say if you were trying to cover for Josh, or excuse all of his actions. That sly behaviour is, without question, ‘predator like’, which is not to say it will continue long-term, but it definitely indicates a need for intervention, as it is more likely to continue without it.

Of Honest Confessions or Getting Caught:
One piece of information that collides with the rumour mill and media is that Josh came forward on his own, rather than being ‘caught’ when returning from a sister’s room, as the media presented. I don’t doubt for a moment that they are telling ‘the truth that they know’. There’s too much information out there to know the facts with certainty, without talking to ‘Ma and Pa Duggar’ and asking a few questions. Numerous reports stated the parents saw Josh coming from the girls’ room(s) and it was after this that Josh confessed, but neither the interview with the girls nor the one with their parents indicates this to be accurate, though it is not directly addressed. If he confessed without ‘getting caught’ it makes a significant difference in the sense of ‘spontaneous repentance’ versus repenting when caught; with the former indicating inner remorse and desire for change. In either case, he was young and impressionable, and with the right help stands a much better shot at life than those trying to overcome on their own. (I’m still not buying into the ‘once an abuser, always an abuser’ declaration… I refuse.)

The key is the right help and proper reporting, and here again there are conflicting reports. In the interview with Ma & Pa Duggar–which I will only touch on a little here–they call the place Josh went ‘a treatment centre’ where a man ‘counselled’ Josh. What that looked like, I do not know. If ‘undeniably accurate’ info is out there, I have not seen it or found it. Some say he received licensed counseling–numerous sites reference it, but I found none who name that counselor–others say it amounted to helping a ‘pal’ with construction work. Who knows for sure? (And if you do have access to this info, I’d be grateful if you sent it to me.)

Jim Bob and Michelle’s Interview & A Few Alarm Bells:
In regards to the interview with Josh’s parents, alarm bells go off, if for no other reason than because I work with victims and some of what they say is disturbing. Statements, referring to the girls being victimized, like: “…they didn’t really understand though….” by dad, and “… it was more of his heart, his intent, he knew that it is wrong, but … they didn’t even understand that it was improper touch…” by mom. These statements show ongoing and extreme ignorance surrounding the impact of sexual abuse and molestation, and come across as downplaying Josh’s behaviour. (This ‘minimizing of the crimes’ is reflected in the girls’ interview as well, and no doubt is a bit of ‘influence’ spilled over.)

While the parents can declare the girls are free and have moved on, my work with victims tells me it is naive to assume it will never affect them negatively again. What a victim ‘handles well’ for years, can crumble in one second, when or if his or her own child is victimized or becomes the offender, or in that ‘flashback moment’ when suddenly they want to beat the daylights out of a spouse because something ‘took them back’ to a time gone by.

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I work with many, many victims and hear these stories. And when victims ‘crash’ and fall into depression, I frequently hear questions like, “Why, after (so many) years can I not handle being around him/her? I don’t understand…” or “the abuse wasn’t even ‘that bad’, so why does it bother me so much now?”…  and other such comments. And along with that comes the awareness that parents, church leaders or other trusted people downplayed it or did not take it seriously. Nothing personal against the Duggars, but these things concern me in this interview, and would in any situation. But back to the girls…

The girls talk about being interviewed by the police in 2006, and how parents encouraged them to be forthcoming and ‘tell everything’ because it would be protected. Many question why the parents waited until 2006 to report, but the reality is that their laws didn’t require mandatory reporting from parents. (That info is readily available online.)

To be Continued…

Love,
~ T ~

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© Trudy Metzger

Learning From the Current Scandal & Shuffling Right Along

Psalms 85:10-11
10 Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. 11 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

****

The past few days taught me some interesting things…

Firstly, I learned that it is wise to speak with gentleness, always. You never know when words will travel further than you imagined. Secondly, sometimes people–Christian and non-Christian–demand we either blindly support, or blatantly attack/reject people in situations like the Duggar family. (I blatantly reject/condemn molestation/crime, and I believe abusers should pay the consequences; from church and law.)

Thirdly, there are angry people–and God only knows what each one is angry about; no doubt they have painful stories–who will attack, very personally, anyone they see as out of line. They see what looks, to them, like a punching bag, and they swing. (Here I refer to both sides)  The thing about anger, though, is that it is always a cover for a deeper emotion. (Helplessness, hopelessness, pain, rejection, betrayal, grief or any one of a host of other things.) To them I say, if swinging at me makes you feel better, have at it. Hopefully, with time the anger layer will strip away enough for you to begin to feel the deeper emotion and heal. My commitment is to try never to stoop to attacking you as a person, or your faith, identity or other tender struggles.

Fourthly, I learned (again) that I must be true to my heart before God. No matter what. I wrote my first blog from my heart, and made some statements based on faulty information, and the side of those who have their stones safely tucked in their pockets applauded and praised me. I was unwittingly dancing to their drums. The other side was a bit less happy with me. Most were not rude, but certainly they were riled up. And one was downright obnoxious. I’ve seen it enough, that it didn’t get under my skin; there’s usually some deep pain and personal bitterness, needing love and compassion. I heard the accusations and attacks, and tried to weed out the legitimate from the poison, and remain true to my heart before God, and acknowledge that I had some details wrong.

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I posted the second blog to correct the glaring misinformation that influenced my statement about them ‘having done all they could do’.  It seemed to me that making this correction was the right and Christian thing to do, because I was wrong; plain and simple. I want the public to trust that my first commitment is to the truth, as much as one can find truth in anything the media has touched. That means I need to be honest enough to say, “I was wrong.”  As Christians, surely we can be humble enough to do that, can’t we? Isn’t that the only way to present Christ well? That, however, riled up some on the side of defending Duggars. Suddenly I was accused of losing all ‘grace’.

My question is, can we not walk in grace–with consequences–and acknowledge that things were not exactly as they appeared? I hope so. Where do truth and mercy meet, if not in our humanity? Where does righteousness kiss peace, if not in our lives? And when does truth ‘springing up from the earth’ ever meet with anything other than righteousness, when all truth is of God? I am convinced, beyond even a hint of doubt, that offering grace (not apart from consequences) in the reality of it all, brings healing and hope… When truth and mercy meet.

Having positioned myself between the two sides–feeling no need to destroy or defend, yet supporting consequences–I found a small group of people who acknowledge the crime, support consequences, yet walk in grace. These people feel no need to defend the ‘dark side’ of the situation. They feel no need to downplay the crime. And they felt no need to attack anyone. Having acknowledged that Josh committed a crime, they support consequences with grace, and pray for healing. Most intriguing is the fact that many of these individuals were sexual abuse victims who chose a path of  ‘forgiveness with boundaries’, and consequences. Some, in fact, completely removed the abuser from their lives and are labeled ‘unforgiving’ by family or church. Even with deep personal wounds, they value grace. When it is obvious to me that they do not overlook crimes, and yet want to find a path of grace and forgiveness, their words have credibility. These people have a voice… a quiet one… but a voice that carries authority.

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We scream, ’empower the victims’… ‘give back their voices’… and yet, when some speak out, they are attacked for not saying the ‘right things’. All victims will not agree. Some will want Josh Duggar hanged. Go ahead and say it. Some of us will cry out for something different; let us speak it too. Of all direct messages, comments and emails I received, where victims identified themselves as victims, the vast majority expressed thanks for acknowledging the crime, and yet extending grace. For some of us that is healing. Let us heal with grace and forgiveness for our offenders. If you need to arrange a pretend execution for your release, feel free to do so. Both sides have the privilege of being true to ourselves. And in the case at hand, the victims deserve that right too, to have their voices.

I pray we learn from this–individuals/churches/government–and live with purpose the life we’ve been given, protecting victims and promoting positive change going forward.

****

COMING UP:  “Mandatory Reporting Laws” & Confidentiality of Juvenile records in various states and provinces.. You may be surprised what they are… I was!

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Ultimately, world changers take every situation, and advocate for change where it is needed. For some it may mean encouraging states and provinces to take a good look at the laws, or the lack thereof. There are gaping holes to be filled.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

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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(Hypocrisy & Excommunication): The Woman, The Scraggly Few & The King’s Son

She stood to her feet, hands clammy, confessing her guilt.  Ashamed.canstockphoto13092176

She begged for mercy… admitting she could not pay for her crimes and outstanding debt… Without a pardon, she would be sentenced to death.

The judge sighed as he looked at the list of crimes she had committed. He looked about the courtroom, then back at the woman. “Is there anyone who will pay your debt?”

On the far side of the room sat a large audience of well-dressed onlookers, pointing and sneering. She had it coming to her. They sat, straight and tall, noses turned up, looking down at her.

“A disgrace,” one man muttered.

“Our world will be better without her,” huffed a woman, looking away, as if the very sight of the woman might contaminate her.

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A few among them looked uncomfortable, squirming. But not one spoke up.

A scraggly few supporters sat near the woman, silent. Tears flowed freely. It was almost as if each believed they were guilty, and deserved her sentence. One by one they fumbled through tattered bags, purses and pockets, pulling out what bits of valuables they might hold, if any.

One produced a pack of gum that appeared to have been carried too long in her coat. Another a comb, bent and with hair hanging from it. An old man pulled out a handkerchief but, alas, one corner was crumpled together, obviously used, dirty.

An old man, stumbled through the door, and walked forward. He looked like one of the filthy scraggly few. He held in his crippled hands a worn piece of paper.

“You intend to pay this woman’s debt with that… that… whatever it is you hold there?”

The old man smiled, exposing decayed teeth—the few he had—and raised bushy grey eyebrows. “No, shir, Your Honour” he said, mispronouncing ‘sir’. “I haven’t a penny to offer, shir, but I know Shomeone…

The well-dressed onlookers scoffed. One woman cackled, “He knows ‘shomeone’… I sure wonder who… probably ‘shome’ drunk ‘shtreet’ bum.”

“Order!!! Order in the court!!!” shouted the judge, his gavel pounding the block. He turned his attention to the old man. “Continue sir.”

The old man told of his life of crime, and the many lives he destroyed in that process, until one day, only  a few years earlier, it all caught up to him.

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“Your Honour, a man paid my debt that day, and I was pardoned. All He asked in return, was for me to share the good news, and tell others about Him. He will pay her debt.”

“And, just where might I find this generous man?” the judge asked.

“He’s waiting, just outside the door,” the old man said.

He shuffled to the rear of the court, opened the door and the generous man walked in. Jaws dropped throughout the courtroom.

Before them stood no ordinary man. He was the King’s son. With kind eyes and gentle smile, He walked to the condemned woman, and took her place, accepting her judgement.

She fell at His feet, weeping, too overcome for words. She was free. In one moment, she was released; thanks, not to some ability to correct or pay for her crime, but because of this man.

She stayed there a long while, weeping.

The King’s son looked at the scraggly supporters, then at the well-dressed, arrogant crowd. “Each of you owes the same debt this woman owed.”

The scraggly few bowed their heads, nodding. Some wept. The man pulled out his stained handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. A woman sobbed shamelessly.

 

“Some of you are familiar with your crimes, and carry that debt with great shame,” He said, looking at the scraggly few. “Bring me any debts you owe, I will pay them.”

One by one they shuffled forward, tears flowing, praying. Reaching for mercy.

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The King’s son continued, looking now at the well-dressed crowd, “Some of you are oblivious to your debt, and choose to ignore it. You justify your crimes, and believe that as long as you present well, and hide your crimes, you are justified. What’s worse… you do this claiming allegiance to my Father and His country.”

The well-dressed crowd listened stoically… Most of them…. A few shifted in their seats.

The King’s son spoke again. “You were quick to judge, but every one of you, if you take off those fine clothes, will find a layer of tattered rags. Hidden in the pockets you will find unpaid debts. If you strip back those layers and acknowledge your need, I will pay your debts too.” He paused, looked over the well-dressed crowd.

The woman who taunted earlier, squirmed. The man who scoffed, looked at his feet. Several others shifted, unable to look the King’s Son in the eye. A few tore off their outer garments, exposing filthy, stained rags. In humble acknowledgement, they joined the scraggly few.

“Yes, I will pay your debts, but only if you strip yourself of image, prestige and religious pride, and acknowledge your need, as these have.”

***

Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

Do Not Judge

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Often we ‘Christians’ judge others harshly, while hiding our secret sins. We proclaim the name of God, and yet defy the way and words of Jesus–Emmanuel, ‘God with us’–as we toss rocks in arrogant self-righteousness.

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In the same church where a man has an affair and his wife is ordered by leaders to keep silent and never mention it again because he is repentant…. the same church where child molesters are treated with ‘grace’–aka cover up and their crime is down-played… there repentant sinners get the left foot of fellowship for some hidden agenda.

Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

The evidence speaks for itself. Too long, too many good men (and women) have done nothing. There have always been a faithful few, but it is time for the people of God to rise up together and stand for Jesus, and for what He taught and exemplified. He lived truth fearlessly, judged by the most religious and ‘self-righteous’ of His day, to the point that they sought to kill Him.

To be named with Him, we will need to be willing to face the same abuse and judgement from many religious folks–leaders and laity, alike–who live in pretentious holiness. If there is one place the devil has a stronghold today, it is with those who preach God, hell fire and brimstone, while defying Jesus Christ.

Until we are willing to face the wrath of the enemy and these people, by confronting this stronghold, exposing the evil–yes, even publicly–the body of Christ will remain crippled and ineffective. Jesus warned us about these false teachers and, unfortunately, they exist in every denomination. Coincidentally, the warning comes in the same chapter as the instruction on judging:

Matthew 7:15-19 (NKJV)

You Will Know Them by Their Fruits

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

For those who will take the challenge, and turn to Jesus Christ, abandoning every other thing for His sake–including leaders and churches that blatantly misrepresent God and live for personal agenda–there is grace for the difficult journey ahead. (If you find yourself ‘stuck’ in such a place, don’t be afraid to search for a life-giving fellowship. None are perfect, but many are passionate about Jesus and biblical truth, and compassionate toward people.)

It is not easy to stand up against evil in religious settings–against spiritual wickedness in high places. But it is the way of true holiness, to set ourselves apart from the world of sin, as well as the sin of religious arrogance that all but replaces the need for the Atonement of Christ.

Rise up! Stand for Truth; Unadulterated, pure, simple Truth!

© Trudy Metzger

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