Female sexuality, after sexual abuse, in conservative Christian context (Let’s talk sex: Part 2)

WARNING: Content in this blog may be triggering. It will be considered sexually explicit and offensive to some readers. Others – namely the little children who have suffered the things addressed here and have lived with the consequences addressed here – will consider it a breath of fresh air. For me, it is about ‘truth telling’. Jesus said, “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Until we dare to discuss the truth surrounding sexual abuse, in all its horrible and explicit reality (albeit without titillating the audience), we will not find that freedom. We must address the truth of it. We owe it to the children of past generations, whose blood cries from the ground. And we owe it to the children of the next generation, whose freedom and protection we seek.

I’ve said it before, and will say it again, if the children are forced to live through these things ‘among us’, we better have the stomach to read and discuss it. When you read and are tempted to judge as pornographic or explicit, remember that, somewhere right now, it is highly likely that a little child lives this life. I will say again, if a toddler has to live it, we better grow the stomach and sense of holiness to be able to address it without going into perversion.

“To the pure or heart and mind all things are pure – (so you should be able to read this with a pure mind) – but to those who entertain and walk in corruption, nothing is pure”. (Titus 1:15, slightly paraphrased for clarity)

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After committing to writing about female sexuality (and note that I am doing so in conservative Christian context so this has nothing to do with being politically correct), I sat back and wondered what I’ve gotten myself into. Since when do conservative Christian women talk openly about their sexuality? However, having made some broad statements in my recent blog “Sex-crazed men? Frigid women? (Let’s talk sex: Part 1)” about female sexuality, without addressing it more in-depth, including addressing the exceptions, this one is necessary. Furthermore, the epidemic of sexual violence in our culture demands conversation. Without knowledge the people are led to destruction. And our silence on this front has surely validated that biblical principle.

Women are ‘beautifully sexual’ creatures. God made us that way. He didn’t hide in shame when He was finished, and with half an apology present her to her husband. He didn’t tell Adam not to enjoy her beauty. He didn’t tell her she is a whore if she desires sex, or that she’s there to serve her husband’s every demand. He didn’t respond negatively at all. He didn’t say, “Sorry that every man after you will lust uncontrollably after every woman conceived. It’s the women’s fault. And you men are fresh out of luck, victims of fate.”

In fact, He said it was very good when He created Adam and Eve. He presented her with delight. He knew what lay ahead. He knew The Fall was coming. He knew the struggle that lay ahead. And He still said, “it is very good” of His beautiful creation, and declared her to be created in His own image and likeness. Not in the image and likeness of Adam. Not a second-rate afterthought. But a creation made to represent and reflect something of Himself to the world. Sexual creatures… females… made in the image of God. Truth, spoken by God. Truth we have resisted to our own demise.

Yes, as sexual creatures, He spoke blessing over us. And, what’s more, He added ‘fun parts’ and feelings that serve absolutely no other purpose than to bring sexual pleasure to the woman. No female needs an orgasm for procreation, nor does she need to experience pleasure to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. He could have made humans so that males orgasm and females experience nothing. He didn’t. Those fun parts – ie; the clitoris and (for some) pleasure from nipple or vaginal stimulation, tells us that He intended sex to be a delightful encounter. It tells us that this is good. It isn’t shameful! It is delightful!

With rates of abuse as high as they are, many women struggle with seeing their sexuality as ‘good’, and are not able to ‘get into it’. Many have no desire for sexual intimacy.[1] It is not always due to abuse, but often.  If this is you, there is nothing wrong with you. In either case, you do not need to accept it as a ‘life sentence’ without trying to heal. I cannot promise you healing. I wish I could. But I would encourage reaching out to a medical doctor or a professional if you are struggling.

The other part of this is the warped portrayal of sex pretty much everywhere you go. In the media it is presented as this explosive thrill that rocks your world. Every time. Sex is this crazy amazing out of this world experience. Every time. Truth is, sometimes it can be. But realistically, it isn’t always. And in any case it shouldn’t boil down to that. There is a bonding and an intimacy in sex that goes beyond the orgasm. The orgasm can be part of that but it is not the epitome of it, and the closeness can exist without climax. There are women who have never experienced that climax, despite every effort on her husband’s part, and whose fulfillment must come from other intimacy.[2]

The loving husband will patiently work with his wife, consider her needs, slow his pace, listen to her share her day and her heart (some need their ‘list cleared’, before they can enter in), and he will seek to meet her needs first. It has been said men are like microwaves and women are like crockpots. All I can say, men, is if you tend well and lovingly to your wife’s needs, both of your hearts will find a safe place. No one likes to feel sexually used. And it is easy to feel that way, especially for those who have been abused and have to process flashbacks, sometimes in the middle of intimacy.

Along with this possible repulsion for sex due to past abuse, there is the lack of good teaching regarding sex, and plenty of shaming. “She’s boy-crazy”… “she always has to have a boy’s attention”… “She’s so desperate she’s always chasing after anything in pants”… etc.  Crushes are a normal part of life. Guidance is important, but the shaming that goes on in religious cultures about interest between sexes is causing unbelievable struggle and destruction.[3] Then, having been shamed about sex her whole developing years, she gets married and, “Voila!” now you must have sex. Whoa… back up a bit. That thing that defines you as a whore and a slut just for desiring relationship, you now must perform, on command? How does that shift even happen? And we wonder why so many of our marriages are ‘divorced’ at heart? This is one reason. Not the only one, but one. She feels like his prostitute, not his bride, if he enters marriage with that mindset.[4]  When women enter marriage already having been abused and having a very warped sense of their own sexuality, when they land with men who have no desire to understand their needs – not only in bed, but certainly there too – things deteriorate quickly. He demands sex, she hates it… What can possibly go well from there on out?

That said, not all abuse victims of sexual abuse dislike sex. On the contrary, many crave it and struggle with addictions to it. (This is true for both males and females, but we’re going to focus only on females). While repulsion for and disinterest in sex may not show up until marriage – though in some cases it does — for some addictions begin at a very young age in various forms, and progress with age, access and exposure.. This is common in the little girl who has been sexually stimulated since two… four… six – pick your number – and where this abuser has used coercive means and by pleasuring versus violence. He/she introduces the little girl to sexual pleasure, desire and bonding. She has been sexually awakened and trained to desire sex.

And before you conclude that the undeveloped girl can’t orgasm or experience sexual arousal, think again. In conversations – whether formal or informal sessions – women have reported sexual stimulation and orgasm at various ages, with some saying they experienced them ‘as far back as I remember’. Process that for a moment. An innocent little preschool girl experiencing orgasms and/or sexual arousal and desire due to sexual abuse, never having known any other life. And this continues for many years for some victims as a father, an uncle, an aunt or, most commonly, in cases I’ve encountered, an older brother abuses her. (I will use the older brother scenario to make the remaining of my points, to make it less cumbersome, even while any other person can be the abuser).

It is critical to know that the little girl should carry no shame! She has no understanding of what is being done to her. And it is just as important to note that her body responds precisely as God created it to. The fault of that awakening lands squarely on the shoulders of the abuser for the rest of her life and struggle.

Both God and science tell us that the hormonal response to sexual stimulation is a combination of pleasure and bonding, and establishes a desire for more. Starting at a young age with this pleasure, a little girl will quite likely become addicted to sex. Before she is old enough to understand any of it, she will pursue more interactions with her abuser and even initiate what he or she started against her. In her teens, she will quite possibly be promiscuous. And the more she is shamed, the more she will reach for affirmation in the one way she can get it.

As ‘church’, we have done a dreadful job of responding to this. First, we’ve downplayed abuse without ever daring to look this closely at what is happening to the victim, sexually. We’ve accepted a quick “I’m sorry” from the offender, and then judged the girl for her promiscuity, sexual addictions and inability to mature spiritually and respect herself. She is dubbed a slut, a whore, a shame to the family and community, all while the offender preaches on Sunday morning, leads Sunday School, serves as Youth leader… You get the picture. And we’ve judged those who dare to talk this bluntly about sexuality and sexual abuse. (For example, supposedly I’m sick and perverted for talking about sex so bluntly, and it is pornographic! And now I’m talking about children having orgasms! Bring out the gallows.)

To this I say, again, “Grow up!” If I a child is forced to live with this reality, so help us God if we cannot be mature enough and pure enough of heart and mind, to face the hard reality of a child’s story. Shame on us! How can we be so selfish as to think they must live with what we cannot handle hearing? If that somehow turns you on sexually, deal with it. Master your sexual responses, and if you can’t, get some counselling or help to deal with your heart. The Bible is clear, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15). If you are pure of heart and mind, you will be able to discuss this tragic epidemic without pushing some corrupt label on the victims and their advocates speaking out.

When she is a teenager, and that older brother gets married, this little girl will quite possibly grieve, become angry and depressed, and turn to other sources for sexual fulfillment, or alternatively to self harm. And then she will be told she is just looking for attention. You think? A child with no understanding of sex and relationship, just wanting attention because her one source of connection has abandoned her? All those years she has had sexual relations, now suddenly she is abandoned, rejected and unfulfilled. She must now compete with her sister-in-law, and clearly she has lost. If she has a younger brother, she may well turn to him. All of this can happen before she has even reached puberty.

Masturbation will be another outlet for her sexual energy and awakening, or pornography. Or both. (It is important to note that many women who were not molested also masturbate. The notion that it is something only males do, and only the troubled ones, is nonsense. It is a common human struggle). Some will argue masturbation is good for you, others will condemn those who engage in it. (And many will respond much more harshly to this than to sexual abuse!) I’m particularly disinterested in making a judgement call either way as to how sinful it is, or is not, in this blog.

God is gracious and kind. He understands humanity and struggle. And He specifically addresses in Hosea that He will not judge the daughters who commit adultery and turn to prostitution because men have been using them (Hosea 4:14). God doesn’t change. That, alone, tells me that the church (broadly) is failing terribly at dealing with abuse, and the various forms of aftermath, in ways that don’t reflect the heart of God. We have it backwards. We give that grace to those God holds accountable, and condemning those who are stripped. This is not of God.

If God doesn’t, why would I? So if you take issue with that, take it up with Him for influencing me that way. Furthermore, I have walked so closely with so many struggling conservative Mennonite/Amish Christians, that any illusion of slapping on quick judgement and punishing them to solve the problem is long gone. Patiently leading them back to the love of Jesus, to His grace… that’s been effective. Encouraging them to skip ‘living in shame’ and moving immediately to repentance with every sin they commit, but not dwelling there and instead shifting to what Jesus did on the cross, that has been effective. Encouraging them to invest no time in ‘trying to overcome’, because the whole time we spend trying to overcome is time spent focusing on that thing. And the more we dwell on it, the more power it has over us. Instead, investing energy in relationship with God, thanking Him for His grace and kindness, that has been effective.[5]

It doesn’t cheapen grace. It doesn’t cheapen the cross. It shifts the focus away from ‘me and my struggle’ to God and His goodness. Away from me and my failure or imperfection to God’s incredible love for me, and the value I hold in His heart. And that is one way that inner need is met. One way that healing comes to broken places. And that restored identity and healing helps in overcoming sexual addictions.

So, no, I’m not interested in passing judgement on the victim of abuse who masturbates and struggles sexually. What I am interested in addressing is the practical outcome of any sexual addiction. When masturbation (or any other sexual activity) becomes an addiction, it will rob you. Married women (and men, but we’re talking about women here) have shared that they struggle to engage in sex with their spouse, because “it just doesn’t work”. They are so programmed for masturbation that they instinctively turn there for release, and are not easily aroused by their spouse. Or they may be aroused, but their body is conditioned for masturbation. They don’t want it to be that way, but it is their reality. And the marriage slowly – or not so slowly – disintegrates if they don’t invest deeply in understanding and overcoming these addictions.

Sex bonds people. That’s a fact. Masturbation robs a marriage of that bond. It is hard work to move past those addictions, but it can be done. And it is worth it.

These addictions can play out within the marriage as well. We hear a lot about sex-addicted men, demanding sex from their wives, but we hear little about the wives being addicted to sex. It happens. Again, I have no stats to support the prevalence, nor is that my goal. What I have is the stories of couples who have fought through that struggle. The husband may simply have a lower libido, or maybe he was abused and responded by being repulsed by sex. Or maybe he has a healthy sex-drive but simply cannot keep up with his wife’s constant need for sex. Again, remember that the woman who has been used sexually for years by multiple people has been conditioned for constant sexual activity. One man cannot keep up to the energy of two.. four or more men and women who may have stimulated her as a child.

This results in feelings of frustration and inadequacy in the husband, or even resentment. He may find her sex drive repulsive and frustrating. He may internalize and conclude he is not man enough, that there is something wrong with him. Or he may start using her aggressively and raping her, calling her perverse names and mistreating her, or judging her harshly in other ways. All of these responses are unhealthy. And I have encountered all of them.

But there is the alternative. The man who gently works with his wife, entering into her struggle with compassion, will bring healing and invite trust. This man is confident and secure in his identity. He does not neglect her needs, but also does not internalize her struggle as his fault. He does not label her, or view her with repulsion. Rather, he cares for her in that struggle and values who she is, and cares for the little girl she was in a way no one has before. It takes teamwork, and she does need to be willing to learn to trust, however slowly.

Women who are sexually addicted because of sexual abuse tend to expect their spouse to perform sexually at levels that are simply not realistic. They are looking to have something filled by sex, a need met, that is connected to their core identity as a victim of abuse. Survivors of abuse function out of that need on many levels, looking for affirmation. And sex cannot meet that need. Only healing from the abuse and the love of Jesus can meet that need.

Sexual frigidity due to sexual abuse and ‘zoning out’ (disassociating) with no resistance or interest, is common. Women do this to avoid the trauma and reminder of the abuse… avoiding flashbacks, memories and the ‘grossness’ of those traumas. There is no expectation of affirmation from the experience of sexual intimacy, no expectation of bonding, and not necessarily any open repulsion. She may be happy to snuggle – or not, as the case may be, and may even want babies, but sex as an act of intimacy is of no interest. She may (and many do) give the husband permission to ‘do what you need to do and be done’, but when it is over they don’t really know what happened.

Overcoming this takes patience on the husband’s part. The temptation will be to internalize her lack of interest in sex as rejection of him, personally and sexually as a man. Don’t give in to that. And wives, be careful not to transfer negative feelings about sex based on past trauma onto your spouse’s sexuality. This is true for men too; guard your tongue when tempted to blurt out a negative comment about your wife’s sexuality. Of the many things marriages struggle to recover from, this is one of the hardest. Negative comments about the other person’s sexuality are deadly and strike at a very core part of our identity as humans.

There are professionals who are willing to help, willing to work with you. There are people who understand. Find someone, and work through it. There is hope. Yes, it is usually a financial investment, but it is worth it if it’s what saves your sanity, your marriage, and your relationships. Everyone has expenses — all ministries, families, people have bills to pay — so expect to have costs associated. A coffee a day for two people (at Tim Horton’s, Xlg) is $4.00. That’s $20 a week. That’s $80 a month. Add junk food. (I admit, I don’t go for coffee even once a month, so this isn’t going to be everyone’s reality. But it’s amazing where you can find money for what really matters, when you’re desperate for help. We know from experience).

So start tracking where you spend money that you could put toward what really matters. And if you don’t have places you can adjust, reach out to local churches to sponsor your sessions. Many are willing to support even those who don’t attend their congregation. Be proactive and fight for your freedom.

The topic of sexuality and the aftermath of abuse is somewhat endless. This is a synopsis of what could be a whole book. (A book that I have on hold since starting university, but is near completion). For now, I hope this helps some of you struggling with these things. You are normal. You’re not crazy. There is hope. Reach out. Fight forward.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2019

 

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Footnotes are below, but first… we have a free seminar starting tomorrow night in Newburg PA. If you wish to donate towards the event and support the work of Generations Unleashed and Trudy Metzger’s travels/teaching, you may do so at:
http://www.generationsunleashed.com/donate

Here is the poster:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 11.39.01 PM

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Footnotes:

[1] This blog focuses on women, but the impact of sexual abuse on sexual desire affects both male and female. There are similarities and differences, from what I’ve observed. But I am not male, and my work with male victims is still but a fraction of my work with females. I am hoping a male survivor will write a blog addressing this… but am still waiting to hear back.

[2] Some women who have been abused cannot climax or even enter into sexual intimacy. When this is due to the terror of being used and overpowered, being the one to initiate intimacy can help some women overcome this terror. When she were abused, the aggressor disregarded her safety and overpowered her. It works for some to reclaim this through working patiently with her spouse to initiate intimacy, and engaging her when he initiates. Rather than reaching over and touching, if she guides his hands there is safety. This is not a quick fix for everyone. It is one of numerous things a couple can do, practically, to reclaim what has been stolen. Husband, hold your wife tenderly without sex when she is afraid. Hold her when she cries if that is what she needs; ask first.  And know that those tears are common; though most of us hide them as long as we can. (It’s not your fault, unless you wounded her, which is a separate discussion). As you seek to enter in and be there for her, be mindful of things that will make her feel overpowered and invaded. Move compassionately and with her permission. She had no one to protect her when she was abused and raped. To enter into the trauma and emotion of that space, requires deep trust and risk on her part; you need her permission.

Wives, I speak as one who had to walk these steps at various times. I get some of your struggle to an extent. I learned to heal. Then I reverted back to old fears at times. But I overcame. And I’ve advised couples to try these steps over the years. It has been effective for some, though not all. I entered marriage without that fear of Tim and sexual intimacy. But I faced various forms of it later in life when flashbacks started and left me feeling like a whore. I felt ugly, ashamed, guilty. I desired intimacy but feared rejection and at times hated myself. Overcoming this took patience and courage. It’s worth it. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Don’t give up on your intimate relationship easily.

[3] A few things in our conservative culture –and note that I say in our culture, which I draw from their own admissions, and I am not speaking broadly of society –are profoundly linked to homosexuality. This shaming is one. Sexual abuse is another. Oppression of women is another; to be valued you have to be male/masculine. And all the shaming/condemning of femininity and beauty is another.

[4] Many men are gentlemen. I tend to still believe the scales tip heavily in favour of honourable men who treat their wives well in bed. I pray and hope I am right. These men deserve respect, yet they don’t demand it. Their wives are safe emotionally, sexually, physically and spiritually.

[5] This paragraph on addictions also applies to men. It doesn’t mean there will suddenly be no struggle. But there is growth and there is empowerment to overcome. And moving quickly to focusing on God, rather than our wrongs is incredibly important. However, if those wrongs include violating another person, there is an addition step. And that step is facing consequences. If a crime has been committed it must be reported without self-preservation. This frees the victim from false guilt and blame, and helps the person who offended see the gravity of what he/she has done.

NOTE:

Thank you to all who sent in thoughts and questions that helped shape this blog.

If you have questions, feel free to email: trudy@generationsunleashed.com. I am back in university, traveling for speaking, and still going through post-heart attack and other medical issues, so my response time is not as quick as I would like it to be. But I try not to let any fall through the cracks. I will respond as I’m able.

What about the “victim mentality”?

The term ‘victim mentality’ is one I don’t use, because I have found the true ‘victim mentality’ is an incredibly rare phenomenon. I would dare to say that what we often call victim mentality is the aftermath of dreadfully under-acknowledged terror and trauma, rather than some notion of ‘wanting to stay there’. (More on what drives this being stuck in trauma later). In 9 years of interacting closely with them, I have watched most victims of abuse move ‘beyond survivor’ to truly thriving, with few exceptions. This includes those who were my clients, and many who were not my clients but stayed in close contact as they worked through their stories with other mentors and counsellors.

At least a percentage of these individuals would have been classed as having a ‘victim mentality’. Always needing sympathy or affirmation — or both — and seeming to feel ‘poor me’ at every turn with everyone around them always being out to do them harm, no one ever understanding them, and ever being on the fringe of an emotional crash (including threat of suicide etc).

Along with this there was, for some, the need to have somewhere between 6 and 8 people at any given moment whom they would hold on emotional string, as I call it, that they could yank at any moment to have people running from every direction to ‘save them’ from themselves. This is exhausting for everyone.

Sometimes we call it ‘victim mentality’ because we are tired, so that we can remove ourselves from the suffering, which is not productive. It is a sign of deep wounds that need healing. And those who have no concept of offering healthy support, make things worse by accommodating every yank of the string. And yet, ignoring them is not the answer; these victims do need support.

What has happened is that their boundaries have been brutally violated in the same act that left these victims of abuse so emotionally/psychologically, sexually, spiritually and often physically devastated. They, therefore, do not know how to respect healthy boundaries, and when their pain surfaces, for many the only survival skill they have is drawing emotionally from others.

We judge them for it, when the reality is that their suffering has never been acknowledged, and no one has ever said, “I’m so sorry. May I just sit with you in your pain, and love you where you are at?”

When we do that… When we stop judging their neediness… When we stop defining their place of suffering as ‘victim mentality’ …. When we pull up a chair at that preschooler’s table – or that pre-teen’s or teenager’s …now that young woman or man – something beautiful happens. They begin to heal.

To offer this support well requires having boundaries. Set specific times to meet. Have a limit on how many texts, emails, phone calls etc, and set time restrictions on how long those calls are. Or you will be consumed, and they certainly will not heal. We enter into their suffering, but must do so with wisdom.

Then, when we have been there with them, in that dark place of their suffering, only then have we earned the privilege of being invited to speak. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege. And the best gift we can give, when we do speak, is an invitation to walk together. An invitation to share with them the Love of One who gives us life and hope. Not an invitation for us to ‘fix’ them. Or for us to help them arrive where we are. But an invitation to meet the One who is our life and hope. The One who defines us.

When we are given permission to speak His life, His hope and His purpose over them, they grow. They learn to trust. They learn to forgive. As we care, they become stronger. They heal. And when they heal, they no longer see only their own pain, but the pain of others.

Some fear healing. It isn’t that they don’t want to heal, most of them. But a few are terrified of healing. If they heal, who will be there? The only connections some have ever had, have been linked to their trauma and need. If they heal, who will be there? If they heal, will they be alone… lonely? And who will they be? They’ve never been anything other than in pain and suffering? What if being whole demands things they are not capable of. More than one survivor of trauma has admitted these fears to me.

It is easy to judge from a distance. It’s easy to say those fears are not reasonable. Yet they are very real for many survivors of terror and trauma. The shift from fear to thriving happens with recognizing we have something to give, that our need doesn’t have to be the source of our fulfillment.

When, having sat with them in their sorrow, we have earned the privilege to speak… And when, having earned the privilege to speak, we have encouraged, and believed, and spoken life and purpose… Then we can ask the hard questions…

worm to butterfly

What if healing didn’t mean you would be alone? What if healing meant that you could be there for others? What if healing meant that you would be more fulfilled than you ever imagined you would be or could be? What if…?

And when they dare to embrace that challenge, a courage rises up, and they reach out. And in reaching out to others, they are healed. Again. And this doesn’t mean they will never struggle. Tomorrow might be a hard day. Next week they might call their counsellor because they feel lost. Next year they might need someone to ask again, “What if healing doesn’t mean you will be lonely, or alone? What if you keep reaching out to others? What if…?”

It isn’t a victim mentality. Not usually.  And we do a lot of damage when blithely we write it off as that. Mostly it is fear. It is the aftermath of deep trauma. It is a failure to thrive because there has been a failure in those of us around them to sit with them patiently in their suffering, and acknowledge it. And it is a journey. A rising and falling. And rising again.

Only when we have walked through deep trauma, or dared to entered into the suffering of others can we grasp that battle.

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When we reach out to others in hope and healing,
our healing comes more quickly.
~ Isaiah 58 ~ 

 

Love,
~ T ~

 

© Trudy Metzger 2019

A Conference for Sex Abuse Victims With The Anabaptist, the Baptist, and Me

God willing and the crick don’t rise, on May 19 – 20 we plan to do a conference at Erb Mennonite church, Lititz PA, for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as those who offer support. This includes pastors, teachers, friends, family, mentors and anyone who wishes to offer understanding.

poster

Some years ago, when going through a particularly dark time in dealing with the abuses in my past – the sexual, physical and spiritual abuse – I cried out to God, as I have often done over the years. I don’t expect God to write on the wall, take away my grief or pain, or even say a whole lot in those moments. It’s mostly just a trusted place where I release my heart and know I will not be brushed aside, judged or disregarded; He always listens and always loves me just the same. But somewhere in that time He whispered something to me. And I just knew it was Him, and I just knew it would happen. Deeper healing would come from the place of my suffering, but the ‘how’ of it was not revealed. I shared it with Tim, a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know what it meant, but believed someone from ‘within’ would play a role in that healing and acknowledge that the problem is real. I didn’t hold my breath, but I held on to hope, knowing such a thing would have significant impact on many.

Being told it doesn’t happen or isn’t so bad, thus downplaying the impact of sexual violence, adds to trauma while also escalating the problem. And maybe it is the latter that makes it the denial so hard; we who were once victims know it continues and there’s no way to stop it from happening to other children. That thought torments us. So for someone within my culture to boldly acknowledge the problem, without excusing the offender, minimizing the trauma, or blaming victims, would have been enough. But what happened was so much better.

The note came at a difficult time. The challenge of helping victims is wearing, because exposing it disrupts people and systems, and anger is directed at those trying to help. And exposing the darkness is particularly exhausting when I’d rather be friends with everyone and believe there isn’t any evil in religious cultures. The fatigue of that resistance had set in when the note came from a conservative Anabaptist lay pastor; a simple apology for the attacks on our ministry, and on me as a person, simply for following God’s call, a thank you for daring to follow that call, and then speaking into that calling and affirming it.  I was overwhelmed.

Weeks earlier someone shared an incident where they heard a leader in our local community speak evil of me and our ministry. Because they are a couple I held in high regard, I contacted them and asked to meet and try to come to an understanding. They declined and till all was said and done, I felt inadequate and genuinely believed maybe God was telling me to walk away from my calling, that I was unqualified.  On the heels of this, I was astounded to receive the random note of encouragement, apology and blessing from the conservative Anabaptist leader. He even included the very verses God used many years ago to define my calling; verses which are documented and engraved in every phase of this ministry, and which always seem to resurface from random places when something is at stake.

That conservative Anabaptist leader was Kenny Kuhns.

Some time later, when I heard Kenny speak, I wept. Hearing a leader from ‘among my people’ speak such life and hope into the harsh reality of my past, and the past of every survivor of sexual violence in a religious setting, deeply moved me and gave me hope. For a second time, God used Kenny to bring deeper healing into my own experience. I’ve been in ministry a long time, and sometimes people ask if the past ever causes struggle. The answer? Of course it does. From time to time, something triggers the trauma. While this ever less frequent, the truth is that humans have moments when we are confronted with the past, and we must grieve, or run. I used to run. Where there is grief and pain, there is a need for healing, and that is something we need never be ashamed to admit, no matter how long we are in ministry, or how ‘healed’ we become. I believe with all my heart that Jesus is enough for me, and the power of the past is broken. I am not a victim. And I believe just as confidently that He sends representatives to unveil His love in new ways to bring deeper healing when needed.

After seeing Kenny’s heart, we invited him and Irma to join us at our upcoming conference at Erb Mennonite church in Lititz, to speak to the victims as a ‘voice from within’ who understands both the magnitude of sexual abuse in our culture and the cost to those who were victimized. Having worked with survivors for many years, he sees the damage done, but also sees the potential, the place for hope, and the power of Christ to restore and renew. His compassion for survivors serves as a life-line for those often misunderstood and unheard in churches, as he acknowledges the deep suffering. But he doesn’t leave us in our suffering; he honours the hard spiritual battles we fight and acknowledges speaks the life and hope of Jesus into that darkness.

We’ve also invited Pastor Dale and Faith Ingraham from New York to join us again. We’ve had the privilege of working with them numerous times in the past five years, and are always blessed and encouraged. Faith’s story of overcoming abuse at the hands of her father, also a Baptist pastor, while painful, is also a story of resilience, courage and faith. Their heart for the wounded is as genuine as any I’ve encountered, and the gentle message of hope God has given them, brings healing and life.

We are honoured to partner with Kenny and Irma Kuhns for the first time, and especially thankful for the long-term support and friendship of Dale and Faith Ingraham. We look forward to what God will do. It’s going to be good!

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red brochure inside

All are welcome to attend. We acknowledge sexual abuse, however, what we focus on and talk about is God’s love, His grace and His redemption; that is something we all need. Registration is by donation until May 5. After May 5 it is $65. Refreshments and a noon meal will be provided on Saturday May 20, but attendees must preregister for this. This is to make meal planning possible, and avoid last minute stress for the organizing team. Register online: http://www.generationsunleashed.com/events or by snail mail to: Generations Unleashed 15 Coral Gables Crescent, Elmira Ontario N3B 3P4.

For further information, call Dave Miller at: 519-669-3126.

Love,
~ T ~

Ps. Because of the unusual nature of this conference, in that we have invited a conservative Anabaptist leader to come speak, we are aware this may stir up questions, concerns and even fears for some who have suffered abuse at the hands of leaders within the culture, whether spiritually, sexually or otherwise. We acknowledge this risk and are open to questions, concerns and addressing those fears. Please feel free to contact any of our speaking team at:
Trudy: trudy@generationsunleashed.com
Kenny: kenkuhns@nls.net
Dale & Faith Ingraham: dfingraham@speakingtruthinlove.org

Shocking Note From Conservative Minister…

Even as I write this, I recognize that I have not fully absorbed the words in the note that arrived earlier this week. I shared it with a small handful of people, not offering the name of the author, and most responded with tears and emotion, amazed and encouraged. Of those with whom I shared the message, most–if not all, besides my husband– were also conservative Mennonites. And because it was so encouraging to them, I decided to share it in a blog….

I am accustomed to receiving letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from strangers. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence, so when I saw that note, I was mostly nonchalant about it. That is, until I started reading. And my eyes have this way of taking in an entire page all at once, but registering only a portion, so words popped out grabbing my attention. “…don’t know me… conservative… minister… negative connotation…” This can be a distressing thing, at times, when the wrong words grab me, and my heart rate increased ever so slightly as I read it.

The shock at what I read, compelled me to read it at least three times before it all registered. (All identifying information has been edited out:

Trudy, We have never met but I feel a fire inside to drop you a line this morning. I am a conservative Anabaptist …minister…. Recently …in the course of different conversations your name come up at least a half dozen times often with negative connotations but not always. For your name to come up that often you must be having a big impact … I want to do 2 things.
1. I want ask for forgiveness where “my” people have spoken evil of you for just following the call on your life.
2. I want to thank you for following that call and not giving up. We need you. Your call? Isaiah 61:1

By the third reading I felt like a dam was pushing against the inner walls of my heart, threatening to burst, but it would not give way. I wanted to weep, but only a lonely tear or two formed. A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and memory, of all this one message addresses in my heart, and the ‘history’ of my life among ‘his’ people… who are and always will also be ‘my’ people.

In an instant I realized how very healed my heart is in so many ways and places, and yet how there are small ‘brutally raw’ spots, waiting to heal. The words God had spoken, and words I shared with Tim and a few friends a few years ago, when my heart was particularly raw, returned, “Healing will come… and it will come from the very source of your pain.” At the time I tried to imagine just how my healing could or would ever come from ‘my people’, where so much pain had entered my life and broken trust with God. But I chose to believe it.

And little by little it came… A note from a friend still in the setting… and another… and another… An encouragement from one Conservative Mennonite pastor after my book came out in March… and then another… and another… and another, until there were six.

And then the unthinkable happened. Never in a million years would I have anticipated it or even dared to desire such a thing… but it came. I attended a funeral in my former church setting, and a leader I knew in ‘those years’ shook my hand. But he didn’t let go. He held my hand and his voice choked up as he thanked me for honouring them in my book. “We didn’t deserve it,” he said. I smiled and patted his hand–still holding mine–“I think you did,” I said. Tears formed then, as he continued, apologizing for not understanding me, for not being there and for failing me. “I wish we had done more to help you,” he said.  I thanked him, and immediately felt it; another moment of healing.

These moments have been representative of my Heavenly Father; Abba… Papa God, who cares personally and intimately about every wound in my heart. Even the ones I forgot I had, or never acknowledged. I expected nothing more in the way of healing. My heart was full.

And I think that is why the note this week was so overwhelming. It wasn’t just about the past. It was about the ongoing lies, evil-speaking and attacks on our ministry. (Which, thank God, I have learned to let run off as the oil of the Holy Spirit covers me and doesn’t allow it to penetrate.) But more than that, it was a blessing on our ministry.

Ultimately my affirmation comes first from my Heavenly Father, very directly, as He ministers to my heart. Secondly it comes from my husband who stands with me. Thirdly it comes from hearing and reading about others who are rising up to bring the healing of Jesus to the broken and wounded in the church. I seek nothing beyond that, in the way of endorsement or affirmation.

So when a moment like this drops out of the clear blue sky, my heart and spirit are almost overcome. I thank God for this minister’s encouragement, for his ministry to the wounded, and for a reminder that there are others ‘within’ in spiritual warfare for the children and offering the hope of Jesus to the wounded.

It is my prayer that this minister’s note will be encouraging for those of you who are also conservative Mennonite and feel alone and abandoned. If you are wondering if any of ‘our people’ and leaders in particular, will acknowledge what was done against you, and the need for your heart to find healing, now you know.

I recently received a message from an abuse victim, asking if every conservative Mennonite victim of sexual abuse gets the urge to strangle anyone they see wearing a plain suit coat. And in another email this note arrived not so long ago, from a victim of extreme sexual violence, in a religious home with this question:
“why is it that the people who ‘look the most christian’ are the ones that are the least understanding and the most hurtful? Even the ones who don’t place much stock in a host of church rules etc. The people who have shown me a clear picture of who God really is are people who my friends and family would call wordly. (…) It’s been drilled into us since we were kids that if they don’t wear a Menno dress they probably aren’t Christian and yet look at what all goes on in the life of people who wear the ‘right’ clothes. When it comes to some of these people it feels like the only thing you accomplish is beating your head on a brick wall.”

 

My prayer is that the gentleman/minister who wrote the note of encouragement and apology, who also wears a plain suit coat and is conservative Anabaptist, will be representative of the Father’s heart to you as he was to me, and a reminder that good and evil dwell in every culture. And I pray that healing will come to each of you also–even from the very ‘source’ of your pain–as it has for me, as Jesus is represented will by those who love Him above all else, including image and religion.

Those of us who love Him, will love you also, and we will tear down the dividing walls between brothers and sisters in Christ, with no regard for self preservation. We will put ourselves on the line for your well-being, because that is the way of Jesus.

Last but not least, I want to bless this minister of the healing Gospel of Jesus. I pray that God will enlarge his sphere of influence, so that many of ‘his people’ will know the healing touch of Jesus Christ, through him, his wife, his family and his church.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

Day 30…

It’s November 30, and the final of my 30 days of focusing on victims of sexual abuse in these blog posts. A day or two after I made the commitment to do my best to post daily for the month, and acknowledge survivors of abuse, in some way, I realized that November is Canada’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There are many aspects to family violence, and sexual assault is a part of that violence. That said, while offenders are often family members or close friends, it is not always the case.

My goal this month has been to lift a weary heart, to encourage those lost in the shadows of shame, and bless victims who have lost sight of their own value and personal identity. And hopefully it encouraged those who are not victims to reach out to the hurting around them.

My prayer has been, and is, that each victim becomes a victor… an overcomer… So that together we become a people who raise our sails against the winds, and master the winds of pain and trauma… using the very thing intended to destroy us, as the launching pad for a future filled with purpose and hope.

In this 30 day stretch I learned that it is very difficult to focus solely on the victim, but it can be done. And it was a good exercise for me. Longterm, however, both sides of this equation need attention, and both the victim and the criminal need the appropriate help.

I also learned that it is challenging to write daily about sexual abuse, even from a ‘healing for victims’ perspective. There is a heaviness to this topic that cannot be done away with, no matter how positive the ‘spin’. It’s painful and it is hard. From that perspective I understand why church leaders, parents, teachers and the general population want to run, deny or silence people. But it is a cowardly act, and it is not of God.

God welcomes the cries of His children, and comforts us. He doesn’t tell us we are making things up, lying, over-reacting, or just trying to ‘get even’. He doesn’t tell us that our reality is nothing more than a nightmare or a demonic imagination. He  hears us. He holds us. He comforts us.

But most importantly, He reminds us who we are; His beloved, accepted and healed; His adopted, with divine authority over the darkness; His redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit. His love flows into us, and out to others. We breathe in His life, in exchange for the stale air of sin that poisons us, and we breathe out His life to those around us.

That is purpose. That is hope. That is a good future. That is redemption.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

When Victims Can’t Pray, Read the Bible or Trust God

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and particularly those who were violated in Christian settings, often struggle to trust God. Inevitably this plays into their ability to pray or read the Bible, or even receive biblical truth in the form of someone else quoting the Bible. And understandably so.

My goal when working with people, is to show them–in word and in action–that God is a relational God. Twenty minutes of prayer and an hour of Bible reading, as a religious duty, mean nothing apart from relationship.  Oh sure, it can be presented as ‘discipline’, but what is discipline in religious duty, apart from the kindness of relationship? I’m not interested in it. I can practice discipline in any one of countless other areas, if it is discipline I want to prove.

In learning to pray, I encourage conversational prayer. All the ‘Thee, Thou and Thine’ in the world, doesn’t reach or touch the heart of God, if it is spoken in religious distance. God is a near God. He is present. He is tender. He is a Papa, who wants to hear about our innermost thoughts, and our mundane things. He is like a good daddy or mama, who delights in hearing a child’s excited account of a day at the park, playing with Lego, or listens tenderly to the tears in recounting how the kitty got hit by a car. He’s not looking for deeply religious words that sound pious in right to the masses trapped in performance, but the real and genuine things of the heart–both good and bad. That’s prayer. And when we ‘chatter’ to God at that level, moment by moment, the religious performance takes on the scent of dead flesh, while conversation becomes the thing that breathes life into our soul.

When it comes to reading the Bible, one cause of struggle is the lack of understanding of God’s message, and the way truth has often been misrepresented. The voice of condemnation often associated with the Bible is tragically warped. God’s message, in every word, every story, every line is love. Humans didn’t do it well, always, that is a reality. But God’s message remains, consistently, a message of love.

And the matter of presenting it as condemnation is a thing of humanistic desire for control over another, which is demonic at best. God never granted one of us the right or responsibility to manipulate or control the mind of another. We do it out of fear, to the detriment of those struggling, and to comfort our own minds; we have done our duty, and hopefully the individuals will head our warnings for their ‘good’.

The damaging effect of this serves to drive people farther from the heart of God, and deeper into sin and guilt, rather than drawing them to grace, to repentance and to hope. The impact is devastating.

An individual struggling with pornography or sexual immorality, as a result of sexual awakening that started him or her down that path, hardly needs us to quote a Bible verse or two about immorality and hell, in hopes it will scare them onto the straight and narrow. They need us to walk with them through the pain, the confusion and the trauma, to bring the love and grace of Jesus to that deep wound. Even Jesus, the Holy One, did not come to condemn but to offer life. Who are we, in our religious sinfulness and utter humanity, to offer any condemnation at all? I have never seen a life changed for the good through that approach. I have, however, witnessed life after life, transformed by Love, and addictions broken.

And then this whole thing of ‘God the Father’…. That’s a painful one for many. God. That fearful word applied to this Cosmic Being who wields power over us, and who has been misrepresented by fathers, brothers, preacher, bishops, pastors, uncles. To overcome such association is no small thing. And to walk a wounded heart through that pain is a thing of time, patience and the constant reminder that “He can handle this struggle… He is not put off by your fear… He doesn’t judge you or push you away for it…” and then to show the heart of the Father in love, compassion and caring for their hearts.

Many things have contributed to my healing, but not one more so than discovering the heart of my Heavenly Father–my Papa; Abba Father–for me. It was a moment of revelation that brought tears and warmed my heart when it realized, “God likes me.” I understood well that He loves me. What would drive a man–even a God-man– to a cross, to die for a sinner like me, if it were not for love? Yes, that love was an undeniable thing. But in my woundedness I believed I was unlikable, even by other humans. Even with Tim in our earlier years, I knew I was loved, but at times my mind doubted that he liked me. How could he? I was too scarred. My emotional ups and downs too ‘ugly’.

But little by little, I discovered that Tim likes me; he delights in me and enjoys spending time with me. I make him laugh. I bring him joy and pleasure, just by being me. And that same discovery with God transformed my life. It was a specific moment in time, that the awareness consciously struck me, “God likes me”. And in that moment my spirit danced and my heart laughed. To think that the God of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, likes me…

I no longer define God based on who my earthly father–or any other spiritual figure in my life–was or is. God was not made in their image; they were made in God’s image, and failed in their representation of Him. I do not need to fear Him, based on who they were, or what they did.

God, the Highest Being, the Creator offers me His identity, invites me into conversation, and into relationship. That is Amazing Love. It is healing grace…

And that is why my hope, when working with survivors of abuse, is to always lead them gently to the Father’s heart. To offer anything less would be a grave injustice, when healing ultimately comes from Him, at that deep spirit level.

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

Importance of Taking Time Away From the Heavy Things

  
It is a crisp and beautiful day here in Pennsylvania.  I’ve enjoyed the past few days, away from work and ministry commitments, to connect with friends. I’ve relaxed and chatted, enjoyed a somewhat restricted amount of coffee (because too much raises the blood pressure), and had many good conversations. 

I even spent one afternoon baking and cooking meals for my friends’ freezer, because she is recovering from surgery, and there are things he would rather do than cook. And I quite enjoyed it too. 

Yesterday I even took a break from blogging, mostly because it was my birthday, and the day was too full to fit it in. So work and ministry were especially far from my mind.  I’ve thought of my clients, of course, but mostly that ‘world’ is 645 miles away. 

Taking a rest or a break, they say, is as good as a change. And I certainly believe that to be true. But even when I am at home and in the thick of it, I set aside times that I am available for clients, and times that are reserved for family and other commitments. This is to avoid burnout, and then end up being unavailable for months, or maybe even years, or the rest of my life. I do it for my family, and for my clients, and most certainly for my own well-being.

It is no different for victims of sexual abuse; sometimes you need a break. The heaviness of dealing with what once was is very draining, and sometimes it can feel like there’s just too much. When I work with clients whose circumstances and stories are exceptionally extreme and require extended support, there comes a time when I recommend a break. 

Victims  reading this are probably asking, how in the world does an abuse victim take a break? The reality is we cannot get away from our story; it is what it is, it is a past event that cannot be changed. 

When I encourage clients to take a break, I outline a few  suggestions to help clear the mind of abuse-related information, at least for a short time. Many victims want to understand what was done to them, and the psychological consequences. The pursuit of knowledge related to sexual abuse and its outcome is not uncommon.  Reading blog, after blog, after blog… or researching books, and papers, or more blogs about how abuse might have impacted their world, even scientifically… Trying to understand anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress syndrome and various other outcomes including sexual dysfunction. The desire to know these things is not bad, nor is it difficult for me to understand why victims want to know; we often don’t understand ourselves and the symptoms we carry. But obsessively and constantly reading material related to sexual abuse, while we are in the throes of trying to work through it, keeps our minds constantly in that space and has potential to do more harm than good. 

Sometimes I will suggest taking a break from reading anything related to sexual abuse for a month, and rather filling the mind with other things. Even social media, in general, offers post after post after post about sexual abuse, and violence. And the truth is, speaking out is long overdue! But the other truth is that when we as victims spend obsessive amounts of time reading about it, while working through our own pain, our minds simply do not get the break they need from the trauma. During this ‘break’ we continue to meet, in most cases – – unless the client wants a complete break – – and simply focus on affirming truth, so the power of the lies is broken.

My encouragement is to focus on the healing process during that time, rather than trying to understand all of the outcomes, consequences, and psychological conditions we acquired through trauma. Healing seldom comes through that knowledge, especially in extreme cases, and with the risk of exacerbating the problem, it’s just not worth it. 

There comes a time and a place, after we are healed, when that information no longer has the same negative impact. And at that time, our minds are much stronger, and the information can actually be helpful, not only for ourselves, but in helping others as well.

Stories of overcoming can be very encouraging when read at the right time, but in our week times they can add trauma. And unfortunately often news reports, and even some blog posts, are  current events for which there is no imminent solution or good outcome. Therefore the offer no positive input into a traumatized mind and are best avoided for a time. 

If you are an abuse victim, and find yourself constantly absorbing information that keeps your mind focusing on your pain and story in a negative and hopeless way, I would recommend  considering a break. Read other encouraging things, and continue to meet with your counselor, mentor, or other support person and fill your mind with uplifting things.

While I don’t have a long list of stories as proof that it works, I do have several, and feel quite confident in encouraging such a thing. 

God bless you all today, and my prayer is for ongoing healing for every victim and for this tragic crime to stop. My prayer is also that the church would rise up, and offer the healing touch of Jesus, rather then the condemning curse of silence and denial. There is a healthy way…

Love,

~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger

Part of Healing is Learning to Think of Others

In honesty, writing a blog tonight is not easy. I could think of a thousand and one things to say, I’m sure, but all fall flat as I think about the tragedy in Paris, France. It’s a current crisis and dreadful thing for any human to suffer, ever…  And it is not a crime against one city, or one nation. It is a crime against all of us, as is every careless and violent act political or otherwise.

Inevitably, because this is a crime that does not fall into sexual victimization, my heart is drawn to the importance of taking time from our own pain and working through things, as victims of sexual violence, to think of others in pain.

Together let’s remember Paris, France, and the families and loved ones of those left behind, and stand in solidarity with them, praying for them. Remembering them doesn’t mean that sexual abuse victims are less important than victims of terrorist attacks. Nor does it minimize the pain and suffering of those who have been violated sexually, or make less glaring the wickedness of sexual violence.  One is an act of terror against the body and the country, and ultimately the world–instilling fear, causing grief  and forever changing lives of those left behind–the other is an act of terror against the mind, body and spirit–instilling fear and shame, causing grief and forever changing the life of the victim.

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There is always the risk in grief, that we forget to see the pain and suffering of others, and become so deeply lost in our own pain that it even consumes us, and robs us of a full life. So it is good to look away, every now and then, even when we are in the deepest throes of personal sorrow.

With time, we will look away most of the time, and every now and then remember what we once suffered. But until then, we have to be intentional about it.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger