To every honourable man… “Thank you”

Recently, in the middle of a crazy situation involving sexual abuse, it struck me how blessed I am in our marriage. I told Tim that. Again. Our marriage isn’t not perfect, and we’ve had moments of ‘gasping for air’, so to speak, just to get through. Times it felt like we wouldn’t make it. But, thank God for grace, determination, forgiveness and the kind of love that fights through when feelings are weak and life is hard. And thank God Tim is so respectful. I’m blessed.

I’m blessed that with all the sexual perversions I see, that I can still look Tim full in the face and think, “What a sexy man of God!” (And I love his beard!) I add the ‘sexy’ part, not flippantly or even sensually, but because I truly am blessed that God has protected that ‘appeal’ in spite of all the sexual corruption I encounter when supporting victims. That is a real gift, because God intended sex to be a wonderful part of marriage, and I’ve heard of people becoming asexual when working closely with this kind of thing, or becoming so repulsed that it wrecks their marriage. So I am thankful that Tim is every bit as appealing to me today as he was 24 years ago when we made our vows.

The other thing that struck me, though, is that I see men as generally good-hearted, respectful and kind. A compliment gets a thank you. And a man who holds the door open also gets a thank you. There are gentleman in this world, who remember chivalry, and they deserve my respect and appreciation. (I also understand why some men are hesitant to hold the door). Even in my teens, a rebel among other things, I appreciated a sincere compliment. (That said, when compliments were sexualized, I responded with the lift of a finger. Just being honest.) When I think of the men I know and/or encounter, I feel respected and my general perception is that most are not corrupt to the core. I think most struggle sexually, with few exceptions. And those ‘exceptions’ are, no doubt, still tempted but have learned to turn their eyes away. Being tempted doesn’t make a person perverted or evil. It makes them human and dependent on grace. Falling into temptation also doesn’t make them perverted and evil. It makes them human and in need of grace. Excusing such behaviour, that’s a different ball game.)

That all got me to thinking about what it must be like to be a man. A few men in one community, church or club, can make the whole seem perverted and not trustworthy. If a sex predator aligns himself with that church, club or community to gain credibility or access to vulnerable people, then the whole lot become a bit suspect because victims really are not sure about their affiliates. Using those affiliations to gain public trust and respect of people and get access to vulnerable people is pretty low down. Because it makes them well buffered and virtually untouchable, and leaves victims 100% voiceless.

That is, until a few find a voice… and more find a voice and eventually the truth is revealed. But by that time the church, organization or ministry – and especially the other men there – will pay a high price for not having been more discerning and for (apparently) turning a blind eye. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t look the other way. Sometimes they were just too trusting.

Being a man suddenly isn’t that appealing. (In spite of the fact that, as a little Mennonite girl I desperately wanted to be male and thought surely God could still do a miracle and transform me into a male. If he can make babies from scratch, surely turning a girl into a boy wouldn’t be that hard. Boy, am I glad He didn’t, because it would be hard being a male in today’s world.) It isn’t appealing to me, but it is honourable when stewarded well. The strength of character it must take to be a good and honourable man, when those who are brutal and abusive shape how women see you, must be immense… and discouraging. That really struck me. And I thought about men, how I generally view them, and realized that percentage wise, they have a very good track record in my life.

In my ‘close’ experience the greater percentage have been kind, gentle, empowering and value their wives, and respect women in general. And then there is that small percentage who are cruel, controlling, abusive and demeaning. Some with strong religious affiliations and presenting a spiritual image, others with no such claims. But men, in general, are blamed and shamed, because to many victims all men represent what was done to them, so they trust none.

I was blessed. Men invested deeply in my healing. As much, if not more than women. But they played a different role. They didn’t ‘hold me’ to ‘give back’ what had been taken. (That wouldn’t have worked!) Sure, a few of them gave me healthy hugs, but they pointed me to Jesus, to God as my heavenly Papa, for Him to restore that brokenness, rather than trying to be that for me. They showed me I am valuable and worth caring for. They listened, but they let God be my Hero. And most of all they loved and respected their wives and daughters.

So, to every man who is honourable (even if imperfect), to every man who does not take advantage of vulnerable women, and every one who honours his wife and respects women in general… to every one who handles his sexuality well and does not use it against women and children: Thank you. (Even if you struggle and are tempted.) I respect you. You are noble. You are the unsung heroes of our time, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to not bow to shame and defeat on behalf of the abusers. I encourage you, hold your heads up, and don’t give in. We need you. You are the healing many of us need. We see you love your wives and children well. You give us hope for our children and grandchildren.

To honourable men: I am sorry I even need to write the blogs I write, speak out about the abuse…. I’m sorry for how that must, at times, make you struggle with your manhood. Know that I honour you, and I believe there are more of you (by far) in my world than there are abusers. And if I am wrong and you are outnumbered, I honour you yet more.

As always, and with deep honour for these men…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Children, Sexual Behaviours & Healthy Responses that Preserve Innocence

One child was just under 2 years old, and the other just past 2 when the adult walked in and saw them engaging in what was unmistakably a sex act, of the oral kind… This adult related the event to me soon after, horrified, and asked, “What is the right response?” among many other questions. One of those other questions was, “How would children that age even know how to do that?”

Reactions to these discoveries range from anger, to fear, to apathy. Rather than telling the woman what she should have done, I asked her what she did. “Why I marched them to the bathroom and paddled them good!” she answered.

I cringed, visibly. In the moments that ensued, we talked about why that response is devastating and counterproductive. In exploring that, the other question was also answered.

Whipping and spanking children for sexual touch–whether innocent curiosity or the shocking reenactment of adult behaviour in any form, sends the wrong message. In either case it is not possible for a child to understand what that behaviour is or means, and to spank simply imposes confusion on them and tells them sexual touch is bad. It’s not bad. It’s lovely. In its rightful place. And that is the message children need to hear from young on up, in age appropriate language. It is God’s design, and it is good.

Innocence is not preserved or reclaimed through silence; it is through healthy teaching that they are empowered and equipped. For a toddler or small child there is no need for a lengthy science or Bible lesson; a simple “your body is special and no one is allowed to touch your ______ (insert part)” is probably enough. (Older children can handle more information.) Explaining that boys and girls are different is also good, starting at a young age, as well as allowing conversations and questions on the subject. Making it taboo or dirty, serves to escalate the curiosity and guilt/shame often associated with what is a natural desire to know and understand. In this we feed the cycle of abuse and confusion in that the child does not feel safe coming to us, and yet wants answers.

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And that is the next reason we do well not to react or paddle. It closes doors to trust and communication on a topic where both are critical for the child’s well-being, and results in teenagers trying to muddle their way through puberty, hormones and sex-drives with no one to talk to. Granted, it will still be awkward for some (probably many) but it at least gives them a reasonable chance.

Lastly, the child who has progressed to adult-like sexual behaviour is most likely reenacting personal experience. There is no way that a little child understands that behaviour without some molestation and sexual exposure of some sort. That is how they ‘know how to do that’ at such a young age.

Sexual interactions between children, when it moves beyond that ‘normal curiosity’ of wanting to know the differences, is not something to take lightly; we develop life patterns in the formative years. While both scenarios require guidance, the latter is a dangerous thing to neglect. However, to scold and punish rather than gently training and teaching, dumps shame and guilt on them for what they don’t understand as well as for what was done against them. That child will potentially, even likely, develop fear surrounding the topic of sex and is not likely going to tell anyone what was done against him or her, if asked, and will be pushed into deep denial. Out of that denial they often develop compulsive lying and deceptive behaviours, not to mention sexual addictions of various kinds at a young age.

On the flip side, by affirming their sexual identity–and I write here from a biblical worldview–we give them an incredible gift. To know, as a toddler, that we are made in the image of our Creator, and reflect something of Him in all of who we are, is a good thing.

Drawing from Genesis, I get a powerful message of identity…  Male and female God created them; in His own image, He created them. That to me says, “In their sexual identity, as male and female, God created humankind to reflect something of Himself to each other and the world.” This identity runs much deeper than sexual organs or sexual behaviors, though these in their God-given place and context are part of it. It speaks of ‘all of who you are, as a man or woman, as a boy or a girl, is made in God’s image to bring honour to Him.

What part of that is not a thrilling reality? And does it not stand to reason that a child who grows up from early age on, understanding that he or she is made in God’s image, will do much better than the one who is paddled into a state of confusion?

Sexual interaction between children is nothing to take lightly; it leaves long-lasting scars, in many instances. It is also not something to overreact about. It is an opportunity to teach our children, and when it resembles adult sexual intimacy, it is a strong clue that our child has been exposed to something sexual. In such a case that clue, and what we do with it, can make all the difference in the world for that child.Talk to them, and find out what they know and where they learned it, in a non-threatening way, and give your child a safe place to talk. And, if in doubt, reach out to someone and get help and guidance. Your child’s well being depends on it.

This is but the tip of the iceberg, in relating well to children and sexuality. I have gained much insight and understanding, through cases I work with and individuals I go to for answers, and I continue to learn in every situation I face.

If you have some insight to share, or if there is a particular question you would like answered, please write using the Contact Trudy page. Together we learn; together we make a difference.

Love,
~ T ~


© Trudy Metzger

Finding Jesus in the Shadows (Part 1)

Continuing my story…

My visit from Howard and Alice, and that life-altering question, triggered the first wave of a long grieving process. Maybe more like the initial Tsunami that set the waves in motion, for years to come, in various ways and stages.

To survive emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, one must learn to ride these waves and take advantage of them, using them for good. But riding waves takes practice, and it’s best if one knows how to swim.

Howard and Alice’s home was a safe place for the initial ‘shock’ part of that journey, and coming out of that shock. For three days, in their home, I slipped in and out of moments of my new reality, trying to come to terms with what had been in my childhood. Though, how does one truly come to terms with the ultimate betrayal from a parent?

God has a way of getting messages through in ways that we can hear them, if we listen. And sometimes even if we don’t. One of my ‘languages’ with God, is music. Maybe even a language with life. When I can’t resolve things, when I’m struggling intensely, I often come across a song that has a message just for that moment. And that is just what happened.

Music began playing the one evening at Howard and Alice’s, that caught my attention. I don’t recall all the words, but the words that stood out every time,  went something like, “…show your Daddy, where it hurts, and let your Daddy fix it…”

A battle raged in my inner part. How was I to show anything to any Daddy, anywhere, especially if it hurt? That was where my pain had started–from my earthly father. How could I trust God, a Heavenly Father to be any different? Why had He not protected me? I couldn’t reconcile it. Still, the words continued to grip me, long after the song was done.

I replayed it, wanting to resolve whatever it was that stirred in me. I rested on the sofa in the living room, alone, listening to the words of the song. Something drew me in, but what?

The tears started, and would not stop. Lying there I realized I was not abandoned. That anything I had lost with my earthly father, my Heavenly Father would restore and redeem.

Papa-God was with me and had never abandoned me, even when I could not feel Him, or see evidence of Him. When I had felt as if I needed to take care of myself, He was there. He had come, in the body of Jesus Christ, to understand my mental suffering, to know my fears, to feel my pain. To tell me I could overcome, just as He had overcome. But I would not do it on my own strength, but in trusting Him.

At the end of day three, I felt refreshed. Ready to move forward. I had cried my tears, and I would cry again, but the initial trauma was over. I returned to the Colonel’s home, to pour my energy into taking care of him.

I met with Howard and Alice, from time to time, to talk through things, but life continued as before, for the most part.

At Christmas I went to Pennsylvania, to spend some time with my then-boyfriend. He had dropped hints, probably inadvertently, that he was going to propose. The hints were unmistakable, as wedding dreams and plans became a normal part of conversation.

For Christmas he gave me a full ski suit and we had agreed we would not do that until our relationship was ‘set in stone’, so to speak, because I was not a skier, and wasn’t likely to pick it up, without him in my life.

We spent a day skiing between Christmas and New Years, and that evening, I was told, I needed to be extra dressed up. I wore my prettiest dress, took extra care doing my hair. The restaurant, he said, was amazing. He had not been there, but he had asked friends before booking it.

We left the house with high expectations.

Life was about to change… dramatically. But not in the way I thought and dreamed.

To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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Jesus, The Mennonite Bishop & His Wife, the Girl, and I

The Introduction

This is one of the most exciting posts I have written to date… but I struggled to know what title to give it… A dozen went through my mind, falling flat without making an impact. I thought about this one, but without ‘Jesus’ and using ‘the Outsider’ instead of ‘I’, but that sounded like one of those lame ‘St. Peter’ jokes, and this isn’t really that kind of post.

This post is a celebration of the things God can do, when human beings lay themselves aside, lay aside their religious beliefs–both sides of the equation–and focus on what really matters.

Today I’m sharing *Tracy’s story, with her permission. Tracy is one of the people I meet with, to mentor through the ‘stuff’ of life, and to find Jesus in day-to-day experience. Even in the tough situations.

Tracy and I connected first a year, or so, ago. Briefly. Superficially. The kind of friendship that is common on Facebook, where you ‘friend’ someone, but don’t necessarily engage in relationship. You interact from time to time, but don’t often go deep. Nothing wrong with that.

Our relationship changed, however, some time ago, when Tracy started reading my blog and my story began resonating with her. She contacted me, just to ask a few questions, and that led to more interaction, and finally our first face-to-face meeting.

Tracy is conservative Mennonite, and knew that I am not. One of the things I do, when I meet someone with different beliefs than my own, is talk about what my goal is, and isn’t. My goal is never to pull anyone out of their culture, or undermine their culture, though I do mentor from a faith perspective, but with neutral position on practical beliefs. My goal is to hear hearts, and heal hearts, through restoration and a healthy understanding of, and relationship with, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Confession

Having had that talk, we moved into the ‘stuff of life’. Tracy shared some of the struggles and conflicts in her life. Church rules, though rigorous, were bearable. Family dynamics were difficult. We talked about specifics and could only conclude that her parents love her deeply, but struggle with being over-protective, to the point of controlling.

In conversation I commented, “They simply want to protect you, possibly from something they, or a friend, went through when they were young. That doesn’t make it right to be controlling, I told her, but it helps understand them. “I’m suspicious they want to protect your virginity,” I said, when the discussion of dating came up. I sensed hesitance. I don’t remember what I said next, but I recall her answer.

“I’m not a virgin,” Tracy said. Too late for that.

Being a spiritual mentor, who predominantly helps people work through sexual abuse and violence, while establishing a healthy relationship with God, I reacted accordingly.

“Have you taken care of it? Asked God to forgive you?” I asked. “Are you free?” She said she had and it was forgiven, in her past, so we moved on.

Tracy and I have met numerous times in the past few months, always connecting at a heart level. From time to time, in between meetings, I would get that ‘niggling’ in my spirit, that I should send a note or a text, asking how things are, and we’d set up a meeting within a day or two. Frequently something had just happened, and she was in recovery mode, or something happened within a day. Often just before our meeting.

That is what happened last week. I messaged Tracy to see how she’s doing. To make sure she’s getting through things okay. Later that evening we spoke on the phone, and she was quite upset. Her bishop had asked for a meeting and she didn’t know why.

I asked if she would like to meet for coffee and talk through it. She did, so we met at Timmies. We talked through a lot of ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen ‘if” scenarios, bringing the fears back in check.

Before we parted she said she would like if I joined her for the meeting on Monday, with her bishop and his wife. She said she was nervous only because she didn’t know what to expect, but that they are very kind.

I’ve often told Tracy that any time she needs me for support or mediation, I will be there, if I’m available. When she asked, I knew I needed to prioritize it, because she doesn’t ask easily, or lightly.

The Meeting

Tracy and I stood outside the church, on Monday night, waiting for the bishop and his wife to arrive. We had agreed to meet a few minutes in advance and connect before the meeting. Her body trembled, her voice carried an edge of nervousness.

“We’ll probably meet in the minister’s room,” she said. We talked about how intimidating the room is. Laughed about it, concluding it’s because that’s where all the big decisions are made.

The bishop and his wife arrived.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Trudy Metzger, and I’m here on Tracy’s invitation, to support her as she shares with you. I am the first woman with whom she shared her story, and have been her mentor through it. If it’s okay with you, I would like to be her support today.”

They shook my hands warmly, welcoming me, assuring me that was not a problem. “Why don’t we go to the minister’s room,” the bishop said, “it’s about as good a place as any.” He paused. We started up the steps. “Hopefully it’s not too intimidating,” he continued.

I resisted the urge to snicker. Funny that, only seconds before they arrived, we had talked about it.

“And we have nice plush chairs in there,” he said, trying to make things as comfortable as they can be when you have a Mennonite Bishop and his wife, a young girl who is struggling or perceived to be struggling, and me–an outsider.

In the early school days, I remember the worksheet that had four items and you had to identify one that didn’t belong. Well, this one would have been easy. I was definitely ‘that’ item. The one that looked different. The duck in a line up of flowers, The motorbike in a row of cars. I chose not to feel out of place, in spite of this obvious detail. And they really were trying to make me feel safe, I could tell.

On my way to the meeting I had prayed the blood of Jesus specifically and individually over each person’s mind, body, soul and spirit. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would have free rein, not held back by our differences in cultural practice and Bible interpretation, and that we would lift our eyes to Jesus, and not the stuff of life, or our beliefs. I had called my friend and mentor, Anne, to ask her and her husband to pray. I knew we were well covered. And I didn’t doubt that the others had also prayed.

We engaged in small talk for a few minutes before opening in prayer. The bishop then opened the conversation, inviting Tracy to share her journey, specifically addressing some of the family stresses she faced. How was she doing? What was her side of the story?

The Secret

Tracy shared from her heart. Raw. Honest. Bold. And yet gentle. She has a very sweet, gentle spirit and a deep thinker. Very deep. She is very open about her desire to know God, to serve Him with all that she is, and to pursue His plans for her. This came through.

Tracy paused, looked at me, as if asking a silent question. I’ve learned to read her. “Are you going to share some of the past stuff we talked about?” I asked.

“Should I?” she asked.

“It’s up to you.” We had agreed at our meeting on Friday night that it would be best if they heard it from her. The odds of rumours leaking out–now that she was breaking silence–and things becoming twisted was high. Truth, directly from the individual is always best. “Shall I share how we arrived at you telling me, and then you can pick it up from there?” I asked.

She nodded. “Sure.”

I shared about our initial meeting and how our conversation about family dynamics and her protective parents had led to her making a confession. There I stopped. The bishop and his wife looked at her. I looked at her. I could see the anxiety but with confidence she spoke the words, “I am not a virgin. My first boyfriend and I had sex.”

Shock as it registered on their faces, yet gentleness. The bishop looked tender and sad, not upset or angry. No judgement. His wife choked back tears, but held the same tenderness.

“Thank you for being honest and telling us,” the bishop said.

She went on to say that it wasn’t just a one time thing, that it started early in their youth and carried on until they broke up some years later. The boyfriend had promised a future… a life together…. downplaying how wrong it was. How could it be that wrong in a committed relationship, if they were to be married one day?

We talked at length about the ways we had worked through it. She said she had asked Jesus to forgive her, and had left that life behind, but had never cleared it with her boyfriend. They had shared the secret alone for years, just the two of them, and now one other friend, and me. She wanted the power of the secret to be broken, and she wanted to make things right with her first boyfriend.

The bishop asked us both some questions, and we spent some time just talking, heart to heart, exploring appropriate next steps. Breaking ties and the power of that relationship got most of our focus.

The Dilemma

The bishop applauded Tracy several times for her honesty, and her willingness to share the truth, no matter how hard.

“Tracy speaks very highly of you,” I said, hoping to reassure them that she does, in fact, have a healthy respect for them, and their desire for her, and the church family as a whole.

The bishop’s voice held emotion as he spoke, gently, tenderly, “So you trust us, Tracy?” His eyes filled with tears.

Tracy choked up. She nodded. The tears began to fall. I saw then, more than before, the depth of their relationship. Tracy is friends with the bishop’s children. She has spent plenty of time in their home, and has told me how much fun she has had with them. How the bishop has a great sense of humour, and his wife is ‘just the sweetest woman’.

“I love you, Tracy,” the bishop said, eyes glistening with tears that would not spill. “I really love you.” He looked at his wife, who could not speak, for the intensity of emotion. “She really loves you. Don’t you?” he said, now addressing his wife. She nodded. “We really love you.”

Tears fell from Tracy’s face. When she cries, tears spill, one at a time and drop. It’s quite beautiful, really. They don’t pour like a stream. It’s as if  each one has a unique identity, that it is not willing to let go of. And so they fall, one at a time, splashing, wherever they land, into countless little sparkles, testifying to the purity of the heart, from which they came.

The moment held a sacredness. An intimacy that was almost tangible. There was a few moments of silence. The bishop’s wife started crying, her face sweet and beautiful, eyes filled with compassion.

I sensed a powerful Presence in the room, and I knew we have not met to tell stories and gather facts. We had met with Jesus, the Healer.

The bishop broke the silence to present the dilemma. The church ‘tradition’ is to confess in front of the rest of the congregation, when caught in sin. At least sins of ‘this nature’. He admitted he wished he didn’t need to even propose such a thing, not wanting to shame Tracy or make a spectacle of her. But he believed it is best. It would allow her to share her story, her repentance and forgiveness with the congregation, rather than having rumours spread, without truth. For her to share her testimony would put the power where it should be, in redemption and healing.

It is a big deal, in the Mennonite church, where the sense of community is so strong, when something like this happens. Some mean well. Others, well, they love to sensationalize the stories. It’s their way of adding a bit of spice to life, often at the expense of others. Some are true saints about it all. Extending grace and forgiveness quickly, marvelling at the goodness of God, in spite of our fallen nature. Regardless of intent, the one thing not likely to happen, is silence, once the cover is blown, or the truth leaks out. Gossips and rumours, prayer chains and concerns. Whatever the method, word will spread in such a tight-knit community. That is the downside to a beautiful and powerful sense of community, that in many ways has advantages others lack.

Tracy and I had talked about this the Friday night prior to the meeting. Biblically, we agreed, according to Matthew 18, that if she confessed and repented it was finished. No need to get up front. But, relationally, and for the sake of all the others in the church, who were hiding the same sin, we agreed it could be advantageous for her to do this. So when the bishop reluctantly broached the subject, she was prepared.

Biblically, she said, she was free. It was done. But her heart was willing, if there was any chance it might help someone. It would be her testimony to the goodness of God, to His forgiving grace, to His healing of broken hearts and lives. And that’s where we left it.

The bishop said he would need time to pray. To make sure what’s done, is done scripturally and for the benefit of Tracy and the church body.

The Encounter

The time came for the meeting to wrap up. It was good. There was peace in the room. A powerful sense of the presence of God.

“Why don’t we pray,” the bishop suggested. “Maybe we could stand, and form a circle. I believe there is power in prayer, power in agreement.” He looked at Tracy, “Would you be willing to pray, out loud, with us? There is power in that too.”

Tracy nodded. We stood to our feet, and followed the bishop’s lead, meeting to the side of the room. There, in the once-intimidating minister’s room, the four of us huddled in an intimate hug, praying to God, our ‘Abba Father’, our ‘Papa’.

Tracy stood between me and the bishop, our arms wrapped around her in a secure embrace. His wife stood between us on the other side, also held in a firm embrace. Our heads were bowed, The Bishop was emotional, his wife wept quietly.

The prayer ended with the bishop blessing everyone, and thanking God for ‘brothers and sisters in Christ who are willing to step in…”

He hugged Tracy again, saying how much they love her. His wife held Tracy for a while, reassuring her.

The bishop shook my hand warmly, “Thank you, Trudy. Thank you. We really appreciate this” His wife gave me a warm hug, also thanking me.  And then it was over.

We had gone in, feeling uncertain. For several months Tracy had been meeting with other church leaders, about other things, only to leave frustrated and feeling misunderstood. Not heard at a heart level. Because of this she had been especially worried about meeting with the bishop and his wife.

We left having encountered Jesus and knowing they too had encountered Him. No cultural barriers. No debates, but heard from the heart. And with a common goal, to lift Jesus high and bring His healing to His children.

Tracy and I left, ecstatic! It was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and been part of.

© Trudy Metzger

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When Should You ‘Tell All’ to Your Teens About Sex?

One of the hardest things about tackling the topic of sexual abuse, and breaking the silence and advocating for survivors of abuse, is that it requires constantly staring the past in the eye, one way or another. This can be wearing, if not managed well, and requires introspection to ‘nip in the bud’ any negative impact being in this kind of ministry can have.

I am blessed to have a supportive husband, who also is tuned in to the impact ministry has on me, and together we try to stay balanced. But for all the balance in the world, it is faith in Jesus that keeps me strong and focused, without being sucked into the horror of the stories I hear, let alone my own past.

Yesterday I took a day off of my series on Sexual Abuse and Violence, to honour a friend who died suddenly and tragically, in a crash. The thought of what his family is suffering right now quite overwhelmed me. When I hear of tragedy such as this, and the painful aftermath, I realize again that this is not what we were created for. This pain and trauma, caused by sin and death, is more than the human mind and body are created to handle. That is why we need Jesus.

It is this comfort, that Jesus is willing to carry for us, those things that we were not created for, that helps me shift my focus. I shift from the tragedy of death and sin, to the triumph of the cross. From the  wounds I carry, to the battle I need to fight. And from the battle I need to fight, to the Saviour who already conquered sin on the cross, and took authority over death.

With that in mind, I dive back in….

Training our children about sexuality has been (mostly) a fun journey, after we made it past the initial awkwardness. Okay… that is my opinion. Tim, who is reserved and private, would hardly describe it that way.

On her twelfth birthday, after all the action had settled down, I was on our bed studying when Alicia joined me. I was finishing my Grade 12 studies, having determined that a GED was not satisfying. I wanted to work for my diploma. I wanted actual exams and classes to attend, and reclaim what I had missed out in my youth.

I laid my books aside to chat with Alicia, when she asked why it is important for women to cover up and dress modestly. (I had said ‘no’ to an outfit not long before this)

I explained that it is good and important to cover our bodies out of respect for ourselves and people around us, but that balance is important. We don’t want to not be so hung up on it that it becomes all-consuming and a religious ‘measuring stick’ to determine salvation. She wanted a better answer. The ‘why’ it even mattered. What was wrong about exposing our bodies.

Ah yes, that little bitty detail… Perfect material for a bedtime chat.

I can’t tell you exactly what trail led us there, but enough questions later, Alicia knew about erections, penetration and how men are wired to be visually stimulated.

Her eyes about popped out at the penetration. “It actually has to go inside?!”

I assured her that it’s all part of God’s plan, that it’s not painful as it sounds it could be.  I told her that by the time you’re married and in love, it’s a God-blessed relationship and it is all ‘right’ and good.

We were wrapping up the conversation when Alicia asked in a whisper, “Mommy, where’s Daddy?”

Playfully, I answered in a whisper, “I think he’s hiding in the bathroom.”

“I would hide too!” she exclaimed, “if someone was telling all that about my body!”  No sooner had she spoken the words than Tim walked in the room. He got that look on his face that said, ‘I don’t think I want to be part of this conversation.’

“Am… I…. interrupting something?” he asked.

“Not at all! You’re welcome to join us, if you wish,” I answered.

With a grin he declined and said he’s heading downstairs, leaving Alicia and me on our bed, giggling.

When I went to teach Nicole about these things, when she turned twelve, she calmly told me, “Mom, I already know that stuff.”

“Don’t you want me to explain it just to make sure?” I asked.

“No.”

Okay then. No need to waste words.

With the boys we explained nocturnal emissions, and how that wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or worry about. Even random ‘leaking’ or spills were nothing to feel bad about, just a matter of ‘covering up’ in public. We told them of other changes their bodies would go through and the need for good hygiene. (That hasn’t always worked…. ) And then we told them about the female cycle and the importance of being gentle with their sisters, explaining the rise and fall of their emotions.

“Well they must already have that,” Bryan said matter-of-factly when we explained the mood swings to him. I guess that part is obvious.

It’s a wonderful thing when children are respectfully informed. I also believe it is biblical. But that’s at least 500 words worth, so I’ll save that for another day. In practical day-to-day living, things run more smoothly, and boys are very understanding when their sisters are not well, and they know why.

The past few days one of our daughters has been in a lot of pain because of menstrual cramps. Last evening our whole family was watching the Olympics and she moaned around a bit, then looked up and asked, “Bryan, would you mind getting me a cup of water please?”

Without hesitation, and with a look of compassion, he did it for her.

When Tim prayed at dinner, he prayed that her cramps would go away and that she would feel better.

I am convinced of this, when my boys get married, they will be sensitive and caring. They will be prepared for what goes with a woman’s monthly cycle and will treat their wives well.

It is no wonder that the enemy loves silence in Christian circles. There is so much power in the truth! Yes, every family needs to be discerning in the ‘when and how’, but to not do it at all, because of fear and awkwardness, is a cop-out and a tragedy.

Have we done it perfectly? No. I doubt it. But the door is open and our children know we’re available. They know God thinks they’re pretty awesome, right down to their sexual identity. It was His idea after all, the way He designed us just before He said, “It is very good!”

© Trudy Metzger

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‘The Talk’, Staying Flexible

The conversation I had with Alicia just before her tenth birthday set a standard at the Metzger house. I took Alicia out for her birthday, a special dinner, to celebrate this next level of growing up. Since we had already had, what has since become known as, ‘the talk’, it was an ‘after the fact’ celebration.

For Nicole I did the same, just the two of us, but with the plan to have ‘the talk’ afterwards. Dinner was lovely. The restaurant she chose had live jazz and she was quite taken with the band. As with Alicia, the talk went well.

I hadn’t thought through the next phase. Boys. How would we teach them about their bodies and healthy sexuality? Since I had done one-on-one with the girls, and because of cultural upbringing, it seemed ‘right’ for Tim to do this. But I’m the ‘teacher’ in the house. The communicator. The artist–at least enough to do sketches for the purpose of teaching our kids. The life coach. The one who has no difficulty–once past the initial awkwardness–explaining sex to children, at a level they can understand. I had taken the girls out, without their daddy–something I later regretted–and wondered how Tim would fare to do it alone.

When it came the time for the boys, Tim asked me to join him, and help answer their questions. We had breakfast with Bryan, our oldest, and quickly discovered that a classmate had already given him a bit of information that he didn’t really need at ten. At least he told us, so we could work through it.

With Todd a series of events at school, involving premature discussions of sexuality with some classmates, triggered a conversation well before his tenth birthday. Circumstantially, it was a ‘mom and son’ talk, and while the idealism of our ‘tenth birthday talk’ fell by the wayside, I have no regrets. That day Todd became a responsible and deeply respectful young man. The things that had transpired, particularly the ongoing inappropriate conversations, required him to take a stand with his peers. That brought out strength and character that I see in him to this day.

The summer after this talk I met a leader from a kids club in our town, where Todd attended after school. She told me how she had been teaching about Joseph and when she told the story of Potipher’s wife, she had made it as ‘child friendly’ as possible. She told them it was wrong to cheat on a spouse and that the Bible called it ‘adultery’.  After the class Todd had walked up to her and said, “I know something else we shouldn’t do.”

“And what’s that?” She had asked.

“We shouldn’t have sex before we’re married either,” he said matter-of-factly, and then left.

Todd and I had coffee one evening last fall, at Tim Hortons–Canada’s most popular coffee shop–and he again showed this same strength of character. He told me that it bothers him when classmates talk about ‘inappropriate’ stuff, and when they swear.

I asked how he responds, or what he does with it. “Mostly, I just walk away,” he answered.

Kordan, well… he just turned ten. Being three years behind Todd, with none of the older children being even two years apart in age, he is a bit of a tag-along, in a way. He learns a lot from adult conversation and listening to older siblings. He’s as comfortable with the topic of healthy sexuality as anyone I know, and knows age-appropriate facts.

Nicole and Bryan prefer more privacy and tend not to discuss things as openly. While some talks are ‘mandatory’ in our home, we do try to give them space, and respect that preference for space and privacy. (Even stories I share in blogging, writing, or in public speaking tend not to be about them, or disclosing their names, at their request. Respect is a two-way street and it is important to honour our kids wishes, and not violate their personal space.)

The teaching process is for the purpose of protecting our children, and equipping them to protect themselves. To do it effectively, our children need to feel that it is about them, not about us or a personal agenda. If we stay flexible and respect their ‘personhood’ in the process, that will validate our teaching, and affirm them.

It’s an area I am growing in, not one I wave a flag on, boldly declaring I have conquered. Because of the trauma and broken memories of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of caution and my passion can run away with me.

My children are outspoken, and not afraid to let me know when they think I’m over protective or ‘over teaching’ a topic. While it doesn’t always change my mind, or end the conversation, it does teach me their ‘voice’ and what matters to them, and what their boundaries are. And that does influence my parenting style, more than they know.

My prayer is that my children will be protected from the brokenness that so many suffer, because of a lack of awareness. That they will know their worth. That they will be whole, not broken, and scattered, like a rose that is forced to open before it is ready, leaving petals scattered here and there. The rose can still be beautiful, but it is scarred, and the wonder of what was meant to be can never be regained.

Fortunately, when we fail, Jesus heals and forgives. He restores and makes us whole again. In no way do I want to undermine that. But it comes with a cost because, in our humanity, when those doors are opened, innocence is lost and the battle of the mind remains for years. To equip our children with truth is the best we can offer.

Jesus said, ‘and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’. All truth is God’s truth, and knowing truth is the key to freedom in every area of life.

© Trudy Metzger

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If God Makes Babies, Why do Unmarried People Get Pregnant?

“Mommy, my friend said her brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. How can someone that’s not married have a baby?” Alicia, seven at the time, asked this question immediately after school one day, as she emptied out her lunch box.

Alicia had a knack for asking all the tough questions, always keeping me on my toes. With God coaching me, and a few good friends to encourage me, her questions taught me this: Talking about sexuality, in a healthy way, shouldn’t be that different from teaching our kids how to play ‘patty-cake, patty-cake…’ or how to cook, read, write or handle money. It’s all part of good parenting. Quite honestly, I’ve done better in this area than some of the others.

“Well, it isn’t just married people who have babies,” I answered, still trying to form an age-appropriate answer. “When people live together and sleep together, like married people, they sometimes have babies too. But that’s not God’s plan for people.”

I wasn’t quite ready for the ‘sex talk’ so I kept it real, but superficial, hoping it would be enough.

She asked several other questions, trying to sort out what it all means. Did it make God sad? And if God makes babies, then why would it happen before people get married? Could just anyone suddenly be pregnant? (Way to keep it ‘light’, girl!)

I explained that by sleeping together, and living the way God planned for married people to live and sleep together, they do their part in making the baby.

“A man and a woman have to be together for that to happen, it doesn’t just happen. And babies are always special. It might be a mistake to sleep together, but the baby is never a mistake.”

Not perfect, but it was the best I knew. And it satisfied her. For a while.

Up to this point I had told them that God takes a part of the daddy, and part of the mommy, to make a baby in the mommy’s tummy. I was in no hurry to explain that we play a predominant (and fun!) role in that miracle making process. Back then the thought of talking to my children about it, in any detail, was still awkward and unnerving, even looking ahead to when they would be ready. Fortunately each ‘baby step’ prepares you for the next, and we don’t have to do it all in one day.

Starting in the bathtub when they were still toddlers, I explained body parts, using appropriate names. I told them that this is stuff we talk about at home, with our family, but not with other people. And if other people start talking about it, we tell them we only talk about this at home. This teaching resulted in our one son returning home from school, in grade one, having had an interesting conversation.

“One of the boys at school told us that all boys have a peanut,” Bryan said.

I wanted to laugh, but he was dead serious, so I responded calmly, “Really?”

“Yes. But I told them, ‘it’s not a peanut! It’s a p-e-e-n-i-s-s-s-s….'” he said, enunciating the ‘s’ in the appropriate word.

“Very good!” And with that he was off to play.

Shortly before her tenth birthday, Alicia had more question. The years in between had been the normal talks of respect, how to treat others, and how to expect to be treated. But that couldn’t last forever. I always assumed that if they asked detailed questions, then detailed answers were in order. The time had come.

“Mommy, today at school I had to look up a word that started with ‘ex’. And someone had written an ‘s’ in front of it. I showed it to my friends.”

“I see. Did you girls look up what it means?” I asked, curious.

“No. We talked about it and decided maybe it was bad and we shouldn’t look it up,” she answered.

“Good for you,” I said. It wasn’t that looking it up would have been bad, but that they collectively decided what was the right thing to do, and did, made me proud. “But it isn’t bad,” I added.

“So, Mommy, what does ‘sex’ mean?”

Tim had left with the other four children, and Alicia and I were alone at home.

“Go get a pen and paper, and I’ll explain what it is, if you want,” I said. She nodded and ran off to get the materials.

I whispered a silent prayer… “Oh God, help! I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here!”

We sat at the island, and she watched intently as I drew the torso of a female and a male body, with detailed internal and external sex organs. I explained that sex can simply mean ‘gender’, or it can be an act between a man and a woman.

I told her about sperm, the female egg, the monthly cycle–in more detail than I had already told her about–and the birthing process. I explained the simple facts again, saying that God takes part of the daddy, and part of the mommy to make the baby. This time that wasn’t enough.

“But how does He get it from the daddy into the mommy?” She asked. “Does the daddy have to touch the mommy?”

I pointed out how the male is created and how the female is created, and how it all fits, and that the male has to transfer sperm into the female. I didn’t explain erections, penetration or the intimate pleasure of love-making. That would come later.

When I had finished, she continued to stare at the paper, in absolute silence. For a brief moment I was sure I had overwhelmed her. Destroyed her innocence.

She looked up, her face filled with awe, “Cool!” she exclaimed.

And that was the end of that, for another two years, when, on the night of her twelfth birthday she asked yet more questions. Her birthday was a month later, and I took her out for dinner to celebrate, and I told her we would have ‘the talk’ with her siblings later. For now it was something she could talk to myself or daddy about.

Not all parents are comfortable with this level of detail at ten, while others will have ‘told all’ at a younger age. I cannot say what is right for everyone, but it has been good for our children.

The important thing is to be available, to never shame or punish children for asking tough question or being curious. Yes, it’s a bit scary at first, especially if we didn’t get that from our parents, but it’s important.

Our sexuality it a beautiful thing, a wonderful gift from God, and our responses either confirm that truth, or they warp it. We either equip our children, and free them from shame, or we give shame power.

How will you influence your children?

© Trudy Metzger

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A Crippling Fear

Tim and I walked, hand-in-hand, laughing. I chattered happily. Just being me. Snuggling closely to his arm, flirting a little with the man who won my heart several years earlier.

It had been a great date night. A luxury not often afforded us, with our two beautiful babies demanding our time and our energy. Alicia was not quite two and a half, and Nicole was only sixteen months behind.  They kept life full and busy.

In spite of the busyness, on special occasions we managed, one way or another, to celebrate. Tim’s job didn’t pay well, at that time, and when we purchased our house on two incomes, we had not expected I would be able to conceive so quickly, given my history and the doctor’s warning. (Read story here.)

To go from paying for a house on two incomes, to raising two little girls and paying for a house on one low income, was challenging, so our dates and celebrations were not extravagant. But they were time together. Alone. And that was what we needed. To sit across the table from each other, in the candle-light and simply be in love.

As every parent understands, we sat there, talking about our babies, not truly able to ‘leave’ them. We talked about life, how things changed so quickly. About how blessed we were. I’m sure I chattered about how crazy in love I still was with him. I could never say that enough… Still can’t.

We could have stayed longer, in the restaurant, drinking coffee and holding hands across the table, me playing with his fingers. (It’s another habit I have.) But truth is, we didn’t want to be away from our girls too long, especially me. I struggled with leaving them. So many silent, unspoken fears lurked in my mind. ‘What if…’ Always, ‘What if…’ My childhood was never too far away.

That night was no different. When dinner was over, and it was over more quickly than we had anticipated, we decided to go back, pick up our girls and head home. We were tired. Home was inviting.

We arrived early to pick up the girls at the babysitters, out in the country. The night was dark. The house had only a few rooms lit. At the front door I froze, my heart stopped in crippling fear.

The kitchen light was off but I could see into the family room, across the house. There a teenage male had our oldest daughter in a position that shot terror through my heart. The squeaking of the door, as I opened it, caused a scuffle, as he released her and sat up, startled. Our little girl ran to us, giving us hugs and kisses. Happy as a lark.

Relief washed over me, at seeing her so happy, so free. Still, the image played in my mind. I could only pray that nothing had happened.

Tim picked up his little girl, who chattered excitedly about her evening. Tension hung in the air. The teen couldn’t look us in the eye, shifty. But what were we to do? Confront it? I didn’t even know if Tim had seen it. I felt nauseated

I checked on our other daughter, in another room with another teenager, a girl, while Tim changed Alicia’s diaper, not far from me. We chatted with the young girl for a minute before we headed home.

In the car Tim played Alicia’s favourite children’s CD. We turned the volume off at the front, so we could talk, and the music would drown out our voices, so Alicia would not hear us. Before I could ask Tim, he started the conversation, his voice tense with uncharacteristic anxiety.

“I think it’s time you have a talk with Alicia,” he said. “When I changed her diaper, she said something about not touching her ‘there.’ I think we need to find out if anything happened tonight and make sure she knows that no one is allowed to touch her.”

I told Tim what I saw, when we got to the door and how uncomfortable I was, how concerned over what I had seen and sensed. We discussed how we would handle it, without planting ideas. The last thing we wanted was to give our innocent daughter false memories, and cause unnecessary destruction. We noted her innocent joy and carefree welcome when we returned, and hoped it was evidence that nothing traumatic had happened.

We felt quite confident that God had brought us back early, specifically to protect our children. But we would not rest without a discussion, so we agreed that I would have a chat with Alicia at home.

It was just after nine when we arrived home. Tim set about making hot chocolate, while I assisted Alicia with pj’s and tucked Nicole in her crib. As I helped her change, I talked to her about her body. I had told her before, but told her again, that God had made her body beautiful and special, and that she had the right to protect it. I told her no one is allowed to ‘feel, touch or see’ her body between ‘here’–pointing to the top of her torso–and ‘here’–pointing to just above her knees.

At the time we were still in the Mennonite church and wore skirts and dresses, so I told her that no one should ever lift up her skirt. That it’s her ‘private’ body and people need to respect it. She cheerfully told me that the teen girl had touched her that night, but when I asked more questions, the closest I could figure out was that she had needed a diaper change.

“But people can touch mine arms, right?’ she asked.

“Yes,”

“And mine hands?”

“Yes.”

“But not mine body, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Ok.”

With that it was done. We headed downstairs for hot chocolate, where Tim asked, “What were you and Mommy doing?”

“Oh… Mommy and I just had a little chatter,” she answered cheerfully, then proceeded to give Tim an overview of what she had learned, including the word ‘respect’.

Alicia displayed no evidence of victimization, so we did not pursue it further. We did learn that there was victimization in that home, and could only thank God for protecting our daughter.

From that day forward I taught my children to kick, scream, bite, punch, run, if threatened in any way. I instructed them to always tell an adult if someone touched them or made them uncomfortable with how they handled their body, and to tell Mommy and Daddy when they get home, if we’re not there at the time.

And that is what I tell them still. “Be as aggressive and as violent as you need to be to protect yourself.”

Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, “(There is) a time for love and a time for hate, a time for war and a time for peace”. When it comes to sexual abuse, I teach my children that it is a time for war, a time to fight, a time to protect yourself and use your voice. No one is required to allow victimization. It is no time for apathy, no time for non-resistance. Preach the Word if you must, but doing it kicking and screaming.

That day, seeing what I saw, and fearing the worst would have happened had we stayed a little longer at dinner, made me realize the importance of talking to our children at a young age. Sometimes they think I’m too protective. Maybe I am. I try not to be. But I cannot live with the thought of having left them vulnerable through silence. I have never held them back from sleepovers, parties and time with friends, because of fear. But without fail I have asked them, as they are about to leave, “What do you need to remember?”

“Respect,” is the sometimes exasperated answer.

“And what does that mean?”

“Don’t touch, and don’t look at other people’s bodies.”

“Now run along and have fun!”

The conversation may not go exactly like that, but something like it. I want our children to know they have the right to protect themselves. The early stages of teaching were easy, and they helped prepare us for the next level, the harder questions that followed.

© Trudy Metzger

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Mommy, What Would You Do, If I Told You, I’m Pregnant?

My then-fifteen-yr-old daughter asked this question, rather casually, sitting on the floor beside me, leaning against the fireplace.”I would be very happy for me, because I would get to be a Grandma–(or Nana, as I hope to be called one day)–and I would be sad for you.”

Had I been at all concerned that this was her way of making an announcement, I’m sure my heart would have skipped a beat. My reply might have been worded a bit differently, I’m sure, but hopefully the message would have been the same.

Alicia went on to ask a few more questions, like what I would do if she couldn’t take care of the baby. I assured her that her baby would be our baby and we would never abandon her, or any of our children if they had a child out-of-wedlock. We talked about what it would mean for her, as a teen, to be a mom. What it would cost her on so many levels.

This conversation was Alicia’s way of processing the fact that many of her friends were sexually active and the reality they could potentially be facing, should birth control fail them. The conversation was not our first, and definitely not our last.

It is important for parents to make it safe for children to talk to us about anything, and that doesn’t happen over night. The younger they are when we open that door, the better off they will be, and the more likely that they will ask the hard questions later. This is not a guarantee–there are many factors that play in, including personality and temperament–but it does increase the odds.

There are seasons when some teenagers resort to grunts, and rolling of the eyes frequently, as their method of communication. They won’t want to talk about anything personal, let alone this kind of thing. It’s important to be sensitive to this need for personal space, but it’s not reason to give up on these talks. When they are bombarded with false information on every hand, we can gently let them know we are here. We can ask how they’re doing, without pressuring them to ‘tell all’, and offering a safe place if they need to talk.

Hopefully, if they are faced with the really tough stuff, like premarital sex or even pregnancy, they will trust us enough to open up. I have listened to numerous stories, of young women who became pregnant in their teens, and because they couldn’t face their Christian parents with the shame, they chose to hide it by having an abortion instead. Numerous women have sat across the table from me, in tears, spilling their pain, and their shame, grieving the loss of the child they aborted.

The first time a young woman shared her story with me, about ten years ago, I made a vow that my children would be loved, accepted and safe, should they ever have an unplanned pregnancy. I teach them abstinence, but their place in my heart, and my love for them is not dependent on that.

Pride, ‘image’, and the way some might gossip is secondary. What matters is that every child knows he or she is loved, that mom and dad are here to support them regardless what happens, so that their shame does not push them into deeper darkness.

That trust and communication does not begin when teenagers start dating. It all begins in the diaper phase….

© Trudy Metzger

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