~ T ~
~ T ~
Sunday evening, after the Stutzman Family Concert, a middle-aged Mennonite gentleman approached me. He shook my hand enthusiastically, and thanked me for the evening, and for the conference, which he had attended.
“It was good! Very refreshing after all the negative things I have heard about you!” he said with a chuckle. He wasn’t sure what to expect, he told me, with what all he had heard, but he wasn’t going to believe what people were saying. Not without checking for himself.
“Thank you!” I said, “…thank you for having the integrity to check it out for yourself rather than believing the lies. Not many do that.”
He chuckled again, and said he understands. He thanked me one more time, and said he feels encouraged, from the weekend, and ready to face life.
I didn’t really know the man, though I’m quite sure I met him and his wife some years ago, or maybe saw a picture of them. Though I didn’t ‘know’ them, I certainly knew of him. In my mind, based on what I have heard, I believe he’s got something to him. And that night he proved it.
When I went into ministry, I made a decision to do what God calls me to do, regardless of the opposition, attacks or rejection I get. After what Jesus has done for me, that is the least I can offer to Him as a gift of love. Still, the words of an honest encourager, who dares to acknowledge the negative he’s heard and still speaks positive words over my life, and the ministry we do… Well, I’m human. It goes a long way.
Then, on Thursday, I bumped into a family at the grocery store, who attended the concert on Sunday night. The one son, who is at least in his mid twenties or older, smiled broadly each time I met them in an aisle. But, each time, he didn’t say a word. Not until I rounded the corner and saw him, away from his family.
He smiled again, and this time immediately started a conversation. I asked him how he enjoyed the music Sunday night.
“It was good!” he said, enthusiastically, then added, “and I really enjoyed your speech… or topic… or whatever that was!”
In reality I had shared a bit of an overview of our ministry, and our purpose, and how healing is only found in Jesus. I said how I work mostly with victims of sexual abuse and that we revisit the trauma of what happened back there, acknowledge it and work through it, but we don’t stay there. We move forward and find healing.
I thanked the young man, and he just stood there and couldn’t stop smiling. We talked a bit longer, before he disappeared to find his family again.
It was a brief, but beautiful moment! I know a bit of his story, through the ‘intertwining’ with other stories, and understood at least a glimpse of the depth of that appreciation. And somehow a sincere thanks, from a young man who has tasted of that hell, goes so much deeper than the rejection of those who hate me, fear their own exposure, or resent the truth of their family members being exposed as perpetrators. Or simply don’t know what to do with me. It goes so much deeper.
Not an hour later I was in Shopper’s Drug Mart when I met Bishop Henry Martin. I shook his hand, greeting him by name, and chatted for a few moments with him, asking how Irene is, and how they are. His smile is still as broad as ever, his eyes as friendly as I recall them. Did he know who I was? I have no idea. He never said my name.
Still, I would have expected nothing less from him than kindness. And that is true of all of his family, for that matter, regardless of their feelings about me. Being ministers, bishops and such–many of them–I anticipate at least some ‘mini message’ from time to time, but always kindness. At least to my face. That is more than I can say for some others who will look me in the eye and not say ‘hi’ when I greet them, or will turn and walk away after making eye contact, only feet apart.
It is refreshing, every now and then, to run into people who I know don’t agree with what I do, or at the very least don’t agree with the way I live my Christian life, but still have the character and personal honour to look me in the eye, and speak to me with good Christian character. It is my hope to always do the same.
As I walked away, after that chat with Bishop Henry, tears threatened to spill over. Deep emotion bubbled to the surface, as I recalled time spent in their home, always cared for with great kindness. I’m not here to say he is ‘right on’, but I have never heard a word spoken against him, in all my dealings with people. That says more than my personal opinion will ever say. Still, I hesitate to mention leaders by name, even in kindness, because more than once, having done that, I have received a personal story of horrific abuse and I can only imagine the pain of that. In my life, I can say with honesty, he and his children were kind and my memories are pleasant ones.
But the emotions were much deeper than fond old memories. I found myself overcome with grief at what I know of hidden sin, hidden abuse. On the same day, in a different store, I spoke with another woman and casually mentioned a very friend of mine. She looked at me and said, “You know her husband is an abuser as well, don’t you?” When I told her that no one had told me before, but that his wife had shared concerns over her husband’s past, the woman added, “My son is one of the victims.”
I asked if the man has ever taken ownership and apologized to her son. She shook her head. He had been confronted, she said, but denied all allegations.
Walking away from Bishop Henry, I wanted to believe that if he could have seen inside my mind… if he could know what I know, that he too would be devastated…
…I desperately want to believe more people would be, especially leaders, and change would come…
But that collides in every way with what I see, hear and experience with so many, and I am very aware that it will take Divine intervention for that revelation and change to come. And for some it will.
For now I will continue doing what I do, even as the attacks and rejection deepen. Because those who long to be free, those who are ready to find help, need a safe place to turn, where they will not scolded, blamed, silenced or otherwise abused.
My place is firmly rooted in the Kingdom of God, and the ‘religious powers’ of this world have authority in my life only as their authority is submitted to Christ, rather than being dominated by a system of religious controls. My identity is found in the former, not in the latter.
I am blessed to have mentors, friends and ‘voices of authority’ in my life in various denominations, including Conservative (and small c conservative) Mennonites, Missionary Church, as well as Brethren/Chapel churches. These individuals bring balance into my life in so many ways.
And I thank God for these men and women of honour, in my life, who dare to embrace and speak truth–even when it doesn’t accommodate me but, rather, confronts my blind spots and short comings. I am thankful for others who also love Jesus more than life, and see beyond the idols of image, culture and power, even while embracing their particular cultures. These are truly men and women of God.
As an aside, I am so thankful for doors that open. Starting next week I will write as a monthly columnist for the Elmira Independent. I will cover a variety of topics surrounding sexual abuse & violence, family life, religion and cultural issues. I’ve given them fair warning that they should expect ‘letters to the Editor’ that don’t necessarily applaud my work and what I have to say. So far that hasn’t detoured them from the column.
They will also share this blog address to offer the community more resources in understanding abuse and its impact. As doors open, resistance seems to heat up. To the many friends here who pray for me, for us, Thank you. I appreciate your private notes and emails letting me know that you are encouraged, that you find hope in the doors being blown off of the darkness that lies hidden. Many of you have expressed your love for your culture, for those of you who are Mennonite, but you are torn inside because you know the darkness that lies buried. Your words of encouragement, though I may never have met you, are very meaningful. Never give up hope for healing to come. Stand strong in faith in Jesus Christ. Together, through Christ, we are more than conquerors!
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In the last few days I saw a ‘No Father’s Day’ sign, and various blog titles boycotting Father’s Day for a variety of reasons. One that stands out was a young mom whose husband did nothing for her, therefore she will do nothing for him. Another was targeted to punish delinquent and abusive dads. Yet another was a dad who had a ‘lost/missing child’, with nothing to celebrate. His world was turned upside down, and without his daughter, Father’s Day has become meaningless.
These various reasons for cancelling Father’s Day, or boycotting it as several said it, played in my mind this morning before church. One seemed a bit petty, to me, say ‘he forgot about me, therefore I will punish him’, and yet I understand that it is painful and disappointing to be forgotten, especially in the early years of marriage and parenting. The others are a big deal. A very big deal.
Only subconsciously, at first, did my mind slip back to my own childhood… life at home.. terror of dad, and all the other reasons I should boycott Father’s Day. But I was too distracted by the very idea of it, to really think about what life was. It just seemed wrong, somehow, to boycott a day celebrating dads, because my experience was tragic.
When I wake up Father’s Day morning, next to the Daddy of my children, my heart is filled with joy. Tim is a calm, quiet, gentle, understanding man, who parents with patience… most of the time. Sure, he gets exasperated now and then, but rarely, and when he does, he guards his heart carefully. I’m proud of him, and blessed by him.
(As I write this, our fourteen year old son walks across the room, curls up on the couch, puts his head on Daddy–his ‘pillow’, he says–and snuggles a minute before running off. Admittedly, there is a part of me that watches, and wonders… What would it be like to have that kind of safety and trust with a father? The thought isn’t a jealous one… it is just foreign to me, and I can’t imagine such a thing.)
In church, two gentleman a father-and-son-in-law duet, did a special song–“Lead Me” by Sanctus Real. It was not only beautifully done, it was deeply moving. Men who care about the ‘heart cry’ of their wives and children… Men of honour. I held Tim’s hand, squeezed it a bit tighter. Thankful.
They ran a video clip before the message, of children of every age, paying tribute to their fathers. The first messages were warm, sweet. Good fathers. Just like my husband, I thought, and then the pain of what I never knew pierced my heart, for just an instant, stirring up memories and emotions of loss. A tear fell, but I willed the emotions to go away.
Father’s Day is a day I celebrate my husband and the men in my life who showed me what God is like, by their respect, their love and their integrity. I don’t deny the pain, I just don’t give it my full attention, and let it rob me of the good I know, by being consumed with the negative.
As the video progressed, the clips included children whose fathers were absent, whose fathers had hurt their families. Again the emotions surfaced, and more tears spilled. Conflicting emotions are the worst.
“Why the tears?” Tim whispered in my ear.
I smiled, shrugged. How do you explain to the man you love that you’re crying because he’s such an amazing man, and your heart ‘hurts like hell’ because you can’t imagine having had a dad like that? He didn’t need an explanation. The question was a sign of caring, more than looking for me to explain.
The service was good. Pastor Dan spoke about six gifts a father should give his children. Ironic, I thought to myself, it’s Father’s Day, and dad is being encouraged to be the gift giver.
The six gifts were:
1. Love their mother
2. Spiritual Direction
5. Consistent Discipline
Rating my husband on these, he gets a seriously high-end average. Rating how this played out in my childhood, I recognize the neglect, and all that I lost, and how much those losses have impacted my life over the years. And still do, from time to time.
It occurred to me, that if I boycotted Father’s Day, and focused on the negative and the ‘darkness’, then, inadvertently, I would set this day aside to celebrate that darkness. By celebrating what is good and right, despite the fact that so little was good and right in my childhood, in my relationship with my father, I put the focus on what is right, and promote what is good.
So today I focus on the moment when my father, in his old age, said, “Will you forgive me…?” I won’t deny the pain, but I won’t let it take more from me than it already took in childhood.
Having said that, we should continue to advocate for truth and justice. We should continue to stand against violence, abuse and neglect. We should not turn a blind eye to evil, nor deny the pain, but never should focusing on evil rob us of celebrating that which is good and right.
If for no other reason in the world, then for the sake of honouring what is good, and right, for the sake of promoting what fatherhood was intended to be, we should not cancel Father’s Day, or boycott it. We should honour all the fathers who sacrifice and fight for their families, their churches, their communities, their countries. And on Father’s Day we should thank them.
Thank you, and Happy Father’s Day, to the men in my life who represented fatherhood well, even though you were not my ‘real dad’. Some of you came and went quickly, passing through my life for only a day, an hour or a brief moment, but you blessed me in that time. Some of you were there for months, or years. Some of you have stayed to this day.
You are the men who impacted my life in a positive way, and I am indebted to you. Today I honour you.
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