For a university assignment I looked at the empty tomb in a way I never had before. For me, it has never been anything but Good News. From earliest memories hearing the story, my heart thrills! My Jesus is alive!
But, for Mary, what did it feel like to find the tomb empty, and be robbed of ritual and grief in a moment of deepest loss? Her friend, her rabbi, her Lord had been ruthlessly slaughtered…
Wishing you all the blessing of an Empty Tomb and a Gardener who speaks your name, that you may know Him!
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…
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.
When we reach out to others in hope and healing, our healing comes more quickly. ~ Isaiah 58 ~
There is no place where light shines so bright as in the darkest of night, No place I’ve found
where love is so strong,
as in the face of hate, No place where truth is so strong as in the wake and face of lies.
No place where life rises so glorious,
as when it rises from a grave. There God dwells among us; Jesus.
No place like here
No place like now
For Light, Love and Truth.
Rise and conquer, Victorious.
From the shadows, shines a bright light; from the darkness hope rises. From brokenness of shame and defeat, determination rises, strong and courageous.
Battles have been fought and won throughout the course of history, but never has land or territory been reclaimed without a price tag. In the spiritual realm this is no less true than in the physical, if not more so, but we have a promise that God will rebuild and restore when we return to our first love. “I will build you up again, and you, virgin Israel, will be rebuilt”. Virgin, or first love. Israel, or ‘my people’. Rebuilt, or strong and flourishing.
2 This is what the Lord says: “The people who survive the sword
will find favour in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”
3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”
7 This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
the young of the flocks and herds,
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,”
declares the Lord.
What has been plundered, what has been taken will be restored. I trust my heavenly Father to bring life from the rubble and ashes of every battlefield in the breaking of vicious strongholds. We take our place in the Kingdom, and wait His command, but it is God who shatters the chains of wickedness that have long bound His people. It is He who exposes and shatters lies and deceptions.
This is peace. This is rest.
There is no place… no place like the place rebuilt from wasted ruins. Because that place, is the place where God has come.
How soon it was, after we moved to Canada, that my parents bought that old daisy clock for our kitchen, I don’t recall, but I was enthralled by it. In my little mind it was the prettiest thing on earth, just like the real daisies outside. I would have one just like it when I was all grown up. Mom liked it too. So much so that when it stopped working, sometime around my late preteens, she set out to fix it. There was also the little issue of not having money for frivolous things so what Red Green’a duct tape couldn’t fix, my parents found a way to redeem. Whether it was lack of finances or love for the clock, now useless, mom took it upon herself to fix it. She pulled it apart, every little piece, and put it back together again. And, sure enough, it ran again. Backwards. We kids laughed and joked about that for a long time.
Now, at 47, I look at the picture of that daisy clock and think to myself, if but for a moment, how I’d like to take the ‘clock of my life’ apart and put it back together differently. Maybe go back and do some things differently with a second shot at it. Especially as a mom. That’s me and almost every other mom, with presumably a few exceptions.
Not because of Mother’s Day, but just because of mothering and humanity, this topic has toyed with my mind more than enough lately. My failures stare me in the eye, time and time again, and more so with age. I see who my children have become and are becoming and I am amazed by God’s goodness in spite of my failures, but the awareness of generational sins, cycles and dysfunction are pretty glaring at this stage. So, yes, if I could pull down the old daisy clock, reset it, and go back with all that I’ve learned and…
Truth told, Adam and Eve would eat the apple again, and I would fail as a parent again. And we mothers would look back with regrets, losses, and wonder how God will ever redeem the impact of our generation, and the generation before us. Somehow he just would. Because God is amazing that way.
So that old daisy clock, which looks much less appealing today than it did then, can keep moving forward and I will choose to trust God to be enough for this generation and the next, even as He continues to redeem our generation and the ones before us.
And I’ll take a step back and look at the messy parts with new hope. More like that cake mom made when I was around 8 years old. The old yellow bowl was filled with batter and mom stirred enthusiastically, trying to beat out every lump. (So help us God if cake should ever have a lump in it…) And just like that, having been a bit too enthusiastic, she sent the bowl flying and chocolate batter spread everywhere on the counter, running down the counter and onto the floor. The bulk of it stayed on the counter, fortunately. We were not wealthy by any means, and wasting a cake would never do! So, after much fussing and gasping and exclaiming – while her children watched in humour – mom scraped the batter from the counter back into the bowl, cleaned up the rest of the mess, and baked a lovely cake for us. We kids who witnessed it, and those who heard the story, laughed many times over that moment.
Life is hard. Really hard, sometimes. And we moms have a habit of beating ourselves up pretty good. We look at our failures and see only the batter running down the cupboard and the mess on the floor. We forget that the bowl with batter running down it’s sides still has much in it to give, and what is spilled on the counter, God will redeem and make something beautiful out of it. The spills, He will wipe up.
Mother’s Day is the hardest for me to blog about, or write about, and I pretty much never speak publicly about my mom. There are so many unanswered questions, so many pains left in limbo, so much loss that I must give to God constantly, that it would be easier to look the other way. That is true in my relationship with my mom, and it is true in my own journey as a mom. And I’m not alone. I hear story, after story after story. I’ve chosen to forgive even where the story has never been acknowledged. When I see mom I hug her and tell her I love her, but my arms feel empty even as they are wrapped around her, knowing some things have never been and will likely never be. Mom is old now, and because she is still living, I carry the story quietly within me out of respect. It’s something I did for dad, and it’s something I will do for mom. And when she is gone, I will speak, but I will speak respectfully as I have about dad. I bless her as she lives out her remaining days, months, years, and possibly decades (in fact probably decades… she’s pretty stubborn, or determined, depending on point of view). And I trust she has made peace with her God. I hear it in her, and bless her. But there are scars that cannot be addressed. So I trust God to wipe up the spills, scrape up the batter that remains, and make something beautiful.
This Mother’s Day, if you grieve for whatever reason, I pray for you. If you are the mom who failed and feels beyond redemption… If you are the mom who never had babies, or lost them all, or lost any… If you are the mom who is unappreciated, abandoned, or used and abused… If you are the mom who is in the thick of the mess of those early years, or struggling through difficult teen years (not all are, but some are)… If you are daughter or son who is estranged, rejected, or manipulated and repeatedly wounded… This day you are worth being celebrated.
And, this Mother’s Day, if you are the mom whose life is idyllic, beautiful and ‘perfect’…. You are worth being celebrated.
Motherhood is a beautiful thing, made up of more joy and more pain than any human can possibly imagine exists in this world. Nothing has made the miracle of God and the wonder of spiritual life more real than motherhood. Nothing has broken my heart in deeper places. And nothing has caused me to reach out to Someone greater and say, “I need You. We need You!” And I trust that Someone with my life, my children, my mother and our intertwined stories, to bring something beautiful out of all things.
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!
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.
~ 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:
Dale & Faith Ingraham: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”
That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.
The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.
My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.
That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.
I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.
Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.
When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.
If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.
I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”
“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.
“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”
“I wish you had talked about that….”
Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.
What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.
The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.
Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.
And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.
Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.
I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.
She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.
Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.
“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…
(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE. Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)
The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.
And that is why I no longer strugglewith being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.
This morning on the way to church, when ‘Stand By You’ played, I looked at Tim and said, “I’m sorry… bear with me here…” And with that I cranked the song like a teenager. (I would have said ‘like a boss’ because that’s a cool thing to say right now, but it really was more like a teenager.) I offered Tim an apology like that because I was fully aware if there was anything he hoped to say, it would be lost in the loudness of my moment, and would need to wait or go unheard. In essence I was tuning him out, not because I don’t love him, but because I wanted a moment of indulgence in a catchy tune, with a message that feels like our story.
The song offers a bold declaration that ‘no matter what, I’m sticking with you… we might never attain that perfect relational ‘heaven’, but I’m committed to walking beside you in the ‘hell’ of what you’ve suffered, scars and all”. Tim, who sat beside me drowned out and unable to effectively communicate with me in that moment, has lived that very grace and tenderness in my pain.
Moments later, Hillsong’s “With Everything”played at a far more reasonable volume: a gentle cry for God to break down walls, to help us see the things that touch His heart, to restore hope:
“Open our eyes,
To see the things
That make Your heart cry,
To be the church
That You would desire.Light to be seen.
Break down our pride,
And all the walls
We’ve built up inside,
Our earthly crowns
And all our desires,
We lay at Your feet.
So let hope rise,
And darkness tremble
In Your holy light,
And every eye will see
Jesus, our God,
Great and mighty to be praised.
God of all days,
Glorious in all of Your ways.
Your majesty, the wonder and grace,
In the light of Your name.
We will shout for your glory.
We will shout forth your praise.
Our hearts they cry
Be lifted high,
Above all names.
For You our King,
We will shout forth your praise.
Suddenly my heart was drawn to worship, not war…to being fought for, rather than fighting; to a deep inner need for a Saviour , not being someone’s saviour; to breathing in deep, not exhaling; to inviting in, not drowning out. But more than that, I started feeling deeply in ways that the past few weeks have not allowed, and was able to communicate with Tim about my heart, and the emotions welling up inside me.
The moment showed me just how much ‘noise’–even good noise–has filled my life since early November. Intense client situations. Meetings with police and organizational directors to brainstorm on ways to help ‘closed’ cultures–including but not limited to Mennonites and Amish–in a way that honours the culture and works with them, rather than against them. Travel to US. Clients moving here from US. Sitting with suicidal victims and encouraging them, speaking life and hope into the darkness. Inviting Jesus into places long held hostage.
So much noise… So much good noise. Noise that the mind and spirit are not created to hold inside longterm, without a place to release and process, and yet some things must remain private and be processed very personally to protect all involved…
In a moment of worship, I heard God speak. And when God speaks, the darkness turns to light. It doesn’t just scatter; it becomes light to Him. Tears spilled over, releasing the weight of the pain I touch daily.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot, I was appropriately composed, knowing well that later I will listen to worship, meditate on the truth of God’s promises, and the tears will spill again. Because God will speak. And when God speaks, burdens grow wings and become butterflies, and my heart releases its burdens. When He speaks, tears of gratitude water the soil of the heart, creating a tender place where we are touched by needs around us, and risk emotional pain to help others.
Rising from that place of worship, my heart will be strong and the identity of the One who first spoke purpose and promises into my life will fill my spirit with all that I need for the week ahead…. Because I already know that this coming week will require more courage, more dependence on the Spirit of God, and more resilience than any other week in ministry, so far. God has called us to places that are uncomfortable and that come with great risk to us and to others. Meeting with victims and abusers is not something I do lightly, and the ripples that follow often turn into full blown waves that threaten to destroy people… regardless of the grace and gentleness we exercise in that moment.
I know that God is with me. I know He goes before me, to protect from harm and to guide; and He comes behind, wiping up the ‘spills’ and redeeming the places I fail or am failed. Learning to trust Him at this level has been a journey of faith, and one that I continue to grow in. In it all, a most critical piece is turning the noise low, hearing His voice and allowing Him to restore my heart and strengthen me.
We say we cannot hear God… that He isn’t speaking to us. But the problem isn’t that God is silent; it is the very nature of God to desire relationship with us, therefore God speaks with constant loving invitation. The problem is we can’t hear Him, because we’ve turned up the volume with an “I’m sorry… bear with me here…”
My prayer for you this week is that you will turn down the noise in your world, so that you are able to hear God speak love and affirmation over you.
A great man once taught me to face my fears and ‘do it afraid’, and to never stop believing in impossible dreams, if those dreams can bring about good.
Today It is January 2, 2016.
On December 30 2014, I posted a status on Facebook, playfully asking for an interpretation to a dream I had the previous night. The dream involved my former car (beloved old Rustbucket) disappearing, and me being all distressed at that loss, but when I went back out to prove it had disappeared, a brand new gold Mazda convertible awaited me.
I posted the status in jest, asking for an interpretation and expecting nonsensical responses. Instead, I received a rush of private messages and comments on that status, telling me that it had meaning, and many said 2015 would be a year of change–good change–for our ministry. (To read the status and public comments, click link here or on the photo.)
I’ll be honest, I struggled to take any of it seriously, at first, but after numerous people said the same thing, I started to listen. Some joked about the dream–which I could obviously appreciate, since that was my motive–and while many said it related to our ministry, Generations Unleashed, a few even threw in the notion that maybe a new car awaited me in 2015. That part I didn’t take seriously at all, but the thought was nice.
As I reflected today on 2015, I did so with mixed emotions. True to the prophetic words spoken, our ministry changed dramatically! We did only 2 conferences all year, with more stand-alone speaking engagements, as well as partnering in ministry with others. A highlight was partnering with comedian/musician, Kelita Haverland.
But the most dramatic change was the amount of ‘out of country travel’. I love to drive, but even more than driving, I love to fly! I would fly at least once a month, if I could. And by ‘could’ I mean that right now it isn’t reasonable for me to be away from home that much, so I do not pursue that much ministry out of country. As it stands, I spent about five weeks out of country in 2015, mostly working with victims of sexual assault and hearing stories of pain and trauma, while walking with those victims or parents of victims, to offer support in crisis.
The last quarter took a turn, and doors opened to have international clients move to Ontario to spend weeks at a time, investing in coaching and mentoring sessions. This has proven to be a wonderful option for those victims out of country who have no place to go locally–at least not places they feel comfortable going–and want to spend time developing confidence and pursuing freedom. There are a few pitfalls, bumps and scrapes, however, as there are with any growth. And for us that was predominantly in trying to determine internationally whether a client fits into a coaching/mentoring client relationship, or whether the extent of trauma or need would be more appropriate for psychotherapy with a licensed counselor or other professional, or a mental health institution. Locally I have the option of meeting a client several times, and if the need crosses that line, I can simply refer the client elsewhere, or we choose to work in partnership with licensed professionals, which is not an easy option at a great distance. We are growing and learning, and trust God to continue leading us in this.
As for the car, we did end up with a new-to-us car for our ministry, and it was indeed a blessing from someone, earlier this year. It wasn’t gold; it was silver. And it wasn’t a Mazda convertible, but it was a Honda Accord, 2-door with a sun roof. Close enough. The gentleman who sold it, donated a portion back, and the remainder was gifted to the ministry days after our old Mazda ‘died’, and only days before I was scheduled to drive to USA to spend time with a young woman in a very difficult situation. The car has since traveled thousands of miles to reach wounded hearts, to encourage the struggling, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in broken lives. We are thankful for the gift, and pray that God’s blessing over the individual who provided it.
In other firsts and changes, 2o15 offered deep trials and confronted fears I would never have thought I could cope well facing. Rejection. Lies. False accusations. Broken trust. Threats of various sorts. Losses. And in each of these I found my God more faithful than ever I have known Him to be, personally. He has kept my heart tender towards those who have wronged me, and given me love in places where I once grew hardened for fear of being wounded. Today He has taught me to embrace wounding, even while He continues to teach me healthy boundaries and extending grace with those boundaries. And by His grace He continues to give me compassion for all, as I learn to walk more and more in the love of Jesus, while acknowledging that which is wicked in the temple courts, and praying He will overturn tables once more.
Looking ahead in 2016, changes will continue. God has opened doors to influence and corroborate with individuals with authority and in positions of influence, who have a vision for changing how sex crimes are handled in religious communities. While the process will take time, our hope is to influence dramatic changes at a level that can and will have life-changing impact in the near future, and for generations to come.
On top of this, I’ve been dreaming for some time about returning to school and, God-willing, 2016 will be the year for this. I had several meetings in recent weeks, trying to determine what is the best starting point. As a result, if I am accepted, I will begin September 2016. Because I will attend as a mature student, hoping to enter a Master’s program, I will start with a 3-month qualifying term during which time I will need to maintain a minimum 75% average in all courses. If I am successful, this will be followed by 16 months of full time Masters program. The reality is I need ‘the official paper’ and credentials behind my name for the next phase of ministry, and to continue to move forward and grow in our community and beyond, and influence changes at the next level. One on one work is good, and it is effective for that one, but the truth is that more can be accomplished with a broader vision. And the need is massive.
I will continue, for the time being, to meet with clients one-on-one, whether local or international, and do what I have done for the past five years. It has been and continues to be something I love, and something that has taught me more in life than any other career or experience.
As these things unfold and develop, and as meetings start early in the year to explore next steps, I see 2016 as a year of preparation and strategic planning. This preparation, I pray, will bring to life a dream that has developed in my heart over a period of years. Granted, there is always that tiny fear that ‘it’s impossible’, and I push constantly through such fears.
A great man once taught me to ‘do it afraid’ and to never stop believing in impossible dreams. Particularly if those dreams can bring about good. And my God has taught me that ‘doing good’ is part of being a Christ follower, and to ignore good that He has called me to do is in fact sin.
So I will choose to believe in the dreams He has birthed in my heart, and trust that if it will bring good, then He will go before me, prepare the way, and bless me. Even if all hell rises against me, no evil thing can stand in the way, no religious thing can stop His plan, and no fear or threat will hold me back from following the purpose God set before me, before I was even conceived.
Before my conception, ere ever my frame formed in my mother’s womb, or even the world obeyed your command, You whispered my name. And in that whispering, my purpose donned wings. A destiny spoken in the shadows became the light that would guide me on the way. For it is Your Kingdom, Your purpose and Your plans that fill my days with adventure; the invitation to step into something greater than myself, to live beyond the walls of selfish expectation, and partner with the Divine, to change the world. (Based on Jeremiah 1:5) (Excerpt from When Abba Whispers Her Name, (working title), Trudy Metzger)