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.”
There isn’t much that worship can’t soothe in my spirit, in the day to day. The key and the challenge is to be diligent in setting aside time for intentional worship in the chaos of this thing we call life, which can quickly feel more like a slow and painful death if we’re not careful. Especially for people in ministry, whether pastors or other ministries. There is something spiritually and emotionally draining about ministry, apart from taking time to refuel and ‘drinking deep’ from the well of God’s love, whether through worship music, meditation and prayer, or reading truth.
Hearing horrific stories of child rape, or watching adults weep or go into shock to the point of physically going pale and clammy, as they recall someone forcing themselves or some harsh object inside of them, tends to wear on the soul. In the past year I’ve heard so many of these tragedies it leaves my head reeling, and my heart aching…. though, in honesty, something of my ability to ‘feel’ was destroyed in childhood, so it is usually more of a ‘factual’ pain, than a feeling one. That is, until it is incorporated into art or music… there, and in God’s presence or Tim’s arms, I am able to feel pain. Rarely any other place. But back on track…
In recounting details with a local police officer regarding the third or fourth case involving forcing objects inside children or youth, the officer looked at me and said, “Yeah… what’s with that about forcing objects inside kids? That’s just crazy!” I couldn’t agree more. It’s insane, actually. And I realized when he asked, that this and molestation is the horror I listen to or deal with, in one form or another, almost daily. And when it gets too much, or hopefully before it does, I escape into a place of worship, filling my heart with a truth greater than the wickedness all around. If I didn’t do that, I would burn out relatively quickly.
And I’m not alone in the intentional battle against burnout. While painful to hear, I’ve listened to pastors confess the struggle that goes with their role. I’ve heard the admission that sometimes it seems atheists are more at peace with life than believers, and live to the fullest with greater kindness than those in the Body of Christ. I’ve listened as they told how difficult it is to be attacked or back-stabbed by their congregants. While that is not something I am familiar with, since I have no congregation, my imagination works well enough to know it would be hard; much harder than ‘distant’ attacks from those who oppose what I do, I imagine.
That is one of the things that has given me the courage to press forward in ministry, knowing the deep appreciation of clients. At least most of them, and most of the time. I’ve been very blessed with good outcomes in working with clients, walking them through to healing and developing longterm relationships. In five years of 1:1 ministry, most clients continue to keep in touch from time to time, letting me know how they are, and sharing struggles and victories from time to time. In fact, only one case has truly gone wrong, either due to sincere misunderstanding or blatant lies–and I am uncertain which–and it is the one case that made me realize how blessed I am that attacks are virtually never part of my life, with clients. (Attacks from strangers, or from ‘friends’ behind my back, and attacks on our ministry don’t bother me much any more. They’re par for the course.) Nonetheless, initially it is jolting to be thrown into a world of unfamiliar accusations and it can feel like God has let you get hung out to dry… Giving 12 hours in one day, and extra time and expense over a period of time, all pro bono, to the person who ends up stabbing you in the back is disheartening. And in that moment, questioning why I would continue, the thing that carries me through is the knowledge that God knows the truth… that God sees all our hearts–not only mine, not only theirs, but everyone of us… And, again, my heart is drawn to healing worship and I am refreshed.
In contrast with the ‘fatigue’ of fighting against the darkness so often covered up, a man spills his story without being confronted, and tells how as a teen he molested numerous children. We end the conversation and of his own accord, as I prepare to leave, he says he would like to talk to a police officer.
“Are you sure you want to do this? What if he has to charge you?” I ask, feeling a sense of duty to let him know the potential consequences, and to see if that changes his mind. “I thought about that before I said anything,” he continues. I tell him I will talk with an officer, and get a time set up and other details if that is what he wants. “If it takes making an example of me to stop this, then I am willing,” he says. And with that we part ways. A day later I have a time, and all the details of what this will look like. He responds with the admission that it looks pretty scary and overwhelming, and I tell him it is up to him. I don’t have enough information to do anything; it’s entirely up to him. He asks for a night to contemplate it.
The next morning, first thing, a text comes through saying he wants to proceed. And with that it’s a plan. As I type out the message to the officer, tears flow generously. I realize the man is not one of the ones who is a greatest threat to our community. He came forward of his own free will and asked for the police without so much as a hint of it from me. And through the tears, I worship a God who sees hearts and understands my struggle with knowing that many hide vicious crimes while a rare contrite soul exposes wickedness out of a desire for truth and freedom. And that one chooses to pay the price publicly, if that’s what it takes, to help end the epidemic.
Ah worship… it makes ‘right’ a world all wrong. It’s necessary to worship when the heavy stuff of life lands on us like a bucket load of bricks… or worse. It’s easy to worship when things are good. But when we sacrifice and are met with not so much as a passing thank you, but rather an attack, worship is critical. Drinking the toxic sludge of lies, rumours, manipulations and growing bitter quickly sucks the life out of us, so that we have nothing to give. And when the darkness hides in the crevices of Christian cloaks, it is worship that turns my heart back to my Heavenly Papa, and I am again lost in love, clothed in righteousness that is not mine.
So tonight I bask in the wonder of the ove of Jesus, who died to give me life… who died to give life for the one who comes back to say ‘thank you’… and for the one who manipulates and takes for granted sacrifices made on their behalf. He understands each of us with equal affection, and grants extravagant grace for our various struggles and burdens. And suddenly I realize that I have no enemies, only brothers and sister with pain, struggling through their story. And I pray that Jesus will meet each one in the place of their battle, and lift up the weary hearts and breathe life into us, every one, so that His purposes are fulfilled in us.
With confidence I move forward because Jesus didn’t stay trapped in a grave: Christ is Risen from the Dead, and that gives me hope for every one of us. Deep, eternal hope.
Even as I write this, I recognize that I have not fully absorbed the words in the note that arrived earlier this week. I shared it with a small handful of people, not offering the name of the author, and most responded with tears and emotion, amazed and encouraged. Of those with whom I shared the message, most–if not all, besides my husband– were also conservative Mennonites. And because it was so encouraging to them, I decided to share it in a blog….
I am accustomed to receiving letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from strangers. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence, so when I saw that note, I was mostly nonchalant about it. That is, until I started reading. And my eyes have this way of taking in an entire page all at once, but registering only a portion, so words popped out grabbing my attention. “…don’t know me… conservative… minister… negative connotation…” This can be a distressing thing, at times, when the wrong words grab me, and my heart rate increased ever so slightly as I read it.
The shock at what I read, compelled me to read it at least three times before it all registered. (All identifying information has been edited out:
Trudy, We have never met but I feel a fire inside to drop you a line this morning. I am a conservative Anabaptist …minister…. Recently …in the course of different conversations your name come up at least a half dozen times often with negative connotations but not always. For your name to come up that often you must be having a big impact … I want to do 2 things.
1. I want ask for forgiveness where “my” people have spoken evil of you for just following the call on your life.
2. I want to thank you for following that call and not giving up. We need you. Your call? Isaiah 61:1
By the third reading I felt like a dam was pushing against the inner walls of my heart, threatening to burst, but it would not give way. I wanted to weep, but only a lonely tear or two formed. A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and memory, of all this one message addresses in my heart, and the ‘history’ of my life among ‘his’ people… who are and always will also be ‘my’ people.
In an instant I realized how very healed my heart is in so many ways and places, and yet how there are small ‘brutally raw’ spots, waiting to heal. The words God had spoken, and words I shared with Tim and a few friends a few years ago, when my heart was particularly raw, returned, “Healing will come… and it will come from the very source of your pain.” At the time I tried to imagine just how my healing could or would ever come from ‘my people’, where so much pain had entered my life and broken trust with God. But I chose to believe it.
And little by little it came… A note from a friend still in the setting… and another… and another… An encouragement from one Conservative Mennonite pastor after my book came out in March… and then another… and another… and another, until there were six.
And then the unthinkable happened. Never in a million years would I have anticipated it or even dared to desire such a thing… but it came. I attended a funeral in my former church setting, and a leader I knew in ‘those years’ shook my hand. But he didn’t let go. He held my hand and his voice choked up as he thanked me for honouring them in my book. “We didn’t deserve it,” he said. I smiled and patted his hand–still holding mine–“I think you did,” I said. Tears formed then, as he continued, apologizing for not understanding me, for not being there and for failing me. “I wish we had done more to help you,” he said. I thanked him, and immediately felt it; another moment of healing.
These moments have been representative of my Heavenly Father; Abba… Papa God, who cares personally and intimately about every wound in my heart. Even the ones I forgot I had, or never acknowledged. I expected nothing more in the way of healing. My heart was full.
And I think that is why the note this week was so overwhelming. It wasn’t just about the past. It was about the ongoing lies, evil-speaking and attacks on our ministry. (Which, thank God, I have learned to let run off as the oil of the Holy Spirit covers me and doesn’t allow it to penetrate.) But more than that, it was a blessing on our ministry.
Ultimately my affirmation comes first from my Heavenly Father, very directly, as He ministers to my heart. Secondly it comes from my husband who stands with me. Thirdly it comes from hearing and reading about others who are rising up to bring the healing of Jesus to the broken and wounded in the church. I seek nothing beyond that, in the way of endorsement or affirmation.
So when a moment like this drops out of the clear blue sky, my heart and spirit are almost overcome. I thank God for this minister’s encouragement, for his ministry to the wounded, and for a reminder that there are others ‘within’ in spiritual warfare for the children and offering the hope of Jesus to the wounded.
It is my prayer that this minister’s note will be encouraging for those of you who are also conservative Mennonite and feel alone and abandoned. If you are wondering if any of ‘our people’ and leaders in particular, will acknowledge what was done against you, and the need for your heart to find healing, now you know.
I recently received a message from an abuse victim, asking if every conservative Mennonite victim of sexual abuse gets the urge to strangle anyone they see wearing a plain suit coat. And in another email this note arrived not so long ago, from a victim of extreme sexual violence, in a religious home with this question: “why is it that the people who ‘look the most christian’ are the ones that are the least understanding and the most hurtful? Even the ones who don’t place much stock in a host of church rules etc. The people who have shown me a clear picture of who God really is are people who my friends and family would call wordly. (…) It’s been drilled into us since we were kids that if they don’t wear a Menno dress they probably aren’t Christian and yet look at what all goes on in the life of people who wear the ‘right’ clothes. When it comes to some of these people it feels like the only thing you accomplish is beating your head on a brick wall.”
My prayer is that the gentleman/minister who wrote the note of encouragement and apology, who also wears a plain suit coat and is conservative Anabaptist, will be representative of the Father’s heart to you as he was to me, and a reminder that good and evil dwell in every culture. And I pray that healing will come to each of you also–even from the very ‘source’ of your pain–as it has for me, as Jesus is represented will by those who love Him above all else, including image and religion.
Those of us who love Him, will love you also, and we will tear down the dividing walls between brothers and sisters in Christ, with no regard for self preservation. We will put ourselves on the line for your well-being, because that is the way of Jesus.
Last but not least, I want to bless this minister of the healing Gospel of Jesus. I pray that God will enlarge his sphere of influence, so that many of ‘his people’ will know the healing touch of Jesus Christ, through him, his wife, his family and his church.
It is a crisp and beautiful day here in Pennsylvania. I’ve enjoyed the past few days, away from work and ministry commitments, to connect with friends. I’ve relaxed and chatted, enjoyed a somewhat restricted amount of coffee (because too much raises the blood pressure), and had many good conversations.
I even spent one afternoon baking and cooking meals for my friends’ freezer, because she is recovering from surgery, and there are things he would rather do than cook. And I quite enjoyed it too.
Yesterday I even took a break from blogging, mostly because it was my birthday, and the day was too full to fit it in. So work and ministry were especially far from my mind. I’ve thought of my clients, of course, but mostly that ‘world’ is 645 miles away.
Taking a rest or a break, they say, is as good as a change. And I certainly believe that to be true. But even when I am at home and in the thick of it, I set aside times that I am available for clients, and times that are reserved for family and other commitments. This is to avoid burnout, and then end up being unavailable for months, or maybe even years, or the rest of my life. I do it for my family, and for my clients, and most certainly for my own well-being.
It is no different for victims of sexual abuse; sometimes you need a break. The heaviness of dealing with what once was is very draining, and sometimes it can feel like there’s just too much. When I work with clients whose circumstances and stories are exceptionally extreme and require extended support, there comes a time when I recommend a break.
Victims reading this are probably asking, how in the world does an abuse victim take a break? The reality is we cannot get away from our story; it is what it is, it is a past event that cannot be changed.
When I encourage clients to take a break, I outline a few suggestions to help clear the mind of abuse-related information, at least for a short time. Many victims want to understand what was done to them, and the psychological consequences. The pursuit of knowledge related to sexual abuse and its outcome is not uncommon. Reading blog, after blog, after blog… or researching books, and papers, or more blogs about how abuse might have impacted their world, even scientifically… Trying to understand anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress syndrome and various other outcomes including sexual dysfunction. The desire to know these things is not bad, nor is it difficult for me to understand why victims want to know; we often don’t understand ourselves and the symptoms we carry. But obsessively and constantly reading material related to sexual abuse, while we are in the throes of trying to work through it, keeps our minds constantly in that space and has potential to do more harm than good.
Sometimes I will suggest taking a break from reading anything related to sexual abuse for a month, and rather filling the mind with other things. Even social media, in general, offers post after post after post about sexual abuse, and violence. And the truth is, speaking out is long overdue! But the other truth is that when we as victims spend obsessive amounts of time reading about it, while working through our own pain, our minds simply do not get the break they need from the trauma. During this ‘break’ we continue to meet, in most cases – – unless the client wants a complete break – – and simply focus on affirming truth, so the power of the lies is broken.
My encouragement is to focus on the healing process during that time, rather than trying to understand all of the outcomes, consequences, and psychological conditions we acquired through trauma. Healing seldom comes through that knowledge, especially in extreme cases, and with the risk of exacerbating the problem, it’s just not worth it.
There comes a time and a place, after we are healed, when that information no longer has the same negative impact. And at that time, our minds are much stronger, and the information can actually be helpful, not only for ourselves, but in helping others as well.
Stories of overcoming can be very encouraging when read at the right time, but in our week times they can add trauma. And unfortunately often news reports, and even some blog posts, are current events for which there is no imminent solution or good outcome. Therefore the offer no positive input into a traumatized mind and are best avoided for a time.
If you are an abuse victim, and find yourself constantly absorbing information that keeps your mind focusing on your pain and story in a negative and hopeless way, I would recommend considering a break. Read other encouraging things, and continue to meet with your counselor, mentor, or other support person and fill your mind with uplifting things.
While I don’t have a long list of stories as proof that it works, I do have several, and feel quite confident in encouraging such a thing.
God bless you all today, and my prayer is for ongoing healing for every victim and for this tragic crime to stop. My prayer is also that the church would rise up, and offer the healing touch of Jesus, rather then the condemning curse of silence and denial. There is a healthy way…
I kept seeing the Starbucks red cup referenced, so this morning I did a google search to see what the hype and offense is all about, and being ‘in the know’, I decided a second blog was in order. So here it is, awkwardly sandwiched in my 30 days of acknowledging victims of sexual abuse. But then, a good cup of Salted Caramel Mocha is the perfect treat for someone going through hard times, so maybe it’s an okay diversion.
I’ll start with saying I don’t care one iota if a business advertises Christmas–or snowflakes–on their cups or not. Even if they have done it for a bajillion years, it doesn’t offend me if they stop. They put it on in the first place for advertising, not because Starbucks loves Jesus. It’s business. It’s advertising. The thing that sells is the thing they will use. We ought to have been just as offended that they used it in the first place, because Jesus and Christmas are worth more than that. But we were not offended then, and we shouldn’t be now.
And I don’t really care if people say Merry Christmas to me or not. But I do care if businesses tell people what they may and may not say, on a faith level. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech for all. At least it should be, though it seems not to be. That’s a bit different than the advertising thing, though they lump it all together. And I am exercising my freedom of speech here, even though many people won’t agree with me, and they have the right to express their opinions also. And when I go out this holiday season, I will exercise that freedom again and say Merry Christmas to everyone if I want to. And I won’t do it to offend; I will do it because I love Jesus and I love celebrating this ‘birthday’ we’ve given Him. (We don’t really know the exact day.) Odds are high they will say it back to me.
And I love all the joy, happiness, and ‘light’ of the season, so soon after the dark, black of Halloween. (Yes, I hand out candy to all the little people who show up, dressed up in their costumes. No, that’s not celebrating the dark side and it doesn’t mean I celebrate death and goblins and all that occult stuff. If you want to tackle me on that–as some already have, my email is trudy(dot)metzger(at)rogers(dot)com. Your venting won’t offend me, or make either of us more or less Christian.) And while I know the ‘spirit of the season’ will be short lived, I enjoy it for the short time when people celebrate hope, and play cheerful Christmas carols. No other time of year is Christ proclaimed unwittingly, in the way He is at Christmas. But that’s all temporary if He’s not alive within.
In the middle of the political correctness, and the spats over advertising, I care that Jesus is so alive in my heart that He flows out of me in love, not a ‘feel good’ into me in the form of some overpriced liquid in a ‘Christmas cup’. I care that I drink deep from His cup and represent Christ so well, that those who know me or meet me want to have mass (meaning full communion) with Christ, and thereby bring Christ-mass into their personal lives. The kind that lasts an eternity and doesn’t land crumpled in the rubbish bin when the drink is all.
We might as well rejoice when the world shows its darkness, for this very reason, so that the light of our hope sparkles more brightly in contrast. There is something about twinkling lights in the blackest of nights…. There is something about stars in the darkest hour of the night… There is something about the lights of home, when we are tired and need rest….
And there is something about the Love of Jesus Christ, when the soul is black and hopeless. His Light is Life to the searching. Hopefully, with less fake lights, some will see the True Light of Christmas and feel His Love. For ‘while we were still sinners’–wandering in black hopelessness and unworthy of Him–‘Christ died for our sins’. What a beautiful truth to come home to. What a powerful reason to celebrate Christmas in a boring red cup…
I’ll have the Salted Caramel Mocha, Venti please, in a boring red cup, minus the snowflakes. The thank you I offer, the smile on my face, the personally meaningful ‘Merry Christmas’, that’s the overflow of Christ in me.
God said in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life.” And the Bible repeatedly tells us to ‘bless and curse not’. I choose blessing.
On that note, #MerryChristmasStarbucks! I won’t be boycotting you or trying to negatively impact your business; you have my business this year, same as every other year.
Today someone confronted me…. And instantly my heart sank, as it registered what I had done and what I was guilty of… I felt sick and sinful; unworthy of the calling God has placed on me. Unworthy of His grace, and overwhelmed by my humanity.
Restless, I returned to writing the devotional my agent asked me to write, reading through the most recent chapter. And the truth of the story of Jesus offered hope to my heart…. what He did for me, for us…
Written in my own words, how the story plays out in my mind, as I read Matthew 26, and having limited words to tell it, the following as an excerpt from the devotional:
“Wait here,” the God-man said to His inner circle of friends. “My heart breaks so that my soul is filled with sorrow; a sorrow so deep it feels to be drawing the very life from me. Stay… Wait… and pray, for temptation waits to trip you… pray that you will not surrender to it.” And with that He slipped away, leaving His friends behind, night shadows wrapping cool blankets around Him. He walked, willingly into the dark that night until He came to a Garden…
Gethsemane…. Oil press. What a name, on a night so dismal, when the agony was so near to pressing the very life from His compassionate heart… Gethsemane, the place where oil poured generously from the fruit of the Mount of Olives…
Here, in that Garden, the God-man knelt, having found solitude from all but His Abba Father. Human flesh cringed at the burden suffocating a heart most tender, and in that humanness, the God-man spoke in intimate conversation.
“Oh Papa… If there’s any other way… if it is possible, please take this crushing burden from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Your will, Papa,” He prayed. And there the blood-red wine began to trickle from His heart, as sweat droplets formed in anguish, falling from His forehead like drops of blood, a symbolic prophesy soon fulfilled.
Having prayed, He went to His disciples and found them sleeping. Three times He prayed. Three times they slept. Each time He roused them, urging them to pray, until the third time; then He told them to rest. For then the time was at hand… That time when disciple-and-friend-turned-foe-and-traitor would come.
Faithless and filled with self, the traitor kissed the God-man’s cheek; a stolen kiss, betraying that tender heart, selling the God-man as if He held no worth. Still, that love flowed, poured out wine, for that one. Because love, when it starts to spill, knows no boundaries; it spills that generously over those who sell it.
Driven by whips lashing hate, a mocking crown bleeding, He stumbled up the hill…Golgotha; the place of the skull, a place of death. Such symbolic prophesy, for from that day forward, Life would spring from places long condemned.
Earth groaned beneath the God-man’s feet, crying for release, as from thorn-pierced brown the blood drops fell, each one a promise of life. A prophesy soon fulfilled…
He reached the top of that hill, and there, in ground long cursed, the haters laid Him on that cross. Nails punctured gentle hands. Life trickled, like wine poured out, blood-red, from His hands and His feet. Then, raised to heaven, naked and for all to see and scorn, love kept trickling without regard for the scoffing.
The spear, ruthless, sharp… piercing through the God-man’s side… Oh prophetic victory! Oh generous love, poured out! For from that piercing, the blood of Christ spilled out, messy and red, staining wood, the ground and cloth on which it fell; leaving an eternal mark. Because Love does that; it leaves a forever mark and flows with abandon… Without straight lines, it spills in reckless patterns, wherever it will travel, on rough and scarred terrain.
Like wine, poured in generous serving, offered with bread, He sustains the life of all who reach for it. His body, broken by hate and rejection like bread shared with hungry, His blood, spilled out like wine on weary lips…. Flowing through us, shared with those around… Without reserve in reckless patterns without straight lines, wherever we travel…
Because that’s what Love does, when it touches our lives and spills over us generously like poured out wine…
I am so thankful for what Jesus did on the cross, not only for my sins, but for those I have sinned against, to bring life and healing from ‘the place of death’ and skulls. And I am so sorry for wounding a heart and breaking trust… Praying God will heal and redeem all things.
This week I sit here, hardly knowing how to speak hope into a dark situation. For if it isn’t about offering hope, then what purpose is there?
Sometimes the hope I present is that victims will be heard and their hearts cared for, while not over-compensating and leaving them stuck in hopeless victimization, soaking up sympathies. That’s a destruction all its own, to get absorbed in self-pity, and leaves victims lonely as hell. Sometimes the hope I present is that churches are starting to perk up and listen, and hold perpetrators of abuse accountable for their crimes and letting them face consequences, while still offering Jesus and His love and grace. But always, even in the most exposing and revealing of writings, my prayer is that truth will speak and hope will rise up in hearts of readers. And, where I ‘get it wrong’–because all of us are flawed and sinful–I pray that Truth will speak, and override my scribblings.
Looking at the scandals, the violence and the helpless wringing of hands, words don’t come so easily. It’s all a bit overwhelming. And, yet, apart from the shootings–and actually carrying out such ideation, it’s just a larger scale of the same kind of thing I deal with: people dealing with murderous thoughts and/or suicidal ideation, and hearing dark voices in their heads telling them to act out and follow through; molestation and sexual abuse–often covered up; affairs and infidelity… and children carelessly ‘pimped out’ in their own homes and churches…
And to accompany this there are usually people who want to make these things go away as fast as possible through religious lingo, cheap grace and shallow forgiveness.. The offenders, on the other hand, try to make it go away by putting blame on the victims. (My wife/husband didn’t fulfil me sexually… the child asked for the molestation and flirted with me… The people made racial slurs against me… They treated me different because I’m homosexual… She shouldn’t have been out on the street, especially not dressed like that… )
No, we speak hope by pursing truth, both on a practical level and a spiritual level…
Truth in Marriage:
Husbands and wives are blessed, relationally, when they connect at a heart level and care for one another. Sexual intimacy is a beautifully bonding experience, when partners respect each other’s needs and desires, both sides of the equation. Being a trustworthy lover requires sensitivity to our partner, rather than using him or her without consideration. A spouse who is considerate and gives his/her partner a safe place, sexually– a place to engage or decline; a place to sacrifice personal preference by choice for the sake of the spouse–will have a more fulfilling relationship. Caring for others is always more rewarding, and truth is, barring other struggles or health issues, the partner is likely to be more responsive in bed. Simple math. That’s all that is.
Truth in Bigotry Based on Race, Religion or Sexual Orientation:
Victims of racial/bigoted slurs or mistreatment because of homosexuality, religion or any other thing, will feel hurt. It’s human nature. And though no human has the right to attack another for their choices, their beliefs or for differences, it will happen to all of us and it is our responsibility to learn to deal well with that side of it. However, not all opposing views are attacks, slurs or bigoted. It stands to reason–if there’s much reason left in the world–that if one side expresses themselves, the other side should have the same privilege, even if it steps on toes and collides with beliefs. That is not ‘homophobia’ or ‘persecution’ or ‘bullying’. It is the expression of differing views and if you have any confidence in your point of view at all, hearing an opposing view won’t offend. The greater the offence, the more glaring the insecurity. Shooting people to make a statement is about inner rage and personal issues, not about racial slurs, job losses or other offences. I would venture a guess that it’s a narcissistic response to the consequences of personal irresponsibility.
Truth in Sex Trafficking:
Sex trafficking victims are often struggling teens, though not always, whose vulnerability is exploited by predators. In rebellion or not, to put the crimes of skilled criminals on vulnerable and immature youth, not to mention often very trusting and naive ones–and sometimes even sweet, gentle and innocent youth–is simply not right. They are victims of horrible crime and need us to do what we can to help, and to stop this evil.
Truth in Child Molestation:
And a child ‘asking for it’ when he or she is molested is just out of this world insane. That a full grown adult could say such a thing is beyond horrific. Even more so coming from a person professing Christ. Unfortunately some buy into their lies and excuse themselves based on it. I could list numerous such (current) cases, but won’t. But I will say this, when a man in his 40’s has the audacity to say, “But she wanted it”, of a girl not quite ten years old, things are going to hell in a hand basket, and fast. And in any community that accepts this as a reasonable argument, there is a lack of discernment, to say the very least. Often there’s a bit more behind it than all that, but we’ll not go there today.
Truth, Freedom & Hope:
The reality is that truth brings freedom, and the hidden thing brings death and destruction. I’ve referred to the story of Achan before, and will again, because it’s a reality that will never change. God hates the hidden thing, and He’s creative about exposing it. And when He does, we are each given the opportunity to respond with repentance and ‘owning up’, or we can push the blame, excuse ourselves or find some other way to derail responsibility.
Truth brings freedom and offers hope. And part of truth is accepting responsibility, without excuses. But hope… hope is a Promise from Heaven that is given to us, a gift from God through Jesus, when we embrace truth; all truth. And hope is the beautiful thing that makes accepting responsibility possible, without being swallowed up in shame.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross… And He did it for the worst sinners, the likes of Josh (we all know at least some of what he did), and Noel Biderman (founder of Ashley Madison who justifies adultery and isn’t the least bit sorry)… And then there’s me… who once held a gun contemplating murder….
And maybe that’s why, even though I believe in accountability and consequences, I believe in the power of Jesus and hope to transform lives. It’s so hard to deny the existence of a precious gift I hold in my hands…
The headlines of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian committing adultery kind of hit me in the gut. If it was Joel Osteen, it would have far less impact. I am probably about 350 degrees removed from Joel; I don’t know anyone who knows him personally. If it was Joyce Meyer, that gap would close somewhat for reasons I won’t get into. And, while Pastor Tullian is less known than both, it had greater impact; he is one degree removed, and the ‘man in between’ is someone I deeply respect.
My first thought when I read it wasn’t, “Hmmm… another mega-pastor has fallen…” or some such resigned rhetoric. My heart squeezed a bit tighter in my chest, and I choked up a little. Not because of personal disappointment, but because of what sin has cost him; what it costs every one of us. Relationships take a hard hit, when ‘spiritual giants’ fall. Faltering Christians are confused and feel lost when heroes and mentors ‘betray’ what they teach. Husbands and wives struggle and ache. And the children… they always hurt like hell. Every time. When leaders fall, their children and young Christians under their leadership pay a high price. And that price is even greater depending on our responses… and the responses of believers at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
I will never forget that feeling… In my early twenties several women in our church took me under their wings, so to speak, spiritually and emotionally. I had started working through the aftermath of sexual abuse when they stepped in and mentored me. One on one, I talked as openly as I knew how then. Several years went by, and our connections had weakened, by the time it happened, but after all I had shared, it still felt very personal. Tim and I were dating, and the husband of one of these women was his Sunday School teacher at the time….
It was a Wednesday evening when our bishop rose to make the announcement, disclosing that this couple had fallen into sexual sin. How much detail was shared there, and how much was shared with me after I am not sure, but I knew more than I needed to know. I was crushed. Tim was stunned. And after church we sat on the grass, under the stars–a young couple wanting to save sex for marriage–and had a numb conversation, our minds reeling. It was a moment of grief at having trusted so deeply. “I talked with her about my struggles… the abuse… I had coffee with her… I trusted her…” It all spilled out like a cup of tipped coffee, hot and scalding, as I absorbed what it all meant.
Hard as it was, those were not the defining moments of that event. Thank God. The defining moments came when I heard the couple sought counselling. The defining moments came when someone believed in grace enough to say, “It’s not over. God will redeem this mess.” My heart still felt hesitant, granted. It still needed time to heal from the shock of it, but the greater message was in the redemption. And I watched as God turned that evil into good, and now uses the woman to bring healing to others.
Pastor Tullian and I never met for coffee. He never sat and patiently listened to my broken story, reassuring me. And he was never Tim’s Sunday School teacher. But I have been blessed by his wisdom and words of grace, ‘from afar’. (A grace I pray he and Kim will hold onto most tightly, in this time.) But, more than that, he is a brother to the man who wrote the foreword to my book, BETWEEN 2 GODS. And, if Pastor Tullian was one to do book reviews, I would have had him do one of my book in instant. (I checked into it.) Because he believes in grace and redemption, I would have trusted him with my story.
I, too, believe in grace and redemption. And I believe it for Pastor Tullian and Kim Tchividjian. Yes, it is sad, I won’t downplay that; looking at King David’s life there are and will be devastating consequences for such sin… But I hold the atonement of Christ in high regard. The only Gospel I offer is that Jesus is more than enough. I will not judge, but I will pray. I will not condemn. I believe that the Jesus of John 8 is the Jesus of today, and if Pastor Tullian and Kim were brought to Him for judgement, He would again kneel in the sand and begin to write… And in that humble moment, accusers would scatter, leaving only Jesus and the bystanders to witness and hear what the headlines don’t tell you; divine grace, flowing from tender eyes, and lips speaking with Heaven’s affection, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
And I believe that the God of King David–a very broken man whom God called ‘a man after His own heart’–is still God today. Like King David, Pastor Tullian and Kim, and the woman ‘caught in the very act’ of adultery, I too needed grace. And I need grace still; we all do.
I only hope that men and women of God who fall into adultery and sin, rise up again, like King David, to serve God with greater vision and passion… and broken. Because broken men and women are of far greater service to the Kingdom of God than great, strong, unbroken leaders. Our sins do not disqualify us from serving God, if we repent and fall harder on grace than we ever fell into sin. The grace of God is enough, whether alcoholism, gossip, adultery, gluttony, homosexuality, arrogance, or any other sin….
Weighing in on the Duggar story is something I was not going to do. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is my decision in past public hype, to stay out of it. I tire quickly of it. And the whole thing, in most cases, is media driven poison that is detrimental to healing and hope. Therefore it doesn’t interest me, because healing and hope are my mission.
I work with abuse victims and I am an abuse victim, well, an overcomer now, but I was victimized many times. And I, like many of my clients, was violated by family members. I also have very close friends who were sexually molested by family members. And we do not all agree with bold statements being made on our behalf, about how victims feel with Josh Duggar. That’s actually the thing that tipped me ‘over the edge’ into writing about it, a bold statement on behalf of victims. And I, as a victim, do not support much of what I read and I’m hoping I can offer some hope and healing. Besides, I needed to sleep tonight, and writing is how I usually ‘clear my chest’.
Having been victimized and now working with victims, I occasionally end up in front of offenders when I support a victim who is confronting their abuser or alleged abuser, and I serve as mediator. Other times I work with the offenders who seek help for the crimes committed. (If victims are under 16, I report. If not, the voice has to be theirs, and they decide if they wish to report or not.) Sometimes my gizzard gets all in a tangle about the offender–whether a family member of the victim or not–even the ‘very young’ one, because there is an arrogant and unrepentant heart, usually exposed by denial and excuses. And sometimes they are ‘repentant’ when confronted, and then spend the rest of their lives finding ways to bully and blame the victim. These are dangerous offenders. There is nothing of their behaviour that makes me believe they wouldn’t offend again, and I’m all for dealing accordingly.
There are times, however, when the offender is repentant and humble, and their behaviours support repentance. They are broken, and make no excuses, wanting only for their victims to find help. I’ve worked with both, and the latter evoke something very different in my heart and spirit than the former.
In both cases there are consequences for both the victim and the offender. In both cases there are wounds and scars, guilt and shame, and always, always brokenness. Molestation is always damaging. That is the harsh reality of it, no matter the situation, the repentance, the brokenness. I do not downplay that.
However, that does not always mean that a family should be ripped apart and the victim and offender be kept apart for life. I do not believe in pushing the ‘forgive, forget and move on’ agenda to provide a quick cover up and push the consequence on the victim that way and make it the victim’s problem to ‘let it go’. That is wicked beyond wicked, and often does even more damage than the initial abuse, from what victims tell me. But I do believe in ‘forgiveness with boundaries’. I do believe that the offender should not be alone with the victim or other vulnerable (younger) children. It is on the part of wisdom to protect the children, and ensure there are no questionable or risky situations. That’s not genius; it’s the most basic of common sense. Unfortunately still missed by many.
Where the Duggar case goes south for me in a hurry, is the vehement judgement from people everywhere, considering that Josh has made no excuses for his sins and crimes. I was molested by a fifteen year old, and I have no desire to see him dragged through the legal system for what he did to me than I have to see Josh dragged through. My offender apologized and owned it. Unfortunately he did much worse to others over the same time, and refuses to this day to take ownership for those crimes, therefore I do not trust him at all. If those victims decided to take him to court, I’d be there to support them. I never trust an offender who does not own the wickedness of his/her crimes against another, and finds ways to put the crimes on the victim. That is deserving of punishment and legal justice.
I am not a ‘Duggar fan’. I’ve not watched them, even once, or followed their story. I do not care if their show ever airs again or not, on a personal level. It’s simply never interested me. But I do care about truth and justice, and justice and mercy, and I do have a problem with the media attacking Josh and the Duggars and the general public chiming in with no apparent compassion. And the reason for my feelings are multifaceted: 1. Josh was a minor. 2. Jesus changes lives. 3. Victims should have some input, or they simply become victimized again, and their voices are taken away… again. (And it makes me cross, to be honest, to see some of what is being said about ‘victims’ out there and how molestation destroys us for life. Also not true. I am not destroyed; I am empowered. So, if you’re not one, don’t decide for us. If you are one, decide for yourself.)
What Josh did was very wrong. He ‘owned’ that. He has made no excuses, that I’ve seen or heard. He has not blamed his victims. And he was a minor. Fourteen, my friends. Fourteen… That is incredibly young! In my home right now I have a thirteen year old, and he is very young. He has the advantage of talking openly with me and daddy about sex, but even so, he is very young.
Even where I was victimized, there is no way anyone will convince me that the fifteen year old who violated me fully understood, or understood at all, the consequences of his actions. I’m sure he knew what he did was wrong, but understanding what it was he did to me… not possible. So I forgive him, with boundaries.
When I see Christians throwing their rocks at Josh, it troubles me. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus died for all my sins. I believe that He transforms lives, and that people change. Even those who molested. If Jesus cannot do that, then He is neither God, nor the Messiah. Then Christianity is a farce. Either He can save and restore all, or He can save and restore none. There is no middle ground.
The popular belief of ‘once a molester, always molester’ is a tragic life sentence to put on anyone, and a slap in the face of God/Jesus. And I do not support it. I never have, and I never will. Admittedly I feel most hope for those who come forward on their own with their sins, repent, and ask for help. I also feel hope for those who are caught at a young age and are forced to get help. They have the advantage of not establishing life patterns. And the manipulative, lying ones… they’re not repentant or looking for change; I am not speaking of them.
But the notion that they are all molesters for life is not truth. I doubt we can begin to grasp the impact that kind of teaching has on people. So I will look every young offender in the eye, if they are repentant, and tell them I believe in them. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to believe they can overcome and are not sentenced to a life of crime. I want them to set a higher standard for themselves. And I want them to look to God, through Jesus, for that strength. I want them to understand consequences and comply with the laws of the land, because it is scriptural, but I want them to know they can be free, that they never have to do it again. So, yes, I am willing to swim upstream and speak against the tide of judgement, condemnation and hopelessness. Because I believe in God, and what He can do.
If I understand right, Duggars removed Josh from the home for a while. No doubt they were reeling in shock, uncertain what to do. They should have reported right away, true. And, yes, it took them a year, but Mr. Duggar turned his own son in for his crimes. That is unheard of. I work with sexual abuse almost daily. Even on weekends I get messages and emails. Never, in my five years of working closely with sexual abuse–or my twenty-five years of speaking openly about it and listening to stories–have I heard of a father turning in his own son. And as a young teen. Not until now. (Note and addition: In this paragraph, in particular I had some inaccurate information. I have addressed these things in a follow up Blog: “The Duggars; a Few Things… And a Secret of My Own” I have posted the link again, below.)
And if I think back fifteen years to when this happened, the topic was not open like it is today, which makes that reality doubly shocking. In many ways they acted ahead of their time, and from what I can find and read, seem to have done all that they knew to do, and more than most would have done. For that reason, along with what seems a humble and repentant heart in Josh, not to mention my faith in Jesus Christ, I cannot and will not join the crucifixion march. I am appalled at what I see and hear from Christians on this matter and I cannot help but wonder what we have done with Jesus, and what He would do with this situation. He looks very differently on the repentant heart that is open about sins than the hidden thing. (And if you’re going to cry ‘but they hid it’, let me remind you that they went to the police, and he was a minor protected by law from public exposure, if I understand correctly.)
I write this as someone who struggled through the confusion and aftermath of having a teenage boy rub himself all up against me, groping me, grabbing me and doing things to my body I never wanted done. Please don’t decide for those of us who were victimized, how we should heal and that all those who offended us at a young age should be marked for life. Some of us want them to get help and go on and live whole lives, if they are repentant. And please don’t tell me my Jesus isn’t big enough. I won’t buy into that lie. And I hope Josh doesn’t either.
And, for the sake of those who hold the hammer and nails for his crucifixion march, let me repeat, I do not believe in cheap forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness with healthy boundaries and protection, and for the victims to be empowered to heal. And I believe victims should not be forced to have a close relationship with their offenders, even if they are family members, and if the scars are so deep that psychological trauma results from being near the offenders, they should have the liberty to keep a safe distance. But all of us do not want that.
I will end with this; I am healed and whole. And as a healed and whole adult, I have a very healthy and mutually respectful relationship with several of the individuals who touched me inappropriately as young teens. I have forgiven all other offenders as well, but I do not feel safe around them, because they did not take ownership of their crimes, and I have no desire for a relationship. With my father I kept safe boundaries for myself and our children, even after he asked me to forgive him. It was my responsibility to do that, and take care of my family; those are consequences. He was my father, and should have protected me. As a father, and as an adult, he violated that trust. Still, I sat by his hospital bed in the last two years of his life, held his hands, and cried with him and told him I loved him. It was healing for both of us, and set me more free than I’ve ever been, and it gave back my voice (or ‘power’, as some say it).
So please don’t sentence teenagers to a life of crime with thoughtless judgement. If ever he offends as an adult, I’ll offer no defense. I’ll still not let you borrow my hammer and nails, but I will understand the outcry. Until then, I will thank God for His grace in my life, and do my best to extend it to others.
And please don’t rob us, as victims, of that deepest healing, where we reclaim our voice by offering forgiveness in a way that gives life to our spirits. I know most, if not all of my clients would echo this. I’ve not had many (if any) who did not want to extend forgiveness with boundaries they were comfortable with. And I’ve not had any clients who, when I finished working with them, were not healed, whole and confident adults who reclaimed their voices, yet offered forgiveness. That freedom is what Jesus came to offer, so I will boldly declare it, even if it means swimming up stream… alone… through a crowd.
Ps. For those who read how a teen rubbed himself against me and groped me, and presume I have no concept of ‘real’ victimization, I refer to that isolated case here b/c of the age comparison. Two things: that *is* real victimization, and I went through a lot more ‘hell’ than all that. In my book Between 2 Gods; a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community I tell of repeated molestation and later being raped in my teens. I understand abuse. And my first ‘passion’ is *always* compassion and care for victims. There is never excuse for molestation.
July 9 – 12 Pennsylvania:
I plan to be in Lancaster Pennsylvania, July 9 – 12. To receive updates on where I will be speaking, join our email list by sending your name and email address via my “Contact Trudy” page. I would love to meet you if you’re in the area!