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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2019

 

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

Here is the poster:

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Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE:

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

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

24 years ago we made a vow…

Tim and I promised each other, twenty-four years ago today, that no matter what, come hell or high water, we would stay and fight for our marriage. Hell has come and the water has risen until it was so deep we had to learn to swim… or float… or doggy paddle; anything to keep our heads above water. We’ve struggled to hold true to those promises in various ways, and multiple times.

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Our first baby was born nine months, one week, one day and two hours after that ceremony. (But who’s counting? Especially when eight months and 3 weeks would have raised the eyebrows of more than a few.) In the 6 years that followed, God blessed us with five more healthy children, and carried us through losing two others. We cried. We misunderstood how the other grieves, and at times felt hopelessly lost in this thing we call marriage.

Over the years we both have been in situations at various times that, if we had been so inclined, could have led to infidelity and unfaithfulness. But we communicated and risked opening our hearts to each other. Sometimes it meant one of us seeing the risk the other was in, and sometimes it meant seeing it ourselves and together working through navigating those relationships… and ending them.

We’ve each failed the other. We’ve looked out for our own interests instead of the other. We’ve had to own our wrongs, and say “I’m sorry”. And, when we could have walked away from each other, always we chose to stay and forgive, and support each other.

We’ve had crises and challenges and blessings, all blended together into a sometimes confusing mosaic. But when I step back, I see beauty, love and grace. We’ve hurt each other and been disappointed, and wondered if we’d make it through. Yet we’ve never, even in the hell of life, stopped loving. Even in our ‘fights’ – such as they tend to be with both of us not liking conflict – we have kept our love alive. (Yes, you can be angry and love someone. You can hurt deeply, and love them. And you can look at them and say “I still love you… I just can’t keep doing life this way”.)

I am, by nature – or maybe because of past experience – a hedgehog with rhino tendencies. I extend grace, and more grace, and more grace, and then something tips the building blocks neatly stacked, and it all comes tumbling down. And when it all erupts, we haven’t much choice but to stumble through the mess on the floor and work through it. Tim is, by nature, a hedgehog. That’s how we did the first ‘many’ years of marriage, as two hedgehogs – one with rhino tendencies.

Gradually we have learned (and are learning still) that if we talk about things as they happen – which we have done times since all hell broke loose nearly two years ago -things are so much better. When I’m cranky, I take inventory about what’s happening to my heart. Sometimes it’s just hormones. (Seriously! this middle-aged stuff…!)  But it’s not all bad. As my naturopath Dr. Jim Farquarson told me, it’s a time when God invites us to the past and heals a lot of stuff that we’ve ignored. (Okay. I can do that!)  Sometimes when I’m feeling hurt it is the result of a subtle little thing that I’ve decided ‘isn’t a big deal’ because I want to be mature. Many times that works and such grace is good. But sometimes, if it lingers, the best thing for me to do is to tell Tim. I’ve learned that often if I tell him, it breaks that negative power, and it’s over “just like that!” with the little things that build up and cause explosions. So we have less and less ‘Mt. St. Helen’ moments in our marriage all the time, and more peace.

Through it all, we’ve never stopped holding and loving each other. Sure, a few times there were several days of space and distance while we sorted ourselves out, but rarely did that stop us snuggling, even if in silence, and often falling asleep in each other’s arms. That intimacy of physical closeness – with or without sex – has been critical to us thriving. (Please understand, Tim has never violated me physically or sexually. Not in word, not in deed, not in an affair, and not by using pornography. This deeply impacts my trust in physical touch. He has hurt me in other ways, but not sexually. If that is your marriage, I encourage you to seek help. And, in any case, please don’t compare with us. Every story is different.)

Our closest friends have seen our struggles, and I’m thankful for that. I don’t know if we’d have survived if we had kept it all secret. (Special thanks to these closest friends who knew the battles and loved us anyway. In part it is thanks to you we survived those times and came out thriving!) I’m good with confidentiality, but I’m not good at ‘hidden things’ and ‘secrets’, so having safe places to process hurt and anger has been a lifesaver for me, and for us. Twenty-four years later, I spend my life with my best friend because we pushed through those struggles, and are pushing through still.

Tim, you are my best friend. I can imagine my future a thousand different ways and be excited about it. From continuing in our ‘extraordinary ordinary’ life… to pursuing my PhD (scared as I feel at moments), or being rejected from the PhD program… From staying where we live now, to downsizing as our family continues to shrink… I can imagine staying home more, or working a 9 – 5 job, or pursuing my current line of work more – or some variation of it….

I can imagine my future a thousand and one different ways and be excited. But I cannot imagine a future without you…  without my heart breaking.

You are my best friend, my lover, my constant support. In the past two years you have carried me through deep loss and grief. When my heart was so crushed it physically hurt to breathe, you held me. I don’t cry easily, even when life hurts like hell, but in your arms the tears unlock and I am comforted by your love. You have healed me and built confidence in me. You’ve showed me that amazing men exist; men who don’t worship sex, porn and control. (And as I said last week… thank you for staying away from that stuff. In this you honour our marriage so well, and spare me the shame and betrayal many women feel.)

Because of you I generally view men as trustworthy in spite of my past, and because of you I feel respected by all men. You have taught me the stability of faithfulness through the certainty of your love. You call out my strengths, you challenge, you encourage and above all, you bless me. You have learned to fight for me… for us. And you have, in all of these things, showed me the heart of God. Because of you, I trust Him with all that I am… because you have showed me that He is trustworthy. Your faithfulness replaced fear and terror of Him, with love and trust, and helped me see that He adores me.

And if next week some hell hits, or the crick begins to rise, we will paddle and swim and float… And we will fight our way forward. I love you, with all my heart! Happy 24th Anniversary!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Pain; the door to joy, love & feeling again

“Will it hurt this bad forever?”

Those words, the initial response of a victim of sexual abuse when they first allow themselves to face the pain and devastation of past experience, is common. The victim will become an surviver, and then an overcomer. But at first, when raw pain invades, they are truly victims, for a moment in time. And that moment can all but knock the breath out of body, spirit and soul. Just for a short while.

As the initial agony gives way to the long haul of hard work, of facing waves upon waves of grief, nausea and anger, resilience is tested; the heart weary, and longing to return to the numbness of the past.

“Can’t I just close this door and never think about it again? Can’t I just go back into denial, and stay there?”

That question, after a while, is just as common as the initial one. And to this question I always, always respond, “Do you really want to?” And inevitably the answer is, “No, not really. But sometimes I think I do.”

And as we explore the advantages, without fail the upside, and the thing that makes them not ever want to go back to that denial, is the ability to feel joy and to really love.

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For couples, when one partner moves from denial and being ‘shut down’, the marriage often comes alive in a whole new way, all else being equal. (If the spouse is abusive or was molested and has not dealt with it, this does not hold true.) *Love awakens in those situations,  into a thing of celebration, beauty and wonder, and sexual intimacy a whole new ‘party in bed’. And what a gift that is!

It’s almost as if we take the painful memories, and everything we felt at that time, and push it all in a secure box–a very secure one, made of metal–and then lock it all away.

The tragedy is that we lock much of our ability to really feel, at a meaningful level, in the box with the bad. And then, when we dare to look at the dark and painful things, we rediscover our ability to feel… To feel loved and to love; to feel secure and accepted and offer that to our loved ones; to feel God move within us, stirring us to life.

The beauty of unlocking pain is the ability to feel joy and love in a whole new way, painting our world in vibrant colours.

Love,
~ T ~

* I have worked with situations where couples struggled for most, if not all of marriage, with intimacy. And when healing happens on the front of sexual abuse, dramatic positive changes transpire. I have also worked with several situations where that struggle  with intimacy continued intensely, for various reasons–some obvious, some not. If you continue to struggle, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. We should not be ashamed to talk about our sexuality, and get help from doctors, counselors, and mentors. Don’t settle without a fight.

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

Daily Grace for the Wounded

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Life is overwhelming, from time to time, for victims of sexual abuse and violence, when past memories haunt the mind, or trauma threatens to spill its pain in blood red all over our present. When flashbacks intercept the sweet wonder of a lover’s touch, and run like a thief with a moment blessed by God in marriage, leaving black footprints all over the marriage bed.

Or when the single heart longs for relationship, desiring that friendship of marriage, but fears of past loss invade those desires, and shut down a beautiful heart with lies. Maybe, for another, the desire itself has been covered over with feelings of worthlessness, hate and resentment. Desire, too soon awakened and having robbed little girls of sweet dreams, and little boys of adventures, has fled, leaving them empty with hollow eyes.

Life is overwhelming, from time to time….

Only God’s mercies keep us from being swallowed up, because His compassions never fail us. They are new each day and as fresh and tender as the morning sunlight that carresses the earth each day; Your faithfulness is boundless. Lamentations 3:22-23 (Paraphrased)

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

To Love, Honour, and … Whoa!! … ‘say what??’ (A glimpse into our marriage, on our anniversary)

t&t127Twenty-one years ago, today,  I walked down the aisle of Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, alone, toward my ‘soon to be husband’. In our culture the father didn’t walk the bride down the aisle, back then.

I was on the verge of the most amazing years of my life, and making promises, most sincerely, with no concept of their experiential meaning.  How could I? It was all new, uncharted territory. But I understood the words, and I meant every one. And I still do.

My expectation of marriage was simple: love and be loved. I had longed my whole life to feel safe, loved and valued, and that’s what ‘love and be loved’ meant to me. In this way, I entered marriage most practically, and that worked out well because my husband is a practical man. For Christmas, weeks before our wedding, he gave me an apron. He gave me some other gifts too, but it’s the apron I remember most. And I still laugh about it, just like I did then. It’s in my kitchen, having lasted all these years because I’m just not an ‘apron kind of girl’. My kids wear it, now end then, and always it makes me smile. Only recently I told them the story for the first time and one of my teens laughed at the idea of their daddy giving me an apron. “And it was free!” I added, drawing another burst of laughter. Tim had won that apron at a curling bonspiel. What else was he to do with it? The dusty rose colour, with quilted pattern, really wasn’t his colour.

We’ve never been the kind of couple to indulge in the constant spilling of endearing terms. We tried it. And we still do, on occasion, but it’s not really us. The most likely to come from me is ‘My Love’, and it warms my heart if it does nothing for his, just to say it, because he is my one true love. I’m crazy about this man I married. And sometimes I’m just crazy in a whole different way, and he still loves me. He calls me ‘Precious’ and ‘Beautiful’. But not often, and that’s okay. When he does my heart dances in a little flip-flop, all out of rhythm and off-beat, because I know he’s practical and there’s nothing practical about that language.

My favourite thing is when he squeezes my toes when he walks by our bed…  or when he sees me coming, and positions himself with arms open, just because he knows how much I love hugs. Simply being held can make my very upside down world flip upright pretty fast, when he has his arms around me. And he knows it. When I’m sad, and he holds me like that and kisses my forehead, I know I’ll get through it. In these little ways he calms storms in my heart and my spirit, and offers security. Or when he randomly starts praying for me, and I don’t even realize at first that it is a prayer, and I’m about to ask, “What was that?” and then it registers, he’s praying… talking to God about me.  When things are really hard and he’s praying, and says to God “Your daughter is tired”,  or some such thing, I remember Whose I am, first and foremost. And I wonder if it makes God smile, just a little, to have Tim hold me up that way, as if reminding Him I belong to Him. Or maybe it’s Tim’s way of saying, “God, this one is over my head… You take it from here.” Either way, my heart feels safest in those moments.

Every day isn’t like that. Some days we are busy and forget these things. Some days we’re struggling through our own things, or in our relationship, and we overlook each other or take our love for granted. Sometimes we’re even cross with each other. Those days we have to work a lot harder at seeing all the wonderful and beautiful things God has blessed us with.

And then there’s the days when we flirt with each other all day long, in little ways… or maybe sneak in just one moment… Like last night. Tim looked at the wishbone on the window sill and commented on no one having made a wish. I liked the wishbone when I was a kid. We siblings tried to sneak it away to dry, because it breaks so much better, and I always loved that mom kept it. So I keep it too, most of the time.

“Let’s do it!” I said, picking up the wishbone and offering Tim one side. I made sure our grip was fair, and then we pulled. He won. That was my wish, that he would win. But I didn’t tell him that. I always make dumb wishes because I don’t believe in it anyway, and it’s more fun in my head. He smiled, a secret “I had a cool wish’ kind of smile.

“So, what was your wish?” I asked.

“I can’t tell! Then it won’t come true!” he said.

“That’s for birthday cake wishes,” I said. “It works differently with wishbones.” He looked skeptical and I tried to look as convincing as I could, to no avail. I kept asking, making flirtatious eyes at him…. I tried the sassy wiggle… But he just grinned and defended his position. And then I saw the twinkle in his eyes and I knew…

“Ha!” I said, “I know what you wished for!” I had been away for the weekend, and felt unwell upon return, and then was busy for a few days…. and each night we hit our pillows…  “I know exactly what you wished for!”

“I’ll never tell,” he said, and kept grinning.

“You don’t have to! …but… I bet I can make your wish come true!” I said.  It ended there, until much later,  and we moved on to other things, to the normal busyness of life, as is necessary with a family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because we love these five people God has brought into our home. But sneaking in these moments of playfulness and secret flirting is a healthy part of marriage, and keeping our love alive and young.

Back to all those promises, made many years ago… I’ve had no difficulty loving Tim, most of the time. I’ve been more of a challenge, with all my broken pieces to heal, though Tim never let on how hard it was, loving me. He just kept on loving. And when it got difficult for either of us, even when it would have been easier to quit, we battled through the hard times together. We have no regrets for pushing through and learning to tread water when we felt like we were drowning! Those hard times only made our love stronger.

The honour thing has also been easy for me, but not because I am some saint. It’s been easy because Tim has made it easy. In twenty-one years of marriage he has made mistakes, just as I have, but he has been a leader like I’ve never known in my life. His gentle, patient love and acceptance have showed me the heart of God, my Father… my Papa… in a way not one other human has. And there are others who have done well. But not as well as he has…. as a husband, and as a daddy to our children. So I honour him easily.

In practical reality, I have a policy to never confront or correct him in public, or speak in a way that belittles him, or is critical. It’s a decision I made a few weeks after our wedding when I heard a woman challenge her husband when he exaggerated in his story telling, and I saw the look in that man’s eyes. I vowed then I would respectfully ask Tim about it in private, if I felt he misrepresented facts or needed correcting. Even in this way, the ‘honouring’ has been about as easy as the loving, because Tim is not a man to inflate a story, for the sake of his ego. His weaknesses are in other areas, but they are my little secrets.

The third part of the vows, the ‘obeying’ part has always bewildered me a bit, in all honesty.  I get it about honour, respect and love, but slip in that word ‘obey’, and it all gets a bit murky for me.  And it’s not because Tim is a ‘lord it over people’ kind of man. He’s not. He’s a servant at heart, and what’s in his heart comes out in day-to-day living. Even the word ‘reverence’… yeah, that one I can understand, especially with a husband who is so kind. A long time ago–when I learned that in one culture, in Egypt I believe it was, a woman greets her husband at the door, kneeling before him while he places his hands on her head in blessing–I asked Tim if I could do that. To meet him at the door every day, and kneel before him, and have his hands on my head so he could bless me sounded like a wonderful thing! He grinned and, in an almost exasperated tone, said I wasn’t  allowed to do any such thing. I still think about it sometimes, but I’m kind of glad now, because my knees aren’t very good and he blesses me just fine standing up. Anyway, I get the reverence thing.

Letting Tim lead makes sense. Sharing the responsibility of parenting and each of us having a unique role… For sure! I’m not too threatened by our gender differences.   Not agreeing all the time, and ‘submitting to one another’ is about partnership, and it’s biblical, so we try to live that way.  And, believe it or not, giving him a lead role and ‘submitting’ to that leadership… even that doesn’t frighten me. He is easy to submit to, because he lives a life of surrender and Christ-like servant-hood, and always takes my heart into account when he makes decisions. He listens closely to my desires, my dreams and my fears, and he looks to me for input, so when he makes a decision it is balanced with all of those things. It hasn’t always been, but most of the time it has, and is. So his ‘authority’ and my ‘submission’ means nothing to me in the way of being degraded or demoralized, as some view ‘submission’ and authority. Rather, it means there is someone watching over me, offering me protection, care and support. And I like that! It means that when he blesses what I do, I do it with personal passion and his blessing. Bonus! And when he says ‘no’ or ‘wait’, I trust he is doing it for my best interest.

So, regardless of the wording we choose, and whatever is or is not lost in translation when we say ‘obey’, I am blessed to have a husband whom I love and honour, and under whose authority and leadership I willingly place myself. I am blessed that he never takes advantage of me, or abuses my trust or his leadership. Rather, it is to him that I owe my thanks, for using his place in my life to empower me, launch me, and bless me. I have accomplished more because he is in my life, than I would ever have done on my own!

If I had to make the decision again, to walk down that aisle alone, as I did 21 years ago, I would! And if I was to say vows again,  understanding their experiential significance, I would still promise to love and honour Tim, and accept him as my leader, to be protected and empowered by his authority.

tim & trudy 1994

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Thank you My Love. Happy Anniversary! 

Love,

~ T ~

 

© Trudy Metzger

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“I Do”… Love, Sex & Rejection: When CSA & Violence Impact Marriage

Tim and I married five months after our engagement, in the dead of winter, on January 22, 1994. It was a beautiful day, a little blustery in the morning, but not stormy.

We celebrated the day with approximately two hundred family members and friends, and enjoyed our time. When the day’s last activities wrapped up, we were ready to be alone.

I entered marriage with enthusiasm and commitment. Tim was easy to talk to and share my heart with. Having worked through my past and my childhood, it never occurred to me that marriage would stir up more aftermath of my childhood. No one warned me that this begins on the honeymoon.

It was our wedding night and we had embarked on the most incredible adventure of our lives! With great anticipation we had looked forward to this day for five months and two days. Finally it had arrived!

We had ‘made it’, having resisted the temptation to sleep together, reminding each other of the legacy we wanted to leave for our children. A few times we had slipped up and crossed lines we didn’t want to cross, but we had always taken ownership and remained committed to waiting.

Tim didn’t do a lot of talking as we cruised along the 401, headed for ‘destination bliss’. His few, carefully chosen words gave me the love and security I longed for.He smiled and squeezed my hand as I chattered about how delighted I was to be his wife. There was no doubt in my mind that I was the most fortunate woman in the world.

One basic expectation I had for marriage was to find fulfillment in pleasing my husband. The night was no disappointment as we celebrated God’s incredible plan for marital love.

I was running on a powerful adrenaline kick, and my newlywed husband was beginning to suffer from a severe over-dose of naturally produced prolactin. (Prolactin is one of a ‘cocktail of hormones’ released in the male body at the time of climax and is believed to be predominantly responsible for their ensuing sleep attack.)

A little knowledge of this hormonal activity would have spared us some grief and helped me understand why Tim wanted to sleep while I wanted to party all night. As it turned out, Tim was asleep long before I dozed off into a restless sleep. I seemed to wake up every hour, on the hour. Each time I felt overwhelmed with the wonder of being able to love my husband freely. No guilt. No shame. No regret. God had blessed our relationship and made our love pure and sacred.

Feeling restless, I would cuddle up to Tim and he would wake up to the reality of a hyper-energetic wife. As far as I was concerned we had the rest of our honeymoon and a whole lifetime to recover from one all-nighter, so this wake-up routine posed no problems for me. Tim, on the other hand, continued to suffer from these hormone attacks and did not share my enthusiasm.

After several cuddly wake-up calls Tim rolled over, his back turned my way, and mumbled, “I just want to sleep.”  And that is precisely what he did from then until the next morning.

I tossed and turned, scolding myself for having been so foolish and still a little upset with Tim for his lack of sensitivity and enthusiasm. Then I felt guilty for being upset with Tim, knowing he neither had control over his sleepiness nor could he induce sleep for his hyperactive wife.

What I had not yet figured out was that my restlessness was caused in part by past insecurity.

In my childhood home I never felt like I really belonged. My father had a collection of threats that he would use on us if his life wasn’t going well. He threatened suicide if he felt helpless, and in a fit of rage would threaten to kill us children or our mom. Mom frequently reminded us of these threats in a manipulative way to make us obey. I had no reassurance that I was a valuable human being with a purpose.

What I was looking for from Tim that night was affirmation. I didn’t want to miss a minute of our first night because of sleep. I had not experienced rejection much in our courtship, and wasn’t prepared for that feeling in marriage. I knew it wasn’t reasonable to expect him to pull an all nighter, but I didn’t know what to do with my feelings, as I lay awake, ‘alone’, on our wedding night.

Marriage was my first experience with truly belonging. We had made a vow, ‘til death do us part’. I knew we would keep that vow come hell or high water, but in the depths of my heart, I feared failure and rejection.

Through my childhood and years of fending for myself, I had become a fighter and a survivor. The bad things that happened went into a mental discard file that remained locked, far from my conscious mind. I hoped that if I kept the file closed and ignored the pain it would go away. I falsely assumed I could function this way in marriage.  I hoped that by not telling Tim how hurt and rejected I felt, I could avoid hurting him and life would be good. And, since I had been selfish and unreasonable I simply needed to be more realistic in my expectations, and our problem would be history.

This decision made, I awoke Sunday morning feeling enthusiastic and bubbly. It was a beautiful day for new beginnings. Outside a soft blanket of fresh snow covered the previous tracks. We, too, started off with a clean slate and had a wonderful day. Tim gave me all the reassurance any woman could desire. He told me how beautiful I am, gave me hugs and kisses without end, and simply loved me. The disappointments of the night vanished.

To Be Continued….

© Trudy Metzger

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Will You Marry Me?: When Childhood Sexual Abuse & Violence Impact Marriage

In the weeks and months that followed the relational breakthrough with Tim, life became a whirlwind of change and activity. A whirlwind that would continue spinning for years.

My brother Wil was moving into the area, from Clinton Ontario, and asked if I might be interested in renting a small cottage-style house with him. I was thrilled! Having left home the month before my 16th birthday, I had never again had a real home, without invading someone else’s space. He and I would share space.

Wil and I would remember how to ‘live together’ from years gone by, right down to little details like the way he spread peanut butter on his bread, careful not to get any on the knife, past the first several inches. I, on the other hand got into it half way up my elbows. (It’s just that good.) These quirks and habits would be familiar, and our temperaments had always blended well. He was my best friend most of my life until I escaped from home.

I anticipated we would share the cottage for a year or two, then one or both of us would get married. But God had other plans, and when he revealed them to Tim, so did he. And soon I did too.

It was Tuesday August 17, only days before our fifth ‘month-iversary’. Tim had a baseball game that night, and I went with him to watch. He wore his blue and white baseball suit, that hugged his body the way baseball suits do. Coincidentally, I matched him, in a blue and white T-shirt dress, as we called them. It was a dress made of T-shirt fabric. It broke the church rules, ever so slightly, having a fake ‘cape panel’ at the front and no cape at all at the back. It was the last small piece of fabric at the store, barely enough for a dress at all, but I loved it so much I was determined to make it work. I wasn’t trying to break the rules.

After the game we returned to Tim’s home for a few hours. Sometime, just before midnight, I prepared to leave. Tim walked me to the door, where we stood and chatted a while. We talked about our friends who had gotten become engaged on the weekend. Sunday night, to be exact. We were both very happy for them. And then Tim told me something that took me off guard. He had planned to propose that week, but when our friends announced their engagement, he decided he didn’t want to steal their thunder. And, besides, he told me, he didn’t want it to look like he was trying to keep up the pace with them.

As we continued talking, I had this sense that Tim was about to do the first impulsive thing I had ever seen him do. He was about to propose. Right there. Right then. No perfect plan. No dinner out. No candlelight and roses. Just love.

It wasn’t like him to be impulsive, and I’m not sure why I sensed it coming, but I suddenly chattered incessantly. There was no way I would let him do that. He would regret it. He’d wake up the next morning and wish he hadn’t done it. I had to say ‘Good night’ and leave.

Tim was as perceptive. He raised his right hand slowly, placing his index finger on my lips. “Shhhh…” There was a twinkle in his eyes. He dropped down on one knee, holding my gaze. And then he popped the question…

“Trudy, will you marry me?”

I wanted to shout it. I was ecstatic! But only a whisper emerged from my lips. “Yes!”

The clock had slipped past midnight. In the wee minutes of August 18, 1993, Tim and I were engaged to be married. Dreams burst to life in my heart….

© Trudy Metzger

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Spiritual Abuse Part 16__Men of God, Rise Up! Protect Your Marriage!

By nature I default to the stronger leader as long as the leader stays grounded on Biblical truth. I also default to male leadership, most likely because of my upbringing, and because my husband truly is a leader worthy of my respect, honour and… yes, the ‘s’ word… submission.

Tim is a man of integrity, unlike any I have ever known before. We have been happily married for eighteen and a half years. Well, most of them were happy years. We did have some very rough times as well. Times when we were not certain our marriage would make it. Or at least I wasn’t certain. Tim never, for even one millisecond, entertained another option.

About eleven years ago I had given up on our marriage. I wanted out. It all felt too complicated and I felt I had lost myself somewhere along the way. I started to look into other living options, started to plan how I would survive without Tim, how we would share our five children and not make it a big ugly fight.

 

Leading up to this, in the first seven years of marriage, Tim and I had never had a ‘fight’, really. We had disagreements but, for the most part, we are as compatible as two people can be. So why would I want to leave a man who never treated me abusively, or harmed me emotionally or physically? When life was ‘peaceful’, why would I want out?

We had grown apathetic in our marriage. We merely co-existed. We didn’t understand each other. We were both ‘nice’ and kind, but the depth was lacking. I wanted desperately to ‘know’ him and ‘be known’ by him. I wanted him to pursue my heart, to enter into my inner world, and I wanted to be part of his. Yet, both of us had retreated.

Add to this a health crisis, on my part, that left me physically weak and psychologically fragile, and I simply could not cope with distance in our relationship. Dark thoughts and hopelessness invaded my heart and mind.

When I proposed to Tim that we part ways, peacefully, and told him I wanted out of the marriage, he was crushed. The pain I saw in his eyes that day, told me more about his deep love for me than I had understood before. He heard my heart, no defences. I shared with him how abandoned I felt, how distant I felt from him, emotionally, and like I was the one who constantly had to keep our marriage alive.

Tim showed leadership that changed our marriage. He stepped into my heart, so to speak, and got to know who I am. He apologized for hurting me, for not protecting me and not ‘knowing’ me.

I don’t know how it came about, but Hilco and Joyce, a couple from the church we attended at that time, Koinonia Christian Fellowship, came to see us. They listened to us, prayed with us and gave us some basic tools to help us fight for our marriage together.

Beyond being ‘nice’, he made a promise to know and care for my heart, and invest himself in building our marriage, in protecting me and fighting for me and our children. Being a man of his word, he did just that. This leadership has continued over the years. We’ve had gaps, but through those ‘seasons’ we learned to fight ‘together’ for our relationship.

The greatest gift Tim has given me, over the years, is his unconditional love. No strings attached, he has embraced me, as I am. In every situation, when the storms hit, and ‘life’ threatened our marriage, he has taken it seriously and ‘tuned in’ and sought God with me. He has always treated me as equal, and has not withheld important information from me, and has included me in decision-making.  He hears me, and listens to my advice and then together we make decisions, with the final call being up to him, in many cases.

This respect, and feeling valued, has made it easy for me to submit myself to Tim’s leadership.  I trust his heart toward me and know, without question, that he longs only to bless me. (He does this from his heart, but the pay-off for him is pretty good too.) On the flip side, there have been times when Tim gave up something he felt strongly about, or wanted, because I was not at peace with it. That is part of healthy relationship.

We were created for relationship, for mutual respect, and in love to submit to one another. Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church. Lead with a servant heart. Spiritual Abuse makes room for control, abandonment and expecting to be served, but that is not the example that Christ gave you. You will win your wife, if you hear her heart and validate her feelings. Take time to pursue her—she longs to be the apple of your eye. Be quick to say, “I’m sorry”, if you have wronged her. It will build trust. Pray with her. Get to know what makes her ‘tick’ and speak her love language.

Ladies, be patient with your husbands as they learn a better way. Encourage them. Be your husband’s number one cheerleader. Don’t leave that for another woman.  Believe in him and support him. It is a two-way street, and God has given us a lot of influence over our husbands. Above all, pray for him and with him, rather than trying to change him.

Gentlemen, fight for your marriages, it is worth it. Take it from someone who almost lost the best years of her marriage. Someone whose husband refused to let pride stand in the way.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/

Is Love a Commitment or a Bouquet?

Rarely do I go to the grocery store in the morning. However, as fate would have it, I stopped this morning to pick up some critical items for the office—namely coffee, cream and milk.

The first thing I noticed, to the point of distraction, was the number of men in the store. Many congregated around the flowers, either deciding on the perfect bouquet, or doing the math to figure out which would put the smallest dent in the wallet, for the biggest ‘wow’ from a sweetheart. Hopefully most were giving thought to the intended message.

There were businessmen in suits, casually dressed men, and those who looked like they had crawled out of bed against their own will but with a good awareness of self-preservation. Mostly they carefully avoided eye contact with each other—probably hoping no one would recognize them or judge the fact that Valentine flowers were being purchased at the grocery store. (Relax guys… you’re all buying them at the same place! Who is going to judge you?? Oh, and, BTW, don’t forget to remove the ‘grocery’ sticker.)

The scene humoured me. Maybe it shouldn’t.

Seems to me I had to stop at the grocery store on Valentine’s Day last year too. The scene was similar with men rushing about, looking just as distressed.

This got me thinking about the whole ‘Valentine’s Day thing’, and romantic relationships in general. The purpose for it is to set aside a day of the year to focus on celebrating the romantic love in our lives. And that’s not a bad thing.

However, as I observed the frenzy of activity, I realized that each of these men have a story, a ‘someone’ who shares that story with them. For some, hopefully for most, the flowers are a meaningful expression of the love they live daily.

You may be thinking, “….but with flowers from a grocery store?” Sure, why not? It isn’t breaking the bank that makes the thought count. It’s the other 364.5 days of the year and how he has cherished her.

For others, I presume, the flowers, or their romantic purpose, are given little thought, and serve mostly to keep him out of the doghouse with ‘the wife’.

And that mental wandering led me to thinking about my marriage. My husband and I are pretty normal people. Make that very normal. Our lives are busy with work, family–5 kids and a dog, to be precise–ministry, committees, and hobbies. We have normal ups and downs in our relationship, just like everyone else. But the one thing my husband has done every day for the past 18 years, other than the rare day that we did not see each other or speak on the phone, is tell me he loves me. That is approximately 6,579 times, minus a few days, plus add in the countless days that he told me numerous times a day. We have rarely parted ways without a hug, a kiss, and an ‘I love you’—even on the days that we were ticked off or hurt.

I reciprocate, or even initiate, the same gesture, but I have him to thank for it. Early in marriage, when I asked why he insists on giving me a good-bye kiss and saying ‘I love you’, just to go to the grocery store, Tim told me that he wanted us always to part ways, affirming our love for each other. “You never know when will be your last good-bye’, he said.  

This act of love has served our marriage well. It has taken discipline, sacrifice and the choice of will, on the days where feelings didn’t match our commitment. Other days it has threatened to make us late for work or other responsibilities when passion out-measured time available to celebrate our feelings. But , regardless of our feelings, it has always reminded us that we are in it for the long haul, that there is no competition in our love for each other and, no matter what happens, we have each other’s heart.

Today, in spite of what other Valentine’s Day celebrations we do or do not make happen, or whether I get flowers from a grocery store… or none… I am thankful for the love of my life. Truth be told, I can’t even recall what he did last year to celebrate, but I remember all the ways he helped me the other 364.5 days in between, and how special he makes me feel every day of the year. That is the love I celebrate today.

Happy Valentine’s Day!