Some time ago, I said to Tim, “I hope we die together, holding hands in our sleep, when we’re in our early 80’s.”
“Speak for yourself,” he said, “I want to live into my 90’s”.
I laughed. “Well, I hope your last years aren’t too lonely!” And then I instructed him, as I do from time to time, that if I should die before him, he should get married again soon so he’s not too lonely.
I am about to start my 50th year. It’s reasonable to believe that this means over half of my life is gone. (Is it okay to say, “I hope so!”? I have no ambitions of living to 100. None. Yes, yes, I know. God ordains my days and I get no say. I’m good with that. I’m just saying I don’t get it about people who want to make it to 100. It baffles me.
We were never ones to celebrate birthdays much, at home. I had one party at age 10, with three friends over, and Mrs. Frank Roth, my one friend’s mother, had sewn me an apron in white with lime green frills around it, and flowers painted on the white centre panel. I think I still have it tucked away in a box of treasures somewhere. It was pretty special. Not because I cooked a lot — I was more likely found in the barn than in the house — but it was from my friend, and her mom had taken time to make it.
With the start of my 50th year being just a jog away (I turn 49 on Friday November 23), I started thinking about what I want that year to be…
And the only thing I long for is a breakthrough year for survivors of sexual abuse in our conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist communities. We are planning an event, and limiting it to various conservative Mennonites and Anabaptists because we are a unique culture. We have suffered in unique ways, and process abuse with mindsets shaped in very specific ways within the culture, not easily understood by those who were not raised like us. (This includes everyone from conservative Mennonites, Amish, Old Order, Hutterite, Markham, Old Colony, Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, Eastern, NorthEastern, SouthEastern, Pilgrim, Nationwide, Fellowship, River Brethren, German Baptist and everyone in between and beyond. And if you don’t have a clue what any of those mean or are… I’m guessing you are not from a conservative Anabaptist community.) And it is for both male and female survivors of abuse, but excludes those who went on to victimize and abuse others as adults.
We’ve had conferences and seminars, and they’ve been good. More recently we’ve done training days, offering sessions for those wishing to support victims. These have been very well received, and I’ve enjoyed doing them. (Tentatively we plan to do a two-day even here in Ontario, April 2019, followed up with a Friday evening to Saturday conference.)
But this year I want to do something special for the survivors who are often neglected among us. Rather than a teaching conference, I’ve long dreamed of bringing survivors together to acknowledge and grieve/mourn the suffering, and also celebrating purpose and hope and experiencing God with us… the God who enters in and suffers with us and among us… who weeps with us and gives us permission to enter raw places in our hearts, without pretence. (Jesus wept. King David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Job… the prophets… These heroes of faith grieved. It’s time to shatter the politeness that denies suffering, and let God visit our sorrow. Only then will healing come. No amount of teaching, training and ‘fixing’ will change the course of history until God has dwelt among us in our suffering, and that suffering is acknowledged.)
We will have compassionate leaders speak life and hope over the audience. No preaching…. let along long preaching or ‘advice’. No telling them how to get over it or do better. Just life. Spoken in the present. Purpose, declared. In the present. Love offered, without judgement. In the present. Just as we are. Because it is that ‘present hope’ that transforms us, not the pressure of trying to attain.
We will have some survivors share poetry, art, and will all worship God in the midst of suffering. There is something powerful that happens in worship, and there is something powerful that happens when pain is acknowledged and we discover we are not alone. People care. We are in this together…. Bring together the acknowledgement of suffering with the presence and worship of God… Ah… yes please!
And the beauty of how God has wired us! In trauma we tend to lock up and lose our words. Yet, through art He gives us expression that cannot come out any other way, and though it He invites us to healing. And in that expression, we connect with others and it opens up their spirits to hope and healing. This is true of music, painting, poetry, dance, mime and so many avenues. We are not all the same. A painting may do nothing for one of us, yet move the heart of another to tears. The same with poetry. But when expression pours from the heart of the other, we enter into their story and find permission to enter ours. When I studied this in trauma class, I spent several weeks on a project, and in 12 weeks of that course, the healing that came to locked up places was almost surreal. Yet, when I return to the project I did — a poem set to dramatic background music — I still weep because it still unlocks a place in my soul, connected to childhood, that only art can touch. And it is beautiful. Because the pain means I survived, I overcame. I am alive! And that connection with fellow survivors is what my heart longs to create, with the help of many.
I shared it with a handful of people, and the response was exceptionally positive. I posted an email address to sign up for updates, and within minutes the emails came in. Updates have been well received, with many taking time to give feedback in response to ideas. Voting on things like location — with Lancaster PA by far in the lead — and whether to have a concert at the end of the day, or with what musician…. Jason Gray took a strong lead here, as many have already found his music to be very healing and uplifting. So we put in a request to have him come, and are waiting to hear back.
Over the years I’ve used his music (as well as Matthew West, 10th Avenue North, and others, but especially Jason Gray’s) to minister to the brokenhearted, to give them a safe space after sexual assault or other abuse, when down and out or struggling with suicidal ideation. In one of my earlier blogs I shared a young woman’s story – with permission – and the night of breakthrough God used Jason Gray’s song Nothing is Wasted to open her heart, and set her on a journey of freedom. Another young woman asked me to take her to the location where she had suffered deep trauma, and we played Remind me Who I Am, as she faced her trauma and wept. Many of my early clients could tell stories of finding permission to grieve and struggle through chaos of their stories, inviting God to speak through the avenue of music, when the spirit cannot hear Him for the pain.
To make it all happen is going to require a ton of organizing and planning. Which I love, fortunately! And I’ve recruited the help of a handful of other individuals, with yet others messaging to offer their assistance! (We are so thankful for each of you!) A few of us are already talking food prep, because… well, it’s our culture and we love good food! (We’ll try to feed you well, though we may not compete with a traditional Mennonite Sunday dinner.) One enthusiastic volunteer spent the night after a conversation dreaming we were making food together, so she’s all in! I will be donating hundreds of hours throughout the year, and many volunteers will also be giving of their time and resources, for which we are thankful. If you want to be updated, please send an email to AslanHasHeard@gmail.com.
I’ve set up a fundraiser on FB – which has generated almost $2000 since Saturday. (However, the majority of donors have given through our website at Generations Unleashed since this is an American event, and the FB fundraiser only allows Canadians to give). All funds are specifically allocated for this event expenses, with the hopes that it will allow hundreds of victims to attend at minimal cost to them. (We ask for a non-refundable $15 to $20 contribution, as it creates a sense of ownership and commitment.)
In the next few months we will need to raise around $15,000 for this event, to cover venue rental, the fee for bringing in a musician, and food costs. The minimal registration fee will go towards these costs as well, as we anticipate more than $15,000 in expenses. If you wish to contribute, please visit our website by clicking HERE.
I have one wish for my 50th year… that victims will be heard like never before, their suffering be acknowledged, and that they will become survivors, and then move from being survivors to being warriors for truth and justice, willing to lay down their lives for the next generation. This is my birthday prayer this week, and my prayer for the event next November.
That is how I want to celebrate 50 years on this planet, (if God grants me one more year), by gathering with hundreds who, like me, thought they are/were the only ones molested and abused. And for every celebration between now and then — birthday, Christmas, anniversary and my 50th next November — the only gift I long for is making this event possible for survivors of sexual violence.
~ T ~