Untangling More Thoughts: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage

I am seldom emotional after writing, or posting a blog. But the previous post left me completely undone for a few hours. The tears started to fall, unbidden. And they only increased with the messages, comments, and emails of readers. Some messages were from people identifying. Some crying out. Most grieving. And all showing appreciation for breaking the silence.

The overwhelming support and encouragement deeply impacted me, while the strong identification, of so many having suffered saddened me.

Of course, there were one or two by the end of the day who questioned the validity of my post… is it really that bad? Is it an exaggeration? And, even if it is true, why expose it? But even those who questioned were kind.

That last question is another whole blog post, but the short answer is, “For freedom’s sake.” People need to know that they can get that ‘hell’ off of their chest. And if I can give them a safe place, by openly addressing it, that’s a first step. And I have connections to others who will listen.

Originally I did not intend ever to expose the things I posted. In the back of my mind I heard the shallow warning that, ‘If you speak of it, you will put ideas in their heads’. But that ancient echo holds no power. Or truth.

Those who are pure, will hear it (or read it) and cry out to God for mercy for His children, and  healing for our broken hearts and lives. Those who ‘feed’ on perversion, well, they would think of one perverse thing or another either way. At least I present it with a cry for truth and healing, unlike pornography sites or books.

It is a difficult thing to write, to expose, to bring to light. And the tragedy is that this darkness has badly scarred the beauty of a culture that was founded on faith in Jesus Christ. And it is not exposing it that has scarred the culture. It’s the hidden sin that’s doing the damage and escalating the epidemic. Yes, there were flaws and faults all along but with the passing of time, it is a culture that has, in many cases, slipped into legalism that makes image more important than truth. And that ‘perfect image’ is the very thing that has caused people to cover up and has allowed sexual abuse to flourish.

There is so much good to celebrate in the culture, even in the conservative roots. But, unfortunately, those roots have become ‘the god’ of the culture for many, and the God of Light and Truth–Jesus–has been lost for them. It saddens me that the good has become lost because of religious pride and unwillingness to go to the hard places. It is especially saddening because there are good men and women who want truth and healing.

My prayer is for redemption. and redemption will not come until the darkness is brought to light.

While some have all but lost sight of the truth, others are as sincere and godly as anyone will ever be. And, apart from possibly having known a friend or two who were abused, some are genuinely shocked to discover that the things I write here are happening in the Mennonite culture. I would apologize for breaking that innocence, but some innocence is destructive. I received three messages from people not identifying with abuse. One offered to help, any way possible and expressed sadness at realizing what others deal with and suffer through, and how prevalent it is.

I was asked recently about my Mennonite culture, “How many families do you know who have been impacted by sexual abuse?”

My answer, without hesitation was, “At least one hundred or more.” After the conversation I took a few minutes to write a list. I made it to almost fifty families, for a total of about seventy victims, without giving it much thought, based only on the people I have personally interacted with, via phone, email, and one-on-one meetings. I have not yet finished that list, but I know this, I will have closer to two hundred families when I am done. And I have no idea how many victims I will have.

That is jolting. And many of the victims on that list will read this and say, “I am one of them. I spoke with her.” But they will not have the courage to identify themselves. Nor do they need to. It is not an easy thing to be identified as a victim of sexual abuse in a culture that often hasn’t a clue what to do, how to help people, or inadvertently ‘labels’ and shames victims.

The list I wrote up did not include the many I know of in the USA, or those I’ve heard ‘rumoured’ locally but have not spoken with or personally confirmed. And it does not include many that would be referred to as ‘mild cases’, (a term I don’t like), by those not wanting to acknowledge the issue. (This is sometimes used when referring to groping or fondling and that sort of abuse.) The list also did not include many ‘child to child’ cases. And it excluded all my cousins or relatives, other than my immediate siblings. And it does not include those who attended conferences and identified themselves that way. And finally, it does not include any ‘mutual consent’ situations that have been shared with me. That is a different topic.

I am one person. If I know that many victims, many of whom I have only discovered in the last four months, how many more are out there? I know it is an uncomfortable thought for those of you who were sheltered, but the truth needs to come out. And to stifle it because it is uncomfortable, is not going to help.

If I knew that only 2% of children in my cultural background were being sexually abused, I would still feel compelled to do something. But it isn’t 2% we’re talking about. Tragically the real number is much higher.

Jesus said, in Mark 9:42, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

If Jesus takes offending a child that seriously, where is the church when it comes to doing something about this epidemic of sexual abuse? Why are perpetrators protected and ‘hidden’, while children’s lives are destroyed.

If I didn’t know that there were people who tried to go to leaders for help, in the CMCO and other Mennonite fellowships, it would be different. And if I truly believed most of the leaders are unaware, I would be cautious about speaking out so publicly. But I know that many know what’s going on, and many victims have tried to bring this to light quietly, within the culture, but unsuccessfully. Many have been silenced.

The sad thing is that some of the leaders are also victims. Some are perpetrators. Some are both. And they have a vested interest in silence. I have spoken to some of them. They know who they are… should they happen to break their own rules and read this. My intent is not to be harsh but to ask, Where are the men of God who will rise up and take a stand for the children? Where are the men who will lay down their lives for the little ones, to protect them, at the expense of religious image?

Pontius Pilate was not innocent simply because he washed his hands of Jesus. No more are we if we wash our hands of this epidemic of the victimization of children. God will hold us accountable. Of that I have no doubt.

On a positive note, there are some who have been willing to help and continue . I would like to thank Glen Jantzi, of Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, who played a key role in the life of one victim who is very close to me. Glen did not turn a blind eye when he knew the truth, and  he didn’t merely track down the perpetrator. He cared for the victim’s heart the best he knew how. I applaud that compassion and am blessed by it. In his actions I saw the Father’s heart.

And there are others. I know several leaders in the CMCO church, who, from all I am told, desperately want to help, but they don’t know where to turn. My prayer is that God will bring along the right people who will equip these leaders to help their people, and that the leaders will have the humility to receive that help.

Until the day I die, I will continue to do the little bit I can do, and pray it brings about good change. I have no desire to harm or destroy, but to bring truth and healing, through Jesus, to the culture and protect the children of the next generation. That is my mission and my ministry.

© Trudy Metzger

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What I’m Learning: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage

(Warning: Disturbing content. This post is not intended for readers under 18, or victims who are easily traumatized. My target audience for this post is adults and leaders in the Mennonite culture. It will have a shock factor for some. That is not my intent or purpose in writing. It is to create awareness of the truth of sexual abuse and its impact on the culture.)

When I started to speak out about sexual abuse, through conferences and sharing my story in various venues, I had no idea the dam that would burst. In some ways I feel a bit like Abram, in Genesis 12, when God told him to leave what is familiar and go to a ‘land that I will show you’.

I embarked on this journey, with one passion. To bring freedom to people, particularly victims of sexual abuse. To be honest, my goal initially was not to do ministry predominantly in the Mennonite culture. In fact, when a friend asked me if I would go back there, I said no, not because I didn’t want to help, but because I feared I would not be heard. I said that, having left that culture, I would not be received.

I expected a few victims would come forward. I always believed I would impact a few of ‘my people’, but I never expected what is happening. But I thank God for what is happening.

In the past several years, and particularly the last six months, I have had the honour of interacting with many people, men and women alike, though predominantly women, from my cultural heritage. This is true of the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonite, as well as the Old Colony Mennonite heritage. Both need the light of Jesus, and hope of truth, to impact their cultures, especially in the area of sexuality and sexual abuse.

What I’m learning is both, at once,  heart-breaking and encouraging. I am  heart broken to have my fears confirmed that indeed sexual abuse is an epidemic in both cultures. It is prevalent in churches across our nation, as well as common in many places in USA. I cannot imagine it abruptly ends there. I fear it is an epidemic in the conservative churches everywhere. (What better place for the perpetrators to hide than in that silent, non-resistant culture, that does not go to the law, that does not speak or teach of sex?) That is the heart breaking part.

The encouraging part is that people are beginning to speak out. A few men, and many women, are tired of the guilt, the shame, the demonic oppression and mental instability that this type of secret brings to individuals, marriages and families. There are more and more people who are finding the courage to say, “Here’s my story.” And when they have told it, the unspoken question always lingers, “Will you still love me?”

One elderly individual recently thanked me for creating a safe place to ask anything, to tell anything. There were things they, as a couple, had struggled with their entire marriage. They had talked of going to leadership, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it because ‘no one talks about that stuff’, and because they feared judgement, condemnation and church discipline.

Others tell me how they went to leadership, some repeatedly, looking for help and were either told they don’t need help, or were abandoned. And then, when things went wrong, the church was quick to discipline harshly. This concerns me greatly.

It is especially disturbing to me that for many of the victims of abuse, the acts committed against them, or sexual favours requested of them, were so manipulative, and cleverly disguised, that they hardly know they were victims until we began to unravel their stories and identified ‘normal’ and healthy sexuality. They understood that things felt wrong, and they felt ashamed or guilty, but didn’t understand why. A prime and somewhat frequent example of this is when a teenager (often between the ages of 15 and 18) asks a child between the ages of 7 and 10, for oral or other sexual favours, by presenting it as a ‘game’ or within a ‘playing’ context. This leaves the child confused as to motive. (As a child I witnessed this being done by a group of teens, with a group of children and always believed it only happened to us. To hear it from other was at first shocking.)

I repeatedly encounter stories where this has sparked ‘same gender’ attraction that the victims carry with them for life, as the tapes play and replay. Especially if those ‘favours’ have been ‘returned’. It triggers sexual addictions and cravings that are obsessively unnatural. Some of these individuals, especially males, seem never to be sexually fulfilled. If their spouses do not give in to constant sex, or ‘sex-on-demand’, they turn to masturbation, and toys for release. I have only encountered one admission of turning to prostitution.

On the other end of the spectrum it has caused extreme frigidity in many a marriage, for both men and women, destroying what God intended to be a beautiful and natural relationship between husband and wife, because the partner is so wounded and repulsed by sexuality. It is also wrecking marriages where one partner knows the other instigated or engaged in this activity, and then went on to have same gender partners in their youth, within the culture. Suddenly, in marriage, that individual (whether male of female–and it does happen in both, in the church) is supposed to have the same attraction for the opposite gender. Most often they don’t. They have, sometimes for years, lived in same gender relationships, experiencing a very different kind of attraction. That does not ‘switch off’ over night.

The other heart breaking truth that I’m finding is the number of Mennonite children who engage in sexual acts with each other, as young as age two, where they are performing oral re-enactment on each other. And sexual acts with animals is also surprisingly common, with cases I’ve heard being as young as age five, and sometimes continuing through the teen years. (This is usually after an older child or teenager has had them ‘play’ with them.)

I now meet with adults who have carried this disturbing secret, in silence, for many, many years. Some have not even shared it with a spouse, a pastor, a counsellor or a friend. They carry it alone.

I have heard numerous stories, either from parents who caught their children in with other children or animals, or men and women who were never caught but hold this darkness inside.

The guilt and the shame that consumes them, as they sit in their pews, neatly dressed, perfectly presenting the Mennonite culture, ought to stir compassion, not judgement. (And God forbid that some preacher should read this and become determined to do some ‘housecleaning’ and further destroy these hearts. Endless love and compassion, accompanied by teaching healthy sexuality is the answer.)

Many adults tell me that in the case of children, whether it is children under age four engaging in oral re-enactment, or other children under eight or ten, that it is ‘innocent child’s play’. And yet, almost every time I ask ‘So what did you do when you caught them?’, I get the same answer. They spanked. And when I ask how hard. It’s very hard.

If it is innocent child’s play, why spank? Why beat a  child or whip a child for innocent play? I have contemplated this at length, and can only conclude that their own past, their own pain, and their own experiences haunt them. And in every case I have spoken with, the adult was exposed as a victim of that type of thing, or the instigator of such ‘play’ as a child.

My advice–and I seldom give advice but tend more to ask questions and help the individual come to the right conclusion–is that an adult should never spank a child for sexual exploring or sexualized behaviour. I hear stories of sexual confusion that the individual can pin-point to that moment. They did not understand what they were doing. They had not been taught about their sexuality. And they had, in most cases, been previously abused. Then, when caught with another child, they received a harsh whipping, spanking or even beating.

This is wrong. I remember well the screams of my siblings as they were beaten for, God only knows, what. Because of the sexual abuse and confusion in our home, there was definitely ‘child-to-child’ exploring and re-enactment at young ages, and various sexual behaviours, that at times resulted in vile beatings.

If a parent or other authority figure, gives that child a safe place to talk, the child will be able to speak to what has been or is being done to them, to spark this sexual behaviour. It gives the adult the opportunity to speak truth over that child’s identity and sexuality.

My understanding of life, truth and sexuality is faith-based, Bible-based and God-focused. I am made in His image. Made to reflect Him. Made to represent Him. The Highest Being in the universe acknowledges me as ‘good’, because He made me beautiful, inside and out. He spoke words of approval over me. And those words were spoken before sin touched me.

He has invited me, as He invites every individual on earth, to return to that original identity. To embrace the ‘wholeness’ of His plan and purpose for us. When I return to that, I immediately must reject the lies that life experience have spoken over me. Lies that I am worthless, that I am perverted, or ‘used goods’ or any other darkness. Truth is the only thing that has the power to overcome the lies.

I appeal to leaders, to parents, to friends, that the conservative churches change the way these things are dealt with. For so many generations there has been silence. And the only teaching I heard growing up was negative teaching. ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that. If you engage in sexual activity you will go to hell.’

Sex was predominantly attributed to evil and Satan. But the real truth about sex was never taught. Sex is, and was, first and foremost, a gift from God. It is, and was, a reflection of Him, of His passionate love for us. He made it pleasurable because it is lovely. It is delightful. It is bonding. He didn’t add the ‘fun parts’ for nothing. He could have made us a thousand other ways, to take all pleasure out of it. But He didn’t. Sex is, and always has been, first and foremost, good. Very good.

That’s what we need to teach. It needs to be valued. Appreciated. Protected. Our children know that sex is good. That it is precious. And they know that if they engage in it, it will probably feel good physically. Yes, we’ve told them there are emotional consequences, but they know that sex is good and it is sacred, and worth waiting for.

If it is not good, there is no value. If there is no value, there’s nothing to protect.

And if our shame over the things we have done, or what was done against us, causes us to react, we only carry on the generational chains. It is time to break those chains with truth.

© Trudy Metzger

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Living The Messy Love of Christ

Today’s post is a thank you to the people who embrace the messy love of Jesus and have lived it in my life. Those who stand with me, and fight this war on the evils and corruption of hidden sexual abuse in the church. I feel badly, sometimes, when I see the glaring sins of silence, and never thank the faithful Christians who stand with me.

First I want to mention church family at Wilmot Centre Missionary Church, who pray for me and bless me in ministry. My church isn’t perfect. It has broken people. Lots of us. And we don’t always choose the life Jesus would choose, or extend grace to each other like we should. We are human. And, along with the prayers, that’s what I want to say thank you for. I feel less out of place with Christians who are human.

I want to thank the people in my life, who, in the past, or in the present, have extended grace at a time when my humanity and my sinfulness deserved judgement, those who have given me permission to fail, and, more importantly, get up again after I failed. Some names deserve mention, because of that grace. In fact, there are more than I can do justice to.

Thank you to my spiritual leaders/protectors, starting with my husband, Tim, who knows more than anyone in the world, of my heart, my story and my struggles. Steve and Jackie Masterson, who walked me through the hardest struggles in our marriage. Pastor Rob Gulliver and Pastor Wayne Domm, who know me well, and see God’s call on my life in spite of what they know. They, along with my church elders, support my ministry and my passion for breaking the silence of sexual abuse and violence.

Without my friends, I wouldn’t be able to do the ministry I do…  Anne Koebel who hears the darkest battles I fight, whether I win or lose, and still does not judge me–thank you. You get the ‘raw goods’ from me, my friend.

Bob Hamp, a pastor at Gateway Church Texas, is a true and good friend, first and foremost. Thank you for seeing my failures as a God opportunity for growth, for relationship with my Heavenly Father, my Papa. I thank God for your wisdom. …I like how you think. (Must be ‘cuz when you ‘Think Differently, (you) Live Differently’)

My friend and mentor of many years, Margaret Kuepfer, who believed in me when I didn’t know how to believe in myself, and understood the endless dreams of my heart because she, too, knows more dreams than can be lived in one lifetime.

My small group who have become my favourite confessional group, along with my ‘inner circle’ of friends, past and present, too numerous to name. But including friendships, with Juanita, Cindy and Norma, that have lasted twenty years and longer, and who have seen the best and worst of me.

My developing board of directors and support team, Tim, Mish, Krystal, and Anne, with our new ministry to men and women, Generations Unleashed, that is about to be launched. You stand with me in this ‘larger than life dream’ and God’s call to ministry.

Richard Fangrad, whose life intersected briefly with mine, who believes in grace at a level few understand, and lived it. I saw your greatest strength and weakness, and you saw mine. But what I will take with me for life is the five minutes when I saw grace lived in a way I’ve seldom encountered.

To each of you, I either confessed something ‘hidden’, or I sinned directly against you, and you extended grace. Each of you have blessed me, and most of you have also failed me. Some failed me deeply. But you left a God-sized fingerprint on my life when you extended grace at a time when I felt utterly condemned by my sinfulness. You showed me the heart of God, and gave me the courage to believe in His goodness. For this I am thankful.

It gives me hope as I am confronted daily by sin that lies hidden and covered up within the church. It gives me hope that maybe they will encounter someone to extend grace and offer accountability, and a church like mine, where they will be cared for and loved. Not judged by the arrogant, and religious in their ‘sinlessness’.

For those of us who have done the hard life, sometimes Christianity looks so fake, when it’s all neat and tidy, and no one sins. If I was perfectly honest, sometimes that niceness sickens me, because I know too much. And then I miss the raw honesty of that hard life…

Night before last, in fact, I longed for the crowds of my youth… for the bar scenes, for the streets. I longed to be with the broken, and the homeless, to sit with them and listen to drunken confessions, raw truth, no pretences.

 

 

 

 

 

That crowd knows they’re broken. And if I sat there, listening to their pain and their stories, inhaling second-hand smoke, of whatever joint they hold, I would no longer see religious piety, hiding the sins of the fathers, and pretending everything within is holy.

The church is often arrogant. And broken. But too proud to admit it. And that overwhelms me at times because it is a daunting task to tackle a topic such as sexuality, at all. Let alone the ‘broken’ version. It’s uncomfortable for many Christians when it’s not a message of, “Here’s the right thing to do, now do it. And, for heaven’s sakes, please don’t tell me the dirty things you struggle with, because then I will see you differently. It will make me uncomfortable, and I like comfortable, victorious Christianity.”

We often don’t want the truth because we are afraid of it, and afraid of ourselves. That is the world I spend my time in. A world of people sharing raw truth. And, honestly, it’s much like sitting in a back alleyway, inhaling second-hand smoke, of whatever substance they hold at the moment. The beer dribbling down their chins, as they tell me their true inner struggles. I take the hem of the garment of Christ and I wipe their chins.

And then, arm-in-arm, we stumble over to where He is, bloody, beaten, a broken man on the cross. And we kneel there, side-by-side, knowing we are loved ‘just as we are’.

We stagger, following at a distance, as He is carried to the tomb. And for three days we wait. Hopeless. Doubting the pain and struggle will ever end.

And then we see Him. Jesus. In a beautiful white robe. Sinless. Perfect. Without a spot or wrinkle. But that doesn’t stop Him. He sees us, with our scars, wounds, stains and all, and takes us to His Father and presents us as His friends, His family, the ones He loves.

And God looks on us, through the eyes of Jesus, and sees, not our sin and our brokenness, but His holiness. He doesn’t ask us to clean up. He reaches out and receives us. Dirt and all. And it is this love that washes us clean.

That, my friends, is the only way we will ever be presented to God in holiness. There is no other way. No amount of struggling to attain a standard will qualify you.

My deepest thanks to You, Jesus, for daring to walk that path to the cross. For embracing us, in our humanity, and carrying the weight of my sins. Thank You for taking the shame, so I don’t have to. Thank you that it’s not about ‘neat and tidy’ in my relationship with you, but that You see us through Your love, not through human eyes of judgement, and condemnation. Thank You for Your messy love.

© Trudy Metzger

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What the Enemy Meant For Evil….

….God has redeemed in my life for good.

It occurred to me in the last few days that I have written very little about the ministry we do, through Faith Girls Unleashed. I have referred to it, and written a bit about it, but I have not shared about upcoming conferences, or what they are about. So, today I will share a bit of the ‘how we got here’, as well as posters and brochures for an upcoming event.

About ten years before we launched Faith Girls Unleashed, the ministry took shape in my heart, in a way that I could define it for Tim. Tim immediately blessed the vision, but said the time is not right. For the next ten years I waited, prayed, fought a little–with God and with Tim–and waited some more. During the waiting time, not too many days went by, that I didn’t think about it. Even less weeks. And very few months, if any. Not a year went by that the dream did not pursue my heart, and my heart the dream.

In March of 2010, I attended a Beth Moore Conference. Her theme was God doing a new thing, and that Friday and Saturday God did a new thing. He did numerous new things in me. But they had nothing (obvious) to do with my ministry dream.

The following morning I woke up early, with a sense of expectation, hope and purpose. Almost immediately I knew what it was. I propped myself up on Tim’s chest and asked, “Are you ready for me to do this thing?”

“Yes,” he said. No questions. No, “the time isn’t right” or “not yet”. Just a simple yes. I was sure he had no idea what my question meant. It was early, and I had just awakened him. (I learned something that morning about asking your husband for things. Way early in the morning, before their eyes can handle the light, that’s the best time to ask.)

“Do you even know what I’m talking about?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“So it’s okay if I talk to our church leaders?”

“Yes.”

I went into momentary shock. I had spent ten years waiting, praying, fighting and waiting. And during that time God had said, “Wait. When Tim says ‘yes’, that is the time to move. I will bless you.” I had told Tim that… and eventually regretted it because it meant I couldn’t push too hard. I had to wait. But in that moment when Tim said ‘yes’ three times, I knew it was right.

God reminded me then of His promise to bless what we do, if I would wait for Hist time, and He has, He does, and He will. There are times we would have lost serious money on an event, and last-minute a donor wrote a cheque for $1000 or more, covering the costs.

We are a ‘young’ ministry, and it takes a lot of faith from day-to-day, event to event, but I always go back to God’s promise that in His time He will bless what we do. This gives me confidence to follow Him, and do what He calls me to do, even when my humanity screams, ‘it’s not possible’.

I thank God for redeeming, in my life and our ministry, the things the enemy meant for destruction, those many years ago. It is an honour to serve Him!

If you are in the Canton area the weekend of October 12 & 13, we would love to have you join us for the Set Free To Dance Conference, with our Faith Girls Unleashed Ministry team. For topic and conference details see the poster and brochures below, or visit http://www.faithgirlsunleashed.com/events_3.html. The early bird deadline ended September 22, however, I have left it active so that, if any of my readers are available and interested in attending, you may register at the early bird rate until this weekend, September 30, 2012.

For better view, click on Images to Enlarge:

The Romance Begins: When Childhood Sexual Abuse & Violence Impact Marriage

Where to begin…

The shaping of a marriage begins in courtship, when two people ‘fall in love’, in the fairy book sense, and are immediately taken with each other, and blindly pursue relationship based on that infatuation. Eventually reality sets in. But not in the fairy tales. That’s only in real life. And in real life, not everyone follows the fairy tale beginning.

Tim and I didn’t ‘fall madly in love’ with each in an instant and never look back. It was much more gradual than that. I had lived too much life by that time to be quite so easily ‘swept off my feet’, and his nature isn’t one to be driven by feelings and emotions. (What feelings and emotions? he might have asked, back then.)

Tim has been described as stoic. Which he appears to be, but really is not. He has depth of soul and character that one only discovers with time and relationship. He can be intimidating for those who do not know him, because of his quiet nature, his depth and strength when he does speak, and because he is hard to read.

I am spontaneous, and on the surface can appear flighty and shallow. Well, less so now, having ‘matured’ with age, but that certainly was the case back then. I was as carefree as they come, as bubbly and outgoing as anyone, and outspoken, at least on the surface.

The contrast made us an interesting, and somewhat unlikely, couple. Not so much because of the extremes in our personality and temperament–since we really are well matched–but because of the social circles our temperaments tend to get caught in.

For me, the intrigue with Tim was there, the first time we talked. But it wasn’t a romantic intrigue. It was something very different. He was strong. Steady. Spoke with confidence, even when what he said was in direct conflict with popular thought. This stood out especially, because I was Mennonite, and he was with the United Church of Canada, and there were plenty of differences, creating opportunity for expressing such conflicting opinions. He did so without a tone of antagonism. He respectfully stated what he thought and believed, not threatened by our ‘rules’ and belief systems. This gradually led to an attraction that took me some time to admit, or even recognize, because it wasn’t that ‘crazy in love’ feeling of infatuation. It was much deeper.

For Tim, I’m not sure when that first moment was, when he ‘noticed’ me in a romantic sense, since he has never quite been able to pin-point it. It was gradual for him as well, with both of us carefully hiding, or denying, our feelings…

The first time I saw Tim, we didn’t speak. Not even a ‘hi’, that I recall. It was at a baseball game with the Countryside youth. I was the pitcher. He was the hind catch.

The second time was a youth event, in June of 1992, at Countryside school, and that is where and when that intrigue began. We met in the food line–hot dogs and salties–then walked together to the camp fire, where we sat until late at night, getting to know each other.

He left for Northern Ontario, shortly after that event, and I didn’t see him again until late August. We connected again, soon after, at another youth event. I observed how reserved and quiet he was with the youth, and how he opened up with me, so I made a point of finding him every time, and chatting.

I did the thing that women in conservative cultures are not really encouraged to do. I invited him over for coffee. Invited him over when I had other friends over. Now and then we went out on ‘friend’ ‘dates’–not boyfriend-girlfriend, just friendship–something that was also unheard of in our circles. And then I looked up his phone number, called his house, and talked with his dad. I told him I have something to deliver for Tim, could I get directions to their home. He gave them.

There was a concert in Toronto and I was going with another friend, and I hoped he would he want to come too. I delivered a stuffed grey mouse, holding a ticket for him, and a note with instructions on where to meet and other necessary details.

His mother met me, and gave me the tour of the farm. She took me to the back of the barn, where we found Tim. When he saw me, he pulled his cap a little further down over his eyes. It amused me. Clearly, having me show up had rattled him a bit, which was not my intent. I had hoped to deliver the ticket and disappear without seeing him.

We enjoyed the concert, with the other friend. Looking back now, I see that I had more feelings for him than I was willing to admit at that time. But, fearing his quiet nature would not be able to handle me and my story, I pushed them aside. In the process of trying to deny my own feelings, I attempted to set him up with a friend. Or, more specifically, I tried to create opportunity for them to connect. I was quite sure she had feelings for him, and, if he didn’t already have feelings for her, I was confident he would.

Unbeknownst to me, he had been told that my friend had feelings for him. And then there was me. I wouldn’t know it for almost six months, but he chose me back then already.

Our relationship remained that of casual friends, until March 20, 1993. Though, during that time, we went out almost weekly, just to talk about life, God, our faith journey. There was never a mention of our relationship, and we both seemed happy with where it was at.

That night in March was different. I had been to a family gathering that day, at my brother Cor’s farm. When we made the plans I don’t remember, but somehow Tim and I ended up walking The Mill Race, a lovely walking path in St. Jacobs Ontario. It was a beautiful winter night, with snow falling steady, creating the perfect romantic setting. (I love snow… as long as I am warm.)

We were bundled in ski suits, mittens, scarves and warm boots. We returned and had hot chocolate, and chatted awhile. When it came time for him to go, our whole world suddenly changed.

During the six months of close friendship, and weekly ‘friend dates’, we never once held hands. Only once had he hugged me, and that was on a previous visit when he asked about my family and I told him a bit about my dad and what life was. When he said good night, he stretched out his arms, offering a hug. (He says I tripped over everything in my path to dive into his arms. It’s not how I recall it, but I’ll give him that… just because it sounds so romantic.)

In reality… I calmly stepped into his arms. In that moment I knew how much feeling was behind the hug, for me. I knew I had ‘fallen in love’ somewhere along the line, and I was in too deep. But I let it go again, and chalked it up to friendship and care.

That March night, the eve of spring, Tim again stretched his arms to offer a hug. He wasn’t my boyfriend, but I had been with my family that day, and knowing what he knew, it made sense that he would give me a hug again. He looked down and his forehead rested on my lips. He said then, that he didn’t do it intentionally, and because he has always been a man of honour, I believed him then, and believe him still.

Without telling all our secrets, (though I’m sure you’re curious), in that moment our feelings were revealed. I don’t know who was more shocked. Each of us had guarded our feelings so well, that we both believed it was a one-sided attraction.

That night Tim asked me to be his girlfriend. And so the romance began. It was a night I will never forget, right down to the smell of his burgundy leather Lancers jacket.

But the journey had only just begun. The terror and hard work of ongoing trust lay ahead of me. If ever I was going to love a man for the rest of my life, he would have to prove himself worthy and trustworthy…

© Trudy Metzger

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Happy Birthday to Me, From Dad

Shortly after that visit, Dad’s leg was amputated, just below the knee.  They had transferred him to London Ontario for the surgery. And, because of his weak heart, they could not put him out for the procedure. Again his strong, stubborn, German blood served him well.He seemed none the worse for the wear, when I visited him following the procedure. I’ll spare the details, but he enthusiastically described every sound, every little thing he felt during that procedure. His only regret was that the doctors wouldn’t let him watch. I understood his intrigue, having watched a small procedure on my hip some years earlier, while the doctor kept muttering, “You don’t have to watch.”  To which I replied, “But I want to!”

He told me never to worry about my health. Never to fear or worry, but always to trust God with my health and my life, as was his goal. Little did he realize what lay ahead of him, and little did I realize what lay ahead for me and how fitting his advice would be.

Dad went through rehab and bounced back quickly, learning to walk again and reclaiming his independence and making it possible for him to return home.  As winter approached, my baby-belly grew, and my trips to see him died down. Our contact returned to ‘normal’.

The following April I gave birth to our third son, Kordan Timothy Steven, completing our family of five. Life was busy. All consuming.

Spring gave way to summer, and summer to fall. Then in October, 2002, the phone rang, one Saturday afternoon. It was Dad, calling to ‘talk’. He was struggling. Afraid. Worried that God could not find it in His heart to forgive a man like himself, with all the evil things he had done. What if there was just not enough grace? Would he end up in hell, after all?

The fear was triggered by the notion that one must suffer in this life, or have it coming in the next. I had heard this teaching in childhood, but had long forgotten it. He had recovered too quickly from the amputation, he feared. Almost no pain, no suffering. Just a quick surgery and a painless recovery. He was certain this meant he was doomed. His good friend, a saint in Dad’s mind, had also had an amputation and suffered agonizingly. It all fit together to support some warped theology he had learned and embraced.

“Dad, suffering or not suffering has nothing to do with salvation,” I said. But he wasn’t so sure, so I began asking him questions.

“Do you believe in Jesus as your Saviour?” I asked. He said he did. “Have you asked Him to forgive your sins?” He said he had. “Do you believe that Jesus is the Way to heaven?” He answered affirmatively. “Dad, then you are saved. Don’t give the enemy power over you. When he tempts you to fear, tell him the truth. Tell him what you just told me, that you have repented, that you have been forgiven and that he has no right to you.”

Dad sounded tired, sad. We chatted a while longer, then he thanked me for my time and we hung up.

It felt good. Dad, who always had all the answers, who knew his Bible inside out–however religious his past interpretations had been–called me for encouragement. I, the non-Mennonite rebel, had hope to offer him at his lowest point. I felt honoured that he trusted me with his struggle, and allowed me to speak truth into his experience.

The following month, November 23, 2002, I turned 33. It was late evening when the phone rang again. It was Dad, just calling to wish me a happy birthday. He called just to say he remembered me. That he thought of me… of the day I was born and brought into his life. It had taken him 33 years, but I finally felt that I was held in my father’s heart.

It was the first time in my life that Dad had remembered my birthday, or put in the effort to call me and tell me. And it would be the last.

© Trudy Metzger

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