Make Friends with Your Past, and Make Friends

“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.

“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”

“I wish you had talked about that….”

Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.

What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.

The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.

And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.

Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.

I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery  partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.

She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.

Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.

“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…

(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE.  Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)

The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.

And that is why I no longer struggle with being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.

Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Criminal or Saint? (Confronting Child Molesters)

What about Reporting to the Law?
As a believer I am asked how I can endorse going to the law with a fellow believer. Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 6 make it clear that ‘brother is not to go to the law against brother’?

To this I ask, Does 1 Timothy 1:9 not make it clear that the law is in place for the lawbreaker/lawless? Also, is child molestation not one of the most lawless acts a human can commit?

And for good measure let’s jump to a well-worn passage, in Romans 13 (KJV…just because), and read it in the context of obeying the law, including when the law requires us to report crimes. While this if often used to draw compliance from church members, it refers specifically to ‘sword bearers’, therefore hopefully isn’t talking about pastors and church leadership. I mostly avoid attending churches where the pastor carries a weapon.

Romans 13:1-5

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

It seems to me that we’ve gone cherry picking if we blithely toss 1 Corinthians 6 out there to guilt fellow Christians in reporting to the law. It is an agenda-driven-doctrine/belief to make such a thing a sin. Especially when some of the very people who fight against such a thing turn around and use it for financial gain and sue a fellow brother in a business deal gone awry. In essence that sends the message that we are willing to sacrifice our daughters and sons, but not our money. But that’s another topic for another day.

All that said, I can count on one hand–without using my fingers twice–the number of times I’ve gone to the law with cases in our ministry, and of two of those times it has been to support someone reporting, not to file an actual report. (Sorry to blow holes in the theory that I have only one goal: to put Mennonites in prison.) The reporting numbers are not low because I am against going to the law, but rather that clients are most often no longer minors, and it is out of my court. When victims are over 16 in Ontario it is utterly useless to file a report to F&CS (Family & Children Services) or the police. If I call F&CS, I am told it needs to be reported to police, and whenever I have called the policed, they have asked if the victim is filing a report. When I’ve answer that they are not, then they’ve told me there is nothing that can be done. And they are right.

Internationally I have made one report, and that was not about molestation but a homicide/suicide threat. While it was investigated, the officer pretty much snarked me off for bothering to call from Canada about it. (Okay then! Just trying to save a life in my spare time.) In several other cases I have made myself available to answer questions for police or social workers, and in two cases I shared details of crimes with a US citizen local to the crimes, and left it to them whether it was ‘reportable’ or not. Sometimes I receive updates and hear the outcomes, other times I hear nothing. When I have done my duty to the best of my ability, before God and man, I leave it in the hands of those responsible, and spend little time worrying about it or checking up.

Child Molesters in Church: Are they Criminals or Saints?
I’m not God, so I shall refrain from passing judgment. Whether a person is ‘right with God’ or not, or ‘saved and born again’ or not is none of my business, in the context of judging. But I know with certainty that God doesn’t look lightly on the violation of children. Consistently through scripture it is clear that sexual sin has consequences unlike other sins. From Old Testament consequences–take the group of men who were slaughtered after Dinah was violated–to Paul’s words in the New Testament (ironically also in 1 Corinthians 6) about it being the one sin against the body, and a sin that ‘joins Christ with a prostitute’ (v.15) when those who profess Christ engage in prostitution. And Matthew 18 offers harsh judgment for those who ‘offend’ children.

The grace of Jesus is big enough for every sin. There isn’t a doubt in my mind about that. But the grace of Jesus doesn’t wipe away all consequences. It never has. It never will. I’ve volunteered at our local Federal women’s prison (Grand Valley Institute) long enough to hear some amazing stories of grace, but the women remained behind bars. A woman who murdered her husband never saw another day of freedom outside those prison walls from the time of her arrest, until the day of her death, but she was free on the inside. (She died during my time volunteering). She is one of countless stories behind those walls, of people for whom Jesus died, and for whom God’s grace was enough, but for whom the consequences remained.

The consequences for those who molest children (thereby ‘murdering’ the soul of the child) should not be overlooked, and the consequences for these crimes not be neglected. (Whatever those consequences ought to be, which also is not my call to make.)

Does Prison Change the Offender?
In December I was invited to our local police station to meet with an officer and discuss the problem of crime in the Mennonite and Amish communities. At one point he leaned back in his chair and commented that he pictures taking them and booking them, “20 at a time” and then going back for the next 20. “What do you think?” he asked.

“Well sir,” I said, “we both know that wouldn’t work, don’t we?”

His shoulders sagged a little, he leaned forward, and said, “Yeah… so what do we do?”

We spent over an hour talking, brainstorming and exploring thoughts and ideas. We agreed to meet again after Christmas, and explore further possibilities. That meeting took place January 11, 2016. Several Staff Sergeants were present–including from the Major Case Unit–as well as the director of an assault treatment centre. In the end we all concluded, without exception, that there must be a way to help without pushing the crimes further underground in the church, thus creating an environment that will breed the problems, and create more victims in the next generation. At the same time they confirmed what we all know, that any cases that come forward must be dealt with according to the law.

What is the Solution to the Problem of Molestation in Closed Communities?
In the meeting on January 11, I presented some thoughts and ideas I’ve been brainstorming about for about 2 years, of ways that could help deal with past and present crimes, while focusing on protecting the next generation. These were the ideas I had run by the other officer in December, and in our brainstorming together, the ideas had morphed into an outline of a plan that would potentially make a dramatic impact for future generations.

It is unclear if such a plan is possible–now or in the future–but at least we’ve started the conversation. In the near future I plan to meet with several other senior team members from the assault treatment centre, to see how we can collaborate in the ‘here and now’.

The prospect of pursuing options that could potentially impact the generations to come is far more important to me than any longing for personal justice, for which I have no desire any more. I support the law, and work with the law, and believe firmly that there ought to be consequences for these crimes. But the hard reality is that seeking justice for past and present crimes is a reactive approach–which is currently necessary–when we so desperately need a proactive approach. And, in particular, we need a new approach in closed communities that have their own ‘internal laws’ and ‘justice systems’, so that the use of ‘the law’ doesn’t inadvertently push the crimes further underground.

This is true of Amish and Mennonites, and it is also true of Muslims and other ‘closed communities’. No, they should not get to make up their laws and have a double standard. What is offered to them should be offered across the board, but whatever the ‘justice system’ of the land is, it needs to become a partnership between the law and closed communities to work against crime, while not allowing closed communities to circumvent the law, or define it. Such a thing would create chaos. One extreme would let them all off the hook with a quick ‘I’m sorry’, and victims would be entirely overlooked and neglected, while the other extreme would stone them to death…. possibly both victim and perpetrator.

There is a better way. There has to be. And I am out to find it, and then do whatever it takes to fight for it. I will fight for the freedom of the children of tomorrow, and for ‘my people’… whether they like it or not.

On that note and to that end, God willing and if University of Waterloo accepts me–which I am fully counting on, I will start the Master Peace & Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College this fall. If I’m super lucky, I will be accepted without a qualifying term. We will wait and see.

Either way, I press forward and if I trip and fall a few times, I do. I will get right back up and press on. This issue needs a few warriors, and I am committed, by the grace of God, to be one who blazes trails.

And if I’m little old Granny Gertrude walking with a cane, and with gnarled little fingers for counting on, before I get there, then so be it. One thing my tombstone won’t say is that I didn’t try…

 

Love,+
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Why I Stopped Blogging Regularly & Attending “Church” Religously…

When the heart stops ‘feeling’ the truths God has promised,
faith stands in the gap for our feelings, giving us the courage to believe what we cannot see.

One day, the heart feels again, but it is faith, not feeling that carries us, even then.

In January 2013 I stopped ‘feeling’ much of what I know and trust about God, and I have continued, and will continue, to declare the truth that I know. I am so thankful for the authority and power of faith.

****

I received a few messages, recently, asking why I haven’t blogged much, and declaring how they miss reading them.  First of all, “That’s very kind. Thank you.” Secondly… I have been writing. I have nearly 100 blogs written, but I have not posted them.

Why, you ask? That is not an easy question to answer. A few of the blog posts are raw pain. That’s all they are. Several are all-out vent sessions, like the emails that you wisely never send, and serve only to offer therapeutic release for you. Others are revelations that I felt were not ready to be shared. Not new revelations, or anything, but old truth–things I rediscovered in Word of God. But mostly I didn’t share my writings because I wasn’t at peace with it, for reasons I cannot fully explain. The few I posted, were ones I felt peace about. And when I am not at peace about posting, I won’t do it. I intend never to be a slave to blogging, and this season of my life, that’s all it would have been, had I forced it.

It has been a heavy season in my life. ‘Heavy’ in the sense of carrying dead weight around, spiritually.  It began in January 2013. I managed to stay focused on God, for the most part, in spite of the heaviness. Throughout that year, in ministry, I faced intense spiritual battles with clients, and writing was both my outlet and part of ministry.

Telling the stories victims wanted me to tell, and breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse in the church, is the single most dangerous thing I have done, spiritually. And I went in with naive faith and trust, having no concept of what that would mean, no concept of the cost. I reached out to several people, when I felt myself starting to drown, but neither they nor I recognized the extent of danger I was in. One foot in front of the other, I pressed forward, always able to keep my eyes focused on the One who called me, and presenting Him as the healer and restorer, when sitting with victims of abuse, or those struggling spiritually. I had nothing to give, of myself, but I knew with confidence that I could lead them to God for healing.

Admittedly, at times it felt as though my lips were parched, and I was dying of thirst, even while I held the cup for others more wounded than I, who had thirsted longer. And watching them come to life somehow quenched my own thirst. Somehow–even though there are areas I have long struggled to trust God, in practical ways–I trust Him without reserve, to heal and restore the broken-hearted. And that is the place where I stood in the gap for many wounded.

As is inevitable, when exposing darkness, the attacks and lies began, and ‘my people’, whom I trusted and believed to be born again believers, started to spread blatant, bold lies. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew about the sexual abuse hidden, but I truly believed it was a matter of ignorance–a lack of awareness of the problem, among leaders–and when they knew, I was certain they would rise up as godly men, and fight for victims, and offer help to perpetrators. Instead, I watched as perpetrators were protected, victims further abused, and lies spread to discredit my ministry.

The shock of this climaxed in early January 2014, exactly one year after the intense heaviness began, and I found myself in a state of spiritual shock, struggling to accept that Christians do these things, yet believing that Jesus is enough… enough for me, in my woundedness… enough for them for lying.

Even so, I continued to meet with victims, and offered them hope that can only come from Jesus. I was honest about my own struggles, and shared with them the hope that Jesus  is even in a dark place.  When I had nothing else to hold on to, I would say, “I know that He loves me, and that is enough”. When I could not pray, I could still whisper ‘Thank you for loving me… thank you for dying for me… thank you for having my back.’ And always He would come alive in me, sitting across from the broken, and prayer would rise from within my own broken place, offering Jesus to the people in front of me.

The final blow, overlapping with this shock, came in the form of a letter. I felt, in ways, as if I was ‘gasping for air’, when a letter arrived in the mail. Handwritten, I opened it eagerly. Until that day all handwritten letters had been encouragement notes, offering prayer and pointing my heart to the Father. It was what I expected and, quite frankly, longed for–some small sign that God had not forgotten me, that He saw my shock, and wanted to reassure me.  Yes, the letters and notes I received also carried challenges when a friend felt I was getting sidetracked, but challenges offered with love and care; always they drew my heart to God.

But that day the letter held harsh criticism, attacking my character, offering accusations about a case I was involved in–the one where I supposedly posed as a cleaning girl and lied to get in the door, and then stomped my feet and yelled at the perpetrator. The author of it attacked me, not having taken time to meet with me to ask any questions. Coincidentally–or predictably–it was a relative by marriage of the alleged perpetrator. I understood the defenses. They are characteristic of those who have an agenda to hide abuse and corruption, those who cannot come to terms with their own circumstance. But it was from someone I had known for years. Someone I respected. Someone with whom I shared a church pew. That day a part of my heart died.

In the weeks that followed, we continued attending the church we were trying to make our own, to be  ‘our family’. But we were not plugged in enough–being relatively new–and the aloneness of ministry, and this attacks from within, created a deep loneliness. Church became depressing, and draining, rather than life-giving. Having said that, the worship leader and his wife, the Lead Pastor, and, most of all, the wife of the Associate Pastor, offered a kindness and friendship that drew us in.

When another case in a sister church escalated , a few months later, and I was perceived to have been involved, even though I had nothing to do with it–though I would gladly have owned it, had I been involved–more resistance and attacks trickled our way.  It was then that we realized that with the ministry of working with sexual abuse in the church,  we didn’t stand a chance fitting making church our home, anytime soon, and, for the most part, support for ministry would need to come from outside of church.

Ironically, one ‘hate’ letter from someone in my cultural background, calling me a BEAST, among other things, finally broke the power the lies. The evil in that letter exposed the darkness from which the attacks came, as all ‘niceness’ was stripped, and I was finally able to see the attacks came from a place of pain and denial, and a lot of fear. Until that moment I struggled to call the attacks what they were, and tried to believe that most of the attacks were misunderstandings of well-intentioned people. Reading the harshest version of attacks, all in the name of God, exposed the darkness behind all of it, and I was finally able to make peace with the attacks. I can handle persecution from those resisting truth–even in God’s name–but attacks from the Body of Christ I cannot reconcile.

Now, months later, having taken a step back from Western ‘church’ culture, and removing ‘the noise’ of it, my heart has finally come to life again. The heaviness has lifted, and God is able to touch my heart again, and worship again rises from my spirit in a way it hasn’t in a long time.  We have continued to fellowship with believers–for those who might fear we are sinning in not ‘gathering with believers–we’re just not doing it regularly in the context of lining pews, and consistently listening to structured church services, at a specific time of day, each Sunday.

In the last few months, the greatest encouragement has been, not only seeing people break free from past pain and addictions as they begin to understand their position in with God through Christ, but hearing testimonies of the ripple effects of the ministry we did in the Mennonite community. When people break free from addictions, sexual sin, homosexuality, and move into a place of freedom, it makes the ‘hell’ of the past two years seem small, and it is humbling to think that God uses us, so broken and human, to bring the love of Jesus and hope to those who are hurting and struggling. It is amazing to me that, even though I was struggling to come to terms with my own pain, and the shock of what we encountered in church–attacks we might have expected from enemies of the cross–that God still worked, as only He can.

So, why have I not been writing? That is the long answer. I needed time to process, to regroup, to make peace with what I have experienced in ‘church’,  the attacks that have come from within, and most of all I needed time to refocus my heart before God. The past two years have showed me that, even though I have forgiven the church of my youth, I carry deep scars and wounds that, when ripped open, cause intense pain. I don’t trust church.  I don’t trust system. Even less now than I did two years ago. But, thanks to a few incredible men and women of God, I have learned to trust the hearts of more leaders than I have ever trusted before. I could have mentioned many, including several conservative Mennonite leaders. For this to be the end result in one of the most difficult ‘church’ experiences of my life, is astounding. There is a wonder and a grace in this for which I have no words.

In spite of those wounds and scars, in spite of the hate mail and attacks, in spite of my inability to fit in–and knowing the attacks will continue–I want to learn to trust. I want to connect with a church family. (I didn’t think I’d ever say that again.) I even want to learn to trust church leaders, and let them fail, be human, and I want to pray for them and forgive them in the way I wish to be forgiven when I fail. I want to fight for the Body of Christ–His bride–and partner with her, for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am committed to continuing in ministry, because I believe it is not our perfection, or our ‘togetherness’ that offers anything meaningful. It is Jesus flowing through our brokenness, spilling out in love, that transforms lives. I’ve never stopped believing that, even in my lowest of lows. He is my hope. Besides my love, encouragement, and some practical resources, He is all I have to offer victims, and He is more than enough.

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Thank you to friends, mentors, pastors and leaders who have spoken into my life this past year, taking time to meet with me in my ‘darkness’, or speaking truth during ‘random’ encounters. Special thanks to  my faithful friends who have let me say, without judging me, things I could not say to everyone, but needed to get out of my spirit. Thank you to the many online ‘warriors’ who have fought tirelessly for me, through prayer. You are too many to mention, and some I would not mention because you are also clients, but each of you offered me hope at a time when I felt little hope in the Body of Christ, and had only my faith in Jesus to cling to, the support of my husband and family. Finally, thank you to my husband, Tim, who has loved me faithfully, lifting my weary heart in prayer when it was crushed, and holding me when sobs of grief racked my body. I am grateful for each of you, and pray God’s blessings over you.

If God hands out stars for positively impacting another soul, you will each carry a star for me.

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Amazing New Therapy: Press Face Against Aquarium!

A few weeks ago I chatted with a friend and fellow writer, and in the course of conversation we got to talking about facing our fears and ‘triggers’… I’m ADHD with sporadic OCD tendencies and he is OCD (and, i suspect, with ADHD tendencies), which made for an interesting conversation. It started out with discussing anxiety and personality ‘disorders’–something I consider a dreadful misnomer, in most cases–and somehow ended up talking about my fear of water. Specifically, water in my face. As someone who studied neurology, he offered the following advice, which came through like ‘popcorn’ in Facebook messages:

“Exposure response prevention: you’re afraid of water, so swim. Do it again and again until your rewire your brain. Your brain is highly plastic, and you can change it. One of the great discoveries of neurology! ….In other words, the more you face a fear and endure it, the less power it has over you. Pretty awesome. Probably even works in Canada…. You should just press your face against an aquarium every day for a while….. Or tie a water bottle to your head.”

canstockphoto18837760

I guffawed, at one point, when I read about pressing my face against the aquarium every day for awhile, but he makes a good point. I’ve observed in abuse victims that those who invest most of their time and energy trying to avoid every trigger end up being enslaved to the past, probably more so than those who face fears and triggers at manageable intervals. There is something to be said for starting with a water bottle on the head, progressing to the aquarium and eventually ducking my head under water. (I am able to do this, actually, so the whole conversation was a bit of an exaggeration.) There would come a time, if I would gradually expose myself more and more to this fear, and with a qualified guide/trainer, when I would be able to swim. But, to talk about swimming will never get me there. I have to decide I’m more interested in learning to swim than running from fear, then book the appointment and, finally, actually show up and put in effort. Each of these steps is part of the process of overcoming fear.

In much the same way, abuse victims who live in constant terror of some emotional trigger, and therefore avoid even a potential confrontation with the past, will never learn to swim. If I am afraid of looking at pictures of water,  then that is my starting point. The first time I look at pictures of a lake, especially with someone swimming in it, I may want a friend with me who has overcome the fear of swimming. From there I will need to develop the courage to enjoy water scenes. Next I may go to the lake with someone, just to walk a distance from the shore. Eventually I may be comfortable dipping my toes in the water… And so on…

While this is an exaggeration, in the case of abuse it isn’t. It can be that difficult to face the past. I have had people–some of my siblings included, back when I first troubled out family waters with the reality of sexual abuse in our home–who say they were never abused. It didn’t happen. They lucked out. Sorry for my tragic luck, they tell me, and hopefully I’ll be able to get through it with a forgiving spirit. But later some of these very same people come back and ask for help to work through memories from childhood that were blocked and resurfaced. (This is a controversial topic, among Christians and psychologists and other professionals alike, but I stand by it with 100% confidence.) When we have confronted the abuser, or other victims present, in all cases but one, the memories have been confirmed, so we know that the memories are not some warped imagination triggered by a question.

Where, at first, fear held these individuals captive and they couldn’t even look at the water–or the possibility of having been victimized–with time, they were able to acknowledge it. Contacting someone for help was the next step. ‘Walking through’ the memories, and confronting them, while painful, in most cases proves to bring release, as victims see they are able to face the past and not stay caught in it. In fact, most times victims have lived in fear, anger, and denial, enslaved by the very thing they didn’t want to acknowledge. Then, having faced it, and releasing ‘control’ of their pain, choosing rather to feel it and allowing someone to simply love them through it, and forgiving the offender–not releasing from responsibility/accountability–they take authority over it. And the moment they take authority over it, they are no longer victims.

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…and it all begins with that first baby step of tying a water bottle on our heads, or pressing our face against the aquarium, or whatever that first step is for us in facing our fears.

© Trudy Metzger

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

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Trudy’s YouTube Channel

Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”

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Hope…. What, exactly, Is It?

I recall, as a child, the thrill of hope I felt, when my parents returned from town after having done some shopping. Hope that they might have brought us something special.

faith-and-hope

In Mexico my parents’ trips to the city were a rare thing, partly due to poverty, and partly distance. But when they went, we anticipated their return with great excitement, hoping that they might have brought some small treat. A candy. Some gum, maybe. Or some other little surprise.

I recall running out to meet them, and targeting dad. If there was some treat, it came from him, almost without fail, because he controlled the money, the spending of it, and the distributing of anything special. I skipped beside him, sometimes in silence, hoping he might mention the treat, but most often I asked questions as I skipped beside him.

The exception to this enthusiasm was if his gait indicated anger, rage or some sort of upset. Then I stayed clear. Treat or no treat, I wouldn’t risk it. And, truth be told, when his footsteps had that heavy ‘thud’, I had no ‘hope’ left that he might have done something special for us.

Sometimes that hope was fulfilled, sometimes it was not.

In Canada that hope increased in strength, and the fulfilling of it increased in frequency. Each week, when my parents did the grocery shopping, that anticipation was there. And, for a time, they brought us each one small bag of corn chips as a treat. The last few minutes before their return, I could almost taste them, and ran to the window, watching for them. Any sound that indicated their return was met with a dash for the door.

Hope: The belief…even strong expectation… that what we cannot see, will come to pass. Sometimes the hope is based on a promise. Sometimes it is based on a particular outcome in the past. Sometimes it is a deep desire within, expressed in faith that it will one day be reality. And sometimes it is defying everything that current circumstances offer, and believing that there is something better ahead.

Sometimes people lose hope, and surrender to circumstances. They lose their will to fight, and give up on hope. We talk about offering hope to  someone, and we do this, most often, by sharing our stories, our testimony of overcoming something similar to their struggle. When they say that we have overcome, or maybe even finding hope in the middle of a struggle, a temptation, a challenge, they find hope that they too will overcome.

And that is what our Extraordinary Hope Conference is all about. We will share stories of hope, in spite of tragedy, and invite you to let Jesus bring hope and healing to your experience, where tragedy and disappointment have suffocated hope. Where you feel like giving up, and tossing in the towel, we want to encourage you to get up one more time, and hold on, for the dear life, to hope that defies your current circumstances, or past pain.

My very good friend Jane Valenta, and her team, will lead us in worship. Jane’s music and worship style reflects her heart, and her heart reflects the heart of God.

Carol Weicker will share her story of being born with a severe facial deformity, and being bullied, isolated and rejected. She will talk of her mother’s incredible example of love, and sacrifice. She will tell you how she lost her father at a very young age.

Through laughter and tears, in the rise and fall of her experience, you will hear the message of hope. Hope that goes beyond those things that were meant to destroy us.

I will share my story of overcoming a childhood filled with violence, sexual abuse and death threats. I will tell you about the years I spent running from God, further wounding myself, and allowing myself to be used, as I pursued a life of rebellion and sin. In the extreme of my choices, that landed me in USA, I ended up living with an ex-con drug dealer, surrounded by the same violence that I had tried to escape when I left home at fifteen. I became desperate, hopeless and suicidal.

There God found me, and loved me. In my broken, lost state, God restored my hope by offering me Jesus… Offering me hope.

Hope… Extraordinary Hope…

At the conference we will spend time in prayer, worship and praise, ministering to you, allowing the love of Jesus to flow through us, and over you.

We would love to have you join us for the Extraordinary Hope Conference, to be held September 27-28, 2013, at Listowel Evangelical Missionary Church. The early bird deadline, saving you $20 per registration, ends August 22, 2013.

To  register online, visit http://www.faithgirlsunleashed.com/events_3.html, and scroll down to the event. To register via snail mail, scroll down and click on the registration form, fill it in, and mail to the address provided.

If you have questions, please email info@faithgirlsunleashed.com.

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©TrudyMetzger

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Return to Part One: A Story of Overcoming Self-Harm  (WARNING: Graphic content.)

The Lost Child: Abigail’s Story (Part 1)

NOTE: Story used with client’s permission.

Abigail contacted me several months ago, a complete stranger. Her message was unlike most who reach out for support. The most common request I receive is to work through sexual abuse and, if not that, the second most common is physical violence. But her inquiry intrigued me. She said she wasn’t really sexually abused, and her parents didn’t threaten to kill each other, but there were things that happened, that left her struggling. She was raised Mennonite, she wrote, and struggled intensely, spiritually. She had spent many years in therapy for the trauma, but no one was able to help her spiritually. Would I be willing to meet with her, and help her in her relationship with God?

We met for the first time, soon after that message, in a small coffee shop. A rustic place, with mismatched tables and chairs, that serves the best coffee ever. I favour Ethiopian or Mexican coffees, both of which they offer.

She walked in, a blonde girl, just slightly taller than I. Her body language, and eyes communicated reserve and mistrust, yet an obvious sweetness. The only way I knew it was my new client, since we had never met, was the fact that she was the only one in Mennonite attire.

I asked if she was Abigail, and introduced myself. We chose a little table in corner, away from the action, where we could have a private conversation, without worrying about being overheard.

I quickly discovered that Abigail is not one to share her thoughts freely. This would not be a session where the client spills a story, and I take notes as fast as possible. It was going to be hard work, and me asking a lot of questions, jotting down notes, and piecing family and church life together.

Family was dysfunctional, without question. Mom, a woman who grew up in a loving home, with only one sibling, almost fifteen years older than her, and quite well-to-do, struggled with anxiety and depression. Likely the result of trying to adjust to having six children, and an abusive husband. Dad had grown up in a harsh environment, with an abusive father. He was absent, mostly, and when present, he was abusive in every way, and harsh, especially with her siblings.

Abigail was spared much of the abuse, because she has a health condition requiring constant medical care, and the risk of medical staff seeing the bruises was too high. This resulted in Abigail observing much abuse that she herself did not suffer directly, physically, but left her deeply scarred psychologically.

One of the most glaring things I noted, in Abigail, was her apparent inability to feel emotionally. It was as if her very ‘person’ was lost, somewhere in the trauma of the past. Pain overshadowed her smile and, the time or two she laughed, her laugh had an empty, hollow sound. She said that, though she longs to, she never cries, that her tears are trapped, and it had been many years. Emotions were bad, growing up, and tears had to be suppressed, leaving her unable to cry, or express anything. Never before had I worked with this extent of ‘numbness’.

When I asked how she coped with all the pain as a child, she said she disappeared, literally, days at a time into her room, barely coming out even to eat. Sometimes refusing altogether. No one made her come out. No one pursued her. She would get over it in time.

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When she learned as a little girl, the severity of her health condition, and that it could be life threatening, she again escaped to grieve alone. Again she was left abandoned. No one pursued her. No one talked to her. No one comforted her, or even explained it well.

Older siblings didn’t understand her world–they were healthy and in survival mode because of the abuse–and, being spared the physical abuse, she was removed from their world as well.

As I got to know Abigail better, and she felt safe sharing more of her story, I discovered some dark, secret struggles, that had her in emotional, psychological and spiritual bondage.

I never doubted for a moment, that freedom could be hers, and would be hers, but I also recognized the war that lay ahead…

To be Continued….

© Trudy Metzger

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What Hope is There, Then, If Sexual Abuse is So Prevalent?

When I first started speaking openly about my story, and writing about it, I believed strongly that the particular ‘brand’ of Mennonite I was born into–the Russian/Mexican/Old Colony Mennonites–was infested with sexual abuse. And of the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonites, I believed the ‘brand’ we joined–a specific Conservative Mennonite group–and particularly the congregation we were in, was also affected to epidemic proportions.

For years already I knew it existed other places but couldn’t imagine that what happened in our church, community and family was familiar to others. We were the worst. The extreme. The exception. Or so I believed for those years. And even when I first started writing and speaking, I believed that to an extent.

Since then I have had individuals, from every congregation that I know of in Southern Ontario and a few further out, within our particular ‘brand’, come forward and expose it in their home congregation. And they are not all just the ‘I am a victim’ stories. These are stories of multiple victims, within one school, within one church. Occasionally told by the friend of a victim looking for ways to help that friend, and asking, “What do I do? How do I help?”, but most often told by the victims or a family member.

I will never forget the first ‘bold’ email that came through after I started ministry, from someone in my cultural background. I believe it was in 2010, before I had even blogged openly about my story. I read that email just before leaving for work and what the victim shared shook me up. I wept most of that half hour drive to work. I was aware already that there were other victims, because some had spoken to me, but I had not heard of even one victim in their congregation. That email exposed a case of multiple victims within that congregation and it overwhelmed me.

I do not know how bad it is in other ‘brands’ and ‘conferences’, as some call themselves. I know it’s there because I hear from them, but I don’t know to what extent. I did have a someone tell me in the last three days that, being of a less conservative Mennonite background, people ask her if what I write is true. Is it really that bad?

Being of very different Mennonite backgrounds, I wondered what the answer would be. In their family’s experience in the church, did it even exist? Was it unfathomable to them?

“So what do you say?” I asked.

“I say, ‘Yes, it is that bad!'”

I am very aware that it is not a Mennonite problem. It is a people problem, a ‘humanity’ problem, and it is ‘everywhere’, in every culture. But I stand by my claim that silence escalates that human problem, and therefore the rates increase in any closed culture where the topic is off bounds and victims are told not to talk, for the sake of image.

If it is true, as I believe, that at least 50% of the homes in my cultural background have been directly impacted by sexual abuse–meaning that there is at least one or more victims–then what hope is there? Should we all lay down and die, because the situation is hopeless, beyond redemption? Should we all turn a blind eye and live peacefully with them, and never dare to bring it to light? By no means! If there was no hope, I wouldn’t bother open this can of worms.

Jesus is the ‘hope’ for the epidemic. And I’m not talking only of the ‘neat and tidy’ Jesus we like to talk about. We need to know the Jesus who loved, who sacrificed, who had compassion. We need the gentle touch to heal as victims, and even to offer grace, forgiveness and hope to the perpetrators. It’s necessary for me, as a victim, to offer that to my perpetrators, and any other perpetrators with whom I meet.

But not without confronting the darkness of the sin and the crime. When it comes to confronting the hidden sin in the church, and the people who intentionally and blatantly cover it up, whether as leaders (accomplices through silence), or perpetrators, we need a bold Jesus who does not hesitate to confront religious pride. I’m talking about the Jesus who pulls the whip, chases out darkness, drives away evil and shouts boldly, “NOT IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE! HE ISN’T OKAY WITH THIS…. GET OUT!!”

We need the Jesus who calls out the religiously arrogant, those who are all about control and abuse of power, and image, while ignoring the broken hearts of people. (And it doesn’t matter whether that is 5%, or 30% or 80% of the church leaders or members.) We need Him because that Jesus isn’t afraid to expose generational sins. He doesn’t tiptoe around trying to make it sound palatable for the ‘well-meaning’ religious audience, who–God bless them–don’t know better.

No… That Jesus declares things boldly, and publicly in Matthew 23, and calls it as He knows and sees it where anyone within earshot can hear it. He didn’t take them aside for a private, one-on-one consult. He exposed evil and corruption and I have no doubt that He would do the same with the sexual abuse hidden in many of today’s evangelical and other churches.

I think Jesus would still say, “…all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments…. woe to you… hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you… hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. ….Woe to you… hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. …Woe to you… hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. …Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Jesus confronts boldly, so the victims will know whose side He is on. Only those who had bought the lie of religiosity were offended by His boldness. Only those who had something to hide had cause to silence Him. He was, without question, on the side of those who were abused.

And Jesus is still the hope for healing. He is the hope for truth to be revealed and lies to be exposed. He is the source of our identity, our value, our worth. In every situation, in every experience, He is the truth that transforms. He is the One who breaks those chains, and takes the shame on Himself. But the truth of our experience must be brought to light so that the lies are exposed, and the Truth of our real identity can be restored.

To that end I will continue to speak and give voice to those who cannot speak, so that hope is kept alive.

© Trudy Metzger

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‘The Death Crawl’: Sexual Abuse & Violence

Since writing “What I’m Learning: Sexual Abuse in My Mennonite Heritage” the very forthright article about the kinds of sexual abuse, four days ago, I have received more messages, whether Facebook, email, or other. And friend requests. And Blog ‘followers’—a word I don’t much care for because I’m not looking for ‘followers’, but friends. I would welcome a million to walk with me and beside me, but cringe to have many remain only followers.

And, yes, the Apostle Paul says, “Follow me, even as I follow Christ,” so there is a time and a place, but I see that more as a “Look through me, (to Jesus), not to me,” sort of invitation. I would welcome every soul on planet earth to ‘follow’ me in that sense. I would wish for each one to encounter the Christ who allows harlots to sit at his feet, to cling to them for the dear life, to weep on them, and then to dry them with their hair.

All while the ‘teachers’—today’s preachers, pastors, deacons, bishops and priests—sit by and accuse and judge. “Doesn’t this man know what she is? .. Oh my… maybe He knows too well. Maybe He sleeps with her. What if she is His harlot?” There’s no doubt about it, their tongues were wagging and if they didn’t say it, they thought it.

But Jesus, knowing every little detail of her life, simply gives her a safe place to ‘be’. He doesn’t worry what the leaders think or say. And He knows that too. He simply makes her feel safe. He, also being a teacher, puts His reputation on the line for her.

In the sense of having been the harlot at Jesus’ feet—except that I worked for no pay—I would wish for every man, woman and child to follow me. To follow me to Him and sit down at His feet and weep, and be loved ‘just as you are’. To truly live the songs we grew up singing. That is my prayer.

But, having led you to that safe place, I would rather you stand up and link arm-in-arm with me, to stand with me against sexual abuse and violence. It is hard to stand alone in any battle, but the area of sexual abuse is especially brutal. And, while I know I’m not alone, there are times it still feels that way. Times when I look around and ask who is going to link arms and march into enemy territory with me. And then God reminds me to look forward, not around me, not behind me. He reminds me that He is my cheerleader, my ‘fellow warrior’, my leader.

The guest speaker at church yesterday spoke about being a Champion. Being a person of Courage, Humility, (an) Anchor, Meekness, Peace, Influence, Obedience and Nobility. At the end of his message he showed the Death Crawl clip from the Facing The Giants. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it. Jesus is like that coach in my life. But God also calls us to be that encourager for others. To dare to crawl alongside of them and keep them focused on the goal.

When the clip finished playing, the pastor invited those who wanted prayer to come forward. I was in the back of the church. Hiding in a corner, away from the main audience. I was happy there. Nothing has ever knocked the wind out of me more than writing that blunt, forthright article that I mention in the first paragraph. I haven’t regretted it. Not for a millisecond. Not even when four people took the time to challenge me on whether it’s necessary to tell these things, even if it’s true. That stuff often comes from those who know personally that what I write is true. Sometimes it comes from those who know from personal experience, or that of close friends, how bad it is and, or from those who, for whatever reason, would like to pretend it doesn’t exist outside of their world. (Prime example is the story I tell in Sexual Abuse & Violence: A Pastor’s Honest Confession)

And it’s not even being accused of having it in for Mennonites, by someone I’ve not ever met. (My encouragement to these people was, ‘read my whole blog’ or contact my Mennonite friends—see Facebook list—they will tell you that I love them, and their culture. Get to know me.) Yes, what I write is hard stuff. It’s harsh, not in tone or in message, but the facts are harsh. What is happening to children is harsh. What it’s causing children to do is harsh. And that part breaks my heart. But I know this—I love the people of my Mennonite heritage. And those who know me at all know I would lay down my life for them. (It’s just really hard to expose sexual abuse and child victimization with a positive spin. Haven’t found a way to do that. Never will. Maybe one day soon I will write a blog called ‘All the Things I Love About Mennonites’, because there is much to love about the culture, and in that one I will not mention the abuse…. Though I might link back to the article so that both sides are presented fairly, and connected.)

Sure, I collide a bit with the ones who have a vested interest in silence. I admit that. There’s a few that, when I meet them in town, their chin instinctively goes up an inch or two. That’s cool. I smile. I say hi and try to greet them by name. (Recently that resulted in the wrong name… only adding to the ‘lift of the chin’… Oops… Sorry.)

What is exhausting is exposing these things and knowing how much pain people will be forced to deal with. All over the world. And I don’t have connections all over the world for good counsellors who will help. I have excellent contacts close to home, but when I get past Ontario, I am lost. That raw suffering is exhausting, and being the one to open it is also exhausting.

But in that exhaustion, at the end of the service yesterday, God asked me, ”Will you pick someone up and carry them on your back when you have nothing left to give? Will you push forward, when your arms hurt and you’re about to collapse? Will you do the death crawl for someone who can’t carry the weight of their own existence?  How much will you give?”

I was still contemplating that question when my pastor walked over and asked if I would be willing to pray for someone, and then pointed out the person for whom he wanted me to pray. “Sure,” I said, when I felt like saying, “I’m done. I’m ready to collapse. I don’t know what to say.”

I invite you to link arms with me, to stand together against sexual abuse. Even though it is in other cultures too, I write most about the Mennonite culture because it’s the one I come from. The one I know has chosen silence (deliberately by some… even many) for so long, and I am in a place to be able to influence breaking that silence.

I invite you to stand and fight for the freedom of the children, in every culture, especially Christian cultures, and offer hope to the next generation, and all generations to come.

Will you do the death crawl?

© Trudy Metzger

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Worship God With Your Tears

Confronted daily with the harsh reality of the epidemic of sexual abuse, and violence all around, including in Christian cultures, one of my prayers is that I will not become calloused, cynical, or ‘untouchable’ at a heart level. I pray that God will give me a tender heart, that has the capacity to feel for others, while still remaining strong enough to not be overwhelmed or destroyed by pain.

People need to know that we have compassion, but they also need to know that we are not destroyed by their pain, when they share. I try never to react strongly, and never overreact, when confronted with shocking stories. This gives the individual permission to ‘tell all’ and be free, without my emotional responses or reactions.

A victim’s greatest fear, when telling their story, is, “I am too much. My story is too much. No one can handle it. No one can handle me.” That is the last ‘lie’ I want to affirm by my body language, gasps or other ‘horror’ reactions.

But I don’t want to learn how to react to such a degree that I bury all of the emotions that are inevitably touched through people. I fear that could harden my heart.

So sometimes when I debrief with Tim about an abuse case, or the tragic aftermath, I get emotional. Sometimes I cry. Even when I work on writing my book, telling my own story, there are times I cry, even though I’ve worked through it. Tears are good. It doesn’t mean I’m ‘falling apart’, or I’m not coping emotionally or psychologically.

It means I am human and I still have the capacity to feel pain and trauma. When I am faced with the extreme–the things that shock me to the core–I try to find time with God because I trust Him with my emotions, my anger, my grief and my tears.

Last week was one of break through and miracles. But it was also a week of feeling and absorbing more than I usually do, for many reasons. One of the reasons was the conflict between the thrill of seeing miracles of healing in some, and hearing the tragedy of another’s struggle. Another was seeing close up the life and death struggle this becomes at times for people.

Early in the week I spoke on the phone with a woman I had never met, a 41 hour drive away. (That’s assuming I would travel at the speed limit.) And that equates to over 4000 kms. She is going through extreme trauma because of things that happened in her childhood, and ongoing family dynamics that resulted from that. She reached out because she’s struggling to find meaning and purpose through the struggle, even though her life is filled with purpose.

Almost the same distance from this woman, another individual who has suffered recent trauma struggles with finding purpose and hope. Religion–not the good kind–has loaded with guilt, over things they did not choose. Again it has become a life and death struggle. A fight to survive, literally.

Closer to home I met with another woman, old enough to be my mother, and then a bit. A sweet conservative Christian. Her story spilled out. Pain, after pain, after pain. And through that pain shone faith. Solid faith.

In each situation my goal is to really hear their stories, their hearts. Every individual needs to know that their story has value, that they have something to offer not only in spite of the bad things, but even because of the bad things that happened. God redeems and allows people to change the world because of bad things that have happened. But most of all my goal is to help every individual discover their worth, their value, their purpose in the eyes of God, as we work through their experiences.

One of the things I strongly encourage is to simply release the tears that have been trapped, often since childhood, or since some traumatic event. But don’t stay there, learn to worship God with your tears. Don’t just cry. Cry out to God. Cry on His shoulder, His chest. Listen to His heartbeat in that place of trauma and grief, and you will hear that it beats for you.

Then ask Him to take your pain, to suffer with you, to hold you. Be like King David. Rant if you must. Rage if it makes you feel better. But always remember that God is on your side. He is your friend, not your enemy. He does not cause or create these painful experiences. Sin does that. The sin others choose when they victimize you.

See God as He is, and you will see yourself differently. You will see value, purpose, beauty and hope. You will see yourself as having value.

 

Share your pain and tears with Him, in worship and trust, and you will be transformed through His love. You will see things differently, little by little. He will unravel the lies of life experience and show you things as you have never seen them before.

This week I spoke with one individual who struggles with suicidal thoughts. I was connected a few days later, through an online friend, with another woman who struggles. We hear it in the news all the time, but that contact makes it personal.

There is a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of disappointment in our Christian communities, just like the rest of the world. We cannot turn a blind eye and claim to be the body of Christ. Jesus Christ has eyes. To be His body, we have to see, hear, feel and touch.

And to work in this pain effectively, my heart must remain tender and  not become calloused. And that also requires feeling. So I choose to feel. I choose to grieve. To be touched by pain.

I will continue to weep shamelessly for our churches, our communities, our nation, and the nations around. I will continue to weep for you, if this is your story. So when you see me cry, I’m not ‘losing it’. I’m not overwhelmed. I’m simply trusting God to carry what I cannot. I will worship God with my tears.

© Trudy Metzger

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