Fig Leaf Malfunctions & Overcoming Shame

Shame, I’ve concluded, is largely a choice… though most of us don’t know that in times when that knowledge is most critical. This is true in the ‘big and tragic‘ things of life, and in the ‘Oops! My button just popped open in the most inconvenient place, with my hands full things. But it took the latter to convince me–the oops moments–to convince me of the former.

I have a history of inopportune ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ to draw from, with the most recent being today…

fig leaves and apple

It’s that moment when you look down, and see that, not one, but two, buttons have popped open in most inconvenient places… moments after having cheerfully greeted a Mennonite couple, who look vaguely familiar… (And, no, the shirt is not tight! the buttons have issues!)… and you are surrounded by people, with your hands full… you turn to hide, only to find that a gentleman stands directly in front of you, looking at you with a warped blend of amusement and compassionate… he holds it together for a moment, eyes twinkling, but ends up breaking into a huge grin, and then a little chuckle, as I scramble–awkwardly holding my purchases–to redeem whatever dignity I think I just lost… I determine, immediately, that I will not be ashamed of that which I cannot control and did not choose, and grin right along with him, lift my head up confidently and carry on… And in that moment I’m relieved it wasn’t Anderson Cooper standing before me, as he would undoubtedly break out into uncontrolled and never-ending girlish giggles… (And, yes, I did think of him after the moment passed)

There are a few things I know, and these are the things I hold onto in a moment such as this, or the more serious ones, so that they don’t define me, or bring shame on me. Whether a clothing dilemma, or an attack from some hurting soul, or the anger of someone who feels exposed by my ministry, the same holds true in every part of my life; I lean on what I know to be truth. There is power in what you know to be true, and if you ‘know‘ who you are, as a child of God, and if you ‘know‘ that your heart intent is to heal and give ‘life’ to those around you, and if you remember that you are human, then shame has little access to your heart and mind.

Jesus said, “the truth will make you free”, and I believe this to be a fact in every part of life. We think of this in terms of being ‘set free’, because His words are often misquoted this way, but the truth is He makes us free. His freedom doesn’t require an adjustment in circumstance; it requires an adjustment of thoughts and belief systems, so that we are free in any circumstance. (This doesn’t mean we should never change or leave particular circumstance; it means we are free in spite of them, and that may be the very thing that sets change in motion.)

Not that many years ago, had my shirt popped open, exposing cleavage even the boldest of women might cringe at, I would have fled the store (possibly in tears, but certainly flushed and flustered) and it would have toyed in my head for days. The thoughts would have tormented me and made me anxious, but today, while I would have not chosen it and preferred to keep my clothes in tact (and thereby my dignity), it had no power over me.

More importantly, the past with all its shame has no power. Coincidentally, about fifteen minutes earlier I had dropped a book off for a woman in town, who wanted a second copy for her daughter. A woman nearing seventy, she didn’t hide her shock and horror at what my life had been, focusing on my teen years of rebellion and sin. “You were a bad girl!” she said, “But praise God, not any more!”

Yes, praise God, not anymore! I agreed with her, and laughed at the wonder of grace and freedom.

It is not my identity–these ‘holes’ I once had torn in the fabric of my spirit, by the choices I made. And though they were there, and I know it well and have chosen to tell them publicly, I am so thankful that the past isn’t my identity. Jesus’ righteousness has covered that nakedness, like a blanket of love, covering my shame.

If you walk in shame, I encourage you to find a new identity. Release the things that once held you bound, and walk in the confidence of who you are in Christ, who you are to God. And laugh, now and then, at your humanity, and the things you cannot control or change. It takes the power out of them.

Now… having said all that, I still really hope my buttons were closed when I did my banking at MSCU here in Elmira… ever so confidently… I can only hope…

Love

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

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These Old Reels, Just Keep on Playing…

When it comes to memories of sexual abuse, or even of the wrong choices I made in my teen years, they are all but history, in the sense of replaying in my mind. Whether through guilt, through shame, or through regret, or even through nightmares, it seldom happens now.

The emotional flashbacks of the trauma of sexual abuse are even more rare, and, when they do happen, they no longer have the power over me that they once held. They are brief, recognizable and ‘manageable’. Because I am able to identify my feelings, I am no longer victimized by the memories.

The memories of violence are still more powerful. There are times, if I have been with my family, and witnessed an ‘episode’, no matter how small, that I have a ‘recovery period’, during which I feel more depressed and melancholy. A time where the past lurks, just below the surface, as if waiting to reach up and strangle me, in a vulnerable moment, and squeeze the life out of me.

What I want to share in this post, is some practical ways to overcome the oppressive memories, the voices, and the trauma. It is a process I continue to go through with the violence of my childhood, so I’m preaching to the choir here. In many ways I draw from my experience of overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse, to overcome the violence.

Some of what I suggest is counter intuitive, and requires deliberate action that is in direct conflict with what we feel. When Paul says we are to ‘take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’, these actions are what have worked, and continue to work, for me…. when I do them. (Admittedly, there are times I surrender to the darkness, and I’m too stubborn to take my own advice.)

The first life-changing bit of advice I have to offer, I learned from an evangelist at Countryside Mennonite Fellowship. When an attack comes, praise God. It takes the power away from the enemy’s intent, when he brings an accusation, a traumatic memory, or any guilt trip.

The reason that praise disempowers the enemy is found in Psalm 22:3. It tells us here that God dwells in the praises of His people. Different versions use different words, such as, enthroned, or inhabits, but they all mean pretty much the same thing. My favourite, when I think below the surface, is ‘enthroned’. God is lifted up. He is glorified. He is given authority through praise.

Now let’s go back to the dark memories, the trauma, and the accusations and guilt. If the enemy’s attacks inspire us to praise God, it accomplishes everything he hates. It takes away his power. How long will he hang around and torment us, just to hear us praise Jesus? Just to watch us give God the glory for victory? Not that long.

The other part of that is that God doesn’t share space. He does not cohabitate with the enemy. Pure evil cannot stand in the presence of pure good, pure truth,  and pure holiness. One has to go, and as long as God is enthroned, or ‘given power’, He won’t be the one ‘out’. He never leaves, never forsakes us. We choose to whom we give the power, the ‘voice’ in our lives.

That praise, in the middle of trauma, can be something as simple as our tears, turned heavenward, in a cry for help, for redemption. It can be a very broken praise, that comes in the form of sharing our deepest pain and fear with God. It can be a prayer. Or a song. Maybe a whisper that says, “I’m confused. I don’t understand. I’m hurting. I feel I cannot make it…. But I know that You are my God, and I love you. Where I don’t know how to trust you, teach me to know you as my Papa. Where I struggle with unbelief, help me believe.”

In the very act of crying out to God, in fear, in anxiety, in doubt, we worship Him. We say, “I trust You”, when we give God our emotions, all tangled.

The second life-changing bit of advice is: Declare truth over the lies. If the enemy tells you that you are worthless, tell him, “God died to save me. God. The Creator of the universe. The Highest Being. He died for me. He saw value in me. I have worth.”

If you hear voices in your head telling you that you will never make it, your life is worthless, or you’ll not amount to anything. Don’t take it lying down. Remind the enemy that God has a good plan for your life. That the very thing he keeps tossing at you, God will use to launch you into your purpose. Praise God, and don’t surrender.

Whatever darkness comes your way, worship God, and give Him praise for the redemption that is yet to come. If you find it impossible to see the redemption, praise God. Let faith be your certainty. Redemption that you see and feel, requires no faith at all. What we cannot see, you can accept as reality, because God is good. And if in that place of uncertainty, you choose to praise God, the enemy loses power.

Little by little, the truth sinks in, and we stop believing the lies. The darkness loses its power, and the past loses its grip. Little be little, the freedom Jesus offers us instantly, becomes our experiential reality.

We remain victims only as long as we give the past power. Working through the trauma takes time, but while we work through it we don’t have to remain victims. We have been given the right to be free, as the children of God.

The old reels just keep on playing… until that moment when they lose the source of power. When you find the source of power, and you invite Jesus to unplug it, they stop, one by one.

© Trudy Metzger

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It’s Not Your Fault: False Guilt in Male Victims

Much of what I wrote in my previous blog, What if My Husband Was Abused? is not unique to abused men, though parts are. Other men face some of the same struggles, but for different reasons. Sexual abuse changes the dynamics of struggles familiar to others, giving them more power, and making the victim feel more helpless and vulnerable. False guilt has a way of doing that.

My prayer is that with time, I will find a team of men who are willing to share their stories, whether anonymously, or as named guest bloggers. There are dynamics that I cannot speak to or express well, simply because I am a female and we process things differently.

(Gentlemen, if you have a story of overcoming abuse, and you are willing to work with me on it, please visit the ‘Contact Us’  page, and send me a message. If you’re not a great writer, don’t let that stop you. I would be happy to work with you.)

I think it would be beneficial, not only to other men struggling with the aftermath of abuse–whether through low self-esteem, sexual addictions, or depression, to name only a few things–but it would also help women to better understand men who have been abused.

While I cannot speak to many aspects of male victimization, there are some practical things I want to share, based on what my male friends, who have been victimized, have shared with me. Because one of the struggles, as I mentioned yesterday, is feeling somehow at fault, that is the first thing I want to talk about.

When Is The Victim Responsible for the Victimization?

“Well… that’s a dumb question… isn’t it?” you say. And I agree.

And, yet, what I see and hear, tells me that some people believe it is valid, not as a question, but as a statement. Some say that there are times when it is the victim’s fault.

For you who were victims of childhood abuse, the most important thing for you to know, is that it is not your fault. You did not ask for it. You did nothing to deserve it. You were innocent. The fact that you are male, and strong, does not make you responsible. To illustrate how foolish it is for people to blame the victim, I will share what I encounter, when meeting with victims in Christian settings.

I have had victims tell me that their church asked them to go back and ask perpetrators for forgiveness. Just heard it again this week. A victim does not ever need to say, “I am sorry, ” to the perpetrator, or to anyone else. It is ignorant beyond words, at best, and corrupt to the core, at worst, to ask such a thing.

It’s like tracking down a burglar and apologizing that he committed the crime and robbed you. Who would ask that of anyone? How much less appropriate, when the very heart of a child is destroyed? Much more is stolen in childhood sexual abuse than any burglary.

I have also spoken to several individuals, who attended private school, and when the perpetrator was caught violating them, the victims was also whipped, along with the instigator. The reality is that neither one should have been whipped. They should have been taught.

Someone should have been there, and explored why the older child did it in the first place, and the younger child should have been comforted. But religion is harsh. And it is yet more harsh when the person in charge has hidden sin.

It is easy to see, in these extreme examples, that there is no justice in blaming the victim. This tells me that we know it in our heads, and yet the most common thing I work through with victims, is accepting that they are not at fault. This is true for men and women, but much stronger in men. What I write applies to women, but for today, I’m writing predominantly to men.

If you were seduced, manipulated, forced or coerced into sexual relationship by an older child, it is not your fault. And if that relationship continued for years, and you struggle with believing it became mutual consent, and therefore the perpetrator is not really in the wrong, let the guilt go. It is not your fault. In cases of ongoing abuse it is the hardest for victims to say, “It’s not my fault.”

If a father rapes a son or daughter, starting at age 4, and if that abuse continues to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…. twenty-one… At no point does the victim truly become ‘guilty’? Never.

Ignorance, power and fear often keep children victimized to their parents for years. The same is true with victims outside of the home. The brainwashing, and sometimes threats, prevent the victim from understanding that this is not normal, and they have the right to speak up. This is especially true if there is no healthy ‘sex-ed’ in private schools or home-schooled children, where parents are not teaching healthy, biblical sexuality.

One victim tells of going off to college, after being home-schooled all the way from kindergarten through high school, and having been very secluded those years, with parents controlling all books and information. Only then, far from home, and being taught the truth, did the lights go on that it is not normal for parents to ‘teach’ their children about sex through ‘hands on’ learning. The victim saw to it that all younger siblings were immediately removed from their home. It horrifies me that this took place in a conservative Christian environment, in my lifetime, minutes from my home.

All of us would agree, I hope, that this victim was not at fault. And yet, there are times we judge quickly the person who is victimized by someone several years older, or even a peer, who then remains trapped in that relationship for years. There are many things that keep victims trapped in the abusive relationship, not the least of which are fear and shame, and to judge the victim  is not helpful.

Even if you were victimized by someone younger than you, and this does happen, though I’ve only run into it a few times, know that it is not your fault. The younger person who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, or more influential, has the potential to use that against someone older. Though younger, they are responsible for the abuse.

Where victims become perpetrators, and begin to victimize others, they need to take ownership. But never does the victim become responsible for the ongoing abuse imposed on him.

We, as humans, were created for pure and unbroken relationship with God. We can’t handle guilt. It destroys us, makes us physically sick. Guilt and shame, when it’s the result of our choices, make us run and hide, just as Adam and Eve did. But there is freedom in taking ownership.

But with false guilt, there is no freedom as long as we hold on to it and accept that blame. We cannot repent, we did not sin. We cannot mend our ways and correct it, we were overpowered. All the while the false guilt sucks the life and hope out of our spirits, condemning our minds, haunting us… over… and over… and over again.

Release the child within you, from that dreadful burden of guilt and shame. He does not need the burden any more. He was not strong enough to prevent victimization, and he is not strong enough to carry the false sense of guilt and shame. Set that child free, and let God hold and comfort him.

Let the little boy grieve, possibly for the first time, how much was stolen from him, from his confidence, his manhood. And invite Jesus to heal and restore the broken places. He can. He will. If you let Him.

If I, as the mother of three young boys, am a good enough parent to know that my sons would not be at fault if this happened to them, how much more is God that kind of Father? He is a better Papa, than I will ever be as a mother. He loves you. He understands your struggle.

Jesus hung on a cross–God in the flesh–not as we portray Him in our modest culture-friendly art, with at least a bit of dignity. In reality, He was stripped of everything. Naked. Exposed. Violated. Abused. Shamed. Mocked. And He died that way, in the public eye, a spectacle for all to see. His body, and it’s natural responses through death, was there for the world to watch. I’ve worked with the dying. I know what happens. Jesus understood abuse. He was strong enough to pull himself from that cross, but He stayed.

Was Jesus still a victim, even though He was strong enough to leave the cross? Again the answer is easy.

Jesus understands your pain. Lay that burden down, my friend. You are free. Say it until you know it, and believe it with your innermost part. And when the voices of shame haunt, say it again, “I am free. It was not my fault.” And never stop saying it, for the rest of your life.

© Trudy Metzger

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Will You Forgive Me?: Forgiving, Releasing and Blessing My Father

“What do you have there?” Dad eyed my Tim Horton’s cup suspiciously.

“Iced Cappuccino,” I said.

“What kind of drink is that?” he asked.

“It’s a slushy frozen coffee,” I said, knowing that ‘frozen’ and ‘coffee’ would not work well in a sentence, for Dad.

Dad furrowed his brows. “Cold coffee?” He was clearly unimpressed. “That doesn’t sound like it would taste very good!”

I laughed. “It does if you like it.” I was talking to a man who only drank piping hot instant coffee. The kettle had to be boiling when the coffee was poured, and if he didn’t have to pour it into a saucer to sip it, it wasn’t hot enough.

I offered to bring him one to try on my next visit, but he declined. “I don’t think I would like cold coffee.” When I offered a regular coffee, he said the nurses served coffee with his breakfast each morning, and that was enough.

It was chitchat about family and health for a while Life stuff. And then we got onto deeper talks… God…  faith… religion… And finally we talked about our home. About his rage. About what life had been back then, in those broken years at home, when I was still a child.

Dad’s eyes filled with tears. “Trudy, will you forgive me for all the ways I sinned against you?” he asked.

I looked at him, now an old man… empty, broken and weak, and my heart felt sad for him. Sad for the years he had lost. Yes, I carried scars but my life was full. His life was empty. Many of his relationships with his children were strained. Distant.

But I saw something deeper. His eyes had softened. His spirit mellowed. He was no longer invincible. No longer defensive. Whatever wrongs he had committed, he could only reach for grace and forgiveness.

“Dad, I forgave you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”

He wept. I reached over. Touched his hand. He had been so strong. His giant hands had felt like steel, back then. Frightening hands that triggered fear if ever he clenched his fist, or raised his hand to strike.

I had stood face to face, practically nose to nose with him at eighteen, in defence of my little brothers. He had drawn a fist then, preparing to punch me. I had leaned in a little closer then, and calmly defended them, keeping eye contact.

He had lowered his fist then, and mumbled something before walking out the door. At which point my body started to tremble, only then realizing what I had done.

Now, sitting beside him in the hospital, I knew the time was short. How short, I wasn’t certain. But it was short. His hands looked weak, and worn. Even in my pregnant state I would have far more strength than he. How times had changed.

There was deep emotion. Grief. Sorrow. Loss. But accompanying those emotions was something I had not seen in years gone by.

“I am so thankful God has had mercy on me in my old age,” Dad said. He told me how he had finally learned that it is through grace that we are saved. That it is a gift he could never earn. One he did not deserve. His pride and strength were shattered. He had only grace to fall back on. And in that failing health, in his weakness, he had the humility to say, “I was wrong. I sinned.”

Although I chose to forgive my father when first I started to work through abuse, it was a wonderful and freeing thing, to have him ask for forgiveness. And while my freedom didn’t depend on it, that confession was a gift that I treasure.

© Trudy Metzger

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Sexual Abuse & Violence: This is My Story

Before I tackle how I taught my children about healthy sexuality, I will write about what and how I learned. My frame of reference in childhood was warped, and that is where I will begin.

In childhood no one talked to me about my body. All I knew then was based on what happened to me, and what I witnessed around me.  Both were damaging, though what I witnessed was probably more traumatic than what was done, or what I recall was done.

Many personal experience memories are still vague, while others have come back in vivid colour over the past fifteen to twenty years. To repeat them in graphic detail would be inappropriate and unproductive, but to be silent and avoid truth is no better, so I will be honest, but gentle and discreet.

I was born in La Batea, Zacatecas, Mexico, into a large Mennonite family. My family background was Old Colony Mennonite, also known as Russian Mennonites or Mexican Mennonites. When I was nine months old we moved to Chihuahua and started attending the ‘Kleine Gemeinde’, or ‘Small Congregation’ church, a more evangelical group that had split off of the more conservative group.

Memories of attending church are virtually non-existent, though I am told we attended regularly. The little I do recall of times at church, are pleasant and ‘happy’ memories.

At home things were very different. My father was a violent man, driven to succeed, but always falling short. A dreamer with big ideas, but no resources or focus to carry them out, he lived life on a short fuse.

Having more than a dozen children—sixteen by the time all was said and done—he was under a lot of financial pressure. Added to this was his own painful childhood, which he did not tell me much about until I was twenty-one. As if that wasn’t enough dysfunction, my father also sexually abused some of his daughters, myself included, to one degree or another, as well as at least one other cousin.

How much his rage was because of the past, and how much it was his own guilt, we will never know, but our childhood was riddled with death threats, violence and constant terror. Our home was not safe, in any way, and at a very young age I learned to ‘live in a bubble’, so to speak. It is difficult to explain but there is a mental/psychological ‘disconnect’ that happens when life is that harsh.

While my memories of sexual abuse are few and far between, memories of what I observed are much more graphic. Most of our family had been sexually abused by someone, whether uncles and aunts, a parent, or neighbours, and that resulted in serious sexual dysfunction between siblings in various degrees of incest and inappropriate behaviours. Where this impacted my life, I have freely forgiven and released siblings. We were children with a frame of reference so vile, so harsh, that this was all ‘normal’.

One of the most painful realities of sexual abuse is that children learn destructive behaviours and perceive them to be ‘normal’. But, because the topic is often not spoken of, other than a scolding or beating if caught, there is a sense of secrecy that leads children to believe that it is normal private behaviour, it is getting caught that is the problem. Especially since the adults who punish children, beating them to within an inch of their life, are often the perpetrators in the lives of those very children. And, when caught in the act, it didn’t matter if the child was the instigator or the victim. The punishment was severe either way.

That was the case in our home, and in many homes within the Old Colony culture and those who had broken away from that culture. How the sexual abuse and perversion took such deep root, I do not know, but it was rampant then, and in many communities it has not improved.

The hardest part in healing has been remembering, usually against my will, the horrific sexual abuse I witnessed as I saw groups of older teens use and abuse little children. On at least one occasion I followed a group of teens as they led some of my older siblings to a ‘secret place’ where I witnessed horrible things. For many years I questioned whether I had imagined it, dreamed it out of thin air, but this year I had the courage to ask several siblings.

Instantly, when I mentioned the ‘secret location’, the one sibling gasped, and before I could even describe what I thought I remembered, he repeated in graphic detail a vision that had haunted me for almost forty years. He had completely blocked it until I mentioned the place. We believe I was three years old when I witnessed this, or four at the most, since that family moved away from the community at that time.

With this as my framework for understanding sexuality, I was destined for pain and tragedy. The events that took place in the first few years of my life, brought deep shame on me, and set me up for further victimization later.

All of these things triggered nightmares and confusion. Eventually, when I could take it no more, I blocked those years completely so that I would not remember the details again until many years later.

The year I turned six, we moved to Canada…. A new world… a new future… a better life.

…To Be Continued….

© Trudy Metzger

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Stand Up and Fight, One More Time

Tears started, as I read the email a second time. It wasn’t the first time I had received a message like it, nor would it likely be my last. And, while every story is unique and deserves personal attention and response, the reality is that many of our stories are similar in nature. The content was not new, or shocking. But this time it had a different impact on me.

The message was from an out-of-province pastor, writing to share his story. When he was a young teen, he had spent quite a bit of time with a young girl, alone. One thing led to another and he ended up abusing her. Now, as a middle-aged pastor, he struggled with finding peace. He had done all the right things, had confessed, taken ownership, but still it haunted him. Was there more he could do, or should do.

In a Christian world, where silence reigns on the topic of sexual abuse, he had carried this secret for nearly forty years. Other than his wife, and the victim, I was the first person to hear his story, as he searched desperately for freedom from the power the memory had over him.

The message at a time when I felt particularly lonely in ministry, and the magnitude of the battle against sexual abuse and silence hit me. I fell to my knees beside my bed and wept. For a long time I stayed there, in wordless prayer.

When the words finally came, all that spilled out was, “God, I can’t do this alone anymore. I can’t do this alone.” My heart cried out to God for courage, for boldness, for others to stand with me, to fight with me, so I would not feel so alone.

I felt weak. Who am I, that I should fight these demons and monsters, when the church itself, and its leaders hide in shame? My glaring weaknesses stared me in the face, my perceived ones taunted me. Everything in me wanted to run, to close my eyes, to pretend I ‘see no evil, hear no evil, know no evil’. But I know it well, and I’ve proclaimed that awareness publicly. To retreat into pretense was not an option and to abandon the call to ministry, no more so, but the temptation lingered.

Several days went by. The battle continued, as my feelings of inadequacy tormented me. Being results oriented, it takes a lot of patience to ‘take on the world’, one person at a time, and try to make an impact for good. When I lose focus, when I shift from facing the current battle with God, to trying to determine the bigger picture, I can become overwhelmed. When I lose sight of the fact that God has called me, and begin to reach for humans to fill that place, I get lonely when humans are not there, and discouraged because the battle is too big. And that is just what had happened.

It was the first time in many years of hearing people’s stories, or reading them, that I felt completely overwhelmed, and I found myself questioning whether I had it in me… Was this really my purpose, my calling?  In that place of questioning God met me, through a song.

As I searched YouTube for ‘Healing Rain’ by Michael W. Smith, I saw a title I had not previously seen. ‘One More Time’. I opened the link. In the words I felt God speak to my fears, my inadequacies, as He reminded me that it is in believing, it is in faith, that we accomplish His plans and purposes. It is not so important that people agree with me, walk with me, or believe in me. It is critical that I am aware that ‘heaven’ walks beside me, and that I am willing always to give it one more try, even when I feel as though I wander through a spiritual minefield.

“This is what you’re made for, standing in the downpour, knowing that the sun will shine…. one more time…” Michael W. Smith, One More Time

Though time has passed since that battle, I don’t regret having experienced it. I needed to come to that place of feeling like it was only God and I doing ‘hands on’ battle, and that was enough.

While I continue to long for ‘like-minded’ spiritual warriors, who will rise up, and take a stand against abuse of every kind, it is enough for me to know that God has called me, that He is on my side.

That in mind, I begin the difficult task of writing about sexual abuse and violence in Christian cultures, for my upcoming blog posts, knowing that God has called me.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

When I Feel Lost… He is My Everything

Society, culture and the church, maybe especially the church, have made it taboo for us to admit or talk about depression, in its various forms.

Sometimes nature is God’s way of saying, “I’m here. You’re going to be ok.”

As always, silence is the monster that stands guard and prevents us from revealing the truth, and fear is the fodder that feeds the monster. It prevents us from shedding light on that truth, by sharing our struggles without shame, and bringing hope to those trapped and alone.

We fear that, if we expose what really happens in our minds—whether past or present—and share the spiritual battles we face, we will be judged, rejected and labeled. The fears are valid. Odds are some will do this to us.

For this reason I have spent many years silently fighting through bouts of depression, willing myself not to see that I struggled. I thought if I could pretend it wasn’t there, then it would go away. But it didn’t.

In my early years as a wife and mom, post-partum depression had a terrible impact on our family. The first few years I did my best to hide it completely from Tim. With time I allowed him small glimpses, but never fully opened up to him for the first seven years. It was a dark, lonely road.

Some of my children remember, vaguely, who I was then, and what life was like. Trapped in a mind that was unwell, I withdrew into myself. I tried to be a good mom, the best that I could be, and sometimes I did well for a time. But when ‘real life’ would take over, I became overwhelmed, and every little thing sent me into a temper, or caused me to withdraw in silent depression.

This cycle brings shame, defeat, and more depression. That is, until we find the root of it. My ‘depression’ is never true, clinical depression, but rather a spiritual depression. And, without fail, the root for me is a false belief about God. And that belief inevitably leads to a false belief about myself. I am created to reflect God, and if my perception of Him is off, my representation of Him will also be off. Most likely, if my perception of Him is not right, then I will lose trust and instinctively I turn to trusting myself more than God.

I am not unlike Jonah, running furiously in the wrong direction because I don’t like what God is telling me to do, knowing it will cost me. Or Elijah, camping out under a Juniper, running from death, all the while asking God to take his life so the enemy won’t kill him. Our thirst for control lands us in some dark places, just as it did the great prophets of old. Still, God uses us. He has a purpose.

As I think of it, I am very much like them. Except they didn’t hide their struggle like I do. Like our culture has trained us to do. They wore their anger and depression on their sleeves, not hiding the truth from God or man.

We would do ourselves huge favours to live more like them. No pretentiousness. If we would stop feeding the monster of silence through our fears, we would be more free.

And the wailing wall. I like that too. It is another thing we could use. Imagine us all, lined up at the wailing wall to mourn loudly. They even had professional wailers. I could do that, I think. Once I got past my pride and concern about image. I could stand at the wall and wail for others, all the while venting my own feelings.

How have we become so dignified that we must pretend? Why can’t we just be honest and say, much like King David, “Life is horrible. Everything is going wrong. My enemies are prospering… When, O God, will you come through for me?” And then, in true King David style, we could humble our hearts and say, “But you are my God, and I love you. I know you have my back and I have nothing to fear!”

Just imagining such freedom brings me joy. If I could speak my heart, without people flinching, that would make me feel safe. If I could look you in the eye and tell you, honestly, how I feel, with no fear of judgement or rejection, then my hear t would feel at home. So that is just what I will do. Except for the looking you in the eye part.

In the past little while this spiritual depression has begun again. As a result, I have become more introspective. Reflecting on the things of God and the things of my heart a bit more intently,because they are so intertwined, not only with each other, but with my core identity.

When things are not right with God, I feel lost. And then all is amiss. In Him I find the answer to my need, even while all else is not right. He is the breath I breathe and the life I pour it. He is my everything.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

The Wastelands of My Heart

What if I was created with no purpose at all? The thought latches on to my spirit, like a leech. I feel my heart , suffocating. My soul cringes. What if Solomon was right? What if life is meaningless existence, with no new thing under the sun? What if nothing really matters, when it’s all said and done?

Empty… Hopeless… Defeated

Today I invite you into the secret place of my heart, a place where swords swing and dust flies, as wars rage between the life I was created for, and the lies of the enemy. It is a place I prefer to hide from the public, wishing rather to focus on the positive, bright side of life.

 

This is not because I want to deny the hard or negative thoughts, but because I don’t want to give power to the negative. The things we focus on most, have greatest influence over us, and shape us. (Proverbs 23:7Luke 6:45) The things we speak out, are the things we give power to. The things we dwell on, most profoundly impact the state of our mind, our spiritual health and life in general. If I am going to speak words, or write them, I want them always to bring life and hope, not darkness.

Sometimes, however, we have to share the darkness, in order to point another, who is still caught in it, toward the light. That is my hope in writing this.

The darkness I write about is a very real part of my life, and has been since early childhood. I share it to encourage those of you who struggle with feelings of defeat, worthlessness, and discouragement or depression. I want to encourage you not to surrender to these lies. I too, battle depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and the fear that I am destined for failure. These feelings are real, but they only have the authority we give them.

People see me, outgoing, confident, and fun-loving. And I am. In a way. But, if you could look inside my thoughts, you would find a raging battle, many a day. You would see this does not come without determination, faith and choice. The reality is that I have spent my entire life fighting negative voices, negative thoughts, and negative feelings.

In almost everything I do, whether ministry, or other work, these demons confront me, warning me that nothing I do will ever matter, scolding me for believing I could make the smallest impact in anyone’s life, let alone in this world.

As the voices grow louder, I see myself again as the toddler, with vacant eyes, in a violent home in Mexico, hiding behind a wood stove, peeking out to see if my world is safe. Like I did then, I try to close out the voices, but they’re too loud.

I am again an 11-year-old, down on my knees, asking God to spare my life and that of my family. But this time it is not physical life I’m asking Him to protect. It’s the fire that burns in my heart, the passion, the will to live with purpose and meaning. Everything in me wants to retreat in fear, to hide, to withdraw. I want to withhold my heart from even those closest to me, to surrender to the voices. It would be easier. If I would withdraw from the enemy lines, maybe the accusing voices would stop and the dark feelings disappear….

It is as though I wander, in the wastelands of my heart, looking for an oasis, a place to be filled, something to give me a sense of purpose and meaning. I want my life to matter. I want to help people, to bring life to others, but for all my effort, it feels futile, at times. Especially when I fail, and it feels like the dark side is winning.

How can I give if I myself am empty? What have I to offer, if I fight the same demons, the same darkness and the same fears?

It is so easy to reach for people to validate me. Or for ‘success’—by this world’s standards—and success evades me, mocking me. Like the annoying schoolmate who would run around the corner, poke his head back around and blow a raspberry, it taunts, daring me to pursue, but already declaring me the loser.

Sometimes I’m drawn into the game of proving myself to those around me.  The deeper I’m sucked into that vortex, the stronger the negative voices grow, as they pull me toward the ‘black hole’ of depression and defeat.

For almost nineteen years, my husband, Tim, has watched at close range, as I fight this battle. He has entered in, prayed, loved and supported me. But, at the end of the day, it is my battle to fight. No one can make choices for me.

So what is the secret? First, I shift my focus from self, to God and people. Negative feelings that take root are the result of unhealthy self-focus. Rather than producing positive change, these negative thoughts consume you and suck you into lies they tell. Secondly, I choose to move forward in faith, even while my feelings continue to lie to me.

Isaiah 35 speaks prophetically of the life and the hope that Jesus will bring, and  verse 6 says: ‘…waters will burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert….’

There is no wilderness, no desert, no wasteland more dry and hopeless than a mind consumed with negative thoughts. When Jesus enters this wasteland, and defines who I really am, defines my success and my purpose, the negative thoughts lose their power.

When negative thoughts bombard you, and the enemy tells you that you will never succeed, that you will never amount to anything, don’t take it lying down.

Invite Jesus into the wastelands of your heart and a stream will begin to flow, bringing life to the desert places. Know the truth that you are His, you are loved and valued, and the power of the lie is broken.

© Trudy Metzger 2012