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.

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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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A Week in the Life of… And the Things Humans Say…

What a week! I intentionally scheduled very little for Easter Monday, knowing that my children would be off school. And it was a good thing, since I ended up running a fever, and fighting a cold-flu bug. The rest of the week was filled with appointments, so I took it easy that day, doing little more than feeding my family and answering the phone.

Calls came in steady, asking about the conference, especially from the Old Order community, telling me they would like to come, and they’re hoping many of their community and surrounding Mennonite communities join in. It’s time for the silence to shatter. One of the leaders even called to ask questions, and told me he knows I am working with a client from his congregation. “Be encouraged,” he said, “you’re making a difference.”

Another woman called to to chat and share her heart, and talk about the passion she has for helping the local Mennonite community. We talked for almost two hours, and were encouraged by each other. It’s the beginning of a friendship.

Monday ended on somewhat of a calm note for me. After meeting with one client in the evening, I relaxed in my recliner. I had only a low-grade fever but otherwise felt quite well. A good night’s rest and I would be set to go for a busy few days…

On Tuesday I met a friend for coffee. We touch base once a year, or so, getting caught up on what’s happening in each other’s families, their businesses, and our ministry.

Immediately after coffee, I met with a client at a local church that has graciously allowed me to use their space, from time to time, for this purpose. And from that moment life became a whirlwind.

I learned that my client, a young woman in her twenties, the mother of two children, had attempted suicide the night before. She has battled through this before, but this time she lost hope, and acted spontaneously. Thank God that He spared her life! It took a while for me to absorb the reality, and I didn’t really until the day after. We spent our session talking, or just sitting quietly when words failed, and other times simply praying. At one point she fell to the floor, weeping in agony, and all I could do was pray quietly, and let my own tears fall.

I had another meeting scheduled, so I left for a time, and then returned later to meet with her and several other individuals, in an effort to bring safety, support and stability to her world. And, to an extent, we did. We talked, sometimes cried, and then prayed. At the end of our session as I prepared to leave, one of the individuals looked out the window and saw a heart-shaped cloud.

from phone April 2013 113

The last client I met that day, comes from the Old Order church, and I meet with a ‘team of two’ each time. We spent some time talking through ‘the stuff of life’ and current struggles, and I learned that someone had spoken harshly, and shut down their very spirit and heart. I went back to the deep identity we are given in God, and the position of authority we are given through Jesus, and affirmed them.

After I made sure my client was grounded and doing well, I returned home. I had walked out the door just after 8:30am and returned just after 10:30pm, exhausted, but fulfilled. Seldom are days that packed.

On Wednesday morning I received a call from another local newspaper, wondering if they could do a story, and would I meet so they could take my photo? Why not? It’s good advertising–the story that is–and the picture will help people identify me and hopefully create a connection when we meet in the grocery store.

The reporter asked me to bring any books I use in mentoring my clients. I told her I use only my Bible and conversation to help people, though I have several books I recommend they read. She asked if I would bring only my Bible then.

At noon I met the pleasant young reporter. I took my new Bible, since giving my other one to Abigail. The reporter took a half dozen pictures, and it was all over. Funny how it all worked out, because the rest of my week was jam-packed–except Friday, which was too late–and that short stretch was all the free time I had, just when she needed me.

I met with another client who is in a very difficult place. We worked through some things, but a heaviness and a sadness hung over her, making it hard to end the session. But commitments must be kept, and I cannot be a god to anyone, so I had to release her even when it was the hardest  thing in the world to do.

With a burdened heart I drove off for the evening…

I met Juanita, my super-sweet friend, with whom I go visit Aylmer Amish country from time to time. It was a refreshing conclusion to a busy two days. I love the Amish cooking, the sweet, beautiful kids, and the earthy feel of unadulterated country living. The Wagler families, and their friends, are kind and welcoming. (I think we need to create an ‘Amish Experience’ retreat centre.)

I had left my phone in the car earlier, and by the time I returned at the end of our visit, to head home, I had numerous messages. Two stood out in particular, in stark contrast to each other, each leaving a powerful impact.

The first was a message from a young woman who identified herself as a former classmate of one of our daughters. She shared some of her struggles, but more than that she thanked me for being a voice of hope… a light in her world. It was an honour to hear from someone so young, and an encouragement to discover that God is bringing hope to her through the blog. She specifically mentioned Abigail’s story, and how much it has helped her.

The other message was disheartening. Many of the people I work with have suffered much abuse–emotional, physical, sexual, and sometimes even spiritual–and therefore many of them struggle with depression, suicidal tendencies and cutting. Percentage wise it is probably over sixty percent that deal with some form or self harm or suicidal ideation. Most of them are Christians who desperately want to be free, and are slowly gaining the tools to overcome. One truth at a time they discover their true worth, their God-given identity, and with that they overcome the lies.

It takes little to be the undoing of that truth, early on, when clients are still vulnerable and weak. And that is just what the second message was about. One of my clients had received yet another message laced with guilt-tripping, and reminding her, harshly, that her struggle was a slap in God’s face after all He had done for her.

I felt sick. Physically. I didn’t question the intent, but I knew it had the potential to push my client to a place of darkness and struggle against suicide. It is so counter-productive, and find myself constantly undoing the damage of words spoken. It feels at times like a step forward and a dozen backward, all because of words spoken when clients are too week to handle them, or to process them. And I think to myself, what if Christians actually stopped to ask themselves if Jesus used that kind of verbiage and manipulation… what if they spoke only the way He spoke, and used only His methods, His way? Wouldn’t it change things for those struggling?  

After touching base with my client, and letting her know that God loves her and has not forgotten her, I returned to my ‘present’. I told stories, and even did some reading to entertain Juanita as we drove home. She is a saint of a friend! (Granted her halo is probably a bit bent out of shape, possibly thanks to my influence, but she is an amazing friend!)

It was late when I returned home….

Thursday morning I awakened to our son visiting our room. It was his birthday. Kordan turned eleven, my little boy not much longer, as he grows into manhood. It is almost shocking how quickly it all happens.

In the morning, after the children were off to school, I met a friend for coffee. Later I had a meeting at the bank with Tim, and then home again to get the birthday supper made, complete with a ‘Starfy’ birthday cake. It’s all my little guy really wanted for his birthday–the Starfy game for his Nintendo DS, so we got that, and a few other little things, and I made a cake to match.

from phone April 2013 145from phone April 2013 137

And here it is Friday already. I’m still fighting the bug I picked up on Easter weekend, and my back has been bothering me ever since, which is weird. I never have back pain. Only once every couple of years. So to be walking around with my back all stiff and feeling hunched over is kind of strange.

I have no plans, no meetings, no appointments throughout my day. It’s been an intense week, and I’m happy just to be home, and rest my body. There are things that desperately need my attention here, that may or may not get done. So far, at 1:25pm, I have spent my day on the phone answering questions about the conference, and responding to texts and emails. For the rest of the day I anticipate getting more calls about the conference, and hopefully I will get a bit of writing done…. (At least enough to get this blog posted!)

And that is how one week slips into the next, in my life. If I learned anything at all this week, it is to double check my words, my tone, my message and my motivations.

When I see the trauma well meaning words bring into the lives of my clients, I stop and wonder if I do that to others around me. Do I communicate the love of Jesus, and inspire deep conviction to live for God, or do I tear down, through control, through manipulation, through condemnation? It struck me more powerfully than ever, this week, how humans destroy the spirits of those who are struggling with their words, even though often well-meaning.

As my life touches others, I pray that the love of Jesus shines through, and they walk away a bit stronger, more encouraged and with more hope than they had when they came. I pray they long to know the Jesus I love, because they have seen and felt His grace.

And I pray that you, too, will check your words, guard your heart, and ask yourself the question, “Do my words give life, because they reflect Jesus, or do they shut down the heart and soul of those I meet, through condemnation, manipulation and guilt-tripping?”

© Trudy Metzger

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Why I Struggle Out Loud…

All of us struggle. How we struggle, varies from person to person, based on many factors, not the least of which are our personality and our upbringing. Life experience has a profound impact on our perception of reality, and our personality or temperament influence how we process experience.

Some of us struggle silently. The reasons for this are just as varied, ranging, again, from temperament to things like protecting an image–whether real or imagined–to concerns over whether people can handle our struggle… and fearing the inevitable loss of relationships if they can’t.

To the latter, my philosophy is that people who walk away because they can’t handle a bit of humanity, struggle and truth, are not people we need closest to us. It is not us, or even our struggle, that they reject; it is their fear of facing their own demons. And those demons can be anything from false image, to inadequacy, to not wanting to face their own pain and struggle. If they leave, let them go with a blessing. Having said that, finding balance in how much to share, with whom, and when, is important. No one wants to be used as anyone else’s garbage can.

Some of us struggle quietly because we are reserved, private individuals. (But, if you haven’t guessed it already, that would not be me.) And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it isn’t out of pretentiousness. My life is an open book. My husband’s is not. He cautiously gives me permission, from time to time, to share about his life, or our shared life. But it is not easy for him, or characteristic of him. By nature he deals quietly with his own heart, his own disappointments, and his own hurt.

Me… I struggle out loud, from time to time, because I want to be real, and transparent. In the weeks leading up to my previous blog post, I was relatively quiet for two reasons. One, I was busy and, two, because the struggle was too deep to share. I am a firm believer of saying something positive, if you’re going to speak at all. (And for this lesson I thank Thumper from the Movie Bambi.)

I fail at this, on occasion, but in recent weeks I was especially careful because I didn’t want my battle, my struggle, to tear you down, or cause you to stumble. It is not that struggling is something to hide or be ashamed of. (I like to think that every prophet, apostle and disciple went through seasons of silence for this reason. Though some did write some pretty dark, negative stuff in the depth of despair and what we would call depression. Clearly there is a time to share that darkness.) However, I prefer to come to the place in a struggle when I can share good in it, and bring life and hope to others in there struggles.

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Even then, I admit, it would still be easier to be silent… to save face and present an image of ‘togetherness’ that isn’t realistic–at least not realistic for me. It is in sharing the battle, and showing God’s faithfulness, that I feel my life is most believable, and my faith most real. It’s real life. Real battles. Real victories that give us hope.

When I speak to you, and encourage you, out of that ‘realness’, it has more impact than if I guide you through something that I have never been through, or dared to face.

In September 2010, I had a conversation that I will probably never forget. It was with a fellow blogger, who is also a published author. Out of respect I will leave out his name.

I had asked him for a bit of advice on how transparent to be, and wondered if he ever runs into harsh criticism because of his forthrightness. (I had just encountered my first ‘big bump’ in this, and was not at all prepared for it.) My interaction with him led to doing a bit of a rant, wherein I expressed myself more freely than I typically would, using slang and frustration. I knew he could handle it, but I also knew that he had only read my ‘uplifting stuff’ and had never seen me struggle.

After my rant I sent an ‘I’m sorry’, feeling a bit apologetic for not having been spiritual enough. His response stuck with me, particularly two lines:

“Don’t ever apologize to me for saying it like it is. Your message is probably the most honest thing I’ve ever seen from you. I’m highly attuned to the “Praise Jesus, all is great” stuff. I always view such spastic noise with admittedly too much suspicion.

That said, I sympathize. Be who you are. Who you REALLY are, with your flaws. When you use that “writing material,” do it humbly with discretion 

God is who He is. I’m way to skeptical, but I still believe. Ultimately, I believe His grace will encompass all our petty battles, all our flaws, all the crap we emit in the living of our daily lives.”

Wow! The most honest thing he had ever heard from me? I thought about it, and realized that I post all my ‘happy’ and ‘Praise Jesus’ status updates, and I mean them from all that is in me. I sincerely love life, and am eternally indebted to Jesus for giving me back my life. How could this ‘struggle’ be so much more believable, when both were spoken in honesty?

As I contemplated it, I realized there was a lack of balance. I mean, even King David, a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t hold his life together. And then Peter, a man who knew Jesus personally and intimately, stood by a fire cussing, and declaring he never knew the man. And Paul, one of the strongest early church leaders, couldn’t get along with his ministry partner–probably because he was too bull-headed, and the other guy too much like him–and they parted ways, but both continued in ministry.

That message made a huge impact on my writing, and challenged me powerfully, to check the honesty and openness with which I express my struggles, my imperfections.

I try to do this with humility and discretion, as my friend recommended, so that the people I walk with through their struggles can see that it’s not the end of the world when they go through tough stuff. Life doesn’t end when we ‘bomb it’ and don’t have it together.  It proves to them that when I say “Jesus is enough”… that He has your back… that He can forgive and set you free no matter what you’ve done… or any other encouragement, they can believe it, because He is enough for me.

When you, my readers, see me rise again, after admitting to being knocked down, I pray that it may give you the courage to do the same. And that you will know that we are all in this thing together, and together we can make it.

Yesterday I got a phenomenal response to what I wrote. Percentage wise, I think more people who read it, wrote a note than any other day in my blogging history, which was both surprising and cool. So many of you wrote notes to acknowledge what you read, with a variety of tones, and motives, but all were good and encouraging.

A recurring theme in most messages was surprise that I, being in ministry and all, still struggle and hit battles. They said things like,  ‘I didn’t realize you go through stuff like that’, or ‘I thought you were past that… but thanks for being honest’…

One gentleman wrote on my Facebook wall, “Wondered when you would face this. 🙂 You have been a warrior, poking the devil in the eye on his hidden attacks etc, hidden under the name of Christianity… God bless”.

Some wrote to identify with the struggle, and admit that they had thrown in the towel in ministry, or were tempted to. One said they may need to reconsider.

Whatever your words, as the messages trickled in, you inspired me, challenged me, and blessed me. That’s when I remembered why I sometimes struggle out loud, where you, my friends, get to see me in my ‘battle duds’. I do it to know your hearts, and for you to know mine.

I’m honoured to be part of your lives, your journeys, your battles, and your victories, as you invite me in. Many of you I have never met, and may never have the opportunity to meet, but the intertwining of our lives, here, is a gift.

Thank you.

© Trudy Metzger

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