Back in the spring of this year, Michelle Martin (Mutter) shared a little of her story with some of our women. It was such a privilege to get a glimpse into the life of this interesting and honest person so we asked if she would be willing to share her story on our blog. So! Here it is, in Michelle’s own words!
I love hearing people’s stories. While sharing one’s story can be a risky endeavour (it feels vulnerable, you risk being misunderstood, and it oversimplifies someone’s life journey into small tidbits and moments), it is also such a powerful way of unifying and connecting us together as people. We all have a story to share and I’m happy to share a small glimpse into mine. I’d love to hear your story too!
There are so many bits and pieces of who I am that I’d love to share. I won’t take the time here to go into details, but if you’re interested, feel free to chat with me sometime about my overly competitive nature, my love of basketball and baseball, my love/hate relationship with camping and canoe trips, the craziness of being a tree planter, my love of guitar and singing, or many other things that make me uniquely me. In this story, I will focus on some of the aspects of my life that have been important in my faith journey and some of the key things I’ve learned about God and myself along the way.
As I think back on my childhood, it was pretty ideal and carefree. We lived on the edge of a small town called Parkhill with lots of land around us to run and explore. It often lovingly gets referred to as a “hick” town because of the farmland surrounding it and the fact that people drive tractors through town. While I grew up in Parkhill, most of my extended family lived in Waterloo Region where my Mennonite ancestors settled a long time ago, so I’ve always thought of this area as a bit like a homeland, despite being raised in Parkhill.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have loving, caring parents that did their best to share their faith in God with me and invest in my spiritual well-being. We attended a small community church that had both Brethren and Mennonite roots. It was a church that was started in my grandparents’ basement, so right from a young age the church felt like a part of my extended family where I found a deep sense of belonging and identity. I grew up known as one of the “Martins”, which in my small world, meant that I was immediately accepted and thought well of. My family connections to our church meant I never questioned my belonging within our church and I sailed through my childhood with the confidence of a know-it-all Christian.
I was fortunate to have so many caring and loving people surrounding me in those early formative years, and I realize now how foundational that time was to developing in me a love for God and for the world. My family and church did a great job of instilling in me that I’m special and loved by God and that nothing could take that away from me. At the same time, I picked up some unhealthy beliefs about who God is and I saw the world from a very black and white lens with clear rights and wrongs.
This way of thinking and believing soon caught up to me as a teenager and young adult as I began to have questions, doubts and wrestle with my faith in a way that seemed scary and lonely. I think this is a typical progression in many people’s faith journeys, to go from a place of firm unquestioning belief as a child and then to begin to question it, sort through it for yourself and figure out what you believe. I’m quite an introspective deep-thinking sort of person, and I’m not the type of person to just believe whatever I am told. I really wanted my faith to make sense in my head. My main faith struggle was trying to grasp how a supposedly loving and caring God could allow so much pain and suffering in people’s daily lives, not to mention war and other atrocities and especially hell. And to be honest these are still some of the biggest questions and stumbling blocks I have with my faith. As a young teen, my thoughts and questions felt too big to voice, too unsafe to share, and so instead I often chose to withdraw them and hide behind a facade of easy answers. I often remember thinking I was struggling with my faith in ways no one else was. I know now how natural and important these wanderings are in figuring out what we believe and growing in our understanding of God. Despite the uncertainties I’ve had with my faith over the years, I have continued to experience great comfort, peace, and love from God as I continue my search to know him more fully and understand what being a follower of Jesus looks like.
Leaving home for University brought significant changes and growth for me. As a small-town girl, moving to the huge fast-paced city of Kitchener-Waterloo was a big deal for me. I studied Religious Studies as my minor and it took me way beyond my small understanding of Christianity. I learned more about other world religions from professors who were deeply committed to their faith traditions, including a Muslim professor that greatly impacted me by her soft, generous, and compassionate approach to teaching about her faith. I also studied Psychology as my major and loved learning about human behaviour and all of the experiments that taught us more about why we act the way we do. By my third year in my undergrad, I felt my faith beginning to unravel more than I wanted it to. I was beginning to learn that while my questions were good at helping me to deconstruct my faith, I needed to put some focused effort into intentionally building my faith back up and figuring out what I did believe. So, I took some time off from University to do a program with Youth With A Mission in England and Malaysia. I wanted to remove myself from my regular life and give some devoted attention to my faith. I think the main thing I learned from this time away was not to fear my questions, but to lean into them and bring them to God. I found it helpful to let God in on my quest for understanding and not shut him out when something didn’t make sense to me. I also learned to be okay with where I was at and that I don’t have to have everything figured out. I could just be loved by God amid my questions and doubts. It’s always been difficult for me to have a still mind, and while being a critical thinker has served me well in many areas of my life, I’m learning that there is also a time to let our weary minds rest and just know that we are loved and that we don’t have to have all of the answers. In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that when our lives are over and we see God face to face and we see things as they really are, we will be astounded at how wrong we were about so many things. This realization has helped me to hold my convictions a little more humbly and to have a lot of grace for myself and others when it comes to what we believe.
After finishing my undergrad, I took a year off to do some local missions in downtown Kitchener with new arriving refugees at a place called Welcome Home. I loved helping to create community for people who had very few supports in a new country. It was my experiences that year that helped me decide to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Wilfrid Laurier University with a focus on community development. My master’s in social work continued this process of expanding my worldview and helping me to become more self-aware. Probably the most impactful thing I learned during my master’s was to more fully grasp how my own privilege as an educated middle-class white straight able-bodied Christian woman has deeply shaped my experiences and understanding of the world and how people relate to me. I’ve learned that it’s important not to assume we can understand another person’s story. I simply cannot know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes and should be very slow to judge them, their situations, or their decisions. Thankfully we have a good and loving God that judges all of us, and he is full of grace and mercy.
After graduating my masters, I took a job at the Region of Waterloo as a planner in their community services department. I worked in a wide range of service areas, from homelessness, to children’s services, to immigration. I spent about six years working at the Region, up until our youngest son Isaac was born two years ago.
It was during my master’s that I decided to give some online dating a try and signed up for EHarmony. Low and behold, Joshua Mutter was one of the first people I was matched with. After a couple of weeks chatting online, we quickly met up and after a few months of going on dates decided to officially date. I can give more details to anyone interested in hearing other people’s love stories, but the long and short of it is that we eventually got married and began this interesting, amazing, and complicated life-long commitment called marriage.
The past eight years of marriage have had many ups and downs. A year into our marriage I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball which eventually led to developing a blood clot in my leg which then moved to my lungs and I almost died. I had never had a near death experience before and it gave me a new outlook on life. Life continues to feel so much more fragile, and I deal with some ongoing anxiety that some unexpected thing will cause my death at any moment. I had to stop working for awhile and I discovered how much of my identity came from my career. I found being cooped up at home very hard mentally and struggled with some feelings of depression and loss of purpose. My faith endured new challenges as I tried to make sense of what was happening to me and rediscover how to understand God in my anxiety and my fears.
A few years later we became parents. This has been by far the biggest challenge of my life. I have gained a whole new appreciation for the strength of women and all that we endure to become mothers. And, as if the emotional and physical struggles of getting pregnant, being pregnant, and recovering from pregnancy aren’t enough to go through, the reality of raising human beings is so full of its own challenges and anxieties. I realize not all moms have this experience – some seem to effortlessly slip into their roles as moms very easily and naturally. This was not my experience. I love our two young boys with all my being and yet I struggle with the loss of my own individual identity and the daily struggles of caring for these little dependent people. Mothering is so much harder than I could ever have grasped and I’m only 4 years into it! On the flip side, as all mothers can attest to, it has also been my greatest joy, the place where I have learned what it really means to love and sacrifice for another, and given me a deeper appreciation for the kind of unconditional love God has for us as his children.
Josh and I have now been married for eight years, and I can say that thus far marrying him has easily been the best decision of my life. He has been a tremendous husband and father, and he continues to teach me a lot about what it looks like to seek after God and follow Him. Marriage has been another way that I’ve seen God refining me as I learn to commit to the daily loving of another person and investing in the health of our relationship. Both Josh and I want our marriage to be one that helps us become more fully the people God wants us to be.
As I reflect on my life, I am aware of how much I’m still figuring out what it means to enjoy this journey of discovering myself and God and how to let go of my tendency to want to have it all figured out. I am very quick to admit that I am a work in progress and am working at being okay with that.
If I could leave you with a final piece of encouragement it would be this. Let your life be one that is journeying with God and towards God. Don’t be afraid of having to unlearn aspects of your faith and discover that you were wrong about certain things about God or yourself. This is all part of growing spiritually and being human. My hope for each of us is that we can learn to accept that God loves us wherever we are at right now, in all our imperfections, questions, doubts, anxieties, and fears. With this knowledge in hand I can embrace the fact that God loves me and then my love for others flows out more naturally from me in a way that is real and sincere. I believe this is God’s desire for us all, that we would love in such a way that ushers in the Kingdom of God and brings healing and redemption to all things.