Today's article comes from Heather Gemmen Wilson, author of Startling Beauty: My Journey from Rape to Restoration. She speaks internationally on the subject of hope and forgiveness. Visit her web site at www.heathergemmen.com.
My husband had gone to a meeting at church and my children were asleep down the hall when a stranger entered my bedroom, waking me from a deep sleep. Through the dim light reflecting from the hallway, I saw his silhouette—and vaguely understood that a tall, black man with thick arms stood a few feet away.
I didn’t scream. For a few seconds, I didn’t really understand what was happening. “Who are you?” I asked.
I might have rolled over and disappeared back into my dreams, but the ugliness of his laugh shocked me into wakefulness. I sat up quickly, and he yanked a knife out of his pocket. “Oh, no,” I whispered, holding my hands up toward him as if sheer willpower would keep him away. “No. Don’t do this.”
Someone once told me that after she was raped she felt like she joined a secret club she never wanted to be part of. I cried when she said it, because it was true for me too. Suddenly I knew things in a profound way I didn’t want to know at all—things like shame, and doubt, and fear. And I knew how much ugliness there was in this world.
The overpowering emotions I experienced didn’t go away the next month, or even the year—but neither did my community. Like every good church, mine had an impromptu “casserole committee”—when a member was hurting, the others rushed in with food. I hadn’t much understood this casserole obsession until I was its beneficiary and discovered that hot meals made by loving hands comfort the soul better than Band–Aids on skinned knees. All the little acts of service—from lawn mowing to housecleaning to babysitting—said what I needed to hear: “I love you.” “You are one of us.” “We’re in this with you.” Slowly I began to notice more joy than despair, more confidence than fear. And so much love was poured into me that there was no room left for shame.
One of the tokens of kindness given to me at that time was a puppy. This darling little beagle proved remarkably protective and became our family’s watchdog. I went outside one bright winter day to find little Gus growling menacingly. I looked around to see what was threatening him, but didn’t notice a thing out of place. Feeling a little spooked, I stroked his ears, hoping to calm him; but he bared his teeth and raised his hackles. Then I saw it, the menacing figure that Gus kept at bay: A great. Big. Snowman.
It took awhile to convince my small protector that this intruder was no threat. I pulled off the orange hat from the snowman’s head and tossed its raisin eyes and carrot nose in Gus’s direction. He ate them, and moved slowly forward. By the time I had yanked the sticks out of the snowman’s sides and the scarf from its neck, Gus saw the wilting lump of snow for what it really was: an empty threat.
My community disassembled my snowman. They helped me to see that my hackle-raising fear of physical harm, and the even greater suspicion that my faith had been wrongly placed, was unnecessary. I had not been abandoned by God, and his people proved it.
It has been over a decade since the rape, and I’ve experienced many life changes since then. I gave birth to a precious baby girl, conceived that fateful night, and she is now my daily reminder of God’s restorative love. We adopted a little boy we knew from our inner-city neighborhood where we lived—and he now towers over me, a godly young man who brings much laughter to our family. Eight years after the rape, my husband, who had joined me in joyously welcoming our daughter and who still loves her today, suddenly abandoned the marriage—and I am now building a new home and blended family. I’ve moved from Michigan to Colorado to Indiana. I’ve experienced the death of loved ones and the birth of a grandchild. Yet through all those changes, one thing has remained constant in my life: God’s faithful love. And I see now how much more beauty exists in this world than ugliness, even when life is hard.
I don’t know what secret club you have joined, but I am confident that God is in it with you, loving you and drawing you to him. I pray that you too will be startled by beauty.