After I got raped, one of my problems was that my thoughts were unthinkable. This problem joined other, more pressing ones. Where could I be safe? Where could I sleep? And how could I get through the impending hours of darkness? I continually felt like I was jumping out of my skin.
I’ll admit that I’d never been terribly comfortable in my skin. I was raised by Calvinists, after all. Everything important was housed from the neck up. But after the rape I couldn’t just escape to my head. My very thoughts—such as they were—became heretical. These weren’t complete thoughts, just words lying in proximity to each other. Unanswerable questions. Profanity. The divine name. I tried to stop the words from lining up, but when I got tired enough, they did, and taunted me: “Where the eff was God?”
To back up — the rape occurred in 1978 when I was a senior at Calvin College. Two masked intruders broke into the home I shared with housemates. They held us hostage for hours, then took turns sexually assaulting us at gunpoint. After the criminals left and we got loose from our bonds, we debated whether or not to call the police. That conversation was a work of theology, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Complete strangers had just taken something from us, something that we could never regain, although we didn’t know what that missing thing was, not yet. The first question was whether or not to tell anyone. Was telling or not-telling the stronger move? I realize now that these were the first steps of trying to reclaim a sense of agency.
That semester I was taking Linguistics and World Religion. I was a true believer in the Reformed doctrine in which I’d been catechized. But the sovereignty of God was no longer a comforting thought. If God’s will controlled all things, did that mean that God had willed this awful experience?
“Put it behind you,” our professors advised. Yes, that was the response of our faith community — deafening silence. Meanwhile, the denomination was embroiled in a fight over the ordination of women. Male pastors debated: What does scripture say on this issue? But I knew what they were really debating: What’s a woman good for?
Eventually I found my way to the Presbyterian church, to seminary, and to ordination. I have been in ministry since 1990. When my own daughters became college-aged, I realized I had unfinished business about the trauma I endured. I wanted to figure out how, exactly, it shaped me. So I began to write. What message did I want to convey to my daughters about living in a woman’s skin? That writing became my memoir, RUINED.
I am passionate about the life of faith, which isn’t a thought exercise. Discipleship is living as God-breathed beings on a God-created planet. We live in bodies, and women’s bodies are too often in peril. The church can break its silence and become a powerful support to victims of sexual assault. There are more of them in your pews than you think.