Disclaimer: this is a recount about sexual assault.
I was brought up in the church, I was taught to believe in a higher power and that questioning it was not heard of. When I walked away from the church it happened naturally for me, I thought I was making way for something better and leaving behind the expectations of a judgment I wasn’t willing to accept. It was the organization of opinions from community members that pushed me away, not God himself. From feeling competitive in choir for a solo to the “guidance” of adults who had only invested about one hour of their time in my life a week, I felt as though everything I did wouldn’t be good enough for everyone else. I wanted to be me, I wanted to be free; so I silently walked away.
For five years I kept my faith in God. The years of bible school were not far distant memories allowing me to hold onto the faith that was instilled in me from such a young age. Until the day my world was shaken. Just two days before Christmas at the age of twenty-one, I experienced death on a level that no one can prepare for. She wasn’t my child, nor was she particularly close, but in that one phone call, I learned that miracles, no matter how much you pray for them are not answered how you hoped.
I rationalized with myself about the reasonings on why God would let a child die. The crack in my faith from that moment brought on an avalanche of anger in the next few years. I struggled for years to understand why she passed away at such a young age. Combining different religions to give reasons and expectations on why a greater being would allow harm to the innocent. From Baha’i, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism and even my own faith of Lutheranism, I developed a blanket understanding for acceptance. I began to trust that no matter who or what was out there, something greater, there was a reason for leaving behind those of us here on earth and taking someone so young and so innocent. My faith in God was tested and while not perfectly formed back the way it was, I had not lost it.
The moment I lost my faith and trust in God, didn’t involve the death of a mortal being. It was in the back seat of a car, my body being torn apart, my mind becoming numb and my faith being snuffed out as my screams became silenced. I needed someone, anyone, to be with me in that moment. To hold my hand, to remind me that I was still worth something, that I was not a piece of meat that this disgusting animal was making me out to be. But I was alone, God was not there in that moment to remind me of my worth, he was not there in that moment of searing pain or the moment when my soul separated from my body. This was the moment when I became angry, when my pain turned into hate and when faith became a word of disdain. This was the moment when I thought I would completely walk away from everything I had been taught as a child of God.
I spent the next few years angry and spiteful. I needed him, I needed someone in the darkest moment of my life and there I laid completely empty. Sifting through my life the darkness inside of me grew like a weed, my anger towards God spilled out into my relationships with friends and family, onto those who were innocent in my life suffering the wrath of my deepening pain. What had happened to me was not their fault. What God had allowed was not their fault. Every advance of kindness felt as a trick for someone to break into my fortress wall and the only way for protection was anger and malice. I was not a hateful person, I was angry and I had every right to be angry. I had a piece of myself taken, stolen would be a better word to some. There is no lesson for that moment in the bible, there is no lesson on rape and understanding of self-worth when everything inside of you has become a dark hole.
The moment I let God back into my life was like a tidal wave. It started off slow, one wave at a time, with each session I spent in a therapist’s office I found more strength. As the strength of myself grew, so did my acceptance of the events, but my anger of the abandonment stayed. It wasn’t until a trip to Europe that changed my perspective on where God was that night in the back seat.
It started with a simple fifteen-minute service in St. Giles’ Cathedral of Edinburgh, Scotland. Simple words that had been engraved in me since I was a child rang out through the stone walls of the cathedral, it felt like a hug from a distant relative. It was uncomfortable, like jealousy for being there when I didn’t need them, but not there when I did. I left confused, wondering if it was possible that maybe God had been there that night, he had been holding my hand, he had been the one who helped my mind drift out of my body as the pain tore through me.
The questions I held from those few moments, the comfort and discomfort tugging at my identity. It wasn’t until a few days later that the questions I held for so long would be answered in a volatile and violent way. The same way my faith was taken from me is the same way my faith was restored. This time it was not in the back seat of a car, but on the dark alleyway in a street of Amsterdam. This trip was supposed to be a trip to celebrate my freedom from the pain, instead, it was a test of my faith. As I laid on the shower floor crying, screaming and tearing at my flesh I wanted to know why. Why me, why again, why when I felt free was I stolen.
Slowly I picked myself up from the floor, found my clothes and crawled into bed. I was thousands of miles away from people who made me feel human, I yearned to be wrapped in the arms of the person I trusted the most while wishing to never be touched again in my life. Instead, I found myself wrapped in the warmth of something more. I was wrapped in strength, resilience, love, beauty and peace. Each characteristic came over me one wave at a time. Strength first, as I picked myself up from the shower floor that night, made my way out into the dark sky the following morning and then again when I arrived home to face the nightmare of what had happened. I stayed silent, I needed to think, to breathe, to settle the thoughts the swirled through my bones with every aching moment that passed. I was falling into the dark hole again, but this time I had something greater, I had a ladder of strength that was built with time and healing became my goal in the coming weeks.
This time the recovery was quicker, the acceptance faster, the lessons stronger, but most importantly I realized that this test was not one full of anger and hate, it was full of love. It was a reminder of how strong I was, how far I had come and that even at my weakest moments I wasn’t alone. His arms were wrapped around me that night in the back seat, years later and I can feel him cradling me as my flesh was torn, a memory I had forgotten or maybe one that I have replaced for something else. The same feeling I had as I drifted off to sleep that night in the hotel, in a distant land that was not my home. I was alone in the physical, away from harm, but spiritually I was secured by a love that was unforeseen.
A love that I was given from the time I was born, that took me thirty years to understand, a love that despite walking away stayed strong even when I was weak. Faith is a strength in believing something without proof, a trust greater than our worldly being, it may be tested, but it does not falter. I have sat in the pews of many churches since my return from Europe. Listening to the words of forgiveness, acceptance and understanding from many who study the same book, gives me strength as I sit silently in the acceptance of what has happened. I do not like my test in faith, but I have accepted it. It has given me the power to be the voice of many others, it has given me the voice of knowing that love is undefined.
My test in faith and in God gave me the gift of loving myself even at the weakest moments because I can now see where my strengths are just as Jesus could see those of his followers. I pray in silence, I speak the words of God with a hushed voice from those around me, I’m not ashamed of my faith or the journey that lead me to it, but in those moments I feel as though he’s teaching me one last lesson. That silence doesn’t always have to be painful.
This is my own personal story. I wrote this for a piece I did with my Church back in March of 2017. ©Melissa Kane – Undertherugstories.com