Calling on the Saints
My husband had gone to a meeting at church and my children were asleep down the hall when an intruder entered my bedroom, waking me from a deep sleep. In the dim light reflecting from the hallway, I saw his silhouetteand vaguely perceived that a tall man with bulky arms stood just a few feet from my bed.
I didn't scream. For a few naïve moments, I didn't understand what was happening. "Who are you?" I asked. 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. "Nodon't do this."
Some have suggested that the church was partly to blame for my rape. They have a point. My husband and I had moved into the inner city as penniless college students, planning to leave as soon as finances allowed. But we began attending a neighborhood church that had a vision for community development and racial reconciliationand we were hooked.
With transformed attitudes, we began sitting on the front porch of our home instead of hiding behind shuttered windows. We invited kids who once broke our tulip stems to join us in weeding, and we organized block parties and community rummage sales. The hood became our home. There's no denying it: If it weren't for the church, I wouldn't have been living in that place four years and two kids later.
It was the church that I immediately called when I broke free from my attacker's grip that night. I first ran into my kids' room and touched their beautiful, sleeping headsthen crunched myself into a corner and dialed the number I knew by heart.
The man who answered was a dear friend of our family. "I need my husband!" I cried. Those were the only words I could choke out. At that moment, I wasn't thinking about whether I'd ever be able to trust the church againor the God I worshiped there. I wasn't aware of the crisis of faith I would endure in the coming months. At that moment, all I knew was my pain and shame and terror and loss.
While the church may have been partly responsible for encouraging me to live and work in the inner city, I never blamed the church for the rape. I do, however, "blame" it for my recovery.
Not that recovery came easily.
Rape is ugliness in its basest form. It destroys innocence and replaces it with shame. It steals a sense of security and extends fear. It cultivates bitterness. It leaves no room for beauty. The overpowering emotions I experienced that awful night did not go away the next dayor the one after that.
But neither did the people of the church.
Like every good congregation, mine had an impromptu "casserole committee." When one member was hurting, the others rushed in with food. I hadn't much understood this casserole obsession until I was its beneficiary. I discovered that hot meals made by loving hands comfort the soul better than Band-Aids on skinned knees. All the other small acts of servicefrom lawn mowing to housecleaning to babysittingsaid what I needed to hear: "I love you." "You are one of us." "We are 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 Gus growling menacingly. I looked around to see what was threatening him, but didn't notice anything 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.