Why didn’t God stop them?

I was overwhelmed with the love of God. It came completely out of the blue, with no explanation, no rhyme nor reason, just the awareness and certainty of God’s love filling me on that summer evening back in 1981 as never before. What I felt was not an impersonal love, or a love for all mankind: He loved me — me — after everything I had done, and everything I hadn’t done…despite my every sin and failing…He loved ME.

This amazing sense of His love overwhelmed me in a parking lot of all places. I leaned against my friend’s orange VW squareback, looked at her across the roof of her car, and tried to articulate this incredible epiphany I was having. And then we returned from our errand to have dinner at my neighbor’s apartment.

Only the dinner was a ruse.

After pre-dinner cocktails, my friend became suddenly and mysteriously so ill and light-headed that she went to my apartment to rest. I was urged to stay because, after all, the Italian meal had been fixed in my honor. My host seemed to think it tragic that someone who had been to Italy had never even eaten pasta fagiole, and he had supposedly been slaving over a hot stove for hours on my behalf.

So I stayed.

Later, when I asked them to let me leave, when I tried to convince them to let me go, when I begged and pleaded, they refused. Eventually I wanted to die. The next afternoon, I came as close to killing myself as I think it is possible to do and remain physically unscathed.

Almost 28 years later, I sat in a therapist’s office, finally telling the entire story of my rape for the first time, instead of the highly abbreviated one sentence version, or scattered bits and pieces. Before then, I had only shared on a “need to know” basis to very few people.

One of the things I told my therapist was that it was as if God ceased to exist during that whole nightmarish, seemingly endless ordeal. One moment I was being love-bombed by Him…the next I was utterly abandoned.

That’s what immediately came to mind when I saw this on Facebook this morning:

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Yes, I was 23 years old when I was raped, but when my daughter was that age, do you think I would have walked away and left her at the mercy of a serial rapist and his accomplice/trainee? Was I more merciful than God? More moral?

There is no easy way to deal with these questions. Flinging platitudes and Bible verses at my pain did nothing to ease it. I had many dark nights of the soul, some so dark they almost consumed and destroyed me. I wrestled with God, to the point that I thought Jacob in the Bible had nothing on me.

Those who are satisfied only with an intellectual approach to God, based on chapter and verse of the Bible, won’t find much, if anything, of value in what I’m about to write…well, except perhaps for the first part. But I don’t believe God has chosen to confine Himself to the pages of His book. He is far too mysterious and wild and great and marvelous for that…and far too personal and immediate and, dare I say it, loving.

Here is how I came to make peace with the questions that plagued me…

1. Donny looked eager to tell me something at the beginning of one therapy session. “I almost called you,” he said, “but I thought it would be better to tell you in person.” During his devotions, he was reading systematically through the Bible, and he encountered a verse he had never noticed before:

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!” Habakkuk 2:15 NIV

Amazingly enough, there was no accompanying verse saying, “Woe to naive and overly trusting stupid idiots who don’t have sense enough to refuse drinks from their sleazy neighbors, who shouldn’t even be drinking with men in the first place, and who sin by drinking too much — you get what you deserve.” Apparently that was my victim-blaming opinion, but not God’s, so I was left to ponder the question my therapist posed: if God hated it when a neighbor got someone drunk In order to look at their naked body, how much more must He hate what my rapists did?

But if that was true, why did God abandon me?

2. I don’t have chapter and verse for this next one. All I can say is that, after much arguing and wrestling with God, there came a time when I just knew that He was there that night. Even though it felt to me, during that terrible night, as if He had ceased to exist, He was there all along.

That was hugely comforting and an amazing breakthrough for me, but it left unanswered the question: why didn’t He stop my rapists?

3. Eventually I came to realize that God places a high value on our free will. (Yeah, I know — Calvinists, you might as well shoot me now.) He didn’t stop Adam and Eve from sinning — and their sin opened the door to all the evil, suffering, and death we must now endure. I don’t pretend to understand this. I don’t pretend to like it. But a God who would overrule free will to stop all child rape would have to do the same for all rape…and all abuse…and all violence…and all betrayal…and all selfish use of another person…and all unloving acts…and where would that stop until we were rendered robots, without free will, forced to love God and all people?

4. I have had to make peace — as much as one can make peace with such tragedy — with the terrible fact that we live in a fallen world, one filled with sin and suffering and death. Part of making peace with that is my belief that this world is not all there is. I cling to a future hope, when all will eventually be made right.

5. I have come to believe in redemption. One day, all will be redeemed. In the meantime, God keeps showing me glimpses of redemption. There was a time when I insisted to my therapist that my rape was so terrible, so dark and ugly, that there was nothing about it that God could possibly redeem. He proved me wrong…but that’s best left for future posts.

Journaling confessions

Therapists are obsessed with journaling. At first, I had no intentions of being sucked into this dubious practice, but — well, that’s the topic of another post.

A friend of mine journals like this:
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Yes, exactly like this since — being a true “trophy wife” rather than some bimbo or mere ordinary mortal — her entire life tends to look like a painting.

On the other hand, this was my journal this morning:
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Obviously I am not a trophy wife. (Oh, and by the way, that’s my granddaughter’s “biting toy”. Not mine. In case anyone wondered. And I had just finished eating “refrigerator oatmeal” in my nifty new glass storage container. Perhaps I’ll post the recipe some day. For the oatmeal, not the storage container.)

Now, on to the confessions…

I have a love/hate thing with journaling. Come to think of it, that is hardly a confession. I think that’s pretty much universal among therapy clients who journal.

Even though some therapists say that it’s far more effective to handwrite — and not edit — journal entries, I’ve done a lot of my journaling on my laptop or iPad. Sometimes my slow handwriting gets in the way of letting my thoughts really flow. Other times, editing what I’ve written helps me process things.

Sometimes I think that maybe I’ve done a crazy lot of journaling in the past five years.

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While I try to write as “uncensored” as possible in my paper journals, I almost always edit/censor when reading anything out loud to my therapist. I don’t recommend this. Besides, he caught on to my tricks early on, and usually calls me on it. “What did you leave out?” he will ask, even when I thought I was being so smooth and clever while skipping over words and sentences.

There have been things I couldn’t bring myself to read out loud. Sometimes I’ve handed my journal to Donny to read out loud. Sometimes even that was too much for me, and I insisted he read it silently.

One of the most difficult, but empowering, things I’ve ever done is read a detailed account of my rape out loud to my therapist. It took me the entire session, and I was a wreck at the end. Donny cancelled his next session so that we could get me grounded enough to walk out the door and drive home, where I collapsed in bed for the rest of the day. But it was powerful and freeing in a way that I still can’t explain or describe.

This past year, I have done way less journaling. I no longer feel the desperate need to “get it out”.

When I have journaled, I’ve tended to use my iPad or iPhone, and I have mixed feelings about it. There are some wonderful apps for keeping diaries and journals, and they offer features, like being indexable and searchable, or being available on my iPhone which is almost always with me, that paper journals don’t. But there is something about paper and pen…

Recently I’ve decided to take an entirely new approach. Although I’m completely lacking in artistic talents or abilities, I’ve found myself gathering art supplies and reading about art therapy and art journaling. Maybe I’m just trying to reconnect with my “Inner Child”…I don’t know. But I’ve found my journaling taking a radical departure from my usual “words only” approach. (I’ve already posted a few pictures of some of my latest “journaling” efforts.)

One thing that I read suggested using art or five minutes of writing — or both – to answer the question, “What is my hidden secret?” for 37 days in a row. I don’t think I’ll repeat it that many times, but I have done it twice already, last night and this morning.

Last night, I didn’t even have to think of it because an image immediately popped into my head. What was really exciting is that I knew it was something that I could actually draw. I was very tempted to just post the picture, and not what I wrote about it…but therapy is all about facing fears and no longer hiding, so…

My first real attempt at My first real attempt at “art therapy”.

What is your journal like?

Voices held captive

On another blog, someone asked poignantly how long my voice had been held captive. This was my reply:

Robert, it was in college that I somehow got up the nerve to send up a desperate cry for help to a therapist I was seeing at the insistence of a concerned friend. Rather than asking questions, or seeking better understanding, my therapist seized on one of the things I’d stammered, and made a blaming statement. I walked out and never returned. I remained silent for about 30 years, telling myself that the long ago sexual abuse was “no big deal”, just “that weird thing we did”, and that it had no impact on the rest of my life. That’s if I thought of it at all.

After college, I was raped by two neighbors. My initial intent was to tell no one but my doctor; however, that didn’t work out. I wasn’t completely silenced, but close to it. Very few people knew, and I dealt with the aftermath of my ordeal pretty much on my own.

Time does not heal wounds. Most of the time, I thought I was OK. The thing is that I had no frame of reference for “OK”. Five years ago, the whole house of cards came crashing down. This time there was no more propping things back up and pretending all was well.

I didn’t “find my voice”. Desperation and anguish drove it out of me in agonizing shrieks of pain, wracking sobs, and frightened whispers. It has been a difficult road out of captivity, but so much worth it.

May God bless you with freedom and joy.

May God grant us all the powerful, unrestrained voices He always intended us to have.