Celebrating Life, Honoring God

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. ~ Romans 12:2

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Book has Arrived!

I've known for many months that my testimony of faith would appear in a published book, and I've seen electronic copies of the book cover and table of contents. But to see the finished product in front of my eyes, to feel its weight in my hands, is as surreal as anything I've experienced.

It's interesting how insight comes at inconvenient times. Since submitting my story for consideration over a year ago, I've gain greater understanding into my crisis of faith. I realize now that it really wasn't about being raped. It was about the fear of dying alone and scared. I felt that I was going to die at the hands of someone who insisted that God didn't exist. The precipitation event is different for everyone, but the crisis is the same for us all. When faced with death, what do we trust is on the other side? Of all the muck I had to sift through to get where I am, that was the one question I was left with, that we are all left with. Do I trust that Jesus is who he says he is? How I answer that question dictates how I approach death, and how I approach life.

I don't think it's all coincidental that my work puts me in contact with rape victims, that my volunteer endeavors put in touch with the dying, and that my one published piece of writing addresses faith. I chose all of these things, but it was God who laid the opportunities at my feet. It was God who created the talents and desires I possess. Isn't that alone reason enough to trust? If God used my rape to nudge me in the direction I've come, and I'm better for it, then how can I be anything but grateful?

Today, I celebrate the milestone I've achieved with this book and what it represents. Tomorrow, it will be on to something new and glorious (I hope).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Injustice born of fear

There is a tremendous amount of attention being paid recently to a local rape case involving a 14 year-old assailant and a 64 year-old victim. I'm certain that as the case unfolds in the criminal justice system, we will be hearing and reading more about this horrible crime. There seems to be a great deal of outrage in the community, as there should be with every incident of assault, rape and kidnapping. What concerns me, however, is a comment I have heard frequently since this crime occurred.

A "sound-off" caller, whose words appeared in the January 15th edition of the local paper, perfectly captured the comment to which I am referring: "In light of women getting beat up, robbed or raped in their own home, I have a comment to make. I would never go answer my door just because someone was knocking - without looking through the window to see who was outside. If I don't recognize the person, I won't respond. Finally, my doors stay locked at all times."

I'm sure (or rather, I hope) that the caller was not directly blaming the victim for the crime she suffered. Regardless of the caller's intentions, the suggestion is that if the victim had not opened her door to the young assailant, then she would have escaped harm. None of us can know if that's true, but it honestly doesn't matter. Choosing to answer a knock at the door of your own home does not equate to an open invitation for anyone to enter with a gun, assault and rape you. If that were the case, none of us would ever leave a bedroom window open for a cool midnight breeze, or leave our door propped open while we carry groceries in. My home is my property, and who enters it should be entirely up to me, whether my door is wide open or not. Instead of asking, "Why did she open the door?" we should be asking, "Why did a 14 year-old kid commit such a terrible crime?"

I am not intending to berate the sound-off caller, or the numerous other individuals who share his or her feelings on the matter. There is a very simple reason that our knee-jerk reaction to such a crime is to question the actions of the victim, and that reason is good old-fashioned fear. When I hear about a crime like this, it sends shivers down my spine and fills me with feelings of fear and dread about my safety and about the state of this world. The quickest and easiest way for me to overcome my fear is to separate myself from the victim. I do that by telling myself, as the sound-off caller did, 'If I keep my doors locked and never open the door to a stranger, then this will never happen to me.' We feel that if we can control our environment, then we can maintain our safety and security. The problem is that while we can control what we do, we cannot control the actions of others. Crime happens not because victims allow it to, but because criminals choose to commit it.

There's nothing wrong with feeling fear when we hear about awful crimes such as these, but we need to remember the victim. If you were in the victim's shoes, how would you feel is someone asked you, "Why did you open the door?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Confessions of a Victim Advocate

I wrote the following sometime in 2009, during an especially difficult day in my work as a victim advocate for a rape crisis program:

My heart is full, or perhaps about to break, I'm not sure which. Today has not been drastically different from any other day, except that my colleagues are all out of the office for various reasons, and I have no one to talk to. How I do love those amazing women that know the ins and outs of the job I do, the reason I do it, and how hard it is. But sometimes I want others to know, too. I want people to realize the vast ocean of pain and suffering that exists, needlessly, in our little corner of the world. Knowing it serves no good purpose, except that there is some measure of nobility and faithfulness in facing head-on the ugliest atrocities human beings have to offer.

And so I write, as I so often do, to alleviate the burden my heart carries for the hundreds of rape victims I have talked to or sat with over the span of 6 years. Most of them I don't remember, their faces and stories long faded from my working memory. Some I remember if I think hard enough, and a few I'll not forget as long as I live. There's the older woman, dragged through a field and raped, whose long gray hair I freed of burs and stickers. There's the young woman whose hair I held back as she vomited, so traumatic was it for her to speak of what she'd endured. There's the middle-aged woman, covered in blood, whose hand I held for two hours as a gash in her face was stitched up. There's the teenager, sobbing in my arms in the courthouse bathroom, having just given her testimony. And there's the concerned little girl who asked me why her big sister, who had just testified about suffering a gang rape, was crying.

It's not the blood, the bruises or the tears that bother me. Any emergency room nurse would concur that you develop a thick skin for such things if you work among them long enough. It's the cruelty that people inflict on each other that bothers me. It's knowing that there are men (and women) out there who willingly choose to abuse, scar and humiliate people, and then walk away and do it to someone else. It's witnessing over and over the fear, the hurt, the loss of trust, and the shattered faith that victims are left with, to some extent, for the rest of their lives. Certainly, it's the soul-crushing injustice and indifference that are rampant when it comes to this crime. And it's also the total absence of self-respect some victims possess, which render them incredibly vulnerable to manipulative criminals. All of this...this monumental crevasse of intimate and profound pain...lives and breathes among us every minute of every day.

I suppose that one day, it will become too much for me to dabble any further in the sordid and excruciating underworld of rape. Some day, the nobility I trust in will be overcome by the sheer inability to absorb any more evil. But today, though the emotions are knocking hard against the door of my self-made barrier, I will continue in the work God has called me to do. I will kiss my family when I get home, and I will pray, pray, pray. In the end, God's Word will be perfected, and the pain of which I speak will be abolished forever. Be still, my full and aching heart.

And so it begins...

As much as I love to write, blogging has never appealed that much to me. There's something that feels so impersonal about writing online. I'm one of those rare souls who still likes to write hand-written letters to family and friends at Christmas, or any other time during the year. I keep a hand-written journal at home, in a composition book I bought at the drug store for a dollar. In other words, I'm "old school" when it comes to the format of my writing. But, now that I'm going to be published, it's time I join the 21st Century.

Very shortly (within a couple of weeks), a story that I wrote will appear in an actual published book. I try to wrap my mind around this reality, and it's difficult. Like many people, I've often dreamed of being published, of becoming a world-famous novelist or something of the kind. I'll never be a novelist, that much I know. But I am going to have a non-fiction short story published, and not just any story. It is perhaps the most intimately personal story I could tell. It seems strangely ironic that after unsuccessfully submitting a few pieces here and there over the years, it took a soul-baring piece to get me published. I suppose, however, that therein lies the message. If I'm going to write (and actually expect others to read what I write), then my writing needs to be honest and fearless. I need to focus less on comformity and more on authenticity. My voice is unique to me, and so my writing should honor that.

To those of you who will read my upcoming published story (stay tuned for details), and/or to those of you who read my posts on this blog, I hope that my writing gives you something meaningful. I hope that I am able to inspire you in your life journey, in your faith, or in your own desire to write. That's definitely worth jumping head-first into the 21st Century.