Trading the Ashes of Rape for the Beauty of Healing and Restoration
Isaiah 61:3, “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.
For the last several months I have really struggled with writing about this “exchange” in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid. Maybe it’s because there is still an element of shame in it that I carry daily. Perhaps it’s because I have no idea when I will totally be able to trade these ashes for beauty. Most likely it is a combination of these factors that contribute to why I hesitate to write about these painful ashes.
I have an anniversary coming up soon. On November 8, 2006, I entered one the most difficult seasons of my life thus far. I was raped, and this rape initiated a toxic, dangerous “relationship” that resulted in almost four more years of rapes and assaults before I had the courage to expose my perpetrator. Even though it’s been 4 years since the last time it occurred, I still deal with the repercussions on a daily basis—at work, outside my house, in almost every relationship I have, and at night—especially at night.
So how can I truly write about trading the ashes of rape for the beauty of restoration and healing when I still fight daily to not let the experience overcome me? Because I have seen God go into the darkest, messiest, and dirtiest parts of my being and take my shame, gather my tears in a bottle, renew my faith, hold me and sustain me, and help me begin trusting, restoring, and building relationships again. And I want you to know, my deepest desire is that God will use my experience and pain to speak life, hope, comfort, and healing into someone struggling right now. That is the simple prayer I pray every single day.
I remember the morning it happened vividly. I was in the last semester of my senior year in college. I was just talking and spending time with whom I believed to be one of my closest “friends” at the time. Then it happened, and I froze. I didn’t even fight or say stop. I just lay there and waited. After it was over, I got up, went back to my dorm room, showered, put on some makeup, dressed and went to first period—Appreciation of Fine Arts.
I remember sitting in that classroom surrounded by exquisite paintings, listening to beautiful Baroque music, completely in shock. I felt like I was floating above myself. That quote from The Great Gatsby is the best way I can describe it, “I was both within and without.” I finished all my classes that day, spent the weekend in the library studying, went to church all day Sunday, and never said a word. I graduated that December, made the Dean’s list like I had every previous semester, and began teaching in January 2007. I was 21, and I felt like I grew up overnight.
Circumstances I wouldn’t understand for years kept me from exposing and escaping from this abuse and trauma I quietly endured for the next four years on and off from the same perpetrator. I thought this was my reality and didn’t see any way out. I thought I had lost control forever. However, after a breakdown in my lowest hour, God gave me the courage to tell someone. I could clearly feel Him reach down, pick up my broken pieces, and help me out of my darkness. There is simply no other explanation.
The aftermath was both scary and painful. Some people didn’t understand, even in my own family. I had to move out of my house because the memories and flashbacks were too much to handle. I lost many people I believed were my friends and had to leave my church because of the shame I felt surrounded me. Many remarks I will never forget. I was 27 before I began attending a trauma group for rape survivors, and it would take almost a year of intensive therapy before I would understand why I continued in that abusive and manipulative pattern for four years. Then, I began an entirely different journey and season of my life.
Tears became my silent prayers to God. Never have I clung so fiercely to the verse from Psalms, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8). I had lost so much. My innocence was taken from me. Worst of all, I felt I had lost hope—hope of future relationships, holding down a job, facing my demons of doubt, defeat, and discouragement, being used by God, and lists upon lists I had created in my mind limiting God’s power.
But, He reached down and rescued me. He held me and even when I doubted Him, He never doubted me. Did I question Him? Yes, most definitely yes! I wondered where He was, why He had “left” me, and when my healing would begin. I went through normal survivor emotions. You aren’t exempt from those as a Christian. But, my saving grace was Jesus. If you’re reading this and you don’t really understand or know Jesus, I am praying for you to find Him even in your darkest night, because I know He is there waiting just for you with outstretched arms. If you’re reading this and you know Jesus already, I am also praying for you. Praying for your continued faith and belief in the perfection of His perfect will through whatever circumstances He has carried you through to bring glory to Him.
Let’s trade the ashes of rape and what we may feel at times our hope, for the beauty of restoration and healing–through doctors, therapy, support groups, friends and family, medication, whatever may be needed, but mostly through our faith and relationship with God. Faith that He has never abandoned us, faith in a stronger tomorrow, another sunrise, His unlimited power, and healthy relationships with people who love us, flaws and all.
In the words of Jon Acuff, “You need to forgive yourself. You need to give yourself grace. You need to give yourself time. And you might need to do that a thousand times before you believe it’s true.” The beauty of restoration and healing is that there is no time frame. You do not have to be “better” by next Tuesday, next month, or next year. I am almost 30, and I will not give up—I can’t. It’s a process; a process surrounded by grace. Be kind to yourself. Don’t lose hope, even on the bad days. This trade like every other is a journey, fueled by grace, covered in love, and breathed through hope.