“One last drink?” His gray eyes twinkled in the low light. We were standing on a tree-lined path, shadows from the street lamp cast about us. I should have known to turn back—never trust a stranger friend; no one knows how it will end—but the summer air was warm and he was witty and kind. I felt safe walking beside him into the darkness.
His living room walls were lined with well-worn books. The built-in bookshelves were curved and painted white to match the rest of the apartment; I was comforted by their embrace. He gestured for me to take a seat on the leather couch, and as he left the room, I smiled. On the coffee table sat a thick, abridged copy of the OED.
He returned with two open bottles of beer and sat next to me, not too close. We chatted easily, comparing notes on favorite writers. He grabbed a book from one of the sturdy shelves and handed it to me.
“It’s a coming of age story.” I held the book in my hands, smoothing the faded cover. “Take it,” he grinned. “Borrow from my library.”
When he sat again, his long legs were just inches from mine. “Do you not like that kind of beer? You haven’t touched it.”
I glanced down at the bottle. “Just taking a breather.”
“I wish you had told me,” he said lightly. “I wouldn’t have opened it if I had known.”
I put the cool glass to my lips and took a few gulps. Warm. Dark.
There was a shift in his energy as he stood suddenly, moving past the lamp to the right of the couch, receding into the shadows beyond the bookshelves. I looked after him, and in the darkness, could see the faint outline of a bed.
It was dark when he raped me.
It’s strange and somewhat beautiful how our brains protect us from having to deal with trauma before we’re ready. I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor until two years ago, six years after I followed him down that tree-lined path, so romantic in the dim light of the street lamps. Until then I had categorized the event in my mind as something I had brought upon myself, a mistake, a terrible night that I should have been able to prevent. I should have been able to read the signs that something was about to go horribly wrong.
I had messed up.
So I asked for God’s forgiveness. Over and over and over again. It wasn’t the first time I had made a mistake with a man—I should have known better. I felt ashamed and broken.
I asked God to help me forgive this man who had so easily fooled me into believing he was someone special, a kindred soul.
I cried and I begged and I pleaded and received no relief, no restoration. So many tear-stained journal pages, so many prayers groaned out from the depths of my wasted heart, and nothing. No answer.
Fearful. Anxious. Uncertain. The faith that had held me through so many other difficult times suddenly seemed so thin.
And then one day, a few months after my counselor first said the word “rape,” a whisper came from somewhere deep inside me: maybe you need to forgive God.
A startling thought, but maybe it was true. Maybe this sick anxiety I felt about the world and my place in it had less to do with my own missteps and more to do with the fact that I felt unprotected and afraid.
Because truly: where was God that night?
Up until the night I was raped, I had felt God’s unwavering protection on my life. I felt it deep in my bones. It didn’t matter how low I found myself, I was convinced of his presence and his providence. The right worship song, the right Bible verse, the right amount of sunlight sparkling on the water, and I’d feel goosebumps prickling my skin, the cool rush of confidence that He is near.
When my father’s job moved us overseas before my freshman year of high school—and I was convinced my life was over—God was near.
When high school romance led to betrayal and binders full of bad poetry, God was near.
When I started college an ocean away from my family and could not remember who I was or wanted to be, God was near.
When the plane crashed into the twin towers and everything I thought I knew about my home country and my faith was thrown into question, God was near.
When I watched our family’s home go up in flames, God was near.
And on other nights, with other men, after drinks and too much flirtation, God was near.
In it, and afterwards, I would praise him and thank him for his unwavering protection.
I felt so blessed.
I never felt alone.
Once, as she led me through a guided prayer intended to offer healing, someone I love very dearly asked if I could go back to that dark room that night and imagine God there with me.
Where was God that night?
As the tears streamed down my cheeks, I tried. But the image of Jesus, sitting on a chair in the corner of the room as the unthinkable occurred was too tragic. The only image I could conjure was a false Jesus: blonde, blue-eyed, sitting with a calm smile and folded hands.
It wasn’t right. That’s not the Jesus I had come to know.
I knew what I was supposed to say – he was there with me, he didn’t abandon me, he was there the whole time – but I couldn’t.
I just wept.
My son, an adventurous 18 month old, has been fighting for his independence since the day we met. Active, curious, he wanted to crawl before he could sit up. When he first started practicing his pull-ups on the living room coffee table the summer before he turned one, he fell often and with great frustration.
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to reprimand the floor that hit his diapered bum as he came toppling down that first time and looked to me with sad, anxious eyes. I guess I wanted him to understand I recognized his pain but also to make light of it somehow.
So instead of saying, “Oh, sweetie, good try. It’s okay. Get up. Try again,” I widened my eyes, shook my finger at the hardwood floor beneath him and said, “No, no, no, floor! Don’t you hurt my Jakey!”
He looked at me, confused at first. And then through teary eyes, he offered a smile.
From that day on, it became an inside joke between us. “No, no, no, table!” “No, no, no, block!” “No, no, no, Elmo!”
What I didn’t realize then was how seriously he was taking all of this. Now, whenever my exuberant little boy stubs a toe or trips or bumps an elbow, he is looking for something or someone to blame. “No, no, no!” he declares and looks to me to join him in the refrain.
I guess I realized in that moment, as I watched him topple over, I wouldn’t always be able to catch him, no matter how close I might be. But I wanted him to know I felt the pain right along with him – that I didn’t think it was okay that he was hurting.
There have been times I have watched him from a distance as he runs so fast and far from me, caught up in the delight of the air and the sun and the freedom of being alive, and I know it is only moments before he stumbles and scrapes the palms of his hands. I know it, yet I can’t stop it. When I hear his wailing and I see his tears, my heart breaks and it is almost more than I can bear.
But the worst moment is when I reach him and he looks at me with fear and frustration and anger and it’s almost as if I can see the accusation in his tender brown eyes.
Why weren’t you there? Why didn’t you stop this from happening?
All I can do is open my arms to him, comfort him, and tend to his wounds.
And I can pray that as he grows in understanding, he’ll know the depths of my love for him, even when I’m nowhere in sight.
I can’t give a straight answer about where God was the night I followed my heart, full speed, down that concrete path in the lamplight. I can’t tell you his thoughts as my innocent trust in his provision was taken from me, my heart bruised, body battered.
I can’t tell you where God’s will ended and my will began. I can’t tell you if that matters.
But I can choose to believe his heart was breaking as he watched his daughter experience pain.
I can choose to believe he was near.
And I still choose to believe that his arms are open, ready to tend to my wounds and offer me the comfort of his love, both in the light of day and the darkness of night.
Even when I can’t feel it.
I just read Addie Zierman’s new memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, in less than 48 hours. Her honesty, vulnerability, and gorgeous writing have inspired me once again. In celebration of her book release, this post will be linked to her #NightDriving synchroblog. Visit her website for more info.