As I have been sharing my experiences, I have shocked a lot of people, especially friends and family who had no idea. Why didn’t I say something sooner? What led me to share? Why now? My intent has never been to shock. My reason for staying quiet for so long is really quite simple: I never felt led to share.
Being raped doesn’t define me. It was a defining moment in the sense that I had a choice of how to respond to being raped. My response impacted the trajectory of my life, but it is not part of my identity. I don’t feel obligated to divulge this fact for others to get to know me. Even now, when I am speaking or sharing I don’t immediately introduce myself as a rape survivor. Being raped greatly impacted my faith, my outlook and how I treat others, but it is not who I am.
For other rape survivors, I think you will be especially encouraged to hear that sharing this part of my life shocked people. I have had friends respond with: “Are you kidding me?!” “Seriously?!” “I never would have expected that!” “Of all people, I can’t believe YOU were raped!” On and on, responses of disbelief and shock. Why would that encourage other survivors? Because it means being raped did not ruined my life. It didn’t permanently derail my life or crush my dreams. I still graduated from college, in my intended major. I worked in my intended profession until taking a break for my family. I married my college sweetheart and have three adorable children. At a glance, I seemed to have a life free of any baggage or past trauma. The idea that I am a rape survivor never occurred to them. Even now, knowing me, people find it hard to fathom.
I am living a great life! I enjoy life. My husband and I like to have fun. I have fun with my kids. I have fun with my friends. I don’t struggle with depression. I am happy and healthy. I am super smiley and upbeat – that’s just my personality, pre-rape and post-rape. I tend to be easy-going. I am an eternal optimist. I am the last person to know about anything negative going on in a group of people.
Up until sharing, I hardly ever thought about being raped. It did not consume my thoughts or cast a dark cloud over my life. I have moved on. Sure, I put in a lot of time and hard work to move toward healing, but that is a distant memory now. God has been so gracious to me. I consider it such a gift that I dealt with being raped at that time. I admit, I did repress and deny it happened for a time, but after that I dealt with it. I sought the help of a professional counselor. I spent countless hours reading about rape, searching the Bible for encouragement, journaling, praying about it and asking God to heal me. He did and I am confident and secure in who I am.
So, if I never felt led to previously share the fact I am a rape survivor, why now? This past fall I attended the MOPS National Convention – “Momcon.” Every year, MOPS picks a theme for the year. Last year the theme was “Starry Eyed.” The idea behind this being that regardless of the darkness in the world MOPS moms choose “Wonder, Hope & Kindness.” The keynote speakers all spoke to this theme and how we as women could live it out. Over and over, I felt like they were speaking directly to me. This is my story! Choosing “Wonder, Hope & Kindness” amidst the darkness.
While I felt like all the speakers were speaking directly to me, there were two that stood out and solidified my conviction that I need to speak up. The first was Chrystal Evans Hurst. She spoke about being a “Kingdom Woman,” a woman focused on the things of God and being used by God. She drew upon the example of Ruth from the Bible. In the Old Testament, Ruth was a foreigner who married an Israelite man while he was living in her land. He died along with his brother and father and left Ruth a widower along with her widowed mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Instead of returning to her family as her mother-in-law urged, she vowed to remain with her mother-in-law and return to her mother-in-law’s nation. She declared that her mother-in-law’s God was her God too. She completely forsook the familiar. She did not choose the easy, comfortable path, or even the path that made sense. She was simply ready to follow God and that’s what we are all called to do. To take the next one step. To simply obey. Because of Ruth’s faithfulness, God redeemed not only her circumstances, but her mother-in-law’s as well. Because of Ruth’s faithfulness she is in the lineage of King David and Jesus. Like Ruth, the call of God on your life is rarely just for you.
The second speaker that drove home my conviction to start sharing was Rebekah Lyons. In her honesty and vulnerability, she shared about her personal struggle with anxiety. Then she challenged us:
“In all your stories, the enemy knows your gifting and he is going to do everything in his power to shut you up and discourage you…Calling is where your talents and burdens collide…The burden of calling is surrender. It’s the life you live. The family you were born into. What broke your heart? Be the restorer.” – Rebekah Lyons
I knew immediately what broke my heart. I knew where my burdens and talent lay. I knew that in my story was hope. Hope that God cares. Hope that God listens. Hope that God shows up when we need him most and does miracles. I can clearly see him in my story and I knew that if I shared my story, other would see him too. That someone somewhere needed to hear just that. That someone would be encouraged by how God showed up.
Following Rebekah Lyons’ talk, there was a meet and greet. I went with a friend to meet her. I wanted to tell her how her speaking encouraged and challenged me. How I walked away with the conviction I needed to start sharing my story. Rebekah told me she was excited to see what God would do through me. As my friend and I walked away, she turned to me and asked: “So what’s your story?”
Step one – start talking. Wow, that was quick. Ok, time to start talking and follow through on what I feel I am being led to do. I turned to my friend and I told her everything. Guess what? My story resonated with her. She was struggling with some of the same issues I had struggled with. She had faced come of the same circumstances I had faced. She was challenged and encouraged by my hope and deep trust in God’s love. Sharing deepened our friendship and bond. It also encouraged me and confirmed that others needed to hear what I have to say.
I prayed about where to start. I knew I needed to share, but where to begin? As I prayed, a couple people came to mind: my MOPS Coordinator, my MOPS area coach and my Pastor. I told my MOPS Coordinator I would be willing to share my story at our annual “Tea and Testimony.” Then I shared my story with her. Instead of waiting until our Tea and Testimony meeting, she insisted I share at our next meeting. She too saw that my story tied in perfectly with our theme. I met with my MOPS area coach and she challenged me to write my story down. Once I started writing, I realized I had a lot to share. I couldn’t stop writing. When I met with my Pastor, I implied that I had been raped, as I had been doing up until that point. Since I had asked for his feedback, he interjected for clarification and then told me to just say it – “I was raped.” Then he asked me if I would be willing to share my story at church, that it tied in perfectly to an upcoming sermon series. I said “Yes,” and I have continued to say “Yes.”
Every time someone comes to mind or an opportunity arises, I take that step. I committed to saying “Yes” to God when he presents opportunities to share. I have shared with groups that honestly terrified me. I prayed for the strength to make it through events and keep it together. I have discovered that trusting God and following his leading, takes one small step of faith at a time. I realized I can do far more than I ever thought myself capable. I am far less fearful. Much bolder and more confident. I am free to be who God made me to be and to encourage others too. That is how I got from no one in my life really knowing I am a rape survivor to writing and speaking about it.
Hillary, I appreciate your willingness to follow God’s leading. I know your testimony will give others hope and help them to heal. I’m so happy you are not a victim, but victorious in Jesus Christ. I’m also glad you discovered grace.
Hi Bonnie. I couldn’t find your comment on facebook, but I deleted here. Hopefully, that worked. I am so sorry for what happened to you! It is awful!