Through the Right Lenses

Election day is almost upon us. I requested a mail-in ballot so I could sit down at home with a computer and research the people running for office. It took the better part of 2 evenings to sift through these candidates and ink in the bubbles of my choosing on that paper form. But it’s finished, and I mailed mine recently. What’s done is done.

We’ve all heard inflammatory stories about both candidates running for president from the 2 major parties this season. One of the recent revelations involved what many referred to as “locker room talk.” Merciful Minerva, did I get tired of reading that phrase. I kept my comments about this to myself, though–because comments about one candidate or the other in this race seem to accomplish nothing but sparking of arguments.

At the outset I’ll say that I’m not promoting one candidate over another or trying to sway your vote. This post is simply an expression of how those words expressed by a man who wants to serve as our president reminded me of an incident of my past. And how those words of his, so easily dismissed by many, are no joking matter. Instead of a political post, this is a personal post.

paint-tray-2

The summer I was 21, I went to Hungary with Cru for a summer mission project. Our team had planned to go to Croatia, but in 1995, the unrest in that country diverted our group to a resort town in Hungary. We held English language camps for students while sharing about God’s love and mercy with those who attended. It was my first overseas experience, and–although it was a hard, emotional, struggle-filled summer–I was hooked. I loved experiencing another culture.

One afternoon there, I went to the outdoor market by myself. My roommates and I kept a supply of bananas and chocolate in our dorm room that summer; I went to pick up those groceries, among other things.

Almost to the market, I saw a group of boys walking toward me, three across and taking up the width of the sidewalk. I use the word “boys” intentionally, because they were that young. I stepped off the sidewalk, giving them room to pass, when I noticed the boy in the middle step out of line and move toward me instead of going past. It momentarily confused me. I noticed his shoes–black dressy shoes, no socks, covering feet at the end of tanned legs. I questioned why he’d be wearing those shoes to walk around on a hot day.

This boy didn’t stop as he walked toward me; he reached out (it seemed to happen in slow motion) and…What words shall I use to describe this? He grabbed. He pushed. He violated.

It was broad daylight. I was not in a dangerous area. I walked briskly, with confidence. I was wearing nothing racy. (Notice how I assured you this wasn’t MY FAULT?) How could this happen to me? WHY did this boy do such a thing? What made him think this was OK? 

I remember squeezing my hands into fists, fingernails digging into palms. I told God, “I’m not speaking to you right now.” I was so stunned I didn’t even stop walking. An automaton, I kept heading toward the market, bought the groceries, walked back to the dorm. I saw another person from our group as I came back on campus–who had seen me when I left to go to the market–and she commented, “Back already? That was a short trip.” I didn’t answer her; I don’t think I even smiled.

Climbing the steps to my room, I told myself (over and over) that I wasn’t going to tell anybody. It’s not that big a deal, I reasoned. But when I walked in to see 2 of my roommates, I clearly couldn’t hide that something was wrong. They asked me questions, and when one asked, “Was it a boy?” and then followed up with “Hungarian or American?” the story (and the sobs) came out.

As I choked out details, one of my roommates assured me that, had some men from our group been with me when the assault had happened, they would have pounded that boy. Or yelled at him. Or done something that would have made him sorry he’d messed with me.

My immediate thought in response was,”Oh, but not for ME. Those men would have stood up for some other woman, but not for ME.” This wasn’t a criticism of the men; it was a revelation of how little I thought of myself as a “real” woman–real women are worth standing up for and fighting for (not that I wanted them to beat up this boy). I questioned whether I was “woman enough” to be the kind of woman whom men would choose to defend. I’m not saying I needed to be rescued. I AM saying we can’t MAKE ourselves feel loved or supported. Not the way I can “make” myself feel healthy by eating right, exercising, getting rest. We were created by God to be in relationship with others; it’s in relationship that we experience love and experience BEING loved. I didn’t need to be rescued, but I DID need to be reassured.

It was healing to talk with my roommates. And it was healing to go out later to a cluster of fir trees near our dorm, where I sat hidden in the midst of them, crying and praying.

Like probably any person who’s experienced this kind of violation, I felt dirty and shameful. I think it’s natural to ask, What about me would invite this ugliness?  It took years for me to call this ‘sexual assault.’ I didn’t get raped; I know people who’ve experienced so much worse. I told few people, because I feared that others might make light of, might minimize, something that had traumatized me. That they might dismiss what happened to me as a kind of physical “locker room talk.”

But it’s been over 21 years–I’m twice as old now as I was when I was assaulted. I have fully forgiven that boy and have even prayed for him, although I don’t much now because I honestly rarely think of this. I am no longer traumatized. I’ve written about the experience before (in a writing exercise about trauma for a grad student’s research project as well as in journals over the years). This never changed the fact that one of my ‘love languages’ is physical touch.

journal reward

Walking that messy, muddy path to deal with the repercussions of the assault went a tremendous way in learning to see myself as God sees me–His daughter in whom He delights, His workmanship, captivating to Him and loved by Him regardless of how other people see or treat me.

Nothing in me “asked” for that hurt. If something like this (or worse) has happened to YOU, be assured you didn’t bring it upon yourself. Don’t look at yourself through the eyes of the person who harmed you. Look at yourself through the eyes of the Father, who moved heaven and earth to show you His love.

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