She traveled to a distant city to give a business presentation. In her hotel, she checked her suit in the full length mirror, wondering if she should add a necklace. No, not this time. Keep it simple, more business-like. She made her way to the conference room, gave the presentation to the nods and approval of the audience.
That night, the leaders of the seminar, including her, went out to dinner several miles away. She laughed, ate her way through a perfectly grilled steak, and thanked her hosts.
One man offered to share a cab back to the hotel. Knowing his reputation within the company, she agreed.
Except that he had other intentions. His grip on her elbow grew menacing, and he shoved her into his room. She left his room a hollow woman, broken, blouse torn.
When she caught her reflection in the full length mirror, she cried out, then crumpled before it. In that heap, she wondered how she’d get back home, and how in the world she’d ever be able to live as if nothing had happened.
Four months later, she sat crying in the ministry leader’s office. “How can I help,” Ms. Ministry Leader asked.
But she could not look up, could not meet the woman’s eyes. The tears spilled. She wished she could cup them to herself, hide them, and stop all this weak-minded crying. No use. “Several months ago,” she began. “He …” Though difficult, the story released, and she felt a modicum of relief. Someone knew her terrible secret.
Ms. Ministry Leader leaned close. “What were you wearing?” she asked. “Did you flirt?”
Four months later, heart still bruised, she dared to risk again, this time with her small group leader. The conversation came because Small Group Leader had happened upon her and startled her to tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just startle easily.”
Small Group Leader sat next to her. “You’ve been a recluse lately. Do you think you’re depressed?”
“Several months ago,” she began. “He …” The story erupted in hiccups this time. She held her breath afterward, wondering if Small Group Leader would listen, understand, empathize, cry alongside.
“You know you’ll never be whole until you forgive him. Don’t you think it’s time to let this go? It’s been more than half a year now.”
Four months later, she served dinner to people in a residential program, battling substance abuse. She kept to herself behind the long table separating herself from the small crowd that piled their plates with enchiladas and rice. One woman, Charlene, smiled at her. “I want to hear your story,” she said. “I think you have one.”
“It’s not interesting,” she whispered.
“After dinner,” Charlene said. Her eyes danced.
Charlene found her as she washed the dishes. She jumped when Charlene said her name.
“I startle easily,” she said.
“How can I help?” Charlene already had tears. “I have a story too.” She pulled up her sleeves. Cut marks. Evidence of one thousand needles. Veins snaking long up and down her forearms.
In the space between them, silence lived for a moment. But the hush didn’t freak her out; it settled into her. That quietness rested her heart. Charlene looked as if she wanted to hear the story, as if she understood somehow.
“Several months ago,” she began. “He …” The story excruciated itself into the stale air. One terrible sentence at a time.
Charlene asked questions. Clucked her tongue. Shook her head. Cried alongside. “I’m so sorry,” she said. And she was. Charlene wrapped those scarred arms around her. In that circle of two, a small piece of healing worked its way in.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:33-37
Some of you reading this story are the “she.” You’ve experienced sexual violation. Some of you have told. Some of you have kept it secret. Some of you let the story out, only to be questioned, re-victimized by other people’s judgment. You’re walking with a limp. You startle easily. You’re afraid of sex, or you tolerate it, teeth gritted. You think you’re the only person on this earth who struggles this way. Often you feel dirty, discarded. You long for healing, but it’s been so slow going, you wonder if it will ever, ever happen. You’ve hollered at God about this. Why didn’t He protect you? Why doesn’t He heal you now?
Some of you reading this story are friends with the “she” in this story. Some of you are spouses. You ache deeply for her, but often don’t know what to do. How do you come alongside? How do you ask questions? How do you offer genuine help without appearing like you have everything together while they fall apart?
My desire in writing this story is this: that the sexually abused will find Good Samaritans in you. And that the sexually exploited will begin down the very real path of healing. And that’s precisely why I wrote Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse. I am the “she.” I don’t share her story–my rape happened when I was five years old. But oh how I understand her. My husband Patrick is the Charlene in the story. In the book, he shares his side of my story, how he walked me toward healing.
My prayer is that Not Marked will become a balm of healing to sexual abuse survivors, and that it offers great insight in helping friends and spouses walk alongside. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of the book, you can do that here.
“My husband read Not Marked in two evenings. He was, in his words, ravenous for it. His heart broke, but he was filled with hope. Both he and I were sexually abused. There’s more to it — there always is. But suffice it to say, he was reading it with two perspectives — survivor and married to a survivor. He has never really been able to understand my struggles with intimacy and your book has opened his eyes in a new way. Patrick’s words of encouragement were powerful and encouraging to him.”
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How about you? When has someone been a Good Samaritan to you? Or who has shouldered your painful story in a way that’s beautiful?
This week we’ll be giving away a total 10 copies of Not Marked. To be entered, simply leave a comment.