Tonita M. Helton
We know in faith that there is a supernatural realm, a world with demons and angels, evil and grace, a world that interacts with our own in an intimate and profound, yet unseen, way. We know that a battle rages in that world for the soul of each and every human being on Earth. And sometimes we see, in the most unexpected of moments, a rare glimpse of what happens in that world, of what lies beyond the veil that thinly separates our reality from the ultimate reality.
It happened when I was in my third year of law school. I had met and began dating a man we’ll call Jack. Jack was fairly good-looking, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a generally handsome face. He was of above average intelligence, could be quite charming, and had a truly amazing voice when he sang, which he did perhaps too often. Jack was not the man I would have chosen for myself, however. He was not physically my “type,” but more critically, he was not a man of faith, and could be selfish, boorish, and materialistic. There was something beyond me at work, however, when I met him, and my spirit was moved deeply, in a way that it had not been before and in a manner that I did not recognize at the time. As a result, I quickly came to conclude—became quite convinced, in fact—that this was the man that God wished for me to marry. And, although not in the way I believed, Jack was indeed destined to change my life forever.
The relationship lasted a little over a month and was something of a whirlwind. Jack was the kind of man who would push things along quickly when he had determined what he wanted and, very early in the relationship, began discussing marriage. I was not opposed to the idea, as I believed it was the ultimate path for us. Even so, I thought it was imprudent to rush things for several reasons, and had told him as much.
About five weeks into the relationship, he called to ask me out for Friday and told me that he had something very special planned. I agreed and drove to meet him on Friday night after class. We went out for dinner with friends of his and then went to his house. As I recall, he said he had a video or something that he wanted to show me. When we got there, we talked for a few minutes, and then he proposed to me. At the time, I was a little upset with him because I had clearly given him the signal that it was too soon, that we should slow down and wait for a formal engagement until we had more time to get to know each other. At the same time, however, I believed that there was no real question about whether I was going to marry him; it was just a question of when.
So I said, “Yes,” and accepted the ring he offered me.
And then the unthinkable happened.
He forced me into the bedroom and raped me.
Afterwards, he left the room for something—I don’t know what. I remember lying there in a state of utter disbelief and shock. The pain and anger were to come later; for the moment, I was numb and immobilized, staring at the wall in an incapacitated daze. I believe it was my guardian angel that pressed me into action and, with simple, gentle instructions, helped me to get myself together. Thus mobilized, I dressed as quickly as I could and hurried out of his house, leaving the ring on the table as I left.
When I was in the car and safely away from him, I lost it. In a rush, the dam broke and I was overwhelmed by a wave of crushing emotion. I felt angry, violated, betrayed, humiliated, and so very, very stupid, all at the same time. I could do nothing but weep and I began sobbing, violently. I remember thinking vaguely that there was a heavy rainstorm, but then realized I was simply unable to see the road for the tears pouring from my eyes.
I didn’t go to the hospital or to the police. I went to Our Lord. It was late—a little after midnight—but there was a twenty-four hour adoration chapel in town. I went and stayed for almost two hours, praying, for what I didn’t know exactly, and crying, silently to avoid disturbing the other woman who also knelt in prayer. By the end of that time, the flood had stopped, I had regained some composure, and I had some small amount of peace. And, in response to the inevitable question? I tried to forgive, and I even said the words, but I could not, or at least did not, mean it.
On my way home from the church, I was pulled over by law enforcement as the tail lights of my Escort had gone out. My eyes were still bloodshot and as he looked at my face, the officer asked me where I was going and if I had been drinking.
I said, “No, I’ve been crying. My boyfriend . . . “ and then I paused and just looked at him for a moment, uncertain.
In that bare, split second I had a decision to make. In a flash, many things went through my mind: my recollection of rape laws from criminal law class and the difficulty of proof, the public stigma of being branded a rape victim (or worse, a woman crying wolf), my newfound fear of this man and what he might be capable of, and the bleak prospect that a modern day jury would actually convict a man of raping his fiancée on their engagement night. I cringed as I thought about what the men in my family would want to do to him if they found out about it and I thought about how it might impact my career as a corporate litigator. And then, rightly or wrongly, I simply decided not to report.
“We got in a fight,” I finished, somewhat lamely.
The officer just looked at me. I still believe that he knew. By some whisper of an angel or by some spark of intuition—he knew. I don’t know why it mattered, but it somehow did, and it somehow helped. He looked at me for a long moment with a soft, gentle smile, and finally nodded his head slightly, as if to say, “Okay then. We’ll just let it be.”
Then he told me to get the lights fixed as soon as I could, thanked me for my courtesy, and let me go on my way.
I went home, took a long, hot shower and went to bed.
The next week was surreal. I went to school and classes, trying to act as if everything were normal. I imposed upon my behavior an external calm and an absurd cheerfulness that made me feel removed from myself and shamefully insincere. On the inside, I felt like a boiling, festering cauldron of anger, humiliation, anxiety, and even fear as I had received quite threatening phone calls from Jack in the days immediately following the rape. The toxic seed of hate itself had also taken root in my heart and I could feel it beginning to grow, threatening to overtake everything else.
In order to cope, I ran more miles that week than I would have normally in a period of two months. I ran, and ran, and then ran still more, in a determined effort to work out the anger inside me and to pound out the hate and bitterness that had planted itself in my heart. After each punishing run, I would be physically exhausted, but the anger, hate, and fear would still be pressing upon me, almost as if it had actually been fed. Those horrible emotions festered in my soul like a badly infected wound, growing more and more potent every day.
Finally, about a week after the rape, I was running again. I was only a couple of miles into the run, but I was running up a fairly steep hill that I hit especially hard. As I neared the crest, my anxiety and anger hit a crescendo as my body screamed for mercy. I couldn’t take it anymore; I slowed, walked over to the curb, collapsed in a pathetic heap on the grass and began sobbing and heaving, at the absolute end of my physical and emotional rope.
In my soul, God quietly pressed the question again and showed me the choice I had before me. Down one path, I saw a life of bitterness, anger, and hate that would grow steadily in intensity and become much, much worse than what I was already suffering. Down the other path, while somehow less vivid, I saw light, hope, and the promise of a measure of peace. I knew clearly what I had to do to escape the darkness I had found myself in, but I did not know if I could.
Finally, in response to that persistent question, I took a deep breath, firmly set my jaw, and said in a ragged whisper, “Yes, Lord, I forgive him.” And this time I truly meant it, and with absolutely everything I had, willed it to be so. In my heart, mind, and soul, I gathered all the pain, suffering, fear, and humiliation from the rape and the emotional turmoil following it. In a crumpled pile on the side of the road, I united all of that suffering with Christ’s and I offered it through tears to the Father for the salvation and conversion of Jack and others like him—who viciously and carelessly take what they want without the slightest thought for the consequences to themselves or to the people that they hurt. And I offered it all. By the grace of God, I held nothing back.
And then a truly amazing thing happened. Barely had the words passed my lips and the offering been made, when the hand of God reached into my soul to set things right. I have heard and read of miraculous and instantaneous healings, both physical and emotional. I think I had a vague belief that emotional healings were somehow less dramatic or significant. This error was about to be corrected. In less time than it takes to blink, the power of God moved through me. Although it was mostly an emotional and spiritual healing, I actually felt him removing all the hurt, pain and anger, and replacing it with the peace and joy that only He can provide. In one moment, I was in the worst emotional condition of my entire life. In the next, I was in the best, feeling more peace, freedom and joy than I had ever experienced. Never had I been so well-instructed on the tremendous power of forgiveness.
But the Almighty was not yet finished with my lesson. As I was trying to comprehend the new liberation of my soul, God tapped me lightly again and directed my gaze inward, to the doorway of my soul. In a flash, the great veil was parted and, through the eyes of my soul, I was granted a brief vision of the supernatural realm.
The first thing I saw was a demon. He was a creature more foul than I could ever describe in words, a hideous and ruined being, fit for nothing but evil, wickedness and deception. He was cowering slightly and tensed, as if trying to hide from the bright light that had suddenly exposed him. I knew automatically what he was. He was the demon that had been silently haunting my steps, the unseen enemy assigned to deceive me and lead me into bitterness, anger, hate, and destruction. As horrific as he was, I did not fear him, for I knew that he no longer had any power over me.
As I watched, there appeared a great and mighty angel whom I understood to be St. Michael. In his right hand, he bore a sword. Without hesitation, he thrust the weapon through the heart of my tormentor. As he did, the demon howled with pain, surprise, and the frustration of unexpected defeat. With a flick of the wrist, St. Michael tossed the yelping fiend back into the pit of hell. And, then, the curtain was replaced and I saw nothing more of that world. All was quiet and still, like the calm after a terrible storm.
Stunned by the transformation, I just sat there, trying to absorb what God had just done for me and what He had just shown me. The time that passed from the moment I whispered the words of forgiveness to the end of my “vision” was not more than a few seconds, at most. But in that brief span of time, I learned more about the absolute necessity of forgiveness than I could have in years of studying the finer theological points of that unyielding maxim.
I now understand that you cannot and will not heal unless and until you forgive. I see that our actions and decisions play a direct and decisive role in the battle that is fought for our souls. Our angels can defeat the demons that prowl about us—even those who actively deceive us—with absolute ease if we simply follow the path we’ve been shown. But if we refuse, the destruction will be our own. For wounds borne of an injustice as vile as rape will always, and without exception, expand our capacity to hate if left untended. But the great depth of those same wounds will expand our capacity to love, and to be loved, if we but have the courage to let God mend them.
You see, in the final analysis, the true victim was not me, but Jack. And the ultimate predator was not Jack, but Satan. Ensnared and deceived by his own selfishness and pride, Jack was totally unable to see the horrible and reckless damage he was causing himself and simply did not care about the hurt he was causing me. He saw only his own wicked wants and desires and was utterly blind to the demons that marauded about him, poisoning and enslaving his soul. For his sin, he will be accountable, but for his enslavement, he is to be pitied.
I have not had contact with Jack since about a month after the rape when he called to ask me if I was going to take him to dinner for his birthday. As I recall, I rather rudely declined. Several years have passed since then, and I have no idea about the current condition of his soul. Nor is it really any of my business. What remains of the matter, if anything, is now between him and the Almighty. By the great mercy and power of God, I am at peace. And now when I think of Jack, I do not cringe with hate and anger or tremble with fear and anxiety. Because of the great example of Our Savior and the tremendous grace of God, I honestly pray for him. A greater liberation I simply cannot imagine.