I was looking for love in the wrong place. My soul was bruised each day at school by bullying, people running by me calling me, “Little Monster,” and boys teasing and taunting other boys with assertions that I was that boy’s girlfriend. I never said a word, not wanting to make things worse. Feeling ugly as sin, I sought love away from my neighborhood and school, in a community a long way from my home, where no one knew my nickname or me.
I caught the bus and rode to the other side of my hometown, trying to distance myself from the pain and suffering that plagued me every day. The constant name-calling by so many people in the school, and no one doing anything to stop it, stole my sense of value and worth, and I thought the way to reclaim them was through finding a male human being who would love me and call me his own, especially in front of other people.
So, I went looking for something that I did not realize could not be found in another human being. I was almost 16 years old and had no clue about where real love resided. But on this night, I would learn that I was not alone and that God loves us also sees us, as Hagar said in Genesis 16:13, and that God’s heart can be grieved by the actions of human beings.
Don’t get me wrong, I had been saved at age 9, and, as I have written before, slept with the Bible under my pillow for a time when I was younger, and the Bible said that God loved me. But, to understand God’s love and its accompanying sense of value and worth, a child has to learn what it means to be loved from others around them, preferably from their parents. When you are lonely in a world filled with people who do not pay you attention, and where the ones who do pay you attention are cruel, being told that God loves you is hard for the heart, mind, and soul to compute. So, you search for that sense of value and worth among the flawed creations with whom you share the real world.
Also, I believed that if God loved me, He would stop the bullying or not have let it start in the beginning. Moreover, if he rescued the Jews from Egypt, then why wouldn’t He help me, especially since I told Him that I loved Him? Why wouldn’t He send someone to love me, like the other girls in my school? The simple answer for a teenage girl was that either God didn’t see me or God did not know me. So, I went searching for what my soul so desperately craved: the love and acceptance of another person who would think me beautiful and desirable.
I got off the bus, and I felt some thing like a warning in my soul to get back on the bus and not keep the appointment with this boy that I thought was the best thing since cornbread (an old Southern saying meaning the best thing in the world!). But, I did not know at the time what it felt like when God is trying to get your attention, so I kept going. I arrived and he seemed so nice as we walked though the neighborhood. There was a new church being built in his neighborhood, and he suggested that we to go inside and sit down and talk.
He was holding my hand, and just the heat from his hand felt so good. To a lonely person, the human touch is such a gift from God. Just feeling my hand in someone’s hand was such a new experience and was so wonderful to experience that I would have went anywhere with him. So, we walked to the church, and he knew a way into the church. We went into the church and sat on the front pew and he kissed me. I was so happy. Then, I sensed a movement behind what would be the pulpit.
Immediately, I knew something was wrong, and my flight instinct kicked in, and I tried to run. But, three, four, or more pairs of hands grabbed at me, trying to keep me from getting away. I was terrified, and I fought to free myself, but to no avail. When I saw what they had planned, I started praying, “God, help me! Don’t let this happen, please! I am so sorry that I am sinning in your church, but please, please help me!” I did not know if He truly heard us when we cry out, or if all that talk was just foolishness. But, He heard and He came to my aid.
There must have been five of them, at least, but I was so scared that I did not take time to count them. Each was determined to be the first to hurt me, but not one of them could perform. Not one! So, one of them proposed beating me up, because if they were going to jail, they wanted it to be for something! I finally spoke and said that I would not tell anyone, I just wanted to go home. I told them that I did not even know their names, so I could not tell on them. Finally, one of the boys convinced the others to let me go.
As I walked outside the church, crying and so thankful not to have been hurt, I looked up at the sky and thanked God for protecting me. When the boys came from inside the church, the strangest thing happened. With nothing to indicate a storm was coming, lightning flashed in the sky and thunder roared louder than I had ever heard. Then, the rain came down, and we were all drenched in seconds.
The boys started running as though the hounds of Hell were chasing them. I looked upward and felt in my spirit that God was so angry at them for planning something so horrible inside the place where His glory would reside, and He was letting them know He was mad. I sensed in my spirit that God was crying at the sinfulness of this world, because as I started to walk away from the church, the rain stopped and it did not rain any more that night.
Even stranger, the house where I went for help was about two blocks from the church, and there was no rain there. I know it sounds too fantastic, but I sensed that God was crying with me, and I was so thankful for His presence. In Joshua 1:9, God told Joshua, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” That night, God proved that He was with me, too.
I learned that night that God is not blind to what occurs on earth. I came to understand that when that strange feeling comes over me telling me not to do something, that I must listen to it. But even more important, God’s rescue convinced me that not only does He know us, but we are in His thoughts. In Psalm 139: 17-18, David wrote, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”
I never forgot that night, but, as I promised, I have never shared the story. During 18 years of teaching, I have told my students about the domestic violence I experienced, but I have never told anyone about that night in the church when I was sexually assaulted. I had planned to take that knowledge to the grave with me, but the Holy Spirit laid it on my heart for a new post, complete with the title, and, still, I was resistant to tell it.
My resistance has been because I have always felt that I brought it on myself. I carried such shame around for years, because I felt that I should never have went inside the church with the boy, and I should not have been romancing in God’s house. I felt that, as someone saved and baptized, I was more in the wrong than the guys were, and I thought that God must be as displeased with me as He was with them.
But, I have come to understand that we can never take the blame for other people’s decisions to hurt another person. No one should be faulted for other people’s needs to control and overpower someone for their own pleasure. I don’t know what ever happened to those boys, but I hope that night touched their hearts and scared them from trying that same thing on another girl.
It took me a long time to enter a church after that encounter, because I had flashbacks of that night whenever I saw a pulpit, and because I felt so much shame and guilt that I wanted to hide from God’s presence. I prayed and asked God to help me overcome it. I finally learned to let go of the shame and guilt of that night, realizing that shame and guilt cause us to run away from God right when we need Him most.
Just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:10), I was hiding from God, but He came and found me, and He showered me in His unfailing love, just as He had promised. Jeremiah 31:3 states, in part, ““I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” He wants us to come into His presence, so He draws us to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ our Savior.
I wish I could tell you that my life at school got better, but I did not escape the bullying until I graduated high school. But, what changed was that I came to know that God loved me, and that because I am His child, I have value and worth to Him. That made life bearable, along with, admittedly, my hoping that the people who tried to hurt me and the people bullying me would richly feel God’s vengeance at some point in their lives (Yes, I have overcame that desire, too!).