Rediscovering Faith as a Survivor of Sexual Assault - Letter from Jennifer Schoewe

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Catholic women, I must pose an uncomfortable question: Have you ever endured a pain so great that it emptied you of your faith? If your honest answer is yes, you are not alone. In fact, this letter is being written especially with you in mind.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

- Philippians 4:13

Dear Sister,

We all walk through different paths of life that may never cross, but one thing we have in common that links us together is pain. It varies in degree and in form, but just like death (and taxes), pain is the inevitable consequence of life on Earth. Since we are all Catholic women, I must pose an uncomfortable question: Have you ever endured a pain so great that it emptied you of your faith? If your honest answer is yes, you are not alone. In fact, this letter is being written especially with you in mind.

I am only too familiar with pain; he took off his jacket and shoes and made himself comfortable in my life one night almost three years ago when I was followed home from a college party. I can still see the devil clearly in the eyes of the stranger who raped me.

I am only too familiar with pain; he took off his jacket and shoes and made himself comfortable in my life one night almost three years ago when I was followed home from a college party. I can still see the devil clearly in the eyes of the stranger who raped me. I'll never forget waking up to his face, the fear, or the hopeless desperation of being unable move or scream out in agony. That stranger robbed me of my identity and killed everything good inside of me. I felt permanently broken. Damaged. Touched. Dirty. The pure soul of a once-proud virgin waiting for sex until marriage disintegrated right before my eyes, leaving behind only ashes; a distant memory of a girl I would never see again. It was then that I discovered what it is to be spiritually desolate. And I wanted to die. 

Though I never doubted the existence of God, I felt ashamed every time I'd walk into church. So, I abandoned religion as a priority. I was certain my faith and trust in humanity would never return. I stopped talking to God, and I stopped looking for Him.

Yet, somehow... I survived. It wasn't some romanticized moment of clarity like in movies. Every day was an ugly uphill battle. Though I never doubted the existence of God, I felt ashamed every time I'd walk into church. So, I abandoned religion as a priority. I was certain my faith and trust in humanity would never return. I stopped talking to God, and I stopped looking for Him.

I found God in a three-digit number. 

I'll let you in on a little secret if you haven't already heard: God has a funny way of making His presence known even, perhaps especially, when you're wounded and not ready to face Him. 

I found God in a three-digit number. 

He was first the safe haven of my brother's apartment # 413 that kept me alive when I was drowning in flashbacks, breakdowns, and suicidal thoughts. He was the repetitive dreams in which my grandma & guardian angel would visit me and fill me with comfort and strength before I woke up at precisely 4:13 AM each time. He was the shield of strength pendant, inscribed with the Philippians 4:13 Bible verse, which was given to me by a crucial member of my support system to keep me grounded and in the present. Most recently, he was the apartment of someone who would later become a very special part of my life, a valiant young man who continues to inspire so much growth and strength in me. Curiously, his apartment was # 413. God has quite the sense of humor.

And now, with His help, I am beginning to see a new, more resolute soul rising from those ashes. Like a phoenix. If I look closely, I can even see pieces of the vibrant girl I once was, almost as if she never completely left.

As I healed with time, I was ready to rebuild my faith. But not unlike Job, I couldn't do that without first questioning it. I contemplated the existence of evil and why bad things happen to good people. A certain quote I once heard comes to mind: "No tree can grow to Heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell." It should be no wonder that it took me an abundance of prayer to face the dark realizations that awaited me. 

God and I are on speaking terms again since I began reflecting. I have allowed His presence to soften my heart and overwhelm me with inspiration to leave positive, healing marks on the lives of those around me.  I think our relationship is even stronger after a period of doubt. Now, I know that I commit my life to Him by choice, not because I have never been tested. And now, with His help, I am beginning to see a new, more resolute soul rising from those ashes. Like a phoenix. If I look closely, I can even see pieces of the vibrant girl I once was, almost as if she never completely left.

It is possible to grow strong enough that you no longer wish you could change the past, because you are a better and more good person precisely because of it.

In my journey of rediscovering my faith, I stumbled upon a crucial piece of hope: It is possible to emerge from pain to do good. It is possible to break the cycle and prove that good does trump evil in the human heart. It is possible to grow strong enough that you no longer wish you could change the past, because you are a better and more good person precisely because of it. I am a testament to that. This realization has helped restore my faith in humanity.

I began this letter with my favorite Bible verse, and I will conclude it by coming full circle. I may not know your story or any of the pain and adversity you are up against. I may not ever know your name or be able to wrap my arms around you in comfort. But we have some valuable things in common that will always link us together; we are flawed Children of God, bound by our own sins and limitations. We are strong survivors of those sins and limitations and capable of virtue and redemption. We are beautiful mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. We are so loved. We are in this together and never alone. And we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

May God bless you, dear sister. I'm walking right beside you.

Jennifer


About

Hello, beautiful sisters! My name is Jennifer. I'm a 23 year old free-thinking spirit about to move to Chicago to start a life with my wonderful boyfriend. I am establishing a professional career in Finance while fearlessly pursuing my passions of political philosophy and writing.


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