It’s one of those things I had read about and seen in movies from the periphery. Never in my wildest dreams would it be something that happened to me. Never. And yet, here I am, telling my story.
It was just about dawn. I was sound asleep in my bedroom when suddenly something was very wrong. Someone, a man, had broken in to my apartment. He proceeded to attack me, trying to get to me in the most personal way. It was my darkest hour.
I don’t need to tell of the horrific details. Words unspoken are sometimes the most powerful. I fought off the perpetrator with all my might, but what I believe truly saved my life that day was the Armor of Christ; prayer. It was all I knew to do in my struggle. I called on my Guardian Angel. I repeated over and over again the Memorare and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. I believe Mother Mary herself protected my purity. I believe I am alive today so I can share my story, even if it helps just one person who is suffering from a similar attack. The Lord spared my life, for which I am eternally grateful and because of which I seek to glorify Him and be an instrument for His Peace.
I came out of the attack relatively unharmed physically. I immediately realized what a precious gift life is; undoubtedly, I cannot take anything for granted. I knew God wasn’t finished with me yet. In some ways, He was just getting started.
I don’t begrudgingly ask, “Why me!?” I thank God for waking me up and for helping me see how truly powerful He is. I thank Him for having this happen to me and not to one of my dear sisters. I praise Him that I am alive. I am alive!
Maya Angelou wrote a chapter on violence in her book, “Letter to My Daughter,” in which she identifies the painful truth of what assault is: “We must call the ravening act of rape, the bloody, heart-stopping, breath-snatching, bone-crushing act of violence, which it is. The threat makes some female and male victims unable to open their front doors, unable to venture into streets in which they grew up, unable to trust other human beings and, even themselves. Let us call it a violent unredeemable sexual act.”
Yet even in our darkest hours, Christ reminds us, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). He loves us, waits for us, and continuously nudges us to draw near to Him.
Not everyone can handle the reality of darkness. Over the next several years, attempted relationships came to a screeching halt once I broached the topic of my sexual assault. Thankfully, God was protecting me. In His divine plan, I would soon meet the one who could and would stand by my side. This became evident when (my now husband) Zach and I had been dating for three months.
I received a phone call from the DA’s office informing me that they had caught the person who attacked me. He was in jail. My prayer that he wouldn’t do this to another woman was being answered! It was time to tell Zach my story. I’ll never forget the gentle and kind words he said to me when I finished speaking. “I’m so happy I know you. I’m so proud of you.” There was a change in him from that moment on. He took his role as my significant other and protector very seriously and revealed unconditional love for who I am.
Zach and I married, and life was happy. These events were in the distant past. We hadn’t heard anything for months. We had just returned from a beautiful honeymoon when I received another call that I needed to come in and go over my case. The court date was set, and I would need to testify. As the weeks went on and more preparations took place, I had to dig up my original statement to the police (word for word details of what happened). I began to sink into the pits of despair, even worse than before. I had a husband, someone I dragged down with me. I was acutely aware of the level of my anguish. This was the verse that described me:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck. I have sunk into the mud of the deep and there is no foothold. I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me. I am wearied with all my crying, my throat is parched. My eyes are wasted away from looking for my God … Do not let the deep engulf me nor death close its mouth on me.”
And another psalm: “They have set a trap for my feet; my soul is bowed down; They have dug a pit before me. May they fall into it themselves!”
For many, many years, I had been rid of the horrors of that day. Yet now, I was having to deal with them front and center all over again. The DA gave me excellent advice, which was to read my statement in its entirety to my husband, ensuring there wouldn’t be any surprises in court. Surely, I had shared all the details with him?! However, hearing the statement as it was to be read was crucial.
I spoke to countless therapists, spiritual leaders and priests before trial. One special priest even prayed to cast out all the demons surrounding me, and he prayed that God would help support Zach too. This priest also explained why Zach was feeling so terrible—he had no way of going back in time to protect me from this atrocious event. The period leading up to the trial seemed endless. It was another valley of darkness, weighted with dreadful anticipation.
The day of the trial finally arrived. I’m humbled by the number of people who were there supporting me. I made my way to the stand to give my testimony. The DA pointed out that most of the people in the room were there to support me. The trial lasted for a few more days. The man was found guilty and sentenced to 90-plus years in prison. His other victims who were there sought out my family members to find out what help and guidance they could get—they needed the same type of support I received. They could see I had found the peace that comes from Christ alone. Zach and I walked out of that courtroom and never looked back.
A few weeks later, we got our big fluffy sheepdog named Murray. We wanted something lively and fun to start the rest of our lives. This past October, I didn’t remember the “anniversary” we usually observe! In reflection of the events, I am awed at the Lord’s hand in all of it; His protection, how He used me as an instrument in the courtroom to cast away the wicked. I had been redeemed! We are all ultimately redeemed because of Christ dying on the cross. However, it is still up to us, no matter how tough the course, to seek Him, to turn to Him, to choose Him, to choose His love.
Joanne Huestis-Dalrymple is a mother of seven plus one in heaven. She enjoys making her house a home, will never turn down chocolate, has a special devotion to Our Blessed Mother, and finds joy in the small stuff, like natural child birth, spending time with family & friends, and of course, cozying up with a good book or movie.
Photo by Julie Wilhite