Today, we’re joined by Ruth Everhart, author of the memoir Ruined. Back in 1978, when she was a senior in college, Ruth’s life was forever changed when two armed intruders broke into the house she shared with her four roommates and took turns raping the girls at gunpoint. That evening started Ruth on an extraordinary emotional and spiritual journey that challenged everything she believed about God, faith, and forgiveness.
We are grateful to Ruth for joining us and sharing what it was like to write her memoir.
People sometimes ask me why I wrote this book. They say, “How could you stand dredging up all those painful details? Wouldn’t it have been easier to leave it all in the past?”
Or maybe that’s just me, talking to myself.
They’re reasonable questions. I had a perfectly nice life when I began writing this memoir. I was a suburban pastor, a happily married wife, a mother of two. The rape chapter of my life had been closed long ago. Why reopen it now, some thirty years after the fact?
The answer is connected to the gifts I enjoyed. It turns out that each blessed role—pastor, wife, mother—was a reason to investigate my past. Every gift bears a certain weight.
As a pastor, I felt compelled to live out my theology. Could I do for my own story what I’d helped others do with theirs and treat the story as a sacred narrative? In order to do that, I needed to unravel the sorrow and pain of what happened while keeping an eye on where God was. Or wasn’t. That had always been my question: Where was God? If I had come to believe that God is never absent, even when evil is palpable, could I capture that thread of hope and hold it out to others?
As a wife, I wanted to take stock of the gift of marriage. How had our thirty-plus years together come to be? The truth is that my life with my husband has been wholly different from the life I expected to have. Maybe every person sets out expecting to live one kind of life, then ends up with a different one. At some point, everything shifts. A trauma occurs. Illness descends. The job disappears. Violence strikes. The door shuts. The lover leaves. Life takes its shape in the moment between such an event and our reaction to it. I knew this to be true. But I had also become aware of an undercurrent of resentment in me, still, a residue of having been cheated of something. The taste of ashes. I had lived in anger for so many of my young-adult years.
Which brings me to the last, and most compelling reason: I wrote this book for my daughters. It’s not that I wanted them to read it. Whether they do or not is up to them. It contains words that no one wants to read in connection with their mother. But I wrote this book for them in the sense that I wrote it to become a better mother. As they became young adults, I needed to become more whole. I hadn’t felt deficient when they were younger. I felt confident about my mothering then. Reasonably. I could read books to them and make supper. I could drive them places. But as they flourished into young women, my old wounds resurfaced and ached again. I felt fears and anxieties about their safety. I felt anger at the Christian subculture and its ceaseless waving of the woman-shaped flag labeled “Purity!” I felt a sense of hopelessness that evil persists, that it has not been defeated for the last time.
In short, I realized I didn’t bear tidy scars after all, but actual bleeding wounds.
I could see all this because it turns out that one of the gifts of raising children is receiving new eyes. X-ray eyes. Eyes that see our children for who they really are and love them anyway. Maybe using X-ray eyes is the closest we ever get to being like Jesus. Maybe seeing with X-ray eyes is simply a way to talk about grace.
My pastor-self wondered if I could look at my own story with X-ray eyes. Could I investigate my past with deeper knowledge and compassion? Could I look at the parts that were still covered with shame?
Jesus whispered into my ear, I know those parts anyway. I know the words you refuse to use. An affair. A married man.
“Keep your X-ray eyes to yourself!” I told Jesus. “I’m an ordained Presbyterian minister, I’ll have you know!”
Yet I began to suspect that I could only find healing if I could be more honest. Even ruthlessly honest, if you’ll forgive a little play on words. I had to be willing to strip away parts of Ruth, at least parts of the facade I’d built around her. So I decided to take a fresh look at my story. I pulled out my journals and read years’ worth of painful scribblings. I contacted people I hadn’t seen in decades. I sat down with family members and asked for their help in remembering and reconstructing. I dared to ask everyone how they felt all those years ago and wrote down whatever they said. I wept with them, more tears than I knew I had. Afterward, I sat with those writings in my lap, enveloped by silence and prayer. Eventually I realized there were people I had to forgive.
I began to realize the extent to which I’d been hard on myself and what it was costing me. What would I say if a parishioner told me this story? What would I say if I were one of my daughters? Could I use those X-ray eyes of love on my own story?
“Okay, I’ll try,” I told Jesus.
Then, because I’m a writer, I began to write.
About the Author . . . Ruth Everhart is an ordained Presbyterian pastor who has been serving the church for more than twenty-five years. A frequent speaker and blogger at RuthEverhart.com, Ruth and her husband currently live in the Washington DC area. Her memoir, Ruined, (Tyndale), will release August 2nd, 2016.