Heaven and Hell [Sexual Assault Awareness Month]

The following is my contribution to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is my hope that by speaking out in public forums, more and more victims will feel safe enough to tell their stories. We have been victimized, but we can have victory.

I know what hell feels like.

Hell is when you can’t feel God near.

Hell is hopelessness, pain and self-hatred. 

I was raped multiple times as a child, all in faith-based environments.

For me, hell was living with the knowledge that “I am small and powerless and someone can hurt me at any point.” Hell was not telling anyone what happened because I believed the people who believed in God wouldn't believe me. 

For all of my life, people taught me about heaven. I longed for it, because I knew that in heaven, Jesus would be with me and I would feel safe. When I grew up I had to come to terms with the fact that heaven and hell were introduced to me in the same community. I learned about Jesus in the same places where I was raped. 

Now, what am I supposed to do with that?

People have told me many things about suffering. The best response I’ve heard is that God does not promise we won’t go through troubles, but he promises to be with us in those troubles.

But I was raped in church.

Do you see why that concept is difficult for me?

I have been in therapy for three years. I have worked on my relationship to my family, church and the larger community. I have owned my hatred for Christians, understood that it’s really a hatred for what happened to me in church, and I somehow manage to relate to church people in healthy ways, even serving in local churches myself. 

I don’t hate Christians, I don’t hate church, and I don’t hate myself.

Not anymore.

But I still hate that this happened. 

And I hate that I don’t understand.  I was not bad. My parents were not bad parents. The church of my childhood was not a bad place. Yet, I was raped there.

How can this be?

Where was God?

Why did this happen to me?

I have found that it is not comforting when people pretend to know the answer to that question.
It is comforting when they admit that they don’t know and say they are sorry that I have to deal with this. Sometimes I can’t sleep, and that’s when I let the other people who know just as little as I do hold me.

There is something that makes me feel better in these moments. 

It is not an answer to my questions.

It is another question entirely.

And it comes with a story.

There was a man named Jesus who lived a good life. He did good things and he did them for God. He did them claiming to BE God. And he died. You all know how he died. You have seen the steeples. You have worn the necklaces. But it was an uglier death than we are comfortable marketing. He was verbally abused, beaten, and forced to be naked in public. Then he was killed. And jut before the end of it, do you know what asked?

He asked, “Why?” 

He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:43)

Jesus did not feel God there, and he questioned that.

This was Jesus, who did not need a theology lesson. 

This was Jesus, who claimed to be God, and yet felt separated from him.

If Jesus got to ask that question, then so do I.

Why did this happen to me?

I still don’t know.

I have very little control in this world. I lived in hell and I did not choose to be there. And one day I have to die, and I don’t choose that either. Although I am an adult now, I am still very small.

I am a representative of humanity.

Everyone who lives has no choice but to die. And that is the end of the story…unless what the church claims about Jesus is true.

Then there is hope.

So just for a moment, hope with me:

What if Jesus had full control over his own death? What if when Jesus died, he went to hell? And what if he did that because people like me were going to be there one day. Not because we did anything wrong, but because we were attacked.* What if Jesus pulled all the sin and rage and rape in the world down to hell with him? All the lies and pretense and false worship, what if they died with him? What if everything that we did wrong, and everything that was done wrong to us, was killed? 

What if in that moment, he plunged into our story, and gave us what we most needed?


Then, what if he rose from the dead?

And what if he offered to help us rise with him?

I believe all of those "what-ifs." I believe them based on the testimonies of people who knew Jesus and wrote things down about him that I can now read in a collection of ancient documents known as the bible.

I had so few choices in my childhood.

But I think Jesus chose to die so that I could choose to live.
And that means everything to me.

When I’m crying, I picture myself in the hell I suffered, and I picture Jesus dying to go there to get me. I see him reach out and offer me a choice:

Will I follow him into life, as he followed me into death? 

This is so much messier in practice than it is in theory.

But it starts with understanding that I have a choice.

Despite what happened to me, despite being victimized, I have a choice. And I choose life. I choose the life that Jesus offers, because he’s the only one I trust to give it. He’s the only one who came into my hell, so he’s the only one I trust to bring me to heaven. 

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been a child, and I'm happy to say I don’t long for heaven in the same way that I did then.

Probably because my life no longer feels like hell.

Sometimes I feel like heaven is surrounding me in the same way that hell used to. Sometimes I feel close to God, seen by him, loved by him. Sometimes I feel heard and known. I still often feel small, but I don’t feel powerless. And to me, that’s as close to heaven as I can get.

It’s very important for me to ask questions.

But it’s also important for me to have peace.

And that comes when I let myself be an answer, not a question.

So, why did this happen to me?

I don't know.

But why did this happen to Jesus? 

Because he loved me.

About the author: I am a singer/songwriter and children's book author/illustrator from New London, CT. I can be contacted at annawestbrookworks2011@gmail.com. To understand my journey through the grieving and healing process, please listen to these original songs on denial and hope: The Little Red Bench and I'm Safe Now Here.

*I am not saying that we we are all perfect, but that abuse is not our fault and we don't deserve to experience hell on earth. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Anna Booska April 27, 2014 at 10:54 PM
You have just earned even more respect than I could possibly fathom that I would have for you as a human as a whole. I too have been in a similar situation, thankfully, something stopped it for getting any worse, but I praise you for everything that you have done and continue to do. You are one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. So proud to know you and to have been in your presence! Keep doing great things!!
Anna Westbrook April 28, 2014 at 01:14 AM
Thank you for the encouraging words Anna. I'm sorry to hear you've been through something similar, this is far too common, but I'm really happy that it stopped. I'm glad to know you as well.
Cynthia Morrison April 28, 2014 at 12:44 PM
Anna I completely echo a lot of what you say! Even at 46 I still wonder, why me? And when tired, even, what did I do to deserve it? Yet, I know it was not me...wasn't even about me. It also took me quite awhile to know that me LIVING POSITIVELY was the best I could do to beat down the nightmares. So, I CHOSE to LIVE and move past... to take CONTROL back of me and my story. I am sorry you went through all that and although mine was not in my church, it took me a long time to go back to church and when I did I "interviewed" the church leaders to see if I felt I fit there. I admire you greatly for ALL that you are and do!
Anna Westbrook April 28, 2014 at 02:13 PM
Thank you Cynthia, both for your kindness and sharing your experiences and perspective. I think you're decision to talk with church leadership was wise. Focusing on choices, control, and positivity are amazing tools for combating the darkness that comes with all of this. I'm glad you commented, it's encouraging to me.


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