The Day I Knew I, Too, Could Murder

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By Bronwyn Lea | Twitter: @bronleatweets

A_BronwynA clanging phone dragged me out of sleep. Someone, somewhere, answered with mumbles. I groggily acknowledged the time: 4:57am. The light snapped on. I winced and reached for the proffered handset: “It’s for you.”

Seconds later, I was horribly, terrifyingly, shakily awake. “Bron, I’m sorry. You need to come. She’s with me. She’s been raped.”

My most beloved one. My new-to-college, freshman-in-my-dorm beloved one.

Tunnel-vision set in. The click of my car seat buckle seemed cruelly loud. I drove the 5-minute drive in a bubble. I found her sitting on our friend’s bed. We collapsed into each others arms; she begged me to tell no-one. I felt betrayed by the smell of her perfume. How could she still smell like joy and blossoms, when this had just happened?

* * *

I sat on the smooth, concrete steps and stared at my knees. I was shivering, despite the summer sun baking onto my legs. In the building twenty steps behind me, she was sitting alone with a detective as he painstakingly recorded every word of her statement. She had been in there for more than an hour.

I was at law school and knew enough about criminal procedure to know that her exact descriptions at this moment would be make-or-break evidence should the rapists be brought to court. But I was also a reader of newspapers, and knew enough to know that rapists were seldom caught, and even more rarely sentenced.

She hadn’t yet been seen by a physician. She hadn’t got to change her underwear. Why did she have to spend these hours spilling her trauma out in ink, when it seemed so unlikely that justice would be done?

Something dark and furious unfurled in my gut. A visceral voice spoke: “I would kill them myself,” I said. “If those guys were to cross my paths right now, I would kill them myself.”

With horror, I realized I meant it. Me, who had always been the peacemaker, the goody-two-shoes, the achiever, the good little Christian girl–ME … yes, me. I had it in me to kill someone. Given the right provocation, given the opportunity, I could kill someone. The strength and depth of the darkness I felt stunned me.

It was the day I knew I could murder. The day I knew I, even I, was capable of the most terrible depravity. After years of theological lip service to the fact, it was the day I knew I was a sinner. Horrified and humbled, I sat in a cold sweat on those sun-baked steps and wondered how it was that I could call myself a Christian while longing for the death of the three men who had snaked off into the night and left my most beloved in shreds.

I watched as they unpacked the rape kit, and ushered her onto the green mat on which she would need to undress. “To catch hairs or other evidence that might fall out,” they explained.

“She’ll need some new clothes,” the assistant told me. Could I get some?

The drive from the hospital was a short one: exits and intersections I had been through hundreds of times before. I drove on autopilot, my mind flooded with thoughts.

What if they did catch them, and they went to prison? Would we be the kind of people who could publicly say we forgave them? Would we be like those who wrote letters of reconciliation to perpetrators, like I’d read about in inspirational Christian magazines? Would we have the strength to show mercy?

Reality crashed in: they would in all likelihood not be caught, not be tried, not be imprisoned. Imagining our gracious forgiveness of convicted felons was a fantasy. Justice would not be served: of this, I was fairly sure.

My Christian consciousness brought comfort: “Oh well,” I reasoned with myself, “at least with God there is always justice. They may escape punishment in this life, but they won’t escape it in the next.”

“Unless they repent,” I heard a voice say. Still and small, He spoke again: “What if they repent? What happens then?”

“Then you would forgive them, Lord.” The words of grace I had only ever applied to myself flung themselves across my mind with a painful new twist: if anyone calls on the Lord, he will be saved. The old is gone, the new has come. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

“But it’s not FAIR!” I yelled at God. They should NOT get off scot free! How could you let guilty people who are unpunished in this life still go unpunished in the next? I sobbed, yelled, railed, and then finally stilled enough to know the answer.

No, it wasn’t fair. No condemnation wasn’t fair. But then again, neither was the pardon I have received. Mercy is never fair. The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and he offers welcome and pardon to anyone: even to rapists and would-be-murderers like me.

That chilly, sunny day in February 18 years ago is etched into my memory. I have run over that day again and again, and the carved recesses of memory are worn smooth with familiarity. It was the day I saw my soul, and knew my own sin. But it was also the day I saw grace, and began to understand love.

___________________

About Bronwyn:

unnamedMy name is Bronwyn. I’m addicted to ice-cream and the sound of my children laughing. Grace is my lifeline. Mostly, I pack and unpack the dishwasher, but when I can sneak away–I write at bronlea.com.

 

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  • Bev Murrill

    !!! Stunning. On several levels. Bron, painful to read but mighty too.

  • Bronwyn, I’m with Bev. Stunning. Painful. A mirror reflecting the darkest corners of our souls… Divine mercy… grace… hope… transforming love.

    • Thank you, Amy. Transforming is a good word : that day changed us all.

  • Bronwyn, my goodness. Thank you for your honesty. So powerful because this is the part of us all we try to bury and forget. But I’ve thought things like this before and it is so humbling to fight with God over it. Thank you for bringing these truths into the light with such courage.

    • Thanks, Sarah. It’s been nearly twenty years: it was time. I pray it is redemptive.

  • Rachel

    This… this grace and mercy has been my struggle for 7 years since my Christian boyfriend raped me. It seems unfair that he could repent and be forgiven, with no justice ever enacted on him. If I’m honest, I still have trouble celebrating that there is now no condemnation for him either, but I am learning that if I cannot celebrate redemption for him, then I cannot celebrate it for myself. If mercy isn’t what he deserves, it is no more what I deserve. There is beauty in the broken. Thank you for writing and sharing this reminder.

    • Oh Rachel, I am so very, very sorry. I wish I could reach through the internet and hold your hand a while. Thank you for sharing your own story. You are brave.

  • HBurns

    Brownwyn – thank you. Thank you for reminding us that even in the hardest, most ugly places in life – God is there and God speaks to our hearts. I am grateful to read your words this morning to be reminded of God’s amazing grace. I pray your beloved one has found some peace and much grace in her heart as well.

    Helen xo

  • Lesa Engelthaler

    Thanks for your beautiful honesty. Live long enough and we all have horrid events that “the carved recesses of memory are worn smooth with familiarity.” You made us feel less alone.

    • Thank you, Lesa. I treasure the community of the wounded.

  • God’s grace truly is amazing. And I only realize that when confronting my own sin.

    • *sigh*

      With you in the trenches.

  • Amy Danielle smith

    Oh course I know this isn’t the point of your piece, but might I ask anyway? Did the three men get caught and sentenced?

    • No, they didn’t. Thanks for reading and asking.

  • kdabaghian

    Wow, Bron, what a brave and achingly beautiful piece. I hate that this happened to your beloved and to you too, and at the same time I am amazed at God who redeems the years the locust have eaten. In my small and not very important opinion, 20 years is not too long — in fact a lifetime would not be too long — to sort out wrestle with even, the tension of justice and mercy that seeps from every word of your story. I’m so glad you are sharing it, with the tensions intact. Faith and dare I say it, hope, thrives in the tension.

    • “the tension of justice and mercy”: that’s exactly it. I cannot get my head around it. And you are right – in that quagmire of unanswered and unanswerable questions – somehow faith and hope live. Thanks for your kind words, friend.

  • Carryl Robinson

    There are few things in the world that can bring me to such a rage, but this is one of them. The idea of forgiveness for my abuser is so far beyond my grasp that I’m not even in the same universe. I know it has hindered my walk with Christ; it’s one of the things I continue to struggle with. Thank you for showing that mercy is possible, even for me.

    • Carryl – I waver between quivering rage and terrible brokenness over this constantly – even after all this time. My heart goes out to you. May God give us both a peace that passes understanding.

  • Sarah Joslyn

    Bronwyn, this is such an incredible reminder that our greatest hope is in God’s forgiveness and redemption. Thank you for sharing this with us. xoxo

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sarah.

  • Isaac Wong

    You have left me with two thoughts: 1) Isn’t it okay to desire justice? As with the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:10? Is this something close to what God feels towards those in rebellion against him? and 2) It is mystifying to me, what Jesus’ sacrifice means to God.

    • Isaac, I DO desire justice. I do. And I believe that’s part of the imprint God has made on our souls. Someone challenged me with the question: if the rapists repented would the Christians just accept them into the church community as if nothing had happened? I had to think long and hard about that. I find it very hard to imagine worshiping alongside someone who had done that and got away with it. But there’s the catch: if a rapist came to faith, surely true repentance would also push them to turn themselves in and face the penalties of law now? I long for justice one way or the other: in the here and now, or in ultimately. But either way – I am also so grateful that I am not judged by my deeds and wrongdoings: Jesus was judged for those and so I am forever a debtor. Thank you for reading, friend.

  • gutted.

    this left me viscerally changed.

    I wish I could say more, but I cannot. it’s so much.

    • me too. grace and peace to you.

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  • pastordt

    Well told, and so true. I am sorry for the trauma faced by your friend – so horrific and heartbreaking. But your reaction to it all feels right on target to me. I think there is room for righteous indignation in such a situation. The feelings, the murderous feelings, are not themselves murder, though they do kill of our illusions about ourselves pretty quickly. I think maybe they are necessary, that sometimes we need to be overwhelmed by the depths of depravity human beings are capable of – including ourselves. The difference is. . . you took those feelings to God, in honest conversation, and you allowed God’s Spirit to speak truth right into the middle of it all. Pretty amazing – and thank you for telling it to us so well.

    • Thank you for saying this. Someone emailed me today to say that they didn’t feel that my murderous thoughts were the same as rape – and I agree. There is a difference – but oh how humbling to see the dark patches of our souls. Your comment really encouraged me on a day that has felt so raw – thank you <3

  • thank you, thank you, for sharing this vulnerable piece of your story with us. Such powerful words that push us past our comfort zone and remind us that Jesus did indeed die for all. Wow.

    • Thanks, Michaela. Your words encouraged me.

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  • Wow. Deep. Brought tears to my eyes.

  • Well, I wrote a long, super-surprisingly-eloquent response to this article and, in creating a disqus accout, it disappeared when I clicked OK or whatever button I clicked. 🙁 boo.
    Suffice to say: Yes. Yes, and yes. I share the sentiments all around with you. Thanks for sharing. I hope one day my comment reappears from sicqus cyberspace, b/c I’d like to read what I wrote as a gut response. 🙂

    • Oh I have a love-hate relationship with Disqus too! I wish with you that your original comment had appeared 🙁 Thanks for reading and writing, friend.