By: P.J. Di Benedetto
Three years ago, in 2010, I was standing on my 2nd floor balcony porch, staring off into the distant trees, totally peaceful, with my mind a million miles away. (Picture yourself there.) My sweet husband innocently came up behind me, and lovingly wrapped his arms around me….upon which I almost JUMPED OUT OF MY SKIN IN SHOCK AND FEAR, terrified, electrified, as if a bolt of lightning had just struck me! He so startled me, that I was shaking uncontrollably, and then, suddenly I just burst into tears! I want you to know right now that my husband didn’t MEAN to scare me…in fact, he is a wonderful, Godly man who wouldn’t hurt anybody, intentionally. As I stood there having a complete meltdown, he pulled me into his arms and held me close, saying, “I’m SO sorry, Sweetie! I didn’t mean to frighten you, Honey!”, and many other comforting words that soothed me. (My husband is a gift from God, especially chosen for me! He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for me!) So, when I finally calmed down, my husband gently, TENDERLY talked to me about maybe going to see a Christian counselor who specifically deals with victims of rape. It was obvious to him I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I am a survivor of a rape by a serial killer, which occured when I was 14 years old, but that I’d never dealt with. I didn’t tell ANYONE when it happened, and actually went to school the next day as if nothing HAD happened. It was how my brain survived the trauma, because that rape COMPLETELY blew my mind! (Fast-forward for just one second: I DID tell my mother, in 1983, when my rapist was caught by the police for rape and murder, TEN years after he raped me.) Then, after telling my mom, for the next 20 years of my life, after my rapist was in prison, convicted in the deaths of 2 of the 6 murdered girls the police came to find out about, I never talked about it again. I never sought help, or counseling, and I simply did what was expected of me in life, trying to pretend everything was normal. This was all totally sub-conscious. I had no idea I was doing that! I like to say that I wore a mask…my, “I’m fine!” mask.
And now, standing there on my porch, 38 years after the rape, I had just simply fallen apart. I was like a puddle of water on the ground, my mask floating there on the surface, leaving me feeling naked. (Looking back, I think that was God’s perfect timing.) After agreeing with my husband that I would seek someone for Godly counsel, FROM THAT MINUTE ON, everything in life as I knew it before began to change. Just making the appointment was like a breakthrough! I was not going to keep quiet anymore! No more stuffing this down…I was coming out of hiding, I was breaking my silence, I would be bringing everything into the LIGHT. I was very afraid of what would come out of me during this counseling, scared of how much I would have to dredge up about my past, but I’d had enough of the “LIVING WITH FEAR” even MORE THAN the fear of re-living the past with a counselor.
Right now, it’s been three years since then, when I went to that counselor. It really helped me…HEALED me by pointing me to God, and after some very intense months of hard work, I graduated! I felt so healed by Jesus’ loving-kindness to me! I was even able to forgive my rapist. I wrote him a letter telling him how he could also know this wonderful Jesus of mine! (Forgiveness is not a natural thing for one to do…it is SUPERNATURAL.) My pastors’ wife had given me some scriptures on an awakening, and of chains falling off. and that was exactly the way I felt! Free!!! I turned it into a sketch, that will one day become a painting. Then, the Women’s Ministry at my church was having a conference/workshop, and asked me if I would be one of the speakers and workshop leaders. I agreed, and afterwards, many women came to me with stories of their own. It was, again, another very healing experience.
God was using this story, my story, to touch other women’s lives. I shared with them many scriptures and promises from the Bible that I had learned! Now, God was taking something bad that happened to me, and replacing it with something GOOD, for His glory! My “history” became “HIS-story!”. Because, during my healing, Jesus did such a miraculous thing, that, now, when “RAPE!” roared it’s ugly head in my brain, Jesus Himself reminded me of what HE did during my counseling, and everything He taught me! The lies I had believed had been removed from me! And, once they were gone, Jesus clothed me with Himself! I told this group of ladies this: Instead of viewing my life from the perspective of being a rape victim, I now was making Jesus my “point of reference”. I learned that, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me; And this life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Jesus was living IN me, THROUGH me, AS me! Then, right after having these wonderful things happen to me, a story came out in the newspaper about my rapist, and his cousin, who were partners in the crimes of raping and killing girls. They were dubbed, “The Killing Cousins”, and it was one of the worst things to ever happen in our small town.The main story was about how the one who got the death sentence should have been executed already! He’d been on death row for 27 years! Their final victims’ family, (their 17-year old daughter was raped and killed in 1983), was angry about it that “justice had not been served” yet. (Her killer was put to death 2 years later, in 2012. The other cousin, my own rapist, had been given 2 life sentences.) The story told of how the mom would put a memorial in the obituaries each year, and how, once her daughter’s killer had been put to death, she would write a new, healing, celebratory memorial instead! I was so moved by the column, that I wrote a private letter to the columnist, telling him how well I remember the day these two had been caught, and how I finally told my mother I had been raped by one of these men.
He asked me if I would do an interview with him about what happened to me. I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed! God revealed to me, over and over again, that I SHOULD do it, even if only to help ONE person who was suffering. (But, He assured me, there would be HUNDREDS of healings, after all was said and done!) So, I did 2 interviews, during one of which I got to meet the final victims’ mother, and tell her how very sorry I was that her daughter had died, I got a chance to talk to her about the guilt I had felt all those years, thinking that if I’d only TOLD SOMEONE, maybe her daughter and others would still be alive…(though, at the age of 14, I did not have the tools to speak about it to anyone.)
On the 2nd interview, we drove to my old neighborhood, and I showed him where I grew up, and where my rapist lived…right across the street. The only way I got through those interviews was with Jesus holding my hand! I’m serious! He even SPOKE through me! I was shaking like a leaf throughout! Eventually, my story would be published on November 28, 2010 on the front page, along with 4 or 5 other stories, each with different angles, about these “Killing Cousins”, who roamed through our little town, and other towns close by, searching for victims, FOR THE PURE SPORT OF IT! (Yes! They did it for the FUN of it! Did I mention that the entire time I was being raped, my rapist laughed his head off crazily, non-stop, like some hysterical maniac? He actually ENJOYED robbing me of my innocence! Because, while I was DYING inside, it was visibly exciting to him watching it happen!) My story being published in the paper did help many people, though! My counselor told me of one person, a 70-year old man who had been sexually abused in childhood by his own father, came in saying, “If she can find freedom and forgiveness, so can I!”. Other people called me, and sent me cards in the mail. One letter began, “There are no words to say what we feel in our hearts for you except you have got to be one of the most courageous, strongest, and bravest girls we know.” I don’t always FEEL courageous, or strong, or brave….but the Jesus that lives in me IS!
After my story came out, I kind of went backwards for a time, because I feared retaliation. His family still lives in my same town. I started having Post Traumatic Stress, again, and also began having a fear of leaving my house. I became agoraphobic. On the heels of agoraphobia, I began to experience deep depression. Things that I once enjoyed, I stopped doing. Probably because, also during that period, still in the year 2010, I suffered great loss in other areas of my life. Three separate people who I loved very much died. My oldest son, (23 years old), went to jail for a year. (Can you just imagine how hard it was for me to go to the jail and visit him twice a week, being agoraphobic! Back ON went my masks!) I was suffering 2 very debilitating health issues. I had to end a long friendship with my best girlfriend. Then my husband moved us from the church where he and I were both thriving, because our teens needed a good Youth Group, which was non-existent in the church we were attending at that time. Keep in mind that the church was one of the few times I could leave my house, and be with other Christians. The ladies there were a big support to me. When we left, I pulled away from everyone. We wandered from then until now, 2013. All of these events made me seek God’s face like never before in my life! It was like I was actually STALKING Jesus! I sought His direction for every single thing! And, slowly, I started trusting again. I was invited to speak at a huge church, 4 hours away from my home, and my sister went with me, and GOD DID IT! Yes! God used my story for MORE people to get healed and to be free! Praise God! That was a very positive, healing thing for me…seeing God touch people using my voice, not to mention getting me to leave my home and travel 4 hours away, and spend the night in a strange city! It was empowering!
Last month, my husband and I decided to return to the church where we began, because they replaced some of the staff, and they are presently looking for a new youth minister. We were welcomed back warmly there! And it’s a great thing, because with no warning at all, the newspaper had a story about my rapist again, saying 3 members of his family were trying to get him exonerated.That story was on a Wednesday, and on Sunday they re-told my own story. Nobody asked me, and they printed it without giving me any heads-up whatsoever!!! And, I felt traumatized all over again! What a setback that was! I was so angry! My scab had been ripped open, AGAIN! It triggered all of my weaknesses….the PTSD, agoraphobia, and depression all over again! I’ve had to seek God with my whole heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit! I have to be very careful where I allow my mind to go, and also who I allow into my life! I have had to do whatever it takes to put into practice all I’ve been learning over these few years…like realizing that when I am weak, God is strong! When I think a negative thought, I make myself say three POSITIVES. I count my blessings, one by one. I have to, like David in the Bible, “encourage MYSELF in the Lord”, because other people are not always available. I will read my Bible or a devotion, I’ll listen to uplifting music, (and sing along!), journal, pray, listen to a sermon, call a friend, force myself to do a favorite hobby…whatever it takes! I just need to redirect my mind to what I know is the truth! I quote scripture right out loud! This is what it sounds like: “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is right, true, noble, if anything be excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things! I am NOT ever alone! Jesus will NOT forsake me! Jesus is my Rock and my Salvation! All things are possible with Him, who strengthens me! He who is in me is bigger than he who is in the world! If God is FOR me, who can be against me? For God knows the plans He has for me, and they are not plans to harm me, but to prosper me, and give me a hope and a future!”. That is how I survive, and I am grateful for all things that can and DO bring me closer to God! Knowing HIM is my GOAL in life! I am living my life for a reason, and that reason is Christ!
I started taking photographs with the new camera my husband bought for me, and it has gotten me to take baby steps away from the house. I still panic when it’s time to get in my car and drive to pick up my kids from school, but popping in a praise and worship CD has been working for me! It gets me there to the school,singing all the way, and my kids talk to me all the way home! And, now, Angie Kay Webb has asked me to write this guest blog. I guess that most recent setback/attack from the enemy must mean Satan is really worried about how Jesus will use THIS blogged story for His glory, too! I pray that is the case, and that the Lord Himself LED YOU HERE to read this today, to help you on your journey to wellness.
For the record, I’m just an ordinary person who has an extraordinary God! I have a long way to go, (I know that), and I have a TON of more things to still learn, yet, “…I am confident of this one thing, He who began a good work in ME will see it to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus!” (Adapted from~ Philippians 1:6) . I trust Him, the Author and Finisher of my faith! Will you? God only wants the very best for us, His children. You CAN put your faith in Him! He is trust-WORTHY! Follow Him, with all you have inside of you, and you will find healing, too! It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s a process, a journey, a walk with the Lord, and SO worth it in the end! What a friend we have in Jesus! Just imagine…He’s the King who wants to be OUR FRIEND! I keep running toward the prize! I pray one day I will hear those words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant!”. Amen!
P.j. Di Benedetto is a married woman, with 7 children, and 12 grandchildren. She is an accomplished artist, whose work includes a 50-foot mural at her local Salvation Army in Vero Beach, Fl. P.J. enjoys gardening, sewing, writing poetry, playing musical instruments, photography, and Bible study; her favorite scriptures are Galatians 2:20, and Philippians 4:6-7.