Review of Unbroken by Madeleine Black

Unbroken: Used, beaten, but never broken. My story of survival and hope. Madeleine Black (2017).

Rape is horrible, no matter how we describe it, no matter what words we choose—rape is still horrible. Madeleine Black in her book uses words, graphic words, to tell the story of her rape and close brush with death. As difficult as the book is to read, this book needs to be read—by survivors of rape, by families of those who have been raped, by friends who want to help but may not not know how to respond.

And it needs to be read by those who get impatient, frustrated, and exclaim “Just get over it!” If only it were that easy. Madeleine takes the reader through the process of dealing with rape and all the associated emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of rape and survival.

At the end the reader discovers that the road to “get over it” is something each rape survivor wants to do. But it can’t be done with an impatient shout or frustration from a friend, family member, or even the survivor. There is so much more to it. Madeleine writes:

I have been a victim of a crime that leaves you silent, and there is so much that stays hidden in that silence. It not only protects the perpetrators, but it also keeps the victims in the shadows, drowning in their inappropriate guilt. Now, my strength is my voice and I intend to use it, not just for me, but for others who aren’t able to speak up yet. (p. 266)

As you read the book, Madeleine walks you through the horrifying details in essentially chronological order. That means at the beginning she will generally describe the rape and associated death threats and degradation. But it isn’t until much later in the book that she gives the full details—and it is so bad that she provides an appropriate warning about the graphic nature of the events surrounding the rape. Why that approach? Because Madeleine is living with the reality of the rape, which means some events are blocked from her memory as a defense mechanism. The frustration and despair of rape includes gaps in memory. She couldn’t get past it, because she didn’t and couldn’t have the entire story in mind. The reader takes the journey with that hole in her memory—she lived that way not having answers, fighting at times to remember, thus, the reader experiences it that way, too. Consider how many years Madeleine endured those struggles to get to this point in 2017. A one week immersion in her book does not fully give the reader the understanding of what it means to “get over it.”

I have known people who have experienced horrible circumstances. Neighbors fought in World War I, one was a Bataan Death March survivor, my father, uncle and father-in-law all fought in World War II. When I was in the Navy I met several former POWs of Vietnam. Our commanding officer came to the squadron the same month I did. He was a POW for 6½ years, severely injured and was in the hospital for 15 months upon his release. I persuaded him to tell of his experiences. So every week for a year he walked us through captivity and torture chronologically from the time he was shot down until he was released. As a pastor I have ministered to and cared for rape survivors, so I was not a newcomer to the agony of many who had endured severe trauma and major accompanying (often hidden) issues.

Yet, even with that background, this was a difficult read for me. I was surprised when I got about half way through the book—I had to stop. I didn’t read for two weeks. Very uncharacteristic for me. Puzzling: how could I be hung up on reading it? After considerable reflection I finally discovered why it was so hard for me. I thought I had the answers to “help Madeleine.” But what I was really doing was trying to re-write her book, from a different perspective so that it would get to the point where I had all the answers. Yeah, I know—how arrogant and disappointing! I had failed at the one point that had always been a strong point of my ministry— listening to the person on his/her terms.

That seems so obvious but I wonder how many critics of rape survivors approach it the same way, hence the exhortation “Just move beyond it!” By doing so, we fail to understand what really happened and what the teller of the story is presenting to us and lived through. Once I came to this realization, then I could go back and read the book, in other words—let Madeleine tell the story on her terms in her way. And then I could finish the book.

While reading, I gave Madeleine updates on my progress (or lack of). She wrote several times “It gets better, stay with it.” I did stay with it, and I am glad I did. My heart aches with what she endured, my heart rejoices that she came through decades of profound struggle. And now she has a voice to add, an important voice, a strong voice through her book and through public speaking. If you or someone you know (male or female) has been raped, seek help. There are many resources. Madeleine’s book is a valuable resource for every person.

Thank you, Madeleine for your story, your perspective, and your encouragement. Well done!

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June 30 — not on the calendar

There are special days on the calendar that carry much meaning and joy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, moving days, etc. We may likely mark them on the calendar, as if we could forget them. They help define us and shape us.

Other days are still significant, but carry much different meaning. The focus isn’t joy, but something just as profound. We may not mark the date on the calendar, but our hearts know exactly the date. Etched in memory for good or bad.

June 30 is such a date for me.

Background

We were married in early 1971. One of the first things we did was to make sure we had smoke alarms. Second thing: we changed the batteries on April 1 and October 1, every year. I couldn’t do anything on those two days until the batteries were changed. A private joke between us. Little did we know how critical this would be.

In 1998, our son, his wife, and three grandchidlren (ages 3, 2, 1) had been living with us (in the parsonage) for almost a year and a half. A delightful time of love, and adjustment. Many happy memories amidst the challenges and struggles of melding two families.

June 30, 1998

In June 1998, my wife and I took vacation to Minnesota. At the end of that time, my wife decided to stay with her parents for a longer time. I drove home on June 29, a 12 hour drive capped off with joy at seeing our loved ones again after weeks apart. Our DIL’s youngest brother (age 12) was staying with us at the time, too.

At 4:45 AM the next morning our lives changed dramatically. The snoke alarms in the entire house were going off. The initial fogginess quickly dissapated. Replaced by urgency!

Our son instantly grabbed the keys to get our cars out of the garage and driveway. Our DIL and her brother and I began gathering up the grandchildren to get them outside. We had no time for gathering anything but children—no clothes, no extras, just get them out.

We rushed across the parking lot to the church. Since there were no cell phones, we had to get there to call the fire department. We could not even get near the house by that time. I don’t remember the time it took but eventually the police cars and fire trucks were all over the parking lot.

I remember one fireman said they couldn’t even go into the house for the first 20 minutes because the smoke was so bad. Later one of the investigators noted that had we been two minutes later getting out, we would not have survived because of the smoke.

The Aftermath

Later that morning and afternoon, the sudden change in our lives was further highlighted because we had no place to live (for 8 of us). We had no clothing, no food, nothing. We were in survival mode and even thinking about any immediate needs was beyond us.

By that time I was so shelled shocked I couldn’t think straight. But members of the church were arriving and helping us with minute to minute decisions. Including getting some food for the kids because breakfast was not a top priority initially. These people opened their homes—by afternoon we were separated into three different homes. We stayed with them for the next weeks until I could find a house for us to live in.

So grateful to those three families for sharing everything with us. That became our safe haven. We will never forget their kindness and love, their help in our instanteous need. Thankful for many others who pitched in with immediate clothing needs. We lost all of our household goods as well.

I felt really bad for our son and DIL—they had been saving some household items each month for the time when they would get their own place. They stored all of that in the basement —in the center of the fire. They lost everything. My heart was broken for them.

Both our son and DIL demonstrated how strong they were that day and in the following days. Both acted quickly, but never in a panic. I am so proud of what they did and all that they had been through. Love you both so much. 

One Last Effect

June 30, 1998 will be etched in all our minds as the day of the fire. Happily we had no injuries/burns. Our son and DIL eventually had two more children.

For me it marked the 7th major crisis in 9 months in my life. Three weeks later I had my breakdown—and that has affected me every day since then.

June 30 will not be marked on our calendars, but will be seared into our memories. So thankful to God for saving us that day, for seeing us through the long months afterward.

Depression is Not Due to a Lack of Faith

Originally posted by Pastor Benjamin Meyer, reposted with his permission.

August 14, 2014

There are a lot of false teachers in this world and there always have been. One false teaching that Christians have always had to battle is the idea that once something comes to faith in Jesus, everything will go well for them. There is an idea that as long as your faith is strong, God will give you health, wealth and happiness. Even though Jesus told His disciples to “deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me,” and Paul wasn’t healed of the “thorn” in his flesh, but instead he was told “My grace is sufficient for you,” there are still false teachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer who tell people that God’s plan for them is physical and financial blessings in this life.

Physical afflictions are not God’s way of punish us, but a result of the fall into sin. However, they can be used by God for His good because when you are weak, you must look to Christ for strength, just as St. Paul did. I think that most Christians understand this about physical maladies.

However, mental illness is another matter. In the church there is often a misunderstanding of mental illness. Some believe that mental illness means that the person simply lacks faith. Some think of mental illness as being mentally weak. However, the reality is that mental illness, like physical illness, isn’t because the person lacks faith, but because the person is corrupted by sin just like everyone else. Mental illness is, like physical illness, due to being fallen creatures who live in a fallen world.

Are Christians exempt from mental illness, such as clinical depression? Of course not.

It is likely that Martin Luther suffered from depression. Some of the greatest names in the history of the LCMS, such as the first president of the synod, C.F.W. Walther, and the great missionary and second president of the LCMS, Friedrich Wyneken, suffered from depression. Faithful and devoted Christians can and do suffer from depression. Getting treatment for these conditions is not showing a lack of faith any more than it would be showing a lack of faith to go to a doctor to have a broken arm set. God has given us doctors for a good reason and Christians should make use of them.

If you know someone who is suffering from depression, please encourage them to talk with their pastor. He can help you find a good mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or any other form of mental illness, please don’t be afraid to get help. It is not because of a lack of faith that you suffer from this and you shouldn’t try to face it alone.

For more information about mental health issues I would encourage you to check out “I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression.” This blog and booklet were written by a Lutheran pastor who suffers from clinical depression.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:10)