“Ruined” (Tyndale House Publishers, 2016) is Rev. Ruth Everhart’s gripping memoir of facing a horrific robbery and rape at her apartment during her senior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two men masked men broken into Everhart’s apartment at 12:30am on an early November night in 1978, and Everhart and 3 Calvin roommates were held at gunpoint, robbed, verbally assaulted and raped.
“Ruined” is Everhart’s brutally honest and riveting account of what happened and how she survived and ultimately made sense of it. Calvin College is a Christian Reformed-based school and Everhart brought her traditional Christian Reformed faith – her birthright, she calls it – to see if she could make sense of what happened.
She writes: “The sovereignty of God means that God is supreme and rules over all. Nothing can happen apart from God’s will.” But suddenly and without warning, what she always had believed left her confused and wanting.
In the months following the brutal ordeal, Everhart’s traditional Christian Reformed faith came face to face with her anger, confusion, and shame. She had been violated in the worst way imaginable and she wanted to know where God was and how he felt about it.
In the ensuing months and years she questioned nearly everything about her faith and her practices. She was not about to let her childhood faith off the hook easily. What was true, anyway? Who was God? Was He good? Was He fair? Was what happened to Everhart and her roommates part of His will, as some in the Christian Reformed tradition would have said? Everhart wondered if she even believed in God at all.
There was loss upon loss. The girls immediately moved from the apartment and many did not stay together the next semester. There was so much sadness and grief and anger and confusion in the days immediately following the awful crime. But before long several of them graduated from Calvin and began moving on in life, or at least trying to. Everhart writes that ultimately “each of us had to navigate this terrible time alone. Our friendship was one more thing the rapists had stolen from us, perhaps the most valuable thing.“
In the memoir Everhart takes the reader through her years of recovery, including lots of emotional trauma and even making some decisions about her sexuality that she regrets. But in time she eventually emerged as a wife, a seminary student, a mother of 2 daughters and an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, where she now as served churches in a career spanning nearly 25 years.
Everhart’s own father was a principal in a Christian Reformed school in the Christian Reformed Church tradition where women could not be ordained. Interestingly, part of Everhart’s recovery from the horrific sexual assault finally led to her feeling called to the ministry herself, but it was not though the Christian Reformed tradition, where the door was closed for a woman to pursue ministry as an ordained pastor. Here’s how she describes it:
“It was a straightforward decision, really. Either I was called to ministry or I wasn’t. That was the key piece. Decades later, I understand why I wrestled with the decision. It may have been a straightforward matter, but it was hardly a simple one. Ordination rarely is. As for a woman with my history – growing up in a conservative culture that barred women from ministry, being raped at gun point, taking up with a married man – the issue of fitness for ministry was especially fraught. Not just ‘Could a woman be a minister?’ but ‘Could I, a woman with a history, be a minister?’”
For Everhart, it really came down to making peace with not feeling good enough to be ordained. “I needed to put aside, once and for all, my sense of being not good enough. I was a woman. A rape survivor. A sinner. What’s more, I would always be these things. The Spirit could use me – not in spite of them, but because of them.”
Everhart emerged as a pastor who to this day is utterly, wholeheartedly convinced that all of us are of infinitely more value and worth than what happened to us in our past or what will ever happen to us in our future.
Here is Everhart in the Epilogue of her book describing that human value she holds onto and spreads to others as widely as she can. The Epilogue of her book actually is a beautiful, affirming letter she wrote to her 2 daughters.One line in the letter says:
“The truth is that women who have been sexually violated have the same intrinsic value as women who have not been sexually violated. Period. Another human cannot damage a woman’s sexual self and by doing so destroy her life. … Daughters, don’t believe the lies! You are more than your virginity. You are more than your sexual history. You are more than what happens to you. You are immensely valuable. No wound can ever make you less than whole. Wounds become scars, and scars make a person beautiful. In fact, nothing is more washable than human skin. It is the most washable substance on earth. Thank God.”