February is my month of intentional prayer. As such, I was soooo excited when Stephanie Rische offered to share this amazing excerpt from her brand new book, I Was Blind (Dating) But Now I See (Tyndale House, 2016), in which she opens up about a shameful situation and how God answered her prayers – in ways she didn’t expect him to. (Overcoming shame AND prayer in one blog post- I mean, what more could I ask for?!)
I’ll be giving away a copy of Stephanie’s book this week- so be sure to comment, share, and send her some love.
One typical Monday morning I went to my work mailbox and found an interoffice envelope with another envelope inside it, the smaller one clearly having been opened and resealed with tape several times, as if the sender had been second-guessing whether to send it.
My stomach went sour the moment I opened it. It was from one of my coworkers—a seasoned and respected man who I knew was married with several children. The note was filled with unsolicited praise for me . . . but not about my work. It gushed about my personality, my talents, my appearance. It didn’t qualify as sexual harassment, but it felt completely out of line. It made me feel like I was getting dragged into something shameful and ugly. Yes, I wanted to be told I was beautiful—but not by a married man.
My first reaction was a mixture of horror and guilt. Had I done something to indicate that this kind of communication would be welcome? I was sure I’d done nothing to solicit attention like this. I felt angry, exposed, vulnerable.
And utterly alone. Who’s going to take my side? My mind kept tripping over the question. Here was this man with lots of years under his belt and an impeccable reputation. I, on the other hand, was the new girl just starting to establish myself. And so I didn’t tell anyone, feeling a vague sense of shame and guilt, even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.
The next day, my hands shaking and my heart racing, I confronted him in person. “Please don’t ever contact me again,” I said, delivering the line I’d practiced all evening in front of the mirror. I prayed he wouldn’t be able to detect the quaver in my voice. He mutely nodded his assent.
I escaped to the restroom and leaned against the metal stall door, tears of relief springing to my eyes. You did it, I told myself. It’s over.
But it wasn’t—not really. Two weeks later, another letter appeared in my box. More gushing. More effusive compliments. How dare he?
I was angry at him for putting me in this spot. I was angry at myself for feeling so helpless. And I was angry at God for leaving me alone to face my dragons. If I had a husband, I told God, surely this guy would never have had the guts to try such a thing.
For the first time since I’d had to face the mean girls in middle school, I found myself waking every weekday with a pit of dread in my gut. No one had laid a hand on me, but I still felt violated somehow. This place that had once felt safe had now been robbed of its security. I panicked every time I had to go to the break room, the front office, or any other common area, and I changed my route as I walked the hallways. Waves of nausea accosted me every time I had to check my mailbox.
After a few weeks of this routine, I realized that best-case scenario, I was careening toward an ulcer. I knew this was unsustainable, but I didn’t know what to do. It was probably a little late in the game to get a black belt in tae kwon do.
For the most part, I felt like I could handle life without a man. I supported myself financially, I owned my own home, I knew how to do some basic home and car repairs (and how to call Dad if the problem was out of my league). And between my family and a solid core of girlfriends, I had a decent support system.
But in this scenario, Olivia Newton-John was right: I needed a man. I told God as much—how it would be really handy if he’d just plop a strong, protective guy in my path who would defend me and help get me out of this ugly spot. And in case he was wondering, yesterday would have been better, but now would work out just fine.
From past experience, though, I’d gathered that God didn’t typically work according to my timetable or proposed shortcuts, efficient and helpful as they might have been. So I picked up the phone and made three big calls: one to my parents and two to good friends who also happened to be married to good guys. Something about getting my story out and having multiple sets of strong shoulders to help distribute the weight was freeing in itself. But we also agreed some action needed to take place.
Thanks to their wise counsel, I decided against the martial arts idea and opted instead for a civil conversation with Human Resources. I was shaking like a November leaf as I set foot in the office, afraid that they wouldn’t believe me or that they’d take his side. But there was something about knowing I had the support of six people who loved me that pumped courage into me with each thump of my hammering heart.
Gratefully, HR backed me up, warning my coworker not to contact me again and promising action if there was another incident. And to his credit, the man apologized to me through the HR representative. But even though the dragon was no longer at my heels, he was still in his lair. And as week after week passed, I wasn’t feeling the peace I’d expected, even though no more unwanted envelopes appeared in my box. That’s when I realized there was an even bigger dragon I needed to face: my own fear.
The fear didn’t go away immediately, and neither did the shame. (You can read my book to read the rest of the story.) But somewhere along the way, I realized I owed God an apology for lodging so many complaints about how he’d left me defenseless. He hadn’t left me alone after all. He’d surrounded me with people who cared about me and protected me—family, friends, coworkers. And most of all, he’d been right there with me the whole time.
I didn’t give you a knight to slay your dragons, he seemed to be telling me. I gave you a whole army.
Stephanie Rische blogs at StephanieRische.com. She is the author of I Was Blind (Dating), but Now I See (Tyndale House, 2016), in which she recounts some of the more mortifying moments of her life but ultimately how God revealed his grace and love in ways she never could have imagined. You can order her book here.