“The light turned on in my room, and I mumbled something like, ‘Steve, turn out the light. I’m trying to get some sleep.’ The light turned out, and I opened my eyes. The man standing in my bedroom was not my husband.”
It was Heather Gemmen’s worst nightmare.
She, her husband and two children lived in a dangerous neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Crime was everywhere.
"The tension between the Black and White races was tangible. It was very evident, so then you feel threatened,” Heather says -- especially the night Heather was tied up and raped at knifepoint.
“There were a few moments where I simply thought, I’m going to die. It was like it wasn’t real. I didn’t really believe this was happening. In fact, I said that to him, ‘What are you doing here?’”
It seemed like an eternity, but after an hour, the rapist left.
Heather immediately went to check on her children, who were just steps from her bedroom. Surprisingly, they slept through everything and had no recollection of what happened. Heather, on the other hand, couldn’t forget.
“How could he have done this to my life? He was so selfish, so wicked. His words were vile. Disgusting like vomit on me and to think that somebody could do that to someone else... I really wanted to hurt him.”
At the same time, Heather struggled with guilt and shame.
“Any way I could blame myself, I did. Even though logically I knew it wasn’t my fault. There I am in my own home, a man raped me at knifepoint, ties me up, threatens the life of my children. I’m obviously innocent, but I didn’t feel that way.”
Other questions haunted Heather. What if she contracted a sexually transmitted disease or became pregnant?
“All I thought was doom, doom, doom, and I thought, I’m definitely going to be pregnant. I’m definitely going to have AIDS, and my world’s going to come crashing down. I just didn’t believe that anything would be okay again.”
Heather was desperate. So, she followed a doctor’s advice and took “the morning after pill.”
Heather says, “I knew it was wrong, but I took it because I couldn’t bear the idea of being pregnant. I thought, I won’t be able to deal with it. I’m already overwhelmed with the pain in my life.”
There was only one problem…
“I discovered that the pill didn’t work, and I was pregnant as a result of the rape. I felt trapped.”
Would Heather have the baby or have an abortion? Would she give the baby up for adoption or keep the baby herself?
“Here I was with three choices, and none of them worked. I wanted door No. 4, and there was no other option. That’s when God began to just soften my heart and work in me because I finally just turned myself over to Him. [I] said, ‘I can’t do anything, and I let go of this desire for control.’”
Even after surrendering to God, it was still hard. Some of the advice Heather got really made her angry.
“There are times that people would quote scripture to me, [like] Romans 8:28. God will make all things good for those of us who love Him and are called according to His purpose. And it sounds so beautiful but when you’re in the midst of despair, frankly you want to hit people with the Bible because it doesn’t feel true.”
But it was true. Heather had the baby and named her Rachel. Heather decided to keep her. What started out as a gross violation turned into what Heather calls in her book "startling beauty."
“I couldn’t have loved this child and recognized her innocence, seen her beauty, and been able to separate her from the crime if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. The amazing thing is I have never, ever associated Rachel with the rape itself.”
Since Rachel was born, there have been some changes in the Gemmen family. Sadly after standing by her side through everything, Heather’s husband eventually left.
“I think perhaps he wasn’t given enough care by me or by others in dealing with this. I don’t know. I don’t really understand what happened.”
But Heather pressed on. She remarried and even adopted a boy from the neighborhood named Deshawn, who thinks the world of his sister.
"I love my siser. I just think about how God can do amazing things in our lives," says Deshawn. "Even if it’s the worst thing, He can make it the beautiful-est thing. I think that’s awesome."
The man who raped Heather is now in prison, and she no longer suffers from guilt or shame. She says the love of God set her free from that and helped her to forgive.
“Who am I to say to God this person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven? I realized I needed to forgive him even though I had no way of knowing if he was sorry or not. I just had to forgive him.”
Heather has been able to talk to Rachel about the circumstances surrounding her birth.
Heather says, “She understands what happened, and once in a while she’ll say, ‘Mom, I’m so sad. I don’t like what happened to you.’ And then I’ll say, ‘Me neither. I hate what happened. It was awful, but if it didn’t happen, then I wouldn’t have my little girl.’ She just smiles and tells me, ‘Mom, you’re lucky you have a daughter.’ And it’s true.”
Heather Gemmen has come a long way, and she says all the credit belongs to God.
“God is trustworthy. When we give Him our problems and our bitterness, He is faithful to take care of those things and we can forgive. The restorative power of God’s love overwhelms me."