When Ruth Everhart was a senior at a small Christian college, she and four of her roommates were held captive and brutally raped at gunpoint by two masked intruders.
Although she survived the ordeal, she was filled with shame and worried that she had been “ruined” — in the eyes of God, her family and the man she might one day marry. Her devastating experience shook her faith in God, and eventually led her to break with the conservative Protestant denomination in which she had been raised.
Last year, Everhart, 59, of Sterling, published her memoir, “Ruined,” in which she recounts the crime in detail and traces the twists and turns her life took in the months and years that followed. She tells how that journey took her through dark places — a breakup with her boyfriend, an affair with a married man, and conflicts with friends and family.
Everhart also tells how her path eventually led her back to God. She entered a seminary and was ordained as a minister. She is pastor of a small Presbyterian church in Bethesda, Md.
The author of a previous book, “Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land,” Everhart said she decided to tell her story when her two daughters reached their early 20s.
“When you’re a parent, and you’re raising children, you kind of revisit those ages as they go through them, which is both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “And I really realized that I had unfinished business. I began to realize the extent of my woundedness from those years — that I have loose ends.”
At first, Everhart planned to write the book as a look into the “notion of sexual shame and how women are treated, and especially women in religious subcultures,” she said.
But she decided that the best way to approach the subject was to tell her story — “to take this individual story and to find the larger, universal story that your particular story illustrates,” she said.
To prepare, she reconnected with her former roommates at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.; she had not seen them in years. She also read through the transcripts of court testimony to help her reconstruct a narrative of the crime.
“I had to relive these experiences,” she said. “I had to go through some really dark places all over again. I’ve had days and weeks of just being in an absolute hole — emotionally, spiritually — having to just pass through that darkness again.”
In “Ruined,” Everhart also addresses the paradox with which Christians and other people of faith have struggled for centuries: how an all-powerful, benevolent God can allow terrible things to happen.
She tells how that question eventually caused her to leave the Christian Reformed Church, which had taught her that everything happens according to the will of God. Her upbringing in the church had caused her to believe that the rape was a punishment that she had somehow deserved. That compounded her feelings of shame and brokenness.
“There’s something about the universality of suffering, and of having something [negative] happen to you over which you have no control, and people are telling you it’s God’s will,” she said. “That’s a particular thing that Christians have to deal with.”
Everhart said that one part of the book was particularly challenging for her to write, knowing that her friends and family would read it.
“I had a great deal of shame about having had an affair with a married man,” she said. “My best friends didn’t know. My daughters certainly didn’t know. I would have hidden that from anyone. I’m a pastor.”
However, one of her reasons for writing the book was to show how and why “a nice Christian girl goes to that place.”
“And it was about this sense of shame,” she said. “I wanted to trace that. If you take [the affair] out, I think you lose a lot out of that story.”
Everhart said that Tyndale, her publisher, chose the book’s title. She suggested that perhaps it should have ended with a question mark.
“It kind of hangs over the book as a question: ‘Was she ruined or not?’ And it’s up to the reader to decide,” she said. “I think it’s the driving question.”