I Saw Him Again

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I always wondered what would happen if I ever ran into him again. It had been 8 years since he sexually assaulted me and 5 years since I ran into him at a BBQ, causing one of the biggest panic attacks I’d ever had. He only lives the next city over from where I reside, so I knew it wasn’t impossible. I guess it just hadn’t been something I thought of often.

I remember the last time I saw him at that BBQ. It shattered me. My body reacted as my mind tried to remain calm. I felt a heat sensation circulate through every vein and vessel in my body. My heart felt like it would beat out of my chest at any point. My vision got blurry and my body started to go numb. I was able to hold it together long enough to get home, where I tried to shake it off and go to sleep. But the panic attack I was experiencing was far from being finished. I could feel the strong urges to let out all of the excruciating emotional pain I’d been holding in all of those years. I convinced myself that I’d healed from it all, but it became very clear that I’d barely scratched the surface of healing, and all I’d done those past few years was bury the pain using busyness and distractions.

So I went all the way downstairs, where no one would hear what I knew was about to happen, and I fell to my knees and let out the deepest, most pain-filled cries I had ever cried. I cried as if a loved one had passed away, and in a weird way it was kind of true. I was mourning my own self and all of the loss I experienced with the assault. Loss of trust, self-esteem, feeling safe a secure and truthfully, loss of identity. I haven’t been the same since he took advantage of me like that.

It was in that moment that I felt like I was sitting on rock bottom. I felt like I was out of options in dealing with the situation. I had tried therapy; I tried ignoring it and drinking/partying every chance I got; I tried joining almost every leadership opportunity on campus. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized all of my efforts were simply like putting a bandaid on deep, infectious wound. Any time the bandaid got old, I slapped on a new one; A new temporary distraction. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that the only way to peace after such a horrific experience was through Christ. That night I had my “coming to Christ” moment and I’ve been forever changed since.

Now fast forward 5 years, this past February. I was at Stop and Shop with my one year old, shopping for a Valentine’s Day photoshoot. I was on the self-checkout line about to scan my items when I looked up for a second and saw a familiar face. My heart dropped before I even processed where I knew the face from. He was walking with another man right past my check out line. I could not believe my eyes. At that moment I was flooded with thoughts. I wondered if he saw me, and if he remembered who I was and what he’d done to me. I wondered if he had ruined anyone else’s life. I wondered if I needed to scan my items slowly to wait for him to pass, or if I needed to scan quickly to rush out before he came too close to where I was. As all of these thoughts ran through my head, I stood there in a daze.

I decided to scan my items slowly and wait. I took slow, deep and steady breaths and tried to stop tears from flowing. I could feel the burning sensation in my eyes and that lump in my throat. As soon as he passed my lane I darted out of the store and once I made it to the parking lot, the tears began. But I decided to pray and ask God to take away all of the things I was feeling. I asked Him to remind me that my peace comes from Him and that I don’t need to be afraid or anxious any longer. About five minutes later I felt that peace feeling (IYKYK) rushing through my body and my eyes dried up. I was still bothered, but I wasn’t sobbing and falling apart like the last time I saw him. So grateful for healing progress.

A Year Ago Today

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A picture taken at my old school’s sexual assault awareness clothesline project last year- a week before I, myself, was assaulted.

If you could’ve seen me a year ago today, you probably wouldn’t have recognized me. I didn’t put effort into what clothes I put on, I walked with my head down and though I spent most hours of the day holding in deep sobs, I would often break down into tears in public. My social life was shot. I couldn’t think straight and was forgetting to eat meals throughout the day. My eyes were swollen and red with bags underneath them. I looked exactly like what I was going through.

What was I going through, you ask? Well, I had just been sexually assaulted and terrorized by a man I was in a relationship with for almost two years.

I had never felt so detached and numb to life while still feeling so much pain at the same time. It was impossible to hold a thought. I was fighting panic attacks throughout the day, just trying my hardest to get through the last weeks of classes. At the rate I was going, I didn’t think i’d ever see my way through. By God’s grace, I finished the semester with As and Bs. I decided to leave the school and transfer somewhere closer to home, where I hoped to have peace. Just didn’t make sense to stay and be reminded everyday of what happened.

It is such an uncomfortable feeling to go from a situation thats made you feel disgusting and exposed, to being placed into a brand new environment with brand new people. All I wanted was to be back with my friends and the people I came to know as family. But who knows if I would’ve ever gotten peace staying there. I really had no choice but to be in this unfamiliar place and try my best to make it feel like home.

During this year my faith has been tested probably more than ever before. I didn’t blame God for what happened to me, but I blamed him for not intervening. I’ve always known Him as having power over all things, so I couldn’t understand how His power couldn’t be used to stop what happened. While its still a concept I don’t fully understand, what I know is that I’ve been through similarly painful things before and He saw me through each one of them. Deep down I knew that He would see me through this too, but I could still feel myself growing distant from my relationship with Him. It was like being disappointed in a loved one- of course you still love that person but you usually need some time to work through what bothered you before you can genuinely show that love again.

My disappointment phase lasted about 10 months. I didn’t want to talk about God, I didn’t want to go to church, I felt uncomfortable in church settings, like bible studies. But I still went. I knew the way I was feeling was only temporary. I just needed to fight through it. Only recently have I been feeling a change occur. The walls of fear, pride and mistrust that I’ve built this whole year are finally crumbling down, and I can literally feel the freeness and peace within me. My mindset of “Why has this happened?” is turning into “Okay, this happened. What can I do with my experience now?” I’m focusing on the future and how I can use my hard times to uplift others and give them hope for a better, less crazed future.

I know good and well that there’s more healing to come and that these things don’t just go away. I still have nightmares some nights and I still cry until I have a headache and swollen eyes from time to time, but there’s such a peace just knowing I’m not alone in it.

I am Thankful

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I laid there- in vast amounts of tears, quickly scrolling through my contacts, looking for someone, anyone, to reach out to. “Pray for me” is what I was planning to say to them if they would happen to be up, like me, at 2 in the morning. But as I searched and searched, I realized that no matter how many people I looked for in my phone or how many people I wished were nearby to give me the hug I so desperately needed, I wasn’t going to feel much better. So I got on my knees and I prayed. And though I could barely formulate legible words to express myself, I said what I could. I already knew that He knew what was in my heart, and just my efforts were enough. And there it was- that rush of peace, that feeling of my eyes drying up.

There’s something special about a moment when you’re so upset, so crippled with pain that you find yourself on the floor of your bedroom, out of breath from how hard you’re crying, that you feel God’s presence ever-so-clearly. That moment a sense of peace comes over and through you. When the headache goes away and the hyperventilating slows. You just know He is there, comforting you the way you thought you needed other people to. There hasn’t been a time I’ve hit rock bottom that He hasn’t shown up and for that, I am thankful.

A Toast to the Painful Past

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If it still stings when you think about it, you’re probably not over it yet.

If tears begin to form when you think about it, you’re probably not over it yet.

If a cloud of bitterness comes over you when you think about it, you’re probably not over it yet.

And it’s okay to not be over it yet. Just don’t ignore those signs.

There will come a day, though, in which all of those things will no longer be present when you think about it.

And that’s when we’ll celebrate: A toast to the expiration of ties with the painful past.

Missing Nicaragua Already

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8 days ago I was stuffing and sitting on my suitcase to have a better chance at zipping it, praying to God that it would be under 50 pounds. Now I’m on a plane headed back into the country. Where has the time gone? It seems to really fly when you’re having a good time. I’ve just concluded my fourth mission trip. Crazy to think about, really.

I went back on a Nicaragua mission trip for a second time. Lots of things were different this time around, but two things remained: God’s presence and those sweet little faces I had met the year before. I was so excited to be seeing them again, but couldn’t help but wonder if they would remember me or not. I only spent about three days with them last year, and other mission teams hang out with them throughout the year. How could they possibly remember me? Those were some of the thoughts running through my head. I wish I could explain the relief and love that ran through me when we got there and I heard one of them shout my name. That was such a touching moment, because not only were those thoughts I was having true, but my own teachers barely remember my name and I see them more times than i’d like to. Its a hard name for most people, but this particular little one remembered it.

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It felt so good to be back. To rekindle the relationships that started a year ago. To see those precious little smiles and receive those long, tight, meaningful hugs. The experience was more than I imagined it to be. Its amazing how possible it is to genuinely love someone you’ve only met a few times. I loved witnessing how much the kids have progressed over the year. I couldn’t believe how much they’d grown, and even how much more talkative they got. Unfortunately, though not all have had a wonderful year since we’ve last seen them.

Jamie*, a young girl I met last year, was diagnosed with cancer in multiple areas just two weeks after our last visit. She had been battling tumors and having them removed prior to the news. Her family left her and moved away. Her age- 13. Can you imagine? On the mission team this year, Jamie’s* sponsor, who pays for her schooling and sends her packages/letters, was present. She had planned not to come, but jumped at the opportunity once she heard Jamie’s* condition. As soon as we got to Nicaragua, though, she was told that Jamie* had started losing hair due to chemo and refused to let people see her. Though devastated, her sponsor was preparing not to see her but praying for the opportunity to present itself because we were only going to be spending one full day in Jamie’s* community. Our mission in that community was to go door to door hand delivering book bags stuffed with school supplies to the local students. Jamie’s* sponsor didn’t even bring her package with the group because she was told Jamie* would not want visitors. So, off we went en route to the kid’s homes. It was everything we expected up until we got to this one home. Guess who was sitting in front of it. That’s right: Jamie*! And it wasn’t even her house. It was as if God had plopped her right in our path. All I could do was look at Jamie’s* sponsor and smile. She was fighting tears. It was good to see Jamie* doing okay, but really hard to see her latest condition. We prayed for her, and later on she popped up at the community’s school, where we were hanging out with all of the other kids in the community, and we just couldn’t believe it. Things seem to be really changing for her.

Marissa*, a teenaged girl I got close with last year, was said to have left the community with a new boyfriend of hers. When I got the news, I was close to tears. I was prepared not to see her again because in that village, once you leave its likely that you’re not returning. Well Marissa ended up getting pregnant and coming back home to the community. When it was time to give birth, Marissa had a lot of health complications that nearly killed both her and her baby. It got so bad that she and the baby were put into a hospital room, where they were left to either die or fight for their lives because the they help needed was beyond the hospital’s resources. By the grace of God they are both alive today. Because she is a new mom, she is no longer enrolled in school so I didn’t think I would see her since we were handing out school bags. But guess who was standing in front of one of the homes we delivered at? You guessed it: Marissa*. I was so overjoyed to see her that I nearly knocked her over when I ran to hug her. She looked good, but tired. We talked for a little and exchanged pictures from the past year, which was cool, but then she brought her baby out! Now, I was so shocked because I had just been told that in their community, babies under 3 months are not shown due to superstitions. But there she was, holding her precious two month old bundle of joy. She was absolutely beautiful. We prayed for her, and that sweet baby then went on to finish deliveries. I was so grateful.

Those are two instances of this mission trip’s highlights. Both situations reminded me that God is in control, and even when we think something will or will not happen, all that matters is what is within God’s will. Im not even off of the plane yet and already can’t wait to be back.

*These names have been changed to protect the identities of the women mentioned

When the Offender Was Your Best Friend

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When the offender was your best friend, the healing process gets confusing.

You find yourself missing that person when something you would ordinarily share with them comes up, like that much-needed talk they were pushing you to have with your parent, or that achievement you finally reached that they were motivating you about.

You find yourself going back and forth in your mind about what things would be like if you let them back into your life despite the fact that they completely disrupted it with their selfish, disgusting actions.

You get glimpses of memories that have you wishing what they did could just be erased completely so that life as you knew it with them could continue.

You find yourself wanting that best friend back because they were the only person who really understood you, who you would cry to and fully express yourself without receiving judgement. They are exactly the person you would vent to about the very thing they did to you.

When the offender was your best friend, the original trauma becomes so much more to work through. There are levels of healing unknown to many that seem almost impossible to conquer.

Beginning of a New Season

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Its funny how perspectives can change overtime. I remember the first time I asked my mom what my name meant. It was right after I had overheard some friends talking about the meanings of their names. I remember thinking about how cool it would be if my name meant something too. Turns out it did. “Kyani means the beginning of a new season,” said my mom after I went to ask her. “A new season?,” I thought as I began to imagine how beautiful the four seasons are. I was content with it.

Fast forward about twelve years, November of 2016, I was asked by a friend if my name had a meaning. “The beginning of a new season,” I said with a smile on my face that began to fade back to neutral as an intriguing thought crossed my mind. For the first time in twelve years I thought about the word season on a deeper level. Since I’d become more involved in my faith I had heard it used in a different way- mostly as a marker of time. In Christianity we tend to use the word season to describe a period of time, like a season of growth or a season of despair.

For the first time, in my 21 years of living, I thought about how fitting it is for my name to mean the beginning of a new season- the start of something new. My life has been full of change in many different aspects (especially as of late), and while normally I tend to wrestle with it, I’m trying this new thing where I just embrace the change and observe what it has to offer me. Anything new can be challenging, but I’m learning that when you tackle that newness with the right attitude you’ll be amazed at what can grow from it.