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.

Christian R.E.S.T.

Give it a Rest

 

The sermon this morning was about Christian workers, or people God calls to do his work. It was taught by the lead pastor, who explained a few qualities of Christian workers:

1. They respond to Jesus’ call

2. They go in the authority Jesus gives them

3. They teach and meet the needs of people who will listen

He mentioned that being a Christian worker is not always easy because it comes with challenges. As human beings, we are limited with the amounts of money, time and energy we have. We often get distracted, and it can be hard to do Christ’s work with a strong enemy working tirelessly to defeat us. But our God is stronger, and he knows exactly what we need to complete his work. After each season of hard work, rest is necessary. Today we talked about Mark 6:30-44, and what really stood out to me was Mark 6: 30-31.

Mark 6:30-31 (ESV)

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.

31 And he said to them “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

In these verses we see that the apostles had just come back from doing God’s work, and Jesus was calling them to get rest. How does one effectively get rest, you ask? Our pastor broke it down for us:

Christian R.E.S.T.

1. Renew our minds and spirits

2. Energize our bodies

3. Stabilize our emotions

4. Troubleshoot, reflect and plan for re-entry

We can do these four things by getting more sleep than we usually do, eating healthily, having fun, praying, exercising, and doing some very intentional thinking and planning. From what i’ve seen personally, when God calls us to rest it’s usually because a new task is coming our way. There’s a very specific time in my life that I noticed God’s call for me to rest. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what was going on, but with reflection I’m now able to see it for what it was.

It was July of 2015 that I FINALLY got an acceptance letter into the Nursing program at school. I had spent two whole years trying to get into this competitive program. Most people would’ve given up after the first year, but I was really determined to get in. Once I did, I was more happy than words can describe. I soon found out, though, that my time in the Nursing program wouldn’t go too well. I was really excelling in the hands on aspect of my classes- the lab, where we practiced the things we were learning in lecture, and the on-site clinical in a nursing home. For some reason I wasn’t doing well in the lecture portion of the classes. I would go into each test confidently, just knowing I was going to do well.. and each time I would feel so defeated after hearing my grade. Those tests were worth so much of my overall grade that I eventually had to withdraw from the program to avoid getting a big fat F.

It probably sounds awful to you, and at the time I was distraught but looking back, I’m glad I withdrew. While I was in the program, I was absolutely miserable. I went some days without sleeping because of how much material I needed to study. I cried more than I ate. I felt like a zombie every single day. A lot of people would tell me that I seemed like a completely different person, and not in a good way, either. I always think about how much that program was changing my whole life, including my personality and it just makes me shake my head. I was having health problems and getting constant headaches. The whole nine.

It took about two weeks for me to figure out which direction I would go in next. I withdrew in the middle of the semester, so because I was mostly taking Nursing classes, I was left with only one class. I went from being 2000% overwhelmed to feeling like I had nothing to do. I eventually took that time to get back on track with God. This was my resting season, for sure. With all of that time to reflect I noticed how much I had pushed my relationship with God to the back burner (more like off of the whole stove). I let all of the Nursing craziness take more of my time than I even had to give. I barely even thought about my walk with God. I realized that I made Nursing school an idol, and that that was part of the reason I was so upset about having to withdraw from the program.

My R.E.S.T.ing period was so so necessary. It was my time to relax, reflect and renew my mind. It was within this resting period that God planted a strong desire in my heart to go on the Nicaragua mission trip, and soon after I had a new desire to teach children’s church. If I was still in the Nursing program, neither one of those things would have happened and they both mean so much to me. I am so thankful for that opportunity to R.E.S.T.

My Newest Title: Sunday School Teacher 

IMG_5435As Sunday is quickly approaching, things are becoming more real. I feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness about my newest title: Sunday School Teacher.

Tomorrow I will be teaching a bunch of the sweetest 4&5 year olds one could meet. I’ve had a few chances in the past to assist the main teacher with this class for a few weeks and now it’s my turn to lead. I’m a little nervous for two main reasons:

1) I’ve never taught a day in my life.

2) These children have been taught by the same teacher for years! Children don’t always do too well with change.

Once I get past the negative “what if”s, I know it will be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been apart of. The last time I helped out, I was so moved to see how much the kids knew about the Gospel. Their prayers were touching and their sense of humor was off the wall. I’m so glad God has placed me on this path, where I will be able to play a part in the spiritual growth of these children. As the time passes by and my anxiety remains the same, I try to remind myself that God brought me this opportunity for a reason. I know that He doesn’t bring opportunities to us if He doesn’t think we are ready to take them on. With this knowledge I am able to confidently walk in there on Sunday, and let Him guide me through the lesson.

Please pray for the kiddies, a well received lesson, and their newest teacher, “Ms. Kyani”.

Psalm 32:8 (NIV)

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Combating Anxiety

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Racing thoughts, feelings of overwhelming fear, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, heart racing. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever had anxiety before you have experienced at least one of these things. A good friend of mine describes it as feeling like something is sitting on her heart.

Anxiety is the total opposite of serenity. It can be caused by a wide variety of things like excessive stress, depression and going through (or watching a friend go through) something traumatic. Personally, my anxiety comes from trauma and excessive stress. Sometimes I describe it as feeling like a bunch of waves that knock me down when I least expect it. Over the years I’ve learned a few important things about anxiety and panic attacks:

1) It is extremely helpful to identify what exactly is causing/triggering it
2) Its important to plan coping methods in advance for when it happens. Things that have helped me include listening to music, drawing, journaling about how I feel, praying and talking with friends about it.
3) God does not want us to experience fear and anxiety. He wants us to be at peace.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT) gives some helpful instruction on how to best handle anxiety.

Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT)

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

These verses are explaining that in times of anxiety and uneasiness we shouldn’t spend time worrying. Instead we should replace worry with prayer. All you have to do is start an open and honest conversation with Him about what you’re experiencing. Tell him how you feel and why you think those feelings are occurring. Thank Him for the things He has done for you. We are called to focus on God no matter what our circumstances are because He is in control. If you practice what is said in these verses you will be sure to find peace in any worrisome situation.

Helpful tip: Try writing these verses on an index card and carrying it with you so that it is easily accessible when anxiety creeps up.