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.

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.

21 Lessons in 21 Days: God Doesn’t Cause Pain. He Works Through it.

This post is apart of the blog series 21 Lessons in 21 Days

Lesson Nine: God doesn’t cause pain. He works through it

Often times I find myself asking the question, in a despairing voice, “WHY ME?”. It’s usually during or after something really painful and challenging has occurred. Lately I’ve been asking myself that question a lot as I process through my most recent traumatic events. As much as I ask myself that, you’d think I didn’t know the answer, but deep down I do. We live in a broken world, where sin runs rampant and awful things happen to all types of people. This was not at all Gods plan. This is not how God created the world to be. There will come a time when He will put an end to all of the brokenness within this world but until then, we have to endure through the unfair, painful hardships and focus on the goodness of our Lord.

After years of working through the most painful moments of my life, I realized that God doesn’t cause our pain. In fact, once it happens, He redirects the pain for our benefit. He loves us so much that He takes every negative thing in our life, meant to destroy us, and creates beauty out of it. He teaches us lessons through our pain. He shows us glimpses of our characteristics, like perseverance and strength, that we didn’t even realize we had. He teaches us to rely on and trust in Him through our pain. It’s in our hardest times that He is most intimate with us, as long as we allow Him to be. He takes heartache and turns it into empowerment. He takes hopelessness and turns it into a strong faith in Him. He uses our pain as an opportunity to shape us into the very people He created us to be. He reveals our ministry to us through our pain, because it fuels our passions.

No, we don’t want hardships to come our way, but isn’t it so cool that when they do come, they’ll serve the purpose of feeding our growth for God’s kingdom?

The Day a Homeless Man Ministered to Us

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See that man we’re talking to in the picture above? The one wearing a dirty coat in the heat, on the beach? His name is Greg, and he is someone i’ll never forget.

While walking on the boardwalk, we saw Greg sitting alone. Just him and his bible. Together we decided to go up and talk to him and I’m so glad we did. First, we introduced ourselves and asked if he would be interested in taking a survey we had. When he agreed, we were humbled by his responses. One of the questions asks what three words a person would choose to describe their life. The words he chose were faith, love and compassion. Another question asks what the number one thing is on their bucket list. His answer? To keep helping people. This man who has absolutely nothing but the clothes on his body, his bible and the little portable radio he carries said his main goal in life was to help people. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Before we even finished the survey with Greg, he started talking to us about God and began reading us a few of the scriptures he reads daily. That led us to asking about his story, and how he came to know Christ. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the heaviness of the story we were about to hear. He started off talking about the life he had with his wife and then talked about what it was like for them when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled it for two years before she passed away. As I sat there and envisioned what that must have been like for him, he interrupted my thoughts by explaining that his youngest daughter died two weeks after his wife passed away.

His daughter suffered from epilepsy. He told us that her medicine was so extremely expensive that he had a lot of trouble getting it for her. I remember him repetitively saying “250 dollars for just 30 pills.” Sad. His daughter passed away after having a severe seizure, during which her tongue blocked her airway and affected her breathing. Two deaths due to medical issues in 2007. He didn’t go into much detail while he told his story, but I think its safe to assume that those medical bills wiped him out. He continued and told us about a very significant event that happened in 2009: the day he was attacked.

He was sitting (probably living) in a transportation station somewhere in San Diego, and one day a group of teenagers approached him. They beat him with some kind of car part repetitively in the neck. They stole everything he had, including the thirteen dollars he had saved. The damages were so severe that he was in the hospital for more than a month. He had to have nine neck surgeries, and the scar was still very apparent when we spoke with him. We all sat there, heart broken and holding back tears, in silence as we took in all that he was explaining to us.

He eventually told us about how he came to know who God was, and it lightened the mood a little. I’m not sure when or where this occurred, but there was a man who would go visit Greg three times a week. During those three visits, he would sit and talk with Greg about the bible. Greg said that the man would read the bible to him, and then have Greg read a little too. Eventually Greg began to read it on his own and now he has his own favorite verses and a really good understanding of who God is, what He did for us and what all of that means for him personally. As he was talking, I kept thinking about the man that introduced him to the bible. I wondered if he had any clue that Greg was now ministering to other people.

There we were- young college students on a mission trip that had the theme of “press on”, where we were learning how to be more like Paul in Philippians during times of adversity. There we were looking for opportunities to inspire and be inspired. We ran right into a man who has nothing but his faith, and he’s just as content as can be with his bible and the radio player that had gospel music flowing from its earbuds. Talk about encouragement.

I don’t know how Greg, a previous mechanic from Missouri, ended up all the way on Mission Beach in San Diego, but i’m glad we were in the same place at the same time. It meant that we were able to meet him, listen to his testimony and pray with him.