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.

“Go and Tell Them”

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Okay- not the best piece of art, but I love this picture because of what it represents: a vision God gave me early January of 2016. He took me way above a city of some sort. It was nighttime, so the lights were extremely bright (imagine being on a plane looking down on a city) and as I sat on what seemed like a swing, He spoke to me.

“Do you see all those lights beneath you? Those lights represent all of the people who do not know of me yet. Specifically Catholics because they are missing the most important part of Christianity- a relationship with me. Go and tell them.”

This vision came to me in the middle of a night where I couldn’t fall asleep for the life of me. It was so strange because insomnia isn’t a normal occurrence for me. I found myself falling into a state where I wasn’t awake, but also not sleeping. Almost like a dream, I felt as though it was actually happening. And the vision really stuck with me because it occurred just weeks before my very first mission trip to Nicaragua, where citizens are primarily Catholic. He had my full attention after that. It was the clearest way He could possibly show me my calling to the mission field.

A Reflection

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Man. The past few months have truly been a journey. I’ve struggled with expressing myself for such a long time that I’m grateful to finally be able to articulate and record my thoughts on this blog. It is such a strange thing for a writer like myself, who uses writing pieces as an outlet, to be unable to express thoughts on a particular situation. That’s how much pain and confusion has been present these past six months. It was almost as if my thoughts were so clouded that I couldn’t find ways to understand them, let alone explain them. I like to be upfront with people about my testimonies, so i’ll just put it out there:

Six months ago, I was sexually assaulted.

That’s right. Me. Violated in one of the most degrading and horrifying ways there is; And it knocked me, almost completely, off of my feet. Disorientated and discombobulated were understatements to describe me at the time. Now obviously there is no good time to expect something bad to happen to you, but I just could not understand how weeks before the incident I was the closest I’d ever felt with God in my entire Christian life, and yet something so terrifying could still happen to me. Looking back now, I realize that this way of thinking showed I didn’t fully understand how God works.

When people say there are many stages to trauma, boy are they right. The first few weeks I could not think straight. My mind was a mess (it reminded me of that SpongeBob episode with the little SpongeBobs running around in his brain, haha.) I was missing appointments and deadlines at school. I was forgetting to eat meals. I was experiencing panic attacks. I felt like a zombie, just aimlessly going through the motions of life. I found myself drowning in a state of numbness.

Scared, lonely and feeling completely naked, what I needed most was community. I needed people who loved me to surround and hug me while I sobbed and mourned my own self; But no matter how much I knew I needed it, community was the total opposite of what I wanted. I hated the idea of people feeling bad for me and I wanted to avoid the questions people would have, like “well, what exactly happened?,” and “did you try to stop it?,” both questions I could barely make sense of in my own head. Isn’t it crazy that community is one of those things we as humans need, especially when we’re feeling vulnerable, yet its what we stray away from when its needed most? The other day a sexual assault support group therapist talked about how babies cry when first born because they are naked and vulnerable, forced into a completely new environment. She asked the group how people normally get those babies to stop crying. “We hold them in our arms,” she said, “we comfort them with our touch.” Each person in the group spoke of the intentional things done daily to avoid physical touch from people. It’s unnatural.

Well, anyway, I just love looking back on these six months and seeing God’s hand working in the midst of the pain. Nearly two months before the assault I was accepted to a CRU summer mission trip that began a month after the incident. I had absolutely no idea how necessary and meaningful the trip was going to be when I applied. When it was finally time for me to leave for the trip I did not want to go because, well… community. I knew I was going to be around a body of believers and I’d be worshipping with them even if I was feeling like doing the opposite. It was easily one of the most amazing trips I’ve been on. I couldn’t believe how perfectly placed this trip was. I really really needed to be around the loving people I met there. A few weeks after returning from the mission trip I began working as a counselor at a sleep-away Christian family camp, where I taught the cutest little K-2nd graders bible stories. I was completely out of my element working in so much nature, but I was surrounded, yet again, in community- God’s community. I realize, now, how important it was for me to be in these places while the healing process began.

I was angry; but not at my offender. I was angry at God for allowing me to be, what felt like, broken into pieces this way. I allowed myself to use that anger and confusion to stray away from Him and things of Him. I’ve found myself trembling on His truth, running, trying to hide. Stuck in a place I do not belong. If you were to look at my life you would barely be able to tell that I was made to be set apart, that I am not of this world. After everything that happened I no longer opened my bible. I didn’t want to pray, or have alone time in the mornings. I’ve found myself going to parties more, and church less. My love for ministry became clouded. Things were truly going downhill until an old friend came back into my life; another seemingly God-ordained event. This friend just happened to be moving back to our home state of New York the same time I was. He introduced me to a new community of believers that quickly became friends of my own.

I’m finding my way back into community again. I’m letting those broken pieces reassemble themselves to create a different, more powerful me. I’m ready to dust myself off and put God back on the forefront of my life, where He belongs. I find myself understanding God more than I have before. He has everything under control, no matter how crazy and out of order things seem to be right now. When we keep our eyes on Him during the storm we barely notice the details of it. It’s only when we take our eyes off of Him, out of fear and lack or trust, that we begin to sink down into the anxiety and worry, kind of like Peter when he tried to walk on water with Jesus.

Subtle Reminders

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God has been communicating with me in a very unique way lately. He’s been randomly placing things, in the shape of a heart, in my path. Its taken me a while to share this because it wasn’t until today that I realized two things:

1) I’m not making this up

2) God is trying to show me something

I’ve always had an eye for detail, which enables me to see aspects of things a lot of people don’t initially pick up on. So usually when I notice something out of the ordinary I kind of just shrug my shoulders and move on, but its not that simple when it comes to these hearts. They just keep appearing- forcing me to figure out what exactly they’re trying to teach me. I can’t remember when this all began, but it started happening so much that I decided to start taking pictures (partly to prove to myself that I wasn’t going crazy.)

img_8294img_8310These two were taken during my West Virginia Mission Trip in March

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This was taken in August while working at Pilgrim Pines Covenant Camp this past summer

IMG_4615.JPG And this one was taken on campus this past Monday night.

After reading Jami Houston’s blog back in January about how God was showing her lessons through the presence of flowers, I realized that I may have been experiencing something very similar. Through some reflection and reassurance from a close friend I’ve been able to figure out just what God has been trying to show me.

These hearts, so carefully placed in the paths He knows i’ll walk in, serve as reminders that no matter where I go in life, He will always love me. When I least expect it, and when I feel least deserving of it, His love will forever be right next to me- surrounding me. And its something I can never escape, no matter what walk of life I’m in.

** update: 10/30**

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10/6 going to cheer practice on campus

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10/18 on a quesadilla I was eating 

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10/27 pile of leaves on campus

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10/28 in my bathroom. Coming from a night light with circles on it, not sure how the heart formed..

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10/28 on the floor of Chase bank

**Another update 12/6**

He Sees Beyond the Fig Leaves

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We’ve all been there. Everything was going so well. Hand and hand with God, talking to Him in prayer, fellowshipping with Him, including Him in those daily life decisions, praising Him, leading by His example with our actions. Those are the best, most peaceful parts of our lives. But all of a sudden, when we aren’t paying much attention, we stray away. We get distracted. Various situations aid in taking our eyes away from Him. These situations cause us to let go of His ever-present hand in order to hold onto something else. Its a downward spiral that usually starts with subtle negligence and ends in a fleeting faith, and a guilty “how did I get here?” The results? We end up feeling lost and distanced from God and that peaceful place we used to rest so comfortably seems far out of our reach. Truth is, that place isn’t far at all. He’s never left.

I need you to know that no matter where letting go of His hand has left you, God loves you regardless. There is absolutely nothing you can do to receive less grace and love from Him. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. That build up of guilt and shame are exactly what the enemy wants us to be knee-deep in, but its all a deceptive bunch of empty lies. Let me tell you a little secret: God knows everything about us. He knows our passions, our deepest desires, our faults, and certainly our next move. Do you know what that means? He already knew you would stray away, and what distraction would enable that. He knows when you’ll come back to Him and which circumstance it will be under. I say that to remind you, and encourage you not to try to hide behind those fig leaves. He already sees what they’re covering- and He loves you nonetheless. So put all of those condemning voices in your head, the guilt, the shame, the doubts and feelings of inadequacy away because He’s still here, waiting. Waiting for your confessed sin, whether it be through pain-filled tears or prayer. That’s what tells Him we’re ready to grab ahold of His hand again. It shows Him we are ready to replace ourselves on the throne of our lives with Him, and find our way back to peace. Talk to Him.