26 & 5 years

Today marked 26 years of life. Every time this time of year rolls around I look back in amazement. Have I really made it this far? Life has meaning, I value life, and I look forward to each day.

Life is no longer a black mass that is dictated by my experiences.

Even bigger than celebrating another birthday, is the week before my birthday. This year a milestone rolled around. Five years of freedom. And freedom has never felt so free. The first few years of freedom from my abusers felt anything but like freedom. The emotional abuse left huge gaping wounds and everything else just topped off the damage. I struggled, sank further, and often felt worse than when I was actively being abused. My escape to freedom felt anything but like freedom. But somewhere between then and now life has evolved, and I can truly say I am free.

That’s something to celebrate.

So I went on a mini vacation with friends to the beach, tried new foods, and reflected on all I have to be thankful. We often get caught up in the stress of life and forget all we have right at our feet. Even on the worst days, I have a bed to sleep, eyes to see the beauty around me, and breath. Instead of retreating inward and shutting down over a week that completely changed my world, this year, I chose to reflect and express my freedom and thanks. I know I’m extremely thankful for a Heavenly Father that never gave up on me, even when I gave up and completely turned away from Him. What an amazing feeling knowing that despite my brokenness, filth, and even hatefulness, Jesus didn’t turn His back. Instead, he broke through my stubbornness, cleaned me off, and made me whole. Are there still broken pieces? Of course. But instead of gaping wounds that spew out darkness, the cracks shine the light that was so graciously poured into me. How could you not celebrate that?

He has a way

Two weeks ago marked much more than turning 25. It also marked 4 years being free from my abusers. It has always been a week of mixed emotions…excitement of my birthday, and utter fear at the same time. The previous past 3 years were marked with grief or struggling to not return. This year was different. Society says this is something to stay quiet about, but I’ve come to realize that being away from people like that is just as big as if I were to say I’ve been sober or cancer free for 4 years, I’m having a baby, getting married, or graduating. All have different paths but I can undoubtedly say I know how hard it is to stay sober from something deadly, the grief of losing a part of yourself, and the excitement of a celebratory life event. I’m finally at the excitement part. I don’t need the world to know, and I’ve over-prided myself on being able to do it on my own – the one thing I would tell anyone not to do. But this year was different; I finally felt free.

ladybug

Ladybugs serve as my reminder that God has everything under control. Sometimes I forget this, you know, when things are stressful or difficult and I’m stuck in that “why me” stage or running around in panic mode. Much to my surprise when I was outside with my dog March 16th I turned around to admire the beautiful azalea bush in front of my front door. Looking closer I noticed over a dozen lady bugs spread across the large bush. I couldn’t help but stop and smile, thankful for the reminder that God is in control and that He is always with me. Peace spilled through me and I knew this anniversary would be different, I wouldn’t be crying and in pain this year, but rejoicing and praising Christ who saw me through and has already begun to use me in ways I never thought possible.

Speak Boldly

A few weeks ago a friend asked me a question I’ve never been asked, and one that completely caught me off guard if I’m honest. My friends come from diverse backgrounds, but all of them know the role Christianity plays in my life. As much as I would love for my non-Christian friends to give their lives to Christ, I don’t preach to them or shove my beliefs down their throats. The most important thing to me in being a Christian and being with non-Christians is to show them Christ in me; not force my beliefs upon them.

Although I have many friends and peers that aren’t Christian, I’ve never had anyone ask me why I believe in God. That was until I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friends car one night and he asked me. I was completely taken aback – an atheist wanting to listen to me share why God is so important to me? Without thinking twice about how to put it in a way that would sound “good” to someone that completely rejects my beliefs, I looked at him and shared how God had saved my life. How my life was in shambles, how abuse and pain led my life; until I gave God a chance. Silence fell in the dead of the night followed by his rejection of God and all religions. I got out of the car thinking I had gotten no where, I felt defeated.

Reflecting back on that night through the weeks I’ve come to the realization my friend may always deny Christ, but that night I stood up against what the enemy wanted me to do – stay silent. Our world has come to be a very “politically correct” place where so many people fear speaking up. Let me say this very clearly – never be afraid to speak the Truth. If you can boldly speak out against animal cruelty, war, child abuse, or the long list of other things, don’t waiver in speaking about the One who will always be by your side.

A Message that Stuck

Have you ever had a sermon speak directly to you? I’ve heard many sermons that touched my heart, that I could relate to, and one’s that I thought were just incredibly amazing. However, I’ve never had that “God is speaking to me right this second through this sermon” moment while at church; until this past Sunday morning.

There have been plenty of times where I have either been angry or overcome with anguish over the complete lack of support I’ve received through my journey of facing and dealing with 9 years of abuse. I reasoned with myself that I didn’t need support; I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand, calm my fears, or protect me. I could do it all alone. I told myself these things, but I desperately wanted understanding and support. This year will make 4 years being away from my abusers, and Sunday morning reinforced that although I have felt extremely alone in this journey, I’m not fighting  overcoming my past on my own. God given courage has carried me through, and I can say without a doubt, that these years of being “alone” has made me strong.

“What makes you strong in the valley, is your time with God.”

I’ve learned to completely rely on God through this time. As much as I may want something from man (or woman), I can’t make someone do something. So I should never question God’s plan, right?

Not exactly there just yet.

As the sermon continued, the more I got out of it. For the past year and half or so circumstances and people have pointed me in a direction I feel I am anything but qualified for. Public speaking. I’ve been in school my entire life, literally, and even at this point, public speaking at any level still makes me nervous. I’ve lead groups, presented research and papers, and have taught classes. Each time my stomach drops and I have to maintain awareness of my nerves taking over in my rate of speech. As time has passed and I’ve had to get up in front of people, the less fear engulfed me about this future possibility. But I’m still digging my heels in, because excuses are the easiest way to avoid something, right? I’ve made a lot of excuses to try to get out of the direction God has planned for me because of fear.

Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

This is a command that I have continued to struggle with. I look at what my flesh is afraid of, but become uncertain in putting complete faith in God’s promise in the middle of my fears. My flesh may be completely terrified of getting up and making myself completely vulnerable by publicly speaking, but if that’s the direction God is intending me to go, I will not falter.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

The Last Bandage: Finding Healing

Less than a year passed when I fled from Hayley and David and I transferred from community college to one of the most diverse universities in the country. I was desperate to be accepted back into the safety of God, but ashamed to ask for acceptance, terrified of being cast aside. I’d sit outside of my school’s chapel, the benches a safe distance away from the clean students that walked through the doors. Rather it was raining, breezy, cold, or blazing hot, I glued myself to the dedicated benches near the chapel. Sitting there and staring at the white building covered in arched windows that was home to the dozens of religions that flooded the campus, I didn’t have it in me to walk through the doors. How could I possibly walk in with such evilness attached to me? There was too much darkness in my life that couldn’t dare be brought into what I saw as a sacred place. I was terrified to dirty up something that I saw as clean.

But that feeling wouldn’t go away.

After a year of contemplating, sitting around and walking by the building day after day, I finally heard that confident, reassuring voice.

“Go in Sarah, it will be ok.”

My heart raced and thoughts inundated me as I opened the door for the first time. Making my way up the stairs, I sank into a sofa where I found myself sitting and studying through the rest of the semester. I refused to go into the sanctuary, but the fear of walking in faded.

As time passed I eventually found myself walking into churches around the city. I was still hesitant, and very much “testing the waters”; I was sure one of them would see through me and throw me out. I showed up at churches in the heart of the city, out in the suburbs; Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and everything in-between. I wasn’t stared at, people didn’t look at me and see my problems, and I didn’t get struck by lightning because I wasn’t holy enough to be there. The peace I got years ago that I hid under my rebellious attitude flooded back.  I started to realize my problems didn’t define me nor dictate my life. There was one reason I survived, and it wasn’t because of luck. It was much deeper than that. I came to learn the only bandage that would truly heal my wounds, was God, when the world turned its back; He never left and never gave up on me.


I look back and sometimes find it hard to believe how I was never one of the girls that was found in the ditch after being missing for days. I also can’t explain how seemingly out of nowhere while I was in line to get my passport to leave the country with my abusers, that I walked out and knew I had to get away – life was not “okay”. For all of the negative forces that had their hands around my throat, the real power was always in the part that I continuously pushed away, but never left.

The temporary feel good of ____________ (fill in the blank) is great, until the adrenaline rush, numbing effect, or whatever other feeling (or lack of feeling) it brings, runs out. Not to mention the lasting effects quickly begin to decrease in potentness.  I’m not saying that turning to God suddenly made everything better. In fact, it was more than difficult at times because of the preconceived ideas I had, and the schema’s I had developed over the years.

Trust no one.

Stay quiet.

No one cares.

No one will protect you.

Give, but don’t receive.

People will always fail you.

These had done absolutely nothing for me through the years but create more suffering. But the fact of the matter is, people will always fail me, and intentionally or not, people will hurt me just for the fact that they’re human. That’s where the difference lies between people and God. There have been many times where things happened that I didn’t want to happen, and the phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle” boiled my blood. Instead of our problems just disappearing, we are instead promised that in our sufferings, we will not suffer alone. God does not allow us to suffer things we cannot bear ALONE.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time I used something else to bandage myself up, it always fell off, and I was always going through the battles alone, regardless of how many people were around me. I was trying to “fix” myself, until I let myself open up just enough to let the only One who could begin to heal me do the healing.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                                                                                                                                  Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

 

New Journey

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

I didn’t grow up in church, but went irregularly every now and then growing up. During my days of attending a private school we spent Wednesday mornings in chapel, and had a week of vacation bible school over the summer. We jumped up and down, ran around, and always requested to sing “Father Abraham”. After I was suspended, everything church related was also suspended. When I did start going to church again, I wasn’t the typical church girl, or atleast I wasn’t what I imagined was the typical church girl. “Church people” had it all together. They came with their hair in place, nice clothes with pretty smiles, and accompanied by their families. I thought they all had it together and it was just another place where I’d have to fight to fit in. In an attempt to belong, I would go and push my problems away and ignore the thoughts and images in my head. Unwillingly there at times as a teenager, I let it be known that I didn’t want to be there. Arms folded defensively, I’d sit there guarded. Even though there was a sense of safety, I refused to let my guard down and become vulnerable to more destruction. While my face often showed “I hate this”, the hurt inside of me was always pushed away and the evil on the outside was temporarily gone. Eventually, the more I was pushed to go, the more my heart opened.

Regardless, I wasn’t very active in church. I didn’t understand the Bible, and didn’t know how to pray. I was sure there was a “right” way, and I just couldn’t do it that way. I had this preconceived idea of who God was, and I figured He was just someone else I had to be perfect for, or else. I tried to avoid thinking about how much God must have hated me for the life I was living; how disgusted He must be in someone that continually lied, faked her way through each day, and was the definition of impure. Instead, I went through the motions and followed the crowd to fit in. But somehow, that uncommon safe feeling made me feel like I was doing the right thing, even if I couldn’t explain it. Tears stained my face in the middle of the night, tears while I prayed for someone, something, anything, to save me. After my tears remained unanswered, anger seethed through me as I began to question God; He was just like everyone else. He knew what was happening, but did nothing. “Why” bounced through my head. Why would God leave me? Why was He allowing such things to happen to me, to happen in the world? He was suppose to be different, why was He proving to be like everyone else?

Through the years, I was told God had plans for me. I didn’t know what it meant because I couldn’t see outside of what I was going through, much less a future regardless of dreams. I felt like my life was hopeless; I couldn’t see two minutes ahead, never mind a planned out future. However, I felt something about this hopeful outlook and trusted these unfamiliar words. Every time I heard this simple statement, my heart had a feeling of hope that I couldn’t describe in words. I fumbled to live in this unseen hope, but I eventually started to grasp it, and eventually believed.

Not much longer after I started to feel comfortable enough to plant my roots at church, my parents stopped dropping me off at a place I once begrudgingly walked into. A teenager looking for answers, I walked away from the church and didn’t step foot into one again for years. I was angry with God, angry that He’d let what was a safe place to me be taken away. The corners of protection I had in the world all began to slip away; people, the church, and God all began to live up to David and my mother’s voice that rang through me.

“No one can deal with you Sarah, everyone leaves you.”

“You hurt everyone; it’s your fault no one wants you.”

God was the only one I could blame, the only one that I knew could hear, even if He wasn’t listening. My heart was cold and I put walls around my soul. Yelling at the top of my lungs in an empty house my frustrations escaped me.

“How could YOU do this to me?”

I placed the stones back in their places and brushed my hands together. I was done and walked away as easily as I felt everyone and everything God related had walked out on me. I painted the glimmers of white on my life black, and went in a different direction, looking for something to heal me. Running from Christianity, my abusers occult system took a hold of me – I no longer had any reason to fight it. Partially sunken into a system I knew nothing about, a faint voice that was frequently drowned out hung on to the pieces that weren’t drenched in this foreign world. Years of going back and forth, the faint voice changed to a persistent, reassuring tone.

“You don’t belong here.”

It never gave up; making sure it was heard even in the middle of darkness. The more I heard this voice, the less I began to fight it. The safety that used to hold me in the middle of all of the storms was gone. I feared stepping out of the world I was halfway in, I feared their reaction. Years of running from God, I slowly crawled my way back. Running away from home in the middle of the night I began to find myself in church parking lots; a former safe place, yet a place I felt I couldn’t step in again because I was too damaged and contaminated. As afraid as I was that I had turned away from this new system I still couldn’t comprehend, I ran back to the only stronghold in my life. The voice that never left me gave me what I needed to escape the terrors that were devouring me.


I used to think in very black and white terms – you either had to be all “good”, all the time, or God cast you aside indefinitely. The Bible is full of God giving second chances though – what about Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-22, 6:20-25), David, who was an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51), Zacchaeus, who took advantage of the poor (Luke 19:1-10), Peter, who denied Christ (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75, John 21), and the thief on the cross who was granted a second chance in eternity (Luke 23:39-43) to name a few.

It doesn’t stop there, and none of us are exempt from this second chance. Jesus told Joshua that He was giving him another chance; another day. God is no more finished with me or you then he was with the children of Israel because they sinned. God WANTS to give you a second chance, how many times do you hear that from the people that surround you?