I have shared this story in bits and pieces and alluded to it many times. When the opportunity came to publish a piece for an online women’s magazine I wrote it out in full. The door to the magazine closed but the story remains written and waiting. Sometimes the best way to let go of the past and move on is through storytelling.
This is a story that is hard and reader discretion is advised but there is also hope in it and Treasures gleaned from a dark season.
As I write I am sitting on the beach by the ocean. The ocean is like a good friend. I can say anything celebratory and hard. It simply listens and shares its beauty. So after hitting paste and post I will linger and celebrate the beauty of a cloudy raincoast day.
“I will give you the treasures of darkness” – Isaiah 45:3
I have precious treasures. Family, friends, health, antique heirlooms, memories full of laughter and sunshine. It is easy to see the glimmer and shine of such blessings. It has taken me a long time to discover my treasures of darkness and songs from suffering. It has taken me a long time to believe that God really is good and that he will never fail me.
This is the thirteenth year in my journey of healing from violent sexual assault. I share my story because in the black depths of terror, trauma and pain, I have found treasures of hope, love and redemption. I pray that in reading these words you may be enriched as well.
“Can I pray for you?” An elderly lady pulled me aside at church one fine spring day in 2004. This was not an unusual request for after Sunday service. As one of the only young adults in our congregation, I was used to being doted on by the older ladies. The urgency in this sister’s voice though was something new.
“I want to pray for your protection” she continued. Again I noticed the urgency in her voice and refrained from asking questions. She placed her hands firmly in mine and began her appeal to God. I wish that I could recall her words. I simply remember her praying in a firm tone, giving me hug and walking away.
The strangeness of the incident was soon left in the back of my mind as I continued on in my day.
A couple of Sundays later, on June 6, I went to the beach with youth group. The assignment from our pastor was to find something in nature that reflected our relationship with God. The tide was out as I walked along bare, dry grey stones. The sparkling blue ocean felt out of reach. Nothing really here that reminds me of you God I thought Pretty dry and boring.
A flash of green caught my eye. A bright piece of seaweed and a tiny beautiful shell.
“I will give you treasures of darkness” was whispered in my heart. “I will pour water on the dry and thirsty ground.” Bible verses I had read earlier in the week.
“It’s not always in the great exciting times that we see God work” I told the teens as we gathered around the fire pit. “Sometimes it is in the hard and dark times that we see Him the most.” The words sounded strange in the bright sunshine. Life was good. What hard times?
This was my last Sunday as a youth group leader in Comox for the summer. The teens prayed that God would use me and bless me as kitchen worker at summer camp.
Those are more normal prayers, I thought remembering the strange request for protection. What could be so dangerous about summer camp?
No time to ponder. I had to get ready for the princess party.
I truly felt like a princess prancing around the sanctuary in my mother’s wedding dress. I was 19 and hoped to wear it for real one day soon. I didn’t mind the 1970s style. Ever since I discovered the gown as a little girl I dreamed about satin, lace and a husband.
More prayers of blessing. My cup overflowed. “It’s not what’s on the outside that makes you a princess” the speaker declared, “it’s is what comes out of your heart.”
Finally, I was back at the beach. Evening and morning walk down the road, to the ocean and back home through the woods. Serenity and solace for a girl who grew up in the big city. There were few places where I felt more safe and close to God. I could tell him anything at the beach. Thoughts and words pouring out like water refreshing my soul. It had been a good day but there was a strange ache in my heart. A yearning for something.
Lord, use me at the camp, I echoed the prayers of others. Help the children to know you. To know your love. I stretched my arms out wide in surrender and cried out, “I am yours! Take me and use me for your glory!” I want more, more of you! I don’t want to live an ordinary life
“Help me not to run after the things of this world” A new song to the Lord as I began to journey home.
“But instead let me feast my eyes on your word for the truth of your love is what gives me life and the streams of your blessing restore my soul..”
A teen passed me on his bike. His face was downcast. Maybe he will hear my song. He needs some hope. “Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
I saw him again as I turned the corner. “Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of the Lord endures forever.” I ducked into the woods along my street. The evening sun beamed through the branches casting golden shadows. Still light at nine o clock. The air was rich with the smell of dirt and pine needles. Through the branches I could see the meadow… and the teen on his bike coming towards me.
“I’m lost” he said as he hopped off the bike.
I noticed that his hands were shaking as I gave him directions. My friendliness soon gave way to fear and a gut feeling cried, Go home! Now!
“I am leaving now… I could ask my parents to help you…”
“No, you’re not leaving.” His original shaky voice became hard and cold.
Does he want to mug me? I don’t have anything. Rape me?! Oh God, no!
Instantly a memory of a magazine article flashed in my mind. A man was about to be mugged and he said, “I am a child of God and the evil cannot harm me.” The would-be mugger ran away.
The teen started reaching for me. “I am a child of God and the evil cannot harm me.” I declared. “You can’t do this. It’s not right.” I said the words over and over and backed up as his hands continued to reach for me.
“God please help me and protect me.” I looked up at the tree tops and felt peace.
Bam! My head exploded with pain. His fist came again breaking my nose.
I was down on the ground and there was nothing I could do to stop him. Cries were met with more punches until I simply covered my face with my hands and wept as my body was engulfed with indescribable pain.
The only words in my mind were I am going to die.
I felt dead as he left and I began my journey down the road towards home. Animal like groans and screams erupted from my mouth.
My parents had been watching a music video of me singing by the ocean before my cries drew them to the living room. It was the first time I truly saw horror on their faces.
The supernatural feeling of peace that I briefly experienced in the woods descended on me again while being examined at the hospital. “God is good.” I said with a smile. I think that I was partly in shock but now I also know that God was protecting me.
I felt like a celebrity for a while as flowers, cards and gifts flooded in. Family hovered around protectively scheduling visitors and taking me to appointments. The week that followed the attack was a bizarre juxtaposition of receiving more love and attention than ever before and dealing with profound grief, brokenness, fear and despair.
The first time I was home alone my thoughts raced. What if he comes again? Where could I hide? My mom returned to find me in tears calling my pastor for support. I felt frustrated with this new vulnerability. My neighbourhood, the world no longer was safe. Can I ever be alone again? Will I always be afraid? God, where were you?
I walked down the path in the woods with my brother holding my hand. “I will not be afraid of the woods!” I declared.
Two other ladies were also questioning God. The elderly at my church was given a picture of something dark happening to me when she prayed that Sunday. “Why, Lord, why?” She asked. “I obeyed you and prayed for her!”
The only thing she heard was “I saved her life”.
Another lady in Vancouver had been given a word of knowledge that a young women connected to my church there would be raped and to pray for protection. Her cries of “Why?” were also met with “I saved her life”.
I see now that there were many ways that God saved my life in those painful moments. My body was saved from STDs, pregnancy or any permanent injuries. The doctor who reset my nose was shocked at how easy it went back into place with no blood shed.
I still went to work at summer camp and was able to touch many kids’ lives.
I had a conversation with the teen almost a year later right after his sentencing.
“I just want to tell you that I forgive you and that God will forgive you if you ask him.” I said through the glass panel.
I wasn’t planning on praying for him but the question fell out of my mouth,
“Can I pray for you?” He nodded.
I asked God to heal his heart. He looked at me and said, “sorry.”
It would be easy to say that pain ended as I joyfully ran up the stairs of the courthouse. I think that God protected me from the feelings of anger until I was ready.
A few years later, I exploded with anger and fell into a deep depression. That journey is a whole other story. As I walked through the valley of losing my job, health, dignity and faith, He was faithful. He is faithful. I became like a little child again, first dependent on hospital staff and then on my parents, siblings and friends.
All my pride and self-sufficiency was stripped away. I tried to run away from God with all my might. But he pursued me in his love and brought me home.
On August 26, 2016 I wore my mother’s wedding dress again and became a Mrs. to a wonderful man. God saved my life from bitterness and fear of men. I still need to forgive that young man and keep on forgiving.
I am angry that my husband was not first.
I am angry that after he said sorry to me, the teen committed even deadlier crimes years later.
I felt angry that I couldn’t change him and rejoice in a happy ending. God is always quick to remind me that I can’t change anyone. He also reminds me that there is always hope. Hope even for this broken man and hope for me. Hope as my own sin threatens to steal, kill and destroy. Hope when I hurt and tear down instead of building up.
In those moments I remember the promise of “treasures of darkness”. Nothing, not my sin or the sin of others, can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Where was God when I was broken and bleeding? Christ’s Spirit was inside of me giving me the strength to live and walk home.
Only because he too had been broken and bleeding.
A few days after the attack I wrote the second verse to the song on the beach:
“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death and my heart and my flesh fail to stand,
I will trust in you my God and King for you promise strength and deliverance.
Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
His word and strength endures through my life songs of sorrow and joy. He is the only rock on which I can stand. And now I know that He is good and he won’t let me down no matter what I face.