This past September, I boarded a plane heading for a city I once called home, a city that held my most painful memories. As my dad dropped me off, he asked me the obvious question of “whats the point of this trip to Houston exactly?” Days before that I had sat in my counselor’s office looking for language on how to answer a question like this, for myself and others. I knew deep in my spirit that I needed to return to the places that held the most pain for me, but I wasn’t quite sure how to explain that to those closest to me confused and asking me why I would want to go back. My counselor offered the words ” to honor my healing journey”. They were good and true words for me. I have spent 10 years processing the trauma I experienced there and putting in all the work I needed to heal my heart and my mind. It has been anything but easy. Yet the words still lacked so much more of the purpose that God had put in my heart. Truth be told, I am not sure I knew the exact reasons for my return, except that God had placed the longing in my heart and soul to face the past and declare that it didn’t have a hold on my present.
September 8th marked the 10 year anniversary of the assault that changed my life. One afternoon, I came face to face with darkness and evil attempting to destroy me. I have spoken about this experience multiple times, yet it feels sometimes like a surreal nightmare that I still cannot explain. The best way to put it is that although it was a physical attack on my body, it felt even more like a spiritual attack on my soul. In the fight of my life, I felt like evil was throwing all it could at me, draining any light or any hope that I had inside. Often times when I looked back on this day, I saw myself lying on the ground defeated, bruised and broken. A young girl, who ran out of fight and succumbed to the darkness which has now infiltrated and consumed me for the next decade of my life. The effects of that day have rippled to every corner and crevice of my life. I was going back to Houston to face that trauma head on. I couldn’t help but wonder, would I find healing or more hurt?
I had no plan or strategy of how I was going to approach visiting the apartment complex. As I pulled in, I realized that there would probably be no one there who knew me and wasn’t even sure I would be allowed in. I started second guessing the wisdom in this idea. Would I look suspicious walking around where I didn’t belong as an American in a predominantly international neighborhood? It was Friday, the Muslim day of worship so the complex was busy with men coming and going from the mosque and women and children out on their balconies. I got a few stares as I waved hello but pushed forward. As we walked to the front of the apartment, I quickly noticed that the front window was smashed out. This was the exact window that I broke through and escaped from that day. My first thought was had no-one fixed this in 10 years? I could not believe the coincidence. The awe kept coming as we turned the front door handle and found it to be unlocked and completely empty. As the door swung open, I was hit immediately with a wave of grief that made my knees buckle. 10 years washed over me and brought me back to that September day. I walked inside and like a movie in my head, I could hear the screams, see the violence, and nearly feel the pain I experienced that day. This might be too much for me, I thought. I was with a dear friend who had spent many days in that apartment/classroom with me serving and teaching. She started talking about the sweet memories that this apartment held. A packed out room of refugee women from around the world learning and laughing together over a feast of delicious food. Meeting beautiful people sharing their stories of loss and triumph, and learning so much about the world that I had never known. That apartment held so much more than just that one tragic September day. So much light flowed out of there. So much joy and laughter shared among friends. So much redemption in the making over impossibly hard stories.
As I moved through the apartment I felt God’s presence and his prompting that he needed me to see something different. He wanted me there to remind me of what else happened that day. Although, I have shared my testimony many times and spoken of how God met me in that place supernaturally, I felt it once again. It had almost become a distant memory, one that I have second guessed over recent years. I stood there in that room, remembering vividly of how Jesus showed up for me, rescuing me and giving me another chance at life. He spoke directly to my heart what I needed to hear “I have been with you the whole time. I never left you. Not then and not now.” It felt like a sacred moment as my friend prayed a blessing over me and I declared that as much as the enemy tried to destroy me that day and crush my spirit, I would not allow it. The light always wins over the darkness. This has been a hope I keep holding on to with everything I am!
Throughout that weekend this theme kept coming up. God gently reminding me of who He has been in my life and that evil doesn’t have the last laugh.When I told the testimony of my assault in the first few years afterwards, I often spoke of my husband as my rescuer, my protector, and the one who cared for me unconditionally through it all. Those words have come back to me as painful stabbing reminders of all I have lost. What I heard that weekend was the still small voice whispering to me ” It was always me. I am your rescuer. I am your provider. I am the only one who can see all your pain and love you unconditionally and perfectly”. God was patiently and kindly showing me his love and care that has always been greater than anyone else could ever give.
I faced even more difficult places that I never expected to go that weekend. I had come to get healing and closure from the first trauma in my life, but God wanted more than that for me. He wanted me to face another. On that Sunday morning, I walked into my home church, a place that I never imagined being able to go again. As I walked in the front doors, the same scene unfolded that happened in the apartment. My mind may have been ready, but my body was not. I did everything I could to prepare myself to walk in, yet when I did, my body remembered and it was sent into a strong physical reaction of being in place that held such painful memories. Yet the beauty that came as instantaneously I was surrounded by people who cared for me and was covered in prayer. A circle formed around me holding me upright and giving me strength. This was one of the holiest moments I have ever experienced. Because of this support, I was able to walk in the sanctuary and worshipped while tears ran down my face the entire service. In the closing prayer, my pastor prayed ” go forward, be healed and glorify God”. It wasn’t just for me, but it sure felt like it.
I came to Houston looking for healing, hope, closure, and redemption. I came to honor my journey over the last 10 years and all the work I have put it to overcome it all. As I got on my plane heading towards Chicago, I felt a deep peace that I got what I came for and more. I came face to face with God’s love for me and the validation that he always sees me. I was reminded that I am stronger than I knew and have overcome life circumstances I would have never thought possible. I give that glory to God’s grace in my life. This doesn’t mean I don’t struggle, and that PTSD is behind me. In fact, December was full of anxiety and obstacles, this is just another step on the healing journey that continues.
Also, as much as I wanted this to be a trip about my own independence and strength, I realized that I haven’t done this healing journey alone and would be lost without my community. Every step of that weekend I was covered in prayer, and someone walked with me. Dear friends and family traveled to spend the time to be near. I was showered with undeserved and overwhelming hospitality. The pictures shown here are just half of the people who loved me and were there for me that weekend. I am forever thankful for those who continue to pray, love and support me over all these years.