“I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.”
“And ultimately, our laments will round into a new song. Because God wants our sad for a reason: He wants to give us something new in return. You will know you are coming through a lament when you begin to hear a new song of praise. There is something to this new song found throughout the Psalms, and it only comes after a time of despair.” —Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine
Every journey of healing looks different because every human truly is unique and experiences their loss/trauma differently. Yet, we are all human, and live in a broken world, and therefore will all experience agony of some sort at some time or another. None of us are immune to loss, to being wounded by people, or to the evils and wickedness of men’s hearts. We all wish that awful things would not happen, to people we love or to ourselves. Of course we wish that! But they still do. Each of us has to learn the theology of suffering, as Job did thousands of years ago, and come to know His infinite wisdom through it.
My counselor told me “Your wound came through relationship, and therefore your healing will also come through relationship.”
People in Alaska told me “God does not expect you to be anywhere different in your journey than where you are right now. He knows you and He expects no more from you than what you are able to give right here in this moment. You do not need to try and be further down the road than you are.”
My journey of healing had a few unique elements that I am well aware are not written in everyone’s story. I was able to leave the place of the rape immediately, and didn’t have to process in a the location that would have strong ties of association. I was able to drop everything and make processing/healing my priority for a year. I still worked, but at a job that was different than my career (I cooked at a lodge and could go home at the end of the day without much thought). Removing myself from the situation was huge, and if it is possible in any way, I always encourage women to do the same.
A year into the healing process, out in the Alaskan bush, I found myself moving forward. Many said my recovery was shockingly quick, but to me it often felt agonizingly slow. The PTSD had calmed down, the constant mental replay of the bad moments had stopped for the most part. Secluded and safe out in the bush (I know “safe” is relative here, as many people associate Alaska with bears, wolves and freezing to death and that all seems less safe than I was before!) I had more than enough time to sort out and process all the questions. There was nothing else to do except BE, and so I was. In the depths of an incredibly tight-knit community and much vulnerability, I experienced God taking away all that I valued in my life and starting me over, as a new work, from the ground up. I lingered in the book of Ephesians for an entire year, learning my God-given identity and how He designed people to need each other. Sexual abuse is such a deep wound to the identity, that we had to go to the very bedrock of who I believed God was and who I believed I was before we could start reconstructing the rest of my life. I studied the Psalms like my life depended on it, learning the language of lament and crying out to God.
I had to ask God who He saw me as, which ended up being the KEY question that brought forth healing. Did HE see me as broken beyond repair? Did He see me as useless and stripped of purpose, something cast off and less valuable than the girls who had never been touched before? Was the sum of me this one thing now, was this one story to be my whole story? In the hours and months of a dark Alaskan winter, bundled up nice and warm by a fireside, and in kitchens of neighbors with coffee and brownies, I relearned identity in Christ.
Worth the effort of fighting for.
Safe in the everlasting arms and nowhere else.
Made in the image of a Creative God as a creative human.
Pure, spotless, bride material.
My name, Kathryn Elizabeth, actually means “Pure and set apart for God.” In my brokenness, He spoke my name over me, how He saw me and that He still had a future for me. No small man could take away His narrative that He authors, the story that He was including me in. Man is too insignificant to do that, and God is too sovereign to allow it.
I’m going to say this, and it will upset some people. I’m going to say it anyway. The MEANS of the breaking of me was harsh, it was awful. But the actual state of brokenness was the most precious time in my life so far with Jesus. I experienced a nearness that was new and so rich. Had Charles not raped me, I would not have needed to cry out to God in the way I was forced to, and would not been met with His tenderness. It is a paradox, really. Had not this one thing stopped me in my tracks, I would have gone along my merry way, all proud and naive and fooling myself about the world. But pain stopped me and made me listen and made me reevaluate everything in life. It made me come to the conclusion that I needed my Savior a lot more than I ever imagined. Lament, the language of prayer for those who are suffering throughout the Psalms and woven all through Scripture, became my prayer language too. It was absolutely key. Esther Fleece also puts it more eloquently than I could, when she says:
He is drawn to us when we’re mourning and blesses us in a special way. God is not up there minimizing our pain and comparing it to others who have it worse than we do. God wants all pain to be surrendered to Him, and He has the capacity to respond to it all with infinite compassion…What a kind God we have, who has warned us that pain in this life will come and has given us a language to relate to Him in the midst of it. We are not abandoned in a lament; we are being refined, renewed, and held. When we begin to understand God as a God who weeps, we begin to see Him as someone safe to run to in the midst of our pain.
I started art journaling as a way to visually process. Although photography took awhile longer to dive back into, art journaling was a brand new practice for me and helped me work some of these things out. I am an artist through and through, and needed to be retaught how to create things. My heart stirred for the pain of others as well, and I taught art journaling to several young people who were walking through their own traumas, grief and fear. “Once taught, twice learned” is the saying, and it’s so true. I could talk a lot about art journaling and the role it played, but I have already blogged pretty extensively on that subject and you can look here, here, or here for some of the articles.
I surrendered my dreams, my plans, my false sense of security, my fears. I surrendered my future and desire to live out among the nations, my very desire to be useful in the kingdom. My heart ached for those in situations like mine who had not been shown compassion, and God brought out a new level of empathy that I had not experienced before.
And then I started seeing good come.
It was like He had taken His Word, the multitude of truths and comforts spoken over me, and planted it as seeds within my soul in the fall and winter. New sprigs of life started to show within me and were a delightful surprise. A new song, ever so faint, came over the horizon of that frozen Alaskan wilderness. Life started springing back up in me after a season of quiet hibernation…do you know the feeling? The feeling of being able to breathe, long and deep, in and out. To just be present, even for just a moment. I noticed beauty around me in ways that surprised me, which was a sure sign of the heart coming back to life. I delighted in the arctic winter, which was truly an act of the Almighty, since normally winter makes me want to die. When spring came along, I felt like a puppy, or a new fawn, just all full of energy and giddiness. Summer happened and I suddenly felt restless–a feeling that had once been my always familiar friend. I thought it had been put to death forever, the urge to “go”. Restlessness was a sign to me that I was ready to move forward…I was happy where I was but something within me said that the hibernation had passed and it was time to ask God what the next step of the journey would be.
“And I will restore to you the years that the locust have eaten…” Joel 2:25
Now, 4 years later, is it all wrapped up, nicely and neatly? Well, no. I don’t think it ever will be. I don’t think anyone on earth ever truly gets a “Hallmark” ending to their story.
This is part of my story. For awhile, it was “my story”, but now it is integrated and is just part of life. But it will never stop being a part, it will never go away. All that happened during that season will stay with me and contributes in great ways to who I am as a person. I don’t want it to be gone! There are some parts of me that have never been reclaimed, and I am not sure if they ever will be fully. I will never be the Kathryn that was before that moment, but do I truly want to be? Grief, sorrow, trauma, lament– they all do something to ground us, to deepen us. I could not be the version of me, the Kathryn of today without the sorrow that dwelt within during that time. Does this justify the wrong done? Absolutely not. Does God give beauty in place of ashes, a garment of praise where there is a spirit of heaviness? YES and AMEN.
It is not just my story either. For the community, the church, the soul-sisters and the good men, it also became part of their story. There is nothing that creates a bond of unity and closeness like shared grief, shared trauma. My people took on my story, and now it is integrated into their lives too.
I am no longer tormented by memories. The memories have been redeemed, they don’t hurt like they used to. My retelling the story tends to hurt the audience far more than it hurts me, I do not hold anger toward Charles or let him hold any power and fear over me.
Every once in awhile I am still triggered. For many months after Africa, I had PTSD. Did you know that people other than soldiers get it? It reared its head in super strange and unexpected ways. Loud noises, and violent TV shows were out of the picture for the first 6 months at least. I ended up under the table in the fetal position during an episode of Downton Abbey at someone’s house (the one where Anna gets attacked, no one there knew it was coming and everyone felt awful afterward). Men who smell a certain way with a certain soap, or sometimes even just speak with a French accent can trigger a fight or flight response in me that is always embarrassing and inconvenient. Knowing that I will always carry within me the capacity for this just makes me more humble, more dependent on Jesus. It’s like an alcoholic who has been sober for years…they might not struggle daily, but they know within themselves that there is always the capacity to be a fall down drunk again. I HAVE been triggered since moving to Costa Rica–upon first arriving, the smell of rain and dampness on concrete buildings and roasting coffee on the air made me feel instantaneously like I was back in Kigali. Fireworks set off at 6am on some saint’s day in my street sent me into panic that took days to come off of. Being aware and prepared and having a plan of safe people to talk to in the case of this happening makes all the difference. Being able to communicate my needs and advocate for them is absolutely key. Saying “I’m not okay in this moment, I need to leave RIGHT NOW and I need to be in my house” is okay. Being able to tell people how they can be of assistance in the moment of a trigger makes them more manageable and less threatening (the triggers not the people).
I come from a culture that glorifies, and even idolizes strength. We talk to death about our own strength and that American mentality of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”. We admire grit, determination, those who find it within themselves to be an overcomer. Before Africa, I had just run a half-marathon and felt like this warrior-princess. I was tiny, almost too skinny, super fit and disgustingly proud of myself. My strength was an idol at that time, as was my body. The fight, the drive like that, to train and to persevere has never returned to me. Deep down, there is still the feeling of “When I looked my best, I was hurt the worst. When I was strongest in my body, I was actually the most vulnerable.” It has been a long road to re-learning how to take care of my body, to not hate it, to not see it as the enemy. There is still struggle there, and I think that’s okay. I’m not done recovering, but is anyone, ever? Don’t we all just keep taking another step forward and trusting Jesus?
“How many of us mistakenly believe that our strength is what God wants from us, when it is our brokenness that actually attracts Him the most? It was never meant to be this way. God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.” –Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine
In late 2015, I knew I was being sent out to the nations again–not as one who knew everything and had a lot to offer. Not as one who was going to fix things, or even help because I have something others don’t. I have been sent back out to the nations as a living, breathing, testimony of the goodness and kindness of God. I have been humbled through pain, I know my restoration is fully dependent on Him. I lean my weight and my fears upon Him, because by outward appearances it would seem that I have put myself right back in the same dangerous situation as before. Really though, when it all comes down to ground level– the very worst thing, the dreaded “awful” that nearly every woman on earth fears, happened. It happened. And I survived. I lived, and I keep on living. If it were to happen again, it would still be awful, but it is no longer my worst fear in the world. I think my worst fear would now be to live a life in fear, wasted in the “what could possibly happen if…” There was a post I wrote on “Redefining Safety” about 18 months ago that speaks to this, and the Lord has brought me back around to it several times.
Things are different this time around, living abroad. I did a LOT of research before I committed to the mission I’m with. I had a list of questions for them pages long that I needed to have answered. While they were supposed to be interviewing me, I was actually interrogating them. There are safe men and women who know my story, my struggles, and my desire within my organization and my local team. We have set up plans and safeguards, for when I travel, for when I get around my city, for my interacting with new people and people of different cultural backgrounds. It is important to me to keep living–if I stayed put, refusing to move forward, then Charles would have won. More than that even, because he is just a man… the darkness would have won. But that is not how the story goes.
The advice I’d give to people, as a simple woman who has watched God do marvelous things are these:
To the churches and families of survivors:
Culturally, it is only now becoming acceptable to have this conversation at all. Not that long ago, rape was a woman’s problem, and something that simply “wasn’t spoken of”. In most majority world countries, that is still the mentality. The region of the world where I currently live has this largely as the norm, and the shame and fault for attack is still placed back on women. For victims in your own church or family, be willing to walk with them through the long recovery process. Be willing to find some professional Christian counselors who can talk through the restoration of identity and dignity with the gospel at the center. Be aware of your responsibility as you send women out to international ministry work, whether it’s a short term trip or longer term. Educate yourself about some of the customs and behaviors that are appropriate where they are going, but also have plans in place for if something does go down. I am finding, even in writing this week, that my story is not all that uncommon. Being raped is far too common, and being raped while doing ministry work is a reality for many. We don’t want it to happen, but what will you do when it does? PLEASE invite conversation and make your church a culture where it is okay to be broken. Create a culture of safe people who can be there through the long haul!
To my brothers:
I hold you in the deepest regard, I highly respect those of you who are protectors and not predators. The way you love your sisters is so wonderful, it was one of the ways God spoke the dignity He gave me back over me–through you. Do that again. Be protectors of the dignity of your sisters. Do not stand for evil or darkness in their lives. Being good fathers to your children speaks the Gospel to the nations, just being good dads. It is through the Gospel that any and all TRUE healing comes, so just live it in your everyday life. Teach your girls they are treasures, teach your boys to be protectors, and to value that which is seen as a treasure in God’s eyes.
To the survivor:
Say something to someone safe. You are SO WORTH DEFENDING, and I am so sorry that you weren’t defended in that moment. I am sorry for your pain, and I am sorry for your grief. Find someone safe and process it with them. Walk all the way down this road, journey all the way through it. Some of the best advice given to me right at the beginning, which I’m glad I heeded, was to drop everything and deal with it right away. If you put it aside, if you don’t deal and you let it fester or you just think you’re going to forget about it…you won’t. That grief and fierce anger will rear its ugly head at an incredibly inconvenient time and completely paralyze you, and then it will be 10x more painful to deal with. Walk through your grief now. You are SO worth the effort.
Some incredibly helpful resources, for those who have been sexually abused, and particularly for women serving in overseas ministry in any capacity. I had no idea that writing this would open such a door, but people from about 40 different countries have been reading this series, and I have received notes from many women I have never met who share similar stories to mine. THIS IS NOT AS UNCOMMON AS WE THINK, nor should it be treated lightly!
The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender
Shattered Dreams by Dr. Larry Crabb
Cross Cultural Connections by Duane Elmer–to prepare for and be aware of cultural differences when traveling. This is one of those “hindsight is 20/20” books for me.
Velvet Ashes Resource Library, a community of women serving around the world. This is particularly good if you are a woman serving in ministry and need counsel while still abroad, or need to come back Stateside for a bit for some regrouping. I am a part of the Velvet Ashes team on social media, and have found the community of like-minded and similarly passioned women to be a treasure while living abroad.
A Life Overseas Resource Library –the other missions blog that I follow most avidly, has an extensive list of counselors and ways to help those who have been abused or are struggling to overcome trauma.
Another survivors story, but she tells hers a bit differently and goes into different categories of dealing with forgiveness, triggers, and transitioning.
And one last thing! I think everyone probably has an anthem that they had during a difficult season of life–that song that they just couldn’t stop singing, shouting, crying out from the gut level to God. This one was mine, for a solid 2 years. I tramped through the Alaskan woods singing this song, I hiked up hills singing it (and ran out of breath and got a side ache), this was my heart’s cry for a good while. If you have been through something, would you be willing to share your anthem?