I wouldn’t change my past if I could. I would re-live every painful moment if it meant being able to give God glory through the pain, and being able to help other women avoid the painful hurts I’ve had to experience.
I’m often asked what I would tell someone going through the pain I’ve experienced, whether that’s rape, abuse, or a toxic relationship. And tonight I thought that while I wouldn’t change a thing about my past, there are things I wish I could’ve told myself along the way.
I’d tell my 18 year old self, as I started college, that I was beautiful. That the number on the scale didn’t define me and neither did what roles I got in the ballets I would perform. I’d tell myself that my “thick legs” were strong and not to be viewed as a weakness as I was often told. I’d tell myself to guard my heart and be careful who I surrounded myself with. The friendships I’d form would be either the greatest support system, or the most destructive. I’d tell myself not to seek my acceptance from guys, and to stay firmly rooted in Christ. I’d tell myself to trust my instinct more, and party less.
I’d tell that same girl, after a rapist stole her virginity one month into college, that she would be okay. I’d tell her that what he did that night was not okay, and that it wasn’t her fault. I’d tell her to ditch the friends that said “thank God you’re not a virgin anymore”, and to start to find friends who would love on her. I’d tell her that she isn’t defined by what he did to her, and that she is worth more than a one night stand. That she was beautiful and deserves to be treated far better than she was accepting. I’d tell her to stop hiding her pain in the beds of strangers, and to instead seek Christ. I’d tell her to stop downplaying the rape and to seek help. I’d tell her that someday all of the pain she was feeling would make sense, and that it would be redeemed for far greater things than her mind could imagine.
At 19, after deciding to take a semester off from college I’d tell that girl to be careful. To guard her heart, and to trust her family. I’d tell her that no man or relationship can erase the pain of the rape, and to take the time to properly heal from that. I’d tell her to take her time with life and love. That there is no timeline, and to not rush love. I’d tell her that life may get difficult, but it’ll be okay. That the coming years will form her in ways she could never imagine, and that out of life’s greatest pain and heartbreaks form some of the most beautiful things. I’d tell her to keep her head up, and her eyes on Christ and to not worry about what’s going to happen because in the end it will all be okay.
On her wedding day, March 7, 2009, I would tell her to breathe. As she sat alone on the front porch that morning I would tell her to trust her heart. As she heard the music start, I’d tell her to trust the fear and to run. But as she began to walk down those stairs, I’d tell her that it’s going to get hard. That life was about to throw things at her that no 20 year old should have to deal with. I would tell her to talk to her family, and not to shut them out. I’d give her a hug, and tell her it would be okay. I’d tell her that what she would feel over the next few years wouldn’t be true love, and that the words he would speak to her weren’t love. I’d tell her that she was lovable, and beautiful, and that a woman should never fear her husband. I’d tell her that as much pain as she would feel, she would someday experience far greater redemption.
On that winter day when she would see his fist coming at her face, I would tell her it was time. I would tell her that even though she hadn’t felt many emotions in years, that the fear she felt was real and that it was time. I would tell her to run. I would tell her not to waste another minute. I’d tell her that all the times he told her no one would ever love her because she was too broken, that he was lying. I’d tell her that her identity is in Christ and not in the words of her abusive husband. I’d tell her that as scary as it is to escape, it’s much scarier to stay. I’d tell her that God would protect her, and that her family will show her more love than she could ever imagine. I’d tell her there is life after an abusive marriage. I’d tell her that nothing will compare to the freedom she will feel once she gets to the other side. I would remind her that she is beautiful, lovable, and that she deserves a love that doesn’t cause her to fear her life daily.
During the months after she got the divorce when she felt more alone than she ever had I’d tell her that it would be okay. I’d tell her it’s okay to be sad. I’d tell her it’s okay to miss him. And I’d tell her that she’s not crazy for sometimes wishing she could go back. I’d tell her that the abuse was her normal, and it’s scary to be out of her comfort zone. I’d tell her that some day she would have a new normal, and her heart would heal. I’d tell her to stay in counseling, and trust the process. I’d tell her she can’t heal alone, and that only Christ can provide the healing she needs. I’d tell her, once again, to be careful about the friendships she surrounds herself with. Because friendships must support our healing and not distract from it. I’d tell her to not worry about finances, and to be thankful for her life. She might not have much money, but she has her life which was something to be thankful for. I’d tell her that someday she will find real love, and that there’s hope to be found. I’d tell her that she is going to have the opportunity to impact many people with her story, and to be bold with sharing what God has rescued her from. I’d tell her that the healing process is going to hurt really bad, but to just fight through it because it’ll be worth it. I’d tell her that someday she will be okay, and not just okay but healthy.
During the years of healing I’d tell her to stay strong. To not fall into the habit of finding her worth in a man. I’d tell her that the guy who only wants to talk to her or spend time with her late at night doesn’t love her. I’d tell her that the guy who wants to keep her a secret around his friends isn’t the guy she deserves. I’d tell her that no matter how many times a guy chooses someone else over her, it doesn’t diminish her worth. I’d tell her that she is a beautiful woman who isn’t defined by the words of the men that have hurt her. I’d tell her that she needs to focus on healing before she’ll be able to be in a healthy relationship, and that God will do a good job of showing that to her by removing relationships from her life no matter how hard she tries to hold on to them. I’d tell her that being single isn’t a depiction of how unlovable she is. I’d tell her not to settle, and to trust her instincts. I’d tell her that someday all of the triggers will diminish. That she would be able to cook again without being reduced to a puddle of tears, and that the night terrors will someday be few and far between. I’d tell her that a ton of friendships will fail over the years, but eventually she’ll find a set of friends that will be supportive and loving and will be willing to stick by her side through the good and bad times. I’d tell her to embrace every experience she’s given, and to always remember how far she’s come.
And when the moment has come when she looks back at all she’s been through and realizes she’s finally at a point of being healthy, I’d tell her to never forget how far she’s come. I’d remind her of the work she put in, and the obedience to Christ that she had to get here. I’d remind her that while she may still be single, to relish in the beauty of that. I’d tell her that she is an inspiration, even though she doesn’t see it. I’d tell her to never forget to trust God, even when He leads you through the unknowns. I’d remind her of every moment she never thought she’d be okay, and tell her how beautiful the healing is.
Most importantly I’d tell that girl that every mistake, misstep, and mishap from her past has led her to the most beautiful place in life, and to never doubt that even in the midst of greatest pain, God was writing her beautiful story of redemption.