[This is continuation of a story that couldn’t be told in just 700 words]
I was trembling and sobbing with both hands gripping the steering wheel – feeling humiliated and terrified as I focused on my attacker arrogantly jogging from the scene. My suit skirt was torn from hem to the waistband and my stockings had holes that had started running down my thighs with each tear that fell. I had done it again, I thought. I was such an idiot. I should’ve known he wasn’t who he said he was. I shouldn’t have believed that he really needed help starting his car.
“You’re not even worth it, bitch.” And then he laughed. And then he left.
It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled these feelings back up from the compartment where I had stowed them, I think as I head into my final few miles along the wooded path. I am not absent today as I run – not so deep in my head that I miss the leaves turning gold on their branches or the ones falling slowly to the earth. I’ve been working hard to use my running to help me be more present, more mindful rather than just another way to escape. It’s nice to feel the cool air on my cheeks and see the minute details all woven together to create the tapestry on the horizon.
As often as I do try to escape by lacing up my running shoes, I cannot ever predict what the filmstrip of my mind will show on any given day. But today, the memories were stimulated by the distressed-looking truck in the parking lot with jumper cables dangling from beneath the hood. Just the flash of an image is sometimes all it takes to trigger hours of emotions that will need to either be addressed or suppressed.
How I handle the trauma on this day will be my choice.
My pace is quite fast today. The irony is that whenever I remember the events from 20 years ago, it’s like a slow motion reenactment of a car crash. I can recall every second, every scent, every microscopic detail. The man had climbed into my car and was sitting in my passenger seat like he belonged there. Within seconds, I was pinned to my seat. Terrified, I awkwardly smashed my attacker’s nose with the back of my fist and screamed, “You’re in so much trouble!”
What was I thinking? That’s all I could get out of my mouth? What a fool. What a pathetic girl. And he knew it. He looked into my eyes like he could see all the years of pain and embarrassment and just piled more on. “You’re not even worth it, bitch.” And he laughed like the devil in khakis – jogging away only to return in my nightmares.
These words did so much more damage than his hands ever did.
He could have beaten me, or kidnapped me, or raped me. He didn’t. In fact, all he did was tell me exactly what I already knew about myself. I wasn’t worth it. It was as if he was simply the human embodiment of my disgrace. To quote Brene Brown, my attacker was “shame riding shotgun.” Literally. And he’s been riding in the passenger seat my entire life. After that day, though, something happened. My shame was now augmented by anger. Not only was I ashamed, now I was humiliated. I remember driving home thinking, “Where were You when I needed you most? Why don’t You ever protect me?”
I decided then and there that if I was going to survive, I would have to save myself. I would be unbroken. I would bury any emotions that would cause my defeat. I would never let myself get hurt again.
I have less than a mile left on this run and the sunlight from the East is creating a long, alien-like shadow of me on the side of the trail. Although I am almost back to my car, I know I still have a long way to go – metaphorically speaking. But I am healing. When the Hound of Heaven finally tracked me down, opened my eyes and softened my heart, I began to see who I really was. With every morning run and every beautiful sign of grace, I am healing. I now know that I’ve been protected my entire life. I was protected by God’s grace every single day. I was just too weak to see it or too scared to accept it.
Yes, there are some days that my faith is tested. But there are more days when my faith is so strong that I weep when the sun’s rays quietly greet me and warm me from the morning chill – leaving me with the feeling that the Lord is right there wishing me a good day. No matter how strong my faith, I now know this to be true: I am valuable. I am worth it. And it has nothing to do with my past, my progress, or my potential. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I am His beloved daughter. Cherished and protected for no other reason than because I am His.
On the hard days, when shame rides shotgun and the past comes back to steal my spirit, I live by one belief. It’s one belief that gives me permission to be authentic, to love with less fear, and to like myself a little more with every glorious sunrise.
It is God who justifies.
It is God who justifies.
It is God who justifies.
Thanks be to God.