The Journey

Going First

Going first.

I’m not sure where to start the story, it seems like I’ve been living it my whole life.

We designed Not This to give a framework to this journey, provide a scrapbook of where we’ve been, snapshots that offer witness to who we are, notes and quotes that inspire and define us. Alongside these things, we offer our journals, the secret ones, those that hold the letters written from our hearts to our souls…these words ache for us to remember, to choose different, to find a way out, to comfort, to love, to give hope. These are the pages that tell the truth.

The first letter from my heart is the hardest one to share because in some way it needs to call out loud and honest enough to be noticed, while still holding enough hope you have the courage to reply. To be clear, we say it’s the first letter for convenience, but it isn’t the first. Much like a scrapbook a few pictures fit perfectly and some stories fall neatly onto the page. Then there are the messy stories, the unflattering photos, the ugly words, and the leftover memories. In this first letter, I need to give you a few of those, the real and unposed moments, the ones that connect us, and then you’ll know why I feel the same pain, understand the exhaustion, and ask the same sorrowful questions. With this letter please begin to believe you are not alone. Know that we are walking on the same road and if we start calling out to one another things will change.

I am not unfamiliar with violence. I now know evil just as intimately. I will start the story there. We can fill in the rest of the pages later…together.

2009 began a series of circumstances that forced me to start talking about the most violent experience of my life. It happened in November of 2007 but since then I adeptly navigated, managed, and coordinated every circumstance to keep the damage hidden. Then suddenly in January, outside pressure unexpectedly demanded that the story be told.

In a tiny police interview room I sit across from a detective and describe every mistake, decision, touch, grasp, tear, plan, scream, vulgarity, humiliation and excruciating pain that night holds. I explain the placement of hands and body, the pulling of hair, the tearing of skin, the desperate pleas, the fruitless negotiation, the hopeless submission. I speak of the blood and the bruises. We take a break. Leaning into the wall for strength I tremble uncontrollably. I wonder if fear of violence is different than fear of evil (for months I would believe them to be the one-in-the-same and hopelessly unconquerable). I weep. We begin again. The truth continues to spill out of me and begins to bring the strength to speak the ugliest details and I tell of the days that follow: professional damage control, lying to explain my injuries, demands for unreported pain and infection medication, sleepless nights, regret, shame, guilt. I give the detective all my doubt, fear, heartache and pain under the auspice of an information-only report. This doesn’t appease the external pressure on me so I wear a recording device and walk my assailant through a confession. I give that to the detective too.

The weeks and months that follow are a blur of meetings at the police department, tense phone calls, counseling appointments, court proceedings, victim witness introductions, telling my family what happened, grad-school classes, worrying about the media, sharing with friends what I’ve been living through, all while serving on staff at a growing church and trying to be a good mom.

I struggle to balance it all. I receive several parking tickets, am disregarded by the system, experience the misplaced anger of loved ones, nearly fail my classes and lose my financial aid. My professional life can’t sustain the constant interruption and stress. My position at the church has to be given up. Some of my personal relationships are deeply damaged, including the one with the man I love. I question God. I still have nightmares. I still tremble.

My assailant is charged with a fifteen-year felony, makes a plea agreement and is sentenced to a year. He serves six months. He gets out two days before I write this, no one tells me, I find out online Christmas Eve.

There are no blue ribbons on this difficult journey but there is redemption. I experience hope in the most unlikely places and my faith is exponentially multiplied. I know evil has its weaknesses, truth being one of them. My relationships are deeper and I know the emotional freedom that comes with living transparent. The strength to get up every day, acknowledge the pain and move forward makes me a little proud. The responsibility I’ve been given to share what has happened and is happening gives me the chance to make it better for those on the same journey.

The letters from my heart to my soul are real; they reference moments on this journey that are heart-wrenching and occasionally graphic. They might whisper words of comfort, define hope, confess confusion, or question faith. A few scream with defiance, raging at the emotional and physical violence I know too well. You might find yourself in one of these letters, feel a connection and maybe even reach out for help…with that hope,

I’ll go first.