March 13, 1999
20 years ago today, I became a victim. I woke up a day and a half later a survivor.
I have never memorialized this day, March 13. For many years between 1999 and 2019, the day would come and go without me even acknowledging it. Occasionally, I would remember. But these last few years… these last few years… 2017… 2018… 2019… “that” day has been on my mind.
I was 28 and a newlywed, married for only 6 months.
My husband and I were coming home after dinner with friends. We walked to the door of our newly purchased condo in Smyrna, GA, me walking down the walkway only a couple of steps in front of him. When we stopped in front of our door, he slipped the key into the lock and turned the key, releasing the lock. I heard a noise behind him and turned around to see a man standing behind my husband with a gun pointed barely inches from my husband’s head. No words, hardly a gasp.
I lived in rural Georgia in my teen years. We never locked our doors, neither house doors nor car doors. Many of you remember those days. I drove anywhere I wanted to go in my little Datsun. No cell phone, no worries. I was unbridled and mostly carefree in my teen years. I was fierce on the basketball court, and I did not get pushed around much on or off the court. Disappointments of my youth toughened me up a bit, and I had an untamable spirit.
The gunman pushed us inside our home, and stood between the two exits of our small condo, the front door and the door to our small patio. Both exits were on the front of our home. We were held hostage at gunpoint, nowhere to run.
Alternating between pointing the gun at me and then at my husband, the gunman, with his face partially covered by a bandana tied at the back of his neck, demanded our money. Immediately, I dropped to my knees, digging my hands deep into my purse, and slipped my wedding rings off. I hid them in a small hole in the lining of my purse. I pulled everything else out of my bag, wallet, chewing gum wrappers, sunglasses, keys, receipts, pens, papers, hair clips, etc. But I left my rings hidden. He took our cash, a modest amount I’m guessing because we never carried much cash, and then he demanded my wedding rings. I told him that we were newlyweds and that I did not have a ring. He could see that my purse was empty, and I did not have a ring on my finger. He did not ask again. Later that seemed like a small victory.
But the worst was not over; he demanded that we go into our bedroom, still pointing the gun. Sparing graphic details, once in our bedroom, he assaulted me at gunpoint.
With a loaded gun at my head, I kept whispering, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” He told me to shut up, but I kept praying.
Then there was a noise, either a noise in the living room or outside of our bedroom window. The noise startled him. Still pointing the gun, he left quickly. It was over.
My husband ran to the door, locked it and grabbed his gun. Frantically, one of us called the police, and then I called my daddy. A few minutes later the police swarmed, and my daddy came shortly after. I had not given my daddy any details on the phone; I was still crying hysterically, and I pleaded with him to come quickly. Later, I thought how awful it must have been for him to drive up and see the police, an ambulance and all of the flashing red, white and blue lights. As a parent myself now, I cannot imagine the panic my father must have felt to be greeted by such a sight.
I went to the hospital. I did not ride in the ambulance. I think my daddy drove… I honestly do not remember how we got there. Once inside the emergency room, nurses came in an out of the room, and the doctor came in and spoke with me. They asked if they could do a “rape kit,” and I consented but found out later that I had botched the potential to obtain “evidence” because I bathed immediately after the assault and before the police arrived. In the brief moments after the most horrific event of my life, all I could think of was how disgusting I felt. Collecting evidence never entered my mind.
Heavily sedated and completely out of it, I woke up on my daddy’s couch a day and a half later. My best friend, Stephanie, came to see me. She held my hand, hugged me and even sat in my lap while we cried.
It was all over the news. The footage of multiple police cars, an ambulance and at least one reporter in front of our condo almost seemed surreal. Our life was on public display. Why so much attention to this case? I found out later that I was the latest victim of a suspected serial rapist, and our attack brought the case to the forefront of media attention.
People have told me so many times over the years, “If that happened to me, I would have done this,” or “I would have done that.” Or even worse, “If I would have been your husband, I would have done (fill in blank with any number of well-executed acts of heroism)…” I have never protested, only listened quietly. But today, I will gently say… Please stop. Please. The suspected perpetrator was reported to have shot his next victim. I would hope that you would have acted in such a way as to preserve your life.
At the time, I worked at a large law firm in Atlanta as a legal recruiter, and I went back to work the next day, taking only one day off, the day that I woke up on my daddy’s couch. In a desperate attempt to occupy my mind and my time, I worked so hard that year that I earned a 16% pay increase in a single year.
The days, weeks, and months that followed were harrowing. With sleepless nights and uncontrollable thoughts and anxiety, I subsequently developed a nervous tic. It started out as a twitch, and developed into something much more noticeable. When I became anxious or nervous, my arms would involuntarily flail, my shoulders would clench and my face would contort. My “tics” happened at odd times and typically after an unpleasant thought. They were uncontrollable and became increasingly more frequent. My condition became so bad that while riding down the road one day, in the passenger seat, my right arm flew against the window hitting it so hard that I was certain that I had broken or cracked the glass. The glass was fine, but I decided right then and there, “I’m not going to let myself do this… I’m not going to let myself go crazy! Stop!” And I stopped. No more twitching. No more flailing or nervous tics. But my heart still hurt, and the fearful thoughts did not go away.
I became cold and callused, and I could not stand for people to look at me. I would think, “Why are they looking at me? They must know what happened to me.” So I would return their looks with disdain and contempt.
Through counseling, reading, prayer, fellowship, and church, I eventually reconciled in my heart and mind that “bad things do indeed happen to good people.” Conceptually, I understood. I knew that God loved me, and I knew that He spared my life. I knew that things could have been so much worse and that there were so many others who had survived tragedies much greater than mine.
I was a survivor, but my marriage did not survive. At the time, approximately 80% of couples who experienced something like we had experienced ended up divorced.
Here’s the point:
Each of us have been through “stuff”. Some of us have lived through hell. I would say that anyone reading this right now is a survivor of some sort… a survivor of a traumatic childhood, a survivor of the death or loss of a loved one, a survivor of divorce, a survivor of addiction or substance abuse (personal addiction or that of a loved one suffering with addiction), a survivor of a broken dream, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, disease or illness, infidelity or betrayal, financial devastation, etc… Some of us are Christians who love Jesus, and we serve in the Church… But still, many of us have lost our joy somewhere along the way…
Some of us may consider it a badge of honor to be a hard-core survivor, a real “bad-to-the-bone” kind of fighter, but quietly we live defeated lives because of the bitterness and anger that we have allowed to seep into our hearts. We become toxic, and our relationships become toxic.
Please understand that I praise God for survival! I praise God for sparing my life! He made me a fighter, and that is a blessing… I do not want to diminish that.
Please also understand, however, that the great deception is that I thought I was winning because I was surviving and moving on to have a productive (though flawed) life. I have certainly made (monumental) mistakes and poor choices along the way. But… I kept fighting, kept climbing, kept getting back up when I fell… fall down seven times, get up 8… Still surviving…
Very recently I realized that I have lived years of my life in a state of hurt, sadness, bitterness and anger. Yes, YEARS… Not consecutive years, but accumulated years. And not due to one tragic incident but due to the baggage that came with tragedy and then the snowball effect of baggage on top of accumulated baggage. How can someone spend years of their life in a state of pain without truly acknowledging it? Trust me, friend, it happens.
Keep moving, don’t look back, keep that head above water, keep up the pace so you don’t drown…
I have wondered recently, how much grief and time could I have spared if I would have allowed my heart time to heal? Or what if someone could have reached me on some level and made me understand that this is what my life would look like… not the surface life… the superficial life… not my Facebook or Instagram life, but what my inner-self would look like, the scars I would carry, the pain that I would harbor because of the hurt that I buried?
I’m not talking about wallowing in pity but acknowledging my brokenness, handing my broken heart, my broken pieces to Jesus for Him to fix. Trusting Him with the details of my life instead of leaning to my own understanding, allowing Him to heal my broken heart.
We cannot go back in time, and we cannot change our past, but we can start today, and every day after, by choosing to live a life of joy. We can choose not to live in pain, misery, self-pity, contempt and self-loathing, harboring hurt, anger and bitterness. TODAY and every day after, we can hand our hearts, our lives, to Jesus and choose an abundant life.
I gave my testimony publicly for the first time about 9-10 years ago at a Christian women’s retreat. I concluded by quoting a verse from a contemporary Christian song:
“I’m alive and well, Your spirit is within me…”
Yes, I am alive AND well… My testimony was one of victory because I was able to reveal how God had allowed me to start to see people differently, without the goggles of disdain and contempt, and how my heart had begun to soften. That was a start.
And now today, more transparent and even more aware of the hurt that I have carried, I want my song to be one of joy, not just survival. I want my anthem to be living life more abundantly, and I want my heart to continue to be transformed by His love.
Some of you reading this may infer more from this text than what is written and some of you may make assumptions about my life, and that is ok. This may not be for you, but it has been on my heart to share for His glory, certainly not mine.
I would encourage everyone who may be reading this today to reflect on their own lives and think of the hurts and tragedies you have survived. How did you handle it? Did you hold onto anger and/or bitterness, and did you let them take root in your heart? If so, cry out to Jesus. Pray. Hand Him your broken or hardened heart. Seek Christian counseling. Get into your Bible, the Living Word of God. Find a body of believers, a support group. Speak to a pastor and ask for resources, maybe all of the above, but start TODAY! Not tomorrow. TODAY! Do not let another precious day of your life pass without seeking healing and wholeness.
God has loved me so much. In spite of me, and when I did not deserve it, He has loved me…He has blessed me. Retrospectively, and in the present, I can look at my life and see the blessings so clearly.
I praise Him for His Saving Grace. And today, March 13, I choose joy and living life more abundantly. My prayer for you, if this resonates with you on any level, is that you will do the same.
John 10:10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.