When I was little, I didn’t know a stranger. I had no inhibitions, no fear, and felt no need to adhere to everyone else’s paths. I was dubbed, “the wild child” - afraid of nothing.
At about two years old, my parents and I were walking over the river Seine in Paris and I casually looked up to my mum and in my precious, since disappeared, English accent said, “See water, jump in!” If it hadn’t been for the literal leash my parents religiously put on me while in public, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I would have indeed, jumped in.
Very shortly after moving to America, we arrived to a friend’s country club for dinner and before my mum could say, “hi, how are you?”, she heard, “Muuuuuum!! Look at me!!! Muuuum!” She turned around to see me madly waving from atop the high diving board. Without any consideration for the fact that I couldn't swim, I jumped into the pool below. Poor Jude had to run and jump into the pool fully clothed in order to get me out before I drowned.
In my days as a t-ball star, I got bored in the outfield and so would regularly take off my shoes, socks, and hat and spend my time picking the flowers and making them into crowns and necklaces for myself, my coach, and my teammates. The ball would roll by me and I’d hardly notice, too caught up in my own little world of flowers and song. (To be fair, t-ball is boring.)
That innate free spirit and wild child faded after my first encounter with sexual assault at the age of 12. I didn’t tell anyone about him for over a year. I was staying with a family friend when he said something to me that jogged a memory so dark that I didn’t know what else to do besides tell her. I begged her not to tell my parents and she said I could trust her. I opened my eyes the next morning to see my mum and dad sitting on the sofa across from me. I was immediately driven to a lawyer’s office and from there to the children’s assessment center. If this was trust, I wanted no part of it, so I lied to my parents, to the lawyers, and to the police. I said there was no other abuse besides the verbal incident and that I thought he meant no harm.
I became calculated, guarded, and afraid of people and who they claimed to be. Because my abuser was an employee of a 501c3, the board of the organization quickly became involved. The question of my credibility had been raised. The president of the board had experience in working with school districts when this type of situation arose, and they often encountered instances where a student "came on" to a teacher, was rejected, and claimed sexual assault in retaliation for being rejected. I had no proof.
What did I do to make them think that I would do something like that? I would never have chosen this. I was so confused - and the only conclusion that I could come to was that it was my free spirit - my wild nature. Something about who I was made them think that I would come on to my teacher.
It was a slow change, and until recently, not something I ever really clocked, but I began a calculated effort to suppress every “wild” part of me. If I was at a school dance and a song came on that I would normally unashamedly Chris Martin-dance to, I stood to the side. If it started to rain and I wanted to take off my shoes and run into it, I stopped myself. I changed the way I dressed and the way I looked. My peasant inspired shirts and dresses were replaced with polo shirts and capri pants. He had commented that he loved my hair because it reminded him of his wife’s hair. I had whole heartedly accepted that compliment because I thought she was so pretty. Now, I hated my free flowing curly hair and desperately wanted to make it straight and stiff. I asked my parents regularly if I could have it chemically straightened. They said no (thank God.) I wanted to be completely different from whatever had made him choose me. I wanted to be one of the girls that he didn’t choose.
People in our community slowly began to hear that ‘some girl’ had made allegations against him. Could I believe that? Who would say such horrible things? Clearly that girl had serious problems. I mean, had they met him? He was the nicest guy and so involved in the lives of his students. I just quietly nodded my head and changed the conversation. To this day (unless they read this,) 98% of the people involved in that community have no idea that I was ’some girl.'
About two months after my attack in New York, that teacher made international news for being pulled over with a 16 year old in the car. When questioned by the police, their stories didn’t match and he was arrested and later released on bail. An investigation was launched and it revealed that they had been intimately involved. It was rumored that other victims were starting to be identified and come forward. The police feared he had been doing this for years. That was 2014 - I came forward in 2004. Was I the first? I don’t know. But I do know that I certainly wasn’t the last. During the course of the investigation, he took the girl and her mother to Las Vegas and married her. He is now protected by spousal privilege.
This was so tough to push through because it was an assault on my spirit. That year, a huge piece of my soul was suffocated until there was no oxygen left. What I began to believe about myself seeped into my mind without me knowing it. It seeped into my relationships, my coping mechanisms, and my interactions with people I love. In fact, only in the healing of my New York attack did I really learn that none of it was my fault - that it is not my free-spirited nature that caused any of this. 11 years later, at the age of 24, I finally began to breathe life back into those parts of my soul so long deprived of oxygen. I allowed the breath of life to breathe on me.
In Ezekiel 37, we hear the story of when Ezekiel journeys with God to a field that is filled with dry bones that have been bleached by the sun. Dry bones are dead and brittle. They break easily and have lost all of the protective marrow that keeps them healthy. But God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live. When Ezekiel tells God that only He truly knows that, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones - to tell them that they can indeed live.
4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.
9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”
10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.
That’s what Jesus has done for me. He has breathed new life into my spirit that was dried up and dead. He looked at a girl who some would have deemed broken beyond repair and said, “I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life…You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God.” The old is gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17.) It wasn’t a maybe or a kind of. It was an “I’m doing this and you WILL do this.” We can’t count ourselves out until our time is up. God was, and is continuing to be, faithful. Every day, a little more of that wild and free little girl is breathed back to back to life, and the structured, stifled, breathless prisoner is set free. My dry bones are becoming their own little army. And that army does battle every single day.
Every day I battle against bad habits, poor coping mechanisms, and a desire to give up and give in. Every day I fight for and remind my spirit to run free. Every day I tell myself that who I am did not cause this, but it did save me. Every day I remind myself that I am found. Every day I choose to believe that today will be better than yesterday. Every day I fight to believe that I am walking into astounding freedom. Fighting every day used to feel like a chore because I was fighting to merely survive, and I was choosing to fight alone. But now I am fighting every day to LIVE - and I’m certainly not doing it alone.
PS - Lecrae raps verses from Ezekiel 37 in the song below - skip to 2:15 - and it is SOUL STIRRING.