I was raised to believe in God. I was taught that there’s a heaven and a hell, but that was really it. My family and I didn’t attend church and we weren’t very religious. We said grace every Sunday and that was about it. Even saying grace was short and simple. For years that was good enough for us.
Fast forward to 2010, my senior year of high school, and five months before graduation. I met a boy. We fell hard and we fell fast, but things quickly went south. I found myself constantly scared to disappoint him, scared to make him angry, scared to voice my thoughts or opinions and even scared to wear the wrong thing. Tickle fights resulted in more bruises than laughs and heaven forbid I forgot to tell him what I was doing or where I was going.
I was forced to do things against my will. I was yelled at constantly. I was blackmailed. I was shoved. I was a lot of things that are still to this day, seven years later, extremely hard to talk about.
I was being abused emotionally, physically, and sexually.
It’s because of these things that I lost my voice. I lost who I was. I lost the little faith I had in God.
I couldn’t understand why he would let this happen to me. I had always thought that he was supposed to look after his children, so where was he when I needed him? Why didn’t he protect me? What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?
A year later, May 2011, I was still living in fear and emotionally broken. I received threats on multiple occasions, my car had been vandalized a few times, and I couldn’t go certain places because I was scared I would run into him. He told people if he saw me that he would harm me. I had night terrors, panic attacks, my view of myself couldn’t have been worse, and at times I thought about suicide.
Well, that same month my sister and I took a road trip to a friend’s wedding in South Carolina. I had high hopes that a break away from everything would be just what I needed. Little did I know that my life was about to get a little more complicated.
After the wedding, we returned to the hotel and decided to hit the bar for a nightcap. It wasn’t long before my sister decided to turn in for the night and go back to our room. We had to get on the road early in the morning to make it back home at a reasonable hour and she was always the responsible one. I, on the other hand, decided to stay back, finish my drink, and close the tab. I would head up to the room in about ten minutes or so. Maybe less.
After my sister left, the man sitting next to me started complimenting my toes, my shoes, and was just being odd. It was clear he had a weird foot fetish, but I didn’t pay much mind to it. However, there was someone else who saw what was going on, too. He was young, attractive, and we locked eyes quite a few times while I was sitting at the bar. He must have known I was starting to feel uncomfortable because he walked up to me, slid his arm around me, and said “hey babe, you ready to go?”
A napkin in the shape of a rose
Without hesitation I said yes and off we went. We walked around the corner laughing at what had just happened and introduced ourselves. In those few short moments something about his presence was calming and he intrigued me so I decided to stick around for a bit. A little conversation couldn’t hurt, right?
We ended up sitting in the lobby area for hours sharing our deepest secrets, hopes, and dreams. It was refreshing to have a great conversation with a guy and I was enjoying his company. The lobby was empty and 4AM was quickly approaching when we decided it was probably time for us to part ways. We rode the elevator together and before I stepped out he handed me a napkin in the shape of a rose. I thought it was his phone number so I smiled and made my way to my room.
Right before I opened the door to my room, I opened the rose only to see it was his room number. With a few drinks in my system, I decided that I would make my way to his room, steal a kiss, get his phone number, and get back to bed. After all, the conversation was so great and this couldn’t possibly be the end. I kept thinking that maybe my luck was going to turn after all.
I excitedly walked to his room and knocked on the door. My stomach was filled with butterflies and I had a big smile on my face. When he opened the door, before I could even get a word out, he invited me in. It all happened so quickly and I wish I would have used my voice. I would have spoken up before walking in. I wish I wouldn’t have walked in at all.
What happened next is a big blur. A big blur I could do without
I remember a dark room only illuminated by the television and the sound of an infomercial in the background. I remember clothes, bags, and other items being scattered around the room. I remember a heavy weight on my body. A heavy weight that felt like it was suffocating me because he was easily 6’4 and I was only 5’1 and maybe a hundred pounds. I remember trying to say “no,” but nothing coming out. I remember trying to fight back tears out of fear. I remember waiting for him to fall asleep so I could sneak out. I remember trying to lift a heavy arm off of my neck so I could find my clothes and get out as fast as possible. I remember walking away confused and upset. I remember not wanting what happened to me.
When I got back to my room, my sister immediately sat up in bed and began asking me where I had been, why didn’t I answer my cell, was I okay. In that instant, I could have told her everything. I should have told her everything, but instead, I lied.
The thought of admitting that I was broken and weak was terrifying
I told her I had met the most amazing guy, my prince charming, and that I thought I had found my own fairy tale, my own happily ever after.
I told her all of this because my mom raised us to be strong, independent women and the thought of admitting that I had been raped, the thought of admitting that I was broken and weak was terrifying. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to let anyone see that I wasn’t okay.
When we got home, everyone and anyone that asked how my trip was heard the same lie. Eventually, I decided I needed clarity because the night was a big blur. Maybe I had given consent. Maybe this was what I wanted. I wanted answers and for some reason, I thought he might be able to provide me that. So, I called him and we met up.
How stupid and naïve I was to think he would provide me clarity because sure enough, it happened again. Only this time when I opened my mouth to scream “stop,” it was covered with a hand and a “shhh.”
At this time, God wasn’t even a thought in my mind.
That August, the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I met Heath. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Chelsea, don’t you think you should have stayed away from guys for a while?” And believe me that was the plan, but Heath had me at hello and to this day, I truly believe God sent him to me.
When we first started dating I told him all about my baggage, that I was broken, and that he’d never see me cry or hear me say “I love you.” I wasn’t exactly the nicest person, but he stuck around.
Not long after another one of my many breakdowns he sent me an email. He had never pushed his faith in God on me, but he wanted to share a poem that he thought might help.
I, being stubborn, shrugged it off.
Within the next two years, I would go to group counseling, physical therapy (the trauma caused my lady parts to stop working the way they should), and occasionally attend my sister’s church. I was trying anything I could to feel a sense of normalcy and not feel like I was broken, but the night terrors and the panic attacks weren’t going anywhere. My support group had concluded and the physical therapy wasn’t helping. I had tried everything except going to church. I wasn’t convinced He could help me, but I had nothing left to lose.
So, in November of 2014, Heath and I stepped foot into Lighthouse Church and for the first time in four years I felt safe. I felt a wave of security and emotion come over me. Tears were streaming down my face as the worship team sang and I instantly knew I had found my home, my safe haven.
The following Easter I was ready to claim God as my Lord and Savior and I was baptized.
Like so many others, I was challenged by the devil after I was baptized. The devil knew how happy I was and how much I loved Jesus and wanted to destroy that. Things seemed to get worse. The primary thing being my relationship with Heath. By this time we had been together for four years and we were living together. Marriage was at the forefront of my mind. Unfortunately, we weren’t on the same page and we were arguing more than usual. At times it seemed like our relationship was going to come to an end.
So, we decided in order to see if the relationship was really meant to last that we needed to put God in the center of it and that meant some things needed to change. We needed to stop sinning. We needed to stop being intimate. We needed to stop sleeping in the same bed together.
I’ll be the first to admit that Heath moving into the guest bedroom was not my favorite idea. In fact, I struggled a lot with this. I also struggled a lot with what seemed like a stall in our relationship. I didn’t understand why we weren’t getting married. I viewed it as me not being good enough. That I wasn’t wife material. That I was too broken/damaged. The abuse I had experienced made me think that I was not loveable. Instead of seeing that we had fundamental things we needed to work through I thought that it was all because of me.
One day after the church service, we stopped to talk to Pastor Paul Sr. He asked how things were and somewhere in the conversation we brought up the struggle in our relationship and what we were doing about it. I’ll never forget what he said, “you two are like a case study.” He couldn’t believe that we were living together, but not being intimate at all and we weren’t rushing to the altar.
I like to believe that it was that very moment we became his last project.
About a year later, a couple meetings with Pastor Paul Sr. and Mrs. Vik, and a lot of prayer, our relationship was stronger than ever. We had no doubt in our minds that we were each other’s person and so we became engaged. Nine months later, this past June, because of God’s incredible blessings we were married.
God’s blessings didn’t stop there though. Not long after we were married he provided us the opportunity to go to Honduras to work with children through a Vacation Bible School and our hearts were forever changed. We found a love for missions and helping others that we didn’t realize we had.
And if you think His blessings stopped there, they didn’t. Heath and I have been praying for the perfect part-time job that would allow me pursue my dream of planning weddings while still having a source of income to keep us afloat and God provided that. A few weeks ago, our church offered me the most amazing part-time job as the Outreach Director! I’ll be fulfilling my love for missions, outreach, and serving others while still being able to fulfil my dream of planning weddings.
To say that God has changed my life dramatically would be an understatement. He’s changed it so much that my parents noticed what he’s done in my life and after not attending church for over 50 years, they started to come every Sunday and were baptized. My sister and her family were baptized, my aunts were baptized, and our family is so much closer now that God is at the center of it.
I’ll forever be thankful for the work God has done in my life and I’ll forever praise his name. He took a broken soul and made it brand new.
Read more from Chelsea, and her wonderful husband Heath, on their blog: Heath and Chelsea