Almost fifteen months after the second assault, I met Mark online on a dating website. Now, this was before dating sites were everyone’s go-to, so it was a little taboo still. I had gone out with a couple of guys over the months, but nothing really came of it-except I got a stalker for a few weeks (a story for another time). I kind of felt my options were pretty limited considering I rarely went anywhere other than work and church. So, I decided to try out a dating website. After a few exchanges, I decided to send him my number. He was going to be attending the same community college I was and I figured, why not?
We spent over two hours on the phone. I fell in love with his voice almost instantly (I still love to hear his voice), and he was funny. Like, super funny. My brother later said he hadn’t heard me laugh like that in a really long time. I couldn’t wait to meet him the next day.
It was a hot, August day in south Louisiana and I was sitting on a bench outside the restaurant where we were meeting for lunch. I was wearing blue jeans, a baseball tee and chuck taylors, smoking a third cigarette, waiting for him to text that he had arrived. (I only know these details because he remembers them so clearly.) When he did arrive, we greeted each other with a sheepish hug and went inside. I honestly don’t remember much about the date itself, but I know we had a very good time. It was the first time I had gone out with a guy and he didn’t kiss me goodbye. We held hands at his car and neither of us wanted to leave, but he made no moves for that first kiss. That confirmed for me what I had been thinking the entire time. This guy is different, but special. He would later tell me that he felt God telling him to “stay with this one”.
Over the next several months, as I began to open up to him about my past, mainly my journey to heal from my assaults, we grew closer and he was determined to help me work through my healing. We knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But I was having some hang ups. Namely, I couldn’t heal from sexual scars and be sexualy involved with my boyfriend. I loved him and I knew he loved me, but the fact that we were sleeping together threw my entire mental state into a tail spin. So, I broke up with him. I don’t remember the reasons and excuses I gave him, though I do know I was not gentle or even nice to him, to be honest. I know I never expected to ever see him again.
I moved on and tried to continue to work on my healing process over the next eight months. My struggle with same sex attraction remained an internal one as I still felt very strongly that God had allowed me to be assaulted to “wake me up” and felt too guilty to even mention the desire remained. I threw myself into the college ministry and working, changing jobs so I could afford to move closer to campus and have more free time in the evenings and weekends. I admit I had low points, but as the new year drew closer, I felt I was doing well: emotionally, spiritually and mentally.
January 1, 2007. My roommate and I were running errands together and she needed to get a money order. So we stopped at the grocery store Mark worked at. I didn’t see his car, so I figured he wasn’t working and it would be ok for me to go in with her. As we walked to the front counter, there he was, running one of the registers. I decided to go ahead and go talk to him, so once he had finished with his customer, I walked over to say hi. I had actually been wondering how he had been, if he was doing well. He had been a good friend and I honestly missed him. He was surprised to see me and even more surprised that I talked to him-though he wouldn’t show it in our brief conversation. I intended to wait and see if he would try to reach out to me, but I was reminded that I had told him when I broke up with him “don’t call me, I’ll call you”, so it was up to me to reestablish a relationship. I didn’t have his number anymore, so I checked to see if he was on Facebook. I found him and sent him a friend request. He texted me almost immediately, “Are you trying to be my friend on Facebook?”
The text conversation led to a phone call in which I apologized for hurting him and begged his forgiveness. I was leaving for a week-long mission trip to Mexico in two days, and there was no time for us to get together and talk before I left. I saw it as an opportunity for us to take some time to pray over our relationship and let him figure out if he felt we should get back together. He agreed. When I got back from my trip, I texted him to see how he felt about things. He asked if we could meet for dinner. As soon as I saw him, I knew what his decision was. We both couldn’t stop smiling and giggling at each other over dinner. We talked about how we were doing and what we wanted to do differently in our relationship. We were both very excited.
Fast forward a few months. I began having severe flashbacks and panic attacks. Nightmares were once again part of my nightly routine-if I allowed myself to sleep. One night, we were at the college service at our church, and I began having a panic attack. A couple of our friends helped Mark help me to a back room where it was quieter and I could ground myself more easily. But instead of working out of the panic, something triggered a flashback. So, I began this cycle of being in the midst of the panic attack to my body being frozen in a flashback. When the flashbacks would hit, I could still hear everyone around me, but everywhere I looked, I was on the ground, in the woods. Sometimes a dark figure would be there and sometimes I was alone. This would last for hours at a time. This first instance, I don’t remember getting home. I don’t remember when Mark left. He couldn’t be around me. Not because he didn’t want to, but because my mind and body would react to him being around me. I hated that he felt pushed away by me, but I could do nothing about it. He told me later that he wasn’t sure he could handle this part of me. But he remembered the voice he had heard when we first met, and knew God would help him to work through all of my pain. And help us work through all of his.
We got married on September 19th, 2008. That first year was tough. Shortly after we returned from our honeymoon, he lost his job and had to go back to his grocery store job. A few months later, I lost my job and our first child within weeks of each other and just before our first anniversary. But God held us close and had much bigger plans for us than we did. We spent our second Thanksgiving moving to a new city across the state for the job Mark still loves. We were excited for the new adventure, and nearly eight years later, we are still just enjoying the ride.
God knew what He was doing when He placed Mark in my path. It’s not just that he makes me laugh, or that we are total opposites and can still enjoy lots of silly things together. It’s not just that we balance each other and help each other cope with just our day-to-day tasks. He truly is my best friend. God knew exactly the kind of man I would need to help me deal with life, and He made sure Mark fit the bill. And He is still molding him to fit. God doesn’t finish working on you for your spouse once you are married. Just like He contimues to mold us into Christ’s image lon after we have surrnederd our life to him, he contimues to work on us and mold us into the spouse we are meant to be for our mate. He contimues to work on each of us as our lives shift and change, from newlyweds to parents to one, two, then three children. To parents to one, then two on the Autisim spectrum. He continues to shape our hearts for each other long after we have gotten comfortable with each other.
The nature of abuse means that the healing process is long. And sometimes we never fully allow the wound to close. Or we just can’t resist scratching at the itching scab until it is reopened and bleeding anew. Overcoming patterns of self-sabotage and replacing the lies we were force fed with the Truth of grace is an almost never ending battle. But when we surround ourselves with grace-filled, gospel-filled people, we can find ourselves winning the battle more and more and having to fight it less and less.
I am tremendously thankful for the many, many people God has placed in my path along the way. There have been so many influences, mentors and friends, who have come in and out of my life and impacted it deeply. I am most thankful for Christ. What He has done for me, I can never repay. I am thankful that He chooses to display His wondrous Glory through me and my life.
He’ll always be my favorite Sith.