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My Healing in the Wilderness

I walk empowered, full of passion and ignited by the Holy Spirit because of the Grace of God that has been bestowed upon me. I never take for granted that God saw fit to take this broken vessel and use it for His glory.

My story is one of unique specificity. I come from a background of great generals in the faith. My grandfather was a pastor, my aunts were missionaries, and a number of other family members were leaders in the ministry. This background runs on both sides of my family. I can recall going to outdoor Pentecostal gatherings that always ended with miracle and deliverance services. My earliest memories were of going, in my little red dress, on my grandparents’ radio show and singing live at the tender age of 4. We spent many a day and night in church. Being in church was something that had become part of my identity, even at a young age.

That identity, and my life, would drastically change the same year I turned 8. The first attack of the enemy came when I found myself up against teenagers from my neighborhood. Though I fought my hardest, two of the neighborhood boys decided to lock me up in their bathroom and sexually abuse me. If that wasn’t enough, a year later during a Christmas party at my favorite Aunt’s house, her husband walked in on me getting dressed and locked the door behind him. Once inside the room he forced me on the bed and sexually abused me. I fought him as hard as I could. The man was a giant compared to me, picking me up and throwing me against the wall with ease. He threatened pain and harm if I didn’t stop fighting him. Ignoring his threats, I continued to struggle and scream but no one came to help. I was terrified he was going to kill me. He threw me on the bed again and I just remember fighting like I’d never fought before, for my life. At some point I must have landed a kick or punch because he stopped restraining me - allowing me to run as quickly as I could out of that bedroom.

I went looking for my parents, but couldn’t locate them at the party. After that encounter I felt like a completely different person. I was shattered, broken and didn’t know how to tell my parents. I tortured myself with shame, thinking that the entire ordeal was my fault. Three weeks went by and I just couldn’t sleep, so I finally chose to tell a neighbor. She immediately told my father, who lost it and wanted to kill the man. The experience became a point of family chaos, so much so that I felt as if I’d brought shame and disgrace to my family. I became extremely introverted, hiding behind books and perceived perfection in order to conceal my shame.

A year had passed when my parents announced my family would be creating new beginnings, by moving to New Jersey. Turns out our new journey would begin by moving into the house of the man who traumatized me. I was so angry, I couldn’t understand my parents’ decision. Didn’t they remember what he did to me, couldn’t they see I wasn’t the same? It didn’t take long for his sexually abusive ways to resurface once we began living with him. The man was sick and disgusting, but because I was a Christian I was expected to move on and forgive him.

We lived in the home for approximately one month before coming home one afternoon from school to find all of our belongings out on the street. We were officially homeless. I didn’t know His plan, but I thanked God that we were out of that house and never had to see that man again.

Fast forward to my teenage years of pretty much being a roller coaster of emotional turmoil. I knew I loved God and I wanted Him in my life, but I didn’t know how to deal with the anger, bitterness, shame, guilt and pain I carried in my heart. So how did I cope? I chose to suppress the pain and even repress some of the memories. I built a wall in my heart and mind, keeping my pain inside and people on the outside.

I flourished in my studies because that’s where I hid. No one would find that place of pain if I studied hard and had perfect grades- no one would see my flaws. Except that God knew- as the Bible says in Romans 8:27 (NIV) “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” He saw my tears and my pain. The older I got, the harder it became to bear the pain I was hiding, but God was working ALL things for good.

Once I turned 18 I was ready to go to college and make my own decisions. That’s when I met my daughter’s father, a handsome, smooth talking, but deceitful man. I fell for the trap! I was told I no longer had a place in my parents’ home because I violated their rules and didn't come home one night. So I became homeless for the second time in my life. During this time, I learned the hard way that my daughter’s father was a functional alcoholic and drug addict. I had never been exposed to that environment before, so I didn’t know what the signs were. It was a time of rude awakenings. I was forced to drop out of college and work three jobs in order to take care of my daughter, who I conceived just six months after meeting him. The hardest moments of my life came while I was pregnant and homeless. I followed my daughter’s father like a lost puppy because I had absolutely no idea where to go. I became even more ashamed of who I now was- a homeless, pregnant woman with a drug addict for a boyfriend. The places I stayed some nights were so dangerous, especially in the City of Camden, when I look back I know God was looking out for my child and I.

After some time, I was able to save enough money to get my own space for my daughter and I. However, her father and his addictions followed me. I was caught in a nightmare of domestic abuse and emotional distress. Fighting him, trying to get on my feet again, trying to do it on my own, it was all just so exhausting. The day the abuse touched my child I no longer felt like a victim. I became a mother fighting for her child’s safety. Throughout all of this, there was something within me still longing to seek God. I just didn’t know how to get back to Him. The judgmental stares and gossip of those who called themselves “Christians” acted as an additional deterrent.

One year later, my beloved brother tells me he is taking the Civil Service Exam to become a police officer in the City of Camden. I offered to go with him as moral support and ended up being the only one to pass. I asked my father to pray and fast about it because I knew that was the right thing to do. I wasn’t sure if God would listen to my prayers as I had strayed too far from him, but I did need a stable career and the opportunity to provide a future for my daughter was a great one. Finally, on September 1, 1994, I became a police officer for the City of Camden, NJ.

This was my place of healing in the wilderness. Little did I know that God would use my ability to serve and protect others as an opportunity to heal much of the pain I had buried deep in my heart and soul. The healing began when I asked my mother to care for my daughter, while I worked long shift hours. I couldn’t be angry at my mother as I watched her with my daughter. My daughter absolutely loved her Bela, as she lovingly calls her.

I began to handle so many cases involving unimaginable and horrendous things. I would fall apart emotionally on my way home. Somedays I could not make it to my patrol car without my tears flowing. I was trained not to show my emotions, but I was full of them. I struggled to cope with the painful horrors of the job; children being sexually assaulted, victims experiencing domestic violence, homicides involving children that had been sexually assaulted prior to being killed- it was just too much some days. One of the cases in particular made me think about my own pain because it involved a young girl. I couldn’t talk about it so I would just weep in my car and cry to God to take away the pain. Even though I already carried my past pains, I took on their pain as if they were my own. (Romans 12:10) I decided to seek help because I knew I couldn’t carry the pain anymore. It was then that I truly understood I had been a victim.

I began seeking therapy. As I began working through all the pain, God softened the soil of my heart. Seeking therapy alone would not be enough to heal the layers of pain, so I finally surrendered and returned to the feet of Jesus. I no longer cared what anyone had to say because I couldn’t resist the tugging in my heart. I returned to God and church and I haven’t looked back since.

God began to open doors at work, allowing me to reach out and mentor young people, as He continued to heal those places I had surrendered to Him. He not only opened doors in the field of law enforcement, He also allowed me to take part in Missions, traveling to Kenya, Ferguson, Texas, and Missouri. God continued to expand my territory within Law Enforcement as I continued working with and mentoring young people. Last year was the best missions trip yet, as it was the first time I traveled with my daughter on a missions trip to Nicaragua. Along with our Church Missions Team, we were able to minister to so many children, young people and adults.

My healing came through twenty-three years of transformation, and through it all, God remained the steady force that drove everything He had purposed me to do. Pastor Edgar Alvarez said something so powerful, during a Bible study, that confirmed this truth. He said, “We like the idea of being saved, but not the discomfort of transformation. Love demands transformation.” God loves me so much that through all of my trials and tribulations- sexual abuse, homelessness, a painful divorce, a work layoff, bankruptcy, a cancer scare- He was healing and transforming me. I have learned to say as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:12, “...I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

God is Faithful!!! Today, I am confident in this, and as Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Lilly Williamson

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