Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Learning to Sit Still, and Other Thoughts on Being a Victim of Theft

"This is my prayer in battle, and triumph is still on its way."

As I write this, I'm singing crazy loud, with my arms flailing high above me, half-dancing to "The Desert Song" as it plays on my Pandora station. I can feel the endorphins surge through my body, after having consumed one very large chocolate-peanut butter-oatmeal cookie and now being a third of the way through one incredibly dark cup of black coffee. Singing seems to relieve some of the intense anxiety I've felt over the past 24-36 hours. Well, singing, cookies, and coffee, among other things.

But this blog entry is not related to my typical coping mechanisms, rather it's meant to portray a series of events that took place in my life over the past day and a half. And how I chose to deal with them, perhaps differently than I would have if this happened to me years ago.

Yesterday, I woke up to a completely normal Monday morning as my alarm signaled, "Beep, Beep, Beep!" at 5:30 a.m. Through the steamy windows of our heated apartment, I saw what looked like another frigid Seattle morning. Pulling myself out of bed, I threw on my warmest workout clothes, which included my bright orange beanie and my new pair of running gloves, care of Costco. Comfortable and toasty, that's how I felt as I headed to boot camp for my fourth month's first session.

During class, we ran laps and competed with our past records for push ups, sit ups, squat hold and plank hold. I felt proud of myself as class ended because I had held plank for 4 mins, 2 secs--beating my time of 3 mins, 30 secs just last week. Sweaty and starting to shake from the combination of a 42-degree external temperature and a decreasing internal temperature, I headed for my Subaru as class dispersed. I unlocked the car, jumped in and cranked the heat up as high as it would go. Watching everyone from class leave the parking lot--off to work, school or home, I relaxed and reached down for my smartphone, to check my emails before heading home.

"Where did my phone go?" I wondered, as I looked up and down the passenger seat.

"And my purse...Did I forgot to bring that?"

The uneasiness hit me hard and fast. I know that I brought my phone to workout. I always bring my phone--it's my lifeline, in case I need to call Ken or am in a dangerous situation. And I always bring my purse because it has my pepper spray and Epipen--in case I need to defend myself against either predators or my own immune system, should I go into anaphylaxis. 

"Wait a minute. Oh shoot. Uh-oh..."

Thoughts started to choke my sense of safety. I looked around my car and then outside and then back inside. It was really dark at 7 a.m. and I was a lone car in an empty parking lot adjacent to two big fields. At that second, I started to panic. Someone had stolen my purse, along with my wallet, my belongings inside, and my phone. I didn't know where they were, and then I looked through my rear view mirror and realized that I couldn't see into the back of our station wagon. The dim light elicited only a few, barely visible shadows in the black abyss of the rear compartment.

"What if someone is back there?" I thought to myself, as my hand shifted toward the ignition.

Ideas raced through my mind, recalling TV shows on self-defense where the host or narrator would matter-of-factly state, "Prior to getting in your car, always make it a point to check the back seats and rear compartment, to see if anyone is hiding inside."

I panicked more.

In that moment, I realized that I had to make a choice, either to get out of my car and see if someone was lurking in the back, or to stay inside and flee the 'scene of the crime' because the perpetrator could easily be somewhere near my car, perhaps waiting to see what I'd do. I chose to leave the parking lot and make my way home. On the drive, I kept looking back to see if there was any movement within the car. Nothing. My eyes started to play tricks on me, but I was on a mission to get to a safe place, as soon as possible. I grabbed my only weapon of defense, should I need it--an ice pick that was conveniently located in the driver's side caddy. With one hand, I held the steering wheel and with the other hand, I dead-gripped my ice pick. No one was going to be messing with me, I hoped.

When I got home, I burst into tears. My safety had been compromised. My sense of protection in having a phone, pepper spray and Epipen on me or near me at all times, was taken away. I felt hurt and scared and betrayed--by some random person or persons who I probably have never seen or met before. I melted into Ken's hug, as he met me at the door to our apartment. I had needed to be so strong and ready to fight in the few minutes prior to seeing him, and my body had responded naturally to feeling under attack. Stress and anxiety had forced me into fight or flight mode. Tears turned into anger, which then morphed back into sadness, as I recounted the morning's events to Ken, the police, our banks, our insurance company, the lady at the DMV, the sales guy at T-mobile, my sister over the phone, my friend who came over for dinner, our neighbor who brought us doughnuts. The story was the same each time, but I felt conflicting emotions every time I told it. I was sad, but also confused--angry but also compassionate. I kept asking, "Why would someone do this?" and "Why did they pick me?" and "What would I have done if someone was in the back seat of the car?"

The answers never came.

Throughout the day, Ken checked in with me to see how I was coping. We prayed together or sat silently together and supported each other in calling all the important places. He drove me to the DMV and waited with me as I got a temporary license. He canceled my phone immediately so that the thief wouldn't be able to access more of my personal information, and also fielded phone calls when it was too much for me to bear. He came alongside me in dealing with this.

By late afternoon, my emotional roller coaster eased into a light and steady carousel ride. I was going through the repeated motions of calling places, trying to piece together my sense of security. Tears subsided and I started to experience more peace about everything. I knew in my mind that God was with me in all these struggles but my heart still needed some coaxing. A dear friend joined us for dinner last night and recounting the day's burdens to her, I felt more at peace. She didn't judge my changing emotions or intense anger toward my perpetrator. She just listened and cared and ate doughnuts with me, that my neighbor had surprised us with, right as we were finishing our wholesome dinner. We drank tea and laughed together, sharing stories and exchanging anecdotal childhood memories. It was calming.

In looking back over an emotionally brutal day, my favorite ways that people responded to my situation were the words in which they cared and didn't tell me 'what I did wrong' or 'how it could be better next time' or similar 'advice'. Prayer and support and words of encouragement--those meant the most to me. It's cool how many people came around us in this situation, emailing me that they were and still are praying. I need that right now. We need that right now.

This morning, as Ken went to grab his bike out of our locked storage unit, in our downstairs parking garage, he noticed that someone had broken in. The metal lock was smashed in two and the door to our two new bikes, among other things, was flung wide open. But what really shocked us was this: both our recently-replaced bikes were still there, along with our helmets, bike equipment and miscellaneous stored items. Whoever did this, left everything there. I felt relief, but also anxiety and more frustration. Ken had to leave for class, so I called the police and filed yet another report within 36 hours of my last one. An officer showed up quickly. He dusted for fingerprints and took down my information. I politely inquired about my incident yesterday and how the police follow up with those types of cases. Skeptical of whether or not they did much, I told him that I found out through my bank the name of the gas station where the thief had charged money to my stolen bank card. I had also called that gas station and asked whether they have video surveillance. They do. I could get the time, address and charged amount, if he could put that to good use. The officer told me that he is going to investigate this case and see what he can do. He was surprisingly kind and helpful, perhaps I recognized this so vividly because I felt jaded from back-to-back break-ins.

As I type these words, the song I started with has long since finished playing. The words in it are powerful to me, as they speak of God's providence. The second verse goes like this: "And this is my prayer in the fire, in weakness or trial or pain, there is a faith proved of more worth than gold, so refine me Lord through the flames." That encapsulates how I feel right now. As Ken and I parted ways this morning, he reminded me of the words we've both heard from past sermons, words that have recently been on our hearts: that sometimes really hard things happen - perhaps attacks from another realm - when God is doing something great in your life. There's been amazing Kingdom work going on in our lives lately and it's exciting. It's also scary. But maybe, just maybe, it more scary to the darker forces out there, the depravity, because God is on our side and He's accomplishing more good in our lives than the negative effect of two serious burglary attempts. I have hope that God is redeeming this situation and I look forward to seeing how He continues to carry us and refine us "through the flames."

Hebrews 12:29. Bring it on.

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