SEARCHING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
“He’s a really cool guy and a great friend. You have so much in common,” she said.
These words came from a friend I met shortly after graduating college. We were crushing on the same guy and met at one of his parties. Turns out we had a lot in common outside of him and quickly ditched the guy and became friends.
I introduced her to one of my closest guy friends a few weeks later. As an offering of thanks, she wanted to connect me to a friend she met in grad school. They were in most of the same classes together while he was on a study visa. He went back to his country after graduation, but they kept in touch. We both loved running and the outdoors, so I agreed to meet up with him online. This was before the world of smartphones, Facetime and Zoom.
He liked everything I liked. He didn’t disagree with a thing I said. I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. Thinking back now, I see all the warning signs, but I was clueless to the real dangers that lurked before me. After a string of bad relationships, someone was hanging on every word I said! Ok, technically wrote, but let’s not get picky.
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20
Several months later, he invited me to fly out and stay with his friends so we could get to know each other better. I never talked to him on the phone, only through chat. International phone calls were pretty expensive and cell phones weren’t commonplace in developing countries. Plus, he said he didn’t have one.
Yes, I know, another big red flag. But it seemed reasonable at the time. Facetime and Skype didn’t exist then. Video chats weren't common either. The world of trafficking was not a regular part of conversations or news headlines.
Plus, my friend knew him well and said he was safe, remember? So I would be fine.
ARE YOU SEARCHING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES?
I bought a ticket and traveled halfway across the world in search of love. I went against the advice of my mom, step dad and close friends. I was always up for an adventure, but this was insanity. That’s what everyone kept telling me. I loved to travel, rock climb, skydive and do other adrenaline-fueled activities, What did they know? They were always playing it safe and didn’t get me. I could take care of myself, right?
The plane ride was a disaster. I should have seen that as a sign of things to come! I left during a blizzard, missed a connecting flight, slept on top of my luggage overnight at the airport and spent the rest of the trip flying through bad weather. Plus, I spent several hours in customs trying to convince the authorities that the 12 boxes of granola bars in my suitcase weren’t part of an elaborate plan to smuggle drugs into the country. I think they just wanted to eat my granola bars!
When I finally walked into the welcome depot, I was exhausted and gross from travel. But I was ready to meet the love of my life! I searched through the crowd looking for the sign with my name on it. It appeared to be held by a 9-year-old boy. Did my dream guy have a little brother he forgot to mention? I wasn’t sure.
As I fought my way through the crowd, my heart started racing. I stood before the sign confused. The face that held the sign was recognizable, but I was looking for someone who was over 6 feet tall. How could this be?
I was devastated, but held onto hope for a brief moment. Then he opened his mouth and out poured anger and mean words. I was halfway around the world with no money to fly back home and no way to get in touch with my family. I was towering over my new friend, but inside I felt defeated, small and insignificant. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, so I went home with him.
WHERE DO YOU TURN WHEN YOU FEEL UNWORTHY?
The first night in the village I woke up confused by the smells and sounds of my surroundings. I remember hearing a lot of intense whispering in the other room. My friend said he was disappointed I was so tall. And something about needing to make new arrangements for my time there. I was too naive to make much of that conversation. And too tired to care.
For the next week or so I spent most days alone while everyone else was working. There were a couple days where my friend served as tour guide, but for the most part I had nowhere to go and no idea how to get anywhere. So I ran throughout the village, read books and hiked parts of the rainforest to pass time. I slept and showered in filthy conditions, surrounded by cockroaches.
Every morning I would shake my clothes out to ensure I didn’t get a surprise bite while dressing. Every night I would cry myself to sleep, counting the days until I could go home.
Everywhere I went people stared. Men would gawk and leer at me, the women would whisper. It made me very uncomfortable, but I figured it was because I was the only tall, lanky, fair-skinned person around. Whenever I asked to reach out to email my mom, the internet was down or they offered me paper to write a note that they would send later. It’s crazy to think how clueless I was to the possible dangers around me.
GOD IS WITH US IN OUR DARKNESS
The final night of the trip my “friend” took me to a hotel community in a nicer part of the island. He wanted to lavish me with kindness since the trip had been a bust. He was being so kind after a week of being so rude. It was weird. I wanted to get home in one piece, so I remained quiet.
As the night went on, I started feeling strange, a little off balance and hazy. I heard hushed calls in the other room. He was talking about me, but I couldn’t make out all the words.
Things on the TV began swaying back and forth and I felt sleepy. My "friend" came to the room and said I should lie down on the bed to feel better. I was ok on the couch, but he insisted I use the bed.
My sundress and panties were off before I knew it. The room was spinning and there was someone on top of me trying to violate me. A moment of clarity came in the fog and I screamed at the top of my lungs, but no words came from my mouth. I could hear other people talking close by, but there was no one else in the room. I knew I had to get to safety.
I called out to God in my mind and asked Him to help me. This crazy burst of strength and clarity came over me and I screamed “NO!” and threw him off of me. I grabbed my clothes and ran outside into the darkness with nowhere to go, feeling terrified and confused.
LOOK FOR THE LIGHT IN YOUR DARKNESS
My heart and head were pounding. I sat down to steady myself and looked up at the sky. It was pitch black. The stars were shining brightly. I felt this incredible peace wash over me as I began praying for God to help get me home safely.
I never felt God's presence and peace so clearly as I did in that moment. In one of the most dangerous circumstances of my life, I felt totally safe. How could that be? I felt like I was living out this verse I had learned about in Sunday school. It talks about how God comforts us in dark times:
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Thankfully, I made it home in one piece. Physically at least.
DON'T LET YOUR HARD STUFF IMPRISON YOU
I never told my family what happened. I was ashamed. Keeping a secret like that comes with a price. It really messes you up emotionally and spiritually.
I held onto that trauma for a long time, until I met my husband. A decade or so later, I was asked to lead a women’s retreat and share my testimony. I knew God wanted me to share some of this story, but it felt too vulnerable. Would they judge me? These ladies had no idea what they were in for!
God used my brokenness that day to bless others. I was overwhelmed by women who came up to tell me they had also been tossed aside in their childhood. They shared how they felt unloved and unworthy. People they trusted had hurt and betrayed them. I was sad for their stories, but it was encouraging to know that I was not alone.
Sometimes we feel so alone in our shame.
WE BLESS OTHERS BY SHARING THE HARD PIECES OF OUR STORY
You have a painful story inside of you. I know you do, because we are all broken. But God can use that to spread hope and healing to others through Jesus, if you let Him.
Philippians 1:12 (NLT) says: “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News."
This is a pretty cool story. Paul was put in jail. The Philippian people were totally freaked out that he wouldn't be able to spread the Gospel anymore. But guess what? Prison didn't stop Paul from doing what God called him to! He began sharing with the prisoners. God used Paul in the middle of his hard stuff to bring glory to Him.
We often want to keep our dark things secret. But our pain begins to feel like a prison when we keep it wrapped up in darkness. There is great freedom when you bring your pain safely into the light. In fact, your hard stuff can be the very thing that Jesus uses to help another person find freedom!
JESUS LOVES YOU
I used to ask myself why I traveled halfway across the world in search of love. Then it hit me one day. I went through all that crazy because I forgot that I had the only love I will ever need right in front of me the entire time.
I didn’t need to go searching for love. I just needed to pick up my BIble and be reminded of how much I am worthy of His love.
John 3:17 (NLT) says, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
You don’t need to search for love either. It’s waiting for you in a relationship with Jesus.
God loves you! His son Jesus is absolutely, crazy, passionately in love with YOU. He loves you through all of your heartache. His heart breaks from all the betrayal you’ve experienced in life. He doesn’t judge you for what you’ve done, He loves you for what He created you to be: his precious child.
People have let you down, but God will never leave you or forsake you, He wants to lift you up and bring you peace in your brokenness.
FIND FREEDOM AND REST IN JESUS
I gave my life to Jesus when I was the tender age of four and yet there have been so many moments in my life when I forget His great love for me.
Sometimes in those really hard moments, I still feel like that young woman who traveled halfway across the world in search of love and was left in the darkness bruised, betrayed, and broken.
But then I quickly remind myself that the darkness has no power over me. I can find rest in Jesus. You can find freedom and rest in Him too.
John 8:36 (NLT) reminds us: “So if the son sets you free, you are truly free.”
Are you feeling weary? Banged up by the world today? Betrayed? Hurt by others? Go to Jesus and talk to Him. Tell Him all your hard things, pour out all your pain and your sadness. He wants to listen. He already knows what's weighing on your heart. There is something comforting and beautiful when we can give our burdens over to someone who can help us find real rest.
Jesus is that friend who invites you to rest in Him today. He is the safest person you will ever be in a relationship with. I promise that His love has no end!
In Matthew 11:28 (NLT) it says: Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”