1986: The Year of the Tiger
As a shy and flighty kid, I am the youngest of three sisters and one brother; they were bossy, loud and entertaining…AND annoying! Still, I would watch with quiet awe and admiration as these bold and overbearing siblings tackled adolescence and beyond with great gusto.
My father had been building his career, being grandfathered into the Army as a Warrant Officer, eventually flying UH60 Blackhawks. His civilian career included flying corporate jets across the nation, even taking us kids on trips every now and then.
My mother was the epicenter of our family. She miraculously stretched one income to meet the needs of her five children and husband. By the early 90’s, she took her drive and dedication as a mother to attain a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.
And that, my friends, is how my spirit animal was born: the tiger. Within this ambitious Catholic family rose a tiny, but deadly kitty to go after whatever she dared to!
1996: Fears & Flaws
Confession: I struggle with an obsessive-compulsive personality. So truthfully, I’m an introverted perfectionist and it can be crippling.
The level of expectation I set upon myself in my earlier years was so high. At times, all I could do was cry; whatever I was trying to strive for was never attainable to me.
Furthermore, being the youngest, I always felt I had a lot to live up to in my family. I based my self-worth upon success driven by my invisible expectations.
I began to notice the pressure when I was about nine years old. My siblings and I became students of Songahm Taekwondo.
When I began competing in tournaments, I would feel this unbelievable heaviness to perform better every time. Eventually, these demands led to extreme anxiety and physical side effects that were embarrassing, but there’s more on that later.
1999: American Taekwondo
During this time, my family moved from Kansas to Texas; my two older sisters stayed behind in Kansas to pursue lives and careers they had established there. The three youngest siblings (me included) were left to brave the multi-cultural climate of the city of Houston.
Needless to say, the move was devastating to all of us except my father. His job had him going overseas to dine on fine wine and foods. We, on the other hand, were stuck trying to make our lives fit there.
But we kept a positive attitude, found a Catholic church to attend, and waited for what was next. What really changed our outlook was purely divine.
We happened upon an American Taekwondo Association school near our house and became dedicated students. My two siblings and I progressed all the way up the chain to second-degree black belts.
We were happy again in having purpose and connecting with others our age. Within a year of competing at tournaments, I started to feel that heaviness again.
The unattainable perfectionism seeping from my sweaty pores had me working tirelessly. I tried to ignore it, achieving second in the world in my age group and rank.
But the pressure became way too extreme, soon to develop the physical side affect of publicly vomiting during competitions. It was traumatic, but the tiger within kept pressing through the embarrassment.
But it just got worse, expanding from performance anxiety into social anxiety. I prayed constantly about my problem. Never did I think that God wasn’t listening, but I became defeated by what I perceived as His unresponsiveness.
2002: There’s No Place Like Home
As the years went by, my drive for success soon became replaced by insurmountable fear; I no longer found joy in any part of competing, despite my accomplishments. I was plagued by it.
Not only was I losing my internal fire to fight through my anxieties, but also my family’s happiness faded again. We tried to make it work in Texas, but we just couldn’t.
One day, God told my mom, “You have to go back to your home and get your family back together”. She was filled with an overwhelming clarity.
She didn’t know how it would work out, but she was certain it would because God had told her. So we all moved back to Kansas, even my father.
He had found another civilian flying job and he also flew helicopters once again with the Army National Guard. My mother had continued on with her nursing career, happy that all five of her chicks were reunited once more!
2003: Sexual Assault
A year older than me, my brother had graduated high school the year prior and joined the Air Force. It was the first time I didn’t have him in school with me.
I was newly 17 and it was the first semester of my senior year. I was in an automotive technology class, which basically taught students vehicle maintenance.
One day in class, I was leaning over the front bumper of a truck, checking the oil dipstick. A male classmate slapped me on the backside and started to laugh, along with a few other guys standing nearby.
Shocked, I turned to him and said, “Do not ever do that again!” I walked out then, not knowing where I was headed, but I needed to be alone.
On the verge of crying, I walked the deserted hallways of my high school. I considered reporting it, but I was too embarrassed.
It was such a simple act, yet so demeaning. I felt like a part of me had changed that day.
Since then, I pretended it never happened. Around this time, I began to develop significant back pain.
2004: Air Force Recruit
By the time I graduated high school, I had gone to three different ones in two different states. The lack of social life and the tiger within was ready to spread its wings and take flight! (My tiger can fly, can’t yours?)
I joined the Air Force at 17 years old. By then, three of my siblings had thriving careers in the Air National Guard and I wanted in.
So I went to basic training. I got molded from a shy and flighty kid, to one that was a little more focused and anxious. Thanks, Uncle Sam!
During my basic training, I decided to branch out and go to a Protestant church; it was surprisingly different. The music was louder, the sermons were longer and the people prayed unscripted prayers.
That experience is what led me to the Protestant denomination, but not for quite some time. Once graduated, I followed my brother into the same Security Forces squadron.
2005: Diego Garcia
My first trip out of the USA! I deployed to Diego Garcia, a tiny atoll in the Indian Ocean.
I was part of the security for B52s and KC135s on an even smaller airstrip. It was really a vacation, but I did play my small part in support of Operation Enduring Freedom after 9/11.
And it was where I fell in love with the man I would eventually marry (an answered prayer!). He was also Security Forces and in the same unit. Yes, most of my family was in the Kansas Air National Guard at one point.
When we all returned home, my brother and I attended Combat Arms Training and Maintenance school together in San Antonio, Texas. We learned how to maintain weapons such as the M240, M16, M9, and many more.
We also trained and tested Air Force personnel on how to operate and shoot these weapons systems. I, being one of two females in the group, worked hard at teaching classes despite being the minority.
But regardless of how hard I pushed myself, I could still feel that same heaviness building again. I decided to pray for God’s help and to fight past my fears and anxieties once more, achieving the Top Instructor Award upon graduation.
I felt elated and relieved, but also empty because my trepidation was still there; it never left even when faced repeatedly. Now what?
Side note: the other female in my class, Summer, is very significant in my story (as she will tell you); so don’t forget her because she will reappear later…
My future husband deployed to Afghanistan. His mission was to provide security for Afghani detainees at Bagram Air Field in northeastern part of the country.
He returned home after six months and then left immediately for Raven school at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Ravens are the military version of an Air Marshall.
He spent the next two years traveling, providing security for Senator John McCain and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Sadly, the base he was stationed at became re-tasked, meaning he needed to find a new job fast.
That’s when we came up with the bright idea to join the Army together. But I’ll reveal more on that in a bit.
After my sister completed a few half-marathons herself, I had set my mind upon doing one. My first half-marathon was eye opening.
I began the race with much confidence, only to realize I had peaked in the first six miles. Uh oh!
Somehow I had managed to finish, walking near the end and gasping like I was having an asthma attack. Breathe, just breathe!, I thought to myself.
My legs became weak and my joints hurt like hell. Even a disabled runner passed me! No offense to those with disabilities, but I felt pretty lame for not even being able to keep up.
By the time I had finished the race, I felt a mixture of defeat and accomplishment. I forged on, though, building up enough confidence to try another race three years later.
This time, I felt strong throughout the run and ended with a great finish around two hours and seventeen minutes. The excitement of a great run led me to complete another one four years later with my husband.
Although the experiences have taught me a lot, my knees and ankles have never been the same since. Though I still believe it was worth it!
2008: Married Woman & Army Recruit
The love of my life and I got married on a humid rainy day in May. It was a small and quick wedding.
We both had been accepted into the Army Flight Training program to become UH60 Blackhawk pilots. Within a month, the hubbs and I transitioned from Air Force to Army.
W e barely spent more than a few months together over the next year of training. But despite the separation, our hearts grew fonder!
Not mine- my parent’s divorce. I was excited to see my husband after three weeks of the Army’s Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape training (SERE).
SERE school teaches soldiers how to survive in the elements with little water, no food and bad people chasing you. You’re tired, you stink and you have to cuddle with someone you barely know to not go hypothermic. That’s the best part of it.
So as I greet my husband, he has this pained look upon his face. He explained that my dad walked out on my mom.
Once the shock subsided, it left me on a roller coaster ride of emotions for the next few years. What’s worse… he was also a helicopter pilot at the base I was stationed at in Kansas.
Long story short, we had a bad falling out. He retired early from the military and headed off to Cali for a fresh start with his soon-to-be new wife.
2010: Flight School
By now, I had been a married woman for two whole years. Gasp! Unfortunately, every marriage is tested and this was by far the most significant test for our newly formed union.
While at Army Flight Training at Ft. Rucker, Alabama, my husband got arrested. He mumbled an insult as he passed by an off-duty civilian cop and was arrested for public intoxication.
A law enforcement officer and fellow pilot termed the arrester as a “Crooked Alabama Cop”, but I digress. The Army found out about the arrest and kicked him out of the flight program.
He opted to get out of the Army entirely after that, with an honorable discharge. The experience had left our relationship on rocky ground and wreaking havoc upon our financial security.
During this time, my back pain started to progress significantly. The vibrations of the helicopter mixed with carrying heavy gear and sitting in vertical seatbacks for hours at a time was enough to cause severe pain throughout my time in the Army.
I also had to constantly battle my anxiety in order to make it to the finish line once more. At this point, I had grown so used to fighting through it that I began to accept it as normal.
And somehow, despite all the chaos, I had managed to override my emotional turmoil to get to graduation. Big shout out to my mom and God for keeping me together through that last stretch!
I became filled with renewed spirit after graduation, excited to join my new unit and to start flying real missions. Within a year of flight school graduation, we deployed to the wonderful country of Kuwait (that was sarcastic).
It’s hot, extremely boring and sand was EVERYWHERE. It was inthe helicopters, in the tents and in my nostrils for nine months straight. Ugh!
But remember Summer? We lost touch after 2005, yet by divine design joined the same Army unit and became Blackhawk pilots!
It wasn’t until pre-deployment training in Texas that we stumbled upon one another. It was an answered prayer!
I prayed for a friend on this deployment because I was the only female in my company. That was the only good thing about the deployment.
Reuniting with Summer and meeting two other amazing and inspiring ladies I am so proud to call my closest friends. I can honestly admit that these women have helped me through a very difficult time and am grateful for them!
Side note: my husband got back into the Air Force and joined a Tactical Air Control Party unit in Oklahoma. Yay for hubby! He went on to more training and eventually, a rewarding career for him.
2011: Physical & Sexual Assault
While still on my deployment in Kuwait, a fellow pilot physically and sexually assaulted me.
It began as rough pushing- the kind guys do with one another before they start to wrestle. In my company, the occasional hit on the arm was considered acceptable conduct; even my commander would partake.
But this was way worse. Immediately, I felt bullied. He was over six feet tall and two hundred pounds, so it wasn’t a fair fight to my 126-pound frame.
But me being the tiger that I am, I started to fight back in anger, trying to defend myself. After all, I had done martial arts for many years and that meant I could take a hit, right?
Wrong. After a hard hit to my backside, I rushed out the door in a confluence of anger, shame, and fear. The act was not only degrading, but my commander, first sergeant, and high-ranking warrant officers had been watching.
Soon after, the offender apologized to me for his behavior. Whether it was to save his own career or because he was genuinely remorseful, only God knows. But I forgave him and pretended it never happened.
Even though I tried to move on, the shame and isolation never went away. The lost sense of safety in the military was overwhelming, but I managed to finish the mission and come home.
So after the falling out with my father, marital problems with my husband, and the assault, I became depressed. The inability to overcome my anxieties and my chronic back pain was what finally did me in.
Panic attacks soon followed my depression and then suicidal thoughts. I was pretty good at feigning that everything was fine up to this point, even with my husband; I would smile and laugh and joke as usual, while deep down I was broken and inaccessible.
It became more and more difficult to fly… even to go into work. I would become so physically ill the week before that I would ask God to make it all go away.
Eventually, I got to the point where I had been drinking and considered ending my life. But before I could go through with it, a small thought crept in: I don’t want to die, God! Please help me!
That’s when I heard His voice.
He told me exactly what to do. I allowed myself to follow on faith, eventually unlocking the bathroom door to my distressed husband on the other side.
The tears came rolling down like no other. Worried, my husband encouraged me to talk to someone because I still couldn’t admit to him what was wrong. So I called my mom and they, along with God, helped me to get my feet on firmer ground.
2013: Back Pain
I threw myself into my college studies, trying to prove to others that I could make a great comeback. At this time, I began seeking treatment for my back pain.
I saw an orthopedic doctor that just gave me pills, not digging further into the problem. Eventually, God led me to a Kinesiology Chiropractor.
He told me it was caused by a digestion issue. Basically, my body wasn’t getting enough nutrition, weakening my right hip muscles and misaligning my back.
The combination of eating crummy foods, strenuous lifting, and awkward sitting in the Army was enough to break my body. With realignment and eating proper foods again, I became involved in Yoga and was able to better manage the pain.
2014: College Grad
I had finally graduated from DeVry University with a Bachelors of Science in Multimedia Design and Development with the Summa Cum Laude distinction.
Simultaneously, the hubbs and I got pregnant prior to my graduation (yes, I even prayed for my baby!). My husband also got a fulltime job with his unit in Oklahoma City. Everything seemed on the upward: our relationship and finances recovered, and I was starting to communicate with my father.
2015: It’s A Boy!
The arrival of my son was one of complete joy and utter shock. We were in a new place, nowhere close to family for support, and no longer just me and the hubbs.
As I paved my way into glorious mommyhood, my health was starting to decline again. After naturally giving birth to my son, there was increasing pain in my right shoulder. Even with a few weeks of babying it, it still got so bad that I would stay awake crying at night.
Some testing later, an Orthopedist found a bone spur that developed during my pregnancy. With the diagnosis of impingement syndrome, I could finally get the physical therapy necessary to manage it.
Less than six months later, I revisited my Kinesiology Chiropractor once more because my back pain was increasing again. He unexpectedly said, “You had something happen to you when you were 17. That’s when your back pain started.”
Surprised and a little weirded-out, I racked my brain for what he was talking about. It wouldn’t be until several months later that I would recall everything that happened that year.
2016: Getting to Know God
My contract in the Army finally ended. Freedom!
Ending my thirteen-year stent in the military was tough, but despite temptations to re-enlist, my heart was not onboard. Within the year, I had found a great church, mom’s club, and bible study class.
In this timeframe, I communicated more with my father, even meeting with him for the first time in six years. Though our relationship may take a long time to heal, I’m happy to say that the journey has begun.
My relationship with God grew stronger as the months went by. I delighted in my son, learning to relax in my new mom role and enjoying every day and every moment.
For the first time ever, I didn’t feel the need to attain success and base my worth on it. Although I still have anxiety, the more I draw closer to God and Godly people, the more it lessens.
I have spent the past year discovering who I am and what I want out of life. The road to recovery consists of God’s presence and peace, and I know He has more to offer me.
Yet, I still felt like something was missing. I constantly prayed about it and after much waiting, He helped me realize that He has given me a gift.
2017: Sharing My Testimony
All year long, I had been asking God to guide me to my next mission; this time, for His will instead of mine. So I sincerely asked and God placed it on my heart to share my testimony and start this blog.
Don’t get me wrong, the process of writing my truth was excruciating. What I came to discover is that I was attempting to bargain with God on what I would and would not include, until one day He revealed much more than I expected.
The words of my Chiropractor came back to me: “You had something happen to you when you were 17…” I suddenly remembered the first assault. God said, “In order for your back to heal, you must let it go.”
Not less than 24 hours before, I had pleaded with Him to heal my back. I had never asked before and thought I should try.
His answer: I must face my strongholds and all the lies I told to protect myself from the truth.
Through writing my story, I came to discover the healing power of the gift He has given me: to write. I have loved to write since I could remember, but I never realized how important it was until now.
Thank you for taking the time to read my testimony! I hope it inspires others to share their own struggles and achievements. And to encourage, letting all know that they’re not alone and can experience His joy, peace, and abundance!