I remember like it was yesterday. The smell of smoke as I walked through the Casino, up the elevator and to the room. The view of the Las Vegas strip and the large triangle shaped parking lot below. The white curtains, multicolored art spaced evenly on the walls, and one King size bed.
A jolt of fear came over me; I was not prepared for this. Maybe there was another room, a hidden door that separated two adjoining rooms. But there wasn’t.
I was 230 miles away from home and suddenly our trusted family friend seemed to have made a convenient mistake when he scheduled this trip. I remember thinking, this can’t be happening, he can’t expect me to stay in a hotel room WITH him.
Fast-forward 25 years later.
October of 2017, several of my friends from work and I headed to Las Vegas to attend a conference for women in ministry. I look forward to this conference every year; it is a time of refreshment, equipping, bonding, and encouragement. It gives me a chance to sit in a room with 800+ other women who face the same challenges and victories in ministry.
The first day, as we left our Air BB, we headed to the church where the conference was held. As I looked out the car window, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying, THERE IT WAS. The tall building with the windows that overlooked that triangle shaped parking lot. My heart sank.
You see, I had been to Las Vegas several times over the past 25 years, but this was the first time I saw this particular hotel, again. It is off the beaten path, outside of the strip. The last time I was there, I was a naïve 16 years old, in a hotel room with a family friend, confused, and scared.
That hotel was where it all started. It was the first of many trips, to many different hotel rooms. Over the next three years, I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to go with him.
I was commanded to.
It was on these trips where I endured consistent physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. He had this crazy ritual of writing his name with a sharpie on my lower left abdomen. I hated it! Long after I had gone home and back to normal life, I would still have his name in black ink on me.
In 2017 when I was with my friends, heading to a conference that I loved, we drove by THAT hotel. I couldn’t believe all of the memories that flooded my mind; details, flashbacks, anger, and shame.
The conference was amazing, and yet I was wrestling with these thoughts and feelings that I just wanted to go away. I wanted to push them under the rug and ignore them for another 25 years. But you see, Gods love for us is far too great to allow us to ignore something that He has the power reclaim.
The last day of the conference, Hosanna Wong spoke. She had a powerful spoken word on hating a place called Bernal Heights. Her dad grew up there and had a hard life which ended there, many things happened to her and her mother in Bernal Heights. It was a bad memory that had stolen so much from her.
She decided to surrender all of that pain she had held onto and give it to God to redeem and restore her. Years later, Hosanna decided to RECLAIM that spot that the enemy had taken from her and she planned her wedding in Bernal Heights.
A place that was once a source of pain became a place of joy, a milestone of change.
She proclaimed Jesus in that place. Hosanna inspired me to take back what the enemy had tried to steal, kill and destroy. For her it was Bernal Heights, for me, it was my body.
Her word “reclaim” resonated in my heart. During worship, the thought popped into my mind, “Reclaim your body in the same place it was originally taken”. It was in that moment I remembered that Las Vegas was the FIRST of many trips that he took me on.
My husband was going to join me for a couple of days after the conference. I had decided I wanted to get a tattoo while we were there. I wanted a tree, to show life and fruit. I wanted our children’s initials in the leaves; a semi-colon carved in the trunk (because my story isn’t over yet and neither is yours), one of my favorite passages Romans 4:20-21, and the word “RECLAIMED”.
I wanted it on my lower left abdomen. I needed to reclaim that part of my body, with symbols that were meaningful to me, in the same city that I was first violated.
My husband went with me to get my tattoo. In a weird way the pain of getting the tattoo was healing for me. During the two hour process, as I dealt with the pain of the tattoo, I prayed and imagined releasing all of the pain that was inflicted on me 25 years ago.
Where I used to see his name, I now have a reminder of God’s faithfulness and the fact that Jesus has reclaimed my life, my body and my story from those three years of trauma. That inspired our logo for Reclaimed Story, a tree with life, grounded in the roots of our experiences. How amazing is God? He will use it all.
I am not going to tell you that I never struggle, because I do, often. When I do, I hold onto His promises. My life verse is Romans 4:20-21. Paul is referring to Abraham and I love to add my name into it and declare it over my life.
Yet (Denisha) did not waiver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in (her) faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.
The trip back to Vegas, the memories that resurfaced, the healing of God’s amazing restorative love, His word, and the example I saw through Hosanna’s life, is where Reclaimed Story first began.
We all have a story.
Some chapters are amazing while some are very difficult. You are not alone! Hosanna’s Bernal Heights story of victory became a launching pad for my story.
My prayer is that through our stories, you will know that no matter how much damage you have endured, Jesus can Reclaim that, no matter how much damage you have caused, Jesus can reclaim that too!
When you allow your story to intersect with His Story, you can have the freedom to live the life you were created to live, the one that God created you to thrive in.
Will you be brave?
Will you allow him to reclaim the dark and shadowy places of your life? Even the parts that when you think about them jolt you with fear?
I am not saying everyone should go and get a tattoo. For me, that was a tangible way that I can remind myself what Jesus did for me. I do not have to carry the pain, guilt, anger or shame any longer. I can trust Him with it. He reclaimed all of that for me, and for you on the cross.
Just like the faded ink of that mans name lingered with me long after those trips had ended, what lingers with you? Has someone in your life abused the trust you gave them? Is there shame attached to decisions made for you or by you?
Whatever that is for you, I am so sorry, YOU are not alone. We don’t always talk about these things because it is vulnerable and scary. I want to encourage you to allow the Spirit of God into those dark and shadowy places. He died on the cross so that you may be free. Free from shame, free from condemnation, free in Him.
Sunday was Easter. As we reflect back on the
The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you!
My prayer for you is that you will choose to rise up and be brave enough to allow Him to heal the things that linger within you. There is freedom for you in Jesus. Freedom doesn’t take away what happened, but it takes away the power that it has had over you.
Being brave may look like praying and asking God to meet you in those places; it may look like sharing your story with a trusted friend to come alongside you. It may mean seeking counseling to deal with things that you have been shoving under the rug for a long time.
For me, I had shoved so much stuff under the rug for so many years that I began tripping over the rug with every step I took. What would be different in your life if you were not tripping over something from your story?
That is not the life that Jesus intended for us to live.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Gal. 5:1
That is where Reclaimed Story began. In Las Vegas; in the shadow of my past, smack dab in the reality of God’s immeasurable love and healing.
It took me a year after that experience to start this blog, and it took another six months before I was brave enough to share this part of my story. Because Hosanna was vulnerable and shared, God used her victory as an example for me to pursue the victory He had for me.
May you have the courage to allow Him to reclaim your story.
We would love to celebrate your step of bravery. What part of your story will you allow God to reclaim?
As you live the RECLAIMED LIFE, may these words be an anthem in your process…
(Your name here) did not waiver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in (her) or (his) faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.
To hear Hosannas powerful story of Bernal Heights click here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxH_DtCuL1k