How can anyone hear if no one speaks up?
Have you ever cried helpless tears? The kind that makes your heart sting at the thought of situations you’ve been relentlessly trying to forget? I have. Having learned taekwondo (Korean martial arts) and gymnastics from a young age, I figured that I knew enough about self-defense to be able to protect and defend myself when the need arose. But this one time, I was utterly wrong. I wanted so badly to be heard, but no one seemed to hear me.
The date was 17 August 2014. I was in Kuala Lumpur on a work trip, hardly awake and barely surviving on merely two hours of sleep after a grueling full day of work. My physical body was crumbling from immense stress and panic attacks after pulling consecutive late nights and was desperately crying out for rest and relief, which was why I immediately agreed to my boss’ invitation to go for a massage before our flight home. Upon arrival at the massage parlour and noticing that they were almost fully booked, we hurriedly confirmed for an hour’s foot and back massage. I entered the parlour assuming that all massage parlours practised the female-to-female and male-to-male policy and was thus surprised to realise the masseuses assigned to my (female) boss and I were both male! Thankfully, nothing seemed out of place as we began with the foot massage; my boss, who had been to the massage parlour twice before, assured me that this was the norm and I had nothing to worry about.
However, approximately 15 minutes into the massage, I began to feel slightly unnerved as my masseuse explained in a foreign language why my feet and nerves ached, all the while massaging my upper and inner thighs. While I was trying to decipher if it was part of the massage routine, I could not help but feel as if he was trying to make advances. As I could not understand or interpret most of what he was saying and was struggling to communicate with him, I helplessly indicated discomfort and pain through my facial expressions.
After the first half an hour’s foot massage, I was led to a personal cordoned room for the back massage and my masseuse gestured for me to change into a set of massage clothes and wait shortly. I thought to myself, “This is more like it! They are finally changing duties and a female masseuse will attend to me now.” To my shock, the same male masseuse returned with ointment and towels; and suddenly, I felt waves of uncertainty wash over me. Without warning, he lifted my oversized top to my shoulders, brushing the bottom of my breasts in the process and applied massage oil by running his hands down my bare back. My body froze with fear, paralysing me with deep worry, confusion and loss. Even when I attempted to speak, no voice could be heard. I found myself trapped, suppressed, voiceless and unable to move or make an escape.
As the massage proceeded, he crossed the boundary of comfort — laughing and whispering in my ear whenever I winced or tensed up, and massaging my collarbone and upper chest area. In my spirit, I cried out to God for help and intervention but nothing seemed to be happening. By the end of the massage, I had no time to make a report as we were running late to the airport. I walked out of the massage parlour feeling violated, as if a part of me had been stolen. That day, I flew home feeling distraught, broken, ashamed, and unclean.
Two days after arriving home, I was still in disbelief and struggled to accept what had happened. I spent all my time trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a big deal because it wasn’t as if I had been raped… So why did I feel as though I had been raped? My tear-stained eyes burned with anger against that male masseuse. On one hand, every resentful thought screamed, “How dare he? What gave him the right to do such a thing to me?” While on the other, every shameful doubt derided me, “You deserved it. You asked for it. You didn’t stop him to save yourself! It was all your fault.” The conflicting battle of anger and shame began to consume and overwhelm my spirit, weakening all of me by shining a spotlight on my unworthiness. The more I tried to get over this ordeal, the more I found myself needing God to clarify where He was in that dark, secluded room when I was left alone with that man. As I closed my eyes and returned to the place where this incident took place, I scanned the room, only to find that God was not present. I did this over and over again, looking at every corner and space, but still could not locate His presence. I was battered with disappointment because even when I called out for help, God didn’t seem to want to save me. Although my mind knew the truth that God is omnipresent and ever with us, my heart was convinced that God had forsaken me, leaving me more alone and let down than I had ever been in my life. As a result, my desire for God vanished and I felt my soul turn away from Him. I no longer wanted Him.
In church one day, I was suddenly aware that I needed ministry. I was trapped in the chains of shame and was unwilling to share what had happened with anyone. If anything, I told myself, “if this is ever going to see the light of day, I need to know who exactly to speak to.” God, in His grace and unbeknownst to me, impressed the word “stolen” upon the heart of one of my youth pastors and she immediately came to pray for me. As she prayed, I immediately knew that she was the person to talk to when I was ready. After mustering all my courage to speak to my youth pastor about what had happened, God began the process of healing and restoration that taught me two important lessons:
God will never leave nor forsake you
This biblical promise in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5 that seemed to be broken was assuredly restored to me when I heard God speak to me as Jonathan David Helser’s “Abba” played in the background at the prayer time before our youth service: “Even in the moments you didn’t want Me, I still want you.” As the lyrics of the song sang gently over my heart, reminding me that God was “more real than the wind in my lungs, more real than the ground I’m standing on; (His) thoughts define me, (He’s) inside me; (He’s) my reality,” the process of heart-wreck began and I learned in that intimate moment, despite what had painfully happened to me, I still belong to Jesus. If that wasn’t enough to restore me, God lovingly echoed, “I want you, I want you, I want you,” to convince my heart of this unchanging fact. Although I still had questions unanswered, I willingly stood in God’s healing love that poured out on me, giving Him permission to melt all disappointment and anger in His grace. As I admitted and confessed all the shame I felt, all the value I seemed to have lost as a woman and all the anger I held against God and the masseuse, forgiveness began paving the way to restoration.
To those who are struggling to believe this truth today, I pray for you to open your heart and rediscover the extent of God’s great desire and unconditional love for you! Trust me on this: He heard you when you cried out to Him so don’t jump off the boat simply because you can’t see the anchor that’s holding your boat sturdy in the storm.
Take courage and speak up
I have always been passive by nature, often being the one “going with the flow” and never having a strong opinion about anything. As I reflected on this incident, God convicted my heart that I was given a voice so I could speak up. In parallel, our passive Singaporean culture might have taught us to stand on the sidelines and keep mum, but Proverbs 31:8-10 says, “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” (CEB) I am now confident that had my voice not been stolen at that massage parlour, I would have spoken up gracefully without jeopardising that man’s job. As such, I believe each of us is called to be loud-hailer for the Holy Spirit to use and speak through, so don’t let fear hold your tongue.
Five months after the incident, I find myself speaking up whenever I hear friends saying something hurtful to another; I am able to voice my opinions clearly and would love to one day be able to stand up for someone else who might go through a moment of losing her voice, just like I did.
To every girl who has been treated unfairly physically and mentally, I urge you to take courage and speak up. Dare to overcome darkness and shame by letting light in. Not only does speaking up open the door to healing, it also allows room for God to provide opportunities to make you brave. In 2014, God answered my prayer and cry to make me brave and I believe He can do the same for you in 2015. Here’s to being heard and being brave.
“Everyone knows that I was the good girl
I did my best to make everyone happy with me
Then I found out that it was impossible to please the whole crowd
So I spoke up, and I spoke out
I learned that love don’t hold its tongue,
And passion doesn’t bow to what they think
It’s You and me
Sometimes it’s painful to be brave
To look fear in the face and know Your name;
To find Your strength“
— I Spoke Up, Steffany Gretzinger