Since I took at stand as a senior in high school publishing my first book Stolen Innocence I have been dedicated to putting a face and voice on sexual abuse and educating the public on this silent epidemic. Over the past 6 years since then I have met and become friends with amazing people across this world by speaking out. As I described in my second book Living For Today I lost an entire extended family by going public with my story but the lives God has allowed me to cross paths with that I would of never met had I not taken a stand has been so worth it. To be able to turn such pain in my life into determination, strength, courage, inspiration and be able to share it with thousands of people. From one of the first letters of a young girl in New Zealand that found her voice after reading my first book, or the young woman from Australia that found my book in a library there and the healing touch it had on her own life and breaking her silence. To the men and women I have met across America at speaking engagements who spend everyday working in a field to protect children from abuse. To the survivors that come out of darkness after hearing me speak. They come from all walks of life from an 80 year old grandma, to a young 20 year old in a small town of Nebraska who was still being abused. The stories I could tell from people I have crossed paths with could be a book itself. Today though will stand out the most in the 6 1/2 years since I began this journey of taking my story public.
I like so many millions across America and the world heard the breaking news on February 26th when 17 year old Chelsea King from California went missing after going for a run the night before. It is every parents worst nightmare when your child does not return home. Brent and Kelly King, Chelsea’s parents went to the media appearing on every national network praying for the safe return of their daughter. As so many people know Chelsea did not come home. A convicted sex offender was arrested days later who later confessed to ending Chelsea’s beautiful life and confessed to ending the life of 14 year old Amber Dubois a year earlier. He was sentenced in April to life in prison without parole. After Brent and Kelly learned a convicted sex offender was the one who raped and ended their daughter’s life they were determined to protect other children and not have other parents walk in their shoes by going after a law called “Chelsea’s law” that would one allow life sentences without parole for violent sex offenders, provide for lifetime parole and GPS monitoring of certain offenders after their release from prison, and would prohibit offenders from entering parks where children are present, like the one in which Chelsea was abducted.
Every time I turned the television on from the time Chelsea went missing, to her murder’s sentencing, and watched her parents talk in interviews I just wanted to reach into the television and wrap my arms around both of them and take their pain. I would pray out to God to comfort them in their pain.
I sent an email to the King family and the Chelsea Light Organization back in April to let them know they were in my prayers and my efforts with Erin’s law in Illinois. When I learned they were moving from California back to the suburbs of Chicago where they lived for ten years I knew I had to connect with them. They arrived back two weeks ago and live now only 30 minutes from me. Brent asked me over the weekend about getting lunch with him and Kelly. I felt the need to bring something and wanted it to be a way of remembering Chelsea. A teen I had never met but had seen all over the media how much she loved Sunflowers. So as I walked the downtown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin over the weekend I looked up in the sky and said in my head “Chelsea we may have never met but you know I will be meeting your parents next week. Let them feel your presence, send them a message, lead me to Sunflowers.” No joke the first store I walk into I feel sent to the back of the store and come upon an entire section of Sunflower items. (clock, butter dish, serving dish, huge painting of sunflowers, rug, cutting board, note pad, napkin holder, match box, mugs…I could go on and on). I was like WOW Chelsea I hear you. I really liked the coffee cups they had three single sunflowers coming up ( I look at that as representing Brent, Kelly, and her brother Tyler) but there was a word carved into the coffee cup it said “JOYFUL” I thought to myself is that the kind of word Brent and Kelly want to see. Then I said Chelsea led me in here for a reason maybe that is the word she wants her parents to be. So I went ahead and bought the Mugs among many other things including a glass sign with sunflowers on it that said “You are my Sunshine”
Today I met with Brent and Kelly at a restaurant in downtown Naperville, Illinois. The parents I have wanted to wrap my arms around through the TV were now standing in front of me. I hugged Kelly immediately and then Brent. It was no simple hug nice to meet you, It was a hug of comfort I have been wanting to give them both as I could see the agony in their eyes over so many interviews I had seen on television.
For the next 3 hours we talked and cried, sharing with me stories about their beautiful Chelsea, their mission for the future to protect other kids, they asked many questions about what I have done in my life and were blown away with what I have accomplished thus far. They both said I had the kind of energy Chelsea displayed. I loved their passion and determination to protect children and their vision for the future. A future where we both are going to work together to move mountains and not let anyone stop us.
When I had first sat in the booth across from both of them Kelly reached over and grabbed my hands and said how happy she was to finally meet me and as I held her hands they both described the incredible people Chelsea keeps bringing in their life. I then got on the topic of faith. Brent showed me an incredible tattoo he got in memory of Chelsea with a sunflower, cross in the sunflower as the stem and a phrase above it that I did not understand. They went on to describe that it was a saying Chelsea always had about joy and being joyful in life. The hairs on my arms stood up and my mouth dropped. I said wait until you open this gift.
We talked in depth about Faith as Kelly asked me questions and I told her how my faith was challenged and I often had turned away from God but in the end discovered he was there all along even when I turned my back on him he did not leave my side walking along with me in my pain. I told Kelly and Brent they have ever right to be in a place of questioning God, having anger, etc. I told her without my faith in God I would not be the person I am today doing what I am doing. They know she is in Heaven and as I told them and the greatest thing of all is we know one day you will see your sweet angel Chelsea again. She will be waiting welcome you both to Heaven one day holding Sunflowers and if she could tell you anything right now she would be looking down telling you how amazing and beautiful Heaven is and how happy she is. At the same time that does not take away how much Brent and Kelly miss Chelsea and as they said they will never stop missing her as many tears were shed. I reminded them she will never be forgotten and many lives will be saved because of her life and how they both are keeping her memory alive.
I gave them copies of both my books and as Kelly opened the card she immediately began crying. She said the picture on the front of the card has special meaning she will share with me another time. They continued to open and when they came upon the coffee cups with the word “Joyful” they were so blown away. I looked at them both and said, “I told you she was with me shopping, how would I have any clue the significance the word joyful would be to you both?” But that was not the end. The real waterworks started when Kelly came upon the sign they can hang up with the sunflowers and the phrase “You are my sunshine!” Brent with tears filled in his eyes said, “Erin that was my nickname for Chelsea I called her that all the time even describing when he would wake her and say get up Sunshine.
Is that not amazing how Chelsea can bring comfort to her parents through a complete stranger they have never met until today. What an angel she is and what angels her parents have become in becoming huge advocates to protect children. The bigger plans they have are incredible and I see something huge coming of it. Together the Kings and I along with an angel shinning her light from Heaven we will move mountains to protect children. With tougher laws on sex offenders, better education in schools for children, and a world we are going to shake to wake up to a reality of what is really going on.
I wish for one day every parent in the world could walk through the shoes of a parent who has lost a child to a sex offender just to wake them up and give them a reality check. We would live in a completely different world if that was possible. Instead The Kings, myself, Chelsea Change Makers, and Erin Law supporters are going to have to make a whole heck of a lot of noise. Don’t doubt us, watch what we will get done!
Before leaving the Kings asked me to come to San Diego with them. They want me to bring my voice and energy because they know I have a lot of it. I of course took the offer and promised to bring my strong voice and energy. After 3 hours with two people that before today were complete strangers I watched from my TV for the past 5 months praying for them, I now felt like I was sitting across from two family members I have known for years. I know I will stay close with the Kings for years to come and look forward to seeing what God will do in our lives over the next ten years in making CHANGE happen in this country. Just you wait!
When I walked out to the parking lot with Brent and Kelly, Kelly took off her orange Chelsea’s light.org wrist band and slipped it on my wrist along side my blue band that says “Child Abuse-Break the Silence-Heal the Hurt-
Check out Chelsea’s Light on facebook They are 5,500 short of reaching 100,000 and Kelly expressed she really wants that remaining 5,500. Lets help this mother get that! Get your friends joining and don’t forget to join Erin’s Law if you haven’t already.
Kelly later sent me a beautiful text message about what a blessing it was to meet me and a beautiful reminder I was from God and how Chelsea brought another angel into their lives. It is a text message I won’t be deleting and it is a reminder to me when I think back to being a 6 1/2 year old locked in a bedroom with a grown man raping me and the questions I would ask myself later in life “Why me? Why did he keep me alive? Why speak out?” Today is a beautiful reminder to me of my purpose on this Earth. Why I am still here and why I speak out. God has a plan for all of us and he clearly has shown me mine. Had I not been raped as a child and molested from a cousin I honestly do not think I would of met the Kings today, another blessing in my life God just brought me of two incredible beautiful people.
In closing I ask you to continue to keep the Kings in your prayers. Unless you have walked through their shoes you have no idea the mountain of pain they are dealing with. A monster took their daughters life 5 months ago and they will wake up the rest of their lives every single morning missing her. They are learning to take one day at a time, grieve, and protect any other parent from living their nightmare and child from being hurt. God has huge plans in store for them and right now God may seem so far away from them as he would most anyone who just had one of their greatest joys taken from them, but if we all pray for the Kings God will hold their hands every step of the way giving them the strength that they need.
God Bless the Kings!