woman walking into the fire through open big door

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

On December 21, 1966, I married Vince, a firefighter in the Air Force. I was 18; he was 21. Soon afterward, an unexplained sadness and a smoldering anger began gnawing at me. I told no one. However, God knew about this inner melancholy blanketing my spirit.

During the next 12 years, I became the mother of two children, graduated from nursing school as an LPN, and worked as a nurse. Throughout those years, Vince and I faithfully attended church. My desire to have a closer relationship with God turned into a hunger and thirst. Having private time for Bible study and prayer became a priority in my life.

One Sunday my pastor preached a sermon on going deeper in our walk with God. He asked the congregation, “Who would like to seek higher ground with God?”

I raised my hand. My heart was yielded and opened to God as never before. Suddenly, an overwhelming joy flooded my soul. A spontaneous “Thank You, Jesus; thank You, Jesus” burst from my lips. He gave me the desire of my heart—leading me into a deeper level of experience with Him.

One night in a dream, I saw an open Bible. I could read the exact book and chapter—Isaiah 43. When I woke the next morning, I read that chapter, and verse 2 spoke to my heart: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (NIV).

I knew God spoke through dreams, but I couldn’t connect the dream’s message of assurance for strength and protection to anything happening in my life. I did not know God was preparing to reveal secrets hidden inside me. Although I was drawn to read Isaiah 43:2 at intervals, fear that turmoil might come and fulfill the dream’s promise of protection never entered my mind. Eleven years passed before the scripture’s message became my reality.

Vince and I had now been married 20 years. Our sons had graduated from high school, obtained jobs, moved out, and started families on their own.

One day while on vacation, an unnerving moment occurred. Vince pulled my body close to his, and repulsion shot through me like a bolt of electricity. I pretended to enjoy his embrace but desperately wanted to pull away. I felt violated. Startled and confused, I hid my emotions and said nothing. The rest of our vacation went well.

Another puzzling incident happened when Vince was at work. I was home mowing grass when a vivid picture of a concrete wall suddenly flashed into my mind. It reminded me of a dam. Then a pin-size hole appeared two or three feet from the top. I stopped. Nervousness settled in my stomach as something told me, “Life will be changing.”

From that moment, the sadness I carried slowly changed into despair, and despair slowly transformed into a profound darkness and oppression. Guilt and shame for having no reason for depression kept me from confiding in people. It became difficult to maintain a happy facade. The oppression interfered with my work performance. I had to quit my nursing job.

My mental state worsened, and one day after church I drove myself to the hospital, walked to the psychiatric unit, handed the nurse my journal notes, and was admitted for suicidal thoughts. I shuffled back to my room, crawled onto the bed, and wept until I fell asleep. I awakened to a gentle hand on my shoulder and a soft voice saying, “Anna.”

I opened my eyes. Vince was kneeling beside the bed. I sat up, put my feet on the floor, sobbed, and said, “I want to die.”

He gasped. We sat in silence and held each other. All physical tests, and questions by a therapist and psychiatrist, failed to uncover the reason for the deep depression. Emotionally more stable after three weeks, I was released from the hospital. I maintained doctor visits for a few months, then stopped because I felt better. But I didn’t consider going back to work.

Approximately three months passed. The debilitating depression crept back into my life as a constant, irritable anger.

I began meeting weekly with a Christian counselor. A few weeks into therapy, new emotions attached to my deepening oppression surfaced. I asked my counselor, “Why do I feel disgust, rage, and sharp stabs of anguish in my spirit? Why do I experience overwhelming guilt and shame as if I have done something wrong? Why do I have periods of feeling dirty, being used like an object and tossed aside?”

“Anna, I have no answer for you right now,” the counselor said.

Finally, the core reason for my oppression surfaced—childhood sexual abuse. It was like I was experiencing someone else’s childhood—except it was mine.

The healing process has been lengthy. The grueling flashbacks and the agonizing emotions seemed never-ending. Time after time, Oppression whispered, It’s better to die than live like this. You will never get out of my blackness.

Scripture compares Satan to a “roaring lion . . . seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If Satan can’t claim your soul, he will try destroying your testimony for God. Ephesians 6:11 tells us we must be prepared to stand against the devil’s schemes. Thankfully, “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).

One constant feeling was that my heart was being methodically mauled. But during one incident, God let me know my experiencing such indescribable anguish was finished.

Vince and I were alone at church practicing my solo for Sunday’s service. The first run-through, the phrase “fire and water” streaked across my mind. I shook my head to maintain focus on the song. Again, the phrase “fire and water” intruded. I kept going. The third time, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” flashed across my mindThen I heard in my spirit, You have come through the fire and water. It is finished!

Immediately, a profound, gentle peace enveloped me. Since then, I have not experienced the death and dying feelings again. That pivotal moment enabled me to breathe while continuing my healing journey.

The Bible is the voice of God. Isaiah 55:11 says when God sends forth His Word, it will not return unto Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and succeed in its purpose.

Anna Thomas lives in Dumfries, Virginia.