“Hello, my name is Robert”, spoke a tall statured middle aged man. I paused and reciprocated the greeting with the exchange of my name, and we discussed a bit about our professions. It was a short and slightly awkward conversation, which can be normal when meeting new colleagues at a human trafficking conference. I did not give much thought to the exchange. My heart and mind were preoccupied that weekend because it was the first time I chose to attend publicly as a survivor of sex trafficking. A lot of counseling, talking with other survivors, and prayer went into the choice of coming forward with the truth about who I am and the background that led me into the work of Restore One. Despite my slight nervousness, I felt the grounding peace of the Holy Spirit as I proceeded through the weekend.

Between breakout sessions I was with Restore One’s film team conducting documentary interviews. Time was of the essence, so I turned all my anxiety into focusing on the proper completion of the interviews. Regarding the personal weight of the weekend, it brought my fixation into my work, completely unaware of what God would reveal before I returned home.  It’s fascinating how oblivious I can be to the interworking of the Holy Spirit, especially when I’ve got my guard up.

Of my many anxious odd tendencies, one is attempting to be everywhere at once. After we finished the interviews, the rest of the film team took time to rest and recoup. With all my bottled up energy that was going to be impossible, so I insisted on pushing my personal envelope and went to listen to a few training sessions.

That day, every interview went extraordinarily well. However, combined with the sensitive nature of my own heart, I soon found myself overloaded, and beginning to mentally check out while thinking about everything else but the present. I saw Robert leave the breakout room, instantly giving myself permission to do the same. Once out from underneath the blazing fluorescent lights and powerpoint slides, I found the coffee table and with gratitude partook. With coffee in hand, I walked over to Robert. We struck up small talk about the conference and discussed a bit more about our professions, and he invited me to his presentation later that day.

To my surprise Robert was wearing a hippopotamus tie and with exuberance, I pointed out the obscure observation! He responded lightly, explaining it was his special presentation tie and that he has an affinity for hippopotamuses. He then showed me, Beepo a small hippopotamus that lives in his pocket on special days. He verbally told the reasons of why and as he spoke, my jaw almost hit the floor. Never in a million years did I think I’d meet someone who has this strange viewpoint. Uncannily enough, for the past few years, God has used hippopotamuses in various forms to remind me of his presence, strengthening who I am. When I see the image of a hippopotamus, it’s a personal God wink or sign I’m in the right place. Trust me, I see hippos in the most random but timely places! Coincidently that day I happened to be wearing my favorite brass hippopotamus necklace, which I shared with gladness, along with the hippopotamuses on my forearm tattoo. Anyone listening to our conversation would have gotten kick out of us geeking out.

Robert was just as stunned as me, to find that we both have an unusual liking for hippos. As the discussion continued we were both astonished by the odds of us meeting and agreed that the Holy Spirit brought us together for a reason.

Feeling awestruck but very comfortable, I shared a bit my own story and background. I disclosed that I was sex trafficked as a child and that I started personal recovery the year I co-founded Restore One. He listened with compassion and responded by sharing he, too was a survivor of sex trafficking. He empathized, explaining several points of his own journey, encouraging me to stay the course. As I left the conversation my head was spinning and my feet floating. I thought to myself, “Did that really happen? What a strange and beautiful collision orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.”

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Prior to the conference I’d felt a wondering of how God could redeem several places in my past, particularly relationships that felt undone and discorded. Meeting Robert brought answers to that heartache of unknowing.

I often expect so much less, when God is always offering the abundant.

I’d given up on several spaces of healing, but God again showed up in kindness juggling my expectations.

I’ve since continued my friendship with Robert. I later learned that Robert preferably goes by Rob, so I respectfully refer to him as such. Chris and I were able to visit Rob several times last year meeting his family and even co-presenting together at a human trafficking conference. I am continually blessed by Rob’s honesty, kindness and encouragement. Sweetly, Rob officiated Chris’ and my wedding renewal on our 5 year anniversary. The ceremony was a remarkable moment in time, filled with redeeming memories and restoring our marriage union.

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Reflecting back on the first conversation Rob and I had, I see that God loves to take our wavering hellos and string us together in relationships filled with blessing. God is the great connector. It’s so beautiful how one hello created a thread of relationship that has brought family ties to orphaned places in my heart and placement to relationship spaces I’d assumed would always remain empty. I’m so grateful God uses bizarre a creature like a hippopotamus to communicate his love and the grander connection we have to each other.

Meeting Rob and having another hippo friend has certainly lessened my doubt and grown my anticipation for the goodness found in each beginning and each hello.

 


Anna SmithAnna is passionate, a lover of God and sunrises. She is a wanna be poet and pour over coffee connoisseur. And in her garden she grows Drift Roses (of all things). She is a Master Level Social Worker and a 200 Registered Yoga Teacher. In 2012, along with her husband Chris, she co-founded Restore One, an anti-trafficking ministry that serves men and boys. Journeying through her own recovery process, she understands that healing is a painful yet beautiful path we must take to receive freedom. Anna believes healing is possible for everyone.

Anna enjoys throwing pottery, writing and teaching yoga and spending time with Chris.