This summer our Board of Directors has undergone several changes. We’ve elected three new members, and one of our founding members has decided to take a break from board responsibilities while remaining a loyal supporter. We’ve also increased our social media presence (find us on Twitter, sign up for our email list).
Yet one thing has not changed: our commitment to providing a nurturing environment in which wounded women not only find healing and hope, but also gain the various skills they need to be self-sufficient upon completion of the program. Our motivation is simple. We believe that every human being has infinite worth, even if he or she doesn’t recognize that worth, and even if others would deny it. The women that we serve are not throwaways.
While we are committed to our purpose of empowering our residents, we are also realistic in our expectations. We have no quick fixes to offer, no instant formula for a better life. To succeed in our program, our residents must be willing to trust that the program is designed for their good. They must be willing to change and grow. Even more important, they must understand that change is usually difficult, and personal growth is often painful. Not every woman who starts the program finishes it. In such cases, we offer the opportunity to return, and we pray that the time they spent in the program helped them in some measure.
But those who stay and face the challenges are rewarded with the satisfaction of achieving their goals. For example, two of our residents are graduating this month from the Personal and Career Development program offered by HopeWorks. They have proven their work ethic through challenging internships, and their smiles shine a bit brighter these days.
We are grateful to our financial supporters, volunteers, and partner programs for helping make those smiles possible.
I was surprised last year when I heard this statement from Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart, at the HopeWorks breakfast, A Moment of Hope. I had to think about it. But I didn’t really understand until yesterday. I was with a young woman wanting to leave the life on the streets. It seemed that everywhere she went, the man who had been using her and selling her kept showing up. With tears, she asked how he kept finding her. How do you escape that? I helped get her to a safe place.
As I went back to my day, doing ordinary things, I was surprised to find that I was on the verge of tears. What was that about?
I’ve accompanied women through this journey, sitting with them as they cried. I’ve taken them places I would never have gone in the past. I’ve heard stories that were difficult to hear about their childhood, their families, the abuse they’ve endured. I’ve seen the lack of trust they carry because no one in their lives have been trustworthy. I know about the physical problems that many endure because of lack of medical care.
I’ve never found myself on the verge of tears as I went through my day. I sat with my tears, trying to understand what was different this time. As I remembered the terror this young woman displayed because she thought she was not physically safe anywhere she went, I realized that I also felt unsafe and experienced that fear. The vulnerability I felt physically. And the barely controlled surge of tears. And I remembered what Father Greg Boyle said:
“How can we seek really a compassion that can stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” It is a goal to work for!
“Once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don’t have a chance. Not living a better story would be like deciding to die.”
Our friend Dana Welty shared this quote from Donald Miller. My first thought was my own journey some 20 years ago. I started therapy completely ignorant of what was ahead. Beginning to work on my own stuff was difficult. I began to confront parts of myself that are not pretty. Because I had not seen those parts, I had not owned the good parts either. The things I knew about myself were superficial. The next step was to learn how I had been on this earth for 42 years without having a clue who I was. As I began to own who I was and how I got there, I started to change habits.
I remember saying that I thought everyone else had the rules except me. I stayed around folks who had already walked this path and I learned from their experience. I also went to groups that had recorded others’ experiences and I realized I really didn’t have “the rules.” I tried out new things to see how I felt internally and to see how other people reacted to my new way of living. It was so hard! I feared losing the others in my life because they might not welcome my changes. My insides often felt queasy, afraid I’d make more mistakes and not be accepted by the new people in my life.
Once the experience was underway, I told my priest / mentor that I would never have started if I had known how painful it would be. He smiled and told me it was God’s grace that I didn’t know. Most of the women engaging in prostitution would prefer to leave that lifestyle. Some of the things the women say would help them do that are: a safe place to live; job training; health care; support; self-defense training; and legal assistance. We assist with these things, yet we see relapse. While we all want to live the best life we can, it is scary to go through the process to achieve it. They are having to learn the rules just like I did.
The women we serve may rail at us or even relapse but it will never be the same if they return to the streets. They’ve seen a glimpse of a different life. They must find their own compelling reason to persevere. And the grace of God.
Calvary Episcopal Church
New DATE and TIME
Saturday, August 6th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Are you ready to crumble? Please join the Lisieux Community and Thistle & Bee at this joint volunteer opportunity. We will be crumbling dried herbs harvested from our gardens and raising awareness for women who are survivors of trafficking & prostitution.
Please join us at Calvary Episcopal Church (102 N 2nd St, Memphis, TN 38103) in the Mural Room. Free parking is available in the lot on the East side of the building. We will start at 10:00 am and go no later than noon. A light brunch will be available.
Please let us know your are coming by emailing Madge Deacon or RSVPing on our Facebook event.
Walk down any street in Memphis proper and you will see it – women walking on the street. Sometimes there will be a “come hither” look as she asks someone to stop and pay attention. Sometimes there is a confident stride – purse slung over her shoulder, moving at a fast clip – she has just made some money and is going to get the next “hit” of her drug. Sometimes she has no control of the money, there is someone waiting outside the door to take the money and send her on to another “trick”. The person who takes the money will supply the drugs when he/she is ready to and not until the woman brings in a certain amount of money. If she doesn’t bring in that required amount, she will probably pay physically as well as having her needs withheld.
“Why does she do that?” you ask. She is always looking for someone to fill her need for love and affection. The song “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” probably didn’t have trafficking in mind but the principle is the same. At a crucial time during childhood, someone let her know that the only affection she would receive was if she gave her physical self to them. What we usually don’t realize is that she gave a part of her soul as well. That person was a trafficker, buying and selling her as a child. Because once that message is seated in her soul by an original buyer, she will now be for sale, still looking for love and affection. Sometimes, because of the anger, she doesn’t seem to be looking for love and affection but the core message is “Please love me!” or “Please accept me!” Sometimes another person controls the sale and sometimes she makes the agreement, but always, her conscious self has no control.
We have found 3 scenarios that propel women into trafficking:
The first is the child from the family that is not stable, where emotional needs are not met. This happens not because the parents do not love the child but because they do not know how to live out love for the child (because of their own wounds).
The second scenario is the family that is stable most of the time but a crisis happens: divorce, death, loss of a job, etc. The parents are working so hard to recover their own lives that the child is left to fend for him/herself. In either of these scenarios the child is vulnerable to anyone who shows love and that is what a trafficker does at the beginning – to lure a child into the trap.
The third scenario is the woman who married without marketable skills, never worked and her spouse even took care of the family finances. If the relationship ends, she has no way to earn a living, to take control of her life; and she turns to men.
Thank you for joining us here at the Lisieux Community. Our first residents moved into our first house (pictured here!) in August 2014. I want to extend an invitation for you to walk along with us.
What our Board of Directors has found is that we are not here to change anyone other than ourselves. As we have built the organization, we have learned about heartbreaking things as well as seeing strength and resilience that we’ve never seen before. In other words, we are not the same people who started a year and four months ago. As we change, so do our interactions with others.
We are providing a house where four women will be safe as they learn to live life in a new way. Most women do not choose to participate in prostitution and, because of the limits of that lifestyle, they haven’t learned to care for themselves in a healthy way. We will share a little bit about the people and organizations who are working together to provide opportunities for the women to grow. We will also share some of the tools we are using.
Get ready to rejoice with us as milestones are reached and maybe cry with us when life is difficult. Above all, we ask for your prayers as we move forward.
Some of the art work found in our Memphis house represents the journey the women in our program will take – from lost dreams to looking for something greater to being a person that others envy.
The piece above, called “reachin’ for something gr8er – reachin’ for a better day” was created by Memphis artist Frankd Robinson using “found objects.” The woman is looking at her heart which is in her hand. This is the work we do in our program: looking deep inside.
Photo by Taro Yamasaki.