Completing the Picture

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We’ve recently shared photos on Facebook of the beautiful bedroom makeovers that some of our generous supporters provided this summer. Having lovely things in a neat and orderly environment is important for our residents. It shows them that they are important and treasured, that they are loved with no strings attached. It shows them that we have their best interest at heart.

But you must understand that those pieces of furniture in the picture are not just beds. Each bed is a place of peace for a woman whose life on the streets was frightening and chaotic. Each bed is a place of safety for a woman who had previously been subjected to abuse and exploitation. Each bed is a place of shelter from the elements for a woman who has spent nights in the bug-infested heat of a Memphis summer or the bone-chilling cold of winter.  Each bed is a place of uninterrupted rest for a woman who may not have slept two hours straight in years. Each of those beds represents freedom, comfort, wellbeing, joy, and sometimes life itself. We want you to see and know that Lisieux is first and foremost a home. It is a place of companionship without exploitation. It is a place of healing and hope. It is a place of learning and growth. It is a place of building trust and friendship. It is a refuge for those who are wearier than you can ever imagine.

Yet something important is missing. We need a full-time paid social worker who is dedicated to the care of Lisieux residents and who will focus her attention on helping our women achieve the goal of self-sufficiency. We need someone who is trained to recognize the underlying causes of each resident’s particular struggles and to identify the resources that each one needs. Although we have access to specialized counselors from local organizations who work with our residents to resolve specific issues, we have come to realize that profound healing cannot be accomplished through a series of one-hour appointments. It takes a trained professional who can consistently spend time building a relationship with each woman to help her work through the complex range of issues from her past that threaten her future. We truly believe this is what will benefit our residents most.

Will you partner with us in raising enough money to employ a full-time social worker? We have accomplished much already: four of our former residents who keep in touch remain free from their former way of life, and all of them are working—one has her dream job, and another has held the same job for more than 15 months. One former resident is married, and one has been reunited with her sister. Help us complete the picture and provide even more consistent care for all who follow them.

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Healing and Hope

One of the things we’ve learned in ministry with the residents of Lisieux is that because trauma takes place in the context of unhealthy relationships, healing can only occur within the context of healthy relationships. Everyone in our community—from board members to volunteers to donors to the residents themselves—is committed to fostering the kinds of relationships where healing can occur. We always know that each resident will leave eventually, but our hope is that during their time with us we are able to help them develop the skills and mindset that they need to survive. We also pray that when they decide to go, they are leaving for a good reason and with a good plan.

We have reached that point with Mary, who has been with us for almost a year now. She has spent her time with us wisely, making good use of the resources we provide and developing friendships not only within the Lisieux Community, but also among the community of faith at the church she attends. While she worked and prayed and healed and hoped, God was preparing an opportunity for her to have a nice home and a good job, but better still, to be restored to a relationship with her family. For Mary, this is truly a dream come true.

While we will miss having her at the residence, we couldn’t be happier for her. It has been a blessing for all of us to see how she has blossomed over the past year, and we can’t wait to see her continue to grow in grace. This weekend, our board of directors, volunteers, and staff gathered at the residence to celebrate her transition back into the larger community. She will never be far from our hearts and our prayers, and she knows that we are only a phone call away. Though we may not see her every day, she is still a beloved member of the Lisieux Community.

Mary is deeply grateful to every supporter and friend of Lisieux for your love, kindness, and generosity. You made it possible for her to reach this milestone. How does it feel to know that you are helping these precious women build a better future for themselves than they could ever have imagined? You may say, “Oh, it was nothing.” But we at Lisieux would beg to differ. To us, your support is everything. Thank you.

Photo by Cindy Putnam McMillion

Photo by Cindy Putnam McMillion

A Labor of Love

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you may already know that our community has recently lost two of our former residents a few days apart. Lindsay had left the residence about 18 months ago, but she remained in touch, and we rejoiced with her over every accomplishment. She had a rewarding job and had recently married the love of her life. Wendy was with us for only six months, but her enthusiasm was infectious, and her inquisitiveness was unstoppable. She also had a job, and more importantly a church where she was accepted and respected. She loved—and was loved by—the community of women who surrounded her. This mutual love and respect inspired growth in Wendy and in everyone who knew her. Both Lindsey and Wendy had found a significant amount of healing.

Yet all of these benefits were not enough to conquer the insidious disease of addiction.

At such times, there are more questions than answers. Some might ask whether there is any point in continuing the work that we do at Lisieux. But the real question is, was the Lisieux Community a place of growth for Lindsey and Wendy? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. We grieve over their death, and we rejoice in the healing that they had experienced. Neither of them died in the horror of trafficking. Both were working hard and using the resources needed to continue in recovery. They had made great strides since first coming to us, and we choose to focus on their many successes.

Some might also ask if this task is too great for us. While we would be negligent if we did not take time to reassess our approach after these events, we are confident that our program offers the resources needed to put the women on the road to recovery. Through cooperation with other organizations, we provide excellent resources for health care, specialized counseling, 12-step meetings, coping skills, and spiritual growth. The one change we would make is to have a full-time social worker to help each woman identify the source of her woundedness and ensure we are making the best use of those resources.

We have no illusions that we can heal anyone. What we can do is offer each woman the opportunities and make ourselves available to walk alongside our residents in their journey toward healing and hope. Each woman who comes to us has deep wounds, but she does not have to deal with them alone.

IMG_1270Before Wendy died, she had started crocheting an afghan, but she completed only a few inches. One of her many friends found it and decided to complete it. Pictured at right is this beautiful work in progress. That is the same choice we have made as a community. We will continue this work to honor all of the women who are or have been residents at Lisieux, and to be here for those who will need us in the future. We will continue crafting a community of love, for that is a powerful defense against the sorrow of this world.

We invite you to continue walking with us on this journey.

On the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux

In my research for educational material to post to Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks, I’ve located information about countless organizations throughout the world that work to eradicate human trafficking. These organizations operate at the local, regional, national, and international levels to identify and arrest traffickers, to support survivors and their families, and to educate the public on how to spot traffickers and their victims. Truckers, airlines, health care agencies, hotel chains, universities—and the list goes on—have all joined in the fight against this terrible evil that robs its victims of their dignity, their health, their peace of mind, and most of all, their freedom. Movies such as Taken illustrate how pervasive this crime has become and how devastating its consequences on victims and their families.

I am concerned that we may experience information overload and become numb to the suffering of our fellow humans. We may think that the problem is so large that we can do nothing worthwhile. We may despair because we do not have the money to make large donations or the stamina to join physically in the efforts to bring traffickers to justice or the time to walk beside survivors in their journey back to health and life.

I am also concerned that we may become complacent and fail to help because we think such a thing could never happen to us or to our family. However, no one is immune to being preyed upon. While it is true that those who were abused as children are more likely to become victims of trafficking, it is also true that young women who were never abused are duped into this life by job offers that seem genuine. Besides, everyone who needs your help is your neighbor. It breaks my heart that women are being exploited around the world, and I rejoice every time one of them is rescued.

That is why we must all join in this fight wherever we can, whenever we can, as we have the means to do so.

Encouragement to do loving deeds to the glory of God and the good of humankind is the enduring message of St Thérèse of Lisieux:

  • I am the smallest of creatures and I recognize my worthlessness, but I also know how hearts that are generous and noble love to do good.
  • You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
  • Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

Today, October 1, on the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux, may we renew our efforts to do what we can to support the victims of trafficking. What “smallest right” thing will you do today to rescue victims and turn them into survivors?

If you are able, consider that “smallest right” thing to be a donation to The Lisieux Community to help our residents continue to survive and thrive. Any amount that you can give will be gratefully received and wisely used.

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Life Skills

To ensure that our residents learn to be self-sufficient before graduation, we help them to develop life skills, a broad term that includes any skill that enables a person to function well on a daily basis. One such skill is that of making informed choices about the use of available resources.

Although life skills can be taught in a classroom, some information can best be learned in a practical setting. For example, weekly grocery shopping trips provide an opportunity for learning how to work within a budget to select enough nutritious food for three meals a day until the next shopping trip. Success at this venture requires a good deal of planning and discipline, and if we’re honest, most of us do not achieve this goal every week, especially when prices fluctuate, familiar products are unavailable, or our household circumstances change.

Therefore, when two new residents were added to the house a few weeks ago, the regular shopping list was no longer sufficient. The available funds had increased, but so had the need, and the first grocery purchase after their arrival went over the targeted total. But after a few gentle reminders of how to shop on a budget, the women made conscientious selections during their next shopping trip and were delighted to find that their total was well under budget. Groceries were loaded into the car to the joyful sound of cheering.

This kind of victory is both the evidence of and the motivation for continued transformation. Learning life skills empowers our residents, and that makes us want to cheer right along with them.

Worth the Effort

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.

“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.” Greg Boyle

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!