Why Don’t They Just Do Better?

We are extremely grateful to all of you who “get” what we are doing and why we do it. Donors continue to shower us with food and supplies, and volunteers not only help distribute the items to our women, but stay for a while to offer a smile and a listening ear.

But not everyone recognizes the wisdom in showing up week after week to serve most of the same women. Some who hear about our work ask questions that begin with these four words: Why don’t they just …?

Here are a few examples.

  • Why don’t they just get treatment for their addiction?
  • Why don’t they just go to a homeless shelter?
  • Why don’t they just go live with a family member?
  • Why don’t they just get a job and stop prostituting themselves?

To offer such simplistic solutions is to disregard the enormous complexity of the problems that weigh our women down. Addiction, homelessness, prostitution, isolation, and lack of self-worth are only symptoms. No permanent change can occur until a woman is ready and able to address the root cause of these symptoms, which most often is trauma. And they will never be ready or able until they trust those who can offer them holistic, lasting solutions.

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We can’t count that high

We are sometimes asked how many times a woman may visit our planned drop-in center before we would turn her away because she hasn’t made any effort to leave the streets. Our response is that we can’t count that high. We refuse to set a limit because every woman’s situation is different, and some need longer than others to start the path toward healing. Some may never be able to make that move. Regardless, we are convinced that our efforts to show these women real love by meeting some of their basic needs is the right thing to do.

Even without the drop-in center, we have been able to build trust over the past few months, and a few women have decided to trust us enough to get the help they need. But most of them are still on the streets. Nevertheless, we cannot and will not rush the process. It takes as long as it takes.

Last Thursday, we found out one of our women had been attacked. Thankfully, she showed up before our visit was over, so her injuries were not life-threatening, but one of the other women got upset that her sister on the street had been hurt, and she became loud. Yet we continued to treat her with love and kindness. We know that when the women act out, it is the trauma talking—or yelling or screaming or crying. Our hearts break that our women have to endure such pain. Yet we must also say that we have never seen more resilient souls. They are grateful for whatever we provide. They smile and laugh despite the pain, and when they ask us to pray with them, it is a sweet moment of hope like no other we have ever experienced.

Please continue to pray with us for these precious souls whose eternal worth gives us joy, even as we grieve for their situation. Please give whatever you are able so that we can open the drop-in center, where we will be better able to meet their needs.

Thank you.

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NIMBY

By Sandra Ferrell, Executive Director, The Lisieux Community

I have always preferred the winter to the summer. We can add on clothes, coats, and blankets to help warm us in winter. In summer, we can take off a certain amount of clothes but even if we stripped, we would not be cool if the temperature outside was hot. I have always had a hard time when it is extremely hot. I begin to sweat, get dizzy and my legs get weak.

My mind today keeps going back to our visit on the streets Thursday night with the women we serve. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a line of people next to the building that had an overhang of about 18 inches. Some were sitting on milk crates, a couple with a lawn chair and some were standing. The women had on shorts and t-shirts pulled up from the waist to right under their breasts. I believe the heat index was slightly over 100 degrees.

We parked and got out, and immediately the women came to the car. We stood and talked after we gave out sandwiches and water. Within just a few minutes, I began to feel uncomfortable, so I sat on the back bumper of the car. I eliminated the danger of falling over but did not feel any better. Trisha Henderson, our Survivor Advocate, had gone to the store and picked up washcloths so the women could wipe their faces. They stood around us and talked.

One woman who I will call Susan said some hard things about her circumstances. She got loud and used words that are not easy to hear. Some years ago I would have been frightened. But I know this woman and I know she is full of love for everyone and just had to vent. One of the other women came to her and began to sing and dance and there was laughter, even though no one had planned it. Susan’s posture raised and she seemed much lighter after leaving the painful words behind her. I looked at the faces of the other women who came with us; they also honored Susan by letting her get the pain out of her heart.

Another woman I will call Betty always comes up offering a hug and I always accept it and thank her. She laughs when I thank her. Last night, when I thanked her, she said, “You’re awesome!” Then she asked for prayer. She said people don’t want her to be like she is but she has to be who she is and needs to be accepted. I do not know what about her is not accepted and I don’t need to know. Some of us, including the women she is with on the streets, held hands and I prayed. When I finished, I left room for others to pray and when no one did, Betty said, “in Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.”

When we are uncomfortable, we get real! Also, when we are with those we love, it is safe to be real.

Today I am so sad that these wonderful women must stay out in the heat all day. After about 40 minutes I got in the car and turned the air on. There was not room for all the women, and I felt guilty but I did not want to faint. We have dreamed of the drop-in center for many months. NOW is the time to recognize the necessity for the center.

house.pngIn the area where we meet the women, there are many homes listed on the “blighted property” list, but when I inquired of the nonprofit that holds title to them, the response I got was that the neighbors did not want to do that. Yet the women walk the streets there! I do not understand! There must be someone in the area with a suitable building who will be willing to say, “Welcome, Lisieux” instead of “Not in my back yard.”

Please pray for a house for us to open the drop-in center. Donate if you are able. Any amount helps, whether you have $1 or $50,000 to give. What can you do to offer hope to the women we serve?

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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.

A Better Story

“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.