Her Life – the true story of a working girl

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The following is a true story.

She grew up in foster care.  With no parents or close family to claim Her, She was shuffled from one house to the next, the faces of the foster families barely more than strangers before She was moved again.

She was pregnant at 16, struggling to carry her child while in a group home with other orphans. 

Although her existing family had written her off for the “choices” she made, there was an aunt who agreed to take her baby after it was born.  She handed off the precious child, hoping that his life would be better for it, even as the door was slammed in Her face.

She was alone.  With no support and no income at 16, shunned by her family, She believed She was worth nothing.  It was easy to say yes to the man with the smooth smile who said he would take care of Her in exchange for Her work on the street.

At first it seemed to be the ideal situation, She had a man in Her life now who loved Her and did what was best for Her.  She repeated this to Herself each night before the first john arrived. 

It wasn’t long before it became unbearable – the number of men increasing, the fear of what would happen if one of them got too violent, her first and second abortions, the unshakeable loneliness that came in the few quiet moments She let Herself feel. 

Drugs were the answer.  They numbed the pain and enabled Her to push through another night of work.  She thought She might die if She didn’t have them.  This was a half-life, a shadowed existence. 

When She became pregnant with twins, She didn’t cry.  She knew She would give them up, even to the same foster care system that broke Her heart and set the course of Her life as a scared child.  There was nothing else to do.  She couldn’t keep them and She had no family.

It wasn’t until she stumbled into the Salvation Army, one warm summer night, almost naked and strung out on drugs, just having suffered a rape, that someone tried to help Her by showing Her real love. 


“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”

– James 1:27 MSG


The Art of Celebration: a response

Dear Friends,

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kate, PR and Marketing Manager for Serenity’s Steps/That Grace Restored and author/editor of this blog.  I’m so happy that you are here today!  If you follow us on social media, you should have seen the below video posted this morning on Facebook and Twitter.  If you haven’t already watched it, I would encourage you to take the time to view it now.  It is well worth the seven minutes, and has prompted me to write this open letter of response:

When I first watched this video a few days ago, just before Easter, I thought “How appropriate to find this video right now, the perfect time to reflect on the sacrificial love of Jesus in His death on the cross and resurrection three days later!” Then I stopped.  Why is it that I am so prone to dwell on the glory and beauty of what God has done for me simply when it is convenient?  Why does my heart shrink back from celebration?

Zephaniah 3:17 says that God celebrates us:

“The Lord your God is with you,
  He is mighty to save.
  He will take great delight in you,
  He will quiet you with His love,
  He will rejoice over you with singing.”

In their video, Rend Collective portrays what I cannot here with words: The inexpressible and glorious joy that comes from a heart of true worship for the freedom found in Jesus.

I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood.  I didn’t face many external hardships growing up.  I had a loving family who supported me, a great education, and was actively involved in church.  But I still struggled with discontentment.  Inwardly, I was selfish and ungrateful.  I never went out of my way to help others, and when my parents forced me to it was always with a begrudging attitude.  Allowing myself to stay in this place caused me to miss out on the joy of showing sacrificial love to others.  I could not bring myself to receive the grace of Jesus and pour it back out in celebration.  

Today, I work for a non-profit whose basis is serving others, often when it is least convenient or comfortable.  How did I get here?  It would be a lie to say anything other than the slow changing and work of the Spirit in my life.  I went to school for Community Development which changed my view of other cultures, demographics, and causes of hardship for people.  I painfully and slowly was taught through friendships and one particularly difficult internship that my faith is not just for me.  My life is not just for me.

Now I work for an organization whose goal is to share the Gospel by living out the very sacrificial love I could never seem to grasp growing up.  If you’ve been reading the stories on this blog the last couple of weeks, you will have seen how desperately our women need tangible, emotional and spiritual outpourings of pure love into their lives. 

God has changed me.  I want to celebrate.  I want to love in the place I am called to be in life, which to be honest, isn’t where I expected.  If this video has touched even a small part of your heart, if any of his words made you think, if any of the vibrant imagery of the film made you consider your own life, if any of the music made your soul soar to new heights of joy like it did for me, please consider with me today: How can I share my joy in celebration with others?  How can I love sacrificially? 

Whether you believe you are called to love by supporting Serenity’s Steps/That Grace Restored or not is between you and God, and we will certainly never pressure you to do something you don’t think is from Him.  However, if you feel Him impressing on your heart today to become more involved, to step out of your comfort zone and have an impact on the very lives of the women you’ve been reading about in the past few blog posts, we welcome you with open arms! 

As we try to get our safe house up an running, as we seek to hire more women to work at That Grace Restored, as we ensure that we are able to pay our staff who make daily operations possible, we need financial support.  You can make a donation by clicking here.  If you can’t give financially, we have other, equally important ways for you to support us! Click here to view our volunteer and advocate options.

I’m so happy that you are joining us in supporting men and women in the commercial sex industry by following our developing missional story here, sharing about us with your family and friends, and assisting us with our current initiatives.  Today, let’s make a commitment together to love as Jesus loved and embrace the art of celebration.  

In Christ,

Kate

Love Conversations – Part 2

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Recap: Me: So I’m confused. You just said that you wouldn’t do anything to hurt yourself but are thinking of going back to a person that continually hurts you. Isn’t that, in effect, hurting yourself? 

Read the rest of Part 1 here.

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Her: No. Because he could change.

Me: You are saying that this time it could be different from last time?

Her: Right. Didn’t you tell me that Jesus said we are supposed to forgive 7 times 70 or something like that?

Me: You do pay attention when I talk!

Her: Sometimes.

Me: Good! I guess I’m not talking in vain all the time! Yes. That’s what Jesus says, but let’s say you forgive Eric this time. Forgiveness is something you do on your part. It doesn’t change anything about the other person. So Eric could still be an abusive person even after you forgive him and to go back to him would still put you in a harmful situation.

Here is my chance. It’s time to see if she is ready to see the truth.

Me: So, do you have any evidence that Eric has changed? It’s only been a week. Is that enough time to determine if someone has made a big change like that?

Her: Well, not really.

Me: Since you really don’t know if he’s changed, you can’t be sure that you aren’t putting yourself in a hurtful situation, can you?

Her: I guess not, but I still love him.

Me: I get that, but the question you have to answer is who do love more. If you love yourself like you say you do, then you wouldn’t put yourself in a situation in which you are likely to get hurt, right?

Her: I hate it when you do this to me.

Me: Whatever do you mean?

Her: Don’t start that again!

****

I have similar conversations to this one with many of the women with whom we work at Serenity’s Steps.  Many have come from abusive homes, unhealthy relationships and bear the scars of being used and exploited by men in the sex industry.  As a result, their view of true love is often skewed, and the process of helping to change their mentality is most often long and hard. Many women who leave the life struggle not to enter into relationships where they are treated poorly, mistaking attention, desire or even manipulation for love.  Slowly, together, we work to make progress. As we enter Easter weekend, when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus in the purest act of selfless love, please join us in praying for the women who need nothing more than to experience this love in its fullest extent.  

Leroy Lamar – Executive Director, Serenity’s Steps



Love Conversations

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I am met by the smell of strong-brewed coffee as I step off the sidewalk and into the neighborhood coffee shop in South Atlanta.  My eyes adjust to the light for a minute as I take in the scene before me.  Community residents buzz in and out, some lingering with their coffee to talk to one another, some rushing on their way to catch the bus.  Others browse the newly displayed selection of shoes in the attached thrift store as their children stare wistfully at the toys.

I see Her then and walk to join Her.

She slumps down into the booth.
Me: Good morning, Sleepyhead. How are you?

Her: I’m tired! You know I hate staying at my cousin’s house. Every time I’m there, I have to sleep on the floor and her little bad kids jump all over me.

Me: What happened to you staying with your boyfriend, Eric?

Her: Why did you have to say boyfriend like that?

Me: Whatever do you mean?

 I feign innocence and take a moment to gauge her reaction.

Her: See. You play too much. I know you don’t like him. Real talk, I don’t like him too much either right now. That’s why I’m not at his place.

Me: So what happened this time?

Her: The same thing that happened last time and the time before that. We got into an argument, he put his hands on me, I took my stuff and left. Look at this bruise on my leg.

Me: Yeah. That looks nasty. When did this happen?

Her: About a week ago.

Me: Are you done this time?

Her: Well…

Me: You are thinking of going back, huh?

Inwardly, I breathe a sigh of frustration.  We have had this conversation many times.  I lift up a quick prayer that maybe this time it will finally click with her that she is experiencing abuse and not love.

Her: You just don’t get it. I love him so much! He means so much to me!

Me: Wait a minute? I didn’t say anything. I just asked if you were thinking of going back.

Her: You didn’t have to say anything. I know how you think.

Me: You do, huh?

Her: You don’t want me and Eric to be together. You’ve never wanted us together.

Me: That’s right. But why?

Her: Because you think he’s bad for me.

Me: Isn’t he?

Her: No.

Me: Yeah, right. Okay, let’s start over. A minute ago you said you loved Eric. What do you mean by love?

Her: You know. Love. Being willing to do anything for somebody. Caring for that person. Can’t live without them type stuff.

Me: So if Eric said, “Hey, Baby. If you love me you would throw this hot coffee in my face,” you would do it?

Her: See. You are stupid. You know I wouldn’t do that.

Me: But you said that love means doing anything for the other person. Throwing hot coffee in someone’s face is one thing you could do.

Her: You know that’s not what I meant. Love doesn’t mean hurting the other person. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt the person I loved.

Me: So, for you, love means being willing to do anything for anyone except hurting them.

Her: There you go. What do you think of that?

Me: I kinda agree, but let me ask you another question. So, given your definition of love, would you say that you love yourself?

Her: What kind of question is that? Of course I love me!

Me: So you would do anything for yourself except hurt yourself?

Her: Yup.

Me: So I’m confused. You just said that you wouldn’t do anything to hurt yourself but are thinking of going back to a person that continually hurts you. Isn’t that, in effect, hurting yourself?

****

Check back tomorrow to read the conclusion of the love conversation!



Her Story – an interview with a former working girl

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She is 32.  The following is an excerpt of an interview I had the privilege of conducting with Her about her time spent living with Leroy and Janelle Lamar, founders of Serenity’s Steps.

How old were you when you got into the life and what brought you into the life?
“I was 29…did it for a year.  It turned me into an alcoholic because I was trying to numb myself and I started drinking. [I was] trying to find a job and couldn’t find one…one of my homegirls told me about a quick way to make some money.  She asked me if I knew about Backpage and I said no and she said you can set yourself up on there and people will call you and you do house calls.  At first I liked it because it was fast money, but when I met my boyfriend he wanted me to stop so I stopped. “

How did you feel when you came out of the life?
“I knew I was degrading myself and I knew that now I didn’t have to deal with sleeping with people anymore.  Some of the girls Leroy works with were doing it for years, and I wasn’t and I felt good because of that.  I was trying to get out of the life but having my boyfriend to help me definitely helped me.  Once you do it it’s not easy to stop, but I ain’t gonna lie I still think about doing it if I need something or if my mom calls me and says she needs something.  But I don’t. It’s a hard thing to stop.  If it was hard for me to stop after a year I can’t imagine how hard it is for these girls that have been doing it for years.” 

What are the biggest things that hold a woman back from leaving the life?
“The money.  Because you need it, and because you see how quick it comes.  Being in the life, you get paid everyday.  You’re not waiting til Friday or every two weeks.  I thank the Lord that I never had any problems with anyone I was with.  But you have to think about that.  The whole time I was doing it I would think ‘Please don’t let this man try to kill me, please don’t let him try to rob me.’”

How did you meet Leroy?
[Leroy and a co-worker drove to Her hotel to talk with Her after being tipped off by a friend who was also working in prostitution.] “I liked talking to Leroy because he is easy to talk to and not judgmental. Leroy always tries to make sure I’m straight.”

When did you start living with Leroy and Janelle?
“It was just about a month after I decided to leave the life. I was living with my mom but we got into it and she kicked me out, and Leroy offered for me to stay with him and Janelle.”

What was your experience like living with them? 
“I loved staying with them. I could sit down and talk to [Leroy] about anything. Every time I told him I need him he’s always there for me.  It was just like family, they didn’t treat me like I was just out there in the street doing something no one had any business doing.  They mean the world to me.  Especially because his wife knew what I had been doing and she still felt comfortable with me being there and that meant the world to me.  She always had conversations with me no problem.  She never treated me like I was a prostitute.”

Were you dependent on alcohol when you went to live with them?  Did they help you with that addiction?
“Yes.  My drinking had got to the point where I had to drink before I ate anything.  It was all beer, even at 7 in the morning.  I was trying to get into different programs and telling the truth [about my situation] but a lot of the programs weren’t willing to take me. Living with Leroy and Janelle is like detox, but in a good way.  It was like a loving conversation.  Leroy and I would sit down and have a conversation, and then Janelle and I would sit down and talk, and we would talk about me slowing down on drinking.  They gave me a limit.  It was kind of hard, I was going through a withdrawal but it helped to have them there for me through it.  And I respected them to stick to their limit. Even now, I still drink but I drink less.  They helped me maintain a lower level.”

What was good for you/encouraging about living with them?
“They didn’t judge me.  They didn’t look at me like I was in the life.  They treated me with respect and like a person.  They helped me with whatever I needed to do and stuck with it.  That’s why I loved them to death.  Anything they had and I needed it, they gave it to me no problem.” 

How does having safe housing affect a woman’s ability to leave the life?
“To me if you know someone who is trying to get out but is really not committed to it it’s gonna be hard.  Because you can’t have a cell phone and you can’t have guys come visit you and some girls aren’t ok with that.  And when I went to look for some programs and you are telling the truth about where you really are, some of them have problems with that.  Which is why I stuck with Leroy.  Staying with Leroy and Janelle and having them invest in me and treat me like family really helped me to say ‘Yes I can do this, I’m not going back to the life.’  One of my homegirls that was in the life, I gave her Leroy’s number because I know he’s a good person and not gonna put you down.” I had always been telling him he needs to get his own building.  You gotta have the girl feel like she’s a part of the family.

What would you say are the most important things a woman needs to have in order to leave the life?
“For a lot of girls its hard because they’ve had abuse growing up. A lot of girls keep doing it because they really don’t have nowhere to go.  It just has to be a good support system and no one looking down on them and talking to them like they’re just a girl selling their body.”

To learn more about our safe housing initiative visit www.serenityssteps.org.