Know Your Story: when authenticity yields empowerment 


Earlier this week I read an article on how your ownership of your own story   impacts the way you intentionally act as part of the solution to a problem.  It resonated with me, so I decided to take a little time to address this topic specifically as it relates to living in relationship with women in the sex industry. 

At Serenity’s Steps, we place great emphasis on a person’s story.  Story is comprised of several facets; a timeline of events of your life, mistakes you have made, triumphs you’ve achieved, things you’ve learned, events you’ve witnessed, truths or lies you’ve been told, and feelings you’ve experienced.  Then there is your worldview, how you interpret and process these life happenings.  Your family, friends, coworkers and beliefs influence your story.

 Some of us have a harder time talking about our story, or even thinking about it.  We’ve endured pain and abuse, or maybe even inflicted it on others and now we’re learning how to be someone new.  Others of us have joyful memories, a collection of wisdom and positive perspective on life.

Whatever your story, it is important to know it, because it informs how you think about your role in the solution to our world’s problems.

Here are four ways our stories are vital to the mutual empowerment of others and ourselves:

 1.    Knowing our own story helps us identify why we connect with specific issues.

It has been said that no one can do everything at once.  I have found this to be absolutely true.  I have also discovered in my recruiting of Serenity’s Steps advocates, volunteers and donors that in order to get someone on board with a cause and to have them really commit to being involved, they have to connect personally.  Whether someone chooses to get involved with us because they’ve worked in the sex industry, they’ve had family who were sexually abused or exploited, they live in our community or they simply have a daughter and can’t imagine what they would feel if she was in the same shoes, our truly dedicated supporters connect personally. Knowing your own story can help you both to find the cause with which you truly identify, making you more likely to be actively involved, and help you relate more deeply to the people whom you are serving.  How does your story connect to ours?  There are no wrong answers, but I encourage you to dig deep!

2.    Knowing our own story helps us determine what we have to offer.

Taking an intentional inventory of your “assets” – skills, experience and talents – to determine what we have to offer to others is important!  This helps you and the organization or population you are serving determine where you best fit. For effective ministry, it is vital to have people in the right roles.  Some examples of different volunteer roles with Serenity’s Steps are listed here.  Even if you don’t see an opportunity that’s a “fit” for you, analyze your assets and talk to us about finding out where you belong!

3. Knowing others’ stories helps us build real relationships.

The first thing you do when you meet someone new is ask simple questions to get to know them.  When developing an authentic relationship with a woman in the sex industry, you may feel uncomfortable asking anything deeper than surface questions.  It is necessary and right to know that you be sensitive to their stories.  However, opening up about yourself and taking a genuine interest in all aspects of their lives – what really makes them who they are – will open doors to a real friendship, no matter how long it takes or if they never open up to you about being a former working girl. 

4.    Knowing others’ stories helps us recognize what other people have to offer.

Not only is it important to know what we can offer another person, we have to know what they can offer us too!  As I’ve said in a previous blog post, this felt offensive to me at first because I believed I was here to serve women exiting the sex industry.  Now I realize I am here to help and support them, but they are also here to help and support me.  Our assets may not look the same, but they are equally valuable.  Take some time to do an inventory of the assets of the people whom you serve.  What skills, experiences, talents and passions do they have that can assist or encourage you?  Faithful giving must be paired with grateful and intentional receiving.

When we embrace the fact that our story is an integral part of shaping both who we are as individuals and who we are in relationship, we are free to dive deeper into true transparency and authenticity in our love and empowerment of one another. 

Contributed by Kate McGaughey, PR & Marketing Manager, Serenity’s Steps 

Why I need to receive from those to whom I give

A couple of weeks ago some of our team had the opportunity to go through the Dignity Serves training offered by our friends at Polis Institute.  While I would have to write several blog posts to give a synopsis of all that we talked about, I do want to share one thing that struck me deeply.  Receiving is just as important as giving.

To start, I have to give a little background.  The Dignity Serves curriculum is designed to help people foster authentic relationships with one another, particularly those choosing to live in a cross-cultural context which is often also low-income.  As you know, that’s how Serenity’s Steps was started.  Leroy and Janelle moved into a low-income neighborhood in Atlanta and recognized the importance of these two-way street relationships – pure and genuine in the fact that they did not look down on the women on their street for working in prostitution, or their neighbors for having a lower net worth.  In fact, they recognized that there was much they could learn and receive from them.  Serenity’s Steps has operated off of this philosophy ever since in our relationship development with the women with whom we work.     

Now, back to the idea that receiving is just as important as giving.  Is it really?  This is a concept that almost offended me at first.  I haven’t always had the most humble or servant-like heart.  I will admit that I have often been begrudging to go out of my way to do something for someone else.  However, I did at least have the good sense to know that serving someone else is MUCH more important than receiving anything for yourself.  This is Christianity 101 isn’t it?  After all, Jesus gave Himself up completely for us in the ultimate sacrifice and we are to live our lives after His example.

Jesus did give up everything for us.  However, He also received from God the Father.  Often the gospels talk about Jesus walking away alone in the morning to pray and be with His Father.  Recharging and receiving from Him.  In Paul’s New Testament writings, he speaks to the idea of healthy Christian relationships being interdependent by both giving and receivingfrom one another (Philippians 4:14-20).

Dignity Serves says “Unless we allow ourselves to be truly served by Christ and truly cared for by others, the sacrifices we are called to make will be intolerable.” For those like me who work in a field where our job is to pour into others on a daily basis, the idea of giving can be draining, but we press on because it’s what we feel we need to do.  For those who volunteer or who simply make it a practice to live a life of generously giving to others, it is easy to burn out if we’re not simultaneously receiving.

Here’s where it gets radical.  Not only are we to receive from our family, friends and co-workers, not only are we to receive from God (although these things are all vital) but we are to receive from the people we make it a practice to serve.  We give to and receive from the same people.

For some of us, this is a simple no-brainer.  I envy you and praise God for you.  For me, my pride often gets in the way.  At the Dignity Serves seminar, I felt a tug at my heart for this very reason.  I need to receive.  The Lord has redeemed my heart for giving, and now I am wrestling with Him over what it means to be redeemed for receiving.  In my human control-freak, prideful flesh, I want to be the one who is always there for everyone else, and in my life have only let a select few in to be support in my vulnerability.

I am learning to let that go.  I am learning to let the women I work with in.  To ask them to pray for me.  To analyze their assets and skills, and to recognize that they can offer me help when I need it.  To listen to the life experiences and wisdom of people I meet who I might initially have overlooked or written off.

I’ll finish with this quote, and with a challenge.  “We are not called to produce change, we are called to love others and trust in God’s promises to heal and make all things new.”  This includes the healing and making new of ourselves, of others, and collectively as a community. 

Today, ask yourself three questions:

1.     How am I enjoying my dependence on God?

2.     Who am I committed to both serving and learning from?

3.     Who will I ask for help? (This could be anything from asking for prayer, to mow your lawn, babysit your kids, or to provide emotional support in a hard time)

I would love to hear your input on these thoughts.  We’re all on this journey together.  Leave a comment below!

Contributed by Kate McGaughey – PR & Marketing Manager, Serenity’s Steps.