3 Relationships We Should Resolve to Strengthen in 2015

‘Tis the season for resolutions.  Optimism is in the air.  The new year is just around the corner and after we’re done toasting with our champagne and hitting the New Year’s Day sales we’ll probably all see each other at the local gym signing up for memberships. 

Goals are motivating.  Change is hard.

So how do we stay strong and press on until we achieve?  How do we keep our resolutions from getting lost in the busyness of a new year? 

What I have found to be the most helpful thing when trying to stay motivated to make a change in my life is to have someone walking alongside me – encouraging me and cheering me on, participating in my journey with me.

Each day at Serenity’s Steps, we see women fighting to make changes in their lives.  Changes that seem nearly impossible after a life of trauma, poverty, struggle and survival-mode decision making. 

While we must all take ownership of the things we want to change, we cannot do it alone.  This is why we at Serenity’s Steps put so much emphasis on doing life together through authentic relationship, on walking alongside our women as they work to make hard changes. 

This is why we need help too.

Knowing of my acute need for community, I’ve come up with a short list of 3 relationships I’m going to work to strengthen this year.  I hope you’ll join me!

1.    Build relationships with people who have wisdom and guidance to offer.

The wisest person is the one who is not afraid to keep learning, no matter how much he or she knows.  We should be intentional about looking for people who have already been down the road we are now traveling.  Whether our goals or struggles are spiritual, emotional, mental or physical, seeking mentors to walk with us and encourage us along the way means the difference between giving up and growing as a person.

2.    Intentionally invest in people you would rather overlook.

Let’s be honest, our desires are frequently based in discontentment.  We are often tempted not to invest in other people because we know we are already busy, have people we would rather spend time with or maybe we just plain find the idea of giving of our time and love to “needy” people exhausting.  However, when we go out of our way to get to know and give back to people we wouldn’t normally spend time with, our eyes are opened.  We learn their story, we become grateful for what we have, and we become grateful for the things that person teaches us simply because their life experience is different than ours. 

3.    Actively participate in your current close relationships.

Relationships that have been around forever are typically those that we ignore first when we’re feeling too busy, too tired or too selfish.  Our spouse, children, siblings, parents, best friends and church family often get left to the wayside when life gets hectic because “they know I love them!” Our nearest and dearest do know we love them, just like we know they love us, but we can take it a step further.  I recently found out that a friend who has built into me for years was going through a tough time and no one was there for her to even ask her how she was doing.  People were so used to taking from her giving spirit, that they forgot she needed to be reminded that they care about her too. Be active and present, even in the little things in your close relationships.  Small kindnesses add up to make a huge difference. 

This New Year, I am resolving to work on strengthening these three areas of relationship in my life.  I know that with a network of caring, wise and honest people around me, making changes and reaching goals will be that much easier, because I have a strong framework of interdependent support.  Will you resolve to strengthen your relationships too? 

By Kate McGaughey


What Christmas means to us this year: from the Serenity’s Steps team

Picture

Dear Friends, 

As we enter into this Christmas season, we are perhaps struck deeper than most years with a desire for “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  Recent events in our country have caused deep pain in the hearts of many as we struggle to understand, to love one another, and to enact justice moving forward. We long for Immanuel, God with us.
 
At Serenity’s Steps, we walk alongside women who have endured deep hardship in their lives.  They have faced abuse, neglect and desperation, making decisions no one should have to make. But their stories don’t end there.  We have seen firsthand how the community they have found with the staff, board members and volunteers at Serenity’s Steps has brought back life.  The support of people who view them like family has encouraged, motivated and reaffirmed their dignity and hope for the future.
 
We all need the healing that true community brings.  We need to join our stories together in order for true change to happen.
 
This Christmas, let’s learn to listen. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we need to take a step back, lay down our agendas and our desire to be heard and really, selflessly allow ourselves to empathize with and understand others. 
 
Once we begin the practice of authentic listening we begin to understand each other’s stories. It’s easy to run away from what seems like confrontation, but honest conversation is a tool that facilitates mutual respect and authentic relationship.  Creating space for dialogue is the pathway to understanding how to best support and love one another.
 
Finally, let’s take the new perspective we have gained and put it into practice.  This will look different for each of us. Maybe your conversations prompt you to reach out to a group of people you never thought you would have a relationship with.  Maybe you’ll bring the girl on the corner of Metropolitan Parkway a hot coffee and start a conversation with her.
 
At the end of the day, we have learned that community heals.  For those of us who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, we have a clear picture of what being a true gospel community looks like.  We are free to repent of our sin toward each other, to be forgiven and to live out the love and grace lavished on us to others. 
 
Many of you have helped us be community for the women we serve at Serenity’s Steps. You have joined your stories with ours as volunteers, donors, Stitched participants or emotional and spiritual support. We appreciate you.  We are thankful and we love you for supporting us as we help women step out of the sex industry.
 
Because you are our family, we feel we can be honest this Christmas about our financial needs as an organization. At this point, we need to raise $24,690 more in donations to reach our $30,000 end of year fundraising goal, which will allow us to keep operating for the first three months of 2015. 
 
We believe that God has called us to offer support to women stepping out of the sex industry through authentic relationships, needs and skills assessments and life opportunities like our employment and vocational development program through That Grace Restored.  Please consider partnering with us this season by donating personally or encouraging friends and family to give to help us keep facilitating a community that heals for women who have been exploited in the sex industry.
 
Thank you for your love and your heart for being the hands and feet of the gospel to our women and to us.
 
Merry Christmas!
 
The Serenity’s Steps Team



Why fighting sexual exploitation is about community and not a cause  

Many of us have been drawn in by the words “sex trafficking”, “modern day slavery” and “commercial sexual exploitation.”  We know that these terms signify the abuse of human rights and are often quickly filled with compassion for the victims and a desire to be a part of the fight to end sex trafficking.

We join groups on Facebook, tweet stats from the latest studies on trafficking and maybe even rally the Wednesday night Bible study to make gift baskets to send to women who have been “rescued”.  These small steps through which we stand up for those who are often voiceless in society are valuable.  They raise awareness, and through volunteer opportunities, we even show women directly affected by these atrocities that we care about them.

But I would argue that as a society, as a community within Atlanta and as human beings that we have a call to go deeper.  In recent weeks, a call has risen across our nation to recognize and empathize with the pain the African American community has felt as a result of oppression and discrimination that is an irreversible part of our history.  We should answer that call.  We have an opportunity, as I talked about in last week’s post, to come together as a community that heals.  

At Serenity’s Steps, we extend that call to empathize and to recognize the stories of women who have been exploited sexually by family members and strangers alike, who have faced poverty, experienced tragedy and faced severely broken relationships with people who were meant to love them unconditionally but never did.  

We believe that young girls don’t wake up one day and decide to be prostitutes.  We know from experience at Serenity’s Steps that every sex worker has a story.   

When Leroy and Janelle moved to Southwest Atlanta from their suburban neighborhood in Stone Mountain in 2006, they didn’t intend to get to know the women that worked the street corners near their house.  They wanted to help clean the neighborhood up by partnering with law enforcement and ridding the area of drug dealers, petty crime and prostitution.

But then something transformative happened.  They were moved to take the community they enjoyed by having dinner with their close friends 6 nights a week to their neighbors – by hosting a weekly Sunday night cookout called “Prayer and Hotdogs.” Anyone was invited, and people came. 

It didn’t take long to hear the stories.  Stories of real people, who through life’s circumstances had found themselves in a place of desperation.  And they made choices out of that desperation.  Through these conversations, prostitutes became real women, and women became friends. 

When I first started working at Serenity’s Steps a year and a half ago, I knew of their mission to start serving women in the sex industry by first building authentic relationships.  But I didn’t understand what that really meant.  I, like many of those who have a passion to help victims of exploitation or trafficking, still thought about the women as needing my help.  As I’ve talked about in many blog posts before this, over the past year and a half God has taken me through a sanctifying process in which I now recognize how much the women we serve have to offer me within our friendship, and how much I need them just as much as they need me.

This Christmas, we as the Serenity’s Steps team would like nothing more than for you to join your story with us.  I’ve told some of Leroy, Janelle and my own stories in this post, as well as given you a glimpse into the struggles that characterize the journey of many of our women.  

What is your story?  We want to know.  We believe that the mutual healing and empowering of the women we serve and those who choose to live in authentic relationship with them can only happen through intentional community.

We are beckoned by an unmistakable call to move beyond a few retweets or attending a candlelight vigil.  We are called to be family.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Immanuel, God with us, by loving women in the sex industry as people and not just a hype cause. 


By Kate McGaughey

Want to join your story with us?
Click here to learn more about Serenity’s Steps
Click here to Volunteer
Click here to make a Donation towards our $30,000 end of year goal 
Email kate@serenityssteps.org to share your story or ask a question!

How to be a community that heals

As we enter into this Christmas season, we are perhaps struck deeper than most years with a desire for “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  Recent events in our country in Ferguson and Staten Island have caused deep pain in the hearts of many as we struggle to understand, to love one another, and to enact justice moving forward.

As I observe this tension, I think about the women we walk alongside at Serenity’s Steps.  Just by reading our artisan profiles, you will know that these women have endured deep hardship in their lives.  They have faced abuse, neglect, and desperation, making decisions no one should have to make.

But their stories don’t end there.  I have seen firsthand how the community they have found with the staff, board members and volunteers at Serenity’s Steps has brought back life.  The support of people who view them like family has encouraged, motivated and reaffirmed their dignity and hope for the future.

Likewise, my opportunity to live in community with them has changed me.  My previously held stereotypes, my misunderstandings, and the differences that used to hold us back from each other are dissolved as we choose to live in community with one another – intentionally seeking relationship and understanding.

Now more than ever, we need the healing that true community brings.  We need to join our stories with great intentionality. Here are three thoughts on how to start being a community that heals this season:

1.     Listen

To listen is such a simple act it often seems as if we are listening when we are not.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and decide to really listen to those around us.  Is someone in pain?  Struggling with loss?  Feeling discouraged by the unpredictable events of life?  Listen to their heart. Sometimes we need to take a step back, lay down our agendas and our desire to be heard and really, selflessly allow ourselves to empathize with and understand others.  Ask someone how they are and want to know the answer.

2.     Create Space for Dialogue

Once we begin the practice of authentic listening we may recognize some issues or struggles among our friend group, church community group, family or co-workers that need to be further discussed.  It’s easy to run away from what seems like confrontation, but honest conversation is a tool that facilitates mutual respect and authentic relationship.  It may be as simple as eating lunch with your co-worker and inviting them to talk more about the issues they are facing, even if you are part of the issue.  It may be hosting a dessert night for your group of girl friends and addressing the way you have habitually been giving into the temptation to gossip about each other.  It may be inviting your friends of another race over for dinner to talk about how they feel about the movement for racial justice sweeping our nation.  Creating space for dialogue is the pathway to understanding how to take action.

3.     Live in Light of What You’ve Learned

You have listened to your friends and family that are in pain.  You’ve been intentional about talking to them about why they are struggling and what they feel needs to change.  Now we need to take the new perspective we have gained and put it into practice.  This will look different for each of us.  When we see someone wronging another person, we must stand up and say something.  When we feel tempted to give in to stereotyping, to gossip, to joking at someone’s expense, we must choose to repent and to lead others with an example of respect.  Maybe your conversations prompt you to reach out to a group of people you never thought you would have a relationship with.  Maybe you’ll bring the girl on the corner of Metropolitan Parkway a hot coffee instead of crossing to the other side of the street or allowing your mind to wander to the way she keeps herself alive. 

Community heals.  It heals those who are honest about being broken, and it heals those who have a hard time admitting we are broken.  For those of us who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, we have a clear picture of what being a true gospel community looks like.  We are free to repent of our sin toward each other, to be forgiven and to live out the love and grace lavished on us to others.  This Christmas, embrace the love Christ has for you.  Embrace the love He has for those around you.  In doing so, we will be joyful to embrace the intentional community we need. 

By Kate McGaughey