Gone.

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The hardest part about dealing with mental illness as a Christian is the taboo that I must not be saved enough if I’m still dealing with depression.  I must not know Christ enough if my suicidal ideation is so prevalent.  I should probably pray harder if I’m still dealing with sometimes crippling anxiety.  And although I know that God is completely capable of taking all of these things from us; I also know that I can know Him, I can walk with Him, and I can still preach His love within brokenness.

I am seen as a strong survivor; a warrior.  And I AM THAT.  But, I’m also broken and suffer with mental illness that sometimes knocks me to the ground.  Every great warrior gets knocked down.  The difference between a warrior and someone who stops fighting is that a warrior never backs down.  A warrior fights even when there seems to be nothing left worth fighting for.  They fight to remember why they stood behind what they believed in to begin with.

It’s not easy to not always be the ray of sunshine that people see when they look at you.  I want to be that.  I want to be the joy I so often yell about!  I believe wholeheartedly in all of the positive messages I put into the world.  I want to be the good quotes and the great inspiration.  I want to be the smiles and the cheerleader.  I want to be the one jumping up and down and running along side you as you get to the finish line.  But sometimes God says it isn’t so and He holds me as I struggle to roll out of bed.

I say all of this to simply say that it’s okay if you’re struggling today.  It’s okay if you continue to struggle tomorrow.  But, be a warrior.  Fight every day of your life because I guarantee that you bring much more sunshine than darkness to those around you.  Don’t believe the lies that you’re bringing the world down with you.  People are cheering you on and want you to get back on your feet.  I’m under the rock with you but I’m not staying here.  Take my hand; we can do this together.  You matter.

She Warriors

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Walk hand in hand with other warriors; we are His army.

When my husband got assigned to McLennan County I did not know what that meant for me.  If I would have known that moving to Waco would take me through a journey of healing I wouldn’t have put up such a fight.  I knew nothing about Waco other than the fact that some sort of cult once was here, you know the one.  To be honest I didn’t even know what Magnolia was until I came here.

What I found here in Waco had nothing to do with the power duo.  What I found in Waco is a strong sex trafficking survivor and advocate whirlwind.  It swept me off my feet into a rapid cycle of self discovery, self-healing, community, and mentorship.  Jesus met me here; not that He ever left my side but He planned this move ever so precisely.  It was here that I told my husband my truth, it was here that I found actual people fighting the spiritual war for survivors, it was here I became one of those warriors for my fellow survivors, and it was here that I found my voice.  Swimming amongst the waves crashing down on me that would normally send me tumbling down to the bottom of the ocean was a non-profit named; Jesus Said Love.  It almost felt as if someone’s heart was beating the exact same spiritual dance with mine when I dug deep into what JSL stood for.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Emily Mills and Brett Mills; the founders of Jesus Said Love as my time goes on here in Waco.  Those that know me well know that I walk strongly and that my character is usually unshakeable.  I’m not the type of woman who is easily bound to call another woman an inspiration.  Women in general are inspirations to me but to actually feel someone’s Jesus radiate through their presence is beyond being inspired.  I can literally watch the beacon of His light calling people near to Him when I look into Emily’s eyes.  Emily and her team are doing the hard work and working with those that seem to have been forgotten when Jesus called us to love ALL people.  Emily is human; sure.  She has flaws and some days I’m sure she falters.  But one thing is undeniable, she has surrendered to Him and because of that she has taught people like me to journey into doing the same.  I hope that her words bring you empowerment, wisdom, and the drive to go out and DO.

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Allowing someone to lead you is sometimes part of His plan.  Even the strongest people need to be encouraged and poured into.

 

Tell me in your words WHO is Jesus Said Love?
We are family – I got all my sistas (and brothers, and kids and husband with me!)  That’s really it – we’re a family, a space of belonging for those impacted by commercial sex.

What was it about your life that led you to want to work specifically with what some call “the forgotten”? Why do you think it’s important to serve this specific group of people?
Well what I know now, is NOT what I knew 15 years ago.  I know now the story of my own trauma, of abuse and neglect, I know that trauma is trauma and bears many different faces.  I think God leads us to others who mirror our trauma so that we can find healing in Christ. Most of us are asleep, numb, coping and while God is always mirroring our need for healing, we are so doped up (even on good things) that we refuse to see how broken we truly are.

I know now that my history of childhood sexual abuse and being seen as a sexual object as my growing body blossomed and developed left me wounded, but also with eyes to see other women who were bearing the scars of a misogynistic culture.

What do you want people to know about Jesus Said Love?
First I want people to know that you probably know someone who’s been impacted by the commercial sex industry. We want to know her, or him. If you know someone, share our number with them, pass our contact along, spread the word that we are HERE!

Second, we need YOU. We can’t walk alone. You have a story and you have an ability to influence our family for the better.  This work takes a village and we need your support, your skills, your talents, your time and connections.

I love watching how much you pour into people and how God has made you a bright beacon of hope in women’s lives; how do you stay full when you pour out to so many?
I sit, I am intentional about silence and solitude, I sing/worship/create/write, I love the Scriptures, I pray, I do yoga, I LOVE my husband and kids, I meet with friends weekly who fill me up.

If you could go back to when you began this journey, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?
To get into Al-Anon sooner! No joke. My disease is multi-faceted: I am attracted to addicts.  I didn’t know how many boundary issues I had, how codependency ran my life, how aggressive females made me shut down but I was also attracted to them, desiring to win them over, I had control issues, I tried so hard to be perfect. My view of Christ and the church was one-dimensional.  I needed recovery and should have been there years ago.

One of the things I love about JSL is that is a ministry led by husband and wife; why do you think it’s important for men to be involved in this movement? 
Oh, you’re lighting a fire!  The commercial sex industry is simple economics: the supply is fed by the demand. When the demand stops, the supply will as well. Most of the demand is fed and fueled by men: white, college educated men (as far as the data shows for now). We are seeing more women using pornography (which fuels the demand for prostitution and strip clubs), but this is largely because they are researching what men are wanting of them. But once they’re inside the world of a pornographer, they are at the mercy of their bodily responses: dopamine, adrenaline…arousal. That’s a physiological issue, not just a “moral” issue. You can read more about porn’s harmful effects at www.fightthenewdrug.com

But as far as what’s moving Brett and I together in this is that we believe God created male and female to rule and reign in the kingdom – together. equals. We believe that the future should never be a choice between male OR female but – HUMAN. Both. Male AND Female. All. We believe that there’s resistance to this work because it’s asking men to undo some of the language and humor and practices they’ve been born and raised with. It’s also asking women to look at what might have worked to survive, but isn’t God’s desire for a flourishing world. It became really impossible for Brett to be so involved in this work with women who represented the “supply chain” of the sex industry and not tackle the root of demand.

You have become one of my biggest inspirations and I love how you allow God to use you. If you had the platform to speak to EVERY woman on Earth what would you say to them?
Settle down and settle in.  Turn off the noise of your phone,your insta, your whatever that is keeping you spinning and full of noise and LISTEN.  As my nun friend told me, “you begin at beloved.” You started there. Yes you did. The world,  or maybe your family, even church, for sure culture, definitely your ego, well….the darkness, twisted and trapped you into believing that you were less than and disposable, that you weren’t lovable as is.  They said you were too hard and you couldn’t do what you dreamed of doing. That your childlike wishes were fairy tales and your lust for beauty was so “dramatic”. They said that you were so annoying for creating order but then for being too messy, so you got all confused. The darkness said you just needed to fall in line and take care of small things. So you did, you perfected every little small thing or lived so small that you refused everything. You quit.  And you got hurt.  Someone betrayed, mocked, raped, hit, and scolded you when you were just being so small.  So, you became ashamed of yourself. Why? Because small didn’t fit you. You thought all of this was your fault. You bore the shame of others and started making agreements then vows with the darkness. You began listening to pitiful voices that were so narrow, but they helped you get through.

The darkness is full of bullshit lies. But –  you have to untangle those lies to get to freedom so i need you to work on yourself in the gentlest and simplest of ways. This is the biggest and grandest work you will do with yourself because it’s the holy work of God and will impact the world for the kingdom of Light and Love and Beauty.  How do you do this? Settle down and settle in. Get quiet. The silence has medicine for your soul that no counselor on earth could prescribe.  The silence will say “hello love.” And you’ll have all sorts of wonderful support in the silence. So much that when you get up to move you will run and play and create and do with a strength that the world marvels at.

 

Anything else you want people to know about Jesus Said Love?
YES!!!! SHOP LOVELY AND CHANGE LIVES!

Lovely is online, on insta and at 1500 Columbus! It is the social enterprise of Jesus Said Love! Money spent there fuels JSL, helps us to employ the women we reach with living wage jobs, and helps us launch micro businesses like Luna Juice Bar!
Seriously! follow us on social media and shop with us for Christmas!
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Emily, thank you for helping God guide me into my purpose.  Thank you for being vulnerable in your story and for allowing me to be just a little piece of your life.  Thank you for being my fellow she warrior.

You can check out and give to Jesus Said Love here:  Take Me!

2 Corinthians 5:7

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

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From His Eyes – The Confession

From the very beginning of this journey I knew I wanted my husband’s perspective.  Not just because he’s my husband; because I value him.  I value his words, his opinion, and his outlook on life.  He is so wise and a man of few words.  I wanted his side of who he sees in his wife and why he is so supportive of this journey.  The photographs in this blog post and the previous ones are not posed.  I literally took him on a walk, I let him lead, me, and then I stopped him and spoke words of affirmation into his life.  I asked for forgiveness for many of the mistakes I’ve made in our marriage and then I spoke words that glow with life when the world seems to be overcast by a shadow.  I am so honored to share what he has to say.

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How did you feel when I told you for the first time that I was trafficked?
Hurt.  Not me being hurt, but being hurt for you.

What hurt you about it?
That I just don’t understand why people do things like that to other people.  They take advantage of people in a weak moment of their life.  And they did it to someone who is now my wife so it hurt me more that something like that happened to you.

Why do you think it’s important for men to be involved in this fight against trafficking?
Because even though anyone could be the perpetrator the majority of people doing these things are men so men need to be part of the CHANGE.  To stand next to their women or any woman; they need to stand FOR women.  They need to stand with women so that they don’t stand for trafficking.

What do you see when you look at me today?
Well, I see pain but I see strength from that pain.  I see things that you’re still dealing with but I see so much strength in that.  You’re going out and sharing your story for people who think there’s no future.  You’re using your pain as strength to show people that may be at their lowest point that they can keep going because there is so much more out there for them.

How do you feel about me when I publicly share my story?
It’s a really hard thing to swallow and hear but at the same it needs to be said and heard.  We can’t help someone by keeping our mouths shut and being ashamed.  It does nothing for anyone searching for help.  We have to swallow our pride and let your voice be heard so that you help others voices be heard.  You may be able to help someone that is going through, has been through, or unfortunately will go through similar things you went through.

What do you wish I would see when I looked in the mirror?
How beautiful and strong you are.  And that when you look in the mirror you don’t doubt  yourself.  You’ve been through so much you have the ability and tools to get through anything.

Anything else you’d like to say to me or anyone reading this?
Keep your head up.  There’s good things to come.  Whenever you get inured you have that injury but to heal from that takes time.  The scars will always be there, so you know that it happened, but you will grow through it and get stronger.  Take time to let yourself heal.

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Something I’ve learned along the way from being married to this man is that there is no secret too big or no shame too strong.  I have always been met with an embrace when times get tough.  We have climbed the biggest mountains together and the prospect of divorce was strong for a long time.  The beautiful thing about marriage is that it’s an every day promise, an every day fight, and every day victory.  He is my sweet sweet symphony.   This is not a made for instagram love story; this is the real deal.  This is us.

The Confession.

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I have always been an open book when it came to my life and my past.  I’ve never been one to hang my head in shame or deny anything that I’ve lived through.  But, after being deceived into sex trafficking a second time I made a promise to myself to never speak about it openly.  I was trafficked for nearly half a year before I found the strength to find a way out.  Within that year I was sometimes caged like a wild animal; only I couldn’t find any fight left in me.  After I finally escaped that life I held it so deep inside that it seemed like at times I was just the girl watching that happen to someone else.  I was so detached from the reality of what I had lived through that I wanted to believe the lie that it wasn’t true.  Only, it is true and it was true; and it will always be true.

Only three years after living through things you only see in movies I married an Army boy with only one dimple on one cheek, a captivating smile, the strongest jaw line, and the funniest dance moves.  You see this boy found me online and he pursued me so heavily that I fell for himI fell so hard.  Harder than any romantic fairy tale I’ve ever read.  He is the most beautiful story to ever be written in the pages of my life.  He is the music that plays in the background when I feel alone.  He is the laughter that gets me through my darkest days.  He is my soul mate and my biggest fan.  I have been his wife for almost 11 years and that along with our two wild things makes the tormented past I lived through so worth living for.

God wasn’t done with my story because He had picked out this man for me.  Only I couldn’t possibly see that because I was objectified.  Completely and undoubtedly priced and treated like a belonging.  When I married my husband he looked at me in a way no person had ever looked at me before.  He saw me.  He saw me for who I am and not what I had been through.  My husband treats me like his most prized treasure and not like a possession.  He humanized me, he rebuilt me, and he made me believe that I had worth.  God used my husband to show me these things and because of that I told my husband ALL about my past except the part about being trafficked.

I have been married to my husband for almost 11 years and I didn’t tell my husband my entire truth until 2017.  My heart was beating out of my chest and I felt the anxiety grasping tightly around my neck as I tried to get the words out.  “I have to tell you something, something I’ve never told you about”, I said.  He stopped what he was doing and looked at me as I cried and with a worrisome look on his face he asked, “What is it babe? What’s wrong?”  I hung my head so low and I began to tell him my entire story.  “I was sex trafficked babe.  People paid for me.  I am so sorry I never told you until this moment”, I said as I slightly lifted my head to catch a glimpse of his reaction.  I was so afraid to lift my head and face him.  I was so ashamed and so embarrassed.  I thought maybe he would be so disgusted he would stop loving me.

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When I looked up I watched tears streaming down his face and his face was flushed.  I sobbed as I watched the man who doesn’t cry shed tears for me.  I stood still and I prayed for strength to finish the conversation.  He slowly walked right up to me and gently lifted my face with his strong protective hands, “When I look at you I see a strong and beautiful woman.  I see my wife and the mother of our two boys.  I don’t see any of that!  I love you!”  I collapsed into his arms and I wept; we wept.  He held me and in that exact moment I experienced a marital freedom like I’ve never experienced before.  He could have said anything.  He could have had any reaction.  But, he lifted me so high and God wrapped us in His arms.  And that was the beginning of what has become part of my purpose.  The confession; the one I was so afraid to speak for so many years.

In that moment both my husband and I knew that it could no longer be kept a secret.  The silence had to be broken because the testimony is SO LOUD that it has to be heard.  I have been gifted a husband who believes in what I’m doing here.  He believes in what God is doing here.  He has given me his blessing in speaking loudly about so many different things and I have been given the blessing of calling him mine.

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I hope you’re at the edge of your seat because the upcoming blogs are about trafficking and are interviews with two of the most amazing people I know.  If you made it this far, thank you for being part of this movement.

Christiana Vega Photography: http://www.christianavega.com

 

Exploited.

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I pressed my entire body weight against the locked bathroom door as he banged on it and threatened to kill me if I didn’t open it.  I held my knees to my chest and sobbed in a complete state of chaotic confusion.  Why is this happening?  How did this happen?  What is going on?  I trembled and my mind started to go into a dark hole to avoid being present in the reality of what was happening.  I was exploited.

A couple invited me to a party and in my drug induced haze I went because I knew there would be free drugs there.  I had been up for two weeks and shortly after they handed me a drink it felt like a span of two minutes in between every single time I blinked.  Time began to move slowly and the world began to fade around me.  The room started to spin and I grasped on to the white washed walls hearing faint echoes of people telling me to go lay down in the homeowners bed.  I declined, I may have been a lost soul but I had morals.  The homeowner happened to be an extremely good looking and muscular guy.  The women flocked to him the entire night as he kept making eye contact with me.  I remember saying to my friend how good looking he was when we walked through the door.  I had made it my mission to befriend him and know more about him; I had no idea that they had already priced and sold me.

My mind kept collapsing and the world kept going dark as he helped me walk down the hallway.  He laid me down and said, “Don’t worry, you’re safe here”.  He closed the door behind him and returned to the party.  I had no idea why my entire world was spinning but I was too far gone to ponder it.  I closed my eyes and fell into a peaceful slumber.  Suddenly, I opened my eyes and he was on top of me.  I immediately began to fight as he pinned me down and threatened me if I didn’t stop fighting.  I was about 85 pounds and at 4’11 there was not much fight I had against a 6’3 bodybuilder.  I closed my eyes and prayed; in that moment I pushed as hard as I could and he toppled off of me.

I ran into the bathroom and locked the door, he was right behind me.  And there I was in almost a fetal position against the door wondering why.  He began to yell at me, “I PAID THEM FOR YOU ALREADY!  I GAVE THEM THEIR SHARE!  THEY SAID YOU KNEW!  LET ME IN OR I WILL KILL YOU!”  Within seconds he started to weep and say he didn’t know that I didn’t know.  He wept and begged me not to call the cops when all of a sudden he was Hyde again.  He fought this internal demon over and over again when I made the decision that I had to play into his remorse.  When he wept again I spoke softly and told him I forgave him.  I made him promise not to hurt me if I opened the door; and he did.  I didn’t believe him but I couldn’t stay in that bathroom forever.

I opened the door and he held me as if we were long time lovers that had just gotten in our first fight.  We sobbed together and I had to pretend to like him. I stayed in his arms and acted as if he was my safe place.  He handed me $500 and a spare key to his apartment.  He told me to call a taxi and to leave the key under his mat when I left and thanked me for my time.  He thanked me for time that I didn’t consent to give him.  He thanked me for robbing me of my dignity.  He thanked me for murdering my spirit.  He thanked me for breaking the already broken girl.  That was the beginning of the most shameful part of my life.  It wasn’t the first time someone had stolen my dignity; but that didn’t matter.

Why do I share this? Because what good is a testimony in shame?  How can one lead people to God and to glorify Him if you can’t share what He has brought you through?  There is a woman out there that you know or maybe the one reading this who lives a life of brokenness and guilt.  Regardless of the decisions you made to get you there; it was NOT your fault.  You did NOT deserve that.  You ARE worthy.  You ARE beautiful.  I will not be silenced because there is life after worldly death.  There is hope.

To my sweet husband.  I know this isn’t easy but I so rejoice in the fact that you so want women to be respected and loved.  You are my biggest blessing.  Thank you for loving me through my brokenness.