Unlimited Truth

This morning I asked myself, what major lie am I believing that’s holding me back? For me, God is a big part of my life and journey, so I asked him. As I listened and pondered, it came to me that perhaps my biggest lie is that I’m not good enough.

Interestingly, my mind doesn’t believe this lie. My mind knows the truth that I’m good enough and I live each day believing I can do anything I set out to accomplish.

My mind is smart, it’s analytical, it can figure things out; it knows the truth. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t know this truth. It’s a part somewhere deep down in the very essence of my being; a place that feels this lie deeply. I’m not good enough so no one applauded me when I first learned something new. I’m not good enough so my dad felt he could lash out at me in anger. I’m not good enough so it didn’t seem important to feed me, care for me or loved me unconditionally. I’m not good enough so my dad could leave me and my family without as much as a glance backward. I’m not good enough so my mom could intentionally ignore me while lavishing attention on my brother. I’m not good enough so others could abuse me. I’m not good enough so I would have to live up to the high expectations of others in order to receive any kind of recognition or acknowledgment.

Realizing the lie, I go back to God and ask him what the truth is. I’ve never been all that good at hearing God speak to me in words, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear him. Sometimes he speaks to me with a picture, sometimes he gives me an internal understanding and once in awhile a word or two come into my mind.

Today, after I asked the question, I had a sense. A sense that I am accepted. A sense that God and his angels are dancing in joy when they see me. A sense that I am his daughter, dearly loved. This all spoke healing truth to that deep inner place inside of me and made me smile the kind of smile that only true healing can bring.

What about you? What thoughts could be holding you back? What lies are you still believing? What truths does God want to share with you?

Last Night in Jail

Originally posted on April 1, 2014, this blog is a chapter taken out of Rebecca Bender's new book. Join our emailing list to stay connected and hear about its release date .

We got out of the “paddy wagon” and stood in a line, waiting for the door to the jail to open. As we walked into the main booking room, rows of chairs lined an open area like a classroom. On one side sat men in cuffs, and on the other side sat women.

All the men turned to look when the “prostitutes” came in, smiling and winking as if any of us were interested. As we stood in a single file line on the wall facing the rows of chairs, a uniformed officer working that night patted us down. A heavy chain was belted around our waist. Handcuffs fell to each side of the belt and as soon as we were adjusted for fitment, our hands were cuffed to each side. Before we could sit down, we had to walk to the back of the room where the contents of our brown paper bag appeared again. The guard standing behind the plated glass window, documented all our belongings.

We were told to sit, starting in the back row, filling up each seat. The men were seated starting in the front row. They continued to gawk at us, turning around in their seats to stare. The undercover officers that arrested us were long gone, having given us into the custody of the jail, they went back for more busts. The new uniformed officers yelled at the men to face forward.

It was about 1am. The next two hours of booking usually went by faster than the remainder of the night, waiting in the holding tank. Our names were called one at a time to start our rounds through six different stations.

“Rebecca...” The first lady yelled, standing with a clipboard at the front of the room. I stood up cuffed to my waist, still in my brick red pencil skirt, brick red Christian Dior heels and black, low cut Gucci blouse. My $2500 Cartier watch clinks against the metal of the cuffs and I cringed hoping it wouldn't scratch.

She took my blood pressure and asked me a couple of medical history questions.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Do you suffer from any ailment?”

My health was great, so the last item on her agenda is the HIV prick test. She took my blood and labeled it with my name for processing. This is not because the LVPD cares about us whatsoever. This is so they could book us with attempted manslaughter if it came back positive.

The next station was mug shots. I stood on a white line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off without warning. There are no-redo’s and they do not care how you look. I gave my fiercest eyes and flash a smile as if I were auditioning for America’s Next Top Model. This made the officer laugh and won me a bit of favor.

I am asked to sit back down in my row of chairs until everyone is through taking photos. From my experience, I knew that once all of us girls have had our “prick and pic”, we’d move to the next room together and finish the rest of the stations. This was my sixth arrest and little did I know but it would be my last.

As I sat there watching each girl get called, questioned about her medical history and tested for HIV, the time went fast. Suddenly an officer was standing in front of our row of chairs.

“Rebecca,” he looked right at me. “This is the one?” he asked another officer, who nodded to confirm.

“Yes, “ I answered slowly and confused.

“Come with me please.” He held a manila folder in his hands and gestured toward a private room. Girls started whispering. A shot of cold ran down my spine and my stomache turned. What is going on? I made my way toward the room carrying a confident face but trembling inside.

“Go ahead and take a seat.” He said nicely, sitting down. He set the folder on the table that sat perfectly positioned in the center of the concrete walls.

“So how long have you been in Vegas?” he asked.

I looked at him suspiciously. In all of my arrests, I had never been asked questions like these. I had never even seen anyone come in or out of this room. Most of all, what was in the folder?

“You’re in the game, obviously.” He continued to probe. “Do you have a pimp?”

He just crossed the line. Telling on your man was a big no no, THE biggest no no. Pimping and pandering carries a 7-15 year felony sentence. Prostitution is a slap on the wrist, a fine and a night in jail. I’ve heard stories of girls being murdered for telling on their man. If I told on my man, when he got out, he’d come find me. I stay quiet and look at the officer in the eyes.

“Lawyer.” Is all that came out of my mouth. That is the response I’ve been taught to say for years.

“I don’t think you can call your attorney right now.” He says smirking while glancing at his watch.

“I didn’t ask to call him, “ I reply smartly becoming defiant. “However, any further questions you have for me can be directed to him. Are we done here?”

I waited for him to stand. Calm down. Getting mouthy will only make things harder.

I was taken back into the main room. All the girls have had their pictures taken by then and they stood in line at the door big electric door that would lead us to the next room before holding. I got in line behind everyone as directed.

A small room, slightly bigger than a hallway separated us from the next area. It felt like a shower in a locker room, with a drain in the middle and no-slip mats lying on top of concrete. We sat down on a chair one at a time. A female officer gave us a thorough pat down and removed our handcuffs. We had to put our head between our knees while she shook out our hair checking for anything that could be used as a weapon, or contraband. We are asked to open our mouths while she looked inside. Then, depending on what we were wearing, we were assigned either an Orange CCDC shirt or pants.

This night, I was given a shirt, which I put over my black blouse. Other girls who are wearing very short skirts get pants. Our shoes and jewelry were taken and written on our sheet again. We’re all issued brown jail sandals, which look like something Scarface would have wore by the pool in the hit Mobster movie.

After the female officer is done checking my hair and mouth, I approached the counter as told. Another lady wass counting all the change at the bottom of my purse,

“$5.72. Sign here.” I scanned over the document list to make sure my watch and shoes are listed.

“Can I get some socks please?” I asked while signing my paper.

“None left.” The lady behind the counter replied without even looking up.

I couldn't tell whether she just dislikes girls like me or if she is annoyed having to count $5.72 in quarters, nickels and dimes. I was equally as annoyed. I loved having loose change in my purse, it was a quick and easy to pay a cashier without having to break a hundred dollar bill. When I left here, I knew they would not give my exact money back. All my change just went into their cash drawer and I will more than likely get a five dollar bill when I leave and seventy-two cents in change.

I stood up and waited by a double-sided plexi-glass door. The officer pressed the intercom button and I’m let through. Inside the next room, chairs again are lined up like the previous class style setting; men on the left and women on the right. At the front of the room is a wall of telephones that we were allowed to use one at a time after we finished the full six stations. But, there was no standing up front waiting in line. Around the perimeter of the room are cubicles for our next set of questions.

As women, we are instructed to cross our hands over our chest anytime we need to get up to walk either to a cubicle or to the phones. This must be to conceal anything from the men who continued to gawk at us, but I never could understand why; as if the full orange jail shirt didnt cover enough.

As soon as I sat down, my name is called. At the first station I was asked a series of questions: Name, address, phone number, employer, etc. I was taught to give “them” completely fictional information other than my name. At first I was concerned I would miss a court date or something. My pimp assured me that the attorney would give us all the details about court appearnaces and that we did not want the police knowing where we lived. He was right, the attorney always kept me up to speed on any information.

Unless someone would come pay my five hundred dollar bail, I am “released on own recognizance” or O.R.’d as we called it. The lady across the desk explained all of this to me again and handed me a pice of paper with details of my arrest, inmate number and false contact info I had just given her. I moved to the next cubicle like speed dating.

“Are you involved in any gangs?” The next officer goes over a checklist of questions they are supposed to ask in order to place us in the appropriate holding tank.

“No.” I reply knowing that we’ll go through all of these questions quickly.

“Are you a lesbian?”

“No.”

“Do you feel like killing yourself or others?”

“No.”

Onto station three... A nurse pricked me for Tuberculosis and we wait minutes to see if my skin rises. “Those bruises on your wrists look like finger prints.” She pointed out without a break in her routine. “Are you being hurt at home?” She looked up to watch my response. I’m startled by her awareness, no one has noticed yet. My bruises were faint and I had covered them up with make-up before I left. 'The concealer must have worn off' I think to myself.

“No.” I say looking at my forearms. I am sure she knew better, but she also knows that if I do not want to talk, that pressuring me will not help either. Little did she know that underneath my clothes were fist prints from my pimp. Two on my thigh and one on my side from when he punched me yesterday.

My skin where the TB test was administered did not rise and so I am sent to the final station: finger printing. I stood in front of what looked like an ATM machine. But, instead of a pin pad, it has a small touch pad. The next officer guided my hand and fingers across the delicate surface. My prints showed up instantly on the monitor. Little red dots scanned across the fingerprints. Like something you would see on the TV show CSI, my name and inmate number appear showing a match.

“Not your first arrest, huh?” the officer smiled kindly.

“My sixth.” I replied sweetly removing my right hand and preparing my left in the proper position. We went through the process a second time and he took the paper I’ve been circling the stations with and marked the name and inmate number with a check to ensure it matched the one on the screen.

“Alright, you’re all done. Go ahead and take a seat. You can use the phone now too, when it's free.”

“Thank you.” I crossed my arms across my chest and walk the long way behind the men and around to the phone. Girls who are attention seeking and disobedient always try to walk in front of the men to the phones and get yelled at by the officers. Not me. I know this sort of behavior makes the officers think less of us. The officers in the jail treated me with a bit of respect me as they watched my demeanor and behavior. They spoke to me kindly and without belittlement. It hadn't always been this way, I learned over the course of time what got me better treatment in jail.

I pick up the phone and dial “my man.”

“You locked up?” Kevin says after just a few rings. He must have known something had happened since he hadn’t heard from me in awhile. I usually checked in every couple hours. 

“Ya,” I say sounding disappointed.

“Well, try to get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He paused, “you alright?”

“Yep, I’m fine.” I did my best to sound cheerful so he wouldn't get upset.

“Ok, Poke. Call me later if you get bored.” I could hear his faint laugh through the phone.

“You know I will.” I laughed back.

I think about my nickname: Poc, pronounced Poke. Kevin gave all his girls nicknames if they made it a year with him. I remember when he started calling me that, it felt special; as if I wanted to be there and stick it out with the family. The term of endearment he chose stood for Pocahontas, because I was Choctaw and looked like her.

I sat back down in my seat and tried to close my eyes. There was no way anyone could sleep in this place. It was loud and uncomfortable. I didn't worry for even one second about my daughter. I knew Kevin has it handled. That was part of what our live-in nanny, Cecelia did. She woke up every morning and got my daughter ready for school. Because my daughter thought I worked nights in a casino, she was use to me sleeping while Cecelia got her breakfast, did her hair and walked her to the bus stop. I’d hopefully be out of jail before she came home from school and she wouldn't even have an inkling of what had happened.

Cecelia is from Chihuahua, Mexico and speaks no English. Our pimp only hired non-English speaking help because it was easier to keep them at bay of what was really going on. He also made sure to “take care” of my daughter, keeping up a family facade in front of her would make me feel guilty to leave the only family she ever had. He knew that and would play that card often if he could tell I was wanting to try to leave.

At 4am the officers finally took all of women into the holding tank. The single file march to the cell turns my stomach. Looking into each holding tank cell always made me rethink what I was doing with my life, even if the feeling and thoughts were fleeting. Women who looked hardened sat solitary on benches staring at us as we passed. Gang members grouped together in other cells making kissy faces when we walked by.

One man was brought from around the corner in what looked a wheel chair on the ground. His hands and legs were cuffed to it and a net bag was placed over his face. He was attempting to kick and scream and spit and wail his body in violatile motions, but the restraints were too much for him. “You stupid pigs!” He screamed as we stood still against the wall waiting for the group of four officers to pass by with him. One officer walked in front of them, taking backward steps while holding a video camera. I assumed that was to keep the incident on camera for evidence of their response.

We reached our holding tank- all eight of us locked up for soliciting prostitution, or in my case disturbing the peace. One concrete bench hugged three walls. A television was in a clear plastic case and was mounted to the ceiling playing the old 1990’s movie, “Space Jam.” On the fourth wall of our square tank, next to the door is the toilet and phone. A small wais-high barrier wall blocked anyone looking in, or walking by, from seeing us do our business.

A handful of women were already in the same holding tank. They were clearly not “working girls.” One woman was nearly 50 years old and looked homeless with unkempt hair and dirty socks and jeans. Another was an overweight black woman with cornrows, mid forties and clearly intoxicated: probably in on a DUI. The third woman was white, looked maybe mid-thirties with red shoulder length hair. It was hard to see her as she curled up in a ball under the bench trying to sleep. She stunk something awful and was having cold sweats while shivering. It was obvious to me that she was kicking heroin.

The tank was cold even with all of us crowded in together. I immediately grab toilet paper and sat in a corner on the bench. This way I can lean my head against a wall to sleep just as if I was sitting in an airplane. I started wrapping my feet with the toilet paper to make socks and slip my sandals back on to keep the mock fabric in place. Last time I was here we ran out of toilet paper and it took hours for the guard to bring any. We couldn’t wipe when using the rest room. I remembered it being so cold I had wished I had wrapped my feet right away, before the toilet paper became such a commodity.

Just as I laid my head against my paper on the wall, which seemed to me to keep a protective barrier from any germs that may have been on the wall, I heard someone vomiting. The heroine junkie under the bench was dry heaving and spitting out green bile right on the floor where she was laying. Her dirty red hair was greasy and sweat was beading up on her forehead. She laid there heaving, her body shaking while everyone stared at her in disgust. The smell from the bile was atrocious,` like rotten eggs and fresh laid linoleum. She pulled out a wadded up piece of dirty tissue that she clutched intensely in one hand and wiped her mouth.

“You sick?” one of the girls asked her looking frightened. The junkie just stayed curled up not responding. “I don’t want to get sick.” Another girl complained standing to pound on the window of the door.

“She isn’t sick, she is detoxing.” I finally speak up after hours of being silent. They all turned and looked at me. I have not engaged in their conversations up until this point. While they sat around the telephones joking about being locked up and swapping war stories; I had kept to myself until now. “So we can’t catch it?” one girl asked.

“No. She’s kicking, she’s a junkie.” I want to lay hands on her and pray, tell her how God can set her free from drug addiction, that I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But preaching the gospel up in the jailhouse is too hypocritical for me and so I sat and remained silent. ©

Crucifying Trauma: A Victim on Repeat

It took me over a decade to identify myself as a survivor of sex and labor trafficking. This has made the navigation of my trauma recovery tricky. I always knew there was a root cause; a diagnosis related to my crippling anxiety and deep anger, but for many years it had no label. Although I am a survivor in every sense of the word and have taken numerous steps in the name of health and well-being, there were many things below the surface that I just couldn’t unravel. Long after the panic attacks subsided, I was still executing my life in a way that kept me in this perpetual role that I just could not emancipate…

Why am I always the victim?

Freedom from my traffickers, a beautiful marriage, and a decade of therapy, recovery groups, and bible studies later, I was still chronically anxious and depressed. I knew I was not being true to myself and I still felt exploited. Something had to change. I had to figure out why I was always the victim.  

I was continually re-exploiting myself due to poor self-boundaries - an unmistakable result of trauma and abuse. In my professional life, I was allowing clients to treat me unjustly and pay me scantily, I was contracting jobs that my intuition protested, and was working for people who were unwilling to pay me fair wages. Even with twenty years experience in my chosen profession, I spent most of my career underbidding vacancies and receiving compensation that is below the industry standard.

These situations left me feeling apprehensive and sick to my stomach, yet I allowed this corruption to continue. At one time I thought the answer was to become self-employed. If I was independent then no one could take advantage of me anymore!

This lead to two short business ventures. In both cases, my establishments did not close due to a meager location, lack of leadership, stewardship, or talent. It was due to the constant devaluing of my time. I was terrified of rejection and embarrassment. “What if I’m not worth that?” I based the price of my production off of shame and insecurity, not off of my aptitudes and experience. I believed I could gain acceptance by overworking for an undervalued rate and as long as no one knew about my past I could stay afloat and manage my anxiety. I had become my own exploiter; I was a victim who kept hitting the repeat button.

These are all symptoms of complex trauma that tend to stay undercover. They exist behind the veil of “I’m ok,” and “I’m just a really generous person.” It was time for me to accept the responsibility that it was something internally that had to change…

Embracing Responsibility

The day I confessed that I was a survivor of human trafficking, everything started to change. I had been seeking resurrection, while continually crucifying myself and never experiencing death. The victim in me had already been crucified and needed to die in order for me to resurrect into freedom! In this resurrection, I learned that the manipulation of trafficking and abuse had been a root cause of my lack of self-boundaries. I learned to say NO. I learned that not everyone is willing to pay me for my experience and expertise. But more importantly, I’ve learned that it is ok. It has nothing to do with my value as a person and I did not need to sell myself anymore. That girl was dead and gone. Essentially, I started to understand that my past has nothing to do with the price tag on my life or my identity. Complex trauma can annihilate you, it will keep you in the crucifixion and never get you to Sunday. I had spent twenty years sequestered by my wounds rather than embracing them as a victory…

Jesus was Wounded and so are We

In John 20:27 Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." At this point, Jesus had been resurrected but was using His wounds to identify himself to Thomas who could not believe that Jesus was standing before him. So here we see that even in Jesus’ resurrection,

there were still blatant signs of his crucifixion and suffering. A resurrected victim that still has heart and head wounds, this is the definition of a survivor! Our wounds, just as Jesus’, tells a story.  Just as our wounds and trauma may still be apparent at times, it does not have to control us. Traumatic symptoms may act out occasionally and there are still parts of us that are not healed, but that is ok. I own my trauma today, it is mine, I am working through it. There may be times that I don’t like the outcome of my life because I preceded by my anxiety, fear, and the disenchantment of my past. I embrace the responsibility of my actions and I learn through every process how to grow, how to heal and become more than my story and live the intentional life that God has for me. It is all possible, Jesus’ story is proof of this and so is yours.                                                                                           

Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking. She has been a tattoo artist for two decades, who owns and operates Inflicting Beauty Tattoo Studio with her husband in Florida.

New Highways

Our body is such a fascinating working unit. Let’s consider for example how it deals with complex trauma, which entails long-term, chronic trauma. This is not a trauma that is just acute in nature, but it has become a way of life. There are also dynamics that impact complex trauma, such as age, the relationship to the abuser, and the use of love and violence.  In understanding the depth of trauma, it is important to talk about the brain and neurophysiology of our body.

When we respond to trauma/stress our bodies produce certain excitatory neurotransmitters that function in a way that gives our bodies energy to get out of the situation. This response is due to the sympathetic system which functions as our ‘fight or flight’ system. After stress or trauma, the parasympathetic system kicks in and releases calming hormones or inhibitory neurotransmitters that allow our body to rest. This is what creates homeostasis or balance in our body. When our body is chronically under stress, our parasympathetic system becomes tired out and drained, and eventually is unable to keep up with our sympathetic response. This result can have a long-term impact on our overall health and can lead down the path of autoimmune diseases.

The way our brain is programmed for survival is incredible. Our brain stores away memories that are too intense for us to uncover. This fragmenting is a programmed protective function that is used to help us survive circumstances that would otherwise be too overwhelming to process. This adaptation to trauma can shut down part of the brain that processes emotions and visceral feelings. There was a study done by Ruth Lanius MD, that tried to uncover what happened in the brain of trauma survivors when they were not thinking about the past. She did a brain scan on “normal” individuals and those who struggled with chronic PTSD. The findings were that there was almost no activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, parietal cortex, in trauma survivors. And the insula did not light up at all. The area that showed slight activation was the posterior cingulate. What this means was there was no activation of the self-sensing areas of the brain, the part that did slightly light up was that which is responsible for basic orientation in space. The conclusion,

what we witnessed here was a tragic adaptation: In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive.” (Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD).

Complex trauma can affect someone every minute of every day. It has a way of sabotaging us. This is because our brain stem is constantly firing that we are in danger, which is also known as a hypervigilant state. Even though cognitively we can reason that we are safe, our body does not understand this. Our body holds onto the cellular memory of trauma. The brain stem does not understand time or logic. Its primary function is to alert us to danger and keep us alive. Because it functions as a smoke detector, it will keep alerting us to danger until our body can tangibly feel safe. In understanding complex trauma, it is important to remember that this trauma left an imprint in your body. When this trauma was repetitive, this imprint left a clear pathway for your body to respond to any senses coming into the body. This imprint is experienced in the present as physical reactions to the senses, which is also known as triggers. Triggers can be anything that is felt through your senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). The senses are typically filtered through the thalamus and then sent to the cortex to be processed. The olfactory sense, which is smell, actually goes straight to the limbic system. This is why smell is so important. These senses can sabotage us at any moment of any day. It is our present physical reminder of our past. Here is a great quote that I came across by Bessel Van Der Kolk, who is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts regarding trauma.  

“The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable. Each patient demands that we suspend our sense of what is normal and accept that we are dealing with a dual reality: the reality of a relatively secure and predictable present that lives side by side with a ruinous ever-present past.”

The beauty of our brain is that it really is organic.  What I mean by organic is that it can heal. It has neuroplasticity. Scientific discovery has demonstrated that we can actually create new neuropathways to our brain. These are the pathways that information gets channeled through to alert us when danger is present. Through these new pathways we can begin to access the executive functions of our brain, rather than going straight to our limbic system. I can personally attest to our body’s capacity to heal as I have personally experienced much trauma in my life.  We will always carry those scars, but we can find healing for our mind, body, and soul.  We have to remember that we are all unique individuals. We cannot just cookie cutter a path of healing from complex trauma. There are certain principles or stages we must go through, but there is no 5 step program.  Understanding the brain and all the intricacies of how our body functions helps us to understand one another on a deeper level, which can help fulfill our desire to be loved and known.

“We all want to live in a world that is safe, manageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our natural reluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors.” (Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD)

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Rebekah Meyers is the co-founder of United1Front. Passion and experience drives Rebekah towards empowering people to make a difference. She is a registered nurse and a core specialist in the Masgutova neuro sensory motor reflex integration. She has undergone extensive holistic training from Finding Freedom and TCU under Dr. Karyn Purvis. She has spent time locally, nationally, and internationally bringing hope and restoration to all those she meets. She very much enjoys (possibly survives off of) coffee and meaningful conversations.

3 Relational Toxins

This powerful blog was originally posted by Lexie Smith on her personal website on May 8, 2015, and is shared today with the same authenticity.

This post is for my fellow single peeps hoping to find that special someone and avoid the wrong ones.

There are 3 things that will destroy any relationship you get into loneliness, baggage, dependency. All three of these things have one thing in common: lack of self-wholeness. And sadly, most individuals walk into a relationship with all three. It does not mean that the relationship will not work if either of you struggles with any of these things, you are not human if you do not. The relationship will just leave you dissatisfied because you are placing expectations on someone to fill a void you can resolve only within yourself.

1) LONELINESS is something that everyone faces because we were made as relational beings, but does not have to control you. A romantic relationship is not the answer either, genuine friendship is. Dating someone will not give you the intimacy you long for. Sure snuggling with someone might make you feel better, in that moment.

What if I told you that you could feel that fulfilled and content all the time, not just when you are with someone of romantic interest. That is the kind of feeling we all long for: to feel complete.

This last year I have seen how irreplaceable solid friendships are. The kind that is there for you in the hard times, but refuses to leave you there. Friends who you can send stupid emoji stories to and also get a good kick in the butt from. People that make you better and challenge you to be the person that you want to be.

Instead of dating someone for romantic interests, date your friends, so to speak. Be spontaneous, do not wait to travel, and stay up all night talking. What we are really wanting is for someone to know and accept every single part of us, but for whatever reason, we tend to feel like we cannot do that in a friendship because it will strain it. That is what friends are for! To help each other out with the burdens of life and be that safe place to let it all out. Start by becoming transparent, the right friends will reciprocate and the bond will be inseparable. Suddenly your “need” for a significant other, will become less significant.

2) BAGGAGE is something we all have to a degree, but the problem lies in how much it influences you. Everyone has been banged up along the way and bears scars, but that baggage is not meant for anyone else to carry other than Christ. No human being was meant to deal with the various levels of pain, trauma, and confusion that we all face, accept Jesus Christ. That literally was his purpose, to bear the sins of men as an atonement for our salvation.

Salvation is life without all of those things, so if you are walking with baggage you are not walking in your salvation and freedom. It is no one’s job to make you feel better, that is between you and God. It is a process that has to happen within your heart. Giving up all of the past, hurt, and pain to the one who wants to replace all of that with joy, love, peace, and true freedom in a life reclaimed.

The healthier we become as individuals, the healthier a romantic relationship will be. Sure relationships are meant to bear the burdens of life,  but those burdens are current affairs. Pile on yesterday’s stuff with today’s and both will drown in the sea of tomorrow. You cannot put your hope in one person, no one was meant to be a savior other than Jesus. Check your baggage in with Him and your relational travels will be much easier.

3) DEPENDENCY is different than trust and support. Those who are dependent on another are not independent on their own. These people have not explored themselves enough to know what their passions are, and that is huge. A passionless person is a purposeless person and we were made with a hole only filled by purpose. This looks completely different for everyone and can shift throughout life, but it is essential for you to feel happy, whole, and complete. Without a purpose, we feel restless, and that will quickly frustrate any relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, the thing with your purpose is that once you figure it out, you are locked in. People who jump around from dream to dream, have not found it yet, or have a deep level of internal discontentment that they are trying to compensate for.

Restlessness translates to discontentment and when you are in love with someone it can drive you mad. If you feel like you cannot live without a special someone, because you literally do not know how to live and work without your identity wrapped up in another person, you might be in trouble. Not that you would want to live without your significant other, but I think you get the picture. I have seen this unfold in marriages even as the unfulfilled spouse is on a wild goose chase so it seems. One idea or “dream” after another.

Another symptom of dependency is that you conform to another person's likes and dislikes when in a relationship. If football is an interest, well you become a fanatic of their favorite team. If they do not like your style of music, you start listening to theirs to accommodate your tastes in hopes to be more attractive. You are enough as you are. If someone does not see that, then that person is not the right one for you.

There are plenty of relationships with one or all three of these things, I have witnessed a few. From what I have seen those relationships aren’t terrible necessarily, they just have quite a few rifts and can become easily frustrated. The couples who I have seen, and even experienced relationships with these things, they struggle more than they should or end up failing. The internal collateral from a failed relationship with these issues can be detrimental because identity development is at the core.

You never stop growing, but you have to at least know who you are before you get into a romantic relationship otherwise that development shapes around someone who may or may not stick. Find relationships that will help you explore and discover all God has for you while protecting your heart, it is the only one you have.

Lexie is a graduate and guest trainer of Elevate. She received a BA in Psychology from Lee University and currently resides in Nashville, TN as an active member of The Belonging Co. Church and Marketing Coordinator at Dave Ramsey Solutions. 

Love: Myth or Majesty

The month of love is fast approaching. The vibrant red of heart-shaped boxes and pink Cupids with insipid declarations of love eternal will surround us. Retailers will taunt us with sales on everything from two dozen roses, to diamond pendants, to sports cars; all of which are guaranteed to prove our undying love to our Significant other. Bleh!

That's not love! I want no part of that. Love is not that easily understood. It can't be packaged, bought, or sold. It's anything but cliché, frivolous, or fragile. Showing our love for each other must never be commercialized, or forced. Summarizing it in the exchange of a card or gift will never be possible. No, love is realized in the everyday, long suffering, all-encompassing acceptance it provides the receiver. Love is never the fairy tale because the fairy tale never shows the effort that goes into genuinely loving another.

Happily ever after is possible, for sure, just not the way it’s normally portrayed. That is a myth.  Loving another is easy-peasy in the beginning - when everything is new and exciting. When the object of your affection is still being pursued, and the novelty of their uniqueness hasn’t yet faded into “normalsville,” it feels like you could continue like this forever….. HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

At some point along the path, though, the “new” wears off, and the reality of living and loving another broken human hits. Love becomes tougher, the glitter flakes off in a few places revealing the rawness beneath. It is in these times, that the Majesty of real love begins to show.

You see, true love is for warriors. For people with hutzpah, and grit. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. For true, enduring love costs. At its core, love loves no matter, whether it’s reciprocated or not. It longs to be rewarded with the mutual return of itself, but in the face of that lack, love still exists.

Love flows, and it ebbs. It struggles but always wins. It is real, vibrant, strong and connecting. Love is always sincere, never cunning, never deceitful. Love withstands the storms of life, never withering in the face of adversity, rather it fights courageously to overcome.

Real love is deep and abiding. It always invests in another. Encouraging them, supporting, and walking alongside. It's always action, but not always a feeling. It's never letting go of the value of another. Never giving up, walking out, or caving when it's tough.  It’s humble, kind, and enduring. Loving another means you never envy them, but rather build them up and encourage them any way you can.

Love says you are as valuable as I am, and probably more so, at least in my eyes.  Love serves, never demanding. It heals, rather than wounding. Love sees you, down deep, even when you try to hide. Love is simultaneously safe and scary, but in a good way, because in it you will find true acceptance for who you are right in that moment. And that same love that accepts you also strives to leave you better than it found you.

Love is paradoxical. It is fierce, yet gentle; protective, but freeing. Love is deepened when it releases itself. It never holds another back, but always honors liberty. Which in turn binds us to it all the more, because in it we find freedom. The gracious act of being allowed to be free makes us appreciate the giver of that love, creating within us a deeper desire for them. Some say love is terrifying, but it’s not the love that terrifies, it is the fear that it won’t be found, that we won’t be accepted, or enough, that makes us quake.

This love, though, always believes and is faithful - even amidst faithlessness. It inspires; passionately emboldening one with a fire that cannot be quenched. Love chooses to remain, to sacrifice for the object of itself. It brings life in its richness and leaves the deepest void imaginable, with its absence.

Love never controls!  Never manipulates! Ever true and strong, even with buckling knees, love applauds accomplishments and aspirations, sharing an opinion when asked, while not demanding it be followed. It is warmth, light, life, and hope; love is good and pure.

Love is loving another as much or more than ourselves, in all circumstances. It doesn't celebrate wrongdoing, rather it loves, regardless. Quietly acknowledging the truth of a situation, but choosing the righteous way. It doesn’t disparage or pull down. Love in all of its complexity is truly a simple thing. We just try to complicate it with brokenness and expectations. Love will always put another first, acknowledging - no - celebrating their right to be, and to be loved.  

So, as this season comes upon us, I encourage you to celebrate the love you receive in your life and celebrate the ones you are blessed to love.  Because, after all, true love is the most expensive, the most precious gift, and it should be celebrated 365 days a year!
 

Kathy is a speaker, trainer, mentor, survivor leader and currently serves as Program Director and speaker team member for RBI.

Learning to Love After Trauma

I will always remember the first time Ronan smiled at me. I was 19. It was a star-lit summery night amidst drunkards and party people in a town well-known for the collegiate party experience. After my second pimp (Tate) had abandoned me and left me desolate and starving, I needed someone nice who might have had enough heart to buy me a meal if I gave him my body in return. But there he was. We locked eyes across the party and I became overrun with warmth and desire. I kind of liked him already, but he was out of my league. Ronan could never love me for who and what I had become.

Not an hour later we were lost in each other’s arms. This time felt different, right from the start. He was so easy to be around, so genuine and kind. Eventually, we ended up going back to my place and he spent the night. It was good. And afterward, I talked and he listened as I shared just a snippet of what I had endured, just that one night when my section leader sold me to be raped and tortured by people who had sworn to defend our country and our freedom. I told him about my continued struggle to overcome the trauma and gave him the G-rated version of my issues since. I don’t know why I told him so early into our time together, but it just felt right. There was no pity, no shame. Just empathy. And maybe love? I wasn’t sure, but I felt something more than friendship. He left the next morning.

You see, I had already given up when Ronan came along. So I guess the lesson here is to not get discouraged and remain hopeful that your love will find you. When you find it, you’ll know what to do.

The next day, I was just coming off the lifeguard stand for a break when I received a text asking me to go on a date. What I didn’t know was that I would soon be on the world’s most awkward double date ever. However, we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company from the time he picked me up in his tiny car, to the kiss at the end of the date. Maybe it was because I had never known a romantic partner who was so kind and so wonderful, but I was fast falling head over heels. That was a relief because I was terrified that I was losing my ability to feel anything.

Over the next year, we grew stronger together. It wasn’t always rose gardens and honey buns, though. Some days were harder than others. The triggers fast became overwhelming for both of us. As soon as we thought we had it figured out, the preverbal onion peeled off another layer filled with additional triggers and problems to deal with. I tried going to therapy, but the therapist tried to tell me that I had hallucinated each and every rape I had endured, especially when I revealed the high-profile tricks and the partnerships between celebrated establishments in town and my trafficker. I kept trying because Ronan believed in me. I believed in him when I couldn’t believe in myself. Each time I had to switch therapists, we talked about it together and made decisions together.

Ronan is the one who told me that I should turn my pain into a way of helping others. He knew I had it in me the entire time. He knew that the hurt I endured would serve as a powerful catalyst for brilliance to create a visionary and world changer. For the next two years, he cheered me on and supported my launch of the student movement against sex trafficking at the university we both attended. He supported me and my work to co-launch of a ministry that would eventually exist to serve women who have been trafficked by providing long-term support and sustainable recovery tools. He awakened my ability to trust and renewed my sense of self-worth. We were married in my dream church on June 9th, 2012. That was the day I vowed that if I couldn’t overcome my trauma for myself, I would do it for him. I would do anything for him.

Sex was a battlefield. But it was never awkward to talk to him about it. That was our key. When we did have sex, a majority of the time ended with me becoming an emotional mess, freezing with fear and dissociating back into my state of protection when I was being raped. Ronan respected the triggers and began experimenting to figure out how to bring me back to him quicker. We found that his ring helped, as well as the crystal he bought me on one of our dates. He would press an object into my hand, curling my fingers around it until my body began to relax. Eventually the triggers would only last a few minutes using the grounding techniques and the objects were always nearby. He could always sense my bodily response to a trigger immediately. He would stop, use the object, and ask, “you good?” and wait for my response.

I wish I could draw you a roadmap of suggestions and tools for sustaining a long-term relationship after your ability to trust others has been severely mangled by wretched bear face chinchilla goblins. The map would end up looking ridiculous and there would be treacherous paths and quicksand holes. And probably snakes and spiders. My best advice is that a relationship doesn’t work with only one person doing the work. You can’t expect to find that one person who is going to fix everything and the world’s pile of crap will suddenly begin to smell of daffodils and glory. It takes both people equally raising each other up and embracing true acceptance and critique, when necessary, to promote growth in each other.

Trust is the ultimate goal.

 

K.T. Wings is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking with almost a decade of serving marginalized youth and adults, developing programs, and educating the public on the indicators and red flags of human sex trafficking. K.T. is an artist, a dreamer, and a visionary. She is a respected member of the Human Trafficking Survivor Leader community and continues to empower, provide support to, and collaborate with Survivor Leaders from around the globe. K.T. is renewed through relationships with friends and family, especially her Husband and their two Jack Russell Terriers. K.T. enjoys painting, singing and dancing, and yoga. K.T. has been nationally recognized for her artwork, providing two paintings for the world-renown Pathbreaker Award at the Shared Hope JuST Conference.

All names have been changed to protect the identities of all persons listed.

3 Ways to Stop Talking and Start Doing

“You and I might never be involved in commanding the wind to stop. But you can be involved in building houses for the homeless people to protect them the wind. You and I might never raise someone from the dead. But we might be able to help someone’s marriage come back to life. With this in mind, what does it look like for you as Christian to live in a way that is engaging and memorable? We all hear Christians talking about making a difference, but sometimes it takes more than talk- it takes action. What sort of difference would you like to make?” (Move Towards The Mess, by John Hambrick) 

What a powerful statement and isn’t that true for most of us involved in social justice work? I can’t tell you how many meetings I attend across the country and the one unanimous thing I hear is, “we’re tired of sitting around and talking about the problem, we want to DO something.” Likewise, I often hear people ‘poo-poo’ awareness efforts as if talking about the problem isn’t enough.

While I completely agree with all of the above - I mean I’m at a Justice Rally, at the Super Bowl right now, hitting the streets DOING outreach because we were tired of only hearing and not doing the word of God, BUT… I want to point out that we do first have to talk about the problem in order to acknowledge that it’s there, to admit that we have a need, to share with others our struggles, so they can plan an attack. Don’t get me wrong, I am a doer - probably too much so. I have been Martha more times than I care to admit. I go go go and have forgotten many times to stop and enjoy life, enjoy the sunshine, my family, my children’s laughter. My old pastor use to say, if you want something done, you give it to Rebecca!

One evening many years back, I had been invited to a screening of the documentary Nefarious. I had always acknowledged that I had been forced into prostitution, but crossing the line to “trafficking” seemed too much for my still traumatized and brainwashed mind to comprehend. I took my friends up on the invite and at the end of the movie I wept. The Lord clearly spoke to me through that movie, reminding me that just because I imagined human trafficking as kidnapped kids in Cambodia, it doesn’t negate the force, fraud and coercion in my own life, here in a developed first world country. It was in this moment of revelation, brought about by an awareness event, that the Holy Spirit blew on the embers in my heart.

From there I started speaking - DOING - sharing my story with any and all who would hear. I volunteered, helping a local safe home open. I wrote, developing Red Flag brochures and wrote my first book. After a year, I felt called to start a non-profit and fumbled my way around that finding my niche, my lane, my specialty. I started seeing which ‘program’ I was really good at and more importantly, what I was passionate about. I tried hitting the streets for outreach and approaching women standing on the street corners and telling them they were someone’s daughter. I responded to crisis calls and went and picked up girls when they were on the run from their trafficker. I lobbied at congress and senate for the passing of laws. I attended conferences and put my narrative into trainings to help FBI and undercover police better understand the underground world of sex trafficking. I got called in on cases and helped comb through evidence and provide witness interviews. I worked on editing screenplays and movie scenes. I tried it all until I found what I loved: changing culture.

So how do you become a doer, finding areas in your life that could radically change someone else’s? A few lessons I’ve taken away from my time working in social justice issues:

1.     Go toward the Fear. Every time you feel afraid to try something new, afraid to go talk to that person, to get on that stage, to pray for that stranger… GO TOWARD IT. Think of it as actually a guide trying to show you what path you SHOULD take. Because one thing is for sure: Fear is not of God. If you are feeling that, that is not a warning from God, no no. You may feel apprehension, anxiety, lack of peace- all of which you should heed the leading of the Spirit. BUT fear is not one of them and it can actually work as a barometer to tell you which way you should go. If I feel fear, and I know it’s not from God, that means something is trying to keep me from that opportunity and I have learned to go toward it. All of my fears go away when I walk into it and have had some of the most fruitful relationships, experiences and growth in my own personal life.

2.     Try it all until you find what works. When I was simply working a regular 9 to 5 and enjoying my family, I had an awakening one day. As I sat at my table with my morning cup of joe, having my quiet time with God, I heard Him ask me: “how can you sit here and do nothing?” He was right. I looked at my past, too riddled to even pick ONE spot to begin, and I vowed to step out of my comfort zone because Jesus, God, stepped out of His. When you hear a scripture that talks about nations or the broken hearted, does something well up inside you? When you hear about influencers that broke stereotypes do you want to stand and hoo-ah with the best of them? Start being attentive to the still small voice blowing on the embers of your heart.

3.     Start with what you know. Jeremy Vallerand has a great TEDtalk about doing what you love to fight what you hate. He shares this great example of working in corporate America and staff were given monthly hours to volunteer in the community. He saw some of the most brilliant minds leaving early to go walk dogs in the rescue shelter, and stand in soup lines (all of which is great BTW), but he wondered how much better the org would have appreciated someone spending 1-2 hours a week working on the new website, getting the budget in order, reviewing the strategic plan. What is YOUR circle of influence, skill set or profession and how can you leverage that to help others?

We may not all feel called to storm the gates of Hades Braveheart style. But you may feel called to talk about issues that plague your community with your children, raising them to be conscious, caring adults. You may feel called to join the mission field full time and get sponsored by family and friends, or move to Uganda to assist with homeschool village children, building houses and wells. Or you may feel called to volunteer down at a local community shelter once a month. Try starting small and seeing where it leads, feeling the freedom to try something different. Whatever it is, do exactly as much as you feel called and led by God to do - the question is, are you asking Him?

This year we have trained over 20,000 FBI, Homeland security and law enforcement officers across America, assisted in the escape of 15 women, put nearly 300 survivors of sex trafficking through our online academy, consulted for 4 trials that led to convictions… and all of that started by one person talking about it.

Called to Love

On June 6, 2015, I stood across from my best friend and pledged my vows to her before my family, and more importantly, before God. As believers, we must be aware that the enemy has placed a target on every single Godly marriage and he plans to destroy as many as he can. For us, the enemy placed his sights on us long before we were married and it was a miracle when we stood across from each other at the marriage altar.

Jessa and I began dating in February of 2014 and connected on a deep level very quickly. We had much in common and were able to share deeply about personal things. Despite this, I will never forget receiving a phone call from Jessa after we had been dating for about three months. Jessa requested in a very matter of fact tone of voice, “John, can you drive over? We to need to talk.” It was one of the longest drives I have ever taken. “What in the world could she possibly need to talk about so urgently?” I wondered as I rolled through my mind every single possible thing she might have to say. Nothing could have prepared me for the conversation that ensued. This woman, whom I had grown so close too and cared for deeply, proceeded to tell me that she was a survivor of human trafficking and that she had been sold countless times by her own family for sex. She told me that this had started when she was very young and perpetuated into her adult years before she was finally able to escape.

My heart was completely broken as I struggled to imagine an evil so great that someone so beautiful would be used and abused as Jessa had been. I remember the heaviness of her breathing as she anticipated my response. Authentically and gently I affirmed the incredible woman that she had become in the strength and redemption of Christ and I expressed my ability to see the very hand of God in every aspect of her life. The realities of what had taken place in no way had a negative impact on the way I felt for this woman standing before me.

Before I go further I want to emphasize that what took place in Jessa’s past is a stark and bitter reminder that THIS IS THE NATURE OF THE ENEMY WE FACE. Satan embodies the most grotesque and vile evil and certainly had purposed all of this pain and suffering for the destruction of Jessa’s life along with so many others. Yet we serve a God who brings beauty from ashes and Jessa was the beauty that had caught my eye and my heart.

This moment marked the beginning of the journey for Jessa and me of navigating the trauma she experienced and how it would impact our relationship. As Jessa shared more and more of her story over the coming months I found myself grieving for this woman whom I had grown now to love deeply.

My desire in writing this is to offer encouragement to spouses of those who have experienced severe trauma by sharing some of the things I have learned from our marriage.

1. Called to Love

Jessa and I were at a “Weekend to Remember” Family Life marriage conference when one of the speakers said, “Your spouse is God’s perfect provision for you.” This comment is profound on many levels but one truth this spoke to me is that God has called me to love my spouse.  While this is something I had felt for a long time, I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate the idea that in God’s infinite knowledge and with her past suffering in mind, He determined to include me as part of His plan for Jessa. This means there’s a lot more to us being in each other’s lives than mere coincidence. When Jessa communicated to me the realities of her past, in that very moment I knew that Christ was moving in and through me confirming to my spirit that He had uniquely created me for a moment such as this. It truly was and continues to be a call to love this woman I am honored and privileged to call my wife. While our precious Abba has knit this romance, He has also ordained our marriage for something special for each of us. Jesus has ministered healing and redemption in my life through Jessa’s deep love for me, and He has also ministered healing and redemption in Jessa’s life through my love for her.  

2. Christ Must Be the Center

That brings me to my next emphasis - Christ must be the very epicenter of the relationship. If you are trying to navigate the realities and effects that past trauma brings on a relationship without having Christ as the very foundation and center of your relationship, you are playing a very dangerous game. As challenges arise, the tendency is to turn against each other creating a chasm that ultimately allows the enemy the means by which to drive a hurtful wedge between you and your spouse. Ultimately, reactions by both parties to this wedge can be harmful creating an environment that removes the elements of safety and grace. Jessa and I have committed to expressing immediately when we feel that there is a chasm between us and our general response is to make time to connect with each other and God immediately.

You may be asking, “How is that possible with all that life throws at us?” The reality is that every situation will look a little different and require a sincere desire to connect with each other and with God as well as keen discernment into what activities allow you and your spouse to connect. Additionally, it may be required on occasion to think outside the box and make uncommon sacrifices.

3. Purpose in the Pain

We serve a God that is truly sovereign over all. While the enemy is working hard to destroy lives, God is redeeming lives every single day as He brings beauty from ashes. I envision a battlefield where two forces are at war over some land. In the same way, the enemy desires to use Jessa’s pain to destroy her life, but God desires to use her pain to redeem her life and impact others.

Unfortunately, all too often the enemy wins at destroying lives that have suffered in the same circumstances as Jessa. Incredibly, God continues to strengthen us and as we as a couple continue to seek intimacy with Christ together His healing and redemption are made real and permanent. Her life and our marriage redeemed for his glory are a beacon of hope in a world where very little hope exists. We declare that God has won the victory in our lives and in our marriage.

4. Take it Seriously

Recently, while Jessa and I were in the kitchen together I could sense that something was seriously upsetting her. It was nothing more than an easily overlooked subtlety in her body language or voice tonality indicating that ours was not the only dialogue going on in the room. The dialogue going on inside my wife behind the scenes greatly impacts the verbal dialogue she has with me and it requires a gentle and safe environment to be able to include it in our conversation. I express this because, in a recent conversation with a close friend whose wife had experienced trauma that was beginning to present some negative challenges in their marriage, he indicated that it took him years to really take seriously the trauma that she had endured and the realities of the impact it was having in their marriage. This acknowledgment greatly impacted the ways that he interacted with her from there on out.

My friend encouraged me through becoming a student of my wife, to acknowledge the pain that could be present at any given moment. Additionally, he said that no matter what my feelings are, the pain she continues to experience is real and present. What often happens is we tend to see things from our own perspective failing to see the realities of the pain they endure day-in and day-out.

As the spouse of the person who has endured trauma, we need to work really hard at acknowledging the depth of the struggle. By acknowledging the struggle and appreciating that the pain is real and present, our approach should be gentle and safe. My friend, you will notice big dividends in the area of communication with your spouse when you listen first to the background conversation and then proceed with a soft tongue.

I could go on and on about all of the amazing yet unique and challenging aspects of our relationship. However, the last thing that I want to leave you with is this…take one day at a time. Jessa and I enjoy climbing many of the 14’ers that Colorado has to offer. The reality that you continue to tell yourself when you are at 13,000 feet and your body is literally giving up is, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Thinking about being married for 40 years seems an impossible feat. But getting connected today and committing to loving today is something we can all commit to no matter our circumstance.

John Crisp is the founding member of BridgeHope, an organization specializing in utilizing technology to connect survivors with resources in their area. BridgeHope is currently in the development stages but hopes to launch later in 2017. Additionally, John is currently a grad student and local minister with a desire to teach/preach about the intricacies of transcending cultural and social barriers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Becoming a Culture Changer

The three words that motivate me more than anything else are: "Can't, never, and won't." If I hear those words come out of the mouth of someone in my life, you better believe you'll see me find a way. That trait can be frustrating to some and admirable to others. Either way, it's who I am and it has given me the fight to overcome anything.

Changing the culture is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t something that happens by accident and it goes against the grain by requiring grit, authenticity, and a solid community to be successful. Often times, the highly motivated have this overwhelming desire to get their hands dirty. To grab a megaphone and do whatever it takes to be heard. For those of us who are also creative and motivated, it's almost impossible to shake a vision once we have locked in. We become impatient and quickly blaze a passionate trail that might receive a response at first, but it is completely unsustainable unless we are truly stable. The movement we believe we are pioneering in our community is actually just a pathway to burnout and personal destruction unless we truly know ourselves.

The one thing you must know in order to change the culture is yourself. That may sound boring or cliche, but what people are looking for is not a bomb mission statement, they are looking for authenticity. We live in a world filled with facades and no vulnerability. To change the culture, you must captivate the heart of the culture you are speaking to, that means you must dig deep and connect with who you really are. Granted, we are always growing, but you will never really develop your belief system and love yourself if you wander about to whatever interests you with no reason why. That takes time, slowing down, being intentional, and having intimate relationships with others. Scary, right? But embracing who we are also free's our relationships, as well as our work, from the need for validation.

"The more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others." Erik Erikson

The reason why it is so important to know, believe, and love yourself is that those are the things you fall back on when life gets hard; when the unexpected happens and things don't work out. Not having a solid foundation as a person is like building your house on a sink hole. One day, it will all come caving in. Looking within can be ugly, but so is dealing with a collapsed home. I would much rather deal with myself privately than see the fruit of my dysfunction displayed for all the world to see.

In a world filled with ideals and roles, it can be hard to sift out what is really you. The best advice I can give is to explore. Find what makes you feel the most alive and you. The things that make you smile and so excited you can't hold it in. This might mean you do things you wouldn't normally do. They can be fun or challenging things but think of it almost as dating yourself! Get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Maybe even consider taking some assessments like a Strengths Finder, Meyers-Briggs, or DISC. Then meet with a life coach to talk about your results and pull out the gold in you.

You'll never know if you have what it takes to change the culture if you don't even know who you are. No one can change the culture like you.

 

Lexie is a graduate and guest trainer of Elevate. She received a BA in Psychology from Lee University and currently resides in Nashville, TN as an active member of The Belonging Co. Church and Marketing Coordinator at Dave Ramsey Solutions.