Healing and Justice Through Intercession

I feel as though most days I cannot escape or get away from my past like I used to. It is just not the same. The fire inside of me is burning intensely for justice, but do you know what greater agony is burning inside of me?

Maya Angelou says it best. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

As new pain has entered, I have wrestled with my story for the past several years. It feels as though I am constantly bombarded with reminders of my past that I cannot get away from. Also because of shame, the past often tries to grip me in its cruel claws.

Everytime I get mail from the Dept. of Corrections my heart sinks, my face gets hot, and I become physically ill. I am 28 years old and have been in connection with them since I was 15. It is a never ending thing, and will continue on for several more years as people are released, moved, or continue to make terrible choices.

With all of this said, I had a revelation yesterday while Satan was trying to pull me down with loneliness, dread, and fear. A revelation that really shifted some thinking. I started thinking about intersession.

(((((((in·ter·ces·sionˌ in(t)ərˈseSHən/noun—the action of intervening on behalf of another. "Through the intercession of friends, I was able to obtain her a sinecure." Synonyms: meditation, intermediation, arbitration, conciliation, negotiation; More the action of saying a prayer on behalf of another person. "Prayers of intercession."))))))

When we hear from God and pray specifically for a person or situation from God’s heart it is not only effective, but I found out something else about it... intercession has the power to change things. REALLY change things. Our prayers and words have power in Jesus name! Not only are you getting it off your chest, you are giving it to the Lord, and doing something constructive with your pain and situation.

Recently I shared with some students my story of surviving DMST and CSE and then we went to different locations in the city and interceded for the issue. We first went to a Super 8 hotel, where we walked up and down the halls praying over every room and every person who will occupy these rooms. Then we went to a high school and did the same thing. Then we went to a park. Each location we went, I felt like a warrior with the Lord. Taking a stand against the darkness with the power of Jesus inside of me. Inviting in light, nowhere for the enemy to hide, etc..

This was the first time I truly felt like a warrior and not a victim. Intercession is on behalf of others but has truly empowered me at the same time. I am not saying I will remember to intercede every time there is a bad situation, but I am going to try. It will take practice, especially with life's challenges continuing to happen.

So, with this said. I believe that intercession not only changes situations but also brings healing and justice to your heart in the process. It is another practical thing that we can do in the fight against injustice.

Thank you, God, for revelation, more healing, and even mail that reminds me to get on my knees and change things with intercession.

My name is Joy. I am a warrior. I like to have coffee dates with friends, draw, write, and hike. I am a recent graduate of RBI’s Elevate program and am SO thankful for their support. I am a survivor of DMST. I have come a long way and have a passion to fight against this injustice that so many endure.

Together, Life will be Found

When I would think of myself, I could not even comprehend that I even existed. For all that I knew, I was a ghost, or worse, that I only was here on earth to be used, abused, and made invisible again.  This identity went deep into my bones and nestled itself into the cracks of my soul. As I sought protection from the caretakers in my life all I found was betrayal and a turning away from my anguish. 

The despair I experienced is unfathomable, as well as difficult for me to fully articulate. I retreated far inside defending my heart against the world and forgot what my own reflection looked like in the mirror. I become a stranger to myself and felt utterly cut off from humanity.

When you have suffered exploitation or abuse of any kind you are left with so much confusion about who you are, your value, your worth, your existence… all this is called into question by what you are experiencing. In other words, you cease to know what it means to be human in the face of having to survive the unimaginable.

Survival costs so much, it leaves you with shattered trust and skewed ways of relating with others. It is all that you know to do to keep what little part of yourself alive. But merely surviving is not growing and it is not healing, it is just living from one moment to the next.

There is a terrifying leap that must be taken to move from living defensively, to thriving, and it comes from letting yourself be seen not only by others but by God and by your own eyes gazing into the face that trauma caused you to forget.

In these relationships, you are being called to remember and be remembered. First, you are called to remember who you are—that you are a human being that deserves love, empathy, compassion, care and dignity like any other person. Secondly, you are being re-membered— rebuilt and brought back into the community of humanity that exploitation separates you from.

Recovering Selfhood in Community

Being repeatedly victimized teaches you something very different about who you are and leaves you feeling emptied of the basics that make up being a person- choice, value, and voice.

How are these ever recovered when it’s been years in the making?

What I am learning is that this is one of the most difficult processes imaginable, it takes persistence, risk, and the ability to allow healthy individuals to come alongside you and fight with you in the journey toward reclaiming your sense of self.

The agony in this is that there is so much vulnerability in healing. You must be willing to let your broken places show and open yourself before others. When you’ve been harmed, manipulated, controlled, and abused it is almost impossible to think about letting yourself be anywhere near the dynamics of powerlessness that exploitation sets up in the mind and heart. Vulnerability reminds me of that victimization and I have defended myself against it so that I would not re-experience it. Yet by trying to keep myself safe, I have prevented healing that can only come from learning to trust again.

Healing is a community venture. It takes place in the relationship between hearts, minds, and bodies. It requires vulnerability, for one, the vulnerability of letting another into the shattered places, and the other the vulnerability of entering suffering with the one who has experienced deep trauma.

I leave this post with this single challenge: Are you willing to suffer for the sake of healing? If you’ve been deeply harmed, can you allow a safe individual into the places where you’ve been hiding? If you are a helper of one who has been harmed, can you allow your heart to engage the consequences of evil in this world and love even when it hurts without turning away?

There must be those who are willing to risk pain for restoration to come, and it is those who can be used mightily by God to bring hope and life to long devastated places. Are you one of them? I pray to God that I will be such a vessel in the world that by partnering with survivors we will rediscover the humanity and value that they have.  

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E.G. is a graduate of the Elevate program and graduate student in counseling-psychology working toward the goal of working therapeutically with survivors of multi-contextual abuse and human trafficking. She hopes to integrate her writing, music, art, and love of all things alive into the process of restoration and recovery.

My Fight to Believe and See

Mine was always a fight to see.  They say you have to believe to see, but I believed at the start. Seeing that belief made real in my life has been the fight of my life.  It has been my fight to believe and see.

Living itself, including my continued breathing, was always in question, but I knew that alone would never be enough for me.  Some people love the darkness and all that grows there, but I never did. I met Jesus when I was 4 and most distinct in that moment was a radiant light coming out of Him. Instantly, I loved both Him and the light in Him.

That was a saving moment for me, but it was just the beginning of my fight to believe and see.  My life was on a collision course with violation, violence, and exploitation, my dark night of the soul.  My father would make sure of that.  I believed in Jesus, but seeing, connecting to Him as I plummeted into the black hole was another fight entirely.

My father was a sociopath and a pastor, skilled at projecting and protecting his image above all else.  To the world he was one man and to me he was entirely another. Few, if any, saw the man from a Criminal Minds episode that I knew. Jesus’ face was clear, at the start, but my father's repeated sadistic violations were shattering my eyes.

When I was 11 my father sold me to men who exploited me in a brothel type warehouse.  This spun everything inside me even more. My father had called me a "whore" since I was 5 and now every man at the warehouse called me that too. By then I had figured out what "whore" meant and understood that somehow it was me.

We cannot live in the dissonance of seeing the violations clearly when we are living in the middle of them.  So I obscured the truth within me and, at 12, began cooperating with them. I acted the role they wanted me to. Ever after, I would blame myself for this complicity.

This betrayal of myself and Jesus, in my mind, became the cement in the wall between us throughout my exploitation.

My eyes were shattered and our connection was blocked.  I had no idea how to see Him in this or how to know if He saw me.  The truth is I did not even see me or my exploitation clearly. The wall between us was full of all these lies I had believed, lies that they had fed me.

Survival demanded the wall remain in place until I was safe and that would not happen until I was 19.  Even then I was still far from safe inside so it could not come down in one dynamite blast. It had to come down brick by brick, carefully as I healed.

What were the bricks? The bricks were the lies I had believed and they could only be removed through a quest for truth.

Who really was Jesus? Was he kind, like when I met Him or was he a sociopath like my father and these men? Did he just want to violate me, shame me, and throw me away or did He really want me?

Who was I? Was I the bad girl, the whore, like they said? Was I the 4 year old girl with light in her eyes He first met? I wanted to be that, but a scarlet stain seemed to be tattooed across me. Which way would He see me now?

Could I be healed? Could my shattered mirror inside and out be remade? Was Jesus more powerful than these men who ruled over systems of exploitation?  The power of darkness they wielded seemed at least more powerful than the light being wielded by His church.

My quest for truth stretched across years. It had to, because forcing the truth in suddenly would have either have imploded or exploded me.  As I saw each piece of truth, about me, my father, and Jesus, my eyes healed. And brick by brick the wall between us came down.

The questions that remained revolved around the truth of my exploitation. So when I had built a strength of light within me we went into depths of my exploitation together. Nothing has changed me more. Seeing my exploitation through Jesus' eyes and heart brought the fall of our wall.

Once, in a waking dream, I saw myself putting pieces of my heart into Jesus' heart. Then I saw Jesus putting pieces of His heart back into mine. That is how I healed and how I found my way through to believe and see.

Jewell is a survivor and abolitionist who lives in Kansas City.

What Do You Have?

Ever had to use a shoe or wrench to pound a nail into the wall to hang a picture? I have. I must admit at first when I couldn’t find the hammer anywhere I was irritated. I knew it had to be in the house somewhere and trying to find it held me back from hanging that picture on the wall. Finally, after moments of insanity, I found a shoe, and when that shoe wasn’t hard enough to drive the nail into the wall, I used my husband's wrench. Now, I was happy and content.

Sometimes, the task at hand isn't quite that simple. Have you ever come across a dilemma and knew that no matter which tools you found in your house, that it was not going to come out picture perfect?

I remember a time when my husband and I were struck with a decision that only had two outcomes. We had to pay our electric bill and have no running water in the house or pay our water bill and have no electricity in the house. My husband was working full-time and he was picking up every side job, but it still wasn't enough to cover all the bills. So, we chose not to pay our water bill. So, for about 2 1/2 months, we lived in the house with no running water. During this time, we would pack the trunk of our car with empty jugs, containers, buckets, and bins and we would drive every morning and night to the beach to fill up those containers with water and drive them back to the house. We would also shower in the cold public showers, brush our teeth, and sometimes wash our clothes. During that season God really showed us what it really meant to be content and happy regardless of external situations.

Don't get me wrong, there were days that we got irritated, upset, tired, and weary—but we kept pressing on. Our children didn't seem to mind most of the days because we didn't mind. We made it part of the day, part of the adventure, part of a daily chore. Through this, I believe we as a family learned that the tools we are given need to be cherished (just like the water jugs). We had God, we had one another, we had a car, we had a roof over our head, we had electricity, we had free water, we had access to one of the most beautiful public beaches, and we had containers to fill with water. We were blessed even without running water at home.

There is a great scripture that came alive for us in that season. It's found in Philippians 4:12-13, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." At any time, we could have borrowed money from relatives or friends, but we both knew this was the season we were in and it was a season for us, not anyone else. We had just the right tools we needed for the season we were in. Here is one of the photos I took after we showered. We would stare at the sky and thank God for what we had.

God allowed us to experience this period of time without any external help, but there are times when we have to get and rely on external help for the season we are in.

For example, there is a story in the Bible written in 2 Kings 4:1-7, about a wife of a man who hung out with the prophet Elisha. When this man died his debt was left to his wife and when his wife could not pay for the debt, the creditor threatened to take their sons as slaves to pay off the debt. This woman was a dilemma. She knew that what she was facing required reaching out to someone else, so she went to see the prophet, Elisha. Let’s read his response in 2 Kings 4:2, “Elisha replied, How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” And she said, “Your woman servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” She didn’t realize what she had spoken. In her mind, the oil in her house was “nothing…except for a jar of oil.” To her, her situation seemed impossible and she probably was thinking, “what in the world is this prophet talking about? He needs to help me!” Elisha then tells her to take her sons and ask her neighbors for empty jars. He also made sure to tell her not to just ask for a little, but that she should ask for more than she would have. She was told to take her sons inside after they were done gathering the jars and shut the door. Why do you think he told her to do that? Because Elisha knew this wasn’t a miracle for everyone to see. This was God at work among the widow and her sons. This was a private occasion where the Lord wanted them to experience all by themselves even though many helped them by giving them their empty jars. As they poured the oil one by one into the jars as instructed by Elisha, they began to see the miracle unfold right before their eyes. One by one she poured and kept on pouring that jar of oil into another jar, and another jar, and another, until the jars stopped coming. Let’s read what the last verse says, “She came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go and sell the oil and pay what you owe. You and your sons can live on the rest” (vs. 7).

Not only did God provide a way out of her debts and keep her sons from being taken, He also provided a means for them to live. One of my favorite verses is 2 Peter 1:3 because it sums up a lot in just this short verse, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

There will be days when we feel weary or stressed out, or that we may feel like we may never get out of the mundane life of hardships, but Gods word says he has given us everything we need to live this life and to live it abundantly. No matter what season you are in, no matter what you think you may not have. God is saying you have everything you need for the season you are in. Perhaps you don’t think that you possess more in your own home than you actually do. God is saying to you today that you have just the tools you need for the season you are in. As you go about your week and you see yourself in the mirror ask yourself, “What Do You Have?” Then look around, chances are it’s already there!

Angelica Kauhako is a woman who is passionate for the Lord. She was born and raised in Hawaii. Along with being a born-again, Spirit-filled believer, Angelica is also a devoted, loving wife, mother, and, grandmother. She is a sex-trafficking survivor, mentor, college graduate, and holds certifications in substance abuse counseling. Angelica is dedicated to ministering incarcerated women in Hawaii. One of her greatest passions is seeing others accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because it is through that acceptance for others and herself—that she has seen miracles, faith, hope, and Love be found. 

7 Ways Your Organization Could Be Re-exploitating Survivors

I have seen so many organizations unintentionally take advantage and re-exploit survivors in this movement. I wanted to give a couple tips or common sense ideas for advocates out there working with survivors of human trafficking.

  1. Re-Exploitation. The Websters defines exploitation as: 

How can organizations do this unintentionally?

I was asked once why we use the word “re-exploitation” and not “take advantage of” - that somehow using that term can seem extreme and exaggerating.

After much thought and prayer on the use of this word, I had two thoughts:

  • if organizations are informed of the “dos & don'ts” of the etiquettes of having a survivor speak at their event, then they continue to take advantage, that is exploitation.

  • The other thought, I think the most important, is that in an arena where we are working with exploited persons. We find this “crime” heinous and punishable by law, for a trafficker. We need to be equally as extreme how organizations can do the very same thing. To use the very word that we use to end and abolish modern-day slavery shows the severity of what organizations can do to a survivor. 

So, let's lay down a few tips on etiquette and in my opinion, common sense when working with people in general, especially those who are survivors of human trafficking: (Do I need to write, "in my opinion?" this is all my opinion, it's my blog...lol)

  1. HONOR—When you want a survivor to come share her personal story with a crowd in order to help YOUR organization raise funds, promote your organization, or whatever the reason for you holding an event, it would seem unethical to not honor this survivor and her time and experience that she brings that NO ONE else will bring. How does that look? One way to show honor is by providing compensation. If budget is limited, then talk to the survivor upfront about what you can provide, but simply ignoring or expecting her to want to work for free because she now has freedom is wrong. An honorarium is simply that, honoring time, experience and what the survivor brings that no one else can.

If a trafficker makes a girl work all night and then takes all her money; how can we not see the similarities by having her speak about those experiences in order to raise your organization money and then you take it all and not offer her anything. Both scenarios are very, very similar. Especially, since both scenarios would not have received the funds without her.

Simply put:

“Go work, give me the money”- trafficker

“Go speak, give me the money” - organization

  • Another way to show honor is by treating the survivor exactly the same as any other professional you have in attendance. If you are reading a bio for the introduction of other speakers, include your survivor in that. If you are providing meals and per diem expenses for other professionals, include your survivor in that. Basically, treat your survivor like any other professional; no more, no less.
  • Last, but certainly not least, you honor people by valuing them and their input. If your organization is fortunate enough to have a Survivor to share their insight, listen to them! Their opinions, input, ideas, and suggestions are valuable. Do not discredit what they have to say, or demean their input based on a possible lack of a degree. My education came from the game, and if that's what the organization is trying to break into, I would have a Masters, okay??
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2. NOT FOLLOWING THROUGH—If an organization asks a survivor to come share her/his story and offers to reimburse expenses (gas, hotel, food, etc) but then the survivor only receives partial reimbursement. Does that seem fair in any business setting, to not hold to the agreement? Maybe this happening SO frequently that survivors now require signed contracts, or send specific invoices for full payment reimbursement. I've had organizations get offended by this, but when the agreement is not met, what other professional business means do we have to use?

3. TOKENISM—Every organization wants and needs a survivor. Not only does it help in showing the reality of the facts that can often get regurgitated, but ONLY survivors can truly understand what is happening in the dark world of human trafficking. Their insight is paramount to an organization being successful. She is not your token “arm charm” - she has been that long enough! A survivor is more than his/her story. They are a person with talents, abilities, and skills beyond their testimony and deserve to be treated as such.

4. Any form of Sexual Harassment is inappropriate in any workplace, and even more so in human trafficking. Don't make jokes or remarks that are lined with sexual innuendos. That behavior would not be acceptable in a normal workplace so why would one assume speaking to a survivor as anything LESS than a colleague is acceptable?

5. BELITTLEMENT in any form is not the way any good leader of an organization would treat ANY person working with and helping them grow. So why does it seem so common with survivors? I could list a million examples, but before you act or speak, whether privately or publicly, ask yourself “would I say or do this to any other employee?” Belittling those under you is not the quality of a good leader.

6. PROMOTE—when you lift others up, it actually promotes you. We talk a lot about creating sustainability for survivors, but does your organization actually do that? You may have an amazing program that will help survivors become self-sufficient and economically empowering. However, have you created a livable wage for the survivor leader working with you now? Are you being faithful in the little you've been given now?

If your survivor has a published book, do you promote it for them? Do you talk about it during presentations? Have you liked or followed the survivor on social media and shared accomplishments and places she is going and doing? Have you suggested the survivor you work with as a trainer for community agencies that contact your organization for training? Promoting people and helping them create sustainability shows that you're actually walking the talk and makes others want to invest in what you're doing because your organization is dependable.

7. FORCE—What would you expect an organization to do if a survivor said she wasn't comfortable training/teaching/speaking at an event the organization requested of her? I'm not talking about an employee... a volunteer. Since we are in THIS specific movement, wouldn't we, as a caring organization, talk to the victim turned survivor about what is bothering him/her and maybe help find some healing or reach an agreement? If the survivor replies to your question to why they cannot attend with: “I can't drive that far with no reimbursement” then clearly it isn’t an area of healing she needs, but sustainability. We can't expect our survivors and their families to be financially burdened so that an organization can be promoted.

What you should NEVER do is remind the survivor of all the things you've done for her and all the past gifts or honorariums your organization has provided him. This is a very manipulative tactic and quite frankly a behavior employed by traffickers.

Can you think of other tips that organizations can learn so we can all work as allies and advocates together to prevent, rescue and restore victims of sex trafficking? List them in our facebook page so we can all learn together—after all, we're all in this together, right?!?

Rebecca Bender is a nationally recognized and awarded expert on domestic sex trafficking. After escaping nearly six years of both labor and sex trafficking, she emerged as a Survivor Leader, providing consulting, training and speaking with some of the largest anti-trafficking groups and government agencies in the country, including FBI, Homeland Security , and former president Jimmy Carter. After writing her first book, Roadmap to Redemption, she founded the Rebecca Bender Initiative.

Rebecca Bender
Unexpected Triggers

Have you ever felt like crying over something trivial? I’m not talking about happy tears, but the kind that come when you least expect them and for no apparent reason.

This happened to me recently when a dear friend, Zsa Zsa, gifted me with a personal facial. Not realizing that I detest circumstances where I feel vulnerable (like doctor and dental appointments and similar situations) she asked me to put on a towel wrap that was lying on the exam table. When she left the room, I looked down at the wrap. Then for no apparent reason I suddenly felt anxious and wanted to cry. I desperately wanted to bolt out the door, but instead I asked God to be with me as I reluctantly put it on.

Zsaz was gentle and lovingly professional, and her tender care reminded me that I was safe. So, after my heart settled, I slowly relaxed and enjoyed my treatment. In fact, I felt God’s love flowing through her fingers as I experienced a delightful respite from my busy schedule.

When I got home I went to the Secret Place and bowed my thoughts before my Beloved. The Holy One gently revealed that these confusing emotions stemmed from an unexpected trigger from my past… a painful memory of a time when I was taken advantage of sexually and left feeling frightened and out of control. With this remembrance, I was momentarily catapulted back to a place where my world felt unsafe.

As I offered my pain in worship, I remembered that God loves me deeply and He cares about my every thought. I was reminded of what He told the Israelites:

For I hold you by your right hand – I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)

And deep in my heart, I knew that these words were true for me, as well.

If I had panicked in my friend’s office and run away like I wanted to, I would have missed the treasured gift God had for me. Instead, I remained “in the present” and felt the Lord’s comfort as my sweet friend allowed Him to use her hands to minister to me. As I contemplated this incident, I wondered how many people have experienced something similar. You know how it goes. Things are going along smoothly when suddenly an unexpected trigger takes you off guard and your joy is suddenly stolen by something that seems innocent and trivial. This can be caused by a memory of any kind of trauma in your past, but one thing is true. No matter how hard you try to brace yourself, you can’t control the fear and confusion that accompanies this painful memory.

Then I had a bittersweet divine encounter. For a moment, as I was on my knees before the Holy One, I felt God’s broken heart for His wounded children… and I was undone.

Although I feel weak and a little fearful, I know that God is asking me to be a voice for His broken sons and daughters. He desires for all of us to find healing and wholeness…so please pray for me as I trust Him to go before me and light the way.

Originally published on May 26, 2017, RBI is sharing this blog with the author's permission. 

Bev DeSalvo describes herself as a worshiping woman who has been on an amazing spiritual journey. Raised in an abusive home that created a deep fear of intimacy, God has used her pain as a magnet to draw her to His heart. Now she takes this message of hope to hurting women all over the world and has a book, Return to Joy, that was released July 2016 by NavPress.

5 Tools to Move Beyond Powerlessness

“Just breathe in, breathe out”- Sounds pretty simple, right?!?!

As simple as this concept sounds, for many reasons, many of my survivor sisters, including myself, have a hard time with catching our breath, slowing down, and allowing God’s peace to wash over us and steady us. From my personal experience, allowing God to take care of me isn’t easy… it takes trust and dependency to release my worries and fears over to Him, when my human nature says to not give someone else that much control or power.

Fear- the four letter word that has haunted me most of my life. I wake at times in fear, I fall asleep with fearful thoughts stealing my sanity and peace, and during the day, out of seemingly nowhere, these horrible thoughts will come into my mind and once again fear is present. Fear feels like my greatest enemy because if I give room to it, it will take me out. I need to be ever-mindful of the thoughts I allow my mind to dwell on in order to take captive and turn them over to the Peace-Giver, Jesus.

When I was a little girl, being sold for sex and pornography, I wished that the earth would open and swallow me—that I would be gone, and away from my tormentors. Now, as an adult, it is my memories that make me want to disappear or not wake up in the morning. I’m sure that my survivor brothers and sisters can relate to this. As a child, I could allow my mind to take me somewhere else during the abuse, but now as an adult, the times when I decide to not feel the sadness, pain or fear, also bring about a disconnection from other feelings that are life-giving, such as joy, peace, and happiness.

While the ability to leave myself and escape fear worked as a child, it’s not a skill that I want to regularly give room to now as an adult. I needed that tool then because it helped me to survive, but now, I have grown-up thinking and have healthy tools and skills that God has given me in order to stay present, be able to sit in the emotion and not go crazy, and be able to move thru those emotions back to a place of peace.

Going through a Master’s degree program in counseling certainly has helped me—as I was learning the skills I needed in order to help my patients, I was able to begin to apply them to myself as well. I stopped feeling out of control and a victim and became a survivor. I was no longer without a choice but could do the things I needed to do to be in control of the outcome and to take care of myself and be safe.

Because some of these tools worked so well for me, I want to share them now with you in hopes that you too will find a few skills that you can apply when you’re not doing well and the old feelings of being powerless and stuck start to take over:

1. Count backward—When we count backward, our brains have to use a different way of thinking than when we count frontwards, so our brains start to slow down and become “unstuck.” Count backward slowly from 10 and see if this works for you. In between numbers, take a long breath in, and a long breath out.

2. Safe Place (or Anchor Spot)—When you are scared, feeling angry, overwhelmed and feel like your brain is stuck in those emotions, go to your safe place in your mind that brings the most peace. This is meant to be a distraction that will calm the inside and slow the thoughts down to regulate you. If your safe place is the beach, picture a beach scene with sand, beautiful waves and a glorious sunset (or whatever is peaceful to you). Allow the feeling of the waves to sweep over you, imagine what the sand feels like in your toes, and take some breaths of the ocean air and allow peace to come. When you are feeling more calm and safe, allow yourself to go back to your present moment, but take the feeling of peace with you. *The difference here between the disassociation I did as a child and what I call the Safe Place is that I am staying connected to my body, but imagining myself in a place that makes me happy. Disassociation involves removing myself from my body so that I’m looking down at myself but not in my body. I want to stay connected to my body now.

3. Grounding—Look at your surroundings, wherever you are right now. What do you see? Describe it in detail. I see a couch. It is green and has two cushions on it. The cushions are flowery in soft colors. The couch looks soft and comfortable, etc. Go into as much detail as you can as this will move your brain from being stuck on the right side (where the emotions are) to the left side (where your logical side is). This will slow down the emotions and mind racing that is happening so you can catch your breath and feel calmer.

4. Get up and move!—Movement is one of the greatest ways to calm the brain. There is something about movement that gets our brains unstuck. So, if you are laying on the bed, listening to horrible messages your brain is telling you, get out of bed and move around. Whether that’s just walking up and down the hallway for a minute while you practice deep breathing, or it’s going into the backyard or front yard and watching the street for a few minutes, it will distract and bring you into a calmer place.

5. Remind yourself that today you are safe!—You are a grown-up who has the choice to leave or stay. You are able to get help if needed from outside resources. You can call someone, or shoot out a text for prayer. You aren’t stuck! This has been the biggest help for me—telling myself that I have choices and freedom to do what I need to do to get help. I am no longer the little girl that was locked in the trunk of the car or the closet—I am safe and have found my voice and can use it! My voice is strong and powerful!

I hope some of these ideas are helpful! No one wants to be stuck in that place of fear, anger, sadness, or hopelessness. It’s certainly not what God has for us—He loves us so much that He has given our bodies and minds ways in which to cope and to find rest. May you feel the presence of God with you today and allow His grace to wash over you and fill you with His peace.

Amy Engle is a wife, mother of three, and a Marriage and Family Therapist. She resides, along with her family, in Phoenix, Arizona. Amy loves international travel and has a passion for women’s ministry and in particular, for those women that are newly out of the sex industry and need someone to walk alongside them as they begin their healing journey. In her spare time, Amy enjoys coffee with friends and a good book, as well as taking road trips with her oldest kids.

Rebecca Bender
These Boots Are Made For Walking

Most people think that trafficking can only happen to children. I get it, they are young and impressionable and easily swayed by adults. But what about those of us that have just turned 18? With our brains not fully formed in cognitive reasoning until 25, and still so young and naive, how is it that we slip through the cracks? We slip through the cracks of your empathy and from social services and from law enforcement. Because of that, traffickers wait… they wait until our 18th birthdays to swoop in and be that net to catch those slipping through the cracks.

At 18, I was lured to Las Vegas by a man pretending to be my boyfriend. After I was secluded from my family and friends, the trafficking began. He took me to an escort service and slapped me across the face. He told me that this is how it worked here and that he had spent a lot of money to get me here and put me up.

I just wanted things to go back to the way they were: us in love, wanting to get married and start a family. I didn’t want it to end like this…

The first time I went from a “carpet ho” working the casinos to walking “the blade” was frightening. What if the man that picked me up in his car never brought me back? What if he strangled me or held me at gun point and raped me? I was so afraid walking the street in my mini dress and favorite gold shoes. They were the only high heels that didn’t hurt my feet after 8 hours. My trafficker would drive me to a strip club and have me walk back and forth in front of it, waiting for aroused men to come outside. He told me to try to stay in the parking lot so he could be there “to protect me.” I wanted to believe it was because he cared, not because he wanted to take my money after each trick.

But mainly I walked the carpet.  I walked through the casinos looking for men alone on business, gambling and winning. I got to know what each chip’s colors were and who to approach. Most men who were up $5k could easily spend a couple hundred on a working girl and still go home with $3-4k, to a wife, happy that he didn’t lose.

The hardest part of being 18 in Vegas was getting paid by chips. You can’t cash chips in until you’re 21. That meant I definitely had to give every dollar to my trafficker. As if the fear he beat in me and the strip searches, were not enough. I was always afraid he’d find anything I’d “stack” to the side. Even if putting money to the side ever crossed my mind- stacking so I could run; it was impossible with chips. These $5 and $1 chips were the only ones he let me keep.

He bought this dress to take me to a concert for my birthday. I was so excited to get a night off with “my man.” I had never been to a concert before. The day before the concert, I did something that made him mad… anything could set him off. He took another girl I was trafficked with instead as punishment. I was so disappointed I cried. It was some sort of mind game he played- the mouse trying to get the cheese, but never quite reaching it.  The “if you act right you will be rewarded” mind game.

Some have been shocked that I still had these items. I was too. I found the chips in the pocket of an old purse. The shoes and dress I had thrown in my suitcase the night I ran. It was hard to give them up. In a weird twisted way, it felt like letting them go meant that all of this would have been for nothing. You don’t know what I had to do for new shoes, for a new dress, for a night off. My blood, sweat, and tears literally paid the price for these possessions. Today I let them represent what trafficked women go through. Today I let them shine a light on the 18-21 year old forgotten young women.  Today I let them go.                                                 

 “And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan…He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always reverence the LORD your God." Joshua 4:20, 24

Rebecca donated the shoes, chips, and mini-dress to a museum.  This story was also featured at  Trucker's Against Trafficking.

Rebecca Bender is a nationally recognized and awarded expert on domestic sex trafficking. After escaping nearly six years of both labor and sex trafficking, she emerged as a Survivor Leader, providing consulting, training and speaking with some of the largest anti-trafficking groups and government agencies in the country, including FBI, Homeland Security , and former president Jimmy Carter. After writing her first book, Roadmap to Redemption, she founded the Rebecca Bender Initiative.

The Pressure's Off

The pressure to perform is off.

I spent many years in a place of brokenness. There was much to be healed in my heart, but it took time for that healing to come, and for me to surrender. I developed some unhealthy views of God in that place of brokenness. I didn’t understand grace so I lived under the law.

I was certain God was calculating my worth based on my actions.

The lies came along on the daily reminding me that if I messed it up, or did it wrong, or wasted time the consequence would be severe because, after all, God was running a country club and only the most achieved made it in.

I’ve come a long way from that frail, broken girl turned woman who worked so hard to earn her worth. Jesus came along like a gentle gardener and asked permission to come inside and tend to the weeds strangling the life out of my heart. My trust in him was fragile at best, but I found the courage to press through the doubt and found him to be good and kind. With every weed he pulled up, I felt the release of fear, worry, and sorrow leave my soul.

Life is nothing if not seasonal.

Nowhere will you find “steady” as a definition for life. Every soul goes through seasons in life. The very way we grow from children to adults proves that life is seasonal. Often, though, we are resistant to change and so we struggle to see God's provision for us in every season.

Jesus is the tool giver.

All of us are given a toolbox at the beginning of this journey with Jesus but unlike the one sitting in the garage, filled with all kinds of unnamed tools, the one Jesus gives us only has the specific tools needed for the specific season we are in.

Can you imagine if he handed you a toolbox full to the brim with tools you had no idea how to use?

The stress and pressure to perform would be so intense that we would run as far away as possible. Instead, Jesus sits down with us and pulls out those few tools in the box, and he shows us how to use them. He never puts tools in there that are to heavy or cumbersome for where we are on this journey. He is more concerned with the state of our hearts than the state of our affairs and so he guides us carefully and gently through each season giving us only what we can handle in that moment.

We are meant to be like children.

Children explore, discover and create. Unless told otherwise, children just assume that the world is their own personal gift and they are meant to uncover the treasures in it. This is how Jesus desires to interact with us. He puts the right tool in our hands for the right season and shows us how to use them to explore, discover and create.

For me, the season of healing led to the season of dreaming. I wasn’t able to see beyond my brokenness until Jesus came and made me whole. Then, the dreams that I believe were there from the beginning began sprouting through the surface and my perspective on life changed completely. As that season shifted, I found the tools in my toolbox changing.

There hasn’t been a season I’ve walked through where Jesus hasn’t given me the exact tools I needed to move through it with grace and freedom.

When I was holding babies and changing diapers, his rest was my tool. When I was allowing my fractured heart to face the light of day, his courage was my tool. When I discovered the dream of writing, he put words in my mouth and a pen in my hand as my tool.

While I’ve learned that there is no pressure to perform, I admit that the temptation is always there to think I must “get it right.” When I begin caving to that pressure, though, is when the gift becomes a burden and the season loses its joy. When I center my heart on Jesus and his goodness, I find myself able to move through every season with peace and I’m able to explore the gifts he’s given, using the tools he places in my hands.

Jesus isn’t looking at you hoping you’ll measure up, friend. He is eager to take you on a journey of exploration. The tools in your toolbox right now are meant to be used for your joy, your creativity…for your pleasure. This season you are in is preparing you for the next season because that is always how Jesus works in us. He moves us from one season to the next and only when we surrender to his leading do we find joy in the journey. Trusting his leading means trusting that he gives us what we need when we need it.

What season are you in right now? What tools are in your toolbox right now?

Don't for a minute believe that your toolbox is empty. God loves you too much not to give you just what you need in this season. He is, right this minute, thinking of you and the good things he has planned for you.

You have a toolbox designed specifically for you and if you will open it you will find Jesus has supplied you with just the right tools for this season in your life. When it's time for a change, you'll find your toolbox looks different because it has a few new tools, meant to help you in the new season. In every season, he will be faithful to give you what you need.

So, what are you waiting for?

Go explore. Go discover. Go create.

Shannon Keys makes her home in Phoenix where she is a pastor’s wife, mom, author, and speaker. She is currently working towards the publication of her first novel, a story of redemption when all hope seems lost. Her greatest desire is to infuse the hope of Jesus into the brokenhearted through sharing her own story of overcoming childhood abuse. To learn more visit: mylittlejourney.com

Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition—Not a Liberal Agenda

This blog was originally posted 8/11/15 on Sonjourners and is republished with permission.

Many Christians are wary of participating in social justice because of a deep-rooted fear of being labeled “liberal,” “progressive,” or “secular.” They don’t want to be associated with “secular” movements, and are uncomfortable delving into issues that go beyond their cultural comfort zones.

But the Bible tells us that Jesus cared deeply about the social causes around him.

Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Samaritan lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Children’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Jewish lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Lepers’ lives matter.”

Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.

So saying “Black Lives Matter” and participating in a movement seeking justice, positive reform, and empowerment is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.

Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”

Christians must recognize that our society is filled with numerous groups and communities facing systemic oppression, and we must act. We must be willing to admit and address the complex realities within our world that create such problems, and avoid the spiritual laziness that tempts us to rely on generic excuses and solutions.

Christians do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’s ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes. We like to generalize the words of Jesus and transform his life into a one-size-fits-all model that can apply to all of humanity.

Throughout the New Testament Jesus was more complex than we give him credit for.

He intentionally, purposefully, and passionately addressed very specific causes. He radically addressed the diverse and complicated conflicts of the time and shattered the status quo.

Jesus wasn’t just preaching a universal salvation message for the world, but he was also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues. He was helping those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed.

Involving ourselves within these issues — serving those who need justice — is an example of following Jesus that today’s Christians must adhere to, because throughout the world there are millions of people who are suffering. But many Christians remain simply apathetic, ignorant, or refuse to admit any problems exist.

They’re uncomfortable facing the complex and controversial issues surrounding race, ethnicity, history, and culture.

To avoid such discomfort, many Christians assume that equality and justice looks like a total dismissal — and rejection of — any cultural, ethnic, or distinguishing form of identity. They believe our very humanity should supersede all other labels or descriptions, and that a love of Christ wipes away any “superficial” characteristic such as skin color, heritage, or other cultural identifier.

They see verses such as Galatians 3:28 that states, “ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV) to mean that nothing else matters beyond our faith in Christ.

Ironically, verses like this show that these things — race, ethnicity, culture — DO matter to God, because God is recognizing the very public fact that there are various laws, expectations, practices, and opinions regarding each distinction mentioned.

Paul is validating all of the cultural issues associated with Jews, Gentiles, slaves, the free, men, and women rather than disregarding them. He’s stating that Jesus is relevant to these differences, and is working throughout their lives by understanding and recognizing the unique pros and cons they’re dealing with — the privileges, disadvantages, stereotypes, assumptions, treatment, rights, social value, and expectations they face on a daily basis.

Participating in social justice is a Christian tradition inspired by Jesus, not liberal causes, populist agendas, media platforms, lawmakers, or mainstream fads. It’s a deeply spiritual practice.

Instead of being motivated by political affiliations, financial gain, power, pride, control, or our own secular motivations, we should be active participants for the sake of following Jesus — for the purpose of glorifying God by through acts of justice, empowerment, and love.

Participating in social justice is a Christian tradition inspired by Jesus, not liberal causes.

Because everyone is created in the image of God and loved by God, we are responsible for identifying with the victimized — not rejecting their existence.

That’s why the New Testament goes into great depth detailing the newfound worth given to the Gentiles, slaves, and women. These countercultural instructions to believers were radically progressive, to the point where the gospel writers had to put them in writing to make sure they were implemented within the newly formed church.

While God does love everyone and all believers are united in Christ, this doesn’t negate the fact that we have a unique cultural identity and upbringing and are called to recognize the marginalized, help the oppressed, and avoid rejecting their significance by denying their identity or ignoring their plight.

By acknowledging and actively participating in the #blacklivesmatter movement, addressing racism, immigration, gender equality, and a litany of other issues, you are following in the steps of Jesus.

It’s not a matter of pitting social causes against the gospel message of Christ; it’s a matter of realizing that these causes ARE actually an important part of that gospel message.

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Stephen Mattson is a writer who currently resides in the Twin Cities, Minn. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.