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.

Video Games: A Gateway Drug to Gender Violence and the Purchase of Illegal Sex

Recently I was assigned a college paper that consisted of reviewing a video game. "Are you kidding me, I’m actually paying for this?" Was my response in the vaguest of terms. Although I am very aware of their immense popularity, I know nothing about video games nor do I play them. Due to their overwhelming acceptance, some of the information I provide here may be old news to you, but it was new news to me and what I found was shocking.

Popular games in a specific genre such as Grand Theft Auto have been the center of ample controversy. Many psychological studies have been performed to determine if these video game which condones violence, are linked to increased aggression. Analyzing whether there is a link between long-term exposure to games such as these and the moral apathy of the generations playing them, has been debated. Several video games are synonymous with murder, gender violence and the purchase of illegal sex. Players are actually rewarded for buying illegal sex. There are two camps in the arena of psychological study as to whether video games actually produce violent behavior. Although the American Psychology Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that violent video games should not be played by children and young adults, due to a potential adverse effect of increased aggression, other research shows that gaming may actually decrease aggression. Overall studies have found there is no evidence linking exposure to such games with gender violence or increased purchase of illegal sex.

Brad Bushman (2014) of Psychology Today stated, “One problem with violent video games is that they discourage players from exercising self-control. For example, in Grand Theft Auto players can steal cars, have illegal sex (then kill her afterwards to get their money back), and kill other characters including police officers. Rather than being punished for such behaviors, players are rewarded.” This has the potential to be an explosive cultural issue. But again there is no solid proof that video games lead to aggressive behavior, sexual violence or the purchase of illegal sex.

How does playing games such as these affect our world views? Is the buying and selling of illegal sex and violence in video games a form of anger management? (This theory has been signified on many occasions). And if this is a form of anger management, could it potentially lead to people acting out these violent scenarios in real life, with the impression that there would be no consequences? The answer is yes and there is proof.

Anita Sarkeesian, a pop culture critic set out on a campaign in 2012 to create awareness in the media about the opposed sexism and sexual exploitation in video games. Anita’s endeavor, Trope verses Video Games was a project that took a feminist view on women’s roles in these virtual realities. During her undertaking, Sarkeesian became the center of an epic cyber mobbing, which was initiated by anonymous online gamers. This unnamed mob, who claimed to be defending their right to purchase illegal sex virtually, hacked all of Anita’s social media accounts and distributed her private information. They crashed her website. She received thousands of emails and messages containing threats of violence, murder, and rape. The perpetrators created fake pornographic images of Anita and circulated them all over the world-wide-web. They also created an interactive knock-out computer game containing images of Ms. Sarkeesin. The premise of the game was to physically harm the main character which was Anita. Other bloggers and reviewers on the internet that claimed to support her work were also volatilely harassed.

Should such acts be labeled as common cyberbullying? Or are these actions by definition gender-based violence, subjugation of women and aggression with intent to harm? Although there is no “evidence” that video games have initiated violent behavior, I urge us to look at the context here. The framework of such video games glorifies the purchase of illegal sex, gender oppression, and sexual violence. The attacks made on Ms. Sarkeesian by the participants of these games reeks of gender violence. The notion that these strikes are not evidence of violent behavior in association with video games seems a general disregard for critical thinking and compassion.

Now any gamer you talk to will claim that exposure to such virtual scenarios does not change the psyche, nor is it unsafe by nature. We also know that the attacks against Anita are not a representation of the entire gaming population. There are many claims online that the purchase of illegal sex and gender violence is not the main objective of most video games. The women soliciting sex in these games are claimed to be nothing more than props, which set the tone for the game’s seedy realities. Yet an intention of the game is situated around the idea that having illegal sex is beneficial. Your player will actually gain more body strength and a longer life span. There are also several websites that produce an annual list of, “The Ten Best Strip Clubs and Brothels in Video Games.” I don’t think it is any secret that ten best lists in our culture focus on the most attractive features of places and products to drives sales.

Despite the violence and virtual reality debate which was reiterated by Cheryl Olson, public health specialist at Harvard University who stated, “One contingent warns that violent games reduce empathy and effective anger management skills. The other rebuts that such research is just playing into moral panic.” (Greenwood, 2010, p. 3). There is plenty of evidence that certain video games not only lead to a lack of empathy but gender violence. This is not a debate and yes we should be concerned. How else could we possibly label Anita Sarkeesian’s story?

How we spend our time matters. Sometimes things that may seem innocent are subtle attacks on the mind and the heart. In our culture we are inundated with images of gender subjugation, so let’s make sure we guard our hearts.

For more information on this topic watch Anita Sarkeesian’s Tedx Women’s talk, “Online Attacks Against Activist Who Oppose Sexism and Sexual Exploitation.”

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.

References

Greenwood, Dara. “Grand Theft Auto Is Good for You? Not So Fast…” Scientific American, Nature America, Inc., 2010, https://www.scientificamerica.com. Accessed 23 April 2017.

Bushman, Brad. “Violent Video Games Decreases Self-Control.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2014. https://psychologytoday.com/basics/sex. Accessed 23 April 2017.

Complex Trauma

If you are involved in direct service, which involves providing direct interventions to survivors of human trafficking or population who may encounter interpersonal violence, you may have heard the term "trauma-informed." This term refers to treatment methodologies that are inclusive to traumatic experiences as a focus in a survivor's case plan or treatment modality.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for a number of organizations who do include trauma into the focus of their treatment for assisting persons to overcome adversity. Including, an in-depth exploration to the neuroscience of trauma and its physical impact on the brain. Trauma information is presented during every training opportunity for all staff, including case planning and multidisciplinary action teams. Trauma-informed care is inclusive to survivors in the process and allows the survivor to become an integral part of the healing process.

While trauma-informed care is considered to be a best-practice model for serving individuals who have experienced trauma and adversity, there is another more advanced type of trauma that is rarely talked about and, rarely trained on—complex trauma. Human Trafficking (long-term trafficking) survivors often fall under the umbrella of complex trauma because of their repeated exposure to violence and adverse experiences, as well as a lack of available services for persons with this level of trauma.

When I was 16 years old, I was stuck in a relationship with Satan. My boyfriend at the time enjoyed the pain he inflicted on me. Physical, sexual, psychological, you name it, I lived it with him. The trauma I experienced took place during the limbic stage of brain development and rewired my brain to think that violence was normal in a relationship. This primed me for exploitation when I moved away from my parents' house.

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The National Child Traumatic Stress Center defines complex trauma as a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly, cumulatively and even increases over time. In a family context, a conspicuous example of complex trauma is ongoing (physical or sexual) violence against family members. There are many different scenarios that can play out when looking at what complex trauma looks like. A common example in my work with survivors most often includes someone with an extensive history of sexual abuse, starting sometime during their childhood. I've also met a substantial number of survivors who share that they watched a domestic violence situation play out over and over again during their childhood. Many survivors tell stories of watching someone murdered in front of them. All of these are severe levels of exposure to trauma, but what is signature to complex trauma is when the exposure is repeated over an extensive time period (more than a few weeks).

The main difference between the two include the symptoms. The image below gives a helpful guide on what complex trauma looks like.

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In this image, you can see that there is a solid base of re-experiencing, avoidance, and sense of threat in both PTSD (trauma) and Complex PTSD (complex trauma). What sets complex trauma apart is that on top of those signature behaviors of repeated exposure to trauma, you also see the person's affect becoming chronically dysregulated with difficulty seeing oneself in any positive light, and is constantly engaging in negative interpersonal relationships. This means that you usually see the survivor sabotaging relationships or allowing the lack of trust to prevent that individual from connecting or attaching with anyone. 

You can't talk about complex trauma without talking about brain science, specifically how early trauma exposure can rewire the brain, increasing vulnerability to adverse experiences later on. I am not yet a neuroscientist, but I will share information I have been given at the trainings I've been to recently. When a child experiences trauma during any of the various milestones of development, that trauma can leave a mark (or scar) on the brain until that child is able to overcome what they experienced. Someone who has experienced a lot of abuse can actually lose parts of their brain. This can impair the way the child (or later the adult) interacts with others, and even the ability to keep meaningful relationships. What is more alarming is that the complex trauma can actually alter the brain's responses to trauma, impairing judgment, and making someone susceptible to even more devastating trauma. There's a video of a Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris of the Center for Youth Wellness in California that blows my mind every time I see it! She talks a lot about the ACEs Assessment (which is accessible at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/) and how the assessment is an especially useful tool to identify trauma histories in patients so that the treatment can be trauma-informed.  (https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime)


When I graduated high school at 18 years old, I was able to walk away from that relationship. I am making it sound really easy, but it definitely wasn't. After I was able to successfully end that relationship, I engaged in promiscuous behavior including sneaking out with boys and girls, drinking, and blatantly defying my parents. When I actually got to college, I was primed and ready for someone to take complete advantage of my vulnerabilities. Do you think that there were services for me out in Podunk, KS? NO! There was nothing. There's still nothing. How do you think that never getting services helped me? Spoiler alert…it didn't. 

Think about all of the amazing kiddos who are at risk for human trafficking. There are so many kids out there who have lived through worse than I did, at a much earlier age. There are so many kids who have lived in the shadows and grew into traumatized adults who later result to maladaptive survival behaviors because that trauma has disintegrated their temporal lobes (responsible for computer auditory information) or damaged their prefrontal cortex (responsible for managing impulsivity and judgment). These kids….who were severely traumatized….who were forgotten by the system…..grow into TRAFFICKERS. Complex Trauma creates Traffickers.

Listen, y'all – there's no justification for traffickers' behaviors. There's no making what they did okay. But we can learn from them. We can work to own up to and eventually fix the mistakes we have made as a society. WE can prevent human traffickers. Think about the impacts of the foster care system on children. Or what about poverty, dang it??? Think about how our society manufactures trauma that creates this everlasting river of cruelty. The river flows from population to population, shifting the blame, demonizing human beings, and never solving the issue of violence that perpetuates complex trauma. The cruelty moves and shifts so that it becomes unrecognizable in another form (until smart people like me figure it out). 

It's time to destroy this river (and only this river). You can make a difference by engaging in a conversation with someone you have had difficult relationships with in a way that is kind. You can start to challenge those "good guy/bad guy" ideas that are so blatantly part of our culture. You can raise your kids under a rainbow of glitter, unicorns, and kindness. Perpetuate a world where we accept one another, no matter anyone's views. Perpetuate a world where love is the goal.

Kristen Tebow 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. Kristen 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. Kristen 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.

2 Kinds of Faith

In the Bible there are only two occurrences that were recorded during Jesus ministry where He states that He was, "Amazed;" Mark 6:6 and in Luke 7:9. Both contrast one another. One was for those who were lacking in faith and the other time was for a man's great faith. I can only hope that one day I too can achieve such great faith that it amazes Jesus.

Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Many times, if I don't have faith in what I see, how much harder can it be for me to have faith in what I do not see. And yet…. Jesus waits for me and for you, ever so patiently. Have faith, my child. Have faith. Let's look at the two kinds of faith that amazed Jesus.

Lack of Faith

In Mark 6 we read that Jesus was going into His hometown with His disciples. When the Sabbath came, Jesus began teaching and although many were in awe of what He was doing, talk of doubt and disbelief began to show up in different circles. Can you imagine the scene? "Hey, isn't that Mary and Joseph's boy?", "Isn't that so and so's brother?", "Aw, we know who that is, we lived near him!" Does that sound familiar? I know for me it does. I've had looks before from people I knew or knew of me growing up. "Isn't that the one who was wild growing up?" "Wasn't she a stripper back in the day?" "That's just my niece, I know who she is!"

Jesus’ own family in Mark 3:21 traveled 30 miles from Capernaum to Nazareth and we read in verse 21, "When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for the said, "He is out of his mind!" See, doesn't that just gives you Jesus bumps! Even Jesus’ own family thought he was crazy. Ha! They traveled 30 miles and back then they didn't have Uber. I googled how long the walk would have been and it would approximately have taken them 10 hours to walk. Wow! They were serious in trying to tell him how crazy he was. Think about that for a minute. Some people may travel miles to tell you how they feel about you that is not aligned with what Jesus feels about you. In Mark 3:31-35, Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were outside of where he was teaching looking for him. And Jesus responds in vs. 34-35, "Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." What Jesus was saying here is that his family was those who hear God’s word and puts them to practice (keyword = practice). Jesus wasn't at all trying to disrespect them, rather he was making a statement and empathizing the point that one's spiritual relationship was superior to one's natural earthly relationship. He loved them all but his purpose was to do the will of His Father.

Philippians 4:9 says, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me. Or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

In Mark 6:4-6 Jesus told his disciples that only in his hometown, among his relatives and even in his own home, was He a prophet without honor. And because of this, he was only able to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. The sad part in those verses is that it said Jesus couldn't perform any miracles there. Healings came but not the miracles. Meditate on that a bit, take your time to process that. There were healings. BUT not miracles. Mark 6:6, "And He [Jesus] was amazed at their lack of faith." It wasn't that Jesus did not want to, but that He chose not to- due to their lack of faith/unbelief.

Jesus wants us to know his heart. He left us the Living Word of God, so that we wouldn't be weary, or blind but rather see that Faith activates miracles, while the lack of faith deactivates it.

Miracle Causing Faith

So, now that we saw what lack of faith looks like, we now can move onto the kind of faith that causes miracles.

Luke 7:1-10, tells the story of a Centurion slave master who was concerned for his servant who was ill and about to die. He was so concerned that he sent some Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus, asking him to heal his servant. They begged Jesus, asking him to heal that man's servant. They told Jesus that this Centurion was responsible for building their synagogue and that he was a man who loved their nation. This man must've been a stand-up kind of guy, one who was wealthy. In order for him to be able to get some Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus on his behalf, he had to have a lot of respect in his community. Because of them, Jesus decided to go. Not far from the house the Centurion sent another word through his friends to tell Jesus that he wasn't worthy to have Jesus come to his house or for him to go to Jesus and be in his presence. BUT, he said that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his slave would be healed. He said that he understood authority; and that he himself was under authority and that he had led soldiers who were under his authority. Let's read in Luke 7:8, "For I myself [ the Centurion] am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, " ‘Go' and he goes; and that one, ‘come', and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘do this', and he does it."

It is this great reminder that in God's army when Jesus gives us a command (i.e Be well. Be healed. Go forth. Follow me. You are forgiven. You are set free.) that we should not doubt, but rather have faith and just be. Just receive it. And if we lack wisdom on how to do it we should ask him. (James 1:5).

The Centurion man knew that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. All he needed was to hear the word from Jesus. The beauty about that also was that he didn't even have to be in the physical presence of the Lord or a word from a prophet this was normal everyday friends. And because of his faith, we read in Luke 7:9, "When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

When the friends turned back home to the Centurion's house, the servant was healed.

Three things we can learn from the Centurion:

1) Great faith activates miracles.

2) Humble confidence produces the result of a Character that pleases the Lord.

3) When God commands us- we need to think like a soldier and just do it, accept it, believe it.

May we all remember the that Centurion man had a faith that made Jesus amazed. And may we also be like the woman who knew that one touch of Jesus would heal her. It isn't material possessions, or status in society..etc.,  its Faith. I leave you with one more verse, the very verse that Jesus spoke to the woman who had an issue for 12 years that could not be cured until she reached out towards Jesus in faith. Luke 8:48, "Then He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in Peace."

May the Lord's words comfort you. Go in Peace.

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 to women incarcerated 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 of faith, hope, and love.

Beautiful Faith

I want to address this blog to the survivors who are newly out of the life and not sure where they're stepping yet. To the survivor who is out, but on a roller coaster of highs, lows, and insecurities. To the survivors who understand how faith works and the ones who don't.

I'm talking to the people of faith here, all the ones who know: for the people who wonder and the people who HOPE that somebody is listening.

This is the story of how I built my faith early on, exiting the life, and trying to get my footing in a completely foreign world. It was like I was in Rome and I was doing my best to act Roman and fit in with the natives, but in actuality, my dress, my mannerisms, my language, my thinking, my understanding, and everything about me was more at home in another galaxy. Nevertheless, I tried and took heed of a piece of advice someone once gave me: Act as if!  Fake it till you make it!

And since all my game plans had failed me, I decided to throw myself into this role of high moral Christianity all the way. I went into it wholeheartedly, taking on the role: role-playing is something I had done before!

In my church, the sacrament of communion is a ritual reenactment of Jesus's Last Supper where he instructs his followers to eat broken bread and drink wine or water in remembrance of his promises he kept to us in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. It was at the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross that he showed us that he knew all of our pain and that he could bear it for us. So in the exchange of bread and a sip of water, I gave him my trust. I gave him a promise back...

My promise each week was that I would not sell my body and I would not allow anyone else to sell my body for any reason. Somehow, I trusted Jesus that he would provide—that for the next week, with no selling of my flesh, I would have a roof over my head, food on my table, and a safe place to be. There is no peace or happiness without security.

That was my covenant, my own promise to God from myself.

Somehow, not only did I have the bare minimum, I had my own house. An adorable little blue house with wood floors, trees in the yard, and even a cat. I worked a call center job I had to take the bus to and was not making enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, yet somehow each month all those amenities and blessings were met and taken care of.

I remember once when I was destitute (again) and I got a doorbell-ditch. The bell rang and when I opened the door, there were paper hearts taped to the windows and doors with messages of love and encouragement, and a fifty-pound bag of cat food—my immediate necessity for my sweet pet!!—on my step. This blessing came after someone at church heard me joke that I was ready to stand by the freeway entrance holding a cardboard sign that said WILL WORK FOR CAT FOOD!

It was a joke, but it was my need and my real worry at the time and some kind soul took it seriously enough to be God's hands for that moment.

I know that real evil exists and can seem overwhelming for new faith.

I know that are wars in the world and people who say, "where is God for those that suffer?" This question is an old philosophy question and it's a hard one. There are no easy answers, but I know there can be a comfort. I have felt it. I know that it sounds trivial that God cares about my cat, but after a dear friend's teenage son just passed away from a long illness, it seemed unfair to have faith in God. During this time, something I learned is that one way to avoid the bitterness of the sad situations where God seems to let us down is to think of the ways in which he doesn't and to think of the different ways he works through mere mortal individuals. For example, if people want to have a war, he won't stop them, but he might bless someone who suffers because of it, especially when they ask and stand ready to receive comfort.

God will not force anything. If we let him in, I have faith he will come in. It may not be the way we expect, but God is ready to meet us where we are if we're willing to do the work to meet him.

Of course, when I took on this role playing scenario I made lots of changes in my life. I became a lay minister, visiting the women I was assigned to and doing what my church leaders asked me to do to serve others. I took on a low-paying regular-life job. I quit hanging out with people (both in person and online) I knew could drag me back down.

Most importantly though was the meeting I had every week during communion—a sacrament between myself and God. I showed up every week because I knew I had to recommit my life to him. And when I recommitted my life to him every week, he showed up too. This step of faith was important to me.

One week at church I sat next to someone I had not sat by before. She was younger than me and had been born into the faith. She said to me, "You shouldn't take this sacrament since you haven't been baptized yet. I mean you CAN it won't hurt anything, but it can't MEAN anything to you...." She expressed this to me because it is what she had been taught. As she held out the tray containing the bread, I looked in her eyes and said, "You have no idea how much this means to me." I had built a testimony of faith and had seen it work in my life.

I kept coming on Sundays.

I have since been baptized and I continue to take the sacrament. And each week I make the covenant once again to not sell my body. Imagine how that covenant has grown; not only do I have a place to stay, but it is a safe house for others too. I have security. I have food on the table and I still have my cat.

Life is good and I have faith that it will only get better!

Laurin Crosson is the founder and director of Rockstarr Ministries. She runs a safe house and specializes in assisting in escape for victims still under pimp control. Laurin is a proud graduate of RBI and is grateful for their ongoing support.

6 Things I Have Learned About Faith

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith is the one thing that we need to please God as it states in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

In my experience faith is closely related to obedience and trust. I have been walking with the Lord for about five years. And I think the biggest thing that I have learned is the idea that faith and obedience are a must in walking out our salvation with God. It is funny that it seems so simple, but when push comes to shove, sometimes our own comfort and lack of trust seems like a way better choice than whatever God asks us to do because we can’t see what is on the other side of what He is asking of us.

I am going to get pretty vulnerable. My name is Devon Alexa. When I was 19, I was trafficked from Southern California to Las Vegas. Five years ago, I was introduced to the Jesus and for me, it took an encounter with His presence that convinced me of His realness. After that moment, I knew that I was going to give my life fully to the Lord, no looking back. And frankly at that point in my life, there wasn’t much to lose - I was just living to survive.

Meeting Jesus was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

Throughout my journey with God, I have had the best times in my life and some of the hardest. But through the ups and the downs I have chosen to never give up on Jesus - even in the times I haven’t been able to see the light. For example, the first two years of my walk with God were amazing: full of blessings and freedom. I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life. I had amazing friends was doing ministry and loving life. About two years into my walk with God, I decided to pursue my first dating relationship with a Christian man. He was such an awesome guy and was intentional about pursuing my heart. I remember when he asked me to be his girlfriend although my response was "I’m scared," I was overjoyed at the same time. I couldn’t believe that someone like him could like me.

As the relationship progressed my heart for him and a vision for our relationship grew. Then one day before we were going to go on a date I heard the audible voice of God for the first time. In that moment I knew God was telling me that the guy I was dating was not my husband. Most people would have gone to their bedroom repented and broke it off. Right? Well, unfortunately, I doubted that I heard God’s voice and continued to date him. In my mind he was the best - I had never experienced someone treating me with the honor and respect that he did. As I made the decision to stay in the relationship I was bombarded with confusion and lies, like: It’s because of my past I could never be with someone like that, or it’s the enemy because we have a mighty call together. As I continued to doubt the voice of God and fight for the relationship, things got worse. I began to become jealous and spiraled into my first experience with depression. During this time I would pray and beg God that if He wasn’t the one to have him to break up with me. God whispered, "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." He was calling me to be courageous.

Eventually, I realized that things were not working and I finally obeyed. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life - and I have been through some difficult things. It’s easy to walk around and say, "I trust God and He is the Lord over my life, etc.” But what happens when he asks you to surrender something that looks good to you?

Through this experience, I was confronted with my beliefs of God and who He was to me. If I truly, in my heart, believed that God had the best for me and that he was GOOD ALL OF THE TIME, then I would have obeyed immediately and saved myself and the other person involved a lot of pain.

Although hard, I am grateful for that season, because it prepared my heart to receive the healing that it so desperately needed and launched me into a deeper relationship with God.

As I have grown in my relationship with God I have learned to listen and obey quicker because as I have stepped out in faith God has always been faithful. It is scary at times but always worth it. I have never regretted listening to God. It’s funny because usually, the things He wants for me are the things that I truly want in my heart but are unaware of at the time. He knows our desires more than we do.

Six things I have learned from this experience.

1. Obey immediately (Even if you think you hear God step out in FAITH. God will reward you with a greater measure of peace and it’s an invitation for an upgrade in trust).

2. Know your values.

3. Believe God has your best intentions in mind (He knows you better than you know yourself).

4. Trust that God is good all of the time (He only knows how to be good, he is good all of the time, rain or shine, no matter what you think or how you feel He is good).

5. Abide in the God who says, “My peace is priceless.”

6. Become whole before dating (learn to love yourself and love what God loves - YOU).

My favorite verse is Philippians 3:13: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. Not that I am perfect, but one thing I do is forget the things of the past and press forward to the prize of the upward call of Jesus Christ.

No matter what you are facing never give up. Remember that there is always something good on the other side of trusting God. He is faithful!  

My name is Devon Alexa, I am 26 and am passionate about people walking in freedom and life and finding the greatness that is placed inside of them. I believe that there is hope for everyone. I was trafficked when I was 19 and through Jesus, I have been set free. I love coffee, spicy food, and I love long car rides and plane rides. If the only thing I learn in this life is love then this life has been a success.