‘Twas the night before school started….

SH-Zoo-Pack-Owl-Frog-Zebra-1024x682I know many of you have a few days, or WEEKS, of school under your belt already, but tomorrow is my sweet boy’s first day of second grade!  SECOND GRADE!!!  

{insert weeping and sniffles!}

Right now his lunch is packed, his outfit is laid out, and he’s snuggled in bed.

I was thinking through my week and what is on the calendar, and I remembered that this Saturday, September 6 is the Exploit No More Fall Advocacy Summit.

What in the world does this have to do with the night before the first day of school???

It hit me like a ton of bricks….there are so many precious girls (and boys!) tonight who are NOT getting ready for school tomorrow!

These precious children are trapped in sex trafficking.  Instead of laying out their outfits and filling their backpacks, they are enduring beatings, rape, being drugged, and bought and sold for their bodies.  

They don’t get the opportunity to worry about who they will sit next to at lunch tomorrow, or if their hair will lay right, or who will be in their English class.

They are being passed around, forced to do unspeakable things, and worrying, instead, about making enough money to please their pimp so maybe, just maybe, tonight she won’t get beaten.  

My heart breaks as I write this.  I imagine the fear, hopelessness, despair and pain those precious girls are feeling tonight as I watch my little ones sleep.  I can’t even fathom the life they are living.  I really can’t.

I’m writing this tonight NOT to guilt you into action.  But, most certainly, to encourage you, nudge you, maybe help push you into action that has been pulling on your heart too.

I have been volunteering with Exploit No More for some time now.  ENM is working to end sex trafficking in Milwaukee, and also to establish an aftercare home for girls (age 18 and under) after leaving the sex trade.  These girls need so much support, healthcare, education, life training, etc. and this home will provide that.  

But that takes A LOT of people and A LOT of money!  

If you are in the Milwaukee area, please try to spend this Saturday morning, September 6, 2014 8:00-12:!5 at the Fall Advocacy Summit.  The people you will hear from are reputable, knowledgeable, influential, and have been working in the trenches of this issue for quite some time.  

I know it’s hard to give up a Saturday morning, but really, what is 4 hours in the scope of your week considering what and WHO we are working for!

Register here.  If you can’t come, please consider sending someone from your church or organization.  As I said, it takes A LOT of people and A LOT of awareness to end this atrocity in our city.

If you’re reading this, and it’s pulling at your heart, but you don’t live in the Milwaukee area, please consider praying for ENM.  Please consider donating to ENM.  Donations are tax deductible.  The money you donate gets us closer and closer to providing a safe place to girls who don’t even know the definition of the word “safe” anymore.

Victim or Survivor?

il_340x270.300695958Victim: a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or bysome impersonal agency

I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately.

If I’m honest, I’m dealing with a lot of anger these days.  I’m angry that the decisions of others have so greatly affected my life, and that I had no control over how the choices of others have impacted my life, my emotions, my direction in life, my choices, etc.

I’m guessing we could all look back in our lives and find instances where someone else’s choices have had an impact on you – through no fault or choice of your own.  It could be the divorce of your parents, an addiction of a sibling, a family member’s choice to move away for a job, etc.  Or something even more heinous – perhaps sexual or physical abuse.

There are people around the world who are victims of horrific circumstances: slavery, government oppression, mutilation, murder, poverty, starvation.  But we don’t all fall into those categories.

And yet, we still may feel like a victim.

That our choices were made for us, without our input, because of the decisions of another.  And the ramifications of those choices may have had devastating consequences for us – those who had no part in making those choices.

And that PISSES ME OFF!

I am working to change my mindset from that of a victim, to that of a survivor.

Holding on to the mindset of a victim strips me of power.

It gives me an identity that God did not create me to have.

It sits me square in the middle of a pity party.

It keeps me focused on someone else and on circumstances that I cannot change, no matter how desperately and passionately I want to change them.

It can create bitterness in my heart.

It keeps me trapped.

And I don’t like feeling like that.

I have had the incredible blessing of learning from some pretty neat and wise women lately.  One of them sent me a document. It outlined the healthy and non-healthy ways we deal with stress.  I wanted to focus on the “Victim/Implementer”.

When we are in a stressful, traumatic situation, the UNhealthy way of dealing with it is becoming a victim.  This can be characterized by being: defensive, apologetic, sad all the time, hurt, helpless, hopeless, guilty, despairing, passive, afraid, compliant, lazy, manipulative.

Can anyone else relate???

VS.

Dealing with it in a healthy way and becoming an implementer. This can be characterized by being: confident, hopeful, active, brave, assertive, realistic, takes responsibility for self, makes own decisions, participates in their own recovery, believes in self, makes plans, sets goals, follows through in spite of setbacks.

Hmmmmmmm – that’s HARD work though!

Those characteristics of being a victim are much easier.  When you have suffered a trauma, those feelings come pretty easily.  I’m guessing it’s probably pretty normal to feel most of them.

The problem lies in getting stuck there.  In letting those feelings become who you are.  They can transform your identity into “Victim”.

It’s a painful place to be.  But at the same time, it’s comfortable in a way.  It doesn’t take work to sit in that dark muck.  It’s incredibly easy for our minds to justify all of those feelings.  “Well, look what they did to me….  It wasn’t my fault, and here I sit…..  There’s no hope because of what he did….. My life will never be righted again now…..  I can’t do anything to change my life now that she did that…..  I’m the way I am because of what they did, I’ll never do any better…..”

Those thoughts take no effort.  And they “make sense” when you’re in that spot.

So, how DO we combat those kinds of feelings and thoughts and not allow ourselves to take on the identity and title of “Victim”?

A lot of re-programming!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philipians 4:8

We generally can’t just choose to be confident.  At least I can’t!  But we CAN seize opportunities to do things that helps us feel confident in our skills, our relationships, our abilities, our choices.  We can then take responsibility for those choices and actions and follow through with them, even if there are set backs.  We may not be able to just wake up one day hopeful for all the future holds, but we CAN choose to replace the negative, self defeating lies we’ve been listening to with truths of our worth in God’s eyes.  Truths like the fact that God knows the number of hairs on our head, so we can work on trusting that He still has purpose for us in this world.  We can mourn the life we thought we would have had, but also choose to look ahead with anticipation of what can still be.

I think choosing to live as a victim keeps us looking backwards, while choosing to live as a survivor helps us to look forward.

We can’t forget what’s been done in the past.  We have to do hard, hard work to look at it, deal with it, process it, learn from it and not let it control us.  And when it sneaks up again (and again and again and again), we go through that process again.  But it doesn’t have to hold us back forever.

If we do the work, we can call ourselves a survivor.

Do you remember those bookmarks and things you could find with your name on it and a definition of what your name meant?  I remember seeing those a lot as a kid.  I pretty much always saw my name, Victoria, to mean “victorious” (which was a major bummer to me because I thought that lacked all creativity!)

As an adult I have not always liked that name.  Because, you see, you can’t be “victorious” if you don’t go through some really crappy, awful things!  You don’t call yourself victorious after walking around the block (unless you have a physical impairment of some kind!), you call yourself victorious after running a marathon!  You had to train for that, you had to preserve through cramps, blisters, burning lungs, exhaustion, and maybe an intense desire to quit!  But you didn’t quit, and were victorious!

We can’t be survivors if we don’t first endure some awful stuff!

I wish I was writing this from “the other side”.  I wish I could say I’m living a fully victorious life and calling myself a survivor.  But I’m not there yet.  I’m just starting this fight.

Anyone want to move from “victim” to “SURVIVOR” with me??

 

Isolation

The_Winner_Stands_Alone_3001_answer_2_xlargeI LOVED living in the dorm in college!  I loved having people around all the time.  At any time of the day or night there was someone you could go talk to, cry to, watch a movie with, study with, or run to Kroger with for some ice cream!

I am an extrovert – I recharge by being with people.  I feel so rejuvenated after spending a couple hours over dinner or coffee with a friend.  Or going to a party with a lot of friends and getting to talk to lots of people.  I’m getting jazzed up just writing about it!

After I graduated college I got married and moved into my first apartment.  I always envisioned marriage to be like a life long slumber party!  I would be with my best friend and it would be fun and awesome all the time.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

When I moved out of the dorm I felt so incredibly lost.  Where were my friends?  Who would I chat with at any random moment?  Who was this man I was living with who didn’t want to talk all the time?  Why did he want time ALONE?  Being alone is TORTURE, right?

I married an introvert.  Who was also an only child.  Do you see the potential disaster here?!?!

Over time, life has gotten more and more isolating for me.  My heart still longs for those dorm days.

But life is not a dorm.

Everywhere I’ve worked has had a small staff.  There weren’t many people to interact with.  And, there was this weird thing called WORK getting in the way of social time! THE NERVE!

I found some community when I was a youth pastor and pastor within networks of other youth pastors and pastors.  But, being almost the only female at these gatherings, I still felt quite isolated and alone.

When I started doing VDub Designs I was hoping that could be a way to have “coworkers” of sorts…but my clients are all over the country.  There are clients I have literally never talked to.  I have never heard their voice.  Everything could be done through email, so there was no need to verbally interact sometimes.

When I became a stay at home mom the isolation became almost smothering.  Who were my co-workers now?  A toddler?  NOT a whole lot of stimulating conversation there! Every now and then I would run into another mom at the park or play land and eagerly wait to see if we could strike up a conversation.  I would find ANYTHING on her or her child to compliment or ask about so that maybe, just MAYBE, I could talk to another adult for a few minutes.  Sometimes it worked, other times they looked at me like I had two heads and did anything possible to avoid me and my deathly INTERACTION!

And even if I did find a mom who was also on the look out for someone to talk about more than just potty, poop and Elmo…getting together is tough!  You have to work around nap times, feeding times, appointments, grocery shopping, nap times, feedings, nap times, (none of those naps were for us moms by the way!), etc.  So, on the off chance that the stars aligned perfectly and no one got sick I looked forward to those few precious hours I had to TALK to ANOTHER ADULT.

However, my circle of friends/comrades/support system kept growing smaller and smaller.  Add to that two kids who have some extra needs, and my chances at play dates and mom friends got even a bit smaller.

Life has taken some very hard turns for me in the last few years.  Turns that have completely re-routed my life, my dreams, my plans, and wounded me incredibly deeply.  These situations have kept me from wanting to reach out to people.  They have kept me from wanting or even having the courage to risk in relationships.  Trust has been broken and even though trust hasn’t been broken with friends, the thought of trusting someone new is very frightening sometimes.

But the more hurt and broken I’ve become, the MORE I need people.  The very thing I am running from is the exact thing I NEED.

God has been working on me lately in this area of isolation/community.

This is a really hard lesson to learn.  I know in my head that we are created and wired for community, that we can’t survive and thrive alone.  But living out that lesson is tough.

Finding some community online in “virtual groups” helps.  I can chat with others who are dealing with some of the same issues.  I can gain support, knowledge, help, encouragement, etc.  Which really is helpful!  It has provided some sanity and that “Someone else knows how I feel” feeling.

But virtual community is no replacement for real, in REAL life interaction.

And that takes risk.  But it’s a necessary risk.

One step at a time.

SPD, TS, ADHD

Each day that goes by it seems like I love my kids more than the day before.

It also sometimes seems like they make me more gray and crazy than they did the day before!  ;)

In August 2012 Caleb was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), just before he started kindergarten.  He has been getting occupational therapy (OT) ever since.  OT has helped him SO much!  Before OT he couldn’t get a hair cut or get his nails cut without us holding him down and him screaming and crying like you’ve never seen!  Now, he sits in the chair to get his hair cut ALL BY HIMSELF and even lets her use the clippers!  Nail cutting is still tough, but is LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than it used to be!  We now have tools to help his body to regulate better.

But, there were still many issues that Caleb was struggling with both at home and at school.  He does very well at school with the tools he has, but because he works so hard to hold it together at school, he lets loose at home and has a difficult time.  There are many things about SPD that can overlap with Autism (ASD) symptoms.  There was just something in my “mommy gut” that said SPD wasn’t addressing all of Caleb’s issues.  He was still struggling and I wanted to figure out why and what we could do to help him.  No loving parent wants to see their precious child struggle when they don’t have to!

We decided to get him tested for ASD.  I was really on the fence whether or not he had it, but it was the next step.  And after this testing I could know for sure either way.  After the testing we were told he is NOT Autistic.  He has some indicators, but not enough to qualify for that diagnosis.  I finally had a definitive answer about ASD.

But, then why is he still having so many struggles?  Well, that answer came from the ASD testing.

Caleb has Tourette Syndrome (TS) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  I still have a lot of research to do to educate myself about TS, but after hearing the professionals explain what TS is and how it affects my sweet boy, it made so much sense!  Caleb has been having tics for at least 1.5 years but I didn’t always know what they were.  They have been getting worse and worse – some to the point that they are hurting him now.  I thought TS was just tics.  But that’s not all.  TS affects focus, emotional regulation, impulse control, and many other things – all of which Caleb has huge struggles with.  The ADHD affects his hyperactivity, focus, impulse control, etc.

I feel very mixed about all this.  I am SO relieved to have some answers now.  We have a better understanding why he does what he does and are now able to pursue how to HELP him with this.

But my heart still hurts hearing what is happening inside his little body, how his brain is misfiring and seeing the affects through his tics, his behavior, etc.  He is such an AMAZING, loving, sweet, sensitive, special kid….but that gets covered up.  He has been feeling bad about himself, believing he’s a “bad kid”, saying that we “hate him” when he misbehaves, that he will “never be a good kid”….all things that break my heart into a million pieces!  No 6 year old should feel like that about himself!  NO CHILD should feel like that!

So now I start the journey of learning more about these conditions and ways to treat them.  I also need to deal with the grief about this news.  I just don’t want my sweet little ones to struggle or suffer at all.  I know, in my head, that we ALL struggle, that I cannot protect my babies from everything in the world.  But, gosh, I sure wish I could!!

None of these diagnoses change who my precious Caleb is, nor does it change my love for him.  It WILL help me better parent him and help him to thrive and grow into the amazing man God has created him to be!

100_0735

My Journey of Discovery

I can be somewhat naive.

Up until around maybe 4-5 years ago I believe slavery was actually abolished.  I mean, really, in our current, modern world, how could ANY human being buy or sell another human being?!  That was long in our past, right?!

I remember being in school learning about slavery in America.  I remember how it broke my heart.  How I just couldn’t wrap my head around how one person could look at another person and see them as PROPERTY!  They looked just the same, except for skin color, they had 2 eyes, a nose, a mouth, they walked on 2 legs, hugged with 2 arms, showed teeth when they smiled….HOW could slavery POSSIBLY be true???

But it was.  It’s a disgusting, devastating, unfathomable part of our country’s history.

But it ended.  Right?

Then I learned about the caste system in India.  The hopelessness of those who are born into their caste, never to move “up” in their world.  To be used and abused.  To be seen as NOT HUMAN.  HOW???

Heartbreaking!  Unbelievable!  But it’s in India…..far from me.  What could I possibly do to change it?  It hurts my heart, it SHOULDN’T be happening, but it is.  And there’s nothing I can do.

Then I learned about human trafficking through International Justice Mission.  I learned about more atrocities being committed from one HUMAN to another HUMAN.  The slavery that exists through forcing people to work for little or no money, hours and hours and hours on end.  Forcing children to work in dangerous jobs, taking them from their families to pay debts, robbing them of ANY form of childhood.

Then came the discovery of child sex trafficking.  That children…6, 8, 10, 12 years old….are being kidnapped, bought, sold, raped and tortured.  Brothels are full of children being forced to have sex with 12 or more men per day.  Men are allowed to do whatever they desire to these young girls AND boys as long as they have the money to pay for them.

But this happened FAR AWAY.  This was happening in other countries, far from me.  There wasn’t much I could do.  I donated to IJM…because I DID want to do SOMETHING to help these precious children.  To show them THIS is not the life they are to lead.

But I could keep it at arms length.  I could donate some money, sign an online petition, but try to not let it into my heart too much because it just hurt too bad.

But then came another discovery.  CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING IS HAPPENING RIGHT IN OUR OWN COUNTRY.  RIGHT IN MY OWN STATE!  IN MY OWN CITY!!

I learned about Exploit No More.  I attended informational sessions about why ENM existed and just what is going on in our Milwaukee area.  The girls who are getting kidnapped, lured, lied to, tortured, raped every hour of the day, drugged, and moved around so that no one can find them.  The girls who don’t believe there is any way out of this lifestyle because they’ve been beaten down physically, but also emotionally and mentally.  They forget about a life outside of their current lifestyle.

I could try to give you statistics about how many girls in our country, in my state, in my city are being trafficked, but those statistics are no where near accurate.  They can’t count the number because no one will talk.  These girls can’t tell anyone they’re doing this against their will.  The pimps aren’t going to tell anyone how many girls he has.

But, really, should the statistics matter?  

What if it were 1 million girls in Milwaukee?  What if it were 100,000?  What if it were 10?  What if it was just 1?

What number is “worth it”?

In my opinion, if JUST ONE girl is being forced to have sex, is being tortured, is being robbed of her childhood, being told she is nothing but a piece of property and having her humanity stripped away, that that is enough!  That is ONE TOO MANY!

But, sadly, the statistics are much higher than 1.  There are so many CHILDREN who can’t speak for themselves.  Who can’t call out for help.

Their mouths may not be able to yell for help.  But their hearts are.  And God hears their cries.

I want to ask you to TAKE ACTION.

PLEASE, for the sake of those children who’s innocence has been destroyed, will you please do something?

  • Check out Exploit No More.  Learn more about what is happening right in our own city.  Educate yourself.  It’s hard to learn the truth.  It hurts.  But think about how much more painful it is to be IN those situations.
  • Donate.  You may not think your $5 or $20 can make a difference, but it can.  Even better, if you can make a monthly donation that will help with budgeting.  We are working hard to raise funds to purchase a home to rehab into an aftercare facility.  To show these children that there IS hope, to help them out of their “slavery” lifestyle, to teach them life skills, to help them heal and have a life after being trafficked.
  • Spread the word.  Are you a part of a church, business, organization who has not yet partnered with Exploit No More?  Please do so.  Contact ENM.  Learn more and partner.  We can form an army of angels to give these girls HOPE.
  • Join the fight!  You don’t have to be part of a partnering church, or even live in Wisconsin!  You can donate, you can educate, you can pray.  But, please, do SOMETHING.

***This whole post is written only by me.  Exploit No More did not ask me to write this or edit or approve this post.  This is just my opinion.