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An Unexpected Journey

In Hope & Healing
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How does a girl with many things working in her favor end up at rock bottom, which in this case, was a strip club?

It did not happen in one instance, or even two or three. It didn't happen on a rebellious whim. It stemmed from a lifetime of unspoken messages from a patriarchal society, from systemic misogyny, and from the childhood indoctrination into what it means to be a woman. All of which were communicated by otherwise well-meaning individuals - some of whom are Christians themselves. Let that sink in for a minute—Christians themselves. Even if it wasn’t said outright, there was certainly the undertone.

The beginning of my story is a bit cliché. Unspoken familial messages of prioritizing wealth, status, and reputation above all else; a childhood sexual assault by a family member; verbal abuse by a parent that slowly turned physical. However, this was all behind closed doors. In public, we appeared to be a perfect little family. We were deeply involved in our church and community. We were kind and funny and charming. We didn’t speak about our problems, but instead we helped other people with theirs.

The unspoken message I received was that my problems were irrelevant and a source of shame, and that wealth and status mattered above all else. What happened at home and in private was meant to be at home and in private.

When I was 14, I met a boy in youth group from a similar background as myself. Like some others in his position, he had trouble saying the word ‘no.’A year later, he raped me and then emotionally blackmailed me using physical threats, violence, and fear. I was a virgin, planning to “keep myself pure until marriage” because that’s what good Christian girls did. Sex before marriage was shameful to me, my family, and my future husband, if I could even find one after such a travesty.

Once again, I received an unspoken message. This time, I believed that I didn’t have a voice. And if I did, no one would believe me because I was weak and dirty.

As I became older, somehow sexual assault started to become a reoccurring theme in my life. I began to believe it was my fault because of things I had worn or places I had been. During this time, I met a woman who would soon become my modeling agent. Her name was well known. I thought maybe this was my way out. This was a way to take charge of both my circumstances and my body. Throughout those years, I received mixed and confusing messages that I struggled to make sense of as a teenage girl.

Again, I learned that wealth, status, and beauty were all that mattered, but it was always just slightly out of reach or never enough.

I found that the powerful people in the world of tv and magazines were vapid and lack of compassion or morals. I began finding small amounts of success in my job, and as I did, I realized that the people I was working for didn’t care about me, they only cared about what I could do for them.

Eventually, I started traveling. I started partying with celebrities, and in doing so I periodically got away from my toxic and hostile family environment. So, I thought I had made it to better things.

And again, the unspoken message was received. Beauty and wealth above all else. Your voice, opinion, and experience don't matter. Your silly southern morality will make you vulnerable and is not how the world really works.(That one was actually said numerous times.)

The unspoken messages I continued to receive in my newfound career only validated those from my childhood. I started taking higher fashion modeling jobs outside of the catalog world. Higher fashion meant fewer clothes, more sex appeal, and a much quicker pace where there wasn’t time to think. It meant more hours, longer days, and later after-parties.

Eventually, the partying started to catch up with me. Depression and anxiety crept in and I began to burn bridges. My agent and my parents had enough of my drama. I was angry. They were angry. And the only solution I could fathom was to leave home.

I kept modeling but the jobs became more provocative and I became more depressed. Then one night I met a girl. She seemed like everyone else, but she was so different. She worked at a strip club when she wasn’t modeling.

She told me she made as much, if not more hourly than I did at an average modeling gig! She wasn’t high. She wasn’t drunk. She said she owned a house. She was a mom. She was just paying the bills! So, it seemed very normal and I found myself wondering how this was any different from modeling.

In the beginning, it was all partying. I liked to say I got paid to party. I felt good about it for awhile. I chose my schedule. I was traveling the world. It was very similar to modeling but in some ways I had more freedom.

But eventually, my relationships were failing, I didn’t want to go to work, and my depression worsened. It was affecting my whole life. Everything was becoming more and more confusing. I was having panic attacks and eventually, I broke down. That’s when I hit my knees. I was so angry at God. But that meant I knew there was a God. So, I cried out. “If you’re real, help me. I give up. I surrender.”

And with gentle loving-kindness, He met me where I was and began the work of showing me who I really am, and more importantly who He really is.

I decided to leave the world I had become accustomed to. It took years and a lot of healing to get a fuller picture. Almost a decade later, I found a group of former dancers who met once a week. That’s where I consciously met Jesus for the first time. Before that, He was doing all the work behind the scenes. At this point, I was choosing to go deeper. I thoughtfully entered a season of learning what a relationship with Him truly means. He’s not some evasive spirit up in the sky who was counting my mistakes. He is the Jesus who left the 99 to come to find me in the wilderness I had willfully chosen to walk in.

I found the Jesus who wept when I was abused. The Jesus who stood by me all those years and loved me in spite of myself. He even loved me because of myself! He made me. He wasn’t angry with me. He wasn’t disappointed in me. He knew all the things that led me to the edges of myself and it mattered to him. And when I was ready, He wrapped me in his arms and said, “I’ve missed you.”

He has methodically and gently taken every lie and replaced it with the truth. In that freedom, I’ve found the woman He intended me to be. I am soft, strong, courageous, compassionate, a fighter, a fierce defender, a friend, a mother, and a wife. I am so many things and I don’t fit into a typical narrative or box. There is nothing I’m supposed to be or look like. That’s the beauty of humanity. We are multifaceted beings - layered with contradiction. This is why it’s only Jesus who can help us to discover our true selves. He designed us.

Jesus himself was multifaceted. He was not weak, although He chose to be emotionally vulnerable. He got angry. He loved the outsiders and the rejects. He turned water into wine. He was real and honest and vulnerable. When I discovered that, I realized this Jesus is what I was searching for all that time.

Jesus is in the business of restoration. I’m still growing, evolving, and healing. It’s a never-ending journey. But I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s never too late. We’re never too far gone. God lifts us back up onto our feet or holds us until we can stand. Then He mends our wounds, and straightens our crowns, and reminds us that we are children of The King.


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