Your Story Matters, But it Doesn’t Define You
I still remember the first time I was getting ready to share my story in a church setting. Just as the congregation was getting ready to trickle in, a woman looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to do this? People will never look at you the same again.”
Panic set it. Was I making the right choice? Maybe she was right? Maybe a story like mine was fine to share in the strip clubs, but not with the general public, and certainly not in the church.
I ran to the bathroom hoping to ward off an anxiety attack. Thankfully I ran into a friend with a different opinion. “Who cares what they think? If they have a problem with your story, that is between them and God.”
She reminded me that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. She told me that God was going to use my story to set other people free.
I made a choice that day that my story belonged to God. If He wanted me to share it, I would. The ministry of Treasures was birthed out of my story. I can’t even imagine what life would look like if I hadn’t shared my story that day.
For the next several years, most of the women I encountered were deeply ashamed of their stories. I encouraged them to break the silence because their past doesn’t have to define their future. “My Story Matters” has been a Treasures motto.
Things have changed over the past decade. The issues of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) have gained public attention. Awareness is spreading. These are good things.
Whereas survivors of trafficking and CSE used to have to break through barriers silence, shame and stigma to have their voices heard, nowadays, there seems to be a spotlight waiting for anyone who will come forward with a story of victimhood.
Recently I did a documentary shoot in which I spent about two hours recounting my history of trauma, abuse, and working as a stripper. The director was getting ready to wrap up the interview and asked if there was anything else I would like to cover.
“Well, we didn’t talk about Treasures and the work I do today. Or what has happened in my life since I left the sex industry” I noted.
He paused and pondered this for a moment. “That’s okay. I think we’ve got what we need”.
My concern is this, with so much attention being given to “victimhood”, the underlying message is that we are still defined by it. And if survivors begin to see their value solely through the lens of their “victimhood” and people’s desire to hear their stories of it, what happens when the spotlight moves on to a new cause? What happens when we aren’t invited to share our stories anymore?
I still believe that story matters. I still believe it brings freedom. I believe it humanizes the woman on the other end of the dollar. It is a powerful tool in bringing awareness, education, and hope.
But I also believe my story is bigger than the pain and victimhood of my past. That part of my story is just that, “part of my story”. It isn’t who I am.
My identity is in Jesus. I am not defined by what I have done, but what He has done.
My story matters, but it does not define me.
If you are in a position where you invite people to share their stories, I would like to leave you with some practical ways you can empower people as they share from the platform you offer. If you are a person who shares your story publicly, these are some things you may want to consider addressing as you share.
- What do you hope that people will learn from your story?
- What is one thing you would like people to know?
- Who are you today?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What is your hope for your future?
- What do you think that survivors of sex trafficking and CSE need? Where are the gaps in services?
- What factors make people vulnerable to trafficking and CSE?
- What can we do to make a difference?
Do you have ideas on other empowering questions? I would love to hear them!