But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
I recently shared this with our community and while it feels a bit risky, I need to share it with you as well. I wasn’t quite sure how to talk about this experience. Its context, depth and richness are so much that words cannot begin to explain what it was like or even why I was there. I recently heard a quote from John O’Donohue which brought it all together. “May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe. May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease.”
The issue of prostitution has become very prominent and persistent in the neighborhood near where I work. With our very public witness against human trafficking and our professed care for the dear neighbor without distinction, we were called upon to help look at this issue more closely. I learned that this is not a new ministry for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sr. Agnes Marie Baer, CSJ served women working the streets at the request of Monsignor Shocklee. Fr. Jean Pierre-Medaille, instructed the community to offer shelter and support for “young girls in danger of losing their virtue because they are in need of money.”
We are currently involved with a local group working to address the issues of commercial sexual exploitation, both in human trafficking and prostitution, working toward a healing and restorative approach for all. Through this work I was invited to participate in a conference in Las Vegas. It was a place I really didn’t want to go; a place where I would have to confront my biases, beliefs and taboos. I was asked to spend a week with persons who at some point in their life have engaged in commercial sex work or prostitution. I prayed; I asked my husband, I spoke with leadership and in the end, we said, “Here we are Lord. How shall we serve?”
I was there to learn the different needs of persons who have been trafficked and those who engage in prostitution. I learned that policies intended to heal can have hurtful consequences if we exclude the voices of those it impacts. I was surprised to hear that some of what we in the anti-trafficking movement were proposing actually excluded persons engaged in prostitution from accessing support and care, especially when they are ready to exit that life. Our efforts were done with good intentions –right? Had we excluded a whole group of people, simply because “we” have judged them unworthy? They made their choice right? After hearing some of the stories of those I met in Las Vegas, the circles of choice, victim, survivor, pride and despair are not fixed boundaries, but fluid ripples that change in time.
As I cautiously confessed in conversations, I work in the anti-trafficking movement. I work for a group of women religious. I am here to learn. We want to make sure that in our work to help trafficked persons that we don’t cause unintentional harm. I was met with reserved hope. Many embraced me and thanked me for being there. One by one I found myself in deep conversations – about their spiritual lives, deep desires, pains and wrongs that have been done against them, about the fear of being with someone like me and all that I represented. Their honesty with me was humbling and together we celebrated our courage to listen and enter into our unease.
And I found grace; or more importantly grace found me. The judgment, the bias about their life that I had previously held did not exist in those moments between us. It no longer held a place of importance, and my burden was lifted. The only thing that mattered was what was important to the person sitting in front of me. I felt the holy love of God flowing through me. It was not of me, but moments of grace, lived over and over again as I sat with these new friends. I was given a deep knowing that what came before in their lives and what came after was not for me to judge. It became an unexpected time of blessing and conversion.
I’m not sure why I was allowed to have this experience, but I know I am forever changed. I truly feel born again. I was blessed with their confirmation that they felt love and acceptance, that they knew they were loved just for whom they were, because they were children of God and in turn so was I. God’s power was made perfect in my weakness. I pray I continue to draw upon that time and remember that when we are faithful, God can use us to transform and heal, not in spite of our limitations and judgments but because of them. Here we are Lord, how shall we love?
How do you feel called to love today? Where has grace found you?
On the path,
*Thank you Dawn for the title – a gift given over our cup of coffee. Dawn is starting Made for Freedom. Check it out. It’s a social enterprise that will help young women who have been trafficked in foreign countries find employment and access to healing support.