Wearing a dress everyday in the month of December, to take a selfie, to bringing attention to those taken into slavery was getting old. Not that the cause was getting old, but my enthusiasm was waning. After two weeks I was becoming disenchanted with the whole Dressember fundraiser and I was longing for my comfortable jeans. But at the crest of my discontent, I received an email from a woman who I had only met briefly a few weeks before.
I have been following you and your Dressember postings. I have a secret only my husband knows about. Your passion for those caught in human trafficking gives me the feeling that I am ready to tell this secret, and I thought I might share my story with you.
As I read her story I was stunned by the path her life had taken. She seemed so normal to have lived a life so – abnormal. With her permission, here is Monica’s story.
I have many friends who are engaged in the fight against human trafficking. They are working in specific ways to find freedom and justice for lives in bondage to the evil of selling flesh as a commodity.
Since 2009 there has been a campaign called Dressember asking women to wear a dress every day of the month in solidarity and awareness for freedom for women. In 2013, Dressember took on new meaning: opposing the worldwide trafficking and exploitation of women. In its first year as a fundraising campaign, Dressember aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. Those who participate in Dressember are supporting the abolition of modern day slavery. In its first year of fundraising, Dressember had 1,233 registered participants in 32 countries across 6 continents who collectively raised over $165,000. 100% of the funds raised in 2013 went directly to International Justice Mission.
I only own two dresses that fit me and rarely leave my pajamas so I’m not a great candidate for this kind of fashion statement, but I love the heart behind it. The stories of souls sold over and over again in dark alleys and the back seats of cars, at truck stops and on the street corner all the way to five star hotel rooms make us squirm. We are repulsed by the pimps and the johns. In honesty we are also appalled at the prostitute. Except for maybe the glamorization of this life in the film Pretty Woman where happy ever after is the resolution or the Reba McEntyre song, “Fancy” where she eventually ends up in an “elegant townhouse flat” we would like to forget it is happening in our cities and towns and around the world. When innocent children are involved there is outrage. In most cases we find both parties culpable. It’s just too messy with too many variables to wrap our hearts around. And so we don’t.
As I write I am listening to my dear Christa Well’s song “Coming to the Light” I remember hiking in Tucson earlier this year while this played on my iPod. I knew I would eventually put my entire life in the light. It is the book that comes before “Gauntlet with a Gift”, and upcoming book, but will be published after I tell my story. It is hard. It is painful in ways my physical suffering pales in comparison. Most of you know me from late 2009 on when I began blogging. I’ve given hints and guesses about what came before, but most, not even my family, know the full story about where I was rescued from. Many of my Team Danica readers ( a blog I formerly wrote my story about my illness) questioned how I could hold tight to a faith in a good God in such ongoing tragedy. My own story of human trafficking answers this question.
My God has always had a heart for the harlot. I was reminded of this as Unwrapping the Greatest Gift brought us to Rahab’s house in our Advent worship as a family. It was my night to read. I stumbled over the word “prostitute” as I shared with my husband and girls the story of men of God hiding out in the home of a whore. Before she even knew what it meant she begged them to remember her and her family when they came back to conquer Jericho. She listened to their instruction to leave a red cord hanging from her window. She trusted this God they spoke of and obeyed. She longed for a life outside of her sin and sadness. God didn’t just save her and her family, He had a plan to bring the woman with the scarlet letter a prince to marry. He set her in the documented lineage of our God made man. She was the great, great grandmother of King David. Ann writes about God’s upside down love.
God can show Himself and His huge uncontainable love wherever, whenever, to whomever. High walls and hard hearts can’t stop His love from coming. sin and badness can’t stop His love from coming. The love of God can come over any wall, can open the door of any heart, can find anyone, anywhere, in anything. Rahab couldn’t stop smiling. God loved her at her darkest and baddest, and He held her with the biggest and grandest and greatest love . . . Jesus, who painted a red rope with His very own love, with His very own blood, and gives Himself to you like a red rope, whispers, “No matter what you’ve done, hold on–I love you, and I’ve got you.”
I was a prostitute. A smart, conservative, pretty and well-educated woman floundering between college and grad school with no real place to come home to. My parents had moved and were in distress. I harbored so much pain from the church. I was longing for any kind of family but mine. I hinted at my sexual assault on Team Danica. This took me from being “pure” to anything but. I already had many encounters with strangers and boyfriends as I drank my way through lonely nights and wandered the streets around my university like most undergraduates girls do. Every girl is looking for love. Finding it at a frat party or in a bar is not likely, but this is where we can numb ourselves to the point of letting someone take from us something God meant to be sacred. Once it’s gone the free fall of shame begins.
I worked for a man who owned a travel agency. I took a legitimate job with him selling vacations, mostly to Mexico. It didn’t take long for him to realize I was on my own. He began to invite me into his social circle. He asked me to party with them. It was then I realized he was in fact a drug dealer. I became part of the package he sold to friends and customers. Because I wore pearls and was smart and well-mannered I was very different from any girl he had used before. I had formed such a hard shell around my heart I could not feel the pain of what was happening or even recognize it for what it was. I worked in a “legitimate” business for cash pay. I partied with my boss and his friends and used cocaine. I was promiscuous. I honestly did not realize for some time that I was part of the “deal.” I began to realize it was a job I couldn’t just quit. Until recently I still explained him in some kind of benevolent light even though I looked over my shoulder in fear for years and years. He created a false sense of family that protected me as long as I participated in the dysfunction. All of this was happening in a picturesque college town sick with an epidemic of prostitution. There was a little black book of wealthy businessmen, judges, law enforcement officials and even men in the leadership of the college implicated. Girls from good middle class homes were the primary targets.
God rescued me. God redeemed me. I believe so strongly in the power of Christ to completely transform hearts and lives because He did this for me. I was Rahab. In the months before I met my husband God was working to free me from the shackles of my former life. I was desperate for real human love. I was longing for a safe place to lay my head and rest. Dan and his beautiful home several hours away from where I lived became my refuge. Very quickly I moved my entire life there. I was finally free. Dan was my prince. I didn’t know it then. He didn’t know it then. God was cultivating a soil for Grace to blossom and grow in. After I ran away I learned of the arrest and imprisonment of my former boss. It was another reason not to tell my story out loud or publish a memoir detailing this underground life. Dan and I did not begin our relationship loving God or caring about His plan, but God was still working all these things for good. This is amazing love.
During our Advent devotional I read the word “prostitute.” I added my own narrative in a small way by telling my girls out loud I had been a very bad and sad woman just like Rahab. I could see Dan giving me that look. The expression that says, “You’re saying something you can’t take back. They are too young. They don’t understand this.” But God did not hold back, did He? Story after story in the Bible tells us about the most evil kind of sin and the people all tangled up in it. In the same narrative He points to the only true liberation from this mess we’ve made.
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
My scarlet rope. My liberation.
My sin. My salvation.
My hurt. My hope.
These are not the stories you tell at a ladies Bible study at church. These are not things you want anyone to ever know about you. But this is what I’ve learned. I’m not alone. Sitting in the pew on Sunday are women with deep seeded shame about sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, abortion and affairs. They are starving themselves, stuffing themselves and cutting where no one can see. They should be free, but they are not. This is what my Bible tells me about women like us. We are the best vessels for Grace to shine through. All the broken pieces put back together through God’s saving love highlight exactly why He had to come and walk with us. Jesus was the guy who would walk up to a harlot and tell her to go and sin no more. He is the guy who before the beginning of the great big story determined a prostitute named Rahab would leave a scarlet rope of hope hanging in her window. He would not just forgive her. He would not just give her a fresh start. He would bring her a husband who cherished her as if he was her first love, and He would make her part of the root of the stump that grew the tree where Jesus was born to die so we might LIVE.
There’s not a day of my life I don’t thank Him for my liberation in Jesus. My sin abounded. Grace abounded more.
Next time you put on a dress don’t just think about the ones who are lost.
Remember the ones who are found.
God is not sleeping in this pain and sadness. He is setting captives free, and He is calling us to tell our stories.
Rahab’s story matters.
My story matters.
Your story matters.
Photography by Cindee Snider Re. Used with permission.
Monica Kaye Snyder is voracious reader. She is a blogger, a writer and maybe even an author. Most days you’ll find her curled up on her butter yellow sofa wrapped in a white cable knit throw snuggled with her Yorkie Poo, Twixie. There are always books and journals piled high on her right, a cup of tea or coffee on the table on her left and a piece of pottery holding beautiful pens with a stack of stamps and stationary leaning there. She reads at least one poem every day. Music is what feelings sound like in her heart and home. Observing and making art is as essential as food and water to keeping her alive. Light is her muse and darkness is her hell.
She is rescued and redeemed. She believes at least six impossible things before breakfast. She knows telling the truth out loud is the only path to personal peace. She continues a long journey of chronic illness and daily physical suffering. She’s seen real miracles happen and holds on to Christ’s Hope as an anchor for her soul while living in great pain. She is wife to Dan and mother to Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean. She knows for sure if she does nothing else well in her life, this will matter and be enough.
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