*Trigger warning: This article contains talk of sex and religion. The views in this article are not reflective of Rethreaded and are purely personal experience and opinions.
You can always tell what the founder of a non-profit has struggled with and overcome by the organizations they create, I am no exception. There is a deeply personal story about why my life has been dedicated to women who have experienced exploitation to know their worth and value. This organization has been birthed out of some of my deepest pain and hurt. But the beauty is that all that pain and shame over the years has been Rethreaded together with love, compassion, empathy, and hope. The pain transformed into something new, into something that helps other women.
Like most people, growing up and figuring out life involved some trials and steep learning curves for me. As you grow up and learn about things, some lessons are harder than others. Some leave deeper scars.
During my teenage and early college years, as I navigated sex and relationships, who I was, and my value to the world I experienced several incidences that have taken me years to walk through.
Most of the incidents started with me searching to be loved. I wanted validation about who I was. Most involved alcohol. Most ended with black-out nights and rumors being spread about me. Most ended with me feeling used, confused, hurt, and full of shame. When I reached out to talk about these experiences there was a dismissive and minimizing message communicated that “It’s no big deal. These things happen.”
At this time I was also navigating my faith and was working through conflicting messages that I was receiving from my church. I heard the church teach that the greatest gift we could ever give our husbands was to remain a virgin. I was taught to avoid sex at all costs and remain pure. The message that I internalized was to value my worth against a standard of sexual purity.
I was drowning in shame somewhere in between these two extreme messages.
During my sophomore year of college, something shifted inside me. I met with a campus pastor and told her everything that had happened to me and all the shame I was carrying. She listened with a loving heart and told me that I was loved. That I was forgiven. It was then I heard God say to me. “I will take what you think is your shame and I will use it to change the world.”
At that moment, I felt absolutely insane. I had no idea what that meant.
But something did shift.
I experienced the Love of God for who I was. I knew I was created on purpose with a purpose. I started to find my footing and my gifts. I was filled with this passion for women to know who they were and that they had a choice about their bodies. That they offered the world so much more than just sex. That they didn’t have to experience what I had experienced. They could experience the love, empowerment, and deep worthiness that I had experienced.
And this passion to unleash the potential in women has guided the rest of my life.
After I graduated from college, I returned to where a majority of my trauma happened and began an outreach to college women called Close to His heart.
In my late 20’s, I moved to Kolkata, India for five years, where my dear friends Sarah Lance, Beth Waterman, and I, started and ran a company for women to leave human trafficking called SariBari. We started with three women, and that same company still employs over 100 women.
In my 30’s, I moved back to the states, and with help from the community of Jacksonville, we created Rethreaded. Rethreaded has helped over 100+ women in employment and helped inspire change in our city.
I can sometimes close my eyes and remember specific memories from not only that traumatic time in my life but others that followed. However, instead of triggering my shame, it fills me with passionate empathy. It reminds me that there are still women who are experiencing exploitation. It reminds me that I am powerful, and this doesn’t have to be our story. It reminds me that all pain can be Rethreaded into something that changes the world. Even the pain you are most shameful about.