What do you think of when you hear someone say “childhood sexual abuse”? If you’re like most people, just hearing those words likely stirs up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings, even if sexual abuse hasn’t touched your life in any way. There’s a stigma and a taboo surrounding sexual abuse, but there shouldn’t be. If we have any hope of bringing light into the darkness of abuse, we have to be able to put aside our discomfort and talk about it.
Let me speak first to survivors. Shame thrives in the darkness of secrecy, but it can’t survive without the secret. The first and vital step toward healing is to speak. As impossible as it sounds, freedom from shame only happens by shining a light on the very thing you feel compelled to hide. All of the things you imagine happening if someone were to know your secret are just that—imaginings. I let those imaginings keep me silent for a lifetime. Please don’t let that happen to you. Freedom is found in speaking your truth. People who love you will still love you when they know. I promise. And it won’t change how they think about you either. To the people who know and love you, you are so much more than anything—even this—that happened to you.
So what if you’re not an abuse survivor? How can you bring light into the darkness of abuse? Well, you are the very people survivors need to be able to tell. One of the fears that kept me from sharing my story was the fear of how people would react. It’s a valid fear. Hearing those words come from the mouth of someone you know can be shocking and can stir up that discomfort I mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t have to.
I’ve come to know a young man who is a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Matt Pipkin is the founder of Speak Your Silence (www.speakyoursilence.org). Speak Your Silence is all about helping survivors find their voice and share their secret. But Matt has gone about his mission in a unique way. He’s reaching out to the people who will hear the stories! He wants to create an environment where survivors know they’re supported before they speak their first word, and he has a tangible way to do it—The Stitch. The Stitch is an orange zigzag sewn onto any piece of clothing or accessory that represents the voice frequency of survivors. I recently interviewed Matt and here is how he explained The Stitch.
“The Stitch is not simply to be worn by those directly affected by child sexual abuse, but by all of us. Imagine you’re in room surrounded by people you love and you have a story you’ve never shared before, due to fear, shame, and guilt. How much safer would you feel sharing your story if every single person in that room was wearing The Stitch?”
How cool is that? The other thing Matt told me in his interview was how he felt when he first shared his story with his mom and dad. They overwhelmed him with love. When he told me that, it brought me to tears. That is the reaction every childhood sexual abuse survivor deserves.
So…survivors, speak! And listeners, love overwhelmingly!
Speak Your Silence has other unique ways you can directly help abuse survivors. Check them out when you have a chance.
Niki Krauss is a Yankee by birth, a Southerner by choice, and a joy-filled lover of Jesus by grace. After twenty-four years of moving around the country as the wife of a Marine Corps aviator, she and her husband of forty years have settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Niki is the former assistant editor for the Marine Corps Gazette, the professional journal of the United States Marine Corps, where she wielded her red pen for fifteen years. As a sexual abuse survivor herself, her most recent passion is leading faith-based support groups for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Connect with Niki online
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Little Girl Mended, Niki's powerful story of abuse and redemption, is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Today's guest is a woman I greatly admire. She brightens this world with her beauty and has made it her mission to help others realize how beautiful they are. I met her through my book blog, Word Menagerie. I agree to review her indie book, Entertaining Angels, as part of a book tour. I found it - and her - completely enchanting. When I took the helm at Vox Dei, I asked Emerald if she would be interested in republishing under our imprint. Thankfully, she was, and Entertaining Angels became the first book to launch from Vox Dei under my direction. I'm so thankful to have Emerald as part of the Vox Dei team, and I'm thrilled to be introducing her on the blog today. (Actually, I was supposed to do this yesterday, but as is always the case these days, I'm running late!) ~Heather
If there’s one thing that I want to do, it’s help girls/women/men feel beautiful and worthy of love. So often we get lost in letting the pressure of today’s society beat us down and tell us that we’re worthless, that we’ll never be pretty or good looking. Well, that’s a lie. We’re all beautiful! We’re all worthy!
Since the moment I first began writing Entertaining Angels, it was a “take that society, this fat chick can find love” novel, but as I dove deeper into it, I realized that it wasn’t about finding love. It was about learning to love ourselves. The real message of this book was to prove that despite how we look, be it fat or skinny, we’re beautiful and deserving of our own love. Our body image doesn’t determine WHO we are; it’s just a small part of the real person. It’s the package, so to speak. Who we are is more than our looks, our status, or how much money we have. It’s about who we are on the inside, and to me, once we accept who we are for our “flaws” and all, we’re one step closer to realizing how truly beautiful we are! We’re one step closer to really loving ourselves.
My main goal is to help girls/women/men see that what they look like doesn’t determine WHO they are. I’m fat, and that’s okay. My health is fine, and yes, I realize that if I were in a smaller weight class, I’d feel better, etc, and I’m in the process of trying to fix that for myself. I’m NOT losing weight because I feel like I HAVE to to be beautiful. I’ve finally reached that point in my life where I’m doing because I want to, not because I “have” to.
And that’s what I’m trying to get other people to see through my #youarebeautiful campaign. We’re constantly surrounded by ads telling us that we have to lose weight. We can’t wear “this” if we aren’t [insert a super tiny size here], and that’s not the case. If you want to wear skinny jeans, wear them. If you want to wear shorts, wear them. We don’t have to worry about what other people think because we know we’re beautiful. But, if you don’t know how beautiful you really are, you will worry. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that feeling for the better part of my entire (soon to be) 28 years of life.
I’ve just now decided that I don’t care what people think of me because the One who matters the most already said I was beautiful. God created me, knowing exactly what I was going to look like, and I’m still here because He loved me enough to form me in my mother’s womb.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 has pretty much become our “battle cry” for this #youarebeautiful campaign. “He hath made everything beautiful in His time…” God has made EVERYTHING beautiful. That’s me; that’s you; it’s the woman in the grocery store, and the man walking down the road. It’s the kid with down-syndrome in the mall with her mother. It’s you, and it’s me. We are all beautiful, and I have such a desire to spread the word about this because I want you to know just how truly beautiful you are!
You deserve to feel worthy. You deserve to feel beautiful, and you deserve to love yourself instead of hate the reflection staring back at you. You’re a child of God, and He has made everything (everyone) beautiful!
My favorite part of the journey I'm on as a writer is the people I've met along the way. Galit Breen is one of those amazing individuals I never would have met had I not mustered up the courage to chase my dream. She's one of the kindest, warmest people I've ever encountered, so it broke my heart when I heard she'd been the victim of cyberbullying. Leave it to Galit to take something bad and flip it on its head, using it to make the world a better place. Can't say enough how much I adore this woman or how happy I am to introduce you to her today. ~Heather
3 Lessons I Learned From Being Cyberbullied
This summer I wrote an online article about marriage and the comments that came in on it were about my weight. I learned a lot from this. These are my top three lessons from experiencing cyberbullying firsthand and how we can use them to help our kids if it happens to them.
1. Cyberbullying hurts. It hurts a lot. Even though my friends didn’t know what had happened because they weren’t checking the article comments like I was, it felt like everyone knew and I was embarrassed and devastated. I felt very alone.
Lesson learned: Don’t diminish this hurt. Allow the person who experiences cyberbullying to feel sad, mad, and embarrassed without ever (not even once) telling them, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
2. When I talked about what happened, I felt better. When I turned inward all I had was my own hurt. But when I turned outward, I had all the goodness of the people around me. This was a lift.
Lesson learned: Don’t silence someone who is speaking up. Bring it up, listen when they want to talk, hold space for this significant experience. We focus a lot on staying positive in our society. And I do believe in the power of positivity, but talking about the negative, the hard, the ugly has its place, too. And this is it.
3. This world is filled with a lot of good people. But you only get to reap the benefits of this if you let them in. I’m a tried-and-true introvert, reaching out can be hard for me. But I would still be in a very bad place if I didn’t let good people get close.
Lesson learned: We have to pick who we surround ourselves with purposefully. And we have to teach our kids this skill as well. I’ve been very transparent with my own children about how good the people in our lives are, and that I had to reach out to them first before they knew to be there for me. In this case, letting someone “in” can be translated as letting someone into our hearts, into our vulnerabilities. This isn’t easy for everyone. We need to encourage and model this for our kids. And we need to show them that this works by listening to them and being there for them when they do it.
A few months after my cyberbullying experience, after I had a chance to be good and sad about it, I did speak up. I wrote a second article calling out my cyberbullies and calling for online kindness. That article went viral. I wasn’t alone anymore.
From there, I chose to take lemons—being called fat online—and make lemonade—write a book about how to teach our kids to be kind online. I even titled it, Kindness Wins.
All of this happened to me as an adult. And even though I had the perspective and experience of understanding the power of using our voices and telling our stories, it was still a process to get to the “doing” part of things. I wasn’t able to, in Heather’s words, leave my mark—immediately or alone.
So if someone you care about is cyberbullied remember to move slowly in giving them time to be sad and listening to them talk. And move quickly in telling them that their story matters, that they matter, in standing by their side, and in telling their story, too.
Heather asked me to share what mark I want to leave on the world. Kindness Wins is definitely it. I want to be a part of the conversation that creates a culture of kindness where all of us and our kids can be online without the assumption that one of us will be cyberbullied. I want online kindness to be a given and cyberbullying to be the surprise. It’s through these conversations that we’ll not just say that kindness wins, but ensure that it does.
Today's guest is women's fiction author Marshanne Mishoe, whose debut novel - The Mind of a Child - highlights the changes in our society's knowledge of and attitude towards children with special needs. It's an awesome debut novel; I enjoyed it and learned so much from it. So please welcome Marshanne as she talks about how her own experience in a Special Education classroom. ~Heather
When I started my three-year stint as a paraprofessional (assistant teacher) in a Special Education classroom I came to the job with absolutely no experience. I don’t just mean I didn’t have classroom experience, I mean I actually had no life experience with a person with special needs. No relatives, no children, no neighbors no nobody. I just had not encountered a person with special needs in any meaningful way.
This made for a fun, funny learning curve that took me down the alleys of autism, cerebral palsy, undiagnosed disorders and more. But 7 out of the 10 children I regularly worked with had Down Syndrome. This disorder is genetic and irreversible. The kids are generally cheerful, happy fellas (Down Syndrome, as with most learning and mental disorders, inexplicably affects many more boys than girls) so they are easy to love. But they each have their own personalities and bents. The one thing they have in common is a tendency to be stubborn.
So, combine my inexperience and the children’s penchant for mischief and there was bound to be some, shall we say, “episodes.” For instance, we had a child with Downs who also had some autistic tendencies. We will call him “Caleb.” For some reason, no one could figure out why, this kid was afraid of trees and bark and leaves… all things trees. His parent had taken him on a camping trip in hopes of desensitizing him to his irrational fear, but they ended up coming back in the middle of the night after he sobbed the word, “trees” for several hours.
Anyway, on nice days at school, we liked to go through the lunch line and take our boys (and two girls) out to the courtyard for lunch. Caleb, was a big eater, and one of his educational goals was to get him to slow down and eat with manners. You can imagine how much this boy enjoyed his food. But when we ate in the courtyard, we had to bring him outdoors kicking and screaming! He would just have a meltdown if a leaf skittered across the pavement! So, my wonderful lead teacher would instruct me to slowly bring leaves and bark and such over to Caleb and gently let them touch him on the leg or arm.
Needless to say, he screamed and cried and screamed some more. I was at the point of wondering what I was doing there and all of a sudden, he stops his fuss. I wouldn’t say he was cured, and he never loved eating in the courtyard, but he learned that he would not be harmed by the trees there!
During my time in Special Ed, I learned to get over being easily embarrassed. I had children run away from me, sneeze on me, climb up my body in fear and so on. I learned to have no embarrassment or fear when entering the boys bathroom. I also learned to laugh when our guys made me look foolish. Like the times I had to bend down, trying not to touch the bathroom floors but still assisting a child that had managed to get stuck in a stall. When I inevitably fell over on the floor, with boy and all, I would screech in disgust and run to the sink to wash my hands up to the shoulders with soap. I guess I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Not a good mix when working with young children!
I also learned to give credit where credit is due. In other words, if one of my students could say his ABC’s up to the letter M, then that was a big deal for that particular kid. We learned the importance of our students learning to say their phone numbers when one of our kids had a scary episode at home.
He was with his father before school one day getting ready, and it came time for the father to go to work. The mother was busy with two younger children, so our student tagged along, following his beloved daddy out to the garage. The father didn’t know he was there. He managed to back out of the driveway and lower the garage door without seeing that his son was following him! This was a February morning and the boy was still wearing the tee shirt and underwear he’d worn to sleep in the night before. A neighbor finally noticed the barefoot and shivering child a full 20-minutes later! He’d wandered way up the street. The neighbor managed to get the boy into his warm car and notified police. They in turned called the mother, who had yet to notice her oldest son was missing. Our student repeatedly tried to say his phone number, but the authorities had a hard time understanding him. I never got exasperated over teaching the phone number lesson for the 100th time again!
There are so many stories and times I could tell you about and in fact, I have used some of my favorite stories in my new book, The Mind of a Child, currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other favorite online retailers. One of the dual story lines in the book is loosely based on my years as a parapro. The other story line takes us back in time to the 1940’s and shows us how a person with Down Syndrome was treated back then.
Thanks so much for letting me join you guys here at Heather’s site. I appreciate her generosity so much!
About the author:
The Mind of a Child is Marshanne Mishoe’s first novel. She started her writing career back in the mid 1980’s as a television news reporter and anchor. She worked at WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina for the better part of a decade, and before that she had a two-year stint as a writer and producer for SC-ETV’s satellite branch in Beaufort, SC.
Marshanne now makes her home just north of Atlanta. She lives with her husband, Steve, and their three kids, Jake, Spencer and Marishay. Their dog Millie would be highly incensed if she were left out, so she lives there too.
Visit Marshanne online at www.marshannemishoe.com.
Connect with Marshanne online
Today's post is part "Person of the Week" and part "Leave Your Mark." I asked Becki Brannen to be a guest after reading her latest release, Stronger. It was a quick, engaging read that felt surprisingly light despite the dark topics it tackles head on. Becki and I have known each other via social media for a few years now. After finally sitting down to read one of her books, I was kicking myself for taking so long to do so. I was also even more impressed with her than I had been before. (And she was already one of my favorite online friends. The woman embodies sunshine.) Read her blog post, you'll see what I mean. She's such a cool person, and I'm lucky to call her friend. ~Heather
Stronger is, in part, my story, but in an entirely fictional way. That probably makes no sense, but it’s true. When I was a sophomore in college, I was sexually assaulted by a friend of mine. I was newly engaged and a virgin. Stronger is my fight back, albeit several years too late.
I wrote Hayley’s character to be someone you see every day in your life, someone who felt like the quiet girl you meet in the library, the woman who walks the hallways at work, never looking up, the girl you’d never guess is terrified of the world around her. You see, that was me, the timid girl who never made eye contact, long before I was ever assaulted. When it happened, I stood up for myself. I made eye contact; I confronted my attacker; I told the powers that be what happened. I took ownership of my life, determined not to be a victim, but a survivor. Hayley needed the same metamorphosis. She needed to be a survivor. After she is assaulted by her boyfriend, the man who degraded her, beat her and sexually assaulted her, she needed to fight back.
Most of my research for my books has occurred online. For Stronger, I reached out to a friend from high school. Rather than give me the education I requested, he instead told me I had to show up at the gym he’s a trainer at and learn to fight for myself. Wes’ character is not based on this friend, and the beginning of my story was written long before I reached out to him (despite the rumors at the gym, ha). I needed a character who believed in Hayley, and found her desirable without being a victim. Wes loved Hayley because she’s strong and his empowerment of her shows how a real man treats a woman.
At the gym, I threw myself into training headfirst, not looking back. I went to kickboxing classes two days a week, dragging myself home each time with cramps and aches – and a desire to return. I felt stronger, more powerful, and in control of my life. I had the edge that Hayley needed, something that Google could never provide. I had experience.
As I wrote Stronger, I realized Hayley needed support, not just from Wes and the others at the gym, but from a safe house. I realize how important these places are as they provide shelter, support, even basic toiletries to women in Hayley’s position – or worse. They help women reclaim their lives, something I know to be so important after a traumatic event or relationship.
Because of this, I decided to give 25% of all profits from the sale of Stronger to The Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia. It was important to me, after writing Stronger, to give back to the Crisis Line so that they can help women in the real world whose stories are like mine or Hayley’s. To date, I’ve given over $30.00 in royalties to the Crisis Line. It’s not much but I hope that it provides one woman in need with a few basic necessities as she reclaims her life. I hope that with something as simple as a toothbrush donated with love, she will feel STRONGER.
For more information about The Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia, please visit www.cl-sh.org.
For more information about Stronger, and other books I’ve written, please visit my website. Twenty-five percent of all profits are donated to The Crisis Line to help women feel less like victims and allow them to realize their inner strength.
About the author:
Becki Brannen was born and raised in the South. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two daughters and a poodle, Sophie. Becki enjoys writing 'chick lit' with a Christian twist.
Connect with Becki online:
Twitter | @BeckiBrannen
Facebook | beckibrannen.author
Website | beckibrannen.weebly.com
I met Mary Graziano Scro when she reached out to me on my Facebook author page to share an article she'd read. After discovering we shared a passion to end human trafficking, I invited her to be a guest on the blog. She's a great example of a person who saw a problem and jumped right in to fix it. I'm delighted that she took the time to share with us today! Welcome to my blog, Mary, and thank you for your kinds words about Devil in Disguise! ~Heather
We wanted to do something, not just read about it. That’s why we became involved with JMM because they are active both in this country and around the world. In addition to Hand of Hope, they have inner city ministries to meet people where they are and give them a hand up out of their situation. They work in prisons, conduct medical mission trips, and operate feeding programs and children’s homes. Much of the work they are doing helps keep children safe and off the streets so that they don’t end up as human trafficking victims. JMM also partners with many other ministries because they recognize that when we join forces, we can accomplish more than we can on our own.
Over the ten years we’ve volunteered at JMM, we’ve heard amazing testimonies from people around the world who have been rescued, fed, healed, and saved. The numbers helped continue to grow as people at her conferences are made aware of the needs and become partners with the ministry.
Even so, the ongoing need is overwhelming.
I challenge you to read about JMM and some of the other organizations Heather mentions on her website, then take action. Through supporting front line ministries whose missions are to “go” and “do”, everyone can get involved – no excuses. Together we CAN make a difference!
Thank you, Heather, for the opportunity to share!
About the author:
Mary Graziano Scro, a graduate of Christian Communicators Conference, is an inspirational and entertaining writer and speaker who intuitively weaves analogies and personal testimony with practical biblical teaching.
Mary’s mission is to encourage others about the awesome life God has planned for us, IF we are willing to choose wisely in our everyday lives (John 8:31-32). And it’s not about us – the more we invest in our own unique relationship with Jesus, the more visible He is to a world that desperately needs Him. Her first book, Intentional Fitness: Working Out Your Salvation so Others Can See Jesus, is available on Amazon.com. She has a few other projects in the works, and regularly shares encouraging messages on her blog, lifeisnotaformula.blogspot.com.
It's been a while since I've talked about Project Liberty on my blog. When people ask me how to get involved in the fight against human trafficking, I always point them to Project Liberty first. They're a small group making a big difference in the stand against modern day slavery. They're also humble, so it's easy to miss just how much they do. Whenever I get an update from Saundra, their founder, I'm floored by all they're involved in. Here's just a glimpse of what they've been up to lately, taken from a message I received from Saundra. They've had some victories and cases that didn't turn out as they'd hoped, but on they fight.
A little update...
This past year we were contacted about a missing 19-year-old because law enforcement had pretty much exhausted all leads and information. The mom called us and it was evident to us this fit the profile of Human Trafficking. We searched for and located the girl, who was taken from Michigan to a large city in another state. It appeared she'd been lured into meeting these people who were going to get her into the music industry, writing and singing.... Of course when she got there they were waiting for her as soon as she got off the bus.
We worked with the law enforcement (NYPD) and found her with the info we gave them. But she was too scared to walk away and ran from help! We kept tracking her until she showed up in another large city, in another state (Portland, Maine). We contacted PPD and by this time we had Homeland Security working with us. PPD went from hotel to hotel and found her and she finally accepted help. PPD was wonderful! They put her in a hotel, which we paid for ($450) at a discount.
We helped her get into GEMS and a pimp found her (back in NYC) and started contacting her there and GEMS had to let her go. They recommended another place, but this girl was so upset she went back to the street! Now, she is on the streets of NYC in this weather! She stayed a Covenant House for a while. Her mother is in touch with her from time to time and we have sent messages to this girl about a church that would take her into their warming center. But we have not heard that she actually went there.
Both the NYPD and PPD were wonderful to work with. I got to know them very well and our investigator did fantastic work and has continued to assist NYPD on other cases. They have thanked us many time for our work, and we've remained in contact. And the PPD was just awesome. They had social workers meet and become friends with the victim and I spent many hours on the phone with them for the month she was there. I got an email a few months ago from PPD thanking us for our work because it help them to get 3 federal indictments and one of them was an underage prostitution ring!! Thank God!
Now, we are beginning to have victims who have escaped or been rescued contact us for assistance. I don't have the heart to turn them away and say that's not what we do. The Lord has put them in my path! They don't have a lot of resources or finances. We have taken on supporting some of the victims financially as donations come in. This is how we met the survivor I wrote about in the email. We have been working with her for a year and half and she has come so far!
So we've begun to develop teams to work one-on-one with victims to help them find resources and social services. They don't have computers, don't know who to call, don't have printers to print out all the forms requested, and many don't even have transportation to and from appointments.... and so much more. So we are creating VAST - Victims Assistance/Support Teams. Working one on one with some social workers and mentors. Please pray about that as we organize this new part of Project Liberty.
Right now, Project Liberty has an urgent need for a specific trafficking victim. If you can at all, please click below to donate and help her cause. Any amount is welcome. (I know I've hesitated to donate to these before because I had $5 to spare and it felt too small an amount - I want to assure potential donors that we truly do welcome any amount. It adds up!)
And if you want to become involved in the fight against trafficking, I urge you to contact Project Liberty. They are definitely the good guys. (And for all of you Vance Davis fans - these guys are the real deal that inspired the character.)
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.