Showing Up

It was about a quarter to eight when I finally pulled up the steep driveway, gravel dancing beneath my tires.  It was that sacred time of evening when the golden sun brightened the dark green Kentucky hills. An indigo sky waited in the distance with the promise of rain. There had hardly been another car on the road as I drove deeper into the hollow.  I had to turn around more than once to find my way to the Safe House.

I came here to meet some of the survivors at Refuge for Women, a ministry that brings healing and hope to women who have been sexually exploited or trafficked.  I brought my small electric harp with me.  I had no plan of what to do; I just sensed that I was supposed to play for these women and listen to what was happening in their hearts. I had been looking forward to this for a month.

After I parked my car, Maggie* came out the back door to greet me.  She was warm and friendly and insisted on carrying in most of my gear. She bubbled with spunk and enthusiasm, yet I could see in her eyes that she was tired. I liked her right away.  No sooner did I step into the door to the kitchen than I met Brenda* with the beautiful smile and an African scarf wrapped around her hair. Her eyes shone brightly as she offered me something to drink.  Heather, the intern, stood next to her and greeted me kindly.   Fresh out of college, she is the go-to girl for these women.  A lifeline. Julie* was standing at the counter and turned around with a shy smile.  She had long, dark blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. I could sense almost immediately that we had things in common, yet I didn’t know what. Yet.

We made our way into the living room and I began to set up.  They wanted to know how long I had been playing and where I was from.  I shared a bit of background with them. I told them where I was from and where I had been.  I told them about my husband and children, where we had lived and what I do now.  I talked about teaching and kids. Then I told them why I had wanted to come.  I told them some of my story….about the hard parts I’d like to forget.  I told them even though our stories weren’t exactly the same, we’ve fought many of the same battles against a common enemy, and He who is greater than the world has already won the victory for each of us.

We prayed, and I shared the scripture God had put on my heart for them. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Then I began to play an old Vineyard song, “Hungry.”

Hungry I come to You ’cause I know You satisfy

I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry

So I wait for You

So I wait for You

I’m falling on my knees

Offering all of me

Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for

Flashes of lightning lit up the landscape outside the window and the rain fell.

Brenda’s tears began to flow, then Maggie’s.  Julie curled up with her Bible and listened. Heather sat silently next to Maggie.

I played a few more songs, improvising as I went. After awhile I paused.

Each woman was clutching her Bible and journal. Some were writing.

“How are you doing? Does anyone feel like God is telling you something?” I asked.

The girls began to open up about the struggles of staying clean. They talked about broken relationships with their families. They shared about mental illness and meds. We talked about self-hatred and being used. We talked about eating disorders and spiritual warfare that is real and intense. They spoke of children they put up for adoption and the cruel irony that now they were getting clean and on the right path, but their bodies couldn’t have children anymore because of their “extensive background” (as the doctor put it).  They long to be good mothers. They long to have a man cherish them. They proudly showed off their rings they received the day before at a purity ceremony in which they pledged to remain sexually pure until their wedding night.

One girl said,”I’ve never had a ring on my finger or a real job or been able to sit still and be clean.  This is the first time ever.”

They talked about how hard it is to re-program their minds after years of distorted views of love, men, and God.  But they also talked of a Savior who loves them.

“Right now as you were playing, I just kept hearing God tell me He loves me,” one of them said through tears.

That’s exactly what I had been praying they would know.

I played a little more as the girls pored over their bibles and wrote in their journals. As I sensed the time was getting late, I set my harp down.  Julie told me a few weeks ago she was reading through the book of Psalms and was struck by all the references to harps. She kept having thoughts of “I wonder what it would be like to play one….”

Then the director told her I was coming with a harp.  She about jumped out of her skin.

I invited her to come play my harp, “Little Betsy Blue.”  As she sat down and began to gently touch the strings an enormous smile spread across her face.  Phones came out of hiding and the girls snapped pictures of Julie playing the harp.  It sounded beautiful.  One by one each girl took a turn plucking and running their fingers over the strings, enchanted.

We talked about David and Saul and music….how music can change your mood for the better (or sometimes the worse, they reminded me.) There is certain music they know they can’t listen to because it will pull them down faster than a stone sinking in water. They talked about the importance of filing our minds with truth and beauty.  These women are strong and insightful.

We wrapped up in prayer and hugs and a new friendship and a hope to see each other again. Brenda and Julie helped me load up the car and we talked for a bit more.  Brenda has a beautiful voice and performs spoken word.  I promised to email her a powerful piece from the IF:Gathering that I thought she would like.  We hugged goodbye in the muggy evening as the fireflies glittered like a thousand stars around us.

As I drove over an hour back home through the Kentucky dark, I was overwhelmed with a fierce love for these women. I reflected on the time leading up to tonight. The past week I had been anxious about this for some reason–doubting that I had really heard from God to take my harp and play here. I doubted my abilities. I wondered if it would make a difference.  I prayed that God would use me despite my inadequacies. I’m learning that if we wait until we feel ready to do something it will never happen. God just asks us to show up with what we have, and the rest is up to Him. The greatest treasures I took away from tonight are the new friendships he’s given me.  These are truly some of the most courageous women I’ve met.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my journal was missing.  I had taken it out of my bag and set it on the chair in the living room when I was packing up. In all the talking and hugging apparently I overlooked it.

I guess I’ll just have to go back.

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* In order to protect the identities of the women in this story, names have been changed.*