Shopping after the holidays is a little depressing.  Everywhere you turn, there are raggedy boxes of Christmas lights and once cheerful holiday bulbs where one of them is sadly broke into a million shards.  The pre-wrapped gifts that once held such promise are tossed in a bin marked CLEARANCE with little pieces of tape and torn wrapping paper – obviously returned or exchanged for something more desired.  Sure – the deals are great but there is a feeling of desperation in the air that is just now being shaken off by the exhausted retail sales people who have probably just gotten their first two days off in a row after 90 days of insanity.

I am reminded of all of the women who come in and out of my life – some are ready for change and some are not.  Some have the support of family and friends and some do not.  Some don’t know that change is even possible and have never even explored the idea that there is the possibility of possibility.  Some know that change is possible but think that it can’t happen for them.  Some are trapped in toxic relationships and some are trapped in jail.  Some are trapped in the social service system that limits their thinking to believing that they are only deserving of what the government will give them.  Some are convinced that society somehow “owes” them something although they can never define what it is.

I beg God for clarity – for them and for me.  And He always gives it to me at the last possible moment.  His call for my life was never to change the whole world or to feed all the hungry or to house every homeless woman.  He called me to take each one “as is”, tell them He loves them, that I love them, and then let them know that the door is always open and the zone is always judgment free. 

What a relief.  But being judgment free is not as easy as you might think.  Sometimes things are clearly wrong and there is simply no excuse for it.  And yet – it is important to me to remember that they are brought to me in the exact condition they were supposed to be when they got there.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  His plan for all of is different.  He brings women into my life that are ready for change and it is not up to me to decide what that change is, only that there is indeed the possibility that there is possibility.

In fact – time and time again I am surprised that a new girl who sits in front of me – alone and hopeless – suddenly sees the light goes on when I tell her that she deserves to be happy.  That she has worth beyond measure and that all she has to do is learn to love herself. 

Of course at first they don’t believe that it’s true.   But God has prepared her to be in front of me, she ready to receive it within a few minutes because His hand is on the switch.

When they look into that handheld mirror the first time and choke out the words “I am willing to change”, the emotion is raw and very often it takes a few attempts before they get it.  When we don’t have a mirror available, we announce as a group that “I accept love in abundance” to the universe and put emphasis on different words as we say it again and again.  A little bit of joy starts to creep into the room a little bit at a time and suddenly, these beautiful, broken women find their voice and they experience – many for the first time –the well of love they have inside just got “tapped” and they glimpse the other side of their own personal hell.

They come to me “As Is”.  No Refunds.  No Returns.  And I am called to meet them where they are.  They bring their raggedy lives in old bulging boxes, barely held together with packing tape and rubber bands and – together – we  start to open the box and get all the pain and the shame and the despair pulled out, put aside and work from right there in that moment.  We don’t try to brighten it up with pretty ribbon, or disguise the contents with overused clichés and platitudes.  We don’t try to pretend that some of the contents don’t still have power over them.  We don’t ignore the shattered pieces in the bottom. 

The relief is palpable.  This CLEARANCE is so much different than what was expected.  It reveals the possibility of possibility that life can be very different but we have to clear out the old and rewrite the future with different rules.

It’s a beautiful thing and I don’t always get to see the end result. But it is for that single moment of clarity when God switches on the light in her darkened mind that makes me keep going.  He continues to bring them into my life as they are ready, with His hand on the light switch, their hearts bruised and tender and raw and then He sets me there as a conduit to His power to change. 

After all they are His girls and ALL SALES ARE FINAL!

Oil and Water

I live a fast paced life.

I never run out of things to do with my time.  In fact, my time generally runs out before my things to do run out.  Somehow I think I get fewer hours in the day that the rest of the world.  I look at the clock in the morning and then again when the coffee starts to wear off and I realize I have nothing planned for dinner.  Fortunately I am blessed with excellent contacts in the food delivery genre.

One of the things I have committed to is Thanksgiving Dinner for close to twenty people and as I looked at my house, I realized I didn’t want to have company without a fresh paint job in my living room.  I’ve been perusing paint colors for months and finally came up with a unique combination that I felt reflected my personal taste and would cover the revolting camel color the previous occupant had used.  But there’s a whole back story to that that goes along with my personal update.

I’ve done a lot of painting in my life.  Some results have been better than others, but I have taken some professional advice along with some personal preference and managed to blend them together in to something I can work with.

When we first moved into this condo, it was the view from the room length sliding glass door that took our breath away.  Somehow, in the middle of this busy and construction filled suburban community, a builder in the late 1960’s built five 5 story buildings that look out onto a peaceful and tree lined lake.  The view is unobstructed and the acoustics provide a sort of echo effect that allows you hear everything when you are outside and nothing when you are inside.  I honestly believe it’s a little bit of heaven right smack in the middle of Orlando.  We didn’t really even notice the paint job until much later.  We didn’t see the broken ceiling fans, the marginally safe electrical wiring or the appliances that were barely surviving.  When we were finally able to take our eyes off the million dollar view we slowly replaced and repaired the most necessary items first and the less important items as we were able.  Regarding the paint, the previous tenant had given the place a fresh coat of oil based exterior paint.  And he had also been creative and ambitious enough to also spray a nice orange peel texture as well.  The problem was that he had textured and painted over every surface – including – but not limited to – the air conditioning return vents in every room, the light switches, electrical outlets and their respective faceplates, and most of the chair rails and of course, the base boards.

Eventually the paint became the eyesore I could no longer ignore.

Now I would have liked to have just done a little taping off and slung on some cheap paint from Walmart and called it a day.  But – I know from some really bad past experience that you can’t throw cheap water based flat paint over oil based exterior paint.  It won’t stick and it won’t cover and you will forever be noticing shadows of the former outdated color dredging through the fresh contemporary façade and it will look like what it actually is – a desperate attempt at a cover up.  At first it will look fine, but every day that passes will find it getting just a bit worse until there is no other choice but to completely start over and do it right.

I waited until Michael was well on his way to his Sunday golf game and I breathed a heavy sigh, made my list of supplies, selected a color combination that I loved and trotted off to the local home improvement mecca where I purchased the best quality paint I could afford on the budget we had agreed on.

I started in the hallway and made my way into the living room.  I replaced light switches and wall plates as I went.  I had the unpleasant experience of getting zapped by not having the correct breaker turned off and I blew the main breaker to the whole building for a couple of hours by hooking up one of the electrical outlets with the wires touching.  That’s another story entirely.

As I proceeded to the second coat of latex satin finish corn silk yellow paint, and my thoughts turned inward, it was almost impossible not to draw parallels between the covering of the wretched color of the walls, my own past and my fledgling outreach to women who have crazy oil based paint colors of their own that they are struggling to cover with watery crayons and childish sidewalk chalk.

You can’t swing a dead cat in Orlando without hitting someone who has a ministry dedicated to helping men.

There are ministries that help men find housing and shelter and food and spiritual rebirth.  They will help them find transportation and jobs and a welcoming church where they can find even more of the same.  They can access services directly from jail, after they get out of jail, help them get into rehab, help them get out of rehab and – once again – help them find a job, a way to get there, a place to sleep and food to eat.  It doesn’t seem to matter what chaos they have inflicted on their lives or the lives of their family, there are multiple ministries that will embrace their desperation and fight over who gets to help them first.  I wish I were kidding about the fight over them part of that last statement, but I’m not.  They literally fight over them.  The ministries.  They fight over who gets to help the men.

Women, however, are another story.   A woman who faces these very same challenges – along with assorted others – is assisted by ministries who dedicate them selves to – and I quote – “Making the Community AWARE of Women in Need.”  You must be kidding me.  You mean there is very little to actually provide something for them?  “Yes!” – I am told.  “We must make AWARENESS our top priority.  We must raise money and form a committee to examine the need and then we will need more money to assemble yet another study group who will then determine how to provide these services and then we will need more money to get another group together to figure out which women we will help and then more money…more funding…more resources…”  And meanwhile time slips away and more women fall into the cracks.  More women go hungry.  More women have no place to sleep.  More women turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.  More women resort to compromising their bodies and their souls so that they can find a single moments peace.  Just a single second where they are able to lay down the baggage of their life and rest, regroup and stand another day to do it all over again.

You see, women are more complicated to help.  Their desperation is never just about their own circumstances.  They have children and husbands and elderly parents who are in failing health.  They have crushing guilt and immobilizing fear.  They have worries that seem completely unfounded because they are tied up with a history of abuse and neglect and childhood secrets that even they don’t understand.  Nothing about a woman’s worry is connected to any single event.  Her consternation is clouded with recollections she can’t nail down to a specific time frame because even those chronicles are created from other memories and trials that she can’t or won’t talk about.  And the worst thing of all is that they don’t believe they are worthy of a better life.  They don’t believe they deserve feelings of joy.  They are convinced that their life doesn’t warrant a positive outcome.  Quite simply, they don’t expect any improvement in their situation, therefore they usually don’t get better circumstances.

Men eat because they are hungry.  Very simple.  Women eat because they are reminded them of a past time that made them feel good or because they are experiencing emotional pain that is so great it must be fed so that they can experience it more fully.

And the loneliness can bear unbearable.  A woman’s loneliness can show in any number of ways but it usually manifests itself in seeking out another doomed relationship.  I know this to be true because of my own shockingly bad taste in relationships.  The expectations were always too high and I could never meet the bar that was set for me.  I was a study in the ultimate let down in a relationship.  I was an old rubbery oil based paint that was peeling from the corners and bubbling in the middle.  I tried to fix it by covering it up and gluing it down but there was no disguising the old crumbling plaster that was my life.

I remember quite clearly the night that Michael whispered in my ear the he was going to show me how true love felt like I’d never experienced before.  It was on a late January night in 2003 and it was very cold outside.  I was half asleep and the wall that I had carefully constructed to keep all the hurt outside of my personal space had already started to show some wear.  The many years of memories and trials and complicated relationships had worn me down and I was tired…so tired.  I felt guilty for many of the choices I had made.  I felt undeserving or any real happiness and I knew – I just knew – that this relationship would not be any different.  For now – in this beautiful rose colored moment – I was as satisfied as I thought I could get – but I knew the end would not only be inevitable – it would be painful.  I honestly didn’t know if I would survive another failed relationship.  I had also failed miserably at more than one suicide attempt already many years before and I knew I would have to come up with a better method than a prescription overdose if this relationship didn’t work out.  My relationship with Michael was going to be the last thing I screwed up.  He had no idea how much I had riding on this relationship.

When he whispered those words – as sincerely and confidently as he could – he might have well have just put the bullet in my brain himself.  He never knew it, but adrenaline shot threw my body like I was being chased by a big brown grizzly bear.  My eyes flashed open and I was flushed with fear.  There is no way I would be able to meet his honest love with one that matched its sincerity.  It was doomed from that very moment I was sure.  My twisted brain immediately started the process of reinforcing that crumbling wall of emotional pain with whatever muddy stucco I could find.  My desperation and my anxiety had come full circle and I was faced – in that moment of fear and self loathing – with a rare moment of crystal clear clarity.  Maybe…just maybe…I was wrong.

This might be the man who could renovate my life.  I had watched him take months to scrape the paint off of a massive five piece mahogany 1950’s bedroom set, polish it to its former natural glory and replace the zillion little handles with shiny solid brass ones.  I had watched him wash and wax 10 year old cars until the water beaded on the hood like champagne in a crystal fluted glass.   You could eat dinner off the engine of his car.  He took special joy in caring for things that had been misused, neglected and discarded by others.  Could I be one of those things that he could restore back to normal?

Many years later and with a great deal of help from a higher power, I do feel restored.  Renewed. Revived.  And Michael is probably very tired from all the work he has had to put in to bringing me back from the brink of destruction.  And now I struggle to pay it forward and – with the help of other women – and we scratch and claw through the thick gluey oil based paint of their past and help them find a shade of fresh color that reflects their wish to be free from the past.

It’s never easy.

They often lay down their brush out of weariness or a fear of failing again.  Sometimes they choose a color that isn’t appropriate and we have to let them get it up on the wall to see that they have made a wrong choice and they need to re-evaluate their palette.  Sometimes they are distracted by someone else’s color choice, or they just decide they don’t want to paint at all that day.  But – in spite of the challenges, we know the Universe has shown them – through us – that there are better days in front of them and the future is greater than their past and all the tools are there to live a vibrant and colorful life, full of Love, Joy, Peace and Forgiveness.

Me?  Well I still have to start painting the bathroom!

Mirror Mirror

I love glitter, sequins and crystals.  Anything sparkly and shiny, really.  I know it’s inappropriate at my age to let my cellulite and extra tummy weight darn any such garments, but it doesn’t take away my desire to see them on someone else and wish that I could be young enough and svelte enough to wear it with all the dash and drama it deserves.   I took up beading several years ago and could hardly choose between the sparkly colors and shapes available at the ubber trendy local bead shop.   I got to the point that I wanted crystal studded everything – cell phone covers, key chains, eye glass readers – even though I didn’t really need them at the time.  It was such a nice change from all the tribal and safari trend that keeps coming and going in fashion.  Somehow those hard cold shiny crystals appealed to me in a way that seemed kind of bad…but not bad enough to be get-in-trouble-bad.  They sparkle in candle light and sunlight and fluorescent light…

You see, I have been diagnosed with a psychological disorder called “Shiny Things Syndrome”.  Not formally diagnosed mind you…just sort of “in passing”…by a psychologist friend of mine.  And – for those of you who knew me when –  it doesn’t mean I’m a gold digger – it means I’m easily distracted.  When I see something that interests me, I have to immediately pay complete attention to that single detail until something else comes along to distract my attention.  She said a lot of creative people were that way and it could be frustrating for those who didn’t share a need for single minded intensive scrutiny.  We tend to interrupt conversation, finish other people sentences, and visibly drift off into our own mental outer space when out senses are not being constantly fed with what we consider to be interesting material for consideration.  People with “Shiny Things Syndrome” rarely finish projects they start, partly because their projects tend to be grandiose and partly because the next interesting thing might be within earshot.   My husband can attest to the unfinished projects portion…we have an entire room in our condo that is filled with my craft equipment and materials as well as notes and research material from more than a dozen books that I have started, edited, printed and then filed away under “Crap I No Longer Care About”.  But he has the same syndrome.  The only difference his attention doesn’t even last long enough to get anything on paper. 

Now I’m OK with having a psychological disorder.  It’s only one of many that I have carried around in my brain from year to year and it’s part of what makes me…well…me.  “Shiny Things Syndrome” is to me like Kryptonite is to Superman.  It really kicks in with me when I’m tired or nervous or unsure of my next step.  It kind of my attempt to grasp something that is beyond my reach when I can’t really manage the conversation of the moment. 

And it’s really obvious when you get “Shiny Thinged” by me.  Michael says that he always knows when he starts to lose me, mentally, that is, during a conversation, because my eyes start to narrow and he can see me looking into the space behind his head.  As if I’m desperately trying to stay at attention but it is futile to continue to try to engage my full attention without commencing some type of circus act.  Preferably an upscale Circ du Soleil kind of act, if you don’t mind, please.

Now the worst thing you can do when trying to assist women in trouble is to “Shiny Thing” them.  They are already under a colossal amount of pressure and interrupting their thought process or an attempt to verbalize their emotional angst can lead to them getting really frustrated and sometimes even angry.  Understandably so.  They don’t understand yet that I have faults too.  Many, many, many faults.  They think of me as some sort of Rehab in Shining Armour..some example to follow…some lesson to learn.  They have no idea how many lessons I still have in front of me and that it is from each of them I gain more insight to who I am and what I am here for.  They don’t understand that seeing them is like looking in a mirror for me.  Older, wiser, sure.  But scarred and still a little vulnerable.  Still a little afraid of fire. 

And, in my own dysfunction, when faced with the enormity of the responsibility I have undertaken to mentor them back to sound mental health, I am trapped by a selfish and desperate need to finish their sentences to disguise my insecurities and deflect attention from the fact that I really have no idea what I’m doing.

I just lost one of my girls back to the street about four months ago.  I saw it coming for a full week.  I watched her make choices that I knew would lead her directly into hell.  I advised her against it.  I pleaded with her to reconsider.  I questioned her motives.  I threatened.  I cajoled.  I would have danced naked in the street to regain her attention but – like me – the “Shiny Thing Syndrome” had already taken hold and her interest in recovery was like shutting off a light.

And now I had my own mirror to look in.  It was ironically like a circus mirror where the image shifted and distorted, casting a very unflattering prism of light on my own life.  I was forced to look a little deeper to try and remember who I was. 

I was forced to focus

No easy task for those of us who suffer from “Shiny Thing Syndrome”. 

What I saw was a deeper understanding of my reasoning for trying to undertake such an enormous task as this rehabilitation of women and I was able to see that my motivation was only slightly less pure than I might have originally thought.

My intentions were not poisonous…not even a little.  As the weight of what I considered to be my own personal failure – to cure this woman from her addiction to self loathing – started to lift, I was able to see that I was motivated by the fear that she is what I could have become.  And as I teach my girls at the class in jail every week, I remembered that faith must replace fear in order to become well – mentally, emotionally and psychologically.   

And I was still a little afraid – even though my faith has become stronger through the experience and it will grow stronger with each passing day.  The lesson to be learned from having Shiny Things Syndrome is to not be afraid of it.  To acknowledge it.  To embrace it.  There is no cure – no magic pill – no vaccination.  It has to be addressed daily with a prayerful attitude of releasing it to a higher power. 

By admitting it’s there I can walk in a greater understanding of what walking in the light of Love, Joy, Peace and Forgiveness really is.

Dedicated to Lynda.  May you someday find the peace that waits for you.

Counting The Cost

Isaac Newton was a mathematician, an alchemist, an astronomer, a theologian, a physicist and a philosopher that has a great deal of influence on our ability as Human Beings to grow and develop and one of his greatest scientific works was the development of the Laws of Motion.  There are only three but they are undisputed.

1.       An object that is at rest will stay at rest until an unbalanced force acts upon it.

In the simplest of terms this means if you don’t do anythingnothing will happen.  Also – if you do something – something will happen and it won’t stop until you do something else to stop it. 

2.       The change of momentum of a body is proportional to the impulse of the unbalanced force.

Again using the simplest of explanations, this law states that if you put some effort into doing something, you will get an equal or greater return of or for your effort. 

3.       To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

And this is the particular Third Law of Motion that caused me to consider the concept of Counting the Cost of my actions.  By doing something, you set into motion the understanding that something is going to happen, and by considering the consequences – be they good or bad – before we take that action – whether we accept it consciously or sub-consciously – we have accepted the responsibility of the results of the action.

I am pretty sure that Isaac Newton was hoping that someone like me would never use his Laws of Motion in their Blog, but I can’t help but draw parallels between the importance of really considering the outcome of an action before taking that step into the unknown by simply knowing that by taking this action, these results will be manifested.  We don’t really have the ability to see into the future and determine exactly what reaction we are going to get by our action, only that we can be certain that there WILL BE a reaction. 

Examples to follow…

Out Of The Life grew from my desire to do something to help women in pain find a way out of the pain caused by the life they were leading.  It took an enormous amount of action to get in front of women who needed to talk about their issues, but the reaction I received for my action was far more positive that I had ever imagined it would be.  Contrary to what most of the people who know me might think, I have grown as much as the women I have talked to and their action of reaction has propelled me to more action.  You see where this is going?  Newtons 1st law of motion is true in the most basic and humanistic sense.  If one reaches out to help others, that is an action and the reaction of the action creates more action.

That a lot more analytical thinking than I care to do on most days. 

Everything we do in our lives inspires a force greater than ourselves to respond to that action.  We have a responsibility as Human Beings to consider the impact of our decisions on the next level.  It seems there are three questions we have to answer before we take any action.

Will this action have a positive or a negative impact on me?

Will this action have a positive or a negative impact on my family?

Will this action have a positive or negative impact on my community?

If the answer to each of the questions is positive, than the action will be blessed and moving forward to the next decision is the right thing to do.  If the answer to any of the questions is negative, ALL actions and reactions from that decision will not be blessed.

Liars, Cheaters and Thieves will NOT be blessed.  Truth tellers and people of character acting with integrity will be blessed.  Anything that comes from negative action will be received with more negative reaction. 

It is important to recognize that the single action – even if it is taken in the right spirit with the right intentions – is not the last time we have to stop and consider Newton’s Law of Motion.  Each decision must be considered carefully before moving forward.  Counting the Cost of our decisions will impact our own lives, the lives of our family and the people in our community.  Deception and partaking in fruit from the poisoned tree of deception are all examples of how the formula of these laws of motion are conceptualized and put into practice.

I know from experience that making decisions – even the smallest one – without Counting the Cost can be devastating on my life, the lives of my family and even the lives of my community.  It’s very sobering to know that even though I am such a small part of the Universe, but the impact of my decisions could affect the whole world.


Spring Cleaning

I have finally quit going to church in hopes of hearing a message for someone else.  Some way to let me know a way that I can reach out and touch others with my stories and my anecdotes and my desperate desire to serve.  The message from the pulpit always seemed to turn my finger, point it at myself and say “This is for You.” 


And I have been pretty grateful to have the messages directed at me – after a little self righteous fuming over who I thought really needed to be there to hear it – I realized that I am more of a woman of Faith than I had realized.


You see – in my darkest day – I still had Faith.  I never lost that.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because when God made me, he gave me a little extra, or maybe he tied it around my neck because he knew I would never be able to get it over my swollen head.  I didn’t fully understand what the Faith was actually for and sometimes I was left with it just flapping around in the wind, smacking me in the ear every once in while to remind me it was there.  I suppose I could have hung myself on my collar of Faith but instead, it just hung out and followed me from one bad choice to the next…always assuring me that I would get another chance to screw up again. 


There’s a lot of power behind Faith.  It is the opposite of Fear.  Easy?  No!  No Faith equals Fear.  Faith – having it – equals No Fear.


Faith – or the lack of fear – is what makes Firefighters run into a burning house to save a child.  They believe that their brothers will be doing everything they can to get him out and they don’t question it.  They just do it. 


Faith is what makes us step out of our comfort zone and fight for what we believe in.  It’s not just that easier to not step out – there is an element of exposure and chance that we might be laughed at.  And the Fear of Exposure and Fear of Humiliation can be powerful weapons against stepping into the light of day and letting it all hang out.


When we moved into this condo, all the closet doors were simply falling off the hinges, one slat at a time.  It’s hard enough to move into a new place and get all your stuff put away when the closet doors don’t work.  But it was easy to see that these doors were going to have to be replaced.  As I sat down to check the price of new bi-fold closet doors online, the door that kept the pantry under cover fell onto my long-suffering husband because the pin in the top was missing. 


Now had I known that it was the pin that was missing, I would have tried to rig it with a paper clip and make it work until I could get the new ones purchased and installed, but a paper clip just won’t hold up a door that he wasn’t instructed to manipulate gently.  Never mind that “gently manipulate” is not really in his vocabulary. 


I heard the crash and the holler that followed and then I watched in wary silence at he heaved all of the closet doors – the pantry door, the laundry doors, and all the bedroom closet doors – out into the front yard.  I heard them break apart like matchsticks and when he came back in, he felt much better.


Me – not so much.


Now maybe I’m all alone here – but I like my closet doors closed and I’m not a big fan of having the contents of my closets on display.  “In the Closet” has deep meaning for me and not in the way you might think. 


If it’s in the closet – thrown, hung, folded, wrapped, waded – whatever – it’s as good as put away as far as I’m concerned.  I am fully comfortable with hiding things in the closet and presenting the appearance of a clean house to the rest of the world.


I don’t have to see it and I have a general idea of where it will be.  “It” being the thing you are looking for.  I don’t look for stuff.  I put it in the closet so I don’t have to look for or at it.  Until Michael threw the closet doors in the yard I didn’t realize what a mess my closets were.


Now I had to clean out my closets.  And not just one at a time.  I had to clean them all out at once.  Bummer.


But that is Life.  And Life doesn’t always look pretty.  It isn’t always clean.  And it’s never predictable.


Sometimes the very thing we try to hide from is the thing that we are supposed to be in front of.  Just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t mean that you don’t still bear some responsibility on getting it done.  Sometimes it scary.


These past few weeks have been a little like my closets.  I have had them pleasantly held at a distance…and by being forced to organize their contents I have gained a lot of insight into my life. 


I was afraid of what I might find in the closets of my soul but what I actually found surprised me.  I found little bits of pain from my past that I hadn’t dealt with.  Like shards of glass, they really weren’t keeping me in constant pain but it was time to pull them out for good and – this time – it was only a little pressure that was required to staunch the bleeding. 


I found some unresolved anger and I found a little bit of a lack of trust in my own instincts.  I pulled out some shame out from the back and under that mess was a treasure trove of great ideas and opportunities that I hadn’t taken but were still available.


And I found Wisdom.  Wisdom to counsel and wisdom to allow myself to be counseled. 


And although I have always claimed that I had no fear – I realized that I did.  And I realized that a little fear is ok.  A little fear keeps me grounded.  And it makes me rely on my faith a little more.  I am less likely to be deceived and less likely to deceive.  


This thing we are working on to help women escape the bonds of slavery requires that we open our closets and expose some of our secrets.  To be reminded of our assets and to be called upon to really ask ourselves “What am I supposed to do?”


We can all play a part.  Some are required to lead and others are required to serve.  Many are required to support the leaders and the servants. 


I eventually got my closet doors back and my pantry and laundry room are no longer exposed to the world but when the doors do get opened, I’m not ashamed of what you might find inside. 


I am on the inside what you see on the outside.  My life is no longer hidden.  I have scars but I wear them proudly because they are what makes me who I am.  It’s a relief really.


Just don’t ask me about my dresser drawers!  

The Woman In Me

The Woman in me laughs with enthusiasm.  She smiles when something is funny and she has a crinkle in her forehead that she refuses to inject with poison to make it go away.  She has trouble with her weight and she has really great hair.  She holds a grudge and she can be really stubborn.  She hates to be wrong and hangs on to righteous indignation for as long as possible.  She is a control freak.  She collects unfinished projects – always sure that they will somehow get finished at the last minute.  She can hold her fist high in defiance and she can sob in a corner barely able to see through the fog of tears.  She can be slow to anger and embarrassingly slow to forgive sometimes.  Once she forgives she forgets what she was mad about. 


She can see the big picture but can get hung up on the details.  She is big on instant gratification and loves to get the best for the least.  She can “make do” with what she has but she hates to be deprived of what she needs.  She thinks she needs more than she really does.  She is so passionate that she can become frozen in action – the never ending futility seeming to take over and smother her.


I don’t know which of me is the real me sometimes and I don’t know if I will ever be able to find a balance between all of those extremes.  Sometimes I feel fear that is overwhelming and sometimes the despair from the shame of feeling that fear makes me cringe.  Fear can creep up behind me and try to clutch my throat and kill me.  And that is when I am most determined that the Woman in me will prevail. 


Whoever she is and where she came from, she feels more deeply than the outside shows.  I have learned to cover my fear with a veil not unlike the ones worn by the Muslim women I see at the grocery store.  I feel a strange companionship with them because at least their veil is on the outside and not a mask worn over a broken heart or a life without meaning.  I have everything they have except the burka of denial.  Hidden denial on my part that I am any more of free than they are.  The difference is that I have created my own burka, my own mask, my own self delusion, my own fear of breaking through and announcing – not to the world – but to myself – “I am afraid!”


Whatever I am made of can show itself in both unbridled compassion and a wretched selfishness.  Polar opposites are inside me.  A fantastic web of contradiction.  I know I have power but I sometimes forget where I put it.  I know I have gifts but I have spent so much time playing around with my creativity I feel like I have hidden the most important gift in a box and put it high upon a shelf, never to be explored or reasoned with.  Some days I feel like I am moving around with purpose and then someone shuts the lights off and its dark and I feel afraid.  Like I can’t find a candle to get around or to find my way out of the dark. 


The wind blows hot and then cold.  The dark and the light are the same thing – they bring trepidation and uncertainty – a sureness of step and then a ditch where I fall and can’t get out.  Almost like a grave.  I step softly but I hear the thunder behind me.  There is rain on the way. 


Fear. It’s the thing I haven’t mastered.  It’s the unknown part of the equation that is the Woman In Me.  Not a fear of failure because I’ve had plenty of that.  I failed at nearly everything – even the things that I thought made me successful have really been success brought about by failure on some level.  It’s a general sort of all-encompassing fear.  Fear that my life is meaningless.  Fear that when I die I will have done little more than take up space. 


I would suppose that everyone suffers from some degree of fear.  Some fear of something.  Fear of the Unknown.  Fear of Snakes.  Fear of Wet Grass at Night.  The challenge then, is to identify what you are afraid of and decide if it is a reasonable fear and then move on to the next one.  All of the fears I mentioned above are I have had and I have determined that fear of the unknown – for me – is an unreasonable fear and I don’t fear it anymore.  A fear of what might come to pass tomorrow or next week or even in the next couple of hours are things that are out of my control.  Sure – I make plans for next week – even next month.  I book vacations in advance and I make lists of what I need to take care of before an event.  But I don’t let the fear of what might happen in the future control what I do today.


My fear of snakes used to be so strong that I wouldn’t pick up a volume of an encyclopedia that I knew had a picture of a snake in it. As a young girl, I feared about snakes being under my bed and would take a running jump to get into bed so that they couldn’t strike out and encircle my ankle and pull me under.  My fear bordered on phobia.  As a girl who grew up in the city, my chances of running into a snake – especially under my bed – were somewhere along the odds of America ever being interested in soccer.  Now, after careful analysis of my fear of snakes, my preference is to not see them or hear about them, but a story on the news about a monster python caught sneaking around a residential neighborhood doesn’t keep me awake or cause me to avoid that part of town.  I didn’t go through phobia awareness and I didn’t go to snake handling school.  I just realized that the chances of my running into a snake at the local grocery or while getting a pedicure was unreasonable and it faded away.


The fear of walking in wet grass is an offshoot of the fear of snakes and a far simpler resolution.  I wear shoes in wet grass.  There you go!


My fear of never accomplishing anything or making up for past transgressions is a far more mind bending than anything I’ve ever even acknowledged. 


When asked to be the Executive Director for the Restoring Humanity Foundation, I secretly coveted the ideal but feared I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to complete such an enormous project.


My background as a prostitute or an escort service owner, or a felon, or a makeup department manager, or a corporate supervisor could never possibly prepare me for the task at hand.  I would be responsible for the lives – the actual lives of hundred of thousands of girls that I knew were out in the rest of the world waiting for me to come and rescue them – like Joan of Arc, I should sweep in under cover of night and with a wave of my sword fight off the villain and shelter them under my velvet coat and they would then be safe.


Or maybe not.


As the project continued to develop, it made no sense to me to leave out any of the women or girls who had disappeared from their families without any hint of where they might have wondered off too.  Many times, as I watched the tragic stories of Natalie Holloway and Jennifer Kesse on the news, in the bottom of my heart I knew these women would never be found.  At least not their bodies.  These women might alive and might have been kidnapped and ferreted across some border and were now sex slaves.  As their mothers spoke bravely to the media – trying so hard to accept the law enforcement mandate that they were probably dead, I felt an overwhelming empathy for them.  In some way – although not a mother myself, I felt that even though they must know what I knew, it must have been so much more comforting to think that their beloved daughters were not being tortured or drugged or threatened with their lives every day.  It would have been easy to accept that disappearance and death were a far better outcome that the alternative.   Let’s get real here.  A woman doesn’t just leave her purse and her cell phone and wonder off into the unknown.  They were taken by force.


I started to realize that victims of Human Trafficking were all one and the same.  They may have had different beginnings but they had been taken from their families and denied the life they were intended.  I realized that all of the victims we were going to be going after would have their own story and their own strength in enduring all of the atrocities that befell them during their time under the chaos and that the only thing that could heal their wounds would be to be set free and allowed to soar.


There is a special tragedy in that of a child who is stolen from her family.  Whatever their place in the “Scale of Humanity” that you accept – whether that child is from a slum in Uganda and faces starvation and genocide on any given day or that child that is born into a well heeled family in a safe suburb of Brandon Florida who – like so many of us who live in relative safety – simply didn’t lock the door or lower that garage door one night out of nothing more than false bubble of broken security.  That same special tragedy is that of a child whose mother is barely a child herself –  and a damaged child at that – facing severe mental issues that allow her to sell her child to strangers she meets in park in San Antonio and to tell the father he is dead.  The college student with good grades and a bright future that suddenly fails to show for class.  The high school student who doesn’t even know she is pregnant and leaves her baby on a doorstep without knowing what will become of him.  The family facing eviction, starvation and the cruelty of humankind that finds their only asset is a daughter who they force themselves to betray and believe the story told to them that she will be better off in another place for a few pennies.  The young mom who turns her back for a minute at a public park to turn around and find her child gone.  The young girl rebelling against her strict parents who buys into the promise of stardom, riches and fame in the land of America. 


They are all gone and – now – they are without hope. 


I had no choice but to act.  And to act in such a way that even if I couldn’t find one of them – I would find others.  And by my actions, someone would live to regret their choice to steal the life of a girl that was destined for greatness.


My wish is for the penalties for the actions of those who would take hostage, capture, abduct, lure, steal, rape, assault, damage, terrify, intimidate, terrorize, menace, endanger, jeopardize, and silence women, children of any nation, in any nation to be so harshly dealt with by all governments who value and embrace femininity, and for their victims to be healed from within and free themselves from the bondage of everything these “traders in shame” have sought to kill and let God make them whole.


And it is this that brings me here.

But I Don’t Believe in Faith Healers…

The Church I go to bills itself as “Not a Church for EVERYBODY, but a church for ANYBODY”.  I think that’s a clever way of putting it.  It gets wild here.  We have nightclub lights and choir that will knock you to the ground with their powerful voices.  Whoever gets the Lead Singer position riffs his or her way through each and every Praise song like they were in concert at the House of Blues.  There are cameras every where and they sweep across the audience for the benefit of those watching on the internet.  The lyrics to the songs are up on to monster sized liquid crystal High Definition panels that digitally project psychedelic fire flames and bursting balls of color perfectly in sync with the beat of the music.  We shout and he spin and we clap and we dance until God shows up and brings blessings the “From the platform to the door – From the Ceiling all way down to the Floor” as one of my favorites is belted with enthusiasm all across the congregation.


This is – after all – Orlando – Home of THE Mouse and every theme park you have ever heard of.  We are a little jaded and hard to impress.  I don’t think God really needs all that drama, but it sure does make going to church fun.  In fact – I have been known to call it “Church Lite”.  Sort of a spiritual diet drink.  But there have been a lot of changes in the past few months.  The church has really made a commitment to the community to which it serves and I think the drama helps us all feel at home.  There have been so many changes in fact that even though I have been going there for 4 or 5 years, it has just been the last few church services where I have been recognized by other church members and they have given me a little wave and even come over to say hi while we wait for the service to begin.  It’s like we switched from “Tab” to “Jolt”.


They had been promoting a speaker who was going to be there last Tuesday night named Tim Storey and he seemed to have a bit of Hollywood on him.  The preacher to the stars, if you will.  Usher, Stevie Wonder, Dog the Bounty Hunter and – one of my favorite actors – Robert Downey Jr., all professed complete faith in his ability to minister to their very different needs.  I came home and told Michael about it and he thought he might like to go.  I googled Tim Storey and the only thing I could really come up with was a service he did at the Church at South Las Vegas on a podcast.  I listed to the whole thing and it didn’t answer a lot of questions about him, but I was certainly moved by his words and his thought process.  I even cried a little and a little voice in the back of my head said he must be some kind of faith healer.  But then I thought – no – surely my home church wasn’t going to sign up for any of that nonsense.  Growing up in the Assemblies of God, I had seen more than a few of those and was never quite “signed up” for that practice.


In fact – if I would have known that was what he was I would have never gone. 


My experience with Faith Healers and Evangalists had never been all that positive.  I do remember one specific incident quite clearly though.  I don’t remember my sisters being there.  Paula was 14 months younger than I and was probably at the Kids Camp winning a Nobel Prize for General Kindness, and Jodi – 5 years my junior – claims she was probably eating crackers under one of the chairs.  Mom and dad and I had been ushered to the equivalent of the VIP section of this huge camp meeting – revival – general council type of setting.  I remember it as a huge gym with a make shift platform and we were all seated to the right of the platform.  I was bored and mom and dad didn’t seem to blown away by the whole service but at the end there was lots of speaking in tongues – falling under the spirit and shouts of “Be HEALED in the name of Jesus”…


I remember watching the main speaker ramming people in the head with his hand until they fell over and some of his assistants were shoving them to the floor with their hands on their shoulders. 


Now?  Not so bored!!! 


And then I remember looking up to my Dad – who had completely ceased his participation (never really all that enthusiastic to begin with) in the events – and he had that crease in his forehead that usually meant I was going to bed early.  He ushered us to the nearest exit and into the car for the ride home.  I don’t remember any of the conversation but they were both pretty irritated.  Since our parents had obviously developed some sort of foreign language communication for when we kids were visible, I wasn’t sure what had just happened but I was a little gleeful about the obvious fake we had just witnessed.  Whatever doubts I may have had up to that point had been proven to be true.


It was a while later that in the old Greeley church – immediately after the offering had been taken, an older lady behind me burst into a loud speaking in tongues episode and dad bum rushed the podium and started everybody singing a pretty peppy praise song.  The lady behind me muttered “Forgive him Lord, Forgive him.” – and I turned around to see just who I was dealing with.  Never had seen her before but I was pretty sure that he didn’t need any forgiving coming from her.  I asked him later why he had interrupted her and he said something about things not always being from God, even though they may present themselves as such.  End of conversation.


Now I had never spoken in tongues and I had never actually fallen under the spirit although I did sink to the floor a couple of times because – with my one eye open –  I saw everyone else did.  I remember a particularly emotional service where I literally begged God to let me experience what everyone else was and got nothin’.  I started to think that maybe I had committed one of those sins that God just didn’t forgive and I was out of luck.


So with all that in mind, after the usual nightclub like praise Tuesday night, Tim Storey came to the stage and started to point people out to come up and he would just wave his hand in their general direction and say “BAM” and they would fall like limp noodles.  My mouth dropped open.  This went on for 15 minutes or so and there were several people who wobbled but didn’t fall down.  He would to them “Go ahead – take it all – BAM!”  One Church regular was especially resistant and I was kind of rooting for him for not being swept up in the drama.  But right before he said he was going to speak – he pointed to the same guy and told him to come up on stage and to “Hurry – he didn’t have a lot of time.”  The guy came up and as he was passing Tim Storey, Time waved his hand from behind him and he slid to the floor sideways.   I still had my doubts but he called for all the people with arthritis to come up for their healing and one very tall black lady kind of made her way to the front and you could tell she was already suspicious.  He healed (or whatever you call it) two or three people ahead of her and then told her – no “BAM” though – that she had been healed and she could go back to her seat.  You could tell she was disappointed but as she got to the bottom of the stage, he called her back and you could the see the change in her face…”I’m HOT ALL OVER” she said “And the pain is GONE!”  He said he could tell she wasn’t ready when she was on stage and he needed to catch her off guard.   Yeah OK…Now I was really paying attention…


We did a lot of swaying and hand raising and I decided to take a peek at Michael because I figured he was going to be royally irritated at me over all this…but my husband was examining his shoulder and his fingers and doing his stretchy stuff that he does when he is hurting and I suddenly realized that HE had been healed from the pain in his shoulders.  Oh come on now – I thought – you can’t be serious – he’s CATHOLIC for Christ’s sake!  (Like God doesn’t heal Catholics?)  By the time we got out to the car he was thumping his chemically raw fingertips on the dashboard of the car to prove it didn’t hurt any more. 


Later during the service – for my benefit I am sure – Tim (I can all him Tim now because he healed my Catholic husband and we’re tight now) explained that the church had gone through a period of charlatans and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that had made many unbelievers but that a new generation with a gift were rising up and taking their place so that the new generation and – clearly some of the rest of us – would know that God and his power is real – very real – and he wanted us to live lives that were free of pain and guilt and give us new opportunity to let the King and Queen in each of us rise up as it did in David when he went to fight Goliath and defeat our enemy on every battlefield.


Wow. That was a lot to take in.


Now – not only do I believe in Faith Healers – I want to go again and “Take it ALL” for myself.


Speechless No More

There are very few people who would use the word “Speechless” to describe me.  “Loudmouth” – “Inappropriate” – “Opinionated” – Now those words I would recognize.  But as I explore this whole prostitution and human trafficking underworld I am nothing short of speechless.  Speechless because so few seem to recognize the damage being done to our entire world by this insidious and sinister pandemic that preys on women and children.  Our whole society is threatened by either ignoring these practices or glibly claiming it to be a victimless crime.   Some of the victims don’t even know they are victims…they live in a world where they believe this is their destiny and that this is all there is.


I was touched by several stories I heard this week.  One woman stopped into a local shelter – just to chat – and talked about how she was working to “get her man out of jail.”  He had been arrested for a drug trafficking crime and is going do a minimum of 10 years in prison – this was not his first time around the “wheel of justice”.   She only had to raise another $4000 and the bondsman told her he would get him out.  So she was street-walking and soliciting strangers – the victim of a man held behind bars who called her collect regularly to check her bail bond progress, complain about the food and tell her he loved her.  We all said a silent prayer that he would be sentenced quickly so that she would be able to get enough freedom to have a chance to let us lead her towards a different path.


Another story was told to me about the proliferation of human trafficking in the Central Florida area.  Many of the big cities up north have made it difficult for the traffickers to operate and they have found our tropical climate and our ever widening ethnic and cultural framework to allow them to work their evil trade with very little interference from law enforcement.  They make themselves difficult to identify and have surprisingly innovative ways of laundering their ill gotten gains through Hair, Nail and Skin Care Salons, Dry Cleaners and Laundromats, Hotels and Motels, Restaurants and Bars.  The women – many under the age of 15 – are told that the police will kill them if they find them or they will be deported to their country of origin where their families will disown them because of the shame they have brought on themselves by living a life as a prostitute.  Victims not once, but twice. 


Two completely different stories of Human Trafficking converging – not thousands of miles away – not in another country – not in another city – but right in front of me.  Within blocks of where I live.  I was rendered speechless.


As I drove home to my upper middle class suburban condo with a beautiful view of a lake, I was overwhelmed and saddened by my blindness to my surroundings.  That cheap pedicure?  Not so cheap.  My smart attitude with the maid at the four star resort not getting my extra pillows to me quick enough?  Not so smart.  My annoyed whine about the spot not coming out of my cashmere sweater?  Not so annoyed.  My judgmental disapproval of a street walker who wanted to get the man she loved out of jail – no matter what her personal cost.  Not so disapproving.


How could I be so blind?  How could I not see what might have been right in front of me?  I’m a smart girl with lots of life experience and I should know better than to not look a little deeper into the eyes – the windows of the soul – and see the pain and the fear and the desperation.   I have to give these girls a voice to express their pain and offer more than the copy of a book they may not know how to read.  I have to become UNSPEECHLESS and use the things I have known and seen to teach those who don’t understand and to shine a really bright light into the dark corners where this abomination occurs…first in my own community and then in the rest of my state and then into the rest of the world.


There are three kinds of Human Trafficking.  The first is the kind that we call “Prostitution”.  Prostitution is the result of one person paying to use the body of another for sexual purposes.  Doesn’t matter if it is consensual or not.  Some prostitution is that of an independent person soliciting for another independent person to pay them for the sexual services.  “High Class” Human Trafficking is where a service (Escort Service or Pimp) takes a cut of the money gained from the sexual service in return for making the service available.  Many times this is an agreeable relationship because the Escort Service or Pimp promises to protect the service provider from danger.  It may or may not be consensual.  Escort Services are notorious for holding back appointments from service providers who they suspect of not following the services rules or failing to be available when they are called to “go on a call”.  Pimps use intimidation, drugs, violence or the threat of violence and a variety of other coercive methods to pressure a girl into performing sexual services with his customers.  Many times the Pimp even uses “love” to compel a woman into an act of prostitution.  As in “I love you baby – do this for me – do this for us!”  Sinister, isn’t it? 


The second kind is a little more familiar when speaking of Human Trafficking.  This treacherous practice is very well organized and very international.  And don’t think America is NOT international because it happens here too. 


Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.  In some cases a girl is promised an opportunity to model or become an actress.  Someone posing as a designer or talent agent will promise the moon to a young girl and many times secure the permission of her parents.  They are then whisked off to another city or state or country and forced into prostitution.  Some escape but most don’t.  In many third world countries the parents are promised a better life or an education for the child and they readily consent, completely unaware of the dismal future of their daughter.  In these same countries, parents knowingly sell the girl to the trafficker because they are starving and female children have a much smaller value than the male children.  A United Nations report recently stated that less than 40% of 150 countries studied for Human Trafficking statistics had NEVER prosecuted a single human trafficking case which allows the traffickers to operate with impunity across the globe.  Many countries refused to even provide their own statistics – even some of the really big ones like Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and Iran.  What was even more surprising in this report was that 60% of the traffickers were women – once victims and now perpetrators.


The third kind – really frightening, this one, is the kind where children are snatched off the street and – once again – forced into prostitution.  This happens in every country in the world and is devastating to parents who wonder forever if their child is alive.  I’m sure most of them pray they are dead rather than living in this existence.  Every time I hear a story of a missing child, I am silently praying for their quick and safe return but at the same time I fear for their safety and the likelihood that they are being trafficked.  While women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for the sex trade, human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into ‘forced’ marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.

The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. We Americans – as a country – have enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties, afforded new protections to trafficking victims and make available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking. We have also established a Cabinet-level federal interagency task force and a federal program to provide services to trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.   

Our commitment to abolishing the practice of Human Trafficking is far from complete.  Each individual who remains silent on the subject or considers prostitution to be a victimless crime, should reassess their position by research and soul searching and then act by telling a friend, a family member, a neighbor about what you have learned.  Only through education and continuously pointing out the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking can we begin to stop it.

Be SPEECHLESS no more.

To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the

HOTLINE: 1.888-373-7888

Love in All the Wrong Places

“Is this all there is ever going to be?”


That was the thought that ran through my head as I sat in the back of the police car – in handcuffs – on the ride to county jail for my third violation of probation for Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution.  I knew this would be an extended visit.  I had really pissed them off this time and I had a feeling there would be no “oversights” or “mishandling of paperwork” that had gained me a relatively quick release the first two times.  The bottom dropping out of my life this time had come at a really bad time.  I had given up “the life” but still had a lot of skeletons in the closet.  I had moved away from the “scene of my crimes”, gotten a great job, had just received a coveted supervisory promotion with a Fortune 500 company that included a company car and an expense account.  And even more importantly I was soon to be reunited with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  Everything was going great.


And then the bottom dropped out.


I was driving home after a week away on business the week before Thanksgiving of 2002 when I made an illegal turn and the lights came on behind me.  And that was my curtain call.  I was going to have to face up to the crimes I had committed, the broken promises I had made and the many many lies I had told to cover my now wholly exposed backside.   I immediately started to calculate who I could call, who I could manipulate into getting me out of jail before the weekend was up.  Surely there was someone – someone somewhere – that could make a few calls and get my no-bond status tossed aside and I would pinkie swear in front of a judge that I would fly back at the first opportunity.


You see, I had owned an escort service for several years back in San Antonio Texas in the late 80’s and, after being indicted by a grand jury and sentenced to probation – mail in probation no less – and I had violated the same ten year probation about 5 times – each time getting in less trouble than the last.  In fact, the last time they had arrested me in Florida – they never even bothered to check with Texas as to whether they were interested in picking me up…Sort of a Southern non-courtesy.  This time was different though.  Texas made sure that they weren’t going to let go of me until they had a chance to come and get me.  So I sat in the Seminole County Jail for 31 days waiting for a ride back to San Antonio.  I waited almost a week before I called my parents, having missed Thanksgiving entirely, and it was by far the most difficult call I had ever had to make.  My mother was in tears and even though I could hear my fathers’ strong voice on the other end, I knew that I had really cracked his armor.  This was not news he was prepared for.


I didn’t grow up in an environment where prostitution was a part of dinner conversation.  My parents were senior pastors in a large Pentecostal church and I was protected from anything secular – movies, music, even TV shows that weren’t “Prairie” or “Lassie” related.  We didn’t watch Saturday morning cartoons and we played Scrabble and Yatzee on snow days.  I was a typical preachers’ kid though.  Always looking for a chance to break the rules and felt entitled to special treatment and attention from church members.  Mostly I was likable but I had a streak of wild that didn’t go unnoticed.  I was a quick learner and I manipulated anyone who would give me a chance.  My parents did their best to reign me in but they really didn’t have any idea as to how to discipline me.  And I don’t think they ever knew how far I would really go. 


At the age of 15 I was (secretly) reading a popular women’s fashion magazine on a monthly basis and poured through the pages gleaning every bit of information I could get about the life and times of women in larger metropolitan areas.  Beauty tips and fashionable clothing interested me as much as the articles, the book reviews and the editorial written by a powerful woman who insisted we women could “Have It All”. 


Living in a patriarchal society, I was intrigued by the idea of equality with men even though I didn’t really know what that meant.  I watched the evening news with my father sometimes and asked about the Equal Rights Amendment and wondered why all those women were burning their bras.  As a teenager I was kind of proud that I wore a bra.  I was discovering – or rather creating – my identity through the pages of a magazine published far away from the life I lived and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. 


I moved away from home…


A few years later, still treating this publication as the bible for the life I sought, I read an article about a woman who lived in New York and worked as an escort.  She recounted the interesting and powerful men she met and entertained, the expensive and exclusive restaurants and VIP access to nightclubs and Broadway shows.  She was showered with expensive gifts and had plenty of money to spend on anything she wanted.  She had an expensive car that she rarely drove unless it was to provide a beautiful date for a rich man during a summer party at Martha’s Vineyard or a weekend in the Hamptons.  Sure – she had sex with these guys but she was providing a valuable service and was well compensated for her time.  In fact, she stated specifically that it was her time that the gentlemen paid for – never the sex.  She had worked for an escort service before and had gone solo after the famous Mayflower Madam had to close her doors.  She claimed to be so satisfied with her life that she couldn’t imagine living any other way.  Of course, her identity was never revealed to “protect her clientele” and downplay her illegal activity, but this only increased my interest and I started to discuss the article with friends.  I furthered my research by reading the story of the Mayflower Madam and decided that a service of this type was needed in the San Antonio community.


I was in and out of several long term and short relationships for most of my life up to this point and had been pretty battered emotionally and psychologically from each and every one.  I seemed to have a preference for men that were either emotionally unavailable for one reason or another and they had tossed around my heart and mind like a racket – hit hard against a wall only for me to return for more of the same.  They had little use for me other than a trophy to parade around their friends or a distraction from the committed relationship they were already in.  I became colder and more distant to friends and family and eventually ceased to have any emotional availability of my own.   Suddenly it just made sense to open an escort service in San Antonio. 


It got large pretty quickly and it was almost like a good bad girls club.  We would meet at the mall and late night dinners, each girl coming and going as the calls rolled in.  It never occurred to me that I might light up the night and get the attention of the local vice squad.  We had a good time and made a lot of money before the arrests started piling up.  I moved to Florida and opened a similar – much less successful – operation, but San Antonio was not satisfied that I was out of the state.  I was indicted by a grand jury and returned voluntarily to be arrested, bond out and await trial in Florida.  The case sat on the top of a file cabinet for nearly two years before I was arrested for the same thing in Florida.  San Antonio blew the dust off the old case and I returned and pled guilty and was sentenced to ten years of write in probation.  I left the same day and never reported again. 


And that is how I came to sit in the back of that police car the week before Thanksgiving.  I decided that very moment that – should I make it through this and not get sent to prison for the remainder of my probation that I would change my life and stop evading, avoiding and deceiving the people who I came to care about.  Of course I was fired from my great job and it took more than three months and an expensive attorney that my father footed the bill for, before I was back home to stay.  And I never looked back.


I showed up for every appointment, passed every drug test and actively sought to improve myself.  And I had great support from the man I loved and from my family.  It took more than 5 years for me to recover emotionally and now I want to teach other women the way out without them having to go through the same thing I did. 


I got married in 2004 and my husband and I own a small business in Orlando.  We work hard but the rewards are far beyond measure.  I no longer live in shame, haunted by regrets and recrimination.  We don’t have children but we have two golden retrievers that are the light of our lives.


I have reconnected with my wonderful family and we have all been able to share our stories and I have been able to be a hand up to them in their times of need instead of a disappointment and an emotional drain.  


I am living proof that anyone can change their life.  It takes work, dedication and the support of people who know what to say when you need it the most.  And I know most of all that all during my search for that life described in a silly magazine, my God was watching over me and protecting me – never losing faith that I would find my way back under his care.  Like my father, he hurt when I hurt and he felt the same pain I felt and he let me learn my lessons and never stopped loving me.


Michael and I do everything together.  We own and operate a mostly successful business with two locations and a third in the works.  We have our fingers in a lot of “pots” and we are constantly evaluating our position in the marketplace and looking for the next place to get our creative “groove flag” flying.  Michael is the creative part of the operation and I fall into more of a R&D category.  Partly because he tends to lose interest when a projects gets to a “moving forward” phase and runs into a kink or two, and I like to get all the facts and work out the boring details.  He is in charge of collecting inventory and getting it showroom ready and I have the marketing responsibilities.  We both occasionally dabble in the others duties and give and take feedback on the others performance with surprisingly limited antagonistic repercussions.  Sometimes the fur will fly but we have a great deal of respect for the others willingness to do the duties of the other since we both agree that neither of us can do everything.  We consider ourselves a “team” and our convergence of abilities “teamwork”.


The teamwork follows us home where things pretty much follow the same pattern.  He is responsible for the garage, everything that goes in it – with the exception of the washer and dryer – and pretty much anything in or out of the house with moving parts.  I am responsible for making all the parts aesthetically pleasing at a reasonable cost.  We don’t always agree on reasonable cost.  An example of the duty “cross dabbling” at home would be when I tried to replace both the toilet “innards” on my own and we ended up with soaked bath rugs, or when he – thoughtfully I admit – did the laundry and all of my bras were stripped of at least one underwire.


The cars – being one of the things that go in the garage – are under his care.  I simply refuse to do anything more than put gas in a vehicle and will grudgingly get an oil change but only after I have threatened to do so 10 or 12 times and been ignored.  Somehow it always costs me more and I get tricked into getting stupid “add ons” and then we are back to the reasonableness of the cost when I get home to discover that the air filter I just paid $22 to have installed was a $5 item I could have picked up on my way home.  The last time I got this service done, the little squirt at the Quick and Fast Ladies Only Oil Change Lounge gave me a free oil change because I really needed to have that $119 transmission flush.  It sounds stupid now but at the time I thought I was really getting a deal.


Michael feels that a vehicle should be taken care of much like a child and takes a great deal of pride in how much “bead “ he gets when it rains and likes big thick shiny tires with bright white lettering.  Should the vehicle have chrome or black trim, he has special potions and dressings that will make it glow and sparkle and all water – in potholes, gutters or that which falls from the sky seems to avoid touching it at all costs.  Either that or he secretly wipes the car down after every use – something I suspect but he denies.  I find his ingenuity for all this home and car repair a little extraordinary since we don’t own the correct tool for literally any job.  He is a regular McGuyver with home and car repair.  After he installed the chrome step sides that he bought on craigslist for $50 with tweezers and a rubber mallet, he used so much of his magic glass potion and imported tire dressing to create a slick barrier on the driveway that it now kills weeds and keeps the stray cats off our lawn.  His father once accused him of trying to wash the paint off the car.


I have grudgingly converged my idea that “if it cost more it must be better” with his “make it work” philosophy to the extent that it doesn’t endanger our lives and he has conceded that there are things that you just have to pay more for.  His concessions have been relatively limited to golf related items but we don’t buy dollar store brand toilet paper either.


We call what we have teamwork, and I suppose that is what it is in a weird marriage related way.  And I ask myself… isn’t that what marriage is?  Two people who work together – much like a team – to get to a predetermined goal.  It’s not always easy and there are complications along the way.  There are disagreements and negotiation.  When obstacles arise, the team has to meet and agree on a solution and then there is acceptance and forgiveness when things don’t go right.  There is joy and celebration when a win is achieved and there is planning and preparation for the next goal that is set. 


The point is that we keep looking forward and we try to forecast the next shift in outside influence and keep progressing upwards.  Doing it alone – which we have both done before – is much harder – but when the team puts its mind and heart and soul into it – the wind doesn’t blow so hard, the climb doesn’t seem so steep and, because we support each other, the peak is achieved – and enjoyed so much more because of the team effort it took to achieve it.


We made up a word to describe our relationship…Teamshipness.


Teamshipness is a lot more complicated than it sounds.  It represents the unification of individual ideals and motivations without diminishing the importance of the individual.  It also requires that the team identify and utilize the other members strengths and weaknesses and fully support them when required.


An example would be that I cannot lift a king size mattress by myself.  And Michael doesn’t know when each and every bill is due.  I rely on him for the heavy physical work and we open our doors every month with lights and phone lines shining brightly.  He also knows every fact about nearly every mattress ever built and retains this technical information in his mental safe and is able to convey this information to me and our other employees – a little bit at a time – so that we are able to recite facts and figures verbatim.  He teaches with patience and gives the information slowly and explains why each mattress manufacturer uses a certain technique that makes their mattress unique.  I get frustrated when the “aha light” doesn’t turn on after a single demonstration. 


He has unique ways of hiring.  After the initial usual qualification and introduction questions are answered, he asks the prospective employee (who probably hasn’t eaten in the last 24 hours due to the economy) to lift a king size mattress over his head in our central Florida mid-day heat. 


I have unique ways of firing.  I take the low performance deadbeat out to breakfast and convince him that he is a low performing deadbeat until he quits.  The running joke is that you don’t want to have breakfast with Jesse.  It will not be “just” a performance review and you better bring your keys.


There’s no end to our madness.  On the way in to the Orlando showroom the other day, we were discussing the showroom we were trying to decide whether to open in Lakeland and – almost at the same time – we both expressed concern for it’s profitability considering the economy in the area.  One of the areas biggest employers had just closed its doors the day before with no notice whatsoever.  The conversation eventually led – with many segways – to our marriage.  I told him that I had asked my father to include the story of Ruth from the bible into our wedding vows.  Ruth’s mother had two daughters and she promised one of them to a man she had never met.  Trusting her mothers’ wisdom, Ruth knelt down before this stranger and told him that – as his wife, she would go where he went and lay where he laid.  She believed in him at all costs much in the way I believe in Michael and the way he believes in me. 


Teamshipness.  It’s a lifestyle.