Liz’s Story (#ACourageousOne)

Allow me to introduce you to Liz Williamson. Liz is a survivor of child sex trafficking but more importantly, she knows she is madly loved.  Liz is the adopted daughter of Jenny Williamson, founder of Courage Worldwide. Hers is an incredible story with an incredible ending…

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Liz’s Words:

Did you know?  Did you know how old I was, maybe not how old I was presented to be?  Did you care?  Did you think about my heart or my mind or only about your desires?

Writing this, I want you to know my heart.

I longed for a family.  I longed for a home.  I longed for a room that was a safe, for a room that
was mine, for a room that opened from the inside.  I longed for sleep.  I longed for safety.

I once tried to sleep with sneakers on in case I was able to run away.  But, I promise you, I was defeated.

Trying to fight was maddening because I lost every time.  So, I learned not to fight with my body.  I learned to fight in my mind.  I learned to blankly smile and nod and participate but to keep my heart far from it all.  I learned how to not cringe on the outside.  I learned how to be numb.  Maybe worst of all, I learned how to lie to myself.  All of the anger that should have been directed to those that hurt me, to those that designed the plans, to those that should have done something, I turned on myself.

I was still a child desperately trying to make sense of my world.

I believed the only people that cared about me were those that paid money to be with me.  They were the ones who helped me with my Math homework or explained the silent “a” sound in the word was when I got embarrassed in school for saying it wrong. Being hurt was my only constant truth.

As a child, I believed when someone took pictures of my body, they also took my heart.  No one could explain to me anything different.  I knew they were stealing everything and I owned nothing.

The anger I felt was overwhelming.  I want to tell you this not to hurt you but because I believe now if you knew the truth, you would see life differently.  Every Tuesday night for a few years of my life, I went to the local Holiday Inn to spend the night with one particular man.  I would grab every green Starlite mint off the receptionist counter before walking into the elevator. That was my routine. He would eat at the buffet and I would sit in the hotel room eating every mint pretending to be anywhere but there.  I would open the wrapper and focus on crunching on that mint so I didn’t hear how loudly my heart was beating or how scared I felt.

I seethed in anger, but eventually, it felt pointless.

There was no man or woman on my side.  What didn’t they see? What couldn’t they see?  The bruises and scars were obvious.  My absences from school were notable.  Eventually all of the anger settled into one lie, I am invisible, and I deserve this.

Birthdays and years confirmed this.  I believed this for too long.  Running away in the dark at 23, I remember every time my feet pounded the pavement and pain shot through my whole body.

Not one car stopped to help.

Years later, I can see these same memories, this same pain, and the anger I feel fuels a different fight.

Yes, I know what it feels like to be locked in a room and have no control.  But, I want to break down that door for another child, for another human, for someone who also believes they are invisible.

I am on the side of the invisible, of the forgotten, of the ignored.

*******

Liz’s Story: A Song of Redemption

In 2008, when Jenny Williamson was in the early days of working with girls who had been trafficked, she met Stephanie Midthun. Jenny had recently met three women that identified themselves as prostitutes who had all told her the same thing: “Please, build this home and help these girls – they just need someone to believe in them so they don’t turn out like me.”

Telling Stephanie this, Jenny was brainstorming on how they could get the message out: they needed a song to tell the story of the girls, she said, a song to say ‘Believe in Me’. Jenny had no idea that Stephanie was, in fact, a song writer. Stephanie wrote the song a few days later and had a 15-year old with a powerful voice record it. A film maker did a video and it was launched on Facebook in 2009.

(Disclaimer: this music video is tastefully done but does contain themes of violence and sex. While not explicit, is not recommended  for children under the age of 13 without parental supervision)

Half way across the country, Liz saw the music video through Facebook, and emailed Jenny saying she didn’t know anyone else knew about girls like her. The song haunted Liz and eventually propelled her to run away in the middle of the night with no shoes. She fled to a homeless shelter. Soon after that, Jenny invited her to come to Courage House and be her daughter…

And the rest is history….

******

Liz is one of the Courageous Ones. And there are thousands more like her, who don’t know that we are there to help. The #ACourageousOne project is one, tangible you can make a difference RIGHT NOW AS YOU ARE READING THIS. We can help more Courageous Ones like Liz by giving our own courageous one:

  • Donate ONE DOLLAR towards rescuing trafficked women and girls. There are many great organizations working on this, but I have personal relationships with Courage Worldwide and International Justice Mission. Would you send #ACourageousOne DOLLAR and raise money?
  • Pray for ONE MINUTE for the rescue and restoration of trafficking victims? Just one minute. Pray for girls like Liz to hear the message of hope. Pray that they would find safe places to go. Would you spend #ACourageousOne MINUTE in prayer and raise hope?
  • Share ONE POST about sex trafficking on social media. Share yesterday’s post about the A Courageous One project. Share Liz’s story to inspire others. Share Believe in Me, or either of the video clips from yesterday. You never know what other Courageous Ones might be listening. Would you share #ACourageousOne POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA and raise awareness?

Thanks for reading and sharing, friends.

How To Host A Life-Changing Garage Sale

How to host a

There are a handful of items in my house which I found at garage sales: awesome things I picked up for an absolute bargain and which get daily use. I love finding treasures at garage sales. In the past, however, I have not loved throwing garage sales: they seemed like a lot of lonely work for relatively little reward, and I still landed up having to drive the “left overs” to the thrift store afterwards. It felt like a lose-lose situation for me, and a win only for the buyers.

However, in the last year we have held two garage sales which have been win-win situations for everyone. Here’s what made the difference. (And here’s the link to the “If you give a mouse a cookie” version of how we got started on this in the first place. It’s fun. You should read it :-))

Do it TOGETHER

In short: holding a garage sale became worth it when we teamed up with others to make it a community fund-raising event. Rather than doing all the work solo, a few friends agreed we would all like to declutter our houses and pool our things. That way, we could have enough things to make it a worthwhile event for shoppers, and we also had company along the way.

It took three of us. We picked a Saturday, and started to spread the word, giving people 3-4 weeks to start setting aside things they wanted to get rid of.

  • Win: an opportunity to spend time with friends.
  • Win: clear out some clutter.

Do it for CHARITY

One of the hardest things about holding garage sales before was the feeling that we were putting in all this work, and then selling items which had cost a pretty penny before for just a handful of grubby pennies now. If time is money, it felt like we were paying for those items twice.

The easiest way to overcome this was to do it all for charity. That way, all items we were getting rid of felt like a gift freely given. And every cent made at the garage sale felt like money freely donated to a good cause. (Also, shoppers were more generous when they knew where the money was going! It was amazing!)

We chose two worthwhile organizations: Courage Worldwide (who provide safe houses for girls rescued out of sex slavery here in the US), and International Justice Mission (who work to bring justice to oppressed people worldwide: addressing slavery, trafficking, police brutality etc by supporting and equipping local authorities to work on enforcing their own laws. They are combatting the Locust Effect., protecting the poor from violence). Last year, we supported Food for the Hungry, a fantastic community development and hunger relief program.

I made a rustic poster explaining where the money would be going, and we had some pamphlets available for shoppers to tell them about Courage and IJM: you know, raising both funds and awareness. 

  • Win: being able to do some good in the world.

Do it WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR HOUSE

The advent of the internet made this possible to organize after hours and from home.

Getting the word out: I made a simple ad with the date and address, and posted it on Facebook a few weeks before. I asked friends to share it.We put an ad for it in our church bulletin. We invited people to bring their donations to my house any time the week before the event, and stashed them in the garage (more about that later).

Then, on the week of the event, I posted an ad for the event on Craigslist, which has a category for garage sales, as well as in a few neighborhood Facebook groups which buy-and-sell kids stuff and house wares.

TIP: when posting ads on craigslist for garage sales, list the items you have in as much detail as possible, as there are many people looking for particular items. We specifically mentioned some of the items we knew people regularly looked for (radio flyer tricycles, specific appliances, specific furniture items). I also took photos of a few items to put on the ad.

  • Win: do it all wearing pajamas
  • Win: Social Media really can get the word out better than posters can

Arranging to have it cleaned up: I also called the Salvation Army several weeks in advance, and scheduled a pick-up for all the items remaining from the garage sale. This was a deal-breaker for me: I could not have cleared out the remaining items by myself – so if Salvation Army hadn’t been able to come, I might have called around to find a charity which solicited donations.

  • Win: we got to do a second round of donating… to another worthwhile cause!

CREATE A SPACE to stash the goods (Logistics)

We decided to park our car outside for the week, and I cleared a large space on the garage floor. This year, I got a bit more organized and put painters tape on the floor, demarcating different areas for clothes, toys, books, sports goods etc, so that as donations came in, people could put them in the appropriate areas.

I’ll be honest: for a week, my garage looked like a zoo. But, the clutter wasn’t in my house… so that made a difference.

  • Win: a reason to clear out my garage. And, a working space which didn’t cramp our lifestyle while we were arranging.

Getting ready

Before the day, we also:

1) got some petty cash from the bank. I turned $50 into quarters, $1 and $5 bills. We needed the change for the early-bird bargain hunters.

2) arranged a place to keep the money on the day. Last year, I borrowed a cash box from our church, and we had a table set out where people could pay. This year, a crafty friend made us two adorable aprons out of repurposed jeans, and we used the pockets.   Look how cute my husband and I look in the aprons:

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3) We also borrowed a couple of fold-up tables (because items at eye-height are easier to buy than items on the ground), and pulled out a couple of camping tarps to lay toys and clothing items on.

4) We kept the boxes and bags which people had brought donations in to one side, and offered them to shoppers on the morning.

Have a WORK PARTY the night before

I had 5 friends stop over the day before. We used the trusty roll of tape and used a sharpie to price items (and priced them cheaply – better 25c for our cause than nothing, right?)

  • Win: a few hours to chat and work alongside friends. It felt good!

Sell, sell, sell!!

On the morning of the sale, we had 2-3 friends come 2 hours early to help us set out the tables and move everything from the garage out on to the tables. We had hardly begun moving stuff out when the early bird shoppers arrived. (Our start time was 9am. The first shopper arrived at 7:25!! I told them, as I had said in our Craigslist ad, that they were welcome to shop early – but that before 9am everything sold had a $30 surcharge. For charity, of course. They all went away and came back later.)

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It was a fun morning! We had a HUGE amount of people, and we raised a ton of money (last year, $900, this year – $1300!) We chose not to haggle over price too much, but rather to see each purchase as a donation, and to thank them for it accordingly.

Win: All the shoppers got a bargain, and they felt that they were doing good in the world too!

All in all, it was a little more effort than doing a garage sale by myself, but it was so worth it: we connected with friends, we got to support justice in the world, we built community and enlisted our family’s help in doing so (both our kids, and our church)… and at the end of it all, we had a cleaner house and a big fat check to send off to change lives.

Win win, right?