Lessons.  (Narrative by Julie Homrich)

It’s 1991: 9 year old Marie is waiting patiently for her dad to take her to school. As he drives down the gravel road that curves into her elementary school, he quickly turns off path. “Oh no,” she thinks, “I’m going to be late again.” As they pull into the apartment complex she sighs and assumes the familiar routine. They walk inside.

“Stay right here,” he tells her, as her small feet hang over the tattered and torn couch, “and wait until I come back.” Handing her $20, he disappears into the back room with a woman who is not Marie’s mother. Sounds that should be unfamiliar to a 9 year old permeate her ears as she is exposed to sexuality before she even enters double digits. Walking out, he grabs the money from her and tritely tells her it’s now going into her college fund. She never sees it again.

Lesson Learned: Everything has a cost, and things that don’t quite seem right can be justified with a few dollars in hand.

1994: Marie is now 12, and the fighting at home has not stopped. Her dad continues to take her along on his affairs, only now, she is included. Dropping her off at a male friend’s house one day, he tells her to “be good for John” and reminds her how much John contributes to their family. Within moments, her innocence is lost. For years following, her dignity is continually destroyed.

Lesson learned: My body is a tool to make other people happy. Sexuality is not sacred and my purpose in life is to leverage that sexuality to gain approval, acceptance and material things. Wanting to please daddy means pleasing other men, no matter how much I hate it.

1996: Overwhelmed with shame but tired of living in continual abuse, Marie breaks the secret to a friend outside the family. Instead of being restored and cared for, her family sends her off to an orphanage and her father has washed his hands of her.

Lesson learned: Telling the truth is bad. Bringing abuse into the light leaves me alone and abandoned.

2000: Marie has left the orphanage and is now working toward her cosmetology license. Without family or friend support, she makes her living by “escorting” high-end clients. She makes $1000 a night to do whatever they tell her to do. Some of them beat her and force her to perform illicit sexual acts. Deep down in her heart, she is desperate for someone to affirm her for who she is, not just what she can do for them in their moments of lust. She slips into prescription drug abuse to numb the pain.

Lesson learned: Life is a continual game of survival. Value is not inherent, it is dependant on the giving of your body. Nothing is your own, you don’t have a place in this world, you are aimless.

2004: Deeper into the sex-for-sale industry and without hope, Marie is now under the control of a “pimp” and working for an international sex trafficker. Desperate to do less work and still survive, she begins to work with her trafficker to recruit other girls. Her disdain for her actions increases, and she begins to lose all hope in humanity, including herself.

Lesson learned: The only way to make it in the world is to be exploited and exploit others. There is no true, self-sacrificing love to be offered or received.

2008: Marie’s path intersects with Redeemed. A year ago, she made the choice to escape from her trafficker and is now residing in Atlanta, working in a strip club to make ends meat. She is desperate to get a new job, find a new group of “friends” and start a new life. We reach out to her and listen to her story. We ask her about her dreams and goals in life. She begins to open up.

Lesson learned: Maybe there are people who actually care about me. My life is not worthless, and maybe I actually COULD pursue some of the dreams I had as a little girl.

Early 2009: Marie is placed with a job, but she relapses. I visit her in the hospital where she was placed after breaking out in hives from the drugs she took. The shame in her voice is beginning to overpower the hope we had been building on. I remind her of the truth. I remind her that nothing she has done or will do can separate her from the love of God. I remind her that she has value, and her road to recovery will take time, but she has people who will hold her hand and walk with her along the way. We will not give up as long as she keeps walking forward, even if it’s two steps forward and one step back—we rejoice that she is still moving in the right direction.

Lesson learned: I am not a throwaway. I am not abandoned. God is with me even now, and so are the people He’s placed in my life.

2009: Marie takes a step of faith and decides to enter into a detox treatment center. She has been sleeping in a bathtub for the past week. She walks to my car and sees a pile of letters of hope and encouragement written by Redeemed volunteers. She reads them, looks up at me with eyes so full of hope and pain and she begins to weep. Between sobs, she whispers, “This is real, Julie. This is real. People really do care about me. I’m a believer now, I’m a believer.”

Lesson learned: God and His people are here to walk with me through the hard times. These people do not even know me, but the God they know has led them to love me in a way that I can’t fully comprehend, but I know its good.

Evening of Ash Wednesday 2009: Marie is sitting in a white room with nothing but her purse on the floor. All items have been stripped from her and her room, as she is on suicide watch. She talks to me as we wait for the news about which detox center she will be transferred into. As I sit with her, we talk about the significance of Ash Wednesday. “It’s a time where people recognize their brokenness and take a season to remember what God has done for them,” I say. I read to her part of Isaiah 61 and remind her these verses relate to the amazing purpose that God has for her life:

Part of Isaiah 61 says:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

7 Instead of their shame
my people will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land,
and everlasting joy will be theirs.


She’s glancing around the room as I read this, and I don’t know if she’s listening or not. I shrug it off and pray that she received a bit of hope to grasp onto during this time. She never fails to surprise me, and she does just that when I receive a text message at 5 am from her.

My eyes are blurry with sleep as the words of her text message penetrate my heart so clearly…

“The hospital staff is transferring me to the detox center now. I am really doing it, Julie. I am excited about my new life. And God? God is making beauty from my ashes.”

It is a JOY for us to share in the process of redemption. If any of this touches your heart in a deep way, I would encourage you to take some time and discover what your role may be in transforming the ashes of a young woman’s life into the beauty and dignity she was created to live within.


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