A few people kept telling me that I needed to interview Shalom and share her story. Time passed. Then I woke up the other morning; I was drinking my cup of coffee while reading, and Shalom came to my mind and I knew I had to interview her. There was an urgency about it. I messaged her and she agreed right away, and the next day we were sitting on a couch doing the interview. As I interviewed her, I thought to myself, “How am I going to convey in writing the emotion, the hardship, rawness, the reality of her story? How do I tell you the reader, ‘This is where I cried while hearing her story?’ or ‘This is where Shalom cried sharing moments of her life?’” Her story is intense, it is real and it is all too familiar for some families who never share with anyone around them. My heart is for you to hear her story and really HEAR it. Feel it. Put yourself in her shoes. I find writing this article a bit daunting as I feel the pressure to relay the heart of the story. I feel this pressure because I know deep in my heart and spirit that there is someone out there that truly needs to hear this story, in this moment of their life. The urgency is real because God has YOU reading this story because it will break the atmosphere around YOU. It’s not a coincidence YOU are reading this. Let God move in YOUR heart, YOUR mind and YOUR life. Surrender. Let go. Walk away from shame.
Shalom. Her name means peace. When you meet her she has this peace about her, around her. It makes sense when all you have been called your whole life is “peace”, it’s bound to infuse who you are and affect the presence you are. The irony of this though is that Shalom’s life has not been peaceful. I am sure there have been moments of peace, but all over it’s been an atmosphere of war, of battle over her heart, soul and spirit. Her identity and purpose have been fractured from a young age. Her voice has been targeted for silence.
Shalom grew up in a hippy style home. The home was of Christian faith. She witnessed her parents helping the down and out, the addicts and the broken. Her parents home was a type of “underground railroad”; helping people escape abusive situations, cults, and any situations that would require a rescue. Their family friend ran an inner-city church that exposed Shalom and her siblings to many things that a lot of us never saw when we were young. Shalom remembers asking her dad why he allowed them to witness such pain and his response was, “All of you go to a Christian school and then to church. You are only exposed to Christian things and I want you to have an understanding of what the world looks like with the hurt and the broken.”
We know the power of shame. Shame can cripple our voice, it can cause us to shutdown, to blame ourselves, to turn our personality into what it was never intended to be, and it can create a wedge between you and the world, and most of all God. It hides you, it shelters you, it surrounds you, it robs your voice and never allows you to cry for help when help is exactly what you need.
At 5 years old, Shalom was introduced to a force of shame whose intent was to silence her voice, change her outgoing nature, her bubbly personality, and her joy. Shame, the secret, was determined to rob Shalom of her future. At 5 years old, she entered into a season of rape and molestation by people in her life, mostly girls. She kept this hidden for 7 years. Never telling anyone. When she shared this with her mother later in life, her mother remembers Shalom changing at the age of 5, “You were outgoing, full of joy and then you switched; you became angry, bitter and violent.” Shalom held the secret of what was happening to her, she shared it with noone. At the age of 12 the rape and molestation stopped. The act stopped. There was now a 12 year old girl who was changed and fractured. Her voice was silenced. She was full of pain, brokenness, questions and was imprisoned by a violation done to her. She needed an outlet, as one can imagine holding that much pain was impossible. Shalom got the idea of cutting from a tv show. She tried it and it helped her pain. “When you are desperate, you will find something to relieve the pain.” Her addictive behavior now started and would be something that became a lifestyle for her. Addiction to addiction would now be the way of her coping. Healing was lurking, but seemed so far from her that coping was all she could trust.
Shalom altered between cutting and prescription drugs. She was introduced to them through school. It became her routine, her cycle. Through her teenage years it would rotate between cutting, prescription drugs, and an eating disorder. The whole time she knew God was there, “But there was something that was blocking me from Him and that was my identity. There was a major disconnect. I would have great times with God but I still needed breakthrough in my identity and how I saw myself.” Through this season she still attended church and helped with their ministry to prostitutes. She, and others, would go tp the streets at midnight to love on these girls, speak encouraging words to them and give them flowers. Her heart went out to them. Little did Shalom know what her future would hold.
At 20, she checked herself into a “Wash Out Clinic” that would help her detox from prescription drugs. She knew she needed to get help and she didn’t want to get caught. However, detoxing never healed the brokenness and the pain that she held on the inside. She transferred her addiction. She was now addicted to sex. She still needed to ease the pain and being promiscuous was the way she was dealing. “I had moments of anger and bitterness towards God because He let me go through all of this. I still struggled with my identity.” Our identity is one of the biggest things that determines our choices and our actions. Her 20’s continued to be a blur to her and around 25 years of age she lost her dad to cancer. “I was very close with him. He was something else!”
She couldn’t find a job and had major debt, so she decided to move back to her hometown. She was still living a promiscuous lifestyle and she let her friends’ casual view on sex influence her life. Due to mounting debt she thought to herself, “Going to be a whore anyways, might as well make a buck at it.” Shalom entered into prostitution. After hardly making any effort, she had her first client. This lifestyle would last a year and she would hide it from all those around her. “Girls in this industry turn to drugs to cope, but I was determined not to.” She became dead on the inside to not feel the emotions that would come with this new path. Shalom wasn’t attending church anymore, yet she still prayed. She would pray before she would meet a client. “I had fear I would end up in a ditch somewhere and that my secret would be revealed when my mom got the call, ‘Can you please come and identify your daughter’s body?’” Prostitution was scary for her, she would often be beat up while meeting clients. “There was one time where I was about to meet a new client, and I had this strong feeling inside, ‘Don’t go to this one.’ I went anyways. I met him at a cafe and after I was to follow him in my car. As he was driving out of the parking lot, he turned left, I turned right and I booked it down the road as fast as I could. He emailed me a few days later and apologized if he had scared me as it wasn’t his intention. I then decided to meet him. Again my spirit said, ‘No, don’t go! Don’t go!’” She went. That night Shalom experienced the worst battery she had ever experienced. She was covered in bruises. The emotion of that night still so real to her today. Shalom chose not to share the detail of that night with me. Her tears were enough to tell me the horror she had gone through. She remembers thinking to herself, “Wow, what has come of your life?”
She decided to move to another city trying to escape that lifestyle, but we all know addiction is not dependant on the city you live in if you haven’t dealt with the hurt and pain inside. She continued prostitution in her new city. She became pregnant. It was when she found out she was pregnant that she wanted to start fresh and give her child a godly upbringing. Shalom didn’t’ like Christians anymore and made that very clear to God, but she knew she needed to go to church. She found a church close to her home and when she walked through the doors an unseen wall hit her, she felt as though the wind was knocked out of her. “It was the weirdest experience. I felt the word ‘Home’ fall over me. I knew I was home.” She started attending the church; she would come 5 minutes late, grab the box of tissues and sit in the back pew. She would cry all through the service and would leave right before it was over so she didn’t have to speak with anyone.” 5 months into her pregnancy, Shalom lost her child. However, she still attended church. She continued with prostitution and would even have her clients pick her up after the church service. “I was so desperate for God. I would go to church multiple times a week for services and prayer meetings, but I would still have clients pick me up after.” She had just signed a lease on a new apartment and when she arrived at her new home one day, her money had been stolen. She was cleaned out. Another low for Shalom and it led her to move into a house that most people would not live in. The house was on a graveyard and was filled with awful addictions. It was a very dark place and the spiritual atmosphere was evil. It was not a peaceful place to live, however, it was the only place she could afford.
The intersection. Here is where her journey changes. Here is where the love of God was waiting for her. A beautiful healing now begins.
One day, February 24th to be exact, she was walking home from her part time job. It was -20C. It was cold. Shalom sat down by a tree and started to cry. She couldn’t bring herself to go “home”. Running from her pain and lack of identity had brought her to this moment and she started to plan her suicide. She couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t live with her pain and she had nowhere to go. “God, I’m done. I’m done. I’m done,” she cried out. On that cold night, she heard a Voice that was loud, yet it was so quiet, “Finally. That’s only what I wanted to hear.” She knew what it meant, “When I was saying to God, ‘I am done on this earth, with this life,’ He was hearing me say, ‘I’m done calling the shots, being in charge.’ That was actually the true cry of my heart.” In that moment Shalom felt an instant spiritual healing, but she knew she had a long road ahead to change her mind, her choices and to heal her heart from the pain of her childhood. She went home that night and opened her bible and started reading. She fell asleep and woke with the pages of the bible stuck to her face. She repeated this each night. She was hungry for these words of life.
She quit prostitution after that encounter with God. Her inward life was doing really good, but her outward life was still miserable. She wasn’t making ends meet, so she found herself dumpster diving for food behind restaurants and grocery stores to be able to eat. She ended up moving in with a friend that was a Christian and she got a job as a live in coordinator at a safe house for exploited women. How interesting! It was a difficult job as she was still in the healing process and reorganizing her life, all the while helping these women who weren’t far behind her on the path to freedom.
Today, Shalom is still on a journey forward. She has had so much breakthrough in the last few years. “Experiencing breakthrough after breakthrough is changing my life!” She credits living in community, with people who love her and cheer her on, has helped in the journey towards healing. “I know that anytime I make a wrong decision it is because of hurt on the inside.” She stops and she looks inward to see the broken place that still needs healing. “I guess one thing I really want to get across is that at each junction in your life, even on a daily basis, you have the opportunity to make a decision out of fear or out of faith. You will never regret stepping out in faith. I recently came to a very similar place that I was in years ago, kind of like I got to retake the test. It’s so cool to see how much further He takes you when you lean into Him and truly submit rather than reacting out of fear, relying on logic and then finding yourself spiralling down.”
“I’ve discovered my calling, my purpose!! I’m working on a few projects that are really huge and that are beyond me! I’m in preproduction on a project I’ve been working on. I never thought I would have the guts to do that!” (Shalom had worked in film in her 20’s) “I also am working on an art project.” It’s exciting for her to see God opening up different doors for her. She is also overcoming much fear in her life, “Stepping out in faith when God opens the doors takes a lot of guts. Be strong and courageous!”
She didn’t think she would ever share her story, she didn’t want too but she knew that God had other plans. A lady came into her store a few years back and was drawn to Shalom. She shared her story with her. The lady’s daughter was in an abusive relationship and was involved with drugs. The only thing Shalom remembers saying to the lady is, “I have a rough past…” and followed it up with encouraging words. The lady came into Shalom’s store this last year and said, “You! What you told me years ago always haunted me and I never gave up hope and now my daughter is in recovery!” Her story has power. “I have now found that vulnerability brings so much healing. When I was 5 years old, the enemy saw that I had a voice and he tried to silence me. Here I am 25 years later and my voice is louder than ever and I know who I am. He tried to instil fear, silence me, and fill me with lies. It’s all about your voice.” I was at an event recently where she shared her story and she spoke with such eloquence, but there was power behind each word. The room was silent, you could hear a pin drop. I sat there in wonder and amazement, knowing that God had made her voice strong again and her story has so much power it’s bound to change those that it comes in contact with. Shalom heard someone say once, “God doesn’t give you a purpose without preparing you for it. Everything you have gone through until this point has been in preparation for your purpose.” When she had committed her life to God again, she was ready to “go”, but she felt God say, “Just be. It’s your preparation time. Eat up everything I have for you.” The foundation of your life is the most important thing. If your foundation is not stable, your life is not stable. It’s shaky. God desires that above anything else that you be firmly rooted in Him. So don’t rush the season you are in, rest and be strengthened for the next season you go into will require strength and energy.
Shalom’s story is incredible to you and I. For her, I can’t even write what it has been for her. She does not regret it; she wouldn’t change anything. It has made her who she is today. It holds unshakeable power. It has the ability, when shared, to initiate breakthroughs in others.
To the one that is reading this that NEEDS to read this. I hope this story speaks to you that you are not too far from the LOVE of God. No matter what you have done or been involved with, God’s love is available for you. He will always be chasing you, always be waiting for you, always ready to restore you. It will be more amazing than you could imagine. It will be hard work. Shalom was somewhat living a double life and she was balancing it for awhile, but all those events led her to a crossroad of surrender and relinquishing control of her life. She let go. God stepped in and brought her on a journey of healing and making her voice strong again. Shame is gross and it’s the enemy of you overcoming where you are. If this story is making your heart beat quickly, I believe God is wanting to speak to you. Reach out to a trusted, healthy friend and ask them to pray with you, share with them where you are at and ask for help. Shame tries to keep us silent, for it knows the power of when we speak and expose the hidden secrets of our lives. Love is waiting for you. In love there is freedom.
To the reader that cannot fully relate, I ask you to be careful when you find yourself judging the girls on the street corners, the people that work in the sex industry, the ones that dumpster dive for food, the ones that ask you for money, the people that run to wash your windshield and you turn your head from them and the drug addicts that no longer can help themselves. Stop. Ask yourself the question, “I wonder what happened to them when they were younger to lead them down this path?” It’s a question I find I ask myself a lot when I hear about people doing horrible things to people in this world, I picture that individual as a child and say to them, “What happened to you to break you, break your spirit?” Some of us have been privileged to be brought up in a loving environment, but there are people who have had to endure a difficult upbringing. They still make the choice to do good or to bad, but you are not the judge of them. You are called to compassion and kindness. You are called to speak love and encouraging words to them. You are called to speak to them how God sees them. You are called to be generous and helpful. Not called to judge and not called to assume.
May Shalom’s story help you to see that everyone has a story and everyone has their own battles to overcome. May you also see that God is calling ALL of us to surrender and to stop fighting through the choices we make and to trust Him.
Love met her on February 24th. What was the date Love met you?