We had our fifth graduation this weekend – the third so far this year. Like the others, it was beautiful and reflective of God’s grace. But before we even began the ceremony, something amazing happened. I met a woman who works for the Cook County Sheriff who was there the night our graduate was rescued from her trafficker. The woman hadn’t seen “Katy” (not her real name) since that night, but they were able to keep in touch over the phone. Their reunion was so touching. And the conversation I had with this woman will be with me forever. She recalled the night they met-Katy was scared, stubborn, and untrusting. We both smiled when she shared this with me; we had seen those same characteristics in Katy while at NH, and found them to be strengths: her fear turned into fuel to heal. Her stubbornness kept her strong and a fierce self-advocate. And her untrusting nature was an indication of the harm and trauma she has endured her whole life. Katy’s care plan with NH was focused on giving her the tools to heal from 25+ years of abuse. It was hard and slow, but she made beautiful progress. The woman she is today is not the woman we met a year ago. She has a job, she has a church family, she’s committed to therapy, and best of all, she’s a new believer who partook in baptism this past year!
This was the first graduation where not a single family member was present to celebrate her success. She literally has no one outside of the community she’s built over the last 12 months at NH. It was one more reminder of what she’s had to overcome. The isolation she has faced for so long will remain with her if she doesn’t continue to work hard and lean into those around her who love her.
So the reunion with Sheriff’s Department staff member was special … not only because of the role this woman played in Katy’s rescue, but because she showed up to support her over a year later. No one else from Katy’s earlier life was there. When I asked this woman why it was important for her to come all this way for Katy’s graduation, she said it was because the night Katy was rescued was so memorable for her. She has a daughter, and saw in Katy a heartbreaking “what might have been” … a child trapped in a woman’s body because of the trauma that stunted her emotional development. She also wanted to learn more about NH. She helps rescue many women, and for so long she carried the burden of telling them she could help, that she could find them a safe place to go-but not really having any place to refer them. So when she learned about NH, and that a woman she had helped rescue successfully completed a program (not something she had seen before), she wanted to come see all of this for herself. She not only thanked me for NH, but asked how she could personally support us.
While our next graduation won’t be for several months because of our intake schedule, there were four newer residents watching this graduation, hearing the stories of triumph and victory, tears streaming down their faces as they dream about this being their story one day. This is your role at NH: together we help set women up to gain new lives with a ripple effect that knows no limits. We have yet again launched a woman into our community who will make it better. Stronger. A reflection of the gospel of Jesus.