Q&A: "Why did you forgive and how did it change your life?"

Got this message from a high schooler writing a paper. He said, "I was just wondering what drove you to forgive? Why did you do it? I guess I would also like to know how it has changed your life and you as a person, being able to forgive. How would your life, or your attitude be different toward life had you not forgave those who wronged you??"

What drove me to forgiveness was coming to a better understanding of human nature. Anyone can easily become a product of their environment. Not that it's an excuse to be violent or cruel, but I think that "why" question is what wraps people up in anger. Once I looked at the life of the person who trafficked me, I felt compassion for him. I turned my attention toward the "what." What happened in his life that lead him to that place? He didn't have a mother, and his father was always drinking or simply never around. He found the wrong things to belong to and became loyal to a lifestyle that didn't actually care about him. He fell for a counterfeit, but don't we all do that? We all misinterpret things, people, and situations. We get so caught up in our desperation for a need that we look past red flags. Same goes for the men who purchased me. What they did was horrendous and never ever acceptable, but what lead them to it was porn. Pornography is incredibly addictive, just like narcotics. It rewires the brain and the desperation tempts them to do things they likely never imagined. It changes you. Just like my trafficker, buyers become a product of their environment. Hurt people hurt people, and who's to say that those men weren't abused as children and in their minds sex with a child was normal because it happened to them. All of that can be broken down into a lot of supported research and psychological theory, but that's what helped me to be able to forgive them.

Another thing was understanding what forgiveness really is. In our culture, it often get's represented as a condoning of behavior and repair of relationship. For example, I remember always being forced to say I was sorry and hug a sibling when one of us did something wrong to the other. "I forgive you." Is not the same as "it's ok." Forgiveness is a releasing of the one who was hurt from the pain. Until I forgave, I was trapped in fear, pain, anger, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. My thoughts were haunted by traumatic memories and I was consumed by what happened to me. I couldn't develop my own identity because I was so attached to what those people did to me. No one can be defined by what occurs in their life. People are defined by who they choose to be. The character they possess. That's how we are known and remembered. I finally got tired of that attachment and wanted to become an individual. With the help of my community, I was able to cut that line that attached me to those people and move on with my life. 

I had a great friend who helped me look at my trauma differently. One night I was over at her house because I was having a flashback. During these flashbacks, I would re-experience the entire scenario. For me, it was like it was happening in the present because my brain had cut off those memories. I started having one of these flashbacks and through therapy had learned how to cope and stop them until I was in a safe place to unpack it all. My friend was a safe place. As I sat in her living room with my journal about to write everything out she challenged me to do something different. She said, "Lexie, look for Jesus in your memory." I laughed. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, and honestly quite weird. I am a believer in Jesus, but I was taught that God can't look upon sin. This teaching often comes from Habakkuk 1:13, and I had accepted that as truth. I am so grateful that I was not only wrong, but this challenging of my counterfeit "truths" to seek actual truths was given by my friend. That wasn't the only lie I was believing, and since I have become free of many beliefs that kept me hating myself, depressed, and riddled with anxiety. 

Needless to say, when I shifted my perspective to look for something I had never looked for in my memory, I did see Jesus! I know that might make me sound insane, but my life has become so healthy since then. Even people around me would often comment on the difference, and I frequently get complimented on the spirit of freedom I carry. This miraculous encounter changed me for several reasons. The first was that I was now no longer alone. Until I saw Jesus, I had always felt this consuming helplessness that was so dark, cold, and far from light or love. His presence brought to light and warmth back into me. The second thing was that He never once looked away from me. He saw me for me. I was undefined by what those people were doing to me and he still saw my beauty, uniqueness, and loved me just the same. That shift in perspective broke the chains of shame, and I have never been the same since. 

Had I not forgiven those people, I would honestly probably be dead. If not, then I certainly wouldn't be thriving like I am today. Until I forgave, I was on the verge of death from an eating disorder or severe depression. I didn't care about my well being because I was so defined by what happened. That I was of little worth, $100 to be exact. I deserved to be hurt. That my purpose in life was to be a commodity and it was the only thing I was good at. My plans were to become a stripper or escort after high school. I was actually excited for it because I thought it was the only thing I could be good at. Being good at something brings us joy, but my beliefs were so broken to think that was all I could do. My journey of forgiveness, which was years, helped me become myself. Had I not chosen to forgive I wouldn't be the first person in my family to graduate from a university. I would have never shared my story in a way that would positively impact lives, and even give some the strength to leave their traffickers and start over. There would be more people like the old me, than the new me. That doesn't create a better world, it creates a bitter one. We all should be striving to create a better world, and forgiveness allows that. 

The last thing I would like to add is that although forgiveness has large moments of revelation, it is not a one-time event. Forgiveness is a process. It took me years to get where I am because it requires you to unpack your beliefs about the world and untangle your messy heart. I still have to choose forgiveness on a regular basis. It's a different way of thinking and processing, but I am always better for it. I think forgiveness has been the fertilizer to my growth as a person. Every time I choose it, I'm catapulted into a deeper happiness and knowing of who I am because I let go more and more of who I was and who hurt me. Those people don't deserve another moment of my attention, time, or heart. Each choice to forgive is a step further away from what hurt me in the first place. Pride can often stop us from letting go because it feel's like we are losing something, but it's like cleaning out your closet. You can't buy anything new until you create space by removing the old.