On a Personal Note: the Courage Conference

When I began this blog in late 2012, it was a project I grossly underestimated.

Back then I was working a mediocre 9 to 5 job that barely paid the bills and rarely allowed me to pursue my passions or challenge myself. I was also volunteering as an emergency room companion with my local sexual assault response program. Therein lay my true passion. But I felt limited. I wanted advocacy to be my full-time work. A pastor friend suggested I begin a blog to educate and encourage other survivors, their families, and my community. I decided to give it a try.

I was clueless about blogging; when I saw the word “widget”, I pictured a creature from a Dr. Seuss book. My first posts are a little embarrassing to say the least. But I poured myself into this blog. It became my self-care. It helped me to heal from my own past abuse and assaults. It connected me with some pretty incredible people from around the globe. Over 500 posts later and hundreds of thousands of views, it has surpassed my expectations.

Fast forward to today when I realized that my last post was made in December of 2015. A lot has happened since then (with the exception of this blog). And people are still reading. That was an encouraging thing to see.

Why the neglect on my part? In June 2014, I took a full-time advocacy position with the program I had been volunteering with. I got my dream job. My blog posts became fewer and farther between because what had essentially been my self-care was now my career. Self-care began to look more like binge watching Friends, Doctor Who, and Sherlock while eating ice cream. When I get home from the office, from court, from an emergency room call, etc. the last thing I want to do is talk and think and converse MORE about the abuse and violence that is so rampant in our world. Advocacy involves a lot of secondary trauma and, for me, it includes flashbacks and nightmares. For the sake of my mental health, the blog took a backseat.

Since then, I’ve attended incredibly educational and engaging conferences and seminars to increase my knowledge of trauma and the brain, sexual violence, domestic violence, strangulation, stalking, community response efforts, etc. Some of my blog posts reflect that furthered education. I’ve given more presentations on the topic of sexual violence than I can count to both children and adults. I have met hundreds of victims in the emergency room, at court or at the police department.

Working with victims of trauma changes you in many ways; it is its own type of trauma. You are constantly reminded of how much evil human beings are capable of committing against other human beings. Not much surprises me or shocks me anymore because I have heard and seen so much but there are still days that I leave court or the hospital angry and sobbing because of the violence people have endured. It’s sobering and disheartening.

That is the world of sexual violence. Our culture wants to say that it is rare or it only happens to people who are asking for it or that victims are privileged and receive preferential treatment. None of that is true.

As advocates, we all experience burnout. Each of us has our own past hurts that creep up at inconvenient moments. We all have a client or two that we have been powerless to help to the degree we wish that we could; we can’t guarantee guilty verdicts or make offenders respect protective orders, even if we wish we could. But in spite of all the darkness, it is rewarding to be on the front lines of response and awareness efforts. Some of the strongest people I know have been clients of mine and it’s an honor to have had the chance to witness their healing. I would not want to do anything else.

Since I came to work at SARP full-time, I also bought my first house. I did a lot of writing off-line. I got much closer to being 30. I married a man who exudes awesome and who loves and respects me as his equal. He has been a source of healing and encouragement I never imagined having.

And I took a break from social media. When the U.S. presidential election in particular became a trigger for me to the point that things I saw online kept me awake all night, I logged off of Facebook and Twitter and bid my blog an almost permanent adieu. I’m still fairly absent from the online world and it’s one of the healthiest changes I’ve made as an adult. So this post is by no means a proclamation of consistent blog activity. But I’m going to try.

I also took a break from church. Jesus has never been abusive, hurtful, unfaithful, unloving, or neglectful to me. But a lot of people claiming to be His followers have. I am still a follower of Jesus. I have been regularly involved in ministry since I was a child. But I have learned that taking a step back from what a lot of American Protestants call “church” has been healing. A lot of abuse comes from people who wear the badge of “evangelicalism”. I grew up in that culture and have written a bit about it here: it’s still one of my top read posts.

I was having a hard time feeling safe and valued in the church…and then I watched how a vast majority of evangelical American Christians voted. As a female survivor of sexual assault and abuse and an advocate for the equality of all people, that spoke volumes to me. Against everything I grew up hearing about “those people who don’t go to church every Sunday”, I have chosen to work through some of my own past hurts before I step back into the church. And I praise Jesus for being patient with me.

I had planned to produce a post here in October of this past year, 2016. Obviously, that never happened. But I would like to try and make up for that a little bit now. One of the most life-altering and exciting experiences that I had in the recent past which also plays into what my goals have been on this forum was The Courage Conference.

Ashley Easter is a remarkable woman with a strong passion for people who have been victimized. Long story short, Ashley and I had known each other for about a year when she asked if I would consider speaking at a conference she was planning. I said yes having no way of knowing how much awesome she could produce. It was a phenomenal conference. I learned never to underestimate this woman once she’s caught a vision for something!

This was the first of what I hope will be many Courage Conferences. Close to 200 attendees from around the country came to our little Burg and hundreds more people have since watched the recorded sessions online. The purpose of the Courage Conference was to “offer one-of-a kind conversations that will double as encouragement for survivors of abuse and those who love them, as well as education for church leaders and those in the Christian community who are looking for training on abuse prevention and response.”

I came away a more-healed person and a better advocate. I left with a renewed sense of my worth as a woman, too; I found my voice and understood for the first time its value. I was honored to be a speaker; I was able to talk about what abuse looks like, who it affects, how rampant it is around the world, etc. and share information about our sexual assault response program with local attendees. I was thrilled to interact with the other incredible men and women who spoke, both during the conference and for a meal together the evening before. I was also honored to meet attending survivors and hear their stories. I am so grateful when people trust me with their stories!

The conference had seven large group sessions, two speaker Q&A sessions, and two breakout groups: one for survivors and one for church leaders and other community members. I cannot say enough about the men and women who gave up their time and talent – and in some cases traveled quite far (and with infants!) – to make the conference such a success. So I’ll give you just a quick blurb and encourage you to learn more about their programs and writing! And find them on Twitter, okay?

Monica Daye is a survivor and the advocate founder of StandUp-SpeakOut North Carolina (SUSPNC).

Natalie Greenfield is also a survivor, advocate, and blogger. You can find her at A Voice Regained and @NatalieGfield.

Thomas Edward is a survivor, writer, and founder of Healing Broken Men.

Jory Micah is an advocate for gender equality, blogger, preacher, and is currently writing her first book, Breaking the Glass Steeple. Find her @jorymicah.

Boz Tchividjian is a former child abuse prosecutor, current law professor and founding executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments (G.R.A.C.E.), a tremendously important organization that I have featured as a Resource Highlight here on the blog before. At one point in my own healing journey, I was eating up everything Boz had written for the Religion News Service. When I pointed him out to my husband from across the room, I’m pretty sure I whispered like a giddy guru, “That’s Boz! He’s one of my heroes!” And after meeting him, he still is. Find him @BozT.

Incidentally, every one of the speakers with whom I shared the platform could be called heroes. It’s a word tossed around a lot with disputable meaning in today’s world so let me define: these are people who have used their experiences – whether personal or secondary – of abuse to offer hope to others and be voices for broken, hurting people. They stand up against abusive authority structures and say “no” to injustice. They love people because Jesus loves people. They are inspiring leaders in big and small ways. They helped me fall deeper in love with Jesus – and His desire for justice – that weekend.

The concluding session was by Ashley herself. She delivered a mini-sermon and rallied the Justice Generation to stand up and speak out against abuse. If just hearing the word “sermon” puts you to sleep, it was not that kind of sermon. She has a passion for Kingdom freedom. She is a survivor, advocate, speaker, writer and also a wonderful person to have coffee with. I highly recommend ashleyeaster.com and you can follow her tweets @ashleymeaster.

The 2017 Courage Conference is in the works and will be held in Raleigh, NC. You can follow Ashley’s blog or visit the Courage Conference Facebook page for updates.

Whether you’ve been following along with my little blog since the beginning or this is the first time you’re reading, its purpose is to encourage and educate. Thank you for reading. I hope the stories and resources are beneficial to you.

Whether you are a victim or survivor, an advocate, a counselor or allied professional, or simply someone who cares about abuse victims and wants to end our world society’s tolerance of violence, thank you for the part you play in standing up and saying “no” to injustice.


4 thoughts on “On a Personal Note: the Courage Conference

  1. Thank you so much for your post! For your honesty and transparency and straightforwardness. Our world needs more of these qualities. Your blog was a very important reminder to me not to let self-care slip. I relate to your story on so many levels. Please keep on doing what you’re doing and passing your knowledge on.!

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