Love is a pretty overused word these days. I love coffee. I love cheeseburgers. I love the Michigan State Spartans. I love my husband. One of these things is not like the other, right?
Not only is this word overused, it can also be a word that has been used to confuse and abuse people. I think of the thousands of children who are told by their parent or uncle or family friend that they are "loved," and then they are sexually abused by that same person. The women in our home were "loved" by their trafficker, some being their boyfriends, some their family members, some their fiancés, and then they were sold by these same people.
While we may sit with them and say again and again, "That's not love," this trauma has been conditioned into their system. So, it takes more than a 30-minute conversation and explanation of what love truly is to actually change their belief. Receiving anything is a challenge when it comes to trauma abuse.
For our women, if they ever received a gift, it came with a price. Nothing is given freely when your body is for sale.
So, how do you cope when the season of gifts and generosity is upon us? Not only that, how do you deal with people that keep saying that they will be there for you? What are they expecting? What do they want?
I can remember the first time I took a woman out for coffee. I walked up to the counter and placed my order. When the clerk asked if there was anything else, I let them know that the woman next to me was on my bill. I can remember distinctly the look of doubt in her eyes. She immediately started to "size me up." I had no expectation for that time over coffee except to spend time together and learn a little more about basic interests. But she certainly did not believe that for a second.
This is why I am very purposeful in allowing love to speak for itself without putting any expectation on her. I know that this is a foreign concept for her, and probably for many of us even without her trauma, but the truth is that if I am going to be like Jesus, then love means that I will lay my life down for her.
When I think about the holidays, I think about the fact that God came to this earth willingly, knowing that He was coming to die for His people. He knew that this was the greatest way to show His love for us, and yet He also knew that even though He was doing this ultimate sacrifice, some people would still push this love away. Yet, that didn't stop Him. Love is given and offered again and again, because God is waiting for the day when each of His children will be ready to receive this amazing gift.
The same is true for the women of Amirah, and this is probably one of the hardest things for them to grasp - that love does not come with a price tag. Real, true, unconditional love is given because it wants to be given. That is what it exists for - no expectation, no requirement, no gift in return.
When I think about Christmas, I think about love. The story of Bethlehem is one of love, real, true, unconditional love coming to this broken, fallen world. It is the story of love coming despite not knowing how to be received (can we say feeding trough for a crib???). While this might be the most difficult thing for a survivor to receive, it is not impossible. It just takes time.
So, we follow in the footsteps of the One who loved us first, and offer it again and again and again and again. Because that is the whole point of Christmas, isn't it? Each year the reminder stays the same - Joy came to this world... Peace is possible here on this earth... Good Will is being offered right now to all men...
Truly He taught us to love one another.