Beauty From Ashes Videos


Wednesday, July 15, 2009



As I write this, it's 2:30 am on a Sunday night of a weekend filled with all kinds of oxymorons. My energy is drained to the point of minimal desire for correct grammar or sentence structure in this note. I just need to write. I need to put these swirling thoughts and conflicting emotions into something solid. Maybe once they are jotted down onto a screen, I will feel as if they've left me-- and I can rest.

It started on Tuesday. I received a call from her, and I could hear her 'boyfriend' rummaging through things in the background. Every time he came into the room, she had to hang up the phone. This 'boyfriend' was not the romantic kind, his idea of love consisted of encouraging her to engage in self-destruction and perversion to feed his drug habit. Although she was torn by her 'love' for him, she was starting to fear for her life, so she called me.

Ready to get out of her world of prostitution and crack hotels, she followed my phone instructions to the nearest Marta station with only the belongings she could carry on her back. When I met her at the hospital, I saw that her bones were protruding through her chest, and, since the last time I saw her, her eyes had morphed from somewhat alive into a blank stare of hopelessness.

"I'm here because I have plans to harm myself," she flatly shared with the admissions coordinator. After placing her in privacy for about 20 minutes, we headed through the double doors into the blank, empty white room they had prepared for her. It matches her eyes, I thought, as she pulled out her phone and began text messaging her 'friends' to tell them she was getting help.

The nurses came and went, and so did her stories, as I sat in this foreign room with her, wanting to provide a warm bed for her but knowing the hospital restraints might soon prove to be a saving grace as she came down from the drugs. After the nurses told me she was "1013'ed", on suicide watch and not able to leave, I told her I'd be back and headed to my part-time job as social coordinator for my apartment complex. Ironically, it was pizza party night-- and I was the host.

Life can be altogether confusing at times, and the stark contrast of mediocre and conventional living coupled with the reality of incredible pain and suffering have always baffled me, because I seem to bounce back and forth between the two on a consistent basis. No wonder I feel wobbly at times.

After the residents enjoyed their pizza and ice cream sundaes, I grabbed my belongings and headed back to the hospital. Apparently her last few hours while I was away were far from a party for her and the hospital staff...

"She's a feisty little one," a nurse told me when I returned. "We had to restrain her and she got out of the restraints so we had to sedate her."

"I'm sorry," I said, as if I could've somehow avoided their efforts by staying in the hospital room. I would soon come to see that no amount of persuasion can change the human will, once someone's mind is made up.

I hesitantly walked into her room and prayed for guidance. When I walked up to her bed, she broke into tears. I ran my fingers over her hair and I squeezed her shoulder. "I had a little spell," she said. "I don't know what got into me and I don't know why I did that."
She was condemning herself now. The shame had set in.

She didn't need a lecture at this point, so I knelt down to her level and looked her in the eyes and said, "Probably because your freedom was being taken away at that moment."

Initially, she was surprised that I understood, but she quickly nodded and agreed.

"It's strange how we have to give up some of our freedom for a short period of time to receive ultimate freedom, huh? That true, lasting peace and joy in a new life free from the bondage of addiction," I commented, almost under my breath.

She glanced over my way yet again and agreed. But did she really?

The days passed, and her lack of insurance left her in a state run psychiatric hospital. Walking into the facility on Saturday, I immediately felt that the place was 'other-worldly'. Inside the fenced in playground, patients were walking around in circles talking to themselves, others were paranoid and screaming because 'he was looking at me the wrong way'. All I knew to do was pray -- I tried not to stare, judge, or fear as I rang the doorbell to the locked facility.

I met with her and the nurse, we did the exit assessment and walked in silence to my car. It felt good to be taking her to a home, but I couldn't help but wonder about the people who were at this hospital for good. It was Independence Day-- yet their mental illness was keeping them in jail-like conditions, both mentally and physically.


A few hours, a shopping trip and a full stomach later, we arrived at our emergency shelter. Excited to start her new life, she eagerly signed her application forms. She walked around the house, examining the rooms and debating whether or not she could make this new place her home. She began to settle in and it was time for me to leave.

Going through the normal procedure, I asked for her purse to check and retrieved her phone to place in safe keeping. Knowing that she wasn't able to have her personal phone was one thing, but the moment it was actually taken away, a deep fear sparked inside her and she began to cry.

Her life had been a constant battle for survival. Her body had been used as 'property' of someone else and alternating hotel rooms were her home(s), but that phone was HERS, one thing that she could use to weather the storms of living on the streets. The numbers all told stories of other homeless people she called 'friends', those who were just trying to make it through their brokenness for one more day, people like HER. People more like US than we care to admit.

Her mind had now begun to take her back to the streets. She was no longer on the path to freedom-- she was afraid. The fear of the unknown seized control, and she had her mind made up-- "I'm going back to the crack and back to him," she said, as large tears rolled down her checks. "I thought I could do this but I can't."

We talked for many minutes in that beautiful home. We talked about the path she had been taking, the reason she called for help, and what could happen if she left. We talked about her future and her intelligence and her beauty and how the streets and drugs and 'johns' had all promised her freedom but given her slavery. Yet she was determined to return to them. They were all she'd ever known and she wasn't ready to start a new journey yet-- not tonight at least.

Since she is an adult, we had no choice but to let her leave. Not wanting her to 'find ways' to get a bus ticket back to the city, I drove her there. "You can drop me off anywhere near Midtown," she said. "I'm sorry for making you go out of your way. I bet you're frustrated with me."

My words were not enough as I expressed to her that my frustration was FOR her, not AT her. My sadness was not because she had taken 30 hours out of my workweek, or that I missed the 4th of July celebration with friends and family, but because I witnessed her being offered true freedom and I saw her turn her back on it. My heart broke because I knew what she was going to have to do that night just to have a place to sleep when she had the most beautiful warm and safe bedroom waiting for her across town.

"Freedom" is defined as "personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery". As we drove through the city that 4th of July, violent and beautiful fireworks lit up the sky, and I began to understand the concept of freedom in a way I never really wanted to grasp, until now. Freedom is so much more 'personal' than any other right. It can be given, but the very nature of freedom is that it can just as easily be refused.

We pulled in next to a slew of restaurants, one being a pizzeria. "This is as good as anywhere," she said. The irony of it crossed my brain for a moment, but it was soon overshadowed by the pain of seeing her step out, walk into the night and walk right back into the slavery of addiction. Oh the power of human decision. I'm in awe of it and annoyed by it all together at once.

TRUE freedom is so powerful that once we see a glimpse of it, we desire to return to it during moments of clarity. It's a pull toward all that God created us to be-- relational beings with the power to choose Him or not. But Love remains regardless of the choice.

God's gift of human free will shows us that God values our ability to choose over His desire for us to make the right choice. We could've been created as beings who would always do what He wants at the moment He wants it-- but that is not the nature of love. We could've been created to HAVE to choose to live in relationship with Jesus-- but what good is a love relationship when it's forced? Freedom and love simply cannot be divorced from each other.

Freedom is placed before us in many areas of life--but we MUST grasp it-- and cling to it-- because fear will try it's very best to paralyze us. The courage to walk in true freedom is not the easy route-- it requires faith in the unknown.

The courage to release others to make their own choices can be heartbreakingly painful-- but I've come to see that it's the essence of love. Even when it hurts.

"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway." - Mother Teresa

©2009, Julie Riggs

Julie Riggs is the founder & Executive Director of Redeemed, Inc. in Atlanta, GA. She holds a journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Redeemed recently opened a rescue shelter/home for female adult victims of sexual exploitation.