Journey to Freedom Testimonial at Pope John Paul II High School

[Journey to Freedom is the flagship book of Restore Small Groups–a now independent 501c3, which was birthed as Restored Ministries within the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. The following is the transcript of a speech given to female students and faculty at Pope John Paul II High School on January 14, 2014 about Restore Ministries.]

Good morning, you guys… or girls rather. Today I’m here to talk to you about Restore Ministries and the Journey to Freedom, which is a program I hope you’ll all want to participate in! Before I get into Journey to Freedom, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.

I went to Pope for high school, and I graduated in 2009. I was voted “most likely to succeed” by my graduating class, which was completely unexpected. I went on to get my degree in economics, communications, and corporate strategy from Vanderbilt University. I graduated a little bit early in December 2012 and began working at the corporate headquarters of SERVPRO in January of last year. This is about the same time that I became an active member of the board of directors at the YMCA of Sumner County, which has been an incredible opportunity that brought me here today!

Of course I first became familiar with Restore Ministries and the Journey to Freedom through board meetings. Then after being out of high school for nearly four years, I reconnected with a former JP2 teacher of mine (Ginger Vooys) at some YMCA events. She and Marlene Hilligoss (the Y’s aquatics director) invited me to lunch. They told me about the Journey to Freedom and asked me to become involved. I immediately knew that God wanted me to do this, and I happily accepted on the spot.

One of the first things I did was take the Restore Ministries Journey to Freedom by participating in a small group led by Scott Reall that met once per week for eight weeks. That was one of the best decisions of my life. I hope I can show y’all why you should take the Journey, too!

Journey to Freedom forces you to reflect, to think about yourself and your life. Life happens fast. Believe me. Less than 5 years ago, I was sitting in your seat! The Journey makes you ask if you’re reaching your full potential or if there are some things in your life that you can change for the better. Let’s be honest… We all have something we know we can work on. During Journey to Freedom, you first figure out the areas of your life—mind, body, and spirit—that could improve. You discover how to defeat different obstacles in your life. You figure out what roles negative thinking, poor self-perception, fear of judgment, or even “the past” have on your life. My high school years—my “past”—determined the trajectory of my entire life thus far.

I know high school’s not easy. I came to JP2 freshman year from a public middle school. I had some acquaintances, but that’s about it. Finding my “group” of friends feels like it took all four years of high school. So imagine all the drama that comes along with interacting with multiple groups of girls instead of just a couple… that was tough. Girls are mean to each other—SO MEAN, but girls are also way too darn hard on themselves. I wish I realized this when I was wearing that uniform trying to figure out ways to make it look just a little bit cuter.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I got my first boyfriend that my mom didn’t have to drive me to hang out with. Man oh man did I think I loved him. Long story short, he broke my heart and went back to his ex girlfriend. My world was crushed. I was devastated… I was going to die unmarried. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Why didn’t he just love me or like me back?

I started hanging out with guys more—some not-so-great guys—who did some despicable things to me one Friday night after a football game. Of course, rumors immediately started flying. When I got to school on Monday, I felt like the entire school—Freshmen to Seniors to teachers—was all eyes on me. Who knows how far that gossip really spread, but that was my perception. Older girls who were friends with some of those boys were horrible to me… spreading rumors, calling me names to my face, prank calling me, and on and on and on. I’d cry. I’d cry all the time, but no one knew it. I pretended I was so tough. I pretended none of it fazed me, even though inside I was falling apart. I didn’t think I would ever have another boyfriend again. Who in the world would want me to be their girlfriend after all of that stuff and all of those rumors?

I began hanging out more with people at other local high schools—going to sports games and little high school parties. My friends kept talking about how cute this one guy was, so they basically set us up to hang out in group settings together. Long story short, this boy became my second “real” boyfriend. Because of all those rumors and because I was his first “real” girlfriend, he became extremely jealous and controlling over the course of the first year of our relationship. Every single one of my friends and family members were eventually pushed away. Even my phone number changed. I had no support, because I wasn’t “allowed” to. He was all I had. I allowed him to control my life like this, because I didn’t know my worth and I didn’t think anyone else in this world would want to date me anyways. I stayed in this toxic relationship for two and a half years… almost all the way through my Freshman year at Vanderbilt.

I’ve experienced mental, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that, at times, I wished had never happened. Now I’m almost glad it did, because I learned so much about myself and my worth over the last three years. Journey to Freedom helped me make sense of my entire life. It helped me cope with social fears I had repressed. It helped me accept myself and dedicate myself to making lasting changes in my life. It has also given me a renewed sense of purpose: to dedicate my life to helping others with similar situations.

In the Journey to Freedom, a small group of us will be figuring out this thing called life together—how to accept ourselves and others, how to change our lives in small ways or big ways. In doing so, we not only discover things about ourselves, but we also form better, healthier relationships with each other. We identify mind, body, and spirit how we can improve. Journey to Freedom helps us use tools from within ourselves and tools from God to transform our lives… or to just make them a little better.

We all have stress in our lives, but not everyone has the courage to talk about it. God knows that back in high school I didn’t talk about it. I shut the world out entirely, which is the absolute wrong thing to do. Restore Ministries gives us a safe, confidential space to come together as a group and work through our own lives. We can speak as little or as much as we’d like. You can share as little about yourself and your life as you’d like, but you are the only person who is qualified and allowed to tell your story! It’s your life, and the conversations had in this group do not go anywhere. They’re confidential.

Imagine if you decide to participate and after eight weeks you feel truly ready to strive for improvements in your life—mind, body, and spirit. Wouldn’t it be worth it? Well that’s exactly what will happen if you take the Journey to Freedom seriously. What immediate changes did I make as a result of Journey to Freedom? In regards to spirit, I became closer to God by consciously choosing to make him a more dominant, present part of my life. I’ve been using my mind to apply my beliefs and my intellect to writing. I always said I’d write a book! Well, I’ve finally put pen to paper—writing things that could be used in a book one day, composing a blog, or just writing songs. In regards to body, I lost some weight that I somehow packed on during my first year of my “big girl job.” I made exercise a regular part of my life again. I’ve always been an athlete, so that has been really good for me. I also learned how to avoid the types of negative thinking that defined my high school years, thus my college years. I’ve only been out of college one year, and here I am today with my old negative thinking patterns under control.

Think to yourself for a second… if you could change anything in your life, make any improvement at all, what would that be? Maybe you’d change some habits, or maybe you’d change your perception of yourself. Maybe you’d gain tools to help you make it out of high school unscathed and go on to do great things! You’ll only know if you take the Journey to Freedom. We’ll hang out, get to know each other a little bit, and go through this journey together. You will not regret it. Thank you for your time today. Go Knights!

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