Friend of the brand Amber Howard gets candid about her journey of transformation, and how she was led to move to Thailand to become a missionary counselor for children affected by trafficking. Enjoy her inspiring guest blog below.
In January 2019 I will be leaving for Thailand to be a missionary counselor with an organization called Life Impact International. Life Impact has been able to save 145 children affected by trafficking, and currently there is no mental health or counseling assistance for those children. As I am sure one can imagine, there are multiple trauma cases and other mental health issues that need to be addressed because of this horrific injustice of innocent children, not to mention training of the staff and adoptive parents on how to address the needs of these children in the most therapeutic manner. To understand a little bit more about why I decided to do this let me give you some background information about me.
From an early age I was shy and timid. I was told by my parents that I did not talk until I was about three years old and then not in public until I was about four and a half to five years old. I was always a spectator of other’s lives and afraid to engage. Some called it perfectionism, but I think the root of the perfectionism was fear, even at such a young age, of not being enough if I did not speak perfectly. My guess is I wondered if I even had anything worth saying. I learned to be hidden and watch life from the sidelines, to live my life without being noticed. I learned to only depend on myself emotionally and to not open myself up to anyone.
Yet, despite living my life this way I unknowingly yearned for more, something deeper. I wanted a life filled with adventure and vulnerability. I also wanted to help others live a life of vulnerability and to be at their highest potential. I desired others and myself to have emotional freedom, however, had no idea how to access this.
Even though I had no idea how to access what I desired, I continued to move towards this passion. Before I knew being a therapist was my exact purpose and the call God placed on my life, I was a compelled to major in psychology, and then to eventually go to graduate school to be a licensed marriage and family therapist. I was scared to go to graduate school and assert that I wanted to be a therapist, but I could not deny the pull from God. There were many times I wanted to give up or was distracted by well meaning people who told me to take a more “safe” or “conventional” career path but in the end, God assisted with closing doors for the career paths that were not right for me and He opened doors for the path of becoming a counselor.
In 2011 I began to put my purpose to the test and began practicing as a trainee therapist for a non-profit counseling agency. For the first couple of years it felt like the blind leading the blind. I was afraid, insecure, and constantly questioning my abilities but despite all that, I did not give up. I did not give up partly because I was a people-pleasing-perfectionist that could not have “giving up” on her track record. More importantly, I could not give up because of God’s grace and confirmation in many ways along my journey that I was helping others and I was right where I needed to be.
The next couple of years from 2012-2013 the pressure of “adulting” had arrived. I felt such a heavy responsibility as a mental health provider who was working with a low socioeconomic population, in the middle of a prostitute and drug infested area of San Bernardino. I was dealing with crises such as threats of suicide and homicide, child protective reports/cases etc. This was weighing heavy on me. I was also going through multiple personal trials and I was slowly burning out and panicking about whether I was going to be able to function with the pressure I felt. This all lead me to seek my own therapy; I had come to the end of myself and my limitations.
Although I had brief therapy before with a couple of people due to life transitions, this time in therapy was different. Not only because I was desperate for help but also because I found a therapist that was the perfect fit for the awakening I needed. She helped me to see how avoidant of my emotions I truly was and that my life was anchored in fear of being known. I was ashamed to be alive and just to be me. I realized that although God had always been with me and I did have support and love from family, friends, and colleagues around me, I did not fully know how to let others in.
As I worked on me, I started to feel less stress and pressure at work to be anyone but myself. I was not anxious on nearly the level I was before, and I became closer to God because I wanted to be transparent and vulnerable with Him as my source. I accepted Christ at a young age and had a personal relationship with God yet, there was always an aspect of hiding that blocked me from fully surrendering and trusting Him with my life. I wanted to surrender so badly but did not know how to do so without fear I would be rejected or not be in control. Overall, after a couple of years in therapy I felt freer in my mental, emotional, and spiritual life than I ever have before. Although I have had setbacks as a therapist and personally still over the years, I see it as a challenge to grow and to respond positively. I pray, worship, read my Bible and talk through the issues with my therapist, family or friends.
Now, you may be asking yourself right now “What does all of this have to do with you moving to Thailand”? Answer. It has everything to do with it. My journey up until last year has led me to Thailand. My journey of healing from shame is what these children need. Being trafficked for sexual and labor purposes brings shame. Although I do not know what it feels like to be trafficked, I know the emotion of shame all too well. When I decided to go on a 10-day mission trip with my church there last year I felt such a strong calling to be a part of what the organization was doing. I knew God was doing something miraculous in this trip. Not only was I going to be able to serve and assist in the healing of the children in trafficking, but he was going to allow me to grow in ways I could not even imagine.
I knew my life was going to change, as I was preparing for the trip, I just did not know exactly how until I started speaking with Lana Vasquez, the founder of Life Impact, about the need and how I might be able to come back and help. I was pretty sure I was going to come back long-term. God had been preparing me mentally and emotionally for that trip and what it would mean the entire year before I left. After Lana invited me back, I did not make any commitments but rather, told her I would let her know how much time I could donate to the organization, even though I felt deep down after speaking to her that I would be committing to long term.
Initially, it was too scary to come right out and say. Yet, as I prayed about it on the plane ride back home to the states the next day, I distinctly heard God’s voice say as I asked him how long I should commit to going back that I would be there for as long as He said I would be, so in other words long-term. I was filled with tears because of what God said that day.
Currently there are some questions, doubts, and nerves however, I believe God will fulfill all His promises he made that day on the plane when I believed I was called. I am reminded by God that He has already gone before me (Deuteronomy 31:8). All I must do now is believe and take steps of faith. God told me He was going to teach me how to really trust in Him in this journey to Thailand. I am learning how to be more dependent on Him than I ever have been.
I am learning how to be transparent and share what he is doing in me. I am learning to raise financial support and ask humbly for people to partner with me. When I sit and think about the ways I have been and will continue to be transformed I am overwhelmed beyond words. I know this call is not for me but for God’s glory, to bring healing and love to children that truly need it. I can not wait for this journey to continue in Thailand!