Co-Founder of White Stone Project says it was her painful backstory that led to creating organization that trains on engaging survivors of trauma
WORDS // Sarah Hurley
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” my mom said as she handed me a box of tissue in response to my tearful admission, and she walked out of my bedroom. I had just disclosed my date rape to her. I was fifteen and we never spoke of it again.
“Do you like this new shirt?” my dad asked. He bought it to wear on a date with a woman, and he was showing it to me out in the driveway as my stepmom sat unassuming and unaware inside the house. I think I was in sixth grade.
If I had to choose one word that defined most of my life until about ten years ago when I recommitted my life to Christ, it would be the word “alone.” My childhood memories include both emotional and sexual harm. As a result, I began smoking pot at age 12. At 13, I was drinking and having sex. At 15, I found myself in a physically abusive relationship. At 17, I began freebasing cocaine.
“My behavior was seen; my heart was not.”
As such, I moved out of my house before high school even ended and started working in a strip club shortly after. Age 18-20 was the darkest period of my life filled with arrests, an overdose, and doing things I would have never dreamed I would do. All the while, I was hurting, lost, and longing to be seen, known and loved.
Through my life experiences, I’ve come to realize that we were created for relationship. It is a vital part of the human experience. As soon as God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), and he created Eve. Relationships can bring both blessing and curse, and it is our earliest relationships with our primary caregivers that shape who we are, how we relate to others, and what we believe about the world.
Miraculously, my addiction ended cold turkey by age 21. I wouldn’t accredit it to God until more than a decade later, but it is obvious to me now that it was only possible because of Him. I began to see my behavior and the behavior of those I considered close to me at the time in a new way. I left the abusive relationship I was still in and began to turn my life around. I spent the next ten years pursuing all of the things the world says bring success and happiness: I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Indianapolis, I started a career and made my way through the ranks, and I pursued and obtained all the material things one can, like a house, a nice car, vacations, clothes and more. I got married, but I continued to feel alone and unfulfilled as I periodically asked the question, “Is this all there is to life?”
“My behaviors changed, but my heart had not.”
At age 30, I was back to playing the parental role with my struggling parents, which led to another rebellion on my part. I understand now that my identity was anchored in temporal things, and when they fell apart, so did I. So, I walked away from everything. I literally left my marriage, most of my things, and my home country and worked overseas for close to a year. When I came back, I stayed with my sister while I determined what to do next.
Still determined to run away, I was looking for jobs out of state when I began dating a man and accepted a position at a local, faith-based company instead. I remember a corporate chaplain coming in from time to time and I would run off to the bathroom or outside for a break in order to avoid any interaction. In early childhood, my family went to church, but I became bitter over time, by things I saw that felt hypocritical. However, God is patient and full of grace. In all those years, He never left me, and He chose, in His perfect time, to place people in my life to point me to Him and moreover to who I was in Him.
During this time, the man I was dating (who is now my husband) asked me a timely question one night as we discussed work, careers, and a greater purpose: “If you could do anything, what would that be?” I sat in stunned silence as I contemplated how easy I thought the answer to that question should be along with the realization that—even at age 33—I had absolutely no idea how to answer it. This question was more than a career path to me; it prompted me to think about my identity and purpose. It went along with the question I had periodically asked myself over the years, “Is this all there is to life?” It also challenged me to take another look at my faith and, specifically, Jesus, and who I believed Him to be. I was at an existential crossroads and I resolved to fully find answers to those questions.
I stopped running away from the corporate chaplains and other people God put in my life— first at work, and then at the first church I attended as an adult. During this time, God pursued me by introducing people in my life who represented Jesus in a new way to me. He placed me in real, authentic relationships. He also provided opportunities to spend time wrestling with Him, healing from the pain of my past, and taking an honest look at my hardened heart. He showed me safe people exist who, weren’t perfect, but who would love me through my messy process of self-discovery. He used them to bring me closer to Him and to who He created me to be.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s masterpiece, created to do good works which He planned in advance for us to do. Can you believe that? We each have a unique purpose only we can fulfill, and the God of the universe created us to do just that! In 2010, I began to ask the Lord to reveal my purpose: essentially, what did Ephesians 2:10 look like for me? His answer changed my life as I left my corporate job and started a nonprofit working with sexually exploited women. At the same time, I began studying trauma, Christian psychology, neuroscience, and the theories of attachment.
Did you know that the hippocampus in a traumatized adult can be 10—18% smaller than that of a “normal” individual? Did you know that, through healthy adult attachment and relationship, the brain can literally be rewired, and the hippocampus can increase in size? Now think about Romans 12:2 when it tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
“As both my heart and my mind continue to change and renew, I become more anchored in my eternal identity and purpose.”
Nearly ten years after that fateful question from my now husband, my partners and I started The White Stone Project, LLC., whose mission is to provide professional training, consulting and coaching to organizations, teams and individuals engaging survivors of complex trauma and sexual harm. Combining the latest in neuroscience, trauma research and attachment theory, and being rooted in faith, we teach teams that the harm caused during childhood in the context of relationship can also be healed in the context of relationship through connection, attunement, and the engagement of one’s story.
The name White Stone Project is taken from Revelation 2:17 where Jesus says He will give to the one who overcomes “a white stone, with a new name on the stone,” known intimately by that person. White Stone is about identity, about stepping into one’s fullness of purpose and living out our unique calling and true identity. It’s about being fully known and fully loved. Finally, it’s about people understanding who and whose they are, intimately, deeply, and personally, and then loving others in that way as much as possible.
God had taken me down a path to answer the question my husband had proposed to me ten years ago, and now I had my answer: If I could do anything, this was it. It is amazing to see how God—once I allowed Him full access into my story—is using my life for the good of others and fulfilling me with greater purpose.
You can find out more about White Stone Project and the kinds of people and organizations they serve by going to whitestoneproject.net