What does the word LOVE mean to you?

As a teenager, I heard a Jeff Foxworthy joke that went something like this: “Someone once asked me what the word love means. I thought for a minute, then reached over and wrapped his arm, twisting it around his back. Who’s asking the questions now!?”

At the time, I remember being slightly baffled and thinking: “Love isn’t that hard to define … is it?”

However, it would seem that Mr. Foxworthy was onto something. Fast forward a few years and a few failed relationships. Combine that with more grief than I care to describe working alongside survivors who have experienced unspeakable atrocities. In addition, from their families of origin and “boyfriends”, many of our girls have never experienced anything resembling real love.

In addition to being hard to define, isn’t love supposed to be a quality that comes naturally? How do you teach someone who has not experienced real love, what it means to love and be loved?

Obviously this is a question that will take more than a blog post to answer (and quite possibly an entire lifetime of studying psychology, attachment and various interventions). But one thing that has been really fun to watch at My Refuge House, is how the girls warm up to the different aspects of our home, staff, and relationships that are so different than anything they’ve ever learned.

We once asked the girls to write down one word that described our home. It was interesting, because, knowing their stories I realized they were describing the aspects of love that they have never been able to experience previously.


For the girl who had only ever experienced punishment for her abuse and exploitation, our home represented Mercy.


For the girl who had been taken advantage of by every person in her life, our home represented safety.


For the girl who had never been allowed to have a voice, our home represented respect.


And for the girl who still suffered from trauma due to an assault, our home is a refuge.