a new decade begins & a spiritual father dies

On June 7, 2019, I turned the page onto a new decade. I chose to mark it by a long weekend at my favorite beach with our family of four. Despite predictions of rain for the whole weekend, the sun broke through, and we had glorious weather for the better part of our beach days. I never tire of the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore, soothing and powerful and constant. I love looking into the horizon of ocean meeting sky and feeling wondrously small. In all my doubts about God and faith and goodness and struggle and suffering, the presence of the ocean is a reassuring reminder that I am a created being, and that I have a Creator. The world is not up to me to run, nor can I alone solve its problems or complexities. In the face of the vast expanse of the sea, I get to be a part of the creation whose primary job is simply to worship. (I am not saying worship is simple. Far from it. It can be quite costly, actually, and quite powerful, and worship is always transformative.)

In our time away, I found space to reflect on this past decade. It’s easily been – to quote Dickens – “the best of times and the worst of times.” Shortly after my last big birthday in 2009, we moved from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, for Seth’s first job as an assistant pastor. Later that same year, I launched a counseling practice at our church. God blessed us with the gift of our twins in 2010. Our daughters began preschool in 2013, and they started kindergarten in 2016. Seth and I celebrated our first decade of marriage, and I published my first book that same year (2016). Then we uprooted our family from Virginia and moved to South Carolina in 2017 to live closer to extended family while Seth pursued his Ph.D. I went to Italy to visit my dear friend, Maria, in 2018. I began working on a second small writing project in 2019 (due to be released this fall). And – I lose track of all of the years – I became an aunt to 7 additional nephews and nieces this decade as well (through a combination of births and foster care).

2010: our tiny twin bundles of joy arrive
2016: celebrating our 10 year anniversary in the Bahamas with dear friends Karen & Dan
2018: A view from the Italian coast near Naples while visiting Maria & her family

Those are a few of the major milestones in the category of “the best of times.” The “worst of times” – well, I would rather not dwell on them in detail. But I have blogged through some of them in this space. I have written about others. Other stories have yet to be told. To summarize, they follow the themes of my personal struggle with depression and anxiety, striving to live and write “Unashamed” while being more aware than ever before of the ways shame has had a hold on my life, grappling with deep communal tragedy, fighting my own stubborn sins of pride and entitlement and anger and fear, navigating how to be a wife and a mom and a writer and a counselor without losing sight of my primary identity as God’s beloved daughter, striving to live out the truth of my own writing and teaching, and learning my story and how to share it. There have been mentors and counselors and friends and family members who are witnesses to these dark moments and who have carried me – and our family – through them. There have been authors whose words I have clung to to make sense of the apparently senseless and meaningless, and who have served as guides to me along the journey of both the highs and the lows of this decade.

And that brings me to the second part of today’s post. One of those foundational guides and spiritual fathers died on my milestone birthday. David Powlison, professor and counselor at CCEF, passed into glory on June 7, 2019. I expect there will be many who will eulogize him – as well they should – and many who will remember the impact he had on their lives. I am one of them. I was first introduced to David Powlison in the fall of 2004 as I embarked on my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was my professor in the foundational course of the semester called Dynamics of Biblical Change, and I shared an auditorium with a hundred or so eager students. His instruction changed the way I viewed the process of personal change/sanctification. He taught a few other courses that were part of my degree in Biblical Counseling. Each time, he offered creative counseling insights into the human heart, and he exuded a deep compassion for people that was contagious.

David Powlison carried with him a sense of wonder at God’s Word and God’s work in the world. Whether it was a class or a conference, I cannot remember, nor do I recall the context – but I distinctly remember the way he highlighted the wonder of “a goldfinch in flight.” To this day, I don’t notice a goldfinch without thinking about what he said. I had never noticed goldfinches before, but now I can’t miss them. And I can’t help but to notice the beauty of their wings in flight. And I worship.

That was his larger point – it always was – to draw us to worship the God he himself delighted in. In worshiping, we change. We are conformed to whatever we love most. That is challenging, convincing, and hopeful all at the same time. I’ll end this post with a favorite quote from him, as I join a vast community that grieves his passing – with the hope he testified to – that we will meet again perfectly sanctified, in perfect communion with God and one another.

Book launch day & a sneak preview

unashamed - long.jpg

Y’all – it’s here. Today is the day that my first book officially launches into the world! I hope you’ll order a copy or two. Even more, I hope that you’ll discuss this with your community, whether that’s a best friend or a small group or your spouse or a roommate. Why? I want this book to be part of a movement in our communities towards gospel-fueled authenticity and away from the shadows of shame that keep us enchained. I want freedom. Healing. Transformation. Joy.

And so I’m giving you a sneak preview to you who are my faithful blog-followers – a section from the introduction and the conclusion. These best capture my heart for Unashamed and my prayer for its readers.

“I have always been terrified of public speaking. I can trace it back to eighth-grade graduation, when I froze on stage in front of my classmates and an audience of hundreds. Standing in front of the mic unable to utter a word, the expectant and anxious waiting, and an uncomfortable and heavy silence — these are what I fear anytime I am about to take the podium. The fear of being publicly embarrassed, of my weakness being unmasked in front of an audience who sees each excruciating moment, is one manifestation of shame in my life. At its core, shame is fear of weakness, failure, or unworthiness being unveiled for all to see, or fear that at least one other person will notice that which we want to hide. Shame is like a chameleon, easily blending into the surrounding environment so that it can’t be directly seen.

Shame commonly masquerades as embarrassment, or the nagging sense of ‘not quite good enough.’ It shows up when you attempt a new venture, or when you’re unsure of your place in a group. Unchecked, it can become an impenetrable barrier between you and others. It is not a topic of conversation at a party, although it is an unwelcome guest in every gathering. You may not know if you suffer under shame, because too often it’s been categorized as guilt (which is its close cousin). It is not the exclusive domain of victims of abuse, yet shame is found in every story of suffering at the hands of another. Shame can linger when you have sinned against another in ways that feel unforgiveable. Shame is complicated.”

From the conclusion:

“We know that there will be no more mourning or tears or death in the life to come. We look back to Eden to see that there was no shame before sin. Unashamed. It’s where we began, and it’s our destiny as the redeemed ones in Christ. The Christian’s ultimate hope for shame is that we will be clothed in the honor of Jesus Christ when we stand before God in all his glory. Shame will be eradicated forever. No more hiding. No more past to haunt us — either that of our own sin or that of sin done against us. Shame will be thrown to the depths of hell where it belongs with the great Accuser of our souls. It will be like emerging from a grim black-and-white film to a vivid and bright happy ending – an ending without end, that stretches into forever.

“This book is a fruit of my own journey away from shame into the freedom of being clothed in Christ’s beauty. I am a people-pleaser by nature and practice, and writing publicly terrifies me because of the fear of criticism and judgment. I want my words to be beautiful and perfect. And yet — like every other part of my life — they won’t be and they cannot be. It is in offering my imperfect thoughts that I am practicing my freedom. It is in offering some of my failures and imperfect portions of my story that I hope to encourage you to do the same. Above all else, it is my unshakeable hope in the power of Jesus Christ to heal shame at its source that emboldens me to risk. For if you begin to taste the freedom of the unashamed in even one relationship, it becomes a seed that can transform your community. We need more neighborhoods, churches, homes, and workplaces where we live unashamed and give others space to live unashamed as well. Let’s be part of the movement away from shame into freedom, honor, and glory.”

Join me? You can order Unashamed here. Or look for it in your local bookstore. I’d love to hear from you once you read it. Thanks for celebrating with me today!

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10 things you should know about shame

1. Shame is different from guilt.

Ed Welch, a professor and the author of Shame Interrupted, first alerted me to the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt’s message is, “I did something bad,” and needs justification and forgiveness. Shame’s message is, “I am bad,” and needs an identity shift and relational connection. Sin leaves both in its wake, and shame is what lingers even after forgiveness has been sought and granted. Shame feels like it’s welded onto you, but guilt feels like something outside of you.

2. Shame can arise from others’ sin against us.

Shame is commonly found in victims of abuse. Shameful and sinful acts committed against a person leave one more vulnerable to shame. It’s not uncommon for the victim of sexual assault to feel more shame than the perpetrator.

A poignant biblical example is in the story of Tamar who was raped by her brother, Amnon, who then expelled her and said he wanted nothing to do with her. She walks away mourning, cloaked in shame. 2 Samuel describes her exit: “And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (2 Sam. 13:19).

3. Shame can arise from a past sin that haunts us.

Do you believe that your worst sin has been separated from who you are as far as the east is from the west? For those who take refuge in Christ, this is the truth about even your most shameful sin—it is no longer a part of you. Other people may remember, and you may remember, but to the one whose remembrance counts for eternity, your sin is nailed to the cross and no longer has power over you.

4. Shame can feel like a vague sense of unworthiness and insecurity that isn’t immediately rooted in either past or present sin.

Shame can be another term for unbelief in God’s love for you in Christ. It’s one thing to believe that your sin has been removed from you; it’s quite another to believe that there is a divine love that can never be removed from you.

Shame acts like a barrier that keeps love from getting through—either God’s love or anyone else’s love. It sounds like the recurring doubt, “That may be true for others, but it’s not true for me.”

5. We try to get rid of shame by passing it to others; instead, it multiplies.

The generational and cyclical nature of shame makes us want to pass our own sense of shame along to those around us as we blame them and/or shame them. The mother who feels ashamed of her own body criticizes her daughter’s eating and clothing choices, thus passing along a sense of body shame to her.

To read the rest of the article, click here to head to Crossway’s blog: 10 Things You Should Know About Shame

And P.S. – have you signed up for “Refresh,” Crossway’s 14-day summer devotional? It starts tomorrow – 14 days of gospel reflections delivered to your inbox. 

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

Five Minute Friday: fear

Our first week of summer has officially begun – defined for us as the time between preschool’s end mid-June and pre-K beginning in early September. And we are trying to find our new rhythm, with stops and starts along the way. More to come in a future post. For now, though, I return to Five Minute Friday – five minutes of free writing on a given topic every Friday. Hosted by Kate Motaung.

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fear

photo from: findingthegracewithin.com

Fear: the four-letter word that leaves us trembling. It can feel like a vague, nagging sense of dread playing in the background of our days like an unwanted soundtrack. It can pierce through our souls and bodies, leaving panic and a racing heart in its wake. It can be warranted – like what I felt the day I saw planes take down twin skyscrapers in New York City. That became an image for a generation of a world that was no longer as safe as we thought it was. An image for our fear to rest upon. Fear can be seemingly inexplicable, too. This is the “free-floating” variety, that can rest upon anything in its path.

If we let it, fear shrinks our worlds. Fear leaves people isolated in their homes for decades. It keeps us from engaging those different from us. The irony is that the more we listen to fear, the bigger it becomes.

The only way to be free of fear is to act against it. To go to church when you’re newly aware of a headline proving there is truly no *safe* place in this world. To board a plane to a dangerous area of the world to defend what’s good and true – to keep evil from winning. To take a pen in hand and write the most honest thoughts of your heart. To admit our fears together – this begins to be the pathway out of fear. Shall we?

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living with the heat in your life (a biblical understanding for life’s weather)

how people changeOur church’s Sunday school is studying “How People Change” as one of the two classes offered for adults. [Insert shameless plug here: my pastor-husband has done an incredible job over the past five years of revamping our Sunday school so that it’s now something worth attending for an extra hour each Sunday – there are usually two classes offered, one that’s a biblical-theological track with a team of professors and educators from our church teaching through the Bible and one that’s practical theology] I introduced the DVD yesterday, and the topic was focusing on the “heat” aspect of CCEF’s model for change. [CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, is where I did my counseling internship, and their counselor-professors taught the counseling courses I took as part of my M.A. in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary.]

Identifying the “heat” in your life, or the weather, as I think it would be more aptly named, is the first place to begin in the process of change. Sadly, I’ve observed all too often that this is where ministry, friendships, and counseling/therapy can stay. And we are missing so much! The “heat/weather” in our lives is important, and there are equal dangers of either maximizing or minimizing it, but more often than not, we cannot change the “weather” of our lives in a similar way that we cannot determine the weather of our days. We learn to identify it, even understand it and possibly predict it, but at the end of the day, the weather is one of life’s givens. Our response to life’s weather is where change happens, or not. Where there is growth, or stagnation. Where there is joy mined through the depths of suffering, or a heart becoming bitter and resentful. And if we are honest, we have observed both tendencies in our lives. Right now, there are life situations I’m responding to with bitterness, and there are also life situations I’m responding to with hard-fought joy.

Without further ado – my intro to the DVD is below:

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What is “heat”? Of the following scenarios, raise your hand if you think that it would qualify as “heat”:

  1. Discovering that raccoons have been nesting in your attic for several months
  2. Going on vacation to the Caribbean
  3. Being sick with strep throat
  4. Finding out that you got a job promotion
  5. Moving across country for a new assignment
  6. Having a baby
  7. Getting asked out on a date by someone you’ve admired from afar for a long time
  8. A break-up of a dating relationship
  9. Your child getting first place in a competition
  10. Winning the lottery

Most likely, it was easier for you to identify the “bad” things than the “good” things as “heat,” but heat refers to both. I think a broader way of describing heat would be “what’s the weather in your life?” Sometimes it’s beautiful and sunny; other times (like this week!) it’s cold and rainy and cloudy. Weather can last for days on end, or shift from hour to hour. And so do the circumstances in our lives, and the opportunities for our hearts to be revealed shift constantly. In fact, I think this constant shifting is part of the “weather/heat” that reveals our hearts! Just when you’re enjoying a very pleasant season with your children, one of them gets sick – and then you get strep – and then she stays sick and you’re isolated and frustrated and angry with God. (True story of our past month in the Nelson household!)

And isn’t that how we view our “heat”? The circumstances in our lives? The biggest problem I face in my own heart and that I’ve observed through my years of counseling ministry is this tendency to blame the weather for my heart’s response. It’s why parents get such a bad rap – we’re always blaming them for every bad quality in our lives. It’s why I expect in marriage counseling that it will take a few weeks (at least) to begin to get down to work – because both of them tend to blame the other as the problem. It’s why I can get sucked into complaining as my primary mode of communication: I really do see my primary issues as my circumstances … and if only my kids would get well, my work schedule would calm down, my husband would listen better, summer would come, then I could live the godly life I know I should be living. Or at least be happy.

As you watch this video and discuss it afterwards at your table, and then reflect on it personally, think about the ways that you tend to blame the “heat” for your problems.

In many ways, this is the easiest week of Sunday school because “heat” is the easiest and first thing that we recognize in our problems. Let me present to you two tendencies that you may find in yourself – and consider this as we dive into this week’s lesson:

  • Over-focus on (maximize) the heat: This is the M.O. for most of us. It’s why we blame our spouses for marriage conflict, and why I think that if I lived in a bigger house, life would be easier. It’s why I think that once my kids are older and better behaved, I’m going to enjoy them more and be able to fully be “myself” again.
  • Under-focus on (minimize) the heat: This is less common, but just as distorting. There are some of you who tend to blame yourself so much that you never take into consideration the “heat” of your life as something that’s contributing to your heart’s response. You assume that your struggles today are always because of the sin in your heart. An example of this is someone who’s experiencing panic attacks. As she begins to tell me about them, and I am hearing the stress of her past year (moving, job change, parenting and marriage difficulties, health problems), it seems obvious to me why she’s having a panic attack. It’s her body’s reaction to so much external stress/heat. When I point this out, she has an “aha!” moment – she didn’t see it because she discounted the real impact of the circumstances of her life. This may also be your tendency if you’ve been abused – you tend to take on the shame of your perpetrator’s sin against you, and you assume the abuse occurred because you deserved it, or you were/are a bad person, or you didn’t lock your door at night, or you wore something inappropriate on a first date. Absolutely not! Part of the “heat” of a victim’s life is the way he/she takes on what’s not meant for him/her to take on – and part of believing the gospel truth will be the ability to disown the shame handed to you by the abuser, and to say, yes, the abuse was/is a major part of the “heat” of your life but it’s not the whole story nor is it the end of the story/your story.

This is inherently a hopeful message – to realize that “heat” is just that – the occasions/circumstances in your life that reveal your heart – because none of us can change much of our life’s weather anyway. To focus on changing what’s unchangeable brings great frustration. You usually cannot significantly change your “weather” – the past abuse, even the good things like job promotions or vacation – but you can always by the power of grace and the Spirit change your response to the weather. Naming heat as “heat” frees you to start focusing and prayerfully engaging your part – what can change – instead of getting frustrated by being stuck in what you cannot change (or what may never change –  e.g., you can’t rewrite your past).

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How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking (Unabridged Version)

photo from pixgood.com

photo from pixgood.com

For the final day of January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I am posting the full unabridged version of what OnFaith posted yesterday as “10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.” I also want to direct you to Heidi Carlson’s excellent (shocking) guest post, “The Trafficker Next Door,” and her story of her experience helping with an adventure camp for rescued women with Freedom Firm in India last November, “Thank You and the Art of Henna.”

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“How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking” (Unabridged)

I did not hear the phrase “human trafficking” until well into my 20s. (And I am only mid-30s now.) The first few times I brushed it off because honestly I could not bear to carry in my mind the reality of such atrocities. But God has been kind and patient with me, and he has taught me – is teaching me – the importance of awareness as a first step to engagement. This is the step where many of us get stuck. As a counselor, I first want to say that there can be very good reasons to be stuck in the place of not-able-to-hear. Hearing about this type of sexual abuse and trauma may dislodge your own memories of abuse with overwhelming emotional effects. Please hear me say that you need to get help for yourself first before engaging in further awareness. Reach out to a trusted friend and/or seek out a local counselor to work through your own trauma and abuse. It’s the “put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others” principle.

If this isn’t your experience, then ask the question of why is this hard for me to hear? Maybe you can identify with one of these:

  • It’s viscerally uncomfortable to read about these atrocities.
  • It challenges my trust in humanity to choose what’s good more often than not.
  • Its existence seems to fly in the face of a good God who is over all things.
  • I feel scared – for my own safety and that of all those I love, especially my daughters.
  • I feel powerless to help.

I vacillate between all of the above, and it has kept me thus far from deeper engagement despite being years past the time when I first heard about human trafficking. What have I personally done? Basically nothing. But the beauty of realizing our passivity is that it can change in this moment. The fact that you have continued to read this post says something. You want to know more. You want to be engaged more than you have been.

Take a deep breath, and be willing to feel repulsed as you read and educate yourself for the sake of prayer, awareness, and engagement. The words of Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist, counseling professor, and member of Biblical Theological Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute, are instructive here:

“The things we cannot bear to hear about are the atrocities that he/she has had to live through.”

When this sinks in, there is no choice but to repent of our passivity and beg God for strength to engage in what is close to his heart.

Consider these verses about who God is from Psalm 146

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Have you ever wondered how the Lord can do such things? How does the Lord set prisoners free, open blind eyes, lift up those who are bowed down, watch over the weak? It is true that there are abundant accounts of God’s direct intervention both in the Bible and presently. The story of freeing Paul and Silas from prison comes to mind. In a miracle, their chains literally broke and the doors were opened (Acts 16).

Yet much more often, God invites his people into his mission. The theological term is “human agency.” What comes to mind is the too-oft-told joke of the man waiting for God to rescue him and when he gets to heaven, God says – “I sent you a helicopter and a boat!” – but the man refused these sources of rescue because he was awaiting God himself.

Consider a few examples throughout the Bible:

  • God provided for Jacob and his sons during famine by putting Joseph in a high place in Egypt where he managed storehouses of grain
  • God raised up Moses and Aaron to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt
  • God preserved the Jews from Haman’s evil plot through Esther’s courageous intervention as queen
  • God warned his people of coming exile because of their persistent spiritual adultery through the words and actions of prophets (Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.)

And then the greatest mystery of all: God took on human flesh itself, became a baby, and Emmanuel was born – God with us. Through a physical human body, the Divine healed diseases, had feasts with outcasts, challenged self-righteous leaders, and then did the otherwise-impossible: perfection became imperfection, Jesus carried our sin to the cross and triumphed over death, sin, and Satan through the resurrection. He now intercedes for his people at the Father’s right hand.

And he empowers us to be part of his justice mission of reconciliation and redemption through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t mean that all of us will be on what I term the “front lines” of human trafficking. But it does mean that to be united to Christ by faith implicates us to be engaged in his mission.

Dr. Langberg calls us to action in her book In Our Lives First (2014):

“ ‘The issue of trafficking desperately cries out for a firm, committed leadership; it has to be made a global concern.’ [Victor Malarek, author of The Natashas: Inside the Global Sex Trade] and others state that it is the human rights issue of the 21st century. … However, when you look at the record, you see darkness and corruption everywhere – money, power, and politics speak louder than the crushed lives of thousands of women. Governments have not answered the call. And though there are many organizations working tirelessly in this area, Malarek is correct when he says it must be made a global concern. The scope of the problem is so vast that a worldwide response is necessary.

What about the Church? She is global and she has a long history of confronting plagues and freeing captives. It is clear … that God has called her to serve as a humanitarian force in this world for those who are without help and resources. If Wilberforce and other Christians could stop the African slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, why can’t we follow their example today? What if, in one of the darkest hours on the planet, the global Church rose up united and became known for her charity to those who are being sold like chattel? …

What do you suppose would happen if the Church in every part of the world fell down on her face and pleaded with God on behalf of these women and girls? What if she began to seek out what He would have her do for these females? What if she became the global, committed, ethical, and moral leadership that is needed to fight this battle?”

Where do you start in the light of such a call to action?

Start where you are:

  1. Seek to be educated and aware, so that you can be engaged through prayer. For an overview, read 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Slavery, Human Trafficking at the Huffington Post. As a Christian, there’s no better place to start than the International Justice Mission. I also found this site which gives an overview of organizations and how to pray: Freedom Summit .
  2. Be willing to give what you have – whether that’s time to pray, financial resources, skills to offer victims who are being rescued, administrative support to organizations overwhelmed by the vast need, a voice raising awareness through your words, blog posts, Facebook statuses, Tweets, conversations with friends and family, and places of influence in your business, community and church.
  3. When you’re buying gifts or goods, purchase them from one of the many micro-enterprises who are giving rescued victims an alternative from the sex trade. Sari-Bari offers many beautiful items, and it’s one of many similar organizations. Others are listed at “buy for good” at “half the sky movement” here.
  4. Stop feeding the demand through viewing pornography (see the post from my friend Heidi here).

The worst thing you can do is nothing. To assume (as I have for years to my shame) that other people have this covered; that it’s too big for me to deal with anyway; that it’s really pretty extreme and does not occur in my city. By God’s grace, that changes in 2015. Not for my glory as “The All-Great Rescuer” but for God’s glory as the One who rescued me …. and through me, offers rescue to others from sin and all manner of atrocities resulting from sin’s evil corruption of human hearts.

10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking (featured today at OnFaith)

It is a privilege to be featured today at OnFaith. They took the rough draft of my heart’s plea, and through their editing have turned it into a concise call to action.

You can begin reading below – and then click over here to read more:

***

I didn’t hear the phrase “human trafficking” until well into my 20s. (I’m now in my mid-30s.) Initially, I brushed it off because I could not bear to carry in my mind the reality of such atrocities. But awareness is the most important step to engagement, and it’s this first step where many of us get stuck.

The words of Dr. Diane Langberg, member of Biblical Theological Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute, are instructive here: “The things we cannot bear to hear about are the atrocities that he/she has had to live through.”

When this sinks in, we have no choice but to repent of our passivity and beg God for the strength to engage in what is close to his heart. Often the next question becomes, where do I begin? Try starting here:

1. Recognize why you’ve been passive.

Ask the question, Why is this hard for me to hear? Maybe you can identify with one of these:

  • It’s viscerally uncomfortable to read about these atrocities.
  • It brings up issues of your own past of abuse. (If so, skip to #2 below.)
  • It challenges your trust in humanity to choose what’s good more often than not.
  • Its existence seems to fly in the face of a good God who is over all things.
  • You feel scared — for your own safety and that of those you love.
  • You feel powerless to help.

I vacillate between most of the above, which has kept me from deeper engagement. But the beauty of realizing our passivity is that it can change in that moment. The fact that you have continued reading says you want to know more and be more engaged.

2. Work through your own trauma first.

As a counselor, I want to say there are very good reasons to be stuck in the place of “not-able-to-hear.” If hearing about this type of sexual abuse and trauma dislodges your own memories of abuse with overwhelming emotional effects, you need to get help for yourself first before engaging in further awareness. [head over to OnFaith to read the rest of the article, 10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking]

from contentment and celebration to complaining and despair

photo from zionsvillelutheran.org

photo from zionsvillelutheran.org

Isn’t it always like this? Our grandest moments of life, faith, work, are closely followed by our biggest days of struggle. I think about Jonah after he experienced an epic personal rescue from the belly of a big fish, and watched God convert an entire city (Nineveh) through his preaching. The book ends with a story of the prophet’s suicidal despair because a worm ate a vine that was sheltering him from heat. It’s ridiculous. Crazy, really. And then there’s Elijah. After he watches God send fire from heaven to consume a flood-drenched sacrifice on Mount Carmel in front of a crowd of frenzied Baal-worshipers, he sits under a broom tree in the desert to die. His exact words?

“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4)

What happened to his bold faith glimpsed just two paragraphs earlier in this prayer?

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)

What happened is that Elijah and Jonah, like you and me, are human. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love,” the old familiar hymn goes (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”). I should not be surprised that on the heels of such celebration at the end of last week with the news of Crossway’s acceptance of my book proposal, this week has felt like a battle against petty disappointment and despair. The things I have complained (bitterly) about include:

  • Our coffeemaker that broke on Monday morning [MONDAY morning, of all days?!!]
  • Twins who whine and squabble with each other over silly things, like who gets the red marker [typical for 4-year-olds, although not desirable]
  • Antibiotics that didn’t work as quickly as I wanted them to in healing a bad case of strep from last Thursday
  • A husband’s very long work day, leaving me with more-than-desired solo-parenting duties for my quickly-waning-parental-patience
  • Credit card fraud – at a random WalMart in Tennessee, of all places, for 5 consecutive purchases of $28.77. This alerted our awesome card company, who called right away. But then you have the *hassle* of switching automatic payments, waiting for the new card in the mail/etc etc

All of these could fall under the hashtag #firstworldproblems , or better, #whinymomproblems. Really they’re symptomatic of a heart fixated on self, who feels entitled to comfort and ease all the time. Diagnosing my problems yesterday didn’t really help much. In fact, it probably made it worse. Then I was better able to articulate (and unload in frustration) to my husband why he, somehow, was at fault for all of my frustration.

Ugh. (There’s a poetic word for you.) I have been blind to grace. Blinded to mercy all around me, and worse still, unable to help myself. Feeling paralyzed from taking hold in my own heart of the gospel-hope I can articulate for others through writing and counseling. Enter grace in the form of the impulse to text a friend for prayer this morning when I awoke still seething with frustration and venting it unfairly to my daughters. She then called after we dropped our kids off at preschool (thank God for this common grace!), and we talked each other through our similar frustrating moments, reminding each other of the grace we know is there. I hung up the phone feeling the slightest turn in my heart towards hope again. Hope not that things will get better, or that circumstances will change, but hope that God’s love hasn’t turned away from me in the midst of my sin and struggle and that his grace is yet deeper than my need for it. Amen?

The Trafficker Next Door (guest post by Heidi Carlson)

Warning: this post will be convicting, and uncomfortable, and shocking. It’s for an important cause: human trafficking awareness month. It is a modern-day injustice we want to turn a blind eye from because it feels easier to have the ostrich posture of “bury my head in the sand” rather than sit with the powerlessness and horror inevitable when facing its reality.

Allow me to introduce my friend, fellow Wheaton alum, and gifted writer-blogger, Heidi Carlson. On a play date with our exuberant (wild) kids a few months ago, we discussed what it could mean to be missional in our writing and our blogging. In the ensuing time, she went with our church on a mission trip to India where they helped to run a camp for women who had been rescued from the sex trade. I prayed for this team, and began researching local opportunities to get involved (later post to come on that). I also read Diane Langberg’s devotional which concludes with a call for Christian counselors and psychologists to be on the front lines of this modern-day injustice. And I knew I needed (am called) to be more involved.

Today is a beginning. I give you the gift and challenge of Heidi’s words now.

Born near the front range of the Rockies, Heidi grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there.  A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a Masters in African Security Affairs, Heidi served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force for five years, including a tour of duty in Iraq.  With a lifestyle that includes moving every 18-36 months, she enjoys making home and putting down roots wherever the family goes.  She currently resides in Virginia with her husband and three children, ages five and under, where she enjoys exploring the history of the local area, educating her children and roasting coffee at home.  The issue of sex trafficking became very personal for Heidi when she volunteered at a camp for sex trafficking victims in southwest India in 2014.  She regularly writes at www.willtravelwithkids.wordpress.com.

image from stockarch.com

image from stockarch.com

It’s Trafficking Awareness month. . . or something like that.  That’s right up there with Domestic Violence Prevention month, Child Abuse Prevention Month and whatever other month the government decides to tell us about.  The slavery and human trafficking issue, like so many other issues raised by the news, the government, Facebook shares or forwarded emails, make us gasp and wish the morally abhorrent practices would naturally work themselves into oblivion without us – you, me – getting involved.  But slavery and human trafficking, compared to those other issues, seem far more removed from our everyday lives.  I know a  police officer stops at the house down the street to respond to a domestic violence case.  I know children are in foster care in my neighborhood because of parental abuse or neglect.  But slavery or trafficking, in my neighborhood?  My social circle? My city? Surely that activity does not take place around here.  After all, a society that turns a blind eye to human bondage, for whatever purpose, is not my society.

Or is it?

Consider this:

– As of 2012, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, surpassing drugs and arms in its rate of growth.*

– 80 % of human trafficking cases in the United States occurred for the purposes of sexual exploitation, including forced engagement in sexual acts for the purposes of creating pornography**

– Four of every five sex trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens**

– Nearly 90% of victims in the United States are under the age of 25

– Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, California have the highest rates of trafficking in the nation.

You don’t have to live in the slums of Thailand to be a stone’s throw away from a trafficker or trafficking-enabler or trafficking client.  These individuals work with you, live on your street and sit next to you in church.  You know them.  Maybe you are one of them.  A sex trafficking client. A user of pornography.

Consider this:***

– In the United States, 1 in 8 online search queries is for erotic material.  The odds increase to 1 in 5 on personal mobile devices.

– 9 out of 10 internet porn users only access free material. [I’m not paying for it, so it’s not hurting anyone, right?]

Nevertheless, the U.S. porn industry generates $13 billion a year

– Nearly 70% of young men view online porn at least once a week (nearly 20% for women)

– “There are higher percentages of subscriptions to porn sites in zip codes that are. . . more urban, have higher than average household income, have a high proportion of people with undergraduate degrees and have higher measures of social capital (i.e. more people who donate blood, engage in volunteer activities or participate in community projects).”

Sounds like the same kind of people who might run a 5k to raise funds to combat sex trafficking are the same people who, after checking their race time on their personal mobile device will, 5 seconds later, view porn.

Sounds like the same average, middle-class urbanite who has a blogroll is the same kind of person who plans to view porn as part of their daily “checking my websites” routine.

Sounds like this is something common, considered almost normal, that no one wants to talk about.

Every January in the United States is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, as authorized by the President.  The month is intended to not only raise awareness, but action.  Slavery and human trafficking are complex issues that could be crassly distilled into economic terms – supply and demand.  Eighty percent of human trafficking takes place for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation, including forcing victims to participate in creating pornography.  The demand for pornography is insatiable, thus suppliers continue to find ways to create and distribute their ‘product.’  Suppliers want even more individuals, including me, to desire their product.  I did some research online for this short piece and quickly became concerned that my very carefully worded research terms and emails to others concerning this issue would generate unwanted advertisements on my email and search engine sidebars.   A friend who studies and speaks on the topic of pornography has been targeted by advertisers as a result of what he types on his personal computer.  Suppliers are seeking you out.  They want to create more demand.

I remember the first time I was exposed to pornography.  I was in elementary school and a friend said, “Hey, look what I found in my dad’s closet.”  I looked.  My young mind never imagined something like that would be photographed and distributed in print.  Twenty-five years later, the pervasiveness, accessibility and social acceptance of pornography has risen to new levels.  Forget magazines.  The demand exists because we simply click buttons on our screens. We may not even pay a dime, but someone pays with their freedom.

We can rail on law enforcement for not intervening.  We can condemn law-makers for loopholes in the Communications Decency Act that has the side effect “of rendering law enforcement ineffective at identifying and interdicting ads and solicitations for illicit sex” (24).*  Like the drug trade, we arrest the dealers, though we all know the dealers/suppliers wouldn’t exist without the demand.  We are the demand. 

Pornography is not a victimless affair.  This month, don’t just talk about the evils of human trafficking, but talk about the realities of pornography – in your home, your social circle, your work and your neighborhood.  Those who campaigned against the explicit slavery of centuries ago counted the social cost of their beliefs and outspokenness.  Are we willing to do the same for the slaves of today?

Recommended Resources

  1. Chester, Tim (2012-06-11). Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free (Kindle Locations 299-304). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. The Connection Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking.  7 Sep 2011. Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering.
  3. ***Covenanteyes.com. Pornography Statistics.
  4. Human Trafficking Facts. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  5. *Kuzma, Abigail. The Communications Decency Acts Promotes Human Trafficking. 2012. Originally published in the Children’s Legal Rights Journal, Vol 34:1.
  6. ** U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.