Real hope for troubled times: Jesus knows

I woke up this morning to all the alerts: not only my own alarm, but warnings about flash flooding and plans rearranged and then the burden of these headlines:

  • Another shooting and more riots in Charlotte, NC – Lord, when will this end? Heal us, Father. We pray for justice to prevail  – for healing that is as real and as deep as the racial brokenness of our country. Give us ears to listen to one another in order to understand, not to judge. Break down all of our defenses through the strength of Love
  • More info on the terrorist suspected of massive plots in NYC and NJ – Father, I’m afraid. It could be our neighborhood next – or our mall. 
  • An apparently failed ceasefire in Syria – there was an attack on the aid convoy. – Lord, for all of those who need aid and help desperately, find a way. Give courage to the men and women risking their lives to deliver this aid. Let us who live comfortable Western lives not grow numb. Show us how we can help our neighbor, though that neighbor be halfway around the world, and keep us from being blind to the neighbor living next door to us or down the street from us. 

This list could go on and on. And our response (or at least mine) is to feel the fear like a pit in my stomach and the instant tension in my shoulders. I want to find a refuge to run to with my family where no harm can touch us, and where we can bring everyone else who needs help with us, too.

I’m not alone in this desire. And there is a refuge promised One Day. Because of this Future Hope, we take comfort in Jesus’ words from over 2000 years ago, and we can serve for justice and peace now.

matthew-24-encouragement

I want to read the promises side-by-side with the headlines. Jesus brings perspective and best of all – his presence in the promised Holy Spirit to all who find refuge by faith in Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can take a deep breath, go downstairs and hug my children and cook breakfast and serve in my little corner of the world.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can be fully involved in the here-and-now while also seeking how I can be part of the global concerns because they affect fellow human beings worthy of dignity since they’re made imago Dei.

Where do you take refuge in these troubled times? How do you balance the reality of the here-and-now demands on your life with the global concerns impacting us? 

 

 

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.”

 

 

Brené Brown on “Rising Strong” (a review at TGC)

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you my official review of Brené Brown’s latest book over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve been tracking Brown’s work for a few years now. You who are new may find it interesting to read these posts about my early encounters with her material and ideas:

As always, you honor me by your presence here. Thank you for stopping by.

*****

Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution is the third in the list of popular books written by shame-researcher Brené Brown, the University of Houston professor whose TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral and have propelled her into the national spotlight. Rising Strong follows Daring Greatly(2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). I’m a self-professed Brown fan who’s been influenced and inspired by her work in my own thoughts about shame, which will be published as Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame (Crossway, June 2016).

As a church-based biblical counselor with more than nine years of counseling experience and a master of arts in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary/CCEF, I would like to speak into both what’s good and what’s misleading about Brown’s book. To be clear where I’m coming from, I’m speaking as one who loves biblical theology and has been changed by the gospel of grace that sets me free from my self-righteous striving. Galatians 2:20–21 is my life verse as a recovering self-righteous Pharisee who can too easily trust in her own works.

Pitfalls to Sidestep

In reading Rising Strong, it seems the most obvious pitfall could be outright dismissal by the Christian community and particularly church leaders because of its raw language and failure to speak explicitly about Jesus. Brown cusses throughout the book, and does so unapologetically. This may well be a stumbling block for many readers. However, if you’re able to move past that problem, there is much here for us to learn. Much of her material maps onto a gospel-grace framework—if only Brown would follow the trajectory to its conclusion. She gives words to and speaks boldly about vulnerability (which 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 calls “strength” through boasting in weakness); about the value of owning our failures (instead of hiding them) and then learning from them; and about the importance of examining the default stories we tell ourselves when we experience failure and shame.

[To read the rest of my review at The Gospel Coalition Blog, click here.]

Shame’s lies to victims, perpetrators, and their church(es): a response to the Duggar scandal

curtainsShame’s insidious fingerprints are all over the latest abuse-cover-up scandal involving Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. How could such abuse be covered up for 12 years by a family living life “in the open”? A family with a reality TV show, no less. Shame thrives with a conspiracy of silence, and abuse of all sorts provides ample fodder – but particularly so when you add in the factors of abuse of a sexual nature, abuse of a minor, a perpetrator who’s publicly known, and a perpetrator who belongs to a faith community. As a counselor and a Christian involved in church my entire life, I have seen these scandals played out in a hauntingly familiar pattern over and over again. I want to suggest a few ways that shame keeps an abuse scandal secret in such a scenario.

Shame’s whispered lies for the victim:

1 – It’s up to you to protect your perpetrator’s reputation by staying silent.

2 – God forgives him/her, so why can’t you? (And forgiveness=forgetting.)

3 –  What happened wasn’t really that bad.

4 – You did something to deserve it. You didn’t say “no” – or you were dressing “immodestly” or allowed yourself to be alone with him/her.

5 – To speak up about the abuse would bring embarrassment to you and your family. It’s best to deal with it alone and not bring anyone else into the shame you feel.

Shame’s protective shield of lies for the perpetrator:

1 – It only happened once (or twice or 3 x’s) … so it’s not that big of a deal.

2 – I was young and immature, and I didn’t know better.

3 – The less it’s discussed, the better off I will be.

4 – Because God forgives my sin, I don’t need to ask forgiveness from my victim or talk to the appropriate authorities.

5 – S/he made me do it. It’s really his/her fault.

Shame’s lies believed by a faith community who discovers the abuse (and doesn’t report it immediately): 

1 – God’s reputation is at stake, so it’s best to keep this quiet and not let anyone else know.

2 – We can handle it. No need to get the authorities involved.

3 – The laws of the land about mandated reporting do not apply to us – we’re under God’s law.

4 – It’s up to us to protect the reputation of the perpetrator.

5 – God’s mercy negates God’s justice.

Shame’s role in such a scandal is to exacerbate it – keeping the victims and the perpetrator locked in silence – a place where neither of them can find the healing they truly need. It would have been merciful for the abuse to have come to light 12 years ago instead of today. There would be much less of a scandal-element for the Duggar family, and certainly there would have been more freedom for the victim(s) to know and see justice being done. And to be protected from contact from him. And even for future victims to be rescued from the same.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these places – that of victim, or of perpetrator, or of a faith community member who’s covering up abuse – speak up. It’s the only way shame begins to lose its power. And it’s the only way full redemption and restoration can begin to occur.

*Shame is the subject of my upcoming book with Crossway – shame of all varieties and the freedom and healing that comes through Christ. Expected release date of June 2016.

Imago Dei, housework, and writing

“There are value currencies we operate in most of the time. The leading ones for women are beauty, money, status/fame, and – in some circles – domesticity. What complicates our question of value even further is that we live under the belief that value is scarce. So it’s not enough to be beautiful, but for me to be most valuable, I have to be the most beautiful.”

Thus began a thought-provoking evening with Hannah Anderson last Friday at a local coffeehouse, sponsored by the women’s ministry of our church, Trinity Presbyterian. Hannah spoke with deep insight and intelligence, matched to accessibility and candor that I found myself nodding along with many times. Hannah is the author of the excellent book, Made for More, which was my September 2014 book of the month. I’ve also made her one of my long-distance writing mentors (she doesn’t know that) since I met her last summer when I was beginning to get serious about focusing on writing. She was tremendously encouraging then, telling me about her decision to stop running from her calling to write and to devote herself intentionally to writing for a few years and see where  it went. For her, that’s included her first book released last year, and a regular blog at sometimesalight.com. She’s had speaking engagements arise from her writing, and we who heard her were privileged to be part of her circuit. She talks about “stewarding her message” and invited each of us to walk according to our value that’s not scarce but abundant because it flows from an infinite God. 

The theological term is “imago Dei” – made in God’s likeness. And it all began in Genesis, at our creation when humans were breathed into existence by a God desiring to reflect his very nature. This gives every woman (and man) infinite worth and value. Yet it’s a value that’s been marred by sin, and so we are also all desperately in need of restoration. This value has also been given to us in Jesus Christ (not earned).

And therefore, we are to cultivate the earth – our corner of the kingdom entrusted to us by God, using the gifts he has bestowed upon us. The value is the same regardless of the task, because it’s done as a reflection of who we are. Janitorial work and housework are elevated beyond their menial status usually assigned from within the world’s values. “Big” work like being the President and researching cancer are grounded by the humility that these, too, are work assignments received as gifts from the God who created us. We all have different roles.

In answer to a question of how this could apply/transfer to parenting, Hannah answered with a smile that her favorite thing to do is bring each of her children to their room and give the command, “Cultivate!” We all laughed – and made mental notes to do the same. She asked the question of each of us – “What have you been entrusted with to cultivate? In what work are you called to bring forth fruit? Who are your nearest neighbors that you are to help flourish?” 

And personally, I’m realizing the way I’ve neglected “home and hearth” in order to focus on my “big writing project.” Both are equal. Both are needed. I needn’t be apologetic about my writing, but neither am I to overlook the toilet that needs to be scrubbed or the children who need to be bathed and fed. [Disclamor: they have been regularly bathed and fed – the neglect has not sunk to that level … but it sounds more poetic this way.] These are my immediate opportunities to live out of imago Dei – what are yours?

4 Challenges to Parenting in an Individualist Culture

Parenting has never been easy. And as Christians, parenting can be especially difficult in our current, contemporary society. Here are 4 challenges I think most Christian parents face when it comes to raising their kids in a secular culture.

1. Motherhood requires giving up “my life” as defined by our culture.

Part of my journey as a mom these past five years has been fighting against my own entitlement as I lay down every single part of my life for my children. It’s made harder because I’m surrounded by a society that says that individual happiness is everything. We are bombarded with messages from billboards and Oprah’s book list about secrets to happiness and self-fulfillment. I have an appetite for self-fulfillment, and these messages promise to fulfill my craving. How can I get by with minimal sacrifice as a parent? [read the rest of the article over here, where I’m featured on iBelieve.com]

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]

Five Minute Friday: send

I woke up excited to remember that today is Friday. Not only because it means the beginning of our weekend [since my husband is a pastor, he takes a day off to replace Sunday – and for him, it’s Friday], and the end of what’s felt like an unusually intense week, but also because it’s Five Minute Friday. Five minutes of writing unedited, prompted by a word and link-up hosted by Kate Motaung. It’s fun to simply write for five minutes without thinking too much about it, and it’s wonderful to read what others have written across the blog-world on the same topic.

So … here goes: “SEND”

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envelopeI remember when the only mail I opened was what came in a carefully addressed envelope, sometimes decorated with stickers, and always carefully written by virtue of the fact that it was a letter. Kristin wrote me after we met during my first campus visit of Wheaton College, and she answered my questions about college life as well as encouraged me in my high-school faith. She had artistic print and a beautiful way of addressing each envelope that made me feel like I was opening a personal work of art. (Which I was – it was created just for me.)

When my next-door best friend neighbor, Kristen Warnke, moved away when I was in third grade, we kept up correspondence via letters back and forth for years. She told me about her family vacation to Alaska – that it wasn’t all cold and icy as everyone imagined. Her addressed changed many times over the 10 years we wrote to one another because of her dad’s job. Mine changed once. But we always found each other. We were able to see each other in person perhaps once over all of that time … but the relationship stayed close because of the pen-and-ink bond between us.

I can’t help but think with nostalgia on those days, and wonder if in our electronic click-and-send culture of communicating via screens, we have lost something of great importance almost impossible to recover.

****

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.