because Christmas is about giving (an opportunity)

I am still working on how to convince my 5-year-old twin daughters that Christmas is about giving not getting. Perhaps because I, too, have a hard time really sinking into the reality that it is more blessed to give than receive. I, like them, love (and prefer) what’s shiny and new. My “toys” are more “sophisticated” – and expensive – than theirs, but I, too, have a bent towards thinking first about what I want to get instead of what I want to receive.

And so I would like to turn our eyes toward the meaning behind the songs and the shiny decorations and the twinkling magical lights – and I want to do so by also giving you an opportunity to put it into action.

Allow me to introduce my friend “Sara” to you (pseudonym used to protect the sensitive nature of her work). Sara is preparing to embark on one of the bravest adventures I’ve ever known, an adventure and a battle against one of the worst present-day places of evil, darkness, and injustice in our world: human trafficking. I’ll let her tell you in her own words:

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HT pic2

Called to Battle

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

The Battlefield

Everything you might imagine about a South Asian city is true of K. Noisy all hours day and night, chaotic traffic, decaying colonial architecture, smells ranging from urine, curry, body odor, jasmine and cinnamon- this city has it all. What you might not know about K. is it is also the exact opposite of all of those things. K. is a place of laugher and bright white smiles, vibrantly colored saris, pastel painted walls and doors.

Surprisingly, amid all the audible and visual noise there are small elements of calm. One of my favorite things is to see the city wake up for the day. Older men sit near the corner chai stand and read the paper, gossip and watch the city come to life. Other men and youth bathe in the communal taps that seem to be on every street and always running. Store keepers sweep the filthy sidewalk in front of their stands, a seemingly unending and unfruitful task.

The Fight

South Asia is also an area of darkness- oppressive heavy darkness. Darkness that can be felt and where evil lurks under its cover. In K. there is an area known as S-chi. It is no wider than a few city blocks wide and not many more long.

This small area is one of the world’s largest red light districts. A staggering 10,000 women work here daily.

HT pic 1

 

Some have been trafficked across this country, or from other countries. Others have been tricked by husbands or family members. Still others saw no possible means for providing for their family so they chose to join the forces. Each has a unique story. Their stories might differ in details, but common threads are woven throughout. These women have been led to believe they have no voice, no worth, no value, and no hope. Their only worth comes from what they can sell to others; their body. All have been fed lies about who they are and what they have been created for. Dignity and freedom has been stripped away, things we take for granted.

These are lies the Evil One has led the ladies, their culture, and largely the world, to believe. Their reality is a heartbreaking confrontation with Evil. Our battle is not against the rulers and authorities, but against the dark powers of this world. We are all called to fight against the darkness and bring light to the world.

We have a God of hope and freedom in the midst of this darkness. We are called to bring this hope and freedom to others that haven’t yet seen or experienced with their own eyes.

 

The Battle Plan

In K the team has started a Western Style Bakery.Through the bakery they are able to offer alternate means of employment and tangible glimpses of hope out of unimaginable circumstances.

The goal is to provide life skills, job training, empowerment, confidence, dignity, worth and freedom to women who have never dared to imagine these things for themselves.

We are there to help them dream and claim the promises God has for them!

How can we expect to see justice in this situation? The scale of need is so great, where to begin? One woman at a time. One fumbling Bengali conversation after another until something clicks and there is a personal connection. One western smile meets an Asian smile. One exchange haggling over a market purchase. One life, one story, at a time. This work hinges on relationships. It begins and ends there. One life that is changed is a life changed! From there change is contagious, the lives of the immediate family change, then the extended family, then a village. God is mighty to move nations, and he uses individuals to do so.

My role on the team will be social justice coordinator. I will have a foot in the bakery, walking alongside ladies transitioning out of the demands of the district and into life as a baker. My other foot will be firmly planted in the district looking for opportunities to talk to ladies, getting to know them -learning their stories and stories of their culture, and sharing life.

The Army

Encouragers: I need to be reminded of the gospel and of God’s promises. It is as much for me as it is for the women that don’t yet know Him.

Physical: My target departure date is March 2016. I have to have pledged $4600/ month of financial support to get to the field, and one-time gifts of $40,000. I have only $26,000 left in one-time gifts.

[Heather’s note: Whatever you are able/can give will make a big difference in this balance of $26,000. For example, if each of you, my faithful readers, gave $25 we could help Sara with over half of her one-time balance – bringing it down to just under $10,000 remaining.]

Intercessors: This work cannot be done without the power of committed prayer, and willingness to enter into oppressive darkness.

I am very excited about this journey. I have committed to long term service of five years with the sending organization. I am not taking this journey alone. I need an army of supporters and givers willing to join me in the battle against the dark forces of Evil in this place. I am committed to being the eyes and ears on the ground and connecting you to work God is doing on the other side of the world. Will you step into the battle with me?

You can give online to Sara by going to www.serge.org/give/ and entering her designation number #54410. [This is a secure field, and she is not listed directly on the agency website.]

To be connected with Sara’s team of intercessors and encouragers, leave a comment below and Heather will pass it along to her.

 

 

 

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?

Five Minute Friday: “follow”

I join with the Five Minute Friday community of writers in this weekly five-minute writing exercise. This week is the word “follow.”

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followTo be followed is an honor. Each time I see a new “follower” on my blog or Facebook page or Twitter, I get excited. Yet the following of social media connections is a far cry from the original following Jesus discussed. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Not only does it sound odd to be invited to be a “fisher of men” but “follow” can feel vapid. I am fine with following Jesus social-media style, meaning that I check in with him when I feel interested in knowing how he’s doing and see if there’s anything particularly new or interesting he’d like to share with me. Following is very much on my terms, and the pace is leisurely.

Yet when Jesus asked his disciples to follow him, he was asking them to leave behind their former way of life entirely and join with him in his nomadic travels on a journey that would end with the horror of the cross and the surprise of resurrection. He was inviting them to yoke themselves to him, to be his 24/7 disciples who would eat every meal with him and learn at his feet daily. This is quite different than when I have a “follower” on Twitter. More often than not, it’s not someone I know or even am likely to meet. They are “following” me when they don’t know much about me – nothing more than what I’m revealing in small intermittent and infrequent bits, limited to 21 characters. And the same is true when I choose to “follow” them back.

To truly follow Jesus requires more commitment. It requires nothing less than all of me, heart, mind, and soul.

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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:

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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]

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. 

2015 word of the year: focus

My parents knew I needed glasses because I complained that I could not read the daily homework assignments in fourth grade. I squinted often, come to think of it. When they took me to the eye doctor, he confirmed what they suspected: I needed glasses. Badly. Once I slipped on my first pair, I could not believe the high-definition that existed in the world around me. What had been obscure was now crystal clear. 

Life is not so dissimilar. It is easy to lose focus, easy for the world to become blurry in my fast-paced crazy busyness as I jump from one task to another. When life moves at the speed of a high-speed train, the landscape around me becomes obscured, and I forget where I’m going and why I am here. To-do lists rule my daily agenda, and tasks can loom larger than people. My mission too easily shifts to “put out another [relational or logistical] fire” in a life of full-time ministry – which is not unique to me, since all of our labor as Christians is ministry regardless of profession. The contours of my life specifically exacerbate this tendency: part-time counselor, full-time mom to 4-year-old twins, wife to a full-time pastor, daughter-in-law to aging parents recently moved to town. Crises arise with some frequency and with varied degrees of perceived urgency. It is hard to decide what should be shifted to accommodate the need of the week (or day or hour).

What I need is focus. I need my world to stop racing around me in a blurry whirl and to be able to focus on the one thing that is needed, like Mary as she sat at Jesus’ feet. In this moment, what do I need? Who is before me? How can I ask God and others for help to lift heavy burdens? Where is the joy that I might miss right now if I’m focused on the stress of tomorrow or tonight or next month or next year? And how does remembering the big picture – the long-term – bring focus to the immediate so that I don’t get caught in the urgent, neglecting the important?

I need focus, and I need to focus. Focus is the word of my year for 2015. Not as poetic as last year’s light or 2013’s new. But oh so needed! I love that focus is both what I do (verb) and the object I am looking at (noun). And I sense God inviting me to to allow space [white space/margin/boundaries] to help me to focus better on what I profess to be my priorities, both in how I spend my time (what I do) and what I give my attention to (my focus). Focus implies intense gaze and intent – direction. It’s where you’re going and how you are going to get there.

I am indebted to a few great thinkers and writers who have helped me in mulling this over – Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy being the top of my list, followed by Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and Emily Freeman’s A Million Little Ways, and one that brought it all into focus as viewed through the lens of parenting is Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting.

Most of all, I am indebted to my Redeemer, who is patient to continually draw his distracted-by-many-things daughter back to the one thing needed: sitting at his feet, focusing on the one whose love is constant and whose gaze never leaves me (as many times as mine leaves his). These passages of Scripture are prayers for me in 2015. Join me?

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“And a woman named Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Five Minute Friday: “reach”

A few quiet minutes this Friday morning because my husband has taken our girls on errands with him. Then we will together head to the girls’ new preschool to meet their teachers and other classmates. School starts next week. Hallelujah! We all are ready. And in bigger news, two of the gems of New Jersey (namely, my in-laws) will be moving down to us next Tuesday. We cannot wait for grandparents to arrive into town!

I join in Five Minute Friday – five minutes of writing unedited on a given topic each week.

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It was the last week of eighth grade, and I had yet to conquer the P.E. challenge of making it to “the beam team,” meaning that I would climb the 30 foot length of rope suspended from the gym ceiling. I was scrawny, not so strong by any standards. But that day, I made it. Maybe it was eighth grade adrenaline – who knows? But I reached the top of that beam, conquering fears and the apparent obstacle of my weakness. To reach the top – well, it surprised me and delighted me all at the same time.

photo credit: theblondecoyote.com

photo credit: theblondecoyote.com

I remember another time of straining to reach a summit. This one was a mountain in Ireland on a rainy, foggy day. I complained the entire time. Hiking just isn’t my thing, and I was out of breath and wondered if it would be worth it. Quite honestly, because the fog obscured any view, it did not feel very worth it to reach the top of that Irish mountain. At least I could say that I did it.

Reaching forward in life towards whatever it is that is your goal can feel similar. When I think of life goals of marriage, motherhood, career, I look back and it seems relatively simple. Like making “the beam team” despite myself. But when I think of looking ahead to bigger, less measurable life goals – like becoming more loving, more sacrificial of my time and resources, more gracious and less impatient – it can feel like that foggy Irish hike. Unsure of progress and unsure of whether it will feel worth it, I press on anyway.

Words come to mind from Paul in Philippians, and I feel like I may not be as alone and the goal may not be as unattainable as I feared:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

10 reasons I’m praying for NOLA as Gustav approaches

10. Our team of 19 just arrived back barely a week ago from a mission trip to NOLA doing Katrina relief.

9. It will be expensive to get our team back down there so soon …

8. Some homes still look like this THREE YEARS AFTER Katrina hit.

7.What havoc will a hurricane wreak on the FEMA trailers? Forcing people to lose their 2nd home before their 1st one is finished seems quite the tragedy. (They’re still very much present in some of the worst hit parishes, like East Orleans and the lower 9th ward).

6. Many doubt whether the levee problem has been sufficiently addressed. In fact, they’re still leaking. And of the 20% that were repaired after the breach … what about the remaining 80%? Read more at this link: http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf/2008/08/incomplete_levee_system_leaves.html

5. Are the looters already out prowling? A friend we met last week says some people were hesitant to evacuate out of fear of their homes being looted if they left.

4. Many homes were not re-built in an elevated condition because of the expense of doing so. If the same thing happens as Katrina, these homes will be devastated … right after being renovated.

3. Why so soon? It seems many have just gotten over the post-traumatic stress caused by witnessing such an event with so much personal devastation. Everyone we met there has a story, many of them quite heart-wrenching.

2. Those survivors who we met: Lisa, John, Minette, Sherry, and Gary (for starters). Their faces come to mind as I pray.

1. Our God is a God of compassion, the Father of mercy … may He have compassion on this city and His people within its walls.